The Peak falls into a category Ultan (@ultan, @usableapps) calls the “super watch,” a term that nicely differentiates watches like the Peak (and the Fitbit Surge) from fitness bands (e.g. Jawbone UP24, Nike+ Fuelband, Fitbit Flex), smartwatches (e.g. Android Wear, Apple Watch, Pebble), and serious athletic training gadgets (e.g. Garmin, Polar).
I’ve been curious about the Basis since before the company was acquired by Intel. Lab alumna, Joyce (@joybot12), had lots of good things to say about the Peak’s ancestor, the Basis B1, and the device collects a lot of data. And I love data, especially data about me.
Unfortunately, the company doesn’t offer any developer integrations, just an export feature.
Basis bills the Peak as the “ultimate fitness and sleep tracker,” and the device packs an impressive array of technology into a small package. For sensors, it has:
- Optical Heart Rate Sensor
- Galvanic Skin Response
- Skin Temperature
- 3-Axis Accelerometer
Plus, the Peak has a nifty gray-scale touchscreen display and has a backlight that I eventually discovered, which is nice, albeit not terribly intuitive. I found all the gestures a bit clunky OOTB, and I can’t be the only one because Basis sent an email of how-tos to me right after I created my account. But, like anything, once I learned, all was good.
Fun fact, the little guy is water resistant up to 5 ATM or 50 meters of pressure, and I took it swimming without any leakage.
I read somewhere that this type of heart rate monitor isn’t real time; I did notice that it was frequently searching for a heart rate, but the charts would show a continuous number. So, if you’re into constant heart rate, this isn’t for you, but it was good enough for me.
After wearing the Fuelband, the Peak felt bulky, and its rubber band wasn’t terribly comfortable. Actually, it was uncomfortable, especially since to get the best sensor data, you’re supposed to keep it tight.
On Day 2, I was positive I wouldn’t make it a week, let alone three, but I got used to it. Plus, the data kept me going, more on that in a bit.
The housing on the underside of the band did leave a nice mark after a few days, but that disappeared shortly after I stopped wearing the Peak.
Like every other device, it uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to sync with a smartphone, and Basis has apps for both iOS and Android.
Syncing the Peak with its smartphone was often an adventure. The watch would frequently lose its BLE connection with the phone, and I learned quickly that trying to reset that connection was futile. I tried and tried and eventually had to remove and re-associate the watch with the app to get the data flowing.
Because syncing was such a chore, I missed the instant gratification after a run, quantifying the steps, calories, etc. At one point, I confused the watch accidentally and lost about a day’s worth of data. I changed the date on the phone (cough, Candy Crush), and during that one minute period, the watch synced.
The date changed confused the watch, and I couldn’t reset it without dumping all its data and starting from scratch. Definitely my bad, but given how often the Peak wouldn’t sync, it seemed a bit ironic.
The Peak’s battery is solid, even with all the tech onboard; functionally, I saw about 5 days on the first charge, not too shabby.
And finally, the Peak gets attention. Maybe it was the white band, or more likely the Apple Watch buzz, but several people asked me about it, a few assuming it was the Watch itself. If nothing else, the rising interest tide in the Watch has raised the collective consciousness about technology on the wrist.
The app and data
The only reason I soldiered through the discomfort of wearing the Peak is because it produces an impressive array of data, and I love me some data about me.
I’ll start with the smartphone app, which I didn’t use much except for glance-scan type information because Basis doesn’t follow Jeremy’s (@jrwashley) 10-90-90 rule for their mobile app, i.e. they cram all the graphs and information into the small viewport.
For reference, 10-90-90 refers to 10% of the tasks that 90% of users need 90% of the time. This provides a baseline to scale experiences down to less-capable devices in a thoughtful way.
I get why Basis built their smartphone app this way though; it allows the user to get full information in mobile way. The My Basis web app provides all the data in a very appealing set of visualizations, and this is where I went to pour over the data I’d generated.
As with the other wearables we’ve tested (Misfit Shine, Nike+ Fuelband, Fitbit Surge), the Peak has game elements to encourage activity, called Habits. One of the first Habits that comes unlocked OOTB is called “Wear It,” which you can achieve by simply wearing the band for 12 hours.
This tells you a lot about the comfort of the device.
Unlocked Habits are pretty basic, burn 2,500 calories, take 10,000 steps, and as you achieve them, more difficult habits can be unlocked and added, e.g. run for 30 minutes, move every hour, get more sleep, etc.
The thresholds for these Habits are configurable, but none of them is overly challenging. As you progress, you’ll find yourself working on half a dozen or more Habits every day. Habits can be paused, which I found valuable when I went on vacation last week.
Overall, the game seems targeted at casual users vs. athletes, but oddly, the data collected seems like the detail that athletes would find valuable. Maybe I didn’t play long enough.
Ah the data.
The Peak collects the usual stuff, calories and steps, and also heart rate. Additionally, it measures skin temperature and perspiration level, although I’m not sure what to do with those.
On the sleep side, the Peak measures, light sleep, REM sleep and deep sleep, and it tracks interruptions and tossing and turning.
While the Shine and Fuelband made me nutty-complusive about activity data, The Peak turned my compulsion toward the sleep data. I found myself studying the numbers, questioning them and trying to sleep-hack.
Not that any of that mattered, sadly, I live a poor-sleep lifestyle.
In other news, I finally found my personal killer use case for smart/superwatches, glanceable phone and text notifications. Because I carry my phone in my back pocket, I often miss calls and texts, but not with the Peak on my wrist.
My wife especially loved this feature.
In the past with the Pebble and Samsung Gear Live, I had too many notifications turned on, email, calendar, etc., and I didn’t wear these devices long enough to modify the settings.
Finally, the Peak helped me realize what a sadly inactive life I lead. 10,000 steps was a challenge for me every day, unless I went to the gym for a run.
I felt a twinge when it came time to take off the Nike+ Fuelband, and despite the discomfort, I pondered wearing the Basis Peak for longer too, specifically for the data it collected.
Maybe I’m stumbled onto something, like wearables-detachment disorder. These are very personal devices, and I wonder if people develop an emotional attachment to them.
We’ll see when I’m done testing the next wearable.
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