Top tech gift picks

There were so many great gadgets through my tech test center this year. I picked just a few as some of my most favourite for 2016.  Be sure to check out my longer “Top 10 tech gifts” list too. Continue reading “Top tech gift picks”

Gorgeous fitness, activity & smart gadgets

For many years, fitness and activity trackers were utilitarian, rubbery and, let’s face it, sometimes ugly.

Now, a whole new generation of fitness and activity trackers, plus other smart devices have the look of fine jewelry, with all the smart functionality you need!

Fitbit’s new trackers

Meet Fitbit Altaimg_1691

The Alta is the fashionista version of an activity tracker. Slim and bracelet-like, the Alta actually looks a lot like the original Fitbit Flex (and comes with all the basic activity tracker features you’d expect), but with some improvements:

  • more sleek bracelet/band options including more watch/jewelry style options
  • vertical display on the front of the band with built-in watch
  • smart alerts come directly to the bracelet

The Alta is meant for a person who wants to be fashionable and not be seen to wear an ‘ugly’ rubber athletic band all the time. The band does the physical tracking and it pairs with a free smartphone app where you can store and access stats from day to day and long-term. There are also several pretty options for bands, from leather, to metal to the original rubber if you’re going to be working out hard.

Read my FULL REVIEW of Fitbit Alta .

Check out Fitbit Blaze

To use the Blaze you’ll need the Fitbit App if you want to keep long-term stats. With the app downloaded, you pair the device to your phone.

The Blaze has an interesting configuration; it’s essentially two parts; the band (which is interchangeable, more on that below), and the tracker unit, a flat, square device just over an inch square and slightly thicker than an average watch.  The tracker pops out of the band to allow for changeover, and must be removed and placed inside a tiny box for  charging.

At first I thought this band would be heavy and bulky, but after less than an hour, I had already forgotten it was on my wrist. Really, it doesn’t feel any heavier or bigger than my original Fitbit Flex, despite the obvious size differences.img_1456

I also like that the tracker unit itself can be popped out of the band, and tucked into a sports bra, sock, or pocket. This was one of my favorite features of the Fitbit Flex; it allowed me to hide the tracker if I didn’t want to be wearing something obviously athletic and rubbery on my wrist for a nice night out or a formal event. While the accuracy of the device may not be as exact if it’s worn elsewhere since it’s been made to be worn on the wrist, in my experience it wasn’t off enough to throw my day out of whack. And besides, the better looking these devices get, the less likely we are to want to hide them anyway, right?

Read my FULL REVIEW of the Fitbit Blaze.

Samsung Galaxy Gear S2 smart watch &

Samsung Galaxy S7 smartphone

Samsung Gear S2

I’ve been playing with this device for a week now and I love it’s clean lines and intuitive interface. While it functions as a chic watch, with a host of cool faces to match any style, it also has fitess tracking abilities.

  • Taking charge of your fitness goals is easy. It helps you track your daily activity levels,  and water vs. caffeine intake.
  • The Gear S2 helps you stay fit (even when you don’t want to!) with motivational messages, giving you the extra push, or much needed reminders.
  • The Gear S2’s battery life enables you to stay connected approximately 2-3 days on a single wireless charge.
  • No matter the weather, you can stay on your fitness track because the Gear S2 is water resistant and dustproof, so you never have to miss that much needed outdoor jog, even in the rain!
  • The Gear S2 will also track your heart rate.

The Gear S2 pairs with the  Samsung Galaxy S7

Features:

  • The Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge are the first Dual Pixel smartphones, letting you get the shot in 0.15 seconds. With a 12MP camera and a larger (f1.7) aperture, the camera owns the night and captures the moments that matter like never before, even in low light.
  •  With a stunning 5.1″ Quad HD Super AMOLED Display (5.5″ for Galaxy S7 edge) these smartphones are designed to not just look beautiful, but feel great in your hands. Plus, with an always-on display, stay up to date on the time, calendar and notifications without having to wake up your screen.
  •  Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge deliver fast wired and wireless charging technology. Additionally, the hybrid SIM card tray allows users to insert a microSD card for up to 200GB of additional storage

For Apple users, Samsung is working on an app that will allow the watch to function with iPhones too so more users may then be able to  jump on board.

Ringly Smart Ring

This little gem (pun intended) is a chic cocktail ring with smart functionality. Ringly rings come in a variety of metal finishes and stones. They work by sending you alerts when texts, phone calls or emails come in. You can also set it up to work with other apps and devices, like Fitbit, MyFitnessPal, Instagram, Twitter and many more.

The Ringly will vibrate on your finger, and you can set it for one buzz, up to four vibrations. The ring also sends a coloured light alert, via a tiny LED light in the side of the ring (the stone itself doesn’t glow). You can change the colout from orange to red, blue, green or purple, depending on they type of alert you want to get. It’s a fun accessory, but I recommend getting a size smaller than you might ordinarily, as the stone is quite heavy and falls to the size if not fitted properly. You’ll find that frustrating, and pull the ring off, so size appropriately.

Review: Fitbit Alta

Fitbit-Alta_Family_GoldFitbit launched two new devices this spring; the watch-like Blaze and the chic and stylish Alta. Each device has the signature Fitbit capabilities, like step counting, activity monitoring, and sleep tracking but each has its own features too. What’s the difference between these new devices, is it worth it to upgrade to a newer, better Fitbit, and what can they do for you? Click here to read my review of the Blaze, and for what the Alta’s all about read on.

All about Fitbit Altaimg_1586

The Alta is the fashionista version of an activity tracker. Slim and bracelet-like, the Alta actually looks a lot like the original Fitbit Flex (and comes with all the basic activity tracker features you’d expect), but with some improvements:

  • more sleek bracelet/band options including more watch/jewelry style options
  • vertical display on the front of the band with built-in watch
  • smart alerts come directly to the bracelet

The Alta is meant for a person who wants to be fashionable and not be seen to wear an ‘ugly’ rubber athletic band all the time. The band does the physical tracking and it pairs with a free smartphone app where you can store and access stats from day to day and long-term.

This band charges using a special clip that attaches to the band, and can be plugged in to a USB port on a computer, or using an AC plug.

img_1588What can Fitbit Alta do?

Fitbit Alta is an activity, step and sleep tracker that will:

  • count steps
  • track activities like walks, running, biking
  • measure sleep length and quality
  • receive smart alerts (calendar, text messages, etc)
  • send you ‘fun’ reminders and motivational messages to remind you to move more.

Smart Track

The Alta has a great feature called Smart Track which knows when you’re doing activities like a walk, or a run, even aerobics. It will automatically register duration of the activity, calories burned, pace  and fat burn. Previously (like with Flex) you’d need to add these activities manually, but it would still count just the steps.

What it doesn’t do:

  • measure heart rate
  • display full length text messages
  • give you fancy options for display

With the Alta, you need to rely more on the app than you would with, say the Blaze. That’s because the band’s display is narrow and limited, so for detailed stats and to make changes or adjustments, you need to log in to the app.

Limited Display options  ee5ccf08-0635-437a-b034-44c5cd579bc7

To view the data that is available on the Alta, you tap the display; twice to access the built-in watch/clock, and once to advance through data which is limited to steps, kilometers traveled, calories burned and  active minutes.

The display is black and white and also has very limited options for customization; you can change it from vertical to horizontal, add a black and white flower, or change “2:00” to “Two o’clock”, but that’s about it.

 How does Fitbit Alta differ from Fitbit Blaze (and Flex)?

img_1691Let’s start by comparing Alta to the original Flex. (Read my review of the Flex here) The Flex tracker can be popped out of its rubber band, and the Alta tracker can too; both trackers are tiny units that can be slipped into a bra, sock or pocket if you don’t want to wear one on your wrist. While Fitbit doesn’t brag about this capability, due to the fact it’s likely not as accurate as wearing it properly, I found it’s a handy option for the four years I’ve been a Fitbit owner.

The Alta and Flex are nearly identical in width,  but while Alta has the aforementioned limited-ability display, the Flex has no display whatsoever, so the Alta’s already an upgrade. Alta can also receive shortened message alerts, while again, original Flex has no such abilities.img_1710

Both Alta and Flex track all the same data, but where the Alta wins out over the Flex is on the style front. Alta can easily be snapped into a nicer metal, leather or custom coloured band. Really, you can make this band so pretty, and so jewelry-like, you won’t ever need to remove it for nights out or formal events.

When compared to the other new Fitbit offering, the Blaze, there are more striking differences. Blaze has a full colour screen, it can show longer alerts and reminders, and you can adjust some settings right on the tracker. While both Blaze and Alta have a built in watch, Blaze’s can be changed to a much different variety of faces.

Both Alta and Blaze have much more attractive band options (at extra cost) so they can be dressed up, or back down or for more vigorous use in the gym

 Is it worth it to upgrade to Alta?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I need/want to get alerts on my wrist?
  • Do I just want basic fitness tracking?
  • Do I care more about having a tracker that looks like jewelry?
  • Do I need/want a watch?
  • Do I want ‘wardrobe options’ for my tracker?
  • Can I live without monitoring my heart rate?

If you answered yes to three or more of those questions, you’ll probably be pretty happy with an upgrade to the Alta, from a device like the Flex.

Overall review of the Fitbit Alta

For me personally, I like the Alta as a small scale upgrade over the Flex, as I found myself becoming very reliant on the built-in watch, just for starters, and the alert function is also handy. I also really, really like the options for making it look more like jewelry and less like an activity band.

However when factoring in price, if I was ready to upgrade, I’d probably just go all the way and get the Blaze. (Fitbit Flex is $129 and the Alta is $169 plus significantly more for fancier bands. The Blaze sells for $249. Fancy bands are extra here too) If price is a major factor for you, in my opinion, I’d get the Flex over the Alta, since they’re very similar and the display isn’t so much more advanced as to make it as must-have for the price. However if alerts to your wrist are a priority, it’s Alta all the way.

If you’re looking to get your first Fitbit or fitness tracker, either the Flex or the Alta are great starting points; the Flex is the most inexpensive option but the Alta does more. If you want a tracker with a few more features, and you’ve got the budget, go for the Alta since it can be more beautifully customized. If you need a device with more options, check out my review of the Blaze to see if it’s right for you.

The Fitbit Alta sells for about $169 from Fitbit’s website. it’s also available at London Drugs and Best Buy.

Read more from my archives about Fitbit bands, and apps that work with the device.

Fitbit Blaze Review

img_1453
The new Blaze (right) beside to well-worn Flex.

I’ve been a Fitbit owner ever since I bought my Flex. It’s been a staple for me, not so much because I’m a gym junkie, but because it sit at a desk for the vast majority of my day. I try to keep active and get in my 10,000 steps, and my Fitbit keeps track so that I can get in an extra walk, park at the back of the parking lot, or hit the gym when I get too sedentary.

I was excited to hear about the two new Fitbit models announced this year; the Alta and the Blaze, primarily because my Flex is starting to look a bit worse for wear, and because I feel like I’m ready for some new features. While I was instantly attracted to the Alta because of its slim profile and similarity to the Flex, I was a little less interested in the Blaze. It seemed big, bulky, dated-looking and boxy. Nonetheless I was willing to put it though its paces.

Getting started with Fitbit Blaze
To use the Blaze you’ll need the Fitbit App if you want to keep long-term stats. With the app downloaded, you pair the device to your phone.  While it took me a few tries to get it to connect to the phone, it was soon connected and ready to go.img_1456

The Blaze has an interesting configuration; it’s essentially two parts; the band (which is interchangeable, more on that below), and the tracker unit, a flat, square device just over an inch square and slightly thicker than an average watch.  The tracker pops out of the band to allow for changeover, and must be removed and placed inside a tiny box for  charging.

At first I thought this band would be heavy and bulky, but after less than an hour, I had already forgotten it was on my wrist. Really, it doesn’t feel any heavier or bigger than my original Fitbit Flex, despite the obvious size differences.

I also like that the tracker unit itself can be popped out of the band, and tucked into a sports bra, sock, or pocket. This was one of my favorite features of the Fitbit Flex; it allowed me to hide the tracker if I didn’t want to be wearing something obviously athletic and rubbery on my wrist for a nice night out or a formal event. While the accuracy of the device may not be as exact if it’s worn elsewhere since it’s been made to be worn on the wrist, in my experience it wasn’t off enough to throw my day out of whack. And besides, the better looking these devices get, the less likely we are to want to hide them anyway, right?

img_1454-1What Fitbit measures

Before we go too much further you may be wondering what a Fitbit will keep track of for you.

  • Sleep: both duration and quality
  • Steps, including number of steps and distance, and active minutes in your day
  • Activity: record activities from running to cycling
  • Weight: the app will chart your weight either manually, or automatically when paired with the Aria scale.
  • Calories: when paired with apps like MyFitnessPal, you can share food info and match it up to activity levels.
  • Water Intake: again, a manual input item but can help you keep track of if you’re drinking enough water
  • Floors Climbed
  • Heart Rate: Fitbit devices with heart rate monitoring will keep track of your resting and active heart rates.

Customizing your Blaze

Customizable watch faces are an option for the Blaze, but you can’t switch them up form the watch itself, like other bands. Instead you’ll need to do this though the app in ‘Account’ menu. Not intuitive but at least the feature is there. It takes about 15 seconds from the time you select a new watch face for it to update on the watchband.

By default your Fitbit Blaze adjusts brightness based on the ambient lighting conditions. You can change the default in the settings.

You can set the Blaze to light up when you turn your wrist towards your face. I found this feature didn’t work as well as I had hoped. If I was taking a casual look, sometimes it didn’t recognize the gesture. If I was more deliberate about turning my wrist over and pointing it at my face, then it seem to work. But it took about a second before the display would light up. My experience with this feature was hit or miss.

Who’s the Blaze for?

Fitbit wants you to be clear; the Blaze is not for an elite athlete. The Blaze is for an average consumer who wants to do basic monitoring of fitness statistics, sleep, and activities while not looking like a track star. The Blaze is fashion and fun, with a fitness core. Fitbit suggests the more seriously minded athletes pick up its Surge device instead.

Basic operation
Alerts
A great new added feature of the Blaze is its ability to deliver notifications and messages right to your wrist. While I very much enjoyed getting a subtle buzz on the wrist when a text message or calendar alert popped up, this feature does have limitations. While you can read incoming text messages, you cannot respond to them. (At least not using my iPhone.) similarly, you can accept incoming calls, but you must have your smart phone with you as well, or you won’t be able to talk. While this may seem very limiting, the price point of the Blaze is far less than Apple’s watch, so you’re getting what you pay for if messaging and conducting business from your wrist is something you’re after.

Menus
By pulling down across the watch face, you get a menu which will allow you to turn notifications on or off, as well as play music if it’s connected.
Swiping up gets you a list of recent notifications such as calls, text messages, calendar alerts and more. These alerts will stack up and stay in the watch until you clear them.

Swiping right to left across the band will give you a series of other menus:

“Today”: The today menu will show you your fitness stats; such as steps, heart rate, kilometres traveled, calories, and floors climbed. To return back to the menu list, you hit the back button on the watch band.

“Exercise”: this menu allows you to register different activities like workout, elliptical, treadmill,  weights, bike, and run. You tap the exercise you are about to take part in and the Blaze will connect to your smart phone’s app to register the activity. Push play on the watch face to begin logging the activity, then stop it when you’re done. While technically Fitbit already knows when you’re doing some kind of exercise, having this connection to the app allows you to keep watch in real time on your statistics, such as distance or time.  When enabled, the Blaze will also use GPS tracking to follow your route on a run or a bike ride for example.

img_1564
One of the FitStar exercises.

“FitStar”: FitStar is a series of guided exercises that the band will walk you through. You can do a warm-up, or a seven minute workout. The watch band shows you a visual example of each short exercise, and a timer counts you down through it.
While three workouts are included in your Blaze’s software, if you want more options, you’ll need to buy them from Fitbit for a $46 annual fee.

“Timer”:   This gives you access to a countdown or stopwatch function.

“Alarms”: Here you can turn silent alarms on or off. But adding or deleting them requires your phone and the app.

“Settings”: A very simplistic version of the settings menu, here you can turn the QuickView feature on or off, adjust brightness, turn heart rate monitoring on or off, as well as shut down the device.

Accuracy

As I’ve written about previously, I very much like Fitbit  and choose it as my preferred activity band, because I find it extraordinarily accurate.

I’ve tried numerous bands and compared them both with each other, and done testing to see if the band accurately matches my steps, strides, and activities. Part of this accuracy lies in the ability to calibrate the Fitbit to your unique stride length, which is key for accurate tracking. (For more on how to adjust your stride length with Fitbit click here.)
No surprise then that the Blaze was just as accurate as my old standby Fitbit Flex.

Styling Options for Fitbit Blaze

With the Blaze, you have several options for wristbands. You can stick with a more traditional athletic wristband (“Classic”) which is made of rubber attached to the metal watch bezel, or there are also leather options in brown, grey or black. These bands will cost you about $140 and that’s on top of what you’re paying for the tracker. A gorgeous metal link watch band will set you back nearly $180. So while there are stylish options for making your band look less like a fitness accessory, and more fashion forward, they are not cheap.

Overall Review of Fitbit Blaze

One of the things I like most about my Fitbit Flex, is that it’s very subtle and still contains all the major tracking features I want. The Blaze is a whole different type of gadget for me, because it’s much larger, and more like a wristwatch then I’ve been used to wearing. But since this activity band also features heart rate monitoring as well as time display, it’s natural this device would look more like a watch them like a traditional activity tracker. It is bigger than I’m used to, but as I noted earlier despite its size and boxy shape, I quickly forgot I was wearing it, and didn’t feel that it got in my way or was overly noticeable.

I enjoyed the additional features, and definitely found myself checking in on my heart rate through the day. Having a built-in watch was a great feature, as is the notifications option. It was nice to get a subtle buzz on my wrist when I had a text message or alert.

In short, while I didn’t think I would be interested in this band as my go to activity device, I found myself liking it more and more the more I tried it. I could definitely see adopting the Blaze in my future.

Fitbit Blaze is available at Best Buy and London Drugs for $249. You can also get it from Fitbit’s website, or find more info there.

In the next couple weeks I’ll be reviewing the new Fitbit Alta too, so check back for more info soon. Already a Fitbit Fan? Check out my Fitbit Apps you’ll LOVE.

img_1443
Charging your Fitbit Blaze

 

Fitbit launches 2 new trackers: Blaze and Alta

img_1453One of my all time favourite gadgets has to be Fitbit. The slim Fitbit Flex fitness and activity tracker has been my go-to for step counting, sleep monitoring and basically helping keep me active. (Read why here)

I haven’t looked at upgrading my Flex until now; mainly because it continues to work great, and I like its slim profile and the ability to pop the tracker unit out of the band, and hide it in my sock or bra if I want to ditch the rubber band-look. The recent addition of Tory Burch accessories has helped bring a more fashion forward look to the athletic devices, (see Tory’s Fitbit accessories and read more about Smart Jewelry here) but with Fitbit’s launch of two new bands, it seems everyone can be happy with both the looks and the functionality. In fact, Fitbit’s made these two new bands for people who are less hardcore about fitness (a serious athlete would want to look at the Surge), and more interested in keeping active while looking stylish.

Meet Fitbit Blazeimg_1443

The Blaze is Fitbit’s first foray into what could be thought of as a smart watch. The styling of this band makes it look more like a timepiece and less like an athletic tracker. There’s a colour screen, and improved exercise tracking, plus smart alerts from your phone.

I’m currently testing the Blaze, and will post a full review soon, but one of the things I’m already loving about it is that it to has a removable tracker unit that you can hide in your clothes, or slip into either an athletic band or a more jewelry-inspired band.

Fitbit Alta is fashion and functionFITBIT ALTA ONE

The other new band introduced by Fitbit is the Alta. This slim band looks a lot like the original Flex, but it comes with a variety of slick and pretty band options. I’ll be reviewing this Fitbit too, so watch for a full story soon.

Do you have questions you want answered about either of these new bands? Let me know!

Brand new Fitbit Alta is slim, pretty and does more

Fitbit-Alta_Family_GoldFans of original Fitbit Flex’s low profile, slim design and ease of use, rejoice!  The best things about the Flex have been carried over and improved upon in a brand new band, the Alta.

Fitbit Alta is a new stainless steel tracker, with a satin finish and a sleek, modular design that includes a quick-release feature that allows you to swap in new bands.  Fitbit-Alta-Family-2

You can now pick from classic fitness bands or  chic-er versions, like luxe leather bracelets or a  silver bangle. One of my favourite parts about the new bands? Tory Burch has once again partnered with Fitbit to design new styles specific to the Alta. I just love the Tory Burch jewelry-style accessories released last year for the Flex, and this only looks like there’s more options to love.

As for the new features that take the Alta up a notch from the Flex:

  • Reminders to Move to help you stay active and reduce stationary time
  • SmartTrack automatic exercise recognition, weekly exercise goals and all-day activity and automatic sleep tracking
  • Call, text and calendar notifications right on your wrist when your phone is nearby through on-screen messages and a gentle vibrating alert
  • An easy-to-read, vibrant OLED tap display shows your activity stats and the time
  • Works with Android, iOS and Windows mobile devices and computers

Fitbit-Alta_Cooking

Fitbit Alta is available today for $169.95 (CAD) for presale with retail availability starting in March 2016, joining the recently announced award-winning Fitbit Blaze Smart Fitness Watch. Alta will be available for preorders at Best Buy, Indigo and London Drugs, and at a number of other retaillers later on.

I’m hoping to get my mitts on one to test and review. Watch this space for more when they’re released! Meantime, read my review on the Fitbit Flex, or the Misfit Shine, or the Basis Peak.

Fitbit-Alta-Lineup