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Gadget Review: BodyMedia FIT Sync Armband

BodyMediaby Kevin Gaussoin and Jennifer Bay, Editors

Can geeks get nerdy about fitness with the BodyMedia Sync Armband? Can they use some fitness resolution help? ComicsOnline is everything geek pop culture, but we are also pretty darn nerdy about a lot of things as well. (For our definition of the difference between geek and nerd: Nerds are “students of x” as contrasted with geeks who are “fans of x”.) Among our staff, we have people nerdy about subjects from comics to chemistry, games to gadgets, Firefly to fitness.

This year at San Diego Comic-Con, we were invited to join Wired Magazine at their press lounge. Once there, we not only enjoyed the usual refreshments and comfort that you’d find in any press lounge, but once we listened beyond the excellent DJ and saw beyond the HBO Game of Thrones themed accoutrements, we noticed that beyond the densely packed tables and bars there were several vendor tables filled with all manner of gadget goodness. Oh, this was a Wired event!

Try the Fire and Ice

Try the Fire and Ice

The most daring among these was the BodyMedia booth. Other booths featured things like iPhone cases and magnets, but those are sure winners. How ballsy would it be to go to the Mecca of geeks and nerds everywhere and bring in a gadget whose purpose is purely fitness? Sure, Geek and Nerd culture has come a long way in recent years, but this is the event where even those people who rarely leave their couches… Oh wait, this is the event where we sedentary geeks and nerds actually get more exercise than any other time of the year. And wait, BodyMedia is holding a competition where we wear our armbands for all of Comic-Con and offering prizes for superlatives (most steps taken, most active, least active, and least sleep)? GENIUS!

It was as if Joss himself looked down from his throne in the clouds and said, “Hey, my fans could really use some exercise. I’ll send them BodyMedia to make them pay attention to their activity levels, sleep, and caloric intake. Such a device is simple to employ and nerdy enough to keep the interest of even those who require a lot of the Shiny to keep them engaged.”

And so it was. I (Kevin) entered the Comic-Con competition and won the dubious “least sleep” honors in the BodyMedia SDCC Competition, and soon after, we were approached to review the product. Our approach plan was going to be appropriately nerdy: USE SCIENCE!

EXERCISE SCIENCE (ComicsOnline Style)

  • Two reviewers each wear the BodyMedia Armband for 30 days.
  • Record and share starting stats as a baseline.
  • Record and share goals.
  • Check in weekly to share progress.
  • Assemble data and compare with goals.

The Gadget

Before we get to our results, let’s look at what the BodyMedia Sync Armband is and does. BodyMedia offers two FIT Armband models: “Sync” which features Bluetooth connectivity, and “Core” which does not, but is slimmer and lighter.  Each BodyMedia® FIT Armband has multiple sensors: Galvanic Skin Response, Skin Temperature, Heat Flux, and 3-axis Accelerometer. These innovative sensors take  5 different “views” of your life:

  • Motion: The Armband contains an accelerometer, a device that measures motion. (Your car air bag has an accelerometer in it that lets it know when you’ve been in an accident.) The BodyMedia Armband uses it to measure HOW you move from multiple axis and perspectives, allowing it to better understand your activity.
  • Steps: It counts your steps, using the accelerometer to measure the distinct patterns created by walking and/or running.
  • Galvanic Skin Response: When you sweat, your skin becomes more electrically conductive. This measurement help it see how active you are.
  • Skin Temperature: There’s an electronic thermometer inside your armband that helps it know how hot you are (All ComicsOnline fans are smokin hot!).
  • Heat Flux: When you move, your muscles produce heat. It measures the heat that’s flowing from your body into the environment.

Once the armband has taken these readings, it can determine what kind of exercise you’re getting, and how difficult it is for you. That’s important since your body burns calories differently than anyone else’s. The BodyMedia algorithms crunch  your numbers – pairing up sensor data with calorie information and presenting it to you via the BodyMedia FIT Activity Manager on your mobile device or web browser to illustrate your progress toward reaching your goals!

The actual armband strap does not have sensors in it. Straps are rated for 12-15 washings.  They are intended to be washed every 1-2 weeks, or about 3-6 months life.  There is no reason they can’t last longer, that’s just the design criteria.  Sunscreens and other oils can degrade the plastics and make them brittle leading them to crack faster for some people. I (Kevin) found that the glue that held my circle of velcro into the tip of the strap was what eventually failed after about 4 months of constant wear. Not bad at all.

The designed lifespan of the armband as a medical device is 3 years. Battery can last 5 to 7 days before needing to be recharged. 5 days (24/7) to 10 days (not wearing it while sleeping). Not using the Bluetooth link to a phone will lengthen battery life. LINK armbands use less power on the sensors so they *may* last longer. Press the button infrequently, each button push turns the radio on to receive for a minute. 10-14 days memory for LINK. Core has twice the memory. Charge time: approximately 3 hours. Battery type: Internal lithium polymer cell battery.

Questions about the BodyMedia FIT Armbands

We had a couple of questions for the BodyMedia folks. Here’s a bit of Q&A with the BodyMedia scientists:

Q1) How does the sensor sleep technology work?

A1) The sleep algorithm is fully automatic, detecting lying down and sleep 24/7. When the Armband’s lying-down algorithm activates then the sleep algorithm is applied.  The BodyMedia Armband sleep analysis is fully automatic. Many other sleep monitors require the user to turn them on at bed time, or move the device to a specific location on the body at bed time.

The Armband measures sleep based on physiological parameters, not motion, as a function of multiple sensors that measure motion skin temperature and heat flux and uses proprietary algorithms to interpret 5,000+ readings per minute.  Users upload the data collected to a website where they can view lifestyle patterns, including when you fall asleep and wake up.

Q2) Why no heart rate sensor?

A2) Sometimes people ask us why we don’t have a heart rate sensor. Short answer — we considered it, but found that it DIDN’T significantly increase our accuracy but DID add to the size and cost of our device.But we do realize that some people still want heart rate. For those of you who want to measure heart rate, we have recently made our system compatible with select heart rate devices. Now, you can import this heart rate information into your Activity Manager software and evaluate calorie burn AND heart rate during workouts. Checkout the chart below to see how it works.

Rest assured, we haven’t rejected heart rate sensors (or any sensor for that matter) for future innovations. So keep watching — there may come a time when integrated heart rate appears. If it does, know that it was added because it proved significant incremental benefit to you.

Oh, and if you’re not a numbers nerd, but you’re a fitness or sports enthusiast, you might be impressed that Jillian Michaels endorses the BodyMedia CORE armband and Jordan Black (Washington Redskins) is a user of the armband as well.

Results

How did our test work? Well, I (Kevin) got in a car accident right when we started (Lazy punk! – Jenn), so while I did wear the armband constantly, my injuries precluded me from significant exercise. So if we then modify expectations and say my data is more like a sloth-like baseline in comparison to Jenn’s data…?

Jenn says… The BodyMedia Armband is a fantastic tool for anyone trying to lose weight, count calories, measure the amount of sleep they’re getting, measure the steps one is taking – it almost does it all! There is no heart rate monitor (as Kevin stated above, as well as the reasons why not), but it really doesn’t add to the accuracy of the device and I didn’t miss it.  Kevin was kind enough to input all the formal information about the device, so I (Jenn) will simply give you my opinions – whatever they’re worth – and point out how helpful this little guy really is.

To get the full assistance of this device, you really need to have it on 24/7 (excluding showers, of course).  It’s meant to go on the upper arm, but as a female, I didn’t often have sleeves that covered it for work, and it’s not really an attractive device – gray armband, white and blue on the scanner.  Men, you won’t have such an issue, unless you generally hang out/work in tank tops and cap sleeves and hey, to each their own!  I ended up strapping it to my calf and it worked just fine there.  I never did get into the habit of wearing it while I sleep, so that was never measured for me.

I started wearing it on August 23, 2012 and after my first day, here are the stats:
Aug232012

 Not terrible, but not fantastic, either.  If nothing else, it showed that even with meals like PB&J (lunch) and grilled chicken (dinner), I still went over my calories for the day. Must have been the 20 Oreos I ate or something. *Note: I did not eat 20 Oreos. Probably. (How many are in a box? That’s how much she ate! -Kevin)

So I kept at it, trying to walk a little more each day and limit what I was shoving into my mouth. I’m a huge foodie, so this was hard for me.  I needed to start working out if I was going to work off Food Truck Fridays.  Here’s what it looked like one month later:

Sep242012

A few more calories burned, a few less calories taken in…it was nice to see that I was making progress, regardless of the small amount – though I still wasn’t taking enough steps, and even today, I’m still not doing so on a regular basis.

It takes a while to get into the habit of wearing it all the time, but it is surprisingly accurate and incredibly helpful, if you’re starting a journey to better health.  You can either access your stats by your Smartphone via Bluetooth, or you can do what I did and plug the scanner into the computer to check stats there.  There are two website options to choose from, the “regular” version and Jillian Michaels’s version.  I chose Jillian’s site because it not only offers everything the original does, but also gave me recipe ideas, tips and workout routines.  Of course, it also tries to sell you her books and it does cost ($4/week, billed quarterly after a free 30 day trial period, so it’s unfortunately not *that*cheap), but I’d recommend at least doing the 30 day trial, as when it expires, they won’t automatically charge you to keep going.  Jillian’s site makes it really easy to log your meals in order to keep track of calorie intake (I’m sure that one day, there will be devices like this that measure that automatically as well – ha – but for now, we have to do a little work ourselves).  Logging the food you eat is pretty great.  There were days where I went FAR over what my caloric intake should have been and I gotta say, I felt a little like I was letting Jillian down.

As of January 7, 2013 (yesterday), here’s what it looks like:

Jan72013

I’ve lost a total of 8 pounds since beginning in August, and considering I’m still not working out regularly, that’s pretty good progress.  Not great, and I have a ways to go, but I can at least be happy with what I have accomplished so far, which is really paying attention to what I eat. This is NOT to say I limit myself, just that I’ve naturally learned to appreciate food that is better for you on a regular basis, and I rarely pick up fast food anymore.  I still have a supreme weakness for big, meaty, cheese-laden burgers, though – Jillian Michaels will not take that from me!

Overall

Most people say it takes an average of 66 days to form a habit, so this will likely not come easy to you at first.  I promise you, you’ll be rewarded if you stick with it.  The best thing about this device is that it shows you what you’re doing and where you’re lacking, which most people need if they’re just starting out.  It certainly motivated me to “up” my stats as time went on – treat it as a game like I did, trying to get to the next level and improve every couple of days, pushing yourself to new levels of awesome little by little.

Nerds and Geeks alike can benefit from the BodyMedia Armband. It’s true that if you’re not a fitness geek or a data nerd, there might not be as much draw for you, but the BodyMedia Armband provides a great way to keep track of your eating, sleeping, and daily activity levels, and may just be that little extra in your life that spurs you on to improve your diet and exercise and leads you to feel better and live longer.

Rating: ★★★★☆
ComicsOnline gives the BodyMedia Sync Armband 4 out of 5 reasons to get up and move.

Elliott and Jenn show us which way to the beach!

Elliott and Jenn show us which way to the beach!

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BodyMedia FIT LINK Mobile On-Body Monitoring System. Know your body - improve your life! The BodyMedia FIT on-body monitoring system consists of the BodyMedia FIT LINK Armband monitor, online Activity Manager*, optional Display and free downloadable iOS or Android apps for mobile device users. Using four sophisticated sensors, the BodyMedia FIT LINK Armband automatically tracks the calories you burn during your daily activities and monitors the quality of your sleep, an important factor in staying fit. The information tracked can easily be managed using the BodyMedia online Activity Manager. Add in the easy-to-use food log and you have all the right information to reach your personal fitness goals! BodyMedia FIT makes getting and staying fit easy. Just plug the unit into your computer's USB port each day to automatically upload info. Then simply log the food you ate via your computer or mobile device, and the Activity Manager* gives you a running report of your progress. This includes steps taken, time spent in moderate and vigorous activity, nutritional analysis and sleep efficiency, as well as any personal bests. And with the Bluetooth-enabled LINK Armband, you get near real-time updates of your stats with the BodyMedia FIT app. The more you know, the fitter you can be with BodyMedia FIT. Order from Brookstone today! *Online subscription required to track data. 3-month free trial included with purchase. Plans vary, starting at $6.95 a month with 2-month subscription. Bluetooth is a registered trademark of Bluetooth SIG, Inc.
List Price: $119.99 USD
New From: $119.99 USD In Stock
Used from: $107.53 USD In Stock

About Kevin Gaussoin

Kevin has run ComicsOnline since 2000 so everything you like about it is due to his excellent staff and everything you don't like is all his fault. He hopes you'll comment and share the crap out of it either way. Also he sends you virtual hugs.

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