Lumoback review: It's bringing posture back
At a Glance
Fitness and health sensors (buzz) are not only all over the marketplace lately, they’re (buzz) all over your body. Case in point (buzz): the Lumoback (buzz), a waist-worn (buzz) sensor that successfully (buzz) earned (buzz) funding (buzz) through Kickstarter.
In case you’re wondering what wearing the Lumoback ($150) is like, imagine you’re living the first paragraph of this article. Only all day long. The device is a posture and activity sensor that fts around your waist and tracks your steps, movement, sleep, posture, sitting time, and calories expended.
But the Lumoback isn’t primarily an activity tracker, and it doesn’t focus on helping you eat better, exercise more, or count steps or calories—all those positive effects are gravy. Its number one mission is simply to get you to sit up straight. A “personal posture trainer,” the Lumoback helps correct the way you sit, stand, and move by producing a slight vibrating buzz through the sensor.
Does that continual buzzing get bothersome? Oh, you betcha. Does it work? About as well as my Dad’s indefatigable nagging to sit up straight did in my childhood, so...some. Stand up and let me walk you through it.
The Lumoback consists of a small black sensor, about the size and weight of a pack of gum, attached to a stretchy black belt. You use the Velcro straps near the sensor to adjust the belt, and you “buckle” it with a Velcro closure at the front.
This design makes the Lumoback fairly comfortable to wear during the day—you can put it on either over or under your clothing. But finding a good fit for sleeping was tougher. I had trouble tightening the belt enough to prevent it from shifting while I slept, yet loose enough to keep me from dreaming of hungry anacondas all night.
The sensor itself consists of one large, very sensitive button, one small indicator light, and one Micro-USB input. The sensor communicates wirelessly with the app, and provides feedback in real time so you can watch your movements in the app.
The indicator light pulses yellow while the Lumoback is charging, and it shines steadily when the device is fully charged. A blue pulsing light means the Lumoback is connected to an iOS device. If you tap the button, the light glows green to indicate that you have more than a day of battery life remaining, or orange to indicate that less than a day’s worth of power remains. You press and hold the button to turn the Lumoback on (green light) or off (red flashing light and two vibrations).
After you’ve downloaded the app and turned Bluetooth on, the app and sensor sync, and the app guides you through the setup procedure: several steps of walking, sitting, and slouching to give Lumoback a baseline for its algorithms. Spine doctors and physical therapists have worked with Lumoback to develop models of body movement for the sensor.
Lumoback’s belt fastens directly above your hip bones, and it’s fairly comfortable to wear...but you’ll never, ever forgot you’re wearing it because the sensor will buzz every few seconds.
Maybe you’re reaching for the Kleenex on your desk. Maybe you’re trying to lean back in your chair, or shifting your weight, or turning to talk to a coworker, or doing nothing perceptibly different from what you were doing a second ago. But the Lumoback will buzz. It will, in fact, punctuate your day with buzzes and score the soundtrack of your life with small vibrations.
In short, get used to it. This is what the Lumoback does, and it does so at your invitation. The buzzing will get annoying. It will surprise you. You will start to ignore it. You will want to yell at it. You have terrible posture, and the Lumoback’s goal is to make you aware of that fact—a goal it pursues implacably.
Thanks to its singleness of purpose, the device is undeniably effective: I not only sat up straight as much as possible while wearing it (please stop the buzzing), but I found myself more conscious of my posture throughout the day. Heck, just telling people a few details about what I was testing got them to sit up straighter while talking to me.
The crucial issue here is your tolerance for constant correction. The Lumoback is undeniably a pain in the ass. Its buzzing interrupts your thought processes. Its constant criticism (if you think of it that way) can be frustrating. The first day I wore the Lumoback, I made it through 4 hours. The second day, 3 hours. The third day, I just stared at it. I forced myself to endure a few hours—and one night—over the remaining five days, but if I hadn’t had the independent motivation of writing this review, I would have found it tantalizingly easy to “forget” the device in the back of a drawer. Ultimately, you just want to live your life without the constant buzzing. The good news? You can adjust its sensitivity to some extent, which leads us to...
Lumoback’s control center is an iOS-only app. You use the app to register your account (details on height and weight, and whether you use a standing desk), to sync and calibrate Lumoback, and to toggle the buzz options.
After setup, the app’s home screen displays your stick figure avatar, who changes colors as you move. Green means good movement, and orange means you could use improvement. Stick Figure Guy, as I came to call him, moves when you move, slouches when you slouch, and walks when you walk.
I typically experienced a bit of inconsistency with my avatar: Stick Figure Guy would walk when I was only recrossing my legs under my desk or scooting around in my desk chair. Recalibrating Lumoback helped improve the situation—but it, like the buzzing, took some time to fuss around with.
You can use the buttons at the top of your screen to toggle between buzzing options. The choices are to have Lumoback buzz once when you move into a bad posture, or to have it pulse continuously until you move back into good posture. One alternative is not less vexing than the other, for what that’s worth.
You can also adjust Lumoback’s posture sensitivity via the Advanced Vibration Controls that offers buzz thresholds ranging from Extremely Slouched to Barely Slouched. (I never made it to the Barely Slouched standard and consider that an expert level.)
If those adjustments don’t help you find an acceptable level of Lumoback intervention, you can reset or recalibrate your sitting or standing posture, and reorient the sensor from the menu screen, which also has a tab for your profile.
Your measurements and data live on the home screen, in five Insight Tiles: Posture Score, Sit Time, Stand Ups, Steps, and Sleep. Each tile does pretty much what you’d expect, given its name.
Posture Score reports your Total Straight Time and Total Slouch Time in hours and minutes, and it charts the data on graphs that you can view by Day, Week, or Month. Sit Time breaks the data down into a pie chart of standing, stepping, sitting, and driving. Stand Ups counts how many times you’ve stood up throughout a specified day, week, or month. Steps records your walking or running steps over the same distances; and Sleep shows your nighttime positions (back, front, right, left), along with the hours and minutes you spent asleep.
This is all neat enough, but I wouldn’t have minded being able to drill down farther into the metrics. For example, in Posture Score, I would have liked to be able to tap the score and view only the metrics across time periods, or only the Straight Time measurements. I would also like to be able to tap the graphs and see them full-screen, or turn to landscape mode to do so.
As an experiment, wearing the Lumoback was an interesting, but I’m intrigued by the changes a version 2 might introduce. I’d like to see some improved algorithms—a lot of the time, the Lumoback seemed overly focused on pelvic tilt, causing me to exaggerate that motion—as well as software with greater functionality.
It might also be worth trying to add some sort of reward system for Lumoback users. A way to compete or to give the posture corrections a gaming aspect might encourage people to wear the sensor for longer periods of time.
For example, if I could have earned in-app coins for every hour I wore the Lumoback, and if the person earning the most coins in my group that week could thereby win a donation to the charity of their choice, I probably would have toughed it out for a lot longer.
That said, Lumoback does get users to focus on their posture. Wearing it made me more aware of how I was sitting, and making Stick Figure Guy walk along with me was neat (though the Bluetooth connection was murder on my phone’s battery).
In the end, if you’re concerned enough about your posture to spend $150 on a sensor, you’re probably going to be dedicated enough to use Lumoback to the best of its ability. If you’re only casually concerned about your posture, then hey, just get your dad to call you and remind you throughout your day.