Review: Is the Apple Watch a good fitness tracker?
Activity trackers come in many styles and can improve your overall wellness by tracking your activity, fitness levels, sleep, and calorie consumption. By understanding these trends, users can monitor and adjust behaviors that influence overall health and well-being. While activity trackers are primarily dedicated to monitoring biometric data and physical activity, smart watches leap beyond fitness, enabling users to check email, answer calls, and much more.
The long-anticipated Apple Watch came out earlier this year. The device firmly fits into the latter category – a smart watch that offers a wide range of functions. Nevertheless, an important feature of the Apple Watch is its health and fitness tracking capability — the watch monitors your movement and workouts throughout the day, it tracks your heart rate and can even be set up to remind you to move if you have been inactive for too long.
But is the device worth buying for its health and fitness features alone? Is the Apple watch a good fitness tracker?
Ease of use
Use of information
The Apple Watch’s beautiful color display makes it fun to use, and because it comes in two sizes — 38 mm and 42 mm — it won’t look too big or too small on your wrist. To keep the Sport collection models as light as possible, Apple used aluminosilicate glass — the same material used in the windows of space shuttles and high-speed trains. It’s fortified at the molecular level through ion exchange, with smaller ions being replaced by larger ones to create a surface layer far tougher than ordinary glass.
The watch case comes in a number of colours: Silver, Space Gray, Rose Gold, Gold. The Sport Band is interchangeable and also comes in a number of colours: White, Orange, Blue, Black, Stone, Lavender, Midnight Blue, Antique White. Made from high-performance fluoroelastomer, the Sport Band is durable and strong, yet surprisingly soft. The smooth, dense material drapes elegantly across your wrist and feels comfortable next to your skin. An innovative pin-and-tuck closure keeps the end of the strap neatly secured.
An accelerometer and gyroscope in the Apple Watch track your activity throughout the day. Wifi and GPS from your phone combine with this data to record the distance you’ve traveled. Sensors on the back of the watch capture your heart rate and a “Taptic Engine” produces “tap-like” alerts against your wrist.
Apple Watch attempts to measure your heart rate every 10 minutes, but won’t record it when you’re in motion or your arm is moving. In workout mode, the measurement is continuos. The heart rate sensor in Apple Watch uses what is known as photoplethysmography. This technology, while difficult to pronounce, is based on a very simple fact: Blood is red because it reflects red light and absorbs green light. Apple Watch uses green LED lights paired with light‑sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through your wrist at any given moment. By flashing its LED lights hundreds of times per second, Apple Watch can calculate the number of times the heart beats each minute — your heart rate.
The Apple Watch accelerometer measures your total body movement and steps to calculate the calories you burn throughout the day. It counts all kinds of physical movement, from simply standing up to walking around the office to running to catch your train.
Along with its accelerometer, Apple Watch uses GPS on your iPhone to more accurately measure distance and speed during workouts you do outside — like walking, running and cycling. The device typically offers around 18 hours of use before needing recharging.
Ease of Use
The Apple Watch’s Activity app keeps track of all the activity you do throughout the day when you’re not working out. The Activity app provides a simple visual snapshot of your daily activity, with three rings telling you everything you need to know.
The Stand ring shows how often you’ve stood up to take a break from sitting. The Move ring shows how many active calories you’ve burned. And the Exercise ring shows how many minutes of brisk activity you’ve completed. The goal? Close each ring every day:
- Exercise – keeps track of duration of brisk activity. The app sets a default goal of 30 minutes of exercise per day. Any activity performed at the level of a brisk walk or above is considered exercise. And Apple Watch keeps track of how much you do each day, even when it’s not in the context of a dedicated workout. You close the Exercise ring when you reach the globally recommended 30 minutes of exercise per day.
- Move – total calories burned. Each week, Apple Watch can suggest a new daily Move goal for how many active calories to burn each day, based on your recent history. You close the Move ring when you meet your personal active calorie burn goal for the day. You can also adjust the suggested goal, making it higher or lower, until it feels just right for you. By aiming for small improvements each week, you’re more likely to make progress.
- Stand – standing breaks from extended periods of sitting. For this metric, the wath checks that you stood up and moved around for at least a minute every hour, 12 hours a day. Even if you’re active part of the day, sitting too long has its own health risks. So Apple Watch senses when you stand and move just a bit and gives you credit. And if you’ve been sitting for almost an hour, it reminds you to get up. You close the Stand ring when you’ve stood and moved for at least one minute in 12 different hours during the day. However, there’s no way to tell if you stood one minute or the entire hour.
The three rings are nested on the app’s home screen, which you can glance at throughout the day to see how close you are to reaching your goals. This makes it easy to see at glance how much activity you’ve done that day, and how close you are to reaching your goal. You can also open a separate screen for each of the three categories for more details. Your daily activity data is stored and can be viewed on the Apple Watch or on the accompanying iPhone app via an attractive fitness calendar view.
The Apple Watch has a separate app for workouts that lets you time your workout, as well as keep track of your pace, distance, calories burned and heart rate. To use the Watch as a fitness tracker, you simply open up its workout app.
There are eight different workouts to choose from. They include indoor/outdoor running and walking, cycling, and elliptical work, plus an “other” option for tracking things like CrossFit, yoga, and other activities.
After you hit start, you can see your progress in a glance by looking at the watch face. For example, if you are doing a run, simply raise your to view your heart rate, pace per mile, how much time has elapsed, and how close you are to your mileage goal. The device relies on your phone for GPS (unlike for example the Fitbit Surge or Microsoft Band 2 which have built in GPS), but the Workout app doesn’t map your run. Since Apple Watch is water resistant, you don’t have to worry about getting sweat on it or working out in the rain.2
The custom heart rate sensor in Apple Watch detects your heart rate during workouts, which helps determine your intensity level and improves the accuracy of your active calorie burn measurements. When your workout is finished, you’ll see how far you’ve gone, your time and how many calories you’ve burned.
In the Activity app on your iPhone, you can view your Activity rings, workouts and achievements by the day, week or month, and share them with friends. You can also send your activity and workout data to the Health app on your iPhone. The Health App also provides you with an interface to browse current and historic charts of your data. In addition, the Apple Watch is compatible with a number of third-party workout apps, including Runtastic, Strava and Nike+ Running.
Use of information
Apparently early tests to add in a stress sensor and blood pressure monitor failed, (it seems, the reason was partly because of hairy arms!) so the Apple Watch is a cut down version of what it could have been. Perhaps we will see tracking of blood pressure or even glucose monitoring in subsequent versions of the device in 2016 or 2017.
The fitness tracking information is comprehensive in that it wants you to exercise for 30 minutes per day, stand for at least a minute for 12 hours and burn enough calories every 24 hours. It’ll also tell you steps and distance travelled, which is a staple of the tracker.
As there is no built in GPS, you are reliant on the iPhone, and the device is rather limited when it comes to the number of sensors included. Especially compared, for example, with the newly released Microsoft Band 2, which comes with a whopping 11 sensors. This means, there is no sleep tracking for example, or tracking of floors climbed. Also, the heart-rate tracking is not 24/7 – rather, when not in workout mode, the device measures you heart rate once every 10 minutes.
Apple Watch is designed with customisable coaching reminders. It can send you progress updates on your activity, goal completions, achievements and reminders to move. But the device offers little in the form of analysis. For example, the watch does not offer suggestions on how to boost your activity.
The Workout app always shows your last and best workout for each activity type and goal. You can repeat it, increase it or decrease it. Or choose a different goal based on distance, time or how many calories you want to burn. During your workout, Apple Watch provides encouragement — by letting you know when you’ve hit another mile or when you’re halfway there, for instance.
When you reach your personal bests or hit milestones, Apple Watch is there to help you celebrate. For each achievement you’ll receive a personalised badge that you can share with friends.
As the Apple Watch offers so many other things in addition to being a fitness tracker, its health and fitness features should be viewed as a bonus rather than the main reason for purchasing this device. The device costs more than most fitness trackers, many of which offer many more sensors and more in-depth analysis.
Therefore, the watch is a little pricey to buy purely for its health and fitness features. And this is a very big problem when viewing the Apple Watch as a fitness device. It is far too basic, and to expensive, to be considered as a rival to some of the dedicated fitness trackers on the market. It does, however, offer a gateway to the large proportion of the public that has not yet considered actively monitoring their health and fitness activity.
We are sure the Apple Watch will follow in the footsteps of the Mac, iPhone, iPad, and more recently Apple TV. Next year there will be a much better version. Two or three years down the line, the current version will appear dull and very much outdated in comparison.
So, if you’re an Apple fan, someone who is interested in basic health and fitness monitoring (in conjunction with a fully featured smart watch), or an early adopter of new technology, the Apple Watch is definitely worth considering. If you are looking for a device that will provide in-depth health and fitness tracking, for the moment you may be better off with one of the dedicated activity trackers.
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