“The GOQii outlines the path that leads towards an active lifestyle”
One of my favourite scenes in the Schwarzenegger-starrer True Lies is the one where the bad guys are stuck inside a van hanging on the side of a bridge, counting themselves lucky till the time a bird lands on the bonnet and sends the vehicle, with the hoodlums inside, into the drink. I’ll try and bring that into context somewhere during the course of this write-up. Let me start by laying out the cards on the table. I’m not a fitness buff, far from it. I spend hours chained to a desk at work, and the most strenuous ‘exercise’ that I normally indulge in is walking to fridge to get myself a snack. My ample tummy invariably enters office before I do, and the only six-pack I’m aware of involves fermented barley. Getting the drift? That said, I’d been thinking about being more physically active for a fairly long time – nothing extensive, mind you, but mulling over going on regular morning walks or playing tennis on the weekend. But after a gruelling work week, laziness usually reigned supreme on weekends.
And then, I got the GOQii for review. In case you don’t know, GOQii is a fitness band with a difference and can be yours for free. Rather than a mere gadget that one buys on a whim, and forgets about it after the novelty wears off, it’s available as a subscription-based service, costing Rs 6,999 for six months and Rs 11,999 for a year. That money gets you the services of a personal coach, who guides you on your journey towards a more active lifestyle. Now the only way I know how to review a gadget (or in this case, the gadget and the associated service) is to use it for myself and figure out how well it works. I was quite apprehensive about reviewing the GOQii though, wondering what kind of back-breaking workouts the coach will thrust upon me, and whether he or she will put the kibosh on some of my favourite snacks. Turned out, my apprehensions were unfounded, after all.
After activating my GOQii account and filling in an extensive online form that required me to enter basic info like age, weight and height, along with details on food and water intake, levels of physical activity, sleeping patterns, history of illnesses, stress levels etc, a coach was assigned to me, and he initiated the proceedings by sending me an introductory email with his profile and an easy-to-understand presentation about the GOQii. Then he called me at a pre-decided time to help me set up the band and after getting a sense of my lifestyle, set the initial goals for me. And so began my journey. The two goals he set for me involved drinking at least two litres of water a day, and walking at least 10,000 steps – and I thought these were quite tame, even for beginner-level goals. Turned out, I was wrong.
Now the GOQii core (a tiny device with a tinier screen) that sits inside the rubber strap logs steps on its own, but I need to enter each glass of water I drink into the companion app myself. The food intake is required to be entered manually too, including a small description, the time and even a picture of what I’m gobbling. The sensors inside the GOQii core track movement, so it logs sleep data too, but I’m required to activate sleep mode for this. This is done by tapping on its screen to bring it to life, then keeping my finger on the screen for a few seconds till a progress meter fills a full circle on the display, and then tapping again to confirm. The same actions deactivate sleep mode. So, it’s definitely a process that requires a fairly high degree of involvement from my end, since I need to make sure all data is up to date, firing up the app several times a day to input the data. As a side note, I also noticed that there’s no way to edit food data once it’s entered – I keyed in my lunch details under the wrong head a couple of times, but couldn’t manage to change it. An option to edit would also give me a way to correct typos if any, and just to make it clear, I hate typos with the very core of my boeing being. All the info captured by the GOQii is synced via Bluetooth with the app, which then uses 3G or Wi-Fi to send that data, along with everything else that I entered on my own, back to the coach. Notably though, the GOQii doesn’t need to be connected over Bluetooth with the smartphone at all times, only needing that link to sync data. Even though the device uses Bluetooth LE, this means you can just switch on Bluetooth on your phone only when you need to sync data betwixt the two, and keep it off otherwise to save your phone’s battery.
The coach then analyses that data and guides me on what I should and shouldn’t be eating, but rather than being hardcore mandates, these come a gentle suggestions… telling me gently that I needed more salads in my diet, or whether my breakfast was healthy or not. All this interaction happens via the app, since it also lets me chat with my coach, and the chat notifications land in my email inbox too.
The app has lots more to it. I added some of my journo pals I knew were also reviewing the GOQii as friends, and see what they’ve been up to – how much they’ve been walking, what they’ve been eating etc. Instant messaging is also possible through the app itself. I can set multiple alarms, and the core vibrates at the preset time. It also vibrates to alert me in case I’ve been inactive for a long time (in day mode), reminding me that it’d be good for me to lift my posterior up from the chair and get some exercise.
And there are the Karma points that get accumulated over a period of time. Every 390 steps I take earns me one Karma point, and via the app, I can choose to donate my accumulated points to one or more of the social causes built into it. Clearly, Team GOQii has put a lot of thought behind the concept, and the significance of those 390 steps is that Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi march that led to the civil disobedience movement in 1930 involved a trek of 390 kilometres. The donated Karma points are converted to real money by GOQii’s partner Oxfam, which is routed to the aforementioned social causes. The Karma points concept acts as a solid incentive to GOQii users, since they can get a feeling of walking for social good, apart from enhancing their own health. I can vouch that this works, because when I chose to donate a few points, I actually got a feeling of giving away something that was earned the hard way, and after I’d done the needful, gave me the same satisfaction I’d get after, say, donating cash for a noble cause.
The GOQii app is available on Android, and is in beta for iOS. So if you’re an iPhone user, you won’t see the app on the App Store, but GOQii will send you a download link so you can install it. If you’re not in the Android or iOS ecosystem however, and use a smartphone running a different platform, you can still use GOQii by making use of the PC or Mac apps available via their website. The GOQii will still sync over Bluetooth, and just in case your computer isn’t Bluetooth-enabled, there’s a tiny Bluetooth USB adapter included in the pack. I used the Android app, first on the Xiaomi Mi 3 and then on the Mi 4, and the migration was seamless, since the cloud account stores the data after it has been synced and sent to the coach. In fact, there’s a web-based dashboard available too. I found the Android app sluggish to use, till the time I figured out that GOQii has a list of compatible devices on its website and the pair of Xiaomi models I’d used weren’t part of the list. I went ahead and requested them for the link to the iOS app, and sure enough, found it much fluid on the iPhone. Since the app is such an integral part of the GOQii experience, this matters quite a bit.
Coming to the hardware side, the device is essentially the core and the band, and while it’s supposed to be worn on the wrist, I can also choose to carry the core in my pocket in case I want to ditch the band on certain days… though the accuracy drops if its in the pocket. A belt clip is apparently on its way. The GOQii lasts me over three days on a single charge, though I’m not a big fan of the proprietary charging dongle – I’d prefer a more conventional way of charging via micro-USB like the Sony Smartband (review) if given a say in the matter.
Also, there are hardly any settings to control – I can just set the time to the 24-hour or 12-hour format and specify KM or miles as the unit for distance travelled. These settings are available via the app, and I can also change display orientation from vertical to horizontal, but that’s about it. I wish there was a way to keep the display on permanently – the resulting drop in battery life may not really be too big a sacrifice in exchange for getting to view the time with just a glance.
As it stands currently, a tap or a downward swipe on its screen wakes up the display, and repeated swipes cycle between the number of steps logged since midnight, the time duration for which I’ve been physically active, distance travelled, number of calories burnt, and the Karma points accumulated for the day. Handily, the time screen also displays an indicator bar on the side, showing the progress on the walking goal logged so far. The display switches off on its own after a few seconds, and when I tap it again later, wakes up on the same screen I left it at. This means that if I leave it on the pedometer screen, I need to cycle through all the other screens to come back to the time – a problem if I just need to view the current time in a hurry.
It’s not without a few rough edges, but to give the guys credit where its due, the GOQii concept is certainly very solid, and it can only get better from here. As far as the software and hardware sides of the GOQii are concerned, one app refresh and a firmware update could be enough to take care of my pain points and fulfil my wish list of desired features. When it comes to the service aspect, I couldn’t find any significant flaws – my coach knows his stuff, bears with me when I slip with my targets, and gently, yet firmly, prods me forward. The GOQii isn’t a weight loss program, nor will it make me look like the muscled actor whose tongue-twister of a name I mentioned earlier. The band isn’t the most stylish one around too, and as I write this, I know there are others due to launch in India too. However, at the end of the day, the GOQii isn’t really about the number of steps I can log with it, or whether I actually reach my step goal each day or not. It might not even be the most accurate (I suspect it’s a little too sensitive when it comes to step count), but that’s only a very small part of it. What it attempts to do is to inculcate healthy habits of eating right, being more physically active, drinking enough fluids and getting ample sleep. It didn’t change me overnight, and I didn’t expect it to. After about two weeks of living with it day in and day out, I feel my journey has just begun, and there’s a long way to go. When I look in the mirror today, I see the same guy I saw before I started using the GOQii. However, I find myself going on regular walks and taking the stairs instead of the elevator more often, and though I still have that occasional samosa or slice of pizza, I’m more conscious about what I’m eating. It could be just in my mind though, but I feel a spring in my step that wasn’t there before. My stomach still reaches the office before me, but maybe, just maybe, I’ve managed to close the gap by a tiny fraction of a nano second.
The most advantageous bit about the personal coach service attached to this fitness band is knowing that there’s someone monitoring my progress, and that’s enough to nudge me forward. As I said, I was conscious about the fact that I needed to be more active (so I was already at the tipping point, so to say), but kept procrastinating. The GOQii helped push me in the right direction, aiding me in crossing that chasm. It’s also worth noting that my interest in the GOQii was purely academic to begin with, since I was reviewing it and wanted to figure out what it can do. I haven’t paid for it… the good guys at Team GOQii were kind enough to provide me with a subscription so I could try it out. However, I think that someone who invests money (even an amount as low as Rs 7,000, which is very affordable by the way, in my opinion) to buy a subscription would have a stronger inclination to make sure they follow the coach’s instructions to the T. In comparison, the Sony Smartband costs Rs 5,990, but doesn’t feature a screen, or include a concept of a personal coach.
Last night, I went out for a walk. Hardly surprising – I’d been doing that fairly regularly since the time I started wearing the GOQii. However, this time, the GOQii was back at home, charging. Just like that bird in the movie True Lies sent the bad guys into oblivion, the GOQii is a trigger that leads to positivity and wellness, as long as one’s already on the tipping point about doing something to improve their health. In the initial few days with the GOQii, I went on walks because I didn’t want my coach to think of me as a lazy bum (not too far from the truth anyway), log a respectable number of steps on its pedometer, and also so I could send out chest-thumping tweets to fellow GOQii reviewers after I’d accomplished my walking goals. The device vibrates on the wrist and displays a smiley on the screen when the goal is reached, and that’s enough to feel elated about. When I went out for my walk last night without the GOQii adorning my wrist, I didn’t do it for adding more step count into the GOQii so I could show it to the coach or boast about it to friends – I went because I wanted to, and for my own health. The GOQii had managed to change me. And coach, if you’re reading this, I ‘forgot’ to mention the two pints I had last weekend, but I’m sure you won’t mind. Tomorrow is another day.