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Fitbit Edges Toward Smartwatch Territory: Rich Jaroslovsky

The dawn of the smartwatch era will be a challenge for makers of the now-ubiquitous fitness bands, such as Jawbone's Up and the Fitbit Flex.

These bands measure things including steps taken, stairs climbed and amount of sleep, and then communicate the results to your mobile device or computer. But Samsung's new Galaxy Gear, for one, does many of the same things plus a whole lot more (even if it doesn't do many of those things particularly well ).

Now Fitbit is releasing a new band that begins, ever so gingerly, to move in the smartwatch direction. It's called the Fitbit Force and costs $130.

The Force resembles a chunkier version of the $100 Flex -- same rubberized band in black or slate; same five- to seven-day battery life between charges; same annoyingly hard-to-close clasp.

Unlike the Flex, which requires you to remove the sensor from the band to charge it, the one in the Force is permanently embedded. While the Force is water-resistant, the company recommends you remove it when washing dishes, showering and the like.

The biggest difference is in how information is displayed.

The Flex uses five flashing LED lights to measure your progress toward whatever daily step goal you've set. So if your goal is 10,000 steps, and the band shows two solid lights and one blinking, you only know you're somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of the way there.

The Force, by contrast, has an alphanumeric display that shows the actual number of steps taken and distance traveled at the press of a button. It also shows stairs climbed, estimated calories burned and, of course, the time of day.

The activity data is wirelessly synced via Bluetooth with Fitbit's free app for your iPhone or Android phone. Wear the Force to bed, and it will also track and report your sleep patterns and wake you by vibrating at a preset time.

Even more intriguingly, Fitbit is promising a firmware update, date unspecified, that will allow the Force to display caller-ID information when it's paired with an iPhone.

The Force remains at its core a fitness tracker, not a smartwatch. Still, the additional functions -- especially caller ID, when it comes -- point toward a future when these currently separate types of devices converge into one.

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