Basis Band B1 Fitness Tracker Review

The Basis Band is a watch that is full of sensors designed to give you a continuous read-out of your activity throughout the day. An accelerometer tracks steps, a heart-rate sensor tracks heart-rate and there are sensors that record perspiration and skin temperature. This gives the device the most comprehensive array of sensors of any activity monitor. It also combines input from all the sensors to estimate calories and to track sleep.

I bought the Basis hoping that it would give me the information to make quantitative health and fitness goals. Instead of telling myself to “be more active” I could quantify it by number of hours, estimated calories or number of steps.

If I had to sum up my thoughts on the Basis Band, I would say that it is a bit disappointing. Disappointing because it shows a lot of promise, but a number of little things combine to make the experience not what it should be.

The Good:

There are a lot of great things about the Basis. It tracks steps accurately giving you the number of steps and the time spent walking and running each day. It is very accurate at separating walking from running. When I did interval running where I alternated between running and walking, the basis was only a few seconds off the total time spent running, which was impressively accurate. Moves, which I reviewed a few months back, was completely confused and randomly marked some of it as running and some as walking.

The Basis tracks heart-rate quite well when I am inactive. When I am in the range of 50 – 80 bpm and my arms aren’t actively moving I get accurate and frequently updated heart-rate readings. With the data I can see some interesting things, like my heart-rate increasing about 10 bpm a little before writing an exam and then decreasing back to its normal rate over the first 30 or so minutes as I focus and relax. However, it falters as the heart-rate rises above this range which I’ll cover in “the bad” section.

Sleep tracking showing the various stages of sleep

Sleep tracking showing the various stages of sleep

The sleep-tracking feature is probably the best part of the Basis, although mediocre software hampers how useful it is. Using the array of sensors the Basis fairly accurately determines when you fall asleep, not simply when you get into bed or when you press a sleep button like most alternatives, and when you wake up. You can check the web or mobile app to see a graph of how your sleep breaks up into the various stages and they give you a percentage score based on total time sleeping as well as the percentage of time in each stage. Basis says that they calibrated this with sleep researchers at a number of universities and sleep centres, but it is difficult for me to comment on accuracy other than to say that it somewhat matches with my subjective feelings of how well I slept. It is at the very least good for tracking total hours of sleep.

The Mediocre:

The Basis Band on my wrist. It is a little clunky, but at most angles people will see it it looks decent.

The Basis Band on my wrist. It is a little clunky, but at most angles it looks decent.

Given that the device is a watch, which is more noticeable than other forms of activity trackers, aesthetics are important. The good news is that the chrome version is inconspicuous. The bad news is that it doesn’t look great. Personally for me, I am not looking for a fashion statement, but I don’t want something that is ugly. In the few months I have worn it only one person has asked about it, and I’ve never seen anyone stare at it. That is good enough for me, but if you are someone who is fashionable and cares more about their appearance this may not be for you.

Since getting the Basis I have worn it almost 24/7 and I have found it mostly comfortable. If I tighten up the band in an attempt to improve accuracy while I workout it can start to feel like it is digging in, but normally I barely feel it.

The Basis was unable to get heart-rate measurements while I cycled, and categorized me as cycling for only about half of the time I was actually cycling

The Basis was unable to get heart-rate measurements while I cycled, and categorized me as cycling for only about half of the time I was actually cycling

The band is supposed to also be able to track cycling but my experience with that is quite mixed. It completely missed a 20 minute bike-ride one time, and another time it considerably under-counted my time biking. Given my limited data points for cycling though I am not quite ready to say it is bad yet, although it is so far disappointing.

A few of my habits at the end of the week

A few of my habits at the end of the week

Basis uses a system of “habits” which allows you to set goals for a variety of metrics and then have your completion of those habits automatically tracked. Options are metrics like number of steps, sleep and wake times, length of sleep, minutes of activity, and some interesting options like getting up and moving at least once an hour between 9 and 5. There are quite a few of them and Basis makes you unlock them over time by completing your current ones. Most of the habits work well, and habits like the step count certainly help motivate me to walk more frequently, but a slow and poorly designed app makes checking on your progress painful, so ultimately I usually end the day not really knowing how I did on any of them. This severely limits how motivational they are.

The Bad:

I was working out almost the entire time between the  two greyed out walking sections and Basis managed only a few sporadic heart-rate measurements at low points, didn't classify me as active, and barely raised my calories burnt above baseline. At least it measured higher perspiration

I was working out almost the entire time between the two grayed out walking sections and Basis managed only a few sporadic heart-rate measurements at low points, didn’t classify me as active, and barely raised my calories burnt above baseline. At least it measured higher perspiration

The heart-rate sensor is terrible during any kind of activity. In Basis’ defense, they don’t advertise the band as a fitness monitor, but instead sell it as a device for the “rest of your day”. However, when Basis completely misses my hour sweating at the gym and doesn’t count it as active time or raises my estimated calories burnt, you lose a lot of the motivational benefit of a product like this. The majority of the time I workout, regardless of what I am doing, I get at most one or maybe two heart-rate readings when I am resting and my heart-rate is at the low-end of where it will be for my workout.

Because of this, many habits are close to useless for actually tracking what I am doing. A day where I walk a little extra compared to one where I go to the gym for 2 hours is going to show up as both higher in calories burnt, and more active despite that being completely rubbish.

The battery life could also be improved. You get maybe 4 or 5 days, from full charge to dead, or you can charge it for roughly 20 minutes a day to keep the battery steady. The biggest issue is that if you wake up with the notification that you have less than 20% battery left and you don’t have time to charge it before you leave for the morning, there is a good chance it will die on you before you get back home to charge. I lost a day worth of data once because of this and came close a few other times.

 

Conclusion:

The Basis Band is probably the best activity tracker there is, but by having so many more sensors than its competition it makes you want a lot more out of it. For simply tracking steps, both walking and running, as well as sleep it is a great device. If you workout any other way though, it no longer provides consistent or accurate readings and quickly becomes frustrating. Given that  I have it, it is worth keeping on and charging, but I would definitely not buy it again. Basis was just bought by Intel, so with the financial and engineering backing of Intel, a new version with significantly improved heart-rate monitoring and battery life could be a really great device for fitness/health geeks like me.

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