When I walked out of Best Buy after purchasing the Jaybird Reign I had big expectations for this sleek looking silicone band; available in black and white. Wooed by its design and fresh activity tracker thinking I was ready to join team Reign and go beyond simply counting my steps and calories burned. I was pumped to run, swim and bike alongside my new personal and wearable coach.
Jaybird raced into the fitness world with their remarkable sounding and highly acclaimed BlueBuds X Bluetooth Headphones and the newest member of the family, Reign, has the same great showmanship qualities and thought-through innovative design.
During my 10 day evaluation I tested whether the Reign lives up to the creator’s vision and mantra: “knowing when your body wants to be active”. I will admit there were some hurdles but even with them, I love the path the Reign is traveling.
From the start, the Reign received Best of Show awards 2014 from Engadget, Slashgear and Outdoor Retailer. And, it clearly earns these accolades for its smooth silicone band that is sexy, durable, waterproof -not just resistant- and most comfortable to wear design that is functional as well as fashionable.
Like me, you are probably wooed too, especially after watching the videos on the Reign website, but in a tight race with other decent activity trackers price point is crucial. The Reign has to make a strong first impression and smoke the competition at $199 MSRP ($217 total with tax for me, which is a lot of money for an activity tracker but comparable -on the high side- in its category which includes heart monitoring and usually some small notification features). Does it do this? Without any effort the band will sweep your feet off the ground, but the software, well, there is no easy way to say this but the Reign app is not anywhere close it’s own Go-Zone and needs work.
According to Founder & CEO Judd Armstrong and CMO Rene Oehlerking the Reign has four problems to solve. The Reign’s solutions to these four problems make it different from its competition and in many ways better. But like any newly innovated product or idea, it comes with some hiccups and hurdles.
The first challenge was to eliminate the bulk of the band. Never once did I feel like I was wearing an activity band or device and when positioned just above the wrist joint using one of the included 5 different bands that fit snug the Reign virtually disappeared, practically felt like a piece of my arm. This made activities from push-ups, burpees and even a simple plank position to writing on a laptop for several hours at a time easy to do and comfortable. This was a quick win for the Reign over other activity trackers like the Fitbit Flex, Garmin Vivosmart or even Jawbone’s UP24. I never thought about taking it off and honestly didn’t want to. I loved how it felt both physically on my wrist and how it made me feel mentally; visual encouragement.
It’s simply the most comfortable activity tracker I have worn.
The second goal was to create an understanding of your daily activity and the meaningful, actionable guidance that you really care about. It’s not a tracker designed to simply count steps, activities and burned calories. This is done through the Reign’s mobile app. Currently, as of time of this review, the app is only available for Apple iOS users. An Android version will be released January 2015, but as of the 15th it’s still not appearing in the Google Play Marketplace. The iOS app for the most part delivered on this goal on, but only a high level, without consistency and it’s important to know that your data is currently, as of version 1.3.3, only stored on your phone and if for some reason you re-pair or logout of the app the data will be erased.
The first major missing part of the current app is a history. You can only view information for the current day. This means that you have no way of looking back and seeing how you slept the night before or at yesterday’s Go-Zone score or even look at data over any period of time for comparison which could be valuable in analyzing trends beyond the machine; sometimes machine intelligence overlooks the human factor. Unfortunately, there is also no web-based site you can log into for deeper metrics, nor is your data currently sent to Jaybird or backed up which is a big loss for everyone.
Not to worry though, according to the Reign app’s update schedule on Jaybird’s website these fixes are underway and planned for this coming January and February 2015 app releases. In fact there are some pretty cool features in the works like backup to the Regin Cloud, notifications and alerts and access to your activity history. Something Jaybird might consider is a more aggressive update schedule, perhaps every 2 weeks, to attack some of the low-hanging and crucial bugs, as well provide an early look at upcoming features. Maybe even add iCloud support. That small enhancement would have saved my random data loss problem and scored a few good points.
After unboxing the Reign, I charged up the device for about 3 hours, which was about an hour longer than the directions read. Once fully charged the Reign’s pod was ready to pair with my iPhone 6. With the Reign on snug on my wrist, I pressed my index finger on top of the band (where the LEDs display) and tapped the pair button in the app. The app displayed that this could take up to 20 seconds. I was patient and probably waited about a minute until eventually it failed. I tried again, this time lightly wetting the contact points as suggested and waited. Again it failed. Pairing a device should not be this difficult and out of frustration I popped the pod out of the band and licked both sides of it, ensuring it was wet as suggested and then held it between my thumb (bottom side) and index finger. Bam! in less than 5 seconds it paired and I was ready to start moving.
Eager to test out the Reign’s ability to auto-detect different activity types the next day I tried a range of activities. Starting out with a 7-Minute Workout. The Reign successfully logged it as “Sports” but for only 2 minutes when it was realistically about 10 minutes. Next up was a short run down the American River and again Reign nailed it. It was a little off on the duration, but it detected the activity correctly. Later in the evening I removed the pod from the wrist band and popped it into the ankle band for a bike ride (see screenshot above). The ride was 7.10 miles, about 45 minutes of constant peddling. Unfortunately the Reign failed to recognize this activity type as “cycling” (see screenshot above). In fact the majority of my day resulted in “sports” activity. Not bad, but not accurately recognized either. It did a good job on detecting walking and when I compared the Reign’s step count to the step count my iPhone 6 tracked the two were always within a reasonable to range to each other. I did not test swimming; the lake is too cold right now, but am excited to try it in the spring and maybe with a new Reign with a more robust app.
So how does this translate into meaningful, actionable guidance? The Reign goes a step farther than the typical activity tracker and assigns each activity a “variable activity score” (VAS). I asked Jaybird support what that means and they were very helpful in explaining that the VAS “is an activity based algorithm that assigns a number per activity depending on exertion, activity, etc. The reason we [Jaybird] assign a number to the activity is to give a physical goal. A lot of people like numbers, and the more you exercise the higher the number gets which helps motivate people.”
I think it’s important to note that throughout these 10 days, Jaybird support, specifically Nathan, has been an invaluable resource for me in both helping me troubleshoot some of my problems with the Reign as well as educate me in their activity tracking philosophy and encourage me to have some patience as updates to the app are on the way. They have definitely taken the gold home with customer care.
Your personal goal is emphasized with a point value and then suggested activities that would meet that point value. Interestingly only activities which you have done are suggested which is why it’s import the Reign can properly recognize my activity, such as cycling. This is okay I suppose but confusing. Why have the points displayed at all? For example, I can ear my 1,609 points with 37 minutes of walking or 16 minutes of running or 22 minutes of cycling. The activity durations make sense to me, the points might as well be something the app just computes without me knowing because it seems like ambiguous data that I don’t need to know in order to understand and accomplish my daily activity. Metrics are fun to look at though, I guess.
The third goal is sleep, and according to CMO Rene Oehlerking, “simply tracking sleep is weak, but how much sleep do you personally need tonight to be at your best tomorrow.”
When I heard this I loved the idea and was excited to see how the Reign app presented my sleep (see screenshot above of auto-tracked sleep result) and used the metric to determine a better tomorrow. However, my first few nights with the Reign sleep tracking was inconsistent and the automatic sleep detection didn’t work. In fact, several nights were not tracked and I had to manually enter the hour when I to bed and the hour I woke up. Unfortunately I think this misses all the in-between moments of restless sleep, deep sleep, moments of being awake, etc, so how does the Reign know how much sleep I need tonight if it can’t consistently track it to begin with? And, nowhere in the app I could find suggestions as when to go to bed based on previous sleep/wake times. This really would have been cool. When it did successfully track my sleep, the recommendation read, “You are getting great sleep lately and have been exceeding your ideal nightly sleep duration. Keep it up!” Amazing in concept, but functionally not very reliable. My sleep patterns were mostly determined on my manual entries.
I think there is great potential in this feature but the Reign certainly falls short in comparison to other trackers that automatically track sleep such as the Fitbit Charge. It also does not have silent, vibrating alarms, which once you start using you will never want to go back to waking up to beeps or radio again. And in the $200 price range this was a big false start for Jaybird.
The fourth goal is knowing when your body wants to be active or when you need to take a day to recover. This is what Jaybird calls the “Go-Zone” and where all this activity recognition and sleep tracking work together, plus one other piece of data that as far as I know other activity trackers don’t use, which is Heart Rate Variability (HRV), or the milliseconds between your heartbeats that can indicate fatigue, stress or in the Reign’s case, over training.
When you wake in the morning, what’s suppose to happen is your Reign pod (firmware version 3.5.2) syncs with the Regin app for the first time. Unfortunately, in my experience the Reign pod and phone synchronize successfully on the first attempt about 40% of the time. I consistently had to force close the app 3 or 4 times in order to synchronize. Additionally other connected Bluetooth devices would sometimes prevent the pod from synching. This included Jaybird’s BlueBuds X headphones in my testing, as well my Subaru’s bluetooth system.
Once the Reign pod synchronizes your nightly data, which must include sleep whether automatically tracked or manually inputed, the Go-Zone will measure your HRV by resting your finger on the LED band for 2 minutes. When the countdown timer gets to zero your Go-Zone number will appear (see screenshot above). If you’re in the range of 40-60 or above then your body is ready to be active regardless of what you may “think”. In the two times that the GO-Zone worked for me it was right on the money. Although I didn’t “feel” like running one day or cycling the next, my Go-Zone was 45 the first day and 61 the second and both days I trusted my Go-Zone reading and just did it and wow, what a great workout I had on both occasions!
Without the Go-Zone push I probably would have ended up being less active.
Despite all the tripping the Reign and I did through our 10 days of being active together, I really like this product and found the majority of my problems with the app. The band is five-star awesome! I will definitely be coming back to the Reign once I see the reviews on the app store and at Amazon start rising up to where they should be: 4+ stars.
The direction Jaybird is moving with the Regin is unlike any other activity tracker in how it analyzes activity metrics to help you achieve the most activity out of your day, even when you don’t think you can, but Jaybird won’t get there anytime soon without quickly healing their app’s injuries and releasing more frequent updates to earn back consumers trust and build a stronger brand reputation.
Until then I recommend, buy and try for yourself with fair warning.
Product Source: Purchased at Best Buy