The wearables and fitness and sleep tracking dilemma
As a long-time technology and fitness enthusiast, I’m the perfect target for what is now becoming an avalanche of devices designed to help us be healthier, track our sleep patterns, and give us all kinds of purportedly useful data about our general state of being. Naturally, as a result, Microsoft’s recent announcement and release of their Microsoft Band and Nintendo’s reveal of additional details about their Quality of Life Sensor caught my eye.
Of course, I’m already well on the sensor bandwagon, presently sporting a Kickstarter Pebble watch and a Jawbone Up24 – just two of the latest in a series of such devices I’ve had – but I’m always looking to upgrade to something even better. Frankly, if I wasn’t switching off of Android and going back to iOS, I’d already likely be sporting a Motorola Moto 360 instead of my Pebble. As it stands now, since I have an iPhone 6 Plus on the way, my decision will more or less come down to the Microsoft Band or simply waiting for the as-of-yet-unfinished-and-unreleased Apple Watch.
One reason I won’t be replacing my Up24, which I wear on my right wrist, is that it’s presently the only such device that not only tracks sleep, but also wakes you at either a time you set or what it determines as the optimal time withing a preset window (more or less when you’re already restless, resulting in a gentler wake up cycle). It does the latter with a simple vibration, something Nintendo’s nighstand-killing Quality of Life Sensor doesn’t even offer. In fact, if it’s not on my person, I don’t even consider such devices much use since they need to “scan” you from afar.
As for my Pebble watch, it’s reasonably priced and does exactly what it claims it does. While I no longer get week-long battery life out of it (more like half a week), I’m able to wear it all of the time, including in the shower, since it’s waterproof. That’s a big plus in my book and not something that many other smartwatches or fitness bands offer, including the new Microsoft Band. Of course, the Pebble isn’t perfect, including requiring two apps – it’s own and a third party one called Pebble Notifier – to give me all of the notifications I desire. That’s not exactly efficient use of my phone’s resources.
There are other, more minor downsides to the Pebble, including limited two way interaction (it’s mostly a receiver), lack of sensors, and a relatively simple e-ink-like display, but it mostly comes down to nitpicks. You’re either happy with what the Pebbler offers (and hopefully know what it offers going in) or desire something more akin to the Moto 360.
One of the nice things about the Microsoft Band is that it’s more or less platform agnostic, working with Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. Unfortunately, it’s only with the latter that you get to speak through the band via Cortana integration. While this is not dissimilar to watches like the Moto 360 or Apple Watch that only offer voice integration with their respective platforms (and of course only work on those platforms period), it does take a bit of the impact off the otherwise compelling bullet point of supporting all of the major smartphone platforms.
Of course, with the Microsoft Band, I also lose the waterproof feature of the Pebble, but this is not as big of a deal as it otherwise might be, because like I said, most such devices don’t really offer such a feature, including the Up24 (previous models did claim to support this, but the reality – and as my half dozen or so returns can attest – was that it really wasn’t). I’d still have the Pebble’s notifications (more or less) and gain a whole bunch of other functions (mostly) related to fitness and health tracking as well if I switched to the Microsoft Band.
The other factor of course is that Apple’s Watch is going to debut some time early next year with a starting price of $349. I just know I’d end up spending more than that to go a bit beyond the base model. Contrast this to the Microsoft Band at $199 – albeit with a lesser and somewhat different feature-set – and it seems like an easier decision to make. Worst case, as with the Pebble, I can sell it to make some of the money spent back and put it towards the new device.
As you can see, these are not easy decisions and it very much depends on what you want out of these devices. Why more such devices don’t offer the sleep features of the Up24 is beyond me since it seems like a no-brainer option for something you wear on your wrist, assuming of course you don’t have to charge at night, which would defeat the purpose of having the feature in the first place (and, let’s face it, battery life is poor on these devices with even modest functionality almost across the board). As such, there’s no easy replacement for that device. In regards to the smartwatch/band thing, it’s a matter of choosing the least imperfect device for your needs. Hopefully at some point these devices will be perfected in a similar manner to how the latest smartphones are (where we now see incremental, rather than revolutionary improvements between releases), though likely that will take another three years or so at the rate things are going.
In any case, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject and what your personal approach is to this ever growing category of devices. It’s clearly a literal fight over our wrists, hearts, and minds by some major corporations with no clear leader at this point. While it’s fun to be in the middle of a new technological revolution, it’s not going to be quite as much fun to potentially be privy to some of the collateral damage that is bound to happen in this explosive market segment. Choose wisely and good luck.