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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Zip your way to fitness with Fitbit, Smartscale

Fitbit Zip

Every step counts when you're trying to get fit. Even if you're not actively exercising. With the Fitbit Zip Wireless Activity Tracker, you can log them all. This tiny device helps track your efforts to get back in shape. It counts your steps, measures the distance you traveled and how many calories you burned as you exercise or go about your regular day.

The case comes in a choice of five colors: lime, blue, white, magenta and charcoal. I recommend getting a bright-colored one, so it's easy to find if you misplace it (or if you drop it on your car with dark interior). But if you're going to wear it externally, a black one might draw less attention.

The Zip has a tiny LCD screen which you can tap to cycle through readings for steps, distance traveled, calories burned, and time. Oh, and a cute smiley icon is your cheering partner, and sticks its tongue out at you if you've been too stationary. (This reminded me of that Tamagotchi game from the '80s.) But, frankly, I didn't use that screen very often. Instead, I relied more on readings on the smartphone app (more later).

Wireless setup is easy. Go to to download the software to your computer (Mac or PC). You'll then be asked to tap the Zip to wake it up. Sync it to the computer with a numeric code that's shown. Create a log-in for the online tool, and start keeping track of your activities. Type in your measurements and weight, and the site will give you your stats. The Fitbit syncs automatically with the computer with a USB wireless dongle that's provided. (You just need to be within 20 feet.)

The online tool is powerful. From  the main dashboard, you can see your activity and weight-loss charts. My favorite is the meal plan journal where you can set your goal and difficulty level. Based on current weight and goal, the tool comes up with calorie allowances. Just log in what you eat and drink, and the tool will keep track of how much you have left. The website has a searchable index of foods by brand or restaurants, which you can add to your Favorites list. You can also add your own food to the list. (Getting started with this list may be cumbersome, but as you get more foods on your list, keeping a meal journal gets easier.)

The Fitbit Zip can also be fully synced to your iPhone or iPad with a free iOS app from the Apple iTunes Store, which makes it so much easier when you're on the go. The interface is easy to use, where you can not only keep track of your activities, but also set goals for that day. Keep a log of your what you did, and see it in graph form (best in landscape mode).

The Android has limitations. Full sync is possible only with Samsung Galaxy S and Galaxy Note 2 at this point. (The phone must have accessible Bluetooth 4.0.) Check the website for compatible devices.

Note: This app will be running in the background so your phone's battery may go down quicker than before.

Now, all you have to do it to remember to wear it during the day. Just clip it on your clothes or undergarment with the silicone case that has a fairly strong clip. But a warning: Although the Fitbit is moisture resistant, it's not waterproof. So don't drop it in water, or accidentally wash it with the laundry. And if you wear it on a belt or hook it to the outside of a pocket, it might get hooked on a strap of a bag and get pulled off. So be careful.

$60. Free mobile app, online software and account. But there's also a premium membership for $50 a year that includes support from a nutritionist, a more in-depth analysis of your data, a personal fitness trainer, and ranking among your peers.

The Zip uses a 3-volt lithium battery – provided (along with a battery lid opener) – which Fitbit says lasts for four to six months.


Withings Smart Bodyscale

Another useful tool is a scale that's connected to your computer to automatically keep track of your progress. There are several on the market now. I tried the Withings Smart Bodyscale (model WBS01), which measures your weight, body fat and body mass index (BMI).

The scale is a weighty unit with a glass top and a digital readout.

Setup is a bit cumbersome. First, flip the scale over, and install AAA batteries (included) in the scale by opening up a plastic cover, which is very flimsy and has a cheap feel. Make sure you set the measuring unit you want. Create an online account at After you download the software with a wizard to pair the scale to your account, log into your Wi-Fi. The wizard will create a convenient launcher on your desktop. Hook up the USB cable that comes in the box, and connect the scale to the computer. (Plugging it into the scale was a pain with a port that's at a bad angle in the narrow battery compartment.) Once you confirm your email, you're set to go.

You can have multiple users in one account, up to eight people. The scale automatically recognizes the users depending on the weight data that's stored. The scale powers up automatically when you step on it. Stand still for a few moments, and it will display the weight, lean mass, fat mass and BMI. It turns off automatically.

The fun begins when you track your progress on the online dashboard at with graphs and charts to give you visuals. You have the options to share your progress with others on social networks, or with your doctor or coach. Pair it with a partner fitness app for monitoring in one place. In this case, I paired it with Fitbit. A Withings connection wizard helps you link your scale data to your Fitbit account. Once set up, the data is automatically sent to Fitbit so you can track your weight there. Nifty.

And, as with Fitbit, you can track your progress on your Android or iOS smartphones.

The Smart Bodyscale I tested is the first generation of the smart scales, and was priced at about $160. A newer version is out, this one with a body analyzer included (measures heart rate and ambient air quality), is $150.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 1:03pm]


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