iBeat Heart Watch review: The smartwatch designed to save your life

Most high-end smartwatches have a heart rate sensor. Many double as fitness trackers and some even focus on health over notifications, but they can’t act on their own in an emergency. If you find yourself having a cardiac event such as a heart attack, the Heart Watch will proactively step in. Unlike the heart rate monitors on conventional smartwatches, the Heart Watch has more comprehensive, medical-grade sensors that continuously monitor your heart rate, blood flow and oxygen levels. If an anomaly is detected, several things can be set in motion via the watch. Time is critical during cardiac arrest and minutes can mean everything, and if you’re alone, the Heart Watch can save your life. Let’s take a closer look at everything the Heart Watch can do (and a few things it can’t).

This review is a little personal. My father, who is a very active athlete, eats well, maintains an optimal body weight and sees his doctor regularly, had a heart attack while riding his bike with friends last year. He was fortunately near a fire station and the crew took immediate action, and my father had emergency quadruple bypass surgery the following morning. He did everything right in life to prevent this, but sometimes you just can’t beat genetics. His sister had a heart attack about twenty years earlier. He has since fully recovered.

Not everyone is this lucky. Some heart attacks are more disabling and the victim can fall unconscious almost immediately. My dad was with a group of friends, but what if you’re alone? I’m sure that most of you have heard of products like Life Alert, which not only carries a bit of a stereotype that you’re sickly or elderly, but requires the wearer to proactively press a button to receive help. The unit must also be within range of a parent device somewhere in the home. It’s a proven safety mechanism, but limited and not autonomous.

Continuous monitoring

The Heart Watch continuously monitors your heart rate in real time, as opposed to specified intervals like other smartwatches. It also measures oxygen levels and blood flow, and will notify iBeat’s dispatch team if you’re unresponsive for ten seconds after an emergency is detected. Several things will happen once the dispatch team takes action. An emergency contact will be notified by the method you specify when signing up, along with emergency services via 911. In addition, iBeat has established a comprehensive Heart Hero Network that consists of off duty police officers, firefighters and paramedics, along with trained and certified citizens. This network of over 1.5 million is in addition to 911 and can potentially provide lifesaving assistance before an ambulance arrives. The proverbial friendly neighborhood Spiderman.

A large button at the bottom of the watch can also be pressed to immediately alert emergency contacts and services.

Always connected

The Heart Watch is independent of a smartphone with it’s own LTE cellular connection. Similar to Google’s Project Fi, it utilizes two networks (AT&T and T-Mobile) and optimizes itself based on the strongest signal. The redundancy of having two active networks minimizes the chance of losing a signal while going about your day, and smartphone and Wi-Fi independence ensures that you’re always connected at the time of an emergency. There’s also built-in GPS to guide emergency services to your exact location.

Design

The watch looks like any other smartwatch and doesn’t stand out like other emergency devices. In fact, it’s one of the better looking watches with a clean, minimalist design. Multiple watch faces are available to customize the look and the “liquid” silicone strap is comfortable and easy to adjust. Two sizes are available to ensure a proper fit for most wrists (small/medium and medium/large). The screen is a 1.39-inch AMOLED panel with a sharp 400 x 400 resolution. Outdoor visibility is good and on par with other high-end smartwatches. It’s water resistant and will be fine in the rain or getting splashed in the sink, but it’s not designed for swimming.

Charging the 350mAh battery is done with a magnetic puck that connects to three pins on the left side. The battery is a bit small for a modern smartwatch, but the lack of features keep it running for about 3 days. There’s no wireless charging, but those three pins can also connect to a wearable 800mAh magnetic battery block (charging backpack) that can keep it charged and provide several more days of use if traveling or away from a charger for an extended period of time. The watch and charging backpack can also be charged simultaneously on the charger, and the watch itself takes about 75 minutes to charge from zero.

The charging backpack doesn’t exactly have an elegant design and is somewhat ungainly, but for a lifesaving device, it’s very much appreciated. And you can simply keep it charged and never have to stop wearing the watch. Other than the charging pins and emergency button, there are no other external features on the watch. A big part of the appeal is that it’s both simple and intuitive, but that also limits its functionality as a smartwatch.

Hardware

 iBeat Heart Watch
Display 1.39″ AMOLED (400 x 400)
Dimensions 47.6mm x 44.6mm x 15.1mm (1.7 ounces)
Cellular Internal LTE SIM (AT&T and T-Mobile compatibility)
Battery350mAh
ChargingMagnetic charging puck connects to metal pins
SoftwareiBeat's proprietary software
SensorsAccelerometer, PPG, skin sensor and temperature
ColorsBlack and white/gold

Functions

The core function of the Heart Watch is simply monitoring your heart. It uses advanced, proprietary hardware and artificial intelligence (AI) to detect anomalies and, of course, an emergency. The system was tested on volunteers during development, such as patients needing and surgically receiving a pacemaker, to dial in the AI and algorithms during different stages of heart distress and even stoppage. The hardware itself is also more reliable than heart sensors on conventional smartwatches. It’s much better at eliminating false data from wrist and arm motion, and bright outdoor light won’t interfere with the optical sensors. Regular smartwatches are more vulnerable to light pollution.

Given that its core purpose is to save lives, most standard smartwatch functions are missing. There’s a step counter, however, which is very useful as millions depend on them to track daily cardio fitness, but try to use it and you’ll simply get a “coming soon” message. A future OTA update will activate it.

There are also a couple of basic functions like an alarm clock and stopwatch, but things like notifications, advanced fitness tracking, making/receiving calls and apps are nowhere to be found. Their absence, for the most part, makes this watch a one-trick pony, but that trick is kind of the whole point. It would be great if this advanced heart tracking tech could be shoehorned into a proper smartwatch and Ryan Howard, founder/CEO of iBeat, is aware of these shortcomings. Given the time and resources necessary to get the heart monitoring tech and Heart Hero Network ready, he felt it was necessary to push the product out now and add additional features later. It’s hard to fault this approach as the purpose of the watch is to save lives and that part is ready to go. Future generations of the product will likely be more capable, although too many features probably won’t make the cut as overall battery life can’t be compromised for the sake of multiple notifications or a smorgasbord of apps.

A dashboard is available on a computer or smartphone for emergency contacts and family to monitor current heart health, previous incidents and locations. An app isn’t available yet, but could be developed in the future.

Conclusion

iBeat’s Heart Watch has a specific customer in mind. It’s not for the general smartwatch user that wants a fitness companion and notifications on their wrist. It’s for anyone with heart disease, a family history of heart disease or otherwise at risk of a heart attack. It will proactively monitor this customer base so they’re never alone, without calling attention to itself as a medical device.

The Heart Watch is available now for $249 at iBeat’s website. A monthly fee starting at $17 is required for active monitoring and the cell connection, but the first month is free. If you’re at risk of a heart attack, you should seriously consider wearing the Heart Watch. It’s affordable and easy to use, and best of all, it doesn’t look like a medical device.


About the Author: Erik Slaven

He was born and raised in Virginia, but escaped to Southern CA. Started out as a BlackBerry addict until he bought HTC’s Droid Eris and never looked back. He's owned dozens of Android devices and can rarely settle on a daily driver for more than a few months. He's currently using a Galaxy S8 and BlackBerry KEYone. He rides motorcycles for fun and would live on the beach if it was legal. Marketing and freelance pr help keep the lights on.