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Garmin Vivosmart HR review

I last reviewed the Garmin Vivosmart 3 and loved it but the display was completely unreadable in sunlight and heart rate accuracy specifically in cycling was bad, so I returned it. I went backwards and bought the older model, this one. There is also an HR+ that has a GPS, this one does not. I don’t need it. If I want a GPS I will use my Fenix 3. Not a chance the Vivosmart HR+ is ever going to replace my treasured Fenix 3 … This device can be had on Amazon and other places Garmin refurbished super inexpensive. I paid $105 Vs the $213 (taxes in) I paid for the Vivosmart 3 (VS3 going forward).

Starting with the physicals the device is fairly light, small and thin. The VS3 is noticeably thinner. This older unit lacks some of the newer innovative features of the Vivosmart 3, but heh … The band is made out of a stretchy almost elastic material that can be replaced (with screws) but not swapped. It is done up using a standard watch buckle. Yay … It’s comfortable enough … The heart rate sensor on the bottom is a little more protruding than the VS3 but for me anyway it’s not noticeable and I have thin and small wrists. The band itself is an untextured smooth black band. It’s pretty innocuous as these trackers go. As with past Garmins, this is function over form. Garmin do not offer a band extender you could use to wear the tracker further up your arm to get better heart rate accuracy or to wear it around the ankle. There are third party ones but they are not cheap like $30 with shipping all in.

The unit charges with a clip that goes around the back. It’s reasonably easy to get on and clicks in place. These unusual clips are the price you pay for a waterproof tracker. Something that I want since I now kayak.

The front of the unit has an ALWAYS on, sun readable, back lit display and a single button on the front. The screen is operated by swiping and this works well, in fact better IMHO than the VS3. The display is reasonably large and reasonably easy to use. There are no colors on the display whatsoever. The back lighting attempts to come on when you rotate your wrist. Which works sometimes and sounds like a good idea until it wakes you when you toss and turn while trying to sleep. Again Garmin make no use of knowing your asleep and doing obvious things like this. The backlight can be summoned for a short period of time by pressing the front button. All in all the UI on the tracker is relatively simple to use. You swipe through the pages of information, which you can decide which to turn on and off, and you swipe through the menus by pressing the front button. You can not however change the order of screens. And this unit is NOT compatible with Garmins extensible Connect IQ. One somewhat obvious miss is a way to 100% turn the display off to make it an almost invisible device. You can program almost any screen (except heart rate) to be your home screen or you can have it remain wherever you last left it. This is a brilliant design. I can only imagine the inability to choose heart rate is to do with saving battery. Screens like this draw more power when changing. All in all I like the display, a huge improvement over the VS3 which is bizarre since the VS3 came out long after this one. The display can be put in portrait or landscape but there are a number of areas including menus that always stay in landscape mode. Do be aware though the screen is absolutely not gorilla glass, and can be relatively easily scuffed/scratched. You may want to buy a screen protector, but I have no idea how good those are.

The data screens for workouts (Walk/Run/Cardio/Other) can be changed in true Garmin form. Workouts track mostly heart rate although they do record steps too for Walk/Run. On a small walk I did I found the Vivosmart HR compared with Endomondo tracking on the phone yielded 1.89Km, Vs 2.39(for the GPS) or it was off by -21%.

The trakker can not connect to any external sensors, not heart rate sensors, not wheel sensors, nada. It can broadcast the heart rate on ANT+, but not to bluetooth (which you would want to send it back to your phone), although you can not view any other screens while in broadcast mode. You can brilliantly lock the screen in broadcast mode to avoid it coming out of that mode. (Press and hold front button).

The unit has a barometric altimeter which means it can count floors, as well as the usual step counts. Goals can be set for steps, as well as floors and you congratulated with a nice buzz and a graphic when you meet it.

I’ve read on other forums that the heart rate sampling rate varies depending on how active you are. This would be a little more problematic to know your resting heart rate, but I get it, they are trying to preserve battery life. Overall I found anytime I looked at the heart rate the data was immediately available and updated quickly. I do wish Garmin would give some info other than hi/low for the days heart rate. Maybe like average, or average while awake etc. Having data is great, having information is useful. Without analysis what is the point in collecting the data? The light from the heart rate sensor bleeds out from under the trakker ever so slightly on my wrist, when wearing it a comfortable tightness, not enough to bother my sleep but I can see it. The heart rate monitor can be turned off to save battery life, and it will turn back on when you do an activity, or want to broadcast it. But they do forget to turn it back off afterwards so be aware of that.

As with other Garmins, notifications just work and are well done. Fibit could learn a thing or two … The notifications are reasonably strong, but you can not program any patterns to the notifications. One buzz and that’s it. There’s a screen where you can review your past notifications. If you turn this screen off, you all of a sudden loose even the buzzing notifications. Odd.

Sleep is all automatically tracked, and somewhat accurate. As an example of stupid, I take my band off and go up and shower. I know I can shower with it on but don’t see the point. It knows I’m not wearing it, in that it turns the heart rate monitor off. Then I put it back on and look at my sleep and it decided while I was in the shower I was sleeping.

There’s a nice weather app you can call up or see on your home screen. A great add and something I always have on my smartwatches. Love it! I’m a little unclear on the update frequency of the app. It seemed to get stuck sometimes 😦 And there’s no way to see how stale the data your being presented and it never seems to expire, giving you the impression it’s current when it may not be.

There’s a nice Music controls screen that will allow you to FWD/RWD and play pause. Only thing missing would be volume controls. But this is a simple and nice touch!

Battery status is completely hidden, and all you get is a small battery Gauge inside the information section with 4 bars.

Alarms work and are quite loud and almost impossible to miss. They are set from the phone but can be viewed on the tracker.

As with past Garmin trackers there is a move reminder and a move bar to tell you to get off your butt 🙂

Sadly Garmin have left off a countdown timer and stopwatch function. Waaaaaa

Pushing and holding the button the on front brings up the ability to lock the screen as well as the ability to power off the tracker when not in use … Yay!

So what do you loose over the Vivosmart 3?
– heart rate is not truly all day so resting heart rate may not be accurate.
– no VO2 Max (it’s a calculated guess I am not sure I care)
– HRV (was hidden behind a silly stress score so who cares)
– no timer

That’s about it. For less than half the price …

Let’s talk a bit about heart rate accuracy. As mentioned in previous posts optical heart rate sensors, and more specifically wrist worn ones are a crap shoot for accuracy. It depends on your size, coloring, how tight you wear it, and what your doing when you care about your heart rate. Let’s have a quick look. We will look primarily at average heart rates. Min/Max can be misleading if the data is off for brief periods of time such as a flexing wrist. I will compare the data against a chest strap. In this case a Polar H7 or Wahoo TICKR both of which I have found to be super accurate when compared with each other as well as a Garmin chest strap.

For the graphs below I tried a different method of processing the data. Sadly it gives me less control in how to format the graph. I’m not happy with the results but the old conversion tools had troubles with this data set.

First off just sitting around working at my desk typing for a little over half an hour. This is about as easy as it gets. The Vivosmart HR got 83 BPM Vs 82 for the chest strap.

Next up I went for a 20 mins fast paced walk and both agreed on an average HR of 110 bpm. And here’s a graph of the data:

Next Up I did a five minute stair walk up and down 9 floors. The Vivosmart HR got 120 bpm Vs 116 for the chest strap or a difference of only 3%.

Next up a roughly 2 hour kayak trip. The chest strap got an average heart rate of 106 and the Vivosmart HR 102. Calorie wise the Fenix 3 got 354 and the Vivosmart HR got 542, so calorie count is wonky but average heart rate is pretty close. Every so often there was an odd variation between the two. And here’s a graph of the data:

One of the places wrist based heart rate monitors do badly often is cycling … First up a road ride. On an hour and a half ride both the chest strap and the Vivosmart HR got 114 average BPM. Oddly my fenix said 380 calories while the Vivosmart HR said a whopping 610. So the calorie count is a bit wonky here. Here’s a graph of the data:

Next up an epic 3 hours mountain biking ride … The chest strap got an average of 162 BPM while the vivosmart HR got 153. That’s impressive, and one of the first times I’ve seen a wrist based heart rate come as close as this. And my Fenix showed 1739 calories Vs 1819 for the Vivosmart HR. So all in all very good. Now visually I saw the heart rate being off by well over 20 BPM so while you can use this for average calorie count, using it for zones may not be all that useful. Here’s a graph of the data:

Battery life is advertised at 5 days, and I got 5.5 when the low battery alert came up. No idea how much longer it would have gone beyond that. Recharge took a little over an hour. With the heart rate turned off I got 10.5 days and that’s including about 8 hours of heart rate broadcast.

So I have to say, the data on this is shockingly good. Not good enough to be used for zones without the occasional mis-trigger, but otherwise quite good. Calorie count is just inconsistent, which is problematic if you are trying to use it to compare against other workouts.

All in all I have to say I am HUGELY impressed with this tracker. Probably one of the best on the market right now. Better accuracy for some reason than the Vivosmart 3 (which is newer). Full sun readable, backlit display. And give the price of this in refurb it’s a BB Bargoon.

June 29, 2017 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Garmin Vivosmart 3 review

I’d been a Fitbit fanboy for quite a while … and then the tarnish started to show. Incomplete notifications, hidden (non exportable) heart rate data, all lead me to stop loving them.

I’ve loved Garmins for a long time. I never mountain bike without at least one Garmin, and more often two. So I decided it would be nice to have all my data, daily activity etc all in one place, the Garmin portal which I love … their inter connectivity, completeness of data, ability to export etc are all excellent. So I have been looking at a number of Garmin products when this one hit the market. There are a number of innovations in this product so I decided to take the plunge.

Let’s start out with physical. The band is made out of a rubbery, almost elastic band than is super comfortable. They went with a standard watch buckle to do it up. Yay. The band is replaceable (by removing screws) but isn’t really swappable. I wish Gamin had gone the way of Fitbit. Garmin also do not offer a band extension that would allow you to wear the heart rate monitor further up the arm to give it some hope in hell of accuracy, but more on that in a bit. The band certainly does not scream I paid $213 including taxes for this puppy. And that subtle form over function continues right into the display. You can tell an engineer designed this and no fashion consultants were harmed in the process. If your looking for bling … don’t look here. If your looking for something that just blends in … then this is your tracker. This tracker is small, light and thin. Really quite impressively compact.

Recharging the device requires you to clamp this bizarre clip around the trackker and get it in the right orientation in the right place. Garmin have done nothing to try and guide you to getting this right and it is best done when your not in a rush.

The display is a real let down. It’s behind a fuzzy shield that almost blurs what I can only imagine is a decent display. It’s black and white, no colors ANYWHERE. The display is absolutely NOT readable in direct sunlight. This is a HUGE mistake for a device that is supposed to be used for tracking workouts. It’s so bad that you will be looking for a shady place to be able to start using it as a activity tracker. And forget about using this as a watch replacement when it can’t be read in the sun. This is bizarre to me, no one knows how to make a sunlight readable devices quite like Garmin, and then it appears they forgot. At least you can change the orientation on the display so it is in the right orientation.

There are a number of innovative new stats that this tracker can do. This includes “All day stress”, VO2 Max, as well as more common resting heart rate (7d RHR). All of these take a number of days to set a baseline for you before they are accurate. And they are bizarrely hidden in Health and Performance on the Connect app, and can not appear as a tile in your Snapshots. Like most things they are also available on the portal so you don’t have to look at your phone’s screen.

All day stress uses heart rate variability to determine your stress level, but sadly hides it behind a “stress score”. So there is no way to compare the data with other HRV and little to no way to interpret it. This to me makes this gimmicky at best. Sure it can tell you you just had road rage and are pissed off … but where is the usefulness in that? And you need to be still to update your stress score, even walking gets a response that your too active, not that this isn’t completely understandable when you know more about HRV, but still …

VO2 Max is a guess based on some calculations. How accurate it is … I have no idea.

One of the bigger misses is the lack of phone assisted GPS. Fitbit do this well. Garmin don’t even try. So use it to track a workout and the only thing you get is time and heart rate data.

One of the features of this device is true 24×7 heart rate monitoring. Unlike a number of other devices (including past Garmins) that sample at some periodic, and sometimes sporadic interval, this one samples constantly. All day, all night. The main feature of this is to give a more clear picture of your resting heart rate. Of all the devices I have played with that have heart rate monitors, this is hands down the comprehensively done to date. And could easily be used as a benchmark for how everyone ought to do it, or just give up 🙂

Garmin have given you a collection of different watch faces to choose from, but this device is NOT compatible with the extensible Connect IQ. Data screens for each of the exercises (Walk/Run/Cardio/Strength/Other) can all be customized in true Garmin form.

Sleep is all automatically tracked, and somewhat accurate. As an example of stupid, I take my band off and go up and shower. I know I can shower with it on but don’t see the point. It knows I’m not wearing it, in that it turns the heart rate monitor off. Then I put it back on and look at my sleep and it decided while I was in the shower I was sleeping.

Notifications just work and are well done. Fibit could learn a thing or two …

Battery life is advertised at 5 days and I got almost 6 (5.9 days). It raised an alert about low battery at 10% on the device and no other warnings, so if you missed it … It kept working for another 12 hours or so after the alert was raised. The device continued being completely functional right until the end … True 24×7 heart rate monitoring. Very impressive. Tracking activities changes nothing about the way the device functions and does not take any perceivable additional battery life. FYI I only used it to 3% so I have no idea what the last couple of hours of battery life might look like.

Garmin have refined how an alarm works. The alarm comes on once, buzzes for a period of time and then just decides surely you must be awake. I get it, saving battery life, but really? Not even a second time?

One of the major oops by Garmin is in the area of sleep, for some odd reason it ignores do not disturb mode (I’ve seen others complain of the same so I know it’s not just me) and notifications come through. Not true on the Fenix 3 so this seems bizarre to me. And the automatic wrist detection does not shut off when sleeping and I found it coming on through the night. A distraction and irritation. On the positive automatic wrist detection doesn’t work well anyway (it’s supposed to wake up and show you the time or whatever your opening screen is when you turn your wrist towards you) so you can just turn it off. I didn’t find the HR monitor LEDs bled through at all during sleep, an issue I’ve had with other devices.

Garmin have as usual included move reminders, something Fitbit were STUPID SLOW to add. They are simple, effective and just work.

There’s a count down and stopwatch on the device a nice touch and something I use often for cooking, BBQing etc.

There’s a nice weather app you can call up or see on your home screen. A great add and something I always have on my smartwatches. Love it! I’m a little unclear on the update frequency of the app. It seemed to get stuck sometimes 😦 And there’s no way to see how stale the data your being presented and it never seems to expire, giving you the impression it’s current when it may not be.

Optical heart rate sensors are really hit and miss. They generally do ok on the sedentary stuff, but activities are super challenging and depend on the person and the sport. You really need to check them out thoroughly before you depend on them for calorie counts (to compare for building endurance) or heaven forbid you want to use them for heart rate zones/alarms. If you decide you want to you can turn the all day heart rate sensor off within the menus.

The trakker can not connect to any external sensors, not heart rate sensors, not wheel sensors, nada. It can broadcast the heart rate on ANT+, but not to bluetooth (which you would want to send it back to your phone), although you can not view any other screens while in broadcast mode.

Garmin have really not made it easy to find the current battery status. It’s not on any screen, can’t be found in the connect app (that I can find) and is only found on the device in the settings about which takes a long press and 16 swipes to get to. Sheesh. If there is a way to turn the tracker off, I can’t seem to find it.

DC Rainmaker already addressed using this device for cycling by saying “In case it’s not overwhelmingly obvious above … It sucked. Badly.” And I can concur. It can’t even get averages right let alone using it for zones. My average heart rate mountain biking over a 2.5 hour trip according to the Vivosmart was like 111 Vs 160+ it should have been. Atrocious. And this directly translates into major issues with calorie counts 871 Vs 1212. No small difference.

Next up I thought I would try it kayaking. Being waterproof this would be a perfect companion (well other than having no GPS, and not being visible in the sun). Here it did much better. Compared with a Scosche Rhythm+ on a 1 hr 21 min row it did much better and nailed the average HR at 112 and came in with a calorie count of 438 vs 384 on the Fenix 3 (with Scosche). Not horrible. Of course with no rowing mode you get no data like stroke rate etc. Here’s an actual comparison of the data. As you can see it wasn’t great, but not bad either, and in the end by the miracle of math got the average right 🙂

Little niggles aside, and ignoring the horrendous choice of display, this might be one of the most comprehensive, best trackers on the market today. But that said, the display choice is just unforgivable for me, and will be rewarded by me returning it. Sadly …

June 16, 2017 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Advanced elements AE1012 Inflatable kayak

Ok I know this is a little off my normal topic, but thought I’d share anyway. I have loved kayaking every time I have tried it. The major stumbling block to buying one has been putting a roof rack on my car. Those of you that know (and some of you who love me :)) know I am a bit obsessive about my car. And the thought of on my own lifting a clumsy, 40 lb+ kayak over my head onto the roof rack just sounded like a pulled back waiting to happen. So I haven’t bought one … And then a friend (thanks Val) last fall introduced me to products from this company. And to make matters even better another friend (thanks John) offered to lend me one to try! Can you believe my luck!

Advanced elements web site

So what I am looking for is a kayak to take on short trips in rivers near me. 1-2 hour trips near home in gentle flowing rivers. The kayack is about the size of a hockey bag folded up and weighs 36 lbs. The newer hockey backs come on wheels, this could use that idea 🙂 The bag even includes a pouch for the manual. A nice touch would have been to include a laminated picture, sadly they didn’t.

Setting up this kayak is as simple as it appears in the videos on Youtube. I won’t bother making one there are tons out there already. Here’s one for a slightly different model. The first time I tried to set this up after watching the videos it took me 15 minutes, and deflation even less. It really is as simple and easy as it seems. A standard high capacity pump just like you’d use for an air mattress is all you need. Absolutely no need for a power pump, don’t waste your time, money and hearing (the damn things are loud). There is one trick, these pumps have an inflation and a deflation port allowing you to suck the air out of the kayak to make disassembly even faster. The vales on the boat include a switch between inflation and deflation making it easier to pump it up and then remove the pump loosing little to know air. Finding each of the tubes to inflate can be a bit challenging and they could have done a better job in the manual to show them. The caps for the inflation ports are tethered to the boat so you don’t loose them, but unfortunately they are pretty easy to snap off (I did on first use). Now your challenged to not loose the cap 😦

The bottom of the boat is covered in a rubber coating over the firm front and back of the boat. But this can easily be damaged dragging the boat so be careful. They could have made this more robust … I would consider this the Achilles heal of the boat. In the front they added a drag protector but not at the back. And in the front where the boat beaches is also quite susceptible to damage.

Once in the water the boat because of it’s width is surprisingly stable. More so than other Kayaks I’ve been in. Getting in is made easier if you undo the front zipper.

There’s an adjustable seat back that makes the boat a whole lot more comfortable. I’m not all that tall at 5’9, with a distance of 40 inches from my toes to my waste and my feet are at the end of the boat with the seat mostly to the back. So if your super tall this boat might not fit. There is a bit of storage on the back of the seat, but not all that convenient to get at.

The boat has a little keel and hard parts in the boat that make it track as well as, and as fast as a normal kayak. I have to say I was thoroughly impressed. Even in a fairly windy day (24km/h) it stayed on track and was easy to handle. I don’t have all the right words and phrases, I’m a beginner when it comes to kayaks, but this had what I wanted from a performance point of view.

If there is one thing missing it would be a water proof storage compartment for your gadgets and a bottle holder. You can buy your own and strap them into the front of the boat but this seems like a simple thing they could have added

Folding it up and getting it back in the bag was simple and easy, easier than I thought. The hard parts of the kayak make it obvious where to fold it up. The bottom inside of the kayak has a rubber coating making it easy to dry off the boat. I wish they had used the same coating on the deck of the boat. When your paddling the water from the paddle gets the deck quite wet.

This boat does not have a lot of end to end rigidity so would not be the best in rough waters. You can get an optional hard floor for it that would improve this somewhat. The boat does very well in very shallow waters too.

The boat all in all is amazing, there are always things that could have been improved, but that said this is an impressively designed and executed product. Something you don’t often hear from me 🙂

Owners manual

As an interesting side note, the Garmin Fenix 3 that I love has a rowing mode. In this mode you get lots of stats about your rowing, as well as a nice map of your trek. Here’s a sample of the data you get from it.

And another interesting side note, I did three different types of exercises and compared the calorie counts. The results are interesting.

If your looking to pick one of these up Atmosphere, The Paddle Store as well as Steveston Marine (in BC)here in Canada carry them.

If your looking at used I got this from their forums: Each kayak has a number on it that identifies it. This is called the Hull ID Number. The Hull Id # is located on the kayak and begins with XZE. The last two digits are the ones that will tell us what year it was made in. It will look something like this….XZE0186AA202. The “02” tells us that the kayak was made in 2002. It should be this way with all of the kayaks unless you bought a sample model or any other non-production model.

By the way, I’ve found customer support from Advanced Elements to be excellent, prompt and efficient. While they don’t on their web site support clients from countries other than the US, I contacted them and they shipped to Canada parts for reasonable fees.

I also found out from them that if you need more glue to repair holes (the boat came with a repair kit, but very little glue) you can use M Essentials Aquaseal Urethane Repair Adhesive, readily available on Amazon.

What do I need to get into kayaking?
To start off lets make a statement of the obvious, your going to get wet. And while tipping a kayak isn’t an easy thing to do, it’s by no means impossible. Get it sideways in a wave and you could be tipping. An unfortunately placed sharp rock or brank and it could be torn (although unlikely). So you need to wear clothes that are ok in the wet, and you can swim in them if you had to. Since there is no dry storage in the boat you may want to buy a dry bag or dry box to put stuff like cell phones or cameras in. I bought a waterproof bag for my phone. It comes with a tether and a place for a key. It works well.

Safety wise you need a life jacket, and you should get a whistle to call for help if you needed it. You will need a paddle. This boat is a little wider than some and a little higher so you need a longer one. I bought a 213 cm long one and it was too short. I moved up to a 230 and it is much better, I think 240 would be even better. The one I ended up with is a Protex Logan. Cheap at Sail. One of the previous paddles I tried came with a nice soft grip on the handle and I really liked it.

For your feet since you will need to get wet a pair of water sandals I found work best and are the most comfortable. Undoing the front zipper makes getting in and out of the boat easier. And taking the sandals off once in the boat is just more comfortable. You will need a high volume pump if your boat did not come with one. Be sure and get one that is double action so you can deflate the boat more quickly. There are foot pumps, but the they move less air.

And if your a gadget guy like me a Fenix 3 can help you track your route, get stats on the trip and be used to navigate. It can also be used for live tracking.

June 12, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Jumbl Bluetooth headset/receiver

I know, I know, not another bluetooth receiver … As you maye have guessed I am having trouble finding one to do exactly what I want. I find it odd, because with the move of iPhone 7 to removing the 3.5mm jack I would have thought these would be become even more popular. What do I know … So I now try this one … Nice and small with nice BIG (sort of) buttons. And this time they made sure volume controls are two of them. Is that not blatantly obvious? Moving on … The device has a standard 3.5 mm audio plug and is compatible with both 3 pin stereo and 4 pin stereo and mic headphones. It charges with a standard micro USB charger. This unit seems to be sold under a number of names (judging from physical appearance). This includes a Noisehush and Griffin iTrip, from a preliminary look, there may be others.

The unit clips to clothes with what appears to be a fairly robust clip that just might not break as easily as others in the past.

Spec wise they quote: “On a single charge, the built-in 120mAh rechargeable li-polymer battery keeps you going for 8 hours of music playback, 10 hours of hands-free call time, and up to 150 hours of standby.” The unit from dead took just under two hours to charge and you can use it while it’s being charged. It claims to be the newer bluetooth 4 spec, but there is no mention of APTX support. The iPhone doesn’t support APTX so not an issue for me.

It is compatible with the iPhone bluetooth battery headset widget. In case your new to this it’s a widget called battery that you can see by swiping to the left from the home screen. If the bluetooth headset is attached you will see the battery status of the headset in what appears to be 20% increments (for this headset anyway). There is no alert of an almost dead headset and I didn’t find any apps that you can use to do this. I found the count went from 100% to 80, then 60 and then dead with only a brief warning. I got approx 7 hours streaming battery life so the 8 seems possible. But the misleading 60% to dead is disappointing. Not sure how common this is. The widget also does not show the state of charge of the headset.

Pairing the device was easy, push and hold the center button until the two lights flash and away you go. Turning it on requires you to push and hold the center button but just long enough to turn it on without putting it in pairing mode. I found this hit or miss. The easiest way is to carefully listen to the beep or watch for the blue LED to come on, takes about 2 seconds. Once powered on you need to wait a bit of time, what seemed longer than most other bluetooth headsets before you could use it for streaming music. And sometimes in spite of being connected as a phone headset the music would not stream to it and I had to turn it off and back on and try again. I found this buggy at best. Once connected it works well and sound quality is good, with no drop outs.

When a call comes in you simply press the center button to accept and end the call and then your back to your music. It works smoothly.

There does not seem to be a way to call up SIRI … pooh.

When pressing the buttons on the outside (volume or fwd/rwd) it’s pretty easy, especially with gloves, to hit the play pause instead.

All in all this is a good device, not perfect, but it does work, has good battery life and sound quality is good.

June 2, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mengk bluetooth headset Eurobird HM2000

I was looking for an inexpensive bluetooth headset to replace my iKross BT19 which is no longer available. I saw this one and decided to try it.

Size and weight are good, buttons are very minimalistic, so much so as to make this device super clumsy to use. There is a fwd/rwd button that if you push and hold act as the volume up and down. Seems to me one would use volume more so why it isn’t the one that does not require holding is beyond me. The button on the front turns the unit on, and changes between streaming bluetooth and FM and powering off. Getting the front button right is all about pushing and holding just the right amount of time. Too long and you just powered it off. It’s irritating

The 3.5mm audio plug is NOT compatible with 4 pin stereo/mic headsets, only stereo ones. Sound quality is really not great even in blutooth streaming.

FM radio is reasonable well done and includes simple to use audio prompts in english.

The device can not be used while charging so it is useless as a permanent bridge.

In the end I returned this device due to poor audio quality, the lack of support for a 4 pin audio plug and maddening usability.

May 27, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sony Ericsson MW600 bluetooth headset review

When I mountain bike I love listening to music. But having a wire to the phone in your pocket is a pain (sometimes literally). So I like to use a bluetooth headset. It also makes it possible to take a call if there was something urgent. In the past I have owned a Samsung HS3000 as well as an iKross BT19, both of which I liked and used a lot, but neither are still available and both are either broken or lost. I particularly liked the big buttons on the iKross for use with gloves while riding … Finding a replacement has been surprisingly challenging. One of the problems I have is that for whatever reason in ear headphones, never stay in place on me.

So I thought I’d try this one. First off, it’s worth noting that this device is no longer sold by Sony Ericsson so if you want one buy it while you can. There are some still on Amazon.

First off the headphone connector is a standard 3.5mm, and is compatible with both stereo (3 pin) and stereo with a mic (4 pin) headphones. This comes in handy. Sound wise this is one of the best to date with the right headphones. The included ones are fine, a little lacking in base and as usual they don’t stay in my ears.

The unit is capable of pairing with two devices simultaneously, so say a phone and tablet.

Size wise, it’s about the size of a AA battery and light. Buttons are a power and micro USB for charging on the end, fwd/rwd/play-pause on the bottom and a bizarre slider for volume on the top. If there is a weakness or annoying thing about this device it’s the volume. You slide your finger along it and a visual slider comes up on the display and you slide up or down. It’s hokey at best. I have no idea what they were thinking of when they decided to do this. And it is impossible with any kind of gloves on. I could go on about how stupid this is … On the front is a single easy to use button that allows you to receive and end incoming calls. Double click and up comes SIRI! Perfect

There is an OLED display on the unit and it works super well … kind of. The display will show you the FM station your on (more about FM in a bit), the song playing when on bluetooth streaming, shows the bluetooth connection and battery state, time, and who is calling . The display is comprehensive in what it displays … but … and there is always a but, the OLED display is completely unreadable in any amount of sunlight. Really bad. And there is no way to tell what radio station your listening to without the display. There are no audio prompt whatsoever on this device. An over sight IMHO.

Sadly the device can not be used while charging so you could not use this device as a permanent bluetooth receiver. Dumb and limiting.

The clip that holds it to your clothes is quite soft and the spring is not all that robust. I can only hope it will last.

Battery life is claimed to be talk time up to 11 hours, standby time up to 500 hours, stream time up to 8 hours 30 mins, FM radio playing time up to 11 hours and charging time approximately 2 hours. Like most devices in this category there is no accurate way to tell the current battery status. The display shows the battery status but it’s too small to be able to discern much of anything.

There is an FM radio on this device and it works reasonable well and supports RDS so you get the radio stations call sign and the song playing. Impressive! Press and hold fwd/rwd and it will scan for the next radio station it finds. Reception seemed ok.

This headset can be paired to two devices at the same time, and from the headset menu you can choose which one you want to listen to and control. It’s not as seamless as the HS3000 but at least it does work.

If there was anything I wished most for, it would be an app that would run on the phone and allow you to control and see what’s going on with the headset. Now to be honest, I have NEVER seen anyone do this, but one can dream.

This headset does not support the Apple ability to display the headset’s battery status.

All in all I am pretty happy with this headset. The biggest niggle would be the silly volume control. But given how good everything else is on this headset, I guess its not so bad. But why they felt it necessary to reinvent the wheel is beyond me. There does seem to be a slightly newer model Sony SBH54.

May 24, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How to use HRV

I last did a post about HRV, an introduction of sorts, I’ve learned a little more so I thought it was time for another post on the subject. HRV or heart rate variability is a way to tell what shape your body is mentally and physically. It can be used to judge when it’s time to go all out on the next workout and when it’s time for a light stroll. It can be used to measure physical and mental stress as well. Some devices such as Garmin Vivosmart 3 and Lifetrak Zoom HRV are attempting to do all day HRV measurements. How good or accurate (or even useful) these are is very much a TBD. I am skeptical.

HRV is a measure of the variance of time between heart beats. A healthy and well rested system can react quickly to needs of the body. There is good HRV and bad HRV but the reality is there is a range. Too high is bad and an indication of one issue, too low is bad and an indication of another issue. Now I am not a Dr, I am an engineer :). So I will make no attempt to explain the physiology of any of this. What I will try and do is discuss what you can glean from HRV and how to use it.

First up is tools, you will need a highly accurate heart rate monitor. For now that seems to be chest straps. I have a Wahoo TICKR and a Polar H7 both of which seem to do just fine with HRV and give consistent readings. Next up is an app on your phone. The last time around I put a few through their paces and decided on EliteHRV. It is simple to use, easy to understand and works well. If there is anything I wish for, is a portal, where I could see the data offline, on something other than my little phone screen. Oddly enough the app does send the data up to the cloud, I guess for their use.

Taking a measurement is pretty simple, get your chest strap, wet it (most chest straps have to be wet to be accurate), sit still start the app and wait two minutes. Two minutes seems to be about the right amount of time to get a reliable accurate consistent HRV reading. The more still you are the better the measurement. For the first couple of days you will get nothing out of the app while it figures out your baseline, normal, state. Once done you are now ready to start getting some meaningful data out of the app.

I am not going to try and discuss HRV during an activity, at this point I have not figured out what it means, or even how accurate or useful it might be,

So let’s get started. After taking measurements for a bit it was time to see what shape I was in before a ride. So I took the measurement, and as you can see I am in the green and good to go! The intra chart shows a pretty stable reading.

The reading isn’t right in the middle of perfection but it’s well within the range of what it considers good for me. So off I go on a ride. I rode for 2.5 hours, and then retook my measurement. Sure enough it shows that my body has been under some considerable exertion for me). My HRV had dropped from 59 in the morning to 36 after the ride. The only thing missing would have been a nice simple dial again. I have no idea why they only do this for morning readings.

So the next morning I measure my HRV again. Here you see I have recovered from 36 back up to 51, but it’s still in the yellow meaning if I were to go out an hard exercise it might be a bad idea. I would be at risk of performing badly or even injuring myself pulling muscles and the like.

By the next day you can see my HRV had recovered back up to 58 (now two mornings, and roughly 36 hours after my ride). As an interesting note, my Garmin Fenix 3 gives you a guess at what it thinks is your time to recover from your workout, and it guessed 29 hours so in the same range.

Now to see the affect of things other than exercise, I had a really bad night of sleep. And low and behold my HRV, down to 51, reflected it and showed a deccrease and the fact that I would not be in a good place to do a hard workout, something I felt anyway.

Here’s another pre exercise HRV, then a post exercise and then the next morning. This time it dropped from 54 to 43. This was an easier ride 688 calories Vs 1244 (according to my Fenix 3) from the previous example and as you can see my HRV dropped only 11 this time Vs 23. And as you can see it took less time to recover from my exercise, the next morning I would have been good to go again for another workout (albeit just barely).

And for completeness here is an almost perfect HRV after a good long nights rest. Right smack in the middle of the good range!

This last image is a way of seeing it all in one. You can see here it’s about a range. Too high is bad, too low is bad. It’s about distance from center of your normal. You get the best readings and accuracy when you take your HRV regularly.

May 19, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Leg based heart rate monitors

I’m always looking around for new ways to track my heart rate. In my mind the heart rate can tell a lot about you and your day. Warning … This post is going to be a bit of a ramble. A couple of new products have come on the market and I have been thinking of splurging on. The new Garmin Vivosmart 3 looks interesting and includes true all day heart rate monitoring. This allows you to get a couple interesting tid bits of information including your resting heart rate and your HRV. HRV (heart rate variability) is a measure of how stressed/tired/exhausted you may be and can be used to guide you in when and how long/hard you ought to work out. A quick read on DC Rainmakers web site reveals, as expected, wrist based heart rate monitoring for cycling is not practical. In Ray’s words “In case it’s not overwhelmingly obvious above (the yellow line): It sucked.  Badly.” On the positive side it would give me more data in the Garmin connect world, and would land all my data including sleep/tracking all in one place, the holy grail. So if I bought this one, I wouldn’t be using it on my rides.

Another gadget that caught my eye and what triggered this post is the Lifetrak Zoom HRV. This is again a wrist based all day heart rate monitor that also provides HRV (thus the name Captain Obvious :)). One of the unique things they did was provide an optional arm/leg band so you can move the sensor to somewhere it might get more accurate data during workouts (ie off the wrist). They claim they can get accurate data from multiple places on the body. So it got me thinking, I wonder if it’s actually possible to get an accurate heart rate from the leg? The lifetrak even recommends using it on the leg for cycling in which case it will also get cadence (rate of rotation of the peddles). Hmmmm.

And thus we have the experiment. So first off, I do not own a LifeTrak Zoom HRV, I do however own a Scosche rhythm + that can be worn on the leg. I’ve never seen anything talking about whether you can or can not do this so …. I wore the sensor on the leg above the calf, below the knee. This insured it wouldn’t fall off when cycling.

One of the first things you have to ask yourself is what are you trying to do with the heart rate? If you are trying to use it to keep your workout in zones then accurate data is a MUST. If all you want is an accurate calorie count then accuracy of the data at a given point is less important, average are all that really matter.

First off lets have a look at simple sedentary measurement. Sitting around not doing much. In this case the data actually looks quite promising. Both the point accuracy and average look good. For this comparison I used a polar h7 chest strap.


Expecting more than a 10% accuracy is unrealistic in this market segment IMHO, however having a variance of 8 bpm is getting up there as impractical for use for heart rate zone management.

Now let’s have a look at quick stair climb. This time the leg will actually be doing something. This time around it looks bad. There’s a short period of time where it’s just an act of fiction. Then a period of time where it lags (somewhat expected) and lastly it seems to somehow catch up.


Again it did reasonably ok from averages point of view, but bad for point comparisons.

Now I went on a short walk 20 mins. In this case for the most part the data tracked reasonably well, although there’s some noticeable lag in the heart rate being detected on the leg, and then something bizarre on the end of the graph.

And last but not least we get to my real use case, cycling. Visually comparing the data during the ride the leg based heart rate monitor was REALLY BAD. Like unusable, an utter act of fiction. If you were using it to guide you in zones you would be completely off. Average wise, shockingly it’s not so bad. I can only imagine the pounding of mountain biking could make this even worse.

Update:
I had another thought … What about the ankle, would it be any better? Again the scosche is on the ankle and the tickr is a chest strap. As you can see, other than an odd drop out for a period of time it was not totally out to lunch. Now that said, again, it would not be accurate enough to use for keeping you in zones. There were definitely times when I could see 10 or BPM off. Enough to effect what zone your in. And again, average wise it was not half bad.

So what does all this mean? First up for cycling, the Rhythm can not be worn on the leg for accurate heart rate data. I would also be skeptical that when worn on the leg that the Lifetrak Zoom HRV could be considered accurate enough for cycling. Now I admit to making a HUGE leap having done this test using a different monitor, but I have seen comments around the web that have also indicated that the Zoom on the legs accuracy on heart rate is BAD.

I asked Scosche about using the sensor on the leg, here is what they said: “Greetings John we have had customer use our monitor on their leg. As far as testing, no real testing has been performed on the leg application only the forearm.”

May 11, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Garmin Fenix 3 navigation

There are a number of ways to use the Garmin Fenix 3 to navigate and make course.

1) You can save a waypoint such as your start or whatever and then select navigation saved location (which will be direction/distance as the crow flies to the waypoint)
2) In the middle of the track you can say trackback to start (which will retrace your exact route including giving you turn by turn navigation instructions, and indications when you are on course or off course)
3) If you have previous waypoints you can make a course out of it. Click Navigation, courses, create new, then add waypoints. Then do the course
4) You can record a course on the fenix, then upload it to Garmin Connect, then go to the garmin connect web site and convert it to a course.

This course can then be sent back to the Fenix with a nice title using the Garmin connect app on your phone. Click Garmin connect, more, courses, click the course, then click the icon in the top left corner to send it to your Fenix.

5) Once you have recorded a course on your fenix you can click history, find the recorded activity, then click Go.
6) You can use Garmin basecamp on your computer to make a route. To do this connect your Fenix to your computer and start basecamp. Find devices in Basecamp and your Fenix will be there. You can right click and “Send to” the entire contents of your Fenix to your computers library.

It’s better to add them to your computers library because it makes it possible to edit without the Fenix. Find the waypoint that is your starting point, right click and select create route using selected waypoint.

From there you can add as many waypoints to the route as you want. If working from the library you need to send the route to your Fenix (with the Fenix connected over USB). If editing on the devices internal storage it’s there. Oddly once you resync the route does not seem to show up in Basemap on the internal storage so editing is challenging unless you use the local library (rather than editing the Fenix’s internal storage). Routes created on Basemap never seem to get uploaded to Garmin connect even after you sync the Fenix either through bluetooth of USB. No idea why that is. You can also use Basemap to copy courses created on one Garmin device over to another but the names of the waypoints don’t copy over even if they are identical on this device. To say this whole process is imperfect is an understatement.

March 17, 2017 Posted by | Activity Trackers, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Storage pools

Storage pools are not a new concept they have existed in the Unix/Linux world for a long time but finally entered the Windows world in Windows 8, and Server 2012 (I don’t think Server 2008 had them). In the past the size of a physical drive in turn translated into the drive letter. In the olden days people would even split drives into different drive letters, but this is a maintenance nightmare leading to space on one drive letter and none on the other. The idea of storage pools for the most part is convenience. To remove the limitations imposed by the physical size of the drive an thus on a given drive letter. You simply add drives into a pool and let the operating system manage what physical drive it’s on. Need more space, add another drive and increase the pool size. Gone are the days of shuffling around files between drives to balance or free space. You can also decide on a smaller size than that of the physical drive, to have redundancy (RAID). So for example on 2TB drives you could decide only 100G of that needs to be mirrored. All this is then managed by the volume manager. There are a couple of gotchas you need to be aware of with storage pools.

  • if you think your drive size could exceed 2TB (and is not starting above 2TB) be sure the partition table you choose is GPT not GUID or you will not be able to grow beyond it.
  • if you choose to use thin provisioning (allowing logical partitions to allocate space only as needed) be aware that if you end up running out of space this is REALLY not handled elegantly at all. Here’s an example. Windows thinks 10G is available but tells you it can not copy 1G. That would confuse most people:
    over-prov-fail

  • there is no way to change the RAID level of an existing partition. This one is a particularly HUGE issue. It means you basically need to start from a blank system with blank drives. Existing partitions/drives can NOT be added to a storage pool either. So you basically need to start green field, embrace storage pools, copy your stuff onto it and stay there until time ends.
  • logical drive sizes can be increased, but shrinking is dicey
  • performance is likely NOT going to be your motivator
  • performance of a RAID 5 stripe (done in software) on Windows is bad, I mean REALLY bad, I mean so bad don’t even think about it. Read is fine, writing is super slow.

Storage pools a super convenience that would take a HUGE leap of faith and cash to jump into, but once your there, the days of running out of space on this drive or the other would be long gone!

So where to get started? In Windows 8 in control panel search for Storage (it’s called Spaces in Windows 8, Windows Server calls it pools).

As you can see only unformatted blank disks can be entered into a new storage pool. Once the pool is created your now ready to create a storage space. A space in windows terms is a virtual drive. Here you specify if your looking for any redundancy, referred to as resiliency. This would allow you to tolerate a full drive failure (in the case of a mirror), but at the cost of space. Everything is written twice thus halving the space available.

You now have a shiny new drive letter. It’s worth noting if you choose simple (re resiliency) it’s even worse than that. Because your drive is actually stored across two drives (or more) potentially, you could loose everything if one drive failed. Not just what was on one drive. Now amplify this out and say you did simple over 5 drives (as an example). If any one of the 5 drives failed you could loose everything. This is a VERY bad choice, one that Windows sadly does not warn you about.

So now you decide, okay I am going to change the resiliency to add redundancy. Nope you can’t do that even if the drive is empty without deleting it and starting again.

So that’s about it, a little sneak peek into Storage pools/Spaces in Windows.

March 16, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment