Amazon Halo review: Affordable but questionable fitness band

Amazon Halo Fitness Band
Amazon Halo review: Affordable but questionable fitness band
MSRP $99.00
“Amazon's Halo is a no-fuss fitness band, but privacy concerns tarnish an otherwise capable workout companion.”
Pros
  • Slim, lightweight design
  • Informative Sleep score
  • Accurate body fat scan
  • Lab integration
Cons
  • Subscription to access all features
  • Questionable privacy

Amazon has made its first moves into the wearable market with its Halo fitness tracker. Much like its Echo and Alexa devices, the Amazon Halo is designed to blend into the background while it seamlessly tracks your health and fitness. The $99 Halo carves out a niche with unique features not seen on other fitness wearables, but some of these features raise serious privacy concerns. We run down both the good and the bad, so you can decide if the Halo should be your next fitness device.

Simple wear and forget design

The Amazon Halo has a simple design with a woven fabric band and screenless tracker unit that is reminiscent of the older Fitbits. It has a single button that interacts with the Halo app, two microphones for voice analysis, and an LED indicator. On the bottom are an optical heart rate sensor and a charging area. Keeping with its no-fuss design, you can charge the tracker without removing it from the band.

Amazon Halo Fitness Band
Kelly Hodgkins / Digital Trends

The tracker unit is slim and mounts underneath the band with the heart rate sensor flush against your skin. The tracker snaps securely onto the band, but it can be removed quickly and easily when you need to swap bands. The sensor unit is waterproof down to 50-meters, so you can swim and shower while wearing it.

The band is made of a strong mesh with a velcro clasp. The velcro on the Halo is just perfect.  I can pull the velcro as tight as I need and don’t have to fuss with the different settings of a buckle.  The mesh fabric is not as silky smooth as silicone bands but is still comfortable against your skin even when you are sweaty. If you don’t like the mesh, Amazon does sell a sports band with a more rubbery feel.

The Halo doesn’t have a screen to grab your attention or a vibrating motor to buzz you constantly. It’s incredibly slim and lightweight (18 grams), too. It’s so unobtrusive that I hardly even felt it on my wrist. I like that I could wear and forget the Halo, but I do miss the display, especially with I am running. I can’t check the time, watch my pace, or monitor my heart rate from my wrist like I can with my Garmin or Fitbit.

Activity tracking stays with the basics

The Amazon Halo is a more than capable activity tracker with a heart rate sensor and both a gyroscope and accelerometer for tracking movement. It records all the standard metrics for a fitness tracker. It counts steps, compiles calories, and tracks select workouts (walking, running, biking, and more) in real-time. You also can add an activity manually if you forget to start your tracker. One glaring omission is GPS. Most fitness bands have onboard GPS, or at least connect to your smartphone.

Amazon Halo Fitness Band
Kelly Hodgkins / Digital Trends

The Halo takes a novel approach to measuring your activity level. You get points for every minute you are active. The Halo will give you two points for every minute of intense activity, one point per minute of moderate exercise, and one point for every 20 minutes of light activity. Halo not only gives points, but it also takes points away for every hour you are sedentary. You can set your own point goal, but Halo recommends you aim to reach at least 150 points per week, which matches the World Health Organization physical activity guidelines.

The Halo’s laid-back, weekly point system was successful at keeping me active.

Amazon’s point system is ideal for those who are trying to get fit and need that extra encouragement. Because it measures performance on a weekly basis, I didn’t feel pressured to work out every day. I could spread out my exercise over the course of a week, mixing a workout into my daily life when it fit into my schedule. This laid-back approach was successful at keeping me active and prevented me from getting discouraged when I had to miss a workout.

Sleep tracking stays simple

Amazon’s Halo rivals market leader Fitbit when it comes to sleep tracking. At night, the Halo can track movement, heart rate, and even body temperature, giving you an in-depth insight into what factors may be affecting the quality of your sleep. All this data is bundled into a sleep score to help you assess your sleep at a glance.

The Halo accurately detected my wake times, sleep times, and movement at night. The tracker not only monitored the duration of my sleep but also correctly assessed the quality of my sleep. It was spot on with its assessment — when I woke up tired from a restless night, the Halo app knew right away.

The Halo app even goes a step further than simple analysis, it also provides insight into your sleep cycles. When I had a pattern of disruptive sleep, the app provided me with guidance on how I could improve my rest. If I wanted more in-depth help, then I had the option to sign up for a sleep lab. This third-party service offered activities that would improve my sleep, such as limit caffeine in the afternoon (one of my bad habits!). The Lab helped me implement these suggestions and then analyzed whether they actually worked to improve my sleep.

Tone voice analysis is compelling, uncomfortable

The most impressive and controversial feature in Halo is its Tone voice analysis. When enabled, Tone uses the audio hardware on your Halo tracker to listen to your voice periodically during the day. The idea behind Tone is to make you aware of how you sound to other people. Are you cranky or positive? Do you sound tired or upbeat?

Amazon Halo Fitness Band
Kelly Hodgkins / Digital Trends

For privacy reasons, Tone doesn’t monitor the words you say, only the tone of your voice. It also doesn’t save the recordings. This eases some of the privacy concerns, but it does limit the feature. When I was flagged once for being stubborn, I could reflect upon the conversation as a whole; I could not re-listen to exactly what I said.

I found the Tone voice analysis to be compelling but also creepy.  I found myself checking my Tone statistics throughout the day to see if I was being negative without realizing it. I wished there was a notification, though, that would nudge me when my mood changed. Instead of waiting until after the fact, it would be helpful to be able to change my attitude in real time. Though Tone was mostly accurate at detecting my mood, I wasn’t comfortable with the device always listening in the background. Plus, it also was a huge drain on the battery.

Though Tone was mostly accurate at detecting my mood, it was a huge drain on the battery.

What I did like was the Live tab that offered real-time, on-demand analysis. I could practice a short speech and watch where my voice fell on the positivity and energy graph while I was speaking. I then could get a full analysis of how I sounded. This feature is incredibly useful for rehearing a speech or preparing for a job interview.

Body fat tracking with semi-nude selfies

Lots of connected health devices promise to monitor your body fat, but few do it accurately. Most smartphone apps and even smart weight scales use your height and weight and plug that information into a body fat calculator. This formula, though, does not consider whether the bulk of your weight is fat or muscle. It also doesn’t tell you where your fat is concentrated.

Amazon Halo improves body fat measurements by using your height and weight data along with photographs of your body. These photos, taken just in your skivvies, can be used to determine whether you are flabby or fit for your weight. It also helps identify where your fat is located. If you struggle with your body image, this process can be terribly uncomfortable.

All body scan photos are securely processed in the cloud by Amazon and then automatically deleted. They only are stored if you want to use them to track your progress. This does raise a privacy flag. You are trusting Amazon to discreetly handle your semi-naked selfies. Are you comfortable with that?

Though uncomfortable and concerning, the body fat estimates can yield some accurate results, especially for those building muscles and not merely losing weight. With the saved photograph scans, you literally can see your body fat melt away. Just like with Tone voice analysis, you have to decide whether stepping outside your comfort zone is worth the information it yields. For me, a one-time scan to test out the feature was enough.

Battery life meets expectations

The Halo lasted up to a week on a single charge under normal usage. The Tone voice analysis was a huge drain, dropping battery life down to a disappointing two days. Thankfully, the Halo consistently recharged fully in a little over an hour. The Halo did meet Amazon’s promised battery life, but we expected more from a band that doesn’t have a screen and only basic sensors. The Fitbit Charge 3, which has a color display, multiple sensors, and smartwatch features, also lasts six days in between charging cycles.

Labs

Like the Apple Watch, Amazon has partnered with third-party services to expand the health and wellness information you can glean from your device. Most of these labs will help you develop healthy habits that’ll improve both your mind and body. For example, you can get training content from Sweat and participate in the Lunchtime Powerwalks from the American Heart Association. With its retail clout and reach, this is an area Amazon really could develop in the coming years.

Not everyone is ready to give up some privacy for the sake of innovation.

Privacy issues a deal-breaker for some

We can’t review the Halo without mentioning privacy. Daily voice recordings and snapshots of your scantily-clad body may make many people uncomfortable. Amazon is quick to point out, though, that these features are optional. You don’t have to use them to take advantage of the hands-off fitness tracking offered by the Halo.

Subscription

You can use the Amazon Halo to track basics like your step count, activity level, and sleep. If you want more than just the basics, you can choose an optional subscription service that costs $4 per month and provides access to advanced features like sleep scoring and Labs. Each Halo ships with a free six-month trial subscription, so you take it for a spin and decide if it is worth that extra money.

Our Take

The Amazon Halo is a no-fuss fitness tracker for those who want to improve their health and fitness without obsessing about it. The Halo tracks the most important metrics, you just aren’t being forced to look at them every minute of the day. Privacy concerns cast a long shadow over the device, though. Not everyone will be comfortable with their device taking nearly naked photos of them and listening to them throughout the day. Where you draw that line will determine whether you should purchase the Halo.

Is there a better alternative?

The Amazon Halo brings several unique features to the table, but not everyone is ready to give up their privacy for the sake of innovation. Those who want a fitness tracker with robust health and wellness features should consider the Fitbit Sense. The Sense, like the Halo, focuses on your health and wellness and not just threshold-crossing workouts.

How long will it last?

The Amazon Halo has a simplified design compromising of a fabric band that attaches to the tracker. There is no display and only a single button, which cuts down on potential problems with the device. As long as you don’t abuse it, the Halo will provide many years of usage. If you encounter any hardware issues, Amazon ships the Halo with a one-year limited warranty.

Should you buy it?

If you can look past the privacy issues, the Halo is ideal for those who prefer a hands-off approach to exercise. You only have to meet a weekly goal and are not constantly reminded to move every hour. Those who want to track every metric and micromanage their progress should pass on the Halo and choose one of the many alternatives.

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