These days I’m out and about a bit, so I got myself a fitness tracker from Hi Tec to see how that worked. I had a rival tracker last year for a while (Misfit Shine), but eventually gave up with it, as it wouldn’t communicate with my phone in any meaningful way. So with a new year, I decided to make a new start – and strapped on the Hi-Tec Trek Plus Activity Tracker.
The wearables market is a crowded one, with a whole load of different companies vying for the attention – and the money – of those comfortable, techie middle-class folk who like to imagine exercise is downloadable. Now I’m not a great one for exercise for its own sake – but I do sometimes get to do some exercise in the course of my work. And I don’t just mean pushing that heavy, heavy mouse around. I was interested to see how the Activity Tracker dealt with that.
It’s now been two months, so it’s time for me to report back.
First, the good news. This thing is good value compared with many of its competitors, at only £72. What’s more, if I’d opted for the lower-spec Trek Lite or Trek Go, I could have spent as little as £45 which is highly competitive in this market.
It’s also got a whole bunch of features which I tried out. Obviously, it tracks activity, but also it records sleep, distance travelled, calories burnt and length of time exercising. It also has notifications via Bluetooth, so you can get text messages, tweets, Facebook notifications and indeed notifications from any other app on your phone. Plus the key feature this version of the tracker has over its cheaper siblings is resting heart rate monitoring and on-demand heart rate measurements.
The tracker itself is not an elegant thing. With the style of a 1980s digital watch it’s a bit lumpen in design and feel, particularly because of the range of sensors on the bottom of it which inevitably press up against the wrist. A smooth bottom surface might have been better. What’s worse, it really isn’t a very practical form factor for actually doing any active work. Probably it fits fine on the wrist of someone in a gym, but if you’re picking litter or lugging boxes, because the unit sticks up from the wrist quite a long way it tends to catch on things and get knocked. And buttoning up a shirt-cuff? No way.
The display is very visible and clear, but oddly enough it is oriented sideways, so whether you are right handed or left handed, you’re going to get your notifications at 90° whether you like it or not.
Charging the unit is a bit fiddly – albeit that it only needs doing about every 4-5 days, which is pretty good going. However to charge it, there is a special shoe to attach, which isn’t particularly easy to use. Still, I haven’t lost it yet.
I was particularly keen to try the phone-linked notifications. That seemed like an exciting new thing – but to be honest, after a few weeks I didn’t bother. I found getting an alert to look at your wrist which then meant to look at your phone was a bit redundant. Plus my phone battery ran out sooner if I kept Bluetooth on all day. Still, there’s no doubt the notifications do work as advertised, and it wasn’t particularly hard to use and configure – the app made all that entirely straightforward.
Using the app
Installing and using the app is simplicity itself. This was a far better experience than the Misfit Shine app which I previously used – an experience best left undescribed. The Hi Tec app looks good and works as expected with a minimum of setup required.
Syncing is almost immediate, as soon as you turn on Bluetooth the app updates. If you keep Bluetooth on all the time, you get an easy-to-read real-time update on your stats, which is great. What you don’t get is much analysis – you can look back at your past scores each day, but there doesn’t appear to be any way to see how your averages are improving, for example.
Perhaps the biggest omission for this set-up is any reward when targets are hit. When I walk 10,000 steps I want the device to buzz like an angry wasp, and the app to light up like a Christmas tree! Instead, nothing. As shown in the screenshot above, there’s nothing in the display to distinguish days when I exceeded my target from days when I didn’t. I’m a sucker for ingame achievements as motivators and I was a bit disappointed that this didn’t happen.
The ‘sleep tracker’ proved to be pretty useless for me. You need to tell the unit when you go to sleep and when you wake up, which is a pain, and I usually remember (except that time when I recorded a glorious 2 days of sleep). However I tried a couple of nights wearing the unit and frankly, it was like sleeping with an electronic tag on. It’s so bulky it was not a comfortable thing to keep in bed. So I took it off. Ah, there’s another problem you see. I left the tracker on the bedside, dozed off and within a few minutes was wide awake again, as a piercing green light shone out of the unit to light up the whole room. This was the resting heartbeat monitor. Impressively bright, but not something that you would want flashing on and off all night. So now I have to remember to take the unit off, turn it to ‘sleep’ mode, and put it in another room. All a bit of a fiddle really.
PRO: great value; good display; lots of features; decent app; good battery life.
CON: looks and feels clumsy; awkward to wear in bed or at work; no rewards.
OVERALL: worth a go if you’re in the market for a value fitness tracker – but I’d suggest you consider the even cheaper models in the same range if you don’t need all the features.