Review: Basis Peak – Fitness and Sleep Tracker

I have been wearing the Basis Peak continuously for over a month since receiving it as a gift. Despite a few early reservations, I have grown incredibly fond of it.


Quick Recap

Highlights of the Basis Peak
– Solid Pulse Tracking
– Informative Resting Heart Rate
– Realistic Calorie Estimates
– Very Useful Visible Display
– Luxury Comfort
– Biking Autodetect
Areas for Improvement
– Disjointed Data
– Large, Masculine Form Factor
– Overestimated Sleep Duration
Overall Usefulness

Fitness:
Sleep:

 

Read on to see Highlights of the Basis Peak, Areas for Improvement, and Comparing the Basis to Competitors.


Highlights of the Basis Peak

– Solid Pulse Tracking

The Basis Peak does a good job tracking resting heart rate and steady-state cardio activities, like walking and running. And while it’s not perfect with burstier activities, it is the most accurate wrist-based pulse tracker I’ve yet tried. Where wrist pulse trackers traditionally fall short is in the strength training & bursty activity arena – they just don’t pick up quick fluctuations in heart rate well. The Basis user manual explicitly lists a handful of activities which it does not track well. Serious kudos to Basis for actually acknowledging their hardware’s limitations. Full disclosure is rare and refreshing in the world of wearables marketing.

Here’s an example of my heart rate tracked by 3 different devices on a hike. This shows the disparity between the different devices. The chest strap is the most accurate. Hiking is a bursty activity, where heart rate goes up and down quickly as the terrain changes. And though wrist pulse trackers can miss the spikes, the Basis performed pretty well.

 

device reading location max heart rate (15 minute climb) average heart rate estimated calories burned
Polar FT4 Heart Rate Monitor chest strap 171 bpm 112 bpm 525 cal
Basis Peak wrist pulse 160 bpm 119 bpm 671 cal
Fitbit Charge HR wrist pulse 84 bpm 66 bpm 768 cal
(set by linked MyFitnessPal account)

– Informative Resting Heart Rate

I find the Basis resting heart rate (RHR) information incredibly interesting. There’s a very clear correlation between the quality of my sleep and my resting heart rate. My daily RHR goes up and down anywhere from 44-56 beats per minute, depending on my sleep, stress, and other factors I’m still discovering. I know I have a generally low heart rate, both from genetics and exercise, but tracking the daily fluctuations is shining new light on how particular events impact my heart.

Side note: The first day I wore the Fitbit Charge HR, it started with an RHR of 45, in line with the Basis. Everyday thereafter, the number rose and rose, linearly, until it was in the 60s and still climbing by the time I stopped wearing it. This number didn’t mesh with years of HR readings, nor other devices I compared it to directly. But more importantly, I could not derive any meaning from the fact that it just went up continuously. Seeing the Basis’s data fluctuate in comparison, I can now truly appreciate the value of monitoring RHR, since I can readily see the correlation between life events and how they impact heart rate.

– Realistic Calorie Estimates

I am impressed with calorie burn estimates from the Basis Peak, and this is a topic I know a lot about (see this article). The Basis gets close to my Polar HRM in terms of calorie estimation for many activities, and it also shows a breakdown of average calories per minute which I find useful. My Jawbone Up2 and many other devices I’ve owned in the past overestimate calorie burn by quite a lot. It does not do the exerciser any favors to overestimate burn by hundreds of calories and yet this is nearly the norm. I’m pleased that Basis’s calorie counts align pretty closely with reality. When I exercise vigorously, the Basis reflects that. When the effort is moderate or light, the burn is appropriately scaled.

– Very Useful Visible Display

It’s so useful to see multiple points of data at once, hands-free, while you exercise in real time. The Basis display shifts depending on your movement and interaction with the device, but there’s always one main item as the large central display, and other data visible around the corners of the screen. Seeing everything at a glance is SO nice, though it does mean the battery life is shorter than devices like the display-less Up.
While I walk, I can see steps, activity duration, my heart rate, activity & time, all at once.
I can see steps, activity duration, my heart rate, activity & the current time, all at once.

– Luxury Comfort

From the time you open the packaging (which feels like opening an expensive watch) to the point you put the Basis on your wrist, every moment is comfortable. The lining 7of the wrist band is luxurious, a silky yet somehow sweat-resistant material that just feels good on your skin.

I was worried the device might irritate my sensitive skin after a sustained period, but it hasn’t. I sometimes have to loosen it during arm-intensive exercise like weight-lifting or biking, but that is totally reasonable.

– Biking Autodetect

The Basis automatically detects when I’m bicycling versus walking or running. Calorie burn is adjusted accordingly. This is just so cool! No other tracker I’ve tried recognizes biking automatically, since it’s not a step-based activity.

Here my Basis detected that I walked in the afternoon, biked in the morning.
bike vs walk activity detection

Areas for Improvement with the Basis Peak

– Disjointed Data

My biggest complaint about the Basis is that it breaks fitness and sleep down into segments and lists them individually rather than summarizing them more intuitively.

segmented sleep segmented activities on hike
On this night, Basis decided I slept in 2 parts. Sometimes it’s 3 or 4. Maybe I pee, maybe I turn over, but for me, it is one night’s sleep. Yet Basis offers no consolidated view of my overall sleep duration or quality. This is the norm for me. Clearly they don’t know about second sleep. Here, I took a hike and broke into a jog at a few points. Basis split this hike into 5 different segments. On the upside, I can see the totals for the day in the black band at the top. On the downside, there is no total for just “the hike”. I have to do manual calculations to derive those stats.

I can see how breaking the data up makes sense to an engineer – the raw data has different patterns in it. But to a human, this is not logical. I slept ONCE. I hiked ONCE. I want a summary of each one, not 5 different charts. Note: Apparently the Basis website does summarize daily sleep duration, but the primary mobile app interface does not.

– Large, Masculine Form Factor

It took me weeks to get used to having a giant chunky black watch on my arm. The Basis design is not remotely feminine or elegant. It’s a unisex device that is decidely masculine (which is probably ok if you are a male). I ran into an old friend one evening out, who exclaimed, “You’re looking…..athletic”. This was not the adjective I was expecting – perhaps “stunning” or “radiant”, something nice you say to a woman. I knew it was the watch though, and this comment ate at me for a few days. But then I came around. I am an athlete, so if I look like one, I guess that’s not a bad thing…as long as I’m not trying to dress up. I’d prefer a much smaller, thinner device that wasn’t so utterly masculine so I could wear it all the time, but for now, I’m looking…. athletic.
Here I'm wearing the Up2 and the Basis.
The sleek Up2 next to the chunky Basis.

– Overestimated Sleep Duration

Overestimating the length of a night’s sleep is a problem across the board with ALL passive sleep trackers, including the Basis. Any sedentary evening or morning activity gets lumped into sleep. This is the tradeoff for not having to manually track sleep. For now, passive data collection means less accurate data.

I frequently read at night, sometimes for hours. This is not sleep – I am awake and accomplishing something. Last week, Basis reported that I slept up to 11.5 hours a night because of this, when the real max was under 8.25 hours. Basis does a significantly better job of autodetection on nights when I don’t read or relax before bed, but since that’s sporadic, my sleep data is generally unreliable.

Side note: Jawbone has maintained a partially manual sleep function, which in fact makes it the most accurate. You can press a button when you get into bed to enter sleep mode, but if you forget or choose not to, the Jawbone still autodetects your sleep passively. The difference is that you actually have to review (and optionally correct) the autodetected sleep duration before it will show up in your daily activity. This is a really simple process, and merely by adding this trivial review step, the Jawbone data becomes exceedingly more accurate.

I’d rather have correct data than a completely passive device.

Comparing the Basis to Competitors

Sleep Comparison

It’s tricky to compare the Basis’s sleep features to competitors in terms of accuracy or usefulness. They all report on sleep somewhat differently, even for the same metric like deep sleep. Here’s a table of sleep features for the recent devices I’ve used.
Feature Basis Peak Fitbit Charge HR Jawbone Up2 Misfit Flash
Count awakenings/ interruptions
Count toss/turns
Light sleep
Deep sleep
REM sleep
Sleep duration
Time awake in bed
Time to fall asleep
Sleep quality score
weekly sleep summary email
Feature Basis Peak Fitbit Charge HR Jawbone Up2 Misfit Flash
Deep sleep range 15-30% for me unavailable 30-75% for me 15-65% for me
Tracking style Passive Passive Part Passive, Part Manual Passive, editable
Price class higher end mid mid budget
Sleep Duration Accuracy **
Overall Sleep Usefulness *
* Because of the Basis issues with sleep data segmentation and duration inaccuracy, the overall sleep usefulness is so so. It is possible that I may be able to draw some interesting correlations eventually by really paying attention to some of the other unique data points, like toss/turn counts and REM, but so far these values have not been easy to meaningfully correlate with life events.

**deducted 1 star because of Jawbone bugs

I’ve found that Sleep Duration and Awakenings are the 2 most reliable indicators of sleep quality. You don’t really need a device to tell you that you woke up in the night though, unless you unknowingly suffer from sleep apnea.

 

Fitness and Function Comparison

Here’s a comparison of the devices I’ve used recently, in terms of fitness and non-sleep functionality.

Feature Basis Peak Fitbit Charge HR Jawbone Up2 Misfit Flash
wrist interface smart watch with touch screen button to cycle through stats tap to toggle sleep/wake mode, no other display current time and daily progress %
battery life 4-5 days 7 days 9-10 days 8 months
activity autodetect walk, run, bike walk, run walk, run walk, run
Feature Basis Peak Fitbit Charge HR Jawbone Up2 Misfit Flash
Challenges (individual or social)
pulse tracking not this model not this model
swim tracking (waterproof)
rich mobile app
rich website
weekly step summary email
data export
Feature Basis Peak Fitbit Charge HR Jawbone Up2 Misfit Flash
customizable goals yes yes yes partial (presets)
notification when daily activity goal hit text alert vibration & lights vibration & lights lights
Unique Features
  • Customizable Habits *
  • Skin Temperature
  • Perspiration Tracking
  • Behavioral insights and facts
  • Inactivity vibration alert
Step Tracking Accuracy
Strength/ Bursty Activity Tracking
Overall Fitness Usefulness


* “Habits” are behaviors encouraged by the Basis app, such as walking at different times of the day (“Afternoon Lap”, “Morning Lap”), standing up and moving periodically (e.g. every 1 hour) to be less sedentary, hitting a certain level of activity or calories a certain number of times per week. These are all user-configurable and sound very promising in theory. But there are significant design issues still to be resolved to make them actually useful. For example, there is no inactivity alert to tell you that you haven’t stood up in an hour, despite the fact that the device is measuring this and knows that you’ve configured a Habit because you want to do it. For some Habits, there are sporadic reminders that come at odd times. I got a reminder to take an Afternoon Lap shortly after a 10,000 step hike. The potential for this feature is really great, it just needs some more work.

 


As you probably noticed, I’m currently wearing both the Basis Peak and the Jawbone Up2 on my wrist these days. That’s because each of them does some things really well that the other doesn’t do. I love them both in their own ways. As with all wearables, a simple software update can make a huge difference and it can come at any time. The only thing that can’t be improved via software is the form factor. I eagerly look forward to the future of Basis updates, to see what they next have in store for this device.

Valerie Lanard

Valerie Lanard

Valerie Lanard is a software engineer and fitness lover. Once upon a time, exercise was a chore she did to chase the elusive "skinny". Somewhere along the way, it morphed into a source of daily joy, motivation, and strength. Find her on a bike, on a hike, in a skort, or near a usb port. Chances are, she's wearing a gadget and a smile.

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