Fitbit firmware update kills its own device
A routine software update by Fitbit has caused some devices to stop working.
Consumer NZ member Martin Wrigley purchased his Fitbit Versa 2 from JB Hi-Fi in Palmerston North on 6 February 2020 for $299. Less than three years later, a routine firmware update rendered the device useless.
“It ran down the battery in four hours by having all the various applications running randomly [it then] ceased to work,” Martin said. “I tried to recharge it but it wouldn’t sync with my phone or tablet. I carried out all the recommended procedures to sync the watch but nothing would happen.”
Martin’s first response was to try to find a solution himself, but he found that he was not alone when it came to Fitbit’s act of cyber self-sabotage.
“I started to search the web and to my consternation found that other users had been affected in a similar way after downloading the firmware update.”
There are a number of online communities of Fitbit owners, most notably the forum on Fitbit’s website where moderators can provide support, and on the forum-hosting website, Reddit. On Reddit, a number of users have shared their experiences of firmware updates ‘bricking’ their Fitbits, and the issues were not restricted to the recent update that killed Martin’s Versa 2.
Often, Fitbit’s solution to the problem – a 35% discount on a replacement – was being mocked. When one user described the same issue happening to their mother’s device, another wrote: “Do your mom a favour. Suggest that she take a pass on the discount and go with a different brand. Fitbits aren’t reliable, and when problems come up, the 35% discount is their go-to solution.”
Another wrote: “This happened with mine too! Only had it for maybe a year and a half and it wouldn’t turn on afterwards. They did the same thing and offered 35% off.”
Fitbit’s issues are widespread. In our February/March 2022 issue of Consumer, we reported that while Fitbit products tend to perform OK in our lab tests, every survey we’ve conducted on Fitbit owners since 2016 has produced disappointing results. In this time, more than one in three Fitbit owners had seen a fault and only half were satisfied with their wearable.
When approached for comment, a representative for Fitbit said: “We have not seen any new significant issues with the latest firmware update. We always aim to deliver a positive experience for our customers and our team continually responds to issues, checks device and system analytics, and captures devices for analysis when necessary. We urge any customers experiencing difficulties with their Versa 2 to contact Customer Support for assistance.”
Consumer’s tech writer, Nick Gelling, advises: “If you’re a current Fitbit owner, you should cross your fingers and continue to install updates because delaying doing so invites security risks. If you’re affected by the fault, know you have the right to a refund, replacement or repair.”
Having seen other Fitbit owners’ comments online, Martin decided to avoid dealing with Fitbit, going back to JB Hi-Fi in Palmerston North with his faulty device. When they said they would not repair or replace the device under the Consumer Guarantees Act, Martin contacted Consumer. That’s when our brilliant consumer adviser went to work.
Our adviser told Martin that the retailer has obligations under the Consumer Guarantees Act to resolve the problem, and should repair, replace or refund the money for the Fitbit.
The adviser then recommended that Martin send one more e-mail to the store manager before escalating the issue to the Disputes Tribunal. At this point, Martin got some traction. The store manager – who Martin said was very nice – spoke to Fitbit NZ’s distributor. The distributor acknowledged that the problem was a known fault, and the Fitbit would be replaced or refunded without issue.
While Martin is happy to have his money back, questions remain about the reliability of Fitbit’s products and its policy around repair and replacement. The online posts feature claims from the device owners about faulty Fitbit products they say are met by offers of discounts on products, which are generally poorly received, and replacements, which leave customers happy.
Replacing products with no questions asked makes consumers happy. But making them repairable, or just more reliable in the first place, might be a better bet in order to end the damaging cycle of consumption.