The Spire is a fitness tracker that also measures your breathing, so you can keep tabs on your lungs as well as your steps. Why would you want to do that? Creators Jonathan Palley and Neema Moraveji, of the Stanford’s Calming Technology Lab, claim it can help make you a calmer person.
As soon as I heard about Spire, I wanted to give it a shot. I am not particularly chill, and recently I’ve been feeling more anxious than usual. My yoga teacher mum has recommended breathing exercises about 95,000 times, and I figured a fitness tracker that guides you through them would be perfect for me.
What Is It?
Spire looks like a small grey clip-on speaker that doubles as an expensive skipping stone. It’s actually quite handsome-looking for a fitness tracker. (I’m not alone in that sentiment: it won a National Design Award!) It’s small enough to clip onto your pants fairly unobtrusively — except you have to put the smooth, oblong side directly against your skin, sturdy metal clip facing out. If you try to clip it the other way the app will let you know you’re doing it wrong. Helpful!
Charging the Spire was a breeze since I just plunked it on the equally handsome Qi wireless charger, though there wasn’t really a way to tell when the Spire was ready for action. I kind of just had to let it sit there. Once Spire was charged up, I synced it to the app.
The companion app is available for free for iOS — no Android support yet — and without it, your pretty little pebble won’t be much use. All of your alerts and information comes through the app. There’s no screen or LEDs or indicators of any sort on the Spire itself. You need to turn Bluetooth on to connect the tracker and your phone, and then you’re prompted to set goals for yourself in three areas: Activity, Calm, and Focus. The app analyses your breath and footsteps to decide when you are focusing and when you are calm (and when you are active). I chose middle-of-the-road goals for myself: 10,000 steps in a day for exercise, 60 minutes of “Focus,” and 60 minutes of “Calm.”
It wasn’t very comfortable clipped against my jeans, so I stuck to clipping Spire to the middle of my bra. It’s small enough that you can’t see it through most shirts, though I expect you’d run into some problems if you wanted to go for a more risque neckline. And for people who don’t wear bras, the pantsline is the only option. Most of the time I forgot it was there, although it took some getting used to and adjusting at first (not unlike wearing a bra in general).
What’s It Good At?
The Qi wireless battery charging tray was easy to use — just throw the tracker on and let it suck up power — and the battery lasted for six days.
I love that this thing is wash-proof. I didn’t end up sending it through my laundry, but only just: After wearing it clipped to a sports bra when I went out for a walk, I ended up forgetting about it when I nearly threw it in the washing machine with the rest of my dirty clothes. I’m guessing that’s something that will happen to the little tracker with regularity, so it was smart to give the little Spire resistance to water. (Though I do wish you could take it swimming with you; as an aquatically-inclined exerciser it sucks how few affordable trackers can count laps as well as footsteps.)
Tap the little magnifying glass at the upper-left to zoom.
The companion app’s interface uses a three-pronged symbol that shows you how you’re doing in the Calm, Activity, and Focus departments. I felt reassured when I’d get streaks showing good activity. The positive reinforcement probably did make me calmer, at least a little bit. I felt like frigging Buddha looking at all my glorious streaks of calm and focus. It was nice to have a little nudge to think about my breathing during the day, and I liked how Spire shows you how many breaths you take per minute and how consistent your breaths are.
It was motivating to see my activity measured out in concrete clusters, showing me how many calories I burned and steps I took each time I walked somewhere, although I felt like the step-tracker was underreporting: One day I walked well over 9 kilometers and still didn’t make my 10,000 steps goal, which surprised me.
Even though I was registering impressively low levels of tension, I tested out the Deep Meditation feature, which leads you through an eight-minute guided breathing exercise. I also tried the “Focus” breathing exercise, which is two and a half minutes of a woman with a soothing voice telling me to think about my goals. “As you take your next inhale, think to yourself: What is today’s most important outcome?”
There are also breathing exercises for Calm and Energy. Energy was weird because it made me do something called “Alternate Nostril Breathing.” As I mentioned before, I’m pretty foot-draggy on anything to do with meditation, but the exercises were soothing and I found myself feeling better after the Deep Meditation breathing.
If you like breathing work and meditation, the guided exercise feature is a cool bonus. But it’s also a feature that offers something you can get for free on YouTube or with other meditation apps; it’s totally disconnected to the actual tracker and is simply an app add-on.
What’s It Not Good At?
In addition to the fitness tracker being maybe a little conservative, the breath tracker really didn’t seem to correspond to my activities. For example: I’ve been wearing it while I’ve been writing this, and guess what? I am apparently not focused enough to get a “Focus” streak. Yet I got “Focus” streaks while I was drinking sangria and gossiping this weekend. When I smoked a cigarette, my respiratory pattern appeared to stay even, like some Zen tobacco master. I know smoking is a horrible habit and I should quit, and I was expecting Spire to serve up a reminder to drop the bad habit by showing spikes of tension and more labored breathing when I lit up. But it didn’t even register.
And the only time I registered as “Tense” was when I was literally lounging on my couch watching Empire. While that’s a fairly high-stakes drama, it’s also silly and I’m not so invested in it that I was seriously stressing out. While I enjoyed following Spire’s guided breathing exercises, it was sort of goofy that they were prompted when I was already feeling relaxed while enjoying a FOX primetime soap opera with high production value.
Aside from the tracker not being particularly accurate, there are some other problems with Spire. You need to keep the companion app open on your phone for the tracking to work. That sucks because no matter how good the battery is on the tracker, the app will drain your phone.
I also experienced a syncing glitch I couldn’t figure out how to fix on my own. It went away when I turned my Bluetooth on and off, but if I experienced it in my short trial, I’m guessing people at home will have a buggy experience.
Another minor annoyance: I had to re-pair the device with the app repeatedly after going for a few days between uses, and each time it took between 2-10 minutes to sync. Not a huge deal, but pretty annoying if you want to throw it on and go.
Should You Buy It?
No. It’s a fascinating concept, but right now, you’d be paying $US150 for a mediocre fitness tracker and a vaguely soothing but dubious mood tracker. And there’s no need to settle for that. If you’re primarily interested in a fitness tracker, I’d recommend the Fitbit Charge HR for around the same price, which also boasts a heart rate monitor, accelerometer, food logging, and sleep tracking. If you really like discreet fitness trackers that don’t go around your wrist, the $US120 Withings Pulse O2 is a solid contender.
The concept of measuring respiratory patterns and offering guided breathing exercises is intriguing, and there aren’t any fitness trackers out there that do what the Spire wants to do. I’m hoping we see improvements to Spire that make its tracking more accurate, because this is a corner of the health gadget market that’s really underdeveloped. For now though, the Spire isn’t worth the money.