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Oximeter vs Smartwatch: Can Wearables Track Blood Oxygen Reliably and Which One Should You Buy?

By: Abhik Sengupta


Last Updated: May 12, 2021, 14:19 IST

Apple Watch Series 6, Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, and Garmin Lily

Apple Watch Series 6, Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, and Garmin Lily

Smartwatches come equipped with more sensors and other functionalities aside from SpO2 sensor, making them more costly in general.

India’s battle against the deadly second wave of COVID-19 continues, and both governments and civic bodies are working tirelessly to ensure resources reach on time. However, loopholes and lapses seem unavoidable, posing a risk to citizens’ safety. While the coronavirus-related knowledge remains disputable even now, one of the key gadgets doctors are recommending is an oximeter that can measure blood oxygen saturation or SpO2 levels to understand each COVID-19 patient’s condition. Generally, it is said that the SpO2 of patients must maintain near 95 percent, and a drop further below must require urgent doctor’s attention. Oximeters are available to buy at local medical stores between Rs 2,000 to Rs 4,000, but there could be a shortage given the magnitude of cases India is witnessing daily. Thankfully, tech companies like Apple, Samsung, Realme, and Garmin have been experimenting with Sp02 sensor on their wearables to allow users to monitor not just blood oxygen saturation but other health data, on the go.

Before we dive into the list, a pertinent question arises whether to go for an oximeter and a SpO2-enabled smartwatch or fitness band. To start off, optical SpO2 sensors use red and infrared light sensors to detect oxygen levels, sensing changes in those levels by looking at the colour of the blood. The sensor measures the volume of oxygen based on how the light passes through your finger and delivers the data to the device’s screen, which will tell users the percentage of oxygen in your blood. Overall, smart-wearables are not as accurate as other medical-grade devices, as pointed out by National Centre for Biotechnology Information that is funded by the US government. However, many smartwatches can still give close results due to advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence. Secondly, the cost is another factor to consider. Many smartwatches come equipped with more sensors and other functionalities, making them more costly in general. Meanwhile, here’s a list you can consider for wearables with SpO2 sensors.

Apple Watch Series 6: Apple iPhone users can look at the Apple Watch Series 6 (review) that comes with an array of sensors to measure heart rate, footsteps, and of course, SpO2. Apple says the inbuilt green, red and infrared LEDs shine light onto the blood vessels in your wrist, and photodiodes measure the amount of light reflected back. The “advanced algorithms” calculate the colour of the blood, which indicates the amount of oxygen present. Users can also use the free Blood Oxygen app to keep a track of data. The Apple Watch S6‘s price in India starts at Rs 40,900 for the 40mm variant.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3: The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 also uses red LED and infrared rays to estimate your SpO2 levels, similar to the Apple Watch S6. But during our test, the results were at times, inconsistent. The device is also capable of detecting hard falls with its accelerometer. If the fall is detected, the watch can send an SOS to emergency contacts with your location.  Its price in India starts at Rs 29,990 for the base 41mm variant.

OnePlus Watch: Android users can look at the more affordable OnePlus Watch that costs Rs 14,999 in India. The company says that oxygen measurement monitoring, sleep tracking, heart rate sensors on the OnePlus Watch can be used standalone; however, data stored on the app will remain for up to seven days. During our review, we found the readings from the smartwatch were very similar to data from a pulse oximeter.

Amazfit Bip U Pro: Perhaps a more affordable option is the Amazfit Bip U Pro that cost less than Rs 5,000, which is slightly more expensive than a good, reliable oximeter. Firstpost, during its review, found the data to be accurate when compared to the readings from a basic over-the-counter oximeter. The company says that its upgraded biological optical tracking sensor, the BioTracker handles the measurements. It adds that the smartwatch should be used for reference only as it has not received certification to be used as a medical tool.

Garmin Lily: Designed for female users, the Garmin Lily comes with a host of sensors and can even track the menstrual cycle. Cnet claims the smartwatch’s readings are accurate and described the product as “one of the best smartwatches designed for women.” Its price in India starts at Rs 20,990 for the silicone strap variant.

Realme Watch S Pro: Last on the list is the Realme Watch S Pro that costs Rs 9,999. When we tested the product, the bloody oxygen levels measured data efficiently than its pricier rivals. The watch also gets you accustomed to the handsfree calling experience and gives you basic notification access to make you avoid looking at your phone at all times.

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