Although trusting your health to your Android phone might seem like a crazy idea, today many phones have computing capabilities suited for much more than just making phone calls. Recently, a whole new industry of apps focused consumer healthcare — with pulse meters, stress monitors, sleep activity loggers (which monitor vital signs) and much more — has given new meaning to the phrase “I can’t live without my smartphone.”
One company leading the way with such technologies is Azumio, a mobile app studio with three products heavily oriented around health. In addition to their innovative apps, they are listed in the Android Market as a top developer. In particular, their two key Android apps are Instant Heart Rate and Stress Check.
Instant Heart Rate
Both applications work by using your phone’s camera and flash to essentially emulate the oximeters (pulse monitors) used in hospitals and doctors’ offices. While the phone’s flash lights your finger, the camera collects video used to measure your blood flow. The data is then translated into your heart rate, or “pulse.” While this technique sounds crude and inaccurate, when I tested Instant Heart Rate Pro against a hospital-grade oximiter, the pulse readings were very close to each other with a difference of a few beats at most. At the time of writing this article, the pro version of the app has four stars from 2,562 ratings on the Android App Marketplace, and the free version of the app has four stars from 66,674 ratings.
Of all the features packed into Instant Heart Rate, the key feature is adaptive measuring – meaning that it will take all the time it requires to get an accurate measurement. If your pulse rate is steady, the app will deliver a result faster. However, if the app detects variations in your rate, it will automatically extend the measurement time so that a better measurement can be taken. For example, during the tests while seated at my desk, the app managed to deliver results in as little as 20 to 30 seconds, but if I had a high pulse or a varying heart rate, the app would extend the timer accordingly to get better measurements. On average, the longest samples were around a minute. Regardless of length however, both short and long samples turned up fairly accurate results.
A helpful feature packed into Instant Heart Rate is a simple color-coded chart to show what a healthy pulse is. Instant Heart Rate also includes a handy reference page about different heart rates, which yields a better idea of your heart health for those that don’t know what their ideal heart rate should be. Additionally, the app allows you include a note with your pulse measurement, and it gives you the ability to share it on social networks.
Overall, the free version of Instant Heart Rate should be sufficient for most individuals. However, if you really are a health junkie, the $0.99 pro version might be worth the nominal cost. In addition to the quality feature set within the free version, the pro edition allows you to: measure your heart rate, see your heart rate in real time via a PPG graph, and monitor your cardio workouts.
Another app for your health is Stress Check, also by Azumio. Although I found their Instant Heart Rate app very useful, Stress Check unfortunately failed to live up to my expectations. Despite also using your phone’s camera and flash to measure blood flow, Stress Check requires users to hold fingers over their camera for around two minutes. When performing tests back to back, I was given stress levels on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. In one case, Stress Doctor said my stress level was at 54%, however when I ran the test again, my stress level was at 14%. Additionally, when it comes to entering your age, the app only uses birth year to calculate your age, meaning that for me, since my birthday is in November, I am listed as a year older than I am.
Overall, while Stress Check tries to tackle an interesting problem, I cannot recommend the app for anything other than general novelty. Personally, I plan to use Instant Heart Rate as my stress meter for the time being until Azumio corrects the algorithms behind Stress Check.
Stress Check is a free app for the Android. Despite its flaws, it is an app I suggest all readers keep an eye on. I am confident future versions will be more solid.
(NOTE: Despite the merits of the apps discussed in this article, this piece is not intended to provide medical advice to any degree, and it is not meant to be a substitute for advice/treatment by a medical professional.)