A departure from my normal blogs, this is one from my other area of interest: fitness. Wearable technology, very "in" at the moment but really do you need to wear something all of the time to help you with your fitness and health and even if you do, would you?
You can look at Amazon's wearable technology page here and the Polar Loop is here on Amazon. Just to show you how wide this type of product has spread you can buy these things at Tesco and many other high street shops (the Argos page is here). There are many different ones and I'm not going to go into the diferences here (maybe I'll do another blog to look at that later). This time I'm concentrating on the Loop because I've been wearing mine 24 hours a day for three months.
This is what it looks like but normally the screen (made up of little red LEDs) is off. It has one button which is the symbol you can see in the picture just below the K of WALK. This lets you access the time (no date even though the Loop knows what the date is), a display to tell you how close you are to your daily goal and what you need to do to achieve this. How many calories you've used today and how many steps you've taken. There are other items on the menu but these only appear if you have the accessory heart rate monitor.
You wear the loop all day including when you're asleep as it monitors and it records your activity and sleep patterns and through either an app or on a website, you can see how active you've been, how much sleep you've had (and how deep your sleep was). It also shows you patterns of inactivity!
I find the loop attractive and easy to wear but it is quite large (I'll take some pictures of it on my wrist another time) and I'm not sure how well it would sit on a slimmer wrist than mine.
So what have I found out, how well does it work and would I recommend one? Well I'll be updating this blog soon(ish) with those answers.
First things first, what do you get in the box and what do you do first? You get the Loop itself and a slightly strange looking USB charging cable. No micro USB's here, this is a special one that magnetically clips to the bottom of the Loop. This is both how you charge it and one of the ways you connect it to download the data (the other way is Bluetooth).
The connector on the Loop is on the left and the USB connector cable whihc magnetically connects to the Loop is shown on the right.
And here you can see the two connected together.
Other than that you get some paper and tool. Here is the first tricky bit; you have to adjust the Loop to fit your wrist and the way you do that is to cut the strap after measuring it with the wrist ruler that included. This is actually a paper guide and I found it pretty inaccurate. Basically be careful and cut the strap on both sides for less than you think you need (based on the ruler) and then you use the tool to put the pins that hold the clasp onto the strap in (you also use it to remove them). It's no harder than adjusting a watch strap (which is basically what you're doing) but because you have to cut the strap you need to be cautious and work your way slowly to the right size.
You fit the loop the use on one wrist as you need to tell the software which one you're wearing it on. I have mine a little loose purely for my comfort but obviously it has to be comforatble and stay on you wrist. Once all this faffing is done you need to charge the Loop and then connect it to internet by downloading and installing various bits and pieces. It's all easy enough to do and the guide takes you through it but it does mean that you need to take your time.
Okay once all this is done you can start monitoring your activities. If you read some of the reviews you'll see that some people don't like the Loop because it doesn't accurately record your activity if you're exercising. This is because to get the most out of the Loop you need the optional Polar H7 Bluetooth Smart Heart Rate Sensor. This measures your heart rate and transfers it to the Loop. This costs 60 odd quid and clearly this is one of the issues you need to decide before you start. I use Polar heart rate monitors whilst I exercise, ski and bike ride and so having the H7 makes sense as it works with other devices but you need to decide if you really want to spend the extra.
The software and the Apps
Polar have a website called Polar Flow that takes the data recorded by there various devices (including the Loop) and allows you to log your own activities and see what other users are up to. To do this you use the connector and your laptop. If you want to do the same but using your iPhone or iPod Touch you can use the Polar Flow app but... you need one of the newer ones. Android users are even more limited because most don't have a recent enough version of Bluetooth. It isn't a huge problem as you can always use the website but it is nice to be able to see what your stats are and the easiest way of doing that is through the app.
Some screen shots from the website:
These are the basic screens. The first one shows the intensity of my activity throughout the day. The section that's hashed between two and three show when the device was being charged. The heart symbol shows a gym session when I was recording my heart rate (see later). The second image shows the same information but now you see see the total length of the intensity sessions rather than the time I did them. As it was a working day you can see that basically I was only active for 4 hours and thirty seven minutes :(
This is the same day but now you can see that I burned 2,673 calories, walked for 10,475 steps BUT I only got three hours and two minutes of sleep (of which forty four minutes were restless!). This was a bad one to pick as work was causing me a stressful night but...
This shows my heart rate over the hous and a half at the gym.
This is the whole month or records. Whenever you see the orange triangle that means that the Loop was reminding me that I needed to be more active during the day.
Okay what does it look like on my wrist:
As you can see it's well up my arm because I've not adjusted it to be too tight on my arm.
The clasp looks like this and open the whole things hangs well off your wrist.
You can see (if only just given that the picture is out of focus!) the pin of the clasp and my inaccurate cutting of the band. I used scissors but maybe a craft knife would be a better choice.
This shows the time display. This gets less readible as the battery gets low but it's become my favourite wasy of checking the time. To be honest it's a little too easy to accidentally press the button (for example sometimes I do it when resting my hand on my wrist) but overall I do like the simplicity of the one control.
Here is the activity display (distressingly I'm no way near hitting my target for today!). If you fill the bar then you've got there :)
So now that I've been using the Loop for three months would I recommend it? Basically yes. It's not too expensive and I like the way it works and especially the way it can record your heart rather (remember you need the accessory heart rate belt to use this function which is a seperate purchase - and nearly as expensive as the Loop). The app works well as does the website but I must admit I don't make the most of either. It looks nice on the wrist (though I suspect that it would be large on smaller wrists) and there are now three colours available rather than my slightly dull black one.
I'd like to try some of the other fitness bands (particularly the one from Sony) but I would miss the time display!