Whoop 4.0 review: It actually focuses on fitness, not food or breast health
Quick verdict: If it weren’t for the weird subscription, this would be the perfect simple fitness tracker.
- Focuses on fitness, not calories
- Doesn’t have to be wrist worn
- Charger is really innovative
- Absolutely doesn’t need to be a subscription
- Charger doesn’t always charge
- Not all the accessories were made with actual humans in mind
Fitness trackers aren't a new thing. As a society we've been using them to count our calories and steps for decades. But steps aren't always a great measure of fitness, that 10,000 step goal was made up by a Japanese marketing agency, and the focus on calories can be triggering for people predisposed to disordered eating. That's why I love the simplicity of the Whoop 4.0's approach to fitness and exercise.
It's not about the calories you burned, but how much strain you put on your body, and whether you got enough rest to recover and prepare for the next workout. It's innovative, and given its versatility and lack of face, it's perfect for people who don't want the hyper connectivity of a smart watch.
With a minimum cost of $264, it's not cheap. You also can't buy it outright. Instead it opts for a bit of an odd subscriptipn model. But we'll get to that.
Given it's from a smaller company that doesn't have the benefit of scale, higher prices are to be expected. What's not expected, though, is that it's sold on a subscription, but we'll get to that.
Whoop 4.0 review: Design
There is a lot to love about the design of the Whoop 4.0. In fact, the design is what immediately makes it stand out from the pack of fitness trackers. That and the fact that there are Whoop designed garments if that's something you want to spend money on.
The band itself is a small, slightly curved black rectangle with green heart rate sensor lights on the bottom. It can then be put into a variety of attractive bands, undies, bras and leggings, so you have the option of wearing it on your wrist, or just about anywhere else on your body.
Firstly, I really love the way the charger attaches to the band. Rather than having to take off the band to plug it into power, you charge a separate battery pack and then clip the battery pack onto the device so you can charge it while you wear and use it.
That's great for when you wake up to a low battery notification, or go away for the week.
It's this versatility that makes it so suited to a variety of sports. You can't wear bracelets or bands at certain netball or basketball tournaments, but you can wear an underwear-mounted smart tracker, which just isn't a phrase you get to write very often.
The only problem with the wide variety of Whoops-branded garments in which the tracker can be worn is that they were clearly designed by men with only a passing test by owners of boobs.
Whoop isn't the only company to fall into the trap of offering bras, measured not in cup sizes, but S, M, L, XL, and then calling them "performance" garments.
The well en-boobed among us know that any sports bra without underwire, perfect fitting, and perhaps even cement, is a disaster waiting to happen. Without a perfectly fitted bra, we're always just one ill-timed jump away from a tit to the face.
Those lucky enough to be flat chested can get away with wearing strips of elasticised fabric, reminiscent of Keira Knightley's costume in King Arthur (like the Whoop Any-Wear Adjustable Bralette 4.0), during a workout without feeling like there's electrified jelly strapped to their chest, ready to be yeeted into space.
But above a size small, Whoop's bras (and all other non-specifically sized bras) are merely decorative.
That's even before we get to the weird scale of the sizing. I like to think I'm roughly in proportion, and the XL leggings fit my cycling/weightlifting legs relatively well. However, I did find some whiskering in the crotch, but that's more due to poor design than sizing).
When it comes to norks, I'm hardly in the same ranks as Dolly Parton. But, despite having to special order in E cup sports bras (one of the many indignities and expenses of rack ownership), I could fit a whole extra person in the XL Any Wear Sports Bra. The L was also huge, despite suiting my measurements. I gave up before getting an M and just made adjustments on the sewing machine.
I wholeheartedly support larger sizing to fit more people, and sizing numbers/letters are largely arbitrary anyway, but extended sizing has to fit the whole person, not just their truly massive and unsupported tits and supposedly impressive lung expansion. Most people who are going to fit the XL Any-Wear Sports Bra are going to greatly struggle with the XL leggings.
If I were to hazard a guess, the sports bras were just sized up with the same proportions based on the XS, but that's just not how breasts and chests work for most people. People with larger chests are unlikely to have the perfectly scaled up proportions of a skinny person with a B cup.
Some of the problems with these "sports bras" could have been fixed by having hooks and allowing adjustments on more than just the straps, rather than just hoping elastic would do all the work. That's how you can tell these bras were designed by someone whose experience with sizeable mammary glands has been limited since infancy. I'm not sure how the men's garments fared in the design process.
As for the Whoop 4.0's durability, I can't speak to the long term, but I've accidentally bumped it against a wide variety of door frames with no ill-effects. It's IP68 dust proof and water-resistant for up to 10 metres for 2 hours, so you can presumably swim with it. I haven't tested it in a chlorinated pool, but it fared just fine in the shower.
Because the device has no buttons, everything needs to be handled through the app. My first band arrived DOA, and because I couldn't set it up through the app, I was left to troubleshoot with the extremely unhelpful website.
The set-up process with a working band is extremely simple and intuitive, almost like setting up AirPods. But if you don't know that because you have a dud, the process is extremely frustrating due to the inadequate support information on the site.
Getting a replacement was quick and easy, but support websites should always assume every user is starting with a base of zero knowledge and explain how things like proprietary battery packs with non-traditional charging methods should work.
On the one hand, the lack of buttons means the Whoop can be so versatile and waterproof. On the other hand, a button that recorded an activity away from the phone would mean you wouldn't need to stay close to your phone all the time. There are trade-offs.
Whoop 4.0 review: Performance
I am super impressed with the performance of the Whoop 4.0, even though it might not be so impressed with me.
The way it works is you wear the band and record activities, like running, cycling, Pilates and "other", and then it works out how much "strain" you put on your body based on your heart rate. It's like the heart rate coaching I loved so much with the adidas MiCoach back in the day, but without the coaching. You need to bring the motivation and the workout, there aren't any workouts or coaching programs in the app, despite the steep subscription fee.
A device and app that focuses on the relationship between strain and recovery is fantastic. It's taking the unhealthy obsession with weight loss and calorie counting away from fitness and making it all about ensuring your body is as healthy and fit as it could be, no matter your shape.
The more I use the Whoop, the better I understand the relationship between my sleep, workouts and hormonal cycle -- and how I can get the most out of it. While using the Whoop I've been able to not just push myself harder on good days, but forgive myself on days when I can't push as hard. The ability to forgive weaker days is almost as important as knowing when to push.
I have to admit that I did take it a bit personally when my strain score was lower than I expected. I'm not sure how personalised the strain scores are in the first month of use, and I'm also not sure how personalised it becomes later. I would think that a 30km bike ride with a tonne of hills would be worth more than a score of 12 out of 21, which is considered moderate and merely maintains fitness rather than building.
There were so many times on that ride that I thought my heart was going to explode, that I was pushing as hard as I physically could, so to see that score at the end was a little disheartening.
I later tested it by leaving the Whoop screen on display on my phone and then riding up a mountain with a 30% incline (steeper than it sounds) to see what the problem is.
On my Apple Watch on my left arm, it said my heart rate was 155 as I panted so hard I was afraid I might exhale a lung or bust the proverbial foofoo valve.
But the Whoop (on my right arm) said I was chilling at 129 for at least a minute before conceding I might be at 151. I have no idea which one was accurate, possibly neither of them, but it sure felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest like I was a Looney Toons character.
Once you know that it isn't 100% accurate, it's easier to take the information as a rough picture of health. No consumer fitness tracker is accurate on almost any health measure, so that's not limited to the Whoop 4.0, it's all just supposed to be a guide. It would have been good, though, if the app was clearer each day about what the numbers meant, because it just flashes up when you first start using the app and not everyone will memorise it at that stage.
Each day it automatically analyses your sleep and tells you how hardcore you can afford to go in the day ahead, and how much sleep debt you have. I've used a tonne of sleep trackers in my time, but this is the most useful information I've ever gotten from doing so.
Usually, I get my sleep data and understand why I'm tired, and then it'll say something dumb like "go to bed earlier" or "stop looking at the device that contains nearly everything that brings you joy an hour before bed". Whoop 4.0 provides actually useful information with that sleep data, which instantly puts it above the rest for me.
There is no screen or memory on the device, so everything is processed and conveyed on your phone, which eats up a fair bit of phone battery and means you can't really go for a run without your phone and have it count.
Aside from the bra thing and the potentially slightly dodgy charger situation, the only thing that holds me back from recommending it more wholeheartedly is the ridiculous subscription-based payment system.
This app does some cool stuff, but it's not particularly personalised. It doesn't seem to know or care that I'm trying my best, it's just doing maths based on averages assumed for my age, height and weight. It's not offering fitness classes like Apple Fitness+ or Fitbit's subscription service.
All it's doing is telling me how I slept, how hard I worked out, and how those 2 things interact. That's not nothing, but it doesn't justify paying $24-$44 a month on an ongoing basis after paying off the device. Maybe $5 a month, I guess, at most? But not everything has to be a subscription service, and it's frankly exhausting that everything is going in that direction.
Should you buy it?
- Buy it if you want a fitness device that focuses on actual effort, rather than steps and weight loss.
- Don't buy it if you're on a budget, or want to wear it on a bra.
If you can afford it, and are willing to commit to the 18-month plan to cut the subscription fee almost in half, then this is a fantastic device. It's the most genuinely health and fitness focussed device I've ever seen under $500. It doesn't buy into toxic diet culture, and all it wants you to do is get fitter and stronger, and sleep better, which is beautiful. Having the option to wear it on clothes instead of on your wrist is really innovative.
It absolutely doesn't need to be on a subscription plan, and that pricing is utterly ridiculous. But if you're after a device that wants you to live your best life and doesn't care what you eat, then this is a great way to better understand your body.
Whoop 4.0 review: Pricing and availability
The Whoop 4.0 is interesting in that there is no flat price for the band. The only option is part of subscription. The subscription service starts at $24 a month but you can pay more if you also want to be sent the Whoop-branded garments.
How we tested it
I wore the Whoop 4.0 24/7 for several weeks. I was sent the Whoop 4.0 by the brand's PR company.