Amazon takes on Fitbit with its new Halo fitness band

28 Aug 2020

The Amazon Halo wearable device in three different colours. Image: Amazon

Amazon has launched its own fitness wearable with voice-tracking technology.

On Thursday (27 August), Amazon announced its new fitness band and subscription wellness service, Halo.

The Amazon Halo wearable will cost $99.99, while the companion subscription service that offers advanced features and insights will cost users $3.99 per month. It is first launching as part of an early access programme, where users will pay $64.99 for the device and six months of the subscription service.

Some of Halo’s features include an accelerometer, a temperature sensor, a heart rate monitor, two microphones and an LED indicator light. Amazon did not mention if the device would have Alexa integration, but those microphones will be used for a feature dedicated to tracking a user’s mood through the tone of their voice.

Unlike Fitbit and the Apple Watch, the fitness band does not have a range of connectivity options, such as GPS, Wi-Fi or cellular. It communicates with a user’s phone via Bluetooth.

Less fitness-focused

While the device does track typical measures of fitness and activity, such as physical movement, sleep and heart rate, it appears that Amazon’s new Halo device is taking a different approach to competitors.

The device has no display, meaning that activity is tracked in the background, so to speak. Users can’t check their daily progress by glancing at their wrists, but rather by using the accompanying app on their phones.

A person holding a smartphone displaying data about their activity. On their wrist is an Amazon Halo wearable.

Image: Amazon

In addition, Amazon’s blogpost about the device highlights how the Halo is focused on analysing “energy and positivity” in a user’s voice.

Sharing details on the device’s tone-tracking technology, Amazon Halo’s principal medical officer, Dr Maulik Majmudar, wrote: “When we look at devices that track and measure our health, we’re hyper-focused on the physical elements like activity, weight or sleep. But while these are important, they don’t make up the full picture.”

Tracking voice tone

The company said that the voice feature, entitled Tone, complements traditional metrics like sleep and activity by using machine learning to measure how a user sounds before turning that analysis into a daily summary.

Majmudar said that he has been using the device while working from home to ensure that he is not taking stress out on his family or friends.

“I check my Tone results so that I can be more intentional about how I communicate in these strange times – and have noticed it takes a burden off my wife, as she doesn’t have to be the one to tell me I am overly stressed,” he said.

The technology runs passively and intermittently in the background over the course of a day, taking short samples of speech and analysing the acoustic characteristics to understand how a user is interacting with those around them. If users would prefer to opt out of this feature, the band has a physical button that turns the microphones off.

Body scans

While Amazon seems to be placing emphasis on emotional wellbeing through its Tone feature, it is still including tools for those who buy wearables for fitness purposes. One feature that comes with Halo’s subscription service is body scanning.

The device’s accompanying app allows users to scan their bodies with a smartphone camera to get an idea of their body fat percentage. Amazon said that body fat percentage is a “better measure of overall health” than weight or body mass index. The company also said that it deletes 3D scans from its servers after processing.

It is worth noting that the Amazon Halo is not a medical device and the company has not submitted it for any sort of FDA approval.

The body scanning feature comes with sliders that allow users to see what they would look like with more or less body fat. The Verge noted that this feature could be “dangerous for people with body dysmorphic disorder, anorexia or other self-image issues”.

Amazon told the publication that it aims to safeguard against this by recommending that users only scan themselves every two weeks. The app will also provide information about how low body fat can increase risk for certain health problems. Amazon has only made the feature available for users that are 18 years old and above.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic