The Atlas Wearables Wristband belongs to a small group of fitness trackers that's built not for counting steps, but helping you get the most out of a gym workout.
Like the GymWatch or the Beast sensor, you can slap the Atlas around your wrist and it has the tech onboard to automatically recognise whether you're doing a sit-up or having a kettlebell session, counting the reps so you don't have to.
It's yet another wearable crowdfunding success story, raising $629k on Indiegogo, and you can now pick it up from the Atlas website for $199. That's more expensive than the muscle-building GymWatch and puts it in the same pricing realms as the Fitbit Blaze.
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Unlike the Blaze, this isn't a wearable you wear all day. It's all about monitoring those intense training sessions and then going back into the gym bag before the next workout.
Does it deliver to justify the $199 price tag? We hit the gym to find out.
Atlas Wristband: Design
Oh the Atlas Wristband design. It's fair to say that you won't find anything out there that looks like it. It's almost as if a Withings Pulse O2 has been turned horizontally and put inside a sporty watch strap. Let's start with the normal part first. That's the soft touch black plastic wristband that's about as wide as the one on the Fitbit Blaze. There's a pretty standard watch style buckle to keep it securely in place. It's perfectly comfortable and I didn't experience any irritation wearing it during my workout sessions.
Then there's the sensor module that magnetically clips into the strap with the screen held horizontally. There's no getting away from the fact that it's awkward and just doesn't look right. I'm not the only one who thought that. I handed it over to a couple of my gym loving friends and they thought the same. It's going to draw looks when you wear it. It's a shame because despite the cumbersome design, it's actually surprisingly light to wear and doesn't get in the way when you're putting in a shift in the gym.
There is one obvious benefit to positioning the screen this way. It means you can view details in full on the PMOLED display. It's a 128 x 64 pixel resolution screen that reminds me a lot of the displays on the Fitbit One and Ultra fitness trackers. It's perfectly visible during the day and night. Now you're probably not going to be wearing it outdoors and that's a good thing. The screen has poor visibility in bright sunlight.
The display only registers taps, so there's no swiping through screens here. Here you tap to view the time, coach mode workouts, freestyle mode, heart rate data, a tips and tricks section and a power off screen.
It's water resistant up to 30 metres, but before you think about jumping in the pool with it, it's not swim-friendly, yet. There is plans to use the motion sensors to track strokes and laps, but it's clearly not ready yet.
Elsewhere, there's just a single physical button which is easily accessible when the module is in place. There's a Micro USB charging port, so you can use a standard Micro USB charger (like a phone one) to power it up.
Around the back is an optical heart rate sensor to help measure the intensity of your workouts and deliver on the spot readings. It's a similar style of sensor you'll find on Fitbits or Mio trackers, flashing lights against the skin to detect changes in blood volume to generate a beats per minute (bpm) reading.
Now here's an important part. The Atlas Wristband is only designed to be worn on the left wrist. Sorry righties, but there's a reason for this. That's because the Atlas team designed most of the exercise data wearing the band on the left wrist.
Atlas Wristband: How it works
This isn't of course your standard fitness tracker so it does things a little differently when it comes to monitoring activity.
Inside the sensor module lies a three axis accelerometer and gyroscope along with two 32-bit ARM M4 processors. When you perform a push up or a dumbbell rep, the sensors can track the motion in 3D and match it against a database of exercises to recognise the type of exercise and record the number of reps on the wristband.
There's about 50 exercises supported and it's a good range of exercises covered here. There's support for barbell or dumbbell training, body weight training letting you dedicate time to the abs or work on building up those leg muscles.
It's a pretty comprehensive list but inevitably it's not going to cover everyone's routines perfectly. Atlas aims to add new exercises along with new metrics when it can, but in the time I've been using it, I can't say that I've seen any new exercises pop up.
Atlas Wristband: The app
The Atlas app is available for Android and iOS to sync workout data over Bluetooth along with reviewing and customising your workouts. Just make sure you don't mistake it for the Atlas Engine app. It's from the same company, but it's designed to count reps using your phone's sensors. That does mean sticking your phone into an armband making it more difficult to review progress. You also don't have the benefit of the heart rate tracking.
Getting set up appears to pretty straightforward, once you realise that you need to add your date of birth in the US format. If you don't, the app doesn't tell you and it took a while before I realised that was my problem.
Once you're in, it feels like there's quite a lot to take in but you can quickly establish what's the most useful here. It's essentially broken up into two sections, My Workouts and Plan Workouts. In the former, you can see a nice summary of custom workouts with details on aspects like heart rate, duration with a breakdown of the individual exercises. You can even view cardio and velocity information. There's a nice diagram showing you the parts of the body you've been working on during a workout as well.
In the Plan Workout section this is where you can sync a collection of prebuilt workouts. It ranges from things like first workout and live fitness workouts. There's not an extensive list here but you can create your own custom workout by picking out exercises and routines.
There's a dropdown menu in the top right hand corner and this is an important place for a couple of reasons. It's here where you can pick out the exercises that can be used in Freestyle mode. You can sync up to 15 exercises to the band at one time, which should be enough for most. There's also the Exercise Guide section, this is pretty important if you're a gym newbie and you don't know half the exercises that are listed. They all come accompanied with a video of how to correctly perform them and ensures you give the sensors the best chance of recognising them.
Atlas Wristband: Performance
So what's it like to workout with the Atlas Wristband? Well, once you can get past that awkward looking hardware, it's actually very good at delivering what it promises. Unlike the GymWatch, which I've also used, it's nice to have a screen where you can view your progress in real time and leave your phone untouched.
The freestyle mode is definitely the standout feature here. After picking out a range of exercises including sit-ups, kettlebell and dumbbell exercises, I get a list on the band reminding me of the exercises I have synced. Tap to start exercising and it's all very seamless. It'll start to count your reps and I found it reliable and consistent counting reps. When you're done, you can hit save and start doing another exercise. It's as simple as that.
When you're finished, you'll see a summary of workout duration along with average and maximum heart rate readings. I put it up against the optical heart rate monitor on the TomTom Spark running watch and the Polar H7 heart rate monitor chest strap and found the readings to be largely spot on. If you're using the run tracking mode, it does show signs of a struggle picking up a reading straight away. But for everything else, it's more than suitable.
In the Coach mode, it's more of the same. Once you've synced a workout from the app to the wristband, you're ready to go. In this mode, you'll get a buzzing vibration to let you know you've successfully completed a set. You'll can also edit the weight of a dumbell or barbell if you've actually lifted more (or less) than the workout suggested. If there's an exercise you don't fancy, you can simply skip it. Again, it had no problems recognising the number of reps or the type of exercise.
Syncing data to the app can take anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute. Everything is well presented, but what I really feel it lacked was some analysis of form and helping me understand the strengths and weaknesses in my technique. It would be nice to have a few more pre-built workouts, although the custom option does soften the blow.
As far as battery life goes, the Atlas holds up pretty well. There's a 120mAh battery inside that should be good enough for an hour long workout a day and should get you through a week. That's near enough what I found, plus there's a power saver mode you can switch on to help it go a little longer. It's worth remembering to switch it off completely when you're not in use as the battery will drain quite quickly. It takes just over an hour to get back to full power if it's totally flat as well.