A different kind of fitness tracker

We all know the Apple Watch, Fitbit and other fitness trackers that sit on the wrist, but there are alternatives that help you get fit in a less obvious way.

Most are not well known and I am not recommending any as I know little about them, but it is interesting what brands are doing to tackle this need in a different way.

WHOOP

I like the design, potentially timeless, and it includes heart rate monitoring and sleep tracking as standard, but it does look big on the wrist. What makes it different is the fact that accessories are promoted to allow you to wear it on your upper arm and to clip it to clothing which adds useful flexibility. The other difference is that the device is free with a $30/month membership which may deter some.

Trivoly

The tracking disc underneath a traditional watch idea has been tried before by Chronos https://wearchronos.com and by all accounts the Chronos product was an unmitigated disaster. It was unreliable, customers complained and the support was non-existent. Trivoly is (I presume?) A different company and it offers notifications, music playback and heart rate sensing. My first concern is the depth of the disc under a watch and of course how well it will work. The Chronos vibes sadly live on. It is €149.

Sony Wena Pro

Expensive at £249 and with no heart rate monitoring (there is the £199 Wena Active version with heart rate) the Wena Pro is effectively a watch strap that offers smart fitness functionality within a large than average buckle. The idea is theoretically brilliant, but reviews suggest that it is not as practical in the real world as it may appear.

Oura Ring

Now this is very different. A ring which includes sleep tracking, various fitness scores, trends, body temperature sensing, activity goals and 1 week of battery life sounds crazy, but by all accounts it works. The lack of heart rate monitoring is always a problem in my eyes because accurate activity tracking is so difficult without it, but I applaud the idea and the implementation. $299 is not to be sniffed at though.

I would also suggest taking a look at the following-

Moov

Bellabeat

Withings

Milestone Pod

The main worry I have with the above trackers is not so much the reliability or the overall performance, but for how long the manufacturers will be in business for. This segment of the fitness industry is littered with companies who gave up in relatively short order which is worrying for products that you ideally want to use for many years.

Ultimately it is all too easy to stick with the big players because at least you know that they should stick around and that the software will continue to be developed, but trying something different can be a good thing. The choice is yours.

The Garmin Enduro

There is one area that stands out in the new Garmin Enduro and it is extremely impressive-

Smartwatch: Up to 50 days/65 days with solar*
Battery Saver Watch Mode: Up to 130 days/1 year with solar*
GPS: Up to 70 hours/80 hours with solar**
Max Battery GPS Mode: Up to 200 hours/300 hours with solar**
Expedition GPS Activity: Up to 65 days/95 days with solar*

That is insane.

Amazon Halo review

Throughout the day, the Halo automatically tracks the intensity and duration of your movement, as well as your sedentary time. Taking these factors into account, it gives you an Activity Score. Informed by recommendations from the American Heart Association, the app encourages you to reach an Activity Score of at least 150 points each week. At night, it tracks your shut eye, then gives you a sleep score from zero to 100 based on the duration and quality of your rest… More here.

This actually looks quite good, but the privacy aspects concern me. For example-

The Halo offers a unique feature that analyzes your tone of voice to help you understand how you sound to other people, which isn’t a feature you’ll find natively on other wearables. It’s optional, and if you decide to set it up, it will analyze your tone throughout the day. For privacy reasons, the Halo only analyzes and reports on your tone, not anyone else’s.

Do we expect too much from fitness products?

I was reading Shaun’s post about blood oxygenation in the Apple Watch and I was wondering if we simply expect too much? For example, I know that my Fitbit doesn’t count steps accurately – it works fine if I’m marching along, arms swinging, but potter about, and inaccuracy creeps in. Similarly with the camera on my phone. I know its colour gamut isn’t perfect as I can see it with certain colours. So I’m just wondering if we expect too much from a multi purpose device that has to balance cost, convenience, precision and accuracy. Andrew.

Andrew posted the above in the WhatsApp group and it got me to thinking. My immediate thought was that we should expect a lot from products of any type that claim to do something and that accepting failure or innacracy is simply not good enough.

I kind of agree with his thoughts about steps on fitness products and that to expect perfect accuracy would be a reach, but where on any of the marketing from Fitbit, Apple etc do we see a note suggesting that the accuracy may be compromised? When the Fitbit trackers struggled with tracking flights the company ignored the situation and has now quietly removed it from the newer products.

The comment about digital cameras is of course valid, but I do believe that the majority of people are either aware of this or do not notice. And it is also an area where the manufacturers never have to make bold claims about perfect accuracy.

My main issue is when it comes to tracking specific health stats like your heartrate, ECG and Blood Oxygen. When Andrew says ‘I’m just wondering if we expect too much from a multi purpose device that has to balance cost, convenience, precision and accuracy’ my argument would be that if a company offers such a feature it MUST be backed up with a high degree of accuracy. You cannot implement features that are potentially life changing, you cannot use stories of how your products have saved lives and then be forgiven when they do not track as accurately as should be expected from a ‘health’ sensor. I agree with Andrew that expectations should perhaps be less for multi-purpose devices that track multiple aspects, but the manufacturers offer too many intimated promises in the marketing for most people to understand that.

Is Apple’s Blood Oxygen solution dangerous?

Initially I found the Blood Oxygen monitor to be a godsend on my Apple Watch at the start of covid, but over time, a short period of time, I found myself relying on it less and less.

With a Blood Oxygen monitor in the house (they are only £15, please buy one) I had the opportunity to compare the two and the differences were stark. On the whole the Apple Watch solution underscored my results to the point that a 92 on my dedicated monitor would give 89 on the watch. 94 on the monitor would bring in 92 on the watch and so on. Add to this the fact that within a minute my results could vary from 89 to 96 and it felt like a lottery as to what would come back.

I was also concerned that the watch is on my left wrist, but that the dedicated monitor is used on the right finger (a true extremity) and so surely there is an obvious advantage to the monitor because it is at the end of what it needs to test.

And finally, while having my observations measured in the hospital, on a proper device that checked pulse and blood pressure etc, I checked on the Apple Watch and I measured 96 on the hospital equipment and 93 on the Apple Watch. The doctor doing the obs said that he had seen this before and that he also owned an Apple Watch. He was quite confident in the heartrate monitor and even the ECG, but he felt that the Blood Oxygen sensor was off from the first time he tried it.

The good news is that it does seem to offer lower scores than reality, the opposite could cause real problems with people thinking they are well when they are not, but it could lead to some visiting hospitals when they simply don’t need to. And that is dangerous in the current climate.

The Conqueror Virtual Challenges

Spice up your motivation for running, walking or cycling (or any distance based exercise) by taking on one of our virtual fitness challenges.

Each challenge can be completed in the timeframe that suits you, either individually or in teams.

Connect your favorite fitness apps or manually log your running, walking, cycling etc distances on our award-winning “My Virtual Mission” mobile app or through our website… More here.

What a brilliant idea and one that appears to be expertly implemented. I like the idea of a real medal at the end of each challenge purely because I am envious of how many real running medals Jo has.

Overcoming obstacles and becoming a Spartan athlete

Arthur Ware, or @bt_spanky on Instagram, is an Army veteran and Mississippian who discovered Spartan competitions and marathon races after climbing out of a depression with Apple Watch. Here his story and ongoing journey in this episode of 9to5Mac Watch Time… More here.

A very good podcast episode in which Arthur explains how the Apple Watch helped him achieve great things despite some serious physical obstacles.

Don’t doublewrist! You don’t need to.

Doublewristing is a dirty word in the watch world for a variety of reasons. Some simply hate smart watches in all of their guises and do not consider them to be watches at all. Others are uneasy about the smart wristed world that we are entering because of the threat to traditional watches, but there is one reason above all that makes doublewristing so reprehensible- it looks ridiculous.

It’s the most first world of first world problems and of little importance to the majority, but if you love mechanical watches and find yourself struggling to lose the benefits of a smartwatch what are you to do?

On the one hand (get it!) you want to enjoy your beautifully made watch because in your mind it says something about you. The fact that no one notices the watch on your wrist does not matter, it matters a lot to you and probably more than it should.

On the other hand an Apple Watch, for example, offers so much in terms of health and fitness tracking, little tricks that help you get through every day and a host of other features that soon become part of your routine. Again, no one will notice that you are wearing an Apple Watch because so many people are wearing them, but they will notice if you have a watch on each wrist…

There is just something about the visual dynamic of a watch on each wrist that looks bizarre and ironically unbalanced. We are so used to seeing one device on one wrist that to see another on the other wrist is hard to understand for most people. It looks busy, too complicated and simply odd. It’s more showy than a bright gold Rolex on one wrist and it intimates that the wearer needs both devices because he or she is just a little bit strange.

I have been wearing my Apple Watch every day for three months now to help me keep for while working from home and my Oris, Omega and other watches have just sat on the shelf waiting in vain for their turn on my wrist. I tried doublewristing, but hated the feel of another watch on my right wrist and couldn’t do it for more than a couple of hours. Also, it felt unnecessary because having a smartwatch that tells the time and does so much more alongside another watch that just tells the time, less accurately, makes no sense at all. Where do you look to check the time? Do you take turned between them or forget that one is one the other wrist? Yes, it’s a silly solution and it does not work.

And then an idea came to me. What if I put the Apple Watch further up my arm around the bicep area? Is that even sillier? Well, it turns out that it is a very good solution for those days when you want to enjoy your mechanical watch and you still get the majority of the benefits of an Apple Watch.

I purchased an Apple Watch armband from Amazon for £16 and strapped it to my upper arm. Honestly, you won’t even feel it. The first thing I did was check that my heart rate was being monitored. Check. I then went for a quick run to see how the workout stats compared to the stats provided on the wrist previously. Check, almost identical. It all worked. Every single piece of monitoring worked exactly the same as when on the wrist apart from one. I get stand hours sat down when the Apple Watch is on my upper arm which means I literally get every single hour no matter what I am doing. Personally, I don’t mind this because I always get 15-16 hours a day anyway (target is 12) and at times the Apple Watch misses hours when I should get them so this is a form of revenge for me.

Notifications still buzz my arm, but of course I cannot view them unless I pick up my phone and all other visual data is not available to me, but I can live with this because I now have a choice.

If I want to wear my Oris all day and still keep my fitness stats up (can always be viewed in real-time on the iPhone) I won’t look silly and I have the major benefits of both watches. If I am sat working from home I can just wear the Apple Watch on my wrist and it works as it should.

You don’t need to give up your favourite mechanical watch, you don’t need to give up your smartwatch and you don’t have to doublewrist. Just move your smartwatch up your arm when you want to and enjoy the best of all worlds.

The Amazfit Neo

The Neo also seems to be a fairly capable fitness tracker on paper, featuring around-the-clock heart-rate monitoring, activity tracking, sleep tracking, and 5 ATM water resistance. There’s no onboard GPS for avid runners though, but the Neo does support basic call and message notifications… More here.

If the price sticks this could do very well. You get a lot for little money.