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Should I buy a Smartband?

 Mi Band 5 is a nifty smartband with long battery life, a colour screen
and lots of features including call and SMS alerts, a weather app,
and fitness tracking 


If your phone is always on vibrate or silent, it might seem too much to have a device around your wrist that alerts you every time your phone rings or an SMS checks in. Yet, that has been the most convenient thing about getting a fitness tracker, or more so, a smart band. 

The smart band turns your wrist into a screening device for which calls to pick or to ignore, without having to dash across the room or house to check your phone whenever it rings.

The other surprisingly convenient thing about these smart bands is how long their batteries last. One of my early fears was a device that would need charging every other minute. But my first try saw the Mi Band 5’s battery carry on for 21 days after charging. This was with no heart tracking and low-level sleep monitoring.
The battery life is so good that I have switched on some of the more battery intensive features - like more accurate sleep monitoring and heart rate monitoring. Again, I still get more than 2 weeks of battery life under this more intensive monitoring.

I could monitor sleep before - but it was inaccurate sometimes in that just lying in bed could count as sleep. It does tell when you wake up, but if you spend time reading in bed it would sometimes count that as light sleep. The more accurate monitoring is a bit more exact, but if you wake up mid-sleep and just lie there, it may still count that as light sleep.

But sleep and heart rate monitoring were not even why I bought the band. My interest was in tracking my fitness or lack thereof, and to adjust to maintain a balance so as to not be too unfit. The bonus reason was that I thought the band could monitor blood oxygen levels - which is an indirect way of monitoring if you have a serious bout of Covid-19.

The band works very well if you exercise by walking or running. It is highly accurate in counting steps and intensity during the exercise.

I am yet to try other exercise monitoring such as swimming, yoga, freestyle weight lifting, rope jumping, treadmills, rowing, and elliptical machines - which need you to manually pick the modes.

Another thing it does well is control music playing off your phone. You can pause music on any app on your phone, skip next, add or decrease volume - a remote control on your wrist.

There’s also a timer and stop-watch, which are useful for other tasks such as timing cooking.

The Mi Band 5 is made by Huami who sell it as the Amazfit Band 5. The Amazfit has extra features such as the more useful Alexa voice search and the oxygen sensor, but the Mi Band in China has Mi Voice search in place of Alexa. Outside China we do with less features.

On the other hand, the Mi Band has a better app with a more intuitive design than the Amazfit, to the point of the rating between the 2 apps being worlds apart. Seems the Amazfit app is not as good. Additionally, Amazfit may have gone for more features over usability, while Mi Band may have decided perfection is better than quantity. The apps seem interchangeable though. So you could buy the Amazfit and use the Mi Health App.

Another alternative is the Honor Band 5 and Honor Band 6 which were done by Huawei. Huawei has recently sold off the Honor brand due to American sanctions which complicated sourcing of components. The Honor bands carry more features including the oxygen sensor, and the app still carries a higher rating.

All in all, the bands have made significant progress as exercise and health monitors. Think of them as personal coaches and health practitioners on your wrist, with a mix of a personal assistant. They are also quite cheap at about KSh. 5,000 or $50, and as low as KSh. 3,500 or $35.

What’s amazing is what they are able to accomplish with just a small sensor on the back of the band resting on your wrist.

In the very near future, it should be possible for bands to monitor your health and let you know when to seek a doctor’s consultation, performing some sort of early diagnosis. Equally, voice search will advance to the point you can use your wristband for even more complicated tasks and queries - you can Google by asking a question and get a response.

At the moment, wristbands need to be connected to the phone to perform most of their functions. This will likely remain the case into the future - but expect more and more capabilities to shift onto the bands to the point they can operate for even more hours without the phone.

The band can currently monitor exercising without the phone, though they require the phone for GPS/location capabilities with the exception of a few bands which have their own GPS. The only downside for GPS equipped bands is  that the feature is battery-draining, hence why most bands leave it out or have it only when you select an exercise to monitor.

Verdict? A band makes a for a very good birthday gift for a friend. It’s quite interesting and intuitive, and is only set to get more useful over the future. Then, bands will act as a personal health and task assistant - they will alert us whether we are healthy or bit, when to seek medical help, and help us automate our day to day tasks with voice assistance.

In Kenya - smart bands are available at Xiaomi shops at Westlands’ Mpaka Road, and at other Xiaomi shops around the city. The older Honor Band 4 is available at Huawei shops. Newer versions of the bands are available online on Amazon and AliExpress. Amazon has debuted its own bands but they are still in testing at the point of writing this article.




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