I was always of the opinion that the health trackers on the market were little more than gimmicks. Most of them were glorified pedometers worn by people who wanted to look like they were fitness conscious people rather than actually using them to stay fit. The introduction of heart rate tracking however presented functionality that wasn’t available before and piqued my interest. However the lack of continuous passive heart rate monitoring meant that they weren’t particularly useful in that regard so I held off until that was available. The Jawbone Up3 was the first to offer that functionality and, whilst it’s still limited to non-active periods, was enough for me to purchase my first fitness tracker. After using it for a month or so I thought I’d report my findings on it as most of the reviews out there focus on it at launch, rather than how it is now.
The device itself is small, lightweight and relatively easy to forget that it’s strapped to your wrist once you get it on. The band adjustment system is a little awkward, requiring you to take it off to adjust it and then put it back on, but once you get it to the right size it’s not much of an issue. The charging mechanism could be done better as it requires you to line up all the contacts perfectly or the band will simply not charge. It’d be far better to have an inductive charging system for it however given the device’s size and weight I’d hazard a guess that that was likely not an option. For the fashion conscious the Up3 seems to go unnoticed by most with only a few people I knew noticing it over the time I’ve had it. Overall as a piece of tech I like it however looks aren’t everything when it comes to fitness trackers.
The spec sheet for the Up3 has a laundry list of sensors in it however you really only get to see the data collected from two of them: the pedometer and the heart rate monitor. Whilst I understand that having all that data would be confusing for most users for someone like me it’d definitely be of interest. This means that, whilst the Up3 might be the most feature packed fitness tracker out there, in terms of actual, usable functionality it’s quite similar to a lot of bands already out there. For many that will make the rather high asking price a hard pill to swallow. There’s been promises of access to more data through the API for some time now but so far they have gone unfulfilled.
What the Up3 really has going for it though is the app which is well designed and highly functional. Setting everything up took about 5 minutes and it instantly began tracking everything. The SmartCoach feature is interesting as it skirts around providing direct health advice but tries to encourage certain, well established healthy behaviours. All the functions work as expected with my favourite being the sleep alarm. Whilst it took a little tweaking to get right (it seemed to just go off at the time I set for the most part initially) once it’s done I definitely felt more awake when it buzzed me. It’s not a panacea to all your sleep woes though but it did give me insight into what behaviours might have been affecting my sleep patterns and what I could do to fix them.
The heart rate tracking seems relatively accurate from a trend point of view. I could definitely tell when I was exercising, sitting down or in a particularly heated meeting where my heart was racing. It’s definitely not 100% accurate as there were numerous spikes, dips and gaps in the readings which often meant that the daily average was not entirely reliable. Again it was more interesting to see the trending over time and linking deviations to certain behaviours. If accuracy is the name of the game however the Up3 is probably not for you as it simply can’t be used for more than averaging.
What’s really missing from the Up3 and it’s associated app is the integration and distillation of all the data it’s able to capture. Many have looked to heart rate monitoring as a way to get more accurate calorie burn rates but the Up3 only uses the pedometer input to do this. The various other sensor inputs could also prove valuable in determining passive calorie burn rate (I, for instance, tend to run “hotter” than most people, something the skin temperature sensor can pick up on) but again their data is unused. On a pure specification level the Up3 is the most advanced tracker out there but that means nothing if that technology isn’t put to good use.
Would I recommend buying one? I’m torn honestly. On the one hand it does do the basic functions very well and the app looks a lot better than anything the competition has put out so far. However you’re paying a lot for technology that you’re simply not going to use, hoping that it will become available sometime in the future. Unless the optical heartrate tracking of other fitness trackers isn’t cutting it for you then it’s hard to recommend the Up3 above them and other, simpler trackers will provide much of the same benefit for a lower price. Overall the Up3 has the potential to be something great, but paying for potential, rather than actual functionality, is something that only early adopters do. That was an easier sell 6 months ago but with only one major update since then I don’t think many are willing to buy something on spec.
I like gadgets, to the point where it I can get a little weird about things if they have just the right technological bent. My geek lust has seen my wallet open itself for all sorts of purchases I wouldn’t have typically made for myself just because the gadget geek in me fell in love with a piece of engineering or ingenious technology. It’s curbed somewhat by my desire for all things to have an useful function but that still means my house is littered with various objects which have caught my fancy at one point or another. With that in mind you’d think that I’d be something of a prime candidate for a smartwatch but I just can’t see the point of having one.
I’ll admit that I was somewhat impressed by the Pebble when I first saw it, mostly due to the fact that it used an e-Ink screen rather than a small LCD (which are notorious for being crap). I came in late to the Kickstarter however and missed out on my chance to get one but I figured it wouldn’t be too long before I could snag one at retail. Of course long delays ensued and many competitors have since released similar products but strangely enough I found myself looking at all of them and then wondering what the use case for them would be. Sure some of them looked cool (I’m something of a sucker for watches) but I couldn’t see the advantage of getting one over a traditional watch, especially if looks were the deciding factor.
The majority of the functionality seems to be focused towards at-a-glance style information coming from your smartphone like alerting you to messages or other application alerts. Whilst I can see some use for this most of the time those messages would require some action on my behalf something which these watches aren’t designed to accommodate. Using it as an external mic/speaker for my phone is something I don’t see myself using either as the quality is always going to be below that of what my phone itself can provide. Couple all this with the fact that it’s yet another device I’ll have to charge and I can’t really see the point of getting one, at least not in their current incarnations.
I could be convinced on the idea if the smartwatches included some functionality like the FitBit One and Jabone UP in them, possibly alongside an implementation of MYO. Whilst I’d love to do more metric tracking so that I could better hone my fitness program the idea of having another wearable, chargeable device always poses a significant barrier. However if a combination of all this tech could find its way into a single device then I could see myself warming to the idea as then it would be providing a whole host of functionality that my phone does not. At the same time I probably wouldn’t even need the traditional smartwatch capabilities if a fitness tracker, MYO and watch were all combined into one but if you’d already integrated that much tech it’d be inevitable to just go that one further step.
Of course I know hear the caterwauling of people thinking “Scratch your own itch! Build it yourself!” but honestly I’m not that wedded to the idea at all, just more musing over what it would take for me to come over to the smartwatch camp. I’m happy for someone to try and sell me on the idea though as I’m never adverse to spending money for good tech, so long as it serves a purpose.
It’s been about 18 months since I posted about my first forays into 3D printing, an exercise that was fraught with complications, frustrations and lackluster software. It should then come as little surprise to know that we haven’t been able to get it to print much since then with most of the test cubes failing at about 20% in. I know that it’s a solvable problem, one that I was getting close to resolving, however the amount of time and energy I put into tuning it burnt me out on the whole idea and I trucked the printer off to one of the other contributors to let them have a go on it. Surprisingly though this didn’t sour me on the whole 3D printing scene and I’ve been continuously ogling printers ever since.
Then along came PAX Australia, the biggest event of its type to grace the shores of Australia and an opportune moment for me to embrace my inner cosplayer. My character of choice is Adam Jensen, the augmented star of my choice for game of the year 2011, Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Now I’m not exactly great at crafts or building things but Jensen’s costume seemed to be well within my reach thanks to the availability of a trench coat that gets you about 90% of the way there with the rest of the items being easily procured elsewhere.
There was one piece that I wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere however: the eye augments. Searching around the Internet showed that many people had created their own with majority of them favouring a particular brand of sunglasses that was close and could be modified slightly to give the required look. Even that seemed a little out of my reach so I resigned myself to digging up a 3D model extracted from the game and getting it printed at Shapeways. However after all the fooling around I had done with 3D printing previously I knew that I should get a couple prints done first to make sure the size was right and with my printer still far away from being serviceable (at least last I heard of it) I hit up one of my mates who’d recently come into possession of a Solidoodle 2. Since the prints he’d done surpassed anything I had done I figured it’d be worth trying it out on his before I sent them to Shapeways.
Those following me on Twitter will know that I’ve since done a couple test prints of the augments and the results have been quite astounding. The first round was done at 0.3mm and honestly was fairly serviceable, requiring a bit of finishing to smooth out all the extraction lines. Printing at 0.1mm resolution however was a different ballgame altogether and the final pieces from it were almost good enough to not require any further work, should you not be a slave to an impertinent perfectionist like myself. I’ll probably not be bother to get them done at shapeways now because of this which is something I didn’t expect to happen when I first set out on this quest.
Going through this experience brought all those stories I had been reading about the great success stories I had been reading about 3D printing. It wasn’t just about people creating things at home nor the controversial printed gun, no it was more like the 3D printed jaw that’s been implanted into someone or even the first fully articulated 3D printed gown. In a rather interesting coincidence it also came to my attention that someone had redesigned the tried and true plaster cast used to set broken bones with a 3D printed design, one that has multiple advantages over the current style.
As someone who endured with a full length arm cast as a 10 year old (I.E. right up to the elbow) I can attest to all the issues mentioned here being real and something that I would’ve gladly done away with. The design seems so simple with you think about it but without 3D printing it would be nearly impossible to accomplish, especially in the time frames required to set a bone so that it heals properly. You can then imagine this kind of design being applied elsewhere from replacing casts on other parts of the body to improving things like neck braces, splints and other supportive medical devices. We’re a while away from seeing these kinds of things in practice but considering the rapid adoption rate we’re seeing with 3D printing in other medical practices I can’t imagine it’d be too far off.
Now I’m not about to start professing about how 3D printing will be the death of manufacturing or how it will bring the “problems” of the digital world to the physical but it’s hard to deny the change that’s occurring. Whether it’s printing cosplay accessories or replacement jaw bones 3D printing has enabled all sorts of things that just weren’t possible previously. Even Microsoft has recognised its importance by incorporating 3D printing support directly into Windows 8.1 something that will undoubtedly push the industry even further into the mainstream.
The 3D printing revolution is happening, and it’s freaking awesome.