Review: Automated Fitness Tracking With The Basis Peak

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Google has been heating up the news with their self-driving cars, but the thing that's been heating up my world is this self-tracking watch. Ok, that was kind of a stretch but the Basis Peak fitness tracking watch is about as automated as it gets without the fear of crashing. Unlike other fitness devices where you're tasked with having to remember to start most activities on the device so it can properly record your output, Basis just "knows" when you're doing things. There are some gotchas built into that omniscience, and your experience, so let's explore and I'll tell you what's in store when you strap the Peak to your wrist.

My biggest pet peeve with these fitness wearables is generally their lack of water-resistance. Most are resistant to 30 feet which isn't enough resistance to water ingress to be able to wear them in the shower but the Basis Peak is waterproof to 5 atmospheres. That means 50 meters or 165 feet, but most importantly it can withstand the pressure generated by the water that shoots from your shower head. Something most fitness trackers and smartwatches are incapable of. Part of what probably makes it so water resistant is the fact there are no buttons on the watch case. The smooth aluminum case of the Peak is free from any protrusions except for it's bottom, where it sits against your arm. Under there you will find the galvanic skin response sensors, optical heart rate monitor/engine, skin temperature sensor, automatic on-wrist detection sensor and ambient temperature sensor.

One impressive part of the hardware is the display on the Peak. Thought it is only a monochrome display, with backlight that is activated when you swipe up on the screen, it has an interesting Mirasol-like quality to it. Mirasol is a display technology created by Qualcomm which reflects light instead of using its own. According to Qualcomm, "microscopic mirrors in each pixel change the size of an air gap inside the display. Depending on the size of the gap, white light is reflected back as red, green, or blue." And, while there is no color to Peak's monochrome display, it has a seemingly reflective quality to it that makes it very easy to read, no matter the lighting conditions -except in the dark, where you'll need to activate the backlight. And, while we're on the subject of displays, this monochrome unit is in large part the reason why the Peak gets such great battery life. With modern devices, whether they be tablet, laptop, smartphone or wearable, the display is almost always going to be the component that is the biggest drain on the battery. The recent push toward high pixel density, high resolution displays on everything hasn't helped matters much in this area either but a couple smartwatches and fitness trackers eschew conventional thinking and use monochrome or mirasol displays. Ultimately, that means you don't have to place the Basis Peak on its charger every night. You will get at least 3 days of wear out of this watch, possibly more if you don't load it up with notification connections to the apps on your phone. You'll almost never worry about charging it if you follow a similar routine to the one I adopted. If you actually want to wear the watch "24/7" just take it off every morning while you shower and that short time will be enough to charge it so that you're never in a position where you're worried about a dead battery at the end of the day. Not once did my watch charge get low enough during the entire time I used it that I got a bit nervous. I even went some days without placing it on the charger and still didn't have a care in the world. It was quite nice and the closest I've come to the experience of wearing my Pebble, which is the current King of smartwatch battery life.

One quibble I have with the Peak is the proprietary magnetic charger. The piece is small-ish and could be easily lost if you're traveling with it. Matter of fact, I'd recommend purchasing one specifically for that purpose and one to leave at home. Other than that the charger works just fine, no quirks, the watch just "snaps" right onto the magnetic pad without you needing to fuss with positioning, or getting it just right.

The unit I received came with the solid silicone band. There are others available, including a vented silicone sport version of the one I have. The bands are easily interchangeable via spring-loaded lugs where the bands connect to the watch body. The silicone band I have has an aluminum buckle and double loops to keep the band securely in place during active use. It definitely works and keeps things nice and snug which is what you want when you're tracking physical activity, but the materials is "soft" enough that wearing it while sleeping is quite a pleasant experience.

The heart of the Basis Peak is in the algorithms they've developed which automatically track what you're doing autonomously. Well, kind of- more on that in a moment. When the conditions are right, the Peak is telling the app when your heart rate goes up, for how long and when it goes back down again. It's also feeding movement information back to the app. Or, in the case of sleep tracking, the 3-axis accelerometer tells the app when you've stopped moving (deep sleep), when you're moving again and when you're tossing and turning. The most impressive part of all of that, is that it actually works. Consistently. This is what the folks at Basis call BodyIQ.

There are two things you're going to have to keep in mind when it comes to tracking activity associated with heart rate, those two things, fit and movement. A couple of times when I went for my daily walk, the watch didn't record my entire walk and I wondered why. There were times the watch wasn't on tight enough and another couple times I was so busy on my cellphone that it appeared I wasn't moving because the wrist my watch was on - my left- is also the hand I was holding my cell phone in. Therein lies the Peak's greatest strength and weakness. If you're someone who walks, runs or bikes, then you'll find the Peak to be a pretty awesome tool to quantify your habits and activities. If you're doing Yoga or Crossfit, not so much. Activities like weightlifting where you're active, then resting will cause the Peak to jump out of tracking mode and instead of one continuous workout it will look like a few separate workouts every time your heart rate jumps and movement persists. An easy way to combat this would be for the Peak to have an option built in to use BodyIQ, or a manual mode which would allow you to start and stop heart rate monitoring. But don't say they didn't warn you!

Right at their website, when you're first doing your research on the Peak (you do do that before buying, right?), the folks at Basis are very clear about what the watch does and does not do. It does effectively monitor walking, running, cycling and sleeping. It does not effectively monitor your Yoga or weightlifting activities. It isn't meant for that. As long as you're ok with that, you'll get the mileage from the Basis Peak that you were hoping to get. If you want to accurately capture those HIIT sessions, you're going to want to look elsewhere.

When it comes to software, a couple items I'd like to see added to the next iteration of whatever fitness tracker Basis puts out would be music controls and a smart alarm. Having stopwatch and alarm functionality already is great, but if we're going to track sleep and the Peak "knows" when I'm in light and in deep sleep, I'd like to see the option to use a smart alarm which will wake me during periods of light sleep. I've used that functionality with competing products and have found it to be quite effective. I can't tell you with any empirical evidence that it is effective, but whether it's placebo or reality, when a device wakes me up during light sleep, I can say that I rise feeling a lot less groggy than I do waking up on my own. Matter of fact, the effect is felt most on days when I have mountains of work and end up getting less sleep than I should. Normally I'd wake up feeling the effects of the long day and lack of sleep but when I use a device with a smart alarm, I've noticed the effects of burning the candle at both ends seems diminished.

Music controls are also missing from the Peak, and though not critical as my bluetooth earbuds also control music, it is always a nice additional functionality to have directly on the watch itself. I find it to come in most handy when I'm driving and simply want to skip a track. I don't need to look at the watch, just be able to use a simple gesture or swipe and move to the next song.

final thoughts:

With technology, there are always compromises. There is no magic bullet and no one thing that does everything and the folks at Basis are up front and to the point about what the Peak does. It tracks walking, running, cycling and sleep and does those things quite well. The app also works quite well and is intuitively laid out. If you're all about having a device that matches your fashion sense, between the two different body options (white and black), and about a dozen strap options, the Peak will probably have something that fits your personality. At $200 MSRP from, the fitness wearable falls into a range of competition which is generally around $50 more but the additional expense gets you on board GPS. Most people it seems tend to take their phones with them on runs and the basis app uses your phone's GPS to track distance on those workouts so that may not be a deal breaker for you. That said, I'd definitely take a hard look at the Basis Peak if you're in the market for a fitness wearable to help you meet your goals and get in shape!

UPDATE: Two of my three gripes with the Basis Peak have been taken off the list. Basis recently updated their software to add music controls and manual workout entry to the watch. It's all included in a firmware update and works quite well.

"What's the fuss," you say? Well, if you're more about pumping iron than pedal pushing, you were kind of left out in the cold with the Basis as it only track running, walking and cycling automatically. Now, with manual workout entry, you simply swipe left three times on the watch to begin the workout. You'll come to the manual workout screen. Then, swipe once more to actually start the workout. Once in workout mode, you'll see your pulse rate and the time spent in workout mode on-screen. You'll also see a little square in the lower right hand corner. Tap that to end the manual workout and you'll be taken to another screen that says, "Stop Workout."

Swipe right, your workout is ended, and you get the review screen which shows you your workout stats. Swipe up or down to scroll through the different metrics available to you on this screen.

Music controls are fairly self-explanatory. On Android you'll have to enable it in the Basis Peak app on your phone first. Hit the Playground menu and turn on Music Controller. Music Controller supports Google Play Music, Amazon Music and Spotify on Android and most media apps on iOS.You have to start the music on your phone first and once it's going there, you can control it from your watch. From the home screen, just swipe down and once you're in the music controls menu, swiping left plays a track, swiping right pauses it. Swiping left while playing music skips forward, swipe right while music is paused to skip back a track. Swiping up or down while in the music controls handles the volume up and down functionality for you.

Played with them both, and they both work just fine. Thanks Basis for listening to the consumer and, most importantly, adding the ability to track workouts manually. That's a big deal and expands the usefulness of a watch which was already a pretty solid performer.

For an in-depth video review and look at the software in action, check out the video below!

Disclosure: I was provided with a sample unit of the Basis Peak for the purpose of this review.