UA Band review: HTC's first ever wearable is a fitness tracking device

If it’s one thing this world doesn’t need more of, it’s fitness trackers. And yet, here’s HTC, the struggling Taiwanese smartphone maker, using Under Armour as the bait for it’s very first wearable device.

The wearable is called the UA Band and it is the second iteration of the fitness band HTC announced in partnership with Under Armour last year. The first one got scrapped over the summer, which is likely when HTC went back to the drawing board.

Thankfully, the UA Band doesn’t live up to its troubled legacy. This is the first fitness tracker I’ve enjoyed wearing around the clock, though my appreciation for it is purely practical. If it’s one thing that this particular gadget excels at in this saturated fitness market, it’s being the best combination of fitness tracking and app integration I’ve ever used.

The UA Band is slim, soft, and flexible. It’s entirely made of rubber, but it’s smooth enough that it won’t pull at your arm hair. I’m not too keen on the athletic color and blocky design of the device, but it’s winter time, so the band has been mostly hiding under long-sleeved clothing. I’ll admit that I don’t like to wear it when I’m donning short sleeves, but I do so grudgingly because the UA Band is so comfortable.

I wore the UA Band to yoga class, while sleeping (and napping), during showers (it’s water resistant), and even out dancing (to count calories, of course). I liked wearing it around so much more than the Fitbit Flex—my last fitness tracker—despite it’s masculine aesthetic. It’s also light enough that I sometimes forgot I was wearing the band at all. 

The clasp is adjustable, too, so you can wear it loosely if you like. And if you’re prone to perspiring heavily during a workout, you can easily wipe off the band after the fact.

I have just one slight concern: I’ve gone through two review units, and both have had issues popping off my wrist if I clasped the band too tightly. (The first time it happened, the band popped off into the middle of the dance floor, and I had to ask for a replacement.) If this happens to you, you can easily pop the band back on as long as the metal teeth that latch into it aren’t bent.

Like every other one of the dozens of fitness gadgets, the UA Band tracks it all: heart rate, calories burned, steps walked, and hours slept. It displays simple notifications on its 1.3-inch POLED touch display, like calendar events and text messages, and it buzzes you awake if you set an alarm. It also shows the time.

The UA Band utilizes a basic tap-and-swipe mechanism for its oversimplified interface. There is hardly a learning curve here. All you really have to do is keep swiping until you get to the option you’re looking for. In some cases, you’ll see a down arrow appear in the left-hand side, which notes that there’s more information below. When you’re done tapping and swiping around, you turn off the screen with a simple press of the button.

One of my favorite features of the band is its ability to actively track a workout. What’s more: you can set one of the workout modes to whatever sport or activity it is you practice, and the UA Band will store that information and sync it up to your phone later. The only bummer is that there’s only one slot for your own custom workout. The other three options are running, cycling, and gym time. If you’re not interested in those things, you’re out of luck.

Now, the smartest feature of the Band is that it automatically kicks in to sleep mode once you’ve dozed off—and even if you’re struggling to, as exhibited in my own personal sleep metrics. The band tracks how many hours you’ve slept, how deep it was, how often you were moving around, and your sleeping heart rate. You still have to remember to stop the sleep tracking in the morning, though I’ve forgotten so many times and it’s still managed to figure out when I’m up and about and not actually asleep.

Under Armour and HTC have promised five days of battery life with the UA Band’s 112 mAh battery. The band isn’t using a ton of resources when it’s simply resting on your wrist, and it turns off Bluetooth when you’re asleep, so it’s no surprise that I managed a little more than six days without charging it.

The only annoyance is the Band’s magnetic charger. You have to stick it on a certain way and wait for the green light to indicate that it’s charging. The magnets aren’t very strong, though, and you can easily knock the Band away. There were a few times I thought it was charging it, but it wasn’t.

The UA Record app has existed for some time, but Under Armour recently overhauled it so that it integrates with its new suite of new connected products. The UA Band would hardly stand out from the competition without the aid of its software. 

UA Record acts as a hub for your active life. The main interface utilizes a circle motif where a quarter of each bit of the “life pie” is devoted to a particular facet, including sleep, fitness, activity, and nutrition. In the middle is a button you press to reveal your current weight, though it remains hidden so that it’s not constantly in your face. At the bottom, you can rate how you’re feeling overall and then add any notes about your health for that day.

The UA Record app is one of the most concise and informative fitness applications I’ve ever used. It offers charts to help you see your progress in a simplified manner, and everything is organized so that you know where you are in the interface and what exactly it is you’re looking at.  There’s also a social element to the app that encourages you to participate in challenges, but it’s hidden away in the hamburger menu as if to suggest that it’s not a primary function of the app. I like that it’s unassuming, and that the app leaves it up to you whether or not you want to bother with bringing others on your fitness journey.

Where UA Record really excels is with its integration of third-party connected products and applications. You can link up gadgets from the likes of Garmin, FitBit, and Jawbone, or hook in apps like MyFitnessPal to help you track your meals, and most of that information will sync up with your daily summaries. 

It’s been interesting watching the development of this product from the sidelines.  I wasn’t too convinced at first that HTC could successfully build a fitness tracking device—not after the atrocity of the Grip—but this second time around has made me a believer. It’s unfortunate the company didn’t choose to hit the ground running with an Android Wear product, but perhaps this was a smarter business move on HTC’s part. Rather than venture out into a forest full of wolves, the company opted to partner up with a brand that’s already well-established in the fitness world, which will make its entry into the fitness market a little easier.

What Under Armour and HTC are offering with the UA Band is a pretty solid deal for $180. Its only major setback is that it’s not the most inspired-looking fitness wearable. But, if your goal is to accumulate all the data you can to help you achieve your personal fitness goals, there’s no harm in considering the UA Band. 


Florence Ion

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