Health Tech Update

Health. Technology. Innovation.

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.

 

Fitbit Flex band is a colorful wrist mounted activity tracker

Fitbit today announced at CES the latest addition to the company’s line of wearable fitness devices.  The new Fitbit Flex band offers some new features (like being waterproof and the ability to wear on the wrist), though it doesn’t offer some of the more detailed stats on the number of steps you’ve taken like the Fitbit One of  the Fitbit Zip).

The Fitbit Flex does let you swap the tracker between different bands if you want to be able to wear different colored bands depending on your wardrobe selection for the day.

We’ll be putting the Flex through its paces as soon as it ships and provide a comparison to the Fitbit One and Zip, as well as other smart pedometers on the market.  The Flex will retail for $99 when it goes on sale.

Fitbit Flex Band Wearable Fitness Tracker

Fitbit Flex Band Wearable Fitness Tracker

TechCrunch roundup of fitness gadgets for 2013

Basis Fitness Watch

Basis Fitness Watch

TechCrunch has a nice roundup of the latest crop of wearable fitness gadgets ready for 2013.  Included in the list of wearable health tech are:

In the fitness app category, they cover:

  • RunKeeper
  • Runtastic
  • Beeminder
  • Retrofit
  • MapMyFitness
  • Keas
  • Gympact
  • Cardiio
  • Azumio
  • Skimble
  • Fitocracy

You can read the full write up over at TechCrunch.

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 Fitbit.com)
  • 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 Fitbit.com

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.

Smartphone apps that measure heart rate using you phone’s camera

Vital Signs Heart Rate Monitor iPhone App

Vital Signs Heart Rate Monitor iPhone App

There is a new crop of apps for your iPhone that can measure your heart rate just by looking at your face!  One is called Cardiio.  It’s an offshoot from work done at MIT.  The other is from tech giant Philips and is called Vital Signs.

The apps work by looking for minute color changes in your face (each time your heart beats, there is a tiny change in face color due to blood circulating).  The apps aren’t perfect, but they seem pretty close.  I tested the Vital Signs app and compared it’s reading (49 BPM) to my Garmin (50 BPM) and it seemed pretty accurate!

Both are available from the iTunes App Store.

Long term review of the Withings Internet-connected smart scale

After using the Withings Internet connect scale for the past two years, I’ve found it to be a useful companion in my daily battle to maintain my weight.  There’s something about hopping on the scale and having it measure my weight and body fat %, and then calculate my BMI…all while I stand there looking down at my toes!

Automatically updated weight loss graph from Withings Scale

Automatically updated weight loss graph from Withings Scale

And the fact that it “automagically” uploads this to my online weight chart makes it even better.  Seeing where you’ve been seems to give me an extra boost to try to maintain my current weight.  Unlike the “out of sight, out of mind” way many of us treat our weight, I like seeing it laid out in a colorful graph.  If I’m starting to trend back up in weight, it makes me get a little more vigilant in controlling my portions at meal time.  It also gives me a bit more drive to stick to my morning run, even when I’m not in the mood.

You can read the full Withings wifi scale review here.

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!