Review: Atlas Wristband 2 – a wearable to monitor your reps and lifts

Atlas Wristband 2

Atlas Wristband 2
7.75

Design

7/10

    Ease of use

    8/10

      Use of information

      8/10

        Motivation

        9/10

          Pros

          • Can be customized with new exercises
          • Does a decent job of recognising exercises and counting reps
          • Offers multiple ways to edit logged data
          • Guided workouts
          • Unique in industry

          Cons

          • Portrait orientation of device feels odd
          • No automatic sync
          • App would benefit from improvements
          • No HealthKit support

          The Atlas Wristband is not your typical wearable. This is an innovative new device that tracks and identifies your different activities, evaluates your form, counts your reps and sets and calculates the calories you burned. The company originally raised $629k on crowdfunding site Indiegogo to fund development and has recently come out with a second generation tracker.

          Essential reading: Boost your gym session with these devices

          Atlas can monitor your body in 3D. It can tell the difference between push-ups and triangle push-ups, bicep curls and alternating bicep curls and squats versus dead lifts. The second generation tracker has the ability to automatically detect and count around 70 of the most popular exercises. Not to worry if your favourite exercise is not in the database. You can teach Atlas Wristband 2 to recognise new exercises.

          So what’s it like to workout with the Atlas Wristband? I strapped it on and hit the gym. Here is my verdict.

          Design
          Ease of use
          Use of information
          Motivation
          Overview

          View technical specs


          Design

          717w269yNRL._SY500_When you purchase an Atlas Wristband you will receive the Atlas Wristband module, Magnet-lock module strap, a 1m Micro USB charging cable, and a quick-start card.

          The Atlas Tracker sports a very unique design. You will not mistake it with any other fitness tracker on the market today. What you essentially get is a square core unit, which slides horizontally into the accompanying wristband and clicks magnetically into position.

          The silicone strap is held in place by a standard watch buckle. While the sporty looking band is a tad on the bulky side, it feels very soft to the touch and is perfectly comfortable to wear. It is also pleasing on the eye but probably not something you would wear at work or for a night out. Which is fine as you are only ment to strap it on when you are ready to sweat it out in the gym.

          The little modular device measures measures 0.36 x 2 x 1.2 inches. The monochrome screen features a 128×64-pixel PMOLED screen, which while not the prettiest around, is functional enough for the job. You navigate your way around by tapping on the left and right arrows to scroll through the menus. There is also a single protruding button on the left which you use to change menus and switch the device on or off.

          The optimal position for your Atlas is on your left wrist, about 3 fingers up from the bend in your wrist. In the future, Atlas says the tracker will be functional on both wrists.

          What I did find a slightly strange, is the portrait orientation of the modular device. It noticably sticks out against your arm. The first time in the gym, I did feel a bit self conscious, but to my knowledge not a single person noticed anything out of the ordinary. These days everyone has something strapped to their wrist or chest, earphones in place, more interested in their smartphones than their fellow gym-goers. So while odd looking, the design did not draw stares. But then again, I do live in England. And English people are known for their prim and proper behaviour!

          The screen is much easier to read in horizontal orientation, and more importantly, the tracker does not get in the way of any exercises. Nevertheless, given the option I would have preferred something that is more discreet. If you like your trackers to be sleek and discreet you might want to look elsewhere. The problem is, you will not find anything that does what Atlas is designed to do.

          Here is a picture of the Atlas tracker next to the Vivoactive HR. The core units are pretty much exactly the same size.

          image

          The second generation wristband looks very similar to the original device. Under the hood, however, the tracker features an upgrade to its processor and a threefold increase in memory size. This means you can store 20 to 30 more exercises than before on the device itsself. Inside the sensor module you will find a 3-axis accelerometer and gyroscope which offers 3D motion tracking to identify activities, along with two 32-bit ARM M4 processors.

          Around the back is the optical heart rate sensor. It looks similar in style to heart rate sensors you will find on Fitbit or Garmin fitness trackers. Basically, a set of lights that shine a microscopic light on your blood vessels and analyse the amount of light reflected back: the less light reflected, the more blood pumping through your veins.

          Atlas 2 is water resistant up to 30 metres. Before, the company said that you cannot swim due to not having a screen lock on the Atlas. When swimming it would ghost touch and be on many different screens, thus not recording your exercise. The problem has been resolved now, but you will need to teach it to recognise swim strokes.

          image

          Finally, the tracker sports a 120 mah Lithium Polymer battery which you can recharge via a Micro USB charging port and any standard Micro USB charger. A fully charged device will get you through 7 hours of workouts. To extend battery life, you can choose the power save option. Its worth noting that leaving it on in standby mode drains the battery. Eventually, I reverted to switching the device off when I was not using it. The tracker is fairly quick to recharge – and it will go from zero to full charge in just over an hour.


          Ease of use

          Your Atlas ships in a deep sleep mode to conserve battery life. To turn it on, you will need to hold the button down on the left side of the module for a good 30 seconds or so. The screen will show the Atlas logo when it has powered on. Getting set up is pretty straightforward. Answer a few basic questions such as you date of birth, weight and height, and you are there.

          The Atlas utilizes a simple touch-screen interface. It is currently tap-only. There are no swipes or other gestures programmed into the device. The button on the side is used primarily for turning on and off, exiting a screen, or ending a workout.

          Once you are registered it may seem like there is a lot to take in. But remember, this is not your standard Fitbit or Jawbone activity tracker. It is a product in a category all its own which means it does things a little differently when it comes to monitoring activity.

          The app is divided into three sections:

          • Home screen which provides a calendar tab along the top and your workout log which shows details on aspects such as your heart rate, duration with a breakdown of individual exercises;
          • Exercises section which lists all the exercises in the database and allows you to train Atlas to learn new exercises; and
          • Guided Workouts section which lists a selection of workouts you can choose from or allows you to create your own custom workouts.

          To start a workout, you will first need to decide whether to use one of the prebuilt workouts, design a custom workout or use the freestyle option.

          There is a nice selection of over 20 prebuilt workouts with aptly chosen names such as ‘Bulk up’, ‘Burn baby burn’, ‘Strengthen week’, and more. Scroll through the list of exercises to find the workout that you are interested in doing, and tap different workouts to view details. Note, you can only sync one set of workouts at a time. The search function lets you search by goals and also the workout names themselves. Type in Arms and a list pops up showing you Arm routines. Once you have decided, click sync and the workout will transfer over to your Atlas device. You are now ready to hit the weights.

          If you have a favourite workout of your own, you can choose the Custom option which allows you to add exercises from the database to design your own routine. Then sync your device.

          There is also a third option which I ended up using most of the time. Its call freestyle mode. Basically, you choose up to a few of dozen exercises on the smartphone app, transfer them over to the band and you are set. Start working out and the tracker will automatically recognise which exercise you are doing and will count the reps (as long as your form is correct). Immediately following a completed exercise, you have the option to edit the reps and weight using the touchscreen interface.

          image

          In the Guided or Custom workouts mode, it’s more of the same. For this mode, the product has been cleverly designed to alert you via a vibration alarm and smart timer when it is time to begin a set and when you have hit your rep or duration goals (with rest countdowns included). If there’s an exercise you don’t feel like doing, you can simply skip it.

          When you are done with your workout, tap on the save option to log the session. Pairing your Atlas Wristband to your phone via bluetooth does not sync it, you need to press the sync button inside the Atlas app. You can then view full details of your workout. If you find that there are some oversights, the app will allow you to edit any part of your workout. Which is an incredibly useful feature I made good use of.

          The smartphone app has a database of around 70 exercises and the company is working on adding more exercises all the time. Already there is good support for barbell, cable, dumbbell and body weight training. Tapping on any exercise will show you your workout history, along with videos on proper form, text descriptions on how to perform the movement, and a heat map that shows what muscles you are likely to activate. This is pretty important if you’re a gym newbie and you don’t know some of the exercises that are listed. Educating yourself with videos and other info also ensures you give the sensors the best chance of recognising the exercises.

          The lists offers a decent selection but inevitably it’s not going to cover everyone’s routine. And this is where the standout feature of the second generation device comes in. The new Atlas tracker offers you the ability to train the sensors to recognise new exercises.

          Choose the custom option, write the exercise name and sync your device. Then teach your Atlas by performing a predetermined number of sets for a chosen exercise. The more sets you do, the better the algorithm will become at recognising the new exercise. Each exercise motion has its own inertial fingerprint. Imagine a glowing dot on your wrist that leaves a 3D trail when you move. Atlas recognizes the unique path of this dot and associates it with the correct exercise from the database.

          The current Atlas product can identify exercises that involve some kind of wrist movement, even if that exercise is not meant to target the arms or upper body. There are exercises that do not currently fall under the umbrella of identifiable movements because they involve a motionless wrist. The company says that available products that Atlas Wearables offers may expand in the future to monitor different parts of the body.

          In practice, I found that Atlas was better at recognising some exercises than others. And sometimes, a slight difference in the way the exercise was performed would make it unrecognisable. So for example, in one case, I found that if I chose a different seat height on gym equipment, it would slightly alter my wrist movements meaning the tracker was unable to recognise the exercise. It may of course have something to do with my form, and perhaps if I spent more time teaching the sensors on the specifics of my form, it would become better.

          image

          Having said that, when it works, its almost seems like magic. And it works a good proportion of the time. Imagine having a personal trainer quietly standing by your side, counting your reps, and then writing them down when you are finished. The ability to edit the info on the go helps the process, so if the tracker did not recognise the exercise or you want to enter a weight or adjust the number of reps, you can do so while you are resting between the sets.

          Finally, its worth noting that it is not recommended physically sharing an Atlas Wristband between multiple people. In order to receive accurate feedback on a workout you would need to reset the Atlas and enter new biometrics information for whomever is using it at the time. This would mean that you lose prior analytics and feedback.


          Use of information

          imageThe Atlas app is available for Android and iOS to sync workout data over Bluetooth along with reviewing and customising your workouts. The app does a nice job breaking down the specific workouts, including calories, duration and heart rate. There is also a nice diagram showing you the parts of the body you’ve been working on during a workout.

          Next to each set, you will find a Form score. Atlas compares your form to the form of personal trainers with over 5 years of experience. A higher grade shows improvement while a lower grade indicates average fitness. A lower grade indicates that your form is different than the personal trainers. It might not necessarily be bad. Just different than the trainers.

          The cardio section shows your your heart rate readings for the duration of the session, along with a max heart rate and an average heart rate reading. This information is also displayed for each individual exercise. The heart rate sensor does a fairly decent job, about what you would expect from a wrist based heart rate monitor.

          The app also breaks down your session by velocity, reps and rest time and groups them into one of four Training Zones. The zones are fat burn, tune, transform and burn.

          • Low and intermediate repetition training is recommended for those interested in strength gains and major cosmetic changes. High repetition training is recommended for those interested less muscle gain and those who prioritize aerobic or endurance.
          • Higher levels of muscular power has been demonstrated across sets with 3-5 minutes of rest versus 1 minute of rest between sets.
          • The use of velocity as a fitness metric and its incorporation in training has been around for a few decades. The researchers who discovered the concept were trying to understand what optimal weight should be used for a variety of training exercises. Fast lengthening contractions are attributed to greater hypertrophy and strength gains when compared with slow velocities.

          While the info presented by the smartphone app is useful and presented in a meaningful way, the app would benefit from improvements. At the moment, you are only able to view info on individual workout sessions. Which means you are not able to follow your progress between sessions. Which is the essence of weight training. Also, rather than a strip at the top of the screen which you scroll through to choose the date of the workout session, I would have preferred a full screen monthly calendar showing dates of all your workout sessions during that particular period.


          Motivation

          The Atlas Wristband belongs to a select group of activity trackers that is built not for counting steps, calories or sleep but helping you get the most out of a gym workout. A device that takes away the hassle of manually logging your workout session allowing you to concentrate on your form and fitness and getting the most from your workout.

          The tracker currently lacks a system for physically setting goals and automatically monitoring your progress towards meeting those goals. And, as mentioned, time-lines to view progress by week, month and year are an absolute must. Features, we hope the company will introduce in the near future.


          Overview

          The verdict

          The Atlas Wristband is definitely a compelling idea. An activity tracker that monitors all your movement in 3D and automatically logs exercises and repetitions, essentially taking away all the hassle of manually logging your gym workout sessions.

          There is certainly a market and a place for such a wearable. The second generation tracker does a fairly decent job at recognising exercises, but perhaps the best aspect and improvement over the original device is the ability to teach Atlas to recognise new exercises. This means that possibilities are endless.

          But be warned. Don’t expect the tracker to work perfectly right out of the box. There is a learning curve involved, both for yourself and the tracker. And this may take some time. Perhaps a few visits to the gym will be needed before you teach the sensors the specifics of your form, or teach yourself to perform the exercises as per the videos in the Atlas database.

          51m9nosAM-L._SL75_
          Atlas Wristband 2
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          View technical specs

          Right now, there is very little out there in terms of direct competition. There is definitely room for improvement and sometimes the process is not as seamless as ideally it could be. And despite the benefits of the horizontal orientation, I would have preferred a more discreet form factor.

          Will it appeal to the mass market? I suspect the gym rats amongst us are more likely to be interested. In time, as the algorithms, software and form factor improve, the device may have more mainstream appeal.

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