Personal Technology–Garmin Forerunner 35 Part 2

Garmin Forerunner 35
Garmin Forerunner 35

If you haven’t read Part 1 of this series on the Garmin Forerunner 35, you can find it here

What Can This Thing Do for Me?

Because there are now so many options available for tracking physical fitness, I needed to come up with some criteria for making a decision. Whatever fitness tracker I decided to get, the following were essential:

  • Track steps
  • Have a wrist-based heart-rate sensor
  • Display notifications reliably
  • Have device-based GPS rather than connected GPS
  • Have decent battery life
  • Look relatively okay
  • Sync well with things like My Fitness Pal
  • Be less than $200.00

Having settled on what the device absolutely needed to do, I came up with extras which would be nice to have, but weren’t essential.  This list (and it’s not like I wrote all this down, but I kept it in mind) included:

  • Count floors climbed
  • Be waterproof
  • Be able to connect to a chest-strap heart monitor for HIIT since really intense fitness activities tend to mess wrist-based sensors somewhat
  • Display more notifications than simply phone calls, such as emails, calendar notices, and text messages
  • Have a color touch screen
  • Have GLONASS
  • Alert me when I need to get up from my desk and move around a little bit–I have a very comfy chair, and it’s easy to get lost in work for hours at end…

With these criteria in mind, I started my research.

No Smart Watches

Limiting myself to spending no more than $200 meant that smart watches were all but excluded from consideration. This didn’t disappoint me. The Apple Watch interests me very little, and the only version I would even consider–based on my criteria–would be the 42 mm Series 2, since only the Series 2 has on-device GPS.  But it’s $400, twice what I wanted to spend. Other offerings like the Moto360 Sport, LG Watch Sport, and Samsung Gear S2–while sometimes within my price range depending on what discounts retailers decide to offer–still didn’t tempt me much.

Android Wear-based smart watches probably work great with Android phones. Connectivity with iPhones, though, is a different matter. And while Android Wear 2.0 supposedly is going to work even better with iPhones in the future, some watches–like the Moto360 Sport–aren’t going to receive it.

Also, smart watches don’t meet my essential criteria of having decent battery life.  The Apple Watch supposedly gets a day-and-a-half on a charge, which really means you need to charge it every night or bring a charger with you to work. Other smart watches suffer the same constraints.

On top of that, I really don’t need the things a smart watch offers. I don’t call Ubers, I don’t play games on my watch, I don’t need to reply to notifications from my watch (though I could see that being something that could be useful, I suppose) and I don’t need to make calls from my watch. I’m 40 years old, and so I’m less interested in futzing with a device, and more interested in it just doing a few specific things.

Form Factor

Removing smart watches from the equation freed me up to decide on what form factor I wanted. Did I want a device that looked like a watch, or one that looked like a band? I was initially somewhat ambivalent, but I was also aware that bands have the high potential to look like shackles. The Microsoft Band and Band 2.0, for example, always intrigued me, but I couldn’t get past just how bulky they looked. (Not to mention the fact that both Bands had reliability problems with their straps breaking apart).

As far as bands go, FitBit made its name by getting its bands on so many wrists. And they offer a ton of bands.  The Flex 2, Alta, Alta HR, Charge 2, and even the Surge are strappy devices. The lack of on-board GPS, though, counted strongly against FitBit. That and the reliability problems I had with the Charge’s strap–even though FitBit cheerfully sent me a replacement as soon as I told them my first one broke.

Polar, maker of the FT7 that I liked so much, also makes a couple of bands. These are the A360 and the Loop Crystal, and they’re both a little long in the tooth.  And neither offers GPS, so I decided to remove Polar from consideration.  At least as far as bands go.

Another band maker with a good reputation is Garmin, who seems to have found a way to survive the death of the stand-alone GPS navigation systems that were so popular before Google Maps came to smart phones.

Garmin has a dizzying variety of bands: the vivofit jr. (really intended for kiddos), the vivosmart HR, the vivosmart HR+, the vivofit 3, the vivoactive HR (it’s kinda bandy…), and now, the vivosmart 3.  Of these, the only ones that I was interested in were the vivosmart HR+ and the vivoactive HR, because these were the only ones with GPS.

The vivosmart HR+ initially looked like it would be the device for me. It has a built-in heart rate monitor and GPS. It’s waterproof, it tracks steps and floors climbed, receives notifications, syncs with My Fitness Pal, doesn’t look ugly, costs less than $200, has decent battery life, and nudges me to get up and move.  What I didn’t like, however, is that it does not connect to an external strap-based heart-rate sensor for when I want to do HIIT. Which I will definitely be doing. Also, I was concerned about just how accurate the heart-rate monitoring would really be in such a relatively small device. So I removed it from consideration, and considered the vivoactive HR strongly, since it’s an even more capable device, connects to an external heart-rate sensor, and is available refurbished on Amazon for about $165 (it’s normally $250).

More on all this in the next post.

 

 

Note: I have not received any promotional consideration from any company named in this posting.

Personal Technology–Garmin Forerunner 35 Part 1

Garmin Forerunner 35
Garmin Forerunner 35

When I was a kid, I used my asthma an excuse to avoid running. I had no problem hiking for hours and miles on end, but running bedeviled me.  Like most kids, I played soccer, but it was the free-substitution variety.  Meaning that we substituted in and out for oranges and gatorade whenever we got tired or winded. The only seasons I played entire games were those seasons I played goalie. Free substitution and goalie: that’s how I managed to play soccer for 10 years and still avoid a ton of running.

In middle school, my PE coaches–having failed at recruiting me for football–tried to recruit me to try out for track.  They saw me as a person who could throw the shotput and discus (which I was good at).  But, I declined because, you guessed it: everyone on the track team had to run, even if you were not in a running event.

Just Try It

Years and years later, after squandering the hidden secret that I was actually a very fast runner in bursts when I was a kid, my asthma pretty much disappeared, and I was encouraged by some colleagues to give running a taste.

And so I did. And I liked it! I worked my way up to, first, an uninterrupted mile.  And then, an uninterrupted 5k.  And finally, a nearly-uninterrupted trail 10k. It was amazing, and I loved it. I ran two races: the Rodeo Run 5k and the Hog Hunt 10k. I got nowhere close to winning, but at least I wasn’t anywhere close to finishing dead last, either.

And Then it Ended

But, then, I had kids. And having very young kids means that you don’t have a ton of time to indulge yourself, nor do you have a ton of energy in reserve to expend it by pounding the pavement. I found other ways to stay in shape (HIIT and eating right, for example) but I’ve always missed the feeling of getting out and running.

Now that the kids are a little older, though, I’ve decided to take another stab at running. And using some gift cards I got from Amazon and by using Bing instead of Google (Bing Rewards points are good for more than free OneDrive storage, y’all), I bought myself a Garmin Forerunner 35.

Get Back at It

When I make the decision to get into shape, I become extremely focused on data.  What am I eating? How many calories is that? What is the nutritional breakdown? What is my weight this morning?  How many calories did I burn? What’s my max heart rate? How has it improved? How many steps did I take? Smart phones and wearables make a lot of this stuff easy to track.

When I was doing HIIT, I’d work out with the Polar FT7 heart rate monitor. It’s a watch that connects to an included strap-based heart rate monitor. It worked great, and gave me a lot of very specific data, and helped encourage me to work out harder.

It’s not a perfect all-around device, though. Wearing a chest strap all day to monitor my heart rate is a non-starter, regardless of whether the watch is attractive or not. (And it really isn’t.) It also didn’t sync data with My Fitness Pal seamlessly.  Finally, the heart-strap that comes with the FT7 is proprietary and only works with that watch. (More on that later.)

After ending the HIIT program, but still wanting to keep an eye on my fitness data, I got a FitBit Charge. It was…fine. It had a week-long battery life. It measured steps. It counted flights of stairs. It (occasionally) sent phone call notices to my wrist. It told me that I took 26,425 steps on July 23, 2015. It synced with My Fitness Pal pretty well.

It also had a problem with falling apart, and I didn’t like that it didn’t have a heart rate monitor, that it didn’t have GPS, that it didn’t even have the capability of notifying me of anything other than phone calls (and, as I mentioned, that was spotty at best). The iOS App was very slow to sync with the device, and it didn’t have the ability to bug me about getting up and moving. I also felt that it might have been overcounting steps. In short, I wasn’t going to get another Charge.

What to Get, What to Get

Aside from being somewhat obsessed with tracking fitness data, I also rarely buy technology without researching the hell out of it first. For example, I’ve documented some of what went into buying my Miix 700 here.  And when I bought the Charge, it was widely considered the best of those types of devices in that category at that price point. That is, roughly $100, with visual stats, and syncs with things like My Fitness Pal.

Since the Charge first came out a few years ago, wearable technology has improved and advanced considerably. Wrist-based heart-rate sensors, for example, are pretty common–there’s even a version of the Charge with a heart-rate sensor. Microsoft’s Band and Band 2.0 have tons of other sensors.  So-called smart watches–like the Apple Watch, Moto360 Sport, LG Sport–are festooned with all sorts of sensors. In other words, in many respects, there are endless options for a fitness-oriented wearable.

How I went about my decision-making process is detailed in my next post. See you there

 

 

Note: I have not received any promotional consideration from any company named in this posting.

Google Maps Navigation on Android 2.0

It was only a matter of time, really, before Google Maps became a turn-by-turn mobile application.  And now it has.  Gizmodo has a good write-up on its features and abilities, and of course it looks polished even in beta form.  (What isn’t beta in Google-land, besides GMail?  Oh.  Google Apps, actually, and a few other things.  Drat.  It was always fun to joke about how long things stayed in beta with Google.  Oh well, I guess I’ll have to fall back on making jokes about how no one knows you’re a dog on the internet.)  For right now, the application is available only to Android 2.0 users, but there are plans afoot to get it on the iPhone.

Anyway, what surprised me about the Gizmodo review of the application is this:

My fears on zero pricing, for the long term: If Google sells this in the App Store for zero dollars, those millions of bucks Apple makes off of GPS app sales will likely disappear. It’s not for us to worry about until there’s no more GPS competition except Google, and we’re dependent on their pace of progress, but no competition is a bad thing. And it’s a little strange that Google’s search money is going to pay for a free map app that is competitive with stuff that costs $100 a year from full-time GPS makers like TomTom. Unfair is the word that comes to mind. But I can’t say I don’t want this app.

I’ve written about my concerns regarding the freeconomy before, and this Engadget link essentially proves the point.  TomTom’s shares are down about 20% as of the time of this writing, and Garmin isn’t faring much better, down about 15%.  Free is nice and all, but it does have a cost.

(Sure, yeah, fine, in the long run all the buggy-whip manufacturers eventually ended up making something else, right?)