Oura Runs Rings Around Other Fitness Trackers
There are few real status symbols in the world of technology. It seems like half of the world uses lovely but interchangeable Apple products. The rest of us cobble together a toolset of plain Android devices and plainer Windows PCs. In this marketplace, the Oura Ring stands alone. It is a signifier that you are part of an elite group of body-metric trackers in the know.
I have been wearing an Oura for more than four years. In that time, the Oura went from being a subtle hallmark of the technical cognoscenti to adorning the fingers of celebrities including Prince Harry, Shaquille O’ Nea, Jack Dorsey, Kim Kardashian, and Gwyneth Paltrow. Oh, and also, Will Smith. (Thankfully, the Oura is plastic.)
The Oura ring is so unassuming that you may know someone who uses it and not even noticed. (Maybe not, Oura users tend to evangelize.) That inconspicuous profile is a big part of its appeal but make no mistake; the Oura is one of the most sophisticated fitness trackers on the market. And with upgrades coming almost every quarter, it keeps getting better.
The ring looks like a basic wedding band, which has been pointed out multiple times as I routinely switch left and right hands. That means I can still wear my Shinola wristwatch without looking like I am wearing a ton of jewelry. Although it looks like metal, it is plastic and completely waterproof. Inside are two infrared sensors, two negative thermal coefficient body temp sensors, a 3D accelerometer, and a gyroscope.
Like most fitness trackers, the $299 Oura will report your daily activity, heart rate, body temp, sleep times, sleep quality, and more. Unlike a lot of trackers, Oura measures Heart Rate Variability, a great indicator of your overall readiness. (Turns out, when you sleep, you want your heart rate to vary more, rather than less.) The company just released an update that tracks blood oxygen levels when you sleep.
Fitness tracking began with simple step counting, but that information is only so helpful. We know when we have been active and when we spend the day sitting at our desks. Sleep time, quality, and heart rate variability are far more helpful in leading a healthier life. Seeing the statistical consequences of your decisions, whether staying up too late or drinking a little—or a lot—too much, helps us tack back to a better life course.
Perhaps most importantly, the Oura gives me actionable information regarding sleep quality. I recently took an overnight flight from Newark to Paris. The flight boarded at 10 p.m., and after the meal service, it wasn’t until midnight the cabin lights were out. During these night flights, it is hard to know exactly how much sleep you get. Oura was clear: I got less than three hours of sleep, and my sleep and readiness scores were abysmal. Even worse, although I had dropped into deep sleep quickly, I got no REM sleep, which tends to come at the end of a sleep cycle. I was a mess, and the Oura Ring confirmed it. After getting to my hotel and taking a nap, I could bring those scores up and have a lovely dinner on the Seine before going back to bed at a reasonable Paris time. (See the sad details in the screenshot.)
The Oura is a commitment. Like many former hardware companies, Oura now has a monthly subscription plan of $6 a month. It comes with software updates and mediation apps. The company also recently announced a partnership with Strava, so your Activity and Readiness data can be automatically exported to that app.
When it launched, it was hatred to recommend the Oura because it was hard to get, and no one knew if this little-known tech vendor would survive. Today, the Oura seems like a sure bet for consumers and an attractive acquisition target for big tech firms like Apple and Google that want a state-of-the-art player fitness tech.