Once again, gyms are shutting their doors. Snow’s trapping us indoors. In-person workplace health accountability has fallen to Zoom’s “auto-touchup” feature. Time boundaries between work and play blur. Supermarket lines or delivery? Delivery. All lead to “quarantine 15” weight gain.
Can wearable health and fitness technology come to the rescue?
A new consumer gadget called the Halo is Amazon’s bet. I’ve rigorously tested a dozen wearables. I’ve reviewed and compared them in separate articles:
I received an early-access device for evaluation and had mixed impressions. Partially because I have more advanced wearables already. Partially because I’m worried about the privacy implications of supplying Amazon with reams of highly invasive biometric data. For certain people though, the Halo is ideal. What follows is its background, the pros and cons, and criteria to help you determine if this is the right device for you.
Amazon Halo Review: Product Background
Amazon Halo is their attempt at breaking into the holistic health market.
The first appeal of the Halo is a light price tag. At $65, it provides some benefits rivaling multi-hundred dollar devices. Though it does require a cheap subscription (discussed below).
I received my early-access device in the dark fabric color. Their three color ways include:
- Black + onyx
- Winter + silver
- Blush + rose gold
A sport band made of silicone is now available too.
Each color comes in several sizes:
The band itself weighs little. It’s light, minimalist, and small. About twice the weight of my leather bracelets. Because the band doesn’t have airplane mode, I don’t like wearing it at night (I wear an Oura Ring instead).
Setup went without a hitch. Within minutes of unboxing, Amazon had gained unfettered access to my biometrics (a major concern I’ll discuss later).
I’d imagine that Amazon will eventually bundle the Halo with their other more premium products and Prime service as a sneaky “bonus” that collects your valuable data for their use.
Many companies in the wellness space eventually fold and disappear. Though it can’t do much yet, it’s backed by one of the largest tech giants. Buying the Halo is a bet that Amazon will continue adding features and enhancing the product.
Amazon Halo Review: What I Like
Simplicity is the Halo’s lynchpin. Their design team meticulously thought out the entire process. From unboxing, to month two of daily use. It’s built for your average user. I consider it the wearable equivalent of checking email.
Though it didn’t sit completely flush, it fit well enough feel almost unnoticeable. Indeed, on occasion, I’d go about my day and realize that I forgot to put it back on. In the words of Amazon, it’s: “designed to be invisible”.
For those transitioning from other smart wrist-mounted screens, the lack thereof may seem like a nuisance. It takes getting used to. With time you’ll adjust and enjoy the indistractability of no additional sources of notifications.
In most regards, it’s an average product. The most interesting feature, however, isn’t often associated with health. I doubt you Googled tone analytics wearables and just happened across Amazon’s new product. Throughout the day, the wrist-strapped smart band acts like a tiny microphone. Recording, analyzing, and judging the sentiment of your conversations. And, for better or worse, It’s eerily accurate. When I thought back through my conversations throughout the day, tone classifications like “interested”, “amused”, “focused” aligned perfectly. As did “irritated”, “confused”, and “disappointed” for others. I can imagine use cases like:
- Understanding how you come across in team meetings
- An objective third-party analysis of arguments (should you have any)
- Noticing how you sound to family versus friends versus coworkers
- Preparing for performances
Amazon claims that your phone’s camera can render a 3D body scan with accuracy comparable to clinical measurements. Theoretically, you can use this to track body fat changes, a metric more indicative of health than weight. Then adjust your diet, exercise, or lifestyle accordingly until you reach your ideal body composition. My experience was nothing near clinical measurements (discussed below), but the idea is a unique application of Amazon’s massive data stores and leading Machine Learning technologies.
If you’re looking for a minimalist wearable at a good price, Halo delivers. But it’s not perfect.
Amazon Halo Review: What I Hate
Full disclosure: I retired my band and have no intentions on repurchasing. Here’s why…
Looks and feel aren’t everything, but the Halo feels cheap. The fabric is incredibly lightweight (a good thing), but the sensor itself feels flimsy. I’m scared a good drop might break or damage it. My qualms extend beyond aesthetics.
Fitness enthusiasts will be disappointed by Halo’s activity tracking. Unlike other options, their algorithm revolves around an arbitrary point system. Intense activity garners more points. Additionally, too much sedentary time imposes negative scores. In comparison to my Garmin and Oura, Halo greatly overestimated my step count. If you care about getting the benefits of 10,000 steps daily, you’ll want to shoot for ~12,000 instead. But there’s no ability to set your own physical activity goals, a crucial (and basic) feature.
The data itself suffers quality problems. Amazon “fills-in” missing or questionable data with their best guess. That’s why I discovered large sleep and fitness discrepancies between my Halo and other wearables. In short, I cannot fully trust its data or recommendations.
I found some of the advertising claims deceptive. Neither body scanning nor battery life lived up to my expectations.
Amazon distinctly claims that the accuracy of their body composition analysis matches the gold-standards of DEXA, calipers, and the less-accurate bioelectrical impedance scales. I’ve had a professional analysis done with calipers and own a bioelectrical impedance scale. Halo pegged me at a laughably inaccurate 17.5 percent body fat. Other methods put me between 11-12 percent body fat. This is a feature that needs significant work and can lead to unwarranted body dysmorphia.
Disable the tone analysis (the key feature), and battery life is seven days. Enabling it chews through the battery drops in two days… on paper. Realistically I got about 1.75 days use before needing charging. Tone analysis spares your privacy by not storing the words of your conversation (so they claim), but this comes at the cost of context. Amazon frequently samples your tone throughout the day, but there’s no transcript of the words and sentences that accompany each tone classification. Was the “irritated” tone from your early-morning meeting? Or from spilling coffee moments before?
Of course, the charger is proprietary and resembles a fragile clamp. Only a matter of days until it breaks.
The entry-level price point has a dark side. After spending $100 for the physical gadget, there’s ongoing operation cost. Your first 6-months come free, and afterward, the (required) subscription costs $4 per month. $48 per year isn’t outrageously expensive, but completely unnecessary.
Social competition is one of the biggest and most overlooked determinants of health and fitness. It’s key to CrossFit’s meteoric rise. I compare Oura scores with my girlfriend every morning. We’re accountable to each other and competitive (in a friendly way). My Garmin has an “Insights” leaderboard that benchmarks my data against other users worldwide. Gamification of health and fitness metrics are among the most powerful tools and wellness trends of the future. Halo has zero bonafide social gamification (their private Facebook group doesn’t count).
Worst of all, however, is that you’re granting Amazon access to your most precious biological data. The same data that advertisers would pay a fortune for (and likely will buy later). Amazon should pay you for it. Yet, like a slap in the face, you end up paying them to steal your own data. No consumer health tool collects data as intimate. The cherry on top? They squander that access and provide only barebones value.
Everywhere you go, a miniature microphone—disguised as a fitness tracker—records your every sentence, phrase, and word. Your quirks and mannerisms regularly uploading to the cloud. Two steps closer to an Orwellian reality.
Should You Buy an Amazon Halo?
The Halo needs serious improvement. As it stands, it’s a budget-friendly wearable designed to bring pseudo automated holistic health coaching to the masses. It’s primary features and use cases include:
- Tone analytics
- Body fat tracking over time
- Sleep tracking
- Activity tracking
If you strongly trust Amazon, want a screenless smart wearable, and are already comfortable in their ecosystem with other voice products, the Halo could be a good device.
If, on the other hand, you’re wary of the power of your personal data (Black Mirror, anyone?), steer clear. Instead, I’d recommend buying either:
- Oura RIng
Each of the above devices cost more, but work far better and don’t cost your privacy and freedom.
Bottom Line: The Amazon Halo is a decent wearable for the price if you’re looking for a minimalist activity, sleep, and body tracker. As long as you don’t mind your most private moments uploading into the cloud; or it landing in the hands of other companies.