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Smartwatches

Not long ago I reviewed my Sony Smart Watch 2 and now we have the announcement from Apple. It’s amusing to see presses “hating” of this product already. You know what the number one problem with the Smart Watch revolution, realistic expectation. Expect the sun and the moon out of a watch and your about to be MAJORLY disappointed. Point in case take this one genius’s opinion “it needs to replace — needs to completely replace our need for a cellphone”. ((His whole post). Talk about someone that missed the point. DUMMY this thing is a watch. It supplements your phone not replace it. In fact to keep battery life reasonable and size small the watch relies on the phone. Just how much the smart watch can do without the phone is one of those design choices/trade offs that had to be made. Over 2 months after I bought my Sony Smartwatch I have not stopped using it even one day. I occasionally take it off to protect it. I replaced the cheap rubber watch band with a nice inexpensive metal band from ebay. Kudos to Sony for using a STANDARD watch band. Not like Apple who, suprise suprise, went to proprietary band so you have to buy it from them. I’m sure if Apple could have figured out a watch to put a chip in the band to insure you don’t use a third party watch band they would have (think lightning cable). The big question is if my Sony Smart Watch broke tomorrow would I buy it again? Given the evolution going on the answer is probably not. I’d try something else.

THE biggest disappointment for the Sony Smart watch 2 is all of the things Sony and third party developers could do with this watch. There is a ton of potential for this device that will never be realized. The existence of third party apps like Watchit (that can take any notification and push it to the phone) and Remote widget (can take any widget and display it on the watch) are revolutionary in removing the need for apps to be specifically written to support the watch. Why these weren’t designed in by Sony is beyond me. Heh Sony, go buy these two apps from the owner and be done with it.

So what do I use it for? First and foremost it’s a programmable watch. I can change the watchface anytime I want. I can pull dynamic information such as the weather, song playing, next calender event etc into the watchface by a cleverly designed editor. Very flexible, and extensible. Numerous third parties have developed additional watch widgets you can use to pull dynamic data from the phone. Or simply just display a normal looking watch face. But the CHOICE is yours. Here are some examples of my favs (by the way the lines you see are not shown on the watch they are just part of the editor you use to design the watchface and this is the easiest way of getting the screen capture shy of taking a picture of the watch) :
Screenshot_2014-09-10-09-34-15Screenshot_2014-09-10-09-34-04Screenshot_2014-09-10-09-33-46Screenshot_2014-09-10-09-33-00Screenshot_2014-09-10-09-33-28Screenshot_2014-09-10-09-32-10

The second purpose the watch serves for me is secondary notifications. I find it a VERY effective way of not missing messages and phone calls. I don’t often read the message on the watch, and even if I did I have to take the phone out to reply so that is something that is not all that important to me.

Next purpose is built in chronometer functions. Count down, stop watch, alarms etc. I’ve used an simple analog watch for a very long time and it’s nice to have these back.

Lastly I have a few apps like Endomondo that support the watch and run as a remote display for the phone on the watch.

That’s about it. Battery life is 2-3 days. For some this is there show stopper. For me this is not a big deal. The fact that it can be changed with a standard micro USB charger (even my portable battery pack that I carry for my phone works) and charges the watch quickly is a mitigating factor to the paranoia of having the battery die. But that said, it is yet another thing I need to keep charged.

Is the smart watch earth shattering, revolutionary, something I can’t live without? Absolutely not. But it is useful enough, and reliable enough that I keep mine and like the device.

September 10, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Google Awesome isn’t

I returned back from my trip only to get a Google+ Storybook chronicalling where I was, where I stayed, the pictures I took (without my permission). In looking into it, turns out it’s part of “Auto Awesome” which bizarrely is on by default. Beware if your on Android. This is troubling on many fronts. The invasion of privacy, the use of my location, the upload of my photos without my knowledge. Sure, I bet all this was in the privacy policy small print but beware. Using my bandwidth and battery power for something I may or may not want is a bad choice by Google IMHO. Looking into this it seems it’s Backup photos within Google+ (which I don’t think I enabled) and AutoAwesome within the Google Photos Android app. To fix this permanently I (overreaction) uninstalled Google+.

August 27, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Garmin Foretrex 401 update

I bought a Garmin Foretrex 40 back in 2009 and it has been my trusted companion on my mountan bike and hikes ever since. I have a handlebar mount that keeps it always in view (this mount can be used on any watch sized device not just garmins).
CP298Z07

I was thinking surely there’s a new gadget to displace this device after all this time? Or surely Garmin has come out with a new device to help me part with some more hard earned cash on gadgets?

So what is it that I use this for? I use it primarily for navigating around places I’ve been before but don’t necessarily know well. I have waypoints for every place I mountain bike. And with 500 waypoints that can be stored, I’m always ensured of having what I need while out on the trail. The unit does not have topographic or trail maps, but this has rarely been a limitation. It connects to Ant+ heart rate and cadence sensors giving you all the data you need. It’s simple and easy to use, and the data can be offloaded easily to Garmin’s portal. While the heart rate and cadence data is not supported you can manually upload the file from the Foretrex to the portal (by pointing at the GPX file on the foretrex). Oddly Garmin do not consider the foretrex a fitness device so they choose to not give calorie counts for this device. Odd. The unit is small enough to be worn on the wrist for canoeing, hiking etc. The AAA batteries make it easy to carry a spare set.

So what’s missing?
There is no link to the phone to allow you to upload your tracks on the Go. You have to use the USB port connected to a computer to pull the data off. The unit has Ant+ so it would have been possible to wirelessly send the data the way the VivoFit does.

There’s no temperature sensor in the unit. A minor nit. No calorie count (as previously mentioned).

The unit supports the Cadence and Speed sensor but basically ignores the wheel speed sensor and gets the speed from the satellites. Garmin’s note on the subject.

Ok so now I started looking to what might be out there. I was shocked first and foremost to see this unit is still being sold. 4 years is an eternity. No new models to replace it. And the only firmware updates in this time has been time zone updates. And add to that every one of Garmin’s newer cycle computers like the Edge 305 have significantly less memory meaning I would have to preload my device with the waypoints I need for the day. Something that is problematic at best. Shy of being SUPER organized.

None of the running focussed GPS watches include navigation back to a waypoint or trail. So these all get dumped. This is a primary function of this device for me.

So what this leaves me with is believe it or not there is no device to replace this with. If it were to break tomorrow (heaven forbid) I would buy the same unit again. Despite it’s limitations is still does exactly what I need. The display screens are highly customizable. Battery life is excellent. GPS sensitivity is amazing. Since the start I’ve found the electronic compass on this device useless (except when not moving and level) and turned it off.

All in all a great device. And one I would still recommend for people to buy today! $189 at GPS city, where I bought mine.

August 25, 2014 Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Scosche Rhythm+ heart rate monitor

A heart rate monitor makes calorie counts from applications tracking fitness on your smartphone a whole lot more accurate. For years the best heart rate monitors have been chest straps. They work well but are uncomfortable. Especially when doing aerobic sports like mountain biking for example. Wrist based heart rate monitors have always been a grail, but they are inaccurate. I recently reviewed the Mio Link and ended up returning it due to inaccuracies.

Another blogger DC RainMaker brought this one to my attention. I previously played with Scosche’s earlier model but returned it due to poor application support. DC Rainmaker did a thorough post so I won’t repeat his excellent work, just add my own spin.

The previous generation of Rhythm had some issues. The clip to charge it was so tight it felt like you were going to break it. This one is much better. The previous one came in a ghastly yellow color. This one is an innocuous black/grey. The neoprene strap had no holes so it didn’t breath which meant you sweated under it. This strap is thinner, made of better material and has holes so it breathes. The previous model was Bluetooth only. This one is Bluetooth low energy and Ant+ giving it great compatibility going forward as well as compatibility with older Garmin devices. So it looks like Scosche learned from their previous model.

So this HRM (heart rate monitor) is optical in nature. It comes with a two sizes of straps, and a USB charger. I’ll steal DC Rainmakers pic :)
IMG_2102_thumb

A tip, I found the hrm took a bit of time to zero in on an accurate reading. Think 1-2 mins. I also found it best to turn it off and back on if you move where on your arm you are going to put it.

It is meant to be worn on forearm. But I thought I would try it in a few other places.

The smaller strap is small enough to wear it on the wrist. So I thought I would try it. Sure enough, like the Mio it’s not accurate on the wrist. I tried it on the outside of the wrist (like a watch) and no the inside both were inaccurate. (Scosche do not suggest this would work, I just tried it to see.)
Graph of the data on the outside of the wrist.
Graph of the data on the inside of the wrist.

I also tried it on the bicep on the outside. This also tracked poorly. (Again, Scosche do not suggest this would work, I just tried it to see.)
Graph of the data on the outside of the Bicep

On the inside of the bicep it worked quite well, and I find this more comfortable:
scosche-bicep-1
Like the Mio I did have some issues in busy places with the Bluetooth Low energy dropping out. Fortunately the app I was using BLE Heart rate monitor has added auto reconnect.
scosche-bicep-2

So with all this I then went out for a mountain bike ride and did three runs. The first one is with the Scosche on the inside of the bicep. As you can see it tracks pretty well. I’m not sure if that first little blip is because I didn’t wait long enough for it to settle or what but as you can see in the graph it tracked pretty well. This is where I find the Scosche the most comfortable.
mtn-bike-1

These last two are with the Scosche worn on my right forearm. Which by the way, is where Scosche recommends it be worn. I find it starts to irritate me in that location after a while. No idea why. Especially so on the left forearm. As you can see in these graphs when worn as recommended this hrm is VERY accurate when compared with a chest strap hrm. By the way I also did correlation runs between my Garmin and Zephyr chest hrm to see if they are accurate.
mtn-bike-2
mtn-bike-3

Battery life is impressive. After 8 hours it was still at 51%, but it drops off oddly after 51%. I got just under 9 hours of battery life. But don’t count on the battery% indicator. The curve shows how it drops off.
scosche-battery

So all in all the Scosche is an excellent HRM and is so much more comfortable than a chest strap hrm. The ANT+ compatibility means I can use it with my Garmin Foretrex 401 and an app on my phone at the same time. And with Bluetooth low energy I can use two apps (for example Endomondo and RunGPS) on the phone at the same time (one connected with Ant+ and one with Bluetooth low energy). I wish the Mio had been accurate it was super comfortable. Oh well …

August 20, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Mio Link wrist heart rate monitor

I saw this product recently and it caught my attention. Wrist based heart rate monitors have never been any good. There`s too much going on near the wrist to be accurate. Witness the joke of a heart rate monitor on the Samsung Gear that only works if you sit still and push it firmly against your wrist, useless. Add in activities like mountain biking into the mix and you take a difficult situation and you make it perilous to get reliable date out of. This company seems to be a pioneer in the space so I thought I’d give them a try. If your a skimmer, I would not recommend buying this product. Read on for details.

Physically the device looks like a fitness tracker. It’s an innocuous rubber band. There is only one switch and one LED on it and it blinks different colors based on the zones your heart rate is in. A nice feature. There is an Android app that allows you to tailor your zones. The rubber band includes a locking mechanism that insures it’s snug on your wrist and isn’t going anywhere. Also the loose band can’t get caught on anything. The band comes in two sizes. Based on length I bought the smaller one (I have a small wrist) which turns out to be a mistake. Directly from their manual “If you use Mio LINK for biking, wear it higher on your forearm, since bending of the wrist may affect the heart rate reading. For cyclists or users with concave wrists, try wearing Mio LINK on the underside of your forearm.” Of course I didn’t see that before I bought it. Wearing it on the forearm would take a much bigger strap. And frankly, if I was going to wear it on the forearm I wouldn’t buy the Mio, I’d buy the Rhythm+ from Scosche.
47X_2
The electronics can be removed from the rubber wrist band to allow you to clean it as well as replace it. One of the times I was using it I tightened it too much and that caused it to partially come out of the band and thus loose contact with the skin.

Battery life is excellent. I got over 7 1/4 hours on a charge.

The device supports both Ant+ and Bluetooth Low power so you need a newer phone but it can connect to multiple devices at a time. I did run into a problem where my Garmin Foretrex 401 had issues with two Ant+ heart rate monitors (the Mio and my Garmin chest strap) and it kept bouncing between them every second and beeping annoyingly. I suspect that was because I had paired the Foretrex with both. But I was surprised it didn`t lock on one and stay on it. I also had issues staying connected to the Mio in a crowded environment with numerous bluetooth smart devices present.

On a brief walk I compared the Mio with a Zephyr hear rate monitor. I saw constant large differences. I was wearing it on the wrist on my left hand, right side up. The Mio got a (max/avg) 134/107 vs the Zephyr 112/110.5 for a whopping difference of 20/3%. Yikes. Zephyr raw data, Mio raw data.

This caught my attention enough I decided to focus on the reliability of the data. I went out for a mountain biking ride and recorded the data with the same app (RunGPS) with two different phones. I wore the monitor on my left hand, comfortably tight, at the wrist, facing up. I wanted to eliminate the variability of different apps. The data was partially spoiled because for some reason the Mio lost connection with my phone halfway through. This in turn through off the max/min/average and calorie count of the data.

This got me wondering about the accuracy of the Zephyr. So I did a comparison between my Zephyr and my Garmin Ant+ HRM. The Zehpyr data was (Min/Max/Avg/Calories) 55/93/68.8/92 Vs the Garmin at 55/99/69.5/95 for a difference of 0/6/1/3%. So the two chest based devices seem pretty darn close. So then I did a graph of a new data run between the two and found these two compared fairly well. See the graph.
garmin-zephyr
garmin-zephyr raw data

So I did the same basic comparison this time between the Garmin and the Mio. (Worn on the left wrist, upside down, just walking) The data showed a lot more variability from the Mio (in comparison to the Garmin/Zephyr). Stats wise it came up with (min/max/avg) 60/116/73.3 for the garmin Vs 50/121/74 for the Mio for a difference of 17/4/1%.
garmin-mio
garmin-mio raw data
At times the Mio just seemed to completely loose any semblance of accuracy.

I did another one where I was mostly inactive. The numbers came up as (Avg/Max/Calories) 67/124/157 for the Mio Vs 68.9/114/181 for a difference of 3/8%. Here`s the graph comparing data:
mio-garmin-2
mio-garmin-2 raw data

And yet another one, this time with the heart rate monitor on the left facing up.
mio-garmin-3

If this had happened once I would write it off. But it happened numerous times. During riding, walking and even inactive times (just sitting). Now maybe for some people this device works well, but for me it just is not reliable. Maybe it`s my small wrists, maybe my coloring, no idea.

I contacted Mio customer support. They were convinced I had a defective unit, so they sent me another one. It came with basically the same issues (inaccuracies). So I have returned my Mio Link (sadly). Not convinced? Here are a few graphs from the second unit:
mio-new-3
mio-new-4
mio-new5

So in the end the physicals etc are irrelevant (although I must say this is hands down the most comfortable heart rate monitor I`ve ever worn). If you can’t count on the data to be accurate then what in the world would be the point of buying one of these? I have to say I am thoroughly disappointed in this product.

August 15, 2014 Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews | Leave a comment

Synology DS212J NAS review running 4.1-2661

I have read a bunch about these home office NAS solutions and my server in the house was running out of drive bays so I thought I would give this puppy a try. NewEgg had a sale on for $129, regularly $199 and this device supports iSCSI so it seemed like a good option. As I`ve done in the last couple reviews, if your a skimmer, I will save you time. I do not recommend this device. Read on to find out why.

I found this review which I read prior to buying the unit. Performance sounded good.

Physicals are well done, the unit is small, drive bays easy to install, power cord is bigger (reminds me of a laptop brick). I won`t repeat the above review, I will simply give you my thoughts. That review is VERY well done.

First off you have to understand the unit arrives with no hard drives in it, no flash RAM etc, so the first thing you have to do is perform a setup that installs the operating system on the NAS. The doc in the box said to use a synology web site, but that failed. Onto the CD ROM they ship with it and you install Synology Assistant. The code needs to install the NAS first before you get started. You need to manually point at the CDROM and find the NAS install files, and manually select the right file for your unit. Wow, clumsy. The operating system for the NAS is put on both drives for redundancy so make sure you have installed both drives before you start the process. And I have no idea how it handles if you change a drive after the initial install. I didn`t play with that. The operating system Synology uses is a variant of Linux. So if you familiar with Linux you can play. Beware the drives will be wiped in the process so if your reusing drives you can`t keep content on the drive. It does warn you by the way. I was stupid and didn`t check how old the code on the CDROM (and the code itself did not check either) was but check this out:
synology-6
The code on the web is actually “DSM 5.0-4493; Build Date : 2014-06-04“ so massively newer. Really … another WTF. Of course I only figured this out after I had the unit all set up … grr. Hmm do you think maybe these things are flying off the shelf? Hopefully Synology you aren`t stupid enough to wonder why …

The code gives you a warning about being connected over wireless which I ignored. (I was actually wireless from my laptop into my server, wired from my server to the NAS and the program was running on the server). The install failed with an innocuous error message and informed me to open port 23 and contact Synology. No guidance for non-tekkies on how to open port 23, and no hint or link on how to contact Synology. All in all a bad start. First off I thought it might be that the drives were not blank so I manually wiped them and tried again. No joy. So I then thought I would try from the console of the server, low and behold it installed. Given I was only RDP connected wireless this is bizarre and inexplicable to me. But whatever. Hurdle one overcome.

Now if your expecting a nice wizard based setup to get started with a nice graphical interface for Mom and Pop forget it. This is something that in my opinion was designed by tekkies for tekkies. The setup is really not good. And if you don`t click logon to the NAS from the setup your now trying to figure out how to get into the NAS. Oddly they chose to put the web server for the NAS setup on a non-standard port (5000). And if you didn`t change the default the NAS is on DHCP, I hope you remembered to not the IP address it was set to when you went through the setup otherwise you are going to have to go back to Synology Assistant again. Since I was going to use the device as iSCSI I chose a fixed IP. Be sure and bookmark the web page for the NAS or remember it`s on 5000.

FYI, the Synology assistant does not even like running on a wirelessly connect machine. I found it did not find the NAS.

Once up installed you can now decide how you want to set it up. But be careful. Decisions you make now are not easily changed. So first off you are greeted by this screen:
synology-1
Ok I guess I click Ok:
synology-2
and then:
synology-3
So I figure ok wtf is this. So I click cancel and find myself now sitting next to this screen:
synology-a
Ok now what? The non-obvious answer is that little box in the top left corner is the equivalent of a start menu and how you get to the various programs that are not on the desktop. Really? Man they sure did not design this for a non-technocrat. Now that said, I understand what is going no, I just think they did a horrible job of making this easy. The process consists of:
1) Create a disk group (using with however number of drives you want 1 or 2. Again they do a horrible job of guiding you. No warnings or explanations. They will let you create a drive that will basically concatenate two physical drives into one. Now while this is a nice option doing so will mean the loss of one drive will more than likely cost you all of the data. A bad idea. If you chose a single drive you can add a mirror easily enough in the future by clicking manage disk group. But beware, adding a second drive kicks off a sync setting up the new mirror that can not be interrupted and will take a while depending on the size of your drives (think 4 hours for a 2TB drive). Interestingly the code shows RAID options (albeit greyed out) that are impossible (they need more than 2 drives to do them). And another odd one is that once a mirror is created there is no supported way to break a mirror. Only delete the mirror. So careful planning is a MUST.
synology-4
synology-5
On first creation it tells you that if the drive has not been in the Synology before you ought to do a bad sector scan so it can manage the bad sectors. Sounded like a great idea. So I did it. On a 2TB drive it went through loop after loop of scanning the drive and a day later had not finished. I eventually gave up. If the drive didn`t have bad sectors it would soon. No idea what happened. All the while the NAS is useless, processor pinned and the hard drive getting the snot beat out of it.
2) create a new volume or create an iscsi LUN
3) optionally create a share

iSCSI LUNs can be increased, but never decreased. So again be sure and plan ahead.

You probably want to leave some free space around in case you want to play with added features on the NAS. If you allocated everything you won`t be able to do that. I created a volume just for that purpose.

I installed Cloud station wanting to play with syncing from my phone but found the Android app for the phone is terrible. I didn`t read one of the questions it asked when I was trying to remove the setup and without warning it deleted a directory on my phone that was important enough I was going to back it up. Unbelievable. How about a warning guys.

You can manually enable NTP (for time syncing, no idea why this isn`t the default), and manually enable SSH/Telnet.

From within Package manager you can add additional functionality including cloud services, iTunes and more.

The NAS supports Smart (hard drive error logging and prediction) but alerting in the event of it finding a dieing drive is turned off by default. There are a number of options including send an email, SMS, instant message (Skype, Windows Live) and an Android Ap.

The NAS has two USB 2 ports. A USB printer can be shared but I had nothing but issues trying to get at it from the network. In the end I had to install Synology Assistant on each and every machine I wanted to use the printer on. Adding a USB hard drive allowed it to be shared out from a network share. It never appears in the hard drive menu so it could not be used in any kind of RAID. USB will limit it to around 20MB/s anyway.

So all in all it works, but man it took a lot of time to get it that way. Power consumption is super low so it’s a good choice if your computer is running out of bays or you want some network storage. Just be aware it’s going to take you some time to get this thing setup :(

August 5, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Loading XBMC onto the Kindle Fire TV

There are lots of posts out there on how to load XBMC onto the Kindle Fire TV so I won’t repeat the whole thing here. XBMC Wiki has a good one that I basically followed. The steps are pretty simple (and explained in detail in the wiki).

Let’s start with the basics. The Fire TV is a heavily skinned (by Amazon) Android OS. How much you want to use the Kindle’s OS will determine exactly how you do things. You can completely hide the Kindle’s OS and only see XBMC if that’s what you want.

Steps are these:
1) You need to download the Android debugger called ADB. You don’t need to install it, you can run it from wherever you extract it to. ADB is used to load Android apps onto the Kindle. The Kindle does not have an Android App store such as Google Play or the like. So using ADB to load ADB is the way to get around this. You will run ADB on a PC on the same network as the Kindle
2) Download XBMC Android version (it will be an APK) to the PC you are going to run ADB on
3) Download Llama APK
4) Download the predefined llama config files from the Wiki link
5) Download AndFTP FTP to make transferring files to and from the Fire easier
6) Put the Fire into debug mode and note the IP address of the Fire as noted in the wiki
7) Use ADB to install XBMC/llama/AndFTP
8) Use ADB to push the llama config files onto the fire and load them into llama

Android apps installed can be found from the Fire main menu, settings, Applications. So not by any means convenient.

Llama is the key to making XBMC integration as much or as little as you want. One of the things you can do is to install what they call a sacrificial app. For Canada Hulu will do nicely since it doesn’t work here anyway. Then you can configure llama that anytime you start Hulu, start XBMC. Not perfect but it works.

Llama can also be configured that any time the Fire menu is running (called KFTV) start XBMC. This will totally hide the Fire stuff leaving XBMC. If you need to go back to the Fire for some reason then you simply go to programs, android apps, llama from within XBMC, use the options menu and kill llama. From there press home and you are back to the fire. You will need to go restart llama from Fire main menu, settings, Applications when your done with the fire menu.

All in all I have found XBMC runs quite well on the Fire TV. There are some issues with it crashing from time to time and with fast forward not working correctly.

July 24, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Heart rate monitor and logger on Android

For a while now I have looked for a decent program to log my heart rate during indoor activities and count calories. I’ve been unsuccessful. Then the thought dawned on me, I wonder what would happen if I turned off GPS in Android and ran my favorite programs like Endomondo or RunGPS? So I tried it. The apps complain because there is no GPS available but magically start up anyway! Yay.

Let’s start with RunGPS. So I sat on the couch for 35 mins sitting as still as I could trying to see if the calorie count would come close to the base calorie count I would expect. I put the app in weight lifting mode and started it. It showed a heart rate average of 58.6 which would give me my resting heart rate. Max 69 min 54 so reasonably still and showed 41 (+/-1 since RunGPS does not calculate partial calories) calories burned. So let’s do some math 60/35*41*24 would give you a baseline calorie count of 1687 calories. Using this baseline calorie calculator it says my number should be around 1781 calories so this seems to be pretty darn close!
Here’s the raw data

Next up I tried Endomondo. I put it in other mode and sat still for 30 mins. It showed a max heart rate of 79 and an average of 62 and a calorie count of 56, so that would extrapolate out to 2688 calories for the day. Seems a little high.
Here’s the raw data.

Runtastic in 15 mins did not budge the calories even one. So it totally ignores the heart rate monitor which agrees with a previous finding.
Raw Data

Similarly Mapmyfitness did not count calories when the GPS was disconnected with a heart rate monitor. So it totally ignores the heart rate monitor which agrees with a previous finding.

So in the end it turned out I had the functionality all along. I wish the apps would add an indoor mode so I didn’t have to fuss with the Android setting but at least it works!

June 28, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

RedShoes HR Pro Android app review

I’ve been contemplating buying a Polar Heart rate monitor for a while now and it has always struck me as unnecessary. I already have a Bluetooth heart rate monitor surely there is an app for that? So I went on a quest. I went through about 250 apps in the play store that had something to do with heart rate monitor. What I was looking for was something that would allow me to record my heart rate over a period of time, give me some basic stats (max/average etc) and a calorie count.

First off you have to throw away the tons of apps that use the camera to get your heart rate. Useless. Then you have to look at what kind of heart rate monitor do you have. In the Android space there are three types of heart rate monitors. Original bluetooth (like my Zephyr HXM), Bluetooth smart (I don’t have any of these yet) and Ant+ (of course your phone has to support Ant+, which my S4 does). I have an Garmin Ant+ heart rate monitor so can use either. It seems that Google have not moved the heart rate monitor functions into the OS making each app have to deal with the different types or monitors. It also means only one app at a time can use the heart rate monitor. So you will need to find an app that supports your monitor. I interestingly stumbled on the fact two devices can talk to an Ant+ Heart rate monitor at the same time. I was able to get my S4 and my Garmin Foretrex 401 connected to my Garmin Ant+ heart rate monitor at the same time!

There are lots of exercise apps like Endomondo, RunGPS, Runtastic, MapmyRide, Samsung S.Health and many others but few of these offer a mode that allows you to workout indoors and focus on your heart rate. At the end of the day if your exercising this should be directly measurable by your heart rate IMHO.

Enter this app … RedShoes HR Pro. The app only works with the Zephyr HxM which is fine for me. At $3.31 this is on the higher side of the cost for apps. But if it means you don’t have to buy a Polar it’s well worth the cash.

First off I need to state the obvious. To simply exist your body consumes calories. This is called your baseline calories. Then any exercise then adds to this calorie count. A number of the exercise trackers like the Garmin VivoFit (that I recently reviewed), FitBit etc. all include this baseline calorie count IMHO to inflate the calorie count. So you need to find out what your baseline calorie count is. I found a good website to let you calculate your baseline calorie count. I can’t attest to it’s accuracy but it does seem to be in the right ball park.

To start off you have to tell the app a number of stats about you Max Heart Rate, Gender, Age, weight and two parameters I had no idea what to do with Lactate Threshold HR and VO2Max. The last two I had no idea what to do with so I ignored them. The calorie count was way off. I traded some emails with the author who was very responsive, and knowledgeable and helped me to understand I needed to set my VO2Max number. He had done some work comparing his app with other devices and they correlated well (in his testing) when the VO2Max was correctly set. He pointed to a web site that will allow you to estimate your VO2Max. Between this and the baseline web site above I was able to play around and get a calorie count that was far more reasonable/believable. I used the web site to scope my VCO2 max, first with a simple enter parameters and then with a walking test. I ended up being somewhere between 40-44.

The app can be configured to give you audible tones anytime you cross thresholds or zones. While handy these can also be annoying. But they can be turned off.

The app in addition to the heart rate attempts to get the battery of the monitor as well as a speed accelerometer in the heart rate monitor. On mine, an older one neither these worked well. The battery always said 100 right up until it went dead. But other apps have dome the same so I suspect this is an issue of hardware version of my very old Zephyr heart rate monitor.

So I took this app for a spin and put it against my fav app RunGPS. Now I’m not saying RunGPS’s calorie count or any of it’s data is flawless but it has been my trusted app for a very long time. I originally bought it on Windows mobile oh so many years ago. So here is what comes out of the app:
screenshot_2014-06-14-12-23-51
So you get some nice data such as Average heart rate, Current Heart rate, and calories. The graph shows how you went in and out of zones. If you choose to share your data such as on facebook this is what you will be sharing:
workoutshare
I think I would prefer a screen shot of the app showing all the stats as well as the graph. But that’s just me.

Ok so let’s compare the data: (original data is here) RunGPS Vs RedShoe
Calorie count: 1281 vs 1061.90
Avg HR 152 vs 143
Max HR 176 Vs 174

So the data jives reasonably well. The calorie count is off by the biggest amount at 17%. My VCO2 max may still not be right but frankly this is correlating reasonable well!

There is no pause/resume functionality but you can load your previous run by loading from /download/RedShoes where the raw data is stored if you’ve chosen to store data in the settings. Oddly the app does not tell you where the data is stored.

The app also has a neat feature that it blinks your LED (if turned on) every time it receives a heart beat!

June 27, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Scosche Rhythm Heart rate monitor

My buddy Lance was looking for a cheap heart rate monitor and so I looked around and found this one on clearance. It is unique in that it goes on the arm rather than around the chest so I was thinking it might be more comfortable. So we both bought one. Now given you may just be a skimmer let me say up front DON’T BUY ONE OF THESE. Interestingly enough even Scosche say “**This Rhythm is currently our previous generation Heart rate monitor. We strongly recommend looking at our new and improved version, Rhythm+.” Odd.

The physicals of the device are fine. It comes with two different lengths of stretchy bands that can be removed and washed. It has a charging cradle that plugs into any USB. The clip that holds the device into the cradle is SUPER tight making it quite difficult to get back out. I do have to say the yellow color is positively ghastly IMHO. The unit itself is meant to be worn on the forearm but I found it worked fine on the bicep and for me was more comfortable there. It has three buttons. Two for music volume control and one for power on/off. There is an led on the unit. There is absolutely no documentation to tell you what the LED means. I put the device on and turned it on. Lots of silly flashing which I think means it is trying to find your pulse. Then once that settled down I could finally find the item on my bluetooth list. Bluetooth pairing of this device was finichy. Once paired it shows up as an odd device. The icon looks the same as my Sony Smartwatch? The HXM you see in the image is my Zephyr heart rate monitor.
Screenshot_2014-06-25-10-07-41
So then I head over to the Playstore to grab their app and get greeted by a discontinue notice:
Screenshot_2014-06-25-10-21-50
I load the app anyway get past a bunch of crashes and disconnects and run a hour long test and compare it to Endomondo connected to my Ant+ Chest strap heart rate monitor. Initially the heart rate the Scosche shows seems radically different than the one Endomondo shows. The Scosche does settle in and become similar to Endomondo but the Scosche also does not seem to react quickly to rapidly changing heart rates compared to Endomondo. Now I don’t know if this is the Rhytm app, the heart rate monitor itself, or even the nature of measuring the heart rate on the arm. The Rhythm app seems to give reasonable numbers compared to Endomondo. Here’s a one hour recording. The avg/calorie counts are all within reason. Max seems a little odd.
Screenshot_2014-06-25-10-51-26Screenshot_2014-06-25-10-49-45
Then I decided to look at my favorite exercise apps RunGPS, Endomondo, Runtastic, MyTracks, none of them support the Scosche? So that would leave me to use their now discontinued app or buy yet another app such as iCardio that does support the heart rate monitor.

I did an accuracy test between the Scosche and a Zephyr chest strap monitor. It compared reasonably well with some anomalies.
zephyr-scosche

So all in all I am underwhelmed with this HRM. I like the comfort of it. But I am VERY unimpressed with how Scosche have basically abandoned a product that is still be sold in the market, albeit on clearance. I originally saw the next generation of this device reviewed on DC Rainmaker which is what even brought this company on my radar. The next generation device has both bluetooth low power mode as well as Ant+ at the same time. Meaning you could feed multiple devices and multiple apps with one heart rate monitor.
OCO-101769959_ph01_mn_8520147

June 27, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

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