There’s no shortage of fitness tracking wearables out there, which is why I was a bit surprised when Runtastic – makers of some fantastic fitness tracking apps – contacted me to say they were getting into the hardware game. Their entry into the market is called the Orbit and I’ve been wearing it for the past week to see how it compares to the myriad of similar wearable devices already available.
What Orbit Tracks
The Orbit tracks a number of various metrics including steps, distance, calories burned, total active minutes, sleep cycle, happiness (no joke), and, eventually, sunlight. For most of the metrics the Orbit tracks users can view their results right on the Orbit's display or in the accompanying app.
The display, however, is quite small and very limited in the type of data it shows you about any one metric. For example, you can only see your total steps taken for the day and not any kind of graph when you’ve taken the most or fewest steps. The icons that represent each category also appear and then disappear a bit too quickly.
However, I suspect most people will be using the Orbit with the accompanying Runtastic Me app, which is the Orbit’s one-stop shop for beautifully displaying and allowing you to really delve into your metrics. Matter of fact it’s the Me app that really makes the Orbit shine (and goes to show just how much Runtastic are experts in their field at fitness software).
While the Orbit does work with Runtastic’s other apps such as Runtastic Pro, it makes sense that they have targeted a larger audience with the simplified Me app, which is more intuitive to navigate (not to mention better designed). Besides being able to delve into your fitness metric graphs in the Me app, you’re also able to set goals, which really does help with motivation and hitting personal milestones.
Getting back to the fitness metrics Orbit tracks, I’ve frequently had friends ask me about two of them: happiness and sunlight. The Orbit tracks your happiness levels manually – and one wonders how quantifying this information can be of any real value. When you are feeling “happy” you are supposed to press the physical button on your Orbit twice. A smilie face will appear on your Orbit’s screen and in the accompanying app’s graphs.
You can then review when in the day you were most happy. Sure, it’s a nice feature no other fitness tracker offers, but it seems like a feature more useful to those dealing with depression (and a very useful feature in that case) than those who are looking to burn calories.
The other unique tracking metric is sunlight. On the front of the Orbit is an ambient light sensor that Runtastic says will be able to track your exposure to sunlight. This is a bit misleading, however, as the Orbit software doesn’t actually allow this yet. And once the software supports the ambient light sensor one wonders how it could detect the difference between real sunlight and those dreaded office lights.
Besides all the software features listed above, the Orbit offers a number of additional features that are sure to appeal to the wearables crowd. Perhaps the biggest feature is the fact that the Orbit is actually waterproof up to 300 feet. This is huge, as most wearables are waterproof just enough to handle the shower (maybe). With a waterproofing of 300 feet the Orbit is something surfers and divers could feel confident wearing, safe in the knowledge that nothing they do is going to damage their costly device.
Another nice feature is its vibration alerts. If you’re inactive for too long the Orbit will vibrate, giving you a gentle reminder to stop being so lazy and get moving. The vibration alerts can be used in conjunction with wake up alarms too. The Orbit also uses Bluetooth 4.0 so it wirelessly syncs your data between the device and Runtastic’s apps without you having to do a thing.
Physically the Orbit is like many other fitness wearables, utilising that all too common pill-shaped design. Inside the Orbit’s box you get two wristbands (mine were black and blue, but Runtastic offers several colours) and a clip so you can pin the Orbit to your waistband or bra strap.
The rubberized wristbands and clip are surprisingly comfortable to wear. The wristband in particular doesn't chaff the wrist at all, even while sleeping. As for the Orbit module itself, it’s a hard, slightly see-through plastic that is about the height of a credit card.
On the front of it you’ll find the OLED display and above that a tiny pinhole for the ambient light sensor. Below the display is a fairly large round silver button, which is what you press to cycle through the various modes.
Indoors the display is easy enough to read but outside in sunlight it’s nearly impossible. That’s a shame too, as you’re then forced to pull out your smartphone to see your current activity. As for the button, many people I know think it’s too big, but I on the other hand think it’s a brilliant design decision. Its size makes scrolling through the Orbit’s various tracking screens exceptionally easy for sweaty fingers.
A final really nice hardware design is found on the back of the Orbit. You’ll find two metal contacts that act like a Magsafe plug on a MacBook. The included USB charging cable magnetically attaches to these connectors to charge it. It’s wonderful not to have yet another fitness device that relies on MicroUSB.
Then again, if you lose the included USB cable it may be costly to find another one. As for battery life, Runtastic says the Orbit will stay charged for a week – something I found to be accurate.
At around £99 the Runtastic Orbit isn’t cheap. However, it is the best fitness tracker I’ve tried to date. That’s based on the comfort of wearing the device, its level of waterproofing, and its unique charging connector. It also gets major points for an exceptionally well-designed app.
However – and this applies to all fitness trackers, not just the Orbit – I wonder how useful dedicated fitness trackers are anymore as the latest iPhones and Android phones can already track much of what most dedicated wearables do. Then again, you can’t take your iPhone for a swim or wear it in bed at night to track your sleep. I think if those things are important for you it’s a no brainer to get a dedicated fitness tracker, and the Orbit would be a great choice.