It seems like everyone's launching wearable devices these days - from ultra-affordable fitness trackers to more fully-featured smartwatches, along with other variations on these themes. But are these devices - particularly those that cost a small fortune - actually any good at what they claim they can do?
One of the key features highlighted by both Apple and Microsoft in their wearable devices is the integrated heart rate monitor, and in an article published today, MIT Technology Review revealed its findings after a recent test of both devices.
The reviewer, Rachel Metz, said that she wore both the Apple Watch and Microsoft Band while cycling to and from work. She also wore the Polar H7 Bluetooth chest strap, which she describes as "one of the most accurate consumer devices for measuring heart rate", as a 'control' reading against which to compare those from the Band and Watch.
After several days of testing, she found that "the Band's average heart-rate measurements were consistently closer to the results of the Polar chest strap - sometimes within a beat or two per minute". However, she also noted that Microsoft's wearable could sometimes be off by "as many as 13 beats" per minute.
However, it seems that Apple's Watch didn't come close to matching the Band, much less the Polar chest strap - Metz said that Apple's device "gave readings as many as 77 beats per minute different from the Polar device."
Of course, these are just the findings of one test, but some may well be surprised by how poorly the Apple Watch performed in comparison with the Band. Apple fans might even claim that the reviewer had a tattoo on that arm...
Still, it's worth noting that Metz wasn't blown away by the performance of either device. Having also looked at other elements of their health-tracking, such as measuring calories burned, she ultimately concluded:
Altogether, the experience was a far cry from the vision of these devices as digital sages drawing deep, accurate insights from the data they collect, helping doctors diagnose ailments, and eventually, perhaps, even predicting health problems or detecting them before they become serious.
So while devices like these are certainly capable in certain aspects, we're a long way from realizing that vision of smart wearables as true, indispensable healthcare companions. But that's clearly the direction in which we're headed - and it probably won't be too long before heart rate sensors on devices like the Watch and Band gain much greater accuracy.