Thursday, 9 July 2015

Geek - Fitbands For Your Inner Geek

For your enjoyment, I introduce the Razer Nabu X and the Xiaomi Mi Band.  These fall into my geek categorisation for different reasons.  The Nabu X is made by the PC gaming accessories company Razer, who make the Chroma range of rainbow, light changing keyboards and more.  Not rainbow in the sense of unicorns more... Go here and you'll get the idea! The Mi Band is really just geeky for me, as finding it allowed me to indulge my hobby of delving into the Far Eastern beauty market.  Plus, it's bordering on being kawaii if you wear it right.

I came into possession of the Nabu X thanks to winning a competition.  Woo!  Freebies! And that started me off wanting to explore.  I didn't want to go into Jawbones or Fitbits as I could just read a review.  I wanted to explore the fringe of the market.  I've now worn each of the bands and can offer my opinions

The Razer Nabu X

Main Features

  • £44.99
  • Step counter, calorie counter, distance tracker & sleep tracker
  • Vibration and LED light alerts for hitting targets that can be toggled on or off
  • Vibration and LED light alerts for your phone's notifications (messages, calls, emails etc.) via Bluetooth
  • Vibration alarm
  • App support for tracking available on both Android and iOS
  • App interfaces with other health apps including Apple Health and Google Fit
  • You can swap social media and make Steam friends with someone simply by shaking their hand (providing they're wearing a Nabu too)

First Impressions

It's a good size and doesn't stick out too far.  The band itself is matte black rubber with the tech embedded into it, so the LEDs aren't too stark and bright.  There are a lot of notches for the strap, so getting it the right fit to my wrist was easy.  The rubber is also comfortable and doesn't get all sweaty.  My only criticism of its appearance is that it looks like it was designed more with men in mind than to be unisex.  I also found very quickly that the vibration feature was not for me, as it made me jump out of my skin every time it went off.  R swears by it however, so I can see how that would be a great feature for those who don't mind the buzzing.
<app picture>
The apps are the classic black and lime green colours of Razer, and have gone for function over beauty.  That's not to say the apps look bad.  It's clean and only shows what it needs to.  This means you always understand what you're looking at and information isn't hidden under fancy displays.  There are different apps available; the default app to manage the band itself, the Fitness app, the Home app, the Gaming app... Truth be told, I'm not sure why these all have to be separate, but I suppose it means you're not filling your phone with features you don't want.

After Testing Until the Battery Runs Out (Just Over 2 Weeks)

The band does exactly what it says on the tin.  It tracks and reports back information.  It alerts you to the things you want it to alert you to, although that is based on what your phone alerts you to.  This means that if you don't want to be alerted to emails or other app notifications, you need to turn those notifications off on your phone.  I'd have preferred to be able to control that on the band.  The Nabu X was really comfortable and only needed one battery charge, right at the end of the two weeks. It also was interesting to see it report back on my quality of sleep.  This is monitored by movement rather than heart rate, so there were a few times I was up late watching a film when the Nabu X thought I was actually asleep, but for a lower price fitness band, having any kind of sleep analysis is a great inclusion.  
I did have a couple of gripes with it however.  There were days when its step count was really different to what I was expecting to see.  I've been tracking my step count with the Runtastic pedometer app for going on 2 years and there would be days where the Nabu mostly agreed with Runtastic and days where it would say the step count was far lower.  The tracking app for my iPhone's notification screen also just plain didn't work, but I'm aware the software is still very much in development, and to be honest, I didn't care enough to be bothered.  The main one for me was how long the band would take to sync with Razer's Fitness app.  You could stare at the app for over a minute and the numbers just wouldn't refresh and sometimes it would display yesterday's results as today's unless you tapped about between screens.  As I mentioned though, these are still being worked on.  In my two weeks of testing, Razer released several firmware and app updates to try to improve those issues.
Unfortunately, I couldn't test the swapping of social media information as R and I are already connected via Twitter and Steam etc. but I'm not convinced how useful this feature really is in the real world until the band is more mass market.  That being said, it's San Diego Comic Con week, so maybe that's where that feature would come into its own.

Final Pros and Cons

  • Comfortable and unintusive to wear.  The strap is secure and doesn't undo itself.
  • The LED light tracking is brilliant.  You can double tap the band and either 1, 2 or 3 lights will come on, in a colour and brightness of your choice, to let you know how well you're doing against a target you set.  If you've met or beat your target the LEDs will give you a little rainbow light show in celebration.
  • It gives you the basic tracking you want to know, a gauge on your calorie count and, if you don't keep your phone in easy visibility on your desk like I do, the notifications feature is a brilliant idea.
  • A bit manly
  • The apps and syncing loading time still need to be worked on.  This applies particularly to the Apple Health functionality, where it communicates every 5 minutes but doesn't seem to share the step counting information correctly.
Overall, I'd give it 3/5.  This would likely improve to a 3.5 if the apps had been more polished before release.  But, for your money, you're not likely to find a band that can do so much for so little, good job Razer.

The Xiaomi Mi Band

Main Features

  • Anywhere between £12 and £40, depending on where you buy it.  You can buy it from the main website, or from plenty of shops on Ebay
  • Step counter, distance tracker, weight tracker & sleep tracker
  • Vibration and LED light alerts for hitting targets that can be toggled on or off
  • Automatically unlocks a linked Xiao branded phone
  • App support for tracking available on both Android and iOS
  • App interfaces with other health apps including Apple Health
  • You can swap the tech out into different coloured bands if you're not keen on the black one it comes with.  These are cheap, at approximately £2.99 each.  I bought myself a blue one to match my phone.

First Impressions

The Mi Band made a really good impression.  It arrived beautifully presented in sturdy cardboard packaging, reminiscent of Muji.  The band is matte rubber with a decent number of sizing holes and a sturdy clasp made of metal.  The tech itself is made of brushed aluminium and is easy to swap in and out of bands.  The whole presentation is just really strong.  It also charged ridiculously fast; in less than five minutes from nothing.

The Mi Band has one app that has recently been translated to English and incredibly well too.  It certainly doesn't feel translated.  The app itself is brightly coloured and offers different views; one for steps, one for sleep and one for your weight progress.  There is a lot of ways to view all of the information the band picks up, so was a little hard to navigate at first, but I overcame that quickly.

After Testing Until the Battery Runs Out (38 days!)

 The Mi Band gives a very accurate step count and a decent view of sleep.  These numbers can be rolled up into graphs for a weekly or monthly views, or right back down to the detail.  The app also offered a bit of context for subtle motivation.  If I didn't hit my target, on its social media sharing screen, it points out I've had a "chill day".  If I'd beaten my target, it would joyously celebrate that and would tell me if I'd set a new personal record.  On the weekly view, it would tell me that I'd walked the equivalent of a half marathon or whole marathon.  Those little touches really showed that a lot of thought had gone into being encouraging, without being patronising.  I do still occasionally get lost on the app's screens though; pulling up settings rather than graphs or vice versa, but this is massively overcompensated for by the fact that the syncing is so fast and that it accurately sends information through to the Apple Health app.
I could only really find two downsides.  The first is that the clasp can pop open if you get it caught on clothing, however there's a little strap around the band that catches it, meaning it's never actually fallen off.  It did mean I have to be more aware of my arm while wearing it than with the Nabu X.  The second is that to see your progress, which is reported pretty much identically to the Nabu X with 3 LEDs and flashing celebrations, you have to bring your wrist up to your face rather than simply tapping the band.  This in itself wouldn't be a problem, but you have to make a damn solid movement to make the band acknowledge your request.  I either felt like I was mimicking the dance from Prince Charming or that I was going to whack myself in the face.  That's means that I don't check my progress on the band really at all, only on the app.  The reverse was true for the Nabu X.

Final Pros and Cons

  • Super comfortable and I love being able to change the colour of my band
  • The manual claims the battery lasts 30 days.  I still had 9% left after 38 days.
  • The app fits in perfectly with my iPhone 5c with its funky and polished feel
  • Could be too quirky for some people
  • The vibration that happens when you hit your goal scares the crap out of me every time >_<
  • I would like to use the band to track my progress without risking hitting myself in the nose (Prince Charming... Prince Charming... Ridicule is nothing to be scared of...)
The value for money is great and it feels like a lot of work has gone into its appearance.  Considering you wear it all the time, I really appreciated that.  I would give the Mi Band a very solid 4/5.  I think more people should know about it, especially as they are shippable already from a European based warehouse.

A Final Comparison

Which suits my style more for everyday wear? The Mi Band

Which has the best tracking & notifications via the fitband? The Nabu X

Which is better for daily wear and tear? It's a draw

Which offers the more accurate data? The Mi Band, though the Nabu X is very close when it's behaving

Which has the better app? The Mi Band

Which would I recommend to a friend?  While my personal preference is the Mi Band, I'd probably recommend either.  I'd recommend the Mi Band for anyone interested in more views of the information it tracks and it's funky looks and feel and the Nabu X to anyone who wants the phone notification functionality or a less obvious band.

Tl;dr: The Nabu X and Mi Band are both brilliant for their price range and I'd recommend purchasing either. Judging by these two fitness bands, Fitbits and Jawbones really do have contenders fast on their heels, especially for those who aren't willing to pay the earth to track their activity.  It shows that you don't have to buy into "the" brands, to get a good quality experience.

Now, off I go to carry on my weekly target 70,000 steps...

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