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With Halo, Amazon's entry into the fitness space is ambitious, but odd – CNET

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Amazon has entered the health and fitness world with Halo, a subscription service and accompanying fitness band that unlocks an array of health metrics, including activity, sleep, body fat and tone of voice analysis, to determine how you sound to others. Amazon’s entry into the fitness space is odd indeed, and ambitious. And we’re just getting our minds wrapped around it. 

The band itself looks a lot like a screenless Fitbit tracker, but with a few different elements: It has temperature sensing, much like Fitbit’s newest smartwatch, the Fitbit Sense, and a microphone that continually scans a wearer’s voice to determine emotional tone. Yes, it’s a lot to take in. And the service is immediately available for early access. We haven’t even had a chance to try it out yet. 

The membership part will start at $65 for the first six months ($100 once the early access deal is over) and then $3.99 a month after that. (International prices aren’t currently available, but $65 converts to about £50 or AU$90.) The subscription to Halo includes the basic fitness band that has one button, no screen and tracks your heart rate, steps and temperature. The lack of screen means you’ll have to rely on the mobile app to see all your data, but it does a lot more than just count your steps and log your weight. 

A tone-analyzing, Amazon health band that also lets you scan your body fat may sound like Black Mirror incarnate, but it’s also opening up some ideas in fitness that we’ve never seen before.


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Amazon’s Halo takes fitness tracking to new and uncomfortable…

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Body fat analysis with a smartphone camera 

Amazon thinks the concept of weight loss is flawed, and that body fat is a much better predictor of health.

Most of us have been conditioned to obsess over our weight. The entire diet industry was built on it with programs, apps and devices that revolve around ways to lose pounds. 

But weight can fluctuate daily based on factors including humidity, medication, menstrual cycle and illness. Plus muscle is more dense than fat, and a scale can’t tell the difference between the two. You could literally work your ass off building muscle and burning fat, and not see the numbers on the scale go down.

Rather than relying on weight, Halo focuses on body fat percentage, which is less volatile and takes a lot more time and work to change. 

The gold standard in the medical world for body composition analysis is a DEXA scan (dual-energy absorptiometry), which can cost up to $100 at a lab. The Halo app does it all using your smartphone camera. Once you take your photos, the app automatically eliminates everything else in the background, calculates body fat percent based on body indicators, and then creates a 3D model of your body, which is both cool and terrifying. The app requires you to wear minimal form-fitting clothing and trust Amazon to take a picture of you wearing it. The entire process takes seconds. 

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Amazon’s Halo app makes a 3D render of your body to analyze body fat, while the fitness band keeps tabs on sleep and activity. 


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If you’re feeling uncomfortable, that’s not surprising: The idea of body-scanning with a camera is already an awkward proposition. Amazon doing this on a health platform makes it feel more so. The sample body-scan images Amazon showed me look very personal — not necessarily something I’d ever want anyone else to see.

That’s why Amazon promises that the finished body scans stay on your phone and won’t be shared with anybody, including the company, unless you opt into that. According to Amazon, “the images are processed in the cloud, but encrypted in transit and processed within seconds, after which they’re automatically deleted from Amazon’s systems and databases. All scan images are fully deleted within 12 hours. The scan images aren’t viewed by anyone at Amazon and aren’t used for machine learning optimizations.”

Watch that tone! 

Halo also offers a Tone analysis, which has nothing to do with body tone, but rather analyzes the nuances of your voice to paint a picture of how you sound to others. It can let you know when you’ve sounded out of line, weirdly enough. 

The fitness band has two built-in mics to capture audio and it listens for emotional cues. The company says it’s not intended to analyze the content of your conversation, just the tone of your delivery. It takes periodic samples of your speech throughout the day if you opt in to the feature. You enable the microphones by tapping the side button and you’ll know when the mic is off when a red LED lights up on the band. 

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Amazon

The voice scanning pulls out the wearer’s specific voice in conversations and delivers analysis with related emotional-tone words (like “happy,” or “concerned” in the Halo app). The idea, according to Amazon, is to help guide you to deliver better tones of voice and speaking styles, like a vocal form of good posture. It isn’t intended as a form of psychological analysis, but it seems awfully hard to draw the line on a concept like this. 

Amazon’s been exploring the idea of emotional tone-sensing since at least 2018, but this is the first time it’s approached the idea in any device. And according to Amazon, the Tone feature is only available on the Halo band for now. It will be limited to the band’s microphone, but Amazon sounds open to exploring the idea on other devices, depending on how the early access response goes from first-wave wearers. It’s a very odd thing to put on a fitness band, and we have no idea what this is like to use yet.

Amazon promises that Tone voice samples are encrypted and stored only on a wearer’s phone (shared from the band via Bluetooth with the encrypted key), are deleted after analysis and won’t be shared to the cloud or used to build machine-learning models.

Sleep analysis with temperature tracking

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The sleep analysis includes a body temperature to detect variations that may impact sleep. 


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The app provides a comprehensive sleep analysis with a breakdown of the different stages of sleep and overall sleep score, much like other fitness trackers. It also goes beyond the basics by keeping track of your overall body temperature during sleep and creating a baseline for each person. It then charts your average temperature each night relative to your baseline to help you identify variations that could affect your health and the quality of your sleep. 

The Halo band won’t provide a specific body temperature, similar to the way other temperature wearable devices like the Oura Ring already work.

Temperature has become a trending wearable metric in the COVID-19 era: The Oura Ring has one and Fitbit’s newest Sense watch has one too. Amazon’s Halo team is pursuing research for COVID-19 symptom detection on its wearables, much like other health wearable companies, but no specific studies or plans have been laid out yet.

Activity tracking: A week at a glance 

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The activity app is based on a weekly point system. 


Amazon

Halo also does basic fitness tracking based on the information from the band. It can automatically track walks and runs, but you’ll have to go into the app and tag any other workouts manually. 

It rewards you for any type of movement or activity, but gives more points for more intense workouts and subtracts points for sedentary time. And it doesn’t keep a daily tally of your activity, your score is based on the points you accrued during the entire week. The entire picture of exercise, sedentary time and active time is combined into one tally.

Amazon’s sleep and activity scores and other AI tools will require an Amazon Halo subscription; otherwise, the band will default to more basic tracking data. Much like Fitbit and its Premium service, this looks to be continuing a trend of fitness devices that expect a subscription model as part of the package.

A lot of labs and partners, but no Google or Apple integration

A Labs section of Amazon Halo looks similar to what’s on Fitbit’s Premium service, with a lot of multiweek health and fitness goals to opt into, and partners lined up from OrangeTheory to Weight Watchers. Amazon promises these challenges are scientifically vetted, but it also sounds like these challenges will keep being added to over time. 

But at least at launch, Halo will not tie in to Apple’s HealthKit or Google’s Fit App which puts it at a disadvantage with people who are already deeply invested in either for health tracking. Amazon is leaning on Weight Watchers, John Hancock Vitality wellness program, and a few others that will be able to hook into Amazon Halo health data.

The looming privacy question

There’s a lot of process in terms of features, and while some seem interesting and innovative, the biggest barrier to entry is privacy. Sharing any kind of health data (let alone unflattering seminudes) requires next-level trust, and you might not be prepared to give Amazon that trust. The company doesn’t exactly have the most pristine track record when it comes to keeping user data private. Alexa-enabled devices have been in the hot seat for storing private conversations “for machine learning purposes.” And Amazon’s Ring doorbell has had a series of privacy dust-ups. 

Halo puts privacy in your hands by allowing you to opt out of data sharing with Amazon and third-party apps as well as disable the microphone on the band, but it’s still going to be an uphill battle. That is unless its features prove to be earth-shattering and worth the privacy risk, which remains to be seen.

Amazon is late on arrival

The lack of connection to Apple or Google is telling. Amazon’s making a play in the health and fitness data space, and with Google, Fitbit and Apple already deep in, it’s a big question as to how Amazon will make waves. Or, where Amazon Halo will go next. It’s a platform as much as a wearable, and it sounds like Halo’s early-access experiment may just be the tip of the iceberg.

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Microsoft’s Xbox Series X 1TB expandable storage priced at $219.99 – The Verge

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Microsoft’s first 1TB expandable storage drive for the Xbox Series X / S will be priced at $219.99. Best Buy has started taking preorders for the accessory, revealing a final price that had leaked recently. These expandable storage cards slot into the rear of both the Xbox Series X / S to match the internal SSD speed and provide 1TB of extra storage.

Microsoft’s expandable storage solution is proprietary, and only Seagate has been announced as a manufacturer so far. Microsoft tells me more suppliers and additional sizes will be available in the future, but the $219.99 price will still surprise many potential next-gen Xbox owners.

The Xbox Series X ships with 1TB of SSD storage, and the Xbox Series S just 512GB of storage. Microsoft’s pricing means the $299 Xbox Series S jumps to nearly $520 if you want to add the additional storage and bring it up to 1.5TB overall. That may make the larger Series X more appealing to those who need the storage, particularly as games will start to require it once they’re enhanced for the Xbox Series X / S. Games for the Xbox Series S can be 30 percent smaller than the Series X, which will certainly help with storage options.

An alternative to this expandable storage is simply using any USB drive to store games when you don’t need to play them. If they’re not enhanced for Xbox Series X / S then you’ll even be able to run them direct from USB storage, or you can simply copy them and use drives as cheaper cold storage.

It’s difficult to judge the price of these expandable storage cards, simply because there aren’t enough comparable PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSDs out there. Sony has chosen to allow players to slot their own drives into the PS5, but these drives will need to meet the speed requirements of the internal SSD. Those speed requirements mean that PS5 owners will need the very best PCIe 4.0 NVMe drives that are starting to make their way into PCs. Samsung announced its 980 Pro earlier this week, which looks like it might be an ideal candidate for the PS5 due to its fast read and write speeds. Samsung’s 1TB option for the 980 Pro is priced at $229.99, but Sony has not yet revealed which drives will be compatible with the PS5.

The benefits of Sony’s more open approach is that pricing on compatible PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSDs will inevitably drop over time due to competition and lower manufacturing costs. Assuming Sony certifies most high-end drives, there should be a lot of options. Microsoft will need more manufacturers producing its expandable Xbox Series X / S storage cards for competition to take place and prices to be lowered over time. It’s going to be a waiting game to see exactly how Sony and Microsoft handle expandable storage options in the coming months, but it’s clear from Microsoft’s pricing that it’s not going to be cheap for early adopters.

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Xbox Joins TikTok, And Their First Video Is A Good One – GameSpot

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Xbox has become the latest big brand to join the viral app TikTok. The Xbox TikTok account posted its first video today, and it’s a treat.

The video features a narrator talking to themself and wondering aloud what they should post as their first video on TikTok. As the narration unfolds, the video cuts to the camera roll that shows a number of silly Xbox memes making fun of the Series S and Series X console designs. It’s a very self-aware joke, and it works. You can check it out below.

In other news about the next-generation Xbox consoles, here at GameSpot we now have the Xbox Series X in our hands and we’ll bring you lots of reporting on the console soon.

We have preview coverage lined up such as impressions, technical breakdowns, and discussions of the overall gaming experience, but that’ll be coming in the near future.

For more on Microsoft’s next-gen consoles, be sure to read our comparison of the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, and if you want to get a closer look at how the two systems stack against other console, check out our size comparison with the official Xbox Series mockups.

Microsoft also made a big splash this week by acquiring Bethesda and all the game studios under the prominent publisher. And if you’re still looking to get one yourself, consult our Xbox Series X pre-order guide for help. You can also catch up w

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Xbox Series X and S’s 1TB storage cards could cost as much as $260 – Video Games Chronicle

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The first retail listings for Xbox” href=”https://www.videogameschronicle.com/platforms/xbox/”>Xbox Series X and S’s SSD storage expansions have priced a 1TB card at around $260 USD (£203), when converted from AUD.

The cards, which are manufactured by storage giant Seagate, have appeared for pre-order at multiple Australian retailers including EB Games, JB Hi-Fi and Mighty Ape, with prices ranging from $360 – $388 AUD.

The price points represent almost half the cost of an Xbox Series X in Australia ($750 AUD) and 70% the price of an Xbox Series X | S” href=”https://www.videogameschronicle.com/platforms/xbox/scarlett/”>Xbox Series S ($500 AUD).

The expansion cards are yet to be priced by any US or European retailers, despite Xbox Series X and S pre-orders opening earlier this week.

However, the spread of retailers and similar pricing suggests that the prices listed in Australia could be indicative of where the cards will eventually land elsewhere. It should be noted that the AU prices include tax.

Australian pricing for Xbox accessories is usually closely in line with other territories, and the suggested $260 expansion card price is also not significantly different from the current cost of similar 1TB NVMe SSD drives for PC” href=”https://www.videogameschronicle.com/platforms/pc/”>PC.

The Xbox Series X ($500 USD / £450) includes 1TB of internal storage, but the smaller Series S ($300 / £250) only ships with 512GB.

Xbox Series X includes 1TB of internal storage, while Series S has 512GB.

Xbox’s 1TB expansion cards slot into the back of the console and allow users to store next-gen games. Standard HDDs can be used for backwards compatible titles.

According to Xbox Game Studios (Microsoft)” href=”https://www.videogameschronicle.com/companies/microsoft/”>Microsoft, game install sizes will be approximately 30% smaller on Xbox Series S than on Series X.

Xbox director of program management Jason Ronald told IGN that because of the smaller resolution texture packages required for games on Series S, which will run software natively at 1440p as opposed to at 4K on Series X, install sizes will be significantly reduced.

“With a performance target of 1440p at 60 fps, our expectation is that developers will not ship their highest level mipmaps to Xbox Series S, which will reduce the size of the games,” he said.

“Ultimately the controls in the developer’s hands. We’ve had this technology for a while that allows developers to intelligently choose which assets to install on which device they’re playing on. So the flexibility is in the developers’ hands to make sure the right assets are there.”

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