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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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚ 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 …

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.

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 πŸ™‚

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 The Paddle Store as well as Steveston Marine (in BC)here in Canada carry them.

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.Β  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

Xiaomi Band 2 review

At this point I have a variety of gadgets in my drawer. My fav right now is the Garmin Fenix 3. The best combination of GPS watch, fitness/sleep tracker, and smart watch functions. Amazing device. But at the end of the day, it’s big, isn’t the best sleep tracker and some days you just want to wear a normal watch and not look like a geek. The Polar A 300 is an excellent every day watch. Always on display, easy to read, good notifications, good sleep tracking and good battery life. But it has no GPS so for activities like hiking/cycling it is only somewhat useful. At this point I have two Fitbits, the Flex (which is really my daughters) and a Charge . Fitbit as one of the companies that invented this sector and still dominate it, have been irritating me. They have fallen asleep at the wheel. Innovation seems to me to have stalled. None of them do the whole suite of notifications (on an iPhone). Move reminders have been added to only the newest devices. Watch faces on the Blaze are so lacking as to be laughable. The latest products the Flex 2 and Charge 2 just aren’t what I am looking for. They just don’t cut it.

So what am I looking for? Well … the requirements boil down to this (in order of importance):
1) small enough as to be barely noticable
2) smart watch like vibration notificatons (not just call)
3) good battery life (5 days or better)
4) automatic sleep tracking. Having to manually start/stop sleep is just a complete non starter
5) move reminder

Right off the bat a number of the Garmins that I would otherwise consider drop off. This includes Vivofit (no vibration alert only audible, which can get missed when your in noisy places). All of the Fitbits miss the mark with only call or call/text notifications (again on iPhone).

And so we at long last move onto the Xiaomi Band 2 and the reason for this point. Physically this band is as small as one could want.
xiaomi-mi-band-2-0019-800x533-c

The unit consists of a removable peanut (similar to the first gen of this device as well as the flex).
download-2
The charge clip is firm and simply designed. I have no idea if it is the same one as the first gen band. The removable nature of this means you also can change the band (and also makes cleaning the band simple and easy). There are lots of options from leather to metal available inexpensively on Amazon.
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I have not been able to find a belt clip for it like I did for the fitbit Flex, nor have a I found a protector that would allow me to just throw it in the pocket.

The default band is the usual rubber but it is well designed and easy to do up. Fitbit could learn a thing or two from this. I still prefer a simple watch band like clasp but none the less it’s fine. The extra loop insure that if it comes undone there is a chance you might not loose it
mi-band-2-review.

Over bluetooth the device’s firmware can be updated, which there was one for me. Not sure how active they are with updates, time will tell.

The display is a simple affair and reasonably readable especially in lower light situations. You can customize the display to rotate through all of your stats. It is not an always on display (sadly). You can have it attempt to detect your wrist turning to turn it on if you want. I found this like on other devices messes up and comes on when sleeping. How hard is it to combine the fact you detected I’d sleeping and do not turn the display on? It will cycle through them as you tap the button (or optionally when you rotate your wrist, which is hit or miss). Its simple, efficient and well done. It’s a little on the smaller side so reading it without my glasses is sadly not possible (for me).

So now we have loaded the app (called mi Fit) onto your phone and are ready to pair. The registration process is not the smoothest experience. And if you are trying to use an existing account your in for a challenge of your patience. By default your user id is your country code and phone number. So in my case +1905xxxxxx. And you need to manually type and remember this (including the + sign). To say it’s not obvious is an understatement. Once you EVENTUALLY get past this part your onto the next. And I bumped into my second MAJOR hurdle. I bought my band on ebay, second hand. It was cheap, and in my country so why not … well I will tell you why not. It turns out Xiaomi have decided on the band 2 to try and prevent theft or reuse after loss. If the band is tied to an existing account it can not be tied to a new account until it is removed from the previous account. To do this the previous owner needs to unpair it within the Mi Fit app. This releases the band so it can be registered to a new account. There seems to be no way around this. I was able to get the previous owner to do this after a bit of chatter, but none the less, I was able to get it going. But this is something to be aware of. And if something happened to your Xiaomi account the band is garbage.

The app itself is simple and easy to use and gives you your current step count/calories and kms. The calories is activity calories only, which is nice. Fitibit insist on blurring your activity calories with your basal calories. Something that in my mind trivializes your activity calories. So be careful if your comparing calories with other devices …

Battery life is reported to be as much as 20 days, I managed a whopping 37 days before it asked to be charged! This so trounces the Fitbit as to be earth shattering. And my experience with the previous Gen says it’s possible. One of the things I like is that they tell you very clearly the percentage of battery remaining (Vs fitbits high medium/low) as well as when it was last charged. They are not afraid to let you see what the battery life of the device is.
img_1853

Notification wise the device is the most comprehensive, and flexible series of notifications on the market. Again, Fitbit could learn a thing or two. Oddly the Google Mail app can not be selected for notifications, only the default mail app 😦 The vibration motor is fine and gets the job done, silently alerting you. Oddly alert setup is hidden behind the play icon? The message comes up briefly and then goes away. There seems to be no way to recall the message on the band you may have missed.
img_1854 img_1855

I have found bluetooth connection (on iPhone) to be a bit spotty which means the notifications can get missed. And re connection when you walk away from your phone takes some time, again affecting notifications. So this is definitely an area of weakness.

There is a band finder but it simply buzzes the band and turns on the display, so not all that helpful. There are bluetooth signal strength apps that could help you find it. Like most devices in this category it does not alert you when you walk away from your phone (or loose the band). Why they don’t do this is beyond me.

The device does do move reminders (and they can be turned off). It’s set for 1 hr inactivity and this can not be changed. You can define the hours that move alerts are active for which is nice. It also just gives you a simple buzz to get off your butt πŸ™‚

Interestingly enough this unit actually has a heart rate sensor on the bottom of it. You can call up your heart rate anytime you like (which can be initiated on the phone or on the band). It doesn’t, oddly enough, seem to sample your heart rate through the day? The heart rate monitor can be configured to be used while sleeping to be more accurate at detecting you level of sleep. The sensor itself is quite smooth on the bottom, unlike others, so it ought to be reasonably comfortable in the long run. Accuracy is another matter, and one should not expect much. There is a way to use the heart rate monitor to track say a workout. Just press the Runner in the top left corner and click start. You can do an indoor run (no gps) or an outdoor run. Interestingly enough it even includes a high heart rate alert feature. There is a third party app on iPhone called
download

Finding friends that might also have a Xiamoi band is utterly useless. You can pull up a QR code on your phone and a friend can scan it. You can’t do it unless you are physically next to each other. There is a share button but this can only be done to Facebook and twitter (no email), although you can save it and email it yourself?

Like Apple Health, there is no web portal to view your data. Nor is there an ability to export your data from within the app. Fortunately, unlike Fitbit, Xiaomi does completely support sending it’s data into Apple Health. Impressive!

Ok let’s talk data. First up is steps. Every company uses different algorithms to determine steps. In my mind if they are within 10-15% of each other I can live with that. What is actually more important anyway is relative day to day. From steps, Kms and calories are calculated. Kms is particularly unimportant IMHO.

Day 1 I compared to a Garmin Fenix 3’s step tracker:
Garmin 11215 steps 9.1 kms 229 calories
Miband 105338 steps 8 kms 299 calories
Difference% -6 -12 +31
So steps are well within my tolerance. It’s worth noting I see nowhere to adjust your stride which would adjust Kms per step. Calorie wise not sure what to say.

Day 2 I compared to a Fitbit Flex
Flex 13444 steps 10.1 kms
MiBand 13090 steps 9.7 kms
Difference% -3 -4
So it did very well compared even to a Fitbit! Calorie wise Fitbit have always been absolutely stupid IMHO in that they blend activity calories with Basal calories. Basal is the calories it takes to exist. Basal is such a larger number that it totally overwhelms and makes activity calories look irrelevant. This can be demotivating. Even Fitbits activity calories which you can find by exporting the data from the portal end up being astronomical. So for the above day Fitbit says I burned 2438 calories, and 1183 of those were activity calories (Xiaomi calculated 312. Now when you care about calories is when you are trying to watch your weight. Calories in Vs calories out. So … I have no idea what to say about that. Moving on …

Now onto sleep! The big issue with comparing sleep is each company from Garmin, to Polar etc all decide to track different things. Some times awake, some restless, some deep sleep …

I compared a Fitbit Flex with a Polar A300 with the Xiaomi:
7.4 7.4 7.6 hours of sleep
I had to manually adjust the Flex, it totally missed when I went to bed. The Polar and the Xiaomi nailed it. And in fact the Xiaomi got it within mins.

Xiaomi track deep sleep (which they say is aided by the heart rate monitor) and then subtract from the total sleep to give you light sleep. I found the green light from the heart rate monitor creeps out and disturbs my sleep. The time we are in true deep sleep, at least for me is small. According to them: 1.7hrs of deep sleep so 5.9 hours of light sleep. Xiamoi make no attempt to give you a number of quality of sleep. On the second day it nailed when I went to bed but messed up when I got out of bed taking when I got up to go to the bathroom as me getting up. There is an edit button but it doesn’t seem to work and just says that a record for this time already exists. This is unfortunate as it would allow you to correct it.

Let’s have a look at the heart rate monitor, in inactive, sitting relatively still for 15 mins with the band tight. Optical heart rate sensors like this one need close contact with the skin to insure light doesn’t interfere with it. Now doing this test was a challenge to say the least. There is a buggy app called Mi HR that will allow you to use the Mi Band’s heart rate monitor in other apps. A clever piece of software. So I used Endomondo with the Mi Band and used a Scosche Rhythm+ with my Garmin Fenix 3 for the comparison. So let’s go with the good first. Over the 15 mins the Mi band showed an average heart rate of 74 and the scosche 78 or a delta of only 4 BPM (or 5%). This is really quite acceptable. I am shocked how overall it is quite good. If you were using this simply to estimate calories this is definitely acceptable. Now lets have a look at data points. In the 15 minutes there were 147 data points in common. During the 15 minutes the two differed by as much as 31 BPM topping out at a delta of 37%. This is shockingly bad and would be unusable if you were trying to use this to alert yourself when your heart rate was too low or two high. At a threshold of a delta of 5 BPM it was off by more than that 23% of the time. 10 BPM 12% and 15 BPM 11%. Here’s a graph of the data:
miband-hr

Update 4/12
I did a 2.5 hour road bike ride and compared the Xiaomi using the Mi HR app on iOS to a Wahoo Tickr chest strap and the results were abysmal. According to the Xiaomi the average heart was 102, Vs the Wahoo Tickr at 165. And the graph between the two is so bad as to be laughable. And I can only imagine how bad a mountain bike would be (given the added bumps etc).

I was able to do this using an app called Mi HR on an iPhone that will allow you to use your Mi Band 2 HR in apps like Endomondo (not all see it). You start My Fit and let it sync, then start Mi HR, then start something like Endomondo and pair the HR monitor. .

So in summary: size is perfect (exactly what I was looking for), comfort is good, battery life is excellent (I’d go so far as to say industry leading), activity tracking is fine, notifications are good, sleep tracking is barely adequate, app is basic and buggy, heart rate monitor is barely implemented, and activity tracking outside of walking is barely implemented. It’s for me, good enough and well worth the money.

February 26, 2017 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment