It's easy to forget that only a few years ago, running was just running, steps were just a way to reach your destination, and almost no one had any idea what their heart rate was. These days, six out of ten consumers say they want a personal fitness device, and boy howdy, are they going to get one. Or two. Or four. Studies anticipate that in three years over 300 million body sensors will be in use. To that deluge, add the recently released LifeTrak Move C300.
Manufactured by Salutron, the LifeTrak Move C300 is a watch-style activity tracker that measures steps, distance, calories, heart rate, and more. The tracker comes with two different-colored polyurethane wrist bands--red and black, or green and black--that are easy to slide off and on. (Additional colors will be available for purchase on the website soon.) It measures 8.5 by 1.2 by 0.5 inches and weighs 1.3 ounces, which is relatively heavy for an activity tracker. (The Fitbit Flex, comparatively, weighs only 0.3 ounce.) That being said, it never felt weighty on my wrist.
The tracker itself is waterproof (up to 30 meters), sports a digital display, and runs on a coin cell battery. The LifeTrak features three buttons: one on the face (the View button), and two on the right side (the upper is the Mode button, the lower is the Start/Stop button). Pushing one, or a combination, of the buttons allows you to access the LifeTrak's menus.
Although I haven't worn a watch in over a decade, I found the LifeTrak comfortable enough to wear. It didn't catch on my clothing, or rub in uncomfortable ways when I moved, and the band didn't collect dirt. I did, however, need a day or so to adjust to cycling through the LifeTrak's menus using the buttons: Because it has no Back button, I often had to cycle entirely though a menu to correct a mistake I'd made on a previous step. Nevertheless, the LifeTrak's buttons are by no means complicated; a close reading of the quick-start guide included with the tracker helped to steer me through the setup.
You turn the LifeTrak on by pressing any button. After I did so, it guided me through setting the date and time, using the Mode button to access the menu, using the View button to select each line, and using the Mode and Stop/Start buttons to increase or decrease the numbers--all of which was fairly straightforward. Poking around on my own, I was able to set my step goals; the device can also track goals for distance or calories. The advanced setup menu, which is available on the same settings screen as the time and goal menus, allows you to input your gender, birthday, weight, and height, which helps the LifeTrak calculate how many calories you're burning.
Pushing the center View button allows you to cycle through the readings on the LifeTrak's home (or time) screen. You can view how many steps you've taken, how far you've walked, and how many calories you've burned. Pushing and holding the View button takes you to a screen that measures your heartbeats per minute--however, you have no way to save this measurement to the LifeTrak, so you'll have to either remember it or write it down so that you can enter it into the Argus dashboard later.
It was illuminating to see my step count rise throughout the day. The device doesn't quite work in real time, though, so often my number of steps would jump at odd times. This quirk sometimes made it difficult to tell whether I was getting a true read on my steps.
When you press the top button (Mode) once, the device shows you a graph of your hourly or daily movement. It's worth noting here that the LifeTrak defaults to the measurement that is displayed--that is, if you keep the tracker displaying your step count and then press Mode, it shows you an hourly or daily graph of your steps, with the days shown as 'Today', '-1 Day', '-2 Days', which is a bit clunky.
Pressing View at this point changes the measurement, and the graph, to distance or calories. Pressing Mode again takes you to the Workout mode, where you can use the View button to select steps, distance, or calories and then press the Stop/Start button to use the LifeTrak as a stopwatch--ideal for, say, measuring how hard you're working out on a morning walk, or how long you take to run a mile. Again, however, you have no way to save this data to the watch, which is a bit disappointing.
Pushing the Mode button along with the bottom Stop/Start button activates the LifeTrak's light, but its green illumination is...unimpressive, and does little to enhance the display in bright sunlight. While the bottom Start/Stop button mostly works in conjunction with other buttons to select options within menus, it also syncs the device over Bluetooth to your phone--and the companion app--when you hold it down.
Although I initially had no problems with this arrangement, after about ten days the watch was no longer able to connect to my phone, producing a 'No Phone to Sync' error when I attempted to sync and update the app. Fortunately, I was able to reconnect the two via the Devices & Apps menu within the Argus app which repaired the smartphone to the tracker.
Speaking of, the app in question, Argus, is nicely designed and highly accessible--and it can work without being synced or connected to any fitness device. Argus is intended to help you manage and monitor a full array of health and fitness metrics, including your workouts (such as running, walking, cycling, and yoga), weight, heart rate, sleep, caffeine levels, hydration, and much, much more.
However--and this is a big however--you're required to enter most of that information yourself. Because Argus is designed to work without any device, it doesn't rely on a tracker to provide the information; it relies on you. When synced to the LifeTrak, the Argus app will pull step, distance, and calorie information from the device, but you'll still have to input any other metric you'd like to track.
Argus then organizes all that information into a dashboard that resembles a beehive, with individual cells that display the date, the weather, and any other data you've entered. You can expand the hives attached to each date by adding information on your weight, heart rate, meals, cups of coffee, exercise, and sleep schedule. Tapping the dates collapses (or expands) the hives, which the app stacks in a scrollable timeline.
Swiping right from this Timeline screen takes you to a Track Activity menu, where you can select metrics to track--or search for more. Searching for additional options here finds entries for swimming, skiing, inline skating, aerobics, alcohol (shot, glass of wine, or bottle of beer), food intake (you can also take a picture of your meals to add to your dashboard), rowing, golf, treadmill... It's a super-extensive menu that can help you measure and track a comprehensive list of your daily activities.
Swiping left takes you to a menu where you can access the settings and the share options (email, text, and Facebook), see other devices and apps that connect to Argus, view "trends" (a graph of your activities), set goals, and connect with friends (via Facebook).
Honestly, I have nothing but warm and fuzzy feelings for the app--despite its reliance on user input, it has a neat UI and an extensive list of what it can measure, and it's fairly effortless to use. It counted my steps even on days when I forgot to wear the LifeTrak (although it measured only the steps I took while I had my phone on me), and the hive dashboard is a really nice way to organize such data visually. Unfortunately, Argus is an iOS exclusive at the moment.
Let's be real here: No one who owns a Fitbit, a Jawbone Up, or a Nike+ FuelBand is going to go for the LifeTrak. It doesn't measure sleep (although you can manually input data about your sleep into the Argus app), it won't gently wake you up at the optimal hour, it can't tell whether you're walking up a street or up six flights of stairs, and the app doesn't have a bar-code scanner or database for nutritional information. Because Salutron licenses out the hardware design, the tracker is painfully similar to a few other devices, marking it entirely unremarkable and obviously entry-level. The backlight is underwhelming at best, and the inability to record workouts or heart rates means the LifeTrak will never be able to compete against top-tier activity trackers.
However, the LifeTrak does offer something those other trackers do not: an entry-level price. At US$60 it's a significant discount from the Jawbone Up (US$130) and Fitbit Flex (US$100). The decision to partner with an established app was a good one--Argus helps to fill in some of the gaps the hardware leaves. And aside from the issue with the Bluetooth syncing, it is easy to use, making it ideal for people who want to just dip their toes into the fitness-device trend.
Those seeking a top-notch device with a top-tier app and heavy metrics will not find what they're looking for here. If you're training heavily, running marathons, or averse to inputting your own metrics, the LifeTrak is not going to work for you. But if you're a newbie who's curious about how many steps you take per day, or interested in keeping track of your heart rate or calories, the LifeTrak is a fair enough place to start.