No Band for You!

You come back, one year!

microsoft-band

The wearables market isn’t an easy one; and its one that for many, still remains untamed. I spent a great deal of time last year covering the wearables market.

The first device I reviewed in this year long series was the Microsoft Band. In the end, at least before the Apple Watch was released, I considered it to be the go to device that I would have recommended to everyone, largely because (it had)

  • An inexpensive point of entry
  • A cross platform set of apps
  • An easy to use UI and smartphone app

When, a year later, Microsoft released Band 2, I felt vindicated – at least for my initial recommendation – because a second release of Band meant that Microsoft intended to stay in the market, at least for a while.

Yeah… about that…

Microsoft announced earlier this week that it is pulling Band 2 from all of its Stores and won’t be releasing a Band 3 this year.

Later, Microsoft also removed Band’s SDK from their site, which makes sense, since they’re no longer selling the device. They also appear to have disbanded the software team that was tasked with bringing Band in to Windows 10 as a native device and the hardware team responsible for design and engineering of Band hardware.

The one thing that Microsoft is NOT doing, however is dropping Microsoft Health. Microsoft still intends to provide that software and service to users of other fitness bands.

However, Apple Watch users, or those MS Health users looking to switch to Apple Watch, shouldn’t get their hopes up. It’s very unlikely that Apple will provide an API that would permit 3rd party support of Apple Watch with Microsoft Health or any other health monitoring application.

So you can put Microsoft Band into the heap of dead and dying tech revealed recently, including, of course, Blackberry manufactured hardware.

Related Posts:

Review – Olio Model One

The last candidate in our Smartwatch Roundup is here – Meet the Olio Model One…

Introduction
Wearables are the thing for 2015. Nearly every major smartphone manufacturer, including Apple, Microsoft (who delivered MS Band and MS Band 2 in less than a year’s time), Samsung, Motorola, and LG to name a few; not to mention fitness and GPS companies like Garmin, Nike and Fitbit have released a band or smartwatch in 2015.

Wearables, and in particular, smartwatches, are a hot commodity right now. Those that have been successful have been hard to get. The Apple Watch certainly falls in that category. The MS Band, at least back in November and December of 2014, also qualify.

However, there have been a few new players enter the market. Some of these, like the Tag Heuer Connected represent the high end of the smartwatch market. Others, like the Olio Model One, however, also firmly fall into this category, but unlike the Tag Heuer, are smartphone agnostic. They don’t prefer a particular flavor of smartphone OS; and its here that we’re going to end our smartwatch journey; because… it has arrived.

The Olio Model One. Its luxurious. Its waterproof. Its simply stunning. Let’s take a look at it and see how it stands up in a new market, but one that is quickly maturing and see if it’s the smartwatch for you.

Hardware
This is perhaps the one and ONLY area of the Model One that Olio got right. The watch casing and the band on the Model One are really exceptional. If there’s one area of the product that is going to pull a lot of interest from current and potential customers, it’s the band and watch casing. If there’s one area that might make me not return the device to Olio and request a refund, it’s going to be the casing and the band.

In fact, its perhaps the only reason why I haven’t returned the device at this point. The device looks and feels great. It looks like a product that costs as much as it does, and it really just oozes luxury.

Nothing looks or feels cheap on the Model One. The screen looks great, despite the touch screen issues (see below). The casing is solid and well put together. The watch has some heft to it, giving the device the feel of something special.

Check out the pictures below. Once you see this thing, I know you’ll agree, this is an awesome looking device.

 

Unfortunately, that’s all the good I have to say about the hardware. Once you get past the surface, it all goes south.

I’ve outlined a number of different hardware related functionality issues, below. If you are interested in the Model One, please don’t order one until you have the opportunity to read through everything that I’ve outlined. Based on what I know about the device, the issues that I’ve outlined below, and the one customer-wide, web-based quality call that Olio has done to address customer concerns and issues, it’s clear that the problems that I’ve outlined are NOT isolated.

There’s also no way to take a screen shot of the device that I can see, as it has NO hardware buttons and no way to view the contents of the screen in Olio Assist. All of the device shots I’ve taken have been with a physical camera.

Watch Software & Complications
Olio’s product pages all show a continuous, moving second hand. It flows around the watch face with a sense of elegance that really shows off the luxury points of the Model One.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to make YOUR Model One’s second hand move in a continuous, elegant, sweeping motion. The second hand on my Model One “ticks” as a second hand would on a mechanical, analog watch. This is nice, but why the Model One won’t mimic this – when it should clearly be an easy get – is beyond me. According to Olio Assist, the watch face isn’t customizable. Each Bespoke watch face is preconfigured for your type and color (Steel, Black, Yellow Gold, or Rose Gold) of watch, and cannot be changed (other than day/ night settings and its activity streams that help create a unique face, each day.

Notifications
The Notifications complication is the default watch screen for the Model One. As you can see from this screen, you get the time of day, the activity bars and the date in mm.dd.yyyy format. When a notification is sent to the Model One, its most easily seen here. You can also most easily see both Temporal Streams (see Notifications in the Issues and Problems section, below), Early and Later.

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The Model One Notifications Complication The Notifications Screen
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Tap on an individual Notification and get the details Swipe to the left, and get the ability to clear the Notification; but be careful. If you don’t do it right, you can dismiss the Notifications without seeing the Clear button, or you can move to the next Complication, OR you can get the Earlier Temporal Stream

The UI here looks nice. Its modern. Its semi-transparent. It’s also difficult to get to and work with.

Schedule
This is an interesting view of your daily calendar. The only issue I have with it is that as appointments come and go, they fall off the complication. This is good and bad. Its good, because the complication is only good for up to 12 hours at a time. It’s bad, because once an appointment has passed it falls off the display. If you were looking to see how busy you were today, this isn’t the day-view that you’d probably go to first. It is, however, GREAT at the beginning of your day, and as your appointments progress. Eventually, you end up with a blank display until the next day.

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Weather
This is probably the most interesting complication in the entire cache of displays on the watch. It’s not animated, and you shouldn’t expect any kind of animation out of any of the model one screens (except the second hand movement); but it will change based on changing weather conditions throughout the day.

The Weather complication divides your day into four quadrants morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening, and gives you general weather info for the day. The active quadrant, based on the hour hand, is highlighted, white.

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Alarm
You can set a single or repeating alarm with the Model One on this screen. I haven’t played with this at all, because, to be quite honest, the watch has never given me the opportunity to want or need an alarm to be set on the actual watch, largely because I’m not expecting it to have enough power to actually ring the alarm later (see Battery Life, in the Issues and Problems section, below).

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Timer
You can set a countdown timer with the Model One on this screen. Like Alarm, I haven’t used the Timer complication at all, because, quite honestly, I haven’t had enough battery life or power on the device to actually warrant playing with this. I’m just worried about the bloody thing having enough power to tell the time while I’m wearing it. Its nearly always run out of power before I’ve been able to get home and plug it in.

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Stopwatch
You can use your Model One as a stopwatch with this screen. This complication has turned on once or twice due to issues with the touch screen not being sensitive enough, or too sensitive and I’ve had issues stopping it or clearing it back to zero. Again, I’m not very trusting of using this complication because it’s going to burn battery power (and yes… battery life really IS that big of an issue Keep reading…).

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Companion Smartphone App
Originally, I had plans of taking you through the entire app. Lord knows I have enough screen shots of the software on my iPhone.

I’ve been in mobile devices for nearly my entire software QA career. I know mobile devices like the back of my hand, and all of my experience is telling me that Olio Assist needs work, some time to mature and is currently buggy.

I’m not going to show you everything. After going through the cache of screen shots I have, there are simply too many of issues and bugs and quirks that I’ve found to display them all. I will, however, provide you with some screen shots so you can see what the software looks like, and then see where some of the rough edges are.

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You choose a DND range, ideally so the watch doesn’t receive notifications and will save battery power. However, your battery will likely never last long enough to see this happen You choose calendars to tell Olio Assist to only provide appointment notifications for the noted calendars. However, I have yet to have any appointment notifications fire on my Model One. The setup process attempts to use your home and work locations from YOUR contact record on your phone. However, location services in Olio Assist don’t work right and you end up with the error dialog you see directly under this caption. If you want Olio Assist to know where you live, you have to enter the location in manually
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After you enter in your location manually, it can find your location and pinpoint it on a map. After it asks about your residential address, it asks about your work address and goes through the same process. This is the error message you see when you try to have Olio Assist use either your residential or work address out of your personal contact record, as I noted above. Again, you have to search for your address manually.
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After you enter in your location manually, it can find your location and pinpoint it on a map. The only way to get out of the “add address loop” is to tap Skip, which doesn’t make any sense. I should be asked if I’m done with addresses, and then be given an opportunity to add more, or move on. Skipping a step makes it seem as though none of the data that I just entered, found and identified will be used. Olio Assist asks you what kind of transportation methods you use, presumably so that it can provide you with the correct navigation directions. I have yet to see any evidence of this outside of setup, but with the battery problems I’ve had, I really haven’t pushed my luck and tried. Setup is completed. Note that there is a finish button, even though the progress indicator (the 4th of four progress icons, below the finish button) has been on the last or 4th bar the entire process.

What you’re seeing here is extremely immature device software. It’s clear to me that the testing process here wasn’t as robust as it could or should have been. Olio has a lot of work to do here. For the cost of the watch, I expected a very finished software product.

Instead what I got was an unwanted opportunity to be a beta tester.

Issues and Problems
As of this writing, I’ve had the Olio Model One for a little over a month. During that time, I’ve been able to wear it for approximately one (1) – yes, just ONE, single, solitary full day. I have a number of issues with the Model One that I purchased, and I’ve been in nearly constant contact with Olio’s Customer Care Lead, Cristina Hall. With everything that you see documented below, Olio has decided that my Model One is defective. They are in the process of preparing (flashing the latest software update, which as of this writing is not finished yet) a new Model One for me and will send it next day air. I’ll turn around a return of my original Model One after I receive the replacement. I’m expecting my replacement to arrive sometime between Thursday and Friday of the week of 2015-11-16.

However, I can tell you with 100% certainty, I’m extremely disappointed so far in the Olio Model One. For $695USD, one expects a better out of the box experience than what I’ve currently received. Up to this point, I’d pretty much consider this to be one of the worst customer experiences I’ve ever had with a piece of consumer electronics in the last five to seven years.

UPDATE: As with everything that’s been happening with Olio, the organization failed to deliver on its promise of delivering me an updated and preflashed watch when they said they were going to. Just before Thanksgiving, Olio indicated that they were going to send me a replacement watch and that it should arrive no later than Wednesday 2015-11-25.

The watch didn’t SHIP until 2015-11-25. It was supposed to ship over night, so with Thursday being a national holiday, that means it should have arrived no later than 2015-11-27.

It didn’t arrive until Monday 2015-12-02, a full two business days after I was promised it would arrive.

On 2015-12-07, a new communication came out from Olio announcing a new version of Olio Assist – the watch’s companion app – and a new watch firmware update. Its 2015-12-07 as I write these words, and I’m still waiting for the watch to update itself to the new watch firmware version, version 1.1.47.

According to Olio, in order for the watch to update, it needs to be charged at least to 50%, must be sitting on its wireless charger and be connected to your phone via Bluetooth. According to Olio, it should update to the latest version within three hours of these conditions being met, so after three hours (or overnight at the latest), one would expect to see a new firmware version on the watch.

I’ve been sitting here all day, working, literally waiting for the watch to update… and… nothing.

That MAY be because even though my watch says its connected to my iPhone, and my iPhone’s Bluetooth page in Settings says that its connected to the watch, Olio Assist says that the watch is disconnected.

When I contacted Olio about this, I was told to go into Settings on the watch and restart it, and then to make certain that no other Bluetooth device was connected (like my Apple Watch). I was told that having another device connected to it could prevent the watch from updating correctly and that disconnecting other devices and then restarting the watch should immediately kick off the update.

It didn’t… but even if it did, it would be hard to tell.

Olio doesn’t want updating the watch to be something that the user ACTIVELY pursues. They want maintenance activities like that to be handled by Olio Assist and the watch and be totally transparent to the user. I like that… if it worked.

There’s no UI to push updates to the watch at all. There’s no way for me to know if the update has been found and downloaded by my phone, and then transferred to my device. Olio can see all of that from their backend… but the end user doesn’t have ANY way to monitor check, or troubleshoot that. So, if it works, it works. If it doesn’t, you’re screwed, as you don’t get ANY kind of notification from the software that there’s even a new firmware available for your watch, let alone a way to monitor, push or troubleshoot the transfer and installation.

I admire this type of update method – making it totally transparent to the user; but there needs to be a way to push it from the end user side, just in case things get stuck.

Charging Issues
The Olio Model One charges hot. It charges VERY hot. Dangerously hot. Like, burn your skin or desktop, hot. I initially thought that it was only the initial charge. I was wrong; but not in the way that you might think.

Yes. The Olio Model One can charge hot. It can get burn your hands hot; but it doesn’t charge hot all the time, and it can cool down to an acceptable or understandable level while charging. However, every time my battery gets nearly or totally depleted, the next time I charge it, it charges hot.

Every time…

The big issue here is that the device can get dangerously hot. The best thing for you to do is to set the watch to charge on a surface you know won’t burn or catch fire and then wait until the watch is fully charged. After that, you should disconnect it, and then wait for it to cool before putting it on.

The other charging issue that I’ve noticed with the Olio Model One is that even when sitting on its charger, regardless of its charging level, the level of charge can both rise AND fall according to both Olio Assist and the watch itself. How one is supposed to charge the watch so it can be used during the day, gets a bit confusing after this.

UPDATE: I’ve been using – or trying to use – the Model One now for a few weeks. This morning (2015-12-17), I woke up and the watch was at 61% charge after sitting on its charger overnight. In total, it sat on its charger for over 8 hours. However, it showed connected to my iPhone via Bluetooth in Settings, in Olio Assist, and on the watch.

When I got to the office, the watch was reading 1% charge. Yes… Just 1%. I put it on its charger and it immediately went to 10% and then over the course of about 90 minutes, 15%. I left it on the charger and went to a 30 minute meeting. When I got back to my desk, it was at 14%. Still on the charger and about 30 minutes later, it was at 11%, then about 5 minutes after that it was at 10%.

I pulled that watch off the charger and it was very hot. In fact, it was almost too hot to handle.

I restarted the watch via the watch’s Settings, and it took about 10 minutes to come back. The display was strange looking after that, as it was trying to display the Notifications complication, but was clearly having trouble; but the display righted itself. It clearing was having issues due to the high heat level it developed while charging.

Now… after about 5 minutes after restart, I’ve watched the charge meter on the watch jump from 10% to 15% to 22% to now 26%, again, in under 7 minutes.

I’ve been concerned about an insufficient amount of current coming through the charging disc and USB cable, so I’ve stopped using a powered USB port on my computer (a ThinkPad T420 here at the office) to using a wall wart and AC current. It’s made a difference, but the device also charges much hotter, much more frequently now.

Battery Life
This is probably the most disappointing feature on the device, and its clearly related to the charging issues I’ve noted above. To put it quite bluntly – the battery life on the Olio Model One just sucks. On the original Model One that I received (I was sent a replacement unit), the battery life was 2-4 hours.

Yes. That’s right, not 24 hours; but two (2) to four (4) hours. Just 2 to 4 hours, and then the battery would go dead and the watch would be dead weight. According to Olio, the Model One has a maximum of 800 charging cycles for the life of its battery. There’s a huge problem with this.

When the battery needs charging four to six times a day, just to get you THROUGH the day so you can use the watch, you’re looking at a life span of 133.33 to 200 DAYS

Days. Not weeks or months… Days.

That means that the useful lifespan of the Olio Model One is about 4.5 MONTHS to just over 6.5 MONTHS before the battery will fail to take and hold a charge.

At one full cycle a day, the Olio Model One should last 2.20 years before the battery will fail to take and hold a charge.

That’s not long enough.

When a smartwatch costs between $595 and $1395, this is truly unacceptable. The Apple Watch starts at $399 and many people – including me – are busting a flange gasket over IT not holding a charge for more than 16 hours before running out of power (when it first came out). With a maximum life span of just over two years, even THAT’S a hell of a lot more than the Olio Model One.

You can get a LOT of traditional watch for $600 to $1400, and it won’t expire in four and a half months to two years. It will last you – potentially – years to DECADES with the proper care and battery changes.

While a computing component like a smartwatch will quickly lose its relevance in five years or less, at $600 to $1400, I’m expecting the Olio Model One to last well beyond five years. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t.

However, I have serious concerns about it surviving past Thursday next week, at the way this thing runs through battery cycles…

UPDATE: I had the watch on the other day and had put it on my wrist at 8am. I had purposely turned the Bluetooth radio off, as my phone was downstairs in my jacket, and I was upstairs in my office, charging the watch…again. I didn’t want the watch’s battery to drain or not to charge, so I turned off the device’s Bluetooth radio. Then, we went to Church, and I left the Bluetooth radio off.

I want to make certain everyone understand the timing around these events.

1. 8AM – Took Model One off the charger and put it on
2. 10:30AM – Left for Church
3. 12PM – Arrived back home
4. 12PM – Watch was dead

That’s a span of four (4) hours. The Bluetooth radio was OFF, and the Model One still managed to run through its battery.

Touch Screen Issues
I’ve been having a number of issues with the Model One’s touch screen. I’m not going to belabor these, either, and I’m quickly going to run them down and detail them out.

  1. Sensitivity
    You have to touch it just right, and in the right spots (which aren’t very well defined), in order to get the screen to react to your touches. Right out of the box, the touch screen is both under and over sensitive. You can quite honestly tap and swipe this thing for days and the device will just ignore you. Other times, it will jet past three or four screens with a single swipe. The screen is very difficult to control, and I’ve noticed that you have to develop just the right type of touch in order to have the device not only recognize your touch, but to move the way you want it to. This is NOT easy to master, and honestly, you should have to try so damn hard to get the device’s touch screen do what you want or intend.This is a driver issue, and Olio has already issued two firmware updates to address it. No doubt others will follow.
  2. Display On/ Off

The watch is supposed to turn on when you raise your wrist. It doesn’t do that consistently. The watch is supposed to stay on long enough for you to look at it and mentally register the contents of the display. It doesn’t do that consistently. More often than not, it doesn’t turn on when you raise your wrist, requires you to tap it MULTIPLE (like four to five) times before it WILL turn on, and then won’t stay on long enough.

This is a driver issue, and Olio has already issued two firmware updates to address it. No doubt others will follow.

With both of these issues active all the time, interacting with the watch has not been easy. In many cases, I’ve given up, looked at the time, ignored the notifications I’ve gotten and just given up.

Bluetooth and Pairing
The biggest reason why the Olio Model One has the battery issues that it does have is due to problems with its Bluetooth radio. The Bluetooth radio in the Model One has serious problems staying connected to my iPhone.

Bluetooth pairing is not easy with the Model One. The initial pairing of my original Model One took me well over 20 minutes to complete. (See below for a bit more information on the initial pairing experience.) The Model One and my iPhone 6 apparently just don’t see eye to eye… or each other for that matter. I have no idea why, and no answers from Olio on this.

After getting them paired and connected, I have found that both the Model One and my iPhone 6 fail to see each other at all, though this has improved a great deal over the past week or so. If they do happen to “bump into each other,” they often drop the connection later.

And the initial pairing… oy what a painful experience that was. I’ve gone through the setup process with the Model One four (4) times. Connectivity problems have had me resetting the watch and deleting the partnership between my watch and my iPhone, as well as deleting Olio Assist on my iPhone to insure that any app information and device information have been deleted.

That usually clears things up with other products. Not always the case with the Model One. After putting Olio Assist BACK on my iPhone 6, I’ve also had to quit Olio Assist and restart it on many occasions to either get the initial pairing to work, or to get the device to reconnect to my iPhone.

The Bluetooth radio is one of the weakest parts of the Model One. It’s one of the main reasons that the battery tanks so completely and so often. While Olio has made some in-roads to this with device firmware version 1.1.47, they still have a LONG WAY to go.

Notifications
If I go back and gather the same notification criteria that I outlined in my Microsoft Band Review, I can honestly say that the Olio Model One MOSTLY gets notifications right.

That is to say, you get notified when you think you’d get notified.

However, the Model One addresses notifications with a system similar to the Pebble Time. Notifications are grouped into two basic time streams – Earlier and Later.

Notifications that come in now, are automatically deposited into the Earlier stream (it’s an event that happened earlier). Upcoming appointments, weather forecasts and conditions, etc. are shown in the Later stream. This would be fine, if not for the Touch Screen issues I outlined above.

Viewing items from the Earlier or Later streams requires you to swipe either left or right from the left or right side of the screen to the opposite end. Earlier events are seen by swiping from the left side to the right side. Later, from the right to the left… if you can get the screen to recognize the input.

If you do, then you can look at the notification. You can tap on it to get additional information, or swipe it to the left to clear it. Again, this all works if you can get the touch screen to recognize your touches. Sometimes it will, sometimes it won’t.

I’ve learned that the best way to use the watch is to ignore the notifications entirely. The haptics on the device aren’t very noticeable, and there’s a good chance you’re going to miss the notification when it comes in, anyway.

Conclusion
Geez… where the hell do I start..??!!

Put bluntly, stay away from the Olio Model One.

The device doesn’t work; and no amount of discussion or verbal or printed rhetoric from the company can convince me that it does at this point. It’s also way too expensive to have issues like this… EVER.

The company clearly has some huge, HUGE technology hurdles to get past; and I’m really not certain that the company is going to make it long enough to see the issues resolved. This is a HUGE disappointment.

When you’re a technology company, providing an expensive, electronic accessory that realistically has a life span of three to five (3-5) years (if and when it works as designed) and should have a lifespan that goes well beyond even THAT, I see no way that the organization will be able to survive the technology problems it has and the bad press they WILL generate, given the current state of their product offering.

The watch charges hot, has issues taking and holding a charge, has a Bluetooth radio that won’t stay connected to the most popular smartphone in the US, and doesn’t handle notifications right due to its touch screen issues. Top that off with a price tag that is clearly out of line with its battery’s usable life span, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Is it possible for Olio to get past all of this and be successful with the Model One..?

Yes. Yes it is.

However, it’s going to take a eureka moment on their end. They are going to have to make the current hardware work correctly. They’re going to have to fix the Bluetooth radio issues they have with the iPhone. They’re going to have to fix the charging issues they have. They’re going to have to resolve the battery life issues they have. They’re going to have to make their iPhone app smarter and more intuitive. They’re going to have to address device updates and pushing firmware to the watch. They’re going to have to handle notifications a bit better and make them a bit more actionable and recognizable.

That’s a lot to accomplish in what I’m seeing as a VERY short window of opportunity for them – months. Like, less than three (3) months short…

Why so short..? Well, if they don’t get all of their battery and charging issues cleared up by that time, most of the first shipment of Model One’s that were put into service will have surpassed or come close to surpassing their 800 charge cycle life spans, and the watches will be useless.

So… hang out with this one and let’s see how it goes.

Until then, you can admire the hardware. It’s gorgeous; but I’d admire it from afar… The default size of the band is a bit tight for me, and you really MUST go to a jeweler to have the band sized; but if the software was something that Olio totally struck out on, their hardware (case and band) was an out of the park home run.

It’s too bad, too.

With a device that’s just so gorgeous, so water resistant, so and well designed, it’s too bad that the software that drives it is such a dud.

Related Posts:

Olio – Did the Cat Finally Build a Smarter Mouse Trap?

Contestant number five has entered the ring…

olio

One of the bigger things to hit the market this year is wearables. Things like Microsoft Band (part two of the review can be seen here), the Fitbit Surge, the Apple Watch (review pending arrival of the hardware), Pebble Time and Time Steel are all wearables – specifically smartwatches – that will have been released or will be released later this year. As of the first of this month (yes, April 1st; but no, this isn’t a joke), a new player has thrown their hat into the ring – meet the Olio Model One.

The device…? Oh my stars and garters, yes! Have you seen this thing?!

The Model One is beautiful. It’s made of stainless steel and basically comes in two flavors – (brushed?) Stainless Steel and Black. And while it is DEFINITELY drool-worthy, it’s got a few hurdles to get past.

The device itself runs on a proprietary OS

According to Olio, people spend WAY too much time in their computers, in their smartphones and tablets and shortly, in their smartwatches… that are tethered and tied to their smartphones. Olio wants their users to think of the Model One as an extension of themselves and not something that drives them or makes them live in it. As such, there’s no app store to bury you in apps. You get what you’re given (at least initially).

While the device obtains connectivity via both Android and iOS wireless devices, there aren’t any apps for you to run on the watch other than the ones that come with the device. While it does have an “assistant” of sorts, called Olio Assist, providing time saving suggestions, the limited – but value-added – functionality of (just) what comes out of the box, is where Olio sees the Model One hitting the sweet spot. You don’t get lost or waste hours of time playing Flappy Bird (or one of its many device based, or online clones). Instead, you focus on the information you need and only the information you need, so you spend time instead to your family, friends and loved ones.

However, most of the world wants apps. Its why we buy smart devices, and without an app store or a market (more on that, below), you have to wonder what the draw will be? Yeah it looks GREAT; and people at Tech Crunch, The Verge, and Gizmodo, all think saving you from “notification hell” is the bomb; and maybe it is.

Maybe it is….

I know that it drove me a bit nuts with the Microsoft Band, and it didn’t work right on the Surge; but when things are configurable, as they are on Band (and are supposed to be on the Surge), then you have to think a bit more about the purchase. For example, there aren’t any apps or even an app store for Band, either… (and its $400 cheaper).

And by the way, there’s no fitness band functionality here that I can see. This is a smartwatch and not a smartwatch that also measures physical activity. It doesn’t have any activity sensors, a GPS, a accelerometer, or a gyroscope. The functionality appears limited at this time.

It’s Expensive
Yeah… let’s talk about that for a sec.

While Microsoft Band is clearly affordable at $199.99, the Olio Model One is $345 – $395 for the Steel flavor and $495 – $545 for the Black flavor as of this writing with the $250 “friends and family” discount that’s being extended to the public. Normally, we’re talking $595 – $645 for Steel and $745 – $795 for Black (which puts their metal link bracelets at around $50 bucks over their leather bands).

The Olio Model One runs in the same neighborhood as the Apple Watch and Apple Watch Sport. The pricing models may be very different, but their close enough to be similar. You can clearly get a decent and high end analog watch for about as much AND get the band you want, too.

The device has a stainless steel case and an ion exchange glass touch screen that is supposed to survive impacts and resist scratches. It has wireless charging with a battery that can last a full two days with full functionality and then an additional two days, if you turn off connectivity to its Bluetooth-LE radio. The Model One can communicate with both Siri and Google Now via Olio Assist; and can control third party smart devices like thermostats and lights. It’s also water resistant so you don’t have to worry about ruining it when you take a swim.

The Model One is clearly a premium product; and maybe all of this is worth the premium price to you. I’m skeptical at best, at least until I have it in my hands.

It’s got an Initial Production Run of Just 1000
The Model One is a limited edition device.

Other companies release things in “limited edition,” and then they really aren’t limited at all. Olio’s first run of the Model One is limited to 1000 units – Five hundred of each the Steel and Black flavors. According to Olio,

“We decided to do a very limited production for its first release because the company is committed to the quality and craftsmanship and wanted to make sure that every piece holds up the high standards of the company. Olio compares themselves to a craft brewery, and aren’t trying to be everything to everyone.”

Olio likens itself to a craft beer brewery. Brian Ruben from ReadWrite.com said it best, I think. “if I buy a six-pack of a craft brew and I don’t like what I drink, I’m not out $600. Plus, I don’t have to call tech support.”

While the limited run and the high price are, I think, partial marketing tools to help create hype (as well as tech coverage by a number of different outlets, including yours truly and Soft32, at the end of the day you have to wonder how viable a company with such a limited production run with such a high end product will be. Olio appears to be artificially creating a limited supply in order to make the device’s value appear higher. Things that are rare ARE considered more valuable.

Diamonds, like the Hope Diamond, with such a highly desired cut, level of clarity and precision cut ARE rare and ARE very valuable. Olio hopes that watch aficionados see the Model One in the same light and don’t ding it for its digital guts as they do with nearly every other smartwatch; and with nothing really to compare it to (the Apple Watch isn’t even available for pre-order as of this writing, and hasn’t hit the market with either a splash or a thud…), it’s hard to see how well or how poorly the Olio Model One will do.

Have you seen the Olio Model One? Does it interest you? Will you buy one? Stay tuned to Soft32 as 2015 truly does appear to be the Year of Wearables. I’ll have more coverage on devices as they are released or as they make news.

In the meantime, if you have any questions, please let me know in the comments and discussion area, below.

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FEATURE REVIEW – Fitbit Surge

The next item up for review in our smartwatch round-up is the Fitbit Surge. Let’s take a look…

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Introduction

My quest to stop being a fat slob continues.

What to do, how much of it to do and what else I need to do to keep myself healthy is a never ending battle… and its not easy. There are way too many different daily challenges that present themselves.  Am I moving enough?  Am I eating right?  Am I sleeping right? These questions are difficult to answer as it is, and Fitbit has been trying to help people answer it for more than a few years now.

Their latest foray into fitness band/ smartwatch arena is the Fitbit Surge. It has a few nice things to offer not only the fitness conscious, but the smartwatch curious as well; and in this article, we’ll be taking a look at its suitability in both arenas.

This is the second review in a series – or round up – of smartwatch reviews that I’m doing.  The first on the Microsoft Band was large and in depth enough for me to break it up into two parts. You can see them here and here.  Its good and certainly worthy of more than a casual look.

My review of the Fitbit Surge is likely going to be just as lengthy and just as in depth. I’m going to pick apart the hardware. I’m going to pick apart the software. Smartwatches aren’t cheap. The Microsoft Band is $199… IF you can find one to buy.  I’ll cover the cost of the Fitbit a bit later, but I will say that it isn’t cheap, either.

Is the Fitbit Surge the right smartwatch and fitness band for you? Let’s stop dawdling and get down to it!

Hardware

Like the Microsoft Band, the Fitbit Surge is a single piece of hardware.  It has a wide, silicone/ rubber band with a traditional, aluminum alloy buckle.  Its much easier to wear than the Microsoft Band, as there’s a great deal of give and flexibility in the Fitbit’s rubber band.  Aside from the same kind of issues that you might find in wearing any other sports watch, band or bracelet made of silicone or rubber – where you sweat a great deal and your skin may become irritated due to a lack of exposure to air – the Fitbit wears the way you would expect a sports watch to wear.  Honestly, I was very pleased with the way it felt while it was on. The only comfort issues I had were related to breathabiltity.

Wearability and Usability

I’ve been wearing the Fitbit Surge for quite some time now – well over six weeks.  The device is easy to wear and its very comfortable.  However, there are a few things about it that I am not too crazy about.  Part of that is esthetics, part of that is design and while the device is comfortable to wear, it does have Wearability issues.

 The first thing that I noticed about it is that its BIG, even the small sized Surge is big.  The device comes in 3 sizes, small, large and extra-large.  However, size doesn’t relate to device size, it relates to band length and the size wrists it fits. The device itself is 1.34″ wide (34mm) and the screen is 0.82″ x 0.96″ (21mm x 24mm).

 Here are the sizing requirements, direct from Fitbit:

    • Small fits wrists that are 5.5″ x 6.3″ (13.94cm x 16.00cm) in diameter.
    • Large fits wrists that are 6.3″ x 7.8″ (16.00cm x 19.81cm) in diameter.
  • X-Large fits wrists that are 7.8″ x 8.9″ (19.81cm x 220.61cm) in diameter.X-Large is available as an online only purchase.

There are a couple of gotchas here that you need to be aware of.  While they aren’t mission critical, they are important to be aware of so that you can deal with the issues they present.

  1. The wrist band is made of silicone or rubber
    Wearing a silicone band in and of itself isn’t bad, unless you’re allergic to the rubber.  Even if you aren’t allergic to it, you need to make certain you spend some time with the band off.  Silicone can often cause rashes and other skin irritation, and its important that you spend at least some inactive time during the day with the band off, especially if you start to notice any dry, red or flakey skin, or if you start to have some other sort of skin reaction to prolonged wear of the device.
  2. The device, though flexible is bulky
    While the band in and of itself is flexible, the actual Surge itself, is stiff and bulky. The Surge is much more comfortable to wear than the Microsoft Band but the actual electronics of the device go out a bit farther than you might think.  Its clear that Fitbit have created a device that’s very compact, but if you look at it from the side and feel around the ends of band near the actual device FOR the device, you’ll see that its actually a lot bigger than just the screen.

The device itself is, well… ugly.

I hate to say it, but it is.  It’s a lot bulkier than it first appears or seems and its one piece construction means that you don’t have any kind of style choices with it.  Other Fitbit devices like the Apple Watch and even the Fitbit Flex have interchangeable bands. The Surge is a single piece unit, and… right now… you can have ANY color you want… as long as its black.  It’s the only color currently available.  The Surge is supposed to be available in blue and tangerine, but as of this writing, both are currently – still – unavailable. I’ve had my Surge for about two months or so. It was announced at CES and black was the only color available then.  You would think by now – or at least, I did – that the other two colors – which, quite honestly, aren’t all that attractive either – would be available by now.

However, don’t expect to be able to change bands. Unlike the Apple Watch or even the Fitbit Flex, this is an all in one unit, and you’d better be happy with the color choice(s) you make. Once you buy the device, its yours to keep; and there’s no way to change colors or change bands. What you buy is all that you get.

Notifications

If the Microsoft Band got notifications right, the Fitbit Surge doesn’t even come close.  On the Band, it was very easy to overdo notifications, as you could choose to have ALL of your notifications from your phone come over to Band, or you could choose specific ones that it does and keep the vibrations down to a dull roar.

With the Fitbit Surge, its exactly the opposite. You have just a single on-off setting for notifications on the device and then you get only notification of incoming text messages or incoming phone calls.

That’s it.

That can be good or bad, depending on what you’re looking for Surge to do.  If all you’re looking for is basic notifications from incoming messaging, you may be in luck.  As I said, the only notifications that the Fitbit Surge picks up are text messages and incoming phone calls.  If you’re looking to get notifications from upcoming appointments, Facebook Messenger or some other app on your phone, you’re out of luck.

The other big problem I have with notifications on the Fitbit Surge, is that the device doesn’t seem to understand or know when I don’t want them, or want them to stop.  I had notifications turned on for a while on the Fitbit, but have recently turned them off, as I didn’t need BOTH it AND the Microsoft Band buzzing my wrists every time my iPhone received a message, a phone call, or some other event occurred.

So, as I said, I turned notifications off on both bands.  Interestingly enough, Notifications on the Surge are still occasionally received, even though they are clearly turned off on the watch. I have no idea why. This is clearly a huge bug, as there shouldn’t be any notifications coming over at all.

However it clearly shows that the device’s software is capturing the notification and broadcasting the data. It clearly shows that the watch is receiving it through the Bluetooth partnership created on the device, even though its not supposed to be collecting ANY data at all. I’m seeing issues on both ends of the pairing; and its problematic at best. The fix for this – and it definitely needs to be addressed – will likely involve both a software update on your smartphone as well as a firmware update to the device.

UPDATE – The more that I wear the Fitbit Surge, the more I continue to have issues and problems with Notifications coming to it when they are clearly turned off on the device.  While the device does not alert that any text messages have come it, they are clearly coming across and they should not.

Period.

This is an issue that needs to be resolved immediately.

Battery Life

Battery life on the Fitbit Surge is actually pretty good. Compared to the Micrsoft Band, though, nearly ANYTHING would have better battery life… Well, not everything… the Apple Watch won’t last longer than 18 hours. The Micrsoft Band lasts 36 to 48 hours (even if you have Bluetooth turned off and sync via the USB cable).

The Fitbit Surge on the other hand, will last the better part of a week, even with all of the stuff that it does and all of the activities it tracks. Since the Surge tracks nearly everything you do, including sleep, the best thing to do when you do have to charge it is to charge it when you know you’re going to be inactive, or when you can’t wear it.  Swimming and showering come to mind as good candidate times when you might want to charge your Surge.  While the device is DEFINITELY water resistant, I wouldn’t hold it under water for long periods of time. Its not a perfect world, and my luck would have it getting water damage.

The biggest problem that I’ve found with the Surge is that it doesn’t give you a lot of warning when the battery is low, and you might find yourself out and about when you DO get a low battery warning. I’ve actually had mine die on me a time or two because I didn’t get an early enough warning that the battery was level was low.

Connectivity

The Fitbit Surge uses Bluetooth 4.0 to connect to your smartphone. I’ve found that while there are there are issues with this on other devices, the Surge specifically doesn’t use Bluetooth LE. I’m not certain if that’s why there are less connectivity issues with it as opposed to the Pebble Steel and Microsoft Band that I currently own.  Perhaps it is, and points to some larger issues with BT-LE devices.

What I can say about the Fitbit Surge is that while its connection to my iPhone 6 is much more stable, it isn’t as reactive or responsive as other devices are.  When implemented correctly, BT-LE devices tend to see their paired counterparts better and will actively connect when in range (though there’s even issues with this, as you can see in my article), as opposed to devices that do not pair with a BT-LE profile.

While I have less connectivity issues with my Surge, and while the battery life is decent even with its Bluetooth radio on all the time, I have found that data doesn’t come across the pairing unless the application is open and active. This means that I need to be actively using the app for the sync to work and pull data over.  Leaving it run in the background doesn’t do much… at least not consistently. I see this more as a Bluetooth issue rather than an issue with the Surge.

When you pair your Fitbit Surge with your smartphone, you’re going to see two connection partnerships – one for the Surge and one for Surge (Classic). The connection for the Surge is the one that you’d expect to see, and the one that is responsible for all of the connectivity and communication between the device and your smartphone.  If you want to use your Surge to control music playback, you need to enable Bluetooth Classic in the Settings app on the watch. After your Surge and your smartphone are paired, you can use it to control music playback.

To do so, open up a music app on your smartphone.  Then, double tap the home (left side) button on the Surge.  This will bring up the music control app on its display.  You will see your Surge attempting to connect via the (Classic) pairing, and then the current song’s meta data should appear on the watch face’s display.  You can pause the current song’s playback or skip to the next track. Unfortunately, not all music apps broadcast track information, which means that when using apps that don’t do that, the song title won’t appear on your Surge. However, you can still pause or skip to the next track.

I can see where this might be a great tool for someone who is exercising to NOT have to pull out their phone to control their playlist. Depending on where you have your phone stashed (not everyone fancies or trusts an armband case…), you may have to break your stride or stop exercising all together to retrieve and return your phone to its original place of storage.

However, I’ve tried this, and while its easier than pulling a phone from a shirt or pants pocket while running or walking, it isn’t totally a walk in the park, either. You’re going to need to get used to the interface and controls. You can pause, play, and skip songs. You’re going to have to pull your phone out if you’ want to repeat or replay any tracks or if you want to change playlists, midflight.

If you wear glasses for reading, you may have issues reading the audio file’s metadata, provided that your music app of choice transmits that information, on the Surge’s screen. While this isn’t a deal breaker, you do need to be aware of its limitations. Its hard to handle all of the varied functionality with only three buttons; AND to do it while you’re moving, too.

UPDATE – While writing this review of the Fitbit Surge, I’ve had it synching to my iPhone. Over the past few weeks, I’ve started to notice a few issues with Bluetooth connectivity between them both. They always seemed to work and play well together.

Right now, they are not; and NOTHING has changed on either end to warrant the issue in their pairing.  They just seem to not be looking at each other right now unless I absolutely tell them to get together. This is problematic at best, as when I started my Fitbit Surge journey, getting these two together was the easiest paring I’ve ever seen.  It just worked… straight out of the box.  Now, its like they love each other, but their not “in” love.

 Really..?

This is yet another reason why I think that while Bluetooth offers a LOT of potential, it has REAL issues as a data communications and transmission technology and conduit.

Software and Interfaces

I’ll get into Fitbit’s smartphone software in a minute, but I have to say something here, that’s bothered me since I started wearing the Surge – The information that it tracks and collects isn’t stored in Apple Health. Its stored in Fitbit’s proprietary program.  The app doesn’t share or swap data with Apple Health, and it really seems like it should. Some of what it does can’t be done in Apple Health, and that’s fine, but there really should be a way to have data from your iPhone and the data from you’re the Surge work and play well together, especially where Fitbit falls short.

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FEATURE REVIEW: Microsoft Band – Part 2

Introduction

In part one of this first entry into a much larger series, I talked about Microsoft Band and the hardware that it uses to track your physical activity. In part two of this first leg, I’ll deal with the software, the additional issues and problems I’ve encountered while using it, and then I’ll wrap everything up.

Software and Interfaces

MH-01

I’ll get into Microsoft Health in a minute, but I have to say something here, that’s bothered me since I started wearing Band – The information that it tracks and collects isn’t stored in Apple Health. Its stored in Microsoft’s proprietary program. The app doesn’t share or swap data with Apple Health, and it really seems like it should. Some of what it does can’t be done in Apple Health, and that’s fine, but there really should be a way to have data from your iPhone and the data from your Band work and play well together, especially where Microsoft Health falls short – like on climbing stairs.

MH-02 MH-03

Microsoft Health tracks the steps you take.

Exercise and Run/Walk Tracking
Unfortunately for me – and I say unfortunately, because I’ve got moderate to severe asthma and COPD – running for recreation isn’t an option any longer. I ran cross country in high school; but running isn’t too much of an option any more. Walking is ok, but I have to watch distance and exertion levels. The last thing I need to do to myself is work it too hard and then have an asthma attack. Those can get bad…

MH-05

That being said, this is a difficult section for me to write. I’m gaining weight, so obviously I need to move more and eat less, but finding an exercise program that will raise cardio up to a good level without sending me to the ER is an issue. Walking is best, and walking with a purpose has always been my style anyway. I have a long stride and a pretty quick pace, which, for a guy with rheumatoid arthritis on top of it all, is pretty good. As I said in the Hardware section, above, I can do elliptical workouts, but I really have to watch…
Now… how does Band help in my particular situation? It needs to keep me moving. Tim Cook said recently that sitting is the new cancer; and he’s likely right.

MH-04

Over time, you see how much you’re moving…or how much more you need to move.

With Microsoft Band, in order to track exercise and workouts – which is a key, core function of the device – you have to tell it that you want to start that type of tracking. Turn the device on, scroll over to either the Run or Exercise tile and tap it. Press the Action button (the one under the flashing down arrow on the bottom right corner of Band’s screen) and Band will begin tracking the workout. When you’re done, like you do with Sleep, you have to tell Band you’re done, so, turn it on again and hit the Action button. Band will ask you if you want to stop. Tap the Yes button on the screen, and Band will display a summary of the workout.

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Where the Rubber Meets the Road…

…or (really) where my gut meets the treadmill…

Fitness-page-imageI’ve been doing a lot of spewing over the past few months about the quantitative self. I talked about it in my 2015 Predictions and in my big write up about smartwatches.

I also recently purchased an MS Band (usage article and review pending). I’m also likely going to have a review unit of the Fitbit Surge show up in a few weeks and will have a review on it. Needless to say, when Apple Watch is released later this year, I will also likely purchase one of those and will have a review of it; and ultimately a roundup of MS Band vs. Fitbit Surge vs. Apple Watch published shortly thereafter.

Yeah, I’m gonna be quantifying myself all over the place, and I figured that if I didn’t start having a workout program going, I’d find myself wanting and needing some sort of common ground needed. The whole idea is to have a standard work out setup so that I can rinse repeat with all of these devices through the same kind of activities for the same durations. At least that way, I will be able to say with a bit of confidence that “this” device performed this way during my standard workout and “that” device did that, etc.

So, the new job that I got near the end of last year has a “Biggest Loser” competition every year and this year, I am participating. I’m doing this partly because of the reviews and articles I need to write, partly because of the devices I have and will have, partly because I’m new to the company and need to get to know more of my co-workers (the company has about 200 people…), but mostly because I’ve lost sight of my shoes and my pants are harder to zip up than they were last year.

Yes… I need to lose about 25 pounds (ideally). More would be better.

So, I start working out this week. I plan to work out after work with my wife, and will also try to join some of my Biggest Loser team mates in the office gym during lunch. I’m not sure which days I will be where yet; but suffice it to say, that my goal is to really slim down this year. I’m tired of the clothes not fitting right…

And who knows, I might learn something cool about the smartwatches I’m looking at in the process. Stay tuned, kids. I should have something to post on the process in the next week or so.

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What’s all the Fuss with Wearable Tech

…and why should you care? Great questions. I recently saw something on this and have something to add.

In the 2010-2011 time frame, the realization that a well-established ecosystem could make or break a mobile platform was all the rage.  Apple, or more specifically Steve Jobs, had figured that out a long while back, and had been moving towards that direction after capturing the digital music market in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Today, there seems to be a new market emerging, and like the early development of the ecosystem, there aren’t a lot of people who quite get it.

Wearable Technology is supposed to be huge.

indexMany are asking how, when C|Net pronounced the Microsoft Spot Watch dead on 2008-04-23; and newer reincarnations like the Pebble have been met with mediocre success. While things like the Nike Fuel Band or the FitBit have been out for a while, they don’t quite fit the intended paradigm. They’re only a small part of the picture; and I’ll get to why shortly.

According to ComputerWorld, “Wearable computing is about augmenting your whole life and taking advantage of fast-improving Internet services without being glued to a screen all day.” This is only partially right. It’s more about the ecosystem the wearable tech is compatible with and (more importantly) the services you subscribe to and use with that wearable tech.  Because, if the companies involved can’t lock you in and/or sell you services related to the tech… what’s the point?

Your smartphone is going to end up becoming the hub or, mobile router if you will, in a personal area network or PAN that goes where you go. It lives within an ecosystem providing access to multimedia content, apps and connectivity that can be consumed, projected; and where all of the related data will be initially cached before moving on to permanent storage in the cloud. You consume it all – you guessed it – on the wearable tech.

Your mobile carrier will allow you to communicate as you do today, but not via voice calls.  Think VoIP.  You’re going to have devices that all interconnect via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and trade information back and forth, all at the same time.  Your Nike Fuel Band or FitBit will likely be replaced by a shirt or other piece of clothing that can display states of your workout, right on your sleeve or pant leg. Built in, washable sensors keep stats on your vitals and accomplishments as you continue to work out. You’ll pay – reasonable, nominal fees – for the tech, the apps, and the connected services. Vendors make money not on the tech per sell, but on the (licensing or reciprocal agreements and) services that you use and consume.

Wearable tech is all about integrating technology into your everyday life, and about selling the services that make it transparent.  This is why the iWatch (or whatever Apple’s gonna call it) and other items like the FitBit or Fuel Band are (at least initially) a big deal. The better job they do on catching on, the better chance the rest of the genre will have, and the less work vendors will have to do in selling the concept to the general public.

In my opinion, for this to work, wearable tech is going to have to be ecosystem and smartphone agnostic.  It’s going to need to work with every ecosystem and every “modern” smartphone, without issue, and without missing any “critical features.”

What I’m most concerned about at this point, is how carriers and hardware manufacturers respond to the “agnostic” requirement.  They don’t tend to be very supported of interoperability or sharing their networks and other services with those that don’t pay to play. I’m hoping by the time this really takes hold, carriers understand that they are a utility and not much more.

What do YOU think? Is your smartphone going to become a mobile router? As network speeds and liability improves will converged devices break up back into separate phones, music players and personal information managers or will that functionality melt away to something else more compelling?

Why don’t you sound off I the comments below and let me know what you think?

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