IT & Systems Management

LG Lifeband Touch wristband, Heart Rate Earphones set for May 18 US release

Now would be a good time for every major mobile manufacturer not named Samsung to enter the wearables arena. LG is making that move big-time, announcing on Tuesday the imminent availability of an activity-tracking wristband and a novel set of earphones that not only play music, but measure your heart rate as well.

We've been waiting for final release information on the Lifeband Touch wristband since CES in January, but the upcoming Heart Rate Earphones are much more of a surprise. Add in LG's Sunday YouTube posting of its highly anticipated G Watch smartwatch--loaded with Google's promising Android Wear operating system and all--and we see a company that's staging a three-pronged assault on the wearables space.

And why shouldn't LG go all in? Wearables are the new wild west of consumer electronics, and those who don't at least try to make a land grab stand to gain nothing. Samsung's own wearable efforts are floundering, so LG wisely sees a great opportunity to claw back some relevance in the mobile space--via wristbands, watches and earphones, if not smartphones proper.

A smartwatchy activity tracker

Available in three sizes, the Lifeband Touch comes with a 0.9-inch OLED display, and has a promised battery life of five days. A 3-axis accelerometer and altimeter provide all the typical steps data (including, presumably, floors climbed), but you also get a few smartwatch-style feature, including notifications for incoming calls and messages, and smartphone music player controls

The display turns on when you rotate your wrist to look at the screen. I spent about 10 minutes with the Lifeband Touch at CES, and found its industrial design pleasant but unremarkable. LG says both the activity tracker and earphones will go on sale this coming Sunday, but hasn't yet announced pricing.

If the Lifeband Touch can hit a low price point--say, $100 or $130 maximum--it stands an honest chance of making a few sales in the extremely crowded (and arguably bubble-bloated) activity tracker market.

Indeed, if Samsung's disappointing Gear Fit taught us anything, it's that activity-tracking wristbands really begin to get interesting when you add in a few simple smartwatch features.

The new Heart Rate Earphones will certainly earn the lion's share of attention for LG, at least until the G Watch arrives (hopefully some time in June). Intel demoed some heart-rate monitoring earbuds at CES, but LG's product marks the first widely available commercial application of the technology.

LG has partnered with PerformTek to integrate ear canal sensors that measure blood flow signals--and from there heart rate data is divined. I've never used this type of technology, but I'm hoping it's at least as accurate as Basis' heart-rate monitoring smartwatch platform, and much more accurate than the heart rate monitor deployed on the Gear Fit.

As LG writes in its press release, "Because of the unique physiology of the ear, wearers can get more accurate health and fitness metrics with LG's Heart Rate Earphones than with other devices, especially when engaged in physical activity." Let's hope this means the Heart Rate Earphones can provide continuous, accurate, real-time heart-rate data during actual exercise. Competing products can't make that promise.

Oh, and of course: The Heart Rate Earphones also promise "excellent sound." We'll be the judge of that as we test one of the most novel wearables to launch this year.


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