Dec 29, 2014

Basis Peak Surprises

I got a Basis Peak watch/fitness tracker for Christmas and I feel compelled to write some clarifying comments about the biggest surprises I encountered after using it for a few days. This is not a comprehensive review.

1. There is no reminder to get up and move on a schedule. The software does have a Habit named Don’t be a Sitter where the goal is to not sit for more than an hour. The watch does have a vibrate feature. Amazingly (to me), the two pieces of the puzzle haven’t been put together. Once you’re close to  (or exceeding) the hour I thought the watch would vibrate to remind me to move, much like my wife’s Vivosmart does. I guess that’s what makes hers smart.

2. There is no vibrate alarm to wake up. The watch tracks your sleep and categorizes it as light, deep and REM. It seems a no-brainer that you could ask it to wake you up within a range of time when you’re in light sleep by vibrating. It doesn’t even have a dumb wake-up alarm.  There is just no such feature, I don’t think it’s even planned.

3. The video ad on their site is HUGELY misleading. If you watched the video one of the first things you see is a woman getting a text notification on her watch at 7:32 (don’t you  hate smug early risers) that a friend will be there at 7:45. It’s also the first of three texts which is why you shouldn’t be surprised when she turns her head and her friend goes rolling by on her bike. Would you be surprised to know that the watch doesn’t support text notifications? Surprise! It’s promised as a free future upgrade. Vaporware is back!  I wouldn’t mind so much if this wasn’t so prominent in the ad. If you can read  tiny white text, really fast, there is a disclaimer that this feature doesn’t actually exist. Gee thanks. It does refer you to which says it will be released in Winter 2014. Today is 12/29/2014. I guess I’ll get the feature in the next couple of days?  The promised text and email notifications became available  near the end of January 2015.

4. There is no manual. Really? Do you need a manual for a a fitness tracker that tracks steps, heart rate, body temperature, sleeping patterns (including REM and deep sleep) and skin galvanic response? Crivens, I couldn’t even figure out how to turn on the backlight without looking it up online. There’s not really even an online manual. There is a series of FAQs that substitute as a manual and they answered most of my questions once I clicked on and read them all individually. Still, how expensive is it to put together a PDF for downloading? At the minimum, a printed sheet that shows the various screens and how to swipe to them (including the back lighting)  SHOULD have been in the box.

5a. The iOS app software is buggy. At least two things struck me here. When going to the Activity Feed page the app often gets hung up, sort of. The wait cursor appears and never goes away. You can still move out of the activity menu but nothing seems to update any longer. Exiting the app (with the Home button) and reentering doesn’t fix the problem. Force quitting the app does. (Double-click Home, swipe up on the Basis Peak app.) This has become a ritual repeated multiple times per day. Hey it’s new, and I’m off of work, give me a break.   

5b. Bug and  Weird UI decision. When I go to select a new habit (from the notification home screen of the iPhone) and decide to exit out and not choose one, I can’t. I’m stuck in that mode unless I force quite the app. When I enter the add habit from inside the app it appears to work fine.  I did find adding new habits confusing at first. You are on a screen where it looks like you should hit Add Habit to well, add the habit. However, I now think Add Habit is just the screen title because even though the other things on that line are buttons, the Add Habit text has no feedback. You have to hit Done from that screen to add the habit. Let’s just call this poor UI design. Like I said it’s minor, but I still found it surprising. 

5c. Syncing is temperamental. They acknowledged the problem and said they had it fixed. Then they issued two firmware updates (1.8.15 and 1.8.16) that “Improved Bluetooth connectivity stability” and “Improved system stability”.  Quotes are from the release notes. My experience is that things have gotten worse. For the last several days my iPhone app can’t find my watch even when they are less than an inch apart. Quitting and restarting the app doesn’t help. Turning off/on Bluetooth on the phone doesn’t work.  Sometimes the app goes into a loop where it finds the watch then immediately tries to find the watch again. This appears to be an infinite loop that never stops and the watch never synchs. Most of the time the issue is solved by restarting the watch which has become a multiple times per day operation.

6. The most surprising thing of all. I like it anyway and I’m going to keep it.  Not because it was a gift and I don’t think this is confirmatory bias but what do I know?  Partly I expect Intel to live up to their promise to provide missing features (text notifications and such) and  to provide more features that weren’t promised (movement reminders/waking alarm).  I don’t think they’ll get the promised features to me in the Winter of 2014  (unless they consider that to extend until Spring 2015). Also, the heart rate monitor works surprisingly well. It loses track of my heart rate many times during the day and night, but when I’m exercising and the watch is snug it works and when I compare it to manually taking my heart rate it seems pretty accurate. I’m really interested to see how well it works when I’m sweating and playing tennis. I expect it to work even better. If it doesn’t I’ll let you know.

6. After using it for several months, I can’t recommend this device. The heart rate monitor works worse when playing tennis. I don’t know why but most of the time it can’t find a reading. After using it for several months I’m finding he heart rate monitor in general isn’t as good as I first thought.  If you press and hold it to your wrist  you can usually get a reading within a few minutes.  Of course what you really want is a chart that tracks your heart rate throughout an activity and it just loses track too often to be useful. The pedometer feature is extremely inaccurate and undercounts steps compared to a VivoSmart and a Striiv. I would also have to have a very long stride for the step count to align with the distance walked. In a typical day it can not count THOUSANDS of steps. When it’s cold, I can’t walk with my hands in my jacket pockets or the steps won’t count (do all wrist pedometers have this problem?). I do find getting text messages on my wrist convenient but given the cost and all the other problems (especially the annoying problems with synching), you’d be better off waiting for a device that is better engineered.

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Tod Gentille (@todgentille) is now a Curriculum Director for Pluralsight. He's been programming professionally since well before you were born and was a software consultant for most of his career. He's also a father, husband, drummer, and windsurfer. He wants to be a guitar player but he just hasn't got the chops for it.