Digital Crave

Larklife and fitness-tracking gadgets: New Year’s resolution, take two?

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Larklife bands

Larklife bands

Like so many other well-intentioned souls, I came into 2013 with the firm intention of getting healthier. Among my many New Year's resolutions was the solemn pledge to eat less, exercise more and generally take care of myself a little better.

My plan lasted about a week and a half, as usual. (Maybe I should just resolve to be more self-delusional.) Talking with friends and fellow aspirants who had had more success, I kept hearing the same thing: The first step to maintaining a healthy lifestyle is really a matter of data logging. Track your diet and exercise habits, and you can start changing behavior.

So I was excited to get a chance to test out the new fitness-tracking system Larklife ($149; lark.com) one of many gadget-and-app devices on the market that promise to help you get healthy. Better living through technology and all that.

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Larklife

Larklife

Larklife is a combination wristband and smartphone app that syncs over Bluetooth. Two wristbands, actually – one for daytime and one for night, each with its own rechargeable battery. The core sensor component clicks in and out and can be swapped between the two. (This allows you to charge the daytime bracelet at night, and vice versa).

Once you've charged up the bracelet and sync'd up with the smartphone app, Larklife goes to work. It tracks your activity during the day by way of an internal accelerometer. Take a walk or a jog and it will log time, distance and calories burned automatically.

You can also track meals through the Larklife system. Unlike the more complicated calorie-counting and meal-tracking apps out there, Larklife simply asks that you double-click the wristband button whenever you eat something. Then you can go back to the phone app later to fill in the details. You can log basic food types – protein, vegetable, fruit or grain, plus water – or enter more detailed information if you wish.

You're also encouraged to register your mental health breaks that aren't necessarily exercise. Whenever you take a deliberate break from working, to stretch or make a visit or whatever you prefer, Larklife tracks this as well, and adds it to your daily timeline.

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Screenshot of sleep app

Screenshot of sleep app

The fourth basic data collection point is sleep. When you hit the hay, the Larklife accelerometer tracks when you fall asleep, when you're tossing and turning, and when you wake. The wristband also has a vibration function that serves as a silent alarm clock, a nice option for anyone who shares a bed.

The essential purpose of all this data-collecting is to track your habits. You meals, workouts, active breaks and sleep periods are displayed by way of little sequential bubbles that stack up each day of tracking. Turn your phone sideways and the day's activity turns into a bar graph, with total calories burned, steps taken, distance traveled and hours spent sleeping.

After a few days of logging information, Larklife starts to get a sense of your patterns, then begins making recommendations. You can set the device to issue regular "coach messages" on diet and exercise. Or set a regular gentle vibration to remind you that it's time to get up and away from that desk. A single click on the LED wristband sensor, at any time, will indicate how active you've been recently.

The Larklife wristband is comfortable enough, but a bit too clunky for my taste. It's also brightly colored and rather conspicuous. I don't like wristwatches to begin with, and found the band to be intrusive when typing. Competing fitness-tracking systems from Nike and Jawbone have a slimmer and more attractive form factor.

I'm getting used to it, though. For me, the ultimate appeal of Larklife as a system is its simplicity. The app interface and tutorials are dead-simple and graphically oriented. It's all tapping and swiping. You can log more specifics on each day's activities – calorie counts, workout details – but you don't have to.

What Larklife does effectively is help create a mindfulness of your daily routine. Wristband and app sync up every hour so you can drop in whenever, to see what condition your condition is in. If tracking habits is indeed the first step to making healthy changes – and I'm starting to believe that it is – then Larklife is a useful bit of wearable technology.

If you're prone to mild paranoia, it's also the next step to our cyborg future of ultimate man-machine interface. But I'm getting used to that idea, too.

Note: This was written by Glenn McDonald, a Digital Crave contributor.

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