The BodyMedia LINK is device that is attached to an armband you wear on your left arm. There are 2 metallic sensors that touch the back of your arm and it's supposed to be positioned such that it's on your triceps. According to the documentation, the unit is designed to get the best measurements from that area. After wearing for about a month, I find myself wanting to switch arms now and then, but I'm keeping it on my left side. It takes some getting used to, but much like wearing a watch you start to feel like it's supposed to be there even when it's off. The documentation advises that you should remove it for an hour each day. I follow these directions but sometimes I feel like it's still there and forget to put it back on. After a this happened couple times, I started setting reminders for myself and developing a routine for removal and replacement.
The other thing that takes getting used to is the adjustment of the band itself. It's a simple Velcro band that you can resize by moving around the Velcro strip. If too tight, it cuts off your circulation but if too loose, it slips down your arm. Neither is very fun. It took me a few tries to get it right and for day to day use I'm good with where it's positioned. The exception is golf. Its winter, so golf is a rarity even in sunny California. Even so, I went out for a benefit tournament a couple weeks back. After taking a few swings, I had to tighten down the strap so that the LINK would stop sliding down my arm. I'm sure it was a funny sight as I tried to make adjustments through layers of clothing. I imagine that if I was doing any serious exercise that called for swinging my arms around, the same situation would occur. So, my first note would be that it'd be really nice if the unit came with at least 2 straps. One for sedentary life and one for working out.
Hooking up the unit to the computer is very simple – one standard USB cord plugs in to the LINK and you're almost up and running. But, before you do that you should go to BodyMedia.com and click “Get Started.” From there you create your account/profile and fill in data about yourself. The system will prompt you when it's time to connect the Link to the computer. During your first use, you should just leave it plugged in until it's fully charged.
The instructions for linking to the iPhone are likewise very simple and the FIT software is an quick install with a small footprint. Currently the software takes up 14.4 mb of space with 7.3 of that being data. I assume that continues to grow over time but I'm not sure of the rate of growth at this point. Still, it's a small amount. To pair the phone, you hold down the one button on the Armband for 5 seconds and put your phone in pairing mode. This varies by phone but for iOS you go in to settings, General, Bluetooth and you'll see it listed with your initials. Mine says “LG's Armband” and it was extremely simple to find and set up.
The battery life is great – you only have to charge it every few days and the documentation says “Model AB185 will function 2-4 days before recharging is needed.” My experience has been that it tends to be on the longer side of that estimate but perhaps that's because the unit is relatively new. Time will tell. The Armband will collect up to 14 ish days of data, so even if you charge it, you don't have to sync it all the time. Charging and uploading can occur at the same time and I would think that for most users, they'd be plugging in to the same computer. The upload takes place automatically, so I'm not sure when you'd ever hit that 14 day limit. Any feedback on when you'd get the 14 days of data?
In my personal experience, the first few days were the most difficult if you can really call it that. The only bothersome things were that I had a couple red marks on my arm where the sensors touch. I assumed I was getting a rash. However, everything turned out fine and no rash ever developed. I assume I either slept on it wrong or my body was just getting used to the new accessory.
Ok, so what does it do –
The Link continually monitors your body with a motion sensor/pedometer on steroids. It tracks your steps, your sleep, your sleep efficiency, the amount of calories you're burning, how many you've taken in (manually entered), and your activity levels. The activity levels are broken down as follows – vigorous, moderate, sedentary or… not worn. During the not worn times, I understand that the link makes some assumptions about our calorie burn based on your previously recorded activity.
PC Software vs. iOS software
The PC/online software is very easy to use – you have to (obviously) have an internet connection and a semi-up-to-date browser (pc requirements at the bottom of this article). It launches after you connect the device to the USB port or you can direct your browser to bodymedia.com and launch the activity tracker manually. The LINK does not have to be plugged in so you can launch the activity tracker from just about anywhere and either view your results or log your entries (food, weight, and waist).
On the iPhone and Android (untested), most all of the information is available and you can log your nutritional intake. In the version I’m using (3.0.0 – 3119:4044) I don't see any way to log my weight or my waist size. That data entry capability appears to only be available on the online activity tracker. What the iOS version does offer however is the ability to launch a workout with various types of goals. Plus, it'll play one of your play lists for you so can jam to your workout mix. You have several workout options – Timed, Steps, Calorie, Total Activity, Vigorous activity and the “quick start”. Each is tracking its own set of metrics based on your workout goals. The armband has to be Bluetooth connected and ‘live' while the workout is running so you'll see a more rapid decrease in your iDevice battery life at these times. However, you may find that it's worth it because it allows you to collect and monitor your data.
I'll admit to not taking advantage of this as much as I had hoped but am starting to now. I started wearing on December 22, buzzed through the holidays, prepped for and went to CES and am just now getting back to a routine. I know, I know “no excuses.” I hope that by next year's CES my habits will be ingrained enough as to not be interrupted by a little vacation from my normal routine.
I'm a bit of a data geek and so I really like the tracking capabilities and all the cool graphs.
The software works great if you're connected at home near your Wi-Fi but if you're out and about and perhaps have a slow data connection, you might wait a while to pull down your data. This could be frustrating but if you're only looking once a day or once every couple days, it may not matter to you. I like to look at the information all the time so I may be a rare case.
Syncing and uploading the data is a cinch once the device is paired.
You launch the FIT software, press the button on the link and listen for the tones that tell you it's trying to connect. Your Bluetooth icon on the iDevice will flicker for a moment and then connect. You'll see that you are in ‘live' mode. In live mode you can upload your collected data to the server. There’s an upward pointing arrow in the upper right of the iOS software that is greyed out until you're in live mode. If you tap the arrow when it's active, the data will upload and you can then get your latest sleep data and see current graphs if you turn the device to landscape view.
Features about the combination of Link and Fit that I like.
- Long battery life
- Easy connections to pc and via Bluetooth
- Quick charging
- Great data collection
- Valuable data points that aid and motivate when trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle
- Easy to add own foods to food database
Improvements I'd like to see
- Cost is $199 – plus $6.95 monthly subscription fee. It's pretty affordable but would be nice to see a lower amt
- Food database – the food database has many options but is far smaller than some of competition*
- Can't get wet – a water proof or highly resistant model would be nice
- Carbohydrate data is buried – bring this to the forefront
- Heart rate tracking – Add ability to view pulse
- Blood pressure monitoring (if I’m making a wish list why not go all the way)
All in all, I would highly recommend the Link/FIT combination for anyone serious about taking a comprehensive look at their health data. I look forward to the upcoming generations of the hardware and software from BodyMedia.
Coming up next – at 2013 CES I interviewed Jim Seles to talk about the Core2. Amazingly, just about every one of my wish list items is addressed.
PC Computer requirements:
- PC with USB Port
- Windows XP (32 bit), Windows Vista (32 bit and 64 bit), Windows 7 (32 bit and 64 bit)
- 256 MB RAM or higher (Windows XP) or 1GB RAM or higher (Windows Vista and Windows 7)
- Internet access (high-speed strongly recommended)
- User with administrative rights to computer
- Internet Explorer version 7.0, 8.0, or 9.0, Google Chrome version 17.x, or Firefox version 10
- Required Plug Ins: FREE Adobe Acrobat Reader
* A competing food tracking system is MyFitnessPal – you can actually integrate them and have that valuable data at your fingertips too.