Is your fit tech healthy?

‘I have seen first-hand in clinical practice that not meeting goals or falling short of targets can have negative implications for people. Missing these goals has led to them having negative thoughts, lowered mood and even strategies such as restrictive eating or binging and purging.’

However, in contrast, smashing goals and meeting expectations can often lead to feelings of euphoria and improved self-esteem, and might explain the appeal and success wearables continue to have in today’s mainstream market… More here.

A decent article. I remain in two minds about fitness tech, but do appreciate the automation of monitoring movement and steps etc. The trick is to use the information in a less dominating way.

The CZ Smart Hybrid

Introducing a genius timepiece like you’ve never seen before – the new CZ Smart Hybrid has all the style of iconic Citizen design combined with the best-tech functions of a smartwatch. The impressive 15-day battery keeps up with your busy lifestyle in a distinctive design that stands out… More here.

Decent design, nice integrated bracelet setup and good battery life. I am not sure about the ‘hybrid’ nature though and would have preferred to see real hands so that the description was more accurate. (UPDATE: it does have physical hands, but the marketing shots could easily confuse because they have removed them in some photos). Also, what platform is this running on? The platform name of ‘CZ Smart hybrid’ doesn’t tell me much.

Withings ScanWatch review

While it has the good looks of a classic watch, it has the ability to serve as a clinically validated electrocardiogram, capture blood oxygen measurements, measure breathing frequency while sleeping, track your heart rate, and more, all while lasting about a month between charging. As I have talked about many times, I cannot use a smartwatch regularly since I cannot stand having to charge my watch more than once a week, and with the ScanWatch, you just wear it and forget it… More here.

Probably the closest we have got so far to a fitness watch that feels like a real watch.

The WHOOP 4.0 is reaching too far

Designed to meld the worlds of fashion and fitness, the WHOOP 4.0 band sports a minimalist, sans-screen design that echoes the fashion sensibilities of the Livestrong band. With a design that highlights the fitness tracker’s woven fabric band, the WHOOP 4.0 does two jobs remarkably well – it expertly tracks your fitness stats, and looks good while doing it… More here.

I like the design and feature-set of the WHOOP, but £24/month is a reach in my view when you consider the competition out there and how quickly every brand in this market is moving forward.

Oura Ring Generation 3

24/7 heart rate monitoring / 7 temperature sensors / Adapts and responds to you / Guided sessions / Sleep analysis, perfected. More here.

A really nice design and by all accounts the Oura Ring is a very capable device, much more capable than you may expect from such a small tracker.

This to me could be the beginning of the future, but obviously it has some way to go and the obvious problem of a lack of instant feedback remains.

The main issue is that $299 and a required $6/ month subscription is pushing it a bit…

Smartwatch Wars: The fenix 6 Pro finally beat the Apple Watch

I wrote three articles (part one, two and three) about the Apple Watch and its competitors and at the time I found myself sticking with the Apple Watch for a variety of reasons. It became clear to me that the Apple Watch was functionally easier to use and much more flexible in terms of apps and what could actually be done with it. 4G connectivity helped a lot and so did the seamless integration with Apple Music which meant that I could leave my iPhone at home when going for long walks or runs.

It is a hugely beneficial setup and one which can lead the owner of an Apple Watch to look at the competition and ask themselves ‘Is that all you can do?’

To sum up, the Apple Watch did everything I needed and more, and it has kept me moving during the past 18 months of pandemic misery. Without it I am sure that I would have put on much more weight and even though I am not currently at the weight I want to be it gave me something to aim for and I am at least grateful for that.

Something, however, was nagging at me with regards to the Apple Watch. As a watch person I could not shake the sense that the Apple Watch does not feel like a watch on occasion. It is square, it does not sit particularly comfortably on the wrist and that damn battery p*sses me off! It also requires attention and demands interaction through a myriad of notifications, reminders to exercise and of course to charge it at least once a day. I can of course turn off many of the notifications, but the need to work with an Apple Watch just to keep it running is always present and this is definitely not what a watch is supposed to do.

Some mechanical watches are hand wound and need winding each day, but this takes a few seconds and it actually a calming experience. Most others are either quartz which means a battery change every few years or automatic which means that simply wearing them will keep them running. An Apple Watch needs much more attention than any of the alternatives and substantial time off the wrist to use every day.

I found myself charging every day because of the workout tracking I do and eventually reached the point of leaving it on the charger overnight. This is fine and usually gives enough power for the day ahead, but now and then after some particularly long walks it would get close to 10% in the early evening, and this is on a series 6 44mm. That is not good enough in my opinion and watching the battery percentage on a watch feels much more intrusive than on a smartphone.

The fenix 6 kept nagging at me for some reason and I wrote some early impressions recently, but after 3 weeks I have not taken it off and have been using it for all of my fitness tracking, as a watch of course and for some simple tasks such as for alarms and timers. It does not do much in terms of daily tools, but what it does do is accomplished without ever having to nurture it in any way.

It is a big watch, but comfortable enough to wear at night for the excellent sleep tracking. I have just charged it for the second time in three weeks, and even that did not take long, and I have been playing around with a few of the available faces and apps which offer much more choice than you get in watchOS.

I have even added a protective bezel to change the look of the case (£2 from eBay!) and so here I am wearing it all day every day and the Apple Watch is sitting on a shelf not doing much at all.

The thing is, I made no concerted effort to do this. It just kind of happened as I found myself wanting to wear it every day and not viewing it as a device that does stuff I need. It’s the same kind of ‘want’ I find with mechanical watches and for a smartwatch to feel like a real watch is to me a real achievement.

Things may change of course. I like watches so things always change, but for now the Garmin fenix 6 Pro is on my wrist doing its thing and I am not having to do any babysitting. The only downside is having to carry my iPhone everywhere with me, but that is very much a first world problem of little consequence.

The Garmin fenix 6 Pro: a watch should just be worn

I have been playing with a Garmin fenix 6 Pro for the past week and by pure accident my view of Garmin has completely changed since my previous experience with the fenix 5.

There was never any intention to use it seriously or to keep it for any period of time, but the good bits are very good and just about overcome the bad bits.

I love watches, as you may well know, and for me the notion of simply wearing a product that fulfills a task without noticing it often is what makes them so special. The design and work that has gone into creating a beautiful watch is great to have, but that is most often experienced by someone else if they happen to glance at it, which almost no one does.

The problem with smartwatches, and in particular the Apple Watch, is the amount of interaction that is needed to keep it running, and also the amount of attention it demands. That sense of a ‘watch’ is lost under all of the alerts, visual enticements, pleas to exercise a bit harder and the need to charge it every day.

It can be annoying and of course you can adjust how often you are alerted, but the fact remains that it feels like an object that is consistently needing your engagement to work properly.

The fenix 6 Pro doesn’t feel like that at all and seems to sit in that sweet space where information and tracking is working all of the time, but where it can also be forgotten and worn as a normal watch.

The display is much improved over the fenix 5, it is still way below Apple Watch quality, and this also seems to fulfill a very specific requirement of a watch; to be legible without needlessly dragging the attention of the wearer to it. This is hard to explain, but it is akin to a Kindle and an iPad. One is just there and built for a task whereas the other is in your face and tempting you to play around a bit and burn your eyes just a little at the same time.

From a tracking perspective the fenix is impressive because it is supposed to be a more serious fitness tracker than a consumer wearable, and I have found myself gradually getting used to the menus, the lack of a touchscreen and the multiple button presses that are often needed to do simple things.

It does not aim to be an assistant or to replace a phone, no mobile connectivity confirms this, and the emphasis is purely on fitness and tracking your daily performance, and most importantly how you are improving. It is a fitness watch that can so smart things such as playing music, podcasts and utilise third party apps and watch faces.

The flexibility is just enough and I suspect that most people will look no further, but there is still a sense that the technology is not exactly cutting edge. If you compare the apps and software functionality to the Apple Watch and later Android Wear products the gap is huge, but I am aware that the hardware and sensors are potentially better on the Garmin.

Where Garmin falls down somewhat is the slowness of ecosystem development. If you do not want to subscribe to Spotify or Amazon Music you can use ‘iTunes’ to manually move music to the fenix from a Mac. Yes, the iTunes that no longer exists. I managed to move 1 song through Amazon Music and then gave up as the process stalled.

If you want to move any content to the fenix it is all a bit manual and really does feel like a trip back a decade or so. Just like Fitbit, Garmin is way behind in this area and the likes of Apple are way ahead.

The thing is that not having so much useable functionality has made me adjust to the fenix 6 Pro as a fitness watch that can tell me the time and offer all of the data I need, and this is the crucial bit-

I have been wearing it since last Saturday and my battery life is currently 61%. Two workouts a day, multiple notifications appearing and some timers run and I should still have another 4-5 days of power before I need to charge.

It is a bit of a beast in terms of dimensions at 47mm and with a near 15mm depth, but it is very well balanced and feels invisible on the wrist. This is in contrast to the Apple Watch which despite being lighter is more noticeable and somewhat top heavy. I suspect that this is because of the heart rate sensor on the back and the way it is shaped, but I only noticed the obviousness of wearing it after using the fenix for a few days.

It is not better than the Apple Watch, no smartwatch is in my opinion, but it is a better fitness tracker and it is a better ‘watch’, and that means something to people like me.

Apple Watch fitness rings are a pain, or are they?

But one application on the watch — the one which made the watch-wearing experience compulsively addictive — may actually drive me to give up the whole thing. I’m talking about the one-two hit of the Apple Watch and the Fitness app. 

Why am I thinking of ditching a mostly-convenient device just because of one application? I’m at a point where the relationship I have with my watch is shot through with irritation and life is honestly too short to seethe every time I get an admonition to check my daily ring progress… More here.

I am in two minds about the fitness capabilities of the Apple Watch. On the one hand they add stress we do not need on a daily basis. On the other, I would likely drop off very quickly without being nagged.

It’s a tough one to consider because through the lock downs it was a godsend. As things start to move back to normality the facility feels nagging and annoying a lot of the time.

The Amazfit Stratos 3. Is it really £400 worse than the Garmin fenix 6?

The Stratos 3 has obviously been ‘inspired’ by the Garmin fenix in the same way that almost every laptop we see today was inspired by the MacBook and how every phone appears to look like almost every other phone. In fact, this is what made me notice it in the first place because I like the fenix design a great deal.

The fenix 6 retails for £529 and the Stratos 3 for £129 which is a huge gap, huge!

Obviously a price gap means nothing if two products are completely different so to first gauge that we need to look at the specs.

I forgot to add the Stratos screen tech which is Corning Gorilla 3 generation tempered glass + anti-fingerprint coating.

As you can see the specs are similar in terms of the hardware, too similar to make sense when one costs 4 times more than the other. Again, this is somewhat subjective though because many very poor tech products boast good specs and are still awful.

The problem for Garmin starts with the fact that the Amazfit feels quite well built and solid despite its very light weight. There is more of a sense of quality with the Garmin of course, but the Stratos does not feel cheap at all from a hardware perspective.

Also, it looks good. It really does look good and carries off the big sports watch look with ease. It does not look like a tough watch at all, but it looks substantial and for many people this is the preferred option. The fact it is so light means that it is also very comfortable to wear despite the size- the way the small lugs drop down helps a lot with this.

In use the Stratos is a bit of a mixed bag to be truthful. The screen is designed to ensure that battery performance is kept light and because of this it suffers from a phenomenon of invisibility for me. This may sound odd, but the fenix has exactly the same issue; you never quite feel like you are seeing anything clearly. The washed out colours are not helped when the backlight appears with a wrist raise and there is an ever present sense that this is not new display technology.

Speed wise it is fine, but there are lags on occasion which are hard to deal with, and I mean lags that can stretch into many seconds at a time. It is occasional and general performance is fine, but things like this can lessen the amount of faith a user may have in a product. Then again, I am seeing software updates appear every single day so it is possible that this will be resolved soon.

The app, Zepp, is impressive and one of the better fitness solutions I have seen on iOS with all of the data presented cleanly and in an organised way, albeit with bits of Chinese text scattered around the place. Syncing seems to take some time when I start it up which is strange to see after using the Apple Watch, but overall I see a lot here for the price.

This is not the fitness smartwatch for me, but only in the same way that the Garmin fenix is not the solution for me. The screen technology, the inconsistent performance and perhaps most importantly the haphazard heart rate monitoring leave me looking at replacing it very soon. The heart rate monitoring does seem to be an issue for some reviewers, but it also seems to be working better than previously these days so many it will be fixed in the short term.

Despite the above criticisms I have to say that for £129 the Stratos 3 is incredible value and for most people it will suffice as a daily wear watch that can monitor their fitness. There are many (many!) workout modes, a multitude 0f features including VO2 Max, training load, training effect, recovery time and even offline music playback. This latter feature is not even available in the Garmin fenix unless you buy a Pro model so it is without doubt a bonus. However, in a world where moving MP3 file manually feels akin to putting coals on a fire I don’t see too much benefit in that.

Overall, the Stratos 3 is an excellent bit of kit with some quirks that need ironing out to make it a reliable and complete training partner. It would appear that taking those few extra steps to make a competent and truly tough fitness watch is where the extra money goes, but I am far from convinced that it should cost 4 times as much. I am even less convinced that the Garmin fenix is worth the extra money- the difference is just far too much for it to make sense and I personally would much rather spend just £129 on what is a very good smart watch that on the whole does fitness very well.

HUAWEI GT 2 Pro review (part 2)

Well, the GT2 Pro didn’t last long and truth be told I am not quite sure why. I struggled to find fault with it and it was the first smart watch I have worn that felt like a watch that was smart rather than a computer that just sits on the wrist. It has style, personality and quality materials throughout, but alas the software is somewhat lacking in ambition which feels like a missed opportunity.

It is in effect a digital watch which is also a fitness tracker with a smattering of very basic apps, and that is all you get. Despite the fact that there are higher-end models available this particular design does stand out to me and I would have liked to have seen direct music support, apps and maybe even 4G for a higher price. Seriously, the design is very impressive indeed and the Watch 3 model just doesn’t look as good. It includes the features I would like, but has a bland aesthetic throughout.

As for fitness tracking and the associated app I was pleasantly surprised by the accuracy and the presentation of my progress. It is barebones in some areas, but overall it is a good combination for just £169.

So, I didn’t give myself long enough with the GT2 Pro to go into much more detail and then the Amazfit Stratos 3 appeared at just £129 and I quickly moved on. That one will be reviewed next.