Runtastic Orbit review: The activity tracker that only a Runtastic fanatic could love

runtastic orbit beauty

The Runtastic Orbit can report GPS-based pace and speed data collected by your smartphone.

Credit: Michael Homnick
At a Glance
  • Runtastic Orbit

    PCWorld Rating

    It's not pretty or even cheap, but this serviceable activity-tracking wristband offers special data-syncing with the Runtastic Pro mobile app.

The $120 Runtastic Orbit activity tracker won’t wow you with beautiful industrial design. And besides its curious ambient light sensor, it doesn’t innovate much beneath its squishy, rubber exterior. But the Orbit can display the data from Runtastic Pro, a smartphone app with more than 85 million downloads to its name.

Who knows—it might be just enough to help the Orbit cut through the noise of an insanely crowded activity-tracking wristband space. Scads of competing products already track steps, calories burned, and sleep cycles. But once a wristband becomes an auxiliary display for the GPS-based exercise data collected by smartphones, you have a slightly more interesting story.

runtastic orbit on arm Michael Homnick

Looking more like exercise equipment than sophisticated design, the Runtastic Orbit makes the argument that aesthetics don't matter that much in today's wearables.

Two straps, one clip, Runtastic Pro data syncing

The Orbit is a small, plastic wedge that fits inside either a wristband or clip. The box comes with two cheapo rubber wrist straps (one blue, one black), plus a single black rubber clip. None of the accessories has the visual panache of a Jawbone UP24 or Fitbit Flex, but at least the straps aren’t difficult to put on—surprising considering they use a variation of the awful two-pronged clasping system that we see in Samsung and Fitbit wearables.

A simple black-and-white OLED display shows the time, your latest step count, calories burned, and total time active. It’s all standard fare—literally pedestrian standard fare for any digital pedometer. But connecting to Runtastic Pro can expose your average pace, average speed, and maximum speed during runs, hikes and bike rides. It’s a nice little value-add, and could sway diehard Runtastic app fanatics when they’re choosing between the Orbit and more sophisticated alternatives.

runtastic orbit clip Michael Homnick

The Runtastic Orbit comes with a simple clip to attach the device to your waist band, collar or sports bra.

It’s worth noting that the just-released Runtastic Pro Android Wear app renders the same GPS-based smartphone data with much more visual flare. Still, I have more confidence in the Orbit’s onboard step-counting algorithms than I do in the algorithms employed by Samsung and LG in their smartwatches.

Runtastic says it perfected the Orbit’s algorithms over the course of 30 firmware updates, looking at both walking and running scenarios, and comparing the Orbit’s step counts to the data produced by competing activity trackers, as well as test subjects who manually counted out 500 steps, one at a time.

runtastic orbit clasp Michael Homnick

Like so many other wearables, the Runtastic Orbit uses a two-pronged clasping mechanism. Thankfully, this one isn't a hassle to use.

When all was said and done, Runtastic claims “the average deviation of the Orbit count was significantly below the standard 10 percent threshold for all wearing positions.” Runtastic also says its employees spent a lot of time in hospital sleep labs to perfect the Orbit’s sleep-tracking algorithms.

I don’t have any reason to doubt the Orbit’s sleep numbers, as they mapped pretty closely to data collected by my Jawbone UP24. But I do think Runtastic has a lot of work ahead in how it renders its data in its mobile app, Runtastic Me.

Runtastic Me needs more granular control

On one level, I appreciate the stripped-down simplicity of Runtastic Me. A single dashboard reveals numerical data on your daily steps, active minutes, calories burned, distance traveled, and last night’s sleep. But when you drill down one level further to a graphical timeline view, the app’s U.I. gets confusing.

runtastic orbit sleep screen Michael Homnick

Runtastic Me won't smother you with graphics, but the graphics it does include lack finesse. I'd like to see a Sleep timeline that reports the actual time I've slept, and not simply when I've activated and deactivated sleep tracking.

Take the Steps timeline. A bar chart shows you how many steps were concentrated in each hour of the day, but what does that steeply rising dotted blue line above the bars signify? It’s a view of your cumlative steps for the day—drag your finger across the screen to see your numbers climb. The problem is, this feature requires a really long finger press before it kicks into action, and it took me several days to discover it even exists.

But my biggest gripe concerns the Sleep display. Just like with most activity trackers, you press a button on the Orbit to activate sleep mode when you get in bed, and then press the button again when you wake. This is an acceptable hassle, but the Runtastic Me app reports your sleep time as the full period between those two button presses, leading to misleading sleep reports.

runtastic me screens

The blue shaded area in the first screen is rather mysterious. But if you press down on the blue dotted line long enough, you'll be able to scrub through the timeline to see your data progression over the course of a day (I've pinpointed 6pm in the middle screen). Too bad the Sleep screen on the right doesn't offer that level of control. It says I've slept for more than seven hours, but ignores all the minutes I was awake.

Let’s say you press the button at 10 pm, fall asleep at 11 pm, wake for 15 minutes at 2 am, and then get back to sleep until 6 am. The app will report you got eight hours sleep. Yay! You scored a 100 percent sleep efficiency score last night! This despite the fact you only slept for six hours and 45 minutes, and your timeline graph shows glaring red bars representing periods of wakefulness.

What’s worse, you can’t do a long press on the sleep timeline to pinpoint the exact time you fell asleep. The Orbit is clearly collecting this data, but the app doesn’t expose it in a helpful manner. I’d also prefer the option to use a 12-hour clock—because what time of day is 21:23?

runtastic orbit module Michael Homnick

Behold: The Runtastic Orbit is just a simple sensor module that can be stuffed into various colored rubber wristbands. Notice the ambient light sensor above the square pad labled Runtastic.

Below the Sleep graph is a curious, unmarked timeline. Throughout the day, this dark blue line rises up and turns yellow. It’s never explained inside the app, but this timeline shows how much sunlight you receive each day, reporting the data collected by the Orbit’s ambient light sensor. It’s a neat—if incredibly vague—trick. Runtastic says it plans on extending the utility of the light sensor, perhaps using it to trigger sunscreen reminders. There’s also a temperature sensor in the Orbit, but it’s currently not being used for anything.

runtastic orbit charger Michael Homnick

Yet another activity tracker uses a propreitary charger. The two-contact design allows the Runtastic Orbit to be waterproof, but the charging adapter attaches to the device quite vaguely.

The bottom line

The Runtastic Orbit is not a handsome wearable, and is too big to share a single wrist with a full-fledged watch, be it smart of analog. It’s waterproof, so you can wear it swimming, and that’s a bonus that Jawbone and Fitbit can’t claim. Battery life is rated at seven days, which is on the high end in this product category, but like with most other activity trackers, you’ll need a proprietary USB charging adapter to keep the Orbit juiced.

At $120, the Orbit’s price matches the Withings O2, and falls between the $100 Fitbit Flex and $150 Jawbone UP24. It’s definitely not playing the rock-bottom-pricing game, so we can only turn to aesthetics, app quality, and features to decide whether it’s worth buying. It’s a bust in the aesthetics and mobile app departments, but I can definitely see the Orbit’s appeal to fans of Runtastic’s greater product ecosystem. Runtastic just needs to quickly update its Runtastic Me app. The hardware appears to collect good data, and now it’s time to share it in more useful ways.

This story, "Runtastic Orbit review: The activity tracker that only a Runtastic fanatic could love" was originally published by TechHive.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    It's not pretty or even cheap, but this serviceable activity-tracking wristband offers special data-syncing with the Runtastic Pro mobile app.

    Pros

    • Can display GPS-based data from Runtastic phone app.
    • Accurate algorithms (as best as we can tell).
    • Ambient light sensor reports your hours in sunlight.

    Cons

    • Clunky, unsophisticated design.
    • Confusing mobile app.
    • Feels expensive for what you get.
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