Amazon Halo First Impressions

Posted on September 16, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Amazon, Wearables with 15 Comments

The Amazon Halo is the anti-Apple Watch, a fitness band with no display and some understandable privacy concerns. But as a long-time wearable user, I am intrigued by how Amazon and its quirky, low-cost ways could possibly change this market. And I had to jump at the chance to give the Halo a shot.

I’ve been using a Fitbit Charge 3 for almost two years and I can’t describe my relationship with it as love/hate, since there’s little I truly love about the device. I upgraded to it from a smaller Fitbit Alta because it was the first Fitbit wearable with a SpO2 sensor, and it had supposedly more accurate calorie burn and resting heart measurements than its predecessors. But I’ve struggled with the Charge 3; the display is too dim to easily see in the gym, its sync reliability has been an ongoing challenge, and its not clear how accurate some of its measurements are.

Point being, I’m shopping around. And I’m ready for a change.

I briefly tried a Samsung Fit last year, and while I liked its color display, I wasn’t a fan of the small strap and being forced to use Samsung Health. I’ve almost pulled the trigger on an Apple Watch several times over the past year, and this week’s announcement of the Series 6, with its blood oxygen sensor and new solo strap options only makes that a more compelling option; I just wish it had an Android app. And I do have a Fitbit Sense smartwatch on preorder, based on my wife’s success with a Versa 2, its color display, and coming ECG capabilities. But I’m second-thinking that, of course, in part because of my extensive and not-so-positive Fitbit experiences. (That Google may acquire this firm does not concern me, but I get it.)

And then there’s the Amazon Halo, which seemed to come out of the blue, both in that it was entirely unexpected and in its unusual, no-display form factor.

As is the case with other fitness trackers and wearables, the Halo doesn’t stand on its own: The backend service and mobile app are key aspects of the overall experience. But the device itself is reminiscent of other trackers and wearables if you overlook its lack of a display: It’s basically an oblong module with sensors underneath it connected to a strap. That strap is a fabric material, but Amazon does (or will soon) offer replacements with different materials, like silicone, clasp types, and colors.

There’s also a rather large USB-based charging clip. It charges to 100 percent in 90 minutes, Amazon says.

The Halo device is waterproof to 50 meters and can be used swimming. The battery life varies wildly depending on whether you use a controversial software feature called Tone: It’s up to 2 days with Tone enabled, but up to 7 with it disabled.

So we should discuss Tone and the Halo’s other software and services. This is where things get interesting.

To get started with the Halo, you need to first install the Amazon Halo app on your smartphone. This app takes the data that the band measures—activity, sleep, and, if enabled, tone of voice, plus your body composition (which you configure in the mobile app)—and provides a dashboard-like overview of your overall health. And as Microsoft promised with its own Band but never delivered, it will allegedly then help you build better habits for better health.

Yep, it’s a tech product. Here’s your day-one update

How this all works is something I’ll save for the review, since I’ll need time to actually use it. But there are some interesting aspects to Amazon’s approach that deserve at least brief mentions.

First, because Halo doesn’t have a display, it will have to rely on some combination of voice commands, in-app activity tracking (which would be tedious), and/or automatic tracking. At least I assume so.

Second, the body composition feature requires you to use your smartphone’s camera to literally scan your body photographically, ideally while wearing as little clothing as possible. This, Amazon says, will result in a true measure of body fat percentage, which it says is a better indicator of health than the more typical BMI (body mass index) measurement alone. It will then build a 3D model of your body in the app, which you can rotate, and show you what you could look like if you lost different amounts of weight. This feature makes me vaguely queasy, and I suspect it will have a similar effect on most others who need to lose weight.

Finally, there’s that Tone feature. If enabled, Halo will analyze your voice when you speak throughout the day and help you understand how you sound to others: This, Amazon says, can help you moderate your attitude (OK, I’m paraphrasing) and maybe reduce stress. I don’t know. But I’ll test it with the assumption that I’ll eventually want to disable this (if only for the battery life gains.)

Privacy matters

Amazon Halo will eventually cost $99.99, and that purchase will include a six-month subscription to the Halo service, which will cost $3.99 per month after that. It comes in three colors—black/onyx, blush/rose gold, and winter/silver—and in three sizes (small, medium, and large). I was able to obtain Halo during its early access period, however, so I paid $64.99 (and got the same six months of service). If you want to give it a shot too, you can sign-up on the Halo’s product page on Amazon.com.

More soon. Here goes nothing.

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Comments (19)

19 responses to “Amazon Halo First Impressions”

  1. Avatar

    gartenspartan

    I'd love to hear your impressions of the fitbit sense after reading your apple watch article because I believe it matches up well with apple's functionality. I've not had the same syncing issues as a fitbit versa 2 owner for the last year using it on samsung and pixel devices. The sense should have ecg and blood oxygen monitoring as well as built in GPS and more accurate hart rate monitoring. I hope you still try it and write your impressions of it.

  2. Avatar

    corbey

    Thanks, Paul. But what I want to know is why does every company that makes a fitness band feel the need to invent its own weird, bulky charger??

  3. Avatar

    harrymyhre

    I can just see myself with this thing. I'm on a trolley car in San Francisco. Somebody asks me "sir? What time is it?" seeing me wearing a band on my arm. And I look like total doffuss because I can't see the time. Everbody on the tolley car laughs at me for being a doofuss.

  4. Avatar

    bassoprofundo

    Interested to hear your review after some usage... At first blush, this seems like it has the drawbacks of a smartwatch (ex.- bulk & having to wear on the wrist) with none of the perks (ex. - screen, watch/phone capabilities). Add to that the fact that you have to subscribe to a service to get the full benefits, and it doesn't hold much allure to me. Amazon occasionally pulls a rabbit out of the hat with these things, though...


    My experience with Fitbit was definitely "hate" after trying a Charge2 and an Ionic. I loved the Ionic's fit and finish, and I liked the Fitbit health ecosystem. It absolutely sucked as a smartwatch, though. It was slow and glitchy as heck when it came to synching/connections (tried over multiple phones) and had weird limitations like not being able to resume audio tracks (so useless for podcasts). The Charge was even more limiting. I've settled (for now) on a Samsung Galaxy Watch for "smarts" and health tracking and an Oura ring for sleep tracking. It's the best of both worlds for me as I have a full-functioning smart watch during the day and no need to wear a clunky (and potentially dangerous for my wife) brick on my wrist overnight.

  5. Avatar

    CMDV

    For people that prefer traditional watches but want access to health data this may be a winner based on low cost alone (as Paul points out). Interested in the full review and more detail on how body composition measurements translates into recommended workouts / health habits.

  6. Avatar

    sammyg

    IMHO, DOA on arrival and Amazon will probably drop it in year or less. But hey they got money to burn and can see if it sticks.

  7. Avatar

    Saarek

    I owned and loved the Nike Fuel Band, so I can see the appeal of a much more basic device.


    I’d not get one now as my Apple Watch allows me to leave my phone at home more often than not and that now suits me better.


    The Halo service fee though, what an off putting notion. It’s a reason why I’d never buy the Fitbit Sense, that £79 yearly fee to use certain features that are hardware based just annoys me.

  8. Avatar

    Chris_Kez

    Paul, what does the app say about privacy/data collection and usage? Amazon could fairly argue that knowing you're starting to run or cycle or swim or whatever is a reasonable trigger to start feeding you appropriately related product recommendations (or advertisements). The idea that Halo will help with tone seems absurd, though if had a small speaker it could help some people by chirping "Phrasing" at opportune times.

  9. Avatar

    christianwilson

    Amazon is super interesting company to pay attention to because they will sell some oddball product that (predictably) fails to catch on but years later the technology comes back around in new ways.


    Around the time Amazon released the Echo Show, they had a second product, Echo Look. While Echo Show will show you content, Echo Look was designed to look at you and help you choose outfits based on data from AI and human fashion experts. As far I know, the product was a dud and Amazon dropped support for it completely earlier this year.


    Fast forward a few years and here we are. A health/fitness product that uses pictures of a user to help build a profile of BMI. They may not be providing the camera anymore but it is reasonable to think that the lessons learned from the Echo Look helped develop the backend technologies for the body composition features in the Halo.

  10. Avatar

    Chris_Kez

    From a design standpoint I kind of like how they hid the gadget behind the strap; there's no functional reason to have it visible.

  11. Avatar

    wbhite

    "[Fitbit] sync reliability has been an ongoing challenge"


    I don't have anything to add about the Halo, but this has been my experience with Fitbit and Pixel devices. For years there have been complaints that sync doesn't work well with Pixels and the best Fitbit has ever offered (to my knowledge) is a vague, "we're working on it" response. I've been a Fitbit user since the days of that one you clipped on your belt, but their lack of commitment to supporting ALL phones put a bad taste in my mouth.

  12. Avatar

    crunchyfrog

    I'm torn on this one. It seems kinda crazy to ask people to wear a device on their wrist all day everyday but it has absolutely no display of any kind to just give the time or some basic status info. Either way, Apple just killed this thing with their new watches and fitness services.

  13. Avatar

    illuminated

    Fitbit is a fitness device with some service behind it. Amazon Halo is cloud service with some device added. It is pretty high probability of Amazon dropping Halo if it is not popular/profitable enough.

    In any case I would hate book, movie or shopping recommendations based on my Halo data. Seeing my amazon search results on every website I visit is already irritating enough.

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