The Apple Watch is generally considered the timepiece that sits atop the smartwatch throne these days, and the company has been keen to market the device not so much as an iPhone for your wrist but rather as a health tracking tool. Now, after a successful crowdfunding campaign, a new contender enters the arena with a unique feature that the even all-conquering Apple Watch doesn’t offer: blood pressure measurement.
This is a really interesting addition, as high blood pressure can be difficult to ascertain without tests and can lead to heart attacks or strokes. So, being able to monitor it on a regular basis could really be a matter of life or death. But, is the BP Doctor Pro a serious alternative to the competition or just a one-trick pony?
Design and build
The BP Doctor Pro doesn’t quite have the elegance of Apple’s Watch, but the design is certainly pleasant enough. The main display area is enclosed in a pill-shaped glass-covered face that has a square 1.4in panel at its midpoint.
The chassis is stainless steel, with two buttons on the right side – one for navigation the other for power. The latter is a small circular design that can be stiff to use, this makes it uncomfortable to press and hold, something I needed to do a couple of times to reset the device when it locked up.
At first glance, I was worried that the watch would look bulky on my slim wrists, but it actually sits quite nicely and feels comfortable to wear. This is aided by the thick silicon strap, which also houses the real innovation of this design. Inside is an inflating section that squeezes your wrist and allows the BP Doctor Pro to measure the pressure of the blood flowing through your veins arteries. It can be a little disconcerting at first, but this physical aspect of the approach means you should get accurate readings. More on that later.
Turning the device over reveals a collection of sensors that help with not only blood pressure but heart rate and blood oxygen levels too. There’s also an array of contacts used to charge the 180mAh LiPo battery when the BP Doctor Pro is placed in the accompanying charging dock.
In truth, it’s a bit of a struggle to get the watch out of the dock when it’s fully charged (that takes about 1.5 hours), as the snap-in nature of the design doesn’t provide a grip or release mechanism. You just have to pull it out with a bit of force. This will probably loosen up over time, but it does seem like the team at YHE didn’t give it too much thought amidst development. Still, it does the job and the watch certainly won’t slip out during the night, leaving you with an uncharged battery in the morning.
Features and performance
The BP Doctor Pro has a range of features (mainly health focussed), as well as some of the more standard fare of smartwatch functions. Obviously, blood pressure is the main selling point, so I’ll deal with that first.
Being able to monitor your blood pressure regularly is something that could help avoid serious health risks that might otherwise go undetected – like hypertension (consistently elevated blood pressure), kidney disease, stroke and more. So, this feature really is something of a game-changer in terms of how smartwatches transition into full-on health monitoring devices.
The way blood pressure is analysed comes in the form of two measurements – Systolic and Diastolic– that is displayed as, for example, 120/70. As defined by the NHS, the first number (Systolic) is "the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body", while the Diastolic metric "is the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels." The NHS has a dedicated Blood Pressure page outlining the various risks involved with this area, as well as a guide to what the numbers mean.
As mentioned above, the BP Doctor Pro uses an inflating section within its strap, which constricts around the area just above your wrist. This allows the device to get a better picture of the pressure of your blood via its various sensors.
In use, it’s certainly an odd feeling to suddenly have your arm squeezed tightly by a watch, but if you’ve ever had your blood pressure taken by your GP then it will be reminiscent of that. Obviously, the devices used by doctors have a cuff that goes around your upper arm, but that’s not quite practical in the case of a watch. That difference can be a disadvantage though...
While testing the BP Doctor Pro, I did find that opening the blood pressure app and starting the test usually ended with a failed attempt rather than a result. This could be for a variety of reasons. Either the strap isn’t tight enough, the elevation of the watch isn’t parallel with your heart or various other failure codes for which there are no explanations in the manual or on the website. This did become frustrating, as the idea of an easy way to monitor blood pressure levels became something that actually raised it due to annoyance on more than one occasion.
After a while though, I found a few poses that seemed to return results on a more consistent basis, and my measurements were recorded in the accompanying app so that I could see how they looked across a week or so. This is important, as individual readings can be affected by things like having eaten within 30 minutes of taking the test, drinking alcohol or even having a full bladder. So building up a picture of your blood pressure and how it changes over time should allow for a greater understanding of the state of your cardiovascular health.
For the sake of comparison, I also used a Salter Automatic Arm Blood Pressure Monitor, which you can buy for around £30/US$30 on Amazon. This uses the upper arm cuff as you’d find in a doctor’s surgery.
Results were interesting, in that the BP Doctor Pro often reported higher readings, in several cases by as much as 20 points, which can be the difference between healthy and hypertension. I think the Salter was more in line with the tests I’ve had by my doctor recently (I suffer from high cholesterol), but as with any consumer-level tracker, once you work out the normal disparity, you can then factor it into results. I’ve had several step trackers that are generous while others are stingy, but when you know that, you can calculate what the readings really mean.
I wouldn’t rely on the BP Doctor Pro as a means of accurately telling you your exact blood pressure, but if you use it for a week or so, then visit your doctor and get a professional reading, it could be a good indicator of any fluctuations or build-ups, again which could be extremely useful.
Aside from blood pressure readings, the BP Doctor Pro has a few other health monitoring features. These include current heart rate, heart rate variability (HRV), blood oxygen levels, sleep tracking and, of course, your daily step count.
Most work happily in the background, with the HRV monitoring the consistency of your heart rate to spot any potentially dangerous variances, while sleep tracking records the quality of your slumbers. All the results are then transferred to the companion smartphone app; with extra detail supplied to give you some understanding of the data actually all means.
The BP Doctor Pro does offer some basic exercise tracking, but feels a bit half-hearted (if you’ll pardon the thematic pun) when you consider what else is out there. You have three modes to choose between: Outdoor Walk, Indoor Running and Outdoor Running.
This paltry trio falls far short of the competition in the more mainstream activity tracker and smartwatch space; with entries like Huawei's Watch 3 able to track more than 100 different activities, while the affordable new Amazfit GTS 3 pushes that figure to beyond 150.
There are different targets you can set for each exercise – time, distance and calories – so you can keep going until you hit your goal.
In practice though, the exercise modes were not the best. Several times I started the mode, only to find the countdown beginning again ten minutes into my walk. Data recording was also patchy, with the app not showing several sessions, and the most infuriating thing was not being able to leave the exercise app during a session without losing all the progress. If you want a fitness tracker, there are so many better options at a fraction of the price of the BP Doctor Pro.
The BP Doctor Pro comes up short in this area too. To be fair, it doesn’t necessarily position itself as a smartwatch for general use, and that’s a good thing because it’s pretty poor in this regard.
You can’t send messages, control your Bluetooth devices, download apps or host any media on the device itself. You can receive messages – so long as you enable them in the app – but the notifications were hit and miss and you had no option to respond from the device (at least when paired with an iPhone).
There are alarms available, plus a weather app if you connect a compatible service, but it’s all very basic. In truth, I found the Amazfit GTS Mini 2 a much more refined experience, with plenty of health and exercise tracking features included, for about a quarter the price of the BP Doctor Pro.
Software and interface
YHE deploys its own software on the BP Doctor Pro, with mixed results. The main screen acts as the watch face and there are several to choose from via the app. Unfortunately, most are emulations of analogue watches and don't suit the Pro's contemporary aesthetics at all.
The metrics being tracked are relegated to small windows that are hard to read, with the designs all looking as if they'd been lifted from the early days of Wear OS.
Swiping down from the watch face opens the quick settings menu while swiping up shows the notifications page. Left and right swipes give you access to your step count or the blood pressure, heart rate or blood oxygen tests.
To access the other features you’ll need to press the long button on the side of the casing, then select the mode (mostly health tracking) from the scrollable menu.
It doesn’t take long to get used to the layout, and with the limited range of features, you’ll be zipping around in no time. Pressing the long button instantly returns you to the Home screen if you get lost.
Delving into the settings allows you to enable/disable the raise-to-wake or always-on display options, albeit with a small hit to the battery life. There’s no way to simply tap the screen to show the time though, so it’s either possible using the side button or by relying on the aforementioned settings.
Raising my wrist (to check the time, not my blood pressure) was another frustration, as the display often didn’t register the motion or did it so slowly that I was putting my arm down again by the time the watch face eventually popped onto the screen. Hopefully, this can be tweaked via subsequent software updates, as it became a real bugbear during my time with the device.
The layout of the user experience is, at least, clean though; with information generally easy to read. It’s also bright enough in the sunshine, thanks to the quality of the AMOLED display.
Battery and charging
I found that I got just over two days from a single charge when I had the raise-to-wake setting enabled while checking my blood pressure every other day.
You could no doubt extend this by turning off the wake feature, but it seemed the best compromise for performance and usability. Thankfully, it doesn’t take that long to get the BP Doctor Pro back up to a full charge, with an hour and half in its dock doing the trick.
Price and availability
You can order the BP Doctor Pro smartwatch directly from YHE for £290/US$399/€340.
This puts it in the same ballpark as the Apple Watch SE – which goes for £269/US$279 and the Fitbit Sense – which retails at £279/US$299; although neither of these can measure your blood pressure.
For that, there’s always the Salter Automatic Arm Blood Pressure Monitor mentioned earlier, for £25.99 on Amazon UK (along with several other similarly priced options for customers in the US and other territories), as a standalone solution.
If you're dead-set on a smartwatch alternative with such functionality though, Samsung's latest Galaxy Watch 4 series (priced from £249/€269/US$249.99) is probably your best bet.
The caveat with the Galaxy Watch is that – while it trumps the Apple Watch and other direct rivals in terms of being able to offer blood pressure monitoring at all – it doesn't use the BP Doctor Pro's signature inflatable cuff solution; instead relying on its array of sensors and some AI algorithms to extrapolate your blood pressure, based on something called 'pulse transit time.'
This method is both considered less reliable and is only really good at representing changes to the wearer's blood pressure over time, making it an imperfect alternative to the approach used by the BP Doctor Pro or, better yet, what you'd find at an actual medical facility.
There's also the small wrinkle of the feature being completely unavailable to users in some markets, including the US, where it awaits FDA approval.
The BP Doctor Pro is an important product. Being able to track blood pressure – rather than just heart rate or blood oxygen saturation – is a metric that carries more weight when it comes to offering genuine life-saving potential; so having it on a wearable device is something of a landmark (Omron's HeartGuide [which costs almost twice as much] notwithstanding).
The inflating band is clever and achieves the surprising feat of also being comfortable to wear. The problem is that while the BP Doctor Pro is important, it also shows the classic signs that it’s early in its development.
The health metrics are a strong seller, but many of these are available on other products, including the aforementioned Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch. Crucially though, the tentpole feature of being able to measure blood pressure is inconsistent and at times infuriating.
The sad truth is that buying an Apple Watch Series 3 for £199/US$199 and pairing it with the Salter desktop blood pressure monitor mentioned earlier, will provide an infinitely better experience and probably more accurate results, for less money.
Android users can also take their pick of any fitness tracker or smartwatch, then pair it with the likes of the Salter to get the best of both worlds. I really wanted to love the BP Doctor Pro and YHE deserves much credit for helping to push this technology into the smartwatch space, but at this point in time, with the market as competitive as it is, it just doesn’t stand up to its rivals.