A Bluetooth activity tracker

Activity trackers are now everywhere, on adults, kids and dogs. An ocean of activity and sleep data is collected 24/7. The well-known brands are quite expensive, but there are lots of cheaper new devices these days. Are they just as good? The best way to find out is to try it.

The devices themselves are small units that often have no buttons and some don’t even have a display, they are data collectors that transmit to a phone via Bluetooth LE.

The tracker

The “Ido Smartwatch 002” is one of the many cheaper activity trackers that are more or less clones of well-known brands.

The manufacturer Idoosmart gave it the designation “Smartwatch”, as tells the time, and can give a buzzer alert when the phone is ringing. But that is all the smartwatch functionality it has. The website says for some of the models that they are “waterproof”, but I don’t think this one is (and won’t try it).

It is just what it is: a stepcounter and sleeptracker that has Bluetooth 4.0.

The app

The accompaying app (Veryfit) is quite basic; day and week views with steps, and the same views for sleep data. The graphical presentation is quite nice. There is no option to sync to a website, the data is stored on the phone, so it is viewable when there is no internet connection. Exporting of the data is not possible.

VeryfitScreenA logfile is written on the phone in /veryfit with synchronization information in hex and a few Chinese phrases. According to Google Translate they mean “Time”, “Number of steps”, etc.

Ordering

I ordered the “iDo Smartwatch 002” directly from the manufacturers website in China, for 25 USD including shipping. An invoice and a track-and-trace number were promptly emailed. Shipping took two weeks in total, but that can vary.

Installation

It was a matter of taking it out of the box and installing the app. Both were up and running in minutes.

Notification functions

The Smartband can be set up to alert you (by buzzing) when the phone rings, but it cannot handle any other kind of notification. It also has a built-in alarm clock with programmable daily alarms for every weekday.

Basic operation

It is operated by tapping the unit; twice to wake it up, and then once to cycle through the different display screens; time of day, number of steps, distance, calories, and sleep mode.

It counts steps quite well, it didn’t deviate a lot from the other two stepcounters I compared it to (between -5 and +5%).

The strap is too flexible to reliably hold the tracker in, and the clasp can open too easily. The tracker has no hook or eyelet to attach it to anything, so the best place for it is in the moneypocket of jeans.

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Charging is done with a USB cable. The battery easily lasts a week.

The OLED screen is well readable, just not in bright sunlight, and it is too bright at night.

Sleep tracking

Sleep tracking is new to me, and as almost everyone else, I have no idea how to interpret the sleep data. It distinguishes between awake, light and deep sleep, but basically it is just a pattern of colored stripes that is different every night. There are no settings to adjust sensitivity.

Sleep recognition is not automatic. When the sleepmode screen is displayed, you have to tap it three times to activate sleep mode. This is not very easy. Despite that, the unit sometimes manages to enter sleep mode all by itself when I’m sitting at the office. Although insightful, it is another good reason not to share this data with the boss..

Sharing data

iDoSmart_shareIn one word: no. Uploading, sharing and trend analysis (a huge selling points for the big brands) are not possible. There are only simple graphs in the app. “Share with a friend” will result in a nice presentation of a running girl on the screen, and you’re supposed to make a printscreen, and email that from outside the app. There are “buttons” displayed that look like sharing icons; but they are just images, touching them does nothing.

Trends analysis and integration

This is another strength of the big brands: visualization, trends, comparisons, competitions, food tracking, sleep analysis and more. Often integrated with options to enter other health data, such as weight, food intake, blood pressure and excercise data, for example heartrate and GPS tracks.

Because the Ido Smartband doesn’t sync with a website, none of this is possible. If that is a weak or a strong point depends on your preference. It makes use of this tracker very easy; no account to set up, no password to remember, no policies to review, no privacy controls to set, and it works without internet. For trends analysis, you’ll have to enter the data in a spreadsheet.

Conclusion

After three months of use, it is still working without issues. All the stepcounters I have used rebooted themselves (lost battery connections when dropped or banged) now and again, but not this one.

When sleep tracking data is important, occasionally spontaneously falling asleep (of the unit, not the wearer) at the office will be an issue. The app is quite solid. It just has very limited functionality and spelling errors in the English texts.

I have not assessed the accuracy of distance or calories calculations.

With Bluetooth broadcasting, (probably) anyone with the right software can pair with your device and listen.

The unit is splash- but not waterproof, and it should be. These things always end up in the washing machine.

Privacy concerns

Although the privacy aspects of activity trackers are not a concern of many, Bluetooth broadcasting is not ideal for communication that is not intended to be broadcast. And as with any app that you did not write yourself, you never know exactly what it does.

Is the number of steps a person takes per day a trivial piece of data? Today maybe, but as “sitting is the new smoking”, this could change.

The concerns below apply only to trackers that sync data to an online service:

Until now, only once has activity tracker data unintentionally been exposed, leading to embarrassment, as not all calorie-burning activities are of a sort that you want to tell the world about.

All of the fitness-data websites have policies that are quite broad, so there is no way to be sure that they won’t (in future) sell data.

An interesting article titled “Attacks and Defenses for a Health Monitoring Device” lists numerous ways to attack, eavesdrop on, and forge activity tracker data.

There are no known cases of activity tracker data having been used in legal cases where the data was subpenaed. One plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit did use activity tracker data to show life-affecting reduced activity post-injury.

Faking steps?

Forgot to take your activity tracker with you, and compelled to log the steps afterwards? Most 3D-acellerometer stepcounters will count steps when spun around in a circular motion; for instance mounted on a car wheel or bicycle crank or spun it around on a length of rope.

Figuring out how an upload protocol works, how the data is structured, and uploading your self-created data is not impossible either.

Independent operations rating: 2 out of 3 stars. This activity tracker does not depend on cloud services. Works offline, but downloading and installing software is necessary.

Independent operations rating: 2 out of 3 stars. This activity tracker does not depend on cloud services. Works offline, but downloading and installing software is necessary.

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