‘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.
IMG_2005
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.

tech talk feb

Fitbit Apps You’ll Love!

I LOVE my Fitbit Flex, and have worn it daily for nearly 2 years.  It keeps me honest on the fitness front, and gets me moving each day by buzzing me with silent alarms.  While the band does all the counting, there are some great apps it integrates with to make your life, health, and fitness management easier.

fitbit.jpg

 For starters, you’ll want to know about the Fitbit App itself.  It’s a very easy to read and understand interface that counts your steps each day, tracks your sleep, records weight, and activity, and as you’re about to see, meshes with many third-party apps. The app syncs with your wristband via Bluetooth each time you launch the app on your mobile device.  While it syncs your steps automatically, you’ll need to input things like weight and water consumption yourself, and use one of the apps below if you want to track your food.  The Fitbit app also syncs your sleep pattens automatically so you can get a good sense of how many hours you’re getting, and what times of night you might be restless, or awake.

The Fitbit app is clean, streamlined and easy to read at a glance, and configurable to some extent, allowing you to keep or discard certain metrics, depending what you want to see.  Need a crash course in what the Fitbit is or how it works? Check out a great Tech Blog about the Fitbit line.

 Health & Wellness

 

My Fitness Pal (My personal favourite)MFP.jpg

Probably my #1 app for use with the Fitbit.  My Fitness Pal tracks your food and exercise, and also meshes that information with the movement and steps you get from the Fitbit. You set up an account, and tell it if you’re looking to gain or lose weight, or just keep things where they are.  It then tells you how much you should be eating in a day.  From there, the easy to use (and recently improved) interface allows you to manually enter your food, or to scan a barcode, and it will input the food for you.  It keeps track of your calories, then adjusts your calorie count for the day, based on how much or how little exercise you do.  So if you have a particularly busy day, it actually wants you to consume more calories!  The Fitbit, once you set the app up to link with your Fitbit, makes all the adjustments and shares any info with the app for seamless info flow.

Price: Free

Other Fitbit-compatible apps like it: Lose It, Foodzy

 

TactioHealth

This app snagged “Best App Ever” in 2012. tactio.jpg It’s said to be the #1 Medical App in in over 10 countries, and in the  Top 10 Medical App in over 25 countries.  Tactio tracks all your body stats, from weight, to body fat and BMI, and your body measurements.  If you’re looking for something more in-depth than My Fitness Pal, this is your app, because it also tracks blood pressure, glucose levels, and cholesterol to give you a much better handle on your personal health markers.  It also counts steps and syncs with Fitbit to share the data, and allows you to make meal plans and count calories.  The app will even remind you to weigh in, get to your annual physical and deliver news updates (based on your profile), from the CDC and WHO. When I went through the set up, the questions were detailed and specific; it wants to know how many veggies you eat, what your waist measurement is, how much you move at work and in workouts, if you smoke, and more.  Be warned; if you’re going through the set up and get interrupted it doesn’t save what you’ve already input, so finish this before exiting, or before letting your phone go to sleep! Once your account is set up, link it to your Fitbit.

Price: Free

Similar to : My Fitness Pal (but much more in depth)

 

Beeminder

We all know the feeling; you set some goals, make a plan, and after a few weeks, boredom (or real life) sets in, and your carefully orchestrated fitness plan goes kaput.  Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 7.10.00 PM.pngWhat if you had to pay for missing a workout?  That would probably make you think twice about your lame excuse.  Beeminder ’stings’ you for missing a workout, by making you pony up a cash penalty. “If you go off track, you pledge money to stay on the road the next time. If you go off track again, we charge you,” says the company’s app description.  Basically, if you flake, you pay. It’s not just for workouts.  If you want to learn Spanish, ballroom dance, or just to commit to doing something on a regular basis (call your mother!), Beeminder will make it your top priority, and penalize you if you don’t follow through.  Worth noting: I had a great deal of difficulty getting the app set up.  The only setup options are via Facebook and Twitter, and it kept giving me an “Authentication failed” message saying it didn’t recognize my profile. I’d love to know if it works better for any of you, and I’d be willing to give it another try.

Price: Free

Games

 

Tappy Fit

You’re the kind of person who likes to gamify your life, so this is right up your alley. photo 2-1.PNG

This low-res faux-80’s era app uses your Fitbit data to improve your game experience as you navigate your flying shoe around your 2-bit world. Take more steps, some tasks get easier.  Skip them, and you have to work your thumbs a lot harder.  It’s a very basic (and a little dull) app, but fun for those who might need an extra boost.  I deleted it almost immediately after testing.

Price: Free

Similar to: Welly (which is basically a digital pet who gets cared for via the steps you take)

 

For Runners

 

Map My Run

I’ve been looking for an app like this for weeks, and was pleased when my research led me to this one. photo 1.PNG
Map My Run geo-locates you, and finds different routes you can take nearby, to cover a particular distance you might want.  Looking for a 5K near the office?  It lays out a handful of options.  Just want a quick 2-mile close to home?  Take your pick from the displayed maps. The app is colourful and very user-friendly.  Just touch, and run! And of course, it syncs with your Fitbit!

Price: Free

Similar to this: Digifit,  Endomondo and…

 

Runtastic

photo 3.PNGA really great pedometer app.  It uses the accelerometer inside your phone to track distance, speed, steps and calories burned.

You click it to start it when you go out for a walk, run or bike, and the app automatically sends your data to the aforementioned My Fitness Pal.  Technically this app doesn’t sync to Fitbit but it’s a great app to try out to see how (and if!) you might use a pedometer like a Fitbit.

Price: Free

 

Fitbolt Web App

You work a desk job, and you spend 7.8 hours per day sitting.  Need some motivation, maybe a reminder to get up, move, and do some stretching?  The Fitbolt desktop app claims to be just what you’re looking for.  It puts a tiny counter in your browser, and counts you down to a pre-set interval.  It will also display recommended stretches and movement activities you can do at your desk.  While the elbow/arm stretches were fine, I wasn’t about to do a plank on the dirty office carpet. I also didn’t like the fact that when the counter hits zero, there’s no alert, or alarm to remind you to get up.  It (in my Firefox browser, anyway) just reset it self and started counting again.  Also annoyingly, when do do remember to remember to look at the clock and try out a move, if you click that you’ve done it, it rewards you with …an ad.  Not to mention it kept crashing when I tried to log in to the dashboard.  Great idea in theory, but don’t waste your effort on this program.

Price: Free

 

Do you have a Fitbit-connected app you LOVE?  Tell me about it in comments.  I’d love to check out your favourite.

 

My Favourite Apps

My mother in law’s new iPhone is behind this week’s post of my favourite apps.  Here’s what I love, recommend, or can’t live without:

FOOD & DRINK

*STARBUCKS:  Add your gift cards, pay for coffee, and earn points for free beverages.  This app gets me going in the morning and keeps me going all day.  The only downside; the points you earn are per transaction, not per beverage, so if you’re buying for the office, you’ll get hosed.  (Unless you ask NICELY fo the kindly clerk to ring them in individually!)

starbucks-image-2

*My Fitness Pal: surprisingly addictive, this app counts the calories FOR you.  You put in your info, tell it whether your goal is to gain or lose weight, or just keep truckin’.  It calculates how many calories a day you should be eating, then keeps track of your intake, as well as factoring in any exercise you do.  It allows you to manually add foods, or use the built-in scanner to upload nutritional info.  Great to get an accurate picture of what you eat; which for many of us is MORE than we think!

MyFitnessPal_610x386

PHOTOGRAPHY

Everyone has a favourite picture-taking app; I have a few. And unlike most of humanity, I only used Instagram for about 3 minutes. I like these better.

*Hipstamatic: Awesome old timey camera settings come with the app, then you can buy fun films, lenses and flashes after.  The app works just like an old fashioned camera with the ability to swap and combine settings.  The films and lenses are so interesting and unique that I keep picking up new ones. With a “Shake to Randomize” setting, you can take cool photos and be surprised at how they turn out. You don’t need an account to use this, unlike Instagram.

hipstam

*360: a cool app that lets you take panoramic view shots that, as the name implies, allow you to completely visually circumnavigate the area around you. Playback makes it look like you’re there.

*PicJointer: allows you to stitch photos together into collages.  Great for then uploading to your social media websites.  Speaking of which..

SOCIAL MEDIA

They probably don’t need explanation, so ’nuff said that they’re on the list.

*Facebook

*Twitter

*Pinterest

TIMESAVERS

*ShopShop: a list-maker app, this keeps needed groceries on hand.  The list keeps track of your frequent purchases so you don’t need to add again and again, and lets you cross off and/or delete what you’ve picked up. Handy.

shopping

*ScanBizCards (Lite): Just like the name says, scan business cards, and they are automatically input into your contacts list.  So handy, and eliminates paper clutter and the need to re-type.  Lite version allows you to scan 5 cards/week, which is enough for me.  Downside: sometimes is has a hard time reading some fonts, so double checking the input is a must.

*Flashlight: when you need it, it’s there.  You can use different colours of light from the screen, or turn on the LED/flash. When you can’t find the darn flashlight, you can probably always find your phone.

HELPFUL APPS

*WhiteNoise Lite: Annoying children on the airplane?  Need some background noise to drown out the neighbours’ wind chimes? Try the sound of crashing waves, babbling rivers, cricket, or the rain. Helpful to get you to sleep, or just to cover other noise.

noise

*Shazam & SoundHound: Both apps that ID music that’s playing aloud.  I find that when Shazam can’t find a song (which is frequent), SoundHound can.  Both also keep lists of the songs you check so you can remember them later.  They’ll also allow iTunes purchases of the song if you like it that much.

NAVIGATION

*Google Maps: For my money it still way outdoes Apple’s map software. Much easier to navigate, and to look up addresses and phone numbers.

*Waze:  Making traffic and commuting into a game! You pick a little teardrop shaped avatar with a cute face, and off you go.  The app starts you as a “Baby Wazer” complete with diaper and soother.  The more you drive, the closer to an adult wazer you get, where you can personalize your avatar into a soccer mom or a ninja.  Climbing several status levels could eventually get you to Waze Royalty.  Also a pretty reliable map.

Waze-navigation-app

GAMES:

Need to kill time in the doctor’s waiting room? Stuck on an endless bus ride?

*Carcassone: A city-building game that’s a big tough to get into, but completely addictive when you do. based on the very popular European board game.

carcassoneimages

*Ticket To Ride: Woo wooo!!  Build rail lines across Canada and the USA, and watch out for your competition competing for the same real estate.  You couldn’t call me a train buff, but this game is surprisingly fun, easy and addictive.

ticket

*Harbourmaster:  Boats come into your harbour, and you need to dock them and unload the cargo.  The faster you dock, the faster they come in, and with bigger cargo loads. Don’t land your container ship on the bottom of the sea!

harbour images

Other built-in apps I get a lot of use out of are Podcasts, Weather, Videos and iBooks.

In case you want professional advice, here’s PC Magazine’s list of its Top 50 Free Apps of 2013.

I’d LOVE to hear some of your top apps…word of mouth is often the best way to find something useful you never even knew you needed!  Leave your list in Comments below.

-Erin