Like many other people, I have a long list of things I check when I pick up my phone during the day. Email, Slack, Twitter, and Instagram are just a few of the apps that I find myself updating on a regular basis.
I recently added a new measure to the mix: the tone of my voice. That’s because I’ve been wearing Amazon’s Halo band, a fitness tracker that analyzes your speech tone in addition to collecting more standard health data. The Halo band has a microphone that listens to your voice and utilizes machine learning to determine whether you sound happy, energized, fatigued, or annoyed, among other emotions.
It’s interesting to see a firm like Amazon enter the health and fitness market with something new. When it comes to basic fitness tracking, Amazon gets a lot of things right with the Halo. But, rather than motivating me, the features it built to differentiate its fitness offering from that of competitors like Apple and Fitbit, such as the tone analysis function, make me feel uneasy.
Of course, you may opt out of using the voice analysis feature and simply use the Halo as a standard fitness tracker. But that doesn’t address the Halo’s major flaw, in my opinion, which is that most of the game’s features require you to pay $3.99 each month beyond the first six months. As a result, it’s difficult to suggest it above trackers like the Fitbit Inspire 2, which is less priced and offers more capability in certain aspects.
Here’s a closer look at how the Amazon Halo has performed.
The ability to assess the tone of your voice is one of the Amazon Halo’s standout capabilities. Tone is a feature that can passively listen to your speech throughout the day and mark any noteworthy instances where you sounded exceptionally positive or negative.
You can either have it analyse your voice in real time or turn it off completely by turning off the band’s microphone. Tone is solely designed to recognize your voice, not the voices of those around you. It’s also fully optional because you have to set up the function before utilizing it.
I left the microphone on during my assessment, allowing the band to monitor the tone of my voice throughout the day. The app acts as your window into your health metrics, including how you sound, because the Halo band lacks a screen. On the app’s home screen, you’ll see a dashboard with tiles for your activity progress, sleep statistics, tone, and body fat measurements.
When you tap into those tiles, you’ll be able to see more details about that statistic, such as significant instances when you sounded particularly cheerful or energetic when it comes to Tone. While it was interesting to hear how I sounded during various discussions, it also made me feel paranoid.
I often find myself checking the app after a work meeting or a social call with friends to see how I came across during the discussion now that I’ve been wearing the Halo. Apparently, at work meetings, I seem more cheerful and enthusiastic (Halo describes my tone as “warm,” “appreciative,” and “proud”), yet in other talks with friends or my husband, I sound annoyed or dismissive.
I couldn’t help but wonder why Amazon has branded any conversation as annoyed or fatigued. Who was it that I was conversing with? What were we discussing? Is that how others perceive me to sound?
Tone, according to Amazon, is designed to assist you be more aware of how you sound when speaking to others in order to better your personal relationships. If there’s something to be learnt from how you sound to others, Dr. Don Cole, clinical director of The Gottman Institute, which specializes in research-based relationship counseling, thinks there’s benefit in understanding how you sound to others.
Dr. Cole told Insider that the first three minutes of a discussion are crucial because they frequently determine how the remainder of the conversation will go. As a result, Dr. Cole believes that understanding how your tone comes across at the start of a talk can be beneficial, particularly for couples in conflict.
It’s vital, however, not to get too caught up with the results. It may be difficult to develop a personal connection in the moment if you do so. “I think you might spend a lot of time worrying about, or thinking about, those moments instead of just experiencing them,” Dr. Cole said. “And I believe that when we remove ourselves out of the moment, there is sometimes a sense of loss.”
Amazon also features wellness programs and workouts that might help you stay healthy and improve specific metrics. There are video programs that correspond to the Tone metric that are designed to help you improve your communication and listening abilities.
But it was unclear to me how attending a brief course on how to be a better listener would help me sound more upbeat and less angry during discussions when I had no idea why my voice sounded that way in the first place.
Fat in the body
The ability to measure and track your body fat is another standout feature of the Halo. Amazon accomplishes this by scanning your body with your smartphone’s camera and then using machine learning and computer vision to create a 3D avatar of your body as well as a body fat percentage.
In terms of accuracy, Amazon claims it’s nearly twice as accurate as leading smart home scales and comparable to methods used by doctors.
To have a scan, you’ll need to strip down to your underwear. And by wearing the bare minimum of clothing. I’m talking about practically nothing. Women should wear a bikini top and bottom or compression shorts with a bra or sports bra, according to Amazon. The software will instruct you to turn around a few times after you’ve placed the camera in the proper location so that it can record your entire body.
Amazon generates a percentage and 3D avatar in seconds after the scan is completed. Unless you opt to save them, Amazon deletes body scans from the cloud by default once they’ve been analyzed for privacy reasons. You can also erase body scan data from the Settings menu at any time (which I did immediately).
The ability to perform a body fat scan on your smartphone from home is convenient because it allows you to track changes in your body on a frequent basis. That’s according to Dr. Amy Lee, the head of nutrition at Nucific, a dietary supplement company that specializes in weight-loss strategies and recently spoke with Insider about the Halo’s body scan technology.
However, Halo users should take the results with a grain of salt, according to Dr. Lee, because a system like this can struggle to comprehend minor variances in body composition.
The findings are also influenced by how well the user follows Amazon’s instructions during scanning. And, according to Dr. Lee, data like this is only useful if the user realizes that it should be combined with other data points, research, and interactions with your doctor.
To put it another way, don’t read too much into Amazon’s single body fat % number.
“You can find yourself going down [a] rabbit hole if you’re doing this at home and you have no baseline and education in nutrition, and you’re focusing everything you’ve done for the last week on the change of a number,” Dr. Lee said.
Dr. Lee described me as the type of person he is. I panicked when I read my scan findings and asked why my doctor had never warned me about my weight or body fat % being troublesome in the past.
I became hooked on the results, which was disappointing because, before to the scan, I was very satisfied with my personal improvement in terms of eating well and exercising consistently. Overall, rather than inspiring me, the body fat percentage scan and Tone features made me feel nervous and uneasy.
There are capabilities in the app to assist you monitor your fitness, food, and mental health as long as you pay for the subscription. Maintaining a healthy body weight and fat percentage, on the other hand, is a difficult undertaking.
It’s also difficult to find this data meaningful or actionable without more instruction on which programs to start with and how to contextualize the outcomes.
For example, wearing the Halo has taught me that while my body fat percentage is not in the healthy range, I am a very active person, as evidenced by my Activity Score (more on that below). That seemed like a perplexing message to me, and I wish I knew more about why that was the case or what I should do next.
Other functions include fitness tracking.
Amazon has improved the fitness tracking experience in one key: the way it counts activity points. Rather from setting daily calorie-burning objectives, the Halo tracks your activity on a weekly basis. Every minute you move earns you points, with severe activity worth two points per minute and moderate and light activity worth one point per minute. When you’re too inactive for long periods of time, it deducts points.
The weekly target is 150 activity points, according to Amazon, which is the recommended range for keeping a healthy heart, citing the American Heart Association. You’re deemed very active if you reach 300 points.
This technique appeals to me since it is more motivating than setting daily goals. I’m a religious Apple Watch wearer, and it’s got me obsessive with closing at least two, if not all three, of my rings every day. If I don’t have time for a full workout, I won’t be active at all since I know I won’t be able to close my Move Ring — the circular meter that fills up with calories burned from daily activity — because I won’t be able to close it.
Even if I don’t commit to a complete workout, the Halo’s weekly goals push me to move at least a little bit every day. Taking a 20-minute brisk walk feels more productive when I know it’ll help me reach my weekly target, as opposed to the Apple Watch, where it feels like the activity just disappears if it doesn’t help me reach my daily goal.
Because it’s light and comfortable enough to wear overnight, the Halo also works well as a sleep tracker. But, more crucially, it delivers a rather comprehensive collection of statistics about your sleep, including a sleep quality score, similar to Fitbit.
The Halo app will give you a score based on the quality of your sleep, as well as how much time you spent asleep, how long it took you to fall asleep, how much time you spent awake, and how much time you spent in REM, light, and deep sleep after you wear the watch to bed. That’s a lot more detailed than the Apple Watch’s sleep analytics, which only tell you how long you slept.
Under the Discover tab on the Halo app, Amazon also offers a number of fitness programs, including videos based on partnerships with Exhale, Orangetheory, and others that make it simple to hop into a workout or wellness exercise right from your phone. These videos can be filtered by type of workout, duration, difficulty, and content provider. Unfortunately, you can’t filter these workouts by whether or not they require any special equipment, which is especially crucial given that so many people exercise at home.
Because Amazon encrypts your health data, which is wonderful for privacy, you’ll have to factory reset and re-pair your band with a new device whenever you wish to access your account from a different device. While I appreciate Amazon taking the necessary precautions to protect your health information, it makes it more difficult to access these workout programs because I have to sync my band with a new device each time I want to view a workout on a larger screen.
Instead, I wish Amazon would make its Discover programs accessible on other devices after logging in, without transferring your entire health record. As a solution, Amazon recommends streaming workouts from your phone to a larger screen via AirPlay.
However, the majority of these capabilities are only available as part of Amazon’s $3.99 monthly subscription. You’ll only be able to use features like steps, heart rate data, calories burnt, and the ability to register activities through the activity sessions feature if you don’t have that. You also only get basic sleep information like the amount of time you’ve spent sleeping and awake, as well as your body temperature when sleeping.
You lose features like Tone, Body Fat, Activity Intensity (which measures the intensity of your activity), Sleep Score, Sleep Stages, and Insights, which highlight trends and patterns in your health and fitness data over time. Without a subscription, Discover programs are likewise limited.
You can’t manage or cancel your membership from within the app, either. Instead, the app directs you to the Amazon app’s Your Membership & Subscriptions section. When this review was first published in February, a company spokeswoman informed Insider that it planned to add a link that directs clients to the right page for managing their subscription.
It’s not uncommon for businesses to place some fitness tracking functions behind a paywall. Fitbit, through its Fitbit Premium service, also accomplishes this. However, Fitbit’s free tier still includes sleep and REM sleep analysis, and its Health Metrics dashboard was just recently made available to non-Premium customers. Fitbit’s trackers, on the other hand, include a screen and can send smartphone notifications, so they offer greater functionality for the same price.
Battery life and ease of usage
The Amazon Halo is simple to set up, and the procedure is comparable to that of other smartwatches and fitness bands. Simply download the Halo app, charge the band, and follow the instructions.
The purposeful design decision by Amazon to not include a screen on its fitness band is my biggest issue about the Halo’s usability. This, according to Amazon, is to keep the band from becoming a distraction and detracting from the Halo’s primary function as a discreet, comfortable health monitoring gadget.
However, I believe that Amazon might have achieved this goal without using a screen at all. It feels like a squandered opportunity to wear a wristwatch that doesn’t even indicate the time. I’d prefer if the Halo had a small screen that only showed the time and how many activity points you’ve earned for the week, with no further notifications.
I’d even argue that forcing me to check my phone to view my stats is more distracting, because when I pick up my phone, I’m more likely to check email and Twitter.
If you don’t want to check your phone, Amazon has an alternative: simply ask Alexa. In March, the business added Alexa support to the Halo, allowing you to query Amazon’s digital assistant for information on your activity, tone, sleep, and more. By default, the feature is off, but you can enable it to secure any health-related queries with a PIN.
Alexa’s usefulness is contingent on your willingness to give Amazon’s virtual assistant access to your health information. However, Amazon isn’t the only tech company with such a feature; the Google Assistant on Google’s new sleep-sensing Nest Hub can also provide details about your sleep when asked.
I checked in with Alexa to see how my day’s activities were going. But, like the Apple Watch, I’d prefer to have Alexa incorporated into the band itself so that I could use it to set timers and alarms during workouts.
On a single charge, Amazon’s fitness tracker may endure for a long time, making it ideal for sleep tracking. The Halo gave me a little more than two days of battery life, although it would definitely last longer if you turned off the microphone and didn’t use the Tone feature.
Should you purchase it?
Regardless of how you feel about Halo’s Tone feature and its body fat measures, there are better solutions for individuals looking for a simple and affordable fitness tracker. Despite the fact that I admire Amazon’s approach to activity tracking and the Halo’s extensive sleep tracking capabilities, there are far too many disadvantages to consider.
It’s difficult to recommend the Halo because it lacks a screen and you have to pay $3.99 a month beyond the first six months to get the best functions, such as Activity Score. Yes, Fitbit requires a subscription to access advanced functions, but its free tier still provides more detailed sleep data than Amazon.
What other options do you have?
If you’re searching for a cheap and basic fitness tracker, the Fitbit Inspire 2, which is currently on sale for $69.95, is a good option. It tracks sleep, calorie burn, exercise, and heart rate, lasts more than a week on a single charge, and prompts you to get moving if you’re sitting too long.
Fitbit Premium comes with a free one-year trial, however the Amazon Halo only offers a six-month trial. If you choose Premium, keep in mind that Fitbit’s service costs $9.99 per month, which is significantly more expensive than Amazon’s.
The Whoop band is a screen-free fitness tracker that focuses on how your body recovers from exercises, as well as other data, if you’re more interested in training and recovery. It’s received great reviews from critics at CNET and PCMag, but at $30 per month, it’s not cheap.
Last but not least
With the Halo, Amazon tried something new by creating a simple, distraction-free fitness band that also manages to provide deeper health and wellness information via a subscription.
The problem is that I didn’t find the Halo’s most innovative capabilities, such as its capacity to analyze speech tone and compute body fat percentage, to be particularly useful. Instead, they made me feel uneasy and suspicious.
The one feature of the Halo that I found most useful was its Activity Score, which successfully inspired me to exercise every day, regardless of my schedule. However, that function alone isn’t enough to warrant a $3.99 monthly subscription in addition to the $99.99 purchase price.
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