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Tag: runkeeper

My favorite Apple Watch apps so far

Someone asked what my favorite Apple Watch apps were so far, and I boiled it down to this core list:

* RunKeeper, in tandem with the Exercise app. I like being able to control my GPS-driven workout app from my wrist. Being able to switch between them with a double-click of the Digital Crown is a nice touch.

* Overcast. I usually just control podcast playback from the media controls Glance, but sometimes I want more control, or sometimes my iPhone will get confused and play music instead of a podcast.

* Dark Sky. I find I use its Glance rather than the Weather glance, and I find its functionality – a detailed forecast for the next hour and the rest of the day – complimentary to the built-in Weather app’s function of giving me a longer-term forecast.

* Wunderlist. Love this app. I use both the Glance and the app to check for my to-do list. Great for shopping, too.

* Shazam. Now that I can launch Shazam right from my wrist, I actually use it again.

I have some others installed, but those are the only ones I’d qualify as a must-have. Deliveries almost makes the cut, but I don’t need to check my package status often enough to open the app more than one or twice a day, much less use the Glance.

I will say that having a Watch app available means I am more likely to try out app out – for example, I knew Overcast and Deliveries both existed for awhile, and I’d heard great things about both, but didn’t bother to try them out until I heard they had Watch apps. Now, I use and love both services.

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!)

Not quite Fit for consumption: Google Fit impressions

When I shared my experiences with the Moto 360 and RunKeeper, my biggest frustration was that the valuable fitness data that was being collected by the device wasn’t actually going anywhere, and instead lived only on the device itself in the form of a card that gave me my daily step totals, and a notification that I’d hit my daily heart rate goal.   At the time, I figured Google Fit was the solution to this data-siloing.  Fortunately, it appears I was correct – Google Fit can, in fact, download data from my Moto 360.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to do much else of value.

So what is Google Fit?  That’s…actually a frustratingly difficult question to answer. Ideally, it’s supposed to be a silo for all your fitness data – so the data gathered by my Moto 360 and RunKeeper could live in the same place as data gathered by my FitBit and Withings scale, all of that coming together in a glorious data-gasm that would, in theory, paint a fairly accurate picture of my personal activity.  Looking at their announcement, they claim:

You can also connect your favorite fitness devices and apps like Strava, Withings, Runtastic, Runkeeper and Noom Coach to Google Fit and we’ll surface all of the relevant data in one spot, giving you a clear and complete view of your fitness. No need to check one app to see your weight and another to review a run – with Google Fit, that data will all be surfaced in one, simple place.

Great, awesome, let’s do this thing.  What services are currently available?

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Oh, good, a list of Fit-friendly apps.  Let me just click on that link, and…

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…what the fuck?  When I first saw this, I ignored it as launch day hiccup, but as I sit writing this two days later, all I can think is…what the fuck?  I imagine no Google Fit-compatible apps are available just yet, but there’s still no reason to link to a dead page.  That shit is amateur hour.

So, unfortunately, at this point, all Google Fit really seems to do is gather data from my 360 and sync it to the web.  Poorly.

So close, but so far.  Wait, not close at all.

Yesterday: So close, but so far. Wait, nope, not close at all.

Today: Better, but still pretty terrible.

Today: Better, but still pretty terrible for a modern web service.

Perhaps I’m coming across as overly harsh here, but it’s important to remember that this isn’t a start-up company with their first fitness product, this is Google, and web services are kind of their whole thing.  There’s absolutely no reason for my phone app and the website to be so outrageously out of sync.

The good news: my Nexus 5 and Moto 360 get along great.  The Steps card has been replaced with more health info, as seen here:

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Nothing to complain about here, and as I’ve mentioned before, I continue to be impressed by the fact that the Moto 360 (and thus Google Fit) can track bike rides and runs, something my FitBit can only do if I wear it at the bottom of my bike shorts, near the knee.  I believe it’s forward-motion based, however, which means it doesn’t work on my stationary bike, and I’ve heard reports of people driving incredibly slow in traffic and having Google Fit log that as cycling minutes. Whoops.

Unfortunately, that’s about where the positive section ends.  I mentioned running and bike rides…and those are two of the three activities Google Fit can track, the third being walking.  That’s it – even if you add an activity manually:

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Yup, that’s all anyone ever does! No other type of workout is possible.

It probably goes without saying at this point, but by-far the biggest problem with Google Fit is that it just doesn’t do anything of value.  It asks for my height and weight, but doesn’t give me any sort of calorie burn.  It lets me manually enter activities, but I better hope I didn’t go hiking or swimming.  I can view charts, but those charts provide me very little of value:

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What value does that data have?  Why does this chart even exist?

Compare it to the charts I get from FitBit’s website:

Holy shit! Useful data!

Holy shit! Useful data! Literally every one of these is more useful than what Google Fit tried to stuff into their single graph.

The only thing I can think of is that this was rushed out the door to go along with the Android 5.0 release, but there’s still no excuse for such a low-quality, barebones product from a company like Google.  The fact that none of the partner apps are even ready just underscores the lack of care and polish in this release.

It’s not that Google hasn’t stumbled before, but usually they at least bring something new and exciting to the table.  Android Wear is still basically beta software, but it also does things other wearable software doesn’t, and it has so much potential.  Meanwhile, Google Fit, at least inn its current form, seems to exist just for the sake of existing, and that’s not enough in a world with Apple HealthKit and, more recently, Microsoft Health.  Health, in particular, seems to basically be everything Google Fit should be, but somehow isn’t:

Microsoft Health is a cloud-based service that helps you live healthier by providing actionable insights based on data gathered from the fitness devices and apps that you use every day. Activity-tracking devices like the new Microsoft Band, smart watches, and mobile phones plus services like RunKeeper or MyFitnessPal connect easily to Microsoft Health. Using this fitness data and our Intelligence Engine in the cloud, Microsoft Health provides valuable, personal insights so you can reach your fitness goals.

Microsoft Health is designed to work with you, no matter what phone you have, device you wear, or service you use. The power of the cloud platform lies in its ability to combine the data from all the devices and services you use to give you a more holistic and insightful picture of your fitness.

Google Fit’s only real use for me is that it interfaces with Android Wear, and now, it looks like Microsoft Health might do that, too.  There’s absolutely no reason that Google Fit couldn’t have been this, but Microsoft has beaten them to the punch in a dramatic way.

know Google can do better than this, and that’s perhaps why this frustrates me so much.  It’s not that they did their best, strived for something new and exciting, and then failed – that, at least, would have been an admirable failure.  Instead, Google has done something I’ve never seen them do – release a product with almost no potential value to my life, and while I acknowledge that it will almost certainly get better in the next year, as they add more functionality and more partner apps come onboard, that’s no excuse for releasing it in the state it’s in today.

Google Fit is now available!

When I wrote about my experiences with the Moto 360 and RunKeeper, one of the major downsides is that the data collected by the watch was stuck in the watch itself and unavailable on the phone.

Today, that’s changed with the official release of Google Fit.  Stay tuned in the coming days for more on how well the Moto 360 cooperates with Google Fit.  Thus far, I’ve found that it didn’t bring in the hour-long run I did this morning, so I’m essentially starting from scratch, which is unfortunate, but hopefully it’s just a one-time hiccup.

More to come soon!

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.

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