The smart-watch is increasingly becoming a fitness tool. Dr AG Unnikrishnan reviews fitness tracking on the Pebble, a well-known smart-watch. Sunila Kelkar and Spandana Birajdar also contribute.
An era of wearable
The era of wearable technology is upon us. After the smartphone, consumer technology companies want people to interact with technology like never before. The recent Apple Watch and HealthKit initiative by Apple are examples. Apple has reportedly partnered with the Mayo Clinic in the USA for health technology-related initiatives. The HealthKit, which links to apps tracking blood glucose, blood pressure and even oxygen saturation – has further fuelled this silent revolution. However, the simplest road to the wearable boom is the watch, and a flick of the wrist, or even a look at it could give the user access to not just time, but e-mails, SMS, tweets and more! The idea advanced when smartphones have built n compasses, gyroscopes, metronomes – all terms used to signify the ability to track the user's motion, position and measure it over time – in terms of direction, speed and distance.
An idea kicks off
The Pebble watch was born from an idea posted on a website – a crowd funding site that would invest in innovative ideas. A group of tech enthusiasts floated the idea of a smartwatch, which was quickly funded by a large number of donors, and the Pebble Smart-Watch was born. The Pebble watch is unique in many ways it can not only measure time but also has an awesome battery life of more than a week till the next charge. It has an e-paper, largely black-and-white screen, but the Pebble watch is waterproof. It can receive emails, tweets, SMS etc. – but note – it cannot reply to them! Also, it can accept and reject calls, but note, you still have to pick up the phone and talk into it if you accept a call, as the watch has no speaker or microphone. It has a built in motion tracker/pedometer functionality. The Pebble is compatible with different smartphone operating system, including Apple's iOS and Google's Android. And most importantly- in spite of having more software than any luxury watch – the basic Pebble watch costs only 99$! In India, Pebble can be purchased on e-commerce sites. It is important to note that the Pebble cannot function on its own, except to show time and track activity, for all other functions including calls and SMS it acts as a screen for the parent phone.
My experience with Pebble
The Pebble is easy to use. Just download the Pebble App on your smartphone, switch on the Pebble Watch- and link the Pebble to the Smartphone Pebble App over Bluetooth. You can then download apps from the internet within the Pebble App on your phone and install it from there over Bluetooth to the Pebble watch. I have been using Pebble since more than a year now after my brother gifted it to me. However, as the Pebble's fitness tracking function was released only in mid to late 2014, my use of this fitness functionality has been limited.
For a beginner, the Pebble serves as a second screen to your smartphone while exercising. In other words, if you download a fitness tracking app on the smartphone, like RunKeeper, the Pebble will link to it over Bluetooth and tell you (on the watch-screen) what the phone thinks of your walking pace, duration, distance etc. The Pebble can even function as a second GPS screen of your phone and help you navigate if your fitness activity takes you on an adventure, be it a mountain on a concrete jungle. I'm not a fitness enthusiast in the true sense, and my use of Pebble has been to track my daily step count only. However, after the company released the fitness tracking facility recently – my hopes of using it more often have been strengthened. As I am now in my mid-forties, I need to exercise more and take care of my body weight too!
The Pebble as an independent fitness tracker
Recently, the manufacturers of Pebble released individual fitness tracking by the device. This meant that users would no longer have to use the Pebble as a simple display screen for the motion trackers on their phones. On the other hand, users could use Pebble as a standalone fitness device and even transfer the contents to their phone for documenting their fitness statistics. For example, every day- the Pebble would tell you how much you've walked- and this data, by a link with a smartphone- would be synced to your phone, which would translate the knowledge in terms of exercise over time of the day, calories burnt and even give you a bar chart of the whole month.
Which app to use with Pebble?
Well known fitness app makers like Jawbone UP and Misfit have all released apps for the Pebble, which makes the Pebble a good tracking device. However, at the time of writing the data generated was stored on the Pebble – though a syncing with the phone, it has been mentioned, would soon be in the pipeline. Two simple apps for Pebble, which I have used on my iPhone, are RunKeeper and Movable. Both these apps have a free basic version. The Run Keeper is easy to install, and works well too. Each time you exercise, the app tracks the distance and speed at which you walk and run. It also displays the distance, pace and time of exercise on your Pebble's screen. It is quite accurate. However, location services need to be switched on to the phone, and therefore, data usage is very high and you may need to keep a watch on the phone bill!
On the other hand Movable is an app that can be loaded on your Pebble Watch, it measures data like the number of steps, and tells you if you have reached the day's goal. For example, while writing this article, my Pebble Watch shows that that I've taken only 1554 steps, or reached 15% of my daily target of 10,000 steps ! I'd better finish this article and take a walk- so don't worry folks- I will wind up my write-up soon ! By the way, the Movable app for the Pebble has a counterpart movable app for the iPhone, which can sync together seamlessly. Thus the iPhone Movable App would tell me the statistics of my weekly and monthly efforts. However, this system is prone to errors- for example, today, I drove around in my car for a few hours without moving many muscles, but the tracker mistook this motion for walking and granted me about 500 steps! So now you know the truth- that of the 1554 steps that I have walked today, only about a thousand reflect my actual act of walking
To sum up, should you buy the Pebble watch as a pure fitness tracker? The answer is no because you have other excellent devices that can tell your activities more accurately as the Fitbit, Nike FuelBand an Jawbone UP (which we reviewed in the last issue of Diabetes Health). However, if you are a person like me who does not like to wear a fitness band on one wrist and a watch on the other but would much rather like a device with all features rolled into one, then the Pebble watch may be useful for you. Also, its relatively low cost is an advantage. After all, 99$ (Rs 6100/-) is a good price for a watch that can tell you the time, track your activity, is waterproof, receives your emails, helps decide on calls and sends you Facebook and Twitter messages too. While the Apple Watch has a colour screen and is rich in features, it is relatively expensive. There are several other smart watches – the Samsung Galaxy Gear, the Sony Smartwatch and others too. However, I have used only the Pebble watch, and this is a review of my experience. We welcome our readers to submit their experiences wearable technology for health and fitness.
Disclaimer – Dr AG Unnikrishnan is the Editor of Diabetes Health, and Ms Kelkar and Ms Birajdar are a part of the Diabetes Health Editorial team. They have no conflicts of interest to disclose, and they do not endorse, support or recommend any particular product or device. This initiative for writing this article has come from the authors' personal experiences with smart-watches, and no watch manufacturer has been contacted or in contact with our editorial team. Readers are requested to check with their doctors before embarking on any fitness regimen, and before using any fitness application or device.