Hands-on review: Tao WellShell, the exercise device that wants you to get a grip

Stuff gives the isometric exerciser a squeeze

Among the plethora of fitness devices at CES 2014, the Tao WellShell stands out.

It's an exercise tracker – so far, so familiar – but this palm-sized device doesn't just track your steps and heart rate. It's an isometric exercise device – you squeeze it to burn calories in a variety of different exercises. Naturally, we had to give it a go.

Get a grip

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The WellShell itself is a sleek little pod, a little bigger and heavier than the average smartphone at 150g. It pairs up to your smartphone using Bluetooth 2.0, connecting via a dedicated app.

The app itself serves up a list of over 50 isometric exercises, showing calories burned and instructions on how to perform each exercise. Tapping on one brings up a photo and – impressively – a 3D model of the exercise that you can spin and zoom for guidance on the right posture. The WellShell also provides vibration and audio feedback for instant coaching while you're using the device.

More after the break...

Under pressure

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The WellShell tracks pressure and position using a 3-axis accelerometer, auto-calibrating to take account of the force you exert; a typical exercise sees you squeezing the device between two palms, varying the amount of pressure to follow a guideline. The app also mixes things up with some games, including a ski slalom controlled by pressure and a two-player sumo game that lets you compete in a strength test with a Tao-equipped chum.

The app also features an exercise and diet tracker that's impressively comprehensive – though much will depend on whether Tao's managed to sign up a decent database of UK foods, and whether it'll play nice with other fitness devices like the Withings Wi-Fi scale – which has yet to be determined.

First thoughts

Although it's bulkier than your average fitness tracker, the WellShell isn't really a substitute for a Fitbit Flex or Nike+ FuelBand. It's intended as an entirely new type of exercise device that you can use on the go, or while sitting at a desk, to burn off a few extra calories.

Whether people will be willing to pay US$300 for it remains to be seen – though we're particularly impressed with the thought that's gone into the Tao app. The Tao WellShell will be available from the end of 2014. 

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