Polar Fit heart rate monitor: Feeling the burn

Around 43% of men and 33% of women are overweight. That means at least a third of you need to do more exercise, and there’s an almost even chance that I do, too. Don’t fret, however: Polar, manufacturer of heart-rate monitor watches, is here to help.

PolarFit

Introduced to us as, “the perfect solution for those who want to give loved ones the gift of motivation”, what Polar don’t know about romance is made up for in heart-rate knowledge. One killer feature is the watch’s unique EnergyPointer, which visually indicates whether the main effect of your training is fitness improvement or fat burning.

It uses heart rate variability to calculate the centre point between the two training effects. When the heart rate is below the point, the user is improving their fat burning; above it, aerobic fitness. It a simple solution, but vitally important for people unaccustomed to the intricacies of weight loss and exercise.

The watch also keeps track of how many calories are burnt each session, which can then be uploaded onto your computer to track your progress. If you grab the optional Polar FlowLink data transfer unit, you can even upload your details onto the net. Here there’s a whole world of functionality: interact with other active people, analyze training results, see your training load status, and get online training guidance. It’s like a Facebook for Fitness.

The chest strap that monitors the heart-rate is individually coded, which means data sent to your watch is definitely your own – the device won’t accidentally receive crossover information from other exercisers.

To complete the service, Polar offers downloadable training plans, so even the most inexperienced exerciser can get started with expert advice.

Aside from all this, the watches actually look pretty cool. In either red and silver or red and black, the hexagonal pattern makes you feel totally Tron. Awesome.

Available now for £93.50.

Philips DirectLife Activity Monitor: Fighting flab with gadgetry

I freely admit it – I weigh a little more than I’d like to. And unlike a reasonable number of tech journalists I’ve met (naming no names) I actually try to keen the pounds off. Countless salads for lunch (not in one sitting, that would be counter-productive), repeated shunning of donuts and countless gym classes. And yet the flab remains. Moping around the office, listlessly poking at my spare tyre I got an email from iGlobalFitness asking if I’d like to look at the Philips DirectLife
Activity monitor – the device they use with their Personal Weight Management Programme and the Stay Active Challenge. After an initial wave of paranoia (how did they know a tech journalist would be overweight?) I thought I’d take a look.

Philips-directlife

As my more muscly buddies at the gym keep telling me, sustained weight loss is gained by a bit of basic math (burning more calories than you consume) and by consistent sustained changes to your lifestyle. There is no point dropping a kilo in March only to revert to your bad habits and pile it all back on in April.

A combination of these two simple rules is employed by the iGlobalFitness’ Personal Weight Management Programme but with the added magic of technology.

1.         Your iGlobalFitness Wellness Facilitator will meet with you face to face to review your current wellness status and set realistic goals in four areas: lifestyle, health, exercise and nutrition.

2.    iGlobalFitness will provide you with a clever little gadget known as the DirectLife activity monitor which, along with your own online Personal Activity Coach, will support you to be more active on a  daily basis.

3.         You will meet with your Wellness Facilitator every three months to measure your progress, get personalized advice and set more challenging targets.

4.    Your Wellness Facilitator will ‘nudge’ you via email, text or phone between sessions to keep you motivated.

5.    At the end of the programme you can delight in your success of creating a healthy, sustainable lifestyle, or you can extend your programme and challenge yourself to get into even better shape.

The little DirectLife activity monitor is shaped like a small pebble and can be hooked to a belt loop, worn as a necklace type thing or just popped in your pocket. Recording all your activity throughout the day it’s a really helpful reminder that sitting still all day doesn’t help with weight loss and encourages … well not quite fidgeting but regular bursts of activity. And the ability to look over data coupled with regular online sessions with a personal trainer combine knowledge with convenience. There is even a Stay Active Challenge where you can compete against internet people or your friends/co-workers.

So would I recommend it? Depends on how you respond to motivation really. If you like the idea and convenience of being able check your activity throughout the day and respond to a constant supply of data then it’s worth a look. As will all weight-loss things – you can just still to the simple rules above and have a bit of self-discipline – saving yourself a bit of money. But if that fails you (like it does me) then this is a neat high-tech alternative.

www.stayactivechallenge.com has now officially launched and is £50 per person to take part.

Jabra ACTIVE headset: Making keep fit a little more fun

Let’s face it, nearly all of us are sports enthusiasts in early January. But what cuts the serious from those on an exercising whim, is that the latter’s impulse has almost always been vanquished come February. This is where the Jabra ACTIVE may step in, or may at least thwart the inevitable from occurring for a couple more months.

Jabra-Active

This rugged, splash-proof, crystal-clear sound producing corded headset is the perfect accessory to aid you in your New Year fitness quest. You may feel like keeling over and giving up, but the motivational tunes blasting out into your eardrums or the pep talk from a personal trainer via a mobile phone, will give you the motivation to keep going.

A headsets’ tendency to fall out of a jogger’s ear can be quite off-putting to say the least, but with these ergonomically designed earphones that ‘lock’ into the ear, means surreptitiously tip-toeing the streets in fear of losing you headphones can be replaced by sheer pounding and vigour.

If your excuse to not doing any exercise is fear of missing that all important phone call, then your excuse has just been annihilated, as the Jabra ACTIVE’s control box allows you to easily switch from music to chat, ensuring you never miss an important call. If one song isn’t proving too inspiring, the ACTIVE’s control box also allows for simple track skipping, enabling you to instantly boost a workout with a more uplifting tune.

The Jabra ACTIVE headset is compatible with most phones including Blackberry, Motorola, Apple and LG. An adaptor is included in the box, guaranteeing compatibility with Sony Eriksson, Samsung and Nokia.
Being available in white, black or yellow and costing just £39.99, the Jabra ACTIVE new corded headset could be a great gift for all those fashion-conscious exercising fanatics in your life – even if their fitness venture doesn’t make the spring.

TWIG: Accountz, ecocase, eCards and Thumb Exercises

The Week in Gadgets

No-one likes accounting, even if you at a super hip Z on the end like UK based accounting software firm Accountz have done. What people do like, however is apps, and Accountz have thoughtfully combined the two in their new release Mobile Accountz Lite iPhone app – which allows you to take control of your finances, spending and expenses whilst on the move. You can upload transactions Over-The-Air to any software that uses OFX or CSV files. You can also just handle everything within the app.

Accountz

On first launch things are a little barren – there are prettier looking apps out there. But not for accountancy. The simply, focused approach actually benefits the app once you start using it – it’s easy to see which account is which and get at “state of the nation” view of all your accounts there and then – like an inverse calorie counter that helps to keep your wallet fat. Your first move after setting everything up should probably be noting the £2.99 the app costs. If you are serious about your finances – and in the current economic climate it makes sense to be – then you should give Accountz a look.

Like it or loathe it, the Christmas holiday season is slowly sneaking up on us. Unless you work in technology journalism, in which case it will have been forced upon you since mid-summer. Insanity. Anyway, in the UK there is a Christmas rush for greetings cards, something that eCards Media are keen to take advantage of to stress test their new print-on-demand greetings cards service. “But wait” you say, “Print-on-demand greetings cards… that’s MoonPig’s game.” And you would be right. However eCard’s Media are confident they can take on MoonPig, undercutting them on price with cards at 99p, compared with MoonPig’s £2.99. If that wasn’t enough, eCard’s Media, who are responsible for the Postcards app we briefly mentioned here are giving away 10,000 free greetings cards. Still not impressed? They are working on putting the Moon onto a Stick. Their system allows you to put digital images onto glossy A5 cards and then send them the same day via the UK post. Interested? Head to www.ecards.co.uk and pop in OneFreeCard to give it a whirl.

If you spend as much time playing with gadgets as I do then you will be aware of the increase stress modern life, with its tablets and smartphones is placing on the thumbs. Even hardcore hitchhikers sympathise. GadgetHelpline.com, whose name is self-explanatory have produced a little exercise video for anyone suffering from Thumb Fatigue. Have a peek. Why wouldn’t you.

The other problem with smartphones is how filthy they can be – with 18 times more bacteria than on the average toilet seat according to a recent Which? report. If that’s caught your eye then you might be interested in the new ECOSKIN case for the iPhone 4.

ecoskin

iPhone cases are as numerous as the stars but what makes Anokimobi’s ecoskin special is not only the high-grade recycled plastic that it is manufactured from, but as a result of their teaming up with BioMaster, the surface which is impregnated with silver ions to reduce bacteria levels. Unlike diamond encrusted iPhones, that are a testament to modern waste, the ecoskin is a green wonder, with both packaging and the phone cover made from recycled materials. Get yours in pink, black or clear from here.

Plantronics BackBeat family: High quality audio for smartphone users

Last year, headsets were all about the iPod, this year, headphone manufacturers are targeting the increasing numbers of smartphone users.

So, the fact that Plantronics has announced the release of a family of three headphones all optimised for smartphones with multimedia capabilities comes as no surprise.

Plantronics-903

Aimed at iPhone and Android handset owners, the BackBeat family of headphones promises to delivery high-quality audio, along with easy switching between calls and music.

The wireless offering for people on the go is the BackBeat 903+, the update to the BackBeat 903. Your wireless connection will offer rich stereo, along with the ability to answer or finish a call with a single button press. Designed for runners and gym bunnies, it is made of a ruggedized, sweat-resistant (ugh!) material, and offers a choice of three earpiece adjustments to ensure you get a secure fit and won’t lose your headphones as you’re running on the treadmill.

iPhone users will get a battery-life indicator on their screen, as well as being alerted by voice on how much talktime is left, low battery warning, connection, mute and track control status. Dual mics and Plantronics’ digital signal processing aim to ensure clear call quality, even if there’s a lot of background noise. An excellent safety feature for runners is the OpenMic technology, which enables the user to instantly hear the background without removing the headphones.

The 903 will be available from Apple at £69.99 from November.

The BackBeat 216, meanwhile, is a certified corded headphone for iPad, IPhone and iPod. They are simple to use – just plug and play – and also have noise-isolating ear buds with neodymium micro-speakers that apparently deliver well-balanced high and mid ranges and boost bass levels. It also has an inline controller with built-in mic for easy phone calls, as well as volume and music track control. The 216 will cost £39.99.

The baby of the family is the BackBeat 116, which comes in the form of earphones, with a simpler in-line controller and built-in mic. It can be used with iPad, iPhone and iPod, as well as most Android phones, BlackBerry devices and other music phones. Both the 116 and the 216 have tangle-free cloth cords, and the 116, which will cost £24.99, comes in electric blue. Nice.

Your Shape: Changing the shape of gaming, and your waist-line

Your Shape is part of a new generation of gaming – the Xbox Kinect generation. The aim is to free you from the shackles of traditional control pads by using the movement of your entire body as the controller. But does it work? Is an updated version of the Sony EyeToy worth a £150 outlay? We got our hands – well, our bodies – involved in the new game to work up a sweat, as well as work out the answer.

YourShape

The amazing thing about Your Shape, and the Xbox Kinect, is how intuitive the control system really is. As soon as you step in front of the camera, you instantly feel in absolutely control. And with the camera sensing 24 different joints of your body – joints that you use every day – you can understand why it feels so natural.

Thanks to the Kinect, all of the Your Shape mini-games are extremely easy to use. Our favourite, the balance-objects-on-a-board game, is both the simplest and most fiendishly addictive. Hold an imaginary board level to stack falling objects, and then drop them into the open pit at either side to score points. The more blocks you stack, the more they are worth. While the game is fun, the most amazing feature is how easily non-gamers could pick it up – most took mere seconds.

While games like board-balancing fire up the testosterone, other games deliberately aim in the opposite direction. In fact, the game recommends you end with one of these relaxation sessions – like Tai Chi Tutor – to warm-down.

When practicing your Tai Chi, the camera provides you with visible feedback on your positioning. You’ll instantly know whether you are a Tai Chi master, or a poor imitation whose body is not quite in the right position. The visible feedback lets you instantly improve your technique – it is as if a real teacher was watching and analysing any mistakes. It will be a disservice to compare this to any other game, because it feels so much more like a real training experience.

There are plenty of more fitness orientated exercises for you to enjoy (or endure), but the key to development is the ever-evolving exercise programmes. The better you get, the more intense the work-outs become.

Your-Shape-Punch

Your success at getting fit isn’t just at the mercy of the console either, as Your Shape also lets you check out your exercise achievements online. Head to YourShapeUp.com and you can see your progress on various exercise, as well as the calories you’ve burnt over a period of time. It’s like an achievement record for your gym-skills. Being able to keep track of your successes really adds to the lifespan of the game – you can make sure that you’re keeping yourself going and continuing to improve without guesswork or time-consuming record taking.

Aside from burning calories, some of the games are actually quite fun. The aforementioned board-balancing game is a bit like Tetris for the twenty-first century. The basics are simple, but there are plenty of strategies and techniques to make you a first-class player. For example, hold your arms higher to raise the board in the air, making the objects drop slowed. Drop your arms to your waist, and the games speeds up its block dropping. It’s then up to you to work out when to tip the blocks into the catchment areas.

Your Shape is a great example of gaming for a new market. The party-play may not be there (although board balancing can get quite competitive, especially when you are pitched against the insurmountable Super Chick), but never before has such an interactive exercising game existed. It should be the pin-up of the current crop of Kinect games – an interesting game that literally couldn’t exist without the Kinect technology.

Feeling flabby? Swap miCouch for Adidas miCoach

If your quest for New Year fitness has already taken a nosedive, Adidas has launched just the gadget to get your training back on track. miCoach is an interactive personal trainer which measures heart rate, pace, distance and stride and tells you when to speed up or slow down (safe to say the latter option on my unit won’t be breaking a sweat…)

Provided you don’t cheat, these real-time stats will keep you motivated and on course to achieve your goal. If you’re thinking this all rings a bell, you may recall miCoach’s 2008 practice run as part of a training system with Samsung mobile. Now breaking from the pack, the new miCoach trainer has a choice of systems to plan your ideal workout.

miCoach Pacer is an eager, lightweight fitness instructor, which plugs into your MP3 player to bark its verbal commands. It also has its own headphones if you don’t want to tarnish your prized player with flashbacks of mud-riddled limping sessions. It’s a smart-looking bit of kit, with two 3.5mm jacks so you can keep your sporty playlist running while miCoach coerces you through your paces.

The Pacer comes with a heart rate monitor and stride sensor. Simply do an “assessment run” and if that doesn’t put you off, miCoach will plan a workout schedule to train you through.

Check out the demo video:

You can save your Pacer results on the miCoach website to create personalised training plans, set fitness goals and see your progress over time. You can also choose a ready-made programme to help you on your quest – whether it be shedding that Christmas chocolate tin or chasing down a schooldays’ PB.

If you’re not quite ready to submit yourself to such intensive training, you might prefer the less invasive miCoach Zone. This colour-coded LED wristband measures your heart rate and other training stats to help you work at the most efficient intensity. This is your option if you just want a bit of guidance rather than enlist the type of coach that would iron your training kit and shovel your snow to make sure you didn’t miss a session. Zone doesn’t work with the website, but it’s got everything you need to get the most from those tentative spring runs.

miCoach – not one for the lardy-hearted, but a great selection of training gizmos for athletes and attitudes of all sizes. More info at http://micoach.adidas.com/