Wearable technology – Fad or Fab?

Notwithstanding various definitions of “technology”, wearable tech really hit the mainstream with the popularity of the Bluetooth headset in 2002.  From 2006 to 2013 we saw the introduction of devices from Nike+, Fitbit and Google Glass.   The Apple watch was introduced in 2014, a year dubbed by many  as “The Year of Wearable Technology”, with a staggering 173% increase in wearable devices by the middle of 2015 from 2014 according to estimates from the International Data Corporation.

With so many options out there, how do you chose which one is right for you?  A daunting task for sure, but the best place to start, in my opinion, is to really nail down what it is you are looking for in your device and how much you are willing to pay for the features that are at the top of your wish list.

For comparison purposes, this article looks at the product line ups of Fitbit, Garmin, Samsung, the Apple Watch and the HELO LX

 

Fitbit

Garmin

Samsung

Apple Watch

World GN HELO LX

Price Point

$79.95 – #399.95

$79.99 – $1299.99

$199.99 – $469.99

$429 .00  – $1810.00

$149.00 – $249.00

Smart Features

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Heart Rate Monitor

Green LED

Green LED

LED

Green LED

Green Led

Red LED

NIRS and UV

Blood Pressure

No

No

No

No

Yes

Sleep

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Water Resistant

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

O2 Saturation

No

No

No

No

Yes

EKG function

No

No

No

No

Yes

Guardian feature

No

No

No

No

Yes

Pricing

Fitbit is by far the most economical with the cost ranging from $79.95 for the Flex which offers step and sleep tracking, alarms and move reminders and also features smart features such as calls, texts and notifications.  The Ionic retails at $399.95 if you’re looking upper end and includes music storage and control, a pretty zen guided breathing app and built in GPS and on screen workouts

Garmin also offers a low cost option in their Vivofit 4 unit at $79.99 which covers the basics of steps, distance, calories and sleep.  For smart features, however you’ll need to invest at least $219.99 in the vivosport which also offers built in GPS as well as fitness and heart rate monitoring.

If you are looking for sport specific tracking like golf and diving, Garmin has you covered with trackers ranging from $549.00 for the Approach S60, which features swing analysis, game tracking and offers over 40,000 golf course layouts preloaded so you know your distance to the green!  The Descent Mk1 is Garmin’s diving watch, cashing in at $1299.99 and offers up some pretty cool diving sensors and features.  For the rest of us, Garmin has pretty much every typical option in a variety of price points so it’s not hard to find something that meets your needs.

Samsung has fewer offerings with only four wearable devices.  Starting at $199.99, the GearFit2 Pro offers the basics without any smart features but does offer app integration with Map My Run and My Fitness Pal.  You have to upgrade to the Gear Sport at $299.99 for smart features and their Gear S3 classic is unique in it’s emergency notification  offering which sends out an SOS message out to up to four contacts if you push the button three times.  This feature requires a separate signup through a third party at an additional monthly fee.  Retailing at $469.99, the S3 also offers a built in speaker which allows the user to take and make calls and play music.

Apple, of course has so many different offerings, I could dedicate an entire blog to covering just their wearables!  The price point for their Series 3 Apple Watch starts at $429.00 for the GPS enabled devices and from $519.00 for the built-in cellular.  The cellular is a unique offering in that it allows the user to use smart features without the need to have a phone nearby as the watch operates on it’s own cellular signal.  This is probably a good thing, with the sizes of the Plus version Iphones, you could probably do without that extra weight when you’re out on a run!  Apple has also partnered up with Nike and Hermes to offer specific lines under the Series 3 which seems to me to have more of a design and aesthetic benefit than anything else, although the Nike series does have the option for in ear guided audio runs and connections to the Nike run club app.

World Global Network, is a recent newcomer to the field of wearable devices and currently offers two versions, the HELO LX and the HELO LX+.  While you won’t be getting any smart notifications or features on either of these devices, they are unique in that they track not only heart rate, but blood pressure, breath rate, mood, fatigue, UV exposure (LX+), blood oxygenation (LX+) and can render a heart graph (EKG).  The LX retails for $149.00 USD and the LX+ has a price point of $249.00.  World Global is unique in the wearables market in that it is only sold via direct distribution and not available in retail stores.

Technology and Accuracy

Millions of people wear some kind of wristband activity tracker and use the device to monitor their own exercise and health, often sharing the data with their physician. But is the data accurate?

Such people can take heart in knowing that if the device is measuring heart rate, it’s probably doing a good job, a team of researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine reports. But if it’s measuring energy expenditure (steps, calories, etc.), it’s probably off by a significant amount.

An evaluation of seven devices in a diverse group of 60 volunteers showed that six of the devices measured heart rate with an error rate of less than 5 percent. The team evaluated the Apple Watch, Basis Peak, Fitbit Surge, Microsoft Band, Mio Alpha 2, PulseOn and the Samsung Gear S2. Some devices were more accurate than others, and factors such as skin color and body mass index affected the measurements.

In contrast, none of the seven devices measured energy expenditure accurately, the study found. Even the most accurate device was off by an average of 27 percent. And the least accurate was off by 93 percent.

A lot of the accuracy has to do with the sensors being used and the technology behind it.  During the researching of this article, I discovered three different types of sensors used in all the devices reviewed.  The science behind the sensors is called PPG (photoplethysmography), which basically shines a LED light source on and through the skin and measures how much of the light is absorbed by the wearer’s blood.  The higher the blood volume, the more light is absorbed.  There are two types of LED light used in this process, green and red.

Green LEDmore common and understood, however green light is absorbed incredibly well by our blood stream, which is actually a challenge because it ends up diluting the strength of the signal and thus decreases the accuracy of the measurements.

Red LED – also known as pulse oximeters and more widely used in medical settings where accuracy is paramount.  The red light isn’t absorbed as well by our bodies which is actually a good thing as it allows the light to penetrate further into the tissue layers to obtain multiple readings.  Red light is also not affected by things such as pigment in the skin (freckles, tattoos or melanin) which green light is, so another plus for more accurate readings

NIRS – (Near Infra-red spectroscopy) Typical applications include medical and physiological diagnostics and research including blood sugarpulse oximetryfunctional neuroimaging, sports medicine, elite sports training, ergonomicsrehabilitationneonatalresearch, brain computer interfaceurology (bladder contraction), and neurology (neurovascular coupling). There are also applications in other areas as well such as pharmaceutical, food and agrochemical quality control, atmospheric chemistry, combustion research and astronomy. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Near-infrared_spectroscopy).

Now that I’ve completed numbed you with the science, I think we can safely say that in terms of the sensors being used in today’s wearable technology I would rate Green as good, Red as better and NIRS as best.

In terms of the devices we’re reviewing, Apple, Garmin and Fitbit indicate the use of Green LED, Samsung’s website only refers to the use of LED light and does not specify whether it uses Green or Red.  The HELO LX offered by World Global Network offers one red and one green LED where the LX+ offers up the NIRS and a UV sensor along with the green and red LED’s.  In terms of accuracy, my research indicated that for heart rate readings, usage of just green LED was sufficient for pretty accurate readings but for readings in other areas, reliability dropped considerably with just green.

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