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Fitness Watch Anyone?

Fitness Watch Anyone?
by mbriggs on 12-01-2014 at 4:30 pm

 I’m an exercise junkie. I’m also not a spring chicken so I like having the time on my wrist. I’ve been anxiously awaiting an iWatch to go with my iPhone 6. As patience is not a virtue of mine, and the iWatch is rumored to be expensive ($400-500). I decided to try a fitness watch.

This is a crowded area that includes activity trackers and runner’s watches with GPS. Fitbit and Nike seem to be leading the way in the activity tracker space, with the GPS companies such as Garmin the Magellan trying to stay relevant with GPS enabled runner’s watches.

For me, a key component of a fitness watch is the heart rate monitor. Many of the fitness devices, including the iWatch, use optical sensors. These are generally green LEDs which shine through the skin. This seems to be a technology that hasn’t quite been perfected as active monitoring is a power drain, and the signal/accuracy is sometimes suspect. The runner’s watches on the other hand connect to a chest strap for heart rate monitoring. This is more reliable, but of course bulky and inconvenient.

Jawbone recently introduced a different technology they call Bioimpedance. The sensor technology comes from BodyMedia, a health-monitoring startup Jawbone bought last year. It measures the resistance of body tissue to tiny electric current to enable the capture of a wide range of physiological signals including your heart rate. If you’ve ever measured your body composition such as fat content, this is very similar. There are metal studs inside that conduct electrical bioimpedance measurements. The bad news is that Jawbone’s newest band the UP3 still doesn’t have a display, just a few LEDs.

I read all the reviews I could find, and several publications really liked the Basis Peak. To cut to the chase, the reviewer on re/code got it mostly right with her comment, “I think it earns the title of One of the Best Activity Trackers Available While We All Wait to See What the Heck the Apple Watch Is Really Like. But there are a few areas where it falls short.

I really wanted to love the Basis Peak. A fitness tracker, that is also a watch is right up my alley. The experience started well, the packaging was extremely well done, even Apple like. The problems started the morning after, and every morning after that. I wore the watch to bed, but do not charge my phone in the same room. It was a struggle to resync with my iPhone 6. It required quitting the app, unpairing Bluetooth, and restarting the watch. I struggle with almost all my Bluetooth devices, including the car and headsets. My Logitech keyboard is my only Bluetooth device that is anywhere close to reliable.

The heart rate monitor often took a long time to get going, as in a minute or two. I shaved the hair off my wrist thinking a better connection with my skin was the problem, but it didn’t help.There were also times when the heart rate shown on the watch was obviously inaccurate.

The calorie reading seemed to be right on, even though an exercise bike is considered walking, so you don’t get credit for steps. The Stairmaster 6000 (the real steps) is considered walking. The straw that broke the camel’s back is when water seeped into the watch during a hot tub incident and now it doesn’t work at all.

Net, net is that the concept is great, but I think seamless operation is a generation or two away. I haven’t quite decided if I’ll try the Withings, Garmin, Fitbit, or wait for the iWatch. My top contender as of this moment is the Fitbit Surge, available in early 2015.

Suggestions anyone?

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