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The Misfit Shine is gorgeous but dumb

The Misfit Shine is gorgeous but dumb

The Shine is definitely the most stylish activity tracker on the market, but its brains don't match its beauty.

While there is a plethora of fitness and activity trackers available, like the Fitbit and the FuelBand and the Striiv, each and every one of those has a serious problem: They're just not very stylish.

Misfit Wearables' new Shine activity tracker wants to save you from both a sedentary lifestyle and fashion faux pas. The Shine is a small, round metal device with a minimalist, jewelry-like design. It feels much like a smooth pebble, but it's useful for more than just skipping stones--the Shine acts as an activity monitor, sleep tracker, and cool, futuristic watch all in one. It also comes with a variety of accessories ranging from a versatile magnetic clasp to an alluring necklace, so you'll never have to worry about it clashing with your outfit.

Unfortunately, while it delivers on the fashion front, its functionality leaves much to be desired: The syncing method is inconvenient, it doesn't always register the taps that are the only way you interact with it, and its accuracy is questionable. While these things could in theory be fixed with firmware updates, what's here today could be frustrating for people who want their activity trackers to do more than look good.

The hardware

The Shine is definitely the most attractive activity monitor I've ever seen. It looks more like a piece of jewelry (albeit, a strange, avant-garde piece of jewelry) than a wearable tech device. And that's kind of the point--Misfit boasts that it's "the world's most elegant physical activity monitor." That's not wrong, but it's not like the Shine has a lot of competition in the "elegance" category, either.

The round, pebble-like device is the size of a quarter, with a smooth, dark gray shell made of aircraft-grade aluminum. It features a grooved edge for snapping the Shine into various accessories: A rubber sport band and magnetic clasp are included, and Misfit also offers a watch band and necklace pendant for an extra $79 each. The front of the Shine features 12 pin-prick LED dots in a clock-like formation. The back sports Misfit's logo and a black "12" numeral to help you orient the Shine for time-telling purposes.

The Shine also comes with a small plastic tool that lets you flip open the back of the device to replace the coin cell battery. This is a nice feature, because it means you won't have to worry about charging the device daily. You will, of course, have to replace the battery every four months, but that's a small price to pay for the convenience--and the batteries themselves are fairly cheap, too. The Shine's back snaps on securely, rendering the device water resistant for swimming.

Instead of a screen, the Shine uses a simple LED user interface. The 12 LEDs around the Shine's face light up to correspond with the amount of activity you've performed throughout the day. To activate the Shine, you simply tap the device twice. This isn't a perfect science, however--Misfit has a few kinks to work out, since it almost always took me a few taps to get the device going.

After you tap the device twice, the Shine's LEDs will light up based on how much you've done that day. If you've met half of your daily activity goal--which is measured in "Shine points," not strictly in steps, distance, or calories burned, but more about that later--half of the LEDs will light up. If you've met two-thirds of your goal, eight of the 12 LEDs will light up, and so forth.

After the Shine displays your activity, it will display the time. To do this, the Shine first lights up the four LEDs corresponding to 12, 3, 6, and 9 on a clock face. It then lights up the LED corresponding to the current hour. Then it lights up the LED corresponding to the current minute--if the current minute is not a multiple of five, the Shine will light up the closest multiple of five and blink that light to correspond with the minute. This all sounds a bit complicated, but it's really not: If it's 2:31, the Shine will light up the LED at the 2 location, and then blink the LED at the 6 location twice (:30 + :01).

The Shine's activity tracking mode can be activated by tapping the device three times, instead of two--although, as I mentioned before, this whole tapping business is a little inaccurate, since three taps are often recognized as two taps...or no taps. Anyway, if you tap the Shine three times, it's supposed to launch into the activity tracking mode, which you can set via the Shine app, specifying if you want to track swimming, biking, or how long you slept. It's worth noting that you must set the Shine's activity tracking mode when you sync the device, and you can only have one mode set at a time. According to Misfit, you don't have to "tap out" of the special activity tracking--Shine should automatically know when you've stopped sleeping/cycling/swimming, but that wasn't my experience. (More on that later, too.)

The software

Like most other fitness trackers, the Shine works in conjunction with a free iOS app, available for devices with Bluetooth 4.0 and iOS 6.1.3. (In other words, it works with the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, fifth-gen iPod touch, third- and fourth-gen iPad, and iPad mini.) It does not work with older iOS devices or Android devices, which is a little disappointing.

That said, the iOS app is nearly as attractive as the device itself, with a clean, easy-to-use interface and a minimalist design. The app's main screen displays your daily activity in "Shine points." These points correspond with different amounts of activity, but they're not exact. For example, 1000 Shine points (the starting goal) is approximately 1.5 hours of walking, 35 minutes of running, or 25 minutes of swimming. It's understandable why Misfit uses a point system rather than simply tracking steps or distance, since this allows for the Shine to weigh different activities differently--you get more credit for running and swimming than you do for walking, for example. But it does muddy the tracking process.

However, if you tap the center of the app's main screen, you can see more detailed stats, including steps taken, distance covered, and calories burned. The calories are based on your basal metabolic rate (as determined by your self-reported height and weight) as well as your activity level.

The app also lets you view your activity record by week, adjust device settings (turn the clock display on and off), and see rewards and achievements. You also sync your Shine using the app. However, unlike other Bluetooth activity trackers, the Shine isn't capable of syncing quietly in the background--because of the device's metal exterior, you have to actively sync the Shine by placing it on the screen of your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad.

Syncing the Shine is fairly easy, but no manual sync process is easier than background syncing. To sync the Shine, you open up sync mode in the app and place the iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad on a flat surface. The app displays a circle, in which you are told to place your Shine. Once the Shine is in place, circles will radiate out from the device's position when it's ready to sync. Although you can sync the Shine while it's in the sport band, clasp, or another accessory, it's difficult--the Shine needs to exert a certain amount of pressure on the screen. It's much easier to just take the Shine out of its accessory and place it on the screen. While this syncing process isn't incredibly painful, it's still inconvenient, and it kept me from syncing the Shine too often.

Bottom line

The Shine is an elegant, attractive activity monitor that will make you rethink activity monitors. It's easy to wear--I haven't taken it off since I put it on--it's water resistant, it doesn't require charging, and did I mention that it's gorgeous? Plus, it doubles as a cool, high-tech watch and an interesting conversation piece.

That said, it's not perfect. The most frustrating issue is the tapping, which almost never works on the first try. If I wanted to double-tap the Shine, it often didn't recognize the taps at all. If I wanted to triple-tap it, it only recognized two taps, and I had to wait for it to go through the whole "activity level and then clock" sequence before I could try triple-tapping again.

The other problem with the Shine was its questionable accuracy. During normal, sustained activity--such as running or walking--the Shine was fine, and managed to accurately count steps as well regular pedometers. However, during different types of activity, such as working on the computer or sleeping, the Shine inaccurately counted a number of false steps. I'm also a bit concerned with the Shine's "ability" to sense when you've exited a "special" activity such as sleeping.

For example, during one test I tapped into "special activity" mode and went to sleep. Later, I woke up and walked about 25 steps to my home office, and checked the Shine's activity via the app. According to the app, I'd already walked 1700 steps--in other words, it looked like the Shine had tapped me out of sleep mode too early and had started tracking my movements as steps.

If these issues can be fixed with some firmware upgrades, the Shine could be a truly great fitness tracker. Even with its current flaws, it still got me to move more--those LEDs are motivating, even if they correspond to sketchy Shine points--and it looks awesome.

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Tags healthconsumer electronicsaccessoriesPhone AccessoriesFit TechWearable Tech

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