Is Basis Peak a better fitness tracker than Fitbit Surge?

Is Basis Peak a better fitness tracker than Fitbit Surge?

If you still haven't bought into the whole wearable-health thing yet, and you don't have your sites set on an Apple Watch, consider giving Basis Peak ($199) a look. After a few weeks of use, I found a lot to like about the wrist-worn activity and sleep tracker -- which also has some smartwatch features -- as well as a few things that could use improvement.

Basis Peak love: Body iQ. Peak's Body iQ feature automatically detects when you go for a walk, run or bike ride, and when you fall asleep. This is an awesome differentiator for Peak. For example, Fitbit Surge ($250), perhaps its closest competitor, automatically detects sleep, too, but it doesn't automatically sense when you start exercising, aside from counting your steps, which it always does. (Turning on exercise tracking on Surge isn't exactly difficult, but I love the convenience of Peak.)

In my tests, Peak started to display my activity stats after about five minutes of exercise. The device recorded my steps all along; it just took a few minutes for it to officially kick into exercise mode.

Basis Peak love: Sleep data. Speaking of sleep, Peak provides more detailed snooze stats than Fitbit devices, and you can check them out in its Android and iOS apps, and on its website.

Peak differentiates between REM, light and deep sleep, and displays the percentage of time spent in each phase. When you tap to select one of the phases, the app provides context.

For example, on a recent night in which I slept eight hours and 16 minutes, 29 percent of that time was REM sleep, according to Peak. The app told me I spent a total of two hours and 24 minutes in REM sleep. And according to the app, 20 to 30 percent is an average amount of REM sleep, which is good to know. You also receive a sleep score -- on that night my score was 98 percent -- along with other related data.

When I asked Fitbit about its sleep monitoring features compared to Peak, a Fitbit spokesperson responded: "REM sleep tracking with only a motion sensor remains controversial. Fitbit, instead, monitors restlessness and the amount of time people are awake during a sleep period." (For more details, check out Fitbit's sleep tracking FAQs page.)

Basis Peak love: The display. Peak's high-contrast touch screen, which the company says is made of Gorilla Glass 3, is extremely easy to read in bright sunlight. When you exercise, you can flick through data, including current heart rate and steps. The same is true of Surge, however; both screens are ideal for reading in bright daylight.

Basis Peak love: It's comfortable. Peak's "sportvent" strap fits well on your wrist and is comfortable. You can jazz up the device with an optional strap ($30), too. In my opinion, it is a little more comfortable than Fitbit Surge.

Basis Peak needs works on heart-rate accuracy. According to Consumer Reports and The Wall Street Journal, Polar's H7 chest strap is as accurate in reading heart-rate as an EKG. So I use it as a comparison for other devices that monitor heart rate.

Peak performed well during the low- and moderate-intensity phases of a workout. but when I reached 130 bpm or more, the device's optical heart rate sensor reading was usually inflated by about 20 bpm. Peak's reading stayed elevated throughout the high-intensity phase of my workouts, then fell more in line with the Polar reading as I cooled down. That said, I've received inaccurate heart-rate readings during intense exercise from every wristband device I've tested using optical heart rate sensors, including Fitbit Surge.

I asked Basis about the issue and got this response from a spokesperson: "During steady-state activities, such as a light run or bike ride, Peak's heart rate monitor is comparable to a chest strap. There may be a slight lag when you experience a rapid increase or decrease in heart rate."

Basis added that it's important to wear Peak "a little higher than you would wear a normal watch" and to wear it "snugly, with the sensors resting flush against your skin." (For the record, that's how I wear activity trackers during heart-rate tests.)

Here's a response from a Fitbit spokesperson: "As with all heart-rate monitoring technology, whether a chest strap or a wrist-based sensor, accuracy is affected by personal physiology, location of wear, and type of movement. Your heart rate may be affected by any number of factors at any given moment. Movement, temperature, humidity, stress level, physical body position, caffeine intake, and medication use are just a few things that can affect your heart rate ... As with all health and fitness tracking, Fitbit believes that what's most important is trends -- if a user misses a minute or two, it's not as important as seeing the overall trends over time."

Basis Peak or Fitbit Surge? 

So is Peak the winner in a head-to-head with Fitbit's Surge? Not necessarily.

Peak, unlike Fitbit, currently lacks a leaderboard, which lets you see how your activity compares to your friends' activity. Basis's privacy policy page hints that it may rollout a leaderboard in the future, though the Basis spokesperson said the company has "no immediate plans" for one.

I can't overemphasize just how motivating a leaderboard can be. I convinced a dozen friends to buy Fitbits and share their stats with me, and the leaderboard is one reason why I remain loyal to Fitbit.

Other features also set Surge apart from Peak, such as built-in GPS for tracking your exercise routes. On this point, Basis said it has no immediate plans to include GPS tracking, but it pointed out that you can stream heart-rate data from Peak via Bluetooth to apps that use GPS for tracking.

Conversely, there are things Peak can do that Surge can't. For example, the Basis band is waterproof up to 50 meters, so you can wear it while swimming. Fitbit recommends removing the Surge before showering or swimming.

Ultimately, they're both worthy trackers for dedicated fitness buffs, but users should take heart-rate data collected during sweaty exercise with the proverbial grain of salt.

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