Although smart scales have existed for ages, body composition analysis is still a fairly new feature for wearable devices. for example , Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 It was the first smartwatch that originally included this feature. The Amazon Halo Band was the first fitness tracker with this feature. Both have been launched in the past two years. Meanwhile, Apple has not yet addressed body composition. For Apple Watch owners, you’ll have to turn to accessories like the Aura Strap 2 at $149.
Like smart scales, the Aura 2 belt determines your body composition with it Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA). BIA works by sending a weak electrical current through your body to calculate percentage of body fat, lean muscle mass, water, and sometimes specialized measures such as bone mass. This special tape measures fat, muscle, water and visceral fat ( Dangerous type of fat), protein, lean mass, and minerals (a proxy for bone mass).
Compared to the company’s first iteration of the device, this one is 20 percent thinner and 5 percent narrower. The measurement process has also been simplified. Instead of taking three steps on the original Aura belt, all you have to do is touch your palm to the belt electrode and wait for 30 seconds. Allegedly, these design changes enable Aura to record 16 times more data, and Aura hardware claims the second-generation belt provides up to 95% accuracy compared to a DEXA scan – the clinical gold standard for determining body composition.
This is indeed a big fix, but the Aura Strap 2 also changes the way you wear it. Instead of clips, she now opts for a rubber band that resembles Apple’s Solo Loop. This can be a pro or a con. If you mainly use your Apple Watch for health tracking, you probably already realize how important fit is. Loose scales make the scales imprecise, so you want the BIA sensor to rest on your skin. This is difficult to do with an elastic belt. Out of the box, the Aura Strap 2 comes with a mid-size strap pre-installed and three additional sizes extra small, small and large. The medium strap does not fit the wrists of the little bird. Nor small. Fortunately, a little too small did the trick – although I have friends with wrists that are smaller than mine. If your wrist doesn’t fit perfectly on one of the four straps, you’re in luck because there is no way to adjust the strap.
But while the extra small strap fit my wrist, it was a pain to stretch out on my hand. I have a larger than average hand, and there is so much you can extend the strap on. (I can use the iPhone 12 Pro Max with one hand without issues, and my fingers can stretch nine keys on the piano.) Fortunately, the company says it’s safe to shower and bathe, meaning you don’t have to take it off more than once a day. So while I usually take my Series 7 off to take a shower – you gotta let your wrists breathe, folks! – I kept it to avoid taking off the belt. I am also afraid to wear the belt in the morning and take it off at night. I’ll admit this might be a problem with my body, but it’s something you should be aware of if you have a big hand.
Another belt-related wrench: To change the belt sizes, you have to open the sleeve that contains the battery and electrode. The annoying thing is that you simply cannot open it with your fingers. The strap comes with a small guitar pick that you use to open it up, but if you’re like me, you’ll likely lose it within seconds. But at least you can also use a credit card. This is tedious if you need to try multiple bands to find the right size, although it’s unlikely to be a major problem beyond setup and when you need to replace the battery itself. Aura says the coin cell battery should last about six months if you take one reading per day. I can’t say if this is true, because I haven’t used the belt for a long time. However, after about a week of testing with 2-3 tests a day, I have about 76 percent left.
Otherwise, the Aura Strap 2 is refreshingly easy to use. There are clear instructions on how to take measurements in both the iPhone app and the watch itself. To take a reading, all you have to do is place your palm on the pole with the Aura app open on the watch. Aura recommends that you stand with your arms in front of your chest – as if you were about to do a Russian squat without the actual squat – but that’s it.
This is a huge step forward from the Galaxy Watch 4. When I reviewed the BIA feature on that watch, Samsung gave me a laundry list of things I should check to get an accurate reading. That list included making sure I didn’t menstruate or wear jewelry. It was annoying to use if you wore the watch on your right wrist, as you had to Access around to access buttons. Neither of these were a problem with the Aura Strap 2. While I recommend taking measurements at around the same time every day, I didn’t have to worry about my period, my jewelry, or the wrist I wore the Series 7 on, as Apple allows you to customize the orientation of your watch.
My results were also consistent from reading to reading. It also roughly matches the results I got on the Galaxy Watch 4 and Amazon Hello View. However, unlike those devices, the Aura app gave me a much better context for how these metrics relate to each other. Every other device told me I was overweight or obese based on my body fat percentage. While body fat percentage is more helpful than BMI, it’s an incomplete picture. For example, my waist to hip ratio Another way to measure your risk of heart disease based on belly fat is within the normal range. Also, a smart scaler generally puts me at 27-31 percent body fat. Basically, you should always keep in mind that these devices can help you measure progress, but they may not be accurate when it comes to your own health.
That’s why I was impressed when the Aura app said that while my body fat percentage was above normal, I had “an overall good balance between fat and muscle.” In general, you don’t get more than just straight numbers with your body composition characteristics. I also appreciated the way the app described each metric and how I should interpret it. For example, my visceral fat percentage was 1 percent. Normally, I think that’s an excellent thing. However, the app noted that having visceral fat below normal may indicate that I don’t have enough for my physical needs and to check with my doctor if visceral fat has been out of range for an extended period of time. He also explained that the “rule” is based on the general population and does not necessarily take into account individual metabolism, lifestyle choices, or personal norms.
If you have a specific goal for your body – whether it’s to lose weight or get killed – the Aura app will also contextualize where you are and how to get there. I set my goal as an “athletic” body with muscle gain. The app, in turn, told me I was already at 80% and recommended increasing my calorie intake by 10-15%, adding more protein to my diet, and doing no more than three exercises per week.
The best part is that weight is not a huge focus of this app. You have to enter it at first, but even if you set your goal to lose fat, it will never recommend you to “lose weight”. Instead, he recommends that you reduce your intake of carbohydrates and sweets for two weeks and do cross-training.
But while I appreciate the additional analysis and context, I didn’t like that much of it locked behind a paywall. If you want monthly reports on fitness and nutrition, guided workouts, or an upcoming feature that lets you chat with a personal trainer, you should pay $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year. I can’t definitively say if the extra fee is worth it, because I tested a pre-run version of the app. The library of exercises I had access to was simple and easy to follow but limited to one exercise per body area and skill level (beginner, intermediate and advanced). Likewise, I didn’t get the full monthly report experience because I’ve only been testing for two weeks. You are already spending $150 on an accessory. Adding a subscription makes business sense, but it’s another thing to pay. It is possible that people who tend to buy this device are already paying for multiple subscriptions related to fitness.
In the end, I was pleasantly surprised with the Aura Strap 2. It’s not perfect, but then again, there are quite a few body-configurations that come in handy. What sets this apart is a better app that offers comprehensive insights and contexts. Admittedly, it’s a niche product, but if you’re an Apple Watch owner and are interested in changing your body composition? You can do much worse.
Photography by Victoria Song/The Verge
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