Saturday, December 28, 2013

Reviewing the Bowflex Boost wearable activity tracker

This was originally published by by @DrJosephKim

I've been an early adopter of wearable tech. For the past few years, I have been using different types of wearable activity trackers (also called Quantified Self or QS devices/gadgets) to measure my level of physical activity (or inactivity during those long days when I’m glued in front of a computer). The wearable activity tracker market has exploded as major manufacturers and start-up companies have developed gadgets that are designed to motivate us to live healthier, active lives. I have used activity trackers like the Nike+ FuelBand (far left), the Misfit Shine (far right), and a host of others in between (can you identify them in the photo below?). The Bowflex Boost can be seen in the middle (3rd from the Left):

The Bowflex Boost is one of the newer activity trackers and it is only $49.95. Given that many of the other wearable activity trackers are over $100, the Boost makes for a nice lower-priced option for Apple iOS and Android users who have newer devices that support Bluetooth 4.0 (also called Bluetooth Smart). I want to thank Bowflex for providing me with a unit that I could test and use for a few weeks. This gave me the opportunity to review the unit, collect some personal data, and compare it to some other wearable activity trackers.

The Bowflex Boost comes on a strap that is very light, appears very durable, and is comfortable on your wrist. The strap is easy to put on and the buckle holds it securely. I had no problems with the strap coming loose or falling off. The tracker can be removed from the band so that you can wash the band. Compared to the Nike+ FuelBand, the Boost has a much thinner section on the bottom portion of your wrist since the buckle and activity tracker are on the top portion of your wrist. So, the wrist strap minimally interferes with typing.

The tracker magnetically clicks to a small charger that plugs into your USB port. According to Bowflex, the Boost has a battery life of approximately 11 days, depending on how often you sync it with your mobile device.

Here, you'll see the Bowflex Boost next to several other activity trackers that can be worn on the wrist. The Boost is the device on the upper right corner of the image:

As an activity tracker, the Boost is very simple to use. Install the mobile app and set an activity goal (or use the default settings to start). Then, go about your day. To check your physical activity progress, press the button on the strap and the LED light will glow red, yellow, or green to indicate your level of activity towards your goal. But, the color doesn't represent a single metric such as steps or calories. It combines steps, calories, and distance to give you an estimated activity level:
  • Red: 0-50%
  • Yellow: 51-99%
  • Green: 100%
When the LED goes from red to yellow, you know that you’re making significant progress, but you need to sync the Boost to see exactly how much progress you’re making toward your goal. I suspect that many people may not be aware of how inactive they tend to be during the work week. If you spend a few days wearing the Boost and find that you’re in the red zone for the majority of your day, you’ll need to be more intentional about incorporating some exercise into your daily routine. It’s a very rewarding feeling when you hit the yellow zone before noon and then hit the green zone before going into the evening.

To sync the Boost with your mobile device, open the app and hold the button on the Boost for 5 seconds until it blinks blue. The button can be difficult to press because the strap’s rubbery material is relatively thick. This may prevent accidental button presses, but I would prefer to see a design where the button is larger and easier to press. After the light turns blue, you’ll see that the app detects the Boost and starts syncing. It only takes a few seconds to complete the sync process.

On the screen below, you’ll see that you can set your target goal values. By default, mine were set to 10,000 steps, 500 calories, and 3.0 miles. On this screen, you’ll see that I’m in yellow, but I'm making progress:

Here's a day when I hit the Green zone after I went to the gym for 30 minutes and exercised on the treadmill. I saw that I reached 208% of my goal that day!

I can also track my weekly/monthly/yearly progress to see how I did each day. This type of feedback helps me stay motivated and keeps me accountable to the goals that I set each week or month. Here's a snapshot of my first week using the Boost and you'll see that on some days I exceeded 100% while I fell short on other days:

Here's how week #2 looked (got more motivated to exercise on Thurs, Fri, and Sat):

And here's week #3 that shows you that I even did some running on Christmas Day and then hit the gym on Thurs to burn off all that extra food!:

The Boost also tracks your sleep. Simply hold the button for 3 seconds until the LED changes to purple to enter sleep mode. I didn't test the sleep tracking function too many times because my sleep is too interrupted these days (small  kids, crying babies - you know the routine if you're a parent).

Now for some off-label discussion (by off-label, I mean that you won't find the following information on the Bowflex Boost website):

  • Although the Boost is designed to be worn on the wrist, I tried wearing the Boost on my ankle on a few occasions. I found that it worked to track my activity (relatively speaking), although the data that I collected was probably not extremely accurate since the Bowflex activity tracking algorithm is probably designed specifically for wrist-worn activity and not for ankle-wearing.
  • I also removed the activity tracking module from the band and carried it in my pocket. Once again, this probably didn't yield the most accurate data, but it still provided me with some relative information. 
  • Relatively low cost ($49.95 compared to many others that are over $100).
  • Comfortable adjustable wrist strap that minimally interferes with typing because the tracker and buckle are on the top of the strap, not the bottom.
  • The overall simplicity of the device: one button and one LED.
  • Water-resistant (up to one meter, so it's fine for showering but not recommended for swimming).
  • Mobile app for iOS and Android lets you view and track your data, share your progress on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Long battery life (up to 11 days according to Bowflex).
  • You can remove the tracker from the band and carry it in your pocket (although this would be considered off-label use).
  • Syncs with newer iOS or Android devices that support Bluetooth 4.0 (Bluetooth Smart).
  • The button on the device is small and difficult to press (but once you remove the device from the strap, the button is easier to press).
  • The wrist-worn device itself provides simple feedback via the LED, so you'll need to sync and view your details on the app. The wrist band does not display time or provide other metrics. 
  • Currently lacks an online community of users where you can create groups, compete against other users, etc. (I suspect that this will eventually get built in the future).
  • Currently lacks an option for continuous sync in the background. You have to press and hold the button on the Boost to sync it with your mobile device. Although this sync method improves overall battery life, I suspect that Bowflex may offer an option (in the future) to provide continuous background sync at the expense of decreased battery life.
Summary: The Bowflex Boost is a great lower-cost option for those who want a simple, reliable, and comfortable wrist-worn device designed to improve their overall fitness level. The mobile app provides a summary of your daily, weekly, and monthly progress at a glance so that you can share this information with others and maintain social accountability.

I'm a big believer of wearable activity trackers. If they are used continuously for several weeks, they can help people change their habits to be more physically active.

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