Sunday, November 22, 2015

Oaxis Star.21 review: Forming a new habit in three weeks

Is 21 days enough?

Which fitness tracker to choose if you're on a budget? The Xiaomi Mi Band or the Misfit Flash or even the Nabu X, this is probably going to be an ongoing debate as fitness trackers are getting as common as smartphones these days. Trackers in this price range basically do the exact same thing from calculating the calories you burnt from doing 2 hours of shopping to tracking how long you sleep each night.

Just like Razer, Singapore based Oaxis is looking from another perspective for their first wearable device. But instead of being a band that makes you more sociable, their Star.21 fitness band is all about getting you into a healthy rhythm. Sure, it will track your steps and count your sleep like any other fitness tracker, but the company is positioning their fitness tracker as a device that will help you form a healthy habit within 21 days, well that's if you manage to conquer the 'Star Journey' which is a virtual game that advances your position through the completion of your daily step goal.

The Star.21 is actually the first fitness tracker that I have used if you count out the built-in pedometer on my Windows Phone. I have been using the Star.21 for well over a year and there is actually a lot to talk about it since this is my first experience with a physical fitness tracker. So, how does it stack up against step counting thingamajigs currently on the market, well stick around after the break to understand the gamified experience that Oaxis is pushing as the key feature of their Star.21 fitness band.

Hardware + Design

First off, let's talk about the physique of the Star.21 fitness band. Nothing out of the ordinary about the Star.21's form factor, a simple narrow band design which caters to different wrist sizes. Unlike other competing products, the Star.21 does not come with a replaceable band and the color you buy is the one you will be stuck with. The clip on buckle mechanism is pretty tight in the first few days but it loosens up thereafter and I have yet to experience it unbuckle off unknowingly.

Besides the 21 day method to forming a habit, the Star.21 name is also derived from the LED array on the front of the device which illuminates when the button is pressed. The front plate features an angled diamond pattern which easily catches on to the light and gives that eye-catching look, while it might not be as shiny as a gold bangle or a diamond, the front plate gives the Star.21 a unique look to make it feel more like a fashion accessory rather than a fitness tracker.



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Speaking of the front plate, beneath it is an array of LEDs which will display simple information by lighting up the LEDs in various sequences. There are three modes which can be activated by depressing the physical button and that include a clock, a Star Journey indicator and a calorie goal indicator. It is pretty impressive that there's a clock display on this simple fitness tracker. I can tell you that most people that I showed found it impressive that you can actually tell time with a couple of LED lights.

The LED's light up to display various information
The way you look at the time is actually very simple, it might look tough at first but after a few days, but i got used to it within a matter of days. How all this works is that the illuminated LED is the hour while the blinking LED depicts the minutes with a 2.5 minute precision. The Star.21 might not give you the exact time but it is a good indication of what the time is without turning to your smartphone. But while my brain has gotten used to how the time is displayed, I have experienced several incidents in which I misread the time, it mostly happened in the morning after I snoozed my alarm a couple of times.

Reading the time through a couple of LEDs is a pretty neat trick but that is not all that you can see through the Star.21's LED array, depress the button a second time and you will see an inverted 'Z' with 9 LEDs that will show your Star Journey progress. A single LED might not necessarily mean that you have walked 1,000 steps as the step goal is incremented in stages but it is a better representation with LEDs as it does signifies that you are 10% into your daily step goal.
"The Star.21 can also tell time"
Finally, depressing the button for the third consecutive time will show how much calories you have burnt. Just like the Star Journey progress display, the calories burnt is also displayed in terms of the percentage of calories you have burnt in accordance to your calorie goal. On the underside of the Star.21 is what I would say is the best thing about the Star.21; a flap that sits flushed when closed hides a standard microUSB charging port (in case you don't know, most companies op to use a custom charging interface in order to make the tracker water-resistant) which also enables the Star.21 to be water-resistant.

The flap on the underside of the device might look like a simple thing but it does go a long way to protect the internals from suffering water damage. I usually wear it in the shower and I have also brought it in swimming before but it is not recommended to wear it while swimming for long periods of time as the flaps can only prevent water front entering for a short period of time. But bottom line, simple things like washing your hand and taking a shower shouldn't be a problem for the Star.21

Software

The second half of the story of basically any fitness tracker is about the software experience because the fitness tracker itself is designed only to track your activity and further information like data logging will only be available through an app on your smartphone. In terms of available software, the Star.21 connects to the LifeBalanz application which is available for both iOS and Android. No support for sharing the data being logged to say Apple Health, Google Fit or Microsoft Health but that's not a major deal breaker whatsoever.

But, the Star.21 isn't about how many steps or calories you go through every day but it is focused on building a healthy/good habit through the Star Journey feature. Basically, this software feature puts you into a game and by completing your daily goal, you will advance forward into the map. Sounds simple enough right? Well, not exactly, the initial goal might be easy to beat but that number will increase over time as you get to a 'higher level' and coupled with those stay-at-home-and-do-nothing days, the game gets tougher and tougher over time. While the day streak doesn't reward you with anything other than some postcards to download, advancing through the Star Journey map does make you feel good and dropping your position isn't a happy moment either.

How the Star Journey works is that when you first start using the Star.21, the LifeBalanz application will track your activities for three days before determining an initial step goal and suggested calorie burn. As you pass 7 days, 14 days, 21 days, etc; the goal will be increased ever so slightly to get you moving more and also to make the game a little tougher so you don't get bored. But just like every other game, your position will be locked once you reach a specific day count to ensure you don't drop down too much.

But beyond that, the LifeBalanz application looks pretty unique with the diamond tiled homescreen which mimics the Star.21's display pattern. From there you can glance at information like your step count, calories, sleep data and Star Journey. Clicking the tile will show detailed information like how long you were awake in between sleeps or categorize the data in terms of days, months, years and even by seasons.
"A unique design approach"
If that's not enough, looking into the right sidebar will reveal a couple other tabs which will enable you to view other information like the Star.21's battery percentage, configure a silent alarm, look at your profile which displays how many steps you have taken since wearing the Star.21 and many more.

Overall, the LifeBalanz application is actually packed with some neat features. The silent alarm might be a little too silent for me (vibration is not that intense to wake me up from my sleep) but I do like that the fitness data is quite satisfying (lots of numbers to look at) and can be filtered down quite a bit. However, the LifeBalanz application was actually pretty buggy (android version) when it first came out late last year and that caused random crashes but the current version is pretty stable with not-so frequent crashes.

The application might be stable but there are some non-descript parts of the app that I found by accident. For example, clicking the pictures in the Star Journey will prompt a postcard to appear, scrolling down to the very bottom of the Star Journey page will unlock a chart which displays your daily progress in the Star Journey and the motivational popups that show up each time I sync the Star.21 is a little buggy (by that I mean that it says I'm lazy when I already completed 8,000 steps.)






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Performance

It all comes down to this, how well a fitness tracker performs is a crucial part of the experience. In terms of counting the number of steps, the Star.21 is quite accurate (did some manual counting to verify this) but is a little 'stingy' when it comes to taking small steps or walking at a slow pace compared to my Fitbit Charge which is very sensitive to regard a movement as a step. This ultimately results in a slightly lower (around 5-10%) number on the Star.21 when comparing how many steps I took while wearing both devices on the same wrist.

But overall, the Star Journey feature does make it a little bit more 'fun' as I'm constantly trying to reach that goal. After about a year of using the device, I only managed to get into day 48, probably because of those lazy days at home doing nothing but surfing the web. On a side note, It would be fun to compete with friends on the step count (and also the Star Journey) through Facebook/Google+ like how Fitbit does it with their mini-social-network through daily/weekly challenges.

Next up is the sleep tracking which is more of the Star.21's weak point. Firstly, sleep tracking is not done automatically like all those fancy high end fitness bands, in order track your sleep on the Star.21, you will need to press the button for about 3-5 seconds and a red LED will light up on the left and right side of the device. While entering the sleep mode is a manual process, exiting the mode is as simple as walking for a few minutes (or maybe even less).

A red LED lights up when the Star.21 is in sleep mode
However, in my experience, the somewhat automatic exiting of the sleep tracking is my main problem with the Star.21's sleep tracking. I am not by all means a light sleeper and most of the times, my movements will exit the sleep mode. I know, the problem might just lie with just how I sleep and all but it is something to take into consideration. Additionally, the Star.21 is actually only capable of logging up to 2 days of sleep data despite being advertised with a 7 day backlog memory which means you will need to sync the Star.21 with the LifeBalanz every other day if you want to see that sleep data.

Another problem with sleep mode is that the button is a little hard to press at first and when you are tired and just want to sleep, pressing the button for 3-5 seconds does feel like an eternity. Sometimes it enters sleep mode the first time but other times it takes 2-3 tries to get it right. Another things is that since the sleep tracking is not automatic, you have got to remember to turn it on before sleeping. Despite the Star Journey helping to form a good habit, I still can't seem to remember to turn on the sleep mode on every night. Ironic isn't it.

Finally, it's about the hardware itself. When you first start using the Star.21, the rubber band feels nice and comfortable but over time (about 4 months later), the band starts acting up and the rubber is no longer as flexible and is prone to breaking/cracking. To be clear, this is bound to happen as I initially thought the band was splitting because I was taking it out too often but after I got a second unit which I didn't take out that often, everything became clear.

Whether you take it out often or not, the band will likely break after some periods of time. Your mileage may vary but rubber is something that will deform and break down when exposed to different conditions over a long period of time. This problem could be easily solved if the Star.21 featured a replaceable band like other trackers in this price point. Oh yeah, have I mentioned that the band also snapped off, looks like adhesive has worn out but it can be easily reattached.

Conclusion

Overall, if you want a unique fitness tracker that has a solid battery life (like literally, a single 2hr+ charge lasted me around 3 weeks despite being advertised to last up to 14 days) then the Star.21 fitness band from Oaxis is just right for your. But if you are looking for an affordable fitness tracker to try out without burning your pockets then the Star.21 might not be your best choice. Xiaomi's Mi Band is probably the one you want to look out for as it is just $13 and the new Mi Band 1S which is around $16 also tracks your heart rate.



At a retail price of $70, it is somewhat hard to justify the price as there is an abundant of fitness trackers which are priced lower and the fact that smartphones can also double as a pretty accurate fitness tracker these days. I would like to see the Star Journey be as an app experience that doesn't necessarily need the fitness data from the Star.21 but then again, the competition these days are pretty strong. However, it is always better to have a physical device rather than just experiencing it on software.

But bottom line, Oaxis's Star.21 fitness tracker does what it's designed to do, giving you a jumpstart into a healthy habit. The experience in the past year may not have made me a more active person but it sure motivated me to walk a little more. Just so you know, Oaxis has also recently announced a new fitness tracker that improves on the Star.21. Called the Oaxis O2, the device features a replaceable band and also a heart rate scanner, you can read more about that in our previous article.

Insider talk

It has finally happened, this review has come a long long way. Initially wanted to do a writeup in October last year but was delayed due to the application having a rough start with bugs and constant crashes. Really, you can't evaluate a fitness tracker without a proper application. Well, some procrastination also lead to the delay of this review. Hoping to write more reviews about fitness trackers and maybe also some smartwatches in the future. Stay tuned for such reviews.

This review is also leading the way for a whole new reading experience, images now come with a standardized watermark location and the addition of a reviews chart is a welcome change over the old picture review chart. I will continue to explore and experiment with additional plugins to improve the review experience and future reviews will just get better. Till the next time

dw.