Category Archives: Reviews

Kindle “Unlimited”? Not Really. But that might not be bad.

Amazon has just released the recently leaked service Kindle Unlimited. The excellent post How The Big 5 Publishers Hobbled The Amazon Unlimited Launch on Techcrunch does a great job of explaining initial problems with the service. The salient point made in his post is the following:

Amazon Unlimited was dubbed the Netflix of books. That is correct as long as you imagine a Netflix consisting of an endless array of low-budget indie releases and some major small-studio films. In truth, Amazon’s new $9.99 all-you-can-read service features no books by“big 5″ trade publishers, an issue on which Amazon has remained mum.

This is very true. If you get the service and are looking for the New York Times Best Seller List, you are apt to be disappointed. If you have a favorite popular author, your search results will also probably come back with nothing found.

It’s even sketchier with Audiobooks. The whole audiobook experience is interesting. You have to find a book that has Kindle unlimited with narration noted as shown below.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to conveniently list what books have audio functionality. Also, not every book that has an audiobook companion offers the feature as part of the subscription. One example is Scott Jurek’s book Eat and Run. Notice that there is an Audible version of the book available (Audible is owned by Amazon), but it is not available as narration.

When a book is capable of narration, this is how it works on an iPhone.

First, get the book on the iPhone. It is best to find the book on the computer and click “Read for Free” with your device selected. On an iPhone as an example, you will see the start of the book when opened. When you click the headphones icon, you will see the screen on the right.

Tap the down arrow to download the audiobook. You will see a progress bar and then the cover picture will appear when it is complete.

Then it will play like a normal audiobook. If you leave the text in view, The pages will turn to match the narration.

As a runner, I am very disappointed that the audiobook selection seems to be very sparse, but I’m not willing to give up yet. When searching for books on running, Amazon returned a huge number of results. These results were not necessarily the books by the larger publishers, they were often independent titles like Running with Curves by Jill Angie.

This situation reminds me of years ago when I started listening to audiobooks. The number of available titles were very thin, so I had to dig deep and grab whatever I could out of desperation. This desperation force me to listen to audiobooks that I never would have chosen on my own. Some of these were among the best books I have ever read or heard.

I think this may be a boon for independent writers for a while. They can get some much needed exposure without being overshadowed by the bigger names. It can also be wonderful for readers by forcing them to take a chance on titles that they might not have before.

But Amazon, please more audiobooks. Pretty please…

UPDATE: @ReadEatWriteRun on Twitter pointed out that readers are limited to 10 books at a time. But you can return one to get another.

Pafers XSPIN/XKIT – A Tracker for Indoor Equipment? [Updated]

It was with great excitement that I read about the Pafers XSPIN on Gearist in the post Winter Fitness Survival Accessories. A device that worked with elliptical trainers and stationary bikes using iPhones and Bluetooth LE to track workouts. Ah, such great promise. But such a challenging experience to set it up. This was so drawn out that I will have to heavily edit myself or this could become a novella.

 

UPDATE

In the next section of this review, I describe the difficulties I had getting a reading from the Pafers XSPIN. This was due to my installing it incorrectly. It has to be installed to have radial movement. I had it installed 90 degrees off. This was pointed out to me in the comments for which I am thankful.

 

I connected the XSPIN to my elliptical trainer in the manner shown in the directions. It was clear of any bar and could spin full rotations.

Next I had to connect to an app. The Pafers XSPIN comes with two apps Cycle on Earth and CycleRush2. My experience with Cycle on Earth was short lived because I was aggravated immediately.

When the app is opened, the default profile is Guest as shown above on the left. You can fill it out with your information. The problem? When you leave the screen and come back, it reverts to Guest. Extremely annoying. I moved on to CycleRush2.

In order to get the full benefit of the device, I wanted to track my heart rate as well as my speed and cadence. This involved getting a Bluetooth Heart Rate strap. I bought the least expensive one that I could find, an Oregon Scientific SZ999.

$32.36

It was a great price and it connected to Strava, Runkeeper, Runtastic, MapMyRun and other apps. The one app it wouldn’t connect with… Yep. CycleRush2. I had to get another Heart Rate strap. This time I got a Polar H7 figuring that Polar is likely the most compatible strap out there. After all, they did introduce the first wireless heart rate monitor.

It was picked up immediately and I could pair it with no problem. So I then hit the button on the XSPIN and selected it as well. It gave me the option for either a bike or an elliptical and I chose the elliptical.

I decided to use one of the built in classes. Chose Rookie’s Ride from the Beginner section. It looked like a good 30 minute workout which should give me plenty of data. And I started my workout.

The workout was short lived. Almost immediately I had problems. The app was not picking up the cadence sensor consistently.

I got the message that it was unable to get the sensor data. Then there would be an RPM value, then it was 0. The heart rate was reading just fine. It picked up my spikes from annoyance right away.

The elliptical itself of course was showing my RPM just fine.

After moving the iPhone all over the place trying to get a consistent signal, I started to get desperate. I held the device in my hand and while using the elliptical handles. Surprisingly, it consistently read the RPMs. I got industrious and strapped it to the handle using velcro tape.

So I was off and running. I was going to get a full workout in and have some lovely data to track finally right? I wish. First I had to get set up to collect the data. The CycleRush2 app allows connectivity to Facebook, Twitter, Runkeeper and DailyMile. I was happy. I have a Runkeeper account along with DailyMile. I connected to them and begin the workout.

While working out, some good data is available. The display shifts between Speed, Watts (it actually approximates a power meter), and Distance. The RPMs and Pulse remain constant along with time elapsed.

As you progress in the workout, the bars fill up and you move to the next one in the sequence on the bottom of the screen. Between each target, a screen appears with a graphic of a rider on a spin bike. This display advises the Target RPM and Resistance settings.

During the workout as well, you can shift the bottom half of the screen to look at the progress of the workout. The screens show the average heart rate, the RPMs and the recommended resistance for each stage completed.

So far so good. A lot of great data is being collected and displayed. After 30 minutes, the workout is complete and it’s time to send the information to RunKeeper.

The workout does not automatically share to any of the services when complete. You will need to go back into History, pick the workout you wish to share, and click the SHARE button on the bottom.

Once the workout has been imported into RunKeeper, you have the ability to change the type to Elliptical.

But that isn’t enough to be excited about. Remember that heart rate? Gone. All the other info in the workout? Gone. The only thing that comes over is the bare basics of the workout. That, and a truly over the top pre-populated message:

I just finished the “Rookie’s Ride” Beginner Class with Cycle Rush 2. It’s the best indoor cycling app with great music tracks with 27 audio-guiding training programs. Download the app and try it now!

The message is just ridiculous. The initial message when connecting to RunKeeper is even worse:

THE BEST APP FOR INDOOR CYCLE TRAINING HAS ARRIVED! Cycle Rush 2 provides a gym-like experience without needing to leave home. The app is packed with great features that will keep you both motivated to work out and on track with your fitness training. Cycle Rush has lots of GREAT features: **Professionally recorded training music tracks** **In-session audio coaching** **Compatible with Bluetooth Smart Heart Rate Sensors and Cadence/Speed sensors** **27 training sessions in 5 levels** **Exciting training music tracks**

I am a believer in plugging your product, but that is just ridiculous. I have an idea, instead of writing over the top ad copy to insert into Runkeeper, how about if you send the freaking heart rate? Sound good?!

Well, obviously the CycleRush2 app and Runkeeper won’t work for the tracking purposes. We have to come up with something else. Sadly, DailyMile does’t offer much more.

That means another app will be needed. When I was researching the XSPIN, I read that it was compatible with Strava. That sounded fine because I already have a Strava account and you can always export a workout from the tool by adding /export_tcx to the end of the url. That will download a TCX file that is compatible with most online services.

So, I connected Strava to my HRM and the XSPIN. Both were detected and the RPMs were available. I started working out. I was going nowhere. No distance was being recorded. I touched the screen and confirmed that both devices were being read.

I started researching the problem. It appears that Strava will not track a workout without a GPS signal. REALLY?! Are you kidding Strava?! I guess no one is supposed to work out indoors.

Well, time to move on yet again. The cash register rings and I get MapMyRide.

Both sensors are picked up and it has no problem tracking indoors. It even offers to turn off GPS tracking on the phone during the workout. Very courteous.

The screen display changes to reflect Distance with Duration, Current Speed with Calories, and Current HR with Cadence. Everything I could ask for. And when the workout was completed, all the information was both retained and viewable. But there is no real way to get all the data out. MapMyFitness only likes to export GPX files which just show the route.

Time to move on yet again. Next app up is Runtastic Road Bike. What’s that sound we hear? Oh, yeah. The cash register again.

I decided to try the free version and of course, as soon as I started to connect the sensors, I was informed that I would have to pay for the Pro version. So I coughed up the cash and bought it. It picked up my HRM, but alas, it would not pick up the XSPIN. Moving on again.

This time I decided to look at Digifit. I quickly saw that I would have to pay to play and gave up.

Late breaking news!

The hero Mike Palumbo created a MapMyRide conversion tool. He writes about it in his post MapMyRide to Strava.

Maybe he saved the day. The plot thickens and this journey will continue.

 

NOTE: The Amazon links on this page are affiliate links I receive a small commission at no cost to you. Thanks for the support.

Garmin Vivofit, or Farewell to my FitBit Flex [Updated]

It pains me to say, but I think I am moving on. I have been using a Fitbit device every day since January of 2012 as I mentioned in my two podcast appearances on RunBuzz and Everyday Runners. It was a critical device that combined with MyFitnessPal enabled me to lose substantial weight and ultimately become a runner.

But, sadly I have now gone through 3 of them and they are not cheap to replace. The first one a FitBit Ultra literally broke to pieces and I had to strap it together with packing tape. The second one, the FitBit One squirted out of the stupid belt clip and vanished into the ether. And now the third one, a FitBit Flex will not hold a charge. Of course I am outside of any warranty.

This got me looking around and I started to really wonder about the Garmin Vivofit. Pete Larson wrote the review Garmin Vivofit Activity Tracker Review: A Runner’s Perspective and that sent me into action. I had a rewards kickback from BJs and they just started carrying them, so I decided to try one.

Since I am already in the Garmin ecosystem, it was really the only other option for me (I had a Striiv for a while and had a terrible time with it).

Since I am a bit obsessive about my step tracking, I decided to wear both of them on my wrist for the rest of the day when I bought the Garmin. Then I decided that I really should keep wearing them both overnight and all day the next day so I could get a true side-by-side comparison. My wife thought I looked quite silly, but she is getting more used to my foibles.

The first day I wore them together, I didn’t do any running. The step count was extremely close Fitbit 6127 and Vivofit 6105. Now, I did have to bounce the Vivofit up and down just over 2000 times to get the steps to sync when I got the new device, so obviously, it’s not apples to apples.

On the second day, I started to see the real differences between the devices. First, the way they handle sleep tracking is different. Fitbit gives specific data along with graphs while Garmin Connect only shows a graph. I find this to be a real shortcoming for the Vivofit.

Vivofit sleep information appears on Garmin Connect. It looks nice, but lacks the specificity of Fitbit.

Notice the problem with the type of data. The chart on Garmin Connect looks nice, but it lacks details. This causes the results to be misleading. If you go by the Garmin Connect chart, I slept 7 hours and 25 minutes. A decent nights sleep — I prefer 8, but can get by on 7 fine.

But the Fitbit data shows a different story. It has a total of actual sleep being only 6 hours and 43 minutes. This is a big difference. It also gives actual times awake and the number of times being restless. You can try to extrapolate this information from the Garmin chart, but why?

Since Garmin has the data to make the chart, why can’t they just provide the raw data?

The stats also diverge when it comes to trends over time. Garmin gives the very basic number of hours.

Fitbit on the other hand gives very specific information. I find it remarkable that Garmin makes watches that track numerous variables like heart-rate, cadence, time, distance, and now even vertical oscillation, VO2 Max and ground contact time. Yet, they give such rudimentary information for the Vivofit. It’s almost like there are different development teams for each device. Hopefully this changes over time.

Moving on to step tracking. This gets interesting. On day two, I ran just over 6 miles and had both devices on. The rest of the day was moderately active. Fitbit steps versus Vivofit. They don’t exactly line up (Fitbit is on the left).

There’s almost a 2000 step difference or nearly a mile. What is really interesting is that I decided to compare the Fitbit app alone using the M7 chip in the iPhone 5S against the Garmin Vivofit. The resulting discrepancy is reversed as shown below.

The difference is nearly a mile and a half… How far did I walk? I have no idea. I guess I will just have to try and make it a lot and let the differences sort themselves out.

When it comes to a step breakdown throughout the day, Garmin Connect does an excellent job of displaying data.

You can easily see how your activity is spaced throughout the day and each bar displays actual numbers if you hover. I especially appreciate the Breakdown screen which offers a basic snapshot of activity balance in a day.

Fitbit does a great job as well, giving a straightforward view of activity throughout the day, but I give Garmin the edge.

Another option that both Fitbit and Garmin Connect offer are badges. I stopped tracking my Fitbit badges a while ago because I have had one a long time and attained many of them.

My Garmin badge collection has just started, so I’ll have to see what they offer over time.

The big differences between the Garmin Vivofit and the Fitbit Flex has to be the screen and battery life. The Vivofit has an easily readable screen that even has a red bar that builds across to help inspire the wearer to get moving.

The Flex has a series of dots that symbolize 2000 steps for each. The Vivofit also has screens to display the number if steps away from your goal, the number if miles, calories burned, time of day, and date.

For me, the blockbuster feature that has sold me on the Vivofit is the amazing battery life and the fact it is replaceable. The Fitbit Flex has a built in battery that I had to charge every 4-5 days. Of course, it would lose it’s charge at the most inconvenient time. I would forget that I had it charging and then start walking around without it — thus not tracking my steps.

Garmin claims that the Vivofit battery can last up to a year. If it only lasts half the time, that’s a huge win for me. Plus, the battery is replaceable. Maybe I won’t have to replace this device. I can just change the battery.

It wasn’t an easy decision to go with the Vivofit, but the battery life is what ultimately won me over. Now I just have to find more stepping friends who have the Vivofit…

For an extremely thorough review of the Vivofit and it’s functionality, you may want to check out DCRainmaker’s Garmin Vivofit In-Depth Review.

UPDATE: Ray Maker aka DCRainmaker also reported that you can get the Vivokeeper, a free safety band to prevent the clasp from popping apart accidentally for free from Garmin.

You can purchase the Vivofit from Clever Training now for $99. I receive a small commission for any that you buy at no added cost to you.

Vivofit available now at Clever Training
Vivofit available now at Clever Training

 

LaceLocker – One less thing to worry about

Sometimes, the highest praise I can give something is that I don’t notice it. It seems contrary, but it’s often true. Brilliance comes with the obvious. If you can look at something and say, “well, that’s obvious and someone would have come up with it in anyway,” ask yourself why no one has. That is good design.

LaceLocker is a simple product that perform a basic task – you just attach it and forget about it. Here is their video that sums up the process of putting them on your shoes. The video is 18 seconds long and a fair gauge of how long they take to install.

StashSports sent me a pair to try out for review. After receiving them, I decided to use them on three different pairs of shoes made by three different companies to see how they performed with different footwear.

I started with my Brooks PureCadence 2s. As you can see, they hold the laces in place and when I ran, there was no flapping about. Overall they were a great success – super match.

However, when I used them on my Saucony Kinvara 3s, they don’t fit quite as well. They only held on to one row of laces. The tongue holder prevents the device from sliding under a second row, and it’s not quite long enough to catch the third row. I wear a size 13 running shoe, so that may not be an issue for smaller feet. Also, even though it was only being held with one row, it did hold the laces securely for a good 10 mile run with some definite headwinds. It just wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing.

For my third set of shoes, I chose my Altra Torins. On these shoes, the tongue holder was in the way again, but there was plenty of room to slide it under on the side. Again, the laces stayed in place and there was no trouble.

I really like the fact that I can move the LaceLockers from one pair of shoes to another with ease, so one can buy a single pair and get full utility out of them if on a budget. I think that they are priced very well and can represent a savings from having to buy special non-slipping laces for each pair of shoes. I also like the fact that you retain the ability to retie and adjust your laces quickly. When I have my shoes double-knotted, I have to almost make sure that they are welded perfectly in place because I won’t be changing the configuration any time soon.

The product is actually so simple that I could have summed up the whole review in a short tweet – “LaceLockers, they’re simple and they work.”

They can be purchased for $7.95 and up on their website – http://www.lacelocker.com/purchase.html.

One interesting option is that they allow custom orders – http://www.lacelocker.com/customorders/ That could be a really neat item given out at races.

4 Audiobooks for the 4th of July Weekend

Here in the US, we have our Independence Day holiday this weekend. Traditionally, we like to go on road trips, especially when the holiday falls on a Friday like this year. Road trips are an ideal time to catch up on some reading. Here are some good choices for a long drive, or even a long run (or many).

I plan to have a full section with running oriented audiobooks. If you have any suggestions, please let me know in the comments, on Twitter, or on my Facebook page. I’m always interested in what people have listened to and what inspires them. But for the holiday weekend, here are four to consider.

Downpour (Unprotected MP3 files that will work on most players)
This would have to be my first pick. It is of course controversial because of the barefoot running/minimalism movement, but it is so much more. It follows an amazing cast of characters like Ann TrasonJenn Shelton, Scott Jurek, Barefoot Ted, the mysterious Caballo Blanco (Micah True), and many more.

This irreverent book really has it all. It is an immensely entertaining listen and will help you click the miles by with a grin.

Tread Lightly

The perfect companion to Born to Run. This book explores why runners keep getting hurt and how to avoid this. Written with science at the forefront.

Since 2009, Pete Larson’s runblogger.com has proven to be a outstanding resource for great shoe reviews and well written and researched articles on form. This book expands on his work.

 

The 4 minute mile and the 4th of July, could there be a more appropriate choice? A classic story that visits some earlier history. It really does a nice job of building the excitement while giving a tour of a different generation.

 

Downpour (Unprotected MP3 files that will work on most players)
I listened to this on the days right before my first marathon. Absolutely inspiring. Matt Long was a NYC Firefighter who responded during 9-11. This is the story of his amazing comeback after being literally run over by a bus. It is an amazing tale about a real American hero.

There were points in this story that I was thankful to be running with sunglasses, because my eyes were not dry.