Never have we spent so long reviewing a single product as we have the Basis Peak. We first received this fitness tracker and sports watch in November, but vowed not to complete the review until the notifications features landed in December.
Those features didn't arrive until January,
and in between crippling syncing problems and losing the charger in Las Vegas,
we're fairly sure no-one else has used the Peak so long.
But let's start from the beginning.
The Basis Peak is the first product from the company since it was snapped up by Intel in March 2014. At $199/£169, it's a serious outlay but it's a sports watch with serious tech. An optical heart rate reader hides underneath, one that Intel says uses “actual science" to capture a tonne of metrics about your exercise.
But is this the ultimate sports watch or just another also-ran? We put it to the test to find out.
Basis Peak: Design and features
Firstly, let's get looks out of the way. Back in August, Intel wearable chief Mike Bell said the Basis Peak “looked better from the back" – and he wasn't kidding. The Peak comes in black or white, and while the white is a little more ostentatious, we'd say it wins out.
Ours was black, black and black. The black rubber strap has a nice texture, but its effect is nulled when it meets the oh-so-square bezel of the Peak's face. Even the LCD panel at the back is black, and there's a backlight, if you swipe up along the right-hand bezel, hich we totally missed at first (thank you Bob190 for pointing this out).
There is a vibrant red streak at the back of the strap…that's the bit that faces into your skin.
The screen is a 1.25-inch monochrome LCD protected by a layer of Gorilla Glass 3. It's tough and stubborn, and not going to be damaged by any knocks or scrapes. What's more, it's waterproof to 50 metres (5ATM) so it's good in the pool as well as in the gym. The screen is also touch sensitive, so you can swipe through your stats quickly.
The metrics tracked by the Basis Peak are pretty mind-blowing. When it's on your wrist, it constantly tracks your steps, calories and heart rate.
That puts it in the same league as the Fitbit Charge HR, but the Peak has more tricks up its sleeve. It also keeps tabs on your galvanic skin response (sweat) and skin temperature, too.
Aside from tracking your activity on its own, the Basis Peak can also be paired with apps like RunKeeper as a heart rate monitor, feeding into your other metrics. However, you can pick up a strap for around £25/$30 that does the same thing, so the Peak places a high value on its own tracking metrics.
There's a lot to digest here, so let's see how it fares.
Basis Peak: Activity tracking
As a step and calorie tracker, the Peak is great. Both are extremely accurate, and the heart rate monitor is also bang on the money. When you start walking, it detects the activity and records each burst individually, making the high end device great for those who use walking as their main exercise.
It does the same with running. When you start, the Peak goes into run mode, and displays your steps, calories, heart rate and time on the screen. In this respect it's great for jogging, as you get an accurate heart rate reading live on your wrist, which makes it simple to train within zones.
The problem is that there's no GPS, so pace and distance aren't recorded, and unlike the Fitbit Charge HR, it won't steal the information from an accompanying smartphone. You can use it, however, to feed heart rate data into a GPS tracking smartphone app, effectively creating two sets of data – those on the Peak, and those in your app.
There's another irritating problem for runners, too. If you stop for whatever reason, to cross a road, have a drink or take in a view, it will quickly exit the running mode, which actually makes it really hard to see the total duration of a run. Our Las Vegas run ended up being splayed into a number of small bursts, limiting its usefulness to just heart rate reporting.
Many people have questioned the accuracy of wrist based heart rate monitors, but in our tests, we found the Peak to be fairly bulletproof. We didn't suffer any drop outs, and average heart rates matched both our chest strap and gym equipment accurately. A great result.
The gym, however, is probably the Peak's biggest missed trick. The best use of this kind of heart rate monitor is to log gym sessions. Spinning, weights, aerobics, Zumba – whatever you do in the gym, your elevated heart rate is evidence of your efforts and improving fitness.
Of course, the Basis Peak tracks it. It's tracking everything – all the time. But if you're not running or cycling, it's not aware of actual exercise. It sits there dumb, showing you the time. You have to manually check your heart rate by swiping right (not easy on a static bike during 50 minutes of interval training), and the information stays on screen for a couple of seconds before it turns back to the clock, as if to goad you.
Yes, you can check the stats of the session in the web app later – but it doesn't call it out as a session. It's just data in the stream, and it's a bit of a waste of time. A stopwatch feature like the Charge HR would be more useful, to tell the Peak you're going to start some exercise, and you'll be reviewing it later.
Basis Peak: The apps
The Basis Peak makes use of two apps, and the more useful one you'd be forgiven for missing.
The first is the smartphone app. It's available for Android and iOS, and does the job of pairing with the watch and sucking in all the data.
The smartphone app itself is a mixed bag. It's almost great, but has some major flaws.
It's well laid out, modern looking and slick. The homepage is a summary of your day's activity, and you can head to a feed of your activity in chronological order or the Habits page.
Habits are little mini goals you set yourself, such as wearing Peak more often or 'torching calories'. You assign yourself a habit, and try and beat the targets. Peak changes the targets automatically too, so when you get fitter, you don't drop off the progress – a nice touch.
The problem with the app is that it doesn't seem to be able to deal with the data input. Data always seems to be missing, or in a permanent state of syncing flux. At first we thought the app was terrible, but came to realise it's just slow. Just after you give up on trying to find today's run, your Peak will buzz to congratulate you on it. It's actually better not to worry. In a few hours, your data will probably turn up in the app.
The web app
The second app, however, is much more impressive. We actually missed the analytics at MyBasis.com because none of the literature that came with the Peak mentioned it, but when you sign up and login, you can analyse any session in terrifying detail.
We watched as our sweat levels soared while we dune buggied in the Nevada desert, and how our body temperature changed during our spin class. We also found our 40 minute run, splayed across three different entries as we had to stop at road intersections, or to take photos.
The plethora of run data is simultaneously too hidden and too raw to be useful.
The information is tucked away in the log for the specific day – and there's no way to find a list of all your historic runs or cycles. It's a big mess.
This data is also exportable too, a neat trick in the latest update – so the theory is that you can use it in other analytics services.
That's useful, because after you've looked at your data, there's nothing else to do. We train with wearables every day, yet we have no idea what to do about our galvanic skin response data. Cadence, yes. Heart rate, yes. But the rest of this data is fairly overkill.
Basis Peak: Sleep tracking
Sleep tracking has always been a strong suit for Basis, and this is one of the most detailed and accurate sleep trackers we've seen. It monitors three levels of sleep – deep, light and REM – and marks every toss and turn, too.
As a sleep tracker it's immensely powerful, yet we always feel this is the least useful element of activity trackers, as once you've monitored the data, it's nearly impossible to action it.
The Basis also misses a trick by not displaying resting heart rate as one of its sleep metrics, which is a useful indicator to tell if you're over training.
Basis Peak: Notifications and pairing
It took a while for the notifications to land, much to customer dismay, but we're happy to report that despite the delay, this is a relatively successful roll out.
We have to temper that statement by reminding everyone that there's no third party support yet, so if you use services like WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter, you're not going to get any wrist-based notifcations.
However, calls and texts are displayed in full on the watch, and you can swipe them away easily. What's more, they only last for five minutes on the device before being automatically cleared, which is a nice touch. It prevents data overload and a backlog of unwanted nonsense.
We hope to see a roll out of third party notifications quickly.
Now, a word on pairing issues.
We reported that customers were returning Peak watches in their droves, leading to some pretty negative feedback on Amazon. Well, we experienced some too. Basis has admitted that pairing is a problem on Android – but it says not so on iOS.
We did suffer problems on iOS with Bluetooth pairing, but have to say that through January the problem was resolved, presumably via a flurry of app and OS updates. If you are having problems, then make sure both iOS and the Basis app are up-to-date.
Basis Peak: Battery life
One of the Basis Peak's big success stories, you can easily get a week's battery even with the continuous heart rate monitoring.
It's an impressive performance, and a few minutes in the charging cradle every other day will mean it shouldn't run out on you. Unlike so many other wearables, we never saw a blank screen when we needed it.
- Super accurate
- Decent notifications
- Tonnes of sensors
- Information overload
- Hard to learn anything useful
- Syncing nightmare