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Runtastic Orbit: The activity tracker that only a Runtastic fanatic could love

Jon Phillips | Aug. 1, 2014
The $120 Runtastic Orbit activity tracker won't wow you with beautiful industrial design. And besides its curious ambient light sensor, it doesn't innovate much beneath its squishy, rubber exterior. But the Orbit can display the data from Runtastic Pro, a smartphone app with more than 85 million downloads to its name.

The $120 Runtastic Orbit activity tracker won't wow you with beautiful industrial design. And besides its curious ambient light sensor, it doesn't innovate much beneath its squishy, rubber exterior. But the Orbit can display the data from Runtastic Pro, a smartphone app with more than 85 million downloads to its name.

Who knows — it might be just enough to help the Orbit cut through the noise of an insanely crowded activity-tracking wristband space. Scads of competing products already track steps, calories burned, and sleep cycles. But once a wristband becomes an auxiliary display for the GPS-based exercise data collected by smartphones, you have a slightly more interesting story.

Two straps, one clip, Runtastic Pro data syncing

The Orbit is a small, plastic wedge that fits inside either a wristband or clip. The box comes with two cheapo rubber wrist straps (one blue, one black), plus a single black rubber clip. None of the accessories has the visual panache of a Jawbone UP24 or Fitbit Flex, but at least the straps aren't difficult to put on — surprising considering they use a variation of the awful two-pronged clasping system that we see in Samsung and Fitbit wearables.

A simple black-and-white OLED display shows the time, your latest step count, calories burned, and total time active. It's all standard fare — literally pedestrian standard fare for any digital pedometer. But connecting to Runtastic Pro can expose your average pace, average speed, and maximum speed during runs, hikes and bike rides. It's a nice little value-add, and could sway diehard Runtastic app fanatics when they're choosing between the Orbit and more sophisticated alternatives.

It's worth noting that the just-released Runtastic Pro Android Wear app renders the same GPS-based smartphone data with much more visual flare. Still, I have more confidence in the Orbit's onboard step-counting algorithms than I do in the algorithms employed by Samsung and LG in their smartwatches.

Runtastic says it perfected the Orbit's algorithms over the course of 30 firmware updates, looking at both walking and running scenarios, and comparing the Orbit's step counts to the data produced by competing activity trackers, as well as test subjects who manually counted out 500 steps, one at a time.

When all was said and done, Runtastic claims "the average deviation of the Orbit count was significantly below the standard 10 percent threshold for all wearing positions." Runtastic also says its employees spent a lot of time in hospital sleep labs to perfect the Orbit's sleep-tracking algorithms.

I don't have any reason to doubt the Orbit's sleep numbers, as they mapped pretty closely to data collected by my Jawbone UP24. But I do think Runtastic has a lot of work ahead in how it renders its data in its mobile app, Runtastic Me.

 

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