Review: iHealth Wave, the swim tracker that doubles up as an activity tracker
When it comes to buying the right fitness tracker, the characteristic of water-resistance can often be a deciding factor. Whether you are looking for a wearable for swimming or just want your fitness tracker to survive a rainy day, getting a water resistant device is a solid investment.
Waterproof wearables do not exist and regulation prohibits wearables from being marketed as such. This is because, there is always a certain level of water pressure at which a wearable will begin to leak. Activity trackers can therefore only be marked as water-resistant. You should always check the markings on your device or the manufacturers website before taking a fitness tracker into a shower or a pool.
Water resistance is becoming more common these days and your fitness tracker or smartwatch is likely to be fine in rainy or sweaty conditions. But the same cannot be said for the vast majority of devices when it comes to swimming. iHealth Wave is one of a limited number of wearables that keeps tabs on all your fitness activities, both in and out of water. It monitors traditional activity such as how many steps you walked and how far, and provides you with analysis of your swimming, identifying different types of strokes and numbers of lengths.
Swimming is a great all-round exercise and one of the best ways to keep fit. But the benefits don’t stop there. Jumping in the pool will also help improve your resting heart rate and blood flow, relax your mind and build endurance. You’ll also probably be able to keep yourself going for a longer time than if you were running.
Let’s dive in with the Wave, then.
Features and software
The tracker comes wrapped in a silicone band but can also be removed to be worn in a pocket when you are not in the pool. Just like its non-swimproof brother iHealth Edge, Wave has a rather retro-looking, watch-like design. The robust, sporty, no-nonsense look is very functional, but probably not something you would write home about. It does feel comfortable though.
You will find two silicon bands in the box – a black one and, the one I much preferred, a blue one. Switching between the two couldn’t be easier. Just squeeze the main unit out and slide it into the new band. It takes all of about 5 seconds. The feel of the rubbery band is very similar to what you would find on a standard Fitbit or Garmin fitness tracker. The strap secures with a classic watch buckle so stays firmly in place even during the most rigorous of workouts.
You can use the circular OLED touchscreen display to view your progress right from your wrist. There are no controls on the watch but the display can be switched on with a sharp flick of your wrist. Otherwise it stays off to save battery life. This makes perfect sense – if you are in the pool, you need a simple way to navigate the display. The same wrist action allows you to progress through the individual data screens.
Tapping on the screen will yield similar results. However, because the actual display does not fill the entire screen real-estate, the sweat spot is rather small so the feature can be a bit spotty. At times, I found myself repeatedly tapping on the screen before my touch registered.
The first tap on the screen or flick of the wrist shows the date and battery life, the second how many steps you’ve taken that day, tap again for distance and once more for calories burned. There is also a screen showing how far along you are towards meeting your daily performance goal and another one detailing your latest workout.
iHealth says Wave will last up to 7 days on a full charge but that will be reduced with swim tracking switched on. That’s not bad, and compares well with the competition. The device comes with a proprietary charging cable that plugs into a standard USB port. To charge, align the three pins on the back of the fitness tracker with pins on the charging unit.
Features and software
During the day, Wave will monitor the usual including the number of steps that you make, along with distance travelled and calories burned. At night it will automatically keep track of your kip time, breaking this down into deep and light sleep, and awarding you a sleep efficiency score. Then it will wake up in the morning with a discreet vibrating alarm to get you ready for another activity-filled day. There is no heart rate sensor – don’t look for it because its not there.
The Wave does a pretty decent job at keeping track of your movement and sleep and has good Apple Health app integration. It also automatically monitors your workouts. This means no buttons to push when you begin your run, walk or swim.
After a period of activity the tracker figures out when you have finished your workout, and buzzes your wrist to show you a summary, i.e., how length it lasted, the number of steps, distance and calorie stats. This is a nice touch and something I’ve not seen on other wearables.
You can also set the tracker to vibrate to get you moving after a period of sustained inactivity. There are settings in the app which allow you to tweak the sedentary alarm depending on how long you want it to wait before alerting you. The vibration alarm can also be set to wake you up in the morning without disturbing your partner. The vibration was strong enough to wake me every single time without error. The watch does, however, lack smartphone notifications, something that is becoming a standard offering in most fitness tracking devices these days.
While there is nothing special about Wave’s basic activity tracking capabilities, its with swimming where this gadget really comes onto its own. Wave is built to handle up to 30 metres depth and can sit in salt water too. You can use it to track swim sessions in the pool and it will even monitor open water swimming.
Before jumping in the water, you do need to make sure that you have primed the tracker to be in a swim-ready state. This is done through the accompanying smartphone app, presumably to prevent false positives and preserve battery life. While testing, I actually left the tracker in a swim-ready state all the time, and Wave did not falsely register any activity as swimming. But it did correctly identify every single swim session.
The device dishes out a fairly complete set of basic swim metrics. It can automatically detect three unique swimming styles: freestyle, breaststroke and backstroke, as well as the duration of your swim session, number of strokes, strokes per minute and calories burned. If the Wave doesn’t recognize what you’re doing it records the stroke as “other”. Considering my swimming technique, I am surprised none of my strokes made it into the “other” category. The app also allows you to view how your measurements develop over time.
You will know that Wave has picked up on your swim session when the screen begins to flash up a swimming icon. During your workout, you can only view the duration of the swim on the watch screen, nothing else. For more detailed data, you will need to synchronise the device with the iHealth MyVitals app on iOS and Android.
Some reviews state that Wave is slow to pick up on swimming activity, and can miss out a the first minute of your session. I did not experience this so perhaps iHealth has updated its algorithms since those reviews were written. Hard to know. The tracker was also pretty good at identifying my strokes, but not 100% accurate.
The lap tracking feature is still in beta stage, and iHealth says in order to track your laps accurately the kick turn and push off must be pronounced with acceleration at the beginning of each new lap. If you do not, the actual number of laps may differ from the what is shown on the app. Again, I found that the tracker was pretty accurate in determining the number of laps in the pool.
You can see below, how swim tracking information from Wave compares to Garmin Vivoactive HR. All in all, the two sets of data are not too far off. In the session in question, Wave registered a duration of 8:55, 36 spm and 133 calories. Garmin’s tracker registered 8:51, 33 spm and 96 calories.
The data from Vivoactive HR is far more detailed, but it doesn’t include stroke type analysis. Also, you need to keep in mind that triggering swim tracking on the Garmin devices required a number of key presses, whereas Wave opened and closed the session all on its own.
iHealth Wave covers all the basics when it comes to 24/7 activity tracking. While step and sleep tracking is fairly accurate, I could not help but feel that its swim tracking statistics lacked in depth. They probably will satisfy the occasional non-competitive swimmer, but might leave those very serious about their pool time wanting more.
iHealth actually produces a full suite of health and fitness tracking devices, which includes smart scales, blood pressure monitors and glucometres. If you already own one of these devices, the benefits of keeping all your data in one app are obvious.
I am not a great fan of its design, although I do admit that it is functional. If you prefer your tracker to look more like a watch than a band, you’ll like the Wave’s round retro-look.
The automatic activity tracking is great and the stats it churns out are pretty good. Best of all, no buttons to press, the tracker is capable of figuring out what you are up to based on your movements. Wave lacks some features such as smartphone notifications, a heart rate sensor, and altimeter for counting floors, but this is a device that retails at a much lower price point than most of its competition.
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