Hi! I’m back. Gently trying to ramp up the game of let-me-play-with-shiny-tech-stuff-plz into a background hobby I can fit around my other activities.
I’ve been techessorizing. Accessorteching? Tech-Accessorising? I don’t know. Anyway, I’ve been sporting the Archon Touch Fitness Wristband. I saw it in a release email and thought to myself “That looks good in pink and they’d hardly balk at throwing a £30 product at even a dubious loon like me.” So I asked to try one, and lo they did deliver.
For about a month now I’ve been wearing this band every single day alongside my mainstay, the Nike Fuel band, which I only really wear to tell the time. It’s held up come rain or shine and survived being ground against my desk (it’s on the wrist of my mousing hand), so that’s a good start.
“But how does it perform,” I hear you cry, “it’s £30, surely it’s just junk? All the other fitness trackers are £Y.”
Actually, I thought that too, and I was wrong. It turns out that these days £30 will net you not only a fairly decent bit of electronics with a dinky cute OLED screen, but also a pretty robust companion app that seems to sync and display data faster and more reliably than the Nike alternative. It does this with no blasted pop-up advertisements either.
So let’s go through the particulars one by one, or I’ll end up with a disorganized brain dump instead of a review.
The Band Itself
The Archon is well put together for a £30 tech product. Some tentative attempts couldn’t pry it apart, even though I wanted to peer at the magic inside. And since I actually really like it, I didn’t want to risk destroying it for science! It’s resisted rain, and despite the rubber wrist-band having a simple push-pin fastening mechanism has never come undone.
Like many fitness bands the electronicy bit, the part where all the magic happens, is a hard, plastic gizmo that slots into a rubber wrist-band. On one side it has a clear, albeit somewhat small, OLED display, and on the other it has 4 metal contacts for charging. The charger itself has 3 contacts, a little prodding with electrical testing tools (a continuity test between a spliced USB cable and the pins themselves) revealed them to be power, ground and surprise mystery pin. It wasn’t until I pried the charger apart that I noticed the tiny reset hole. The third contact is a reset signal, broken out to a surface contact so it doesn’t break the water seal on the device. If the band ever gets into a bad state, you can just plug the Archon band in to charge and poke a paperclip into the hole, pressing a tiny button to reset it. Clever! This is something I’d have known immediately if I’d just read the manual, but where’s the fun in that? 😉
A groove around the edge of the device keeps it fit firmly into the band, and the fact it’s separate means you can, potentially, buy several bands to change up the colours to suit your outfit or act as replacements in case it should break. I’ve asked Archon what the plan for this is, and they say replacement/additional bands will be available soon on Box.co.uk. I’ve been colour-theme obsessed lately and have bought myself a whole rainbow of spare shoelaces, so I’m nothing if not a little over-eager to get my hands on the whole spectrum of Archon bands.
I went for a vibrant pink band, and it’s shown no signs of wear, only picking up a little dark blue from a cheap-and-cheerful Primark waterproof I had to emergency-buy after under-estimating the weather in Manchester.
I had a little trouble with the fastening mechanism, a metal pin which is pushed through the desired hole in the band, when I first started using it, but now a little give in the rubber has made it easy. Despite this, it hasn’t ever come loose and for all its simplicity is one of the better fastening mechanisms I’ve come across on a fitness tracker. FitBit had a similar push-fastening mechanism on their early bands, but seem to have changed it up for a bulkier watch-strap style band of which I’m not a fan.
The display is OLED, which means it’s brilliantly high-contrast and easily visible in all lighting conditions. The screen is roomy enough for the time, date and a battery indicator, even though it feels a little small compared to the device itself. You interact with the band via touch, so no buttons to wear out, and can swipe between steps, calories and distance traveled.
For charging, a standard micro USB cable can be used in conjunction with the tiny, clip-on charging connector. The connector uses pogo pins, little spring-loaded contacts, that push against the metal pads on the underside of the Archon. It’s a perfectly cromulent solution to charging the device without putting a stonking great USB port on it and compromising the splash resistance, however like every other charging adapter it’s very prone to being misplaced. From bands I’ve tried I know that FitBit and Jawbone both have this same problem, whereas Nike somewhat elegantly solve it by hiding a whole flippin’ USB connector in the band itself.
The clip-on charger fits with a satisfying snap, and will charge from a micro USB wall adapter, or a cable from your laptop, desktop, USB hub or portable battery. Chargeable pretty much anywhere as long as you keep it handy.
Note: Pictured is my dinky USB cable that I picked up from Tiger
The battery is touted to last about 4-6 days, and I seem to have had mine last about 10 days tops due to fairly light use. Charging is simple enough, but it’s easy to forget to make sure you carry the adapter with you!
The band claims IP67 “ingress protection”. The “6” in this case means it’s totally dust proof, and the “7” means it’s tolerant of immersion into water up to 1 meter. I don’t have 1 meter of water to hand. But I have a Pyrex jug and a tap, so… for science!
I’ve also showered with the band on, to no ill effect, and it’s survived the erratic weather we’ve had over the last few weeks. Top marks for that!
As for tracking accuracy, this is something I very firmly believe is irrelevant. For me, a sports tracker is about setting a daily goal for exercise, and meeting or exceeding that goal. In this instance it doesn’t matter if it tracks the right number of steps, as long as the figures from day to day are comparable. I don’t have the time or inclination to peer at the raw numbers. Archon, however, claim 95% step tracking accuracy so I couldn’t help but try to test it. Unfortunately my addled morning brain isn’t so great at counting the hundreds of steps on my walk to work, so I managed about 410. The band counted 450 in the same time. That’s damn near being in a 5% margin for error, and I’m pretty sure my count was not entirely accurate.
The App Software & Configuration
Setting up the Archon doesn’t require any computer connection (why, Nike, why!?) and can be done entirely on your phone using the freely available app.
If it matters to you, the App is also fairly compact. I’m an iPhone user, and a quick scroll down the list of used apps weighs Nike in at 203MB with 136MB documents and data and Archon at 43.1MB with 2.8MB documents and data. A dash of maths shows that the Archon app is a little sleeker, and I suspect the data storage is too but not immensely so ( those figures contain 1 month of Archon data vs 3 years of Nike ).
On iPhone 5s it starts appreciably quickly, and launches into a screen showing my chosen username ( everything has a username these days! ), and a summary of the day’s activity.
Steps, calories burned and distance traveled are displayed with actual values alongside a percentage indicating how close you are to that goal. Progress is also visualized with a thin circular bar around each stat. Subtle but effective.
Flip over to the Activity tab and you’ll see a chart of activity throughout the day. This will show you your active periods in a bar graph- usually your walk to and from work, and a jaunt at lunchtime if you’re being a healthy, active go-getter!
A drop-down at the top lets you pick Weekly and Monthly views and you’ll see total steps, distance, calories alongside an indication of how many hours you spent at low, medium or high intensity activity.
This is all pretty standard stuff for a basic sports activity tracker, but there’s room for improvement in the app. Fortunately this is the one thing that *can* be improved aftermarket so fingers crossed Archon add some indication of how often you met your goals in Weekly/Monthly view. The App seems to have been updated almost monthly since October 2015, so that’s a good indication that it’s in safe hands.
There’s also the ability to set a “Sleeping Goal” and tell the band to assume you’re asleep at certain hours. If you have erratic bed-times like me, you can also set this directly on the band just before you hit the hay by swiping to the sleep icon and touching for 3 seconds. Once in “Sleep Mode” the band tracks your activity as Awake, Light Sleep and Deep Sleep. This is great if you’re trying to diagnose why on earth you feel so drained in the morning after what seemed like a good nights sleep. Analyzing your sleep pattern can narrow down the cause, letting you know if it’s a restless night or something else afoot.
The sleep graph can be viewed by tapping the circular icon at the top of the Activity page. It took me a while to find this, since I’m not good at reading manuals. Or, rather, I never read manuals.
The App Settings screen includes several things, of note there’s:
- A section for updating your personal information, used to calculate calories burned.
- Config settings for your band including the ability to turn notifications and “Caring Reminders” on/off.
- Settings for synchronization with the band/cloud server
- Themes, where you can set the background image of the app’s home screen.
- A feedback link, which opens a new email to the folks at Archon
Caring Reminders are a great little feature, allowing you to instruct the band to buzz at particular times to remind you to Exercise, Eat and Sleep. You might laugh, but sometimes getting in “The Zone” at work can make me forget to eat, and running out of energy as I spiral into an afternoon slump isn’t a pleasant feeling.
When first setting up the band I seemed to miss properly pairing it, and for a whole month the only reminders I’ve been getting have been the “Disconnect” ones which, incidentally, are fantastic for preventing you wondering off without your phone. Now, however, I appear to have prodded the right buttons and the band buzzes as it should when I receive a call. This is great because I get so many phantom vibrations in my leg, and walk so vigorously, that I usually miss calls. I’d have to turn my phone up to 11 to hear it ringing, so I keep it on silent. It’s because of all this that I find having a notification band is really, really useful. Although now with my laptop, phone and band in close proximity I have three things alerting me of an incoming call!
I rolled the dice trying this band, fully expecting to find it useless. Instead I found it robust and reliable and have added it to my daily-wear collection of accessories. The notifications solve my phantom-leg-vibrations problem, and get my attention much more reliably than my phone ever has. The fitness tracker functionality is feature-complete, and bonus activity notifications dubbed “Caring Reminders” are great prompts to look after yourself during a typical busy day. I’ve also started monitoring my sleep to figure out why I never seem rested. Now all I need is some spare bands so I can swap out the colour from time to time, and I’ll be giddy!
You can grab yourself an Archon Touch Fitness band in one of six colours for £29.99 from Box.co.uk. If you live in/near Birmingham it looks like you can also pick it up for free from their warehouse, or you can get it delivered to a local store by Collect+.
Finally, you can check out my video showing the band in action: