Product Design

Shit That Breaks: Don’t Buy a FitBit

Smart hoodies. Smart socks. And a fitness tracker for all twelve days of Christmas.

But in the era of wearable technology, durability concerns sometimes get forgotten in the back of a drawer. Now, five years since the FitBit hit the ground running, we’ve got some long-distance perspective: do these things last? Signs point to “no.”

It almost seems unfair to pick on FitBit, given their rough year of rashes, recalls, and the rise of competing fitness-oriented smart watches. Yet the FitBit Flex is one of the least repairable devices we’ve ever torn down—we had to use a dozuki to get it open. And they still have nearly 50% of the fitness band market share.

Using a Dozuki to open a FitBit Flex
Using a dozuki, a Japanese pull saw, to open the FitBit Flex

Review sites are full of customers upset about broken FitBits. People frequently report broken bands—though at least a band can be mended with Sugru. But the Better Business Bureau has received nearly a hundred complaints about devices that fail to sync, that stop holding a charge, and that stop turning on all together. If users or repair techs could get into their devices to change the battery, many of these dead FitBits might live again. Instead, the company recommends replacing dead devices.

Geoffrey Clapp says he was on his seventh FitBit when he finally decided it wasn’t worth replacing again.

“Somewhere around FitBit number four, friends started saying ‘you bought another one of those things? What did you expect?’” Clapp explains, comparing his love of FitBit to an on-again-off-again relationship. “You know when your friends say ‘Really, you’re still with (or going back to) him/her?’—and then, when the same thing that always happens, happens again, you feel like a moron. Well, today, I feel like a moron.”

The company, to their credit, has a fairly generous warranty replacement policy. When it comes to e-waste, though, replacement isn’t enough. If every customer is personally shepherding a half-dozen devices to the shredder, there’s a flaw in the business model.

Companies should stop making unrepairable junk. But until then, customers have to stop stuffing their stockings with it.

Got a story about a product that broke way too easily? Tell us about it in the comments.