Fitness trackers are great and all but anyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows that exercise is only one half of the puzzle and a considerably smaller piece than ensuring you don’t cram too many calories into your face.
Yes, there are wearables that can deliver a small electric shock to your wrist whenever you do something bad but, in terms of tracking, you’re left scanning barcodes into MyFitnessPal or trying to log every ingredient as you cook up a storm.
There must be a better way, surely? Healbe thinks so. Its new wearable – the Healbe GoBe 2 – promises to log all calories consumed automatically and all without needing a stomach pump. It’s a wearable that straps to the wrist and it’ll also measure heart rate, steps, stress and hydration levels.
It sounds too good to be true but can it live up to its bold claims?
Healbe GoBe 2: The Science
Before I go any further, here’s an explainer on how Healbe GoBe 2 claims to function. As the website explains, the GoBe 2 is able to detect water changes in the body’s cells, triggered by the insulin-absorbing glucose. The wearable then uses an “advanced algorithm” to analyse the data and calculate calorie intake.
It’s important to understand that the band measures digestion, rather than eating, so it may throw up some anomalies. If you fast for three days, for example, it will still show food being “eaten”, because energy is being used. Despite this, according to the company’s own research, it’s accurate for more than 80% of the time for average people with normal, balanced diets.
I’m no scientist but this sounded too good to be true so I sought a professional second – and third opinion.
“I am unaware of any literature that show how measures of the cells can correlate to calorific expenditure and, if the insulin levels were tracked, there may be a difference for someone on a ketogenic type diet where the insulin response is reduced,” said Taz Faruqi, a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine. “Also, based on the assumption that the diet is in mixed proportions, this becomes just another assumption of variable which affects the accuracy of any calculations. I don’t see how this would be anymore accurate than the other methods that are currently being used.”
Professor Jason Heikenfeld of the University of Cincinnati is even more sceptical. “Using electrical impedance and optical techniques for hydration, caloric intake, etc. are prone to large errors. If you could really do all these things with conventional wearables, Fitbit, Apple and others would already being doing it with their own products.
“It is impressive that they talk about how they tested the device with other partners, and they show much of the data, but the real world challenges with its use will be significant.”
So in other words, you can track broad dietary changes through the methods described, but the accuracy is potentially questionable. Let’s find out.
Healbe GoBe 2: Performance
The truth is that the GoBe 2’s calorie tracking is both more and less impressive than it sounds on paper.
The fact that it works at all feels a bit like magic, to be frank. Whenever I ate something, then sure enough a little spike would appear on my chart indicating calories consumed.
That’s impressive but not really a big deal if you think about it. *I* know when I’m eating. My taste buds tip me off. I don’t need a wearable to confirm it. What I need it to tell me is how many calories are being consumed and on that score it’s far less impressive. The company’s PRs told me calories are counted upon digestion, so it can take several hours to come through but even then things weren’t great. This, for example, is the day viewed from Healbe’s automatic measurements against the day according to barcodes and MyFitnessPal:
480 calories consumed, according to HealBe, but 1,665 according to MyFitnessPal. That’s an enormous discrepancy. On other days, it was significantly closer (see the screenshot below where it was under 150kcal off MyFitnessPal’s guess) but it’s clearly not something that you should rely upon.
Case in point: without boring you with my personal life too much, this weekend I hosted a barbecue, had six or seven pints and got in some takeaway stuff in the evening for guests overnighting. Healbe, my friend, you must have been drunk by osmosis if you think I only consumed 2,500 calories over the space of those 24 hours.
To be entirely fair the GoBe 2 does do other things and these work consistently well. My favourite of these is the hydration detection facility, which tells you when you could do with a water top up. With a buzz of the wrist, the word “DRINK” sporadically pops up on the wrist band’s display like you’re perpetually engaging in the kind of drinking games I haven’t played since I was at university. And, yes, these always correspond to when I’m feeling thirsty. But my body tells me when I’m thirsty so I don’t really need a wearable backing my instincts up.
Likewise, it tracks steps and heart rate, although not in a way that tracks runs or anything. All it does is keep a general check that you are moving as well as eating. Its steps count seems reasonably accurate; it was within 1,000 steps of the Garmin running watch I was wearing on the other wrist, at least.
But these things are both fiddly (for reasons I’ll explain shortly) and of limited use. If I’m not tracking pace, for example, then what good is squinting to try and read a heart rate? With calorie tracking flakey, it’s hard to see why you’d choose this over literally any other fitness tracker.
Healbe GoBe 2: Design
Even if the Healbe GoBe 2’s headline feature worked flawlessly, I still wouldn’t recommend you buy one and that’s chiefly down to its design.
Let’s start with the obvious: this is not a fashionable wearable. Ironically for a wearable designed to assist with a healthy weight this is one chunky device, protruding a good 1.5cm from the skin. Now 1.5cm isn’t very much, but consider for a moment that most smartphones are about half that thickness then picture that strapped to your wrist.
It’s also impractical in the way it shows information. While it has no screen to speak off, LEDs show through a series of perforations, displaying scoreboard-style dot-matrix texts and numbers that tell you the time and send messages as you use it. These are often completely illegible, and only flash up for a split second, although you can cycle through these with a press of the side button, it doesn’t really help the readability issue.
This wouldn’t be a big deal if the app was quick to consult but it isn’t. I’m not talking about the delay in digested calories showing up here but the physical time it takes to open the app. I’ve timed it a few times on my Huawei P20 Pro and it’s never fast, with launch times ranging from 20 seconds on a good day, to well over a minute on a bad one. On one occasion it took over three-and-a-half minutes.
Unbelievably, that isn’t even the worst thing about it; that dubious honour goes to how uncomfortable the thing is to wear. It’s held in place via studs on a wristband and if the band doesn’t have good skin contact it starts buzzing and telling you it’s going to shut down in five minutes. You might not think this wouldn’t be a problem but I found the tightness required to ensure it stayed working all day was was such that it left a clear imprint on my wrist when I took it off to charge it.
Oh, and that’s another thing. The battery only lasts for 24-36 hours and you don’t get a warning that it’s running low on juice. The first thing you know about its imminent shutdown is when the display flashes up “BYE”. Then it turns off and if you’re not near the charging cradle, you’ll just have to miss out on any calorie tracking until you can find it again, which is pretty much a diet-tracking killer. Not to mention the fact that the delay with which some foods get spotted by the device means that losing power could lose tracking of meals you ate while it was still on.
Healbe GoBe 2: Verdict
At the end of it all I couldn’t wait to finish this review so I could take the GoBe 2 off. It’s uncomfortable, ugly and impractical and it kept running out of battery before I could compare a full day with MyFitnessPal.
Yes, it tracks steps, hydration and sleep pretty well, but the headline feature – calorie tracking – is a pretty mixed bag. But even if it were perfect, I’d say you should avoid the Healbe GoBe 2 anyway. Frankly, I’d rather enter calories manually every day for the rest of my life than keep this on my wrist another day.