Activity tracker preview: The LEAF by Bellabeat review

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In May of this year, I was lucky enough to snag one of the latest fitness trackers available on the market in a presale batch: the LEAF activity and lifestyle tracker by wellness tech company Bellabeat. The LEAF, designed as the first activity tracker made specifically for women, not only tracks your daily step count and sleep duration and quality, but also your stress levels through breathing exercises and your menstrual cycle. Although the stress-reducing and female-specific features had me intrigued, I was even more excited about the fact that it doesn’t LOOK like a bulky, plastic activity tracker. The LEAF is made of sustainable wood and hypoallergenic stainless steel, and the design is something I actually wouldn’t mind wearing every day as a piece of jewelry.

I’ve had my LEAF since late July, and have been wearing it every day for the last three weeks. I’ve worn it for long runs, intense strength training sessions, out to dinner with friends, to the office, camping, hiking and even to a country music festival. I was going to wait to do a review until more features are available and more bugs are fixed in the app, but I thought I would give you all a gear “preview” in case you were considering signing up for the next available batch.

Here’s a breakdown of my thoughts so far about the LEAF’s design, wearability, tech, app and tracking capabilities, and what I hope Bellabeat will make available in the next product batches and app updates.

Design
Unlike most activity trackers available on the market, the LEAF looks like an elegant piece of jewelry most of us wouldn’t mind wearing everyday. There is no digital display on the LEAF, so you have to rely on the app for any activity feedback, which I don’t really mind as it stops me from obsessively checking my step count all day.

Comparing the step count to my Garmin Forerunner

Comparing the step count to my Garmin Forerunner

Although it’s lightweight and the silver leaf and wood design is pretty, it does look a bit big on your wrist. The leather wristband it comes with is neutral enough to be worn with pretty much anything, and the LEAF looks decent on the necklace chain as well. You can also clip it to your shirt or waistband as well, which I like.

Wearability
As I mentioned above, the LEAF is incredibly versatile — you can wear it as a necklace, bracelet or clip, with more fashion “options” and accessories coming soon, according to the company. The leather bracelet was a bit awkward to put on at first, and although I like that look the best, I can tell I’d probably need to replace it sooner than later as it’s already starting to show wear and tear. Then again, most women might not be bailing on trail runs and getting it dirty all the time like I tend to do.

The LEAF worn as a necklace. It comes with a leather bracelet and a sliver chain.

The LEAF worn as a necklace. It comes with a leather bracelet and a silver chain.

So far I’ve found the LEAF to be comfortable when worn all four ways. I sleep with it on as a bracelet, and haven’t had it bother me during the night.

Tech
Although it tracks some unique data points, the LEAF is somewhat more simplistic than other activity trackers on the market. While step count tracking is fairly accurate, it doesn’t track your heart rate or have GPS capabilities; it doesn’t sync with other apps like MyFitnessPal or RunKeeper; you can’t input your workouts; it’s not waterproof or water resistant; and it doesn’t do anything aside from vibrate right now (though according to the company, all of these features are coming soon in future app updates and product batches). Also unlike other activity trackers, the LEAF uses a battery that can be replaced after about six months instead of requiring a weekly USB charge, which is kind of convenient, and uses a low-energy Bluetooth technology to sync to the app. This technology is supposedly “safer” than the regular Bluetooth frequency, but I’ve found it to be pretty slow and tedious when compared to how a FitBit syncs pretty much as soon as you open the app. Hopefully syncing will improve in future updates.

Step count tracking and goals in the main section of the app

Step count tracking and goals in the main section of the app

Female-specific tracking (your ovulation and period) is based on manual inputs (you input the first and last day of your period and the app notifies you when you’re fertile and when you’re period is on its way), and stress levels are monitored via breathing exercises you are to complete each day. Initially I thought the LEAF would automatically monitor your breathing when worn on your chest and alert you to when you need to take deep breaths, but unfortunately the only feedback you get is when you complete the breathing exercises, which I found relaxing yet kind of a hassle. I also thought the beginner breathing exercise was way too fast (a voice/gong instructs you to take shorter breaths instead of longer ones), so I scored “low” on the first few exercises. I’m on the intermediate exercises now and have noticed the breathing cycles have slowed down a bit, but are still too fast for me.

Where you can manually input goals and the breathing exercises

Where you can manually input goals and the breathing exercises

App
Since the LEAF doesn’t have any kind of display, users must use the app to delve into data. Although the app is clean and easy-to-use, it’s lacking in detailed user information that’s typically available in other fitness tracking apps, such as total calories burned versus exercise calories and when specifically sleep was broken or deep (again, these updates should be available in future updates). Although you can’t input food or exercise, you can manually input your goals (steps taken per day, duration of sleep), your period cycles and when you fall asleep and wake up to ensure it’s tracking sleep correctly. While some users have complained that it’s incorrectly tracking sleep, I’ve found it to be fairly on par with my old FitBit Force.

Sleep tracking in the app

Sleep tracking in the app

You can also set a silent alarm and have your LEAF vibrate to let you know when it’s time to get up or to remind you to do something, such as take your birth control pill. The vibration is much softer than a FitBit’s and you don’t have to tap it to turn it off, so light sleepers may not get woken up by it – I’m not a deep sleeper so I had no problem waking up to the vibration alarm. You can also set it so it vibrates to remind you to get up if you’ve been sitting for too long, which I like.

Activity Tracking
As I mentioned above, I’ve found the step count and sleep tracking to be fairly accurate. Although I had concerns about tracking based on where you wear it (for the FitBit you are asked to specify which wrist you are wearing your tracker on), the company assured me that activity tracking is the same whether you wear it on your wrist or chest. I’ve noticed a slight different in wearing it as a bracelet vs. necklace, and when comparing it to other fitness trackers I think it does track better when worn closer to your body. Hopefully they will account for this discrepancy and allow users to input workouts in the next update.

The LEAF survived a hard trail running bail the other weekend - other than having to wash the leather bracelet it was fine!

The LEAF survived a hard trail running bail the other weekend – other than having to wash the leather bracelet it was fine!

Verdict
Although the LEAF is missing a lot of features right now us wearable-tech-loving fitness enthusiasts have come to know and expect, I think the tracker and app have a lot of potential. I love the LEAF’s design, female-specific data tracking points and wearability, and think that with a few more updates and tweaks to the next versions it could be even better than the FitBit. 

The LEAF retails for $119 U.S. and ships internationally. You can sign up to be notified when the the next available batch is ready via Bellabeat’s website.

Bri’s LEAF by Bellabeat Review Rating (out of 5 stars)
Design: ★★★★★
Wearability: ★★★★
Tech: ★
App: ★★
Activity tracking: ★★★
Customer support: ★★★★★
Does what it’s supposed to do: ★★★

Do you currently have an activity tracker? Will you be buying the LEAF? What features would you most like to see? What are your thoughts on it after reading this review?

bri-sig