Under Armour has one of the strongest names in fitness, so their latest release does not come as a surprise. They’ve partnered with HTC to create the HealthBox, the first ever connected fitness bundle. It’s the trifecta: a smart health band, a smart Wi-Fi scale, and a heart rate chest monitor. It’s everything you need to monitor fitness, activity, and general health over time.
The HealthBox is a really enticing combo. As someone who wants to get more control over their health and fitness, it pretty much has everything you need. There’s the UA Scale for easily and seamlessly recording not just weight, but also body fat percentage. There’s the UA Band for monitoring daily activity, resting heart rate, and even sleep. And, finally, there’s the UA Heart Rate strap for getting a more serious and accurate reading of your heart rate during any type of exercise. Pair them all with the app and you’ve got your own personal fitness and health monitor that can push you, instruct you, and educate you on continuous self-improvement.
The unboxing was a fun process and the overall setup was intuitive and easy enough. Everything is black and red with UA branding, and of pretty high quality.
The UA Band has the highest barriers to entry in the market, on its own. We wouldn’t say the industry is flooded with fitness trackers, but there’s a handful of big brand names with similar offerings. Having reviewed most of them, we’ll hand it to UA for engineering a pretty terrific band. It has most every feature we’d want with a great design, good comfort, long battery, and a nice user experience.
The givens: it has Bluetooth connectivity, tracks steps taken and distance traveled, can record workouts, and of course can tell time. That’s what we’d expect. The more surprising and enticing features: it tracks sleep automatically, has a built-in heart rate monitor, has vibration notifications, and relays messages on a backlit touchscreen display.
It doesn’t look especially different from competing bands, but has a good-looking design that’s really comfortable. There’s also a great latch that’s comfortable, easy to fasten, and is really secure. This is often a gripe for most of the fitness bands we’ve reviewed. It stayed on without problem during a day of extreme dodgeball, and I forgot I was even wearing it. The UA band comes with two bands, and they’re both adjustable. It covers just about every wrist size.
The rubberized band is matte black with a smooth finish. It’s pretty sleek for a fitness band. The underside and button are bright red, which is a nice accent. After a couple weeks it barely shows any signs of wear. This is another rarity. The UA Band is water resistant, but not waterproof. You probably shouldn’t shower with it, but mine has survived some showers without any hiccups.
The LCD screen on the UA Band isn’t the largest, but it is decently sized and really detailed. It can clearly display a few words at a time in a font size that doesn’t require your reading glasses. There’s only one button for controlling the band because it’s also a touchscreen! It responds really well to swiping and tapping. The user interface is really intuitive; Under Armour and HTC did a good job with labels and icons. You can easily swipe through all the menus, check out your stats, set alarms, read notifications, and even control your music. At medium brightness, it’s plenty bright. The battery lasts me almost a week and a twenty minute charge can get you days of use.
There are default notifications that update you on your daily progress and send an alert if you’ve been idle for a while. You can have all of your phone’s notifications sent to the UA Band too, although you’ll have to dig into app settings to set that up. Notifications are really nice. When there’s a long message, like a text message, you can swipe to read the whole thing at your own pace. You don’t have to keep up with an arbitrary scrolling speed.
Considering this UA Band is a brand new endeavor for Under Armour, they did a pretty amazing job off the bat. With the help of HTC, the hardware and software is just as good as any other fitness band, if not better. Most of our gripes can be fixed with improved software. The music controls only control the Music app on iPhone. I had a poor experience with the heart rate monitor on the UA Band, though. Most days it would go without detecting a resting heart rate, and even when I prompt it to get my heart rate it struggles to get a read, and could take a minute or so.
The UA Scale is one of our favorite devices in the HealthBox. Firstly, it looks awesome. It’s a shiny black circle with a UA logo in the center. The top of the scale has a large backlit LED pixel display. Once set up, the scale recognizes who’s stepping on and syncs your weight to the app using a Wi-Fi connection. It can automatically recognize up to eight users. Not only does it check your weight, it sends an undetectable current through you to obtain your body fat percentage. This is important; weight is not the most ideal metric for detecting fat. Body fat percentage will help you understand the relationship between your weight, muscle, and fat.
My body fat percentage seemed higher than I expected, and a bit higher than with other devices I’ve used, but it technically makes no difference. The scale is consistent with its own readings, so as long as you benchmark yourself on it, you’ll be able to set proper goals. For instance, I’m happy with my weight, but I’d like to cut fat and build muscle. Therefore, my goal is to maintain weight and reduce body fat percentage, which is very measurable on UA Scale.
The UA Scale is really easy to use and the app integration and Wi-Fi make syncing your data completely effortless. The app handles all your trends and insights. The scale just requires four AA batteries to operate.
UA Heart Rate
The UA Heart Rate monitor is a chest strap with two sensors and Bluetooth connectivity. It straps around the bottom of your rib cage and is comfortable enough. The purpose is to get the most accurate read on your heart rate and help the app provide valuable insights on your workout. The strap is only meant for workouts and is capable of actively monitoring heart rate, picking up even slight changes.
The UA Heart Rate is nice and comfortable enough, but it’s pretty typical as far as HR chest straps go. Unfortunately, the UA app will not support other chest bands; however, other apps like RunKeeper may support the UA Heart Rate.
UA Record App
The UA Record app is the glue that binds together the HealthBox. It’s “your body’s dashboard.” After creating an account, you’ll quickly realize that it looks pretty fantastic! It’s colorful, has a nice-looking dashboard, has lots of charts, and even has a meter that asks you how you feel. It looks like something that’s going to get you more engaged and involved with your personal health. In practice, we feel that app actually falls a bit short. Luckily, it’s nothing a few software updates can’t solve!
The overarching problem we found with the UA app is that it tries to do it all without focusing on the essentials. There’s a lot going on; there’s an overwhelming amount of charts, features, and stuff. There wasn’t much of an introduction on available features and how to use them, so you sort of have to just play around.
The main tab, “My Record,” is what you’ll use most. It logs and aggregates all of your data and allows you to track sleep, food, and mood. The default view shows you today’s steps, nutrition, fitness, and sleep records. You can tap into any of them to see more data and trends. Under that is a bunch of charts: progress to goals, resting heart rate, and weight.
The next tab, “Feed,” is where Under Armour got a little ambitious. We love the social aspect of getting in shape, but we don’t need the UA app to be a Facebook and Twitter replacement. You can post workouts, photos, and thoughts to yourself, your friends, or the world. The one nice thing is that UA posts a decent amount of content that gets you thinking about fitness and adopting a healthier lifestyle.
The next tab is “Challenges.” Challenges are different from goals. Goals are set for you by the app, which we love. Goals are set at 7,000 steps per day, seven hours of sleep per day, 30 minutes of exercise per day, and you can also set weight and body fat goals. Challenges are social. They allow you to challenge friends in competitions like weight loss, calories burned, distance traveled, or most steps. In theory, it’s neat and interesting, but in practice it may not get as much use as UA hoped for.
Lastly, there’s a “More” tab. Here you can update your profile, goals, friends, subscriptions, and settings. A great feature of the app is the ability to incorporate data from other apps and devices. You can add your iPhone motion data, or you can even link apps and services from Jawbone, Withings, Fitbit, MyFitnessPal, Polar, and more.
Our biggest gripe of the app is exercise monitoring, which to us is the most basic and fundamental piece of a product like this. When you monitor exercise you can only do so on the app or the UA band. They’ll sync later, but you can only see progress on one. If you want to use the chest strap, you have to record with the app. The chest strap is great for seeing your heart rate in real time, but there’s no way to see heart rate trends or how your HR has changed throughout the workout. For us, this defeats the purpose of having an HR monitor. If I push myself extra hard at a certain point during a jog, I can’t review later to see how my heart rate was affected. I’d have to actually look at the app while I’m running. After the workout you can only see average heart rate and peak heart rate. Since the heart rate monitor can work with other apps, there’s likely another app out there that can achieve this.