Amazon's new Halo health tracking wearable is a bold step in several different directions
Amazon today revealed its first health- and fitness-tracking wearable, called the Halo.
To compete against the Apple Watch and Fitbit-like devices already on the market, the Halo covers the activity- and sleep-tracking basics, but also strives to be different by estimating body fat percentage via your smartphone camera, and analyzing your emotional state by listening to your voice.
The latter may sound positively Orwellian, especially coming from a company who tasked contractors with listening to Alexa recordings of Amazon Echo owners without their knowledge. But Amazon is keen to stress how it has built Halo and its features with user privacy front-and-center.
First, the parallels between Amazon Halo and Fitbit. We're going to look at the Fitbit Inspire 2, as it is equally new, costs the same as the Halo ($100), and has a more compact display than Fibit's other smartwatch-like products. We'll then switch sides and look at how the screen-less Halo stacks up to the more feature-packed Apple Watch.
How does the Amazon Halo compare to the Fitbit Inspire 2?
The Amazon Halo and Fitbit Inspire 2 can both be considered fitness, sleep and activity trackers instead of fully-fledged smart watches (although the latter can display notifications and the time on its compact screen).
Both are expected to be worn around the clock, with a week of battery life for the Halo and up to 10 days for the Inspire 2. Both track your heart rate all day and night, and both record and score your daily activity. But Amazon is taking a more holistic approach by focusing on your weekly instead of daily performance.
Fitbit Inspire 2 fitness trackerFitbit
There is step-tracking, but the idea is to look at how the entire week went for you, instead of stressing over meeting your daily step target; with the Halo, rest days are allowed. To that end, you are awarded points for activity (with points deducted for extended sedentary periods), instead of being shown the raw step-by-step data.
Fitbit (and just about everyone else in this market) provides live data on steps, distance and activity, to be digested daily and constantly improved upon.
Both devices can spot the intensity of your activity, but where the Fitbit can automatically recognize the type of activity or exercise you're doing, the Halo can only identify walking and running, then spot the differences between light, moderate and intense activity. To flag up certain types of exercise, you need to enter the data manually in the companion smartphone app (for iOS and Android).
Sleep tracking is present on both wearables, but the Halo again seeks to avoid over-analysis and instead presents its data in a simpler way. One key difference is how the Halo calculates your average body temperature at the time you wake up each morning. The new Fitbit Versa 3 smartwatch can do this too, but it's part of Fitbit's $9.99-a-month Premium service. The Inspire 2 cannot record temperature at all.
Speaking of monthly subscriptions, most of the Amazon Halo's features require a $3.99 fee, otherwise it turns into a simple activity and sleep tracker.
The stand-out features included in the subscription (which has nothing to do with Amazon Prime) are the ability to create 3D body scans to estimate your body fat percentage, and a system that uses a microphone to listen to the emotion in your voice.
A 3D body scan is created using four smartphone photosAmazon
The first of these uses the camera of your smartphone to take four photos (front, back and both sides), which are then uploaded to Amazon's server, turned into a 3D scan, and analyzed using artificial intelligence to determine your body fat percentage. Once returned to your phone, the data is deleted from Amazon servers, and Amazon says the photos remain there for no more than 12 hours in total. The company claims this system is more accurate at estimating body fat percentage than any smart scale you might have in your bathroom.
The other headline feature setting the Halo apart from any Fitbit is how it uses a microphone to listen to the tone of your voice – intermittently throughout the day – and estimate your emotions. The microphone can be muted by pressing a button, or you can not opt in to the feature in the first place if you don't want to use it at all.
Amazon says data related to the 3D body scans and your tone of voice are stored locally on the Halo and your smartphone, and never touch the company's servers (once the scan has been created). The 3D scan can then be adjusted to show what you might look like if you gain or lose weight.
While this could be motivational for some, it's hard not to see this feature and worry about how people with anorexia or a body dysmorphic disorder might react. To that end, Amazon says the scan cannot be adjusted to show a dangerously low body fat percentage, users are asked to only update their 3D scan every two weeks, and only Halo users aged over 18 can use the feature. The Halo's other features can be used by people aged 13 and over.
How does the Amazon Halo compare to an Apple Watch?
These may seem like two very different devices – indeed, one has a screen and one doesn't – but when the Halo subscription is taken into account, and compared to the $199 Watch Series 3, they are priced more closely than you might think.
The Halo is $99.99 (although currently reduced to $65 as an introductory offer), but to get the most out of it you need to pay the $3.99 monthly subscription. After two years that's a total of $196, or just $3 short of an Apple Watch Series 3 bought today, which is a fully-fledged smartwatch, plus a fitness tracker, and has no ongoing subscription cost.
A concern we have about the Halo's subscription model is how Amazon has a track record for discontinuing products. It recently killed off the Echo Look and Dash Wand, resulting in the devices no longer working. If Amazon did the same with the Halo due to poor sales, buyers would be out of pocket to the tune of $99, plus whatever they had paid into the monthly subscription.
Halo smartphone appAmazon
The Apple Watch tracks activity and exercise in a more granular way, can track sleep via third-party apps (and via Apple's own with a software update coming this fall), and works as a smartwatch, handling notifications and calls, too. It also has Siri, while the Amazon Halo (despite having that microphone) cannot access Alexa in any way at all.
Both have detachable bands, letting owners match the wearable to their style or outfit, although for now only Amazon will sell alternative straps. It remains to be seen if third parties will create their own, as is the case with the Apple Watch.
The Halo is a bold move from Amazon. While the company announcing a piece of wearable tech perhaps isn't surprising in itself, the extent to which Amazon has strived to be different — and in doing so asks for a huge amount of trust from its users – is certainly a brave move to make. We'll be interested to see if the Halo catches on, or become another Amazon mis-fire consigned to the hardware graveyard.
Introducing Amazon Halo - Health & wellness band and membership - Black + Onyx - Medium
Introduction of The GearBrain, The First Compatibility Find Engine for Smart Devices www.youtube.com