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Basis Peak review: A little too automatic for its own good

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MSRP: $199.99
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The Good The Basis Peak is a fitness-focused waterproof smartwatch that runs for days on a single battery charge. It passively measures heart-rate and steps, with little need for intervention from the user.

The Bad Its swipe-based interface is almost too smart for its own good. Many promised features won't be available until future firmware updates. The watch isn't very attractive or stylish, and its mobile app design is far behind competitors like Jawbone.

The Bottom Line Despite some smart features, the Basis Peak is a fitness watch that's impressively automatic but too limited and unfinished to feel like a truly great product.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

6.6 Overall
  • Style 6
  • Features 7
  • Ease of use 7

Review Sections

Smart wearables should be automatic. And as I wake up and get myself a coffee, I look at the Basis Peak on my wrist and think, "I don't have to do a thing. This is nice."

But, how do I adjust the time, which is stuck in Daylight Savings?

I'd never before used a fitness watch from Basis, which is owned by Intel, although one of my colleagues raved about it. Equipped with pedometer, heart rate monitor and galvanic skin response sensors, too, the original Basis band continually tracked heart rate and activity, recorded sleep, and collected all the data to provide habit-coaching feedback. It encouraged daily achievement-style goals, and tailored them to keep you motivated.

The new Basis Peak is a total revamp, a redesign and improvement on the previous watch. And at $199 or £170 direct from Basis, it's affordable. Australian pricing and availability is yet to be announced, but the UK price translates to AU$315.

It has a better, more visible LCD display, which doesn't need to automatically light up like the last Basis. It can track active workouts and running. It's shower and swim waterproof (to 5ATM, which means you can stay in the water with it like a regular water-resistant sports watch). It will get texts and notifications, via a future firmware update. And, the Peak can wirelessly sync with an iPhone or Android phone app.

Sarah Tew/CNET

So, I lived with the Basis Peak and let it automatically guide my life. How did it do? So far, not too bad. If that sounds lukewarm, well...yes. The Basis Peak shows how amazingly automatic a wearable can be, but it's more limited than I expected -- and competitors are catching up fast. The software on the Basis Peak as I tested it is incomplete. As features are added, maybe the Peak will end up being fantastic. For now, it feels like it's easy enough to use, but not quite good enough.

Oh, and by the way, I fixed Daylight Savings by deleting and reinstalling the app, and repairing via Bluetooth. These types of experiences, while seemingly minor, show that the Basis Peak isn't as seamlessly automagical as it should be...yet.

Design

The Peak feels good to wear, but it doesn't look particularly attractive. Its steel body is clean-looking, but from a distance looks like plastic. The bottom, in fact, is plastic: the green-LED heart rate sensors there hug your wrist, and are surrounded by four metal contacts that measure how much you're sweating.

The optical heart rate LEDs on the back, and metal contact points for measuring sweat. Sarah Tew/CNET

The rubbery silicone watchband attaches snugly and feels smooth. The Peak feels like a regular digital sports watch -- I barely noticed it was on.

The big LCD display is easily readable: the time pops up in big numbers, and it's far, far more eye-friendly than the original Basis watch. Yet I was surprised there was no way to change the watchface, or the number size. Actually, there are no buttons at all. It took me ages to figure out how to turn the backlight on, even though I had a reviewer's guide (hint: you swipe up, but from the right side of the screen, not the center).

The two Basis Peak colors. Sarah Tew/CNET

To navigate on the Basis Peak, you touch the screen. It's a capacitive touch Gorilla Glass-covered display, and swiping left and right (or up and down) switches between one of several simple viewing modes. Swipe right, and you see your heart rate. Swipe again, and there's a running tally of how many daily steps have been taken, and when the last targeted walk or exercise session was.

If you're showering, at least the Basis doesn't have any buttons to get crudded up or let water in, but capacitive touch and water don't work well together (neither does heart rate: you'll need to wait til you're dry to resume heart rate readings).

The new Basis Peak (front) next to the older Basis Carbon Steel (rear) Sarah Tew/CNET

The Peak comes in both all-black and white with a grey band. My black review unit's black band is red underneath, a classy touch that most people won't ever end up noticing, because it's facing down on your wrist.

What does the Basis Peak do?

The Peak counts steps, and tracks your heart rate all the time. It also tracks sleep, doing so in a more advanced way than basic accelerometer/pedometer trackers like the Jawbone Up24 or Misfit Shine .

It can also intelligently notice when exercise has begun -- walking, running, or biking -- and start counting steps (and/or estimated calorie burn) and heart rate. Called "Body IQ," the watch instantly switches from a simple watch face to an interface that shows your activity's data.

All you have to do is create a Basis account, enter your basic info (height, weight, gender), and let the band pair and sync via Bluetooth. The band and the app handle the rest.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Coaching and 'habits'

There's an achievement-based gamification element to the Basis Peak. You start at level 0 and add a "habit" or two, which are basically challenges: wear the watch for 12 hours a day; take 2,000 steps in the morning; wake up at a certain time two days a week; burn an estimated calorie total daily; get up and move every hour.

These achievements are similar to what Nike offers with its Fuelband or Jawbone does with Up, but the repeated success of these achievements over a week triggers points that unlock more habits. You add another, and another, from a set list.

A peek at some of the habits on the Peak's iOS app. Sarah Tew/CNET

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