Tuesday, April 29, 2014
The newest iteration of these smartpens — the $150 Livescribe 3 — looks like a shiny new model, and promises to “turn your words into action”. Just like with any new release, we expected this new pen to be richer and better than older models, especially as the Pro 2GB version of the Livescribe 3 sells for $200 — as much as a 4GB Livescribe Sky. But does the Livescribe 3 deliver?
To find out, and to have a chance at winning this $150 smartpen for free, just keep reading!
Livescribe 3 — New Features, Weaker Pen
If you want to know about some other smartpens on the market, head over to ourLivescribe Echo and Livescribe Sky reviews for an overview. Focusing on Livescribe smartpens, it’s important to understand the differences between the models and the goal of each one if you ever hope to understand which one you should buy.
The oldest one of the bunch currently available is the Livescribe Echo. Arguably the most flexible one of the bunch, a 2GB version of the Echo can be had for $120 on the Livescribe website, or a bit less than that on Amazon. The Echo connects to your computer via USB cable, and can record and play audio all by itself. It uses the Livescribe Desktop software to sync your notes, where you can easily view them as pencasts — a combined version of your notes and audio. The software is available for Windows and Mac.
Like all Livescribe pens, the Echo needs dot paper in order to work, but can also be used as a standalone recorder (if you don’t want to write), and can do all sorts of neat tricks like translations, calculations, and more.
Moving on to the newer model, the Livescribe Sky was released 2 years after the Echo, and added an exciting new feature — Wi-Fi! Finally, you no longer needed to connect your pen to your computer in order to sync audio and notes. All you have to do with the Sky is connect it to your Wi-Fi network, and it syncs all by itself. The downside? Livescribe Sky can sync only with Evernote, so you lose the freedom you had with the Echo, but gain a pen that’s more cross-platform. It still sports its own screen, and can record and playback audio just like the Echo, as well as perform all the same neat tricks.
You can get the Livescribe Sky for $170 for a 2GB model or $200 for a 4GB model. You can even get a Propack 8GB version for $250, which comes with a 1-year subscription to Evernote Premium. You can find better prices for these on Amazon, especially for the 2GB and 4GB models.
We now get to the newest kid on the block — the Livescribe 3. If the Livescribe Sky sacrificed flexibility in order to become cross-platform, the Livescribe 3 does away with both. In fact, the Livescribe 3 is a somewhat crippled version of the older pens, and doesn’t have its own screen or headphone jack. It can’t record audio. It can’t even sync with anything that’s not running iOS. Yes, you heard right.
While its inability to record audio means that you will never need a pen with over 2GB of storage, you will still pay $150 for the regular Livescribe 3 version, and $200 for the Pro version, which comes with more dot paper, a fancy case, and 1-year Evernote Premium subscription. However, the Livescribe 3 can’t sync directly with Evernote anymore, so don’t be confused by the offer.
The Livescribe 3 is by no means useless, however. If you happen to own an iPhone 4S or newer, or an iPad 3 or newer, it might be the right choice for you out of all the smartpens. Let’s see why.
What Does The Livescribe 3 Offer?
The Livescribe 3 is a completely new take on the smartpen concept. As mentioned above, it does away with features such as the built-in screen and recorder, but the pen does boast several new elements. The first one is the stylus tip. Unlike former pens, the Livescribe 3 is meant to work hand in hand with mobile devices (currently only iOS), and therefore includes a nice stylus tip for navigating around your device. If you don’t already own a stylus, or even if you do, it’s nice to flip the Livescribe 3 over and use it for navigation, typing, etc.
The stylus tip comes off to reveal a micro-USB charging port. The Livescribe 3 comes with a lithium-ion battery that’s supposed to last up to 14 hours of use. Since the pen doesn’t really do much, you get longer battery life than previous smartpens.
While it’s nice to have the port hidden from view when not using it, it’s way too easy to misplace the stylus tip while you are using the port, so watch out.
On the other side of the pen, you’ll find another new feature — the retractable ink tip. The Livescribe 3 turns on when you rotate it, and by doing that, you’re also extending the pen tip. When you turn the pen off, the tip retracts into the pen, so you don’t need a cap to protect it.
This is all nice and dandy, but it also means that the pen has distinct on and off positions. If you leave it on, it will stay on. Even after forgetting and leaving it on for almost an hour, the pen still didn’t turn itself off, which might not be the most efficient thing battery-wise.
The pen itself is pretty slick, and while it’s still thick for a pen (it still has to house the battery and infrared camera), it’s a bit easier to hold than former models. The writing experience is nice and smooth. Since there’s no screen, there are no adjustments to be made whether you’re a righty or a lefty.
The Livescribe 3 sports a multi-color LED that indicates what your pen is doing. For example, when the LED is flashing green, the pen is in pairing mode. Solid blue light means its paired, and solid red light means it’s in recording mode.
The Livescribe 3 connects to your iOS device via Bluetooth. In order to use it, you need to download the free Livescribe+ app from iTunes. The pairing is automatic and quick, although you might have to update the pen’s firmware before first use. This process is not very long, but don’t let your device go to sleep in the middle of it, as it will stop the update.
We now get to the best part of the Livescribe 3: immediate syncing. Once paired, you can start writing notes on your dot paper, and these will immediately appear on your iOS device. If you want to create a pencast like you could with he older versions, you’ll have to resort to audio recording through your iOS device. The Pencasts work the same way they always did, but if you find that your iOS device is not the best method to record a lecture, you’re pretty much stuck. In addition, I did find that audio and text were not synced properly at times, and one time, no audio was recorded at all.
If you’ve ever used the Echo or Sky smartpens, or even read about them, you know all about dot paper tricks. Dot paper is the special paper all Livescribe pens need in order to work, and former models came with all kinds of features and functions to play with. These made use of the pen’s inner speaker as well as the infrared camera. You could write stuff, tap it, and get answers. This is no more.
The Livescribe 3 comes with a feature-less dot paper notebook. The only things you can do is start, pause and stop a recording (this activates the recorder in your iOS device via Bluetooth), and star, tag or flag items on your page. The latter feature is somewhat useful, but not always very efficient. Sometimes, if you’re too quick about it, it won’t let you star one item and then flag another while writing — the second one will be both flagged and starred. This is not always the case, though.
Each notebook page also includes three additional buttons bearing numbers. These are meant to serve as shortcuts, and were really useful with the Livescribe Sky. Here, they do nothing. This is a “coming soon” feature. Disappointing.
This about sums up everything you can do with the Livescribe 3 smartpen. Fortunately, the Livescribe+ app offers some additional features.
The Livescribe+ AppAvailable only for iOS at this time (other platforms coming “soon”), Livescribe+ is where all your notes appear magically as you write them using the Livescribe 3. Each page of your dot-paper notebook is represented as a page in the app, and you can view these through the “Pages” tab. Any text that has audio accompanying it will appear in green, and tapping anywhere on it will send you to the “Pencast” tab where you can listen to the audio recorded at the time of the writing.
The “Feed” tab is where things get interesting. The Livescribe+ app tries to separate your writing by line. Each line gets its own little compartment, and some actions you can perform on it. Swipe from left to right, and your written notes turn to digital text. As long as you don’t try this on drawings and keep your handwriting fairly legible, it works quite well. You can also swipe from right to left to delete a segment.
Once in digital text, you can type in additional text into the cell or fix text that was not recognized correctly. You can also perform some other actions such as sharing, adding to reminders, and more. If you’d like to write in a different language and have the app transcript it, you can download some more languages through the preferences menu. These include French, Spanish, Italian, German and Chinese.
Sometimes, your notes turn into links when you convert them into digital text. This happens when the text is a date, but it sometimes happens regardless of what you write. On paper, you’re supposed to be able to tap these links and get some additional actions, but this is next to impossible. I was able to do this once with a date, and got the option to open the date in my calendar or add an event on this date. This is quite useful, but as I said, almost impossible to do. Endless tapping on the link simply selects and de-selects the segment.
If you want to share entire pages from Livescribe+, you can export them as PDFs which anyone can open anywhere. If, however, you want to share pencasts, this becomes more of a challenge, as PDF readers can’t actually play these. At the moment, you can either open pencast PDFs on Livescribe+ itself or on a Beta online app called Livescribe Player. This player completely refused to work on Firefox, and while it went through all the motions on Chrome, it didn’t work there either, at least for me.
Living With The Livescribe 3Were this the first iteration of Livesrcibe smartpens to hit the market, I would have probably loved it. After all, the way your notes are immediately transferred onto your iOS device is pretty awesome, and having your device record audio on top of them is quite neat. That is, if you’ve never seen a smartpen before.
As it stands, the Livescribe 3 is so crippled when compared to previous models, I can’t help but be disappointed. The most crucial issue is the iOS-only compatibility, and the smartpen’s complete reliance on Bluetooth. Admittedly, seeing a Livescribe+ app released for Android, Windows and Mac would be great, but even then, you’re going to need Bluetooth in order to sync, which not all computers have.
The pen’s inability to record audio on its own is also a big problem, as you always need another device lying next to you if you want to create pencasts. In my case, the only iOS device I own is an iPad, which I barely take out of the house. If I want to record a lecture with the Livescribe 3, I now have to lug my iPad around and place it in a good spot to record the lecture. Not sure it’s worth the hassle.
Should you Buy The Livescribe 3 Smartpen?The Livescribe 3 is a good-looking pen with some nice features, and it really does simplify the process of converting written notes to digital format. However, it feels more gimmicky than useful most of the time. The use case for it is very specific, and if you happen to need exactly these features, and happen to own an iOS device which you take everywhere anyway, you’ll enjoy it.
Otherwise, you may find that you made a useless $150 purchase, and that you’re better off with the more complex and feature-rich Sky, or even with the Echo, which is still a solid buy, and a more affordable one.
Sunday, April 27, 2014
At release, games can cost $60. Wait a few months and that price will go down. Wait long enough and, if you’re lucky, the game might become free altogether. Maybe this will be part of a giveaway, meant to promote a sequel or a service. Maybe this will be the developer wanting to give something back to the fans. Or maybe the game’s become free-to-play, hoping to monetize in-game purchases.
Whatever the reason, you don’t necessarily need to break out your credit card to play a great game. Here are some places to check.
EA Origin: On The HouseEA’s answer to Steam, Origin, isn’t exactly beloved – many blame it for the botched rollout of SimCity. But there is at least one perk: free games.
Head to Origin’s “On The House” section and you can get a free game, right now.
There’s only one giveaway at a time – as of this writing, it’s the 2008 horror game “Dead Space”. Choice switch, and you’ll need an Origin account to download anything. The point is clearly, in part, to get you to sign up for Origin, but free is hard to complain about.
Check out Origin’s On The House.
Steam’s “Free to Play” sectionFree to play gameplay isn’t exactly the same as freeware – there’s usually something you’ll be encouraged to pay for in-game. Still, the free to play section on Steam is well worth a look if you want a free, premium game to play.
Games like Dota 2 (what is Dota 2?) and Team Fortress 2 (the must-play free to play game) are a great place to start, but they’re far from all you’ll find: there are nearly 100 titles here, covering everything from strategy to shooter to MMO. You’ll find something you like, so take some time to explore.
Wikipedia’s Surprisingly Great List Of Now-Free GamesSometimes – not often, but sometimes – commercial games are later released as freely distributable freeware. Wikipedia offers an amazing list of such games, and you should check it out.
You won’t find brand new games here: the most recent date back to 2008. But that doesn’t mean you won’t find anything worthwhile: highlights include a couple of Command & Conquer games and a few of the early Elder Scrolls series (precursors to Skyrim).
Finding the downloads can be a little tricky – links may be broken. But following links, along with a little bit of Google searching skill, and you should be able to download anything on this list.
Using RedditIf it exists, Reddit can make a community devoted to it – and free games are no exception. If you want to find out when a commercial game becomes free, and generally keep up with free games, you should subscribe to r/freegames on Reddit.
It’s also worth checking out r/efreebies, which includes a wide variety of free virtual goods. Not everything there is video-game related, but it’s a larger and more active community. Subscribe to both and you won’t miss any major gaming giveaways.
Even More Free GamesWant more? Here are a few other places worth checking for free, downloadable games.
- There are a few free games on GOG.com. They also occasionally do high profile giveaways – I got Fallout 2 and Torchlight this way.
- FreeAndLegalPCGames is a blog compiling tons of free games, and is well worth exploring. It’s from Megazell, who for a long time maintained a huge thread of free games over on the CheapAssGamer forum.
- There’s a list of free indie games over at The Independent Gaming Source; classics like Cave Story and Spelunky await.
The app analyses your schedule, contacts relevant information from Facebook, LinkedIn and others, providing an at-a-glance profile that allows you to quickly catch up with associate’s latest happenings. You can even add your own notes, and the app will follow-up with you when your next meeting rolls around.
Smalltalk has never been so effortless.
Getting To Know YouRefresh is an app that’s all about keeping track of the people in your life, with an emphasis on the business world. If you’re the sort of person who meets regularly with a large number of people, then you’re the sort of person who is going to benefit from using Refresh. The uses range from keeping track of project progress to remembering a friend’s favourite sports team – and Refresh lends itself well to both business and pleasure.
When you first download the app you’ll be invited to pair your account with as many social networks as you can. Generally, more is better – the more Refresh knows about you, the more it knows about your contacts. The app generates what it calls “insights” for each contact, whether they are in your iOS address book, Facebook Friends List or merely a follower on Instagram.
The app will make its own invisible ties, linking together contacts intelligently without much input required from you, the user. A simple search for MakeUseOf colleague Justin Pot detected personal email accounts, an iOS contact entry, a Twitter username and Google information in the form of web authorship and YouTube content. This information is presented on one single profile page, which provides a lot of information at a glance.
You can fetch this information whenever you need it, but once access is granted to your iOS calendar the app can help you out there too. Upcoming meetings with relevant contacts provides one-tap access to insights, and if the app hasn’t detected the right parties you can manually add people to the event. Once your meeting is over you can add follow-up reminders along with due dates.
Taking NotesThat’s only half of what Refresh is for, and while it’s an effortless process having an app scour a contact’s social profiles for conversation starters, adding your own notes can be indispensable too. Notes are added via contact profiles and via the Notes tab at the bottom of the screen, and are categorised by purpose. There are fields for general notes and stories, as well as information like location, relationships and interests
This information is added to the top of your contact’s profile view, so it’s the first thing you see when you visit their page. There’s a real opportunity to get personal and remember the little details that might make all the difference at the next meeting. I’ve never in my life needed to butter-up a shareholder, but I’d bet remembering a daughter’s fourth birthday or favourite sports team’s recent results will help.
The types of insights you end up with vary between things you are unlikely to have picked up on yourself – like a contact having recently taken a trip abroad (FourSquare checkins, Instagram posts) or celebrated a milestone at a job (LinkedIn); and things that are generally only disclosed in personal circumstances (which you note manually), like home address or the fact that your contact recently got a dog.
The app works best if you play all of the relevant social networks, with particular attention paid to LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. It still has limited use as a location for storing notes about contacts if you don’t choose to do this, but you might as well just use your default contacts app instead.
In addition to the core functionality, Refresh also allows you to quickly connect on various social networks, email yourself a dossier of a contact’s credentials, send business cards and more – but it’s main draw is its ability to organise a messy contact list into an insightful business directory. Provided you’re adequately immersed in the world of business networking, this is a useful app.
RefreshingRefresh is for those of you with way too many LinkedIn connections, who adore networking but whose ambitions for a carefully-spun web of go-getters means you spend much of the time trying to remember names than you do networking in the first place.
It doesn’t get in the way or try to replace your existing networks as so many other apps do, and that’s probably why Refresh works so well.
Download: Refresh (Free)
Unfortunately at the time of publishing, Refresh may not be available in all global iTunes stores.
Image credit: PlaceIt Source: www.makeuseof.com
Used electronics can be an amazing deal. Consumer technology moves at a blistering pace, which leaves a lot of people with old devices and hardware to sell because they’d like the next big thing. You can often snag two or three year-old device for one-half to one-quarter of its original price. You can also end up screwed, though, which is why it’s important to know what to look for when buying used electronics.
Does It Boot?
Strictly speaking, the term “boot” is only relevant to computers, of course, but it’s important to make sure that whatever you’re going to buy actually operates. If you’re buying online, look for photos that prove the device actually receives power and turns on. Run the images through Tineye and Google Image Search, as well. This will tell you if the photo is original and authentic, or if it’s something the seller found online.
If you’re meeting the seller in person, you’ll need to perform this check yourself. Beware of sellers that seem too hurried to let you take a good look at the device, and if the seller says something like, “Oh, it’ll work – it just needs a new battery,” I advise you walk away.
Some devices, like computers, televisions and audio equipment, will of course need to be plugged in. See if you can meet the seller at their home so you can see the device working before you buy. If you or the seller aren’t comfortable with that, and the device is small (a laptop, small desktop, A/V receiver, etc.) then try meeting at a coffee shop or library. Both are public and usually have power outlets accessible.
Is It Authentic?
You’ll also want to check, if possible, that what the seller offers is authentic. Sometimes a seller will try to pass an older model off as a newer one and in rare cases you might see a device that’s counterfeit. This is most often a concern when buying in-person, because you’ll be purchasing within minutes and you may be distracted by conversation. Online buyers can look over photos at their leisure.
The best way to know if a device is authentic is to know the device well. For example, do you know how to tell the difference between a Samsung Galaxy S3 and a Samsung Galaxy S4? If you answered “no” then you’d better learn before shopping for an S4 on Craigslist.
If you’re looking at an iOS device, you can tell the model by going to Settings, then General, then About. Scroll down and you’ll see the Model line which lists the Model number. Perform a Web search for that number and you’ll see what iPhone or iPad you’re holding. With Android, you can find similar information by going to Settings and then, under the System section, tapping About Phone or About Tablet.
When looking at a computer, you’ll want to verify that it has the hardware the seller claims. If it’s a Windows PC, you can find information about the internal hardware in the System and Device Manager menus. If you’re looking at a Mac, you can find information by going to the Apple menu and selecting About This Mac. If it’s running Ubuntu, open Terminal and enter “$ cat /proc/cpuinfo” for the processor and “sudo lspci | grep VGA” or “sudo lshw –C video” for the video card.
What’s The Condition?
Once you know that you’re getting a working, authentic device, you’ll want to assess its condition. A lot of buyers pay attention to scratches or dents, but these aren’t that relevant. People drop things – it happens. If the device works then it’s unlikely the existing scratches are anything more than cosmetic (unless they’re on the display, of course). Here’s what you’ll want to check.
- Power cord: This is extremely important with anything besides desktops, phones and tablets. Make sure the cord is not frayed, the outlet prongs are straight, and the power brick (if one exists) is intact.
- Ports: Check all the relevant ports (HDMI, USB, Ethernet, etc.) to make sure they’re not broken, bent, burnt or otherwise harmed.
- Cooling: If the device has active cooling, such as case fans, make sure they’re working. Hold your hand over the intake and exhaust to see if air flows.
- Battery: Make sure that the battery isn’t bulging, cracked or misshaped. A damaged battery can be a serious fire hazard.
- Wireless: WiFi and Bluetooth are usually integrated and not easy to replace. If possible, bring a Bluetooth compatible device and try to pair it. You should also try to connect it to local WiFi, if an open network is available.
I consider these traits the most important because they’re difficult or impossible to replace. Did you buy an A/V receiver with a broken power cord? You’re out of luck! Online buyers can’t check these items, of course, but most sites ask sellers to list any major flaws and will take action against the seller if they lie. If you’re wary, ask for additional photos or buy exclusively from sellers with an established record of customer satisfaction.
How Does It Smell?
This one only applies to in-person transactions, of course, but if you’re looking at the device you may as well use all your senses – and smell can be an important one.
Picking out the smell of burnt electronics isn’t difficult. The pungent, tangy scent is offensive and tends to linger. You may think it’s alright if the device turns on, but the smell may be a sign that a non-critical component has gone bad. If the video card is fried on a desktop, however, the seller could just hook it up to the motherboard video port and act as if nothing is wrong. Not everyone would notice that the DVI cable snakes to the wrong port before handing over cash.
Also be prepared to sniff out devices that smell musty, smoky or just plain sour. There’s a wide range of potential issues that can cause these odors. The device may have been recovered after a fire, or it may have been water damaged two years ago but has since dried out, or it may have been home to cockroaches. Put simply, if it smells bad, it probably is. Pay attention to what your snout is telling you.
Know When To Buy
Ensuring the device you’re buying is functional and legit is nine tenths of the battle, but if you really want a great deal, you need to be savvy about when to buy. The question of when relates to the tension in all used electronics; you want a deal, but you don’t want something obsolete. Here are some guidelines that will help you decide if the device is still relevant.
- Does it use modern connections? Electronics become obsolete when they no longer can be connected to new devices. Most people won’t gain much use from an A/V receiver if it doesn’t support HDMI, for example.
- Is it quick enough? If you’re buying a device that can run software, look up the system requirements of apps you want to use and compare them to what you think of buying. If the device doesn’t meet the recommended (note:recommended, not minimum) requirements, pass on it.
- Do you have room? Old electronics can be large and are often tossed when they no longer fit into a lifestyle. A pair of twenty year-old box speakers can be a great deal, but if you’re living in New York and rent a 400 square-foot studio, move on.
If you can answer “yes” to all three questions, you’re in good shape.
These tips will help you buy used electronics that are in good shape and aren’t on the verge of becoming obsolete. This may seem like a lot of information, and it is, but don’t be scared. I’ve purchased many used electronics and have never had a serious problem. Used electronics can be very reliable – if you check them out before purchasing.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Want to lose weight and think clearer? You might find help from the $199 Basis B1 Health Tracker Carbon Steel Edition smartwatch or its $179 functionally identical predecessor.
While wearable tech hasn’t yet provided much more than notification and health-oriented devices, the Basis B1 Health Tracker currently offers the most sophisticated readouts of your body’s data. But can the average consumer take advantage of the B1′s advanced design and feature-packed web app?
Update: Intel purchased Basis recently. Intel made inroads into the wearables market with several gadgets — this latest purchase (rumored to be around $100 million) represents a validation of Basis’s underlying technology.
What is Wearable Technology?
Two key concepts explain wearable technology: biometric data and the kinds of devices available in the wearables market.
Biometric data is a general, catch-all term used to refer to information gathered on the human body. It’s also referred to as “Biometrics“. This data includes heart-rate, the amount of calories burned by your body (caloric burn) and a great deal more. I will refer to the information gathered by the B1 as “Biometric” although it’s more precisely referred to as a form of Biofeedback. Essentially, biofeedback devices tell you how your body is working and suggest ways to improve your health based on this data.
Wearable Tech Competitors
I’ve written about wearable technology before and the various devices in the marketplace. Two key types of devices inhabit marketplaces: Health-oriented wearables and notifications devices.
The Basis B1 is definitely a health-oriented smartwatch (the term “smartwatch” refers to wearables that attach to the wrist). Health-oriented wearables gather biometric data on its users, which allow them to optimize one’s habits for healthier lifestyles. The best known health tracker is the Fitbit Flex (read our comparison review of the Fitbit Flex and Jawbone UP). Compared to the competition, the Basis B1 feels bulky. However, its sensor suite is better than anything else out there, by a wide margin in most cases. Even cutting edge wearables, which hybridize health trackers with notification watches, don’t offer the sophistication of the B1′s sensor suite.
For example, the Samsung Galaxy Gear 2 and Gear Fit offer both biometric data and smartphone notifications, but the biometric data falls far short of the B1. Hybrid wearables really only provide a portion of the data that the B1 offers. Like their peers, the Gear 2 and Gear Fit provide notifications first and biometric data second. The Basis B1 positions itself purely as a health-oriented device.
On the other hand, notifications watches provide alerts that are synced with the notifications provided by tablets and smartphones. In general, I’m not very excited by notifications devices, but they do fulfill an important niche market. We actually reviewed one of the first wearable tech devices: The Pebble smartwatch.
Unboxing and Getting Started
The Basis B1 comes nicely presented and packaged. Getting started with it requires very little effort.
The Basis Health Tracker smartwatch (also referred to as the B1) comes with minimal accessories and documentation – likely because users need to register the device online in order to gather health metrics. The documentation provided is a simple instruction manual, which more or less directs the user to the website. The package also includes a proprietary charger and of course, the B1 smartwatch.
How It Works
The B1 works by wearing it for extended periods of time. After generating biometric data, you can then sync it with your computer using the cradle charger. After syncing, you receive various health awards for making goals. The more goals you achieve, the more goals you can unlock. Using this method, users receive encouragement from the Basis app and website to slowly ramp up their daily periods of activity.
Basis doesn’t provide any particular avenue of approach toward using the B1 Health Tracker – in fact, they include a disclaimer that they are not a medical device company and you should consult a health professional regarding any medical issues. That said, I’ve greatly benefited from using the B1. In particular, the quality of my sleep is what really highlighted the usefulness of the Health Tracker.
I found that staying up late, staring into a computer monitor, caused serious degradation in the quality of my sleep. I received less REM and deep sleep and a great deal more light sleep. Also my tossing and turning increased dramatically after burning the midnight oil. The desktop app F.lux actually helped substantially with this issue, fortunately. F.lux (read our F.lux review) can shift the color spectrum of your monitor toward red, rather than white. This operates on the theory that white light causes a greater degree of wakefulness, which disrupts one’s sleep patterns. As a side note, the B1 actually verifies the effectiveness of F.lux – the software does work, although you get better sleep by simply unwinding or meditating (use meditation sounds) toward the end of the day.
Simply put, the Basis tracker allows users to unravel the tangled ball of yarn that is our poorly optimized behavioral patterns. But it requires a great deal of work to properly use.
Getting started with the Basis Health Tracker only requires that you register for an account with Basis and install either the Windows or Mac desktop application, or the smartphone or tablet app, available on both iOS and Android.
After installing, you can either wirelessly sync your device over Bluetooth or, alternatively, you can connect to the charger and sync cable – the charger uses a proprietary design. To insert, just slip it in on the left side first and then snap it into place on the right side. If you’ve installed the desktop app, it will automatically begin the pairing process. Alternatively, with the mobile app, you initiate the Bluetooth pairing process manually by clicking the Pair button twice.
Living with the Basis B1 Health Tracker
Following the pairing process, your personal information is wiped from the B1 and added to Basis’s servers. This information includes data on your perspiration, heart-rate, sleeping patterns, exercise patterns, caloric burn, skin temperature and more.
Wearing the device at first feels bulky, although it quickly begins feeling like a part of your body, even during sleep. The data generated offers useful insights into your daily habits, routines and with some effort from the user, can offer avenues to improve one’s daily routines for better exercise and sleep patterns.
Having spent over a month with the B1, I’m left with some good impressions and some bad: First of all, it’s bulky and its angular shape doesn’t look aesthetically pleasing. Second, it is extremely easy to manage and operate. Unlike most wearables, it will automatically begin measuring your biometric data. For example, the B1 can automatically detect whenever the user falls asleep, based on body temperature and heart rate. In my experience, sleep detection is scary-accurate. Its other features, such as heart rate detection, aren’t perfect. I found that it frequently failed to monitor my heart rate when out exercising.
The bracelet of the B1 feels soft, pliant and organic. Although the device itself feels bulky and oversized, the overall impact on my wrist after wearing it for a month feels like any other watch. After a while, you forget it’s even there. However, compared to similar devices, such as the $99.95 FitBit Flex or the $99 Jawbone UP(our comparative review between the Flex and the UP), it will feel monstrously large and ponderous.
The rear of the Basis B1 Health Tracker is covered by a variety of studs and a green LED. Touching several of the capacitive studs causes the LED to trigger. I assume that when the rear section comes into contact with naked flesh, it fires off the LED light in a strobe-like pattern.
The Basis Health Tracker uses an industry-leading seven sensor suite to read respiration, perspiration, heart rate, sleep states, caloric burn (which is derived from other data) and motion. As such it offers the worst battery life out of all wearable technology at around 3 days. However, with Bluetooth turned off, I routinely got well above three days.
- ASIC design: The B1 uses an embedded ARM CPU, likely of ASIC architecture.
- Modular design: The bracelet straps are fully removable and upgradable.
- Construction: Watch face composed of glossy, thermoplastic and steel. It also has silicone rubber wrist straps.
- Display: Trans-reflective, back-lit LCD display (viewable in direct sunlight).
- Battery life: 2-3 days (with Bluetooth enabled) or 4 days
- Bluetooth: 2.1
- Dimensions: 273mm (length); 36mm (width); 27mm (height); 44g (weight).
Measures of Activity and Sleeping Patterns
The B1 measures three kinds of physical activity patterns and three kinds of sleep patterns.
Kinds of Activity
- Walking: It uses the accelerometer as a pedometer to count footsteps. I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about this measurement, but for those who enjoy walking, this worked perfectly. Through the desktop or mobile device interface, the B1 synthesizes caloric burn from walking.
- Running: I don’t run much and wasn’t able to test this particular feature very often, but it does work.
- Biking: This feature of the B1 worked perfectly. It tracks the amount of time spent cycling as well as the distance traveled. It’s also able to synthesize the intensity of your workout, over the course of the time spent working out, by looking at heart rate and perspiration. In general, I found that lifting weights just prior to cardiovascular exercise allowed for greater amounts of caloric burn than aerobic preceded by anaerobic exercise.
- Light sleep: Light sleep doesn’t provide you with much benefit. It’s really a transitional sleep state between deep sleep and REM sleep. According to the documentation, light sleepers are easily roused – in general, if you get more light sleep than any other, you’re not sleeping properly.
- Deep sleep: Deep sleep, described by Basis as “body refresh” is when your body becomes immobile and you begin physically recovering from a day of hard work. Strangely, I found that the harder I exercised, the less deep sleep I received the following night. In general, you want this number to be as high as possible.
- REM sleep: REM sleep is referred to as “mind refresh” – if an individual receives a higher amount of REM, they will feel more focused and aware throughout the day. Low amounts of REM result in the individual feeling groggy and tired. I found that F.lux helped substantially with this statistic, although overall I received the most benefit from going to bed on a regular schedule, not eating late at night and cooling down before bedtime.
The software interface consists of both a browser-based interface and a mobile application.
The browser interface consists of several tabbed windows, which track several health metrics. The health categories receive three groupings:
- My Habits: Basis uses “My Habits” for gamification, meaning it awards points and recognizes exercise achievements. You win merit badges for maintaining good habits. However, as someone who never really got much out of gamification systems (what is gamification), this particular feature wasn’t too appealing.
- Insights: Insights show an overview of your achievements and daily activities. It’s a good summary of whether or not you’re getting enough sleep or exercise.
- Data: For me, raw data offered the largest amount of insight into my daily activities. It includes data from three different categories, including the details of each activity, the basic patterns that these activities fall into and the details of one’s sleeping habits.
Overall, the browser experience provides a slick, seamless method of interacting with your data. Even with the occasional problem syncing with Basis’s server taken into account, it’s a great web interface.
The mobile application provides a nearly identical experience to the browser interface. However, you can additionally customize the frequency of how often your device syncs with Basis’s servers in its settings menu.
I don’t want to go on at length about the B1′s potential uses, but they are myriad. In particular, you can connect theory with behavior, regarding sleep and exercise optimization.
I’ve heard a number of claims regarding F.lux’s impact on quality of sleep. F.lux, as mentioned earlier, theorizes that white light is more detrimental to sleep quality than red light. To test this, I simply examined my sleep statistics with F.lux enabled and without it. The results showed around 30 percent more REM and deep sleep than without F.lux enabled. You can test other, similar claims – in particular, eating before sleeping, going to bed at a consistent time or whatever strange theory you’ve heard.
Getting in shape takes a lot of work and for even workout nuts, it can take a lot of planning, research and effort. One theory that I tested: Weight lifting before cardio increases your caloric burn.
The data gathered from the Basis B1 seems to corroborate these claims. In general, I finished my bicycle circuit faster than if I didn’t lift weights beforehand. This results in slightly higher caloric burn.
It’s Not all Roses
Unfortunately, the B1 suffers from a relatively short battery life, easily-scratched watch face, weight and bulk, some sync problems and a complete lack of third party applications.
According to the spec sheet over at Basis, the B1 uses Bluetooth 2.1. A surprising revelation, considering that virtually all wearables use Bluetooth 4.0, with the low energy implementation. I assumed that the refresh of the B1 – the 2014 “Carbon Steel Edition” would have offered better internal components. Unfortunately, only its watchband seems improved. I ended up charging roughly every three days, although without Bluetooth enabled, you could likely get away with around four, or perhaps even five days without charging.
The B1 uses a plastic watch face, instead of glass. While a material such as Gorilla Glass would prevent scratches, it would likely be more prone to shattering. I’m of the opinion that Basis should produce a Zagg or Xtremeguard face cover, which would protect the screen better. I actually cut my own protector and it works quite well.
Weight and Bulk
Unlike most other wearables, the B1 takes up a fair amount of space on the arm. While it didn’t feel particularly burdensome after wearing it for a month, it did occasionally snag on countertops, keyboards and desks with regularity, reminding me of its size.
I found that Basis’s servers suffered from frequent outages. These outages were particularly bad for the Android app. While it didn’t detract from the utility offered by the B1, it did detract from the otherwise seamless user experience.
Lack of Third Party Applications
Although Basis claims that the API is open to developers, I had difficulty tracking down any documentation supporting this claim. The lack of third party apps suggests that either the API isn’t available or that developers aren’t able to use it. Sadly, many of the advanced features of the B1 won’t fully come to fruition until greater support from the development community arrives.
Should you buy the Basis B1 Health Tracker Smartwatch?
In a nutshell, the Basis B1 Health Tracker allows users to test health and fitness theories with hardcore data. This requires that the user do research on the various studies out there regarding weight loss and sleeping patterns. As I’ve demonstrated in this article, by examining the data and comparing it to theoretical claims, the Basis can make a tremendous difference in filtering out fact from fiction.
Compared to competitors, the Basis B1 offers a great combination of a superior sensor suite, reasonable price and great design at the cost of battery life and app support. For those who are willing to look past its shortcomings, the B1 can really improve the quality of your exercise and sleeping habits. Since beginning use of the device, I have noticed a small amount of weight loss along with improved mental focus throughout the day. I can’t conclude that the B1 was 100 percent responsible for my improvement in health, but it seems to be working. Overall, it’s my favorite wearable tech device.
How do I win the Basis B1 Health Tracker?
You may enter by submitting your name and email address. You’ll receive one entry simply by doing so.
After that, you’ll also be offered various methods to earn additional entries. They range from sharing a link to this giveaway on social networks; to commenting or visiting a specific page. The more you participate, the higher your chances of winning! You will receive 5 additional entries into the giveaway for every successful referral via your shared links.
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