The Fitbit Ace LTE is a complete Google launch [Gallery]

Google has been working on the Fitbit Ace LTE for the past two to three years, and it shows. In my brief use of the Fitbit-branded Wear OS device, what strikes me most – as someone outside the intended child/parent audience – is how much of an end-to-end experience it offers.

From the basic podcast experience in YouTube Music to the Gemini app with no phone assistant features, minimum viable Google – as I call it – can be frustrating as an end user. The Fitbit Ace LTE offers the opposite of that by having a clear, albeit narrow, focus.

Google’s thoughtful play

Ignoring the fact that you can actually play games on it, the entire Fitbit Ace LTE has an immersive video game-like quality. This is obviously the intention to encourage children to want to wear it. The premise is: ‘The more [kids] move, the more playtime they unlock.”

Titles in the Fitbit Arcade take full advantage of haptic feedback, input accelerometer, and speaker. As such, it’s more than just squeezing a touch-heavy phone game into a smartwatch-sized display.

I had the chance to play a virtual fishing title where your arm becomes the pole that you cast out and retrieve. The other game I tried is similar to “Mario Kart” and involves moving your wrist to navigate around a race track. The games definitely got me moving and are a nice addition to the Ace LTE’s traditional Move Goal, where 90 points is about 45 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity.

These titles are built using the Unity engine and are somewhat slow to load at first, but are smooth once you get going. The style of the games is a bit generic and I wish they were a bit more Google-esque in nature. Playing on a rounded square is reasonable, and the intended audience of 7+ may be more forgiving of this very real limitation.

As they progress and complete daily activities, kids earn arcade tickets to customize their virtual characters – called “eejies” – and decorate their homes. This is the other big aspect of the Ace LTE and is clearly inspired by ‘Animal Crossing’.

Google sets limits to ensure children don’t overexert themselves. It worked with “independent experts in child psychology, public health, privacy and digital wellbeing.”

Meanwhile, Google takes further inspiration from the old Nintendo cartridges with a patented belt mechanism that loads new virtual content such as different items, styles, rooms and ‘Noodles’ activity ring. You don’t have to keep the band on to access that content. As such, Google envisions kids trading bands getting more content in a fun playground/social aspect that makes technology more tangible. I love that tactility as much as the pouch-like packaging.

Thoughtful but limited Fitbit

The Fitbit Ace LTE isn’t really intended as a full-featured fitness tracker, with less activity tracking than even previous models in the Ace line of fitness trackers. For example, only 30 days of activity is shown in the Fitbit Ace parent app, with Google outright deleting the data from its servers after 35 days as part of its data minimization tentpole for this product.

The most important stat is the move goal which appears as a ‘Noodle’ activity ring around the watch face. Other available metrics include active minutes, steps, floors, and heart rate. There’s no sleep tracking, with Google encouraging kids to take it off and charge it while they sleep, even “rewarding” them through the software if they remember to charge the watch.

It’s not a complete Fitbit in that regard, and I hope Google considers this down the line. After all, Google Research has clearly gone out of their way to make this an accurate fitness device for kids by reworking the sensor algorithms for them instead of just using the adult version.

Versatile Google

Most smartwatches for kids, which are often sold by carriers, are not very powerful. Google is working closely with the Apple Watch SE and is using the existing Pixel Watch 2 hardware and Wear OS for this project.

You swipe down for quick settings, such as battery percentage, screen brightness, ringer on/off and do not disturb. Swiping up takes you to notifications, such as messages from set contacts and updates on goal completion.

Going left will give you access to your eejie’s virtual world. Swiping right brings up a dashboard that shows your eejie’s face, what level you are on and the number of arcade tickets you have, as well as the progress of your daily missions. Arranged as Tiles, keep swiping to get back to your watch face.

There are two buttons on the side. The top one takes you to Calls & Messages, where you get the approved contact list (up to 20), day/date, and a list of basic fitness stats, while Google Wallet is coming in an upcoming update. The calling interface is basically Google Messages for Wear OS, although the Ace LTE uses an IP-based backend for messaging and calling. The bottom button starts the carousel of games.

The target audience is children 7 years and older, but the managed functionality of one-tap calling and messaging, as well as location sharing, seems useful for everyone. Speaking of location, Google will note patents when the Ace LTE is in a location but not currently being worn.

If you are 13 years or older, you can set up the Ace LTE on your own phone and receive simple app notifications.

You will need the LTE plan to perform the initial Ace LTE installation. If you stop paying, step and activity tracking will still work, while Wi-Fi connectivity is available, although by design these settings are out of reach in the shallow software. That said, the full Wear OS settings app can be reached.

Wearables for kids are a fast-growing segment, especially for those who aren’t ready for a smartphone.

Google’s usual strategy is to launch with a set of core features and add more later with updates. By comparison, Ace LTE feels like a complete story. It has to be, because the bar for something you give your children to keep them safe and healthy is so high. Honestly, it’s refreshing as a Google user.

The end result is a product that tries something new with plenty of quirkiness and versatility, even for someone outside the target group. The Fitbit Ace LTE costs $229.95 + monthly/annual subscription and is available for pre-order from the Google Store and Amazon ahead of general availability on June 5.

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