In 2020, it seemed like the Oura Ring was everywhere. Researchers were studying whether the smart ring (and other wearables) could one day detect illness, and right on cue, the NBA announced it bought 2,000 Oura Rings to monitor athletes. Prince Harry has been a fan for years, and celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Kim Kardashian West have also been spotted wearing the sleep tracker. That’s already a lot of buzz for a niche gadget, but the third-generation Oura Ring, which launched in late 2021 and is still the current version, also adds ambitious new features like period prediction and blood oxygen. The question is whether it’s worth committing to a $299 smart ring that now requires a monthly subscription.
No one will know it’s a smart ring
For a ring with such fashionable devotees, it’s quite plain. My gold Heritage review unit isn’t too far off from what Frodo schlepped to Mordor. It also comes in silver and black as well as a matte black version called “stealth.” Since launch, Oura’s also introduced a snazzier Oura x Gucci version that costs an eye-watering $950 as well as a fully round Horizon design that costs $349. The latter is actually a neat feat of engineering, as it requires a flexible battery to accommodate the shape. (The Heritage design has a flat top that houses the battery.) Functionally, the Heritage and Horizon are the same, and having tried both, the design differences are almost negligible.
Unless you’ve got the Gucci version, you probably won’t turn heads. The ring is perfect at blending seamlessly into your life. It doesn’t catch on your clothes, it’ll never buzz when you get notifications, and it’s way more comfortable than wearing a smartwatch 24/7. Most days, even I forgot it was a smart ring.
This kind of disappearing act is no easy feat. The new Oura Ring packs in four more temperature sensors for a total of seven, a new green LED heart rate sensor, and an SpO2 sensor for monitoring blood oxygen levels. That’s on top of the battery and accelerometers. (If you look at the inside of the ring, you can catch a glimpse of how tiny these sensors are.) So while the ring is a little wider than I’d prefer — especially for petite fingers or smaller hands — it’s a fair tradeoff considering where the tech is at today.
While it’s impressive Oura crammed this much into such a small form factor, it’s not without its quirks. Unlike a normal ring, you have to check if the sensors are positioned correctly if you want the most accurate metrics. (This is easier to do with the Heritage version, as it has a flat top. The Horizon has a dimple where the sensors are, but I often didn’t notice when the sensors were misaligned.) Since you’re wearing it all day and night, you also have to be diligent about keeping the sensors clean. Fit is also important since it isn’t adjustable. You rarely need to measure your wrist to buy a smartwatch, but for the ring, you first have to wait two to seven days for a free sizing kit. Oura then recommends you test a dummy ring for at least a day before placing an order.
Like a smartwatch, the ring needs to be charged. It takes about two hours to get up to 100 percent battery. When the Gen 3 first launched, and before Oura launched its more ambitious health features like SpO2 tracking, I often got close to Oura’s estimated seven days of battery life. Now that I’ve enabled SpO2, I get around three to four days. That’s not terrible, and the Oura app is pretty good about sending reminders to charge before bed. But I’ve lost a few nights of sleep data here and there because I either missed the notifications or was too tired to charge the dang thing before bed.
Sleep and recovery tracking
The Oura Ring bills itself as a sleep and recovery tracker, and that’s what it does best. The app centers around three scores: readiness, sleep, and activity. Each is calculated based on the heart rate, temperature, and activity data collected by the ring. A high score is good, while a low score means you might need to take it easy or reevaluate your habits. That’s the gist, and you could happily ignore all the other data it throws your way. But if you want more insight, prepare to do a lot of reading.
Take your sleep score. Oura determines that by looking at factors such as total sleep, REM sleep, and deep sleep — fairly typical sleep metrics that other wearable devices provide, too. Then there are also more novel metrics like “timing,” which refers to the midpoint of your total sleep falling between midnight and 3AM. Likewise, your readiness score uses something called “recovery index,” or the time it takes for your resting heart rate to stabilize during sleep. Thankfully, each of these metrics comes with little explainers as to why they matter.
These three scores are at the core of the Oura experience. However, the third gen’s new sensors add even more data to the mix. Previously, the ring only measured your heart rate when sleeping. But with the new green LED, you can now track your daytime heart rate. That introduces new terms, like restorative time, and graphs of heart rate trends. Restorative time refers to periods of relaxation where the ring detects your heart rate is low and, strangely enough, your hands are warm. (Oura’s chief of product, Chris Becherer, says this is because skin temperature increases when you’re more relaxed.) There’s also a guide so you can interpret what patterns you’re seeing. For instance, a low, flat daytime heart rate pattern is called an “Open Ocean” and shows you’ve had a chill day. Meanwhile, a hammock-shaped heart rate curve indicates your body recovered well during the night. It’s a lot to take in, but Oura gets kudos for including both bite-size and in-depth explanations to give you more context.
In the year and change since the Gen 3 launched in late 2021, Oura has continued to add new metrics. The latest is Oura’s take on circadian rhythms, which are characterized in the app as your chronotype and body clock. Chronotypes are determined after roughly three months of data and will tell you whether you’re an early bird or a night owl. (Though not in those exact terms.) The body clock feature is a visualization of whether you’re going to bed at the ideal time for your chronotype. I happen to be an “early evening type,” which, based on Oura’s explanation, I’d characterize as a sort of night owl lite.
But is it accurate? Daytime heart rate monitoring was in line with other trackers. In random spot checks, it was within five beats per minute of what I was getting on my Apple Watch Series 7. There were times when they weren’t in sync, but that usually evened out after a few seconds. Basically, the Series 7 will get you a faster real-time heart rate, but Oura’s daily data is presented in a more digestible format. I’m also tickled that the Oura Ring saw my nightly Pokémon sessions as restorative time.
As for sleep tracking, some wearables I’ve tested have struggled to tell when I’m awake at 4AM because the cat is yowling at the moon. For my fellow insomniacs: some trackers count those sleepless hours spent staring at the ceiling as sleep. I didn’t have that problem here. It was able to tell when I left the bed for midnight snacks and correctly identified when I was awake but trying to fall back asleep. I can’t tell you how accurate the sleep stages data is, however, as I don’t have access to clinical equipment. But when I tested it at launch, my sleep data did correspond to what I got on the Sleep Cycle app on my phone and consistently outperformed the Withings ScanWatch. In the months since, I feel only Fitbits and the Whoop 4.0 really gave the Oura Ring a run for its money as far as wearable sleep trackers go.
Oura has been beta testing a new sleep stage algorithm, which it says is more accurate and better corresponds with gold-standard polysomnography. I’ve been toggling between the current and new algorithms, but I’m hesitant to say which one I find more accurate until the final version is available. What I can say is there is a noticeable difference between the two, and the new algorithm tends to say I wake up more during the night.
When I reviewed the second-gen Oura Ring, the readiness score was hit-or-miss. Some days, it told me to take it easy when I felt fine. Others, I was a walking train wreck and was told to challenge myself. This time around, however, it seems to have gotten better at recognizing bodily stress. I was sick for a week, and my readiness scores, which were in the high 70s–80s, plummeted to the 50s–60s. I also appreciated the ability to turn on a “rest mode,” which shuts off your activity score and prioritizes your readiness and sleep. More fitness trackers should follow Oura’s lead.
Along that line, Oura’s activity score emphasizes weekly activity over arbitrary daily goals. It’s okay if you’ve been chained to your desk all day — you won’t get shamed for it. Instead, your score will only start to dip if you don’t meet your goals three or more days in a week. It also accounts for your training load and will adjust your daily calorie burn target depending on your readiness score.
Another neat feature is quantified meditation sessions. I normally pass on woo-woo guided mindfulness features, but Oura caters to data nerds. After each session, you can view how it impacted your heart rate, heart rate variation (HRV), and skin temperature. Just this week, the company also added a new Explore tab to the app, which organizes audio and video content and provides more educational reading.
Although the Gen 3 had SpO2 sensors from the get-go, blood oxygen tracking wasn’t initially available on the Gen 3. It finally arrived in an update in summer 2022, and it’s one of the better wearable blood oxygen features I’ve tested. Though to be fair, the bar is pretty low.
If you enable the feature, Oura will measure your blood oxygen in two ways. The first metric is your standard average nightly SpO2 percentage. Anything above 95 percent is considered normal. The second metric is something Oura dubs breathing regularity. This is how many variations in your blood oxygen levels were detected during sleep. Variations can be an indicator of breathing disturbances, and the fewer the better. Both Fitbit and Withings have similar SpO2 features, so it’s not like this is a revolutionary take. However, I find that Oura’s presentation is the most digestible, and its educational reading actually tells you how to interpret your results.
That said, SpO2 tracking comes with a major tradeoff in battery life. And while I like Oura’s SpO2 implementation better than the spot checks you’ll find on an Apple Watch or Samsung smartwatch, it’s still not a particularly useful metric. I’m a healthy adult, and in the roughly eight months I’ve been testing this feature, I’ve only gotten Optimal and Good breathing regularity ratings. The lowest my average nightly SpO2 has been is 96 percent. I don’t have much use for this feature, and it’s not really worth losing half my battery life for. It might be different if I suspected I might have sleep apnea, but even then, this isn’t meant to be a diagnostic feature in any capacity.
Period predictions are based on your temperature, user feedback, and the calendar method. Oura recommends at least 60 nights of data to get more accurate results. In the app, you can see a bar graph of how your temperature data changes over the course of your cycle as well as your historical period data. A few days before your period is expected to start, you’ll get an alert within the app. When the app believes your period should have started, it’ll also prompt you to log your data.
I’d love to tell you whether these predictions are accurate, but Oura’s period predictions aren’t compatible with birth control. The same is true if you’re going through other hormonal conditions or taking certain medications. This isn’t a knock against Oura — it’s a good thing, from an accuracy standpoint. Apple also includes several of these as factors that disable its temperature-based Cycle Tracking features like retrospective ovulation estimates. You should just be mindful of these limitations.
(A quick aside: you can currently use the Oura Ring’s wearable temperature data with Natural Cycles’ FDA-cleared digital birth control feature. I haven’t tested this feature, so I can’t attest to how well it works.)
The Gen 3 also adds workout heart rate tracking, but it’s the least impressive of the new health tracking features. For starters, it’s quite bare-bones and only supports running, cycling, and walking. The record screen doesn’t show any metrics — which is good for distraction-free exercise — but will show a summary of your stats, route, splits, and heart rate once the activity is finished. That’s fine if all you care about is casual activity tracking. but I find it more useful to import workouts from Apple Health and Google Fit (or any app like Strava that integrates with those APIs).
That brings me to my main criticism of the Oura Ring. If you’re an athlete or want to stay connected without your phone, this won’t be enough on its own. For me, the ideal way to use the Oura Ring is as a secondary tracker. Most smartwatches aren’t great at sleep and recovery tracking yet, so the Oura Ring takes care of that. Meanwhile, those same smartwatches make up for the Oura Ring’s lack of notifications and detailed activity tracking. But I’m using my wearable reviewer privilege here. Shelling out $300 to $350 plus a monthly $6 fee for a secondary tracker? In this economy? That’s a hard ask.
A future-focused wearable
When I first started reviewing the Oura Ring Gen 3 in late 2021, half the features weren’t out yet. And as someone who covers this company, I know that there are several other features that Oura’s still working on that we may not see for years. I have no idea when the new sleep stage algorithm will be deemed ready, and who knows when we’ll see what comes out of Oura’s research into illness detection and pregnancy predictions. I spoke with Becherer and former Oura CEO Harpreet Rai before the Gen 3 launched, and both emphasized period predictions are a baby step toward more ambitious women’s health features and research. Clearly, Oura’s looking far off into the future of wearables, and it’s counting on its customers to feel like the wait is worth it.
It also means much of what makes the ring cool may be invisible to the average person. Becherer confirmed that the new sleep algorithms are a back-end update, and you won’t see any UI change in the app. Your data will simply be more accurate. For each of Oura’s available features, you’ll get the best results only if you wear it every day for months. That’s a big commitment, and if you’re going to buy in, it has to be something you’re okay with.
It doesn’t help that, with the launch of the Gen 3, Oura switched to a subscription model. The company said it did so precisely because it has such ambitious plans in this space. The research that Oura (as well as Apple and Fitbit) partake in is expensive, and increasingly, one-time hardware sales aren’t keeping the lights on for smaller companies. It’s also where wearables are headed. Fitbit has Fitbit Premium, Apple has Fitness Plus, and Whoop — another recovery tracker — requires a $30 monthly subscription (though yearly subs are cheaper).
Compared to those, Oura’s membership is on the affordable side. You get six months free, and after that, it’s $5.99 a month. Owners of earlier Oura rings got a free lifetime subscription if they bought the Gen 3 before November 29th, 2021, but that option is no longer available. Also, Oura says on its FAQ page that if you cancel or choose not to subscribe, you’ll still be able to see your readiness, sleep, and activity scores.
Oura’s looking far off into the future of wearables, and it’s counting on its customers to feel like the wait is worth it
Whether the Oura Ring is worth the cost boils down to whether you’re ready to commit. Whoop is cheaper in the short term, especially since the company recently lowered its subscription prices. However, it tends to tip in Oura’s favor if you’re willing to stick with this platform for more than two years. (Unless you bought the Gucci version or plan to buy your ring secondhand.) A cheaper Fitbit will also get you excellent sleep tracking and recovery metrics, on top of other smart features like notifications and contactless payments. That said, Fitbit’s fortunes haven’t looked too great as of late.
So is the Oura Ring worth it? If recovery is important to you but you prefer analog watches or don’t find wrist-based trackers comfortable, then I’d say yes. Unlike the failed Motiv Ring, it’s not trying to do too much. It’s trying to be an excellent health tracker, and on that front, few others do it better.
Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge