Samsung Could Struggle To Beat Impressive Oura Ring
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Samsung Could Struggle To Beat Impressive Oura Ring

The Oura Ring is an elite sleep tracker.

Janhoi McGregor

Oura has had a relatively free run with its health-tracking smart ring technology up until now. A rarity in the consumer tech world. But now one of the industry behemoths, Samsung, is joining in with its Galaxy Ring, which is currently stealing some of Oura’s shine.

The threat of Samsung on the horizon isn’t a nail in the coffin for the Finnish company because the Oura Ring is very accomplished. I have been in the reviews game long enough to know that things don’t get good until the second iteration, so Oura has a head start over Samsung and the glut of new entrants.

That’s clear in the design. The trouble with wearables is that they look like tech, but the Oura Ring is reasonably low profile. It’s a large band, which works for my reasonably chunky fingers, and it doesn’t necessarily look like a nerdy gizmo. Other Oura wearers will spot it instantly, though. I opted for the gold ring after trying what the black colorway —my initial choice—would look like when picking sizes with the tester kit. I’m not an edgy emo teenager, so I went for flashy instead.

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There’s a small issue here. If you’re not a natural jewellery wearer, a ring is quite a big statement piece. Friends have been asking me why I’m suddenly wearing a thick gold ring. It was through these questions that I discovered the stereotypes about men in organized crime wearing flashy rings on their pinky fingers. Make sure you choose your color, and which finger you’ll wear it on, wisely.

The underside houses several sensors that cover a surprisingly large array of metrics, including blood oxygen monitoring, heart rate tracking, skin temperature measurements, and an accelerometer. These sensors are minuscule and slightly protruding, although you won’t feel them with the ring on. It’s impressive to think about how much technology has been miniaturized to fit into such a small device. It’s even more mind boggling that it all actually works.

The sensors on the underside of the Oura Ring.

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In the months that I have been wearing the Oura Ring, it’s clear that the device is strongest when it comes to sleep tracking. Oura has done an excellent job of showing how sleep impacts your day-to-day health when it comes to energy, stress, mental health and fitness, rather than just telling users how much REM and deep sleep they got the night before. For example, Oura feeds your sleep stats through all of its main metrics; resilience, sleep, readiness and activity.

The daytime dress feature feeds into how well users recover from stress.

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Resilience measures your, well, resilience level when it comes to recovering from psychological stress. It does this through monitoring heart rate fluctuations and how well users sleep.

I had a particularly busy late February with plenty of stress peaks, but my overnight recovery was “exceptional” according to the app. My ability to handle stress and recover from it via relaxing and a solid night’s sleep is good, according to Oura. But what’s interesting is how your lifestyle can impact your results.

On the nights I sunk a couple of misjudged pints, or ate a late and heavy dinner, Oura recorded how poor my restfulness (another sleep metric that measures how much you toss and turn) was. I can see on those nights that my sleep hygiene wasn’t good and that my heart rate stayed high until the early hours, which impacted my recovery and restfulness scores.

All of my light sleeping, wakeups, heart rate fluctuations, and general disturbances are recorded and displayed on an easy-to-digest graph. Oura does a good job of explaining this in plain and understandable language, rather than throwing numbers and acronyms at you like some other health-tracking devices do.

Meditation, exercises and other activities will cause fluctuations and over time. Through this you can work towards getting some slumber stability if you’re obsessive enough about crunching all of this data. I also now know that my Chronotype—the natural time my body wants to sleep—is 11 pm to 7 am, which has settled a years-long debate between myself and my partner.

Because of the ring’s design that places it firmly on your chosen finger, it can get constant readings and be hyper-accurate about aspects of my sleep. For example, the ring can differentiate between when I’m reading in bed and when I’m actually sleeping. It also knows what a nap is. It will ask you to confirm its findings, but it’s usually correct. This is something other wrist-based fitness trackers struggle with because they don’t have the secure skin contact that the Oura Ring provides.

Oura lets users add tags to their sleep scores; like caffeine, alcohol, back pain, sleeping in a hotel and so on. It’s a good way of spotting a pattern in what might be affecting your slumber. But, bafflingly, Oura doesn’t do this for you. The app doesn’t crunch the data and say “You sleep badly in hotels.” That might be obvious, but there will be deeper insights a computer can spot that my lizard brain cannot.

Overall the Oura Ring has broadened my understanding of how my body rests and recovers. I have no qualms about saying the Oura Ring is an elite sleep tracker. Where the device could do with some work is in its activity tracking.

Right now the Oura Ring only supports live heart rate tracking for cycling, running and walking. I can’t live record my weightlifting sessions—it has to be added after the fact, for example. Other wearables, like Samsung’s Galaxy Watch series, will live track a wide range of exercises. In some cases it will guide users by counting reps. Of course, you need a screen and a speaker to do this, but it shows how the Oura Ring can be limited if you want that deeper fitness tracker experience.

The auto tracking versus the activities that can be added later.

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The ring will automatically detect when I’m walking, or doing housework, and suggest which activities I’m engaged in based on my recent history, but it’s not always accurate. Sometimes the daily heart rate tracker will record exercise as stress rather than a workout.

What does work well is the activity score the app spits out. This is based on how much you moved around the previous day, meeting the daily activity goal, training frequency and the amount of time it takes to recover from exercise.

The upside of not having a display is that the battery lasts an impressive four to five days. With the blood oxygen feature turned off it can last five or six days. This worked for me because my blood oxygen readings were consistently good, so it seemed pointless wasting battery life on it.

Battery life of wearables can vary wildly. My Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro can last for three or four days if used sparingly, but the Google Pixel Watch 2 won’t get much further than 24 hours. Not having to charge every day, or missing out on collecting sleep and exercise data because the device is flatlining, is the Oura Ring’s main selling point. But, up against feature-rich smartwatches with decent battery life, Oura’s device becomes a tougher sell.

Whether or not the Oura Ring is for you comes down to your needs. If you want a low-profile, low-maintenance wearable that tracks your sleep to an elite level, this is the gadget. The app is polished and intuitive to use. The company keeps adding new features, so the experience feels consistently fresh.

However, I do have an issue with the ongoing $5.99 subscription to access certain metrics, alongside the not-insignificant upfront price that starts at $300. This might be an area Samsung capitalizes on when it launches its Galaxy Ring by making all functionality free—at least initially. Right now, the Oura Ring is one of the best wearables on the market for sleep enthusiasts, health watchers and casual exercisers.

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