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Gadgets to get set go

Gadgets to get set go
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First Published: Fri, Dec 30 2011. 08 44 PM IST

Updated: Fri, Dec 30 2011. 08 44 PM IST
Technology is becoming an integral part of everyday life, and getting away from gadgets is just not an option. There are a number of new gadgets now that can help plan a fitness routine, measure heartbeat, track sleep, and more. Some are specialized gadgets that are dedicated to these functions, while others are accessories that are less accurate but a whole lot cheaper.
The number of stand-alone options in India is still limited, but thanks to eBay and Amazon, it’s not hard to buy these devices online. Here are some options:
Fitbit Ultra
Price: $100 (around Rs5,300), plus shipping
The Fitbit Ultra is a small plastic clip that looks like a Bluetooth headset. The device is light and unobtrusive, and comes with an accelerometer built in that counts every step you take. An altimeter tells it how high you are, so it can also measure how many flights of stairs you’ve climbed. There’s a small LED notifier on the device to show how many steps you’ve taken, and how many calories you’ve burnt. The display also shows a clock and can function as a stopwatch.
The way it works is simple— switch it on, clip it to your clothes, and that’s about it. You also need to maintain a food diary, which you can enter into the Fitbit website. Data pertaining to your walking can be submitted to the website by plugging your Fitbit into the computer. The site then analyses your dietary entries and your walk data and gives you a detailed breakdown of how this is affecting your overall health.
One problem that users have been encountering, though, is that the food listings do not account for Indian cuisine— they cater specifically to Americans. Indians will have to make do without the calorie input and output analysis from the website, limiting one of the features.
Another feature of the Fitbit is sleep analysis. You need to press a button when you go to bed, and another when you get up, and the device will then be able to tell you how often you woke up during the night, and how restfully you were sleeping. It’s a nice touch, though it can’t really tell if you’re asleep, or just lying fairly still. Another downside to Fitbit is that it can’t track exercise outside of walking/running. The session you put in at the gym doesn’t reflect in the tracking charts, unless you enter it manually.
Despite these drawbacks, as a pedometer and sleep monitor it functions fairly well, is durable, and has a battery that will last over a week, so you don’t need to keep charging it every day.
The Web interface is easy to use and understand, but you need to be prepared to enter a lot of information manually. For people who already have a fitness routine and want a little help tracking the details, the Fitbit is an excellent option. Just remember, it’s not a complete solution.
Jawbone UP
Price: $100 (around Rs5,300), plus shipping
Jawbone is famous for its Bluetooth headsets, and the UP is its first fitness device, launched in early November. It’s a small wristband that has a small LED light and motor inside for vibrations to give you feedback. There’s no screen to read— instead, the UP comes with a free app that iPhone/iPod Touch users can install, and when you plug the wristband into the phone, it uploads all the data into the easy-to-use app.
The UP is waterproof and has a battery life of 10 days, so you’re not going to be particularly aware of it most of the time. Its exercise tracking is pretty thorough, but the killer feature is the silent alarm.
After just a fortnight of use, it’s easy to say that the UP is a superb alarm—it monitors when you’re in deep sleep or light sleep, and wakes you up by vibrating whenever your sleep is least restful, within a half-hour window around your desired wake-up time. The big benefit is that you wake up easily and not groggily, and are actually able to get out of bed instead of hitting the snooze button.
When you plug the UP into your phone, you are greeted by a simple graph of the day, with three bars on it showing how long you’ve slept, how much you exercised and what you ate. If you meet your goals on any, there are visual cues to praise you for that bar, and if you tap the bar you can get details about that field.
So, for example, the sleep bar will expand to show details of deep sleep versus restless sleep, how long you took to sleep, how long you slept, and this data can be compared across days as well, making you feel particularly virtuous about a good night’s shut-eye.
The entire interface is simple to use, and the UP never scolds you. Instead, there is subtle positive reinforcement for meeting goals.
It tracks how far you’ve walked every day, and there are charts for other activities like exercising in the gym. The system takes all this into account and tracks how many calories this helped you burn. The app also requires you to take a photo of every meal. It doesn’t make a graph against a database to display calories though—instead it asks you to rate the food on whether it makes you sleepy, tired, sheepish, energized, etc., and then again, gives encouraging responses when you eat the foods that make you feel healthier.
This gentle encouragement, coupled with the accurate exercise tracking, is a good reason to buy the UP. The alarm function is a killer, making the device well worth the price.
Philips Vital Signs Camera
Price: 99 cents (around Rs50)
This recently developed app is currently only for the iPad 2, but Android versions are on their way. It uses the iPad camera to measure colour changes in your face and movements in your chest, and uses this to measure heart and breathing rates.
This information is not 100% accurate, but most of the time it is pretty effective, and can be set up to share on Facebook, or email. It probably isn’t a good idea to mail your doctor the reading, though.
Nike+ app
Price: $1.99 (around Rs105)
The Nike+ app lets you listen to music, record run times and map out routes, with distances, elevations and average speeds. It offers a huge amount of data, but it is only available for users with iPhones/iPods. It shows the data of your fastest and slowest kilometre, and using the GPS on your phone, will track the route you’ve taken, show laps, and measure runs over time to indicate progress. The app also uses the iPhone’s altimeter to measure elevation—to track climbing stairs, for example.
As a motivational tool, it’s great. There’s a social layer so you can see where you stand against friends, and it tracks all the relevant data. Just don’t forget to charge the phone after using this, because when the app is running with the GPS going, it takes a lot out of the battery.
gopal.s@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Dec 30 2011. 08 44 PM IST