As members are aware, I recently ordered a Whoop 3.0 activity tracker. This marks the first time I am dipping my toes back into activity trackers since I gave up my Apple Watch. So it is worth talking about what my hopes are, before we dive into this device/service and ultimately wrap up with general thoughts on activity trackers all together.
I came across Whoop from an ad, talking it up in normal terms like “what the Navy Seals Use” — your stereotypical ad aimed at men, in other words. But what drew me in was the app design, it seemed to do more than count steps.
And I’ve come to the mindset that steps, flights of stairs, and miles are really poor metrics for fitness. In fact I think the two main features I have been looking for is an idea of “how hard am I pushing myself” and “how well am I sleeping” as sleep itself is a big factor of fitness.
Naturally Whoop drew me in by having both of those metrics (as well as a third) in their app. The primary features of the app are to show/measure: strain (how hard you worked), recovery (how hard you worked in relation to sleep), and sleep performance measurements.
That’s all great, but the tracker also wooed me. As the Whoop Strap is a fully waterproof device with roughly 5 days of battery life and no display. That’s right, time, no notifications, just a passive device for measuring. That was really refreshing to me.
All of that is what drew me in.
It all started with the best intentions but it quickly fell apart. There are numerous reasons why, but ultimately I think it is a combination of Whoop’s platform not being mature enough, and the activity tracker market having not figured itself out yet. First let’s tackle the shortcomings of Whoop itself.
First shortfall I noticed is the activity tracking is a manual process. I worked out a few times and it never picked up the work out, I couldn’t even find how to add that I did something. I took me 4 days before I sat down and really figured it out, and even then, it’s all underwhelming. You add an activity after it is preformed, by selecting the time period you did that thing for. Which is decidedly not automatic, and thus far less likely to be used.
The strap is also way too bulky. It’s bigger than even my biggest watch, and yeah it’s just not discrete. So while it is comfortable, I wanted to take it off all the time.
Next, battery life is not the advertised 5 days, I was averaging about 3.5 days. Not terrible but far less than expected.
The app is slow. And what I mean is that updating data into the app is painful. I don’t sleep with my phone in the same room as me, so in the morning it would take a good hour plus before my sleep information was loaded in, then another 25-30 minutes before my sleep was processed so that Whoop could tell me if I should work out hard or not. So think about that. A key metric the app tracks is your recovery, and it needs to know your sleep to calculate that. But on average I would need to wait 1.5+ hours before that could happen. Because of this I was still “flying blind” as I work out in the morning. I could sleep with my phone in the same room and solve this, but that’s also not healthy and isn’t this entire device class about beating healthy?
And here’s the real kicker: everything the app told me was pretty darn meaningless. Perhaps if I were an elite athlete it would mean something, but I work out 5-6 times a week and all of it was useless information. My strain barely moved, even on days I knew I wiped myself out. My recovery was laughable in comparison to how I felt. And Whoop consistently told me I had great sleep performance even when I slept far too little.
What good are these metrics if they are this insensitive to the new data? Not very, is my point.
The Good of Whoop
The thing is, the above paints Whoop really poorly, but it has a lot of neat ideas. Such as:
- No screen: this is perfect and how things should be. You don’t need a screen, you just need a data collector. That’s my ideal, and I love that.
- It’s very comfortable. If it were slimmer I would still be wearing it.
- You charge it by clipping the battery pack to it and waiting. It takes about 90minutes for a full charge, then you recharge the battery pack. Thus you never need to remove the device. This is darn clever. I even forgot one day and washed my car with the battery pack attached. It adds bulk, not weight. Very cool.
- It looks nice, but the scale is wrong. So close on this.
- The app design is compelling and top notch from a visual design aspect.
Lastly, I love the pricing model which is subscription. It’s $30/mo and the device is “free”. But you commit to a year, so yes I am still paying. This does give me hope that they will keep making the product better, and I like that.
Problem With Activity Trackers
The larger problem here is the activity tracker category itself. In a lot of ways this category feels like it is in the BlackBerry stage. Meaning: moved on from step tracking (the feature phone stage) and are now starting to scratch the surface in many different ways. None of those ways are very good.
So they are tracking a lot of stuff, but not doing anything meaningful. I include the Apple Watch in this, and hold it has perhaps the worst activity tracker out there — I know, right?
What I am waiting for is the iPhone of the activity tracking world — the device which will actually unlock the power of the category.
It is helpful to break this down in two ways. First, what do we have right now? What we have is robust reporting devices. They can tell us how far, how fast, how hard we did stuff. They can even detect if we fell. These are robust tools for tracking our movement and heart rates.
But none of that really solves our goal with activity tracking. Why are you wearing one? Most people will answer that they find them neat, or they like the information — they are curious, no real reason, right? We all hear this, maybe we have even said it. The truth, though, underlying all of this is that we want to be more fit.
Otherwise why would we care about any of this data? Fit can mean look better, or be healthier, or both. But fit is fit. It’s different to everyone, but it is the common goal. The entire reason these devices exist, the entire reason they sell — everyone wants to be hotter. Sorry, I mean, everyone wants to be more fit.
Not a single one of these devices accomplishes this right now.
Go back to my smartphone analogy if you don’t mind. A BlackBerry wanted to be your mobile office, but it didn’t really become anything more than a robust mobile communications tool because your office is not your email. Effectively, the Apple Watch is exactly this, right? It is arguably the most robust activity tracker out there, and yet, it’s not really accomplishing the goal because reporting is not fitness.
When the iPhone came out, it truly made our lives portable in a very robust and instant way. Most people don’t need anything more than a phone to get by in the world, and likely need a phone more than a laptop if forced to choose. There is not yet any equivalent device in the activity tracking world — and until there is, there is no good reason to adopt these devices.
They need to start telling us actionable information.
For instance, what is more important: the ‘steps’ you took today, or the sleep you got last night? If your goal is being fit, what’s more important? Likely, sleep. Which do these devices track better? Yeah, exactly.
Anyways, that’s my beef with activity trackers, and why I don’t wear one.
One More Note on Whoop
I am still paying for it, and while I liked that model initially, now that I don’t wear it I find it exceedingly annoying. Oh well. Maybe it will get better, but the strap sure won’t.