Microsoft Band – fit or flop for the software giant?

microsoft-band-side

Having slipped seriously behind in the smartphone arena it’s interesting to see how Microsoft aims to keep pace with the handheld and wearable market, one area of which – fitness tracking, resulted in the launch of the Microsoft Band. It’s a relatively new market and one that’s been flooded quite quickly with a range of varying quality competitor solutions, but despite some capable devices that appeal to both budget-conscious and more serious audiences we’re yet to be convinced it has long-term appeal.

The Microsoft Band looks to make some wiggle-room for itself by offering a flexible solution that isn’t tied to Windows phones – there’s support here for iOS 7.1 and Android 4.3 upwards. It has a 1.4” display at 320×106 resolution, Bluetooth 4.0 and a battery that’s quoted as lasting 48 hours for normal use. It’s been available for long enough to get a proper feel for how capable it really is, so let’s see if it cuts the mustard.

Wareable should know a thing or two about wearables, and this being the case it doesn’t get Microsoft off to a good start. Its review awards just 2.5/5, and pulls no punches in stating that this is “a chunky beast at best and an absolute insult to the wearable tech movement at worst.” The look and feel is a real problem here – “looks awful” and “feels awful” are two of its three criticisms in fact, with the third being battery life. All very important considerations for any new gadget, let alone a wearable, so where to go from here? Well, the things it gets right include a fairly impressive display that’s quite “Windowsy” with that familiar tile-based UI that does feel natural and helps the device to remain fairly intuitive to use. Built-in GPS is also very nice, allowing it to track location data without a tethered phone – it works well and is undoubtedly one of the big highlights, with few competitors handling this at all, let alone as well. There are a few teething issues though, such as loss of signal and GPS connection in some cases that make it difficult to rely on the accuracy.

Elsewhere there’s 24/7 heart monitoring, a UV monitor “and the sensor check-list continues with a 3-axis accelerometer, a gyrometer, an ambient light sensor, a skin temperature sensor and a galvanic skin response sensor.”  All things that are debatably useful in a real world environment, but even though the basic fitness tracking seems to work well enough, we still end up with the initial faults ruining the overall experience. Sleep tracking for example provides:

“key metrics such as duration of sleep, your efficiency percentage (time spent sleeping divided by total time), how many times you woke up, how many calories you burned while sleeping, how much of your sleep was ‘restful’ and what your heart rate was”

But that’s only if “you manage to get to sleep with the world’s most uncomfortable fitness band on your wrist.” Other features, such as the running app, are quite basic, and there’s no opportunity to install extra apps from third parties – Microsoft expects you to be happy with the lot it has provided.

So what has it provided? The Telegraph goes into some detail and talks about how the 1.4” display is:

“crisp and easy to navigate, throwing up key information including the number of steps you’ve taken that day, kilometres travelled, calories burned and heart rate within a few taps.”

Data from the wide range of sensors is fairly nicely reported on the screen itself but it’s the Microsoft Health app that will keep all this in check on a phone. This is fairly comprehensive, with the sleep monitoring capability described as “one of the more sophisticated that I’ve used.” There are also a series of downloadable workouts and short videos to watch thanks to Microsoft’s partnership with Nuffield Health, and though these have potential are described as “slightly clunky”. Elsewhere the band is quite limited though you can sync with data collated from fitness apps like MyFitnessPal, and overall “the Microsoft Health app has some way to go in presenting the data it collects in more coherent, easily-trackable ways” so this doesn’t appear to be a strong enough area to offset its flaws.

Finally, PC Pro rounds off this disappointing performance with a full review that awards the Band 3/5. It is also less than enamoured by the looks, describing the design as “a curious mixture of the functional and the downright ugly.” The display is reasonably good, with well-defined text that’s bright enough to read on sunny days, and the ARM Cortex-M4 processor helps it tick along smoothly. It’s also fairly easy to use, both from the band itself and via the Microsoft Health app, but none of these positives are enough to outweigh the bulky design, the fact that it gets uncomfortable after extended use and a few other basic but frustrating issues.

Unlike Samsung’s Gear Fit, for instance, there’s no option to switch the display to a vertical orientation. This makes it necessary to twist your arm around rather awkwardly to read onscreen messages, or to glimpse at exercise-related data such as your current running pace or heart rate.”

The small display can be awkward to read while running or cycling, it’s only splash and sweat resistant so you’ll have to watch out for water and the battery life was far from expected, never lasting longer than 24 hours. It wraps things up by saying that despite the guided workouts, simple interface and competent app, the Band “has huge potential, much of which – at least for our particular needs – falls frustratingly short of the mark”.

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The Microsoft Band is available now for £175. Visit Microsoft to find out more.

Magellan Echo Running Watch: GPS + Bluetooth Join Forces

Magellan-Echo

Magellan are GPS experts so it’s nice to see that they have finally joined the smart running watch race. But rather than show up late to the party with your arms swinging (a lovely Nigerian expression for when you don’t bring any food or drink to a party), Magellan have a neat, and potentially game changing party trick – Bluetooth Smart connectivity.

Magellan have acknowledge the dominance of smartphones in the current tech landscape – I now sort of automatically expect any device I have to play nicely with my smartphones. This is especially useful when I’m doing something like running and don’t want to be distracted by fiddling with buttons in my pocket. Via the Echo you gain playback control over your music, and can input start, stop or lap controls – handy if you want to take a quick breather or if New Edition starts playing and you’re not in a New Jack Swing mood.

Echo-Running-Man

In what I consider to be a nice touch, the Echo wirelessly connects smartphone fitness apps like Strava, MapMyRun, Runtastic and RunKeeper to your wrist rather than making you upload utilise a bespoke app and related ecosystem. The data is displayed in real time and leverages the Wahoo API found in things like the RFLKT.

Echo-Water

If you’re a hardened running pro, you’ll be pleased to know that the Echo is just as tough as you and has a ruggedized, water-resistant design giving you no excuses not to fight your way through damp running conditions (other than “it’s cold and I don’t want to”, which is what normally stops me).

Magellan opted for a replaceable battery to avoid charging issues. I have a USB-powered sports watch that is sitting in need of a charge by the side of my bed so I can see the wisdom in this decision – but I do like the general idea of rechargeable batteries from an environmental perspective at least.

The exact UK release date is unknown but should be some time towards the end of this year. What is know is that the Echo will be out in three colours – Black, Cool Blue or Warm Red. US pricing is $149.99 or $199.99 with a Bluetooth Smart Heart Rate Monitor.

Top 5 Running Gadgets

Scosche-Rthm

It’s that time of year again. The sun is beginning to shine, the days are getting longer and everyone is proudly plastering social media channels with details on precisely how many miles they’ve run. But wait; there’s plenty more potential to running gadgets than showing off the distance you’ve wheezed your way around the local park. Plenty more. Latest Gadgets rounds up five of the best…

Scosche Rhythm

From: Scosche

Like to keep your finger on the pulse? Enjoy running? Then look no further… Scosche have just launched their simple Rhythm strap which, with the help of your smart phone, can provide all your essential pulse data, and plenty more.

Designed with simplicity in mind, the three button gadget straps onto your forearm and communicates to your smart device via Bluetooth. Not only does it record your pulse via integrated dual LED sensors, allowing you to closely monitor just how hard you’re pushing yourself, Rhythm also provides complete control of your music collection as well as generating other essential stats such as distance covered and calories burned.

It’s also compatible with myriad existing running apps such as iPower, Spinning, RunDouble C25K and many more. And yes, thanks to its social network flexibility, you can join the masses and tell the world just how good a runner you truly are.

Yours for $99.99

Running World: Zone Dome

From: Running World

For those who can’t rely on reasonable seasonable climes, Running World’s somewhat aspirational Zone Dome can whisk you away to a variety of desirable running locations in the world and you don’t even have to leave your home. As featured on Latest Gadgets in March, the 1.5 metre screen is compatible with most treadmills and offers the choice of 20 or 40 minute runs at speeds between 9-12 km/h.

With a choice of five lavish scenery settings, you can take your pick from Route 66 to Area 51 without a fear of rain, traffic, pollution or runner-hating neer-do-wells lurking around any corner. Providing you have your own treadmill and can honour the £3,940 price tag, the Zone Dome is ideal for running regardless of the unpredictable weather. File under luxury: there’s no surprise Zone Dome’s manufacturers are targeting the gym chains with this cinematic running gadget.

Yours for £3490

Misfit-Shine

Misfit Shine

Misfit Wearables

Looking like some sexy pendant or broach from the future, Misfit’s Shine is similar to Scosche’s Rhythm (and indeed a whole host of competing wrist-based running gadgets such as the Nike FuelBand, The Runalyser and the Fitbit One). What the Shine does that most other arm-based running gadgets do is look very cool.

Looking further afield than the standard rubber or plastic models, Shine is manufactured using hard-wearing but super-lightweight aluminium. With a smooth spherical finish and minimal controls (in fact none: Bluetooth all the way, baby) the Shine will be just at home hanging from your neck or sitting sweetly in your pocket.

Okay, so it looks great. What else does it do? Well it tracks every move you make and the ground you cover ensuring favour from all forms of exercise fans from runners to cyclists. Soon-to-be-launched over the States at $99, Shine has potential to impact the ever-growing exercise market.

Yours for $99

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TomTom GPS Sports Watches

From: TomTom

Satnav kings TomTom are no strangers to the running world, having worked closely with Nike on their sports watch ranges. Now sprinting into the market with their own unit, TomTom are taking things next level.

With a clear, simple-to-read high contrast display, one-button functionality, a whole range of training programs and built-in stride sensors, few activities can go un-checked by the TomTom Sports Watch. Naturally, GPS comes as standard and allows for upwards of 10 hours battery life. Impressed? Jog on over to Latest Gadget’s full review.

MileStone-Pod

Milestone Pod

From: Milestone

It’s all good and well knowing how far you’ve run, what your pulse is saying, how many calories you’ve burnt and just how many people you can tell about your achievements. But let’s not forget the most important ingredient in running… Your feet!

Appropriate footwear is essential for running. But once you’ve made that investment, how much lifespan do they have? The most common rule of thumb is approximately 400 miles. But unless you’re tracking that via some of the other gadgets in this list, how do you know when your trainers need a reboot? Change them too soon and you’ll waste valuable tread. Change them too late and you’ve got a one-way ticket to Injury Town.

Enter the Milestone Pod, a thumb-sized pedometer that attaches to your laces and records how much life is left in your faithful daps. What’s more, you can also save easily accessible essential personal data such as medical history and emergency contact details in case you suffer from an accident while out training. Launched as a Kickstarter project earlier this year, they failed to hit their target of $60,000 but they’re continuing their product roll-out with determination. See their website for details.

Zone Dome: Get Off the Beaten Track

RunZone

If you’re one of the UK’s 5 million recreational runners and are looking for something to add a bit of sparkle to a mundane slog on the treadmill, perhaps a trip through to rolling grasslands of Mongolia’s Himalayan foothills will give you that extra motivation to push on.

Thanks to the Zone Dome, the latest marriage between fitness and technology and product of self-confessed health and fitness veterans Running Unlimited, you can leave the insect repellent in the cupboard and become immersed in some of the world’s most inspiring locations from the comfort of your home or a local gym. The free-standing, 1.5 metre wide display shows one of five supplied themes that include Monument Valley, Route 66, Humphrey’s Peak, Dawn at Joshua Tree and even Area 51, though you didn’t hear that from us.

Able to select 20 or 40 minute runs at speeds of between 9 and 12 km/h, the Zone Dome is compatible with any treadmill and is aimed at gyms and hotels as well as luxury domestic use. Though unfortunately there’s no audio, we certainly like the idea of being able to run past elephants, giraffes and hyenas in Tanzania’s Serengeti, or trawl the rock-strewn landscapes of Monument Valley, but you might want to start saving the pennies if you’re planning to buy one for the home.

The Zone Dome costs £3,940 for the unit and five supplied destinations, with additional five-film bundles available to purchase as add-ons for £500. However, Running Unlimited says the Zone Dome could be “coming to a gym near you soon” and is currently in negotiations with a range of facilities across the UK, so if you’re not willing to shell out for a unit for the home just yet why not have a word with the manager on your next trip to Fitness First.

For more information and some pretty breathtaking landscapes visit Running Unlimited

Top Fitness Gadgets for 2013

I live alongside a canal, which is a prime running route and these past few days I’ve seen an exponential increase in people giving jogging a go, determined to “finally fit into those jeans”, or some other long-held dream. The numbers gradually dwindle over the month and by early March I can once again walk next to swans, unencumbered by fitness fanatics. That’s obviously because “getting in shape” is a hard, hard task. Fortunately there are some gadgets on hand to help out.

arctic-gym-mat

Arctic Cooling Gym Mat
The Arctic Cooling Gym Mat is an all-in-one gaming system offering a wide range of games and exercises to entertain you and hopefully tighten you up a bit in all the right places. 30 sensor fields detect your position on the mat precisely and display your movements on the TV screen so you can interact with the games. There is a two player mode on some games, so you and a training buddy can shape up – or just get involved in a dance-off.

The Arctic Cooling Gym Mat is £45.35 from www.waeplus.co.uk

Fitbug

Fitbug Air
The Fitbug Air is a wireless activity tracker, which a little dongles that measure every physical thing you get up to (there’s an untapped million dollar industry for whoever makes the first wireless mental activity tracker). The Fitbug Air tracks calories burned, steps taken and aerobic steps (over 100 per minute) so you can see the benefits of your run or walk in real terms. The Bluetooth sync with your phone means that you can also see the benefits in real time so you can track your pace. Fitbug can even send encouraging texts or emails are you a progressing – a handy substitute for friends.

The Fitbug Air can be purchased for £49.99 with a full year’s subscription or £24.99 with £2.99 monthly subscription from www.fitbug.com.

Garmin-forerunner

GARMIN Forerunner 10 Watch
The Forerunner 10 watch by Garmin is ideal for anyone who wants to keep track of their speed, rhythm, distance covered and calories burned when running. With a Virtual Partner mode it is compatible with Garmin Connect, where you can share and analyse your details and progress online with other users. The watch is also waterproof to 50 metres and has a customisable screen. Plus it tells the time.

GARMIN Forerunner 10 Watch is available in black, pink or lime green for £98.52 from www.waeplus.co.uk

iT7-LG

iT7s wireless in-ear headphones
I can’t exercise in silence. The last thing I want when exercising is to be alone with my thoughts. Fortunately iT7 make some pretty great wireless headphones, designed specifically for active use. The iT7s headphones feature Bluetooth technology, making it possible for users to listen to music and take calls during workouts, without being tethered to a mobile or music device by an unwanted wire.

The iT7s headphones are available for £99.99 from the Tesco Phone Shop.

e-Lites

E-Lites E80 Regular (G9) Electronic Cigarette Starter Kit
Perfect for anyone hoping to quit smoking or planning to make love to a robot the E80 E-Cigarette Starter Kit is the ideal introduction to electronic smoking. The Starter kit includes the equivalent of 80 tobacco cigarettes, a rechargeable G9 battery and a practical USB charger. Available in Reds (Regular) Golds (Lights) or Greens (Menthol).

E-Lites E80 Regular (G9) Electronic Cigarette Starter Kit – £23.96 from www.waeplus.co.uk

Head Sensor BT Runtastic: Getting down on the slopes

I hate going on about how cold it gets in winter. But man alive is it nippy out. And that’s just in my tiny East London cave. Imagine if I was hitting the slopes. A ridiulous image for many, many reasons. If however you are way, way cooler than I am then you may be delighted to know that Runtastic and Head have teamed up to build the world’s first fully integrated helmet in winter sports – The Head Sensor BT Runtastic.

Head-runtastic-Helmet

Head have already won awards for their helmet design and the Head Sensor takes something that’s already great and rams a load of technology into it – something that almost always makes me happy. Head Sensor, the base model for Head’s Sensor BT Runtastic, is the winner of the German ADAC helmet test.

The helmet integrates the Runtastic app, Bluetooth, fully functioning speakers, and a microphone. Obviously you can listen to music, call people, and have lovely back and forths with Siri.

Like most modern things, the helmet is paired with an app, Runtastic’s side of the deal, which provides voice feedback on your speed, altitude, distance covered, route, and average speed, all the while monitoring your heart rate and calorie consumption with the included chest strap heart rate monitor.With way over 14 million downloads, more than five million registered users on runtastic.com, and 300,000 active daily users, Runtastic is one of the most popular fitness app provider available.

Sharing is another key buzzword for modern living and the app enables you to share your stats and experiences on social media platforms. Followers can interact with you by recording a personal message or pressing one of the cheering buttons on runtastic.com to egg you on before a big trick or hardcore run.

Available now

Withings Internet-Connected Scales: WiFi weight loss

Innovative company Withings have announced the release of the Wireless Scale WS-30, the first in their new line of internet-connected bathroom scales. Combining Bluetooth and wifi connectivity to offer a seamless, PC-free experience from the very first use, the latest Withings technology provides users with an ultra-intuitive experience. The scales provide day-to-day feedback, while the accompanying Withings Health Companion app allows you to take control of your weight anywhere, anytime.

Withings-WS-20

Trailblazers in the world of wellbeing, Withings develop gadgets to help people stay on track with their health goals. Having released the world’s first Wifi-enabled scale in 2009, this latest product takes that concept a step further, providing more simplicity, greater accuracy and a higher degree of flexibility for users.

Easy-to-use Technology and Tools

Once set up, the scale instantly recognises individual users and gives each user access to exclusive Withings services that help with weight management. Whether you want to keep the scales in your bathroom or plan to travel with them, WS-30 is portable and doesn’t even require a computer to use. When no wifi signal is available, you can record your results by connecting to your smartphone or tablet using Bluetooth.

Cédric Hutchings, Co-Founder of Withings, says: “With Wireless Scale, we have simplified even further the way people automatically assess how fit they are. Now anyone can enjoy the benefits of self-measurement in a really simple way without worrying about connectivity.”

Withings-Wireless-Scale

Additional Features

As well as being able to recognize individual users, the scale’s Position Control™ technology provides smart, visual feedback that enables users to properly position themselves for greater accuracy in measurements. Using the app, you can store data about their weight and BMI, which you can then access from anywhere using the Withings Health Companion app. Motivation is the key when it comes to weight loss, and the app is packed with features that encourage goal setting and provide coaching services, you can use the app to generate weight graphs and map your success so far.

All this and more happens automatically as soon as you step on the scale. Graphs and tables are tracked in your personal account, saved for you to view at any time. With the ability to keep track of up to eight different profiles, the scales provide accurate measurements and mapping for the whole family. Each user can choose to keep their data private, or share it with others, such as doctors, coaches or accountability partners.

The Wireless Scale WS-30 is available in Europe from www.withings.com and retails for around €119.95.

Mio Cyclo 105C cycle computer review

Despite the daily threat of physical harm and death I do like cycling to and fro on London roads. In part this is because traffic makes buses agitating and the tube is a hot mess of sweat and agravataion in the summer. But also I like to think that I’m somehow magically getting fitter with all these rides to and from Hackney. I even got a fixed-gear bicycle so I’m peddling the whole time and not coasting down hills or relying too much on gears. But how fit am I really getting? Well the best way to find out is with a cycling computer and Mio were kind enough to lend me one for a week or two to find out (if the suspense is killing you the answer is “not very”).

Mio

Mio have a range of stylish bike computers that record time, speed, distance, altitude and calorie consumption. The computers are equipped with an anti-glare 1.8” screen, simple menu structure and a customisable dashboard. To top that off their computers come with built in GPS so they can track your movements. Not bad for a little device that looks like a chubby Casio watch.

There’s very little set up needed and there’s a distinct “out of the box” feel to package. You will need to place sensors on your wheels and pedals to log all this data and the 105 H which I was testing also had a strap-on heart monitor that you’ll need to pop on around your chest before getting started. The Mio Cyclo 105 series comes with a built-in ANT+ sensor and is compatible with every power meter, so the user can easily monitor performance. The Mio Cyclo 105 H is the same product, but includes a wireless heart-rate monitor in the box.

Cyclo-105_front

The computer itself is a little on the large side and clashed with the polished sleek aesthetic I’ve been trying to hard to achieve on my “ride” but if you’re less vain than I am (i.e., most people), then it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. The casing is rugged and waterproof so ready for most London weather. There’s a charger to power up the device (and the 18 hour battery life is more than good enough for most rides) and you can sync data back to your computer via a micro-USB cable.

This is my main issue with the device actually. It does a *beautiful* job of recording my movements when I’m on the bicycle and is simple and easy to use. But it really falls down at the last hurdle with PC syncing. I simply don’t want to be plugging things into my computers anymore. I’d much rather we entered the world of wireless background syncing. Maybe (definitely) I’ve been spoiled by the world of smartphones and smart personal fitness devices like the FitBit Zip but I want things to be logging my data in the background and then spitting info back at me via an app – the Withings WiFi scale and the FitBit Zip are both perfect examples of this technology. It’s a great way to actually interact with the data you’re providing – and harnesses the power of a computer you actually have on you.

This gripe aside it’s a great device and if you’re serious about your cycling fitness it’s worth checking out.

The Mio Cyclo 105 H is out now for £169.99