They say that if you ask a lot of people to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar, and then average out all their guesses, the averaged guess will get closer and closer to the correct answer the more people you ask, until someone eats all the jellybeans.
The same goes for guessing the weight of a cow. An answer averaged across dozens of guesses is likely to be closer to the cow’s true weight than any one guess.
It’s known in hippie dippie social science circles as the Wisdom of Crowds. It may be totally bogus (despite seeing such experiments referred to dozens of times, I’ve never once seen someone link the reader back to the actual experimental results), but that hasn’t stopped us using Wisdom of Crowds theory as the basis for this review.
Fudging the numbers
LG’s new fitness band, the Lifeband Touch, is a battery-powered smartwatch-type device that you wear around your wrist and use to monitor the number of calories you’re burning each day, in the hope that the number will be less than or equal to the number of calories you’re consuming. It also has a few other features I’ll get into later.
Now, the Lifeband Touch is the fifth or sixth such band we’ve reviewed this year, and the thing we’ve come to realise about them all is they’re pretty well just making educated guesses when they tell you you’ve burnt so many calories, walked so many miles or taken so many steps since you got up in the morning.
You can tell they’re guessing because no two fitness bands ever give you the same result, even when they’re made by the same company. And if for some reason you happen to know the answer the fitness bands are guessing at (say, you happen to have counted the number of steps you’ve taken since you got up) you’ll never, ever see that answer on the screen of your fitness band.
Universal laws of wristbands
Fitness bands are so universally out in the things they measure, it’s practically a Newtonian law of motion:
1) A body will remain at a constant velocity unless acted on by a force.
2) Force = mass x acceleration.
3) Action and reaction are equal and opposite.
4) Your fitness band is wrong.
And so we’ve decided to apply the Wisdom Of Crowds theory to the subject matter. No given fitness band may be better at guessing its wearer’s activity than you or I are at guessing the weight of a cow, but what about six fitness bands? What about eight fitness devices? Will they gravitate towards an accurate answer?
So for the past week or so, I’ve taken to donning six fitness bands at once for a few hours at a time – LG’s Lifeband Touch, Jawbone’s Up24, Sony’s SmartBand, Garmin’s Vivofit, Samsung’s Gear Fit and its Gear 2 smartwatch – and recording their results in a spreadsheet.
For good measure, I also carried two smartphones with fitness-oriented features – HTC’s One M8 with its built-in FitBit pedometer, and Samsung’s Galaxy S5, which also has a pedometer – and added their results to the spreadsheet, too.
The average of all those results form the basis for this review.
Unfit for duty
After much mathematics, I can tell you several things about the Lifeband Touch:
1) It adheres to Newton’s fourth law of motion. It’s wrong.
2) It’s wrong by more than most smartbands.
3) It’s not the most wrong.
4) It’s hard to eat with chopsticks when you have six fitness bands on your wrist plus two phones in your top pocket.
To be more specific, we took the pedometer results from the aforementioned fitness devices, averaged them out, and then, applying Wisdom of Crowds theory, took that average figure to be the true figure. We then compared the results from each device to the true figure.
We also did the same for the calories that the devices said I had burnt while I was wearing or carrying all the devices.
The bad news for anyone thinking of buying LG’s Lifeband Touch is that its pedometer underestimated my steps by 37 per cent, and it underestimates my calories by 51 per cent.
That’s much worse than the most accurate device, Samsung’s Gear 2 (which also happens to be the biggest and most expensive of all the wrist-worn devices we tested), which underestimated my steps by 1.5 per cent and my calories by 25 per cent.
The good news is that the LG is much better than the worst health-guessing device, Sony’s SmartBand, which following a recent firmware upgrade now overestimates my steps by 61 per cent and my calories by 161 per cent. (It’s amazing what a difference some new firmware can make. Before the update, the Sony was underestimating steps by only 25 per cent. Sony has obviously over-corrected with its guessing algorithm.)
Now, I’m not saying that the fact that it’s not very good at guessing your activity is a reason not to wear one. Like all the other fitness bands we’ve tested, the point of the LG Lifeband Touch is more for motivation than it is for chronicling your every move, and the fact that it might tell you you’ve taken 10,000 steps when in fact you’ve taken 13,700 steps could actually have a beneficial impact on your health.
No, the reason to not buy one is the screen. Compared to those other devices I was wearing that also had screens, the LG’s screen was by far the hardest to read outdoors. There were times when I could easily read, say, the Garmin Vivofit and Samsung’s Gear Fit, and I couldn’t read the Lifeband Touch for the life of me.
Another reason you might consider not buying one is that its messaging function - which when paired with certain Android smartphones shows you incoming calls and text messages - is very basic compared to, say, the Gear 2 and the Gear Fit.
You can see the sender of an incoming text message, for instance, but tapping on the message takes you back to the home screen rather than into the message. If it’s possible to actually read messages on the device, I never figured it out.
The same went for incoming calls: I could see the caller ID, but I never managed to reject a call by covering the display, the way you’re supposed to be able to.
We did make another finding that may surprise you. We did an experiment where I walked a known number of steps, and then compared the average result to the known result and to all the other guesses made by the devices. The average result was only the fourth most accurate.
This story first appeared in The Australian Financial Review's Life & Leisure magazine.