Introduction and design
Let’s face it, fitness trackers are still awfully limited in their ability to keep track of what’s going on with your body. We’re just only starting to see a few devices with extra biosensors such as the wrist-mounted heart rate monitor on the Samsung Gear Live and sleep tracking functionality of the Jawbone Up24.
Now, Basis promises its smartwatch is the world most advanced health tracker. The activity band is outfitted with a three-axis accelerometer, optical blood flow tracker, perspiration monitor and yet another sensor to check skin temperature.
All of these extra sensors and added data tracking makes the Basis Smartwatch one of the brainiest wearables on the market. The device can even tell whether you’re wearing it, whereas the Fitbit would just call you lazy. Now the question is can Basis really deliver on all this in-depth activity tracking and be accurate, or are these simply empty promises?
At a glance, the Basis looks more like a watch than other activity trackers, like the Nike FuelBand SE or Jawbone Up24. The device resembles a retro digital watch from the 1980s, down to it black-and-white display. This monochromatic screen adds a bit of nostalgic personality to the smartwatch, but it’s a teeny-tiny 0.62 x 1 inch slit. It pales in comparison to the gorgeous screens seen on new Android Wear devices such as the Samsung Gear Live or LG G Watch. Still, the display is bigger compared to the Fitbit Force's 0.75 x 0.375 inch screen or Jawbone Up24's total lack of a visual interface.
The Basis Carbon Steel fitness tracker in this review is newer, classier and thinner than the original B1 model, though it still measures a noticeable 0.68 inches in depth. A few other new bells and whistles include stainless steel steel clasp and leather band. The extra bits of style make the watch look a little bit more modern compared to older, all plastic variant. The only trade off of the Carbon Steel variant is users won’t be able to easily swap out plastic wristbands as with the regular version.
Turn the watch over and you’ll see the back of the Basis is covered with six metal contacts. In the center there is also another of sensor which at first glance appears to be a microchip. But in reality this cluster in the middle of the watch is actually a optical sensor sided by a pair of miniature green LEDs. When users wear the watch these LEDs pulse light through the wearer’s skin down to the capillaries to track how fast their blood is flowing.
Despite having all these metal contacts prod your wrist, it’s completely comfortable to wear the Basis all day thanks to the soft, pliable wristband. The Basis is considerably weightier than your average fitness band at 44 grams. The Jawbone Up24 by comparison taps in at a scant 20 grams while the Fitbit Force sits in the middle at 30 grams.
Like the Nike FuelBand SE, newcomers to Basis will have to set up an account before beginning to use the wearable. This includes connecting the device to a PC or Mac, and downloading the latest firmware. After entering a few details including your weight and height, the watch will restart and you’re away. Syncing thereafter can be done by plugging in the smartwatch to a computer again or setting it up to automatically push sync data to a smartphone over Bluetooth.
While Basis smartwatch tracks plenty data points, users will only be able to see a few bits of information on the wearable itself. The wristwatches’ dimmed, but always-on screen, shows you the time, indicators for whether Bluetooth is turned on and remaining battery life. Below the clock there’s also a small runner icon speeding towards your goals for the day.
Tapping on the two capacitive touch pins on the right of the wrist watch’s screen will scroll through your heart rate, steps taken and calories burned. Users can also check how long they’ve been walking, running or biking for that day plus the number of calories they’ve burned whilst moving about.
Otherwise, there’s not much else to the Basis. The other two front facing buttons turn on the screen’s backlight, letting you checking the time in the dark, and another to bring up the date and day. Sadly the Basis lacks a stopwatch, alarm, timer or any other basic functions you’d expect from a watch.
App, performance, battery life and verdictApp
The Basis smartphone app revolves around the concept of “Habits” such as taking an evening lap or a reminder to torch at least 2,500 calories a day. Unlike goals, these Habits try to get users to adopt healthier routines and expand beyond getting you to move around more. Habits can also add extra challenges to get up regularly at the same day. Every completed Habit in turn brings users closer to their next level that will then allow them to add another Habit.
The leveling aspect adds an extra element of gamification and progression not seen with other activity trackers. Ultimately though it’s really up to the user to keep themselves motivated as Basis does not bug wearers with idle alert reminders. Instead the watch will only commend users when they’ve completed their Habits while users can pop the app to see how they’ve progressed so far.
As for getting a deeper look at what you’ve done in a day, Insights outlines your activities in a item by item list. Every spurt of activity from a short walk to the corner store to a full on run shows up here. Tapping on one of your activities will show a total steps counter plus a graphical breakdown across time. Sliding over to your sleep data users can also look at a full breakdown of how they’ve slept down to the numbers of time’s they tossed and turned during the night to minutes spent in REM slumber land.
But what is all this perspiration and heart rate data Basis has promised? It strictly lives on the website. Not even the smartphone app displays these interesting metrics. For whatever reason, Basis has chosen to lock away all of its serious biosensors to the users’ web profiles. Online users will find their biometric data splayed out onto a chart filled with bar graphs and lines denoting their steps, calories burned, and other interesting data points like perspiration.
The Basis is intelligent enough to automatically start tracking whenever users are moving. It can also discern how hard you’re hoofing it between running, walking and biking. Unlike the Fitbit Force, the Basis team has tunned its wearable not to count any fake steps.
My only gripe with the Basis smartwatch is fitness tracking is limited to just three types of activities. Jumping on an exercise bike or many other types of workouts are simply not recognized. The Nike FuelBand SE is much better at tracking users exerting themselves with a ton of extra activities from yoga to pingpong.
Surprisingly, the heart monitor is accurate as well. The Basis recorded my resting and active heart rate within five beats of reading my pulse. Users who want a perfectly accurate heart rate numbers should still look to a chest bound monitor, which will almost always be more accurate than any wrist bound sensor.
Additionally, Basis itself admits its wearable cannot get a clear reading when users are in the middle of vigorous activities. That all said, the Basis smartwatch is more than serviceable and a step up from the rather inaccurate heart rate monitor on the Samsung Gear Live or overly sensitive sensor on the Samsung Gear Fit.
Once again the Basis was spot on with knowing when I was sleeping. Admittedly I never know when I truly fall asleep but the Basis was right on time noting that I was fully awake when my alarm clock chirped in the morning.
While other wearables like the Fitbit Force or Jawbone Up24 have offered sleep tracking before, users won’t have to press a button to kick-start their devices into sleep mode. Basis’ method of analyzing sleep also seems more useful. Rather than noting just how long you’ve been sleeping, the smart band will keep tabs of you sleep quality.
The Basis offers users data on how long they went into deep or REM sleep, which ties into rest that refreshing your body and mind, respectively. These values are added up into a sleep number that ties in directly to how well you should feel in the morning.
The only problem is the Basis provides no advice on how to get more rejuvenating rest or how to improve your sleep score. Another thing the Basis lacks is an alarm to wake up wearers silently, a feature I expect on most wearables these days.
Unfortunately, battery life is one of the Basis smartwatch’s weakest departments. On a full charge and a continuous one-hour sync schedule, the sensor-rich activity band died after four days and 19 hours. That’s significantly shorter than the seven-day battery life of the Jawbone Up24, as well as the 10 days of battery life on the Fitbit Force.
The good news is the users can easily recharge the wristwatch while still wearing it. The charging cradle fits over the device, and better yet, the cable is over three-feet long - much better than the dinky wires that have come with other wearables.
The device charges back to full in just a few hours so users will easily top off the device by plugging it in while they take a shower. Afterall the Basis smartwatch is waterproof but susceptible to sudsy soap.
The Basis smartwatch app is available for iOS devices as far back as the iPhone 4, as long as it’s running iOS 7 or the iOS 8 beta. A variety of Android devices are also on the compatibility docket including the Samsung Galaxy S4, Samsung Galaxy S3, Samsung Galaxy S2, Samsung Galaxy Note 3, Samsung Note 2, Samsung Note, HTC One, Nexus 5, Nexus 4 and Moto X.
This list does not include a variety of newer devices, including the LG G3 and Samsung Galaxy S5. However, Basis has made its app available to all Android phones running 4.1.2 Jelly Bean or higher, noting some users may experience bugs or technical issues.
For this review, I had no problems syncing the fitness tracker to an HTC One M8 or using the app, despite it not being on the compatible device list.
The Basis Carbon Steel has come down in price over time, and now can be had for $149 (about £89, AU$159). With the new price drop, the Basis smartwatch is competitive with the identically-priced Jawbone Up24. Ringing up for a little less is the now $99 (about £89, AU$106) Nike FuelBand SE that’s also considerably less capable than the Jawbone or Basis.
The Basis smartwatch offers more and more-accurate data than other fitness trackers on the market. On top of this, there’s no need to press a button before your evening jog or when you go to bed. The wrist watch simply starts tracking intelligently.
This sort of simplicity is an important step towards making wearables simply another part of our lives that just work, rather than adding another step in our routines. Between the much more accurate heart rate monitor and useful sleep data, the Basis is one of the best wearables you can buy today.
While the Basis offers a lot of metrics for data nerds, it’s not information that’s instantly usable. For example, the heart rate monitor is fairly accurate, but it just shows you a number without any context of whether it’s healthy or in a normal range. The same can be said about perspiration levels or your skin temperature. Similarly, the sleep data is an enlightening look at how well you are sleeping, but it offers no tips on how to improve your sleep score.
The Basis is by far the physically biggest activity tracker with the shortest battery life, but these concessions have to be made because of the bigger screen and larger sensor suite. Ultimately the real limitations of the Basis smartwatch that will annoy users the most are its limited set of activity types and the need to jump on a web browser to look at all their biodata.
There’s no shortage of fitness trackers to choose from among brands like Nike, Jawbone, Garmin, and now even Timex is getting into the game. The Basis smartwatch is definitely another device you should have on your radar. Between offering users plenty of data and hassle free activity tracking, the Basis smartwatch is a massively intuitive wearable that anyone can slap on their wrist.
While the smartwatch lacks a lot of additional functionality from timers to motivating reminders, the Basis team has created a great base for users on a health kick to track what’s up with their bodies. It’s far from perfect, and honestly, I’m more excited about what the Intel-acquired company might come out with next, but the Basis Carbon Steel is a worthy contender for those looking to buy their first activity tracker.