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Amazon Halo's tone of voice feature made me a better person (or at least sound like one)

CNET's Iyaz Akhtar has a reputation for his tone of voice, so he tried to see if Amazon's new fitness band could help.

Update, Sept. 28, 2021: Amazon announced several new Echo and Ring devices during the annual fall product launch event. We also got a first look at several new health-related products, including the Halo View fitness tracker and two health platforms: Halo Nutrition and Halo Fitness. Original story follows.


I've heard many words to describe my tone of voice. Snarky, aloof, condescending -- just a few of the nicer descriptions. After many, many years, my voice has developed whatever the equivalent of "resting mean face" is for voices. My face also has this problem, but that's for another time. I've tried to change my tone for certain situations, but I can never be quite sure of what I sound like when I'm not reviewing a recording. Enter the Amazon Halo.

Look, another fitness band from another company! Woohoo. Who needs Amazon getting even more personal information about them? It turns out, I do. You see, the Halo comes with a feature I've not seen before on other devices. It has the ability to understand your tone of voice. Amazon says that tone of voice does play a role in health. I can totally agree with that.

Amazon Halo

Halo in all its variants.

Amazon

The Halo costs $65 and requires a subscription service that costs $4 a month. When you buy the band, you get six months of membership for free. The device itself is understated. You get a fabric band with a velcro closure. The brains of the device are housed in a sliver of plastic with one button to interact with it. That sliver is placed under the fabric; it's not meant to be seen. There's a notification light to give you limited information, but there's nothing resembling a screen on the Halo.

Tone police

So let's talk tone. When you start with the Halo, you have to opt in to the tone analysis feature. It's not turned on automatically. There are two tone modes -- less tone and more tone. If you go with less tone, you get about two days of battery life. If you go with more, you get one day. The Halo will intermittently analyze what you're saying at different times. You can also have the Halo pay attention to what you're saying by pushing the solitary button. 

Even more important, there is a way to watch your tone live on the Halo app. You can see how you are being perceived in real time. The Halo is not just listening to how things are being said, the Halo is listening to what is being said. Saying a swear word in a nice way still registers as negative. 

In my unscientific experiment, I wore the Halo band for 30 days. Due to the nature of remote schooling, I find myself teaching a fifth grader on the regular. That can cause conflict. Here's the Halo to the rescue. As I would teach, I had the Halo app up so I could see what I sounded like. I've got a reputation for being stern when it comes to education. Yep, Halo caught that. 

With the feedback, I stepped away and I tried to sound more encouraging and happy. It worked. Getting feedback like that from an unbiased device is eye-opening. That does not mean the Halo is a magic device that will make you sound like a Disney character overnight. 

Flattery will get you flatter

The Halo is not just a tone analysis device. It's also a fitness tracker that gives you stats on your activity, sleep, tone and your body fat. Many of those features are on pretty much any fitness tracker. The body fat scan is something else. Here's how it works. You get your Halo band, subscription and app. Fire up the Body Scan option and enter your weight. Then you get to prop up your phone while you take pictures of yourself in minimal clothing. 

Amazon did something very nice in the scanning portion. When you take your picture, everything is stretched out. You see a thinner version of yourself as you're holding a pose for a photo. That was a very nice human element, Amazon. 

The Halo app will build a 3D scan of your body with those pictures. That scan is a black and white model without your face. If you want, you can see the images that were taken to build that scan. Warning: You will not look as thin as you did when you took the pictures, because there is no filter on these pics. 

Aware of how you sound to others

I think the Halo band is a great little experimental device from Amazon. As a fitness device, it's kind of a throwback to presmartwatch days. There's not a lot to do with the actual band other than to wear it. You don't have to interact with the Halo at all if you don't want to. I could see some of its feature set being brought to other Amazon devices. I asked Amazon if the tonal analysis would be added to Amazon Echo speakers, but it declined to say whether it's coming or not. (Here's what Amazon says about privacy for the Halo, if you're wondering what happens to all that data.)

Getting tonal information from a machine is very helpful. It's just an app trying its best to figure stuff out. It's one thing when a human does not get your tone, it's another when the machine doesn't. I would test out the live look for lots of things beyond teaching and I think it's helped me to at least be more aware of what I sound like. If you've been reading this and are interested, you should really check out the video at the top of this page. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.