Tuesday March 1st, 2016

Under Armour and HTC are both finally getting into the wearables game, and the two companies have collaborated to create a line of fitness-focused products which they’ve bundled it into a neat, little package that they’re calling the HealthBox. Included in the HealthBox are a digital scale, a wrist-based activity tracker and a heart rate monitor that you strap to your chest. Each item connects to the Under Armour Record app (which you can download for free on iTunes or Google Play), allowing you to monitor and log your progress.

While you can buy each of the items separately, bundling them all together in the HealthBox for $400 will save you $40. The band and scale are both priced at $180, while the heart rate monitor is $80. These are certainly not cheap devices, so I spent several weeks testing them out to see if they’re worth the hefty price tag.

UA Band

There’s a lot to like about the look and feel of the UA Band. Under Armor and HTC took a minimalistic approach to the design. It’s light, comfortable to wear and, most important, you hardly realize that it’s there most of the time.

Unfortunately, they opted to follow in the footsteps of Microsoft’s Band and go with a wristband design. The thin, horizontal strip that houses the display works well enough, but it makes for a somewhat awkward experience due to the orientation of the band. It is by no means a dealbreaker, but something that looks and works more like a regular watch just makes for a more natural user experience. Something that may be a dealbreaker, however, is the lackluster display. The band uses a 1.3-inch PMOLED display that suffices in most situations, but if you’re shelling out $180 for a fitness tracker, you certainly expect a higher-quality display.

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The band comes with a proprietary charging cradle that can connect to a charger via USB. The magnetic connection was very weak, and the slightest touch would disconnect it from the band. Making matters worse is that the cable is incredibly short, giving you little to no leeway when you want to place the band on a surface to charge. I often had to rest the band on top of the wall charger when I needed to charge it. Luckily, the band has substantial battery life. It lasts up to four or five days on a full charge, and you can recharge the band back to 100% in about 30 minutes, so you won’t be charging it often or for very long.

The options for the band are pretty basic: you can track activities, control the music on your phone, receive basic notifications and track your resting heart rate. That last part is important since you can only get your active heart rate by pairing it with the heart rate monitor (more on that below), which is a huge downside if you are considering buying just the band separately.

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Step tracking worked well enough, and it seemed to match up with some of the other trackers that I tested it against. But it uses an accelerometer with no GPS tracking, so I noticed that the distance of my runs were a little off compared to other devices. The discrepancies weren’t drastic, but getting inaccurate distance measurements on your runs defeats the purpose of the tracker.

While sleep tracking is automatic, you must manually start and stop recording your workout sessions by selecting the activity on your device. Selecting weights, for instance, worked fine, but run tracking consistently stopped recording partway through practically every run I attempted with it. All activities should be automatically tracked so you can focus on your workouts, and this is a feature that the UA Band needs to offer. The less you need to fiddle with the device, the better.

UA Heart Rate Monitor

A wristband is simple to wear, but strapping the heart rate monitor to your chest immediately becomes an awkward experience. It doesn’t restrict your movement, but unlike the wristband, you can feel it wrapped tightly around your chest. There were times when I forgot that I had the wristband on, but that’s not the case with the heart rate monitor—it straddles the line between slightly uncomfortable and tolerable, which is not something you’ll want to deal with while you’re working out. It also clearly sticks out as it produces a bulge on your chest, and the blinking blue light only makes it more noticeable.

I tested the heart rate monitor against several other wrist-based trackers that I already own by manually measuring my heart rate while simultaneously wearing UA’s heart rate monitor with another health tracker, and the chest strap does appear to be more accurate (if only marginally). The tracker that I regularly use was, at times, nearly in sync with UA’s heart rate monitor, but more often than not, it was a few BPM off.

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The only area in which the heart rate monitor shines is in the feedback it gives you when it is paired with the UA Band. A simple LED light on the bottom of the band will light up in a certain color depending on which “zone” you are in, so you get instant, visual feedback on your heart rate. This can be extremely useful if you’re focusing on an intense workout and can’t afford to fumble around trying to get a reading. Unfortunately, the heart rate monitor shut down midway through many of my workouts, and activating it was a hit-or-miss experience. So not only was I unable to properly log how many calories I was burning, it was an uncomfortable and frustrating experience trying to reactivate the heart rate monitor in the middle of a workout (not to mention having to do so in a packed gym).

For men, strapping a heart rate monitor to your chest is easier to tolerate; women, for obvious reasons, will likely want no part of it. It’s only marginally more accurate than the heart rate monitor on most wrist-based health trackers, and it simply doesn’t offer enough benefits to incentivize you to put it on every time you work out. However, if getting a more accurate heart rate reading is important to you, then overlooking the inherent awkwardness of wearing the device could be a sacrifice you’d be willing to make.

UA Scale

You can immediately appreciate the sleek, circular design of the UA Scale, and HTC’s fingerprints are all over it. Like the band and heart rate monitor, the all-black design looks great.

The scale measures both your weight and body fat. After stepping on the scale, you get a quick readout of your weight, a greeting after it detects your profile–it can track up to eight different people–and then a short wait as it measures your body fat. The whole process takes roughly 30 seconds to complete, and it connects to the UA record app and sends measurements to your phone immediately after the scale finishes taking your measurements. It’s a great way to monitor your weight, and you can set goals to reach, which will be displayed on the scale after each reading.

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My first go-around with the scale was a mixed bag, as inconsistent readings had me doubting the accuracy of the scale every time I stepped on. I never really doubted the accuracy of my weight, but the body fat percentage would vary wildly. The readings for my body fat would, on more than one occasion, change up to 6% overnight. There was also one instance in which my body fat dropped to 5%—as great as that would be, that’s on an unreal level. Some of the greatest professional athletes in the world could never even imagine reaching that figure.

After performing a hard reset on the scale, the body fat readings appeared to be more consistent. However, there was enough fluctuation that a mistrust of the accuracy always lingered when I stepped on. In fairness, I have yet to come across a digital scale that is reliably accurate when it comes to measuring body fat. I was told by a rep that there are pending software updates aimed at addressing some of the issues mentioned here, so that’s something to keep in mind when considering whether or not to purchase this scale.

Conclusion

The HealthBox has all the products that you would need to track your training and progress, and the design on everything looks great. Unfortunately, the whole thing feels rushed. Inaccuracy and connection issues plague each of the items included in the HealthBox, and even with the bundled discount, you’re still paying a premium price for it all. Unless they’re able to address some of the many issues bogging the whole experience down, there are cheaper and better alternatives out there.

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