This last weekend was a fun one to watch mobile tech sites. Samsung put its new line of Gear smartwatches on sale. That includes the sexy-looking Gear Fit, which is more of a smartwatch and fitness tracker combination. Now that gadget bloggers and the media are getting their hands on the $200 device we’re seeing reviews that are decidedly mixed and leaning towards the negative.
By all accounts Samsung is getting high marks for the look of the device. By many accounts Samsung is getting lower marks because the device, coupled with Samsung’s S Health software isn’t living up to the hype of being a reliable fitness tracker and sometime health statistics monitor. Some are obviously focusing on future potential and cutting Samsung some slack. Some don’t see any room for slack.
In the category of “Hate to say I told you so” we’ve been saying this new wave of wearable computing wasn’t going to bring us anything that exciting, revolutionary, and reliable in this next generation for quite some time. Samsung led the charge out of the gate and in this blogger’s humble opinion is going to be paying a penalty for being so quick out the chute. Many wearable fans are still anxiously waiting to see what Apple and Google have in mind for later this year. Although, curiously, we’re starting to hear some folks hint that Apple might be holding off until 2015. That doesn’t surprise me and here’s why.
First some context. I’m speaking from personal experience with these comments and from some observations of friends who are much more into the health and fitness tracking game than I am. I also have not tried a new Gear Fit or any other wearable device. At the moment I have no plans to. Why? For my needs, and for the needs of a few of the friends I asked, the iPhone 5s with its included M7 co-processor and a few existing accessories seems to be able to provide enough tracking data for our needs.
When Apple released the iPhone 5s, one of the new changes was the inclusion of the M7 co-processor. Its function is to collect sensor data from the accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, and other sensors separately from the main A7 processor, thus saving computing cycles on that main processor. The data is retained in the M7 until it is called upon by Apps that need that data. An obvious benefit includes a savings in battery life since the M7 uses much less power for its always-on collection routine than would the A7 processor.
What this essentially means is that an iPhone 5s can essentially serve the same purpose as a separate tracking device would. Does that then obviate the need for a separate monitoring gadget? As in most cases, that depends on the situation. But for some it probably would. I know, currently it does in my situation.
Let me layout some specifics on my situation. I monitor the following aspects of my health and fitness routine.
- Blood Pressure
- Heart rate
The only one of those categories that the iPhone 5s monitors for me directly on an ongoing and always going basis is walking. I have a close friend who is a religious jogger and work out fanatic who also monitors sleep activity. I have another close friend who alternates between jogging and walking for most of her exercise. Both of them use the iPhone 5s in the same way I do: to monitor those type of activities.
One of those friends has used the iPhone 5s with a FitBit, but now just uses the iPhone 5s without it. She uses an App from Azumio called Argus that essentially keeps track of this data by offloading that data from the M7 co-processor. My other friend who is the workout fanatic has tried every conceivable wearable tracker and uses the Argus App for her monitoring. I use the same App for my monitoring needs.
But what about those other three categories? I’m able to use existing iOS Apps, a Withings scale and blood pressure cuff to feed data relating to my heart rate, blood pressure and weight directly into Argus. Withings offers an App that works with its accessories. Azumio also offers Instant Heart Rate, an App that can measure your heart rate by placing your finger over your iPhone 5s flash. I could do much more with the Argus App if I wanted to but I’m not into sleep monitoring or calorie counting.
When Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S5 and the Gear Fit I actually penned a post about this showing that existing technology allowed users to take advantage of some of features Samsung was promising.
As you can see from that post and this one, I’m able with an iPhone 5s, a scale, a blood pressure cuff, and a few Apps, to monitor my needs. In fact I could also monitor a number of those features with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.
In my experiences so far doing this, Argus works quite well. My workout fanatic friend also swears by Fitness Trainer, also by Argus for her workouts.
But all is not perfect in our scenarios. I also use an App called Moves to track how many steps I take during a day. Both Moves and Argus draw from the same data but each reports slight differences in step totals. Is that troublesome? Not for me.
But I notice from weekend reviews of the Gear Fit that some users are reporting issues with the device recording walking activity inaccurately.
The point I’m making here is the same point I’ve been making since the mobile tech makers decided that wearables with this kind of tracking technology were going to be the latest craze that they hoped to build fortunes on. Simply put, for many users you don’t need to spend the extra dough for an extra gadget that may end up getting lost in a drawer and that requires you to charge it and maintain it separately from your smartphone.
That doesn’t mean that for those like my workout fanatic friend that these kind of accessories don’t hold both appeal and functionality. A big part of any workout or health routine is finding what works for you and if a separate gadget can serve as a motivational tool, well then go for it. To each his/her own.
And for those who need to seriously monitor a health issue, specialized accessories that already exist can do that very well.
And the further point here is that this entire wearable category does indeed offer great promise for health and fitness tracking. But I don’t think the technology that is going to make monitoring of blood flow, blood oxygen levels, blood sugar levels, and other categories we’ve seen talk about this year is quite ready to be sold on consumer devices.
As I read the reviews of the Gear Fit today and over the weekend, I was struck by how challenging it was for most to get the heart rate monitor working. Apparently you have to position the gadget on your wrist very specifically, and keep very still for it to work. That may suffice for monitoring a health related condition but certainly can’t be conducive for those wanting to monitor heart rate activity for exercise purposes. And note, you can monitor your pulse rate with some smartphone cameras already without the addition of a wrist band that doesn’t line up always.
But every new category of device needs early adopters to see if it is going to take hold, and I suppose Samsung shouldn’t be criticized to heavily for getting out in front. Except in one circumstance. While we may have become accustomed to a certain amount of beta hardware in mobile technology, I don’t think we can or should have that same tolerance when it comes to health monitoring.
These are early days in this wearable health and fitness tracking category. And if you’re interested in trying out how this works you don’t necessarily need to spend the cash for a new gadget to experiment a little, depending on the smartphone you own. iPhone 5s users already have a gadget that will monitor some activity thanks to the M7 coprocessor and accessories that already exist.
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