Till a few months ago, I didn’t think a fitness tracker would be of any benefit for me.
I thought a fitness tracker was something somebody who led an active life-style — a jogger, a swimmer, or somebody who went to the gym regularly — needed but not for somebody like me, someone who sat at the desk (or rather on the couch) the whole day in front of a computer.
But then, about three months back, I was going through a phase where I wasn’t sleeping well. So I thought of a sleep tracker. Why not try a sleep tracker to figure out my sleep patterns and see if I could figure out why I wasn’t sleeping so well?
I discussed with my wife and she had ideas about certain things she wanted to track — blood pressure, blood oxygen level, heart rate — and I added body temperature to the mix since everyone was interested in body temperatures in the midst of COVID.
So armed with the data we wanted to track, we looked around for a cheap solution which would serve us. There were plenty on Amazon. You could find a variety of trackers on Amazon for around $50 – $120 which claimed to track a multitude of things. Unfortunately, I don’t think a single one had all the features we wanted 😞 Generally, temperature tracking was the hardest to find (at least at that price range). If the device included temperature tracking, then it wouldn’t have blood oxygen level monitoring, or something else we wanted.
We finally settled on a device which had some (but not all) of the features we wanted and ordered it off Amazon and waited impatiently for it to arrive.
But when it arrived, it was a bit anti-climactic 😛 It was a tiny device. I don’t believe the first one had a touch screen (at least, as you’d be used to from a phone or tablet) — you simply tapped on the screen and the display looped through all the display values.
We tried it out for a few days but found it to be sorely lacking. Some of the sensors didn’t work correctly. Some of the others only worked at night while you were sleeping. For example, the product description seemed to indicate that you could monitor your heart rate (or maybe it was the blood oxygen level?) at any time but when we tested the device, it would only take those measurements while you slept!
So we returned that one and got a different device. But similar issues. I think we went through like a total of 3 – 4 devices before we decided to increase our budget and look at devices which were a little bit more high-end 😛
So we considered the Fitbit Charge 5 as a possibility.
Fitbit was a known brand — even we who had never used a fitness tracker knew the name — and the Charge 5 was supposed to be released the next week or so. On paper, the Charge 5 had everything we wanted from a fitness tracker including temperature tracking. So we were excited! We ordered two Fitbit Charge 5 devices and waited for them to be delivered.
The devices finally arrived and they looked pretty great. They were tiny, lightweight, and had the advertised features. But … the advertised features didn’t line up with what we’d expected. The temperature tracking, for example, was only at night as you slept. You couldn’t really see what your temperature was at a given point in time.
The other major issue for us was that all the data was on Fitbit’s servers. Unlike most other trackers, Fitbit would not share the tracked data with Apple Health (or the Google equivalent). That meant that we had to rely on a Fitbit subscription to get any meaningful reporting about our health stats.
Sure, there were third-party solutions which got around this issue by accessing the Fitbit data via their API and then shared to Apple Health, but it was a bit kludgy. For a while, I had plans to write my own app so that we can get the Fitbit data and get the reporting we wanted without a Fitbit subscription, but eventually, the downsides to the device were too much for us and we returned the Fitbit devices and went back to looking at other possibilities …
We had been shying away from the Apple Watch all this time due to the sheer cost … and also because it didn’t have one feature that I really wanted — temperature tracking. But eventually, after going round and round on battery life (which wasn’t great on Apple Watch), the ability to run custom apps (which was a huge selling point), reliability of data/reports (which reviews seemed to indicate was good on the Apple Watch), we finally decided to consider the Apple Watch.
I had an old generation 1 Apple Watch lying around — not the Series 1, mind you. These were the original (I think some call it Series 0) Apple Watches. I got one before the devices were available publicly as a beta device (for I think $1) so that I could develop apps. I hadn’t used it much over the years because I wasn’t a huge watch person but I continued to take the watch with me to each country we moved to since every once in a while I’d get a project to work on an Apple Watch app.
The Apple Watch still ran fine since it was hardly used. We both tried out the watch for a couple of days. There wasn’t much in the way of fitness tracking features in the original model, but we still got an idea of how it might work given what we knew of the later models. We really liked the basic sleep tracking and the movement tracking which allowed us to see how active we were during the day.
So we decided to take the plunge and get two Apple Watches.
As it turned out, a new Apple Watch had been announced just before we made the decision and so we decided to hold out till the Series 7 of the Apple Watch came out — it had the latest fitness tracking stuff that we wanted. It still didn’t have temperature monitoring, but I believe blood oxygen monitoring was a newly added feature that wasn’t there in the previous model.
The watches arrived eventually and we have been using them ever since. We do like the gamification of daily activities via the Activity app since that makes us stand up throughout the day instead of sitting on the couch for far too long. Also, the step monitoring made us take up walking so that we can be more active — but we eventually gave that up in favour of Tai Chi since that didn’t require us to go out and have to deal with other people 😛
Also, there were so many apps for sleep tracking that we were kept busy trying them out for days! We finally settled on AutoSleep since it had a large number of graphs and reports and provided a wealth of information about our sleep and also allowed us to customize certain things to our satisfaction.
In fact, with the aid of AutoSleep, I was able to figure out my sleep patterns and what made my nightly sleep better/worse and was able to modify certain contributing factors to ensure that I got a good night’s sleep and that I was well-rested the next day. And as I mentioned above, the Apple Watch did get us to monitor how active we were and to get more exercise by doing Tai Chi and sticking to a daily routine.
So had we finally found the right fitness tracker for us? Well … not quite. 😀
While AutoSleep did provide a lot of insight about my sleep patterns, I wasn’t sure that the data coming from the watch (or how it was interpreted by AutoSleep) was quite accurate. Of course, given that the watch wasn’t actually monitoring brainwave patterns, it couldn’t really do sleep monitoring with 100% accuracy either.
For a while, we did consider getting something like the Muse-S so that we could monitor my (or my wife’s) sleeping patterns via actual brainwave monitoring and then compare that to the watch data and see if we can find correlations. Perhaps even write an app of our own to do a better job of sleep monitoring. But given that the 2nd generation Muse-S had just come out, there weren’t enough reviews to indicate how good (or bad) it was and we weren’t keen on adding another device to the mix without knowing much about it. Plus, the Muse-S did only one thing — track sleep — and I was still on the lookout for something that did it all.
The other issue with the Apple Watch, at least for me, was that I had to take it off all the time and that was annoying 😛 I have to wash five times a day for prayers and while the Apple Watch is water resistant and would have been fine with a simple washing of the hands and body, it would have gotten in the way of a complete washing of hands by covering part of my wrist. Plus, while the watch is water resistant, the band is some sort of braided polyester (I think) and I don’t really want to have a wet watch band around my wrist most of the day. So I generally had to take the watch on and off at least five times a day — usually a few more since I also took the watch off when defecating so that I could wash my posterior 😛
So I began considering another device that I’d looked at originally but discarded for a variety of reasons — the Oura Ring.
Originally, I’d not been too impressed by the Oura Ring. It didn’t have a display, didn’t run any extra apps, and the latest one, Generation 3, wasn’t out yet at the time we started looking for fitness trackers. So we moved on to what was available at the time.
But towards the end of 2021, the Oura 3 was out and reviews I read seemed to indicate that the sleep tracking on the Oura was much better than on an Apple Watch. Plus, now that I was looking at not having to deal with taking the Watch on and off all the time, a ring seemed to be a much better solution 🙂
So we talked it over and decided to try out the Oura Ring. But the Oura was a little bit more of a complicated proposition. For one, it had to come from Europe. For another, you ordered the ring and were first sent a ring sizing kit for you to figure out the exact ring size that worked for you. Once you figured out the right size, you notified Oura, and then they sent you the actual ring/device. It seemed a little too complicated and time consuming to impatient ol’ me 😀
So we decided that we’d order one ring and if that worked as well as advertised, and the functionality was better than what we were getting from the Apple Watch, that we’d order a second one.
I went ahead and placed the order just before Christmas and surprisingly, at least for me, things moved pretty fast. The sizing kit was shipped the same day and I think I had it delivered within 4 days of placing the order.
The sizing kit is basically 8 plastic rings — from size 6 to 13 — which have the same form as an actual Oura Ring. You can try on the various rings on different fingers and find the one which works best for you. Oura has videos and instructions on how best to do this and through the course of the day I switched through several different sizes (and several different fingers) till I finally settled on one that worked.
I also discovered some interesting things that I had not considered before. I had originally thought that I’d wear the ring on my right hand due to the need to use the left hand for bum washing 😛 But then came lunch time and I realized that there might be issues with having the ring on the right hand too — unlike most Westerners, I don’t use a fork and spoon for eating, I eat with my fingers. So that meant that food could get lodged between the ring and the finger and it could get messy.
The solution was of course, to switch the ring between hands as needed. I’d switch the ring to the left hand while eating and on to the right hand when bum washing. That would work, right? It seemed like a solid plan. I adjusted things slightly at this point since I would generally have more meals than using the toilet and so decided to have the ring on my left hand most of the time and switch to the right only when needed.
I notified Oura of my preferred ring size after a day of testing but continued to wear the sizing ring over the next few days to see how things worked over time. My wife wore a different sized ring to see how it would work for her. Unfortunately, in her case, she found that she was allergic to the material of the ring (most probably) since she developed a rash on her finger after wearing the ring for several days. She took the ring off at this point but even after four or five days she’s still feeling the effects of wearing the sizing ring.
Oura was pretty fast about getting the actual ring out to me too. It shipped within two days of me updating the ring size and in another two days, I had the actual ring in my hand — that was yesterday.
A firmware update and a quick charge later, I was ready to get going with the Oura Ring. Oura suggests that you wear the ring for two weeks continuously so that it can build up an accurate profile for you. So I don’t have much to say about the accuracy of the device yet — I will do a follow up post in a couple of weeks once I have more data.
But my initial impressions are mixed — the device is lightweight, you don’t even feel it on your finger. It charges fast and if the advertised battery life of 4 – 7 days averages out to at least 5 days, it will handily beat the Apple Watch in terms of how often I need to charge it 🙂
Those are the pros. But there are some cons. The Oura app seems fairly limited in terms of the data/reports it displays. Now I do understand that this might be due to the fact that the ring is still learning about me and it won’t show all info till it has a baseline. So I won’t talk more about it yet. But my impression at the moment is that if I really want to use the Oura, I’d have to write an app of my own which leverages the Oura data to give more detailed reports.
Additionally, the Oura 3 does not have all the promised features yet. Some features are supposed to arrive later in 2022 and so I’ll have to wait till then to find out if this works as advertised.
Finally, I can’t seem to get a temperature reading out of the Oura for the life of me. They mention multiple temperature sensors and the fact that the ring takes your temperature throughout the day in their advertising material. And yet, when I tried the app, all I can find is that it will give me my temperature variance while I sleep and nothing more. I don’t know what’s going on there but need to contact Oura to find out.
So basically, it’s still early days and there’s a lot more to be discovered. So if you’re interested, check back in a few weeks and I should have an update 🙂
All products mentioned in this post have been purchased by us. We have not received any test/promotional devices. However, there are a couple of affiliate links in the above article. If you purchase something after clicking on this link we might earn a few bucks from it.