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Bands on the run

I’m very obsessive! I’ve been doing some introspection and this is the conclusion I’ve arrived at. Not just mildly obsessive but over-the-top manic obsessive. The perfect example of it is my experience with personal fitness trackers in the last two years.

brunch Updated: Jul 06, 2013 18:25 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times
Techilicious-columnist-Rajiv-Makhni( )

I’m very obsessive! I’ve been doing some introspection and this is the conclusion I’ve arrived at. Not just mildly obsessive but over-the-top manic obsessive. The perfect example of it is my experience with personal fitness trackers in the last two years.

Over-the-Top OCD
I began with the First Fitbit (very accurate but as it’s a clip-on, I lost two of them. One while running and the disappearance of the other is remains a mystery), moved to the Fitbit One (better as it could track how many times I took the stairs instead of an elevator), tried the Body Media Core armband (amazing technology but it straps inconveniently to the upper arm, plus you have to pay a monthly charge to use their website), then strapped on the Nike Fuelband (my favourite despite the slightly obtuse ‘Fuel’ metrics) and gave a fair chance to the Jawbone UP (before it killed itself by self-destructing in the first week). gets better (or worse)

If this wasn’t proof enough of my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder with trackers, let me add the in-between I tried – the Scosche Rhythm – a very accurate heart- beat zone tracker and trainer that straps onto the forearm and displays your heart training rate on your phone, and the Polar H7 Bluetooth, a chest strap that does the same. This while using both the Fitbit Aria and Withings Smart Weighing scales on a daily basis.

Both read weight, body fat and BMI and send it wirelessly to a website and app for analysis, while the Withings also reports your heartbeat and air quality around you. Now that I’ve proven beyond a shadow of doubt that my obsession is off the charts, let me add that things have become even more intense recently. Three new devices have been released to torment and tease me and these take fitness tracking to a whole new level!

The Basis Band

The waiting list to get this band is as long as the feature list on this sensor laden device – it takes fitness tracking to a god-like level and it can do what no other can dream of. That was the hype before I got my hands on it. (Disclaimer: I borrowed this from a friend who still lives under the impression that he will get it back). As I opened the box and took this amazing device out, I was hit by a thunderbolt! In my hand was a cheap, plasticky digital watch that resembled what is sold by the kilo on the backstreets of Bangkok.

Heartbroken, I set it up, strapped it to my wrist and touched one of the four tiny touch-metal buttons on the screen. A dim, impossible to read, low-res, transreflective LCD screen greeted me and told me what the time was. This was getting worse by the minute.

Jawbone up: Track how you sleep, move and eat

Finally, the Magic

I touched another button and then the magic hit me. My real-time heartbeat showed up and that in itself makes it worth the price of admission. This can scan your heartbeat in real time from your wrist, track every step and movement, read your galvanised skin temperature (very important when you’re working out), traces your perspiration levels every minute as well as your sleep pattern! In fact it’s the only fitness band that doesn’t need to be ‘put’ into sleep mode. Just by reading your heartbeat and movement, it knows when you go to sleep, when you’re in deep restful sleep, how many times you woke up and how restful your sleep was.

It’s uncanny to discover that this device knows the difference between you watching a movie in bed, taking a short 20-minute power nap and sleeping for seven hours through the night. This also has some intelligent gamification built in as it tries to change your habits and how you handle fitness in your mind.

It creates habits for you (wear the band for 24 hours, go for a run in the morning, complete 10,000 steps, make sure you don’t sit for more than 20 minutes at a time and gives you points when you achieve them to unlock more habits) and the analytics on the website are nothing short of breathtaking. It combines all the readings from all the sensors and gives you deep insights into your daily life, finds patterns and correlates them on some excellent graphs.

Fitbit Flex: This tracker is the next big contender

Currently, the mobile app on this is bad but I’m sure they’ll get there soon. All in all, the Basis Band is the holy grail of fitness trackers. It may look like crap, but what it does once you strap it on makes it super beautiful. Could the other two come anywhere near this awesome device?

Two to Go

The next contender is the Fitbit Flex. When I first saw it at CES in January I thought it was horrible. Why would you want a band that had no display? After using it for a while, I have to say I am truly impressed with how smart this is. And the final contender for the crown is the Withings Pulse, a little wedge that can do a whole lot including measuring heartbeat and analyse two weeks of history on the device itself. The shootout between the new big three will conclude next week.

In the meanwhile, I’m going to go feed my obsession! As I type this, I’m wearing three trackers on my left hand and the Withings on my waist. Do I look like a total prat? Absolutely! Do I love my manic OCD? Oh, yes!

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, July 7
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