Personal devices that monitor your activity and vital signs and upload that information to your computer or mobile device were the hot health technology at this year's CES. At the show's Digital Health Zone, I saw a gaggle of new gadgets that track your body in multiple ways, even during sleep, and integrate that data into a comprehensive report on your overall wellness.
Costing $50 to $200 or so, these gizmos attach to your wrist like a watch (some do double duty as watches, too). They monitor your movement, heart rate, blood pressure, sleep patterns, and sometimes more via sensors in contact with your skin.
The continual-tracking feature of these devices distinguishes them from a previous generation of devices, such as the Fitbit, that mostly monitor only your movement to help guide fitness programs. Like the older gadgets, however, new body monitors sync wirelessly to your smart phone, tablet, or computer via Bluetooth (if you're old-school, most also allow a USB connection to your computer) to transfer data and sometimes to receive fitness programming.
The data, including information you add on what you've eaten, appears on the phone or computer screen as a kind of wellness dashboard that offers data analysis and sometimes plans based on them. That online component is usually included in the price of the device, though it sometimes requires a monthly fee. Most body monitors also include a social-media component that lets you compare your performance against friends who have the same device, and trade encouraging—or taunting—messages with them.
Here are some of the most interesting body monitors I saw:
The new Fitbit Flex ($100, photo above) is a narrow neoprene band that felt very comfortable—not a trivial issue for a gadget that's always on your wrist. But the Flex itself offers little information, save an indicator of how far into the workout you are, and so might prompt you to check your phone or tablet more often than its competitors.
Confusingly similar in name to the Fitbit, the Fitbug (right) costs half as much, at $50. It looks like a large pebble and fits into a wristband as well as pendants and lanyards. Using those hanging options (one of each, plus a wristband, is included in the price) means you lose some vital-signs data, though, because the Fitbug won't be contacting the skin.
The Basis, which currently costs $200, is fairly bulky (see the video below). But my brief look at it suggested it had the most sophisticated monitoring and programming. It tracks not only total sleep but its quality—it will rate your rest lower, for example, if you tossed and turned. The Basis also evolves goals in response to your progress; for example, it raises exercise goals if you consistently meet lower benchmarks.
Bodymedia currently offers several athletic-looking monitoring armbands, starting at $100. Later in the year, it will offer the most stylish monitor I saw, the bracelet model shown at right. Pricing wasn't yet available for the device.