Like many people, the list of things I check when picking up my phone throughout the day has become pretty long. Email, Slack , Twitter, and Instagram are just a few of the apps I find myself compulsively refreshing out of habit.
I recently added another metric to that list: the way my voice sounds. That’s because I’ve been wearing Amazon’s Halo band, a fitness tracker that analyzes the tone of your voice in addition to gathering other more traditional health data points. The Halo band includes a microphone for listening to your voice and uses machine learning to assess whether you sound positive, energetic, tired, or annoyed among other moods.
It’s interesting to see a company like Amazon bring something new to the health and fitness space. And there are plenty of things Amazon gets right with the Halo when it comes to basic fitness tracking. But the features it developed to differentiate its fitness offering from those made by rivals like Apple and Fitbit — such as the tone analysis function — make me feel insecure rather than motivated.
You can always choose not to use the voice analysis feature and just wear the Halo as a regular fitness tracker, of course. But that doesn’t address the Halo’s biggest drawback, in my opinion, which is that you need to pay $3.99 per month after your first six months to get most of the Halo’s features.That makes it hard to recommend over trackers like the Fitbit Inspire 2, which is less expensive and in some ways offers more functionality.
Here’s a closer look at what it’s been like to use the Amazon Halo.
One of the Amazon Halo’s marquee features is its ability to analyze the tone of your voice. The capability, appropriately called Tone, can passively listen to your speech throughout the day and flag any notable moments at which you sounded particularly positive or negative.
You can also choose to have it evaluate your voice in real time, or turn the feature off entirely by shutting off the band’s microphone. Tone is designed to only recognize your voice and not those of the people around you. And you must set up the feature before using it, so it’s completely voluntary.
During the course of my review, I left the microphone on and allowed the band to monitor the tone of my voice throughout the day. Since the Halo band doesn’t have a screen, the app serves as your window into your health metrics, including how you sound. The app’s home screen greets you with a dashboard showing tiles for activity progress, sleep data, your tone, and body fat measurements.
Tapping into those tiles lets you view more information about that metric, such as notable moments at which you sounded particularly positive or energetic as it applies to Tone. While it was insightful on some level to see how I sounded during different conversations, it also made me a bit paranoid.
Now that I’ve been wearing the Halo, I often find myself checking the app after a work meeting or a social call with friends to see how I came across during the conversation. Apparently, I tend to sound more positive and energetic during work meetings (Halo uses words like “warm,” “appreciative,” and “proud” to describe my tone), while at times I sound irritated or dismissive in other conversations with friends or my husband.
I couldn’t help but question any interaction that Amazon had labeled as sounding irritated or tired. Who was I speaking to? What were we talking about? Is that what people think I sound like?
Amazon says the point behind Tone is to help you be more mindful in how you sound when speaking to others to improve your personal relationships. Dr. Don Cole, clinical director for The Gottman Institute, which specializes in research-based relationship counseling, says there’s value in understanding how you sound to others if there’s something to be learned from it.
The first three minutes of a conversation are especially important because they often dictate how the rest of the conversation could play out, Dr. Cole said to Insider. As such, understanding how your tone comes across in the beginning of a conversation could be helpful, especially for couples going through conflict, according to Dr. Cole.
But it’s important not to get too hung up on the results. Doing so could make it hard to establish a personal connection in the moment. “I think you can spend a lot of time worrying about, or thinking about, those moments rather than just experiencing the interactions,” Dr. Cole said. “And I think when we take ourselves out of the moment, sometimes there’s loss there.”
Amazon also has wellness programs and workouts that can help you improve certain metrics and stay healthy. For the Tone metric, it has corresponding video programs that are meant to help you improve conversation and listening skills.
But for me, it was unclear how watching a short seminar on how to be a better listener would help me sound more positive and less irritated during conversations when I don’t even know why my voice sounded that way to begin with.
The Halo‘s other headlining feature is its ability to measure and track your body fat. Amazon does this by taking a scan of your body through your smartphone’s camera and then generating a 3D avatar of your body and a body fat percentage through machine learning and computer vision.
Amazon says it’s nearly twice as accurate as leading smart home scales and comparable to methods a doctor would use in terms of accuracy.
To take a scan, you must first change into minimal clothing. And by minimal clothing. I mean practically nothing. For women, Amazon suggests wearing a bikini top and bottom or compression shorts with a bra or sports bra. After positioning the camera in the right place, the app will tell you to turn around a few times so that it can capture your full body.
Once the scan is complete, Amazon generates a percentage and 3D avatar in seconds. For privacy purposes, Amazon deletes body scans from the cloud by default after they’ve been processed unless you choose to save them. You can also delete body scan data anytime on the Settings menu (which I did immediately).
The ability to take a body fat scan from home on your smartphone is useful because it makes it easy to monitor changes in your body on a regular basis. That’s according to Dr. Amy Lee, head of nutrition at dietary supplement maker Nucific, who specializes in weight control methods and recently spoke to Insider about the Halo‘s body scan technology.
But Dr. Lee also said Halo users should take the results with a grain of salt, especially since it can be difficult for a system like this to fully understand nuanced differences in body composition.
The results also depend on how carefully the user follows Amazon’s directions when taking the scans. And data like this is only helpful if the user understands that it should be factored in with other data points, research, and conversations with your doctor, according to Dr. Lee.
In other words, don’t read too deeply into the single body fat percentage number that Amazon provides.
“If you’re doing this at home, and you have no baseline and education in nutrition, and you’re focusing everything you’re doing for the past week on the change of a number . . . you might find yourself going down [a] rabbit hole,” Dr. Lee said.
I’m exactly the type of person Dr. Lee described. When I saw my scan results, I immediately panicked and wondered why my doctor had never flagged my weight or body fat percentage to me as being problematic in the past.
I became fixated on the results, which was frustrating because I felt totally fine about my personal progress when it came to eating healthy and exercising regularly before taking the scan. Overall, the body fat percentage scan and Tone features left me feeling somewhat paranoid and a little insecure instead of motivating me.
As long as you’re paying for the subscription, there are tools in the app to help you manage your exercise, diet, and mental wellbeing. But maintaining a healthy body weight and fat percentage is a complex task.
And without more guidance about which programs to start with and how to contextualize these results, it’s hard to find this data to be useful or actionable.
For example, what I’ve learned from wearing the Halo is that I’m not in the healthy range of body fat percentage, but I’m a highly active person based on my Activity Score (more on that below). That felt like a confusing message to me, so I wish I had more information about why that might be the case or what to do next.
Fitness tracking and other features
There is one way Amazon has improved the fitness tracking experience: the way it tallies activity points. Rather than setting goals on a daily basis for calories burned, the Halo monitors your activity on a weekly basis. You earn points for every minute you move, with intense activity counting for two points per minute while moderate and light activity will get you one point per minute. It also deducts points when you’re too sedentary for long periods of time.
The weekly goal is set at 150 activity points, which Amazon says is the right range for maintaining a healthy heart citing the American Heart Association. If you hit 300 points, you’re considered to be very active.
I like this system because in some ways, it feels more encouraging than living by daily goals. I’m usually a religious Apple Watch wearer, and it’s made me obsessed with closing at least two of my rings every day if not all three. If I don’t have time for a full workout, sometimes I find that I won’t be active at all because I know that any hope of closing my Move Ring — the circular meter that fills up with calories burned from daily activity — is totally gone.
But the Halo’s weekly goals motivate me to move at least a little bit every day even when I’m not committing to a full workout. Taking a brisk 20-minute walk feels more productive when I know it’s going to contribute to my weekly goal compared to the Apple Watch, where it feels like that activity just falls into a black hole if it doesn’t get me to my daily goal.
The Halo also works well as a sleep tracker since it’s light and comfortable enough to wear overnight. But more importantly, it provides a relatively comprehensive set of data about your sleep, even scoring the quality of your sleep much like Fitbit does.
After wearing the watch to bed, the Halo app will issue a score that indicates the quality of your sleep as well as how much time you spent asleep, how long it took you to fall asleep, the time you spent awake, and how much time you spent in REM, light, and deep sleep. That’s much more thorough than the Apple Watch’s sleep metrics, which basically just tell you the duration of your sleep.
Amazon also offers a series of health programs under the Discover tab on the Halo app, which features videos based on partnerships with Exhale, Orangetheory, and many others that make it easy to jump into a workout or wellness exercise straight from your phone. You can filter these videos based on the type of workout, duration, difficulty, and the content provider. Unfortunately, though, you can’t filter these workouts by whether or not they require equipment, which is particularly important now that many people are exercising at home.
And since Amazon encrypts your health data, which is great for privacy, you must factory reset and re-pair your band with a new device anytime you want to access your account elsewhere. While I’m glad Amazon is taking the appropriate steps to secure your health data, this also makes it difficult to access these workout videos since I need to re-pair my band with a different device each time I want to view a workout on a larger screen.
Instead, I wish Amazon would at least make its Discover programs accessible on other devices upon logging in without carrying over the rest of your health data. Amazon suggests wirelessly casting workouts to a larger screen from your phone via AirPlay as a workaround.
But most of these features require Amazon’s $3.99 monthly subscription. Without that, you only get access to features like steps, heart rate data, calories burned, and the ability to log activity through the activity sessions feature. You also only get basic sleep data like the time you’ve spent asleep and awake, and your temperature while sleeping.
You lose the Activity Score, which was one of my favorite things about the Halo, as well as features like Tone, Body Fat, Activity Intensity (which rates the intensity of your activity), Sleep Score, Sleep Stages, and Insights, which highlight trends and patterns in your health and fitness data over time. Discover programs are also limited without a subscription.
There’s also no way to manage or cancel your membership from within the app, instead, the app says you should contact Amazon’s customer service department. That’s changing soon though, as the company soon plans to add a link to the app that takes customers to the appropriate page for managing their membership.
It’s not unusual for companies to put some fitness tracking features behind a subscription paywall. Fitbit does this too through its Fitbit Premium service. But Fitbit still offers analysis of sleep and REM sleep in its free tier, and it just recently made its Health Metrics dashboard available to non-Premium subscribers. And since Fitbit’s trackers include a screen and can deliver smartphone notifications, they still offer more functionality for the price comparatively.
Ease of use and battery life
The Amazon Halo is easy to get started with, and the setup process is very similar to that of other smartwatches and fitness bands. Just download the Halo app, put the band on its charger, and follow the instructions.
My biggest concern about the Halo’s usability is the intentional design decision Amazon made to not include a screen on its fitness band. Amazon says this to prevent the band from becoming a distraction and taking away from the Halo’s primary purpose of serving as a discrete, comfortable health monitoring device.
But I feel like Amazon could have achieved this goal without omitting a screen entirely. Wearing a device on your wrist that doesn’t even tell the time feels like a missed opportunity. I would have preferred if the Halo had a small screen that only displayed the time and how many activity points you’ve achieved for the week without any notifications.
I’d even argue that requiring me to check my phone to see my stats is more distracting, since I’m likely to fall down the rabbit hole of check email and Twitter when picking up my phone.
Amazon’s fitness tracker can last for a decently long time on a single charge, which makes it great for sleep tracking. I got a little more than two days worth of battery life out of the Halo, but it would probably last longer if you have the microphone turned off and aren’t using the Tone feature.
Regardless of your opinion on the Halo’s Tone feature and its body fat measurements, there are more capable options out there for those in search of a simple and affordable fitness tracker. Although I like Amazon’s approach to activity tracking and appreciate the Halo’s comprehensive sleep tracking capabilities, there are too many drawbacks to consider.
The Halo‘s lack of a screen and the fact that you have to pay $3.99 per month after the first six months to get the best features, like Activity Score, make it tough to recommend. Yes, Fitbit also requires a subscription to access advanced features, but it still offers more detailed sleep data in its free tier compared to Amazon.
Fitbit’s Inspire 2, which is currently available for $69.95, is a solid choice if you’re looking for an inexpensive and basic fitness tracker. It monitors metrics like sleep, calorie burn, activity, and heart rate, lasts for more than a week on a single charge, and reminds you to move when you’re too sedentary.
It also comes with a free one-year trial for Fitbit Premium, whereas the Amazon Halo only comes with a six-month trial. But if you choose to stick with Premium, you should note that Fitbit’s service is noticeably more expensive than Amazon’s at $9.99 per month.
If you’re more interested in training and recovery, the Whoop band is a screen-free fitness tracker that focuses on how your body recovers from workouts, in addition to other metrics. It’s gotten positive reviews from critics at CNET and PCMag, but it’s pricey at $30 per month.
Amazon tried to do something different with the Halo by making a simple, distraction-free fitness band that still manages to offer deeper health and wellness insights through a subscription.
The problem, though, is that I didn’t feel like the Halo’s most unique features — its ability to analyze the tone of your voice and calculate body fat percentage — were all that helpful. Instead, they just made me feel paranoid and insecure.
The one aspect of the Halo that I benefited from the most, its Activity Score, successfully motivated me to get moving every single day, regardless of my schedule. But that feature alone isn’t enough to justify a $3.99 monthly subscription on top of the $99.99 price.
Pros: Weekly activity goals are helpful, long battery life, works well as a sleep tracker
Cons: Features like Tone and Body Fat aren’t helpful, many features require a subscription, no screen for even telling the time