I am Quasimodo, the ringer of bells, the carrier of back-bending rucksacks, the maker of the lower-back groove in the squishiest of armchairs. I am storing up back problems for myself with my bad posture, and the Lumoback wants to help straighten me out.
A sensor on a strap worn around your lower back which vibrates to let you know when you’re not standing straight and healthily. It’ll also track your sleeping patterns, and distance walked with pedometer functionality, alongside an accompanying app.
Slobs and slouchers, hoping to fix their posture. Those that believe a ruler down a shirt is not a fitting 21st century fix for slumped shoulders. People who find incessant vibrations on their lower backs arousing.
In terms of its looks, the Lumoback is possibly the least-exciting gadget I’ve ever tested. It is simply a small, flat black bar hooked onto an elasticated velcro strap. It’s about the size of a Freddo Frog chocolate bar. A super-sensitive button sits on the front next to the Lumo logo -- tapping it once turns on the sensor, holding it switches it off. On the underside edge is a microUSB charging port, sat next to a light that briefly flashes green when turned on, turns red then off when powered down, and glows orange whilst charging.
And that’s it. Designed to be worn all day (and potentially all night) it’s unassuming and relatively comfortable. It’ll work either over or under a shirt, and is light enough to be worn without you ever really noticing it was there. Or at least that would be the case if it ever stopped vibrating.
The Lumoback sensor doesn’t work alone. Oh no -- it’s paired with an iOS app, working on everything from the iPhone 4S and newer. There's no android support at this time. After a short firmware update, beamed to the device through its Bluetooth connection to my iPhone 5, the calibration process begins. Following instructions from the app, you’re directed to stand correctly so that the Lumoback can find your natural good-posture position.
And then the buzzing begins. The incessant buzzing. Buzz. Anytime you slouch a little, buzz. Don’t adjust your posture quickly enough? Buzz. Don’t meet the sensor’s erratic expectations of your posture? Buzz, buzz, BUZZ!
I’m not going to lie, it’s as annoying as hell. But so it should be -- this device is designed to nag good habits into you. It’s not a softly-softly approach, it’s a constant reminder that you’re a few years away from being the local old bloke who can’t help but look at his feet all day long. That’s fine, but you’ve got to be prepared for it -- try wearing it while you’re working for instance, and that vibration can quickly become a work-halting distraction. BUZZ!
This is made a million times worse by what I felt to be an inconsistency with the sensor's readings. No matter how closely I followed the app’s instructional good-posture standing position and calibrated the sensor accordingly, the sensor buzzed almost at random. I’d reposition the sensor, try again, and the problems would occur again. My concerns were borne out by the Lumoback app itself -- a stick figure representation of yourself is presented on screen, and is supposed to give you a quick at-a-glance look at your current posture. It regularly thought I was doing the limbo. I can’t do the limbo. It often also thought I was sitting down when I was not, no matter how many recalibrations I carried out. The app is supposed to learn your movements as you correct it if it incorrectly believes you are seated, or if you find yourself positioned differently to its readings. But I found myself quickly losing patience with its inaccuracies, especially as they were accompanied by tortuous buzzes.
If you can get the sensor to give readings that you trust, the Lumoback app has a series of other metrics it can track. These include steps taken, distance travelled and calories burned, the number of times you stand and sit down in a day (and how long you spend seated), and how long you spend sleeping and your preferred sleeping position. These can be configured alongside daily goals, pushing you to become more active, and presenting your movements in a series of charts and graphs. There’s also a number of instructional videos that teach you how to stand with better posture, and stretches to help make standing straight more comfortable. Some of these clips, like the one pictured below, inspired somewhat-childish giggles from me.
-- You’ll get about four days worth of battery from each Lumback charge, with the sensor fully juiced in about 90 minutes. That’s fine, though its need for a Bluetooth connection with my iPhone 5 did seem to be a significant drain on the phone’s battery.
-- Though you can use the Lumoback as a sleep monitor, I think you’d probably struggle to enjoy a good night’s kip with it on. While it’s not all that noticeable while sitting or standing, lie down and the sensor pack will press into your back. One of the many fitness wristbands that offer this sort of functionality will be less intrusive in this respect.
I’m not convinced -- the erratic nature of the pulses the Lumoback sent to my back, despite numerous calibrations, suggest that it is either overly sensitive or not sensitive enough. And of course it can’t be both at the same time. I’d often try to trick the Lumoback, sitting or standing at funny angles, pulling shapes that I shouldn’t have tried unless I was a contortionist. Sometimes it’d pick up on the change of posture, other times it wouldn’t. Often, even when keeping my posture as straightly fixed as possible, the sensor would still vibrate. No number of recalibrations ever seemed to lead to consistency from the Lumoback.
Which worries me somewhat. If you take for granted that the sensor is calibrated properly when it in fact is not, and adjust your stance in response to potentially-inaccurate readings, surely you could make any back pain or slouchy posture worse? Unless you have a chiropractor on hand during the calibration process to validate the sensor’s readings, you’re left only to your own judgement as to the accuracy of the calibration. The concept is good, but I think I’ll stick to a ruler down the shirt rather than the Lumoback.
Dimensions: 4.3 x 10.2 x 0.8 cm
Supported Devices: iPhone 5/ 5C/ 4S/iPod Touch 5th Gen/ iPad