Fitness Trackers and Flights of Stairs Climbed – Largely, they Don’t Work

Well, I figured I’d Blog my Success, but I’ll Blog my failure. I have 2 Samsung SM-R800 Watches, one new as a gift, one because the Flights of Stairs Counter became erratic on the first one.



Above, my Original watch on the Left, the Reconditioned one on the Right. I was wearing the Original One, but the Reconditioned one was less than 2 Feet away During the Night, while I slept. Notice the Peaks in the Barometric Pressure in the First Photo show up as Depressions in the Second Photo, in other words, the Higher the Barometric Pressure, the Lower the Altitude. If you were driving around during the day, up and down hills, this would be a normal display to see. But both watches were in the same room. The Original Watch was in the Automatic Calibration Mode (Circled Arrow at the bottom of the Altimeter) but it’s User Initiated, I turned off the Auto-Refresh. The Reconditioned Watch is in the Manual Calibration Mode (Gear at the bottom of the Altimeter) where the user tells the Watch what the Altitude is, this is useful when you have a reference Altitude, and while Standing there, you set your watch to the Altitude, and for a period of time after that, the accurate altitude of various areas you visit will be indicated. 

Let me explain.

Steps are the strides that we make when walking, if not for placing one foot in front of the other, we’d fall. I’d imagine that that there is a jolt with each stride, each step if you will, and Smart Devices, and before that, Dumb Devices (there were Mechanical Pedometers), utilized that jolt to indicate a step was taken.

Flights of Stairs are more challenging. One needs to differentiate if the person is taking steps on the level, or if the person is climbing stairs. The way they determine if Flights of Stairs are being climbed is the occurrence of steps with a increase in altitude (these counters do not count coming down stairs).

To determine if the watch is being subject to a change in altitude, they use a Barometer built into the watch. On a day of steady Barometric Pressure, if one goes to a higher altitude, the Barometric Pressure drops. If one goes to lower altitude, the pressure increases. Airplanes use Barometer Based Altimeters (and other systems, now) to determine altitude, but special considerations need to be done by the Pilot/Co Pilot to account for changes in Barometric Pressure from one location to another, and for other causes.

But, the watch measures the change in Barometric Pressure, while your arm is moving (it means you’re walking), and steps are being added into the step counter. If I’m driving up a hill, it doesn’t add Flights of Stairs, nor if I’m stationary on an Escalator (but if I’m walking up the Escalator in motion, it should add Flights of Stairs), in an Elevator, or in an Airplane.

But here is the madness.

1. A Flight of Stairs is climbing at least 10’, if you climb 20’, that’s 2 Flights, 30’ is 3, and so on. It appears that American Homes are not quite 10’, mine is actually just over 9’, I just measured it, now I understand why I have so much trouble getting credit for the Flight Climbed. On my original watch, if I held my Arm in the Air, at the top of the Steps, I’d usually get credit for a Flight Climbed. The second one I bought, it is like Pulling Teeth to get credit for a Flight Climbed in my home, even with the Hand in the Air Trick.

But to get credit for Flights of Stairs Climbed, one doesn’t need to Climb Stairs. I live on a hill, a steep hill. I walk up the hill until I have gone up 20’ Vertical. My hill is 9.85° Steep, extrapolating that out, I need to walk about 115’ up the hill to climb 20’, and when I do that, I get credit for 2 Flights Climbed on the FitBit One, and sometimes 2 Flights Climbed on the Samsung. If I hold my arm in the air briefly at the end of the walk, I more often get credit for 2 Flights Climbed on the Samsung.

It is what it is, but there’s more problems yet.

In truth, these problems aren’t limited to my Samsung SM-R800 Watch, it seems to be a problem with all these Watches and Climbing Stairs, Samsung, Garmin, Apple, and FitBit (and likely other brands). None of them seem to be able to accurately measure Flights of Stairs, save the FitBit One I own, it’s not a watch, I has a little clip and you wear it. Almost without exception, it accurately counts the Flights of Stairs Climbed, including in my house, so I think it’s set for 9’ Climb and not 10’.

2. Tiny Holes, and Sweat. On the Back of the Samsung is the Barometric Pressure Opening, and there is a smaller hole yet used to equalize the pressure on both sides of the Barometric Sensor. If anything gets in the holes, the Barometer may read incorrectly, and thus the Altimeter Read Incorrectly, and the Flights of Stairs be incorrect or not working.

If, using a Magnifying Glass, one believes that something is in these holes (on my Model of Samsung Watch), you’re supposed to gently wash them off. You can swim with this watch on, so the water won’t hurt it, but no jets of water or pressurized air should be used, nothing inserted into these holes, and after gently washing, the watch dried and allowed to dry in the sensor openings before the watch will be normal again for these pressures.

Yet there is the problem of Sweat. When one sweats, the Sweat goes in these holes and causes issues with the pressure, the altimeter, and Flights of Stairs counting. I have a Casio Watch, it has an Altimeter, Barometer, and Thermometer, and it retails for about $40. Casio had the sense to put the Barometric Sensor on the side of the watch, and the back is solid, and hence not subject to Sweat. But it has a Resolution of 20’ of Change in Altitude, the Samsung resolves 1’ Change. The Casio isn’t a Smart Watch, it doesn’t count steps, but it has utility for the named measurements.




Above, the Philadelphia Cream Cheese Lid Fix, affixed with Strips of Double Sided Tape nearly as thin as Cellophane Tape. If someone is skilled, they could market these things. The Barometric Pressure Opening is to the Left in the View Immediately Above. If a Double Sided Tape Ring came around the hole for the Heart Rate LED, it would preclude any sweat from entering via this central opening, but the tape needs to remain clear of the Barometric Sensor openings. Additional Double Sided Tape could be applied in the Top, Bottom, and Right Sides of the VIEW IMMEDIATELY ABOVE. It has to be thin tape, removable and preferably replaceable or sell multiple pre-taped units. This does not interfere with wearing, does not interfere with charging, does not interfere with the Heart Rate Monitor, and has appreciably increased the number of Flights of Stairs Counted. Before I applied this, I was getting zero on some days, and few on other days. Now it’s much better. Even though the plastic fits flush on the rear of the watch, there’s a slot cut in the rear of the watch to permit the Air to access the Sensor Hole (see first image of the 3 above), yet this Philadelphia Cream Cheese Lid Fix prevents the skin from covering the Barometric Sensor Related holes. And, Drum Roll Please, it reduces significantly the amount of sweat that goes into those holes. 

3. Snake Oil Salesman (SOS is the abbreviation, what a coincidence). Many people feel they have found the solution to not counting Flights of Stairs and too few Steps Counted (not counting steps seems to occur for short excursions, like room to room in a house, but I have not seen that issue). Every time I think I found a solution, the solution stops working. Resetting the Watch, Using Different Watch Faces, Holding your Hand in the Air at the top of the Stairs, etc. 

I noticed that if I lifted the watch off my arm, while the watch was still banded to my arm, the Altitude would briefly increase (suction), and that indicates Lower Pressure at the Barometer, and hence I reasoned that my Skin was Sealing over the Sensor, and blocking the Air Pressure change that needs to occur in a timely fashion for the program to realize you deserve credit for Stair Climbing. I made a spacer from a Philadelphia Cream Cheese container lid, and double sided taped it on the back of the watch, avoiding putting any Tape near the openings. Though the Plastic Container Lid Fits Flush against the Rear of the watch, there is a slot cut out on the Rear of the watch to permit Air to Flow in from the Upper Watch Band Connector Area, and a Flat Surface will still leave it open, but without it, skin contours to the opening and can seal it. I think the watch is designed for people with smaller wrists than I have, and if the wrist is smaller, it tapers away sooner and leaves the holes relatively open.

I figured that the Flat Container Lid would prevent the skin from sealing the opening, and would prevent Sweat from entering to a significant degree. And the next day, it was da boss, it was reading Flights of Stairs, and giving me 2 Credits (as it should) for the walk on my hill. Eureka, I single-handedly saved the union. I could see the medal that the President would pin on my suit for this miraculous discovery. But the day after that, it stopped counting accurately again, off by a far measure.

Today’s fix was removing an App on the Watch that was not needed since the Watch Face I was using provided the Steps and Flights of Stairs Counted, and it started to show promise, but soon, it was back to not counting and under-counting. Grrr.

4. Other variables. If your home or workplace is Air Conditioned, the Pressure may be Uniform Throughout the Home, to a Significant Degree, and hence won’t show the changes in Barometric Pressure needed to indicate a Climb of 10’. If you’re in front of a fan, our outside on a Windy Day, the Air Currents can foul up the readings. Some people get credit for climbing 150 Flights of Stairs but never went up one, some people climb 150 Flights of Stairs but get credit for few, if any.

It seems like these problems come and go, and may be unrelated to the Air Conditioning, Fans, or Wind. I sent my original Watch Back due to bizarre fluctuations in the Barometric Pressure (and by design, fluctuations in the Altimeter), verified when both watches were in the same room, I was wearing one, and the other was a foot away. But maybe wearing it was causing it, the fan blowing air underneath the watch when I slept. But one day, both watches on the Arm of the Couch, the Altimeter in the Original Watch showed a horrific drop, it got down to -400 Below Sea Level, while the other one indicated a constant 1100 Feet. So, something is clearly wrong in that watch. It recovered, but it was sporadic, indicative of an issue with the Sensor or Motherboard itself.

According to FitBit, if Memory Serves, in an online support response, they said Flights of Stairs Climbed can be highly variable, admitted to seeing the issue on their own Fitness Trackers, and said that Calories Burned are not adjusted based on the Flights of Stairs Climbed, since the system is that unreliable. And unreliable it appears to be. Apple, FitBit, Garmin, Samsung, and more all have issues with that, save the now Discontinued FitBit One, and that is commanding a huge price online for the remaining new stock. Mine was about $125, on Ebay, by a person that rebuilds them and sells them as Re-manufactured or Re-conditioned. This morning, while fixing my Toaster that has more complexity than the Space Shuttle, I had to go to the Basement Twice. My Basement is not nearly as high as the First Floor (Ground Floor for those in England and other areas), so the Climb is even less, yet the FitBit One Credited me for 2 Flights of Stairs Climbed.

Clearly the Technology is possible, but none of the Giant Electronic Manufacturers took the time to do it right. If FitBit can do it on one Model, the others must be able to as well. But they just don’t seem to care, often offering bewildering instructions on what to do if your Watch is not counting the Flights of Stairs Correctly, then offering lame excuses on why those instructions may not work.

For the Samsung SM-R800, if you want other things, like Barometer, Altimeter, Pedometer, Answering Text Messages on your Watch, Making Text Messages from your Watch, Time, Alarms, Calendar, and more (with a Samsung Phone and the Watch, you can Make and Receive Phone Calls with your Watch), they are a great investment. But don’t expect the Flights of Stairs to be counted properly, if you do, you’ll spend hours and hours in frustration thinking that this time, you actually solved it. 


For the Samsung SM-R800, I thought I could Decrease the Altitude Reading (increased Barometric Pressure) by sealing my finger over the Barometric Pressure Sensor Opening and squeezing moderately. I reasoned that I was briefly sealing off the opening, and the slight amount my finger would bulge into the opening would represent increased pressure, and therefore decreased Altitude. I could reliably do it, until one day, I realized I could apply pressure to the Back of the Watch, slightly away from the Sensor Opening, and the Altitude still decreases. It appears that the back of the watch is being flexed in, and that is responsible for the changes by somehow effecting the Barometric Sensor itself. It’s also a reason not to wear the watch too tightly. 

I live in an area Saturated by Radio Signals, and I wonder if the Watch is inadequately designed to prevent interference from such signals. The reason I say that is I have a NukAlert, it’s a Key-chain Radiation Detector. On some days, the watch seems to refuse to count Flights of Stairs, and I notice that the NukAlert Ticking that signifies Background Radiation is higher than normal, most likely caused by Sun Spots (The Radiation Detector went into Alarm one day when the Solar Storms were significant). But there are many Radio Towers on the Horizon, and I have a view of much of the Horizon, and my Police Scanning Radios have trouble with Intermodulation, i.e. the Internal Mixing of Radio Frequencies causing Stations to appear at frequencies that they don’t really exist. If the Police Scanning Radios are overloaded, it’s possible the Watch is as well, but the other features on the watch work flawlessly, so I can’t say if this is an issue or not. 

Looking online, I found this information concerning Broadcast Sources within 3 Miles of my home, they are talking Cell Towers, Broadcast Towers, and Utility Antennas, not Amateur Radio Antennas:


137 towers and 486 antennas within a 3.0 mile radius 

For my Old Neighborhood, the Map of the Antennas is shown, as well as the Number of Towers and Antennas:


I very much enjoy this watch, but I think all the manufacturers need to rethink the Flights of Stairs Counting. There is a good subset of people that want this feature, and requiring 10′ is a bit neurotic, especially if the Flights of Stairs Climbed is not used to calculate Calories Burned. Even if it was, let people set it for 8, 9, or 10 feet, and adjust the Burned Calories down a little for the slightly less distances. For those that can exercise, Stair Climbing (or walking up a hill, the Equivalent of it for these Watches, is excellent for working out, even if only done gradually and to the degree that is possible for each person. 

Author: Dr-Artaud

A Doctor that is not a Doctor, but named after a character in the movie "No Such Thing", as is the Avatar.

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