Wellograph Watch: Activity tracking with style and sapphire

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Wellograph Watch: Activity tracking with style and sapphire

Wellograph Fitness Tracker

There are a ton of fitness and activity monitors out in the wild now that could basically be described as the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some of the fitness monitors I've reviewed over the past few years have been amazing, with accuracy, good battery life, and interaction with apps that track your activity and inspire you to do more. A handful have been just awful, with battery life issues, crashes, and apps that weren't thought out. And there were the ugly devices - and I mean they were awful to look at. The Wellograph (US$349) certainly isn't an ugly device, and it's one of the more innovative fitness devices I've seen so far. But like so many others fitness monitors that are rushing to market, it seems to be a work in progress.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 1.65 x 1.30 x 0.5 inch (42 x 33 x 12.5 mm)
  • Weight: 3.52 ounce (55 grams)
  • Display: 1.26 inch low-power LCD with backlight
  • Sensors: 9-axis motion sensor, Tri-LED heart rate sensor
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • Battery life: 7 days per charge (210 mAh)
  • Waterproof: 5 ATM, up to 50 meters or 160 feet
  • Materials: Anodized aluminum lower case, stainless steel upper case, spherical sapphire crystal.

Design

I have to feel a bit sorry for the Wellograph design team, as their device - which is ostensibly a watch-style wrist device - will inevitably be compared to the upcoming Apple Watch. Rather than a smooth, curvaceous design, the Wellograph is quite boxy with rounded corners. That being said, the design really grew on me as I wore the Wellograph.

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The case comes in two different finishes: Silver Satin with a brown leather strap and Black Chrome with a black leather strap. Additional straps are available for $49 each either in leather or as a black nylon Nato strap.

One of the big selling points of the Wellograph is that it uses a sapphire crystal - the exact material that was expected on the iPhone 6 models (it does exist on the Touch ID home button) and that will be on several models of the Apple Watch. That should help to keep the crystal from being scratched, and in testing for almost a month the crystal remained scratch-free despite some accidental bumps.

The user interface is controlled by two buttons on the right side of the case, which might make it difficult for left-handed people to use and wear. Unlike the Apple Watch, the display operates only in one orientation while being worn so it can't be flipped.

Most fitness tracker UIs use a single button to cycle through a number of screens. The two buttons on the Wellograph are used to scroll through text-based menus on the device and select those menu items. While the UI is rather easy to pick up and understand, I found that changing the settings on the device was cumbersome. It's definitely a lot easier to do that through a smartphone app like so many other devices.

The display is kind of schizophrenic, at times both wonderful and annoying. Outside in bright sunshine, it's a joy to use, with large white letters appearing on a stark black background. On cloudy days or in a darkened room, you'll find it's difficult to read the display without using the backlight. Once selected in the settings, the backlight turns on while you're pushing buttons, then fades to darkness over a few seconds.

At the bottom of the default digital time display are three small icons. One shows the relative battery charge level, the middle one is the current day of the month, and the last is a heart-shaped icon that visually displays how far you've come toward your daily exercise goal. The Wellograph app tries to steer you to do 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily.

The strap on the Wellograph is a standard leather strap that is quite comfortable. For those who are more active or wish to take the device swimming (it is waterproof!) there's a nylon Nato band. For charging, there's a magnetic dock that the watch rests on, displaying a "sideways clock" while the device is getting power.

Function

Part of my comment about the Wellograph feeling like a work in progress has to do with how new the device is; during my weeks of testing, I was notified about three firmware updates. Those are done through the iPhone app via Bluetooth

The Bluetooth syncing seems just plain odd. Most devices have a simple way to sync, where you just push a button and the device contacts your iPhone and begins a sync. Not here. Syncing the Wellograph involves launching the app and tapping sync, at which time you're asked to "Select an accessory." Huh? I finally realized that it was trying to find the Wellograph, which it didn't do automatically because the device turns Bluetooth off in between syncs.

To turn it on, you turn to the watch, and then have to punch the two buttons a total of ten times to cycle through menus and turn Bluetooth on just long enough for your iPhone and Wellograph to talk to each other. Sure, turning off Bluetooth is a great way to make sure that your device isn't constantly burning up battery power, but I'd much rather charge the device once a day than have to punch buttons every time I want to sync the device.

Even my $35 Virgin Pulse Max has a better sync design than this, and it has a battery that lasts for about six months! With it, I just punch one button seven times quickly until the screen says "Sync", launch the app, and the two devices communicate and transfer info. Done.

To achieve that 7-day per charge battery life, the Wellograph seems to make some other sacrifices: the display backlight that's only on when you're pushing buttons and a "power saver mode" that you have to remember to get out of by pushing a button. The first day of use I didn't know I had to push that button to "wake" the Wellograph, so it didn't track my steps until much later in the day when I actually "woke" it.

Since that power saver mode seems to enable itself when there's not too much activity (it thinks you're asleep), the Wellograph enabled the mode many times while I was working at my desk. Since I didn't look at the watch face obsessively, I wasn't aware until later that it wasn't tracking my steps. A step tracker is worthless unless it's constantly tracking your steps.

One feature that is pretty cool is the heart rate sensor - a similar sensor will be on the back of every Apple Watch as well. All you need to do to measure heart rate is to push buttons until you get to the BPM screen. Initially, a heart shape pulsed along with my heart until it got an average reading, at which it stopped and displayed that reading. On occasion I found that it would "beat" but not display a beats-per-minute figure, which made me wonder if I had just died. Not good. After one of the firmware updates, the heart rate sensor changed to an actual EKG-like heart trace.

I compared the Wellograph BPM figure with that from both another smartphone-enabled device - a Withings Blood Pressure Monitor - and with the time-tested manual method. In all cases, the heart rate was within a few BPM, so it looks like their sensor is right on the money.

The "fitness" number that is calculated by the app didn't sit well with me, either. What it does is display a bell curve showing the percentile you're in for your "fitness age". The app explains that the "fitness age depends on your BMI, age, sex, resting heart rate, and your exercise". I just turned 57, but the device showed that I was in the 85th percentile for people with a 63 year old fitness age. Why complicate matters? Just tell me that I'm at the 50th percentile of fitness for people who are 57 years old or whatever, don't tell me that I'm in better shape than 84 percent of 63 year old males.

One other complaint about the Wellograph: it doesn't work with anything but this app. Many of the other fitness trackers on the market work with a number of apps, allowing you to take the information gathered by the device and put it into whatever app fits your fancy. Not so with Wellograph -- you're stuck in its small ecosystem.

The app displays a home screen with three big icons on it: Activity, Heart, and Sessions. Activity shows your current step and calorie count, as well as a daily, weekly and monthly total. I found it rather odd that when I tried to change my daily step goal in the user profile settings, it took quite a while for the change to "take", leading me to wonder if the app had frozen. One other oddity with the settings: regardless of how many times I put in my birthdate, it kept reverting to one year later days after I'd save it. I guess being a year younger is a benefit of using Wellograph.

I also found the Wellograph's step counting function to be well off of what two other devices - my iPhone 6 Plus and that cheap Virgin Pulse device - agreed on. It was always somewhat on the low side to the tune of almost 20 - 25 percent of my step total. I've noticed similar low numbers for some other wrist-worn fitness trackers - the Misfit Shine, for example - while other devices have been right on the money.

The Heart display is fascinating, showing the amount of cardio time you've put in and displaying light, moderate and vigorous activity by percentage of total. When you swipe the screen to the left, you get a display of your heart rate - high, low, and average for a day, week or month.

Sessions involves tracking specific exercise sessions - say, a workout on an elliptical machine or exercise bike. All-in-all, I found the app to be somewhat unexciting and less motivating than other fitness apps I have used.

Finally, there's no sleep tracking function. Considering that even the $99 Fitbit One can give you an idea of the quality of your sleep, I find this to be a surprising omission on the Wellograph.

Conclusion

After several weeks of putting the Wellograph through the daily routine, I found that it is one of the more comfortable fitness trackers I've worn, and it looks good. It gets the advertised one week of battery life, but at the expense of display clarity indoors, continuous tracking, and ease of syncing.

The bottom line, though, is that there are a number of less expensive fitness trackers that do the same job as well or better than the Wellograph. With the Apple Watch on the horizon, able to do health tracking as well as running a variety of apps to do just about anything and display all of those on a vibrant color screen, is there really a place in the market for a $349 monochrome device that performs just a handful of functions?

At a lesser price, I could see a place for Wellograph for those people who don't necessarily want an app-enabled battery hog on their wrists. If you need a device that wouldn't look out of place in a boardroom, that's waterproof, and that just tracks fitness factors, then Wellograph might be for you.

Rating: 2-1/2 stars out of 4 stars possible

two-and-one-half star rating out of four stars possible

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