Basis review

Tech and fitness enthusiasts should run out and buy the $199 Basis fitness watch immediately, as it's by far the most interesting activity tracker on the market. Cautious consumers, however, should wait for version 2.0, as the hardware design could use a few tweaks.
Photo of Basis

The day my Basis fitness watch ($199 direct) arrived, I could hardly wait for the thing to charge so I could begin testing it. With any hope, it would show me detailed information about my body throughout the day and night: how many calories I burn in a day (around 2,100), my average skin temperature (88 degrees fahrenheit, including outdoor activity), my slowest heart rate while sleeping (46bpm), and whether I consistently get more than six and three quarters hours sleep a night (I do not). Basis’ online account shows you your actual habits and helps you set attainable goals that are just barely out of reach, but not so farfetched as to be unrealistic. This approach encourages you to gradually form realistic habits, rather than lofty ambitions, which sets the Basis apart from every other fitness device I’ve tested.

The Basis delivers everything I want in personal fitness data reporting and then some. I’m head over heels about all it can do, and I can even rationalize the slightly steep price because I’ve been in the market for a new wristwatch for literally four years. But, there are a few holdbacks, almost all in hardware designnotably, a less-than-secure strap and a dim display. Overly cautious consumers may want to wait until a version 2.0 comes out to see if these flaws are corrected, but anyone who’s excited about fitness technology will probably want to buy one straightaway.

Basis Design
The Basis is available with either black or white straps. The device itself is black with small, stud-like silver buttons on each of the four corners. Pressing either of the buttons on the right scrolls through the data collected by Basis: heart rate, total calories burned for the day so far, and number of steps taken (perspiration and skin temperature are not shown on the watch but can be seen in your Web account). The bottom left button toggles the display back to showing the time or date. And the top left button illuminates the screen, but only barely. It’s really dim, and with my poor eyesight, I need a second or two to focus on the screen and tilt it to adjust for glare to be able to read it. 

In terms of its look, I’d call this watch casual and straightforward. The watch’s all-black body has an unassuming chicness about it, while the matte polyurethane straps introduce a slightly sporty feel.

A row of four round connection points dots the left edge of the watch, where it connects to its base station for charging and syncing. The underside has six raised metal sensors that touch your skin to collect data, and an optical sensor that takes your pulse by measuring the volume of blood flowing through your veins. Every so often, you can see it glowing green.

Several wrist-worn activity trackers, such as the Jawbone UP and the Larklife, don’t include any readouts on the device itself, which is part of what makes the Basis so much more useful. Even the Nike+ FuelBand, which at least shows the time, isn’t as useful because the essential data it collects and displays is much more limited.

Another reason I’m a big fan of the watch form factor is how it looks. Back when I tested the BodyMedia Fit Core, I cringed with embarrassment every time someone asked me what that putty colored device strapped to my arm was for. A wristwatch is nearly as inconspicuous as the petite Fitbit One, PCMag’s Editors’ Choice and my favorite activity tracker to date, which covertly hides in a pocket or gets clipped to the front of my bra where no one can see it. The Fitbit has one other sleek feature: wireless syncing via Bluetooth, which means fewer cords and components cluttering my desk. Basis does have Bluetooth technology inside it, but it’s not yet functional. A company representative says it will be once the Android app and a firmware update are released, hopefully in a few weeks.

Despite my attraction to the Basis’ form factor, details of the design need improvement. First, the display needs to be much brighter. The backlighting is horrifically dim. Second, one side of the wristband is detachable—you remove it to charge and sync the Basis—but occasionally, during testing, it popped off while in use. Luckily, the watch was inside my sleeve every time it broke free, otherwise I could have lost it. For a watch that costs $200, I’d like a little more security in its design.

A better-built fitness watch is the MIO Alpha BLE. The screen is brighter, the straps are sturdier, the shape is sleeker, and colored lights indicate when your heart rate is within your target range while exercising. On the other hand, the MIO Alpha only reads heart rate, nothing else, and it doesn’t connect to an online account where you can analyze your fitness trends over time.

The Basis is water-resistant, but not waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about it getting wet in the rain, but you do need to remove it for swimming and other in-water activities.

Basis in Motion
Out of the box, you’ll need to charge the Basis’ battery by removing the top wrist strap and sliding the watch into the included cradle, which is made of thin plastic. The cradle connects via a USB cord to your PC, and keep in mind that you actually need a computer to use the Basis. The Jawbone UP, meanwhile, only works with smartphones (iOS and Android), which is much more limiting. During the short setup, you’ll also install a small piece of software on your machine that uploads data from the watch to your Web account, where you can see your fitness habits over time. There’s no mobile app just yet, but an Android app is due out in a few weeks. 

I found the watch needed a solid two or three hours of charging about every three days. Given the dimness of the screen, which I assume is intentional to preserve the battery, the outlook for better battery life any time soon seems grim. The Basis does a lot of work all day long, using an infrared light to measure your pulse, perspiration, and skin temperature very frequently. Diving into the details of your data, you can analyze metrics about your body down to the minute.

I wore the watch while bicycling, walking, sleeping, and going about my day. I loved being able to see my heart rate slow when I sat still for a long stretch, and then shoot up midway through a brisk walk. Counting calories burned and steps taken was a novel experience for me, although I dislike that Basis doesn’t provide total distance traveled in a day in miles the way the Fitbit One does. It’s much harder to fact check the number of steps taken (because it counts well past 10,000 on most days), whereas it’s easy to walk a mile or two and see whether Basis’ data matches up. When I wore the Fitbit One and the Basis on the same days, I noticed Fitbit’s count was always higher, by as many as 2,000 steps.

Personal Metrics
When it comes to making use of your data, Basis is less concerned with the total number of steps you take in a day and more focused on whether you get enough movement day after day. It’s the consistency over time that counts. The way Basis homes in on habits starts out with cards. When you create an online account, the homescreen shows a card that challenges you to wear the Basis for at least 12 hours two days this week. You can add new cards, such as Get More Sleep and Don’t Be a Sitter, which you can customize a bit, too. For example, I set the benchmark on my Get More Sleep challenge to 6 hours 45 minutes. At first, Basis only lets you have a limited number of cards, but you can unlock more as you accomplish the existing goals.

Week after week, Basis automatically adjusts your goals to be slightly harder or easier based on whether you reached them. For example, after torching my Wear It goal of keeping Basis on for 12 hours two days a week, the challenge increased to four days a week. I only barely reached my Get More Sleep Goal, so the increase was more modest (three days instead of two).

With the Basis, I like not having to think about how much to increase my goals, something I do a lot with the Fitbit. For example, the U.S. Surgeon General’s recommendation is to take 10,000 steps per day, and when I saw that I consistently hit that goal with the Fitbit, I wondered whether I should increase my personal goal to 11,000 or 12,000 or even more. Or should I instead keep it at 10,000 but work harder to never miss a day, which happened every so often? Basis does this work for you, and so far, I’m loving it. Basis makes personal activity goals easier to understand.

At present, Basis does not have any mobile apps, although an Android one should be out soon. You can see your current readouts on the watch itself, of course, but you can’t see any of your collected data unless you’re in front of a Web browser.

Poised for Perfection
Basis has the potential to radically change how other activity trackers handle personal data collection and analysis. Its formula is innovative, inspiring, and downright practical. In terms of hardware, however, it could learn a thing or two from the MIO Alpha. A brighter screen, more secure wrist straps, wireless syncing, and apps for at least iPhone and Android would get it there. 

At double the cost of our Editors’ Choice, the Fitbit One, the Basis watch might not appeal to the mass market just yet, but I think fitness and technology enthusiasts will be thrilled to own one (or at least pre-order one, as they’re often sold out). Those who are just reaching the gates of entry to fitness tracking may want to start at an even lower price point, in which case I’d recommend the Fitbit Zip. The Basis is by far the most interesting activity tracker I’ve set sights on yet, and I’m champing at the bit to see its next iteration.

Tech and fitness enthusiasts should run out and buy the $199 Basis fitness watch immediately, as it's by far the most interesting activity tracker on the market. Cautious consumers, however, should wait for version 2.0, as the hardware design could use a few tweaks.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc