atlas wearables fitness tracker review

tl;dr: crowdfunded a fitness tracker from atlas wearables, delivered one year late. Has some potential, functionality hit and miss, doesn’t track running. First impressions: a disappointment.


Two years ago I saw a project on indiegogo, a fitness tracker wristband by a startup called atlas that not only tracks exercises but learn new ones based on the user’s body movements through the device’s motion sensors. At that time (Jan-2014) it seemed to be a really great invention. The wearables market then wasn’t as huge as it is now; fitbit and pebble were new, most people’s idea of a fitness tracker were running watches with heart-rate monitor straps like garmin or polar.

I paid US$175, not an early bird price but one of the second wave backers. For that, I was promised one atlas wristband as well as a technical t-shirt. The t-shirt duly arrived around april. It’s nice, I wear it quite often on runs.

The delivery date of the wristband itself was initially late 2014, in time for Christmas. The first sign of trouble was when atlas’ lead engineer was hired away by apple, presumably to work on what we now know as the apple watch. Late 2014 came and went. Delivery date was pushed back to april 2015. Another email in april 2015, stating delivery

late June through early August

and that there will be

no compromises

Ha! Guess what, they went back on their word. They stopped sending detailed timelines and switched to vague traffic light updates.

I thought, summer 2015, I’ll at least get to use it for chicago marathon training. Ha! October 2015 came and went, and still no sign of delivery. There were emails enthusiastically saying “soon, soon, soon” and then hints that we’ll be getting emails to confirm our addresses shortly. People were getting frustrated and angry, for good reason. But short of asking for a refund, nothing much we could do.

Backing people on crowdfunding platforms is not buying. There have been sordid tales of kickstarter campaigns completely failing to deliver, or the originators disappearing with backers’ money. Someone described crowdfunding as a donation, so basically donor beware.

Finally in november, an email that said emails to confirm addresses have started and the devices will be shipped imminently. But to add insult to injury, instead of fulfilling backers’ orders, they had a black friday sale that promised delivery in 30-45 days. PEOPLE WHO BUY IN NOV-2015 WOULD BE GETTING THEIR DEVICES BEFORE PEOPLE WHO ORDERED IT IN JAN-2014. There was an uproar, again for good reason. They backtracked and clarified that black friday orders will not be sent before backer orders. Yeah, riiight.

At that point, I was this close to writing in for a refund. There wasn’t a lot of patience and goodwill left. Then I realised they were probably victims of their own success and I should give them one last chance. I decided to stick with waiting and see if it delivers the great functionalities it promised.

When they asked me to confirm my address in december, I told them that I don’t want it to be sent to the US anymore since they missed the windows of time when I was around. I refused to pay international delivery, and they relented. Honestly, if they’d asked me to shell out US$15 for delivery I would have asked for a refund there and then. Anyway, I got my atlas wristband just before Christmas, almost 2 years after I ordered it.

atlas01wristband

I watched the intro videos and downloaded the app. The impression I had gotten when I ordered is that I can just put it on, press a button or two and start working out. It’ll then track the exercises. Ha! Nothing can be further from the truth. Here’s one month’s experience.

setup
The device seems sturdy and well manufactured. Chunkier than I thought. The tracker snaps into its slot on the wristband and is held in place by a magnet, so there’s little chance of it falling out. Charging via micro-usb, the port is on the inside of the tracker so it’s protected from the elements. On the minus side, the screen is small and a bit too sensitive to touch. It’s also designed to be used on the left wrist; it’s possible to wear it on the right, but it’s awkward to control.

The tracker has to be synced to the app. In fact, all controls are via the app which then syncs to the tracker using bluetooth. Many complaints on the atlas fb page about units in pounds and feet, it’s straightforward to change to kg and km on the profile page on the app.

exercises
The device comes pre-loaded with a workout called #firstworkout: 10mins of jumping jacks, burpees, crunches etc. There are other pre-set workouts on the app: a strenghten 4 week series, one called the core blaster and one called wods.

What I figured out is that the system works on a 2-step process: a) set the exercises I want to do on the app; b) sync to the tracker. So if I want to do the core blaster, I have to sync it to the tracker and it will replace #firstworkout. This means there can only be one routine on the tracker at any one time.

own workout
I can set a routine by selecting from a bunch of available exercises on the app then sync it to the tracker. The list of exercises include the usual suspects: bodyweight exercises like crunch and pushup as well as a bunch of dumbbell, kettlebell and TRX exercises. Some are not available, like planks.

atlas05trx

To actually do the exercises, the workout routine has to be synced to the tracker. Only one own workout can be loaded to tracker at one time, so own workouts replace the stock ones. I made one with my usual routine and another TRX one. It says 8mins, I doubt I can finish all those in 8mins.

freestyle exercises
A second slot on the tracker is for freestyle exercises. Like the stock and own workouts, these have to be pre-loaded to the tracker. I can pre-load up to 15 of these.

The biggest problem is the pre-loading. Yes, 15 exercises should be enough but what about when you’re in the middle of a freestyle routine and want to do an exercise that you haven’t pre-loaded? You have to stop what you’re doing, open up the app, select the missing exercise, sync to the tracker. Or, not track that particular exercise. It’s a PITA.

The tracker is supposed to recognise exercises based on body movements. This I find to be hit and miss. It recognised and correctly tracked tricep dips and burpees from the get go. It needed a few times before recognising crunches and mountain climbers and it didn’t count correctly every time. I gave up on having it track squats. It doesn’t track lunges, so I end up with data that is never 100% complete.

atlas06freestyle

When I finish and sync back to the app, I get some basic stats. I spend a lot of time editing the exercises, both the name and the number of reps.

running
It doesn’t track running: this is a MAJOR disappointment for me, and looking back at the indiegogo campaign, running was one of the ‘exercise footprints’ advertised.

atlas02fingerprints

We’re told to use heartrate mode. Okay, yes it tracked my heartrate and time and calories, but no distance. Plus I don’t believe I burn 570 calories running 50mins. A game tracks more than this dedicated fitness tracker. This is utterly useless.

atlas07running

battery
According to atlas, the battery is supposed to last an entire week of 1 hour workouts. I find that to be a blatant lie. I switched it off at 100% one night, and when I woke up, there was 4% left. Running for just under 1.5hrs causes the battery to go from 100% to 58%.

Like iphones, the battery is housed inside the tracker and can’t be replaced. We’re told the tracker has

a tested lifespan of 2-3 years, which is standard in the electronics industry

Wait, wait, what?! It only lasts 2-3 years, then it dies? Oh, I see. I’m expected then to buy a new one, at full retail price. It’s currently US$225, so who knows what it will be in 2-3 years’ time.

You know what, atlas? When my device dies, I will definitely buy a new fitness tracker, and based on how I feel now, it almost certainly will not be your product.