WakeMate review
Sleep. It's where some get to relax, some get to be comfortable, and some get to be a Viking. But, for others, that overnight period can be a stressful time, full of tossing and turning and mornings highlighted only by ground beans and hot showers. For those unhappy souls there are ever more dreamtime gadgets working to help the situation and turn morning monsters into drowsy-eyed angels, devices like the FitBit, and latest among them is WakeMate, a $60 accelerometer-having wristband that charts your nocturnal sleep patterns. Sadly, we've found it can also be responsible for some early morning spikes to our blood pressure.
Gallery | 12 Photos

WakeMate sleep monitor


Hardware

The term hardware seems unfortunate for something that is, ultimately, covered in cuddly felt. Indeed we don't get too many gadgets we'd want to take to bed, but the WakeMate seems snuggly enough. It's just a padded wristband with an elastic section. Gray fleece on the outside, blue fleece on the inside, big white logo to make sure you don't mistake it for a sweatband. It's sadly not-adjustable, making do with that elastic bit on the back that ensures it's too big for some and uncomfortably tight for others.

But, of course, the magic happens in actual hardware, in this case a wedge of silicon, a miniUSB port, a wee switch, an LED or two, and a silver Chicklet-sized battery all unceremoneously shrink-wrapped together -- and also graced with a big white label in case it gets separated from the softer bit.

Flip the switch one way and the green light turns on. Flip it the other and it goes off. Plug it in and the red light goes on. When the battery is full the light goes off. From a hardware control perspective it's pretty much that simple. Somewhere wrapped in there is a Bluetooth chip and with that you must pair it with your Android, BlackBerry, or iOS device, which must be running the WakeMate software. After that you, you know, go to sleep.

Going to sleep

We tested the WakeMate with a Motorola Droid running Android 2.2, which Bluetooth paired with the hard bit without problem, even when sheathed in the soft bit. Getting the software to actually recognize that the wristband was paired took a few tries, however, often requiring that we exit out of the app and load it up again once or twice.

Once paired a little icon in the software turns green and allows you to check the estimated battery life, a figure that we always found to be hopelessly optimistic. You then set the alarm time, which the app takes great pains to remind you is the latest time that it will attempt to wake you. It will fire up to 20 minutes earlier if it thinks you're awake, which basically means it senses motion.

There are two problems with this. First, it naturally only detects whether the person wearing the WakeMate is awake, so if you happen to be lucky enough to be sleeping with someone else (or unlucky enough, if they're a sheet-stealer) there's a very good chance they'll get awoken exactly when they don't want to. We'd love for there to have been a little vibration ringer in the wristband, something that would wake you but not them, because if you make a habit of waking them when they want to sleep there's a good chance you and your gadget could be sent to the couch.

The other big problem? Sometimes it's nice to wake up early and just lie all cozy in bed, dozing lightly and knowing there's a big world out there full of cold air, comforted by having 14 whole minutes left before your stupid alarm goes off and you have to put warm feet to frigid floor.

Not if you have WakeMate. Make the slightest move and that alarm starts singing. It wants you up now.

It's the wristband itself that decides when to wake you up. Basically when you set the alarm (on the phone) it sends a message to the wristband telling it when the alarm will go off. The wristband then disconnects and basically starts a timer. In that 20 minute window before the alarm deadline if the wristband detects movement it reconnects to the phone and sets the alarm (on the phone) off early. Once the alarm goes off the phone attempts to download the data from the wristband. So, there's a lot of delicate interplay going on, and a lot of opportunities for lost communication.

Another frustration is that you can't use WakeMate without setting the alarm. You have to set an alarm, because the wristband disconnects from the phone as soon as you tell it you're going to try to sleep and doesn't reconnect until the alarm goes off. Yes, you can set the alarm intentionally late and hit the "I'm up early!" button, but that doesn't always work so well...

Force Close at dawn

When everything works the WakeMate is great. As soon as your time is up (or you move within that 20 minute window) the wristband connects to the phone, the alarm goes off, and the app automatically sucks down a night's worth of accelerometer data while you go suck down a cup of Joe.

And things did go that well, but only about half the time. The other half? We repeatedly found the wristband running out of charge on us, usually on our third night of sleep despite the status estimating 11 or 12 hours worth of life left before we signed off. But, we had many nights where the wristband was freshly charged before signing off and was dead before we woke up -- not even making it eight hours. When this happens the wristband naturally won't sync in the morning because it is, after all, dead. You need to connect it to a charging source via USB and then try to sync it up.

Early on this inevitably caused a Force Close -- instant app crash and all the night's data was lost. WakeMate's developers released a fix which did help, but we still had consistent issues connecting. On weekends we'd set the alarm late and hit the "I'm up early!" button when we awoke. You're supposed to cycle the wristband on and off to get it to connect in this case, but inevitably this caused a Force Close as well. If the app crashes like this the entire night's data is lost, just like any hopes of a peaceful morning.

Analyzing your sleep

Wakelytics is the name for the service the company provides, a pretty window into the raw data spit out by the wristband -- when it does manage to get something out. The site does a great job of presenting the important information up top and then getting deeper as you scroll down.

First up is an arbitrary number assigned to rate your overall sleep quality. Ideal sleep is 100, but we found ourselves hovering in the 40s and 50s mostly. Worried whether the morning's data would sync up, no doubt. It also shows how much of any given night was spent in light or deep sleep, or awake tossing and turning.

The page shows number of awakenings, how long it took to fall asleep, and naturally the total amount of time spent sleeping -- or how long you stayed still, at least. Click on any day's worth of data and you get more specific metrics, including exactly when you were in light vs. deep sleep. There's also a simple graph showing that raw accelerometer data charted through the whole night. This will let you know exactly what time of the morning you finally got sick of the cat kneading the back of your head.

Wrap-up

The WakeMate is a simple idea and, ultimately, a simple little widget wedged in a simple little wriststrap. Obviously things are rather more complex when it comes to pairing up the software and doing something with it all and this is where, right now, it falls apart.

Even in the week and change we've been testing this the software has certainly improved, but as of right now, with product shipping out the door, it's failing as often as it works. We have little doubt things will continue to improve and within a few weeks or months pairing will be foolproof, data will be retrieved even if the app crashes, and you might even be able to use the thing without having to set an alarm.

But, even when that happens, there's the obvious question of what the heck do you do with all this data? If you have a crummy night sleeping you're going to wake up and have a bunch of graphs and charts that basically say "Yup, you sure had a crummy night." You can apply tags to the data, things like "cat scratch" or "creepy owl outside window" to help you figure out why your evenings aren't as restful as they should be. But, really, wouldn't a pen and piece of paper achieve much the same thing?

Update: There are a lot of people asking in comments whether the thing managed to make us feel more refreshed when waking up, and the simple answer is no. That's because, more often than not, the battery was dead by the morning or for some other reason the wristband failed to trigger the alarm. The few times it actually did trigger the alarm early it was a situation where the reviewer was already awake and just waiting for the alarm to go off. As mentioned above the alarm is triggered early by movement -- basically you have to already be awake to set the thing off early.

Update 2: WakeMate sent over another wristband to try, the third we've received thus-far, plus a new version of the app. In the interest of ensuring this review is accurate to what users will receive we tested the combo again. The new version of the app indeed does connect more reliably, encouragingly detecting the wristband instantly and, before turning out the lights last night, it indicated 99% and 21 hours of charge left. Upon waking up the battery in the WakeMate was dead, not making it through a single night. When we plugged it in to charge and attempted to download the night's data the app crashed. Again, a dead battery means the device cannot wake you up early, and a crash while syncing to the wristband means your night's data is lost.
WakeMate

WakeMate

Pros

  • Generally unobtrusive design
  • Clean and intuitive data presentation
  • Theoretically easy use

Cons

  • Crash-prone software
  • Poor and inconsistent battery life
  • Non-adjustable wrist strap
Summary