By Mara Leighton
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BellabeatWearables, for being relatively unknown only a short while ago, have had a meteoric rise in popularity within the last few years.
These wearable fitness trackers aim to provide users with a simplified, informed report on their own health, making it easier to get involved with one's fitness without expending a bunch of energy mapping out calories and other hard-to-plot variables like sleep.
As our collective conscious grows more concerned about health, our lives get busier and our time shorter. Wearables are an attractive aid. They collect the data, make the infographics, warn you if you’re letting yourself stray too far from your goals, and often provide you with positive feedback that can make your attention to health feel gratifying every day.
While the convenience of them hardly needs to be debated, the technology isn’t always perfect or comprehensive, nor are the wearables themselves often attractive accessories at face value, which kind of beats the point of always wearing them if you frequently don’t want to. Which means that a wearable that looks like any other piece of jewelry is going to be skipping one of the major problems in the industry.
That’s where wearable producer Bellabeat is such a leader. Where functionality and aesthetics intersect best is in their Leaf wearables, which look like jewelry more than the kind of clunky, waterproof watches many wearables resemble.
I tried out Bellabeat’s Leaf Urban wearable, a second generation take on their "Leaf" tracker, which sold out before it had been available 24 hours. This second model has a few changes, mostly in design and a slightly different composition that makes it water resistant (though you won’t want to go swimming with it on).
It can be worn as a clip, a necklace, or a bracelet, so versatility won’t be an excuse not to integrate it into your day.
For everyday life, I prefer the bracelet option, and the clip placement works particularly well for exercises that are more high intensity, since I’ve found the Bellabeat can unhook from the bracelet if you jiggle it enough with a high stakes sprint to the subway station after work, something that initially annoyed me before I substituted for the necklace or the clip.
While the look of the wearable is one of its biggest draws, the variables included and the presentation of data is what sets this tracker apart technologically.
Firstly, it collects a broader range of data than most other wearables. Especially for women, the Bellabeat has unique advantages.
While aspects of life as a woman such as their period, ovulation, and potential pregnancy are impactful variables for women’s health, they’re virtually nonexistent in data gathered by most other wearables. But for the Bellabeat, women can enter data on, track, and visualize all three. The algorithm won’t self-adapt to account for the different ways the body reacts during these times in biological processes like calorie-intake, but "breastfeeding" is one of the activities owners can manually enter to be counted into their overall score, an activity which can account for about 300-500 calories lost in a day. If you’re trying to get pregnant, you can track your fertile days.
While the breadth of Bellabeat’s data collection is greater, it’s also contextualized in a nontraditional way. You can see your fitness in the context of goals that you set for yourself as other wearables allow, but the Bellabeat also rounds up all the data collected (physical activity, period cycle, sleep, and even the time you’ve spent meditating) and creates an infographic within the app to demonstrate how susceptible you are to stress, given the data collected.
It comes close to that hallowed intersection of mental and physical health, and how the two play into one another. Rather than strictly fitness, the Bellabeat approaches more of a wellness measure. If you see that you’re "red," then that means you’re sensitive to stress at the moment. And while you can log some meditation or breathing exercises to see a lower sensitivity, today’s "stress sensitivity" is calculated by taking your habits into account. One day of activity will not change your levels at once, but if you keep activity up and sleep cycle up, your stress levels will fall in a few days. That makes sense, because if you didn’t sleep well last night, you will be feeling the effects of it for the next few.
The integration of the period tracker is wonderful, speaking as a woman myself.
Most women I know use separate apps, and it seems quite silly that no one has thought to truly, effectively integrate them before. The only thing I wish that Bellabeat did (which I would expect it might in the future) would be to allow users to log their symptoms throughout their menstrual cycle, so the algorithm could get even better at predicting "stress sensitivity." I know vaguely when these susceptible times are, but I will never have the time to map them out myself — and the information seems useful, especially for this. For this reason only, I probably won’t be ditching my period tracking app just yet.
Another thing users might not like, especially if they’ve already used a wearable like the Fitbit or a lookalike is that the Bellabeat doesn’t automatically sync and it doesn’t have a traditional face where notifications pop up.
For the first, the upside is that it’s remarkably easy to sync within the app. Simply tap the sync icon on the app, and it will prompt you to tap the Bellabeat twice. Each time I did it, I was impressed by how immediate and reliable the syncing process was, so for me this wasn’t really an issue. If you forget to sync regularly, the tracker will hold onto the info it’s gathered for 14 days, so you have time. For the second concern, it was pretty much negated because the whole selling point of the Bellabeat is to be an efficient wearable that looks like jewelry — it’s not a smartwatch, but then again you probably aren’t buying it to be one.
The tracker was usually spot-on for my sleep cycles, and even if it wasn’t, it asks every morning if the times are correct and allows you to move the bar to accommodate the real ones. What I loved about the app is that it’s really simplistic; you can see the information you really want to know laid out and color-coordinated, but you can also get more granular by sliding your finger across the data, seeing things like the depth of your sleep. You can set alarms if you’d like, but I’m a heavy sleeper and like to use the old-fashioned tools for that.
While the Bellabeat can’t distinguish between particular activities, as in yoga instead of bicycling, it does allow users to input and label calories burned during those activities (such as breastfeeding). But just to be sure you don’t accidentally cheat your score, the wearable won’t count the calories it had for you during the time you say this other activity was happening.
It’s not going to update you when you get a text or sync automatically, but it will a) allow you a more comprehensive measurement of well-being, including a projection of your sensitivity to stress, b) look much better on so you’ll never want to skip wearing it, and c) include important women’s health variables to calculate a score that looks more accurate for you.
May 2, 2017 at 10:15AM
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