It didn’t have to be like this
The Amazon Halo View looks like a Fitbit and acts like a Fitbit, and if that’s all it did, that would’ve been fine. But despite all appearances, this is not a Fitbit. To stand apart from the crowd, Amazon added a few exclusive features to its Halo platform with some admittedly impressive technology. However, instead of a straightforward, budget fitness tracker, Amazon created a baffling device that doesn’t quite know what it’s supposed to be.
The Halo View is actually Amazon’s second foray into fitness trackers. The first was last year’s Halo Band, a screenless bracelet reminiscent of the Whoop tracker. With the View, a color OLED touchscreen was added so you can check your stats at a glance, and microphones were removed. While the microphone’s been nixed, you get the typical accelerometer and optical heart rate monitor, on top of a blood oxygen (SpO2) sensor. Like with other basic trackers, you won’t find anything fancy here, so don’t expect detailed activity tracking, an always-on display, or contactless payments. Battery life is an estimated seven days, which is about what I got with multiple daily syncs and roughly three hours of recorded exercise.
With this tracker, what you see is what you get. There’s no Amazon branding anywhere on the Halo View, and from a distance, you could easily mistake it for a Fitbit or one of Xiaomi’s Mi Bands. During the week I tested the View, I lost count of how many times people pointed to my wrist and asked, “Oh, which Fitbit is that?” On the plus side, it’s incredibly lightweight and comfortable enough for sleep tracking. However, while it survived multiple showers, I wouldn’t call it especially durable. While cleaning my apartment, the band caught on a hanger, and the strap just popped off. The swappable band mechanism is secure for everyday life, but a strong tug is enough to rip it off your wrist.
On the wrist, you can’t do much beyond the basics. Of course, you can see the time, and there are a few simple watch faces to choose from. You can swipe through to check your daily stats, start a workout, set timers and alarms, and tweak device settings. That’s about it. Notifications are also limited. While you can get alerts for texts and reminders to move, you won’t get any for calls or push notifications from apps.
Because the hardware is so simple, most of Amazon’s special sauce is in the Halo companion app. On top of standard features like tracking activity and sleep, you can also track body fat, tone, and movement health. This is where things start to go off the rails. I’m not sure why Amazon decided to open this can of worms, but the body fat and tone features feel like they were plucked out of my nightmares.
The body fat scan involves you taking four pictures from an unflattering angle in your skivvies. That’s then turned into a 3D model of your body that you can rotate. It’ll also spit out your estimated body fat percentage and show where you fall in the range of other people matching your demographics. Also, there’s a slider that lets you visualize what you might look like at higher and lower body fat percentages ranging from 13 percent to 50 percent. Amazon claims this feature is clinically validated to be twice as accurate as at-home smart scales and outperformed DXA, the clinical gold standard. The study Amazon sent me, while impressive, does state in tiny print up top that the study had not been peer-reviewed and that the copyright holder is both the author and funder. This is par for the course for gadgets that claim to have scientific backing but should be taken with a sizable grain of salt.
The Tone feature is unsettling.
Scientific validation aside, the body fat scan tool is the creepiest thing I’ve ever tested as a wearables reviewer. It erased about seven years of therapy in a second. It said I had a body fat percentage of 36 percent, which was “too high” compared to other women in my age group. That’s similar to what I get on other bioelectric impedance devices but counter to everything my doctor told me at my last physical. (I got a clean bill of health, my bloodwork was great, and I was told I didn’t need to lose weight.)
Of course, I trust my doctor more than any fitness band, but it’s easy to see how this feature could demoralize anyone just getting started or trigger more serious conditions like body dysmorphia. Amazon does include educational context about body fat, BMI, and how body fat changes slowly over weeks. But for many people, body fat is an emotional metric, and it’s easier to obsess over a 3D model of you with a six-pack than read the health literature.
Then there’s privacy. When you try the scan for the first time, Amazon prompts you into opting in or out of cloud backups. It says that images are processed in the Amazon cloud and then deleted by default so long as you opt out of backups. You can also delete images and measurements from your phone manually from the settings menu. While I appreciate Amazon being upfront about privacy, I still felt uneasy. Bottom line: even if no one ever sees these images, I don’t feel the “benefits” of the feature outweigh how crappy it made me feel.
The Fitbit Charge 5 (top) doesn’t look all that different from the Halo View.
It’d be one thing if there was just one creepy feature. But there’s also Tone — a feature that analyzes your voice so you can “see how others hear you.” This was included with the original Halo Band, which monitored your speech on-device and faced a fair share of criticism when that launched. The View no longer has microphones, so you actively have to choose to use the feature on your phone. During setup, you’ll be asked to read several passages in a neutral tone. Once that’s all done, you can proceed to let Amazon tone police your conversations.
It was deeply unsettling to watch the AI tell me in real-time that I sounded “sad,” “discouraged,” and “shy” — which was accurate given how uncomfortable I felt. During a conversation with a friend, the algorithm marked me as sounding positive. I was not. The vast majority was my friend ranting and raving about how much she hated this feature while I nodded my head. Another thing — Amazon says the feature should only analyze my voice, but at times, it seemed to track my friend’s tone and not mine. That could’ve been the background noise, latency, or poor signal, but it was disconcerting, to say the least.
After I was done testing, my friend asked me, “Who would actually want this?” The only scenario I could come up with was practicing for a presentation or speech. Otherwise, I can’t imagine why anyone would whip out their phone to get tone policed. Not only would you have to get consent from everyone present, but you could get the same feedback from recording a video of yourself or just asking the people closest to you.
You can do the most basic tasks from your wrist, but not much more.
It’s easy to dunk on Amazon for being unnecessarily weird with Halo, but there are some things it does well. The highlight is the Movement health feature. You use your phone to record about five minutes of basic exercises like lunges and squats. After, you’ll see a breakdown of how stable or mobile your trunk, hips, lower body, and shoulders are. Depending on your results, you’ll get recommendations for exercises to strengthen those areas. It reminds me of Apple’s Walking Steadiness feature, which alerts you when your mobility (or lack thereof) puts you at risk of a major fall and exercises to improve stability. However, Amazon’s version is more actionable and proactive.
Amazon also gets credit for cramming educational content into every nook and cranny of the app. I may not be fond of some of these features, but at least there were explainer articles and videos to help me understand them. But again, Amazon could’ve done a better job organizing this content. The app itself feels cluttered, and I often felt like I was getting sucked into a rabbit hole while trying to find one feature or explainer.
I also appreciated that Halo focuses on how many minutes of moderate activity you get each week instead of an arbitrary step count or calorie burn goal. Like Fitbit’s Active Zone Minutes metric, depending on your activity levels and heart rate, you get a certain amount of points that add up to 150. (That’s a commonly used baseline from the American Heart Association and other health institutions.) It’s a more holistic approach that allows for greater flexibility, especially for beginners.
The sensor array is simple, and you can see why the strap might pop off if you tug too hard.
While I understand Amazon wanting to be beginner-friendly, I’m a little baffled at how bare-bones workout tracking is. This is the only tracker in recent memory that doesn’t track distance or pace for running and walking. There’s literally no GPS data, not even via a tethered connection to your phone. Instead, you’re limited to steps and calories burned — two useless metrics for measuring progress. You do see your heart rate averages, as well as minutes spent in light, moderate, or intense activity. This is alright if you’re trying to be more active, but it’s not at all helpful if you’re training for an event or want to see how far you’ve come.
Then there’s Halo Fitness, Amazon’s library of instructor-led workout videos. In a nutshell, it’s the store brand version of Apple Fitness Plus. It gets the job done, and it’ll appeal to people turned off by insufferably peppy or chatty trainers. In early 2022, you should be able to see your metrics on screen as well. I tried a core and strength workout — they were fine. However, I wish Amazon did a better job organizing the workouts. It doesn’t mean anything when you tag a core workout as “All levels” but describe it as “athletic.” The result was me thinking I’d picked a moderately difficult workout. Instead, I ended up falling on my face when trying a more advanced plank variation. Another strength workout was done at the speed of light, with barely any time to check my form, switch dumbbells, or rest between sets.
Sleep tracking is adequate.
Sleep tracking is also satisfactory. Amazon isn’t reinventing the wheel here, but you get a daily sleep score, a graph that tracks your sleep stages, and other metrics like body temperature. Accuracy is hard to measure outside a clinical setting, but my Halo data largely corresponded to what I got on the latest Oura Ring I wore while testing. It wasn’t perfect. Once or twice, the View didn’t catch when I was actually awake, snarfing down a midnight snack. The two devices also didn’t always agree on how long it took me to fall asleep. However, different companies use different algorithms, and the View held up against one of the best sleep trackers out there.
At $79.99, it’s also the most affordable tracker that offers this number of features. After the first year, a monthly Halo subscription is $3.99, which is still much cheaper than Fitbit Premium, Apple Fitness Plus, and many other fitness apps. There’s no doubt you get a lot for the price, but if you want a simple tracker, you can always turn to a Mi Band, Fitbit Inspire 2 (which you can find frequently on sale), or one of Amazfit’s myriad trackers. None of those will ask you to take pictures of yourself in your undies.
Altogether, this feels like a tracker with an identity crisis. Half of its health features are arguably terrible for your mental well-being. They feel more like an Amazon tech showcase than tools to really help people. The other half is thoughtfully built out. On the one hand, Amazon clearly put a lot of effort into catering to those just starting out on their fitness journey. At the same time, it’s missing some basic metrics from workouts, Halo Fitness is tough to navigate, and I’d be shocked if a beginner felt at all encouraged by the 3D body fat models. The tragedy is Amazon could’ve easily built a simple, affordable tracker and left it at that. Instead, it had to get weird about it.
Photography by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge