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.