Accessories for your health

2013-11-24 14:00

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Sci-fi-like medical monitoring is coming to a wristband and smartphone near you as health accessories become the next big thing

They’re calling it the quantified self and it’s the closest to science fiction-like body monitoring we’ve ever had.

With the advances and the miniaturisation of technology, health-rate monitors and step counters are small and compact enough to fit into little wristbands.

These are the most prominent of a new flood of devices that monitor our health and inspire us to get healthier.

They mostly track how many steps you take each day – 10?000 steps is considered the amount to make you very active – but also measure a range of other metrics.

The idea is to inspire you to greater health and – depending on how diligent you are – track what you eat and how much water you drink.

Smartphones like Samsung’s Galaxy S4 have a range of these features built in, measuring our activity.

They are increasingly part of an ecosystem of such devices and healthy living. Fitbit, for instance, also has a Wi-Fi scale to measure your weight and lets you compete against friends using the clever companion app.

In some instances, a clever app has produced spin-off companion gadgets. Runtastic is a great app that started as a means to start running, but coaxing people to walk for a few minutes – then run, then walk, then run.

Now, it has expanded into a cycling app and has added clever “stories” to the runs (for R7 each) as well as a Bluetooth heart-rate monitor (R1?000; wintecsolutions.co.za).

Globally, these health-monitoring accessories have become big, big business. At the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this January, half of one of the voluminous halls was given over to these gadgets. They might be rudimentary now, but expect better and more complex devices to follow.

The top three health trackers

Fitbit Flex

Fitbit Flex: R1 250 | myistore.co.za

Who would have thought that a slim piece of rubberised plastic could hold so much tech? The Flex from Fitbit features an accelerometer, NFC and Bluetooth 4.0 for connecting to the phone app and a vibration motor to go along with the LED indicators on the wrist strap.

It uses all of that to track your motion (quite accurately, we might add), monitor your sleep and remind you how far away you are from your goal for the day.

The LED lights are a relatively simple indicator – you’ve completed 20% of your daily goal for each light that turns on.

The Fitbit Flex also integrates with an online account that keeps track of your movement over time, showing you which times and which days you are most active.

If that wasn’t enough, it’s also not about to break the bank.

Nike FuelBand

Nike FuelBand:  R2 000 (Import) | nike.com

Nike’s FuelBand could be called the device that started the trend of wearable exercise-monitoring equipment for fun and profit. Like the other devices on this list, it’ll pair up with an app running on your smartphone.

Unlike the others, it features a calorie read-out on the basic LED display. It also lights up a succession of twinklers as you progress through your goal for the day and it boasts a Bluetooth 4.0 connection – as most of the best equipment does these days.

The FuelBand also features gaming-like Achievements, which act as a motivation starter on those days that you don’t feel like moving. If the Nike FuelBand ­has a limitation, it has to be that its official app is limited to iOS. If you own anything other than an Apple device, you’re a bit out of luck on this one.

Jawbone Up

Jawbone Up: R1 550 | knrflatrock.co.za

Like the Fitbit Flex, the Jawbone Up is Android and iOS compatible. Unlike its two competitors, it eschews the wireless connection to your smartphone. Instead, it uses an audio jack to connect to your smartphone, letting you tweak settings with the app.

The result? A longer battery life than all the rest, but you do need to be tethered to your smartphone far too often.

But that’s okay, because it looks good and it’ll make you feel good, whether it’s vibrating to make sure you remember to move about more, or whether it’s waking you up gradually, based on your sleep cycle.

The Flex can also do the latter, but Jawbone’s Up is arguably better at it. Best of all, it features a nap-time mode, which won’t let you fall asleep too long in the afternoon. No more groggy grumpiness for you. – Brett Venter

»?Shapshak is editor and publisher of Stuff magazine (stuff.co.za). Follow him on Twitter @shapshak

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