Samsung Smart Watch Leads IFA's Gadget Parade
Time to make up for December's bad habits by doing better in 2012. Here are the best tech tools to help you shape up and keep healthy. Who knows? You might actually keep your new year's resolution this time around. Sure, Basis can tell you time, but if you want to know your blood flow, motion, temperature, heart rate, sweat level and blood oxygen level, it'll tell you those too. With a plethora of sensors, the monitoring watch keeps an eye on your vitals, giving you an overview of health, sleep and exercise habits. Basis is an honoree for the upcoming CES Best of Innovations Design and Engineering Awards in the health and wellness category. Available for pre-order for $199. This article is part of a series about getting fit in the new year. Check out the entire Man up! feature here.
MotoActv Heart-rate Monitor
The MotoActv wants to be your personal trainer. This tiny device tells when you reach or leave your target pace, heart rate or PowerZone based on your programmed profile and goals. And to keep you going, it creates a performance playlist, pulling songs that you burned the most calories to. It also takes on a few personal assistant duties, including fetching your incoming calls and displaying on-screen text messages. Begins at $249.99.
Withings WiFi scale
For better or worse, scales don't lie. In fact, the Withings WiFi scale tells you the cold hard truth: weight, body fat percentage, and BMI. Each time you step on, it registers these stats and sends them over your home wireless network to a private Web interface. The dashboard keeps tabs on your progress with static and interactive charts. You can share this information with your doctors, personal trainers, friends and family. If you feel so inclined, you can even tweet your progress to the entire world. Available from ThinkGeek for $164.99.
BitGym Fitness Games
The average American household has 1.15 cardio machines according to the San Francisco-based health startup BitGym. But overwhelmingly, they're left to collect dust. Get ready to use the treadmill again because BitGym's iOS games are designed to keep you going. One of them, Trail Runner, shows inspiring landscapes as you're on an exercise machine, speeding up or slowing down based on your real-life workout performance. Game prices vary, but lite versions are available for free.
If you prefer to run outdoors, Runtastic is an app that tracks your location, distance, time, pace and calorie consumption. It has charts that show your speed, altitude, pulse and training history. The pro version includes voice feedback, live tracking, cheering, pulse-reading, geotagging, workouts, competitions, and an integrated music player. Its iOS and Android apps have the most functionality, but Runtastic is also available on BlackBerry, Windows, and bada phones. Prices vary by device.
Alice Truong for Discovery Channel
JayBird Freedom Earphones
The JayBird Freedom was designed for the gym rat. It uses Bluetooth connectivity, so there aren't long cords to trip over. The sound is big -- great motivation when your power track comes on. Plus, it's got enough variety of ear cushions, tips, and hooks to make sure you find the right fit; one that stays on when you're on the go.
Fitness Technologies Underwater MP3 Player
Music can motivate runners to go longer distances, why not apply the same principle to swimmers? Generally electronics and water don't mix very well, but Fitness Technologies' UWaterK7 was built for just that. The compact waterproof MP3 player debuted in the fall and will be making an appearance at CES in January. Also expected to make an appearance: the company's line of HD waterproof action cameras and waterproof stereo Bluetooth headsets. Available for $100.
Alice Truong for Discovery Channel
Mophie Outdoor Battery Extender and Maps
Grab your iPhone. You're going for a hike. Not only does the mophie juice pack plus outdoor give you extended battery life (about 2,000 mAh, or eight hours of talk time on 3G), a corresponding app gives you access to 5 million square miles of high-resolution maps covering the continental U.S. and Hawaii. Once you download them, you no longer have to worry about losing reception. Plus the app records your progress, speed, distance, elevation, and geo-tagged photos. Available for $119.95.
Drift HD Video Camera
A good workout doesn't always mean hitting the gym. Head somewhere beautiful and find a fun activity, like biking or snowboarding. Action cams such as the Drift HD can be a good motivator to go outside. They capture amazing moments in 1080p HD video, which, upon watching, will make you want to go right back outside again. The small, light camera can be mounted to helmets or strapped on wrists and can also be controlled remotely. A night mode also means you can record in dusty or dark conditions. Feeling motivated to get your workout on? Visit our Man up! feature, chock full of info that will get your heart pumping.
The next upgrade in the connected life is waiting to be shackled to your wrist. At least, that’s Samsung’s story: The Korean conglomerate helped open the IFA electronics trade show in Berlin by introducing the Galaxy Gear, a smart watch designed to operate as a counterpart to some of its Android phones.
The idea here is to free users of big-screen phones such as Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 3 from having to grab their “phablets” just to check their email or the time. The touchscreen- and voice-controlled Gear uses Bluetooth to sync data, transfer photos taken with its tiny camera and borrow the phone’s Internet connection for its own apps.
But the almost half-inch-thick Gear, as I realized after strapping a demo unit to my wrist, is a hefty hunk of electronics to wear. And its automatically-dimming touchscreen will still need recharging about once a day — in a separate cradle, instead of just over a micro-USB cable like most phones.
Another high-profile IFA exhibitor, Sony, showed off a different kind of phone peripheral. Its new QX10 and QX100 camera modules clip onto smartphones to borrow their software, screens and bandwidth. Ideally, they get you the high-quality glass of a “real” camera with the easy editing and uploading of a smartphone — but their use of WiFi to talk to their host phones could come at a hit in battery life.
Tablets occupied even more space at this show than at last year’s, but not necessarily in the way you’d expect. Android devices are getting more company from those running Windows — in particular, the upcoming Windows 8.1 release that’s supposed to fix some of Windows 8′s defects.
That touch-optimized operating system is also pushing more Windows laptops to adopt tablet features. Lenovo’s Yoga Pro 2, for example, ships with the 360-degree screen hinge of earlier models that lets you fold it into a tablet or prop its display up for easy tabletop viewing, but adds apps that invite you to control it Kinect-style with hand gestures observed by its webcam.
The connected appliances that populated last year’s IFA increased in number and ambitiousness. Are you ready for your washing machine or refrigerator to flash a message on your TV that the laundry’s done or a filter needs replacing? You may need to be. Wi-Fi has become so cheap to include that the only barrier to adding networked smarts to an appliance may be the work needed to craft an effective interface.
The largest attractions at IFA, as at CES, were gigantic 4K televisions with four times the resolution of HD. Buying one would be a fine way to show up that videophile neighbor who can’t shut up about his HDTV. But how do you do the same for somebody who keeps yammering about a new 4K TV? By buying an OLED 4K set (maybe a fourth as thick as a regular one) or a curved 4K OLED set (which… um, I’m not actually sure what that does for you.)
No, I’m still not a fan of 4K TV. But is it less necessary to daily life than, say, the laser-guided beard trimmer Philips showed off here? Let me ask a connected watch and get back to you on that.
(Disclosure: IFA is covering most travel costs for me and a group of other U.S.-based tech journalists.)
Credits: Rob Pegoraro/Discovery