Over the past few years, I’ve started using a few wearable devices on a daily basis. It started as a desire for real-time biofeedback while meditating. Then, I became curious about my long-term health trends. Today, it’s also about beginning to embrace our more data-driven “Techno Sapien” future.
However, I focus only on the devices that will significantly improve my life. If a wearable device isn’t providing actionable insight or becomes distracting, I don’t use it. Otherwise, it’s just too easy to fall into a consumerist trap of purchasing the latest shiny and new “gadgets”.
So, to help you decide which wearable devices might add real value to your life in 2020 and beyond, below are the wearables that I currently use today. I discuss the benefits they provide, the data that they collect, and how I use them for data science in my own life.
The original Fitbit started the wearable-device industry and the quantified-self movement. It was the first continuous-use wearable that I owned and I’ve been wearing one daily since 2015. This year, I upgraded to a Fitbit Sense, their latest and most sensor-rich device to date.
The Fitbit Sense includes a variety of biometric sensors for health analytics. It continuously tracks your movement, activity, location, sleep, heart rate, heart rate variability (HRV), respiratory rate, temperature, and blood oxygen saturation (SpO2). Plus it provides on-demand electro-cardiogram (ECG) and electro-dermal activity (EDA).
I use my Fitbit for real-time reminders to go for a walk if I’ve been sitting for too long. I also use the aggregate data to ensure that I’m getting enough exercise each day. Finally, I use historical data to identify long-term patterns with my health and to run experiments with my daily exercise routine.
The Wild Divine iom is a biofeedback device for meditation. You attach it to your fingers and it measures your stress levels during your meditation sessions. It provides biometric data including electrodermal activity (EDA), heart rate, and heart-rate variability (HRV).
I use the iom for real-time biofeedback during my daily meditation sessions. It helps me notice when I’m becoming stressed and reminds me to re-focus my attention. I also use historical data to track long-term patterns in my meditation sessions and run experiments with my meditation practice.
Unfortunately, the Wild Divine iom was discontinued in 2015. However, its successor, the Unyte iom2 is currently available. Sadly, it no longer includes EDA sensors, so I can’t recommend it as strongly as their discontinued iom Pro version — which you can sometimes still find on eBay and Amazon.
The Muse is a neurofeedback device for meditation. You wear it on your forehead and it tracks your brain activity via a 4-channel consumer-grade EEG. In addition, it also records your respiratory rate, heart rate, and posture. Unfortunately, only one type of data can currently be recorded at a time in an unguided-meditation session.
I use Muse for real-time neurofeedback during my meditation sessions. It helps me to notice when I’m becoming mentally distracted and reminds me to return my focus to my meditation. I also use historical data to track my long-term meditation progress and experiments. I just wish they’d add a historical data export feature.
The Wellue O2 Ring is a wearable sleep monitor. You place it on your thumb or index finger and it tracks your blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) levels, your heart rate, and your movement. It can also track and provide biofeedback for common sleep-disturbances — like snoring and sleep apnea.
I use the O2 ring to track my nightly sleep patterns. Since I started recording and analyzing the data, I’ve discovered (and confirmed medically) that I have obstructive sleep apnea caused by a high-arched palate. So, I’m now planning to use this device to track the effectiveness of my sleep-apnea treatment.
The Upright Go 2 is a wearable posture tracker. You attach it to your upper back using reusable adhesive strips and it tracks your posture while you’re sitting and standing. It’s the most recent addition to my daily wearables collection.
I use the Upright Go 2 for real-time posture feedback while I work. It gently vibrates if I’m slouching while sitting or standing at my adjustable-height work desk. I’m also using historical data to track if my posture is getting better or worse over time and to run experiments with office ergonomics.
The Apollo Neuro is a wearable device that improves your resiliency to stress. You wear it on your wrist or ankle with a velcro wrist strap. When enabled, it creates small vibrations that calm your autonomic nervous system. I use it during my meditation sessions and also when I’m feeling a bit stressed.
This isn’t a wearable device for data collection though. Rather, it’s actually causing a change in your autonomic nervous system. It’s reducing your sympathetic nervous system activity (i.e. fight-or-flight response) and increasing your parasympathetic activity (i.e. rest-and-digest response).
Since I began wearing it, I’ve noticed changes both subjectively and through the biometric data that I collect each day. I haven’t seen a significant change in my heart rate variability (HRV) yet — as claimed by the manufacturer. However, I have seen a very noticeable improvement in my neurofeedback data while meditating.
While this isn’t a wearable device in the normal sense of the term, I use my Samsung Galaxy S20 smartphone for a variety of biometric data collection purposes. In addition, it contains many of the apps that I use to control and collect data from my cache of wearable devices.
I use an app called Sleep as Android to track my sleep data each night. I also use an app called Strava to track my cycling data. And I use Google’s location tracking to track my travel history — which has been surprisingly useful for a variety of my own personal data-analysis scenarios.
While the wearables above are the ones that I’m currently using on a daily basis, there are also several wearable devices that I’m looking forward to trying in the future. For example, I would love to try a continuous blood glucose monitor to see how changes in my diet affect my hourly blood sugar levels.
In the future, I’m also quite interested in trying next-gen smart glasses once they become mainstream. And someday, I’m hoping to be able to try a minimally-invasive brain-computer interface. However, we may have to wait until 2030 for a review of those wearable devices.
If you’re interested in learning how you can analyze your own wearable-device data, please be sure to check out my online courses on data science.