Intel does right with Basis Peak watch recall

Good hardware, painful software, excellent support

Intel - logoIntel is recalling it’s Basis Peak watch due to overheating and setting a good example too. SemiAccurate often covers manufacturing companies doing the wrong thing but rarely do we get a chance to write about them doing right.

A few weeks ago, Basis, an Intel subsidiary, emailed owners about their watches potentially overheating. They advised customers to stop wearing their watches while a software fix was worked on, and offered a refund to those who wanted it. Yesterday they announced that the software fix was not viable and are recalling the watch. You can read the recall notice here and find the forms here.

The most important thing here is that Intel/Basis did the right thing. There were reports of ~0.2% of users having the watch heat up on them so Intel voluntarily recalled the device and offered a full refund. This is the right thing to do for customers and is what SemiAccurate has come to expect from Intel after years of very occasional problems with their products. Unfortunately for consumers in general, they are the glaring exception to the rule, most ignore problems or actively bury severe issues.

So that ends the saga of the Basis Peak watch which the author has worn daily for the past six months or so. When we send it back (Note: Not for a refund) it will be with mixed emotions. Why? The good is the hardware, it is unquestionably the best hardware SemiAccurate has seen in a smartwatch. Peak has 24/7 heartbeat monitoring and a battery life of a real four days, usually more. It looked decent especially in leather and stainless steel and didn’t scream “I am a plasticky toy” from 10M away.

On the software side, we can say that it shines in the area of telling time as long as you only needed hours and minutes. The rest of the software was something between obtuse and painful starting with the time. For a fitness watch you would think the ability to display seconds was useful enough to put in as a default. On the Peak you can’t get seconds to display. At all. Period. Nope, not joking, no seconds at all. If you tapped the watch the date would display in tiny print for a few seconds then disappear. Know how to make it stay up? You can’t, no way. Similarly the watch face is fixed, no font changes, no analog replica, no, well no nothing.

The UI was a nightmare, not just useless but actively frustrating. It would change modes to show activities when it decided you were doing something and put that on the display. If you wanted to see the time in a readable manner, you dropped out of the ‘activity’ monitoring mode and really couldn’t get back until the watch decided it wanted to. There was also no way to tell the watch that you were going to be doing an activity, it decided when and where to track your exercise along with what you were doing.

Luckily Basis got the activity tracker tuned so that the watch was rarely off by more than an order of magnitude for calorie counts but never closer than a sizeable multiple. As of this writing I have biked over 1K miles in ~4 months and comparing the Peak to my other logging software and hardware, well the results are embarrassing. That however is not as bad as trying to set an alarm or using the stopwatch. After 6+ months of use, I can honestly say I gave up on figuring both ‘features’ out, I can’t tell you how to do either and I honestly tried to figure it out.

The companion app makes the watch software itself look brilliant by comparison. You can see your activities that the watch decided you were doing but if it breaks them up because you decided to stop and talk to someone while biking for example, there is no way to pause and restart the activity. There is also no way to tell it you are embarking on an activity, concatenate the resultant activity fragments, or do anything useful to the data. Luckily you can compare the activity of a day in total to the day before or after. If you want to do something usual like, oh, comparing the totals from a day with that of two days ago, no chance. Seriously, you can’t compare anything but two concurrent days. Week totals? Right out. Any totals other than a day? Nope. Really, we are not joking, there is no way to get the base minimum metrics from this miserable app.

We could go on about the sheer uselessness and frustration of the Basis Peak app but you get the idea. It is so painful to use we frankly gave up on it. The only time it was opened was to show other people how bad it was, they tended not to believe it when told without proof. Then again a company that makes a symmetrical charge cradle that takes a watch in two orientations but only charges it when placed in the correct orientation can be forgiven for missing bare minimum software features. Actually no, they can’t.

So that concludes SemiAccurate’s half-year or so with the Basis Peak watch. It is being recalled for all the right reasons in the right way. Intel is unquestionably doing good here and standing by their customers in a way that few others would. For that reason alone we will look at the next Basis product if there is one. On the hardware side it is a fine watch but nothing more, the ‘smart’ part is non-existent and the feature list lags behind a $19.99 Timex, but the author still liked his. On the UI or app side, well the less said the better.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate