The war to win your wrist is heating up.
Smartwatches? Duh. Big names like Google, LG, Samsung and Sony continue to crank out misfire wearables, with only the Pebble coming even close to getting it right.
But don’t count out the lowly fitness band. Although we’re halfway through 2014 and have seen almost no new products from the major players — all is quiet on the Fitbit front and Nike disbanded its FuelBand team just a few months ago — smaller companies are making their way into the game with some intriguing results.
The latest contender: the $99.99 Striiv Touch, a fitness band that’s also a smartwatch. Or maybe a smartwatch that’s also a fitness band. Either way, it’s among the first products to really blur those lines, and, although this jack-of-many-trades is a master of none, it’s a big step in the right direction.
Band on the Run
With its narrow black rubber wristband, the Touch could easily be mistaken for a Fitbit or any number of its ilk. However, true to its name, the screen and watch portion of the band responds to touch. Tap and hold for a couple seconds (smart, as you don’t want every accidental brush with skin to activate it) and the small but readable screen lights up to display the time and date.
Even better, you can swipe between additional nuggets of information: steps taken, calories burned, distance traveled and so on.
But here’s what really sold me: The Touch can vibrate when you get a phone call, text message or calendar alarm. I find notifications like these invaluable. And unlike the single-line display on, say, the Martian Passport watch, this isn’t a scrolling, blink-and-you-miss-it ticker. After you digest the first chunk of text, you swipe to reveal the next chunk.
Those fairly simple functions are what put the “smart” into this fitness band. Of course, it does the usual activity tracking and sleep monitoring as well. Alas, although it can sync with apps like MyFitnessPal and RunKeeper, it merely feeds them your activity data. I wish it could, like the Pebble smartwatch, display real-time stats from RunKeeper — distance and pace, for example, while I’m running.
The Touch is comfortable enough for daily wear and significantly less obtrusive than, say, a Pebble or Basis. Because it’s water-resistant, you can realistically keep it on for days at a time (which is good because the band is a huge pain to put on). I wasn’t able to extensively test battery life, but it seems to be good for four to five days.
The Quantified Shelf
I suspect that most people buy a fitness band with the goal of hitting that magical 10,000-daily-steps goal experts suggest is vital for our overall health. I also suspect that after a few months, most bands up on a shelf or in a drawer.
That said, the Striiv app offers a variety of goal options to help keep you motivated; steps taken, minutes of exercise, distance traveled and calories burned. It can also connect you with friends (for crowdsourced motivation), and even offers a step-powered, FarmVille-type game called MyLand that, I must admit, is pretty fun. Steps equal “energy points” you can use to buy and build stuff.
But I still question the accuracy and value of the data collected by bands like these. For example, last year I tried a Fitbug Orb, a $50 fitness tracker that could be worn on your wrist or belt. When I went with the former, I noticed that every time I reached for something — a glass, my mouse — the Orb registered a step.
Likewise, while wearing the Touch, I happened to leave the app running near a sink while I washed my hands. The vigorous back-and-forth movement quickly racked up steps, in a way that would have been funny if my health wasn’t at stake.
What’s more, I’ve never fully understood the benefits of sleep monitoring, even if it’s accurate (and it’s hard to know if it is; it’s just more movement tracking, right?).
The Striiv app presents a pretty useless data chart, one that’s hard to interpret and even harder to act on. (I’ve got a lot of lines dissecting my chart without clear meaning or clarity on what I’m supposed to do about it). On the plus side, you can use the Touch as a silent, vibrating alarm.
Strive for Better
Despite all the negatives, the Touch comes tantalizingly close to realizing the dream of the wrist companion. It needs support for more kinds of notifications, and it needs to allow data feeds from apps like RunKeeper. A “dismiss call” option would be nice as well — perhaps with a double-tap of the screen?
Indeed, many of the band’s little quirks and shortcomings could be remedied with software fixes, and I’m hoping to see that happen. In the meantime, the Striiv Touch is still one of the best fitness bands you can buy — especially considering that it’s priced below many competitors but offers the considerable benefit of a touchscreen.
And if you can find one on sale for $79.99, as I did, it’s arguably too good a deal to pass up.
Photo credits: Rick Broida, Dave Johnson, Striiv