I’m no stranger to fitness trackers. I was once on the Fitbit bandwagon, checking my steps almost obsessively and feeling naked if I accidentally left it sitting on the counter at home.
So I was curious: Is the Amazon Halo (which hit the market in December 2020) just another way to stay on top of my daily step count? Or does it offer some new ways for me to track and improve my health?
After wearing the band for two weeks, I found a few features that set the tracker apart from its competitors — and one of them rolled out to the public this week.
Cost and equipment
The Halo Band costs $99 and comes with a free six-month subscription to the companion app and Amazon Halo platform. After the free subscription is up, the platform costs $3.99/month. You can use the Halo Band without the app as a means of tracking basic metrics, like step count, heart rate and sleep time. But the membership grants access to more features, like tracking voice tone, body composition and deeper insight into your sleep habits, fitness and movements. Amazon says that the membership is designed to “help you improve your health by understanding it.”
The tracker is compatible with Android and iOs and comes in three colors: blush, winter gray and black.
How the Amazon Halo Band and platform work
Setting up the tracker is pretty straightforward: charge it up, strap it to your arm, download the companion app and input basic information, like your body weight and height.
The band tracks multiple measures of health: activity, sleep, movement, tone and body composition. Click on the “data” tab and these main markers of health are displayed across the top where you can easily see your daily numbers and drill down into each to see more specifics.
There’s tons of complementary content from impressive partners — Harvard Health, Headspace, OrangeTheory and Mayo Clinic, just to name a few — that come in video and audio form and are served to you within each section. For example, there are meditations and nutrition suggestions to help you improve your sleep, a large library of workout content to exercise to and vocal warm-ups and lessons on being a better listener under the tone section. The "discover" tab serves as a hub for all of this content and organizes it into weekly and monthly programs. When you start a program, you are able to set a daily reminder and it serves you programmatic content in the chosen area.
The newest feature, Movement Health, went live for users on June 30 and focuses on improving functional fitness — aka the everyday movements you do without thinking, like bending, lifting, twisting and walking.
To activate this functionality, you have to take a short assessment in the app; it took me about 10 minutes total. The app walks you though five simple movements — single leg balances, forward lunges, squats, overhead reaches and narrow squats — and evaluates your stability, mobility and posture to give you an overall movement score out of 100. You also get a breakdown of the four areas of your body: the trunk (your core), hips, lower body and shoulders.
Using this info, they then prescribe a personalized plan of corrective exercises, which is basically like working with a personal trainer or physical therapist without leaving your house.
You can also complete a Body Composition scan, which calculates your body fat percentage. By repeating the scan every few weeks, you can track changes over time and physically see the changes in your body. It also allows you to slide your percentage along a scale and see the physical changes to your body at lower and higher body fat levels.
The final feature that requires a short assessment is the “tone” functionality — this one took me less than five minutes. The app runs you through a series of quotes and book passages and asks you to read them aloud to set a base level for your voice intonation. It then analyzes your tone of voice and word usage and reports back on how you come across to others throughout the day.
My experience using the Amazon Halo Band
The homepage of the app is your “feed.” This space shows your running metrics for the day across the top, followed by reminders of any programs you may need to complete and a daily health feed, which is a mashup up of notable moments from the tone section, different workout options, tips and personalized insights. It’s basically a scrollable health hub personalized for you. And it’s awesome.
But there is a lot to dig into, so I began by focusing on the basic features: activity and sleep tracking.
I really found value in the sleep tracker. With a 1-year-old at home, some nights are better than others in terms of how much uninterrupted sleep I can get. But every night is a blur, so it was helpful to not just take a broad look at total hours slept, but also deep dive into sleep quality and see how much light, REM and deep sleep I got. On days where I woke up grouchy or felt my energy dip in the afternoon, it was helpful to be able to reference my sleep metrics and I began to notice a link between the number of times I was awoken and how I felt the during the day. If the reason for your poor sleep is more in your control than a small human, like getting to bed too late or the TV waking you up, it’s a helpful cue to change up some things when it comes to your sleep hygiene.
I liked that Halo also provides deeper analytics when it comes to fitness tracking. It breaks up single bouts of exercise into intense, moderate and light activity based on your heart rate. As someone who does a lot of HIIT workouts, it was really helpful to see how much time I was spending in each zone and it also gave me a more realistic picture of my activity. Other trackers that simply add up steps don’t account for heart rate spikes and increased calorie burns, comparing, say, a high intensity workout versus a leisurely walk. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that chores, like doing the laundry and cleaning the kitchen, helped me log some moderate exercise.
The next day I took the short tone assessment and began to receive notifications and guidance regarding my tone of voice. That night, I was having a discussion with my husband where I was lending a supportive ear and trying to help him solve an issue — or so I thought. Halfway through the discussion, I got a notification that my tone was “dismissive.” I immediately started complaining about how the band doesn’t work when my husband said, “Yeah, you were kind of dismissive.” I was speechless! I had noticed his body language change during our talk, but didn’t think anything of it. The band actually helped me see that my word choice or tone may have been giving off vibes that were far from what I thought I was conveying. Throughout the week, I began to notice other behavior patterns, like how I tend to use more “negative” words in the morning (who doesn’t?). You can also sync your calendar with the app so you can see if your tone was affectionate during your time with your kids or irritated during that Zoom meeting. And you have the ability to record specific conversations and get live feedback if you want to see how you come across at work, with your significant other or when having a tough conversation with a friend.
I then took the movement assessment and scored pretty highly, which wasn’t too surprising since I am very physically active. But even with a high score, I was prescribed a program of corrective exercises to help me maintain my abilities. (If you score low in a certain category, your program would focus on improving in those areas.) My focus area was the trunk/upper body, which means I worked on increasing the range of motion of my shoulders, neck and upper back. The program told me that these exercises can make reaching, lifting or carrying items overhead easier. Since I spend most of my time picking up, putting down and carrying my toddler, this focus was much appreciated.
The app gave me two sets of three exercises each and asked me to complete them three times a week. I liked that the exercises were each their own separate videos (and that it allows you to skip the intros and get right to the exercise) so that I could do them quickly throughout the day, versus having to commit to a 15-minute chunk of time. The moves were very simple — like spinal twists and bird dogs (where I crouch on all fours and alternate reaching with opposite feet and arms) — and I did notice less back and neck pain, which I think came from the simple fact that I was taking mini breaks to do them throughout the day.
What I liked
When you use the membership and all of the content it offers, Halo goes beyond being just a tracker — it is prescriptive, and designed to give you personalized tools to improve your health. This made the experience really different from other trackers I have used.
The Movement Health feature is like having a personal trainer and physical therapist in your pocket. It doesn’t just tell you how many steps you've taken or how many calories you've burned, but shows how your body is moving and how to improve your mobility. And beyond this detailed look into the state of your physical health, it equips you with the specific exercise programs you need to make a positive change.
For me, the tone and movement sections really set this apart from other trackers. When I saw that my tone wasn’t always reflecting what I intended it to, I signed up for "Four Steps to Ideal Conversation" — a one week program that teaches you a daily exercise to improve your communication skills.
I also liked the more basic features, like the live heart rate tab. When I would open the tab and see my BPM was in the moderate zone, I would watch my heart beating, breathe slowly and watch the number creep downward into the light zone, which I found really soothing.
What I didn’t like
The tone feature really sucks the juice out of the tracker. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if it wasn’t kind of a pain to recharge. The charging clip is a nice idea in theory; you can charge the tracker without removing the band. But I made the mistake a few times of not checking if it was sitting just right in the clip only to come back an hour later and it not be charged at all.
I wish Halo would ask more about your fitness level and set the weekly goal accordingly. The default goal (informed by the American Heart Association guidelines) is 150 points per week — and there were many times I racked up that many points in one day. It does slowly increase your point goal as you surpass it, but having it default to 150 feels geared more toward a beginner level.
Engaging with the platform and really taking advantage of everything it has to offer is also a bit time consuming. This might be great for someone who is really focused on improving their health profile and committed to devoting a solid amount of time to it. As someone who already has my health under control, I did find it a challenge to not only keep checking all the stats, but also engage with all of the content served to me under each health bucket.
And I began to feel that obsession creep up again: kicking myself when I forgot to put the band back on after a shower and knowing I lost out on counting a few hundred steps. This may be more of a personal problem and is certainly not specific to the Halo, but at the end of the day it’s important to keep the tracking aspect in perspective and use it as a tool in your health arsenal and not let it take over your life.
I would recommend this to:
- People who need to be told what to do in order to improve their health
- People who have a hard time staying motivated to exercise
- Anyone looking for a well-rounded, holistic view of his, her or their health
- Data nerds who love seeing their health quantified
- Those who want to work on their mental health and how they communicate with others