Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Motigo App

motigo-logo

Sometimes in a race, you can find yourself in a very dark place. You are having to dig very deep and facing your own inner demons. It’s times like these, that a word of cheer or support can really help you find the light. Unfortunately, your family likely can’t be at every point in a race, or may not be able to attend an event. That is where the Motigo App for iPhone (Android coming soon) can be invaluable.

Motigo is an app that enables loved ones and supporters to record messages of up to 30 seconds that are played back for runners at different points during a race. These points are selected by whomever is recording a cheer.

The runner just starts the app at the beginning of the race, and as they cross the selected mile markers during the race, the music will fade and the message will play.

I used it in two races on back to back weekends.

In the first race, a marathon, things were going great for the first, but then I started having problems. As the race continued, I got cheers from my wife and my nephew. These really helped give me something to focus on. They were a lifeline. Especially when I was hurting so badly that I was walking at many points. Hearing my wife cheer me helped give me the motivation to get it together and start running so I could see her sooner at the finish.

In the next race, things were going extremely well. This time, getting messages from my wife just made the day more complete. They really enhanced an already great run for me and helped me maintain my effort all the way to a personal record. I love how the app can be there for both good and bad runs.

Another use for the app that I haven’t seen advertised could be for coaching. By having the ability to record messages at specific points during a race, coaches could offer guidance and strategy throughout the race.

These cheers remain available for future listens and that may its greatest feature. I lost my parents recently and they were very thrilled about my races. Unfortunately, they were unable to attend the events. I would have loved the opportunity to not only have heard from them during the races, but also I wish I had them recorded to hear now. I don’t know how long the cheers will be available and hope that we will be able to download them at some point, but having them archived with the service is a great start.

The only option I would request is the ability to change how the cheers are delivered. Currently, the music fades and the cheer is played over it. I would like to have the option of setting the app to pause the music and play the message. I had trouble hearing my nephew because he spoke softly in his cheer. I also know that I would have definitely struggled hearing my mother because she had Parkinson’s disease and her voice was very faint.

I highly recommend this app. It is very inexpensive to buy some cheers – about the same as a greeting card. And while you can’t hand your loved ones a card on the course, you can put a cheer in their ear.

You can find more information about the app in iTunes, or at http://getmotigo.com/. It is currently iOS only, but an Android version will be announced soon. You can sign up to be notified at http://getmotigo.com/.

Review: Mio Fuse

What is it?  The Mio Fuse is an activity tracker and heart rate monitor.  It is a pretty nifty little device.  As an activity tracker, you can set goals, monitor your heart rate, and keep track of steps, calories and distance.  It will show you, via the app, how many steps you have taken, and how many you need to reach your goal. The heart rate monitor is an optical sensor.  Meaning it shines a little light on your skin and the sensor pick up heart rate.

My interest in the Mio Fuse is primarily as a heart rate monitor.  As an athlete and coach who trains with heart rate based periodization, heart rate is an important piece of information.  Each athlete has their own individual heart rate zones.  No two people are alike.  Using a standard formula for everyone does not produce individual zones and is not useful for training (and in fact could be detrimental, as too much time in the wrong zone, or too high a zone can lead to burnout and injury).  I want to run in specific zones in my own training, and when I write workouts for athletes, they are assigned zones based on the intent of the workout (endurance, tempo, or recovery for example).  As a woman prone to chafing, I have some serious issues with the Garmin heart rate strap.  For me, it causes painful chafing under the sensor (for other people it can cause chafing anywhere under the strap itself).  Its not possible to put anti-chafe under the sensors, as that interferes with the signal.  The Fuse seemed to be the solution to this problem and I was excited to give it a try.

The Fuse comes in two sizes, depending on the size of your wrist.  I chose the small size and as you can see, even while wearing the Fuse high on the wrist (more on placement later), I have enough extra band.  The Fuse has 3 buttons, or touch points.  The two on the side scroll through time, calories, steps, distance and goal.  It will also display your heart rate.  The midde touch point is for finding your heart rate and starting, pausing, and ending an activity.  The Fuse finds heart rate pretty quickly.  Touch the middle point, it will say “find” then wait for heart rate to pop up.  To start a workout, touch the same point again.  It will read “go” as the timer starts.  Touch it again to pause, then hold it down, when paused, to end an and save an activity.

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Pairing the Fuse with the Garmin was easy.   Put the Fuse on and find your heart rate.  Then set your watch to scan for the heart rate device.  It pairs quickly, and since the first pairing,  Garmin finds it right away (no scanning again required).  Heart rate will then show on your Garmin/watch screen.  The Fuse does not have an “always on” screen, which I would like, but I imagine this is a battery life issue.  You can customize your zones in the app (which “talks” to the Fuse via Bluetooth) and the Fuse will vibrate for a split second to let you know when you have changed zones.  It will display heart rate at that point, so in that way you can see on the display when you putting out too much heart rate effort, or not enough, and stay in your proper zones.

The first run I did with the Fuse, I experienced long dips (into the low 100s when I should have been in the high 140s), and conversely, spikes into the high 170s/180s when I should have been high 140s/low 150s).  This happened after about 3 miles of perfect heart rate numbers (compared to rate of perceived exertion, which I know quite well, having been a heart rate based athlete going on 5 years now).  This was disappointing.  I then did a run wearing two Garmin watches (910xt and 110).  The 110 was paired to the strap and the 910xt was paired to the Fuse.  Here are the results.  You can see the Garmin strap (top in both examples) is accurate, whereas the Fuse has dips and long surges.

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I called Mio and left a message (there is an option for a call back, but if you just let customer service ring it will put you to voicemail).  Surprisingly I received a call back in a few minutes.  The rep made a couple suggestions.  One, put the Fuse on your wrist, with a little room on the strap. Then “snug” it up your wrist about 3-4 inches.  Let the strap conform to you, instead of putting it on tight.  The Fuse is meant to be worn high on the wrist, as it needs enough surface area to get an accurate reading.   Being female with small wrists, I need to wear it on the high side to get accuracy.  He also suggested wearing it on the inside on the wrist, although I did not find that in practice to be accurate.  The last suggestion was to wear it for a few minutes before pairing to the Garmin and starting a workout. On my next run, I did as suggested and the Fuse was accurate.  The take-away – wrist placement is key for accuracy.  I find I have to wear it high and a touch off center.  It does sometimes slip down and needs to be gently nudged back into proper position.  After wearing it for a few more runs, if it is place in the right spot, it is highly accurate.  When it deviates (either error in putting it on or it slides around), that is when the dips and spikes occur.

The Fuse will record distance a bit low.  For example, an 11.2 mile run on the Garmin read as 9.69 miles on the Fuse. The Garmin had another at 11.01 mi. with the Fuse reading 8.92 mi.  But not always.  A different time, Garmin had 10.22 mi. to the Fuse at 10.8 mi., and my 10k (with mile warm up) came up as Garmin 7.34 mi. and Fuse 7.35 mi.  Again, not a big deal for a runner using the Fuse paired with a GPS watch.

I also used the Fuse on the bike for trainer rides.  The weather hasn’t been conducive to outdoor riding so I have tested it indoors only.  The accuracy is 100% on the bike, most likely because your arms are in a more fixed position than when running.  The accuracy is the same whether the ride is recovery (low HR), endurance (Zone 2) or tempo and intervals (pushing into Zone 4 and beyond).  This is very encouraging and the Fuse getting very sweaty did not affect accuracy.  Again it paired easily with Trainer Road via Ant+.

TRMio

The Fuse was a pleasant surprise on the swim.  Unfortunately, the Garmin 910xt does not have an available heart rate data field under the swim function.  So there was no way to to pair it for a swim, and no way to get a heart rate graph from Garmin Connect.  I wore the Fuse by itself in the pool.  It stayed in place pretty well, and the heart rate readings were accurate as compared to perceived exertion.  The distance is not correct, but that doesn’t really matter, as athletes are typically following a written swim workout.  One swim I did was 2500 yards, it recorded .91 miles.  The next at 2600 yards recorded .89 miles.  Not quite right, but again, not an issue.

Mioswim

The Fuse needs to be synced via Bluetooth to the Mio app on your smartphone.   Cloud/web capability is currently in the testing phase (according to Mio).  Implementation with 3rd parties such as Garmin require business agreements and such.  This is good news, as hopefully a few months down the road (from publication of this review) there will be a way to export Fuse data.  It has a limited amount of storage, and if you don’t sync it frequently it won’t be able to record an activity.  This is no problem, syncing is fast and easy.  The app is easy to use.  You can set up your profile and customize heart rate zones, or set daily goals.  All very straightforward.  Where the app lacks currently, for me, is data analysis.  Select an activity (it asks you to confirm, you can choose from running, road biking, walking, mountain biking, climbing, swimming, rowing and hiking) and click on it.  Then you can see the stats (avg HR, time, distance, calories, most frequent zone, time, speed and pace) but for Android users, no heart rate graph.  It is shown only on the iOS app.   According to Mio they are testing this and it should be available for update for Android in the upcoming weeks (from publication of this review). A heart rate graph will be very nice to see, particularly for the swims (as there is no heart rate data field option on the Garmin 910xt, you can pair Mio to the 920xt in open water swim mode, not as a data field but it will show up in analysis on Connect). It sounds like Mio is very aware of what consumers want in terms of functionality and data analysis, and are in the process of making that happen.

All told, I am impressed with the Fuse and would recommend it to any athlete who is interested in an alternative to the chest strap, or to any active person interested in activity tracking.

Compatibility of the Mio Fuse to other devices and apps can be found on its product page. It can be purchased directly from Mio or at Amazon with the affiliate link below:
Save 20% on Mio heart rate monitor watches with promo code Mio-Bucks at checkout! Valid through 3/31/15 11:59PM

Review: Mio VELO

Heart rate is an important part of training for many athletes. It is an invaluable governor using biofeedback to keep them from trying to do too much at a time. Until recently, this training was accomplished using a strap worn around the chest. For many however, this strap was both inconvenient and aggravating. Worse, it causes chafing for some. As an alternative, optical heart rate monitors that can be worn around the wrist were created. Sadly, these are notoriously inaccurate. That is until Mio Global came onto the market first with the LINK, and now the VELO.

I received a Mio VELO and have really tried to put it though its paces. Surprisingly, it has met the challenge with aplomb.

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Wear

The Mio VELO has a very comfortable silicone band. It is very easy to forget you are wearing it. It wraps around the wrist, through a buckle and has some posts to hold it in the band. This system works very well keeping it in place, but with winter clothing, you can sometimes accidentally unsnap the posts as you pull sleeves up and down. That can be a slight nuisance when it happens, but with the two part fastening system, you will still be getting a solid heart rate reading.

mio-velo-strap

Paired with a GPS Watch

I first wanted to pair it with a watch and compare the results to my Garmin setup of a 920XT with the HRM Run heart rate monitor. I used a Polar M400 and had no trouble pairing the VELO at all. I then ran several times and the results lined up. Here is an example 10 mile run with surges with the Polar results on the top and the Garmin on the bottom.

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The figures are very much in line with one another. If you look at the actual graphs below in the same order, you will see that the tracking was very close. There was a slight drop early with the Polar/VELO combo (about 1 minute in), but that often happens even with chest straps. Overall, I am happy with the results.

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Paired with Android

The next test I wanted to conduct was pairing the Mio VELO with a smartphone. I started with Android for this purpose. Over the course of a couple weeks, I ran with both RunKeeper and MapMyRun. I had no trouble connecting the VELO and it work well in both apps as seen below:

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Paired with Windows Phone

I wanted to keep testing the VELO with different devices and next paired it with Windows Phone and the app Track Runner. The results were interesting. The mapping and pace were both disasters in the app, but the heart rate looked good.

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Pairing with bike speed and cadence

One of the really interesting additions to the VELO is the ability to bridge Ant+ speed and cadence sensors over Bluetooth Low Energy (BTLE). This is a very welcome feature. It allows you to turn your smart phone into a bike computer. All you need is the Mio VELO and a handlebar mount like the one below from Amazon.

It is really easy to set up the VELO for Ant+ sensors. Open the Mio Go app on your iPhone or Android device. Select one of the bike profiles and add your speed and cadence sensor. You may want to hold the bike up and crank the pedal with one hand to get the devices to register. Interestingly, when I added my separate Garmin speed and cadence sensors, they were picked you as Bike 2, but they registered fine.

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Once you have added the speed and cadence sensors to the app, it updates the Mio VELO and as far as your smartphone knows, you have bluetooth speed and cadence sensors. It’s really quite clever. They also worked very well when I tried them working out. Both Strava and MapMyRide had no trouble picking them up in the apps.

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It also worked really well on my trainer with MapMyRide. It even showed that you will have a zero speed and cadence for a while when you forget to stop recording a ride when finished (operator error).

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I was able to track speed, cadence, and heart rate in one shot. Just like it was a bike computer. I even was using the VELO to feed my heart rate into my Garmin Edge 500 bike computer at the same time. The VELO does an outstanding job of broadcasting signals.

Conclusion

For an athlete who is tracking runs with a smartphone and wants to add in heart rate training and/or speed and cadence information from a bike; or for an athlete who can’t stand wearing chest straps, I think the VELO is an outstanding product at a reasonable price. It is very comfortable and does a great job of pairing with devices. I even was surprised to suddenly see a heart rate reading appear on a Polar Loop that I was also testing during a run. It picked up the signal from the Mio VELO with no interaction from me at all. You can find the VELO on Amazon or Mio Global with my affiliate links below. You can also find out technical information and a compatibility list for the VELO on its product page.
Save 20% on Mio heart rate monitor watches with promo code Mio-Bucks at checkout! Valid through 3/31/15 11:59PM

Review: Fitbit Charge HR


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Not long ago, I wrote a review on the Fitbit Charge. I opened it by saying that it might be the quickest review that I have ever written. Well, this one won’t be too far behind. The Fitbit Charge HR is the same device with a different band and one addition – an optical heart rate monitor. But that is a big addition. Since the rest of the tracker features are identical to the basic Charge, I will focus on the Heart Rate monitor in this post and encourage you to read about the basic Charge in my earlier review.

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The recent history of Fitbit devices has been clouded by the recall of the Fitbit Force. Essentially, the new Charge is the Force re-released with a new band that shouldn’t cause skin irritation. This set them back a bit, so it was a very welcome announcement when they released three new products – the Charge, the Charge HR, and the Surge. I have also reviewed the Surge here. Out of the three devices, I think that the Charge HR is the best option.

When looking at Fitbit devices, there are several options from which to choose. You can start out with the Zip for less than $50. This is the most basic tracker and clips onto your clothing. It tracks steps and calories, then syncs to either your computer or smartphone. It has a replaceable battery and that lasts for a few months.

Moving up the chain is the Fitbit One, also a clip-on. This tracker adds stairs, sleep tracking, silent alarms, and is under $100 currently.

The Fitbit Flex moves the show to your wrist and is about the same price as the One. This is where some compromises begin. It is on the wrist all day, but removes the clock and stairs climbed while adding active minutes tracked.

This brings us to the Fitbit Charge. It currently costs under $130 and offers all features available in all tracking devices up to this point with the addition of Caller ID notification. It is also a wrist worn device.

The top of the Fitbit collection is the Surge at $250, which is billed as a “super watch.” It offers every available option in the trackers and adds an optical heart rate sensor, built-in GPS, text notifications and music control for smartphones.

The Fitbit Charge HR falls between the Charge and the Surge at around $150 (this is a hot seller on Amazon and the price is much higher as of this writing). The addition of the heart rate monitor makes the Charge HR an excellent activity tracker for all-day tracking in addition to sleep tracking. At only $20 more than the baseline charge, this is the one to get. A separate HR monitor that works with other trackers will cost $50 or more, so the small price difference is very fair. I would almost argue that Fitbit should just drop the Charge and have the Charge HR as the only device between the Flex and Surge. The Charge is nothing more than the Force remade. The Charge HR adds real value.

The biggest value of the Charge HR is to get a better gauge of how many calories you have burned throughout the day for general health conscious people. But, it is also useful for athletes in the middle of training. We are putting our body under a great deal of stress and the Charge HR can give us an idea of how we are doing with the training.

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As you can see from the above image, the Charge tracks my heart rate all day long. The spike is from where I did a run. This all day tracking is very helpful. I can see if there are stress inducing activities happening at a particular part of the day in addition to my resting heart rate while sleeping. Sadly, at this point, optical heart rate sensors are not sensitive enough to allow for heart rate variability as demonstrated in the post Heart Rate Variability for Training, but hopefully over time they can account for it.

Heart rate tracking during exercise

Now, while the Charge HR is an excellent device for tracking your heart rate and activity levels for the majority of the day, it falls down when conducting vigorous exercise. Here is the run from the image above:

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You can see that I was credited for 7.55 miles, an average heart rate of 145 bp and a calorie burn of 1,044.

I also tracked the run using a Garmin 920XT and a chest heart rate strap. Here is a breakdown of the run from Garmin Connect. The Fitbit fell short in every metric. Interestingly, the calorie count wasn’t as far off as I would expect.

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Looking at the heart rate details from Garmin, you can see that the Charge HR definitely was under represented. This run involved intervals which pushed my heart rate up. This causes a wider margin of error.

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When exercising with less intensity, the Charge HR is closer in accuracy. That makes it good for an activity like when I use my elliptical trainer.

It is very nice to press and hold the button. Start the workout and hold the button again when finished. Within the app, you can easily choose the type of workout. I was delighted to see that elliptical trainer was an option, so I have been using it to track my workouts there.

Conclusion

The Fitbit Charge HR does an excellent job of tracking your activities and sleep throughout the day with the exception of during periods of vigorous exercise. So should you consider buying it? It depends.

If you are looking for the one device that you can wear all the time that tracks your heart rate, activities, exercise, and sleep, it will not fulfill all your needs. In fairness, I don’t know of any device on the market that does at this point.

However, if you are looking for a device that helps you track your general activities, health and diet (through the Fitbit app or another like MyFitnessPal), I would highly recommend the device. It is a perfect representation of what Fitbit does best. Tracking general activities and steps.

Also, if you are someone who already has a good running watch or other more accurate means to track your workouts and are looking for covering the rest of your day, I highly recommend the device.

Out of the three new Fitbit products on the market, I absolutely recommend the Charge HR. It can be found at REI and Clever Training for $150, or at Amazon shown below. Currently it is a hot seller at Amazon as mentioned before, so you may want to visit one of the other links. Also, all links in this review are affiliate links for which I will receive a small commission at no cost to you. That helps me purchase products to review and share.

Review: Fitbit Surge

As activity trackers start to become more popular and more and more people are getting into running, there is a bit of convergence happening. Full-blown GPS watches from major manufacturers are starting to add step tracking and at the same time, companies who are making activity trackers are coming out with more advanced products. This is a traditional path of disruption. You have cheaper single function items start to get more and more advanced and they eat up the marketshare from the bottom. By the time the larger established players see what is happening, they have become an also ran. This theory taught by Clayton Christenson is described in Wikipedia’s article Disruptive innovation.

The Fitbit Surge bills itself as a Super Watch. Does it deliver on its promise? Let’s break it down.

Unboxing

The packaging for the Surge is very attractive. It displays the watch and has a cover that opens to show a motivational paragraph with highlighted marketing terms.

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In order to get to the actual watch, there is some strategically placed tape that made it a challenge for me – but not so much for someone who has more patience. Inside of the box there are few contents. The watch, the charging cable, the USB stick for a computer, and a quick start manual. I wound up using the USB stick to set it up and then just connected to my iPhone the rest of the time.

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Wear and Fit

The Fitbit Surge is very comfortable to wear. It is odd looking from the side with the top of the face having more depth than the bottom, but it is fine when worn. It is one seamless unit, thus not having changeable bands but is not an unattractive sports watch. One nice feature is that with the watch face being a little wider, if the watch is fit snug, there is little to no light leakage. This is very helpful in the middle of the night if you don’t want to wake up a sleeping companion or accidentally blind yourself.

Interface

Using a mix of buttons and screen navigation, the device can be a little confusing at times, but you get used to it. Some of my confusion could be caused by a lot of experience with other devices. You tend to build muscle memory and pattern behaviors over time. However, I do wish it was more dependent on either buttons or the screen. The mix doesn’t flow as naturally for me.

Another issue I had was that the screen seemed to pick up oils from my finger tips very easily. When I would swipe though the screens to look at heart rate and steps, it would get a film on the face. I found myself often wiping it off to keep the face clear. I will say that it is very responsive to touch and the screens shifted easily.

You also have the ability to add different watch faces from within the app.

Activity Tracking

There is no surprise here. Fitbit is the Gold Standard when it comes to activity tracking. I wore the Surge for a week, it tracked my steps. I could find no real discrepancy between it and my Garmin Vivofit. I have previously compared the Vivofit to the Fitbit Flex and have been wearing either it or the Forerunner 920XT with a Fitbit Zip. The steps are always within a couple hundred steps either way. This is one time that boring is good. I don’t think too much about it because I feel pretty confident in the results. With of course the caveat being that no tracker is completely accurate anyway as I discussed in my post Are fitness trackers a waste of money?

The step information along with calories burned is tracked in Fitbit’s well designed Website and apps.

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Sleep Tracking

The Surge does a nice job here as well. One of the highlightable features of newer Fitbits is the ability to just track sleep. Polar does this as well. When you go to sleep, it will automatically determine when you went to sleep and when you woke up. You don’t have to press a button and notify the device – are you listening Garmin?

While Fitbit is not the most detailed sleep tracker available, both Polar and Microsoft are have a more detailed breakdown, it does a solid job of getting the important data points across. It tracks a breakdown between actual sleep, time awakened and time restless.

One thing that is interesting is that if you are awake for a few minutes, it might split your sleep into multiple sessions as you can see in the image below from the iPhone App.

fitbit-surge-sleep

Tracking Heartrate

So far, everything discussed is already available in Fitbit devices on the market with sleep and stairs being the differentiator between each. All-day heart rate tracking is a new feature introduced in the 2015 Fitbit Surge and Fitbit Charge HR.

This is where things get interesting. The new Fitbits track heart rate through an optical heart rate sensor on the back of the watch where it contacts the wearer’s wrist. Optical heart rate monitors work by firing LED lights into your skin and detecting the rate that your blood pumps with another sensor. The problem is, optical heart rate sensors are notoriously inaccurate when heart rates are at a high level of BPMs (beats per minute) as discussed in the C-Net post Do wristband heart trackers actually work? A checkup.

Sadly, the Fitbit Surge suffered the same issue. As a baseline, I ran every run with a Garmin 920XT with the latest  Garmin HRM Run heart rate strap (Affiliate links). On every run, the heart rate was off when my heart rate was above 150 or so. The following image is an example run with the Surge results on the top and the Garmin results on the bottom. You can see that the Fitbit was off on the average by 18 beats or 11.32 percent off.

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It was closer on another run 153 versus 160, but way off on a harder run with a 144 versus 170. The Fitbit Surge seems to do a really good job with anything from a resting heart rate to a moderate level of activity. The more strenuous the exercise, the farther it strays.

Running

GPS is the biggest addition to the Surge and it does a decent job of tracking your runs. I didn’t find any crazy route issues and the distances and paces seemed to line up fine. I was unsuccessful in getting an exact comparison because I found myself incapable of starting all the devices I was testing at the same time (there were three). I seemed to always have forgotten to press the button twice, or had accidentally stopped recording because of one wrist device pressing against the button of an adjacent watch. But as far as tracking, the runs looked clean for pace and distance. The only issue I found as far as using the Fitbit Surge during a workout was that it was a bit slow in picking up the satellites. You can see an example of how a run was tracked in the Fitbit Website below.

fibit-surge-run

It is a very clean and easy to read breakdown of a run. It can serve very well as long as the user is satisfied being within the world of Fitbit only and does not plan to place the data on any other site. Someone has attempted to rectify this as addressed in the post An Open Source Tool to Export Fitbit GPS Data, but that does not account for heart rate data. Also, if you want to track other information like cadence from a footpod, this is not possible.

The Elliptical Surprise

I have had a terrible time trying to track my workouts on the elliptical trainer. I even bought a Pafers Xspin in an attempt to track my workouts. Surprisingly, the Fitbit Surge did it really well for me. And what is more interesting, the heart rate seemed to be pretty spot on. I checked against it with both an app and the elliptical machine itself and it was within a beat or two. I am wondering if it maybe has more trouble when running because it is tracking more information with the GPS added?

Notifications

The Surge also offers notifications. Sadly, they are only for text messages and caller id. This is really disappointing for those who want to hear from other apps like Facebook Messenger (where I do a good deal of texting). This is a serious limitation that I hope they will consider changing in a future update.

Conclusion

The Fitbit Surge is a well-designed, comfortable watch that offers a lot. Is it a Super watch? No. Not really. It is a tracker with a heart-beat monitor, GPS and watch form and interface. It is a good device, but at the $250 mark, there are other options out there.

It all depends on the user’s focus. If they are more interested in activity tracking and step counting with added heart-rate, this might be a good choice. The Fitbit software is top notch and the watch does a great job of tracking steps and heart rate with general activity throughout the day.

Where the Surge struggles is when it is being used by a serious workout enthusiast or runner. While the heart-rate works well throughout the day and while sleeping, it is inaccurate when performing strenuous workouts. The more intense, the further it drifts. It also does not offer the ability to capture any other inputs like a foot pod for cadence, or the ability to track cycling. This makes it hard to recommend when there are offerings like the Polar M400 available for $30 less at the time of this writing with the Heart Rate monitor, or $70 less without. I reviewed the Polar M400 here. You can also get your data from Polar Flow and place it in other services. This is a big deal for those who track their runs and/or have coaching.

Another issue with the Fitbit Surge is with the notifications. Without providing full notifications – only text and caller id – it really is disappointing. Again it is hard to justify the price when the Polar M400 will be adding them later this year and there are devices like the Microsoft Band that currently offer many types of notifications and have the built-in heart rate monitor for $200. I reviewed the Microsoft Band on Gearist.

The Fitbit Surge can be purchased at many locations including Amazon below (affiliate link):

Review: Aftershokz Bluez 2

I like to run and bike while listening to music, podcasts, and audiobooks. This allows me to multitask and either get pumped up by my tunes, or catch up on some reading. I love to do this with Bluetooth headphones so I don’t have to deal with wires, but I am concerned about safety when I am am listening. Especially when I am on my bike. That’s where Aftershokz Bluez 2 bone conduction headphones come in.

aftershokz-open-box

The Bluez 2 are very nicely packaged. The box is set up like a book with a nice ribbon to pull it open. It looks as nice inside the box as outside. This book packaging is especially appreciated because the headphones truly excel for audiobooks and podcasts.

I train in an urban environment and have to contend with quite a lot of traffic. The area is also coastal and there is quite a lot of wind. When combining the traffic noise and wind, I sometimes have to increase the volume on my headphones to unsafe levels. Unsafe for my atmospheric awareness and for my eardrums.

This is especially troublesome on the bike. I am a new rider and am very nervous about what is going on around me – not enough to stop wearing headphones, but we all have our blind (or deaf) spots.

Connecting

I unboxed my Bluez 2 and paired them with my iPhone. Most things pair fairly easily, but these actually were easier than most. When I powered them on, they showed up in my Bluetooth menu. I selected them and they were paired. Very straightforward. Well done. If you have to pair to another device, or it doesn’t immediately work, just press and hold the power button for 5 seconds until the LED alternates between red and blue flashing.

After I paired the headphones, I started listening to a podcast. This was a remarkable experience. It is hard to describe. I was hearing everything around me in the room etc, but also, voices that seemed almost disembodied. It was literally like hearing voices in my head. I quickly adapted to it and actually have grown to love it. Audiobooks and podcasts are already a very intimate medium. I feel like the headphones make them even more so.

I also had no trouble with clipping. I like to wear my iPhone to my front. My favorite spot is in the center of my waist like a belt buckle. Many Bluetooth headphones will cut in and out when the iPhone is placed there. These I am happy to report do not.

Fit

I first helmeted up to go for a ride. By default, with nothing else on, the headphones fit me well and feel very light which is a huge plus. The only issues arose when I had to wear other clothing or gear on my head.

bike-helmetstrap

This is where some choices have to me made. Since I was riding on a sunny day, I also had sunglasses. Whenever dealing with headphones with a headband, there are often challenges when wearing sunglasses. The two pieces of gear tend to rub against one another and getting the fit right can be a challenge.

This is potentially even more of an issue with the Bluez 2. Since they are bone conduction headphones, they need physical contact with your cheekbones. Otherwise, their functionality is defeated. If possible, when wearing the bike helmet, if you can line the strap over the earpiece as shown on the right, it can really help enhance the sound.

I found that I had challenges with some winter headgear when running as well. My options were to wear the headgear without it going over my ears if it was at all snug, or wearing a relatively loose fitting beanie.

Performance

When I was out riding and listening a podcast, the experience was wonderful. I loved the fact that I could hear my tire on the asphalt and all the other environmental sounds. But at the same time, I felt almost like I was with a couple friends who were speaking with me. It really was amazing.

Throughout my ride of over and hour, I was able to clearly hear every part of the podcast with no trouble at all. What was really amazing was when I crossed over a bridge I have to use. There was a ton of traffic and the wind really had picked up. Normally when it is like that, my headphones are nearly completely washed out and I have to have the volume jacked way up.

This time, I could hear the traffic, the wind was whipping through my ears like rabid seashells. But I could hear every word of the podcast. It was like it was separated from all the external noise. I am not often “wowed” by a product, but this was a truly great experience.

I have had the same experience on both the bike and running numerous times now when listening to both audiobooks and podcasts. I even switched back to my standard Bluetooth headphones because the weather was really cold and I wanted a better hat on my run. Boy, did I suffer. It is night and day. I could no longer hear my footfalls, I felt like my head was stuffed up and in multiple areas, I had to turn them way up to hear anything. It was miserable.

The battery life on the headphones is good. I feel that I pretty consistently get 5-6 hours out of the headphones or 3-4 runs/rides. I would like if they could give a better projection of battery level like an approximate time left when pressing the button or a chart expressing what the time left is for High, Medium or Low means in terms of time.

Now, while these headphones are the best thing I have ever heard or used for spoken word during workouts, they are not quite as stellar when it comes to music.

When it comes to music, they are not as capable of pumping out a lot of bass. In order to get more bass, I had to turn them up and they actually tickled my cheekbones. Definitely an interesting experience. Music that has  more mid-range to high tones comes across better. This is not to say that it is terrible, it is just not as strong. I will still be wearing these when listening to music in training because I want to hear traffic etc. But I may wear my other Bluetooth headphones when racing.

Another consideration is when listening to the headphones when not working out. Unless you live alone, or you want to share everything you are listening to with your roommate or spouse, you may want to make another choice. The Bluez 2 sound like iPhone earbuds turned away from someone’s head. They broadcast everything.

Conclusion

I like this product a great deal and unabashedly recommend it to anyone. It has already become an indispensable part of my training gear. I like it enough that I am considering getting a second pair to have on standby in case these break. I like them that much. If you listen to spoken word especially, these will really enhance your workouts. And I cannot express the peace of mind that they have brought me by allowing me to hear what is going on around me.

You can buy these at Amazon with the my affiliate link below (I get a small commission).

Review: Skechers GOrun 4

It has been a trend over the last couple years for everyone to have a double-take about Skechers making running shoes. Then the shoes test well and they are shocked. These were fun to read and I was definitely cheering to see the underdog American Meb Keflezighi, sponsored by the underdog shoe company Skechers, win the 2014 Boston Marathon. But it’s time for that to end. I think that Skechers is a serious competitor releasing shoes on an equal standing of more well known companies like Brooks or Saucony.

The Sole

The sole of the GOrun 4 like previous editions is made up of their own proprietary material Resalyte™. There are strategically placed discs called GOimpulse sensors. These are to provide a little more wear resistance on the sole and add a little traction and guidance.

GoRun 4 Sole

 

There is   good tread on the bottom of the shoe. It has a good depth without promoting pebble collection.

GoRun 4 Tread

 

The MStrike technology (Skechers likes marketing terms) is a slight rocker formed at the midsole. You can see it in the below picture with the Kinvara 5s on the right. Notice how the front and back of the GOrun 4 have definite clearance. I seemed to run comfortably with a mid/forefoot strike, but I didn’t really notice the rocker as I went.
GoRun 4 Kinvara 5

 

GoRun 4 Back

 

The Upper

The Upper of the shoe is very smooth and comfortable. It is made up of two layers of fine mesh and thin welded overlays. It is very flexible and has a nice look about it as well.
The back of the shoe has a really interesting feature. Yep, that’s a hole. I really appreciate the attention to detail here. I am one who double-knots his laces and it is really a convenient feature to be able to just pull the shoe up using the hole on the back like a handle.

This attention to detail along with things like an extra set of laces are nice unexpected touches. I really appreciate the little things. If they pay attention to such details, it bodes well for the rest of the design and durability. I expect to get a good couple hundred miles out of the shoes.

The Fit

Skechers GOrun 4 has a fairly roomy toe box – almost too roomy. I found that I was able to lock things down using the laces and the tongue was padded enough that I didn’t lose circulation. You may want to consider getting a half size down along with your normal size if you have normal width feet.

Performance

It feels very comfortable with a moderately firm ride. Comparing it to other shoes I am used to, it is firmer than both the Saucony Kinvara 4 and 5 as well as the Brooks PureCadence 2. But it is not as firm as a racing flat like the Saucony A5. This makes the shoe fit in a really interesting place. It has a really nice ground feel and makes you want to go fast. I can see this being a strong contender for my next half-marathon in February.

Conclusion

The Skechers GOrun 4 is a solid shoe that can be considered a great all-around trainer with a touch of speed. I comfortable alternate it with another favorite shoe the Saucony Kinvara 5.

The GOrun 4 can be bought from Skechers.com.

Review: Arctic Ease Cold Therapy Wrap

I have been recovering from a series of injuries lately including peroneal tendonitis and a shin splint on my right leg. So it was very helpful that I was sent some Arctic Ease wraps to try during workouts.

I decided to wear one during a bike workout. I am very concerned about putting anything on my legs as I have suffered several initial injuries, and then cascading compensation injuries. I am a little leery of calf skins and the like because they may offer too much support for me and cause other issues when I am training.

Fortunately, with Arctic Ease, this is not an issue. I am able to apply the wrap as loose or tight as I need. The other important feature of the wrap is the cooling. It actually is not frigid like an ice pack, but just cool. This cool seemed to last for the full hour plus I had it on. It’s a very pleasant sensation. I felt like my leg was secure without being too constricted and my injuries didn’t flare up as much as normal.

Arctic Ease Bottle

When applying the wrap, it initially feels kind of slimy. It sticks to itself pretty well, but I found that the end pieces had trouble, so I tucked the last bit under the top. I didn’t need to use anything else for securing. It stayed on well as I rode too.

As time went by when riding, the wrap started to get drier and it stiffened into an almost cast like state. It was still pliable, but I wouldn’t recommend letting it completely dry out while wearing. It may not dry out as quickly during runs as the speed is much slower. One unexpected benefit came from wearing the Arctic Ease, I crashed my bike and the wrap was dried but sturdy. Even after I slid over asphalt and a sidewalk with it, it actually protected my leg but showed no additional wear.

To reuse the wrap, Arctic Ease recommends 2-3 teaspoons of water and resealing the wrap in the bottle. After 2-3 hours, it is supposed to to be ready to use again. I found that more water was required to return the wrap into its initial state.

Overall, I feel that this is a solid product for the price. I especially like the fact that I can wear it and control the amount of support that it gives. Between that and the cooling, I plan to use it during long workouts when I am having more issues with my legs.

You can buy the product using my affiliate link from Amazon below (I get a small commission), or locally in the United States at CVS.

Review: Polar M400 – a GPS Watch and Activity Tracker

There is an old trope, “jack of all trades, master of none.” Polar may just have proven this untrue.

I purchased the M400 with few expectations. I have used Garmin watches for a while, and wanted to see what another manufacturer was doing with GPS watches. I was especially interested in Polar since they invented the first wireless heart rate monitor and I am a believer in heart rate training.

The M400 is Polar’s latest running watch that doubles as an activity and sleep tracker. And honestly, it does a good job with both. This is quite an acheivement for a device that costs less than $180 ($230 with a heart rate monitor).

boxed

The box is a pretty straightforward design. You can see the watch, read about the features and scan a QR code on the top for a video.

The contents include the watch, a micro-usb cable and the paperwork. The fact that it uses a micro-usb cable is really very convenient since most people are likely to have some lying around and the watch can be charged on most powered usb ports. This saves the expense of getting a second charging cable for another location or replacing a lost proprietary cable.

contents

Setting up the watch is very easy. I just had to go to flow.polar.com/start and download the latest version of Polar FlowSync. Once the watch was recognized and updated, I disconnected to the computer and synced it with the Polar Flow app on my iPhone. I never connected it to the computer after that point. I imagine that I will only need to if it has to be updated.

Running with the M400

The M400 is an excellent running watch. I found it to be spot on with accuracy and the workouts were very much in line with the Garmin Forerunner 620.

With FR 620

As can be seen by the above, the M400 is not much larger than the Garmin Forerunner 620 and has about the same thickness.

After running, it is very easy to upload. Just press and hold the menu button to sync with the app. The results can be seen on the Web or in the app. A basic overview of the run is found in the Diary section of flow.polar.com.

browser capture 01 browser capture 02

The top of the Web page has a basic breakdown of time, distance, heart rate and calories above a map of the route run. It also tells you what kind of workout you have done based on effort levels determined by heart rate zones.

Underneath the map, there are more detailed breakdowns showing the time spent in each heart rate zone along with laps and a combination chart showing elevation, pace, and heart rate.

One really handy feature is the ability to “Zoom In” on an area of a run. By clicking the two slider controls, you can select a smaller portion of the run and see metrics from just that period like the following:

metrics

In this shot, I selected only the first five minutes of the run. My heart rate was within Zones 1 & 2 and averaged 148. This ability can be really handy to dial in to performance metrics with-in certain parts of a workout like how a set of hills affect a run, what kind of kick you have at the end of a race, or to filter out warm-up and cool down parts of a run to get the meat of a workout.

Polar does a nice job of replicating the views in it’s iOS app as well. As you scroll down the screen, you can see the workout summed up at the top with the duration, HR average, Calories, Distance, Pace and Ascent (elevation). It also breaks down what kind of workout it was for you.

workout 01

If you click the Training Benefit, it will give you a definition/explanation as shown below. This is to help you understand the physiological effect of the run based on your heart rate zones and the effort expended.

 

training benefit

 

Following the basic summary of the run is a heart rate chart with a breakdown of zones underneath. Between these, you can see the amount of time you spent in each zone and what kind of heart rate drift you had in the workout.

workout 02

Last, you have the map and lap breakdown for the workout.

workout 03

 

One nice feature of the app is that you can expand on different areas like you can on the Web site. For example, you can expand the map and use the scrubber to move along it to see your progress as shown below. You can do the same for heart rate as shown in the following image.

 

map expanded 02

 

heartrate

 

But wait, there’s more

The watch has some other really cool features as well. These are the Finish Time Estimator, Interval timer and Heart rate zones.

The Finish Time Estimator is used to determine approximately how long before you finish a workout or race at a specified distance. You set the race distance before you start and it will show you how long you have left. You also can set intervals by either distance or time and start them after warming up. Last, you have the ability to see what heart rate zone you are in and can lock your zone with audio alerts if stray outside of the parameters.

These features are shown the Polar M400 video below.

Another really interesting feature that is typically only found in high-end watches is the ability to find your way back to start. This feature uses a compass to direct you to the shortest path possible to return to your starting point.

Yet another feature available for the Polar M400 is Smart Coaching and as a part of it, the Running Index. Running Index is very similar to Garmin’s VO2Max on the Forerunner 620, the Fenix 2, and the Forerunner 920XT. Keep in mind that these watches start out at $400.

The Running Index evaluates your performance in a run and predicts racing times. This is shown on the following chart online at the Polar Running Index page.

running index

 

Running Index is explained in the Polar produced video below:

In all, the Polar M400 does an outstanding job with many features that are often only found on very high-end watches. At it’s price point, it is an incredible deal. The only thing lacking is the addition of a vibrate alert instead of audio only, but this is minor compared to what it offers runners.

The M400 as an Activity and Sleep Tracker

The Polar M400 is not only a GPS watch, but also an activity tracker. And it does a find job with that. As you go through the day, it will track your activity including your steps and workouts. It goes even further than that with more detailed information about what your activity is like throughout the day as shown below:

daily activity

The app and Web site both will show what your activity has been throughout the day and how it is broken down. Another feature that is offered is an Inactivity alert. If you have been sitting for a while, you will get the message “It’s time to move!”

Time to Move

This is to prevent you from sitting too long at any point. You can also see how many of these alerts you have gotten through time, be it a day, week, or longer interval.

Another thing that the M400 tracks is sleep. And major kudos to Polar, you don’t have to do anything. It will automatically detect when you are sleeping. This is something that Garmin does not have, even on the newly released $500 Forerunner 920XT.

sleep

Polar not only tracks the hours of sleep, but also how it breaks down. It’s very important both for health and recovery to see more than just when you were in bed and for how long. This is another feature it has over Garmin’s fitness trackers and watches – they require that you manually set when you are going to sleep and wake up.

One unfortunate feature missing from Polar Flow is direct synchronization to MyFitnessPal, a dominant diet tracker. However, this may not be a complete show stopper. Polar is now working with both Apple HealthKit and Google Fit according to their post Google Fit and Apple Healthkit.  It’s not a perfect, but you should be able to get data into MyFitnessPal by using Apple Health currently or Google Fit in the future as an intermediary.

Polar is also rolling out support for 3rd party developers as posted in Connect with Polar. Their program is free, so it will likely speed up adaptation.

Another thing that the Polar M400 does not track is stairs. Sadly, it will only track steps and sleep at this point.

Overall, what Polar does track, it does very well and consistently. It does not compromise on the tasks.

Cycling with the M400

I have been injured lately and need to do a lot of cross training by cycling and aqua-jogging. Fortunately, the Polar M400 accommodates both activities.

The M400 has a cycling mode that will allow you to track a ride. The only problem is that it is limited to GPS for speed, pace and distance and won’t work with any extra sensors except a Heart Rate Monitor. But it works well in a pinch. I wore the watch on multiple rides and compared the results to a Garmin Edge 500. The results were very consistent.

I wore both the Polar H7 Heart Rate Monitor and the Garmin HRM Run at the same time and wound up with the same metrics. The speed was the same on both devices. The route tracked just fine. The elevation was different on the Polar but that may be because there are some serious elevation issues GPS devices as a whole. Here is a good article from DC Rainmaker – Understanding Sport Device GPS.

ride compare

One thing to note. Polar does a nice job of giving a workout breakdown in one quick view. If you tap on any data item with a red tab marker, it will change to another related piece of data. For example, the tab next to the heart rate toggles between the average and max for the session.

Another really cool feature is the ability to “relive” a workout. It can maybe seen as gimmicky, but it’s well done and I enjoy how they present it. Here are the results of the cycling workout shown above and below.

relive workout

One thing that I really was delighted with on the Polar was the fact that it even counted steps while I was riding. I’m not sure if it was factored in when tracking the workout, or the watch was sensitive enough to pick up vibrations when I was riding. Either way, it credited me with steps as shown below. Something that no other device I have tried does. I even have used a Nathan pouch on one shoe with a Garmin Vivofit taken out of the band and a Fitbit Zip on the other shoe to track steps. The fact that the Polar tracked this on all of my rides was a wonderful surprise.

steps with cycling

Both result sets for the workouts can be compared at http://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/630096797 for the Garmin Edge 500 and https://flow.polar.com/training/analysis/34699897 for the Polar M400.

Conclusion

Polar has really come out with a pretty special device here. It really checks off most of the boxes to be both be a good activity tracker, and a very good GPS/Fitness watch. The number of features it packs into the device at the price point it has prove that Polar wants this budget to mid level market. I can whole-heartedly recommend this watch to anyone who is looking to track their workouts and trying to get a cost-effective device. It really rivals much more expensive equipment. You can get the watch at Clevertraining or Amazon in my affiliate link below (I get a small commission if you buy through the links).

Review: Moji 360 Mini Massager

This has been a terrible training season for me. It started out well, then a cascade of injuries occurred and I have had to cancel all my races this fall. Sadly, I have been injured enough that I have begun to learn the names of muscles, tendons and fascia that I never new about before.

Truthfully, I wish I were oblivious. But, this experience allows me to share information about recovery products. Two of my mainstay products are foam rollers and The Stick. I have one of these at both home and work. But there is a third device that I don’t always talk about. It has been out for a couple years, but surprisingly not everyone has heard of it. Even my chiropractor wasn’t familiar with it. It being the Moji 360 Mini Massager.

moji-360-mini-massager

I extended the build-up for this device because I consider it almost a secret weapon tool. I know my IT band quivers when it comes out.

I first heard of the mini massager from The Gearist in one of their great videos and had to give it a try.

The basic design is like a scrubber for your muscles. There are seven different sized ball bearings called “spheres”. They are omnidirectional and move freely while using the device. The spheres at each end of the Moji Mini 360 are larger and are used for increased intensity with the one that falls under the palm being the most intense of all.

And by intense, I mean it can be incredibly intense. This is good. You have the flexibility to really put some extreme pressure on a highly targeted area. I currently see a sports chiropractor and have Active Release Therapy and the Moji allows me to self-administer some as well.

When I use the Moji, I use the larger spheres to tackle my trigger points. I actually use the one closer to my finger tips more frequently because it is easier for me to nail down uncooperative muscle strands and tendons with more accuracy. I then work the device over the muscles in question and break up the adhesions.

What I have found is that after I use the Moji for very intense massage of trouble spots, I will follow up with The Stick or foam roller. I will use them like rolling pins to knead out the area and maximize the results. With the combo of the Moji 360 Mini and The Stick, I can have nearly complete relief from IT band soreness. I also use the Moji 360 Mini to tackle my peronius longus muscles on the outside of my legs. I then follow up with the foam roller.

The best part of the Moji is that it is small and highly portable. So while I have foam rollers and the stick at both home and work, I only have one Moji Mini, which is good so I can keep an eye on it. It is one device that I definitely don’t want to lose.

The Moji Mini is one foolproof device that I can recommend for any athlete, and for under $30, it’s a great deal. It can easily fit in a stocking as well.

You can get one at gomoji.com or Amazon

Note: The links on this page are affiliate links which will give me a small commission.