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Image credit: Mat Smith, Engadget

My toxic relationship with fitness wearables

Counting the steps as I walk away.

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Mat Smith, Engadget

Fitness gadgets were meant to make me a better man. Or at least a healthier (possibly more attractive) one. Over the course of my wrist-based romance, I've strapped on a Fitbit, a Jawbone Up, two types of Nike FuelBand and an Apple Watch. Surprisingly for me, it's the Apple Watch that got the most extended use, given that it wasn't defined by its fitness features. Yet, since November (midway through a fitness challenge at Engadget), I haven't worn anything when I'm working out, nor anything to monitor my activity during the day. I've had enough of the constant nagging.

At the very start it was fun, maybe even cool, to have a wearable -- one with an earnest aim, and not so modest battery life. Wearables were going to make us better! Healthier! Fitter! Sexier! For the past few years, if you stepped into a tech press event without something Bluetooth lashed around your wrist, counting things, you were in the minority.

I know I should go walk up the stairs or something, but I also know I went to the gym this morning, and dammit, I had a salad for lunch. Like some weirdo.


I could give a blow-by-blow rant about each and every fitness wearable I've used, but as much as the designs can differ, the features don't. There's the option of healthy competition with my friends, and a gentle poke/notification/vibration to get me moving after sitting at my desk practically all day. But clichéd as it is, we're creatures of habit. Months -- sometimes mere weeks -- later, they simply stop being effective in the fight against lazy Mat.

How fair is a step-count challenge against friends whose jobs keep them on their feet, moving all day? I work at a desk, not even a standing one, and my wearable (pick one) regularly cried out that I hadn't met my target for the day or week. The first few times, I felt guilty, ashamed, but then I'm soon just pissy -- because the notifications appear when I'm busy with other things. I was in the middle of a phone call, or trying to hit a tight deadline. I know I should have gone for a walk up the stairs or something during the day, but I also know I went to the gym this morning, and dammit, I had a salad for lunch. Like some weirdo.

Despite my experiences, I tried again. I thought Nike's FuelBand looked pretty cool, and I explained away half the cost of the Apple Watch because "fitness goals." I kept going back, just to be disappointed all over.

And there was the watershed moment. What's the actual point? Does it matter how many steps I've taken? I didn't lose weight or become more mobile back when I strapped on my FuelBand. At the start, I moved around more, sure. But that didn't solve my aching back or my blogger's slouch, or give me the Olympian body I (don't really) deserve. Why am I charging this thing twice a week? Why am I letting it irritate me as I type on a laptop, pinching at my hairy wrists and nagging me with reminders? I didn't have a good answer, so I stopped. No more wearables of the week. I've kept hold of my Apple Watch, but the rest have been distributed to family members and friends who, despite my protests, think this is going to be "The One."

Do you have fond memories of your first tech love or maybe a gut-wrenching tale of gadget heartbreak? Share them using #LoveAtFirstByte

Mat once failed an audition to be the Milkybar Kid: an advert creation that pushed white chocolate on gluttonous British children. Two decades later, having repressed that early rejection, he completed a three-year teaching stint in Japan with help from world-class internet and a raft of bizarre DS titles. After a few weeks back in the UK, he's recently returned to Japan, heading up our coverage of a country that's obsessed with technology -- often in very unusual ways.
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