Smart home products and systems
Smart home health and fitness
By Liz Ransome
Article 5 of 5
From bathroom scales to blood pressure monitors, we explain how smart technology can help you and your family track your health.
Health and fitness is big business, from losing weight to tracking your fitness levels, there are a whole host of products that claim to monitor you and your family's health.
If motivation is what you need, a smarter bathroom scale or fitness tracking companion could be just the ticket. Find out how smart products could help you reach your fitness goals or care for your family, and the pros and cons of the different options.
Read on to find out more about:
- Smart scales
- Smart fitness trackers
- Smart electric toothbrushes
- Smart baby monitors
- Smart air purifiers
- Smart blood pressure monitors and sleep monitors
If you're trying to lose weight or get fit, a smart bathroom scale could be really useful. The benefit of a smart scale over a conventional one is that it can link to an app on your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth or wi-fi.
This means that you can easily store your readings and keep a close eye on your progress to see whether you're nearing your target. Some also connect to certain fitness trackers so you can get an all-round view of your health and goals.
Can they measure the same things?
Like other body fat scales (which are more advanced than simple ones), many smart scales can measure your BMI, body fat percentage, muscle mass, visceral fat and body water percentage, as well as your weight. But not all apps and scales record and store the same types of information, so think about what's most important to you before you buy.
To get these measurements you'll need to input some basic information, such as age and height. Some scales can instantly detect the user when they step on, and some hold profiles for as many as eight people, so the whole family can use it.
How much do smart bathroom scales cost?
Although conventional scales are cheaper than smart ones - they can cost as little as £15 - you can get smart scales for around £40, but they do go up to £150. We've tested bathroom scales and found that there is no relation between price and accuracy.
A fitness tracker is essentially a band that you wear around your wrist to measure things like your heart rate, the number of steps you do and how many calories you're burning.
A tracker could be a useful tool if you're keen to increase your fitness levels. Some come with advanced features too, such as sleep monitoring and oxygen consumption, but think first about how much you'll actually use these features.
It's also worth keeping in mind that if you just want to monitor your steps, you can buy simple pedometers for as little as £5, and some mobile phones come with built-in step counters.
How much do fitness trackers cost?
You can get a fitness tracker for as little as £15 - some of the Best Buys we've found cost around £30 - or you can splash out on one with advanced features for nearer £200. You can also get ones with LCD screens or that double up as a smartwatch.
We've found little correlation between price and accuracy, and with the worst models there was a 28% difference between measurements on the tracker and those taken in our lab. Visit our fitness tracker reviews to find one that's accurate and easy to use for the right price.
A few of the big toothbrush brands have jumped onto the smart bandwagon with electric toothbrushes that connect to an app.
Oral B has launched three smart toothbrushes - the Pro 6000 and Pro 6500, both part of its Smart Series range, and the Genius 900 (click on the links to read our reviews of all three). The associated app for all three will time how long you brush, vibrate at intervals so you can keep track on how long you have been brushing, and will warn you if you're pressing too hard.
You can also create personalised programmes and alerts, such as reminders to floss or to brush for longer in problem areas. But this smart technology isn't cheap - the Pro 6000 costs £230, the 6500 costs £250, but the Genius is a little cheaper at £140.
The Philips Sonicare FlexCare Platinum electric toothbrush (£250), does a similar thing. It claims to be able to monitor your brush strokes and report back via the app so that you can monitor how well you're brushing your teeth and if you're missing any areas.
These features sound great, but keep in mind that many non-smart electric toothbrushes also vibrate or flash a light to let you know how long you've been brushing or if you are pressing too hard. We've found brilliant electric toothbrushes for less than £50, so check our electric toothbrush reviews to find the best model for you.
Many baby monitors now have high-tech features, such as motion detection or temperature checking. The difference with a smart one is that it will send this data to an app on your smartphone or tablet instead of, or as well as, a standalone handheld unit.
What are the benefits of smart baby monitors?
The monitoring units for baby monitors are usually quite light and small, so carrying one around instead of your phone may not be an issue. However, if you always have your phone to hand, opting for a smart one would mean there is one less gadget to keep by your side.
It could also be useful when it comes to range. Some of the best monitors have proved themselves to have great signal, even when far away from the main unit. But a phone will mean you can still see and hear your baby even when you're miles away.
One other potential benefit of a smart baby monitor is that with some you can record and store video, or look back at previous days. This is the case with some standard baby monitors too, but with those you would need to remove the SD card incorporated into the device to view it on your computer, instead of it coming directly to your phone.
Smart baby monitors tend to cost around the same as ones that don't connect to your phone - it's the range of features that can add to the price. Having said that, the priciest monitor we have tested is a smart baby monitor, the Luvion Supreme Connect baby monitor.
What else can they do?
There are also a few smart home hubs with security cameras that can double up as wireless video baby monitors. We'll soon be testing the Withings home camera, which can do just that. It can also detect air quality and alert you when unusual noises or motion is detected.
A number of new smart baby motion monitors, such as the Mimo, can also send sleep data, including your baby's breathing, temperature and position, to your phone and alert you if there is a potential problem. The Owlet does a similar thing - it monitors your babies heart rate and oxygen levels and alerts you if there is an issue.
Smart or not, all baby monitors are not created equal - we've found ones with bad video quality, rubbish range and signal, and that are a pain to use. Visit our baby monitor reviews to find a Best Buy that won't let you down.
If you do decide to get a smart baby monitor, it's worth reading our guide to keeping your baby monitor safe from hackers.
Air purifiers claim to remove allergens and other pollutants from the air. Smart purifiers go one step further by linking to an app that will let you control the purifier and show you what the air quality in your home is like throughout the day.
One of the most well-known examples of a smart air purifier in the UK is the Dyson Pure Cool Link. It lets you monitor air quality inside and outside, and lets you set targets before it reaches 'very poor'. It can also plot historic data onto a graph, allowing you to find out when the peak pollution periods are.
But it doesn't show you empirical data regarding the actual air quality of your home, just a qualitative assessment of whether it's 'good' or not. It costs £350 for the slim tower model and £450 for a chunkier version.
We haven't tested the Pure Cool Link, but we have put Dyson Hot and Cool electric heaters through our tough lab tests.
You can also get wireless cameras that monitor air quality, although they don't claim to purify the air. Take a look at our page on smart cameras and security to learn more about these cameras.
A blood pressure monitor, whether smart or not, can be useful if you have abnormally high blood pressure (called hypertension), as it will help you to keep tabs on your levels and any changes.
Many conventional monitors will store your readings, some for up to six people, allowing you to look back over time or average them. You'll need to check how many readings in total it can store though, as it varies from model to model.
Recording data is therefore not a benefit exclusive to smart blood pressure monitors, so it's not worth buying one just for this.
Are they more convenient?
Yes, a smart monitor might be more convenient. First of all, you can control it from your phone instead of an attached unit.
Secondly, smart arm monitors don't have a wire connecting the cuff to a main recording unit as measurements are sent directly to your phone or tablet wirelessly or using a smaller lead. This only applies to arm monitors, not wrist ones, as these units are smaller anyway and already built into the cuff.
If you're a regular phone or tablet user, you may want to get a smart monitor so everything is on one place, especially if you have a smart fitness tracker and bathroom scale as well. Some smart monitor apps also incorporate other health management, such as a way to record your diet.
Apps, as well as online platforms connected to the smart device, can also help to display and share your data in attractive and easy-to-interpret ways, which could be useful for sending to your GP.
But it's worth keeping in mind that some non-smart monitors allow you to upload your readings to your PC using a connecting wire, which you could make into spreadsheets and graphs yourself to share. It depends what you're more comfortable with.
Both types of monitors include a range of added features too, like measuring an irregular heartbeat or averaging your readings over time, although for both this often costs more.
How much do smart blood pressure monitors cost?
Non-smart blood pressure monitors can cost as little as £15, while you'll need to pay nearer £50 or more for a smart one - the smart Withings Wireless Blood Pressure Monitor is the most expensive cuff we've tested costing £110.
We found mixed results when we tested smart and conventional blood pressure monitors for accuracy and ease of use - see our blood pressure monitor reviews to find out more.
These products claim to help you improve your sleep and have become a popular choice for those with busy lives and/or who suffer from sleep related disorders. The monitors work in conjunction with an app that may record sleep as well as external factors, such as noise, air quality and temperature.
One example is the S+ by ResMed sleep monitor. It claims to be the worlds first non-contact sleep tracking device, monitoring your breathing and the environment using bio-motion technology.
The app offers a number of features such as sounds to fall asleep to, a vocal to do list for clearing your mind, and an alarm clock that will only wake you when you're in the light sleep phase. You still choose a time window for the alarm clock though. It also supposedly adjusts and learns from your behaviour and makes recommendations based on your data.
There is also the Withings Aura Alarm Clock, which monitors your sleep and the light in the room and adjusts the built-in lamp to match your sleeping pattern for a good wake-up experience. Both of these products are compatible with the Nest Learning thermostat.