My New Smart Tracker

Fitbit Charge2 and Gear Fit2G’Bye Fitbit

I’ve been a loyal Fitbit tracking user for over four years, but I’m moving off to new tracking horizons.  It wasn’t something I decided in an instant, but carefully thought out, and I haven’t left the fold completely. I’m still using an Aria scale, and I’m syncing some data from Fitbit back to my new tracking software and vice versa.  Unfortunately Fitbit doesn’t allow for steps acquired from 3rd Party apps to be used for comparing with other Fitbit friends, and that’s a disappointment, but very minor compared to other things that are more convenient for me.

Hello Gear Fit2


Samsung Gear Fit2
My new tracker is a Samsung Gear Fit2, which can be used by anyone with a current Android phone (mine is an LG and it works fine).  It works in conjunction with Samsung’s S Health app that I tried out before making the final decision to try the Fit2.  

Why make a change?  Well, let’s start with what has disappointed me about using my various Fitbit trackers over the years.  When I had the Fitbit Charge HR, I found a 3rd Party app on the Google Play store that let me get notifications from my phone on the Fitbit. And it worked!  This was about the time Fitbit was about to release the Blaze, which would have this feature. They blocked the rest of their devices from being able to do this, so the app no longer worked.  OK, that was annoying, but I wasn’t going to spend the extra money on a Blaze for the feature.  

When the Charge2 came out and had the ability to get notifications, I jumped at the chance and bought it during the first week it was available.  As it turned out, it’s very limited. It can do calls, texts, and calendar events.  If you have more than one text type app (for example, FB Messages, SMS or Hangouts) you can choose ONE.  While other (more expensive) Fitbit devices would also show Email notifications, this isn’t an option for the Charge 2.

Honestly, did I really just change fitness trackers because of notifications??  It looks like it. But there’s a bunch of things the Gear Fit2 does that Fitbit trackers near the same price don’t do… and that’s the other reason I gravitated towards the Fit2. A major one for me is that it has built-in apps that I’ve found extremely useful. Like a timer (which gets used so often it’s my shortcut app), and it connects with S Health, MyFitnessPal and Under Armor, making a seamless way to keep track of what I eat and my fitness activities. Yes, Fitbit can do that, but I had to add the exercise data from Fitbit (including heart rate info) into Under Armour by hand to have the data include my heart rate, then delete the Fitbit exercise once the other synced. Now it’s just exercise using the UA app on the wristband and let it sync to all the places it needs to without my doing anything extra. The Gear Fit2 has built-in GPS so the UA app was able to track my walk around the block, and blow me down, it also colour coded the walk by what my heart rate was during the stroll. How cool is that? The GPS aspect wasn’t important to me, but combining it with my heart rate adds a new dimension.

 

What attracted me to the Gear Fit2


The GF2 (short for Gear Fit2) has a beautiful colour screen that’s interactive, like a phone or tablet. Swipe to the right and view notifications.  Swipe the other way to view the eight customizable ‘widgets’ for steps, floors climbed, calories, coffee, water, start exercises, or access support apps such as MyFitnessPal and Under Armor, amongst several others. Each of these widgets also let you dive deeper and see more detail, including your history without needing to access an app on the phone. A menu button on the side of the screen lets you view and interact with all the installed apps and change settings. Another button on the side acts as a back key so you aren’t constantly returning to the main screen and navigating back to the where you were. Then of course is the built-in GPS.  All this, and the Australian price tag is around $170.  The latest Fitbit, the Ionic, has some of these features plus some others, but not all of its apps are fully developed or released yet, and the price is over $400 Australian.

The GF2 isn’t the newest kid on the block. It’s been out for about 16 months and has had a few firmware upgrades, so many things have been improved over time. That’s a good thing. There is a newer version, the Gear Fit2 Pro that’s waterproof and works in the pool, but this seems to be the only difference and it costs more ($329). The Fitbit Ionic is also waterproof, but this isn’t a feature that’s important to me.

3rd party wrist bandI read several reviews that mentioned the included band (which is a step-ladder type) could catch and come undone, so as soon as I ordered the Gear Fit, I went on eBay and found a metal band similar to the 3rd party one I had for the Fitbit, with a magnetic clasp. I have arthritis and this style makes it easy for me to adjust or take it off my wrist. I love the purple colour.

 

Gear Fit2 and other Fitness Software

 

Like Fitbit, the Gear Fit2 works well with other fitness tracking applications, and in some ways the integration (once I was able to work out what data gets sent where) is quite seamless.  It took a fair amount of tweaking and some help from a couple “bridging apps” to get the information where I wanted it and working smoothly.

Although not required to make use of the GF2, S Health, which is Samsung’s health app is more or less the glue that holds all the data from the smart watch and lets you view details of previous days, shows trends and pats you on the back when you reach goals. For years it was only available on Samsung phones but now it’s available for all newer Android phones and IOS as well (IOS6 and above).  S Health also interacts with several ‘Partner Apps’ such as MyFitnessPal, Under Armour, MapMyFitness and Withings.  As data can be synced between these apps it may take a bit to work out where you want the information to go.  I had some duplicated exercises for a few days while I figured it all out. It’s been worth the time spent as now when I use the fitness band to track exercise, whether using the inbuilt software or Under Armour’s app, the information goes to S Health and UA (plus any of the other apps that UA supports).  I’ll write more about how I’ve gone about syncing my data from S Health back to Fitbit and to other apps in a separate blog post. 

What any of the apps interpret the exercise done in one app and synced to another is a bit of potluck though. For example, I chose stationary bike in the GF2 Under Armour app and it was saved as ‘Other exercise’ in S Health. This happened even before I started using the GF2 though, so it’s just a feature of syncing between different fitness utilities. 

 

Quirks

 

There are a few oddities with the GF2 starting with the battery life, charging anomalies and the Do Not Disturb mode.  Battery life could definitely be improved.  I’ve been using it for a few weeks with the brightness at 5 (out of 10) and have just turned it down to see if that helps (it did). I have a fairly plain watch face, receive lots of notifications during the day and have only used the GPS once so far and don’t have it on all the time.  I get about a day and a half usage out of it.  On the bright side, it does charge fairly fast – no more than maybe an hour to get fully charged.

Charging the GF2Charging the Gear Fit2 the first time (it arrived with absolutely no power at all) was easy. Plugin the little dock, a little magnet on the dock holds the device against it.  The next time I went to charge it, the only way it would stay charging was if I held the dock upside down so the magnet made good contact. It’s been that way ever since. The only reason I knew to try that was because I saw a video review by someone who had the first version and had created a little ‘tree’ to hang the dock, and was pleased that it was the same type of dock so his invention could still be used.  I invented a different method. I put the dock in between a large clip to achieve the same end. Looks weird, but works.  I also found just using a bit of Blu Tack under the front of the dock to tip it back slightly also works, and keeps the dock from moving as well. 

I was a little surprised that the do not disturb mode didn’t automatically just use the times my phone is set for DND. Instead, you set this on the GF2 settings menu under ‘device’ and it’s a choice between setting days and times or just turning it on. The thing is, there are a lot of options in the settings menu where you would expect to find this option.  Each time I wanted to find it, I’ve had to look through each of the menu options in turn until I run into it again.

The other oddity with do not disturb mode is the fact when it’s engaged, the act of turning your wrist to see the clock face doesn’t work. You have to press either of the buttons to turn the screen on. This isn’t the behavior I expected. I thought it would just stop notifications from vibrating to alert me. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it avoids the screen distracting me at night but needing to press a button to see the time still surprises me every night.

You should be able to get the Gear Fit2 wet without any problems. Such as when washing dishes, splashing or showering.  However, several people found that after their device got wet, suddenly they had really weird stats for how many floors they’d climbed in a day, and that effect lasted a while.  Apparently water effects the barometer which is what the GF2 uses to detect the number of floors climbed. Water makes it think you’ve climbed the Eiffel tower, is how I’ve interpreted the results that other people have seen.  

 

How I’m using the Gear Fit2

 

I’m not well.  I lost my streak of reaching my step goal for 561 days in a row a couple of months ago.  I have anemia with an iron deficiency.  Why the heck would I want a new Fitness app when I’m not at my best??  Well.  I should be able to ‘grow with it’, since it’s a lot like starting all over again.

My current step goal is down to only 2000 steps a day, and I’ve limited exercise to 10 minutes a day because if I over-do, I end up extremely fatigued and unable to do much of anything for a day or two. At this stage two of my mantras are ‘some is better than none at all’, and ‘slow and steady wins the race’.  A shiny new device has given me something to explore, a reason to try new things as long as it’s within my current ability, and most of all, hope towards better fitness days ahead.  

A couple of surprises for me with this new tracker is that because S Health is so well integrated with MyFitnessPal, I’ve been logging my meals more often, even though I’m doing it from the phone and not the GF2, this was a side effect of starting to use the S Health app.  I’ve also been logging cups of coffee and glasses of water because the feature is on the device and it’s kind of fun. Halloween watch face 

I have to admit, I’ve also enjoyed being able to change clock faces, just for fun.  Some faces are really complex where you can double tap on an object and have the widget it matches open (such as weather or the schedule).  My favourite is pretty basic with the information in different colours. Others like the one in the photo are purely artistic and for fun. The photo doesn’t do it justice at all.  I found this artist on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AussieWatchDesign/ and really enjoy some of the faces he comes up with.

 

Summary

 

This post has been a combination review, comparison and mostly a justification for why I left Fitbit behind and bought myself the Gear Fit 2 even though it’s been out for a year.  It does everything I need it to do for fitness tracking, plus it’s smart enough to show me all of the notifications I want, and interact with them too. I love knowing the Email I just received is either important or not – without doing anything extra other than glancing at my wrist. I wanted a smart fitness watch. I got it!  

 

Comparison Chart

FeatureGear Fit2Fitbit Ionic
StepsYesYes
DistanceYesYes
Calories BurnedYesYes
Floors ClimbedBarometerAltimeter
Heart RateEvery hour, on demand and during exerciseContinous
Silent AlarmYesYes
TimerYesNo
StopwatchYesYes
Track SwimsNoYes
Weather (AccuWeather)YesYes
Built-in GPSYesYes
Music PlayerYesYes
Connect to Bluetooth HeadphonesYesYes
Store Music on Device300 Songs2gb available storage space
3rd Party Music AppSpotifyPandora (USA only)
3rd Party Fitness App(s)Under Armour, MyFitnessPal, Endomondo, Skimble, Fit Revolution and moreStrava
3rd Party News AppNoFlipboard
3rd Party Automation Controller AppNoNest
Personal Coachingvia 3rd party appsBuilt in
Customisable Clock FacesYesYes
Payments via NFS chipNoYes
Multi-day Battery Usage2-3 Days or less5 Days
Water Resistant (can shower with it)Yes, but may cause problems with barometer and affect floor stats.Yes
Exercise Recognition after 10mins activityYesYes
Multi-Sport RecognitionYes. Walking, running, elliptical, rowing and dynamic workouts (selected sports)Yes. Walking, running, aerobics, elliptical, outdoor bike, sports, swimming
Relaxation / Guided BreathingNoYes
Reminders to MoveAll day. Triggers if no steps have been detected in the last 50 minutes.User selected times at 50mins after the hour, if 250 steps haven't been met in that time frame
Sleep TrackingSleep levels (light and motionless)Sleep Stages
Custom Phone App for DeviceGear Fit 2 App / S HealthFitbit App
Custom Dashboard on the WebNoFitbit Website
Caffeine / Water / Food IntakeYesNo
StarbucksNoN. America Only
Calendar / Schedule AppYesNo
NotificationsYes, Interactive. Reply to txts with preset messages. Can delete Emails.Yes, but not interactive.
Cost$170 (Australian)$449 (Australian)

I’ll have to iron this out the best I can

I wrote this on 7 October 2017 to post on my blog at sparkpeople.com.

About the 3rd week in August I woke up feeling dreadful. My tremors were the worst they’ve ever been, I had a migraine headache and was very tired. The first couple days I dragged myself around the house getting my 6k steps in 500 steps at a time as was my usual, but by the 3rd day, I just couldn’t. I managed to get 2k steps for a couple of days then fizzled out and did all of 659 steps on the 25th. I’m not sure when I went to see my GP, but she sent me for blood work that came back that my hemoglobin was low and my Ferritin score was rock bottom. I’ve been low on iron in the past, and know my body doesn’t absorb iron, so taking supplements will only cause other problems. I was able to get in touch with my usual gastrointestinal doctor that handles this problem, but he’s on leave until the 30th of October. The receptionist was able to get me scheduled for that day, so that’s good. I’ll probably need another iron transfusion, but probably not until he investigates why the change has occurred. Which means a colonoscopy, and other tests, and that means time waiting for appointments.

So meanwhile, I can do what I can, but need to rest when I run out of steam. And the hardest thing – not to push myself too hard and do more than I can handle.

For the last few weeks I’ve made my step goal 1600, and have gone past to 2k for two weeks now, so today I revised the goal to 2k. Today I also did two 500 step circuits around the house, about an hour apart without being totally worn out. That felt good – like a little bonus. It’s probably going to be a long time before I’m back to 6k steps a day, but I’ll get there eventually.

My next puzzle to figure out will be getting some mild strength training in, so my muscles and bones won’t completely disintegrate in the interim. This will likely need to be chair exercises, but I’ll research exercise for seniors to see what can be achieved.

Relearning the Exercise Diabetes Connection

Image Courtesy of Unsplash

Sometimes I have to relearn things over and over again before it sinks in. This week, it was the fact that exercise really does help lower your glucose levels. I took a break from doing gym over the holidays and also, although I know it’s a dumb thing to do, took a break from diabetes for a couple of weeks. I didn’t monitor my glucose and ate lots of nice food. I only gained a kilo, so I didn’t go too overboard. But of course, when I started monitoring my levels again, it’s no surprise they were high, and they stayed up until I started back in the gym yesterday and today.

My before dinner and morning fasting glucose levels have been consistently around 8.0 (145) for the past two weeks – and these are my before meal readings! Yesterday I spent some time doing weight training and riding my exercise bike. Today I just rode the bike. I try to do strength work on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and just cardio work on the days in between.

My first indication that I was getting back on track was my before dinner blood sugar reading was 5.3 (95) Tonight’s was 5.2. My fasting reading this morning was a very reasonable 6.6 (120). That’s the cool thing about exercise and diabetes. Its effects last far longer than the time spent sweating. I spent only about 20 minutes on the bike today but it was definitely worth it.

Striding Forward

Getting my steps

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for about three months now.  Last week, I celebrated six months of meeting my step goal every day.  Three months ago I was going to have a review of any changes that have taken place during that time, but now it’ll have to be at the six month mark. I’m OK with that.

 

So, besides finally really creating a habit of walking every day, what have I accomplished?  

 

The bad news is I haven’t lost much in the way of weight.  In November last year I was 97.6 kg and by mid February I was down to 90kg.  I started my current walking streak on the 28th of February, so I can’t really credit my streak with losing 7kg. And since then, my weight has fluctuated between 88 and 90 – mostly around the 90 mark.  I’m not feeling bad about that because I’d rather have a plateau than be gaining weight. It means I’m holding steady. Even though my weight hasn’t changed much, I’ve lost 4cm in my waist.  

 

Where the big changes have taken place has been my health.  I haven’t had a cold or flu in the last six months. The only ‘illness’ I’ve had is when I was hit in the face and body by the boot lid coming down on me on a super windy day and a weird viral infection in my eye.

 

Accu-Chek Glucose MeterMy glucose results have been the real winner.  In January, my usual readings after meals were in the high 8’s and 9’s with several over 10 mmol.  My last HBA1c test showed my overall glucose for the last 3 months down to 5.6, which is so much better for me.  My averages these days are in the 5’s, and I’ve had to keep an active eye on things to make sure my glucose doesn’t go too low now. In fact, we’ve reduced my medications twice now to balance it back to slightly higher (but normal) levels. Less medication. Wow!

 

Gym EquipmentAnother unforeseen bonus has been that I actually like gym days now.  I do several things in our home gym right after another and then ‘rest’ while walking 3 circuits around the house before doing the next set in the gym. Often by the end of my gym time, I’ve reached my 4200 step goal for the day.  

 

Awhile ago, Fitbit added a new thing where the app encourages you to get at least 250 steps every hour.  That’s not a lot, and not hard to do – 3 circuits around my house gives me about 300 steps. So when I’ve been at my desk and the clock tells me it’s at the top (or bottom) of the hour I go do my 3 trips around the house and come back a bit more refreshed. It also stops me from getting to stiff from sitting too long.  I’ve purposely kept my step goal low with the thought that it’s better to have an achievable goal than to set the bar so high I can’t hope to reach it.  I haven’t changed the goal because I’ve found that most days I tend to average more than this and that’s been thrilling to see.  The goal is 4200 but according to Fitbit my weekly averages are around 5,500 a day, and this seems to be on the increase. My other half has also helped a lot with a bit of friendly competition. He tries to catch up with my weekly step count or I try to catch up with his. Either way, we both win and are better for it in the long run.

My Fitbit with Medic Alert

I think my mental health has improved too.  In the past, my worst, most depressed days were when I’d just go to bed and not bother with anything for the whole day. I still have moments of being down but not as much as I had been over the last few years.

 

Not everything has changed. The osteoarthritis is still here, I still stiffen right up if I sit, stand or lay down for any length of time, I still have osteoporosis and my balance is still wobbly.  But it’s nice to have a few more things going right than wrong lately.

 

Last, I really must thank all the wonderful people who have encouraged me and ‘liked’ my Facebook and Twitter status post.  The Facebook posts are automatic when I reach my step goal for the day and the Twitter one is just the daily stats for the total amount each day.  Your encouragement and cheering me has made me smile, kept me going on the rough days and I can’t thank you enough for being there for me!

Silly House Walking

My Walking History….

I’ve been playing with a pedometer and trying to get more steps into my day for several years now.  Some years have definitely been better than others – one of those things I’ve just had to accept during the times when my health has slowed me down.

My first pedometer was a cheap one that came in a box of cornflakes that I bought specifically for the step counter.  I still have a notebook somewhere around here where I wrote down my day’s steps every night before pressing the reset. Sometimes it would reset itself during the day (Oh, woe is me!).  The cheapy ended it’s life when it fell into a toilet when I was shopping at the mall. Considering it was just a cheap thing that maybe would have cost $3 at the time, I was devastated. It started a hunt for something better that wouldn’t get lost. I tried several that I could keep in my pocket and eventually my new smart phone, a Nokia N95, took it’s place.

I had the phone for a few years and had become quite used to take it everywhere with me, and relying on it’s records so I didn’t have to jot down my daily step count. I like it. Fast forward a few years and my new phone was of the Apple kind. There were apps that were step counters but in order to work, they had to be running in the foreground. That was a bit useless, so I went looking for real pedometers again.

Had a good day
I eventually ended up with a FitBit One, which I wore either in my pocket or for other times when I had no pockets, on a lanyard. The online Fitbit site kept track of my step history. Today I wear a Fitbit Charge so I don’t have to worry about pocket or lanyard issues and it does a better job at sleep tracking than the One ever did.

Trying something different…

So I have a little bit of experience. The thing I don’t have is a high daily step count. For a few years, I maintained about 5-6,000 steps a day by taking a long walk around the neighbourhood. The thing that always bothered me about this was the feeling that I could/should be doing something more constructive, or that I was missing out on doing other things at home. In the last couple of years, I took shorter walks and my daily step count goal was down to between 3 and 4000 steps a day.  I’ve had a long standing issue with low hemoglobin and anemia which has made doing lots of things very tiring. It’s a wee better at the moment.
Today, my average step count is now closer to 6k a day, but I’m not leaving home to do it. I’ve made it a mission to prove to myself that I don’t have to leave home or use a treadmill to get a decent amount of steps in each day. To my surprise, it’s working, and rather well. So the rest of this post is about the things I’ve learned in making this work. For some folks, this might be a given, but it certainly was illusive for me, and I’m probably not alone.

Wear walking shoes

When I get up and get dressed (sometimes these two things can be hours apart), I put my walking shoes on. This is a cheap pair of shoes I bought several pair of at Kmart when they were on sale. I have full gel pads (from eBay) inside them. It might not work for everyone, but when I have shoes on, it automatically puts me into a psychological  ‘Go’ mode. It also means if I have to go outside for something, I’m ready. This was one of the first changes I made when deciding to try walking around the house to get my step count in, and it definitely works for me.  I accept this may not be helpful for some folks, and if not, don’t worry about it, go barefoot! Or naked!  (Just kidding)

Pick a path

Walk around your house, look for places that offer a long stretch where there aren’t many turns.  I have two of these. The first is the hallway that goes from our front bedroom to the laundry room. I can walk from the window on the far side of the bedroom all the way to where the washing machine is in the laundry. So I play ‘tag’ with these two spots. I also have a relatively straight shot from our middle bedroom, through the kitchen and into the office where my desk is. I can walk either choice and end up with around about 50 steps.  If I mix the two together, I end up with about 100 steps per ‘circuit’. Do that ten times (pretty easy) and you’ve got 1,000 steps in.
 
Repeat that a few times over the course of the day, and you’ve reached your step goal for the day.
 

Pace yourself

I usually set short term goals when I start a new walk, such as “I’m going to walk around the house until I reach the next 500 (or 1000) steps”.  This gives me a something I know I can do in the next few minutes without it taking up all of my time and energy.  Just ambling around the house in an organised way takes me about 15 minutes per 1000 steps.  This may be less, but I’ve been the charts on Fitbit to determine how far I’ve walked in that time and it tends to have a spike when I go on these little jaunts that lets me see what I’ve done.
 

Make it a routine, build it into your day

This is where having my shoes on until I’ve reached my step goal comes into play…  It helps remind me that the shoes are on for a reason.  I try to do stuff at my computer in half hour stints and then follow that with another walk session.  This has an advantage in making sure I don’t spend too long in one position at the computer, and the 15 minute walk lets me do a few household things or clear my mind before returning refreshed to the computer again.
One night it was a bit late in the evening and I knew I needed to get my steps in for the day so I chose to do 1000 steps at a time while my other half was watching the TV. I made sure my chosen ‘circuit’ included being near enough to the TV so I could still hear and see it as I made my way around the house. I didn’t miss anything. I took a few 10 minute breaks here and there to watch something but went back to it, and it really didn’t take long before I could kick off the shoes and declare myself done for the day.

After awhile, you might find yourself doing laps around the house when you weren’t intending to – it just happens. I think for me, it’s just an extension of the ‘what did I come in this room for?” and then just carrying on walking!

Whoo Hoo! 6,200 StepsThe thing I like with the silly house walking is I don’t feel resentful – I’m not missing anything. If something needs doing I can do it, I don’t do it long enough to get bored.  I also do other things while taking my circuits around the house.  Sometimes it might take a few laps to finish though. For example, emptying the dishwasher a few dishes at a time before continuing on my walk (and the same for filling it up), or folding something in the laundry room each time I pass by.  Tonight I filled up my Sodastream bottles and fizzed them up – a process that took a few goes during my walk, but got it done and out of the way.


A few more hints and suggestions…

 

Don’t keep looking at your Fitbit (or other pedometer) for your step count. It’s like watching the clock. If you resist the urge, the numbers just magically go up and up. If you’re looking every few minutes it can be annoyingly slow in changing.  I look about every two or three ‘laps’ if I can resist the urge.  One thing I’d love for the Fitbit to have is an incremental goal. Like give my wrist a little buzz each time I reach another 1000 steps.

 

Set a reasonable daily step goal for yourself.  Unless you’re already super fit and active, keeping your goal at 10,000 steps and not reaching it can be disheartening.  Start with something you know you can do, then after you’ve reached that goal several days in a row, increase the goal by another 1000.  And repeat.  I’m up to 6000 steps a day, and as long as I’m able to hit this daily, I’ll update to 7000 next week.

If you’re a bit of a data freak like am, you can also track your steps on Runtastic and / or MyFitnessPal.  I use the spikes that show on the Fitbit dashboard for when I’ve been walking for 15 minutes. If you hover over the spike in the graph for distance, it will show you how far you’ve gone. I average about half a kilometer for each 15 minutes when I’m doing the silly house walk. I take note of the beginning time and add that along with the distance into a new entry manual entry on Runtastic. Because my Runtastic account and MyFitnessPal are connected, so the entry automatically updates MFP.  The only downside is that because Fitbit is also linked to these two, it seems to pick up the MyFitnessPal active time and add it to it’s own. But it doesn’t seem to double the calories burned so that’s good.

 
 
I’ll leave you with a comment from a friend after I’d told her about my silly little plan that seems to be working…   “Thinking you have to leave home or use treadmill to reach your step goal is making excuses instead of just doing it!”  Amen, sister.

 

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