Health Tech Update

Health. Technology. Innovation.

Can “Big Mother” Help Your Posture?

Everyone knows that mobile apps are changing our world every day, particularly in the world of fitness apps.  Well a new crop of personal health technology is hitting that market.  These new products are combining dedicated hardware to work in tandem with a custom app to help you perform better.

One of the simple, yet powerful examples coming out is targeted at something a lot of us suffer from: poor posture.  I know that when I sit at the computer for an extended period of time I start to slouch.  The longer I set, the lower I slide into my chair.  This is where the LumoBACK device comes into the picture. The LUMOback is part of growing collection of wearable health technology that has the potential to be a realtime coach showing us how to enhance our performance. It also has the potential to spy on our every move. That’s how the slightly comical, slightly creepy “Big Mother” term came about.

This small band goes around your waist and watches your lower back posture. When you start to slouch, it gently vibrates to remind you to sit up straight. There’s also a companion app for your iPhone that shows a simple avatar of your posture as you stand, sit or walk. Using the app, you can see how adjusting your body can change you posture.

The end result of this realtime feedback is that you start to build new muscle memory throughout your day. We’ll be doing a full review of the LUMOback soon.

Withings Smart Activity Tracker announced at CES

Withings Smart Activity Tracker

Withings Smart Activity Tracker

Today Withings announced a big expansion of its product line. Most well known for its wifi-enabled body weight scale, Withings now has a smart activity tracker called, wait for it, the Withings Smart Activity Tracker.

Based on the initial details about the product, it appears to be a direct competitor to the Fitbit One. Some of the on screen icons even look the same as the One. The features look almost identical (steps, stairs, sleep tracking, etc.). The main new feature appears to be a heart rate monitor that is activated by pressing your finger on a sensor on the back of the device. The Withings Smart Activity Tracker also has a touch screen and the ability to review a limited amount of historical data right on the device (most devices like the Fitbit One only show the current day’s stats).

Pricing hasn’t been announced. It’s expected to be released this spring. Stay tuned for a full shake down on the Smart Activity Tracker soon.

You can read the full product release from Withings about the Smart Activity Tracker here.


Shine: New smart pedometer from company founded by former Apple CEO

Shine Wireless Smart Pedometer

Shine Wireless Smart Pedometer

The world of wearable fitness devices is heating up.  The latest entrant into this popular market is called the Shine.  It’s from a company called Misfit Wearables, which was co-founded by John Sculley, the former Apple CEO.

The small Shine pedometer (it’s about the size of a quarter) has several attachment devices, including a wrist band and a pocket or shirt clip.

The Shine has a novel synching method where you place it on your phone and it transfers its data…no cables necessary.  Here’s a video showing how the Shine works.

We’ll test out the Shine and see how it stacks up to the other industry standards like the Fitbit and Nike Fuel Band.

Fitbit announces two new pedometers: The Fitbit One and the Fitbit Zip

Fitbit today announced two new smart pedometers: the Zip and the One.  These two new personal activity trackers follow in the footsteps of the highly rated Fitbit Ultra pedometer.  Here’s a quick summary of the features of each device:

Fitbit Zip Pedometer

Fitbit Zip Wireless Pedometer

Fitbit Zip Wireless Pedometer

The Fitbit Zip Activity Tracker is a new low-cost pedometer from Fitbit.  To achieve a lower price, they have removed a few features.  But they’ve also added a great new feature: a larger battery that lasts 4 to 6 months.  This means no charging every two weeks (as you need to do with the Fitbit Ultra).

Here are the key features of the Fitbit Zip:

  • Lower cost ($59.95 from
  • Waterproof design
  • Bright color options (including lime and magenta)
  • New touch screen display:
    • Steps
    • Distance
    • Calories burned
    • Fitbit Smiley (highlights your recent activity level)
    • Clock
  • Wireless data sync to via your PC
  • Wireless data sync to your smart phone
  • Long lasting battery life (4 to 6 months)
  • The sleep tracker found in the Fitbit Ultra has been removed
  • The stair counter feature has also been removed

Overall the Fitbit Zip is a lower cost option than the original Fitbit.  It drops a couple of features (sleep and stair tracking) but gains a long lasting battery and some new phone sync options.  This combination of features and price should help the Zip gain an even wider audience of people who want to track the steps and lose weight.

Fitbit One Pedometer

Fitbit One

Fitbit One

The Fitbit One is a lot like the current Fitbit Ultra, with a few key differences:

  • Silent alarm feature to wake you up (without waking up your spouse)
  • Wireless sync to your smart phone (via Bluetooth 4.0)
  • Color options are different with Black or Maroon in place of the original Blue or Magenta.
  • $99.95 from

The Fitbit One is an evolutionary step beyond the current Fitbit Ultra.  Take a look here for our long term review of the Fitbit Ultra to see how all of the core features stack up.

We will be doing a full shakedown on these new pedometers soon.

Glowing orb slows your computer down if you don’t exercise

This is an interesting prototype.   It’s a device that senses how much exercise you’re getting (in this example it’s looking at how far you bike).  When you start “running low on exercise”, the orb turns from green to red and slowly slows down the speed of your computer mouse (this is obviously targeted at those of us that sit in front of a computer for a good part of the day)!

You are then supposed to go ride your bike for a while to recharge your PEO orb.  Then you plug it back into your computer and your mouse is back to normal speed.  Until you run out of exercise again.

I think a better way to achieve the same effect would be to use something like a Fitbit and just use that activity data.  In the case of the Fitbit, it’s already set up to wirelessly transmit activity data in real-time to your computer.

Nike+ Fuel Band links up with Path Social Networking

Path integrates with Nike+ Fuel Band

Path integrates with Nike+ Fuel Band

If you’re using the new Nike+ Fuel Band you can now set it up to automatically publish your healthy activities right to your Path mobile social account.

In the announcement from Path, they discuss how you can now link from the Fuel Band without having to manually push the data out.  With the nice summary of how you’re doing relative to your daily activity goal (called your NikeFuel score) popping up right on your Path account, your friends and family can give you that gently nudge you need to stay on track.

You don’t have to use the Fuel Band to integrate with Path.  If you use the Nike+ app on your phone, you can configure it to also post directly to Path.

If you’re a Fuel Band (or even a regular Nike+ user) you can try it out today.

Extend your workout analytics with iPhone 4S extended battery

Do you use your iPhone to track your workouts?  I regularly use Nike+ for my running, and MapMyFitness for my cycling.  It works great, but for longer runs and rides, the constant GPS use by these applications can really drain my battery.  That’s where the Mophie Juice Pack comes in.  This clever device is both a case and a battery.  Once you attach the Juice Pack to your iPhone, you get about double the normal battery life.  And you can still access all the usual iPhone controls, and even charge and sync the iPhone without removing the case.

Mophie Juice Pack extends the battery life of your iPhone

Mophie Juice Pack extends the battery life of your iPhone

With the added thickness of the battery, I had trouble attaching my iPhone to my handle bar mount that I use on my bike.  I’ll be trying out a new mount soon that accommodates a bigger phone.  For now, the phone is in my riding jersey pocket when I use the Mophie.

So if you’re a data junkie who likes to track all the details of your workout, check out the Mophie!  The Juice Pack Plus retails for $99, and you get get it directly from Mophie.

NOTE ABOUT BUYING A MOPHIE ON AMAZON: I bought my first Mophie from Amazon for $68. I thought it was a great deal until I realized that it was a knock off product and not made by Mophie!  For instance, the buttons on the case were just glued on and not actually working.  After reading the comments on Amazon it appears that I’m not the only one this has happened to.  To be safe, I’d just get it directly from Mophie (or one of the cell phone stores like AT&T or Verizon).

Review of Plantronics BackBeat 903+ Headset

Plantronics BackBeat 903+ Wireless Headphones

Plantronics BackBeat 903+ Wireless Headphones

Over the past month we’ve been testing out the Plantronics BackBeat 903+ headset.  After getting tired of untangling the cords from traditional wired headphones, using these wireless headphones from Plantronics was a welcome change.  In general, the headphones worked well for exercise (and for tuning out  noisy office sounds).  Here’s full run down.  Let’s start with the good:

  • Long battery life (about 6 to 7 hours)
  • Good sound quality (not as good as some of the in-ear noise isolating headphones, but still good enough).  There’s also a bass-boost option that adds a bit more punch to your music.
  • Light weight.  Easy to use for running.
  • Integration with voice dialing and Siri (on the iPhone 4s).  You can press the left button for two seconds to activate Siri.
  • Can be used to make and receive phone calls
  • Built in microphone automatically activates when you pause the music so you can hear the person talking to you
  • Low price (currently about $49 on Amazon)

Here are the things that could be better:

  • The volume/track buttons are a little difficult to operate while running/riding (they are down low on the ear piece and close together)
  • Wind noise when riding a bike (it’s probably not a good idea to be completely isolated with your headphones when out on the road anyway)
  • Only one set of ear inserts (it would be nice to have some different sizes to experiment with)
  • The ear loops interfere a bit with helmet straps when riding a bike

LifeSpan treadmill desk is a budget-friendly option

LifeSpan Treadmill Desk

LifeSpan Treadmill Desk

The LifeSpan treadmill desk seems to have found a nice niche in the increasingly popular world of treadmill desks.  Steelcase is the Cadillac of the industry with their Walkstation treadmill desk.  Unfortunately it comes with a Cadillac price as well ($4,399).  At the other end of the market is the TrekDesk, which is only $589, but it doesn’t come with a treadmill (it’s designed to straddle most treadmills).  The thinking is that you can buy your own inexpensive treadmill and save money.

Easy access treadmill controls

Easy access treadmill controls

Now there’s an option for someone who wants the convenience of an integrated treadmill desk, without paying almost $5,000 to Steelcase.  The LifeSpan treadmill desk retails for $1,999, but you can find it on Amazon for $1,299.  This treadmill desk has a nice control panel for adjusting the treadmill while at your desk (which is nice; it can be tough to reach the control on a standard treadmill when you have a laptop in front of you.)  It also has specifically designed trays for holding your computer cables.

If you haven’t tried a treadmill desk, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.  If you keep the speed slow (about 1 MPH) you can easily work on your computer, read, use the phone and do just about any normal office activity.  And at that speed, you don’t sweat and you don’t need any special shoes or gear.  It’s like getting free exercise while you work.  For me, it feels like I’m more focused and can concentrate better when using one.  And since you burn 100 calories per hour walking at this pace, it will help your waistline too!