A friend recently said something to me that stuck: You can’t manage what you don’t measure.
That’s the basic premise behind all of these new activity trackers you might be hearing about. And I’ve tested quite a few of them throughout the past year.
I didn’t love the Nike+ Fuelband, primarily because I thought its arbitrary currency system, “fuel,” was not an ideal way to measure exertion. And I left the Fitbit clipped to sports bras too often, which meant the thing ended up sitting in my laundry pile.
I do like the Jawbone Up, however, for both its physical form factor and its app. In general, I’m very intrigued by this new category in tech, and I think there could be real value in it for consumers.
Now there’s another entrant into the market: Larklife, from Lark. Last year, the Bay Area-based startup came out with a wearable sleep tracker and vibrating alarm clock. It’s newest product is a $149 wristband that measures both daytime and nighttime activity.
Initially, you would think Larklife works just like all of the other bands. It measures steps. It measures sleep. It connects via Bluetooth to an iOS app that catalogs your progress and offers suggestions for leading a more healthful lifestyle.
But Larklife didn’t make me feel like I was measuring or managing anything very well. It actually made me feel sort of dumb, or that I must be doing something wrong if I couldn’t “get” how this activity band was supposed to work. The band itself was clunky. And there are two of them: One for day and one for nighttime wearing.
The Larklife day band is a rubbery rectangular wristband. It’s skinny on the bottom and fatter on the top and sides, reminding me more of a bangle bracelet or, worse, a house-arrest anklet, than the latest wave of slim activity-tracking bands. Currently it only comes in bright blue. More than a few people noticed it on my wrist this week.
The Larklife’s activity-tracking tech — an accelerometer — is nested in a chunk of the band that’s removable. In order to charge the band, you must remove this portion and plug a proprietary charging wire into the band.
This same small chunk of the band is what you’re supposed to snap into the nighttime Larklife, a more comfortable cloth band, for sleep monitoring. So, to be clear, you don’t really need the second Larklife band, because you can just wear the rubbery one to bed, but it’s a more comfortable option for sleep.
There’s a strip of small blue lights on the band, along with a skinny button that you use to sync the Larklife with its free companion app.
Larklife syncs with the app using low-energy Bluetooth. You could, theoretically, just activate Bluetooth on your iPhone whenever you want to sync your data, but Larklife is really supposed to be talking to the app throughout the day, which means leaving Bluetooth turned on all the time.
I tested Larklife during CES in Las Vegas last week, while I was out and about and often not near a power outlet, and some days I didn’t want to risk draining my iPhone’s battery even the slightest bit by leaving Bluetooth on. I much prefer the Jawbone Up method of syncing, which requires that you physically plug the band into your iPhone’s audio jack a few times a day. This is not only low-maintenance, but satisfying, because you’re very aware of when you’re uploading fresh data.
With these activity-tracking bands, the software component is just as important as the hardware. Larklife takes a different approach from others by focusing on simplicity and positive encouragement. Days are displayed as big circles, with a spattering of activity points and achievements within each circle.
After a few days of using the Larklife band, I was getting notifications from the app like, “It’s 4:00 pm. If you’re feeling sluggish, have a glass of water or a piece of fruit.” The app would cheer me on if I hit a milestone of 10,000 steps in a day.
And Larklife is supposed to automatically recognizes when your activity gets more intense, so it would know when I was running a few miles on the treadmill instead of walking around a convention center. I would check the app and see a “running man” figure that marked my activity in that day’s bubble, or a star for my step milestone.
But the app’s food tracking is incredibly limited compared with other apps. Fitbit lets you set weight goals, track food items and measure calories consumed. Jawbone Up also offers caloric estimates for logged foods, and has a cool cloud graph that made me painfully aware of how much coffee and sugar I’ve been consuming.
Larklife’s app doesn’t come with a data set for calories. After I would manually log that I was having a meal, I could edit that meal name to say “Caesar salad,” for example, and then I could select from the food categories: Protein, Vegetable, Fruit, Grain and Water. That’s it.
Lark says it’s really focused on getting people to live a more healthy lifestyle in general, without making things too complicated. So, even if a Larklife user simply starts to realize that he or she isn’t entering in vegetables often enough, that’s one step in the right direction, Lark says. But if I’m going to log my food, I want more specific data.
Lastly, I couldn’t figure out how to track my sleep with the Larklife band. As it turns out, you’re supposed to go into the app, tap the “plus” icon, select sleep, set your alarm and then, while the band is synced to your iPhone, press the skinny button on the band until the app tells you the syncing has been a success. Either I didn’t set this correctly or inadvertently pressed the button again in my sleep, because I could never get a solid reading on my sleep data.
In terms of battery life, Larklife says that each band should last around two full days. I actually got more use out of mine. I charged it fully on Monday of last week, and the battery died early Thursday. But I also wasn’t constantly connecting the band to my iPhone via Bluetooth.
In the activity-tracking race, Lark puts in good effort but doesn’t quite measure up to the competition.