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The Amazfit Bip is a triumph in low-cost wearable design. It's not for everyone – just for those looking to get started with fitness trackers on a budget.
The Xiaomi Huami Amazfit Bip fitness tracking watch offers similar features to $300 wearables – but for under $100. Is there a better wearable for the money?
Nope. But can you live with the Amazfit Bip’s shortcomings?
Read on to find out what we thought of the Huami Amazfit Bip and to enter our competition to win one for yourself!
Xiaomi – sometimes referred to as China’s Apple – owns Huami. Huami is more or less the wearables division of Xiaomi (Xiaomi sells some of its own wearables). They have made other wearables, under a slightly different label, the Mi Band, Mi Band 2, the Amazfit Pace, and others. Most important among these devices is the Amazfit Pace, which is the forerunner to the Huami Amazfit Bip. The Bip is more or less a lite version of the Amazfit Pace. The Pace sells for $160 and offers slightly more features – like continuous heart rate tracking – at the expense of battery life (5 days).
The Amazfit Bip Lite represents the pinnacle of Huami’s wearable design strategy. It combines all the features seen on other fitness trackers. On one hand, it doesn’t do anything new. On the other hand, it brings to the table features only seen in more expensive devices.
Here’s What You Get
The Huami Amazfit Bip (international edition) comes packaged with a proprietary POGO-pin charging cradle and a bilingual instruction manual. There are no indications of shoddy workmanship that one might spot from a fly-by-night operator selling on Amazon. The instruction manual is clear and concisely written. The packaging is as good as anything sold by Samsung. Overall, at first glance, it does not look like a budget device.
One thing to note: unlike a lot of Fitbit devices with aluminum frames, the Amazfit Bip is constructed from a medical-grade thermoplastic, known as Makrolon. There are different kinds of Makrolon and I’m not aware of the specific kind used, other than that it seems to be fairly scratch resistant and durable.
Hardware and Specifications
The hardware — for $100 — is good. You can find similar wearables in the same price range with better individual parts, but there is no comparable device with as many features for the money.
- Water resistance: IP68 (over 1-meter submersion)
- Battery life claim: 45-days standby, 30-days standard usage, 1-day all sensors turned on
- Battery size and type: 190mAh Lithium-polymer battery
- Internal guts: unknown processor but more than likely a MediaTek MT2523 system-on-a-chip (what’s an SoC?)
- Screen: 176 x 176 pixel resolution (194PPI), transflective LCD (like the Sony Smartwatch 3) covered with Gorilla Glass coating
- Charging method: proprietary POGO-pin cradle
- Strap type: 20mm with replaceable bands (compatible with most wrist watches) including steel metal magnetic strap and others
- Dimensions, weight, construction: 1.28-inch screen, 31 grams, with polycarbonate medical grade plastic body
- Sensor packages: photoplethysmography (PPG) heart rate, three-axis accelerometer, GPS/GLONASS positioning, sleep tracking (using accelerometer), magnetic sensor, barometer
- Haptics: Vibration
The sensor package in the Amazfit is functionally identical to what I’ve seen in most other smartwatches and smartphones. I can’t identify the exact model, but it comes with the standard axial sensors (a 3-axis accelerometer and magnetometer) and a barometric altimeter.
Like many smartphones, calibrating the magnetometer requires simply rotating the watch in a figure eight. It takes just a few seconds to calibrate, provided you aren’t near a large source of electromagnetic radiation.
Heart Rate Sensor
The photoplethysmography (PPG) sensor inside of the Bip reads heart rate using light. It emits a green wavelength of photons, which hit your skin and bounce back toward the sensor. It reads the flow of blood and calculates an average heart rate. The method isn’t perfect, unfortunately.
PPG heart rate sensors are notoriously inaccurate compared to electrocardiography (ECG) sensors. Some reviewers, perhaps rightfully, distrust PPG readings. In truth, the accuracy depends on a lot of secondary factors, like lighting conditions and strap tightness. Hair, skin tone, perspiration, and other environmental and biological variables can influence the sensor’s accuracy, as well. But that’s endemic to the technology and all devices suffer from this issue.
For estimating pulse, it’s good enough for casual users. However, for those who require medical-grade accuracy, you are better off with an ECG device, like Polar’s H10 Bluetooth chest strap. (We reviewed the H10 among other Polar wearables.)
The Display: Transflective Display Technology
The Bip’s screen is daylight readable (CLEARink is another daylight readable display.) To the fullest extent of my knowledge on this subject, only a handful of wearable devices look just as good outdoors as they do indoors. And that’s because they use a little-known technology known as a transflective display.
Transflective display technology is the same thing as a Liquid Crystal Display, except that unlike an LCD screen, it repositions how each layer of the LCD sandwich is exposed to ambient light. More or less, it doesn’t require a backlight to be read in a lit area – like outdoors. But it also includes a backlight, for when you’re indoors. The backlight can turn on with the press of a button or a swing of the arm.
The lack of a backlight allows for transflective displays to also save power. Both of these properties (outdoor viewability and low power) make it ideal for use in a sports wearable. The downside: the screen’s whites and blacks don’t look as good as either LCD or OLED. So while the Bip may look like the Apple Watch, its screen won’t impress anyone.
As conversation starters, or for those who exercise entirely in a gym, the Bip won’t impress. But for everyone who wants a budget fitness tracker for outdoor exercise, the screen is a flat out better technology for wearables. Even if you only workout inside a gym, the longer battery life, and multichromatic display make it a winning design.
What the Huami Amazfit Bip Does
The Huami works just like most fitness wearables. It measures pulse, steps, it does smartphone notifications, it displays the weather, it points to the magnetic north, and more.
One of the best features of the Bip is its integrated (not connected) GPS at a low price point. Integrated GPS differs from connected GPS in that it doesn’t require a paired smartphone to track your location. It instead relies on an internal GPS device. The accuracy compares similarly to the GPS inside of a smartphone, although that means it’s accurate to within 7.8 meters of true. Here’s an example:
I have yet to see a GPS tracker that provides 100% accurate readings. The Fitbit Surge (and other Fitbit devices) offers very good accuracy unless you somehow need absolutely precise location data, I wouldn’t recommend paying $300 for a higher end device.
The GPS lock itself requires around 20 seconds before it determines location. That is actually a lot longer than a smartphone, but most users won’t really notice the lag time.
In the wearables market, fitness trackers begin and end exercise sessions either manually or automatically. The advantage of manual activation is simple: users don’t need to initiate or stop exercise sessions. The biggest issue with manual trackers is that users often forget to end a workout – which depletes the battery and spoils all data gathered.
Automatic trackers – like the now discontinued Basis Peak – dispense with manual activation. Instead, they constantly log your biometric data, which makes them more of a fire-and-forget solution. Overall, I recommend automatic trackers over manual. The tradeoff, however, is that automatic trackers generally suffer from poor or mediocre battery life.
Like other budget fitness trackers, the Amazfit Bip is a manual activation watch – for the most part. While the Bip doesn’t automatically detect the beginning of exercise sessions, it does sense when a user stops moving. When not in motion, the band can automatically pause exercise sessions. It also combines with haptics to let the user know that an exercise session is halted. This is particularly important because it automatically starts the GPS tracking when you set an exercise start point. GPS can run your watch’s battery down to nothing in less than a day.
The science behind tracking sleep revolves around averages. The average person — ideally — sleeps for around 8 hours a night. That sleep cycle is governed by a biological process known as a circadian rhythm. This process involves three cycles: deep, light, and Random Eye Movement (REM).
During deep sleep and REM sleep, the body stops moving. During light sleep, you roll around somewhat. Based on the amount of movement, the Bip can track your phase of sleep by movement. Some wearables, like the Basis B1, can determine all three phases of sleep. Unfortunately, the Bip only uses the accelerometer to detect motion so it’s limited to only detecting movement and immobility. That means it cannot distinguish between REM and deep sleep.
The difference between REM sleep and deep sleep is simple: heart rate increases during REM. The Bip, in theory, should be able to determine REM sleep because it includes a continuous heart rate sensor. Unfortunately, this feature hasn’t been enabled — and I suspect it won’t ever. If you’re looking for in-depth sleep tracking, the Bip isn’t for you.
The Mi Fit App and Health Kit Integrations
Huami’s trackers also provide integration with some – but not all – of today’s fitness tracking services, particularly Google Fit. Noticeably absent, unfortunately, is industry-leader Strava and Apple’s proprietary HealthKit service. The HealthKit omission is understandable, considering that it’s proprietary to Apple. However, the lack of Strava support is a black eye. I should note that Huami will probably add Strava support in the future, though, as they did add support for its Amazfit Pace. I’ll keep this article updated in anticipation of Strava support.
Mi Fit App Bugs
The Mi Fit app suffers from a connection bug. Frequently shutting off your phone’s Bluetooth may break the Amazfit Bip’s connection with your phone. When this bug occurs, turning Bluetooth back on does not reestablish the connection. In order to reconnect, I had to manually remove the Amazfit Bip from the Mi Fit app and then reinitiate the pairing process.
Ideally, disconnecting and reconnecting Bluetooth shouldn’t cause this sort of hassle. Anyone who travels often and uses airplane mode would need to repair after every flight. Furthermore, anyone concerned about security may also have second thoughts about a purchase due to Bluetooth’s vulnerabilities to penetration. Both problems are potential deal-killers for those who don’t want to walk around with their Bluetooth always on.
Heart Rate Sensor and Accuracy
The Amazfit’s heart rate accuracy isn’t perfect. On the positive side, its indoor accuracy seems within one or two beats of the rate calculated by an Omron heart rate reader and through manual count. On the negative side, its outdoor accuracy seems to fall off the map at times.
I don’t have an EEG heart rate strap available for comparison, but in general, the Omron’s readings were generally lower than my resting heart rate. But that’s to be expected as PPG heart rate sensors require tightness and darkness in order to get an accurate read. When tightened to the point of discomfort, the readings seem more accurate, although still sketchy.
Unlike most budget or manual trackers, the Bip can function in continuous or intermittent pulse-tracking modes. Within its price range, these features make it among the best wearables on today’s market.
Huami’s 45-Day Battery Life Claim
The 45-day battery life is accurate, although that’s its standby time. Huami’s own 30-day battery life estimate — with average use — is a little suspect. It’s true that with the default settings, the Bip can last for a month. But that means you aren’t using its GPS feature or continuous heart rate tracking.
With my usage of around one-hour a day, the battery life comes out to around 10-days (after 5-days usage, the battery sits at 47%). Even so, that’s excellent for a device with location tracking, Bluetooth, automatic sleep tracking, and a PPG heart rate sensor. Most of the devices with similar features run for less than a week. I can’t think of any that can operate for two or more weeks.
Again, keep in mind that exercise tracking is entirely manual. Many wearables that manually track exercises can get battery lives of around a year — although they lack pulse sensors, GPS, and other features.
The Bip’s biggest advantage over other manual trackers is its auto-pause feature. I’m unaware of any low-cost trackers that offer auto-pause (but they’re definitely out there).
Warranty, Repairability, Reliability
Perhaps the worst feature of the Amazfit Bip is its potentially difficult warranty. The big issue with importing from China has been when something goes wrong. If it breaks, you need to ship to China. If you do buy it, try to use an American importer with a reputation for reliability. Otherwise, you may need to deal with shipping (plus tracking and insurance) costs of around $50.
Possible Deal Breakers
Like all wearables, there is no perfect fitness tracker. The Amazfit Bip suffers from its share of problems, some of which may be deal breaking.
- The Mi Band app doesn’t display properly — the top is slightly cut off on some Android phones.
- The battery life estimate of 30 to 45 days is overstated (it’s more like two weeks with all features turned on).
- The Bip uses a proprietary POGO-pin cradle charger (no wireless Qi charging).
- Buying from importers may require return shipping to China for defective products.
- There’s no blood oxygen sensor for reading VO2 max (oxygen utilization).
- Uses manual, not automatic, exercise tracking (but with automatic shut off).
- There’s no (as of Feburary 2018) Strava integration.
- The Bluetooth sometimes disconnects and requires pairing the device again.
- The GPS and PPG accuracy isn’t perfect (but few devices are).
Should You Buy the Huami Amazfit Bip?
Huami outdid themselves in bringing a high-quality, low-cost fitness tracker to market. At its retail price of $100, the Huami Amazfit Bip is better than anything else in its budget category – and it even gives far more expensive devices a run for their money. A similar device, for example, the Samsung Gear Fit 2, runs for $150 and offers far less than what the Bip does.
Does anyone else own the Amazfit Bip? What are your thoughts?