Basis Peak review
Every small tech company dreams of piquing the interest of a giant such as Intel – and Basis has made that dream a reality. Intel was so enthralled by Basis’ original vision of the activity tracker, the Basis B1, that it snapped up the company for its new Devices Group. Now, after keeping the UK waiting for a few months, Basis has unleashed the Basis Peak – a device it describes as “the ultimate fitness and sleep tracker”.
Basis Peak review: the concept
That’s quite a claim, but the Basis Peak does things a little differently to rivals: this is a fitness tracker in the purest, most hands-off sense. A clutch of sensors constantly monitor your vital statistics, and this stream of data allows the Peak to recognise sleep patterns, bike rides and runs – all without any intervention whatsoever. Put it on your wrist and you can get on with your day (and night) without giving it a second thought.
The Basis Peak’s simplicity – and its pure fitness-tracking focus – make a refreshing change from more hands-on devices. Start walking, running or cycling with the Basis Peak on your wrist, and after a few minutes the monochrome 1.2in LCD display changes from the clock to a more informative screen, showing the elapsed time, calories consumed, your heart rate and the current time. There’s no learning curve to speak of, no button presses required – it just works.
Basis Peak review: design
Rather like the company’s first tracker, the B1, the Peak’s design is more functional than fashionable. It’s available in matte all-black, or light silver with a gloss black surround and white strap. There’s no getting around it, however: at 12.9mm thick, the Peak is more clunky wearable than stylish sports watch.
Flip the Peak around and the rear is where all the magic happens. Four metal contacts are dotted around a central bank of sensors, all of which work in unison to measure heart rate, skin temperature, perspiration and the number of steps taken. Take the Peak off and a pair of blindingly bright green LEDs flash insistently in search of a heartbeat.
And despite its bulky looks, comfort isn’t an issue. Where the Microsoft Band constantly digs and snags, the Peak’s thick, soft rubber straps make it a genuinely all-day, every-day wearable. It held fast throughout a fortnight of runs and flat-out bike rides, on- and off-road. There’s no need to constantly adjust it. And as the Peak is waterproofed to 50 metres, you don’t even have to worry about taking it off in the shower.
Thanks to that power-efficient monochrome LCD display, the Basis Peak has one huge trump card over other devices: battery life is very good indeed. In several weeks of use, the Peak lasted between two and three days before its screen pinged up its insistent “Charge Me Now!” message. It charges quickly, too: magnets in the little charging puck hold the watch firmly in place, and it charges to 90% capacity in a couple of hours.
Basis Peak review: the interface
Basis has adopted a stripped-down approach to the Peak’s interface. Just like an increasing number of wearables, the Peak captures an overwhelming amount of data, but the watch displays only the bare essentials – this isn’t a device for fitness geeks that want every possible statistic on their wrist.
Most of the time, the clock remains front and centre; a quick tap of the screen toggles the date on and off. You can quickly check your heart rate by swiping the screen to the left, and swiping down from here provides the daily totals for steps taken and calories burned. Swipe right again, and it’s possible to peruse a summary of the day’s recent activities by swiping up and down. Meanwhile, you can tap the screen during a run or ride to toggle the main display between current heart rate and total calories burnt.
And although it launched as a pure fitness tracker, Basis has also recently added notification support to the Peak’s list of talents: alerts for phone calls, email, text messages and calendar entries are now supported, and can be individually toggled on and off in the app.
One neat touch is that the Peak uses haptics to vibrate once for standard messages, twice for messages from the Basis app and three times for incoming calls: if you’re in the middle of a workout, it’s not essential to check the Peak every single time you get an incoming notification.
However, the Peak’s notification system is disappointingly rudimentary. Notifications pop up for 5 minutes before disappearing permanently, and there’s no option to save or reread messages – once dismissed from view, you’ll need to reach for your phone. It also appears that third-party email clients are unsupported on iOS: the default Mail app works just fine, but Outlook and Gmail refused to push notifications to the Peak.
Another quirk is that the Peak’s LCD backlight is manually activated. You need to swipe upwards on the right of the display to turn it on, and swipe down to turn it off, and it often takes a few attempts to do so – the touchscreen can be frustratingly unresponsive.
The Peak can also be a touch buggy. Initially, it failed to pair with an iPhone 6 Plus at all, refusing to upload the required firmware or restart. A second, replacement unit got into the habit of intermittently refusing to connect via Bluetooth, and the only resort was to restart the watch manually. To be fair, it’s a quick process, but it’s disappointing on a £170 device. Other issues are more straightforward: if the Peak runs out of battery, it forgets the time and date, and you have to manually set the clock via the smartphone app.
One glaring omission is the Basis Peak’s lack of pedometer-based distance tracking, and GPS for that matter; this isn’t a fitness device that cares about how fast or how far you go. If that’s essential for you, then the only option is to pair the Peak with a smartphone app such as Strava – in this scenario, the Peak acts as a glorified Bluetooth LE heart-rate sensor, the screen constantly displaying your heart rate in a large, easily legible font. Even here, though, it’s far from perfect: however you use the Peak, the heart-rate sensor has the annoying tendency to drop in and out, even with a good, snug fit.
Basis Peak review: setup and features
Despite its limitations, the Peak is elegant in its simplicity. All the data captured by the Peak flows into the cloud via the smartphone app, which is available for both iOS and Android. Once synced, it’s possible to view all your activity data either on the app itself, or via a browser in Basis’ online portal. Whichever you choose, straightforward graphs detail the day’s activity, and let you analyse the stats from your walks, runs or bike rides.
By default, the graphing functions detail heart rate, steps taken and calories burnt, but it’s also possible to toggle skin temperature and perspiration rate if you really want to – frankly, though, it’s difficult to see why anyone would need to know such details.
One of the Peak’s best features is the ability to set Habits in the app. These include goals such as getting up or going to sleep at consistent times, burning a preset number of calories per day, or even just getting up and walking around now and again. You can tailor these goals to suit you, and completing them successfully earns points that allow you to add extra Habits to the list.
The sleep tracking is impressively thorough, too. The Peak monitors when you drop off and wake up – pretty accurately in our experience – and analyses how much of your night is spent in REM, deep and light sleep states, as well as how many times you toss and turn, and interruptions such as popping downstairs to get a drink.
The Peak’s app balances these results to give you a Sleep Score in percentage form, but while this sounds gimmicky, it works surprisingly well: over three weeks, the worst sleep ratings directly correlated with the arrival of a nasty cold, and high ratings correlated with the sensation of genuinely having slept very well indeed.
The only downside? Sitting very still at a desk, in the cinema or while watching TV may be enough to trigger the Peak into thinking that you’re having a nap. Basis’ sleep algorithm clearly isn’t infallible.
Basis Peak review: verdict
It all makes for a very curious wearable. For true fitness fanatics, the Basis Peak is unlikely to hit the spot. The inability to export data to other apps or record GPS-tracked rides and runs – not to mention the lack of any speed, pace or distance information – make it incapable of replacing more fully featured devices, such as the Microsoft Band or Garmin Vivoactive.
Meanwhile, those wanting a do-it-all fitness wearable and smartwatch may be discouraged by the crude notification support. All things told, £170 seems a lot to pay for what you’re getting here, especially as much of the captured data – perspiration rate and skin temperature, for instance – doesn’t seem to serve much purpose. It’s only really interesting from a geeky, pseudoscientific perspective.
Despite all this, though, there’s something intriguing about the Peak. At its best, it’s a fuss-free way of tracking your daily habits and changing them for the better, and the sleep tracking seems pretty accurate too. There’s no getting away from the fact that the Basis Peak is more high-tech toy than essential fitness wearable, but if your focus is more geeking out than bulking up, then it may still hit the spot.