Wearable gaming to make exercise fun (but not too fun)

Google crosses genres with its latest wearable for kids, combining a gaming system and an activity tracker in the Fitbit Ace LTE. The company touts it as “the first connected smartwatch of its kind that turns exercise into play and safely helps kids lead more active, independent lives.” Basically, think of it as a Nintendo Switch turned activity tracker with a few safety and connectivity features for kids ages 7 and up.

The idea here is to get kids up and moving in exchange for progress on Ace LTE’s board games. But there are also basic tools that allow parents (and trusted contacts) to contact the user. Through the new Fitbit Ace app (which adults can install on iOS or Android), guardians can set play times, track activity progress, and send calls or messages. On the watch itself, kids can also use the on-screen keyboard or microphone to type or dictate texts or select emoji.

Because the Fitbit Ace LTE uses basically the same hardware Pixel Watch 2, is quite sensitive. One of the main differences is that the kid-friendly tracker uses Gorilla Glass 3, in addition to the waterproof 5 ATM that both models share. Google includes a protective case with every Ace LTE, and it doesn’t add much weight.

There are other obvious differences, as the Pixel Watch 2 has a round face, while the Fitbit Ace LTE has a “floor” (a square with rounded corners) with two large buttons on the right side. According to Anil Sabharwal, Google’s vice president of product management, the latter’s group is also very narrow and it comes with “embedded technology”. This is a simple way of saying that the Ace LTE recognizes when you change the new strap and each accessory comes with unique content.

Fitbit Ace LTE on the wrist held in the air with a cartoon room on the screen.Fitbit Ace LTE on the wrist held in the air with a cartoon room on the screen.

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The company calls these straps “Cartridges”—another reminder of what a wish the Fitbit Ace LTE is for a gaming console. When you put on a new one, you’ll see an animation of all the bonus stuff you just got. They include new backgrounds and items for your Tamagotchi-esque pet named “eejie”. The individual bands also add unique cartoon strips called Noodles that move around the edges of the watch’s screen each day, showing the wearer’s progress toward daily goals, much like Apple’s activity rings.

I danced around the core of the Fitbit Ace LTE’s offering because I wanted to get the hardware out of the way. The most interesting concept here is the idea of ​​a wearable gaming system. Ace LTE’s home screen looks pretty typical. It shows you the time and the Noodle activity ring around it, as well as a small font at the bottom showing the number of points you’ve earned.

To the left of this page is what Sabharwal calls a “playlist”—a collection of daily tasks. As with other iOS or Android games, it’s a set of goals you’ll hit within a dictated time frame to keep you busy, and achieving those goals leads to rewards.

Most of these rewards are things you can use to animate your digital pet’s home on the right side of the home screen. Google calls these “eejies” – a name that doesn’t really mean anything. Some engineers in the room looked at the letters “I”, “J” and “I” and sounded them out, and sure enough, why not. (No, those letters don’t actually mean anything.)

Fitbit Ace LTE, held aloft on the wrist, displays a digital character inside a pink bedroom on the screen.  Above is the word Fitbit Ace LTE, held aloft on the wrist, displays a digital character inside a pink bedroom on the screen.  Above is the word

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According to Google, “Eejies are customizable creatures that feed on daily activity – the more kids reach movement goals, the healthier and happier the eji is.” As daily activities are completed and each child earns arcade tickets (or wears a new watch band), they can exchange them for new clothes or furniture for their eji.

While they’re supposed to be “customizable creatures,” ejis are anthropomorphic and look like… well, guys. Depending on how you style them, they can even look like sullen teenagers. Don’t expect your favorite Pikachu or Digimon to play with, these ejie are bipedal creatures with heads, arms and necks. I would have preferred something sweeter, but maybe the target demographic likes to feed and play with a weird avatar of themselves.

When multiple Ace LTE users meet, their eji can visit each other and send emoji messages. Of course, how much fun it is depends on how many of your (your child’s) friends have Ace LTE.

Even without that social component, Ace LTE can be pretty fun. It’s home to Fitbit Arcade, a new library of games built specifically for this wearable. So far, I’ve seen a total of six games in the collection, including a room escape game, a fishing simulator, and a Mario Kart-like racer.

It was the first game I tried at Google’s briefing Misty lake, fishing game. After a quick introduction, I touched the shadow of the fish in the water and threw my arm out. I waited until the Ace LTE beeped, then pulled in my wrist. I was told I caught a game fish and scrolled to see more information about past catches. I won five arcade tickets with this catch.

I happily tried again and caught what I was told was the “biggest pineapple gillfish” caught that day. Other hauls the Ace LTE I’m wearing include “ramen squid” and “blobfish,” and tapping the icon in the top left brought up a library of my catches.

Fitbit Ace LTE on the wrist held in the air with the words Fitbit Ace LTE on the wrist held in the air with the words

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Then I played a round Pollo 13, a racing game where I play as a chicken in the bathtub competing in an intergalactic space match against my archenemy. There, I flexed my wrist all over to steer, park my car on the road, or swipe to collect things that made me go faster. As I expected based on my previous ones Mario Kart experience (and also my lack of real-life driving skills), I won this game and came last. Sabharwal gently informed me that this was the worst result they had seen all day.

I couldn’t check other installed titles, e.g Galaxy Rangers, Jelly Jam or sprouts but I was drawn to my favorite genre, the room escape game.

However, Google doesn’t want to encourage addiction or addiction to Ace LTE games. “We don’t want kids to overtrain. We don’t want kids to think, ‘Oh my God, the world has ended!’

To that end, progression in each game is built around encouraging the user to complete action objectives to advance to new stages. Every two to three minutes you will be prompted to get up and move. In Smokey Lake, for example, you’ll say you’re out of bait and need to walk a few hundred steps to get to the bait shop. This can be achieved by taking a series of steps or any activity that meets similar requirements. Google calls it an “interval-based game,” playing on the idea of ​​”interval-based training.” After about 5-10 sessions, the company thinks each user will achieve the 60-90 minutes of daily activity recommended by the World Health Organization.

Fitbit Ace LTE is held in the air on the wrist, two game titles appear in the carousel: Fitbit Ace LTE is held in the air on the wrist, two game titles appear in the carousel:

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The idea of ​​activity as a currency for games isn’t exactly new, but Google is being pretty careful with its approach. In addition to trying to avoid addiction, which is a real concern for the target age group, the company also says it built Ace LTE “responsibly from the ground up,” working with experts in child psychology, public health, and privacy. and digital prosperity.” It added that the device was “built with privacy front and center” and that only parents would be shown a child’s location or activity data in their app. Location data is deleted after 24 hours and activity data after a maximum of 35 days. Google also said that the device “does not contain any third-party apps or ads.”

While activity is the primary goal at launch, the Ace LTE has the potential to track sleep and calculate other aspects of health toward goals. Since the device has all the features of the Pixel Watch 2, it can technically track sleep and prompt the user to record their moods and feelings. Parts of the Ace LTE interface also resembled other Fitbit trackers, with activity reminders and a Today-esque dashboard. But in my short experiences, it was difficult to fully explore and compare.

Although I like the idea of ​​the Ace LTE and am definitely having fun with some games, I still have some reservations. I was concerned that the device I tested felt warm, though Sabharwal explained that this was likely due to the demo units being charged on and off throughout the day. I also didn’t mind the thick bezels around the screen, although it didn’t negatively affect my experience. What seemed to be more of an issue was the occasional lag I encountered while waiting for games to load or go to the home screen. I’m not sure if this is a product of the early firmware or if the final retail units will have similar delays and will likely need a full review to find out.

The Fitbit Ace LTE is available for pre-order today for $230 Google Store or Amazon and it arrives on June 5th. You’ll need to pay an additional $10 per month for the Ace Pass plan, which includes LTE service (on Google’s Fi) and access to Fitbit Arcade and regular content updates. If you sign up for an annual subscription, you’ll get a collectible Ace Band (six are available for sale), and the annual fee is about $5 a month, a 50 percent discount between now and August 31.

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