Larklife Tracker Annoys, Encourages: Rich Jaroslovsky
The first Lark wristband aimed to measure and improve the quality of your sleep. Now the company has introduced a new fitness-tracking band, called Larklife, that aims to do the same for your waking hours too.
The last year or so has seen an explosion in this kind of wearable technology, including the Jawbone UP, Nike (NKE) FuelBand and just-announced Fitbit Flex. Two things distinguish the $150 Larklife, one positive, the other not so much.
The Larklife does a good job of capturing your activities -- counting footsteps, recording how long and how well you sleep, and the like.
The downside is the device itself: It’s awkward to use, more complicated than it needs to be and generally downright annoying.
The detachable Lark sensor comes with two wristbands, one for daytime, the other for night. You don’t charge the sensor; you charge the wristbands.
They generally need to be juiced up at least every other day or so; in practice, you’ll likely always have one of them plugged into the charger while you’re wearing the other.
The blue daytime band (other colors are promised later) isn’t exactly subtle. It’s far bigger than other bands, so be prepared for lots of questions. And because one side of it is thicker, I had a constant problem with sweater and jacket sleeves getting caught on it.
When I tugged too hard, the sensor would pull loose from the band, requiring some one-handed fumbling to get it reconnected. Lark says it’s aware of the issue and is working on design changes to assure a tighter fit.
Unlike the Jawbone UP, which requires users to physically connect the band to the iPhone’s audio port, the Larklife wirelessly transfers data from device to app. Since I leave Bluetooth activated on my phone all the time, this was largely a seamless process, though there’s also a way to manually force a sync via a button on the device if you don’t routinely have Bluetooth running.
The Larklife app is far less involved than its competitors’ -- you won’t be logging detailed accounts of your meals, for instance. Instead, you’ll simply note the time, and select from a limited selection of broad food categories like “protein” or “grain.”
One weakness of most pedometer-based devices is their inability to determine when you’re engaged in physical activities that don’t involve steps. But the Lark app did successfully recognize my stints on a stationary bike as “activity breaks.”
Mostly, though, the emphasis is on coaching and encouragement. Throughout the day, the app would deliver little bits of cheery information -- congratulating me on taking my 5,000th step of the day, for example -- and tips on being more active and increasing my energy.
In the evening, I’d pop the sensor out of the rigid day band and into the soft night one. There’s a conundrum here: You should make the switch right before you go to bed, but prepping Larklife for night use is such a fussy process that you won’t want to do it when you’re too sleepy.
Once you’re done getting the sensor positioned in the band and the device on your wrist, you have to go into the app to tell it you’re going to sleep and press a button on the band to make sure everything is properly synced. (The company says those steps are not always necessary, and plans to revise the manual to let users know.)
In the morning, you have to reverse the process. I sometimes had difficulty getting the data to upload properly; one morning required a half-dozen tries before the data showed up on the iPhone.
Once it did, though, the app told me how quickly I fell asleep, how many times I roused in the night and how long I slept.
I also successfully used its silent-alarm feature, which rousts you by vibrating without bothering a still-sleeping partner.
Unlike competitors, though, it doesn’t try to determine the optimal moment to wake you. The company says it’s found most users don’t want to get up any earlier than they have to, even if the science suggests they’d feel more refreshed being roused sooner in their sleep cycle.
As a piece of consumer technology, Larklife does a decent job on the tech. But the “consumer” part needs a lot of work.
(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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