I get suspicious whenever I see a gadget “for women.” I can’t help it. Femtech is a minefield of promising ideas, concepts with borderline insulting execution, privacy concerns, and cheesy marketing. The worst is when a product leans too heavily on a stereotypically feminine design without addressing any of the health concerns specific to people with uteruses. I’d write off femtech completely if it weren’t for the fact that every once in a while I find a product I genuinely like. The $249 Bellabeat Ivy is one of them.
Bellabeat isn’t a newcomer to the wearable space. Its Leaf line of health trackers has been around for close to a decade, but when I dabbled with the Leaf Urban many moons ago, I wasn’t impressed. It was an alright tracker. I just didn’t have the best time with it. The app and features were overly simplistic, I kept losing it because it’d fall off my wrist or clothing, and by 2020, every mainstream wearable maker had finally added period tracking — the one thing that had set Bellabeat apart until then. So you can imagine how surprised I was when I strapped on the Ivy and had a drastically different experience.
This, my friends, is the rare instance where a wellness wearable For Women doesn’t feel like a total gimmick.
Is that a bracelet?
My friends and family had no idea I was testing the Ivy. It wasn’t because they couldn’t see it on my wrist. They did. I even got a few compliments. It’s that the Ivy looks and wears more like a piece of jewelry than a gadget.
You can see from the pictures, but the Ivy is the polar opposite of most trackers on the market. It is tiny, measuring roughly 38mm long and 28mm wide. For reference, the smaller of the Apple Watch Series 8 models is 41mm long and 35mm wide. That might not seem like a big difference, but the superthin strap, stainless steel casing, and diamond shape make it appear smaller than it is. It’s also incredibly lightweight, weighing a mere 9.9 grams. Of all the wearables I’ve tested, only the Oura Ring is lighter at between four and six grams depending on the size. Most days, I forgot I was even wearing anything on my wrist — which I loved during runs.
But while the Ivy looks chic at a distance, it’s less impressive up close. The “stone” is actually plastic, and you can tell when you touch it or give it a good look. Get close enough, and you can see some pixelation in the marbled areas on my review unit. It’s not a deal-breaker, just something to be aware of in case you’re expecting an actual stone.
Visually, I liked how thin the strap was. Thinner straps don’t get a lot of love, but in my experience, they help smartwatches look less bulky on more petite wrists. (RIP this leather strap I used to use with the Apple Watch Series 5.) As for material, silicone straps often irritate my skin, but that wasn’t a problem here.
Size-wise, the strap fits wrists measuring from 132mm to 258mm — that’s a good range and typical for fitness tracker and smartwatch bands. But there was one thing I ended up hating. The keeper, the lil’ loop that’s supposed to stop your strap from flopping around, is useless. Feckless keepers are a common problem with buckle-style straps, but it was worse than usual. The Bellabeat app advises that you trim any extra length during setup. I, a foolhardy reviewer, initially didn’t listen. The floppiness made me cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. I hoped trimming it would fix the issue, but alas. The shorter strap would slip out of the keeper and continue to flop around like one of those inflatable tube people you see outside of car dealerships.
A kinder approach to wellness
Ever since the pandemic, wearable makers have scrambled to bolster their stress, mindfulness, and holistic health tracking features. But wellness is a loaded term in health tech. I see a lot of gadgets with dubious marketing, single-minded features, and occasionally, tacked-on gimmicks that might actually do more harm than good. The Ivy has a lot in common with this newer class of gadgets, but as with period tracking, Bellabeat incorporated wellness into its platform well before it went mainstream.
Like the Oura Ring, Whoop, and Nowatch, the Ivy doesn’t have a screen or support push notifications. There aren’t any timers, alarms, or stopwatches. It’ll never tell you when you’re getting a text or a call. There will be no vibrating, anxiety-inducing distractions here. Without any of those battery-draining features, I got seven to eight days on a single charge.
For fitness tracking, the Ivy isn’t concerned with pushing you to your limit. It sets reasonable goals. My default was 6,000 steps a day — which is around what studies say delivers the most health benefits. (Surprise — 10,000 steps is a made-up number! Benefits plateau around 7,500–8,000 steps.) For activity, the app suggested 20 minutes per day. That would get me the 140 out of 150 minutes of moderate activity the American Heart Association recommends per week. The Ivy also tracks meditation minutes, lets you log hydration, and records sleep duration. As far as health metrics go, the Ivy measures heart rate, resting heart rate, respiratory rate, and cardiac coherence. That last one is a combination of heart rate variability and breathing to gauge how well your body’s various systems sync up.
These are then tallied up into three scores: a Wellness score, a Stress Sensitivity score, and a Readiness score. Your Wellness score is on a scale of 1–100 and updates as you make progress through the day on your daily step, activity, meditation, hydration, and sleep goals. That feeds into your Stress Sensitivity score, which is graded on a scale of 1–10; the higher the number, the more likely you are to get stressed out. It’s based on how consistently you hit your goals, so one bad day isn’t going to make a huge impact, but a few bad days might. Lastly, after three days, you get a Readiness Score, which is based on your resting heart rate, respiratory rate, and cardiac coherence. The higher the number, the easier it is to take on demanding activities or tasks. All of these algorithms are calibrated to female bodies as well, which is rare, as the foundational data gap for Team Uterus is large enough to fit 200 Hummer H1s.
This is typical for the category, but what sets Bellabeat apart is how the information is presented. Nowhere will you find food logging or calorie counts. Instead, the Coach tab suggests foods and workouts to include that day based on your cycle, aka cycle syncing. The meditation tab has several guided programs and white noise sounds of varying lengths. You can log specific activities, but you don’t have to. Even if you do, you won’t find metrics like pace, distance, or time. It’s solely about the time spent being active.
This isn’t the tracker for data nerds or athletes looking to optimize performance. It’s meant for people who’d like to protect their mental health while pursuing their health goals. That’s relevant to people of any gender. That said, women are 1.75 to 3 times more likely to develop disordered eating during their lifetime. The percentage of female college athletes with eating disorders is anywhere between 25 and 41.5 percent, depending on the sport, and can start in girls as young as five years old. Calorie counting, excessive exercise, and obsessive fitness goals can exacerbate all of that.
That’s why wellness devices that truly aim to serve women need to take extra care in how their users receive data about their bodies. The Bellabeat app does a better than average job at that, and maybe one day, wearable companies will give everyone the option of a kinder, more holistic approach — not just a specific subgroup.
Ironically, period tracking could be better
Given my spiel, you might be surprised that I found Bellabeat’s period tracking features lacking, but I’m not. Ask any menstruating person — most period tracking apps have so-so interfaces, dubious privacy policies, or are missing things you’d like to track. Bellabeat does better in some of these areas, but it was also less comprehensive than I’d thought it’d be.
First off, I couldn’t import my 10-plus years of cycle data. I could enter past cycle data manually, but the software bugged out on me any time I tried to enter two or more cycles. Unless your period comes like clockwork, that means your predictions might not be all that accurate for a few cycles. I also couldn’t include factors or conditions that might impact my cycle, like endometriosis or birth control. Nor was there a way to schedule reminders for hormonal birth control like the pill or ring, which require you to keep an eye on the calendar. Another missing feature: the ability to log my moods, symptoms, basal body temperature, and flow rate — most cycle trackers include these now.
What you do get is educational reading material about various menstrual topics, and a pretty illustration showing what stage you’re in — follicular, luteal, etc. There’s also text that tells you your likelihood of conceiving on a given day. (You should absolutely not use that as birth control, however.) Essentially, you’re just getting the most basic date-based cycle tracking.
The Bellabeat app does, however, allow you to track pregnancy and tailors Coach content to better suit pregnant people. I can’t really comment on how good Bellabeat’s pregnancy tracking is, as I have the parental instinct of a panda (i.e., none). What I can say is most mainstream wearable devices allow you to mark that you’re pregnant but don’t provide pregnancy-specific insights, content, or advice unless they’re fertility trackers. Once you start pregnancy tracking, Bellabeat will tell you which foods are best to eat while expecting, show you prenatal exercise classes first, and tailor the app’s educational material to topics most relevant to pregnant people.
Wellness don’t come cheap
At $250, the Bellabeat Ivy is significantly more expensive than the company’s other trackers. (The Leaf Chakra and Leaf Urban cost $89 and $99, respectively.) I’d say that’s kind of overkill given you can get more bang for your buck elsewhere. A second-gen Apple Watch SE is the same price. Apple’s period tracking is also more customizable and rated well in Mozilla’s Privacy Not Included report for reproductive health data. It does a hell of a lot more, and at this point, the Apple Watch’s design isn’t quite as polarizing as it was eight years ago. For Android users, Garmin also includes pregnancy and menstrual health tracking on its stylish hybrid smartwatches like the $179.99 Vivomove Sport and $269.99 Vivomove Trend. There’s also the $200 Garmin Lily, another “for women” tracker that was created by an all-female design team. (Though, I have thoughts about that.)
Then again, slapping “wellness” anywhere in your marketing automatically incurs a wellness markup. Adding “women” to the mix subjects you to the pink tax. So really, the Ivy isn’t outrageous when you look at similar devices. The Oura Ring costs $299 with a $6 monthly membership fee. The Nowatch also starts at $299 and has various membership fees. Whoop recently lowered its prices, but you’ll still pay a minimum of $239 for an annual membership. (The hardware is “free.”) The Ivy, which also offers an optional Coach membership for $9.99 a month with a six-month trial, is par for the course.
Of all these options, the person who should get the Ivy is someone who prioritizes privacy, style, and reproductive health but has little desire for a data deluge or distractions. It’s best for people who find fitness trackers and smartwatches bad for their focus or mental health — for folks who hate charging their devices and would honestly rather feel like they’re not wearing a piece of technology at all. The ideal Bellabeat Ivy user just wants to get credit for making healthy choices and look good in the process. For what it’s worth, it feels like I get an instant migraine anytime I see a wellness gadget these days, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Ivy.
I don’t think I’ll ever warm up to “women-first” marketing until such a term no longer needs to exist. Considering wearables started taking off in 2014 and it took until 2020 for all the major smartwatch platforms to add period tracking, I’ll probably be waiting a while. Bellabeat’s products aren’t perfect, but in the meantime, it’s a much-needed player in this space.
Photography by Victoria Song / The Sports Grind Entertainment