Basis monitor on my arm

A review of the Basis monitor

I’ve now been using my Basis monitor for 6 weeks. So far, it’s my favorite quantified self device although there’s lots of room for improvement. I’ve already written about it in a post where I compared it to the Nike Fuelband and the Fitbit. This is an in-depth review and reflections about the Basis band.

Packaging

Let’s begin with a couple photos of the unboxing process. I love it that a lot of companies have realized that the packaging is important. The Basis is pleasant enough to unbox, even if it’s not on Apple’s level of easy: Basis Monitor in the package   The box with the Basis monitor is about to be opened The Basis monitor box is open

Hardware: The Basis monitor

I think the Basis designers were going for ‘simple’ in the design process. Unfortunately, the design fell short and landed in ‘boring’. The monitor displays only some of the data it gathers directly, the rest can be seen on your computer after syncing. Here’s what you can see on your watch:

  • Time
  • date
  • a progress bar showing how close you are to your daily walking goal
  • current heart rate
  • steps walked today
  • calories burned today

Basis watch worn on my arm

The watch itself has four pins, one in each corner, which are touch sensitive buttons. Touching the pins controls the display modes of the watch. One feature I love is that the move of lifting your arm to look at the watch activates the background light. There’s one physical button on the right hand side, used to reset the watch should that be necessary. One major thing that the monitor lacks is sound and/or vibration alerts. You cannot set an alarm, and you cannot get alerts from the monitor when it’s time to get up and move a bit for example.   The back side of the monitor has all the sensors.

The underside of the Basis monitor has all the sensors

The sensor array of the Basis monitor consists of an accelerometer for movement, a light emitting diodes (the two squares above and below the square in the center) and a light sensor (the small square in the center) for heart rate, thermometers for temperature and  a “galvanic skin response” sensor which measures how much you sweat. It’s these factors, together with time (I would guess that current time and your activity history also go into the equation) that the Basis uses to calculate what you’re doing.

One neat thing with the heart rate monitor based on light is that the readings adapt to the user:

If a person has a hairy wrist, for example, special Basis algorithms make adjustments, accounting for how the hair fibers affect light transmission. It makes similar allowances for body type and skin tone.

If you want to read in detail how the sensors, for example the heart rate sensor works, there’s a good article about it over at How Stuff Works

One curious thing: the watch only displays hours and minutes. No seconds. As there is no stop watch function either, so there’s no real way of using it to measure small amounts of time like 60 seconds.

Hardware: The charger and sync cable

The charger/sync cable is a collar that goes around the watch, and plugs into your USB port. You can attach the collar while wearing the watch, and since the cable attaches to the left side of the collar, it allows you to have charge/sync your watch while you’re working at your computer – if you wear it on your left wrist. Some (left handed) people prefer to wear it on the right arm, and I imagine that the cable would make the collar a bit awkward while typing.

My Basis monitor with the sync/charge collar on
This is what the watch looks like with the charger/sync collar on.

The collar is a proprietary design, so you’d better not lose it or break it because the watch lasts 4-5 days one one charge depending on your activity and how much you use the backlight. I’m not sure how much Bluetooth sync will affect battery life, as it cannot be tested before Basis release the iPhone/Android apps.

You have to install synchronizing software on your computer in order to upload your data. One interesting thing is that the software seems to be reading the unique ID of each device and synchronize the data to the right account. We tried synchronizing my boyfriend’s Basis on my computer, and the data was uploaded to the correct account. I wonder how this works if I were to sell my Basis on the second hand market?

Basis watch charger and sync cable

Software: iPhone/Android integration

While the Basis box promises that it’s compatible with iPhone, Basis have yet to release an iPhone app. I had some hopes that a smartphone app might make up for the lack of vibration alerts by using the phones alert/notification system but I realize now that that would require almost constant Bluetooth connection between the Basis monitor and the smartphone, which would drain at least the Basis very quickly. Still, the lack of a smartphone app is one of the things that makes the Basis feel like something that was shipped in a hurry, a little bit too early.

Software: The Basis web application

The Basis hardware is just half of the value of the Basis monitor. The other half is the software, which is run in the cloud as a web service. Basis is the first device in a second generation of devices, that doesn’t only offer reports of your activity (like Nike Fuelband and Fitbit) but takes an approach borrowed from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help you change your habits. Where other devices work with goals based on what they can measure – steps, stairs climbed, distance for Fitbit, and “Fuel Points” for the Fuelband – Basis works with “habits”. A habit can be “walk more during the day” or “get more sleep”. You set a goal for each habit, for example “10,000 steps” for the walking habit and “7.5 hours” for the sleeping habit. You can only add one habit at a time, and have to reach the goals for your current habits before you are able to add new ones. Every time you successfully complete a habit, you get points that are used to add another habit. Each new habit is more expensive than the last. The first habit cost 100 points, and then increases. Currently, my next habit will cost me 10,000 points. This makes sense, as more habits give more points and there’s no use adding new habits before you’ve mastered the ones you’ve already added.

Basis web service: overview of my habits
This is an overview of my current habits (click for larger version)

The difference between “goals” and “habits” becomes clear when you add habits like “morning lap” which is taking a walk before 12 pm. So my daily goal is 10,000 steps, and my “morning lap” goal is 4,000 steps. This means that I don’t only have to walk 10,000 steps to reach all my goals, I also have to make sure I walk 4,000 of them in the morning. Same goes for the sleeping habit: you can add a habit of total sleep, but also a habit of consistent bed time and consistent rising. If I go to bed at 12 am, I’ve failed the “consistent bed time” habit and have to choose between succeeding with my total sleep habit –  sleeping 7.5 hours, thus waking up at 7.30 am – or succeeding with my “regular rising” habit – waking up at 6.30 am, getting only 6.5 hours of sleep.

The habits run on a weekly basis. You can change a goal, but the change goes into effect the next week. This is a good thing – the whole point of a new habit is committing to a goal, trying out if it works and changing it once you’ve concluded it doesn’t. Being able to change goals overnight would defeat the purpose of learning.

I’m about two weeks of succeeding with most of my habits before I have enough points to add all existing habits. It will be interesting to see how long it will take Basis (or third parties, if Basis open their API first) to come up with new habits.

You can zoom in on each habit to get more details, like so:

Basis web service: details for my sleeping habit
Details for my sleeping habit. (Click for larger version)

The “Insights” part of the Basis service shows you a summary of your week so far. Which habits did you succeed with, how active were you, how much did you sleep?

Basis web service: insights, a summary of my week back in January
Here are the Insights, or the summary, for the week of January 7. The screenshot was taken on Tuesday night, so it only covers Monday and Tuesday. (click for larger version)

The last part of the site is “data” where you can see the actual data collected by the monitor either as a pattern map or as graphs. The pattern view shows one of the data points that Basis collects, e.g. perspiration:

Perspiration pattern based on data collected by my Basis monitor
My perspiration pattern for each day, based on data collected by my Basis monitor

The details view allows me to choose choose two data points and plot them out on in a graph. Some of the data is shown as bars, some is shown as lines. The default view is 24 hours (from 12 am to 11.59 pm) and you can zoom to any range from 15 minutes to 31 hours. Here are two examples of different data sets:

Graphs for skin temperature and steps during a day, based on data collected by my Basis monitor
Graphs with skin temperature and steps during a day, based on data collected by my Basis monitor
Graphs with heart rate and perspiration, based on the data collected by my Basis monitor
Graphs with heart rate and perspiration, based on the data collected by my Basis monitor

 

How accurate is the Basis?

Then comes the question: how accurate is the basis monitor? I’ve already done a comparison between the Basis, the Fitbit and Moves when it comes to steps (the Basis and the Fitbit are both sufficiently accurate for everyday use by an average person). It’s hard to say how accurate the skin temperature and perspiration sensors are. The only way to evaluate them is to wear equipment that measures these values. The heart rate sensor is sufficiently accurate with one major exception: when you’re exercising. Here, the Basis monitor fails miserably. Fact is, it seems that the more your move around, the less accurate the heart rate monitor is.

Here are two graphs of 75 minutes of heart rate data, one from when I’m sleeping and therefore have a low heart rate, and one from when I’m exercising (a cardio workout) and therefore have a high heart rate:

Basis monitor: 75 minutes of heart rate data during sleep
When I’m sleeping and have a low heart rate, the Basis logs my heart rate every minute.
Basis monitor: 75 minutes of heart rate data during cardio exercise
When I’m exercising, the Basis lots almost nothing of my heart rate.  

I would say that the Basis fails at recording at around 100 bpm. The Basis monitor understands that I was active during this time and used the data from the other sensors to calculate how active I was. And it understood I was very active and estimated 775 calories during that 75 minute period. I’ve started comparing the Basis to the Fitbit to the Polar heart rate monitor when it comes to energy expenditure, and will come back to this in a future post.

Reflections and overall impressions

The Basis is great for an average person who wants to improve their health and monitor their body. If you’re an athlete, or very serious about working out you need additional devices to get a correct log of your exercise.

As I wrote in the beginning of the post: if I had to choose only one quantified self device today, the Basis monitor is the most likely candidate. The Fitbit is close. They’re both accurate when it comes to steps. The Fitbit has vibration alarms, but both lack vibration reminders. The Basis lacks both. It would for example be awesome if it could remind me to get up and move around every hour between 9 am and 5 pm, now that I’ve added a habit to do so.

The Basis is more automated than the Fitbit. To measure sleep (another thing I will get back to in a future post, Basis vs Fitbit vs the Sleep Cycle app in the iPhone) I have to put my Fitbit in the wristband and remember to start sleep mode.  The Basis does this automatically, I just have to wear it.

The Basis does much more analysis of my data, and the habits are a much more nuanced approach to a healthier lifestyle than just goals. As the monitors get more complex at measuring different aspects of our bodies, they also have to offer analysis and insights based on that data.

I’m missing a lot: an API so that third parties can create services and habits based on my data. And so that I can export my data to quantified self dashboards such as Tictrac. Another thing I’m missing is the smartphone app so I can synchronize my Basis on the go. Both the API and the smartphone apps are on their way, but the lack of them definitely add to the feeling that the Basis is a late beta rather than a complete product.

The Fitbit offers a way to manually add activity, which the Basis doesn’t. When I’ve worked out and my Polar heart rate monitor tells me I’ve burned 600 calories, I can enter that into the Fitbit service and get a more exact total. The Basis doesn’t offer any manual input/correction of data. I’m not sure how well it captures activities such as spinning, but I’d imagine very poorly considering the poor heart rate recording during exercise and the fact that your arms are hardly moving during a spinning class.

While some of these things can be fixed by software (API, smartphone apps and perhaps even heart rate monitoring?) others require a hardware upgrade (vibration reminders).

Feel free to ask specific questions about the Basis monitor in the comments, or if there are aspects of the monitor you’d like me to look closer at. And if you enjoyed this, please let me know. I’m trying out a longer format to cover everything, and I’m not sure if it’s too much information.

22 thoughts on “A review of the Basis monitor”

    1. I hear they’re still behind on deliveries and that the second hand market price has gone up to $499 (which is way too much – $199 is a fair price and I wouldn’t recommend paying much more). However, there are ways of making shipments to Sweden even though the company officially only ships to the US. Two services that help you with this are http://www.myus.com (I haven’t tried them, but American Express promotes them) and http://www.borderlinx.com (I’ve tried them once, they were okay but didn’t handle complaints very well)

        1. I think that if you manage to find one on eBay, it’ll ship anywhere. But Basis themselves won’t take international orders when they start selling them again, at least during an initial period. However, you can get around that with services that give you a US address and then forward the items to you.

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  2. Interesting on the heart rate tracking. It does this by using lights on the back of the device, yeah? That is disconcerting, as I’ve read/seen (need to get these in hard copy) studies that say LED light applied to skin seriously messes up your circadian rhythms and sleep. Hmm.

    1. Until I see peer reviewed studies on this, I’ll remain skeptical. I know that blue light can penetrate the eyelids, and therefore monitors and TVs can disturb your sleep, but if anything the Basis has helped me get a regular sleeping habit.

  3. This is a great review! One of the reasons why I bought mine. I bought two but my boyfriend doesn’t want it. If anyone is interested, I put it up on eBay. I’ll ship internationally too. Thanks!

    http://bit.ly/ZEhWTI

    1. I actually just stopped wearing my Basis. I don’t believe in them anymore – they have a track record of not being able to deliver on time. Basis has a high risk of becoming obsolete because there are so many other products coming that do all Basis does, and more.

      I’m happy to see you’re getting a good price for it. Hopefully the next person will have good use for it.

        1. I have to say that wrist based tracking still lacks too much to be useful. The Basis monitor could be it, but the sensors collect way too little and bad data. The Fitbit Flex is three steps back from the One, and the Fitbit Force won’t be much better (it’s essentially the One on your wrist).

          I have hopes for the Loop from Polar (albeit they don’t have open data) and the Amiigo which combines wrist with a small device you wear on your shoe.

    2. Enjoyed this review also. I was on pre-order for 6 mo in the first batch and did not get mine with the order SNAFU they had so I cancelled. I was most interested in the HR aspect and am glad I did not order after seeing your report. I have the new Polar Loop on order and hope you do a comparison with it. I love my BodyMedia link but want more versatility on where to wear it. It is annoying when I am sweaty LOL.

  4. Thanks for the review! Does the Basis have a smart wake alarm feature, where it will vibrate and or chime at the optimal time around your preferred wake time?

  5. Great review even though it disappointed me to hear that the pulse reading is so inaccurate. I was really looking forward to purchase a Basis but isn’t that sure anymore. Have you heard if the new carbon steel variant which Basis call the 2014 “version” actually improved on that front or if the only difference is the body material? I really hope Amiigo will perform better, if it ever will start shipping.

    Do you recommend any other tracker that record heart rate and is made for “24/7” usage? I can live with it not tracking my running/weight lifting exercise (where I rather use my chest band) if it works ok otherwise. It should be able to log a brisk walk though I think.

    1. I’m pretty sure that Basis doesn’t include any new hardware – the B1 band is the same now as it was a year ago. And as such, it’s nog the unit you’re looking for. Unfortunately, heart rate monitoring is still a hard thing to solve without a chest strap.

      I’d recommend looking into the Polar Loop if you’re interested in a tracker that can be connected to a heart rate monitor. In 6-12 months we should see heart rate monitors that can be worn 24/7 and record reliable data on the consumer market.

    1. The new 2014 edition as they also call it, is from what I understand the same hardware (Basis B1) with a new look. I worry a bit about companies that focus more on looks when the interior has so much room for improvement.

      1. Indeed. It turned out that 2014 is B1 with a new strap and some software improvements. Though people say the strap is more comfortable. May be the situation with them isn’t that bad – even having backlog of orders (and thus not having to improve anything at all as people take what they sell already) they still do some improvements. IT’s clear that it’s unclear.
        Another thing is that they have web-based software and in case they decide to shutdown B1 turns into a dumb watch. Not a good thing.

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