In order to see what the future of medical wearables could be like, I've spent the past few weeks with the new GoBe 2 strapped to my wrist. The device was soft-launched to a group of pre-order customers a few months ago, with more going on sale at some point this fall. If the name tickles a synapse at the back of your brain, it's because Healbe burst onto the scene in 2014. The company launched an Indiegogo campaign to build a watch that could track how many calories you'd eaten each day. Not your blood sugar, but close enough.
Imagine it: You'd never have to think about logging your calorie intake again; your watch would do it all for you. The claim was ridiculous, but the company managed to secure more than $1 million in backing. Medical professionals and journalists weighed in, saying that the idea was about as feasible as capturing a unicorn fart. Thanks to sites like PandoDaily, the name Healbe became synonymous with companies that tried to sell you a dream and run off with your cash.
The device finally launched a year later, with its signature tracking feature kinda sorta working, but not very well. When we reviewed it, we felt that the watch had too many rough edges to justify people buying it, despite its vastly superior sleep and fitness tracking features. Perhaps the company rushed its first release in response to public pressure, which ostensibly explains why it failed. Now, Healbe believes that its second-generation device is finally ready for prime time and able to do what was promised.
As for the science, Healbe claims that it uses a piezoelectric impedance sensor to push high- and low-frequency signals through your wrist. Shortly after eating, the cells in your bloodstream begin releasing water as they absorb the new glucose. The device, so the company says, can use the impedance signals to look at the size and shape of the cells, and track the change in water. From there, it's just a case of using fancy math to calculate the amount of food you've noshed in a sitting.
One thing that Healbe's representatives went to great pains to explain is that the human body isn't as simple as you may expect. The initial pitch mistakenly hinted that, at some point after you'd eaten a sandwich, the watch would simply ping and tell you that you'd consumed 233 calories. But most meals take between four and six hours to digest as the slurry of chewed food churns through our bodies. Rather than looking at the micro, I was told, I needed to see the GoBe 2 as a way of understanding the macro.
The device itself is a little more elegant than its predecessor, although that's not saying much. It still just fits under a shirt sleeve, although you'll be unable to pretend it's anything but a clunky-looking wearable. The new model's case is all black, and gone is the top layer of metal that demarcated the display in the first generation. A single button activates the display and cycles through the various screens, from telling the time to measuring your calorie balance.
Most of the interesting bits are contained within its companion app, which elegantly shows off your vital statistics. It's broken down into five subsections: "Energy Balance," Hydration, Heart Rate, Sleep and Stress. The first one combines activity tracking and calorie monitoring to provide you with a single figure, showing whether you're in calorie credit or deficit each day. It's calculated by subtracting the activity you've completed against the food you've consumed, so, depending on how good you've been, it'll be a plus or minus figure.