Hands on: Tao’s WellShell is like a Wii Fit board for your hands

Fitness tech had an entire corner dedicated to it at CES this year, and even then examples kept popping up elsewhere on the show floor, such is the interest in this growing niche. Of course, there was a dizzying array of wrist and even head bands on display for the fitness freak, but our favorite toy refused to fit into a single category. It’s the Tao WellShell, a super fun portable gadget that actually gets you moving, rather than depressingly highlighting those times when you can’t be bothered.

The name is apt, because at the moment it is indeed shaped like a shell. At first it’s difficult to see how it works, or in what way it could possibly benefit you, but once you connect it up to your phone or tablet it all starts to become clear. The WellShell is like one of those all-in-one fitness machines, but without the need for any space, and can be used in a variety of ways to get your muscles working. With the app fired up, you’re presented with a lengthy choice of specially designed exercises, all of which come with explanatory videos and even on-screen 3D models to ensure your posture is correct.

I prayed my feeble tech journo muscles wouldn’t let me down in front of the cute instructor.

We were shown, and rather embarrassingly had to perform, one of the simpler exercises on the list. You clasp the WellShell between the palms of your hands right in front of your chest, making it look like you’re about to pray. I prayed my feeble tech journo muscles wouldn’t let me down in front of the cute instructor. The idea is to push your hands together, exerting force on the shell’s sides. On the tablet, a mini game of a downhill skier appeared. You vary the force to keep him in-between the flags, which is a cunning way to get you pumping the non-existent iron. Think of this thing like a Wii Fit board for your hands.

Inevitably, I was less than impressive on my first go. (Whoever used it before me must have been a man-mountain, or at least, I hope they were.) The WellShell noted how pathetic I was, and then adjusted the intensity way down to the lowly Andy Boxall levels I needed for the next go round. As you get better, it’ll make the whole thing harder. The WellShell starts to get fun as you try the different exercises, which expand to see you clasp it in different positions, with a single hand against the body, or even between the knees. It’s surprisingly versatile for something without weights, handles, or pulleys. You can even get competitive by streaming the game to a big screen, so two people can play against each other.

There’s plenty of feedback once you’ve completed your WellShell workout, so you can keep track of your progress, and watch yourself get stronger. The app also has everything you need to become healthier, including a meal planner and tracking diary, plus all the usual monitoring of your stats. The shell itself is a little clunky, but it’s only a prototype, and the next version is a cool chrome disc with a rubberized cover to make it comfortable to press against your body.

How much difference using the WellShell on its own would make to anyone’s physique isn’t clear. Not that it matters because it’s so much fun to use. Plus, its monitoring of your personal ability makes it really accessible to everyone, not just fitness freaks who want a fix when they can’t get to the gym. For the rest of us, any exercise is better than none, so why not get some geeky enjoyment out of it at the same time.

The Tao WellShell well deserved it’s Best of CES finalist nomination, and it has just the right mix of serious fitness and geek appeal to do well. It’s expected to go on sale during the second half of 2014. The great thing is, you can use it in the privacy of your own home, or anywhere you like really. However, if you’re using it in public, like say, on the floor of the biggest consumer tech show in the world, we’d suggest a few practice runs beforehand.

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