Step counters and activity trackers are ten-a-penny, but what if the tracker could show you how you run, not just how far you run? It’s now a reality with smart insoles from FeetMe. Todd finds out more from CTO Andrey Mostovov and sprinter Taylor Pegram.
FeetMe’s athletic smart insoles, FeetMe Sport, constantly takes measurements from over thirty pressure sensors, before processing the information in their FeetMe coaching app to show exactly how your feet hit the ground. Imagine being a top athlete and being able to see your stride and steps. The app gives suggestions for improvement and weaknesses are highlighted for attention in the next training session. Unsurprisingly, the FeetMe Sport uses Bluetooth to pass the information on to a nearby smartphone or tablet, giving feedback in the field.
There’s a professional version for healthcare aimed at people who have gait or foot problems, or need post-operative assessment, allowing clinicians to review the data from the insoles.
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All too often we hear stories of poor customer service so I want to give some props to Fitbit who replaced my Flex with no fuss or special blogger treatment. Here’s how it went down….
I’ve had a Fitbit Flex for nearly two years and it’s one of my favourites as it’s waterproof and I wear it while swimming. A couple of months ago the middle LED stopped working and last week another one seemed to stop. All other functions worked fine, so the Flex was still counting steps and syncing to my Fitbit app. In reality the fault was largely cosmetic.
Still, I decided to contact Fitbit’s customer services via email. I paraphrase each message.
Me: I’m having trouble with the LEDs on my Flex dying one by one. See photo.
Fitbit: Ok. I see that. Could you try resetting the Flex followed by a full charge. Me: I’ve done that and yes, one of the LEDs is now working but the middle one still isn’t. See new photo.
Fitbit: Ok, I see that it’s still not working. When and where did you get the Flex? Me: I got it in November 2014 and here are the details.
Fitbit: No problem, that’s fine. We’re going to send a replacement. What’s your address? Me: Thanks. Here’s my address.
Fitbit: The replacement Flex is on its way. Me: Thanks again.
And sure enough, the replacement Fitbit Flex arrived in the post yesterday. All the LEDs work fine.
Reviewing the email exchange, it really couldn’t have been sorted it out in anything less. A big thumbs up to Fitbit for sorting it out easily and painlessly.
On review here is Fitbit’s ChargeHR activity tracker, one of its most popular models which provides heart rate monitoring in addition to steps taken, calories burnt and eyes shut. Designed for “active fitness”, it’s aimed at those people who take control of their fitness level rather than simply walking 10,000 steps. That’s me then. On a good day. Let’s take a look.
You can watch the unboxing and setup video above, though what you don’t see is that I completely destroyed the box getting the tracker and accessories out because you’re supposed to open the bottom not the top. Doh! Fitbit, you need “Open other end” printed on the top. Inside the box is the Fitbit ChargeHR, a Bluetooth dongle, a charging cable and small instruction booklet that directs you to the Fitbit site for more information. The dongle is only required for syncing to a PC.
The ChargeHR is available in six colours; black, blue, teal, plum, tangerine and pink. As you’ll see from the pictures, I had the teal one, which was fine when I was exercising but I did feel a little self-conscious wearing it with a suit at work. Unlike the Alta and Flex range, there’s no switching round of bands, so buy a colour you’re comfortable with. The ChargeHR band comes in three sizes, small, large and extra large, though the XL size can only be bought through fitbit.com. Small is 13.7 cm–15.7 cm, large is 15.7 cm–19.3 cm and extra-large is19.3 cm–22.1 cm. Fitbit provide a handy sizing chart here. The ChargeHR has a proper watch-style buckle for the band, rather than the push through style of the Flex.
Getting started is easy. Charge the ChargeHR with the supplied cable, install the app on a smartphone or tablet, register if you aren’t already with Fitbit, follow the pairing instructions and job done. Now all you have to do is some exercise!
The ChargeHR is a extremely easy to use as there’s only one button which is situated on the left side of the unit. Pressing the button cycles through time, steps, heart rate, distance, calories, stories climbed and next alarm. For each statistics, there’s a little graphic followed by the number – footprints for steps, a heart for pulse and so on.
The main differentiator of the ChargeHR is the heart rate tracking. I don’t know much about the science but it appears to use a couple of greenish LEDs on the back of device to measure the pulse. The ChargeHR measures the pulse every second under normal circumstances, but when it detects exercise, it ups the data rate for real-time information so you can keep your pulse in the zone.
The charging port is visible on the back in the picture. Charging typically takes less than hour for a couple of days wear.
Clever as the ChargeHR is, it’s only once you start looking at the data generated that you really start to get benefit from the tracker. The Fitbit app can provide graphs and charts for most metrics. Here are a few showing steps, resting heart rate and sleep. I didn’t wear the ChargeHR every night, hence why there’s some missing data. Activity can be reviewed, giving heart rate zones – peak, cardio, fat burning – exercise duration and max heart rate. There’s lots of useful info.
If you’re using a PC rather than a smartphone or tablet, Fitbit provide a web-based portal that provides similar information and analysis. For the really serious fitness fans, $50 per annum gets Premium privileges and extra analysis (which I didn’t investigate).
The ChargeHR does vibrating alarms too which is very handy if you need to get up without your bedside alarm waking your significant other. The alarm is set via the app and then sync’d to the tracker. I like this, though it’s not exclusive to the ChargeHR.
As expected in this day and age, there’s a social element too. You can add friends who also have Fitbits (of whatever variety) and see a leaderboard of steps taken each week. You can also earn badges for steps taken per day and lifetime achievements – I’ve a Nile badge for 6,649 lifetime kilometres.
I’ve had the ChargeHR for a couple of weeks now and I’ve been wearing it as much as I can. Sometimes I have to wear my Fitbit Zip on my belt when a teal bracelet wouldn’t be appropriate. Fortunately the Fitbit app (at least on Android) allows cross-syncing, so if you do 1,000 steps on one device and 1,000 on another, both will show 2,000 after a sync (or two). I like that feature as it lets me wear the Fitbit that suits my day.
Overall, I feel Fitbit have slightly stolen my thunder here, as the ChargeHR is being phased out and replaced by the Charge 2, but this could be an opportunity to get an excellent tracker for less money. Although officially priced at a penny under GB£120, it’s widely available for £89.99, even in shops such as PC World. The Charge 2 is currently £129.99, so there’s an effective saving of £40.
Fitbit has continued the refresh of its fitness tracker range with new iterations of the Flex and Charge HR models. The Flex 2 is a direct replacement for the original Flex and the Charge 2 takes over from the Charge HR. If you were wondering, the Alta took over from the standard Charge.
As with the original the Flex, the Flex 2 comprises a small capsule tracker fitted into a range of bands, bangles and pendants to suit the activity. The key point about the Flex range is that its swim-proof, making it the essential tracker for the swimmer. As with the first one, the Flex 2 uses the same LED dots to denote steps taken, albeit in a different orientation. The new tracker auto recognises exercise and notifies on calls or texts coming into your mobile phone. As before, the Flex 2 shows steps taken, calories burned and records sleep. I’m slightly disappointed that the wristband (available in four colours for now) doesn’t have a standard buckle to avoid loss, but it does appear to have been re-designed. Pre-order in the UK for just under GB£80. Expected to ship in October.
The new Charge 2 falls into FitBit’s Active Fitness range and takes the fitness tracker to the next level, with multisport tracking, cardio fitness level and guided breathing sessions. Of course it measures paces, steps, calories, steps, sleep and heart rate as the original Charge HR (although the HR moniker has been dropped) and it now has connected GPS, which means that the Charge 2 can use the paired phone’s GPS to track routes. The Charge 2’s screen is customisable and there’s a choice of clock faces.
An improvement on the original is that the wristbands can be switched out, with a tasty looking leather band available (at GB£59.99 mind you!) The screen’s bigger as well and can show calendar alerts in addition to calls and texts. If the Charge 2 appeals, it can be pre-ordered for GB£129.99 for delivery in 2-3 weeks.
I’m currently testing the Charge HR, courtesy of Fitbit, and I’ll be reporting on my impressions of that soon.
After interviewing Azoi at Gadget Show Live, the team there sent me a Kito+ to review. I’ve been using it to check my vital signs over the past few weeks. If you didn’t read or listen to the original interview, the Kito+ is a credit-card sized health tracker that measures heart rate (pulse), respiration rate (breathing), blood oxygen, skin temperature and ECG.
The Kito+ sends all the data via Bluetooth to a nearby smartphone or tablet which displays the readings in real-time. It’s even more impressive when you consider the Kito+ costs GB£100 (around US$140). The Kito+ can work as a standalone device with both Android and iOS smartphones and tablets, or it can be embedded into a case for the iPhone 6 series of phones from Apple. Let’s take a look.
The box opens up to show the Kito+ on the left with the iPhone cases and charging adapter on the right. Beneath the lids are instructions and a USB cable. There are two sizes of iPhone 6 case included, one for the standard iPhone 6 and one for the Plus versions. The magnetic charging adapter snaps into place and the micro-USB cable powers it up. Fully charged, the Kito+ is good for a whole month of tests.
Turning to the Kito+ itself, it’s flat on one side with the sensors and buttons on the other. There are four sensors, an “on” button and two contacts for the charging adapter. The Kito+ is easy to use – simply hold in two hands with thumbs on the flat side, forefingers on the big shiny metal sensors and index fingers on the lower two smaller sensors.
As mentioned earlier, the Kito+ sends data to an app for processing, display and recording. It’s a straightforward app without too many bells and whistles, but it does have some good touches, such as being able to email your data to a doctor or physician.
When starting the app, you can either login to track your stats over time or you can go without a login, which is handy if you want a friend to try the Kito+. Once in, the next step is to press a small button on the Kito+ to prep the link between it and the smartphone. I found that occasionally this step didn’t always work but turning Bluetooth off and on again usually resolved it.
When successfully connected up, the smartphone shows how to hold the Kito+ and then moves into the measuring mode. This shows a real-time ECG graph and other figures as they are acquired over around 30 seconds. When the measuring phase is done, you can review your vital statistics.
I can’t comment on the accuracy of the figures or the ECG but they seemed to be in the ballpark when I tried to measure my own heart and respiration rate. The blood oxygen measurement didn’t always succeed and it seemed very dependent on correct positioning of fingers and no movement during the test period. However, all the other measurements recorded correctly every time and I never had any figures that were so outlandish as to be unbelievable.
If you are logged into the app as an individual , the data is saved against the date and you can review your historical measurements if desired.
Overall, I think the Azoi Kito+is a great little device, especially considering the price (GB£100). I can see a number of potential users, from athletes and sportsman, or people who have a heart condition that can use the Kito+ under the guidance of a physician. I’m not medically trained so any docs who read GNC should chip in with comments on their view of the Kito+ and its potential.
For a full unboxing and demo run, there’s a video below. Thanks to Azoi for supplying the Kito+ for review.
Mio‘s range of heart rate and activity trackers compares well with the big names in the fitness space, but it’s perhaps not the best known brand, though it does have history behind it. At the Wearable Technology Show, Andrew chats with Michael about Mio’s products and the background to the company.
Specialising in heart rate tracking during activity, all the models in Mio’s range have optical sensors built into the wrist bands to measure the wearers pulse. Typically, the trackers are accurate to one beat per minute when compared with a medical grade EKG. There are four models, Link, Velo, Fuse and Alpha, with the Velo aimed at cyclists.
Communicating with smartphones is done via Bluetooth (what else?) and the Mio’s are compatible with a range of apps, ANT+ devices and bike computers (not Alpha). In addition to the heart rate, the trackers will give the usual fitness metrics like calories and steps.
All the trackers are available now, with prices from GB£75 to £120. A new model, the Slice, is expected out later in the year.
It’s all too easy for both humans and dogs to get a little overweight with a few extra inches round the tummy. The PitPat activity tracker is designed to help dogs (and their owners) stay healthy and fit. Andrew from PitPat explains more.
Around the size of a matchbox, the lightweight PitPat attaches to the dog’s collar using Velcro and records the animal’s activity throughout the day. Given the breed and age of dog, the PitPat app (free download from the Apple and Google app stores) shows suitable activity goals.
Pressing the tracker’s orange button transmits the data to the owner’s smartphone and the app shows the owner what the dog has been doing and whether the goals have been met. Future enhancements to the app will let owners share the activity with friends and social media networks.
The PitPat is waterproof for splashing around (IP67) and the user-replaceable battery will last about a year.
The PitPat has been on sale since January and is available from pet shops and on-line for around GB£40. Cuddly toy not included.
Let’s say that you are a major manufacturer of sportswear and you need an activity tracker to keep up with the market. You’ve no experience in electronics or wearables, so what do you do? If you’re Adidas, you turn to Bittium and get the professionals on the job. Martti, Senior Specialist at Bittium, takes Andrew through the company’s offering.
Finnish firm Bittium are a technology design house, specialising in connectivity solutions, from 4G base stations to mobile phones, IoT and wearables. Bittium will take an idea for a product and develop it to a finished product, including physical design, hardware and software.
Here’s the tracker that Bittium did for Adidas, the MiCoach Smart Run. It’s a few years old now (2013) but it’s interesting to hear the development story.
Undoubtedly smart watches have their place but few watch aficionados are going to replace their Swiss timepiece with a mass-produced device of limited lifespan. MainTool have a potential answer for those who want both the horology and the smarts. Andrew finds out more from Asier.
The MainTool’s concept is simple. Instead of building the sensors into the watch, put the electronics into the leather strap. Brilliant! Like many activity trackers, the MainTool smart strap measures steps, heart rate, sleep and temperature. For smartphone owners, the strap provides alarms and call notifications passed from the phone via Bluetooth. Calls can be rejected from the MainTool strap too. As expected, there’s a complementary smartphone app.
On the practical side, the MainTool smart strap is waterproof and has around 2-3 weeks of battery life. The picture shows the naked electronics before it’s put inside the leather strap.
Aimed at the B2B market, expect to see this coming to market within the next few months.
In the first of our interviews from the 2016 Wearable Technology Show, Andrew interviews Timo from Emfit to hear about the Emfit QS, which monitors sleep and gives detailed information on sleep quality and stress levels.
The Emfit QS is a thin strip which is placed under the sleeper’s mattress and then communicates with a web portal via wifi (app coming soon). Aimed at athletes and fitness enthusiasts, the Emfit QS Collects data throughout the night, including heart rate, respiration and activity. The portal provides a dashboard for reviewing and analysing the data, looking for sleep-affecting patterns. Improvements in health and fitness can be tracked over the long term.