After a couple years of gestation, Basis's B1—watch-like activity tracker—has finally arrived. But unlike the FuelBands and Fitbits and UPs of the world, Basis offers a unique look into one's health, however cursory as it might seem. Tracking steps and analyzing sleep isn't new, but the B1's analysis of both is rooted in biometrics and not some arbitrary process or made-up algorithm.
To the untrained eye, it looks like a watch. A chunky one, but a normal-looking wristwatch nonetheless. Surrounding the "trans-reflective" LCD are four touch-sensitive buttons that flip on the electroluminescent back light and cycle through the time, date, heart rate, calories burned, and number of steps. There's even a little goal tracker to show you how far you've gone and much further you need to go to hit your daily step goal. And, of course, a battery meter.
On the left edge are four contact points that, when cradled in the charging port, both charge and sync your B1. On the right edge is the reset button and one that could initiate some other function down the road, says Basis.
Like I said, it looks like a pretty normal digital watch but once you flip it over, you're immediately greeted by a set of pulsating, alien-like green LEDs and a series of little steel nubbins. This little array is what monitors your heart rate, skin temperature and how much you're perspiring. There's also an accelerometer somewhere underneath. All of that data is then crunched to figure out your caloric burn and sleeping patterns and some other things, which you can view on Basis' website.
Also worth noting is that you can swap out different colored (white or black for now) polyurethane bands on the B1. Accessories, yay! Make it yours!
Unlike the watch I wear on a daily basis, the B1 is meant to be worn 24/7. Yes, you can wear it when showering but not for any serious water-based activities, like swimming or whatever weird bathtub things you might be into. And yes, you're meant to wear it while you're sleeping and working out and most anything in between. For all intents and purposes, it's a watch that you wear on your wrist that just happens to track and collect biometric data.
However neat it is to see your heart rate at any given time, it's kind of worthless when given zero context about how that's impacting your wellness. Or what you should do about it if it's too high or too low. That is until you sync and check your Basis account online. This is where everything the B1 is collecting about you is contextualized with pretty graphics and minute details about your body and what it's doing on a minute-by-minute basis.
Once you log into the Basis site, you're presented with three tabs: My Habits, Insights and Data. You start out by picking a handful of "habits" (read: goals) like wearing your B1 for 12 hours three or four times a week. Or waking up at TK time every day. You can unlock more habits ("doing" and "sleep") and level up based on points you've accrued by hitting habits and your daily step count.
Habits that are deemed "doing" are things that you'd, you know, do, like stand up and walk around every so often or take a "lap" during the afternoon or at night. Sleep habits boil down to actions like waking up or going to bed at the same time every day. Each habit has its own description of why it's important to X, so that you can achieve Y.
From each habit card, you can dig a little deeper to see where and when those achievements were unlocked during your day.
Under the Insights tab, a daily stream of your actions is summarized along with an cursory overview of any habits you've hit, activities you've participated in and sleep analysis for that particular day. You can jump into a more detailed data visualization for each thing you've done or you could simply jump over to the Data tab to see your daily skin temperature, calories burned, heart rate, steps taken, and level of perspiration recordings.
This is where you can get nerdy with all the data that the B1 is recording. By picking "patterns" you can see an hour-by-hour chart of your day with varying degrees of intensity. The lighter the hour block, the less intense. And vice versa.
The "details" view breaks everything down to the minute and it's where you can compare your heart rate versus calories burned, for instance. Or any variation of the aforementioned.
Syncing and charging the B1 is pretty simple and you'll need to both every few days because battery life, as you can imagine, isn't that great given that any number of sensors are firing every second that you're wearing the device. Also, there doesn't seem to be much memory onboard and after about six days or so the B1 let me know that it was low on memory.
For a wrist-worn tracker, the B1 is actually capable of tracking steps more accurately than the FuelBand and UP. Numbers fell in line with the Fitbit One, which I semi-recently deemed the best activity tracker.
Calories burned, on the other hand, aren't as consistent with the One. Whether you wear it or not, the One is calculating calories burned based on your weight, height, age and sex. The B1 only calculates calories burned when worn, so there are major discrepancies but on days when both were worn for a full 24 hours, the B1 clocked about two hundred fewer calories burned than the Fitbit.
The B1 also—more or less— integrates into one's life pretty seamlessly. Aside from having to charge every few days, it works like any other watch you might have except that the biometric data and subsequent feedback are actually useful.
There is no app. Basis has been working on an Android app for months and I've seen iterations of it here and there but it still isn't available. This is a glaring flaw in an otherwise pretty decent activity tracker. Basis says the app is coming in a few weeks. (It'll sync over Bluetooth, BTW.) This is important because certain habits, like the the "Don't Be a Sitter" habit, aren't actionable or top of mind because you're not notified that you've been sitting for more than 45 minutes. When I'm at work, for instance, I forget to stand up for extended periods of time and I'm sure that's true for others.
Also, compared to a Polar heart rate monitor, like the FT60 and its accompanying chest strap, the B1 wasn't able to record my peak heart rates during runs where my BPM registered in the 180s. In fact, the B1 rarely registered anything over 150 BPM. Brent found a similar hiccup in the Mio Alpha.
Should I buy it?
Without an app, it's hard to recommend the B1 because none of the habits you're going after are actionable unless you sync the band to your computer to see what your overall progress is. There's a certain level of hand holding that's required with any activity tracker to get users to actually do something about improving their health. For instance, the Jawbone UP has an idle alarm that vibrates, which in turn gets you to get up and walk around. The B1 has a similar habit but you have no idea how long you've been sitting around until you sync and see where you're at for that day.
Personally, I won't give up wearing my watch nor will I be wearing two watches anymore but the B1 is without a doubt the best activity tracker available today. (And I've tested just about all of them.) Too bad it's backordered till who knows when. But by the time your B1 arrives, there might be an app that makes it all worth it..
• Radio: Bluetooth
• Backlight: Yes
• Water-resistant: Yes
• Color: black or white
• Price: $200