Get on the Right Track with the Best Smart Health Devices
There’s a lot about you and your routine – especially in terms of health and exercise – which can benefit from smart tracking and feedback using the best smart health devices.
If you haven’t already added a FitBit, Apple Watch or similar device to your life, you might have dipped your toe into tracking personal data with an app like Strava, which measures your runs or cycle trips using your phone’s in-built GPS and lets you gain ‘kudos’ (basically likes) by sharing that information with your followers.
Measuring fitness and other health-related data is popular because it gives even casual athletes something to strive for.
That, though, is just the start; technologies in this heading are likely to be the next most important step in our health since the CDC.
The ability to build up a detailed picture of your health using extended tracking will make it possible to identify issues much earlier with greater accuracy – ‘precision medicine’ is a term heard more and more.
Both Apple and Google have underlying health tracking systems for developers in place – Apple Health (called HealthKit by developers) and Google Fit are the names to look out for, and compatibility means the data from your scales, heart monitor, training tracker and other devices will all be in one easy-to-find place.
You can then browse progress in a weekly view across all your goals in a single app.
There is not much to choose between the systems – arguably, Apple has the better data security – but you’ve effectively chosen depending on whether your phone/tablet is with iOS or Android.
THE BEST SMART HEALTH DEVICES
APPLE WATCH SERIES 5 REVIEW
Apple's latest watch is a refinement of the original, showing just how far miniaturization has come.
The watch is able to take and receive calls (even without your phone in your pocket, if you choose the pricier Cellular + GPS version), track your activity and indicate calorie use, detect if you've fallen and automatically call the emergency services, and even allow you to take an ElectroCardiograph (ECG) reading to monitor heart activity.
It can build a picture of the activity you're taking part in based on how much it's moving around (the motion of your arm) and your GPS movements, or you can tell it you're starting and stopping an activity (more useful at the gym).
This information is used to provide you feedback and to give you encouragement. Many iPhone apps feature additional apps for the watch to put key functions on your wrist too.
Like the phone, the Apple watch has a full color screen, which only actually comes to life when it detects your wrist movement required to check the screen.
Even with this power-saving measure, the watch will need charging every night.
Also, like the phone, you'll want accessories. Apple charges slightly more for the larger screen size (effectively the 'men's' size), more finishes, and then there's the range of straps. On the other hand, because they're phones, you can pick them up on contract.
FITBIT CHARGE 4 REVIEW
The original FitBit clipped into a jeans pocket and simply monitored movements using an accelerometer - a motion sensor- and fed this back in terms of steps taken, calories burned, floors climbed and activity duration and intensity.
The FitBit most people remember is the FitBit Flex, a wrist band with just five small LED lights indicating progress toward a daily goal, but up to seven day's charge via USB.
In many ways the new Charge 4 is the logical successor to that Flex - it's not significantly different in form, it still manages a week's charge, but the display does give you time and other useful watch-like functions too.
Most of the actual data is read on the accompanying app, where you get the benefit of a full color display and data stored over time for comparisons.
ALIVECOR KARDIA MOBILE ECG REVIEW
This neat little device, smaller than a credit card, allows you to perform an ECG wherever you are by placing your fingers on two electrodes for 30 seconds. The test is called 'medical grade' by the manufacturers, and highlights irregular heart rhythms to give early warning of atrial fibrillation.
The recorded data is stored for use in the supplied app (which also allows you to manually record a symptom diary for things like palpitations, shortness of breath and diet), and it integrates with Apple and Android health apps.
For those with Apple Watches that pre-date the Series 4, which includes an ECG measure, the company also produces a strap - the KardiaBand - for the watches that include the same system.
It works by pressing one finger from the opposite hand against the contact on the outside of the strap whenever you choose.
WITHINGS (NOKIA) BPM+ REVIEW
Measuring your blood pressure is important in the tracking of more medical issues than is worth cataloging here, but this used to require a trip to the GP.
Now you can follow your heart from home and track the data with Withings' (formerly Nokiabranded) Wireless Blood Pressure Monitor (the sensor has a battery that needs to be charged).
The simple app gives you color-coded results and advises you on any steps you might need to take if the result is outside the normal range. You can share your history with your doctor too, to help with diagnosis.
WITHINGS (NOKIA) THERMO REVIEW
Smart thermometers (not to be mistaken for smart thermostats) have been around a little while now, but the Withings Thermo is arguably the pick of the bunch (assuming price isn't a factor).
Using an array of IR sensors, you don't even need to make contact to take a measurement definitely an improvement if you're used to holding a squirming infant in place until the under-arm thermometer deigns to give a readout, it's easy to see how this thermometer picked up more than one design award.
MUSE 2 REVIEW
The Electroencephalogram (EEG) - in hospitals at least - is a brain test conducted by placing electrodes all over the head to measure the activity of different areas of the brain. It is used in the diagnosis of epilepsy among other things.
The Muse EEG, however, is a device for assisting in meditation, and so uses rather fewer electrodes and can be worn over the ears and around the forehead, and looks a little like Google Glass without the camera.
Used with an app (it connects via Bluetooth), the device detects when your mind begins to wander during meditation and - in the most simple mode - changes the music until you begin to concentrate again. It also produces graphs at the end of each session (as brief as three minutes) that you can use to track your progress, aiming to keep your mind calmer each time you meditate.
QUARDIOBASE 2 REVIEW
This smart scale can do everything; it has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, a fast and accurate measuring system to eliminate the awkward wait, and the option to replace numbers with smileys.
In terms of measurement, in common with many scales, it also includes a body fat measurement and a BMI calculator.
Using the accompanying app, it can be set up to recognize different users and give them personalized feedback.
The app even includes a pregnancy mode allowing mothers-to-be to add pictures as they track weekly progress.
FITBIT ACE REVIEW
The famous brand has also added to its range an activity monitor especially for kids (ages eight and up). It allows the child to track steps, active minutes and sleep, gives them reminders to move (so you don't have to shout about too much TV time) and helps them achieve goals with virtual badges and celebration messages.
The data is fed not only to the kid's phone but also to parents via a secure family account.