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NEW! SparkPeople Spark Activity Tracker

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Tuesday, October 01, 2013

My pedometer had disappeared the day I received the offer to try out the new SparkPeople Activity Tracker. I most likely would not have ordered the Spark had I still had the pedometer – why would I need two devices?

I ordered the Spark on a Thursday, and it arrived the next day. It turns out it shipped from a town in my state about an hour and a half away, and not from Ohio, which is on the return address. (I think the return address might reflect the actual corporate address of SparkPeople, while there may be warehouses around the United States. [And, alas, I hear the device is currently available only in the US].)

The device came in a plastic cube, much the way watches are packaged. This would make for easy wrapping of it as a gift. Inside the cube was the Spark Activity Tracker (which we’ve started calling the Spark), SyncPoint (the dongle that goes into the USB port of a computer), and an extra battery. One battery is already installed in the Spark.

Setup was easy. The invoice included the URL (web address) for the software you need to download, and I found it seamless to install. It searched for the SyncPoint, which I had not yet installed into one of the USB ports of my laptop (I was waiting for the prompts to tell me to plug it in – some devices are picky about the order you do things, but this one doesn’t seem to care). Once I did that, the software completed the setup for me. I just had to follow the prompts on the screen and tap the Spark when the directions called for it.

Instructions on how to wear the device were on the tutorial, and I also got some instructions emailed to me upon setup. For optimal tracking, the device should be worn on one’s shoe, but I can see myself stepping into a puddle and ruining it irreparably (though the tracker is supposed to be waterproof up to 100 feet, and I could wear it swimming, if I didn’t swim like a rock). Other options for good tracking include: clipped to one’s bra (not as crazy as it sounds, as the device is barely larger than a US quarter), a belt, or a pocket. I don’t know about IN a pocket – perhaps it blocks the signals, though some users have reported that the Spark has worked well tucked into a sock. It’s worth experimenting and finding something that works well with your clothing and lifestyle.

In the setup process, the software told me the serial numbers of the tracker and SyncPoint. I jotted them down onto the invoice in case I ever need them and can’t access the software. There is also a serial number printed on the back of the Spark, and there are numbers engraved on the SyncPoint, but they are tiny and hard to read without a magnifying glass. It could be worth it to me to have the numbers written elsewhere (if I don’t lose the paper they are written on).

The setup process ended with signing into SparkPeople. A new tracking page opened in my browser with stats from that day (all zeros, because I hadn’t done anything yet). If you leave the SyncPoint in the USB port, the Spark will send updates periodically through your computer to SparkPeople. Ideally, one should leave the SyncPoint in the computer, as that will help prevent loss (though with the cordless mouse dongle in one port and the Spark dongle in another, I have only one free port left on my laptop for anything else I want to plug in) and allow it to sync data any time you are near your computer. Additionally, I have been told that if you walk by a friend’s computer with a SyncPoint installed, your Spark will update to your SparkPeople account. How cool is that?

I was also automatically enrolled in the Spark Activity Owner SparkTeam. They may have changed the settings so they automatically send an email to new members of the team, but I discovered this by accident when I went to my list of SparkTeams to look for another team I am on.

When it updates, the Spark Activity Tracker page tells you how many steps you took and how many activity minutes you did. It tells you how close you are to your daily goal. The Activity Tracker also tells how many calories you have burned from workouts and how many workouts over 10 minutes you did (I think you might be able to change the length of workout you must do, but I haven’t explored this).

One problem with the 10-minute workout is that you need to keep moving for the entire 10 minutes, or it will not count that as a workout. I took a 20 minute walk one day, but the Spark did not count that as a workout. I had stopped to take photographs along the way and I had to wait for traffic before crossing streets (drivers around here don’t know what “stop for pedestrians in crosswalks” means). The Spark still counts minutes, but it doesn’t count them as workout minutes.

If you go someplace off the grid, your Spark is supposed to store about 2 weeks’ worth of data, though I think it’s possible this could be less than a week, if you do a lot of activities. At some point, there is supposed to be a smartphone app made for the Spark Activity Tracker, but I don’t think it will be able to upload data from the Spark (maybe one day this will be able to happen, but this is wishful thinking on my part, as it doesn’t appear to be on the agenda in the near future).

A few days after I got the Spark, I found my pedometer. I was able to do a side-by-side comparison. It seems the Spark isn’t as sensitive to movement as the pedometer is. The pedometer recorded 415 to 2750 more steps than did the Spark (the average was a difference of 1268 steps). The pedometer recorded 0.28 to 1.33 miles more than the Spark did (the average difference was 0.65 miles). The mileage can be calibrated, but the steps are whatever the device records.

I like that the Spark syncs directly with SparkPeople. I no longer have to enter manually my mileage and steps, something I tend to forget to do with my pedometer. I still have access to my regular tracker, though, so I can add other activities not captured by the Spark.

I also like that there is no yearly membership fee. Once you buy the device, you can upload data for free to SparkPeople. As I understand it, some electronic devices charge for the convenience of automatic uploading of data to a web site.

I don’t like that there is a large discrepancy between the pedometer and the Spark. If I continue to wear two devices, though, I can allow the Spark to upload data automatically, and then manually record the difference between the two devices so I get full credit for the walking I do.

Edit: Disclaimer: I did not receive the Spark for free, though I did get a discount and was able to try it out earlier than the public release date of September 30, 2013. As far as I know, there was no expectation that I write a review - I did that on my own. No one offered to pay me to write a review, and I don't expect any future compensation. I hope my review helps others to decide whether they want to purchase the device. And others should feel free to post links to my blog entry.
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