Friday, March 22, 2013


The day my Basis fitness watch ($199 direct) arrived, I could hardly wait for the thing to charge so I could begin testing it. With any hope, it would show me detailed information about my body throughout the day and night: how many calories I burn in a day (around 2,100), my average skin temperature (88 degrees fahrenheit, including outdoor activity), my slowest heart rate while sleeping (46bpm), and whether I consistently get more than six and three quarters hours sleep a night (I do not). Basis' online account shows you your actual habits and helps you set attainable goals that are just barely out of reach, but not so farfetched as to be unrealistic. This approach encourages you to gradually form realistic habits, rather than lofty ambitions, which sets the Basis apart from every other fitness device I've tested.

The Basis delivers everything I want in personal fitness data reporting and then some. I'm head over heels about all it can do, and I can even rationalize the slightly steep price because I've been in the market for a new wristwatch for literally four years. But, there are a few holdbacks, almost all in hardware design?notably, a less-than-secure strap and a dim display. Overly cautious consumers may want to wait until a version 2.0 comes out to see if these flaws are corrected, but anyone who's excited about fitness technology will probably want to buy one straightaway.

Basis Design
The Basis is available with either black or white straps. The device itself is black with small, stud-like silver buttons on each of the four corners. Pressing either of the buttons on the right scrolls through the data collected by Basis: heart rate, total calories burned for the day so far, and number of steps taken (perspiration and skin temperature are not shown on the watch but can be seen in your Web account). The bottom left button toggles the display back to showing the time or date. And the top left button illuminates the screen, but only barely. It's really dim, and with my poor eyesight, I need a second or two to focus on the screen and tilt it to adjust for glare to be able to read it.?

In terms of its look, I'd call this watch casual and straightforward. The watch's all-black body has an unassuming chicness about it, while the silicone straps introduce a slightly sporty feel.

A row of four round connection points dots the left edge of the watch, where it connects to its base station for charging and syncing. The underside has six raised metal sensors that touch your skin to collect data, and an optical sensor that takes your pulse by measuring the volume of blood flowing through your veins. Every so often, you can see it glowing green.

Several wrist-worn activity trackers, such as the Jawbone UP and the Larklife, don't include any readouts on the device itself, which is part of what makes the Basis so much more useful. Even the Nike+ FuelBand, which at least shows the time, isn't as useful because the essential data it collects and displays is much more limited.

Another reason I'm a big fan of the watch form factor is how it looks. Back when I tested the BodyMedia Fit Core, I cringed with embarrassment every time someone asked me what that putty colored device strapped to my arm was for. A wristwatch is nearly as inconspicuous as the petite Fitbit One, PCMag's Editors' Choice and my favorite activity tracker to date, which covertly hides in a pocket or gets clipped to the front of my bra where no one can see it. The Fitbit has one other sleek feature: wireless syncing via Bluetooth, which means fewer cords and components cluttering my desk. Basis does have Bluetooth technology inside it, but it's not yet functional. A company representative says it will be once the Android app and a firmware update are released, hopefully in a few weeks.

Despite my attraction to the Basis' form factor, details of the design need improvement. First, the display needs to be much brighter. The backlighting is horrifically dim. Second, one side of the wristband is detachable?you remove it to charge and sync the Basis?but occasionally, during testing, it popped off while in use. Luckily, the watch was inside my sleeve every time it broke free, otherwise I could have lost it. For a watch that costs $200, I'd like a little more security in its design.

A better-built fitness watch is the MIO Alpha BLE. The screen is brighter, the straps are sturdier, the shape is sleeker, and colored lights indicate when your heart rate is within your target range while exercising. On the other hand, the MIO Alpha only reads heart rate, nothing else, and it doesn't connect to an online account where you can analyze your fitness trends over time.

The Basis is water-resistant, but not waterproof, so you don't have to worry about it getting wet in the rain, but you do need to remove it for swimming and other in-water activities.


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