writing about tech

Tag: fitness (page 1 of 2)

25 Miles on a Bike with the Apple Watch and RunKeeper

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Introduction

I’ve been a bit obsessed with gadgets and fitness tracking since I discovered RunKeeper on the iPhone 3G in 2008. It wouldn’t run in the background, and it murdered my battery, but I still loved tracking the stats and maps of my walks and bike rides. It was primitive, and it was messy, but I had a taste of how gadgets could encourage me to be more fit, and I wanted more.

Since then, things have grown a bit more sophisticated, though still not as much as I’d like. Other tracking services came along, but I stuck with RunKeeper but, well, it has all my data, and I have a community on there. What I didn’t love about RunKeeper is that I had to fish out my phone every time I wanted to interact with it or view my current stats.

Enter the original Pebble. I was mildly intrigued by the possibility of notifications on my wrists, but I was excited to finally have an interface for RunKeeper. I missed the original Kickstarter, but managed to grab one at Best Buy, and it was my first step into a larger world.

I’ve also tried the Moto 360, and now the Apple Watch.  In addition, I use a Fitbit One, which is great as a generic fitness tracker and social platform, but generally a bit lacking when it comes to accurately tracking bike rides, and obviously can’t work with RunKeeper at all. My holy grail fitness tracker has always been one that could replace my Fitbit and my Pebble, could accurately track my heart rate,  all while still acting as a display for RunKeeper and performing other smartwatch-y functions.

The Ride

So, today, I took my new Apple Watch on a 25 mile bike ride to find out if it is truly the Chosen One. The short answer? Not quite – but it’s really, really close, and all-but-one of the failings are on the software level, not the hardware level – so things could change.

Let’s cover the hardware failing first – the first-gen Apple Watch has no built-in GPS. For many, that could very well be a deal-breaker. If you still have to carry your phone, why bother? Personally, I like to have my phone with me, especially on bike rides, in case something goes wrong. It’s also how I listen to podcasts – shout outs to The Adventure Zone and the Android Central Podcast for keeping me company today. So, relying on my phone’s GPS is just fine for me.

Software-wise, the biggest issue is that third-party apps can’t tap into the Apple Watch’s heart rate monitor, so I have to use both RunKeeper and the built-in Workout app if I want to get heart rate information. That’s the bad news. The good news is that a double-tap of the digital crown will switch between your last two apps, so it’s really easy to jump between RunKeeper and Workout. It makes it harder to manually pause my workouts, but both apps automatically pause if I stop for a short time, so that’s not a huge deal.

The other software issue is the RunKeeper watch app itself, which is the most bare-bones version of RunKeeper I’ve ever  it. The actual during-activity display is fine, but you can’t change the type of activity you want to do from the launch screen, so you have to dig out your phone for that. It’s a dumb limitation, and one I have to imagine will be fixed sooner rather than later, but if you try and use the app today, that’s what you get.

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That’s the bad stuff.  Now let’s talk about the good stuff, which is basically: everything else. It’s by-far the best smartwatch I’ve used for working out – it combines most of my favorite aspects of the Pebble and the 360, while correcting some of the issues with both.

Vs. The Pebble

The Pebble’s RunKeeper integration and fitness tracking functionality are appropriately simple. The RunKeeper app will display your current stats, and will pause the run if you hit the side button.  This is one case where the Pebble’s always-on interface truly shines, as I can always see my information and it’s always visible regardless of lighting conditions. The Pebble itself serves as a basic pedometer, which tracks my runs well enough, but fails when it comes to bike rides.  That, combined with the lack of a heart rate monitor, means it’s a fantastic RunKeeper display, but too basic as a fitness tracker.

Vs. The Moto 360

I’ve already extensively covered my use of the Moto 360 as a fitness tracker, so I’ll focus on the differences between it and the Apple Watch.  My biggest issue with the 360’s RunKeeper integration was that, while it kept the screen always on, it was usually too dim to see without tapping on the screen, and the usual “wake the watch up” wrist gesture wouldn’t work to turn the screen on. This is likely to save battery life, but having to tap every time I wanted to view my stats wasn’t a great experience.

The Apple Watch, in comparison, just times the display out like normal, which sounds worse, but there’s one major difference – you can set the Apple Watch to display the last-used app on wrist-raise, so your fitness stats are still just a glance away. While you can turn the display off on the 360, if you raise your wrist, you’re going back to the watch face, meaning the stats you care about at least a swipe and tap or two away. Not the end of the world, but also not ideal.

The other big difference is the heart rate monitor. While the 360 will passively monitor your heart rate during a workout, which is great, the Apple Watch goes one step further by surfacing that information and taking it more frequently, so you can accurately judge your level of effort mid-workout.

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While I don’t have the equipment to judge how accurate the heart rate info is,  but others who do have vouched for its accuracy:

At the end of three workouts, both the Polar and the watch reported similar average beats per minute. That’s far more accurate than the Fitbit Charge HR and Microsoft’s Band.

The only real issue here again seems to be software-related – while Apple uses the heart rate information to calculate calorie burn, it doesn’t seem to be surfaced anywhere else. I’d love to see how my heart rate varied during a workout.

Finally, battery drain during the workout was (obviously) more substantial than it is on the Pebble, but better than the 360, even with me constantly checking my  heart rate. Over the course of the nearly-two-hour bike ride, I lost about 30%, and I could probably mitigate that by not checking my wrist as often. The only real downside is that it means I’ll likely need to charge after a morning workout if I want to make it through the rest of the day, but that’s no different than my experience with the 360.

Other bits and pieces

Some other things of note:

  • The Exercise app and RunKeeper app recorded almost the exact same distance, which is unsurprising as I imagine the Exercise app is using the phone to calculate distance.

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  • Calorie burn between the Apple Watch and RunKeeper weren’t really in sync, though strangely, my Apple Watch and FitBit were quite close. I also like that the Apple Watch differentiates between Active and Resting calories. Given that the Watch has my heart rate information, I’d imagine its calorie estimation is more accurate.

 

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  • I love that the Apple Watch differentiates between reaching your active calorie burning goal and staying active the rest of the day. The fact that the Watch expects you to stand at least once an hour definitely calls out folks like me, who are inclined to go for a morning run or ride, but then use that as an excuse to remain mostly-stationary the rest of the day. In the image below, the blue circle screams: You spent two hours on the bike, and that’s awesome, but you aren’t done yet!

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  • Apple’s Activity app on both the phone and the watch is actually pretty slick, complete with Achievements, but it’s going to be fairly limited until some social aspect is incorporated – after all, what’s the point of earning trophies if I can’t compare those trophies with my friends? I could probably stop wearing my Fitbit at this point, except for the social ecosystem I’ve built there. It’s fun to compare my days and weeks with others, and competition encourages you to get just a little more movement in.
  • I was worried about screen visibility in the sunlight, but I was able to view my stats without a problem in Arizona’s morning Asun. Some of the illusion is lost, however, as you can easily see where the screen ends and the bezel begins, which is much harder to do when you’re indoors.

Conclusion

So, 25 miles later, where does that leave us?  I was expecting trade-offs similar to what I’ve seen with the Pebble and the Moto 360, and while there are a few, they are relatively minor, and nearly all of them can be fixed with software changes. It’s easily the most capable wrist-worn fitness tracker I’ve used, and we’re only day two into it being publicly available. It’s hard to imagine where we’ll be in a year or two, with or without new hardware. This is the first smartwatch I’ve worn that legitimately convinces me I could ditch my Fitbit, and I would, if it weren’t for the social aspects of Fitbit and the tie-in with MyFitnessPal, which I use to track calorie intake. Of course, if I lose my Fitbit, I’m much less likely to replace it now than I was before.

Here’s what I’d like to see in the future:

  • I won’t even need to start the Workout app, as the Watch will figure out what I’m doing based on accelerometer activity and track accordingly.
  • The RunKeeper app would be able to access the heart rate monitor, and I could view my heart rate data on RunKeeper the same way you can if you pair a heart rate monitor to your phone.
  • My active calorie burn information would be sent to MyFitnessPal, so that my calorie goals for the day would be adjusted accordingly.

Still, all of this is software. Hardware-wise, the pieces are already there for my ideal fitness wearable, and even today, it’s more capable than most-if-all of its direct competitors. Of course, it’s also more expensive, but, well, that discussion will have to wait until a full review.

(Addendum: I’d like to thank Apple on behalf of bloggers everywhere for providing an easy way to take and sync screenshots on an Apple Watch. No more awkwardly taking photos of my wrist for these sorts of posts!)

A new smartwatch has arrived

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A few (very, very quick) impressions:

  • Build quality, even on the Sport model, is unsurprisingly fantastic.
  • Setup process was fairly straightforward, though I continue to wonder how fast non-techies will take to it. Even something as simple as configuring your watch face may cause people to people stumble. Makes me wonder how many Apple Watches will be left on the default face configuration.
  • Speaking of faces: most of the built-in ones are actually pretty lame, though there are a few standouts, and you’ll probably find something you like. Solar, Astronomy, and Motion are all gorgeous, though none of them have complications, which limits their actual utility.
  • The UI seems mostly snappy, though it has the occasional Moto 360-esque hiccup. It’s smoother than I expected based on reviews, for whatever that’s worth.
  • Speaking of which – third-party app performance seems to vary, but generally are surprisingly different. From reviews, I expected a disaster, but most of the ones I care about (Wunderlist, Dark Sky, Alarm.com, Evernote) all seem perfectly usable.
  • still can’t believe there’s no Reminders app. Come on. At least I can use Wunderlist or Evernote for shopping lists, I suppose.

More impressions coming in the next few days! I’m excited to see how it holds up during a long bike ride, and if my leg is feeling better, I’ll take it out for a run soon. I’m also curious how it tracks my Just Dance “workouts”.

Misplace your FitBit? There’s (literally) an app for that

This morning, after my stationary bike workout, I misplaced my FitBit One. I knew it was either in my office (where the bike is) or my room, but I wasn’t sure which, and it’s small enough that it could’ve easily fallen in a corner somewhere. Unfortunately, there’s no “find my FitBit” feature on my phone – but it was still connecting to my phone via Bluetooth.

That’s when I got the idea to download an app that would show me Bluetooth signal strength – in my case BlueScan for Android, but there are certainly others for both iOS and Android. By looking at the signal strength, I was able to quickly determine which room it was in (the office) and where it was (on the floor next to my bike).

Signal strength low = not in the bedroom

Signal strength low = not in the bedroom

Signal strength high = probably in the office

Signal strength high = probably in the office

 

I figured this was a neat trick worth sharing, especially as more and more of us are carrying small, easy-to-misplace Bluetooth devices, whether it’s a fitness tracker, smartwatch, or headphones.

The Moto 360 and Fitness – Finale

I’ve already covered the Moto 360’s fitness tracking and RunKeeper integration in two previous posts, so I thought I’d finish up with  my notes on how the 360 performed over the weekend and some final thoughts:

  • Day 3: Outdoor run with RunKeeper running on my phone, but not actively using the Android Wear app, so the screen would turn off unless I explicitly turned it on.  Harder to get to my current stats that way, but better battery life, in-theory.  My findings:
    • I was able to start the run without even looking at my phone, just by saying “OK Google, start a run”.  Pretty great.
    • I had somewhat better battery life – down to 75% when I got home.  Lower than I expected, but not terrible.  Probably would’ve been closer to 80% if I hadn’t fiddled with it so much during the first half of the run.  So, I’d guess 4-5 hours on a run/ride if the screen is off and you only bring up the RunKeeper stats on-demand.
    • Discovered I can bring up the RunKeeper stats without any hand controls.  Lift watch to wake, say “OK Google, start RunKeeper”, see stats.  Still need a hand control to manually shut screen off, though.
  • Day 4: No RunKeeper, stationary bike indoors
    • No step tracking (expected) or heart rate info (strange and disappointing).  Hopefully the lack of heart rate info was just a fluke.
  • Day 5: No RunKeeper, treadmill indoors
    • Step tracking and heart rate info functioned as-expected
    • Battery dropped 6-7% during a one-hour run.  I’m beginning to suspect any accelerometer use, like walking/running/cycling, drains the 360’s battery a bit faster than being completely idle.  Still far better drain than seen during outdoor runs with RunKeeper, likely due to the lowered brightness of the screen indoors.

Overall, I’d say I’m more impressed with the Moto 360 as a fitness tracker than I expected to be.  I thought the pedometer and heart rate sensor would be nothing but gimmicks, but they seem to function quite well.  I’m especially impressed that the pedometer on the watch tracked my outdoor bike ride.  RunKeeper integration is about what I expected, especially coming from a Pebble, but I think the battery trade-off is worth it for the manual run controls available in Android Wear. I might still dig out my Pebble for, say, a half-marathon, but for my morning workouts, it’s more-than adequate. If RunKeeper can eventually tie into the data from the heart rate sensor, that’d be even better.

Is it enough to leave my FitBit at home?  Well…almost.  It’s so damn close it’s actually a little painful.  If the data from my watch could be made available to other services, like MyFitnessPal, then I’d say yes, definitely.  In fact, when my FitBit dies (or, more likely, I lose it), I may not bother to replace it, at least as long as I have the 360.  For now, though, there’s simply too much value in FitBit’s data ecosystem to give it up. A fitness device where the data can’t be shared is pretty useless to me, unfortunately.

As with the 360 itself, I have a ton of hope for the near future.  Android L should bring Google Fit, which should tie into Android Wear and give me a lot more to do with the data my 360 is already gathering.

The Moto 360 and RunKeeper – Cycling Addendum

I won’t bore you with reiterating my initial impressions of the Moto 360 as a fitness device, but I learned enough new things during a bike ride this morning that I thought it was worth sharing in a second post.

  1. Battery drain was about the same the second day, so it’s pretty consistent in that regard.
  2. I really wish there was a way to set the 360 so that pressing the physical button would wake the watch to whatever app you were using, rather than to the watch face, as I think a huge amount of battery life could be saved that way.  Considering I already have to tap the screen to make the RunKeeper UI readable in bright light anyway, this wouldn’t be any more trouble. I can, of course, still manually sleep/wake the device – and may try that on my next run to geta better feel for battery life when used that way – but then it requires more swipes to get back into the RunKeeper UI.
  3. The Moto 360 has outdone my FitBit in an important way – it surprisingly managed to count steps while bike riding, something I’ve only ever convinced my FitBit to do when it’s clipped to the very bottom of my bike shorts, near my knee.  I’ve never used a wrist-worn FitBit, but I’ve heard those aren’t very good at tracking bike rides, either.  I’ve been looking forever for a fitness device that would properly track my rides, and I may have finally found it.  Here’s an example of how they compared, with my FitBit worn as-described above:2014-09-11 08.31.17
  4. It seems as though the 360 once again passively recorded my heart rate, although there are two included apps used for heart rate monitoring, and they gave me conflicting info.  One, “Heart Activity”, seemed to think I’d done 30 minutes of exercise:2014-09-11 08.33.07 2014-09-11 08.33.18The other, Heart Rate, seems to think I’ve been Inactive the entire morning:2014-09-11 08.32.21
  5. This leads into my one major issue with the 360 as a fitness tracker, which is that it seems pretty great at collecting data, but not very good at aggregating it.  I’m hopeful this will change with the release of Google Fit in Android L, but right now, it’s confined to the watch and, apparently, Motorola’s servers, at least after I adopted in to the Wellness Profile section of the Motorola Connect app.  Until that data is used elsewhere, though, my FitBit will stay in my pocket, as I use it not just for the data, but for how that data interacts with services my MyFitnessPal.

Overall, I’m pretty optimistic about the possibilities of the Moto 360 as a fitness device.  I don’t think it will replace true dedicated all-fitness devices like an expensive GPS watch, but I can certainly see it replacing the need to carry both a smartwatch and an ambient fitness tracker.

I still have a few things I want to test – I want to see how the Moto 360 responds to my workouts on a treadmill and stationary bike, and I want to see how battery life performs for rides/runs if I manually toggle the display off.  My theory is that it will accurately record the treadmill and not the stationary bike, but I’ve already been pleasantly surprised, so who knows?  After all of that testing, I’ll make a final post with my findings – probably sometime early next week.

My morning with the Moto 360 and RunKeeper

I’m a strong believer in the union between technology and fitness; one of the things that sold me on the original Pebble was its RunKeeper integration.  It’s actually a little distressing how easy it is to convince me to buy a new gadget if I can somehow convince myself it’ll help me.  So, logically, one of the first things I did after I acquired my Moto 360 yesterday afternoon was take it out out on this morning’s run to compare it with Pebble’s performance in that same area.  Unfortunately, I can’t compare it to other Android Wear watches, as I haven’t used them.

My result?  Surprisingly good!  I’ll share my experiences in pro/con style:

Pros:

  • Unlike the Pebble RunKeeper app, I can start, pause, and end my run without taking my phone out of my pocket.  This is actually pretty important, considering I run with my dog, and she stops to…do her business a bit more often than I’d like.  Fumbling with a phone and a leash, while trying to pause my run, is not fun.
  • The Moto 360 tracks both steps and heart rate – the step count seems pretty comparable to my FitBit.  I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the heart rate, but it’s nice to know it’s being done.  I’m hopeful that, in the future, RunKeeper can actually incorporate that heart rate data into my run and display it as part of the graph, as it currently does with standalone heart rate monitors.  It was a nice surprise that it passively monitored my heart rate in the first place.

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  • Incoming notifications don’t interrupt my RunKeeper display, unlike they do with the Pebble.  My wrist still vibrates to let me know something knew has come in, but the RunKeeper display remains on top.
  • Battery life held up better than expected after the nightmare stories I’ve heard; it was down to about 65% when I got home, meaning it should last for about the length of a 3 hour bike ride or run – far longer than I usually do, though I have to wonder how well it’ll do during my upcoming half-marathon in January.  I’ll get a better sense for that once I start training in mid October.

 

Cons:

  • Although the 360’s display is always on when RunKeeper is active, it is also too dim to see in the morning Arizona sun.  Tapping the display is necessary if I want to view my elapsed time and pace.  On the Pebble, this isn’t an issue as the display is always active and has the same ambient brightness.  Since tapping the watch is necessary to view the display anyway, it’d be nice if there was an option to have the screen off until I tapped to view my current status.  I’m sure that’d save a lot of battery life.
  • The Pebble relies on a rarely-updating display to maintain good battery life, which is why watch faces with something as simple as an active second hand will noticeably reduce battery life.  So, while battery can drain on the Pebble can be pretty heavy during “live” activities like RunKeeper, I can be confident that the watch will still make it at least the rest of the day after my run or ride.  I’m not sure I can say the same thing about the 360.
  • The 360’s touchscreen gets pretty gross after even light interaction during an hour long run; an unavoidable reality of a watch with a touchscreen, but no less obnoxious.

 

Bonus battery info:

I’ll elaborate more on this in my upcoming review, but my rule with the 360 is that – thanks to the convenience of wireless charging – I’m fine charging it whenever my Pebble would naturally be off my wrist anyway.  This includes:

  1. When I’m sleeping.
  2. Sometimes, when I get home from work.
  3. When I shower in the morning.

#3 is notable, as that’s what I did this morning – dropped the 360 onto its charger right after my run, so it could get a boost while I was getting ready for work.  During the 20 minutes this took, the 360 charged up 27%.  That was far better than I’d expected:

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Overall, I came away more impressed with the 360-as-a-fitness-device than I expected to be.  I’ve long said my ideal wearable would be a Pebble with a microphone combined with the functionality of a FitBit.  While the 360 isn’t quite enough for me to leave the house without my FitBit, it’s damn close – and if MyFitnessPal incorporates Android Wear data the same way it incorporates FitBit data, then the time may finally come where the FitBit can stay at home.

The only real question is how the 360 performs while biking, since I imagine I’ll be less comfortable tapping the display to wake it when I’m biking than when I’m running.  Of course, that’s a post for tomorrow.

Deprecated Post: My love letter to the JayBird BlueBuds X

When creating my new section, The Elite, I searched for my post about the JayBird BlueBuds and quickly realized I’d never actually posted it on this blog, so here it is.  These headphones are just the best, you guys.  

The following was originally posted on The Verge’s forums on November 9th, 2013.

Introduction

Let’s talk about the JayBird BlueBuds X Bluetooth headphones.

I hate to start posts with disclaimers, but I thought it was important to cover a couple of things right off the bat: I was originally going to call this a “review”, but that’s not really fair, because it’s mostly just me gushing. Enough people have asked me about them, though, that I felt it was worth putting my thoughts down. I will cover the negatives, of course, but I’m not even going to pretend this will be remotely balanced. It’s also important to note that I would never be mistaken for an audiophile – but that probably goes without saying, as I don’t think a true audiophile would be caught dead with Bluetooth headphones. For me, the convenience of wireless headphones has always outweighed any loss in audio quality.

So, with that out of the way – let’s get started.

The Good

I listen to music and podcasts basically all the time, so I’m pretty picky about my headphones – I need a pair of headphones that are just as usable and comfortable when I’m sitting at my desk at work as they are when I’m running on the treadmill or walking my dog. They also, preferably, need to last long enough on a charge that I don’t need to stop and charge them halfway through the day – I don’t need to add my headphones to the list of devices whose battery I worry about.

The Motorola S305 headphones used to be my go-to Bluetooth headphones – and I still think they’re a great value for the price – but there were still things that bugged me about them. I lost several pairs to sweat while working out; I actually reached the point where I kept an extra pair around at all times for when I inevitably lost another pair to a workout. They aren’t exactly bulky, but they aren’t super-portable, either – since they’re rigid, you can’t easily put them into a pocket . The first two are deal-breakers for me for many situations; I couldn’t just take them out in public anywhere, and I gave up on trying to use them in any capacity while exercising. Certain devices didn’t get along with them as well as others – most notably my MacBook Air and my Vita. The latter was especially annoying, as I’d really looked forward to having a handheld console that worked with Bluetooth headphones.

So why am I talking about the S305 when this is supposedly a post about the BlueBuds X? Because all my issues with the S305s are a thing of the past. The BlueBuds are small and convenient enough to how with me basically anywhere, yet somehow have a battery life greater than the S305. I seriously believe some sort of dark magic is involved.

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Where is your battery?!  Where is it?!?  ARE YOU A WITCH?!?

Also unlike the S305, “basically anywhere” thankfully covers my indoor and outdoor runs and bike rides. The Bluebuds have a lifetime warranty against sweat damage, and more dark magic that protects them against the elements:

To further enhance our Lifetime Warranty Against Sweat,
BlueBuds X feature Liquipel Sweat Repellant Nano Technology.
A super hydrophobic process that provides the BlueBuds X with
added protection from exposure to sweat and the elements.

Finally, I’ve yet to find a device that the Bluebuds wouldn’t pair effortlessly with. iPad Mini? Yup. HTC One? Of course. Nexus 7? You know it. PS Vita? Surprisingly great. MacBook? Easy peasy.

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I LOVE EVERYONE!

I am constantly switching between devices, so being able to easily change what device my Bluebuds are connected is a pretty big deal to me. I’ve dealt with too many Bluetooth devices – headphones or otherwise – that were a pain to pair with multiple devices, so it’s refreshing to finally have something that Just Works ™ in that regard.

I would also say their range seems better than any other pair of Bluetooth headphones I’ve used. I can go basically anywhere in my (admittedly small) house and retain a connection, without any skipping or degradation of quality. Currently, they’re connected to my Nexus 7, located in the middle of my house, and I went from typing this outside on the patio to upstairs and back again without issue. I can’t ask for much more than that.

The controls are also wisely placed, and so far they’ve worked perfectly with any device I’ve tried. The only complaint I have is that I can only view the device’s battery meter on an iOS device – nothing else seems to support it. My suspicion is that this isn’t a problem with the BlueBuds themselves, though.

I almost didn’t mention it, but in case anyone was curious – on the rare occasion I’ve used the BlueBuds to make or receive a phone phone, they’ve worked fine. Audio quality wasn’t particularly good or particularly bad, and people didn’t seem to have any trouble understanding me. I’m probably not the best person to ask about this, though, as I avoid talking on the phone whenever possible.

Speaking of audio quality – as I mentioned before, I am not an audiophile, so all I can really say is that these headphones sound as good, or better, than any pair of Bluetooth or wired headphones I’ve ever owned. I’ve never owned high-end wired headphones though, so take that for whatever it’s worth. While they don’t have any sort of active noise cancellation, I’ve never had issue with ambient noise overpowering them – much to the dismay of my co-workers when they try to get my attention.

Comfort-wise, I have no complaints – with one important caveat that we’ll get to in the next section – suffice it to say that, more than once, I’ve actually forgotten I had the headphones on. You can wear them either “over ear” or “under ear” – I’ve found I greatly prefer the under ear configuration.

The Bad

So, about that comfort thing – while the Bluebuds conveniently come with three sizes of earphone tips, my ears just didn’t agree with the silicon material they’re made of. I couldn’t wear them for more than an hour or two at most without needing to take a break. Fortunately, a bit of Google research led me to Comply’s T-500 Isolation Earphone Tips which are relatively-cheap foam-based earphone tips that, essentially, saved the Bluebuds for me.

It’s fair to ask how I can be so positive about a product that required another product before I considered them 100% usable, but I wouldn’t (and don’t) blame JayBird for this – I’m sure there are people who can painlessly use the included earphone tips, I’m just not one of them.

The Ugly

$137.94. While I truly believe you get what you pay for with these headphones, the price can still be a difficult pill to swallow, especially if your use cases for headphones aren’t as broad as mine. If you just want something for work and for using around the house, I think the S305s are still a great choice.

Conclusion

There are precious few devices that I recommend to others without hesitation or qualification, and the BlueBuds managed to slide into that esteemed category almost without me even noticing. I honestly delayed writing this for awhile, largely because I enjoy them so much that it was hard to write anything that wasn’t just BUY THEM BUY THEM BUY THEM. It’s the same reason I don’t review something like my router or my cable modem – because when technology works well enough, you stop consciously thinking about it.

It is no exaggeration to say I rarely leave the house without taking the BlueBuds with me, whether they are in my ears, dangling around my neck, or stashed away in a pocket. It’s a special type of technology that painlessly dissolves itself into your everyday life and, honestly, that’s the highest compliment I can pay to any device.

Deprecated Post: An iPad lover’s take on the Nexus 7

Deprecated posts are where I revisit popular posts I made on other sites.  Depending on the amount of time that’s passed, some of what is written may no longer be relevant, but I believe much of what is covered in these posts is still worthy of discussion.

This is another precursor to an upcoming post about my current “fitness ecosystem”.  The Nexus 7 has largely been successful in replacing the iPad, at least when it comes to being a “workout companion”.  The biggest issue I’ve had since the latest update is unreliable Bluetooth connections, but at least I have a functional – if annoying – workaround in the form of a 3.5mm Bluetooth transmitter I originally got to use with my 3DS.

The following was originally posted on The Verge’s forums on November 14th, 2013.

Introduction

About a year and a half ago, I made the move from iPhone to Android via the One X. In my post detailing my reasons why, I said:

I am still an Apple fan (despite some decisions in iOS6 that I find questionable), and plan to stick with the iPad as my tablet platform for at least the next few years

Well, you know the saying…no plan survives contact with the enemy. In this, the “enemy” was the one-two punch of Apple pricing the retina iPad Mini outside of what I considered to be reasonable, and the presence of a much cheaper, well-received Android tablet with a similarly great screen.

Enter the Nexus 7.

First, let’s establish what kind of tablet user I am. I started with the original iPad. I’m not going to lie, I was in line with the rest of the haters, calling it an oversized iPad Touch. Within a few months, I gave in, because I decided that, if nothing else, it was best device for reading and watching videos while working out. I rewatched most of Babylon 5 over the course of a few months on the elliptical. While I flirted with the idea of using my iPad for productivity – going so far as to buy a Bluetooth keyboard and, later, a Logitech keyboard case – I was never really able to make it work.

I still believe that tablets, iPads and otherwise, can be used for productivity – it’s just not ideal for me. If I have to do anything productivity-related, I’d rather just bring for my laptop – my 13-inch MacBook Pro is not so much heavier that it’s a burden to bring it instead of the larger iPad – and either way, I have to throw it in a bag. If I have to carry a bag, I may as well bring the device with the most power, especially now that Haswell-powered laptop have battery life comparable to (and sometimes even exceeding) tablets.

Now, I admit freely that I wasn’t a very good iPad user; I never really used the devices to their full potential, because I just didn’t have the need to. The exception is gaming, but even in that case, I have enough other devices dedicated to gaming that the tablet is usually my last resort. My iPad had an amazing game library that I just never had a chance to leverage. I eventually came to realized that the majority of the time, I use a tablet as an eBook reader with a bit more functionality – a color Kindle that can run apps, play videos and music, and connect to the internet. The problem was, if I wanted it to replace my Kindle, it had to be small enough that it could leave my house without carrying a bag.

Last year, I sold my iPad 3 for an iPad Mini, and, other than the screen, I was pretty satisfied. I got the smaller tablet I wanted, and the iPad ecosystem I was already invested in. Unfortunately, it started to feel like it got slower and slower over time, especially with the release of iOS7. Perhaps it was actually iOS7, or perhaps it was just a negative-placebo, but the experience was because more and more frustrating:

All of that said, part of me thinks if I’m going to put up with instability and slightly-stuttery performance, I may as well the added functionality of Android. The benefits of iOS for me have always been performance, reliability, and ecosystem – and I feel like iOS7 has reduced two of those.

Frustrated with the Mini, and craving a higher-resolution screen for reading, I decided to play the waiting game and see what Apple brought to the table at their iPad event. While I was impressed with the hardware (as always), I was less-than-impressed with the pricing of the Retina iPad Mini, especially when compared to the competition. I already felt the $329 was pushing it with the original iPad Mini, so $399 was right out. After some debate, I decided to sell my iPad Mini and put the money toward most (or all) of a Nexus 7. I figured, worst-case-scenario, I’d take the Nexus 7 back.

 

Hardware

The Good

There’s a lot to like about the Nexus 7. The hardware isn’t necessarily Apple-class, but it’s solid enough – it definitely feels like a more expensive device – and the plastic reminds me of the plastic on the One X, which I loved. It’s thin and light weight, and doesn’t feel cheap, which is all I can really ask for – really more than I can ask for, given the price. I also think the placement of the power button on the side makes more sense than the iPad’s top-mounted power button. Finally, it’s nice to be able to get a bump from 16 to 32 gigs for only $40 as opposed to $100.

The screen, as others have mentioned, is amazing – other than size, it appears as though it’s even better than the retina iPad Mini, although I’ll wait to see Anandtech’s analysis before proclaiming that as absolute truth.

Wireless charging has turned out to be cooler than I expected. It’s certainly a gimmick, because it’s a useful gimmick. I got a couple of Nokia DT910 Charger Stands – one for the office and one for my bedroom – and it’s really, really convenient. I love to read in bed, so being able to reach over and put the Nexus on a charger without plugging anything in is pretty brilliant.

Nexus7chargingstand_medium

Wirelesschargingbedroom_medium

Convenience!

Now, it’s not such an amazing feature that I wouldn’t buy a device without it, but it will certainly factor into my purchasing decisions in the future.

The size is ideal in some ways and not in others. My iPad Mini was almost a little too big – I was rarely able to find a pocket that would fit it, meaning I often had to bring a small bag to carry it. The Nexus 7 is, perhaps, closer to a really, really big phone than a tablet…but for my needs, that’s okay. There was certainly a bit of an adaptation period where I got used to browsing the web in the comparatively-cramped landscape view, but again, I got used to it. I also prefer using the Nexus 7 in portrait when compared to the iPad Mini. I miss the 4:3 aspect ratio when reading, but not when watching video, so it’s kind-of a toss-up.

One other thing about the hardware – even the WiFi models have GPS, which has been surprisingly useful for two of my hobbies. The first is biking – it’s nice to have RunKeeper running on a device with a huge battery, so that my phone doesn’t have to take the hit. The Nexus 7 is small enough that it fits in the back pockets of my cycling jersey. The other is geocaching – obviously you have to download the cache information when you have Internet access, but once you have it downloaded, it works just fine as an offline GPS. Again, this is great for battery-related reasons.

 

The Bad

Speaking of WiFi…the Nexus 7’s is generally pretty good, but for some reason, it occasionally won’t see my Wireless N network. It can connect to the Wireless G network just fine, so it’s not a deal breaker, but it’s an unnecessary frustration. A reboot fixes it, but I really shouldn’t have to deal with it at all.

My other complaint: given the size of the Nexus 7’s screen, I am definitely looking forward to more apps adopting KitKat’s immersion mode, especially the Kindle app – software buttons have no place taking up screen space in games and eBooks. I’m still torn on the idea of software buttons in general, but so far they’re been tolerable. It’s one less moving part to break, at least, but in some cases, I just want them to go away. Hopefully developers will take care of that.

 

The Ugly

Those top and bottom bezels. Functionally they’ve grown on me, as they’re nice “handles” when using the device in landscape, but visually, they’re still pretty hideous.

 

Software

The Good

It’s Android on a tablet, for better or worse. As a mobile operating system, I generally prefer Android to iOS, for a variety of reasons. I won’t go into detail again, since I’ve covered those reasons before. Instead, I’ll focus on tablet-specific aspects of the OS.

After reading all the horror stories about the app ecosystem, I was prepared for it to be underwhelming – but so far, I’ve found that a decent number of the apps I use daily – YouTube, Chrome, Falcon Pro, Google+, Foursquare, Hangouts, Gmail, Kindle, Google Keep, Hulu Plus, Google Play Music, Pocket Casts, Flipboard, and MightyText – are all tablet-optimized. MightyText is worth a special mention, as it’s super-convenient to be able to text from my tablet if my phone isn’t handy. Again, it’s not necessarily worth buying an Android tablet just for MightyText, but it’s certainly a selling point.

Of course, just as many apps, including major ones like Facebook and Twitter, aren’t optimized – and, no lie, it sucks. Fortunately, on a 7-inch screen, a blown-up phone app isn’t too terrible – in fact, I prefer the blown-up phone app to the way the iPad handles non-iPad apps. Those are fewer and fewer every day, of course, but a couple apps I used pretty regularly on the iPad weren’t optimized. RunKeeper was perhaps understandable, but to this day I still don’t know why Any.Do doesn’t have an iPad app – using it on the iPad was not a fun experience.

One of the more frustrating things to me about the iPads I’ve owned is that they seem really,really eager to kill any suspended apps. On too many occasionally, I would start typing in an app, load another app or two, then return to that app and find my work gone. Also, the less said about Safari tab reloading, the better. I’ve heard the argument that Android devices needs more RAM than iOS devices, and perhaps that’s true to some extent, but it still makes for a much, much better multitasking experience. I’ve used iPads for so long that it still kind-of amazes me to jump back 6 or 7 apps in my recent list and find the app still sitting in memory. I can understand the desire for iPhones to kill background processes faster to save battery, but there’s no reason an iPad should have that limitation. If Apple really wants iPads to be productivity devices, they need more RAM.

I have no complaints about performance, either. It’s certainly snappier than my iPad Mini, and didn’t seem to fall too far behind my co-worker’s retina iPad Mini on day to day tasks. Certain Android apps (cough, Chrome, cough) are still a problem, but nothing that hinders my standard usage.

Then there’s the little things: I’ve never considered being able to access the file system a big deal on a phone, but for some reason it feels more substantial on a tablet – combined with the improved multitasking it helps make it feel more like a real computer and less like a giant iPod Touch. I still love what I can do with my home screens in Android, and Action Launchercontinues to be my favorite example of what Android can really do when a talented developer can put their mind to it. It allows my phone and tablet home screens to be simple but powerful:

Nexus7homescreen_medium

I don’t want to dive too deep into minutia surrounding Action Launcher, but Covers and Shutters are two of my favorite features in any Android app. It allows me to leverage the power of folders widgets without actually having to clutter my screen with folders and widgets, and that makes me a very happy user.

Also, DashClock, you guys. DashClock. If you don’t have it installed, and you’re running Android 4.2 or higher…just do it. Trust me. It replaces so many other widgets, and does so in such an elegant way, that I don’t understand why it’s not just built into Android at this point.

 

The Bad

It’s Android on a tablet, for better or worse. Perhaps the most frustrating software issue I discovered is that, after some period of time on a wireless charger, every app that wasn’t in memory would force close when I tried to open it. Only a reboot would fix the problem. The Nexus 4 apparently suffers from the same issue, as documented here. Fortunately, it appears to have been resolved when I installed KitKat, but this is the sort of issue you’d never see on an iOS device. It’s not that iOS devices don’t have issues, but something that can easily be replicated on any Nexus 7 (I tried two) is something that should never have been released.

My other major issue: I have not had a terribly good experience with typing on the Nexus 7. This is actually fairly surprising to me, as I type far faster on my Android phone than I ever did on my iPhone, especially with SwiftKey. For whatever reason, that hasn’t translated well to the 7-inch form factor. I also don’t think I could sit the Nexus 7 on a stand and type on the landscape keyboard quickly, the same way I did with my iPad Mini on a few occasions. The keyboard experience is certainly serviceable, but given my phone experience, I expected better.

 

The Ugly

I’m not a terribly big fan of the stock Android launcher, even the Google Experience one. It’s just too feature-less compared to any custom launcher you’d install, and Android app icons are pretty incongruous when you don’t have an icon pack installed. It’s perfectly usable, but basically every alternative out there is superior, both functionally and visually.

This isn’t Android’s fault, but I miss the iOS ecosystem. Even if I didn’t leverage it, it was always there as a safety net. I also liked having a foot in both major mobile ecosystems, which makes me wonder if I might eventually return to an iPhone or an iPad in a couple of years – I certainly don’t rule it out. It would be easier to swallow owning an iPhone if I had an Android tablet as a back-up. Still, in many ways, the Android devices compliment each other in ways that an iPhone and an iPad don’t – often thanks to the work of third-party apps like MightyText – and I would miss that if I moved to an iPhone. I’m interested to see where the next couple of years go, both hardware and software wise, for Apple.

 

The Bottom Line

I love this thing, the same way I loved my iPads before it. My biggest fear is that it won’t last the 2 or 3 years I’m hoping it will as, frankly, I am tired of jumping between tablets.

A year and a half ago, I wrote:

Before the One X, I always thought my first Android device would be a tablet – I would argue to others, before having used both as a daily driver, that Android would make a better tablet OS and iOS would make a better phone OS, because above all you need a phone to be reliable. Now, post-ICS, I would say my positions have actually switched – Android (and WP 7) both excel at getting to information quickly through widgets and Live Tiles respectively, which is my primary use for a smartphone other than communication. Tablets, on the other hand, are generally used when I want to focus on a single task at a time (like draft this post or catch up on Google Reader). I don’t really need widgets or Live Tiles with a tablet OS, because I’m not going to be taking my tablet out of my pocket to check the weather or update Facebook. That’s not to say they don’t have any value, just that I don’t think information-at-a-glance is as useful on a tablet OS – not that I’d mind having a dashboard on my iPad.

Actually owning an Android tablet has changed my mind a bit. I still think glanceable information is more useful on a phone, but I certainly see the value of it on a tablet, too, especially when it sits next to me at work or on my night stand.

I’m using the tablet in ways I didn’t anticipate, either – when I’m on WiFi, especially at home or work, my phone now generally stays in a dock or in my pocket, while I use the Nexus 7 for everything else. The iPad Mini was never really like that for me – part of that is just the joy of using a new device, I’m sure, another part of it is my preference of stock Android – but the biggest change is that I can do nearly everything I do with my phone – including texting – from my tablet. The only thing I can’t do is make phone calls. An iPad simply can’t do that for me, at least not yet.

I’m not going to lie; after years of using iOS, it’s a bit strange to be all-in with Android. I’m not sure it will last, depending on what Apple and Microsoft do (and how much the Android ecosystem evolves) in the next couple of years – but right now, this finally feels like the right combination of devices, and that’s really all a gadget nerd like me can ask for.

Wii Tennis: Like riding a bike

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a little nostalgic when I fired up my Wii for some light exercise this morning – Gold’s Gym Cardio Workout and Wii Sports (well, mostly Tennis and Boxing) are still two of the best ways to have fun and get your heart rate up.  I’m a bit annoyed I didn’t get around to setting up my Wii sooner, since Wii Tennis is better than Kinect Sports Tennis by a pretty wide margin.

Most importantly, I’m still the undisputed Wii Tennis champion.

2014-07-03 08.24.43

Nexus 5 + Chromecast = Wii?

Polygon writes:

A prototype for the Wii Sports-like iPhone app Motion Tennis has been designed for use on Nexus 5 mobile devices using Chromecast’s mirroring feature.

Last year, developer Rolocule brought the tennis game to Apple users using App TV and iPhone AirPlay Mirroring so that players can use the handset as a makeshift tennis racket. The company is doing the same thing using Google’s Chromecast, a digital media player developed by Google, which features a screen mirroring system.

Considering I just dragged my Wii out of storage to fire up games like Wii Sports and Gold’s Gym Cardio Workout to supplement my exercise routine, this is pretty cool. That said, I’m not sure I’d be comfortable waving my phone around with the same amount of vigor I would a Wiimote.

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