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The Bands: Compatible Systems

On Monday I published my first article in the “Battle of the Bands” series between the Microsoft Band (left hand) and the Fitbit Charge (right hand).  Yesterday I spoke about my first impressions, and the Microsoft Band seemed to be ahead.  Today’s piece – connected applications – weighs heavily in Fitbit’s favour.

I have been using the Fitbit applications for as long as I have been wearing a Fitbit – that is, since April, 2011.  So it is natural that I would favour the application until I give Microsoft’s tools a chance.  That is not what we are talking about.  There are myriad health related sites and applications out there, and over the years the different companies have come to understand that rather than competing with each other they could complement each other.  Even so, in order for them to do that, agreements and development has to take place.  I do not know whether it is because the Fitbit system is more mature or it the company just plays nicer with others than Microsoft does.  Even so, let’s compare:

Third Party Applications compatible with Fitbit

  • FitStar Personal Trainer
  • FitStar Yoga
  • MyFitnessPal
  • Strava
  • Weight Watchers
  • Lose It!
  • Thermos Hydration Bottle with Smart Lid
  • Walgreens Balance Rewards
  • MapMyRun
  • RunKeeper
  • Endomondo
  • SparkPeople
  • EveryMove
  • Fitline
  • Wristband Manager
  • Pact
  • Tactio Health App
  • DriveBit
  • Fitwatchr: Advanced Activity Tracker
  • Matchup
  • Lumosity
  • DietBet
  • Waterlogged
  • FitTap
  • Trendweight
  • MyNetDiary Calorie Counter
  • Walkadoo
  • Wokamon – Monster Walk Quest
  • LFconnect
  • Running for Weight Loss
  • Nudge Health Tracking
  • Fitbase
  • Under Armour Record
  • MINDBODY
  • Dick’s Sporting Goods

Italics show apps that I use or have used

 

Third Party Applications compatible with Microsoft Band

  • Lose It!
  • RunKeeper
  • MyFitnessPal
  • HealthVault TELUS Health Space
  • Cortana
  • MapMyFitness
  • Strava
  • TaylorMade MyRoundPro

 

Italics show apps that I use or have used

Crossed Out shows apps unavailable in certain geographic locations (i.e.: Canada)

 

I’m sorry Microsoft, but Fitbit beats you hands down here… and please don’t tell me ‘Oh, but our product provides many of the features the others do.’ I like Endomondo and wish I could continue to use it… which of course I can, just not in the same connected fashion as I do with Fitbit.

Winner: Fitbit

The Bands: First Impressions

On Monday I published my article announcing that I was going to spend a month wearing two fitness bands: The Fitbit Charge (on my right hand) and the Microsoft Band 2 (on my left hand).  In truth I picked them both up and started wearing them on Saturday, so as I sit here (Monday evening) I have a couple of days from which to give my first impressions.  Here they are!

Design

The Microsoft Band is the clear winner here.  I appreciate the craftsmanship of both devices – both can be mistaken for a bracelet if you are not paying attention – but whereas the Charge comes in four sizes (and you cannot buy the XL in stores) the Band comes as one-size-fits-all, with an extremely comfortable, ergonomic metal clasp that snaps in and then allows you to resize to your comfort.  Additionally the Fitbit strap is a cheaper rubber material, and the clasp is just two rubber clips that you have to push in tight.

Battery

Even before I left the store I knew that the Fitbit Charge was going to win this category – Andrew (the store rep) told me that I would have to charge the Band every two days, and the Charge would last five to seven days.  Andrew’s solution was that he charges it while he watches TV at night; I charged both devices on Saturday, but did not give either a full charge.  The Band died on Monday morning, and I had to charge it in my car again.  The Charge is still going, and if my experience with Fitbit is any indicator the charge will last most of the week.

Winner: Fitbit Charge

Charging

I have a love/hate relationship with charging Fitbit devices.  Every time I get a new device I have to change out the chargers… and as the devices evolve the charging solutions deteriorate.  The Fitbit Surge had the flimsiest charging cable I’ve ever used for any device… you had to balance the watch just so in order for it to charge.

The Charge has a better cable than the Surge did… but not by much.  When I plugged it in to charge at the Microsoft Store (as I wrote my first piece) it did stay put.  The cable is certainly flimsy – could easily be mistaken for a non-standard phone cable – but for this sort of device we have to weigh the benefits of weight versus requirement.  It is sufficient… so far.

The Band, on the other hand, has a solid cable with a quasi-dock that does not plug in to the back of the watch, rather it clips magnetically to the metallic clasp.  Of course, this means that there are wires running through your device’s band… but if the band is cut off your arm you likely have more important issues to contend with.

Winner: Microsoft Band

Apps

I want to reserve judgement on this category for a few reasons.  I have been using the Fitbit app for iPhone for over two years, and the Windows 8/10 app for even longer than that.  The first time I downloaded Microsoft Health for the iPhone was… well, Saturday evening.  I have not yet looked at it on Windows 10 yet… but I will. 

I will say that I was less than impressed with the pairing process of the Charge… my phone found it okay, but then crashed while the device was updating, and needed several retries to get it working… and only after I paired it with my Windows 10 machine did it finally work properly.  However once that was done it did add the steps I had taken before surrendering my Fitbit Surge (I synced it immediately before giving it back) and the steps I took with the Charge before it synced.  I think I’ll give it a pass on this one… but only because I lived with Windows Vista and learned to accept things not always working right the first five times.

Syncing my Microsoft Band onto my iPhone was easy… I downloaded the app (Microsoft Health) from the App Store and then followed the instructions to pair it on the device.  It took seconds and worked flawlessly.  I have not spent a lot of time getting to know the app (nor have I downloaded the equivalent on my Surface yet) but I will… and until then I will reserve judgement.

Winner: TBD

Comfort

The Band is going to be the clear winner here because I probably should be wearing the XL size of Charge, but the store only sells Large.  However again, this is my fault so I do not blame Fitbit

Display

This is not a fair comparison… if I was comparing the Fitbit Surge against the Microsoft Band it would be fair… and I think the Band would still win based on its crisp and clear multi-colour display, making excellent use of less real estate for a truly incredible result.  However it is probably still not a fair comparison… Microsoft has throngs of people working in User Experience (UX) for myriad devices while the Fitbit team is likely a fraction of the Microsoft UX guys.  Still and all, I do appreciate that for $80 less the Band takes a solid win over the Surge.

Winner: Microsoft Band

Accuracy

It is 6:30pm in Oakville, and according to my Microsoft Band I have taken 5,208 steps while climbing the equivalent of 16 flights of stairs.  According to my Fitbit Charge, I’ve taken 5,916 steps while climbing the equivalent of 11 flights of stairs.  What accounts for this amazing imbalance?  Simple… The Band’s battery died this morning, so while I did charge it in the car, I got out of the car and ran several errands before putting it back on.  What accounts for it registering more flights of stairs?  I don’t know… possibly it considers a flight of stairs to be 15 stairs while Fitbit is 20… I don’t know.  I will have to get on a treadmill at the gym tomorrow to determine which is more accurate.

Winner: TBD

Conclusion

If I had to take back one of the devices today it would be the Fitbit Charge, but it would be close… and don’t forget, while the Band may be more device, it is also double the cost.  I have not yet been to the gym with these devices, and that will come tomorrow.  I’ll let you know how that goes!

Battle of the Bands

Are you looking forward to the show?  Do you want to rock?  Yeah?  Well… then you’ve come to the wrong place.

Battle of the Bands is not going to be about music… it is going to be about wearable fitness devices.

Once upon a time, a long long time ago (say… 2010) I bought a device called a Fitbit Ultra.  It was a wonderful little device, even though it seemed to break quite a lot.  No problem, the Fitbit team replaced them for me every time.  And then one day they told me that it was no longer available… and I upgraded to a Fitbit One.  Just like the Ultra it was a great device… and frankly it did not break nearly as much. 

Of course, technology moves forward, and then about eighteen months ago Fitbit announced their new device line… and I was really looking forward to – no, I was chomping at the bit! – for the new Fitbit Surge.  Man, did it look incredible!  I was so excited about it, I was willing to wait the six months until it was released… and I was willing to pay the ridiculous price ($299 Canadian), and I was even willing to stop wearing the fashionable wristwatch in lieu of this device. 

It was ugly.  It was big, it was bulky, it was black and square.  Done were the nice little subtle devices I was used to – anyone who saw me would see this watch and they would ask about it.  Okay, here it is.  I was even willing to put up with it being ugly.

I was not willing to put up with the fact that it broke… a lot; it was inaccurate, and often it just stopped working for no good reason.

Nearly a year into the experiment I decided to call it quits.  On the last Saturday in February I went in to the Microsoft Store (for something else) and decided to trade it in.

Bands

I have heard a lot of good reviews about the Fitbit Charge, but I have also heard great things about the Microsoft Band 2.  I was speaking with Andrew (one of the great clerks at the Microsoft Store in Square One, Mississauga) who is a former Fitbitter, and now wears a Band.  He gave me his opinions of both, the pros and the cons.  Then I thought for a few minutes.

  • I like telling my readers about great technology;
  • I have just started a new workout regimen, trying to get back into shape; and
  • I’m still a geek!

I decided to buy both… I picked up one Microsoft Band and one Fitbit Charge.  For the next month I am going to wear both of them and compare, and in the end I will return one of the devices and declare the other the winner.

There’s a bias though… I have used Fitbit for five years… not only the device, but the on-line communities, the apps, and even the Aria scale.  Everything works together, and if I decide to go with the Band I am going to lose all of that… although I can still use the scale and type my number into Microsoft Health, it will not all be the same system.

I have always said that IT should not be about religion, it should be about the best tool for the job.  For that reason I am going to keep an open mind.  Andrew assures me that all of the original Day 1 and Version 1 issues that came with the original Band and even the Band 2 are history, so I am going to try it out. 

At the same time I have to remember that I decided to pick a lower-end Fitbit… the Fitbit Charge HR would have been a slightly better comparison, but really the only difference between the two is that the HR also measures my heart rate.  If the Charge wins out over the Band then I might consider switching it out for the higher-end device, but the $119.99 price tag of the Charge was a lot more appealing than the $179.99 price tag of the Charge HR.  We shouldn’t forget that the Band out-prices both devices, at a serious $249.99.  Whichever device I select it will still be a huge cost saving over the seriously over-priced Fitbit Surge, currently selling for $329.99 (As the Canadian Dollar drops, the prices of these devices rise).

It will be an interesting month… but over this time I will be writing about both of them, and letting you know how they compare.  Yes, I expect I will look a little silly wearing both of them, but never mind… That’s the length I am willing to go for you, my beloved user!

Stay tuned…

A Day In The Life? How about a cycle?

I recently performed an IT Infrastructure audit on behalf of a company in Canada.  The client was basically satisfied with what I gave them, but wanted me to elaborate on something.

“Mitch, what do you mean when you say we should fully document our processes?  What processes?  How do we even start?

Now, as a consultant looking for my next contract, the easy and profitable answer would have been ‘Hire me and I’ll do it for you.’  However that would have made true the old statement that a consultant is someone who looks at your watch to tell you what time it is.  I did not want to do that.

Documenting a process is easy, depending on how deep you want to go.  The easy way for Windows is to open the Problem Step Recorder (psr.exe) and record your keystrokes.  For more complicated environments, especially remote desktop on other remote environments, I use Camtasia Studio to record my screen, and then go back and watch what I did.

With all that, the best answer for my money is this: Tell your IT guys to keep OneNote open on their screen for a month.  Every time they do anything, log it… detailed steps and all.  By doing this over the course of a month you should capture all of the processes that you do in the course of your regular duties.

I was having a chat recently with my friend and colleague Colin Smith recently, and I told him about this methodology.  He said to me what I thought was obvious… ‘On any given day you likely won’t do everything… but over the course of a month, with the exception of reactions, you should capture just about everything.  It’s like doing A Day In The Life of An IT Guy… but more conclusive.’

Thanks Colin.

Yes, that is true.  While you may want to expand it to whatever period is a cycle (for some companies it might be quarterly), by forcing your IT folks to log and record everything they do in the course of their daily activities, after a while you should have a pretty inclusive set of procedures documented.

A day in the life won’t be enough… Do you monitor your logs every day?  Sure.  Do you perform every task every day? No.  Determine what your cycle looks like… then get to it!

Hello? Nice… but is it worth the money

imageMicrosoft has, over the last few versions of the client, made it much easier to log on to Windows.  By introducing PINs, Picture Passwords, integrating logons with Microsoft Accounts they have given us a lot more freedom, while taking security quite seriously.  I honestly think it is harder to hack into someone’s personal computer today than it was five years ago – at least, when users use the new options and do not store their passwords and PINs on sticky-notes.

When Microsoft introduced Windows Hello in Windows 10 I paid very little attention to it.  Firstly, I am no longer with the company; secondly, I am no longer a Microsoft MVP, and so am not invited to share in the information ahead of time; and lastly, I was just too busy with other things… and frankly I think all of the years of living on the bleeding edge had gotten to me.  I did install Windows 10 as an early adopter… but not as a very early adopter.

Even when I did move to Windows 10, back in the summer of 2015, Windows Hello was not a feature I was going to pay much attention to.  My Surface Pro 3 was a spectacular device, and I was not planning on trading it in, or buying an external camera just so that I could be logged in by facial recognition.

What is it?

Okay, so let’s back up a little.  Windows Hello is a new feature of Windows 10 that allows you to log on to your computer simply by being in front of it… but there is enough security that it has to be you sitting in front of it.  It cannot be someone who looks a bit like you, and it cannot be someone who has a picture of you.  In order to ensure this, the feature works only with Depth Cameras.  According to Windows IT Pro Magazine:

A regular webcam will not work with Windows Hello. Windows 10 features Windows Hello, which provides new ways to authentication using biometrics including facial recognition.  Since this is essentially 3-d detection,  a camera with a specialized illuminated infrared camera is required.

These cameras are not available in most devices… in fact, according to PC Magazine, most of these cameras are simply too expensive to include in lower end laptops. (See article).

So when, several months after the release of Windows 10, I traded up to a new Surface Pro 4, I did not even remember that the feature was called Windows Hello (in the article I refer to it as “the new high-res camera logon”).  It would be another month before I actually did get around to trying it.

So what do I think?  I like it… It is easier than ever to log on.  I sit down, my computer sees me, and it says “Welcome Mitch Garvis!”

Now here’s the issue… Yes, it is cool, and yes it is easier; but I have never in my life complained about having to type in a password.  I have never complained about password complexity.  I know that when I sit down at a computer I have to type in my password.  Is that gone now that I have Windows Hello?  NO! I use several computers, and most of them do not have Depth Cameras.  I am going to have to type passwords on most of the computers I work with for the foreseeable future.

Still and all, it is a great feature.  Would I have spent the money for it?  No.  However it is a ‘nice to have’ feature of Windows 10 with the Surface Pro 4.

If you do have a compatible camera, all you have to do is open the Accounts – Sign-In Options in your settings, and click on Configure Windows Hello.  Nothing too technical about it.  Good luck!

Panic at the Windows to Go Corral…

I really like my Ironkey Windows to Go (WTG) drives.  In fact, I like them so much I carry two of them – a W300 (software encrypted with BitLocker) that is domain-joined to one of my clients’ domains, which I use full-time since my corporate laptop went for a swim, and a W500 (hardware encrypted) that I use for everything else – it is joined to my Azure Active Directory domain (garvis.ca) and has all of my critical software installed, including such tools as my file recovery tools (Windows 10: Where are my files?), but also everything I might want to use day to day.

Like any responsible computer user I change my passwords on a semi-regular basis (Passwords: Beware).  Now that Windows allows you to tie your local account to your Microsoft account it is easier for me to do, because once I change that password, it automatically changes on all of my devices… or does it?

Last week I remembered (painfully) that it does not.  A disconnected device will not change the password until it logs on to the Internet (at which point, similar to domain joined computers, it will inform you that your credentials are out of date, and it will ask you to lock your computer and then enter your new credentials).

While I use my personal Windows to Go key on a fairly regular basis, sometimes I go longer periods without doing so.  This incident tells of a ‘perfect storm’ of things going wrong to lock me out… for days.

While I use my corporate key nearly every day to work at my office, my personal key is a ‘just in case’ tool… most of the time I have my personal device with me.  Most of the time my Ironkey W500 sits in my pocket waiting for me to be somewhere that I really need my stuff… an Internet cafe, for example. In fact, as I sit here thinking about it, I might not have logged on to it since I was in Japan (and I left Japan December 1st, 2015).

The other day I needed to use it… Probably on or about January 29th, or about two months after I left Japan.  I was trying to use it to recover files I had accidentally deleted from an older computer.  I brought the computer to my office and booted up.  I got past the hardware encryption without a problem – that password I knew.  However when it came to logging on to Windows, I was stopped.  ‘Incorrect Password.’  No, that is the right password… maybe I mistyped it.  I typed it again.  Same result.  I typed it two-fingered and very slowly…. nothing doing.

Wait… I have two different accounts with the same username… I know they have different passwords.  Let’s try the other one.  ‘Incorrect Password.’ Crap… Houston, we have a problem.

By this time, I know there is something wrong.  Of course, I changed my password shortly after returning from Japan, so I wonder if that might be the issue?  Of course, there’s a problem… I don’t remember what my old password was.

By now, I have tried my password too many times, and I am locked out… and to add insult to injury, the computer I was using did not have access to the Internet.  The problem would have to be resolved elsewhere.. on a computer with access to the Internet, on which I had already used the WTG key (so that the network drivers would have been applied).

The next day I went to my other office, and plugged the W500 into my old Lenovo ThinkPad.  I was a little scared when it booted twice into the Encryption screen, but then I remembered that only one of the device’s USB ports retained power during a reboot.  I changed port, entered my password, and… It worked.  PHEW!

So what is the lesson learned?  When you change your password, remember to log on to all of your devices at least once before forgetting the old password!

Covering Your Tracks: Not so easy when walking in the Cloud!

I got a panicked phone call from a client a few weeks ago.

Mitch, we fired one of our sales people last month, and we just discovered that she stole all of our client information, and covered their tracks by completely wiping their Outlook clean.  We need that information back.  Is there anything we can do?

Firstly, I have told you over and over again… when you are planning on letting an employee go, do so with some planning.  Collaborate with your IT department and HR, so that when they are called into your office for that uncomfortable conversation, all of their passwords are changed.

(And no, it won’t do to change all of their passwords and wait for them to come to ask why…)

You may be letting the employee go for any reason, but all that employee knows is that they no longer have a job, and they have to find ways to protect their future.  While it is illegal and dishonest, some of them may think that taking your corporate secrets – client files, leads, whatever – is an investment that is rightly theirs.  After all, they helped bring in those clients, right?  Wrong… They were paid for what they did.

The days when you could simply fire someone and have them escorted out of the office and be done with it are over; most employees (and former employees, if you allow it!) can access their data – your data – from anywhere, and are probably carrying a smart phone in their pocket so they can do it while they are waiting for the elevator.

Of course, there are ways to protect your data so they cannot easily steal or destroy it, but why take the chance?  Disable their accounts before they have the opportunity to be tempted.

The answer, by the way, is yes… I was able to recover all of the deleted Outlook Data by going into the Exchange Administration of their Office 365 account.  It cost them a few hundred dollars for my time, and it was a good lesson learned.  However what I cannot get back for them – and no technical expert can – is the proprietary that the dismissed employee took and used to secure their next job with the competition.  That will require attorneys, and you can only hope that in your jurisdiction the law favours the employer and not the dismissed employee.

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