The first time I launched the Larklife iPhone app, I thought, “How can an app this well designed and different from the competition go with a gadget that’s so clunky and awkward?” Larklife ($149.99, direct) is just one of many fitness-tracking gadgets vying for the attention of consumers who want to be motivated to get moving. And the app could do just that, provided you have an iPhone, because it really does work differently from all the other personal health and wellness programs you’ll find. But the wristband that goes with it doesn’t compare to the more slender and sophisticated models you’ll find in big brand names like Nike and Jawbone. Due to Larklife’s lackluster form factor and slightly high price, it sits somewhere in the middle of the fitness gadget pack. It’s not bad, but not great, and for less money you can probably find something you’ll like better.
For me, the answer is the $100 Fitbit One, our Editors’ Choice and one of only a few fitness gadgets that isn’t a bracelet, making it easier to conceal when you don’t want your friends or a hot date to know you’re monitoring your physical activity. The Fitbit costs less than most other devices, works with both a Web app and smartphone app, and connects with a host of other personal health apps and devices.
More similar to Larkflife are the Nike+ FuelBand and the Jawbone UP. The Jawbone UP fits the most comfortably of the three, although the Nike+ FuelBand at least puts visual data, like the time and your total activity for the day, right on the bracelet itself—neither Larklife nor Jawbone UP do. If I’m going to wear a gadget 24/7, I’d at least like it to tell me the time.
Though a bracelet, Larklife disassembles in a way that I’ve never seen before in a fitness tracker. Its core component is a small piece of plastic with a strip of LED lights and a single button on the side. That core piece snaps into a plastic bracelet or “day band,” as well as a separate and more flexible strap for overnight use to track your sleep. The USB rechargeable battery isn’t in the core piece but rather in each band.
The lights serve a couple of purposes, like flashing to remind you to be active or to indicate a function. For example, press the button twice to automatically log when you eat a meal so you don’t have to take out your smartphone to record everything you eat during dinner. You can add specifics later, or not.
In wearing Larklife for several days, I got used to it the same way I got used to wearing a wristwatch. I removed it to type and to slide my arms into a fitted jacket. But I didn’t like that the blue bracelet called attention to itself. Fitbit One, on the other hand, hides discreetly out of sight on a waistband, bra strap, or even in a pocket (the thing is tiny), giving you more control over who knows you’re wearing one.
The Jawbone UP is much smaller and sleeker than Larklife, but in other ways they’re extremely similar. Each is designed to be worn on the wrist and only sync via an iOS device (not a computer), although Larklife syncs via Bluetooth whereas Jawbone UP connects via the headphone jack. Both the Jawbone UP and Larklife include silent alarms that vibrate to wake you, as does Fitbit One.
Larklife’s Strength: A Simplified App
While the Larklife band may be clunky, its companion iPhone app, where you see all the data the device collects, is decidedly simplified. It has only four categories for logging data—meals, workout, boost, and sleep—and automates some of the recordkeeping for you. If you run or workout vigorously while wearing Larklife, the app automatically records that activity as a workout (although it once thought I worked out when all I did was scurry to catch a train). A “boost,” the way the app describes it, could be anything that makes you feel refreshed, from taking a brisk walk or heading to the water cooler for some office gabbing. It can be whatever you want, and I like that Larklife includes it in its data collection. Decreasing stress should be seen as an integral part of wellness.
The band and app sync over Bluetooth, so you always have quick access to the data when your iPhone is nearby. I ended up flipping the Bluetooth off quite often, however, to conserve my phone’s battery.
Most of the app display appears in portrait mode. Bubbles relating to each of the four logged activities (meal, workout, boost, sleep) fill up a screen for one day’s activity. Drag your finger around the current day’s screen, and the bubbles bounce and move around. Turn the phone horizontally, and your day’s activity plot onto a bar graph that shows when you were active, total time active (in minutes), calories burned, distance traveled, and your sleep data.
What Larklife captures isn’t remarkably different than other fitness gadgets and apps, except for the unique “boost” category, but it does simplify the process of recording. When you enter a meal, for example, the app doesn’t ask you to search a massive database of foods for exactly what you’ve eaten, but rather offers a selection of basic food types—protein, vegetable, fruit, grain, and water—and has you tap the ones you’ve consumed. Again, the emphasis is more on wellness and thinking positively than getting into the nitty gritty of what you did wrong for the day, although not everyone will agree with this approach. I, for one, learn a lot when I count calories and pay close attention to exactly what I’m eating. I’d rather have a more detailed system than a general one. But it could be appealing for people who want to change their fitness and eating habits in a way that will actually stick.
Better Fitness Through Personal Data
Larklife is a good product but it competes with a few that are better and less expensive. The Fitbit One remains the clear Editors’ Choice for its excellent form factor, top-notch data collection, and wonderful companion app for iPhone, Android, and the Web. It also integrates with a host of other apps and gadgets. When you can get all that for $99, Larklife just doesn’t seem like it has much appeal.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc