- Good activity tracking
- Well designed app
- Range of colours
- Dull design
- Poor screen
- Fiddly magnetic charger
If you're looking for a fitness band that's good for running, the Runtastic Orbit might well catch your eye. After our review of the Jawbone UP24 and Fitbit Flex, it's clear that while they may be called fitness bands, for serious runners they leave a lot to be desired.
For the thousands of amateur runners that tackle 10km runs before breakfast on their weekends, basic step tracking seems relatively pointless. Who cares if you hit 9,000 steps today if you ran a half marathon yesterday? That's where the Runtastic band comes in.
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As well as doing all the usual basic tracking gubbins, the Orbit acts as a partner for the ubiquitous Runtastic app. At nearly £100, the it goes head-to-head with big name competitors from the likes of Withings and Garmin. But should runners choose it over a dedicated watch? And can it compete with the best fitness trackers on the market? Read on for our full review.
Runtastic Orbit: Design and build
The design of the Orbit is a small black module that slips into a range of rubber bands. This is the design de jour for a lot of budget bands, and makes customisation easy. The only issue here is that £100 is a lot of cash, and doesn't mitigate for lack of design flair.
Unlike the Fitbit and Jawbone, the Orbit comes with a small LCD display and a physical button. This button enables you to cycle through information that's being recorded. By day that means steps, calories and distance, and when you're running times, distance and pace are displayed instead.
The screen itself is quite low resolution, and this can make it hard to read. The blocky and dull display does make it quite hard to see, especially mid-run.
In some of the more vibrant colours the Runtastic band looks like an impressive and stylish band, but in the plain black band it appears cut-price and decidedly budget. That isn't helped by the Runtastic branding that's stuck onto the display, which looks like it's a sticker that should be peeled off.
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The band itself fastens tightly, and it's comfortable to wear. We didn't notice it during the day, and the rubber strap is comfortable on the skin.
The Orbit is fully waterproof, which means you can take it swimming with you. Of course, there's no dedicated swimming mode, but it will calculate your calories while you're in the pool.
Runtastic Orbit: Features
In terms of features the Runtastic Orbit is extremely proficient. It can be used as a daily activity tracker, which will record all manner of data from calories burned to steps taken. These are presented in the Runtastic Me app, which is synced via Bluetooth.
Like most activity bands the Orbit will also track your sleep. Unfortunately, you have to tell it when you go to bed by double-tapping the main button and then again when you wake up. If you forget your sleep will go unquantified.
The sleep tracking itself is actually extremely impressive, with all manner of sleep data captured, including deep/light sleep cycles and time spent awake. Unlike other trackers, the Orbit will rate your sleep efficiency, which is a simple calculation of the percentage of time you were actually slumbering for while the band is tracking. If you're not sleeping properly – and you hadn't worked it out yourself – a low percentage will indicate you need to take action.
When you fire up the Runtastic running app and start tracking a run, the band will start displaying the read outs of your progress. All the usual running metrics are displayed – time, distance, calories, and most importantly pace. Only one is displayed on the watch at any given time, and you press the button to cycle through the read-outs.
The benefit of this method is that by using your GPS enabled phone to do the tracking you get the most accurate information about your run. Non-GPS running trackers – like the Withings Pulse and Samsung Gear Fit – can produce extremely wayward distances, which is dangerous for training plans.
Of course, this means you'll need to wear two devices on your run: the band and your smartphone. This means that a GPS running watch would be a much better suited device for many runners. However, if you use apps like Spotify to power your run with music, this will likely be the case anyway. Of course, many running watches like the TomTom Runner have built-in storage for tunes, which simplifies things greatly.
Runtastic Orbit: App
To use the Runtastic as an activity tracker and a running band, you'll confusingly need two different apps. The first, unsurprisingly, is the Runtastic app, which has long been one of the leading run trackers.
The app is part of a free/paid for model that has irritating ads and some functionality limitations – which can be fixed by paying a £4.99 upgrade fee.
The tracking features of the app are excellent, recording and archiving your runs, with stats, performance, maps of your activity and the ability to have people cheer you on using social networking.
The only major compliant we have is that the pairing of the band can be fiddly, and usage is not always seamless. When we fired up the Runtastic app and started tracking a run, the band would often do nothing. A quick check would reveal it was correctly paired, which would then mean a few minutes of activating and deactivating to get the connection. This wasn't an isolated incident.
The activity tracking side of the Orbit is done through a completely different app: Runtastic Me. This app features a whole new look, which is easy to use and slick – values we'd like to see translated onto the slightly dated-looking running app.
The app works like a calendar so you can cycle though tracked activity day-by-day, looking at your stats. You can then see more detailed graphs and data, all of which are clear, well designed, and show off Runtastic's rich heritage as an app maker, rather than a hardware designer.
Runtastic Orbit: Battery life
The Runtastic Orbit charges via USB, which can be connected to your PC or Mac. Due to the waterproof design, it requires a special connector, which magnetically hooks onto two contacts at the rear. The magnetic connection is annoyingly weak and it constantly became detached.
In terms of battery life, we achieved about four days from the Orbit, which included nightly sleep tracking and a couple of runs. It's an impressive longevity up there with most activity trackers, and certainly no disgrace.
Runtastic Orbit vs running watches
The big question of the Orbit is whether it can compete with dedicated running watches and the activity tracking elite.
Firstly, as a companion to a smartphone, it can't compete with the likes of the Garmin Forerunner 15. The amount of data produced and the live read-outs pale in comparison. However, many people will find themselves running with a watch and a phone, for music and security. For those people the Orbit can do a great job of helping you maintain training pace.
In terms of activity tracking, the Runtastic Orbit can certainly compete with the big boys such as Jawbone, Withings and Misfit. The sleep tracking and monitoring is ace, and the Runtastic Me app is brilliant – it's just a shame the band's design doesn't match the software.
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