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A compelling alternative to Apple Watch

For all of the media spectacle surrounding last week's first deliveries of the Apple Watch, the fact remains that Cupertino's smartwatch will affect relatively few people, particularly in the short term. With Apple Watch starting at a pricey $350 and shipping in small quantities for months to come, the real smartwatch action is elsewhere.

Like with the Basis Peak, a device that combines fitness band capabilities and smartwatch-style phone notifications. That makes it a real contender for your smartwatch dollars.

The Basis Peak is a refresh of the Basis B1, a fitness band that debuted in 2013 with an impressive amount of technology that even now is almost unparalleled among fitness bands. The B1 packed in a heart-rate monitor as well as skin temperature and perspiration sensors. Despite all the tech, you still got four days on a charge, much better than a single day with the Apple Watch, not quite a full week like you get from a Pebble.

Watches that keep a close watch on you

Regrettably, the B1 was bulky and unattractive, the interface was controlled with buttons rather than a touch screen and synchronization was twitchy.

Still, it was a thoroughly impressive fitness band. First and foremost, it recognized exercise like running and cycling automatically, and tracked them without the need to manually activate any sort of exercise mode. The watch also sensed when you went to sleep and tracked that automatically as well.

Basis, which is now part of the Intel family, has refreshed its signature fitness band in some important ways.

The new Peak is far more stylish than its predecessor. It's thinner, has a large touchscreen display and now uses a soft silicone wristband in a standard 23-mm size, rather than the clunky and uncomfortable B1 band which often slipped off the watch by accident.

The watch now sits in a convenient magnetic charging station instead of snapping into the baffling puzzlebox that passed for a charger on the B1. Even synchronization is dramatically better: The Basis now syncs directly and automatically to your mobile device via Bluetooth rather than using a flaky and unreliable manual PC connection.

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The Basis Peak is far better than its predecessor, which suffered some serious problems. But despite those notable shortcomings, the B1 was a great fitness device, and the Peak builds on that foundation. Most notably, Basis has improved the heart-rate monitor so it works continuously now, even throughout strenuous exercise. You can run, hike and bike, and the Peak will capture your heart rate throughout the activities.

It's also waterproof to five atmospheres, so you can swim laps with it -- something that would have been ill-advised with the B1 and most other fitness bands.

Basis has always relied on the concept of "habits." To encourage you to live a more fit lifestyle, you agree to a set of habits (like sleep consistent hours, take a morning run and burn a target number of calories). The watch tracks your activity and credits you daily for what you accomplish.

It's an interesting approach that rewards you for achievements in measured doses. In addition to your habits, the Basis Peak app shows you a huge amount of data, so you can drill into metrics about every aspect of your waking and sleeping hours.

In addition to all that, the big news is that the Peak also displays smartwatch notifications: It alerts you to phone calls, text messages and meetings. They're purely one-way notifications because you can't respond to any of those things on the watch. But the notifications are a great concession for anyone who wants a fitness band and also wants smartwatch-like notification features.

Priced $150 below the very cheapest Apple Watch, the Basis Peak might have once seemed expensive compared to other fitness bands, but it's now a steal compared to Apple's wrist computers.

But should you buy it?

It's unambiguously one of the best fitness bands out there, offering tons of raw data through a host of sensors and automatic activity tracking. However, as with most fitness devices, there's little in the way of actionable intelligence here. Knowing when you toss and turn at night doesn't really help you sleep better, for example, and if you maintain a consistent workout routine every day, the watch doesn't tell you anything you didn't already know.

Still, for folks who genuinely want to keep track on everything about their personal fitness, and get smartphone reminders at the same time, the Basis Peak is a compelling choice.