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.
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:
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:
- a progress bar showing how close you are to your daily walking goal
- current heart rate
- steps walked today
- calories burned today
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 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.
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?
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.
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:
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?
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:
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:
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:
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.