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Basis Peak review: This is the band to buy if you obsess over heart-rate and sleep tracking

Jon Phillips | Nov. 6, 2014
The real-time heart-rate tracking isn't perfect, but it comes close. And with automatic sleep and exercise tracking, and an improved industrial design, the Basis Peak is much better than its predecessor.

6 basis peak beauty on rail

The Basis Peak is a vast improvement over the Basis B1, that oh-so-promising but still quite imperfect activity-tracking wristband from early 2013. The Peak is more stylish than the B1, has a better display than the B1, and is easier to use than the B1.

But best of all, the new $200 Basis Peak has a more accurate heart-rate monitor than the B1. I've tested the Peak for about a week, and while its heart-rate feature isn't perfect, it comes close to what Basis claims it can do. And that's a big deal, because Basis is claiming a level of heart-rate sensor accuracy that has so far eluded activity-tracking wristbands.

The chase for real-time heart rate monitoring
The Basis story has always leaned on science--pure, reliable, incontrovertible science. Where wristbands from Jawbone and Fitbit have emphasized ease of use, pretty charts, and feelgood goals, the Basis bands have thrown a full battery of sensors in your face, practically daring you to dispute the veracity of their data.

But the problem is, the old B1 couldn't really deliver when it mattered the most. For all its sensors--an accelerometer, an optical heart-rate monitor, a skin temperature sensor and a galvanic skin response sensor--the B1 never promised real-time, continuous heart-rate data, like what you'd get from a chest strap monitor. Instead, the B1's heart-rate data was simply fed into the Basis algorithms that calculate calorie burn and sleep quality.

You were encouraged to do "spot checks" of your heart rate throughout the day, but Basis never claimed its original heart-rate sensor could match the performance of hardcore workout equipment.

Why? Because the sensor couldn't lock onto a user's heart rate, and track that proverbial ping through the lurching and jostling of physical exercise. The sensor was useful in painting a picture of a user's overall exertion levels, and it helped a lot in what Basis calls its Advanced Sleep Analysis, which (surprise) kicks in when you're sleeping and relatively motionless. But the old heart-rate monitor still had to conform to the laws of 2013 technology. It wasn't accurate enough for, say, zone training during a rollicking cross-country run.

New tech, new possibilities
But now we have the Basis Peak. Basis says a brighter LED in the spectroscopic sensor helps cut through the noise of "channel interference" (in lay terms: light pollution). The sensor also has an improved photoreceptor. This is the component that absorbs the LED light to capture a footprint of your blood flow, and thus heart rate.

Then there's the new sensor chassis. It sits on a raised berm that supposedly forms a stronger connection to your skin, almost like a sealed gasket. The Peak is also lighter than the B1, and is therefore less likely to break contact with your skin during spirited exercise. Finally, the Peak has stretchy silicone straps that help keep the sensor snug against your skin.

 

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