Basis: A Health and Heart-Rate Watch for Wellness and Fitness

Promoted as a health tracker where style finally meets substance, the Basis fitness watch combines a motion tracker with a real-time heart-rate monitor to create a tracking tool that promises to help you make healthier choices.

One of the many challenges with fitness technology in the past was that to gather different types of information, a person needed to wear different devices. The Basis watch claims to fix that challenge by combining the popular tracking of movement through steps with a strapless heart-rate sensor. The multi-sensor band combined with the online personal dashboard was designed to help people incorporate healthy habits into their daily lives.

As regards setup time, from taking it out of the box, to charging the device, setting up an account online, downloading the app to your smartphone and getting everything working as it should, you can expect anywhere from 20-60 minutes. If you need to contact support for help, they offer a number of different ways to do so and will often send a video link on the best way to install everything.

One thing that makes the Basis different from other fitness tracking devices is the ability to measure heart rate optically. This means that you don’t need to wear a heart rate strap around your chest, but rather through a sensor on the backside of the watch, Basis will measure heart rate through monitoring the changes in blood flow within the capillaries on your wrist. During the day, measurements with normal physical activity and low-to-moderate workouts seem to work well and fall within the proper range of heart rates; you can expect updates to the software to make things even more accurate. For higher-end workouts or athletic training, test the heart rate values from the Basis with your normal device (by hand or using a strapped heart-rate monitor) before you change your tracking and workout planning to the Basis.

Another point of difference for the Basis is the behavioural change science that comes free on the personal online dashboard. The Basis online component is one of the better ones out there when it comes to not only the content, but also a plan towards your health and fitness goals in small, manageable steps. The website is divided into three sections – My Habits, Insights and Data. The My Habits section does a nice job in creating small but manageable steps towards better health, starting from simply wearing the device for 12 hours, progressing to taking 2,000 steps before noon, then to more persuasive activities. The Insights section gives a nice interactive one-page view of your results, activity and sleep scores. The Data section is where the number crunching and statistical evaluation takes place. There, you can plot and compare heart rate, steps, calories, skin temperature and perspiration throughout the day, and how each may impact the other measurements.

One of the more recent trends in health-monitoring devices is in the tracking of sleep. The Basis watch has one of the nicer interfaces for sleep tracking and is rather easy to use. Unlike other devices where the user needs to tell the device they are going to sleep, the Basis watch “knows” when you go to bed and when you get up, taking away that extra step in sleep monitoring. Although the sleep score doesn’t show up on the watch display, after a successful sync of the watch to your smart phone over Bluetooth, you will be able to see total time sleeping, a quality-of-sleep score, and the number of times your sleep was interrupted. While this type of sleep monitoring won’t replace a sleep study from your doctor or diagnose you with sleep issues, it will give you a general view on your quality of sleep, and if you see trends that may become a problem, you can take your sleep information to your doctor to start the conversation.

The Basis watch will also measure your skin temperature and perspiration levels, but other than including the measurements on a fancy graph, little exists into what other benefits may come from monitoring these. For the average user, knowing either will have little impact on the quality of your workout. Cheers to Basis on being able to create a tool that can measure each, but the question remains, so what now?

As with all new technology, the Basis watch will go through a few rounds of enhancements before the general public adopts the technology, but functions well as is. Bottom line, if you can afford the price, the worst thing you get is a cool-looking watch, the best thing you get is a virtual coach in the watch to help you towards better health.

What we liked:

  • Heart rate sensor from wrist.
  • Real-time data display.
  • Enabling health habits on dashboard through small changes in fitness and sleep routines.

What we didn’t like:

  • Watch band can be bulky and uncomfortable.
  • Only two scientifically reviewed studies around design of technology (from their website).
  • Initial setup can be challenging for non-tech users.
  • No education on the value of measurement of skin temperature or perspiration levels.

The price of the Basis watch is $199 from Amazon.com and mybasis.com.

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Irish Company’s Kickstarter Campaign to “Sling” Cheap Landline Calls to Your Mobile Phone

For anyone who has travelled and encountered exorbitant roaming charges on their mobile phone, the idea that you could magically tap into the cheap calls already bundled into the landline package you are paying for at home may seem dreamy. An Irish company is creating a device to do just that: it’s called CleverCall.

CleverCall is the brainchild of Ronan Murphy, whom I’ve met a number of times over the past two or three years. The idea of CleverCall has intrigued me since I first heard about it – bridging landline and mobile phones – but the roaming element has moved it from a nice-to-have system in your home, to a great-to-have system for when you are traveling.

The SlingBox has made it possible to watch TV from your cable or satellite provider at home wherever you are in the world. Simply put, it is a box that sits on your internet connection at home, compresses the video from your TV connection, and “slings” it to you over the internet so you can watch it on an app on your mobile device or PC.

CleverCall does something similar: the box sits between your landline and the internet, and an app on your mobile phone (wherever you are) connects for free via Wi-Fi to your CleverCall box at home, where it makes a low-cost or possibly free call through your landline phone package.

“We’ve all worked very hard over the past 18 months developing the [CleverCall] product”, says Ronan, adding that their Kickstarter campaign will be used to assist in getting the product to international markets.

An app for the iPhone has already been created, with an Android version in the works. The Kickstarter campaign aims to create a version of the CleverCall box that will work in the US. The company will also apply for FCC certification for its hardware device in the US, and already has a device certified for Europe.

CleverCall’s innovation is in its combination of hardware system and software apps. But one of the other challenging parts of CleverCall appears to be the “Least Cost Routing” algorithm. The idea here is that you would be able to select a contact on your mobile phone, and let the app worry about which is the cheapest option to use (mobile call, landline call) based on the phone packages you are currently subscribed to. The company says they can determine the least cost option to quite a high degree of accuracy.

If you are interested in supporting the CleverCall project, you can pledge via their Kickstarter campaign where there are 44 days to go.

Reviewed: Samsung Galaxy S4

There was a point in the late nineties when the shrinking size of mobile phones no longer served as a mark of innovation but pointed towards a bare bones phone that couldn’t serve up those cool WAP webpages. As we head in the other direction some are beginning to debate how big is too big. On paper the Samsung Galaxy S4 screen sounds a bit oversized at 5-inches but in reality it works just fine. Besides, it’s noticeably lighter (3g) and thinner (.7mm) than its predecessor and the screen size is the least innovative aspect of this feature-packed smartphone.

Screen

Before we get to the new additions of Smart Scroll and Air Gesture we’ll take a look at the Super AMOLED display with 1920 x 1080 resolution. For comparison the S3 has a resolution of 720 x 1280 and the iPhone 5 has 1136 x 640 on a 4-inch screen. So it’s big and it displays deep, vivid colours.

The Kindle app rarely gets an outing on my iPhone, however, I couldn’t help but linger over my eBooks on the S4; my actual Kindle device is getting a well-deserved rest. Netflix is another app that showcases the S4’s best asset. You would think that a bigger screen isn’t a game changer, and you’d be right, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive or desirable for media consumption and comfortable web browsing.

It only loses marks for its poor performance in direct sunlight; it’s quite difficult to read text or see pictures clearly. The auto brightness setting is also a bit off; the screen seems dimmer than it should be in certain light conditions.

Camera

The 13-megapixel camera shoots gorgeous images. I tested it out with some foodie shots (below), which demonstrated crisp, clear close-ups due to a good macro function with nice depth of field. The landscape shots (also below) also produced vivid images with stunningly rich blues and greens and nice shadow definition.

There are plenty of clever camera modes: ‘Beauty Face’ sounds cheesy but it detects and focuses on facial features, softening and making more attractive in a Photoshop-lite kind of way. There’s also a group shot one that shots a series of pictures for rearrangement later in order to get one group photo where everyone looks decent! The drama shot is also pretty enticing as it captures movement across the screen and arranges it in a series of still images; a nice way to capture your children playing at the park or a sports event. The video camera holds up well too, with full HD (1080p) playback.

Processor

The S3 has a 1.4GHz quad core processor so the S4 easily outpaces with 1.9GHz. I only had an iPhone 4s to hand to test against the S4 and didn’t find a noticeable difference in terms of loading webpages but there is s difference when it comes to multitasking. Downloading apps, updates, receiving alerts and switching between apps does feel rather zippy, something I didn’t appreciate until I’d swapped back to using the 4S.

US reviews have been talking lots about the Exynos 5 Octa chipset but this isn’t what we’re getting in Ireland and the UK. Whereas the S4 GT-19500 is on sale in the US, what we have is the GT-19505 version with the Snapdragon 600, a quad-core microprocessor. So that whole “fastest smartphone in the world” thing? Yeah, the Americans are getting that, not us. Still though, the Snapdragon is not to be sniffed at. For comparison the iPhone 5 has the A6 – a dual-core 1.3GHz chip (See comparison at CPU Boss).

Design and user interface

Samsung’s smartphones have always been plastic, with a cheaper look and feel than its competitors. The S4 has a lightweight polycarbonate plastic backing so no surprises there. It’s got a slightly better finish with a crosshatched diamond design underneath the smooth plastic finish but you’re essentially looking at the same old approach. I’ve always loved the glass and metal combo that Apple and HTC bring to the table and Samsung continues to lose out in the design stakes. It might be the most beefed up, powerful smartphone out there right now but it’s wearing a cheap suit.

Speaking of cheap suits, the custom TouchWiz UI skinned over Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean is also a little birght and chunky (but a huge improvement on Samsung’s earlier Android skinning). I couldn’t help but be appeased by the beautiful HD screen and found TouchWiz pretty tolerable.

From the perspective of an iPhone user it can be difficult to adapt to any new non-Apple designed user interface but a couple of days into testing the S4 and it felt like home. This was for a few reasons, the first being the overall good navigational design and well-laid out interface but most importantly because Google Play has leveled the playing field in terms of the availability of smartphone apps.

It’s now possible to make the transition from Android to iOS and vice versa with the wealth of cloud-based, platform agnostic apps that demonstrate the same high quality user experience no matter what the mobile OS. Despite coming packed with native apps (and widgets galore) I went straight for the familiar Spotify, Evernote, WhatsApp, RunKeeper, Netflix and so on.

Samsung encourages this kind of behavior from the moment you switch on the handset. You’re asked to add your Google, Facebook and Dropbox profiles at set-up, which comprises of the trifecta of mobile computing for the majority of people: finding stuff, communicating with people and storing stuff.

Smart View and Smart Scroll

Smart View and Smart Scroll work by using front facing sensors positioned at the top of the phone. These sensors detect your face (in combination with the natural tilt accompanied by reading text on screen) in order to scroll down through an email or webpage as you read. The result is mixed. Sometimes it doesn’t detect your presence due to lighting conditions and at other times the text whizzes by before you have a chance to read. Like a lot of extras on this device, it might be a feature you slowly get used to and enjoy or simply one you switch off without regret. Unfortunately, there’s no option to train this feature to recognize your face or reading habits. I do, however, like the fact that it recognizes when you’re facing the screen, which prevents auto dimming. This works for when you’re watching video too: if you turn away from the screen it automatically pauses, well, most of the time anyway.

Air Gesture and Air Touch

Air Touch detects your finger hovering over the screen and responds in kind. It can be set to highlight text or act as the hover function of an onscreen cursor and bring up options without actually clicking through. It also leaves a trail of sparkles in its wake on the lockscreen. Pretty!

The Air Gesture (positioned at top of screen) recognises gestures from a distance of under 7cm at normal speed. When it’s working (as with Smart View and Smart Scroll) the icon will appear (and light up) on the status bar. This was particularly useful for flicking through pictures in a photo album with the wave of a hand and also for motioning a webpage up or down. It can be set to answer the phone too: waving a hand back and forth across the screen will automatically answer an incoming call and switch to loudspeaker mode.

Verdict

I suppose there are three main players in the high-end smartphone arena right now: the iPhone 5, the HTC One and the Galaxy S4. I haven’t tested the HTC One, had a brief love affair with a HTC Hero (industrial design heaven!) but I’ve been using the iPhone ever since it first came out and therefore have invested a lot of time and money in apps, integration with my other hardware and so on.

Other than that I don’t see a reason not to pick one device over the other. I would easily recommend the S4 to a first time smartphone user but with one caveat: beware of overload. You won’t need half of the features of this device but it’s nice to see that they are there just in case. It does superbly on the essentials and, lets face it, you won’t regret owning a 13-megapixel camera with a 5-inch HD screen and 1.9GHz processor.

Pricing: From €99 on Three.ie

Can We Have One Raspberry Pi Per Child Please? [REVIEW]

Although it is just slightly over a year since the Raspberry Pi low-cost single-board computer first made its public debut (when an alpha version of the board was shown running the Quake 3 game and playing full HD video), five thousand news articles and 30 million Google results later, tens of thousands of Raspberry Pis have been shipped around the globe. It’s not alone: the MK802 (which we will be reviewing shortly), CuBox and Cotton Candy are part of a wave of mini computers that are putting low-cost computing into family living rooms and student dorms.

The Arduino single-board microcontroller has found widespread application over the past few years across a range of domains from smart clothes to interactive play. Similarly, the more powerful Raspberry Pi is being used for ideas such as a photo souvenir printer and a touchscreen for seniors and late adopters. At Technology Voice, we’ve been testing out Model B of the Raspberry Pi, received this week from Allied Electronics. At $35, you get a basic computing system that just requires a USB keyboard/mouse, HDMI screen, power lead and an SD card pre-loaded with the operating system before you’re up and running.

We started by downloading the Raspbian operating system (a version of the popular Debian Linux OS, optimised for the RasPi) and flashing it onto a standard SD card, then plugged in a Mac keyboard and mouse, a full-size HDMI lead, ethernet cable, and a micro-USB cable for powering the board from our TV (you can also use a DC adaptor if you have it). Our TV complained a little about the USB power requirements but we soon saw a familiar Linux boot-up screen. The first thing you are shown is a configuration menu to do things like expand the operating system’s ‘root’ partition to the full size of your SD card, change the keyboard type (it had my aluminium Apple one listed), set the locale and time zone, etc. You can choose to boot straight into desktop mode after startup to bypass any login prompt.

Raspbian comes with a lightweight desktop featuring a small selection of apps: a browser, Unix terminal, Scratch interface (a programming system geared towards kids and educational use), and a Python program editor with some Python-based games. For those who have tried one of the other mini computers like the MK802, this may seem pretty barebones, but there are some other more fully-featured Linux distributions for the RasPi. There is also some good news in that a port of Android Ice Cream Sandwich is being made available as an alternative operating system for the RasPi, bringing with it easy access to a range of Android apps produced for mobiles and tablets.

We tried out the default web browser Midori and it speedily loaded the Google home page; our more graphics-laden Technology Voice page was somewhat slower. To test out how the RasPi performed under load, we fired up a range of applications including the browser, a Python game, a terminal, file manager and some system settings. The system RAM was quickly used up and the CPU maxed out at times, but the RasPi was still pretty usable.

There have been a bunch of ideas on the best uses for the Raspberry Pi, but a personal proposal is to port the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) idea here as a “One Raspberry Pi Per Child”. Having spent the afternoon with my six-year old playing around with Scratch for the first time, I am convinced there are great opportunities for the RasPi as an educational tool, either at home or in a school setting. Apparently a country in the Middle East feels the same way, proposing to give a Raspberry Pi to every schoolgirl in the country. As well as Scratch, there are a range of applications that could be made available or ported to the RasPi, including Chris Ball et al.’s WikiBrowse for the OLPC (in turn based on code released by Patrick Collison), Kojo and ToonTalk.

Based on the last census’ population figures for Ireland, we can estimate that there are perhaps 555,000 children aged between 6 and 14 in Ireland. It would cost 15 million euro to buy a personal Raspberry Pi Model B for every one of our children. It’s a large sum, but not an impossible one. Not everyone has a HDMI-ready TV or keyboard/mouse to hand, but these could be shared in schools and homes. So how about it? ORasPiPC anyone?