The DirectLife, from Philips ($80 until January, then $100), doesn’t try to track your sleep. It doesn’t have the wireless transfer, either; instead, every so often, you snap it magnetically into its U.S.B. docking cradle/charger connected to your Mac or PC.
And it’s not as cool-looking; the DirectLife is a white, flat, one-inch square plastic doodad that you can wear on a neck cord under your clothes, carry in your pocket or slip into a belt pouch.
There are no numeric displays. If you set the DirectLife down on a flat surface, a row of little green indicators lights up to show you how close you are to your activity goal so far today — one dot, you’re a couch potato; nine dots, you’re a superjock. But that’s it.
Yet despite all that, if your goal is to lose weight or get in shape, the DirectLife is far more likely to help you succeed. First, it’s waterproof, so you can wear it swimming (or in the shower). Second, it’s crushproof. (My first Fitbit, on the other hand, fell apart when I accidentally dropped it once.) Third, the Web site and setup instructions are far more professional, complete, well-designed and classy. (The Fitbit’s entire user manual is a terse Web page.)
But the DirectLife’s real killer feature is the personal coach that comes with it. The company employs a team of fitness and nutrition experts (20 so far) whose sole job is to look over your activity data, answer your questions and egg you on.
You get 12 weeks of coaching with the purchase price (thereafter, it’s $12.50 a month). Now, I didn’t have that much time to work with the DirectLife, so I asked my Twitter followers if any were DirectLife buyers who’d be willing to share their coach’s e-mail exchanges with me.
Three of them did, and I was impressed. The coaches are upbeat and knowledgeable. They help you choose a realistic goal for weight loss or increased activity, and they’re filled with helpful little tips. “Your week 3 activity level was on average 783 calories per day, which equals 97% of your target,” went one of the e-mail comments. “You were so close! To make next week’s target, think of ways to squeeze in even more activity. You’re so close to your target that a 7-minute walk every day would probably be enough to get you there.”
Both of these gadgets do the primary job: making you aware of how much you move. You really want your Fitbit flower to grow; you really want to light up more DirectLife dots (and please your coach). As a result, you really do wind up finding your own little ways to eke out a little more exercise.
I hate to admit that it took some plastic gadget to change my own habits, but I found plenty of tiny ways to move more. (My favorite: I’ve taken to parking in the farthest spot instead of the closest one. It took some explaining when I took my children to a movie, but they took it in stride.)
Other gadgets confer this same awareness, of course: you can use put Nike’s $30 accelerometer in your running shoe and track the data on your iPod screen, or you can buy more expensive gadgets like the BodyBugg. Those are more elaborate, conspicuous approaches.
What’s so likeable about these new gizmos is that they’re so tiny and simple and cheap, it’s almost no effort to use them. We all know that few people actually stick to their New Year’s resolutions. But I’m betting that you’d stick with these wearable plastic bits longer than you would with a gym membership — and pay a lot less.
David Pogue is a columnist for the New York Times and contributor to CNBC. He can be emailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org.