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The Ring of Power- return it to Mount Doom?

The OURA Ring: the future of fitness wearables?

One of the challenges of maintaining my fitness since retiring from teaching classes four nights a week is getting reliable feedback. I’ve been looking into heart rate monitors for this purpose, specifically to track recovery times (how long it takes my heart rate to come back to normal after I max it out for a while), and to track the effects of specific exercises and foods on heart rate. I wanted something that was not a chest strap (because I’d never get round to putting it on), and ideally not a watch either, because I can’t type while wearing a watch. I always remove mine before typing anything longer than an email. This is because my wrists always swell slightly within 5 minutes of typing. (I have a tendency to tendonitis, that is 100% managed through massage and exercise: if I do my exercises, there are no problems, but neglect them for a week and my wrists are in agony. If you have similar problems, you might find my free online arm maintenance course useful). So for continual monitoring, I need something I can wear at my desk.

I’m on Kevin Rose’s monthly email of cool stuff, which covers everything from interesting quotes to good books to gadgetry. He recently included the OURA ring, and as it claims to be a super-accurate heart rate monitor, is not a watch nor requires a chest strap, and came with a 25% discount to Kevin’s readers, and is from a Finnish start-up to boot, I bought it. As it’s a new product, and a complete re-think of a common exercise tool, I thought you might be interested in my impressions.

1) Build quality. These are not cheap (mine cost about 200 euros because I get the VAT back), but they are beautifully made, with the same kind of attention to design detail that you get from Apple. It’s worth getting the free ring-sizing kit they offer; these are a complete set of model rings that look just like the actual ring, down to the sensor bumps on the inside. It made choosing the size much easier. The ring is robust; I’ve worn mine in the shower, doing kettlebells, drilling into a brick wall with a hammer drill, cooking, doing woodwork, playing with my kids, and there have been no issues. It’s a quality piece of kit. I’d take it off to fence in, because it won’t fit nicely inside steel gauntlets, and it’s not designed to be sword-proof, but that’s equally true of probably any wearable.

2) Interface. The ring has no controls on it; it is managed entirely through an app on your phone. The app gets data from the ring when you sync it, and crunches the data for you to give you three main metrics: Sleep, Activity, and Readiness.

My one main criticism of the interface would be that there is no web based version, so you can only access the data on your phone, and as far as I can tell there is no way to download the raw data to do your own analyses on. This also means there’s no backup. If the company goes under, you’ll lose all your data (unless they do something to prevent that). You’re basically at their mercy.

3) Data. The ring collects an incredible range of data: it measures your heart rate, your heart rate variability (the variation in the timing of the beats), motion,  and temperature, and uses the data to calculate your activity levels, sleep quality, and ‘readiness’, a measure of how hard you can push yourself today. But here’s the funny thing. This outstandingly accurate HRM doesn’t tell you your heart rate. It only measures HR when you are asleep! I contacted them to ask what was going on, and got these replies:

“OURA doesn’t track your heart rate, only resting heart rate”.

To which I asked why the hell not, and was told:

“The ring activates the HR monitoring only when user is in rest or sleeping. There is no daytime HR provided by the ring”.

So I asked why the hell not again, and got this:

“Daytime is for activity tracking based on 3D accelerometer.”

So I asked for their reasoning AGAIN, and got this:

“Training by HR is only valuable at low HR levels. Even high-end coaches rely on Rate of Perceived Exertion. Also, we do provide a recovery score each morning, which is based mainly on sleep, HRV, and temperature”.

So, basically, “we’ve decided to arbitrarily disable the most important feature of the device because our customers should only be interested in the data that we have decided are important”. Let me say that again: you’ve just bought a phone and find out that it is programmed to only make calls between 9am and 4pm, because that’s what the manufacturers think is useful. WTF? [This, incidentally, is a classic Finnish customer service response. Ten years ago or so, I was up in Oulu and happened to meet a Nokia engineer. I mentioned that my Nokia phone (one of the early colour screen versions, quite high-end at the time), was not very good. He took a look at it, handed it back, and said “no, it's a very good phone.” Engineer right, customer wrong, end of discussion. My interaction with OURA gave me the exact same feeling.]

So this ring doesn’t tell me what effect a given exercise has on my heart rate, nor tell me whether a particular pattern of breathing reliably brings my heart rate down after exertion, something every other HR monitor on the planet can do with more or less accuracy.

So how accurate is the sleep monitoring? It seems to be pretty good most of the time, but it failed to register a nap I took in the afternoon as actual sleep, and it told me that I was in light sleep and REM sleep between 5am and 6.30am this Sunday morning, when I was actually awake and trying to get back to sleep. So it’s not that accurate then. I’d want to calibrate it with another device to see how reliable it really is.

Relying on the accelerometer alone as a measure of activity intensity is not very helpful either; for example, it registered me dancing with my kids (which I can keep up for hours, literally) as “High Activity”, but my “as many push-ups as I can do while fully exhaled” (which is brutally hard), as “Low Activity”, because my hands weren’t waving about. If it was using heart rate as another data point, it probably wouldn’t make those mistakes.

This ring is an amazing device, crippled by the arrogance of its creators in deciding what data the customer ought to get at what time of day. I got no sense from the company that they were planning on offering ‘turn on the HR monitoring during the day’ as an option, nor any sense that they were listening to their paying customer. It saddens me to do so, but I think I’m going to have to return it. What it does do is quite good. What it could do, would be amazing.

What are your thoughts? And recommendations for an HR monitor that actually, I don’t know, maybe monitors your heart rate during the day?

I'm sure you have an opinion: do share!

11 Responses

    1. Thanks Mark. One wonders why when I went looking for it on their main site, I couldn’t find it…

  1. I’ve used Fitbit armbands (Charge HR, Alta HR), which are less cumbersome than watches and are ideally worn an inch above the wrist. They use movement, heart rate, and heart rate variability (HRV) for measuring sleep. Though activity is measured by both HR and movement, they still miss some stuff, like fairly static strength training.

    The there’s earpieces, which are supposedly better for detecting daytime HRV. See this article from a year ago: http://urbanwearables.technology/best-wireless-earphones-with-heart-rate-monitoring/

  2. If the company has an active Internet presence (e.g. Facebook or Twitter), carrying out this kind of discussion out in the public may yield better results. Often, though not always, the responses are more considered when they have to be made in the public, and any mistakes are more readily driven home.

    1. Good point. When this post went to Facebook, I did actually get a reply from someone who works at Oura!

  3. It’s my understanding that Oura doesn’t constantly monitor heart rate (and Motiv has disabled this feature with their newer builds, too), because it’s a significant drain on the battery. When you pair that with what they already told you about the limited usefulness of the data, it boils down to their opting for something that’s more widely useful — that is, better battery longevity.

    1. True; my objection was that it wasn’t clearly stated in their offering. I’ve got the new version, with a 6-day battery life, and with a promise of continuous HRM as an option you turn on and off in the software in a few months time.
      We’ll see how that turns out, but I can confirm that the battery really does last for 5-6 days, monitoring HRM for about 8 hours each night. at that rate of drain, it should be able to do continuous HRM for 48 hours before requiring recharging.

      1. The ability to turn it on and off sounds like a great compromise. Hopefully they’ll be good about follow-through!

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