While many of us are content to get by with step and calorie counts, the hemoglobin and pulse rate data provided by Cercacor's Ember tracker and scanner device enables serious athletes to train "smarter." The finger clip, scanner and linked mobile app essentially show how hard the body is working, so exercise regimes and routines can be tailored accordingly.

Having that sort of analysis and feedback available within a couple of minutes any time, any place, means runners and cyclists can figure out where they're making gains and where they're not.

Hemoglobin – the protein in the blood that binds and carries oxygen – is an accurate indicator of the body's endurance capabilities (the more hemoglobin there is, the more oxygen is being pumped around to the stressed-out muscles).

It's a particularly useful data point for endurance athletes as it shows how well someone is reacting to changes in exercise and elevation. By tracking hemoglobin levels over time, as well as pulse rate, Ember users can tailor exercise programs that maximize their body's capabilities and, in theory, help them perform better on the next race day.

The scientific technique implemented here is absorption spectroscopy, where light is shined through the blood to take a reading. Cercacor says the kit has been tested to be accurate to within one gram-per-deciliter in tests – it's not quite as exact as standard invasive procedures (via a needle), but it is more convenient.

Ember is one of a new breed of devices giving users access to advanced health data that would otherwise require a trip to a professional clinic to gather. Putting that data on a smartphone, almost instantly, out in the field can make a significant difference.

Cercacor emphasizes that this isn't a wearable device though, and you need to stop whatever exercise you're doing to take a reading. The device is reportedly good for 120 measurements between charges and can sync with a phone without Wi-Fi.

The Ember is shipping now for US$399, with a charging cable and 200 "measurement credits" included (presumably there's an on-going cost for more credits, though there doesn't appear to be any mention of this on the Cercacor site). Android users be warned though: as yet there's only an iOS app available, with one for Google-powered devices "coming soon."

Product page: Cercacor Ember

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