Review: Bowflex Boost Smart Activity Tracker
With the market for iOS activity-tracking devices expanding so rapidly, it's not surprising to see entries from companies that have otherwise been absent from the Apple accessory world. Well-known maker of exercise machines Bowflex is the latest to throw its hat in the ring, and has debuted the least expensive wearable fitness monitor we've yet seen, Boost ($50). Similar in spirit to Fitbit's Flex and other watch-type devices, it's worn on the wrist, and tracks steps, distance, and calories -- basic information similar to what most iPhones and iPods can track on their own using accelerometer/pedometer applications. The data is then sent back to the company's free app on recent Bluetooth 4.0-equipped iPads, iPhones, or iPod touches.
Laid flat, Boost is about 10” long from one end to the other, and 0.75” wide. Most of that length is the flexible silicone band, which has 14 rows of holes, allowing for quite a bit of size adjustment. The rest is the module that does the tracking; it’s a hump under the silicone, with plastic and a pair of metal contacts exposed on the underside. The top side has a small, raised button, as well as a shallow indentation. Finally, there’s a silver plastic cap with two pegs underneath. They fit into the band’s openings, securing Boost to your wrist.
Rather than connecting directly to a power source, Boost comes with a separate charging pod. The small plastic piece connects to the contacts on the band, and recharges the battery in an hour; it has a built-in USB cord that folds into its body when not in use. One of Boost’s most intriguing features is its battery life. The company claims 11 days per charge—longer than many rivals—and based on our testing, this number seems right. Bowflex does recommend charging every day, or every other day, however, to ensure you don’t miss any activity. The only indicator of the remaining battery life is an icon that pops up in the app when the band is synced.
Boost is rather limited in terms of the data it tracks. Steps, calories, distance, and time slept are the only metrics it records, with activity displayed as a percentage, based on goals you can set in the app. The current day’s information is displayed on the app’s main screen using a progress bar and simple integers, while past activity and sleep time are displayed as bar graphs. At this point, that’s all there is. Compared to other solutions on the market, the data collected—and how it’s presented—is quite limited. Boost’s primary advantage over the sensors in an iPhone or iPod is merely the fact that it’s being wrist-worn rather than pocketed, which may make step counts a little more accurate and ease sleep tracking.
One of our biggest issues with Boost is its lack of passive controls—the user needs to command the accessory to do pretty much everything but record. A single button is used for everything: pressing it once will prompt the status light to display red, yellow, or green, depending on the progress toward your goal that day. There’s no time display.
Holding the button down for a few seconds causes the light to flash purple, putting Boost into sleep tracking mode. This can be difficult because the button is squishy; on multiple instances, we pressed it wrong, and had to repeat the process. Unlike some competing products, it doesn’t purport to measure the quality of your sleep, or attempt to wake you at the right time during the cycle. Rather, when you wake up, you use the button and the band exits sleep mode. Should you forget to do so, any activity during that period won’t be tracked. Finally, there’s syncing with the app. Boost never actually does so itself; you must manually make it pass along the information. To do so, you hold the button for about five seconds until it blinks blue. Only at that point does it activate the Bluetooth connection and sync. That you need to initiate everything yourself is one of the reasons the battery is able to last for such a long time.
Bowflex got the physical design of Boost mostly right, and the price is appealing, but overall, the accessory feels like it’s lacking a lot by comparison with rivals. If all you’re concerned about is basic pedometer features, and knowing how many hours you’ve slept—things you can frankly track with cheap apps and without wearing an accessory—it works well enough, assuming that you’re willing to manually activate everything. However, competing products offer more from their hardware and software; even if their prices are higher, they do more to justify those prices. Bowflex should also work on improving Boost’s button: when there’s a single way to control everything, it needs to have a great level of tactility, and not miss intentional presses. Ultimately, Boost merits a limited recommendation. While the price certainly can’t be beat, the functionality is several major steps below competing options; pick it only if you really want a very basic wearable tracker.