All too often, wearable fitness trackers (like the Jawbone Up and Fitbit Zip) are worn by people who don’t really need them—people who are already fit and are looking for a device to help take them to the next level. It’s hard to say exactly why fitness trackers haven’t taken off in the mainstream, but it might have something to do with the fact that most of these devices aren’t particularly attractive, especially for people who don’t want to sport a chunky wristband or a very obvious digital display. The fact that many devices need to be recharged frequently probably accelerates user disinterest.
In this context, the Misfit Shine looks like the future of wearable sensors for the mainstream. The quarter-sized metal device has no digital readout. It’s attractive enough that you might want to show it off (options include a magnetic clasp and a leather band). And its coin cell battery lasts up to six months before users need to hunt down a replacement.
Misfit Wearables founder Sonny Vu first showed me a prototype of the crowd-funded Shine last November (Misfit has also raised over $8 million in venture capital). While I was impressed then, I can now say after testing out the Shine for a few days that it’s something I might actually wear—with a few caveats.
The tri-axis accelerometer-equipped device is easy for even the techno-phobic to use: download the iPhone-only app and set your fitness goals (I chose "Kinda Active," which involves walking one hour, running 20 minutes, or swimming 15 minutes, to start) and simply place the Shine on the phone screen to sync it.
Once the device is synced, it will show you throughout the day how close you are to reaching your goal via tiny LED lights placed in a ring around the Shine—the closer you get to the goal, the more dots light up. Double tap the device to see your progress and triple tap to tag activities like swimming, cycling, and sleep. Activities have to be switched out in the Shine app, which displays detailed information about steps taken, calories burned, and miles traversed.
I tested the Shine with the magnetic clasp, sticking the magnetic end on the outside of my pants pocket to ensure that it didn’t fall out. For the most part, this worked well—but on a few occasions, the magnetism presented a problem. While taking clothes out of the laundry machine, for example, I noticed that the Shine had flown out of my pocket and attached itself to the machine. I didn’t feel a thing. This was mostly my fault for wearing the magnet on the outside of my clothing, but is still something to watch out for.
I also had a few issues with the device and app. The ring of lights is difficult to see in direct sunlight, and the finger tapping is difficult to nail down—even after days of using the Shine, the double tapping still only seemed to work about 75% of the time. I didn’t have trouble with the activity tagging in the app, but it would be easy after extended use to forget to change tags and end up with, say, an afternoon filled with swimming (yes, you can wear the Shine while swimming) when you were actually running.
Once Misfit works out the kinks, there’s no reason why the Shine can’t compete with the most popular fitness trackers—and maybe even tap into the ever-elusive mainstream market. The $100 device will certainly have the chance: the Shine goes on sale in Apple stores this week.