Intel’s Basis Peak: Finally, Accurate Heart Rate Measurement In A Fitness Wearable

By Patrick Moorhead - December 1, 2014
For years, I have been looking for a watch that, while running, could accurately and automatically measure, capture, and display my heart rate without the need for a chest strap or PC connection. Watch after new watch came out this year that claimed this, but none of the ones I tried could do this while exercising or sweating. That was until the Peak, from Basis, an Intel company, came out last week. I have been using a Polar watch and chest band for years during my runs. We are all different, but what I know about myself is that I need to exercise within my target heart range or else I over exercise and get burnt out or I will slack off if not pushed hard enough. Chest bands are accurate, but are pain, too, as they are uncomfortable to wear and it means one extra piece of equipment to lose and run out of batteries. So I was really excited when some of the new smartwatches in the Gear family from Samsung came out this year that promised they could accurately capture heart rate.  In addition to the new smartwatches, even Samsung’s new phones could measure heart rate while touching the sensor by the camera. The problem was, that to get an accurate reading on the Samsung devices I tried, you couldn’t sweat or move vigorously. For me and I think for many, this defeated the purpose of having a heart rate monitor in the first place. The value proposition of “resting heart rate” is weak and we all know it now. Even Basis’s first watch before the Intel acquisition, the B1 couldn’t accurately measure heart rate while exercising, but Basis’s latest, the Peak is different. It’s the first wearable that I’ve used that accurately and automatically measures, captures, and displays my heart rate without the need for a chest strap. Let me say more about “accurate”. By “accurate” I mean the Peak was consistently within 2-3 beats of my Polar with a chest strap, and that’s saying a lot as I consider Polar the gold standard. basis peak green laserBasis Peak’s Dual Green Lasers To Track Heart Rate Apparently, the secret do getting this right with the Peak was increasing the laser intensity and frequency (to 32X per second) which improved the quality of the light coming back to the sensor for an improved reading. I’ve also noticed that versus the Basis B1, the heart rate sensor protrudes further into the skin which provides better skin contact. All this technobabble means very accurate heart rate measurements resulting in a much simpler and more comfortable exercise regimen. As there have already detailed reviews written about the Basis Peak, I’ll just net out some of my experiences with Basis Peak over the last week. Here are some of the highlights and plusses:
  • Perpetual and real-time measurement, display, storage, and cloud sync of heart rate, steps, sleep, calories burnt, perspiration and skin temp. It’s not apparent yet how skin temp and perspiration work into the insights readout, but I hope to find out.
  • Auto-determination of sitting, walking, running, biking, sleeping, REM sleeping, deep sleeping, sleeping restlessness, and waking.
  • Very accurate heart rate measurements while exercising and sweating, as discussed above.
  • Thin, metal watch that is very comfortable with an inconspicuous band.
  • Phone notifications (coming in December)
  • Waterproof to 5 ATM
  • 4 days battery life. In comparison, most smartwatches get around a day of battery life and some headless fitness bands without a display can get up to two weeks.
  • Extremely detailed display of data on activities and sleep
  • Gamification and prompts to get you to start doing what you aren’t and keep doing what you are doing
  • Backed by the Intel investment machine, meaning low risk of funding running out and getting stranded without updates.
Two Basis Peak ColorsTwo Basis Peak Colors Here are some things I would like to see added in a future Basis Peak update:
  • Export/import to/from holistic programs like MyFitnessPal or health data “banks” from Microsoft Fitness and Apple Health. Don’t make me have to correlate Basis Peak data with calories and weight (via Aria scale) from MyFitnessPal.
  • Watch notifications when I’ve crossed my maximum heart rate and when I’ve been sitting too long. Buzz me to tell me to slow down, else I will burn out.
  • Stop and start function to measure how a timed exercise went. Today, a workout is broken into different pieces if there is any change in state. For instance, I run then walk in intervals for 30-45 minutes. The Basis Peak will show me 4 different workouts in that 30-45 minutes and I would like a way to view it as one.
  • Add distance in miles. It tracks steps so it should be able to derive distance, yes?
  • Tell me what I should do and when to improve areas like REM sleep, if I sweat too much/little, if I get too hot, etc. I feel like the Peak is measuring everything and telling me only a little of what it knows.
All in all, the Basis Peak is the best fitness watch I’ve used so far. It accurately measures heart rate while exercising in addition to steps, calories burnt, skin temp and perspiration, and displays all the data in glorious detail. The Basis Peak automatically determines if you’re sitting, walking, running, biking, sleeping, REM sleeping, deep sleeping, sleeping restlessness, or waking. With the addition of smartphone notifications in December, the Peak will morph into a lightly-featured smartwatch, too. I’m really excited to see more things the Peak and its insights can tell me to make it even more useful. The Peak from Basis, an Intel company, is a winner, and it really makes Intel look really smart for acquiring them.
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.