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Spark Activity Tracker - Review

SparkPeople Computer-Linked Pedometer

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating

By

Updated June 06, 2014

Spark Activity Tracker - Lights

Spark Activity Tracker

Wendy Bumgardner ©
Spark Activity Tracker Dashboard

Spark Activity Tracker Dashboard

Screen Capture by Wendy Bumgardner
Spark Activity Tracker on Shoe

Spark Activity Tracker on Shoe

Wendy Bumgardner ©

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The SparkPeople web site is a fun and popular place to track your diet and exercise. The Spark Activity Tracker automatically tracks fitness activities and uploads the data wirelessly to your SparkPeople.com personal page via a computer USB dongle.

The tiny pedometer uses an advanced 3-axis accelerometer to track your steps, detect workouts of over 10 minutes, and estimate your distance and calories burned. The Spark has 12 indicator lights. Tap it five times and the green indicator lights show your progress towards your daily step count goal.

When you are within 50 feet of your PC or Mac computer, the data is uploaded wirelessly to your free SparkPeople online home page. You can also view your data on their iOS or Android app, but it has to be uploaded through a computer first.

You can track your diet, water intake, weight, and other activities via the app or on your personal data page on the SparkPeople.com web site.

The tracker is produced by FitLinxx and is similar to their top-rated Pebble (winner of our Readers' Choice Award for Computer-Linked Pedometers) that is used in corporate wellness programs.

All-Day Steps and Workout Tracking

The Spark Activity Tracker tracks all-day steps, all-day activity calories burned, and all-day active minutes. But it also automatically detects and records workouts. It can sense walking, running, indoor cycling and elliptical workouts. If you spend 10 continuous minutes at these activities, it records it as a unique workout and you can view its data on your SparkPeople home page. For each workout, you see the minutes, calorie burn, steps, and distance.

It was fun to see my DeskCycle workouts automatically labeled as cycling when I wear the Spark on my shoe. They say outdoor cycling doesn't get accurately recorded due to the variations in pedaling motion (you coast sometimes, etc.)

Users note that aerobic dance (such as Zumba workouts) and stationary stepping workouts don't record as many steps as you may wish they did, as the Spark prefers to record forward motion and not side-stepping.

The Spark is waterproof to 100 feet, so you can wear it swimming and it will survive a trip through the washing machine. But users say that water aerobics usually gets recorded as walking/running, so you should reclassify the workout on the web site to get full calorie-burn credit for it.

Setting up the Spark Activity Tracker

The Spark is small, only 1.3 inches x 1.2 inches x 0.5 inch and weighing less than a third of an ounce. It has a built-in clip holder that you can use to wear it on your shoe (for best accuracy) or on your waistband, neckline, pocket or bra.

The Spark runs on a replaceable CR2032 battery for six to 12  months. It arrives with the battery installed and ready to use, and an extra battery is included.

To set it up to transmit wirelessly to a PC (Windows XP, Vista, 7 or 8) or Mac (OSX 10.6-10.8), plug in the USB dongle and download the SparkPeople Connect software.

Set up a free personal account on SparkPeople.com to track your Spark Activity Tracker data and to record and track your diet, fitness and health activities.

You can download the free SparkAmerica app for iOS or Android, or the fuller-featured SparkPeople Diet & Fitness Tracker app, which costs a few dollars. However, you will need a computer to get your data from the Spark into the online system and to be able to view it on the app.

Steps - Calories - Distance Tracking

Steps: The Spark tracks steps and resets itself daily at midnight. You set your daily step goal and each indicator light on the Spark represents 1/12 of that goal. It comes preset for 6000 steps, so each light would represent 500 steps. For ease of use, you might set your goal at 12,000 steps so each light represents 1000 steps. You earn a Glow Getter Trophy each time you achieve your daily goal.

Distance: This is automatically estimated by the accelerometer mechanism. You can adjust the calibration by recording a walking workout at a known distance and using their instructions for calibration.

Fitness Calories Burned: The Spark estimates your activity calories burned. You can log additional non-Spark activities using the app or web site, and those calories will be added to the total. You can use SparkPeople's full-featured diet tracking to match your calories eaten vs. calories burned.

Tracking Diet: You can use the SparkPeople.com web site and apps to track what you eat and balance calories in vs. calories out. You can also track your weight, water, fruits and vegetables, mood and sleep. However, you will have to do the work to input those, they are not automatically detected. The diet tracking is similar to our Calorie Count site and app.

Motivation - Trophies: The SparkPeople site is highly motivational. Using the tracker, you earn a Glow Getter Trophy each time you make your daily step goal, and you can easily post it to Facebook to brag to your friends. You also earn trophies for exercise minute milestones each month. You earn Spark Points for tracking everything and interacting with the site, which lead to more trophies and being listed on the Leaderboard.

Social: You can also connect with friends and post to message boards. The site is a great place to find and share recipes and fitness tips.

Portability: You can use the USB dongle on any compatible computer where you have rights to install the Spark Connect software. However, that isn't very convenient and often isn't possible. The tracker will save two weeks of data, so if you are away from a computer, you have awhile before you must download it or lose it. But at least you don't need to recharge the Spark, and it gives you a two-week notice of a low battery.

Bottom Line on the Spark Activity Tracker

Drawbacks:

  • There is no numerical display on the tracker, only the 12 goal-indicator lights. I found those helpful, but if you want data on your workouts, you have to wait until you can upload it via the computer USB dongle to view on the site or app.
  • You can't upload your data via your mobile device as you can with Bluetooth-linked activity trackers such as the Nike+ FuelBand or Fitbit.
  • It doesn't detect elevation changes to track stairs, it doesn't track sleep quality or give you inactivity alerts to reduce your sitting time..

Positives:

  • If you are already one of the SparkPeople, this is a great addition to your experience.
  • I really like the automatic workout detection.
  • The SparkPeople site is highly motivational and has numerous ways to encourage you to move more and eat sensibly.

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Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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