‘Basis Peak’ Activity, Fitness and Heart Rate Monitor Review

basic peakBasis Peak is a sports and fitness watch with built-in activity monitor and heart rate monitor. The watch comes in both black and white, and the model I tested (black) has a very subtle white-on-black display, that’s very easy to read, yet not super glaring and in your face.  If that beautiful display has a downside, it’s that it’s completely invisible in the dark.  The watches are large, particularly for a woman, so that’s something to keep in mind when choosing one, and because of the built-in heart rate monitor, they are also quite thick.  With that said, it is fairly light and easy to wear, and I got used to it fairly quickly. The watch uses an external (and rather bulky) charger to recharge the built in battery, which lasts about 4 days.

Specs:

  • 24/7 automatic fitness and sleep tracking
  • Heart rate during exercise—no chest strap needed
  • Automatically tracks walks, runs and rides
  • Automatic sleep detection with sleep stage insights
  • Smartwatch notifications for text, email, call on your wrist

Set Up
IMG_1977Setting up the Basis Peak was not the easiest task. I ended up setting it up twice, both to check out the process in detail, and becacuse I had problems with the app that forced a reinstall.
The first time, right out of the box, was definitely much easier.  You download the app and set up an account, which was simple enough.  Then you strap on the watch and start moving. Sort of.
I didn’t really realize it, and it wasn’t quite clear, but not only do you have to get the app up and running, you need to pair the Peak watch with the app, and your phone. It took me a couple of days to realize the app was not updating with info from the watch. So I did some further reading and research, and realized the two devices were not actually connected; they needed to be paired.
In my initial set up, I had connected the app to the watch, but as it turns out I also needed to connect the watch to the phone.  I needed to also go to the watch’s main menu, and select “Pair” with the phone and app. Once that was done, I started getting info, though not immiediately.
The watch itself is quite easy to operate, with a fairly simplified menu. There are four basic screens on the watch itself: The time (main default screen), your heart rate, and the main menu, and then sometimes a fourth screen which most often has showed me a random graphic of a fox. Sometimes this will also display messages that come in via your phone. You navigate between the screens using simple swipe gestures.IMG_1979

The second time around, re-setting up the Peak was a huge problem.  I had to uninstall the app, as it had completely stopped functioning.  I reinstalled it, and had to repair the watch, but it took about 8-9 attempts before it would find the watch.   Once I had repaired the app and the Peak, there was still no data coming in.  The watch would say ‘syncing’, but nothing was happening.  After about 35 minutes, data finally appeared in the app, but that was well after I’d left the gym and my treadmill testing behind. Suffice to say, if you’re having trouble re-pairing your Peak and your phone, keep trying, it’ll work eventually.

Message Notifications
One great feature I found myself enjoying about the Basis Peak, was the fact that text messages, phone calls, and Twitter notifications all came into my wrist, with a very subtle vibration. I did not get emails, and I don’t know if that’s a setting i can turn on and off, or it’s just not supported.  (Either way, I’d rather not read  along email on a 1″ screen on my wrist anyway, so I didn’t dig too deeply into this.)  While the font is rather small to read, and long messages must be scrolled through, it was easy enough to read them, and decide if I needed to stop what I was doing to respond to them on the phone, since I wasn’t able to respond to them via the watch/device itself. The watch (I keep calling it a ‘watch’ because that’s what it looks most like, though Basis calls it a ‘Fitness and Sleep Tracker’) also has a do not disturb function which is helpful if you are needing to focus and want to turn your alerts off.
basis peak
Heart Rate Monitor
I will say this about most wrist-based fitness and activity monitors or heart rate monitors; They are not scientific devices, and I certainly wouldn’t call the information absolutely accurate, especially in a medical sense. But what makes many of these devices great is that they give you the best possible idea of what’s going on with your fitness and activity. So with that caveat I can say the heart rate monitor on the Basis Peak was quite accurate for me. Especially since the only other heart rate notification I would be able to compare it to is the one I use on the treadmill at my gym. In as much as that one is accurate, so is the Basis Peak. It gave me basically a matching heart rate so I had confidence it was about as accurate as anything else I would use. I did like that when I was running, or my heart rate was high, the Peak displayed it constantly, allowing me to check it at a glance.

The App
IMG_1994If there was one thing I did not particularly care for about the Basis Peak, it’s their app. I found it difficult and complicated to read, hard to navigate, and generally just a pain in the butt. Compared to some other devices where all the info you need is on your main screen at a glance, I thought there was too much going on with the Peak app.  It does this bizarre thing where, if I were to go for a 50 minute run and then walk after, it breaks the activity up and shows it to you based on what your heart rate was. So if my heart rate was high for 20 minutes it will display that differently than what the heart rate was when I walked for 40 minutes. It took a while to figure out what the device was displaying, and how it was relevant.  The tiny horizontal bar graph it uses to display this info is also very confusing, and too tiny to be of any relevance.
I also found a significant lag between when I completed the activities, and when they appeared in the app. More often than not I would have to do a manual sync several times, to get the information to update, and even then it wouldn’t show up for about 30 minutes or so. I found that particularly frustrating when I was at the gym, doing a run, and wanted an instant update on my status and progress. At least I was getting instant heart rate readings on the watch itself.
The app’s main dashboard is also a very confusing display of what it calls ‘habits’ plus some other info like your recent sleep or activity, except most often the app would display mine as “Get moving to see your activity”.IMG_1991
Oddly, during testing, the watch also counted a 45 minute time span one evening where I was sitting watching TV, as sleep, and I couldn’t find a way to delete or modify that info.  That tells me this device’s app needs some work.
I do like the idea of the Peak ‘habits’, as kind of a game. You can choose several ‘habits” to get into, and completing them will give you digital badges; things like getting in a few thousand steps before noon, or meeting your sleep goal, or even wearing the watch for a certain number of hours per day. You get the idea.
The app also has what it calls a ‘charting’ feature which will display your movement and activity over the course of the day. A great idea to see when you are most and least active, except when I was testing it, it was only available for the current day. I found no way I was able to go back and get historical data for comparison, or even to compare day over day month over month while using Charting. You, however, can find historical data in the “Activity Feed” tab, then click on the activity for the day to get your chart, but it took me days to figure that out. Even then, if you want to look at different days you cant swipe through a calendar, you have to go in and out of the Activity Feed and click on individual days.  Doing that was clunky and tedious.

The Fox

basis peak cat foxRandomly sometimes a fox would pop up on the fourth screen, whether I was at home or on the golf course.  So what is it?  I had no idea, and I didn’t get any clues from the Basis website.  Searching the web, I found out it’s a sleeping cat, and a place holder for your activity notes.  It’s supposed to be a reminder to get up and get active so there’s something to show.  Cute idea, except how is it supposed to motivate me if it I have no idea what it is? I’d love it more if when you tapped it,  you got a message that says, “Cat-napping?  Get up and move!”.  Then I’d feel it was helping me.
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The Verdict
While I very much like the Peak itself, and would probably wear it just as a cool watch, with built-in heart rate monitor at the gym, I don’t think that using it with the app is something I would do. It’s just too much data that I don’t need and too hard to pour through it and figure out what’s going on, or which screen it’s been squirreled away in. I did also particularly like the notification functions on the watch; it’s a nice added feature which as it turns out comes in rather handy.
I’d certainly look at re-evaluating my thoughts on the app, if it were to undergo some kind of simplification and or redesign. But for now it’s just too much.

Get this watch if you want a watch and heart rate monitor.  Don’t get it for the confusing and clunky metrics.

Basis Peak is $199 on the company’s website, and is also available in Canada at Future Shop for $349.  Why the price discrepancy?  You’ve got me!

I recently demonstrated the Basis Peak and several other Wearables on CTV Morning Live. Watch it here.

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Preview: FitBark Dog Activity Monitor

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Fitbark is available now for preorder fom Future Shop and will start shipping on March 6th

Dogs, just like people, need to be active to be healthy.  In the wild, dogs can run free, hunt, and play at will.  But domesticated dogs are a lot different from their wild canine cousins.  How much does your dog really get up to play or run?  You can find out using the FitBark Dog Activity Monitor.

How does it work, what can it tell you and is it right for your dog?  Read the full article on the Future Shop Tech Blog.

fitbark app

Home Automation with WeMo! Review

wemo-img-overview-3Home automation used to be the stuff of mansions, tycoons and futuristic films and cartoons.  No more.  Now it’s easy and relatively inexpensive to adopt easy home automation features into your house.

What can you do with home automation ?
From controlling your thermostat, door locks, light bulbs, light switches, sockets or plugs and even a power bar, manipulating the devices in your home for security, convenience or money savings has never been more possible.

Testing out Belkin WeMo
Enter the WeMo system by Belkin, just one of several home automation hubs.  I recently had a chance to review and test several products in the WeMo line, from lights to plugs.wemo kit

Set Up
WeMo was easy to use right out of the box.  I started my testing with the Lighting Starter Kit ($99), which comes with two LED light bulbs and a hub or the “Link”. Getting things going was as simple as downloading the WeMo app (for smartphones or tablets), plugging the Link into a wall outlet, and screwing in the bulbs.  The Link connects to your homes existing wifi, and uses that signal to control your bulbs.  Once the bulbs were installed and turned on, the app found them immediately by doing a scan. Once they’re set up, they’re set up for good, even if you remove them for a time.
The app walks you through the set up, making it foolproof.

One plus of this system for me is the Link hub is tiny compared to other hubs I’ve tested; it fits in the palm of your hand, and easily blends into the wall so you don’t notice it.  It’s important to note that while you need the Link hub for the bulbs, other WeMo devices connect on their own, and need no external hub or Link.  In fact a WeMo staffer pointed out to me, “most of the existing WeMo product line doesn’t need a hub at all: the WeMo Switch, Insight Switch, Light Switch, Netcam, and Crock Pot connect directly to Wi-Fi.”
IMG_1109So why do the bulbs need one?  Simply put, the technology to connect to the wifi takes up space.  Some bulbs I’ve tested, like the LIFX system, are much larger and heavier than the average bulb.  So while those bulbs do not need an external wifi link, they do not fit in every fixture.  The WeMo bulbs do, but the tradeoff is the small Link.

The WeMo bulbs are white light bulbs only.  I’ve written before about the fun of colored LED bulbs that you can change, but for now, the WeMo bulbs are traditional.  Maybe that will change soon; having a colour option is really fun and allows you to really customize your home.

IMG_1107
Don’t use “WeMo Setup” to set up, click on “Add WeMo link Devices”

Setting up the WeMo plugs or outlets was a bit harder.  There are essentially two set up screens within the app, and for the first few attempts I was apparently using the wrong one.  I kept connecting to “WeMo Set Up Instructions”, but I needed to be using “Add WeMo Link Device”, as seen in the screen grab.  It seems like an easy mistake to make, and I figured out the error quickly enough, but I could see this being confusing and frustrating for others too.

Additionally, I found the set up screen getting locked, and having to force-quit the app in order to try again.  Then, somehow, mysteriously, the device would be connected and working.
Now, while this was frustrating for me, a person who likes to understand what’s happening each step of the way, it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. After a few tries, the WeMo system took care of itself and from then on worked just fine.  Since then, I’ve had absolutely no trouble to glitches with the system; it works reliably and flawlessly.
There have been rather frequent firmware updates required; not that it’s a problem.  In fact, I like companies who are constantly trying to keep software up to date.  But it’s good to be aware you may actually need to do the firmware upgrades before the app and devices will work properly.

wemo set up screen

Easy to Use Timers, Away Function, Auto-On
One of the easiest aspects of the WeMo system is how easy it is to set up what WeMo calls Rules.  It allows you to turn your bulbs, plugs or switches on or off at appointed times, which is great if you’re going away, or frequently get up before sunrise or get home before dark.
I’ve made some rules which turn on a light in my living room, softly at 50% brightness at 3am when I get up to go to work.  I also have the same lap set to come on at sundown, and turn off later at night.  Similar rule and timer functionality is also available on the plugs/outlets. More on that below.

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WeMo Switch.

Testing the WeMo Switch
One of the things I like about the WeMo Switch ($49) I tested is that it’s powerful enough for me to plug in a fan or heater. Some wifi-enabled plugs only have enough juice for a lamp, so it’s good to check the packaging or details before you buy and make sure the appliance you want to plug in to the switch (from any company you buy from) is safe to use. During my testing, I plugged a small space heater in, and set a timer rule to turn on about 30 minutes before bed so the room was warm.  I also set it to shut off automatically after an hour.  Another rule setting turns it on about 15 minutes before I wake up, and off again 30 minutes after that.  That’s it; it’s ‘set it and forget it’! I have all these items functioning for me, on the schedule I decide, and the best part is that it’s easy, so very easy to program with the free WeMo app.

The WeMo Insight – It gives you data
I tested another WeMo plug; the Insight ($59).  The WeMo Insight Switch will send notifications to your smartphone or tablet showing how much energy your electronics are using. Of course, you also have the ability to turn your electronics on and off and monitor their behaviour via the app.

WeMo-Insight-Wall-Plug-In
WeMo Insight

One of the limits of home automation systems has been that you need to be at home, on your wifi network to control your devices.  But now many companies, WeMo included, are adding internet connectivity or Remote Access to the mix, allowing you to access your bulbs and switches online, meaning if you forget to turn off a light, or the heater, you can do it from the office, or from the resort in Mexico.

Other WeMo Products
While I didn’t test these below, it’s worth mentioning some other neat peripherals in the WeMo lineup.  The Crock-Pot® Smart Slow Cooker with WeMo™ works with the app to adjust cook settings. WeMo says, “if you’re stuck at work or running late, you don’t have to worry. You can turn it on and off, change the cooking temperature, set timers and watch its status all with the simple, intuitive and free WeMo App for your smartphone or tablet. WeMo works over Wi-Fi and 3G/4G, so you can easily adjust your dinner schedule whenever you like, from wherever you are.”
The Belkin NetCam works with the WeMo collection of products so you can program home automation triggers like turning on your lights when you walk through the door.  WeMo is also adding to its home automation arsenal, announcing partnerships with OSRAM, the parent company of OSRAM SYLVANIA, and Jarden Corporation, maker of
Crock-Pot®, Mr. Coffee® and more, to bring home automation to more  products.

WeMo also makes a wifi-enabled Light Switch.  The company says it ‘allows you to turn lights on and off from anywhere–from across the house, from the backyard, or from the other side of the world. WeMo Light Switch replaces a standard light switch in your home and can be controlled remotely with an Android smartphone or tablet, iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. It works with your existing Wi-Fi® network and anywhere your smartphone or tablet has an Internet connection (3G or 4G LTE). Easy for most Do It Yourselfers.”

The Bottom LineIMG_1915
I thoroughly enjoyed the Belkin WeMo experience and I recommend it to others who may be looking to get started on home automation.  The system is easy to use and trouble free once it’s up and running.  Make sure to set up via the “Add WeMo Link Device” screen, and not the “WeMo Set Up Instructions”.  I’ll be watching to see when WeMo adds coloured light bulbs to its arsenal, as I’ve gotten addicted to those of late. And I’m interested to try the other products in the lineup too to see just how useful they are.
It’s worth noting that the prices I posted for these products above are recommended retail, but at the time of posting this (mid-February), there was a good deal on the devices on the Belkin website that may give you extra incentive to pick some up.  In Canada, WeMo is also available from Future Shop.

5 Top Fitness Wearables & Trackers

misfit shine
The Misfit Shine

You’ve probably got at least one friend or coworker who wears one; a fitness band, pedometer, step counter, heart rate monitor or clip. You may have wondered why they’re so great and what they can do for you.

In short they’re ultra-smart, ultra portable monitors that can give you information on things like how much you move, how well you sleep, some can show your heart rate, how high you climb and even how many calories you’re burning.

There’s several models out there; the Nike Fuelband, the Magellan echo, Pebble, plus health tracking is also built into the Apple watch (whenever it comes out) and the Samsung Gear watches. Wearables are big business — fitness monitoring has become a billion-dollar industry.  Most fitness bands are compatible with the biggies; iPhone and Android phones, and each one pairs with an app that displays your data.

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On CTV Morning Live, we took a look at several options for fitness and health bands.  I’ll note a bit about each, but check back here in the coming weeks for detailed reviews of each band shown on TV. You can watch the video HERE.

FITBIT Flex and Charge

The Fitbit Charge
The Fitbit Charge

Full disclosure; I’m a Fitbit owner.  The Fitbit Flex was my first ever fitness band purchase, and it’s still the one I wear all the time.  Recently I was able to try out the Charge, the newer band with a couple more bells and whistles than the basic Flex; namely a watch on the band. They track steps, calories burned, and distance travelled.  The Fitbit Charge also tracks floors climbed, and has the added benefit of a display face you can also use as a watch.

I also showed you the wireless scale; the Fitbit Aria. It’s a simple and easy to use scale, that will automatically upload your weight and body fat (if you weigh-in in bare feet!) to your Fitbit app.  A handy way to keep tabs on your step goal progress.

 

 

JAWBONE

jawbone up moveThe Jawbone UpMOVE falls into my category of fitness trackers that can be separated from their bands and/or clips and moved wherever you want  so they can be hidden.  A great option if you’re going to a fancy dinner and don’t want people gawking at your rubber wrist band.  The band encourages you to “Get fit, lose weight and have fun doing it. UP MOVE comes in a bunch of brilliant colors that you can mix and match with accessories. Clip it on and wear it anywhere. And with an LED display and Smart Coach to guide you, the UP MOVE tracker doesn’t just count your steps and track your sleep—it gets you over the hump and moving on your path to a better you.”  This device tracks activity like steps and distance, as well as sleep.

 

MISFIT Shine

I LOVE the simple beauty of this band, called the Shine (pictured above).  The lights are like a subtle constellation, and the band is smooth and won’t catch on anything, it’s easy to wear, light and very easy to forget you have on.  The app is easy to read and understand, and while it measured calories on par with what some other bands did, I found it under-counted steps and distance, compared to other bands like the Fitbit. It should be noted this band has not been calibrated, as I was unable to figure out on my own how to do it. Watch for a more detailed review here soon.  One aspect I DO like about the Shine; you can hide the tracking disc in jewelry, tuck it in your bra, or sock, and no one will know you’re wearing one.

BASIS Peak

basic peakThe Basis Peak was one of the only fitness bands I tried that had a built in heart rate monitor. I loved it, and according to the other heart rate monitor I usually use (on the treadmill at the gym) it’s just as accurate.  I loved the subtle simplicity of the white-on-black watch face.  In addition to heart rate, the Peak also counts all the usual stuff like steps and sleep.  Peak automatically detects your sleeping cycles, including REM & deep sleep, which it says gives you in-depth data on the quality of your night’s sleep. The Peak automatically adjusts weekly goals based on your performance, and it comes with habit notifications on your phone or wrist when you’re on track or need a nudge, which is a nice addition to give you motivation. This device will also send your alerts and texts to your band, letting you stay in touch when you need to be.

 

 

GARMIN Vivosmart

Not only does the vivosmart track steps and movement, it also sends messages from your phone to your band.  A light vibration lets you know you have alerts. Each time you receive a text, email or call on a compatible Bluetooth device,   vívosmart gently vibrates and automatically displays the information. You just touch and swipe the screen to read more.

The Garmin Vivosmart was lent to me by MEC, where you can pick up one of your own.

Garmin vivosmart
Garmin vivosmart

 

The trackers above are all available at any number of stores in Canada, including Future Shop.

 

My pick is Fitbit; and for me it’s the Flex.  I’ve been wearing it reliable and enjoyably for over 2 years now, and I have no plant to change.  Click HERE to read more on Fitbit apps you’ll love, or click HERE for my review of the Fitbit Flex.

Do you have a favourite fitness band or device I  should look at?  Send me an email via my contact page or add one in comments below.

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