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Why You Should Wait to Buy the Basis Peak Health Watch

Is the Basis Peak improved over the previous model? Absolutely. Should you wait to buy it? Yes.

Vjeran Pavic

In the fashion world, they ask, “Who are you wearing?” In the tech world, the question of the day may as well be, “What are you wearing?”

There are so many wearable-tech options all of a sudden. Fitbit. Jawbone. Pebble. Garmin. Intel. Sony. Samsung. Microsoft. Google. Apple. All of these companies, and others, have been trying to convince consumers that attaching Bluetooth-connected devices to their wrists, faces or other anatomical protrusions will bring personal data enlightenment.

These devices will supposedly help us walk more, lose more weight, sleep more soundly and generally make us better versions of ourselves. It’s the American dream encapsulated in a sensor-filled polymer wristband that works with an insight-spewing mobile app. (No wonder they’re selling.)

 The new Basis Peak, left, compared with the Basis B1 Band
The new Basis Peak, left, compared with the Basis B1 Band
Vjeran Pavic

I’ve tested many of these step-and-sleep-tracking products. Some I’ve worn, then ditched; others I might still use for episodic workouts. This week, I wore the $200 Basis Peak health watch.

I was excited about the Basis Peak for a couple of reasons. For one, Basis, which is now owned by Intel, has promised more accurate heart-rate tracking with this one (the previous band, the Basis B1 Band, stood out in a sea of one-trick wristbands because it actually read your heart rate — but it didn’t always work). The new Peak is also better-looking than the B1 Band.

After testing the Peak for a week, I think it earns the title of One of the Best Activity Trackers Available While We All Wait to See What the Heck the Apple Watch Is Really Like. But there are a few areas where it falls short. I couldn’t really tell if the Peak’s heart-rate tracking was more accurate. At times it seemed oddly erratic. And while the Basis app runs on both iOS and Android phones, the lack of data sharing to outside apps was a big downside for me.

Let’s cover the good stuff first. There’s no doubt that the Basis Peak watch is an aesthetic improvement over the previous one. The one I’ve been wearing has a brushed-silver face with a soft, quilted white-rubber band (it’s also available in matte black). It’s made of anodized aluminum and Gorilla Glass. It actually looks like it could be a fashion watch, not a geek watch.

Unlike the Basis B1 Band, the Peak has a touchscreen. Yay, a touchscreen! But the LCD display still isn’t highly visible in sunlight. The display also has two tiny light leaks when backlight is on, which makes it look a little cheap.

On the underside of the watch there is a cluster of sensors, including the improved optical heart-rate sensors. These sometimes light up in a bout of frantic, fluorescent-green activity, which, for what it’s worth, is annoying to bedmates when they’re trying to go to sleep at night. According to sources.

 The Basis Peak promises more accurate heart-rate tracking on the wrist.
The Basis Peak promises more accurate heart-rate tracking on the wrist.
Vjeran Pavic

But navigating the Peak watch is wonderfully simple. The main screen shows the time of day, along with a battery icon. Double-tapping on this screen will also show the date. Swipe once to the left and you’ll see your heart rate. Swipe once more to the left and you’ll see the last time you were active, along with your calorie burn. For example, as I write this, the Peak tells me that I was active 30 minutes ago. I took 89 steps, and I burned four calories.

From that screen, if you swipe up, you can view your total activity for the day. You also activate the backlight by swiping up on the watch face. And that’s basically it. Simple, right?

In addition to tracking steps, heart rate and sleep, the Basis Peak automatically picks up on what I’ll call active sessions throughout your day. Basis calls this auto-detection feature BodyIQ. This could range from a brisk walk to a five-minute bike ride to a full-on half-marathon. Once it goes into BodyIQ mode, it begins timing your activity. Later on, these active sessions will be broken out in the Peak mobile app. (It doesn’t track swimming, indoor cycling, weightlifting or yoga, unfortunately.)

All of this activity data is shared via Bluetooth LE to an updated version of the free Basis mobile app. The app, like the watch itself, is easy to navigate. The Dashboard shows the day’s activities, including sleep, while the Activity Feed is an ongoing log of your days.

Before I get into the bad stuff, there’s one more element of the Peak worth noting: Basis promises four days of battery life, and in my experience, I got closer to five. This isn’t as long as some displayless health trackers, but from a smartwatch perspective, four days is pretty good.

However, the main event with the Peak is the heart-rate tracking, and this was where things got weird. When I used the Peak in conjunction with a heart-rate strap and monitor, the beats per minute didn’t vary wildly between the two readings. But occasionally the Peak would tell me that my heart rate was ridiculously high — 202 or 174 — when I knew it wasn’t.

 The Peak watch wirelessly pairs with a new and improved Basis mobile app — but it’s a “closed” app, meaning it doesn’t yet share data with other popular health and fitness apps.
The Peak watch wirelessly pairs with a new and improved Basis mobile app — but it’s a “closed” app, meaning it doesn’t yet share data with other popular health and fitness apps.
Vjeran Pavic

Basis says there may be some short spikes in heart rate if the band is moved on the wrist — but that the reading should correct itself. It still felt unusual to me. Sometimes the sensors couldn’t get a reading from my wrist at all, and would display a couple of dashes instead.

While the Basis Peak does track sleep patterns, it’s not very comfortable to wear at night. The sleep-tracking data wasn’t clearly displayed, either. Basis now breaks down sleep to show you light, deep and REM stages of sleep. But it does this by displaying multiple segments or snippets of sleep. One morning I thought the app said I only slept 26 minutes the night before; on two other nights, it told me that I slept around two hours and 15 minutes. It turns out you have to toggle through multiple sleep screens to get a comprehensive picture of your sleep data.

Eventually, the Basis Peak will also show smartphone notifications. This means that when your phone is tucked away — but still in Bluetooth range — the watch will show you when you receive a new email, or a new text message. Unfortunately, that feature hasn’t rolled out to the Peak yet, and I wasn’t able to test it.

Finally, there’s the element of third-party apps. The Basis Peak app, while intuitive and informative, doesn’t work with apps like RunKeeper, Strava or MyFitness Pal. There’s also no option for logging food intake in the Basis Peak app. So if I want to log my food intake in another app and then correlate it with my activity in Basis, there’s not yet an option for that.

So, is the Basis Peak improved over the previous model? Yes. Should you wait to buy it? Yes. I think the jury is still out on what we’ll be “wearing” this tech holiday season. And as I often say when it comes to these kinds of devices — the wristband isn’t going to do the moving for you.

Update: A previous version of this column stated that recorded data appeared to be inaccurate. This has been changed to say that the recorded sleep data is displayed in an unclear way, and the app requires toggling through multiple screens to get a reading on sleep data.

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