My Basis B1 band review
Will Gamification of activity help me lose weight?
I got the Basis B1 about a month ago on the recommendation of my brother. I have not used any of the myriad of fitness bands that have attacked the market in the last few years. Basically, I couldn’t understand a band without a watch. Even though I no longer use a watch in a regular basis, except I am using the Basis B1 now, I am a watch fan. Couldn’t understand having a band that gave me little info during the day. During most of my time using the B1 my weight has oscillated between 80 and 81 Kg, but I have achieved that without taking a lot of care in what I eat. My plan is to start my diet again and lose about 10 Kg to get me to a weight of 70Kg which, I think will go nicely with my 170 cm height. Will the Basis B1 help me achieve that?
What the B1 does
The sales pitch from my brother was spot on: Do you like data? Well, do you punk? Yes, I do and the Basis gives you plenty of data.
Weirdly, this data is not displayed on the watch itself. The watch only gives you a few points: Time, Date, Heart Beat, Steps, and Calories. And only for the moment you are looking at it, kind of. For the rest you have to log in the web site. It gives you many graphs for Heart Beat, Steps, Calories, Skin Temperature, and Perspiration. It measures all at intervals while you are wearing the band and provides you with very nice graphs comparing any two of those variables. It also measures things like Sleep Quality and Sleep Time.
This data is well displayed and you can gather a lot of info from it. Even though the sensors are not perfectly accurate. My Heart Beat measure day after day, specially compared to steps and perspiration, leaves no doubt that my Heart Beat is pretty good for my age (I am over 50).
The Basis B1 also provide accumulative patterns that you can discern and analyze. Looking at them you can pretty much guess when I was in a meeting, or walking, or charging the B1.
The watch itself is fairly minimalist having only one proper button used to select and move to the connection menu. This button is used mostly to Synch data to your smartphone through Bluetooth and can be easily press without looking. The watch has four “touch corners” on its face, starting from the top left corner and going clockwise they perform the following functions: light, menu up, menu down, and date. The date button will get you back to displaying the time after you, quickly get tired of shifting through your Heart Beat, Steps, and Calories count with the up and down buttons. The watch itself is not very remarkable, though seeing your Heart Beat measured without one of the uncomfortable chest straps is certainly a pleasure.
Even though I’ll go into details on the issue of charging later, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out now that the Basis B1 needs to be charged about once a week for a couple of hours. The charger is a proprietary USB dock which is awkward and hard to place and use. The watch is Water Resistant, but not Water Proof, so you have to be careful doing anything more than washing your hands or walking in the rain. Seeing how the Heart Beat Sensor works, I doubt they can make it Water Proof ever. Also, as you can see, it’s not really a looker, it’s fairly tall and squarish with a retro look calling to the Casio Calculator watches of the eighties. Though it is not uncomfortable, it can be awkward to wear with long sleeve shirts.
Synching and Apps
In order to get the data from the watch to the Basis website you need to Synchronize the watch, this can be done in two ways. First, using Bluetooth through the smartphone app, and, second, through the awkward USB dock connected to a computer with the Basis software installed. As bad as this works, it is an slow and uncertain process, it is mandatory, as it is the only way that the band software is updated. About the best I can say about this process is that it works, most of the time. There are very few signs that it is working. Connecting the band doesn’t make the computer spring into action. Most of the time I wait and then decide nothing is happening and connect and disconnect the watch. Eventually, changing USB ports and trying some witchcraft, works and the Basis B1 synchs. When it finally recognizes the device it states that it is updating it, with a warning not to disconnected under penalty of the device becoming unresponsive. Despite multiple updates I have not seen a single difference on my device. I’ve started to think that when they say updating the device they mean updating the site with the data on the device. When the watch is connected its charging but otherwise useless. It would be really nice if they found a way to wear it while charging.
Fortunately, you don’t need to Synch with your computer often if you have a USB plug to charge the device, with the unavoidable, awkward USB dock and a smartphone. A lot of reviews of the B1 talk about the lack of apps, these reviews are old, the apps exist for Android, only some phone models officially supported, and iPhone are very good. The first thing that these apps permit you is to Synch the data from the band to the website by pressing the main button twice. This Synching method hasn’t failed for me, at least, not more than any other Bluetooth connection.
The iPhone App is very nicely design. Noticed that I say iPhone, as the App is not scaled for iPad use. The App is very basic giving only a glimpse into how your Habits are going for the day, more about Habits later.
The Android App is simultaneously better and worse than the iPhone version. Better because it is much more complete, giving you a lot of the information from the site, the only thing missing seems to be the graphs, which is understandable due to the screen size.
On the worse part, Basis claims that the App only works on certain devices, as a matter of fact, even trying to install it in my supported Galaxy Nexus produced an error, quickly resolved by resorting to installing it outside the Play Store. I managed to install the software in unsupported devices using the same method. I failed to understand why it is so restricted, my only guess is that they want to make sure that the Bluetooth connectivity works and they do not have enough resources to check every single device. Using the software in an Android tablet is very nice as you can see a lot of the info very clearly.
All day long
One of the strengths of the B1 reveals one of its weaknesses. You really want to wear the B1 at all times. Actually, it is not a sport watch, is pretty bad at measuring high Heart Beat Rates accurately, it is a device for normal living, not for the extreme moments. Unfortunately, you have to charge it, which, if you are like me, will drive you crazy about what is the perfect strategy for charging while minimizing the consequences. The manual recommends charging the Basis B1 for 10 to 15 minutes every day, for example while you take a bath. This strategy certainly does not work, you will have to charge the Basis B1 for a couple of hours or so every week, at least that’s been my experience.
So, at some point, you’re going to have to either completely overshoot your goals or resign to not achieve them in order to charge your band. This wouldn’t be so bad except that the whole idea of the Basis B1 band is centered upon Habits, that are designed by Basis with a little input from the user. You can chose between 11 Habits divided in three categories. The first category has only one Habit: Wear it, pretty obvious since it is the only way for the band to work. Then you have 7 Habits in the Activity category. Morning, Afternoon, and Evening laps, are the first three which involve taking a certain amount of steps before noon, between noon and 5pm, and after 5pm, respectively. You can change the amount of steps in fixed increments of 100 steps, the default is 2000 steps. Closely related is the Step it Up Habit, which sets a daily goal for steps, with a 10.000 steps default. The other three Activity Habits are Torch More Calories, Don’t be a Sitter, and Move it. In the Sleep category you have three Habits: Consistent Bedtime, Regular Rising, and Get More Sleep. You unlock new Habits as you achieve goals and gain points, the goals also move frequently asking you to achieve the Habits more days each week. You can pause the Habits whenever you feel like it. Notice the Gamification of these Habits, you achieve points for making it everyday, more for consistency each week, by making it the assigned number of days, and you can only add a new Habit when you have achieve the necessary points to get the next one. There is also a Level that doesn’t seem to correspond to anything but is meant to increase your satisfaction as it gets higher.
This is the crux of the charging problem, as you can see you have to sleep with the watch for the sleeping Habits to work, you have to wear it in the morning, afternoon, and evening for the Activity Habits. So, when can you charge it? Combined with the awkward USB dock that you can’t carry around, it becomes clear that you have some tough decisions to make. Should you surrender some of the Habits each day to charge the band a little or go through a whole day of rest to charge it completely once a week? You should still let it charge whenever you are not wearing it, because nothing is worse than failing to achieve some goal because you ran out of battery.
Bad Habit, Bad, bad habit
It is this Gamification of Habits and activity that makes the Basis B1 a great helper. It’s also where it has more room for improvement. Some of the justifications for the Habits sound great, for example, about the Step it Up and other step related Habits the Basis website says:
Simply putting one foot in front of the other for 30 minutes a day can lead to big payoffs in terms of reducing our risk of heart disease and other illnesses. In fact, The American Heart Association calls out walking as the easiest positive change we can make in our lives to improve our health. And it’s pretty much a no brainer. We can do it any time, any place and all it requires is a good pair of shoes. Even being active for three 10-minute blocks throughout the day can make a big difference. Research shows that setting a daily goal and counting the number of steps we take can actually inspire us to step more.
I believe this is true and one of the best advices you can get, not so much for losing weight, but for overall health improvement. Not being active is a much closer predictor of heart disease, diabetes, and similar problems, than being overweight. Even for the obese this seems to be true. So, this is great advice. On the other hand, about the Torch More Calories Habit the site says:
Losing weight isn’t about complicated plans, programs or calculations. It’s actually a matter of simple arithmetic and motivation. To get leaner, we focus on eating fewer calories than we burn off through our daily activity. We can create this “energy deficit” by eating less, moving more, or both.
Setting a goal to incinerate a specific number of calories can be an amazing incentive to get us off the couch — a surefire way to help us stay on top of our game.
Which, at the very least, is an over simplification as study after study indicates that counting calories in and calories out is unreliable, difficult, and prone to failure. A lot of people think that there are difference in the calories you eat. I, for one, believe them. If you look at my weight graph above, that big dip in weight was achieved by severely reducing my carbohydrate intake. Whether the body needs carbs or not, I don’t know, but I can tell you with certainty that it needs a lot less than what I used to eat, or even what I am eating lately. I am convinced that if I manage to eat the same way I did during those months I will achieve my goal. Nevertheless, the goal of burning more calories is a good one, the over simplification of the weight explanation may work from a marketing stand point. This is not the worse that can be said about the Habits.
There are several problems with how the Habits are set up and how the band measure them. I already mentioned about the unreliable sensors, particularly counting steps and measuring Heart Beat Rate. Achieving some Habits are easier than others, with a little attention you can convince the band that you have walk a certain number of steps, you just have to be aware of time of day and walk! Calories are much harder, because, though it relates to activity, it is not so easy to burn 50 extra calories in a few minutes. The sleeping thing is, well, almost a joke.
Let’s start with calories. It is set up by default with a goal of burning 2.500 calories a day, you can change this in 250 calories levels up or down. Understand that you may burn 2.499 calories and not achieve this goal. The 15 minutes that you stop using your band to charge it may make a huge difference in this Habit. I think I probably burn about 2.500 calories each day, with some, understandable, variation, but it would be very hard for me to achieve this goal daily unless I started burning around 2.800 calories a day. Burning more calories is a worthy goal, but a hard one. In this Habit I would like three improvements: First, let me increase or decrease the goal in 100, or even 50, calories steps instead of the 250 that is used now; Second, allow a fudge factor; Third, abandon the stupid assumption that when the Basis B1 is charging the user is not burning calories, use a minimum or an average of similar hours in similar days, makes a lot more sense.
A couple of times the band has seemed to stopped recording for a few minutes, making gaps in the Graph that can’t be explained by charging or having taken the band off. This has not happened frequently but it has caused me to fail achieving some goal or other a couple of times.
Sleeping habits are fairly easy to achieve, but have the same problem. You set up a time for bedtime and a time for rising, if you fall sleep, or wake up, within fifteen minutes of the respective time, you’ve made it. There are two problems with this concept. To start, it is very easy to fool the band. I can read in bed and at any point in the allotted half hour I can close my Kindle and just keep still. The band will think I’ve fallen asleep within the minute. Waking up is just as bad, I can awake, look at my band, see I have half an hour more and just lay motionless for the time remaining. How hard is it to know I am awake if I press the light corner? Yes, I can even fool the Basis B1 during the day into thinking I am sleeping. This isn’t as bad as all that, it just go to show, again, that my heart isn’t bad, if not in activity it goes fairly quickly to a low resting Heart Rate, as confirmed daily by the Basis B1 band. The only doubt I have is with the Regular Rising Habit. Shouldn’t it be a cut off time instead of a range? Is it bad to wake up at 7am if you planned to wake up at 6am? I am talking health wise, of course, not missing appointments “bad”.
To be honest, I must confess that I have been sleeping much better since I got the Basis B1 bands. I still get some sleepless nights, but they are not as severe as they used to be and much less frequent. Also, I haven’t gotten two in a row in the past month, something that was quite frequent before. I feel more rested and with more energy and, yes, I think it’s due to the Basis B1. Both the increase activity during the day and the idea of setting sleeping patterns seems to have help enormously.
You shouldn’t take the criticism above as a damning condemnation of the Basis B1 band, I actually like it a lot. I hope some great author would have said something like We criticized more what we love, because we want to improve it, but I guess I said that. The Basis B1 band has gained permanent placement on my wrist, and I don’t see any chance of another band vanquishing the B1 from that position anytime soon. If you love data and are able to use it, this is the band to get. It will help you be more active, hopefully sleep better. Jury is still out on the weight thing, but I am fairly confident that if I go back to the diet that have worked for me in the past it will work even better, even faster, and the increase activity will make some of my slips more forgivable.