Tech-It-Out: 3. Why I prefer a Fitbit over other smartwatches

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Liam is the co-founder of Day Undefined. You can read his bio here

Thanks for reading Tech-It-Out, a series brought to you by Day Undefined and the National Ataxia Foundation.

Disability does not fit into a box. 

Whenever I try to describe my own experience – or honestly even to label it for myself – it feels inauthentic and dramatized. The only things I can definitively say are that I use a wheelchair and have bad handwriting. So it is exciting when I get to quantify some part of my experience. Using a smartwatch made me focus on myself – the things I need and how I move through the world.

My smartwatch lets me track my heart rate, sleep habits, and stress level. This growing list of measurable attributes is probably not very accurate, but honestly, that is beside the point. I am given a window into how my body exists, which inspires me to be healthier.

My Public Management teacher used to say, “What gets measured gets done.” It is psychologically easier to start work on something (like filling potholes or collecting garbage) if success can be quantified (in potholes or city blocks). Giving myself metrics to understand how I can live healthier makes it easier to fill in my own potholes. Being given a Sleep Score or Resting Heart Rate makes me want to improve it.

As with everything, there are considerations for how to use a thing with a disability on a practical level. 

Battery life brought up many complications. Having a watch with a longer battery life resulted in me wearing it more. Taking the watch off, finding and putting it on the charger, waiting while it was charging, and putting it back on my wrist was a heavy lift, especially if the band requires some fine motor aptitude to use. A watch with a longer battery life is more useful for me.

Many of the more powerful smartwatches need to be charged every day or two. Such watches have greater “functionality”, with many apps and beautiful displays. However, I tend not to use these. The touch screen is too hard for me to use for complex activities. That compounded with a high price tag means most top-tier smartwatches are too much watch for me.

I did a good amount of research in deciding which new smartwatch to upgrade to, and last Christmas I asked for and received a Samsung smartwatch. It has many access features, but I do not need or use most of them. Things like increasing the font size or contrast are important to some, but not to me right now



Images: (Left) A smartwatch with a round face and a purple wristband that says “power saving”. (Right) A Fitbit smartwatch with a square face and a gray band shows the time in large numbers on the home screen.

This is a common theme with a lot of “accessible” designs–a product may not be more accessible just because it has more “accessibility” features. 

I only bring it up to say that what opens doors for you (real and proverbial) may not open them for me. Furthermore if including many access features also hurts battery life and durability, the watch is less useful for me. I am not arguing against designing products with such features–only that it is ultimately up to the user to define what accessibility is. There is no best watch. As I said above, it is less about accuracy and more about using measurement to make me think and act healthier.

I believe building an accessible life starts with understanding your situational needs–a universally accessible mop is pointless if you need to clean a carpet. I can get caught up in the allure of a new product with tons of “accessibility features”. But as with many things, the most accessible watch is the one you use and enjoy. Finding the right smartwatch for me started with understanding how I would use it. The Fitbit Versa 2 meets a lot of my current needs.

What works best for you? 

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