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Amazon Halo Band review: Creepy yet unobtrusive and useful for quantified self health data junkies

Amazon's Halo app and Halo Band have a few interesting features and insights that may be useful beyond fitness as long as you allow it to listen in. My bet is Amazon Halo Band is really going to be about corporate wellness programs.

Amazon Halo Band is a fitness, mood, and wellness tracker that can be a bit creepy but may find its own niche with its unique spin on wearables and enterprise corporate wellness programs.

I've been taking the Halo for a spin for the last three days and have now entered the obsessive quantified self disorder zone. I'm wearing my usual Garmin Fenix 6 on the left hand and Halo Band on the right.

halo-garmin-fenix-6.jpg

Amazon Halo Band riding shotgun with my Garmin Fenix 6. 

Oddly enough, this two-pronged device strategy is filling in a few gaps. Whether this quantified self adventure continues remains to be seen, but Halo Band is providing enough insights for me to think that it'll stick around. The device, which was announced in August, also has the cost structure and features to be bundled into enterprise wellness programs.

To really decide whether Halo is worth the cost -- $65 for early access to the device with a free six-month subscription, but it's $3.95 a month after that -- it's worth considering what the device isn't. Halo Band isn't a multi-purpose smartwatch that'll hit you with notifications. It doesn't have GPS. It doesn't cover multiple sports. And it doesn't compete with Apple Watch or Samsung's devices. Amazon's design modus operandi is to create products that are useful but blend in to the point where you forget about them. Think Kindle and Echo and Alexa. You forget they are there.

Amazon's Halo Band, which will cost $99 when generally available, is a device that may give you some overall wellness data and delve into mindfulness a bit. Halo Band is also a promise from Amazon that a purchase will give you enough technology from the labs to keep you interested as well as solid content offerings.

Whether you remain interested in Halo Band or creeped out is going to be personal preference. Here's a look at a few of the moving parts with Halo Band and points to consider.

Halo app and features

With Halo Band, the app is everything. With no display, Halo Band is meant to be invisible yet you can set the device up to listen to you constantly to gauge your mood. In a nutshell, Halo Band listens to you and uses machine learning to read how you feel. For instance, minutes after putting on the band the Halo app had me with a red face and being annoyed. It also captured a moment of excitement. On day one, my voice reflected that my mood was neutral 75% of the time.

I'll find Halo's mood tracking feature to be more interesting through the workday. How agitated do I get by my fourth Zoom call of the day? I'll know soon enough. This data on mood is meant to flag potential emotional and mindfulness problem areas, but I think it'll be more of a work persona device for me.

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You can also bookmark important conversations so Halo Band can track them as well as positivity and whether you're amused or delighted, caring or irritated, reserved, and worried. 

The listening feature can be turned off easily enough, but Amazon gives you privacy information at every turn so you feel comfortable enough leaving on the microphone. The data isn't sent to Amazon's cloud and can't be replayed or downloaded. Ultimately, Halo's emotional state tracking will be gamed by users just like counting steps. After a few days, I found myself talking less so I can curate my mood samples being recorded.

Nevertheless, Amazon's Halo Band is going to listen in and give you a few insights on how you're perceived. Use cases could include:

  • Tracking your discussions with your boss.
  • That argument with your partner can be analyzed by Halo Band. "Look honey, Halo didn't perceive me as being annoyed or enraged. It was just you."
  • Gauging how you sound around your kids relative to how you sound around your dog.
amazon-halo-screens.png

A look at some of the Halo app metrics. 

Larry Dignan

The other big feature from the Halo app is the body fat tracker. The steps go like this: Strip to your underwear, set up your phone so the angle of the camera is just right (way harder than you'd think), step away enough distance so the camera can take an image that covers head to ankles and pose four ways for a 360-degree view.

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Halo gives you voice directions all the way through to the measurement and then you find out your body fat is basically double what the smart scale says. Amazon thoughtfully explains the difference between the measurements but was still bent about the results for two hours after the assessment. Amazon recommends you do the body fat assessment every two weeks.

And, yes, the Halo microphone picked me up as annoyed by the body fat percentage.

The set-up of the Halo app and connecting the Halo Band was simple and well done overall.

In the future, you can expect multiple apps to hook into the Halo ecosystem with content and connections. Headspace, Orangetheory, and 8fit were some of the content providers in the Halo app.

When it comes to exercise, Halo awards points based on activity and deducts them if you're sedentary. Step tracking is there too but is more of an afterthought relative to the weekly score.

Compared to my Garmin, Halo's activity score seemed to be the rough equivalent of my Fenix's intensity minutes. Sleep tracking was also notable and worked well enough on the Halo system, but there were discrepancies with what my Garmin recorded. Halo said I slept way better than my Garmin did on the first night, but then the two were roughly comparable in the following nights.

The hardware

Halo Band is designed to be invisible and Amazon hit the mark. The fabric band is comfortable and you barely remember it's there. It's like Alexa in your home except on your wrist.

Battery life lasted about a day for me, but I had the microphone on throughout the day. Turn the microphone off (something a few people will do anyway) and battery life roughly doubles.

The microphone button has to be toward you when you wear it. The band fits true to size and it's best to wear it snug to your wrist for heart rate tracking.

There are three colors for the Halo Band--Black and Onyx, Winter and Silver, and Blush and Rose gold.

The future

Purchasing a Halo Band is really about a bet that Amazon will add more features, science-based tools, and health tracking nuances in the future.

But Amazon's Halo Band is playing in a competitive space with smartwatches and various fitness trackers. Smartwatches have dominated the wearable space and Amazon is entering the fitness tracker market just as many vendors have pivoted away from it.

More digital health and wellness

For Halo Band to be a success, it will have to win with the $3.99 service to track health outcomes. Consumers may go for it if Amazon can plug into existing wearables as well as its own. Also, don't be surprised if Halo is bundled with Prime somehow.

The immediate future for Halo Band is getting consumers to use it so Amazon has some scale with health data. From there, you can see where this is going -- enterprise wellness programs.

Apple Watch has an enterprise wellness play and Fitbit was ahead of the pack with its corporate usage and relationships with insurers. The latter may have lost some of its luster due to the Google acquisition of Fitbit, which still isn't complete amid EU regulatory concerns. Enter Amazon.

Amazon can do unique things with the combination of AWS services and technologies such as analytics and computer vision. AWS already has a large healthcare customer base since its cloud is used for everything from drug discovery to data management to analytics. Why not combine Halo Band, Halo, and AWS into a healthcare wellness bundle? After all, Amazon Halo already has a deal with insurance company John Hancock.

Bottom line

Halo and Halo band

Halo and Halo Band appear to be a consumer play but the future is likely to be more corporate. In any case, Halo Band is an interesting purchase at $65 (hardware only) and early access. At $99, the device will require more thought. Future demand will ride on how many new features Amazon can add to the Halo ecosystem to justify $3.99 a month.

$65 at Amazon