John Galea's Blog

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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

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.

The unit consists of a removable peanut (similar to the first gen of this device as well as the flex).
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

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.

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

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:

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).

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

Here a tracker there a tracker … Apple Health to the rescue?

Getting all your activity/sleep etc data in one place is challenging. The makers like fitbit etc have no motivation whatsoever to allow you to have devices from different companies. In fact, they use it to trap you into their ecosystem. If you happen to change trackers, do you want to change your scale? Of all the companies I’ve played with Fitbit, Polar, Misfit, and Xiaomi only Fitbit allow you to export your data. And then it dawned on me, in the Apple world there is a bridge to bring this data in one place, Apple Health! So let’s have a look at this …

When you install an app that supports Apple Health, you can control what amount of access it can have to Apple Health, ie what it can read and write. When you uninstall an app you can also choose to remove all data in Apple health from that app. You can easily see what sources currently have read and write access and tailor it as you see fit.

For this to be a savior you need to keep an eye on how well the individual app works with Apple health. I found Garmin connect had some anomalies that were polluting the sleep data. It seems Garmin did not think of the possibility that you might not always sleep with your Garmin device and it used the definition of normal bed time (which is used to mute the device) on those occasions to populate your sleep? WTF.

Fortunately it’s pretty easy to simply remove Garmin Connect’s access to just the sleep data.

Fitbit have chosen for now to completely ignore Apple Health, likely to keep your data in their vault. Fortunately there is an app out there that simply takes your fitbit data and pushes it into Apple health called Health Sync. It works well.

Fitbit do an incredible job of taking data from multiple devices and merging them. You can wear your Flex for part of the day and switch up to a different tracker and it merges them nicely. Apple Health however makes not attempt to do this. It does however allow you to prioritize which data is likely to be more accurate.

Additionally you can manually edit and delete entries easily.

Data can be exported from the Apple health app, but I see no way of importing it. This is potentially a challenge if you don’t use the backup/restore method of migrating to a new phone at some point. The exported data comes out in an XML file that is challenging at best to do anything with. Fortunately there is an app called QS Access that will allow you to export exactly what you want to a CSV that in turn can be imported into Excel for graphing and analysis.

So an in all it can be done, but definitely could use some work by Apple …

November 15, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers, iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

Misfit Shine

I’ve owned a number of the Fitbits and love the data you get out of them. I’ve seen the Misfit product line and been curious. I got a chance to snag one on the cheap so it’s time to satisfy some curiosity. This is by no means a new device, and in fact there is a shine 2 out.

The Shine takes a different approach to tracking, in that it makes no attempt to be anything but a tracker. Don’t go looking for notifications (I don’t think there is even a vibrate motor in it), doesn’t attempt to add a display (although there are lights on it that if you take the time to interpret can be used to read the time and percent to your goal you’ve done) nada. It just goes about it’s business tracking your steps and sleep while you get on with your day. There’s nothing to recharge, it runs on a disposable CR2032 battery that should last months. And within the app you can see the charge on the battery.

The Shine can be worn in two ways out of the box. Either with a band on your wrist or a clever magnet that can wrap around belt loops, pockets etc.
There are also optional necklaces that can be bought or you can just carry it in your pocket. But I can only imagine the black will get scratched off by keys/coins.

The magnetic based loop works well and has a reasonably firm grip. Using this or the necklace frees up your wrist for other things like watches. A couple of cautions about the magnetic loop. Call me captain obvious but be careful not to have it close to things like credit cards, ID badges etc because it might just erase the magnetic strip. I also found that the magnet would latch onto belt buckles and rivets in belts. When it did that it was very easy to get loose (and potentially fall off). Speaking of fall off if you walk away from your phone or loose your Shine, sadly, the app will not inform you. It’s just gone. And misplace it and you can manually get it to light up, but it can’t buzz. So finding it can be a challenge. Same thing was true of Fitbits by the way. And there’s no signal strength within the app (there are apps for that) that might help you at least figure out the general area it’s in.

The app was dead easy to initially setup (I did it on an Iphone) and every time you open the app it syncs the data off. No idea how much memory it has for wearing it disconnected.

The Shine picks up cycling as steps, but with a Fitbit it uses some back end data processing to massage out the data. No such luck on the Shine.

The home screen of the app gives you a non-customizable view of your activity.
It prominently displays some bizarre point system, and you can’t change it. Give me my steps instead in that nice display. It does however give you what more you need to do to meet your goals for the day. All in all the app is fine. All data is then uploaded to the Misfit portal by your phone. Default units were miles etc, I changed it over to Kms.

You can share you progress from the home screen to variety of different places.

The portal itself is also fine, a little basic. I see no way to export the data, although you can enable it to send your data to Apple health (something Fitbit has chosen to not do). I am not sure I understand where companies come off thinking your data belongs to them and shall never be removed from there cloud. It irks me. At least Fitbit allow you to export it one month at a time for external data analysis. We live in a world that is data rich, and information poor. If you don’t analyse and mine the data what are you collecting it for? End rant …

And don’t expect to be able to have apps like Endomondo feed into Misfit so you can get a total picture of your exercise. This is a HUGE miss … I like getting a complete picture of my exercise in one place. The apps it does support are VERY limited, and sadly none of the ones I currently use, but on the positive side they have included a link to Walgreens so you can ear rewards for your healthy choices? Seriously I couldn’t make something this silly up πŸ™‚

Like Fitbits the Shine lacks an activity reminder, a prod to get off your butt and walk around …

Socially speaking the app can search your Facebook/Twitter and Contacts for people using a Misfit product. Oddly it found no one for me. It does give you a friend it calls Mr.Fit and average of all Misfit users today to compare yourself against. If you deny access to your contacts your going to go and manually dig to approve it (Setting, privacy, contacts). Once it finds friends you can add them, but you can not see if they are active or not (Fitbit does).

Sleep wise the shine supports auto sleep and gives you a view of how well you slept including how long in bed, how much restful sleep and how much light sleep.

I had to replace the battery and had a devil of a time. I eventually figured out I had misread the instructions but in the process had gouged the aluminum. Then putting it back together the battery clip on the circuit board bent, and then broke off. Presumably I did not get the rotation of the lid correct. So this gave me the opportunity to try Misfit’s customer support. They are very limited in ways to get a hold of them, email was the only option. I tried to find a way to call them, no joy. It took Misfit support 6 business days to even return my email. They eventually sent me a new one which was generous of them. They could have said it was my fault for not following instructions. Of course I could say it was poorly designed (which I think it is). In the end it took a whopping 21 business days to get a new tracker. Wow.

If your looking for no muss, no fuss, no glitz, no glamour tracker, the Misfit Shine may very well fit the bill. But do be super careful when changing the battery πŸ™‚

November 9, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Xiaomi Miband fitness tracker mini review

My good friend Lance was wandering through a park and tripped over one of these, so he gave it to me to play with. Searching the web says it’s not uncommon for these to become parted from their owners. Like most other trackers it does not alert you when it becomes disconnected from the phone. Also like other trackers, when you link a found tracker up with your phone it makes no attempt to reunite it with it’s former owner.

The MiBand (first gen) is a super cheap, Chinese activity tracker, think like $20 on Amazon. And it looks every bit as cheap as it is IMHO. So let’s see what we have. Delving into the app you find some interesting artifacts of Chinese all over the place. And it seems China has no idea Canada is a country when you go to setup it’s region. Ok so I guess I’m an American? Setup requires you to give it your phone number and a password to create an account. It then sends you a text with a passcode you enter and your done. Then you enter the usual handful of personal stats, age, sex, weight height etc. The app kept finding a firmware update was needed but it kept failing with no hint of why.

Like other activity trackers it tracks steps (which get converted into kms and calories) and sleep. Interestingly the calories do not include basal calories (active calories only), something I wish others would do. There is no move reminder. As an example Mi Vs Fitbit Flex: Steps 14519 vs 16230 (-11%), Kms 10.5 Vs 11.95 (-12%) calorie count is 580 Vs 2634, but when you remove basal of 1200 it compares with 1434. So other than calories the Mi does an admiral job of step counting. Especially when you include the price!

Sleep tracking is extremely basic and only tells you the time you were in bed and the time you were in deep sleep with light sleep being the left over. Nothing about how many times you were restless etc.
Comparing the Mi to Fitbit flex time in bed: 6.3 hrs Vs 6.9 (-9%). Again not a bad at all.

There does not seem to be a portal to view your stats on, so your limited to it on your device, I also see no way to export the data. The data can be fed into Apple health, a nice surprise and something Fitbit choose to not do.

Notifications (on an iPhone) for phone calls and alarms can be turned on in which case it vibrates quite noticeably, but the default is this is off, and no other notificatons come through to the tracker. Likely to preserve battery life.

There is a find your tracker function, in which case it buzzes if it is in bluetooth range.

The Mi unlike the Fitbits tell you clearly when you last charged it and the exact battery percentage. In 2days it went down a mere 8% which would project out to 25 days which is HUGELY impressive. My Flex gets about 7.

The app is basic, there’s no portal, and no way to export but if your looking for a budget tracker this is a much better choice than I anticipated. If they added full notifications it would present an additional use case for the device.

October 13, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire review

Hot no the heals of the Fenix 2 I decided to return it and try the Fenix 3, I was that impressed with it.

The Fenix 3 comes in a host of different models to suit your tastes, and budget. Everything from the bottom end Fenix 3 to the Sapphire all the way up to the Sapphire HR (heart rate). I really had to push my mental limits on price for a watch to reach for this model. I bought it from GPSCity refurb for $529. The difference in price between the Fenix 3 and Sapphire was only $50 and changes to a metal band (although a rubber is included to swap out) and the crystal is a more durable sapphire. So I splurged.

A number of folks may only read this post so I will do it as a stand alone post. For those of you that read the Fenix 2 there will be some overlap, sorry about that.

My use case for this device is potentially an everyday watch, activity tracker, as well as use in sports such as hiking, biking and kayaking.

On with the write up. This is definitely a big watch. I have a small wrist and it’s noticeable. It looks a whole lot more elegant than the Fenix 2 but still noticeable as a sports watch. The metal band that is on the Sapphire is really quite heavy. Top that off with the fact that it is not possible to use the metal band with a handlebar mount and you have an issue. Fortunately they did include a normal rubber band and the screw drivers to change the band. Changing the band is a quick and easy task. I would have preferred that they included a spare set of pins but they did not.

The Fenix 3 includes a dizzying array of sensors (same ones as on the Fenix 2), a digital compass, a barometric altimeter, temperature sensor, gps and accelerometers. All packed in a watch. Without the metal band the weight is not that bad, 85g, the metal band weighs in at over 90g on it’s own. And it is actually possible to wear it sleeping. Even on my small wrist. As with any metal band you will need tools to get it sized right for you. Or take it to a jewler. Be sure and watch the direction you need to push the pins out to remove them, it is marked on the under side of the band.

On initial setup on the watch you have to enter your age/weight/sex etc. I guess this is in case you are going to use the watch face without a phone/computer but this just seems like a silly step.

The Fenix 3 uses a very different kind of screen which they refer to as “1.2-inch sunlight readable Garmin Chroma Display”. It’s focus is two fold, make it readable always (sometimes requiring a backlight), and consume as little power as possible. This is a color screen, but just barely. Don’t go looking for a bright vibrant Apple watch or Samsung Gear like screen. Colors are dull and washed out. That is not the focus point of this watch. It is generally a good display, although I am not sure I like it more than the Fenix 2’s …

The backlight on the Fenix 3 now has a setting that anytime you push a button it comes on. Brilliant (and obvious at the same time). Timeout can be set to anything you want, including always on which I am sure will have dramatic effects on the battery and be a good size distraction while your trying to sleep. I wish they had a setting for on during workouts. This would be handy for when in the forest mountain biking or anywhere there is low light.

The watch is controlled by a series of large buttons around the edge of the watch. This is not a touch screen. This is in keeping with the primary purpose of the watch which is a GPS watch. The buttons have a much nicer feel than the Fenix 2 and can be managed with some light gloves.

One of the major improvements for the Fenix 3 is the addition of support for Connect IQ. This is Garmin’s extensible architecture that allows third parties to release there own apps, widgets (data fields for the watch faces), watch faces and data fields (for use in activity screens). Connect IQ is managed from the Garmin connect app on your phone that then sends them over to the watch. Connect IQ support is a HUGE move for Garmin. I love the idea of it but Garmin seems to have SEVERELY limited Connect IQ. You can only have a set number of “open slots” that you can install these into and only so much space for them. Garmin gave you an area to manage the storage which shows you within the phone app how much storage and slots are available but you can not uninstall from this same screen. Clumsy. And the built in Garmin apps/widgets etc can be disabled but do not free up space. I had some challenges trying to figure out how to add back an app I had removed/hidden. Turns out its done on the watch not the phone. And try and uninstall from the phone your current watch face and you get a nasty failed message with no hints as to why. And once you’ve downloaded to your phone a particular app/widget etc they remain on your phone cluttering your lists indefinitely. As a neat freak this is troubling. I know get over it, but really Garmin could have done a much better job of this. I have to say the way it’s done takes a lot of the excitement of having this wonderful and extensible feature. Dear Mr Garmin … please please pretty please work on Connect IQ. Signed your loyal customer πŸ™‚ I do digress .. Oh and be aware that installing these apps/widgets etc while your fussing with a bunch of them really can smoke your battery fast … I had an issue that deleting watch faces was not freeing up slots to install another one, this was only resolved by a reboot of the watch. Oddly also missing is the ability to change the watch face from the phone, it can only be done on the watch. And on the watch there’s no preview so your stuck finding the name of the watch face on the watch and then finding it on the watch. Again, clumsy …

I love the ability to get different watch faces. I found the device and it’s screen lend itself far better to digital rather than analog ones. There are about 900 different watch faces out at time of writing. Here are some of my favorites:
Steam Guage 38aa7012-001d-4c6c-b0b4-fbfd0d5f2772 X-WF f5571054-aba2-4eb0-ad68-268b9dd395d5 GNX Digits 752bc414-1554-4fd4-a8d3-fb0c5e8205deAb Initio c6dd14bc-2e3d-4a9d-8f3d-f6dfb34a55b2LCD Digits ec0f0f6a-6dba-4823-9b9a-b80db8c91f78

There are watch faces that display your heart rate, but these seem to only work with the Fenix’s with heart rate monitor built in. It will not try and connect to an ANT+ heart rate monitor. Similarly there do not seem to be built in apps that will just display the ant+ heart rate data outside of an activity. I did find a third party app that will give you current, min and max heart rate as an activity of it’s own Cardiometer

The Fenix 3 can do complete activity tracking including steps (that gets translated into kms and calories), floors climbed and descended (first time I’ve seen the ability to differentiate between ascend/descend, likely because of the barometric altimeter) and sleep. Steps and kms compared well with my Fitbit however calories are obviously calculated differently between the companies as they varied by over 20% with Fitbit being higher. Sleep stats are very basic but they are there. The watch can easily be worn while sleeping. Garmin even included move reminders, something Fitbit are still struggling to get on more than there newest devices. Like most of these devices they have forgot to pause step counts while in a workout, so I did a ride and it detected a thousands of steps 😦 Just difficult can it be to get this right?
I did notice one really stupid thing. I took the watch off, went to bed and picked up the next morning. As far as it was concerned I had slept 100% the entire time. Doh. Dumb. Oh and Garmin automatically mutes notifications when it detects sleep, brilliant, however they seem to have thought of the possibility of taking it off to sleep and notifications just kept coming, waking me up. Doh, again dumb. The easiest solution to this is to turn on do not disturb mode on the watch and set your sleep time in the phone app (settings, user settings normal bed times). This does cause another issue, if you dont wear the watch while sleeping but it’s on and you have set the normal sleep time connect logs your normal sleep time in Apple health. And I woke up, took the watch off to shower and it thought I had been asleep the time I was in the shower. All in all the sleep area of the watch could use some attention.

Using Garmin Basecamp I was able to transfer waypoint between my other Garmin devices over USB. In fact from what I can see USB is the ONLY way to get waypoints/courses etc to the Fenix 3, you can’t do it over bluetooth or wifi (Fenix 2 was the same by the way). Unlike the Fenix 2 which slowed down when the waypoints got loaded up the Fenix 3 is fine. Waypoints are again sorted by proximity (to your last known location) and there’s no option for alphabetic. Waypoints are now called saved locations rather than user data as they were on the Fenix 2. Makes more sense.

When the watch is being used every day you have access to the altimeter, barometer and compass using the up and down arrow from the time. Garmin created a one screen app that is too confusing for me called ABC. Fortunately you can disable it and have access to each on their own screen. The compass doesn’t include an arrow to north, instead gives you the degrees. Not my preference but heh …

I couldn’t for the life of me get the Garmin weather app to work and lots of people complain about it so …

Watch wise Garmin have hit all the marks with multiple alarms, a stopwatch, and count down timer. You can also create a hotkey shortcut to the count down timer which shortens the number of clicks to get to it. Very convenient. Setting the countdown timer is a little clumsy but not unmanageable.

Garmin oddly refer to activities as apps. You can control which activities the watch displays and can add new ones. For each activity you define the set of screens that will be displayed during that activity. If you don’t add that screen to the activity’s definition you can’t get to it. To get back to the time/apps off the main screen press and hold the down button, then press back to go back to your app. Oddly a visual compass does not seem to be available within a workout but there are ones in the Connect IQ store.
My fav is Compass data fieldb20c6bcc-e3bc-4706-b8dc-732603eab951

Map is there by default now, as is HR Guage. I particularly like the heart rate guage. At a quick glance you can see where you are as well as the zone.

Heart rate alerts have been improved. Setting them is a bit bizarre they give you two thumbwheels to set your min/max (for custom). One has two digits and one has one. So to set 180 you set 18 on the one and 0 on the other. It confused me at first. Once set it works absolutely perfectly. It beeps, flashes the screen and pops the heart rate screen on for you to see. Very well done.

While in an activity (or not) you can start navigation to a pre-saved point or back to start or track back. Saved locations as mentioned above are sorted based on closest to your current location. Once you sort through your waypoints, and this watch can store 1000 (wow) you are ready to navigate to it. Garmin have dramatically improved the navigation screen. Navigation now becomes an added screen on your existing activity (rather than a separate activity as it was on the Fenix 2). On this screen you get an arrow to your destination and the distance to it (albeit in a super small font) on one screen. There’s a fair bit of wasted white space on the screen not sure Garmin didn’t make more efficient use of the space with bigger font/arrow.

When on other screens you get a little arrow showing you constantly the direction to your waypoint. Wow. I am thoroughly impressed by how well they have done this. Thanks Garmin you have restored my faith in you! The map of your current activity is also super easy to read with a nice wide track of where you have been and is easy to see. A really huge improvement

While in an activity you can press and hold the down button and get taken back to the time of day, and can then call up things like the music app, ABC etc. The music app by the way is super basic and even a little clumsy. You can use it to start stop etc the music. It works fine but don’t go looking for song playing etc it’s just not there.

Activities saved can be uploaded through the phone (through bluetooth, so be patient this can take minutes to complete) or you can set them to auto upload using WIFI in which case magic happens and it just works. Next thing you know the activity is on Garmin connect. It seemed to get the password for the WIFI from the phone. This is SUPER convenient.

From a biking point of view you the Fenix 3 supports speed/cadence sensors. There’s no explicit mention of a speed only or cadence only sensor but I believe it supports it. Standing still and spinning the wheel shows a speed so I am pretty sure it uses the wheel sensor to determine speed/distance when available (yay).

Sensor wise you can have multiple sensors in each category. You can manually rename them to something that is more meaningful rather than some silly number of digits. Sensors can easily be added/deleted, something that was an issue on previous Garmin devices. All in all the management of the sensor pool is well done. One odd thing though is there is no way to tell it for an activity to ignore sensors. As soon as you start an activity it attempts to connect to various sensors. The only exception to this is you can decide to turn off the GPS for a particular activity such as an indoor one. Garmin as always support only ANT+ sensors (not bluetooth), but you can always buy dual mode sensors (bluetooth and ANT+) such as the Wahoo Blue SC, Speed or Tickr heart rate monitor.

Battery life on this watch is dependent on what your doing with it. GPS mode draws the most. Watch mode the least. Measuring actual battery life is very difficult unless you dedicate time to doing just measuring the battery life ie not using the watch. So I don’t have actual numbers for you. Garmin claim up to 50 hours in UltraTrac mode; up to 20 hours in GPS training mode; up to 6 weeks in watch mode. I can’t think of too many devices with that can compete with this. Using this device all day while snowboarding/skiing is very possible. Recharge time from dead is a little over 2 hours so not horrible, and is about half of what the Fenix 2 took. In about 2.5 hours the watch dropped a whopping 22% so that would translate out to about 11.3 hours. Way below the 20 hours they quote and well above the Fenix 2.

Garmin include Livetracking which allow you to share your current location, speed distance etc from your current activity. This can be shared over email facebook etc.

Garmin have included functions to find your phone from your watch and your watch from your phone. Assuming it is within Bluetooth range. They do not appear to have included a last seen location for your watch should you loose it. Something Motorola does.

Garmin have included a search utility to find friends, but it found only one. I know others using Garmin connect so I have no idea why …

Notifications are pretty well done on the Fenix 3. You get a nice little buzz on your wrist then the message pops up on the screen (in albeit small font size, unchangeable). This is comprehensive and covers all notifications on iOS including phone calls. You can even decline this phone call from the wathc. This works well and is super convenient while in the middle of a ride. They also notify you when it’s time to get off your butt πŸ™‚ The notifications come up nicely within a ride but the font is so small as to be unreadable. But they go away quickly.

Garmin wisely included the ability to power off the watch. This allows you to power it off and come back to it the next time you want it and it’s all powered up ready to go. A number of others forget this super obvious function. Some people do have more than one watch you know. No really they do!

There are a dizzying array of things to setup on the Fenix 3. And pretty much every one of them have to be setup on the watch itself (can’t be setup on the phone) and none of them can be backed up. Seems like an odd oversight.

There are definitely things that annoy me with the Fenix 3. The menu system and change of buttons from past devices being just a few. But even with that I have to admit this is an amazing watch. If you have a loved one that is into gadgets and like physical activity this may be the perfect decadent toy for them. Will it change your life, well no, but it real is a wonderful piece of technology!

For another even more in depth review checkout DC Rainmer’s review. Always one of the first places I go to for fitness based tech!

I wrote up another post on how to make courses and navigate on the Fenix 3. Check it out.

Update 4/3/2017
I’ve now owned the Fenix 3 for about 5 months now. I have to say, I love this device. It really is a super watch. It performs smartphone notifications, talks to all my cycling sensors, can be mounted on a handlebar (with the rubber band and the optional handlebar mount), can be used for navigation, does activity tracking, the app is pretty good, and battery life is also good. If there is anything missing it is a heart rate sensor. I made a choice to not buy the Fenix 3 HR, given the additional price. This would give you two options. An always with you heart rate monitor for use on activities, and 24×7 heart rate monitoring. As it happens Garmin only periodically check the heart rate (According to DC Rainmaker) so this is not all that useful. And if I am going for ride, I need more accuracy than the wrist mounted would give me anyway. Now at this point the Fenix 5 is out (there is no such thing as the Fenix 4). So what would the Fenix 5 give you that the 3 doesn’t? Garmin now properly do 24×7 heart rate monitoring giving you more accurate resting heart rate numbers. Also, recently Garmin updated Connect IQ and sadly the Fenix 3 was left off the list. A rather troubling move. This means, going forward not all widgets/watch faces will work on the Fenix 3. The Fenix 5 also moved to a more convenient quick connect watch band, a welcome improvement. Fortunately these same bands work on the Fenix 3. Is it worth the additional cash to go for the 5? That’s up to you …

October 4, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Wahoo bike speed sensor and Wahoo fitness app review

I’ve owned a Garmin combination Cadence and wheel sensor for a very long time. Cadence if your not aware is the rate of rotation of your pedals on a bike. Now if I was a more serious cyclist I would be concerned with cadence, as it is I am more interested in distance accuracy which is what drew me to this sensor. This sensor broadcasts on both Ant+ and Bluetooth. Ant+ can be used to talk to a variety of Garmin devices as well as smart phone apps. But now comes the catch, Garmin did not include a speed only (or cadence only) profile on some of their older models. And some models read, record and then ignore the speed sensor in favor of the GPS. I emailed Wahoo to be sure that my Edge 305 was supported, they insured me it was, sadly it doesn’t work and is completely ignored. On my Fr70 it does work however. On my Foretrex 401 it says right in the manual it will always use the GPS for speed/distance so this is not useful (although I didn’t actually try it with the 401 I have tried others and confirmed exactly what they said, they don’t use it for speed/distance, so ignores it, so why did Garmin bother).

So why would you care? A GPS samples it’s location every so often. In between it assumes a straight line. In a sport like mountain biking it can make a difference in distance. Let’s have a look at a couple runs for comparison. I did two short rides using the Garmin Fr70 with the sensor, and the Garmin Edge 305 using GPS. Even on a road ride the distances were 2.13km Vs 1.83KM or -14% for the GPS vs the wheel sensor. Ride two got 2.18km Vs 1.84KM or -15.5% for the GPS.

Looking at the windy trails of a mountain bike trail I got 28.15km from the sensor and 23.54 from the Garmin Edge (using GPS) or a difference of 21%. The sensor will always be more.

Physically speaking the speed sensor is a magnetless design. It straps around the hub of the wheel and transmits rotation. You tell your device (or app) the size of your wheel and you get speed/distance. The design is brilliant. Well it would be if Wahoo had thought of spoofing it being a speed and cadence sensor which they did not. If your device supports this device it is an excellent choice. If not, as is my case, it get sadly returned. I am a little disappointed in Wahoo support who mislead me about my Edge 305 support.

On my next post I will be covering the Wahoo fitness app that can be used with this and many other sensors!


September 2, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Wearables, my thoughts on the current state

I’ve definitely been an early adopter in the wearables area, and I have to say I have come to the point where I have become fed up. In fact I recently ordered a good old fashion mechanical watch (more of that to come in a future post).

I love the whole Fitbit eco system. A great portal (with the ability to export for further data analysis), a good app (although I really wish they would focus on giving more stats, like max steps walked, woohoo you exceeded your previous max etc), and a host of different form factors to choose from. But that said I’ve actually got rid of my One, Charge, Charge HR, and Blaze and gone back to a good old Flex. Why? Simple, you can buy a third party normal buckled strap and put the little peanut in it. Or buy a holder that magnetically clips onto clothes and keep your wrist free for other things. And the Blaze while a terrific tracker sucks as a watch.
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Android wear is great, well sort of. My last Android wear was a Moto 360 gen one. I loved it, comfortable looks great, bright screen, excellent functionality. BUT (and you knew there had to be a but), it is far less functional on iOS. Watch faces are severely limited (again on iOS), and battery life totally sucks. Barely a day. So bad I actually bought a second charger to keep at work. Sheesh. And if I was going away for a weekend, not a chance it was coming with … And the “Ambient screen mode” (Motos version of always on) was very poorly implemented.

Of the devices I own the Polar A300 is one of the better. Super battery life, always on screen, reasonably comfortable and works with any bluetooth chest strap. Notifications even on iOS are well done and smooth. It actually can act as an activity and sleep tracker making it an all round every day watch and fitness watch. If they had included a chronometer features it would have been a clean sweep. When I decided to clean out my wearables this one got to stay!

The number one area wearables are falling down is the simple act of wanting to know what time it is. It is a watch … Bizarre to have to harp on this, but between screens that are unreadable in bright light, to notifications getting in the way of seeing the time, to not detecting my wrist turn and thus not turning the screen on, it can be maddening. And ultimately it is when I am pressed for time, catching a train or the like and it makes me just wanna scream.

Who knows what will catch my eye next in this category but for now I sold them all …

August 29, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers, Android Wear (Smartwatch) | Leave a comment

Fitbit Alta mini review

I’m a fan of Fitbits. Great portal, easy to use, able to export data, they have it all. Sadly physically speaking they keep missing the mark. I like my Charge but hate the way it does up and can easily come off. I’ve come close to loosing it more than once. I love the Blaze, but it just sucks as a watch, poor watch face design. So I decided to look at the Alta. It’s the latest and greatest from Fitbit.

So let’s start with the physicals. The band features yet again a two whole punch you have to endure to put on. It’s as bad or worse than the Charge. The only positive in it all is that the band can be easily removed and there are ones available on Amazon and ebay. Why Fitbit continue to redesign something that isn’t broke is beyond me. The Charge HR used a simple watch like buckle. Perfect. Mr F’nBit please use a normal watch buckle. Moving on …

The Alta definitely has a more polished look to it. Maybe a bit too polished. The screen is very shiny, I can only imagine this is going to be a scratch magnet. All in all I would have to say the Alta looks, well feminine. The display is oriented like a lot of these wearables the wrong way on the wrist. The app can turn it so it displays in a readable way but the screen is so narrow that it can’t even properly display the steps walked. You get things like 5.3K steps. Fitbit have yet again screwed up like they did on the Charge. They have a setting called quick view that attempts to detect you rotating your wrist, but unfortunately, it doesn’t turn this feature off when your trying to sleep. Absoloutely idotic. So this means, as with the charge, the display is pretty much useless other than to check your steps from time to time.

Fitbit just can not seem to decide on a charging cable/connector. Each and every Fitbit does something different, and unique. I thought the Blaze was bizarre, but the Alta trumps that one. You get this odd spring loaded close pin like thing you need to carefully align with pins you can’t easily see. Getting this on right is really stupidly difficult.

There is no heart rate monitor, not a big loss …

As usual it tracks steps, sleep etc. There’s one new trick up it’s sleeves, it attempts to detect and remind you when you have been inactive for too long. A feature others have had for years, and fitbit has promised to add to the Blaze and have not yet done.

So all in all I am SERIOUSLY underwhelmed. So much so, after two days I returned it. I really have no idea why anyone who already has a fitbit would buy this. There sure isn’t a reason to upgrade IMHO. Sure it looks nice, more like a piece of jewelry, and maybe for this reason alone it will sell well. In fact sales of the unit are strong.

So at this point, I think I will go back to a Fitbit Flex and buy an aftermarket band that has a proper watch clasp. Cost me <$10 on Amazon.
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August 10, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Training with a heart rate monitor

I’m a bit of a weekend warrior, I like to mountain bike. And I have always looked for ways to ensure I am at least maintaining my cardio endurance and hopefully increasing it as the season goes on. For a long time I have used a heart rate monitor to help this process. There are lots of kinds of heart rate monitors that I have covered over time on this blog. In the end THE most accurate heart rate monitor is a chest strap. It also as it happens, tends to be the least comfortable. When you are pushing up a hill breathing heavily the strap around your chest restricts your breathing. And sometimes the chest strap can come loose and slide down.

At this point I have three heart rate chest straps I use:
1) Polar H7 chest strap that broadcasts only on Bluetooth low energy. This can talk to my Polar A300 for excellent data recording, or to my iPhone running whatever app you want. Polars own app called Polar Beat can be used to send the bluetooth data to both Polar Beat and the Polar A300 watch. It’s reasonably comfortable, and for the most part stays in place. It runs on a replaceable CR2032 and from within some apps you can see the battery level of the heart rate monitor (I haven’t had this long enough to comment on battery life). Accuracy is good as long as you properly wet the contacts. The electronics snap into two clips on the chest strap. They seem firm enough to hold it in place.

2) Wahoo TICKR chest strap that broadcasts on both Bluetooth low energy and Ant+. I love this flexibility and it can broadcast to all of my Garmin devices as well as to my phone at the same time, or my Polar A300. Ant+ can broadcast simulataneously to as many devices as you wish. The Wahoo TICKR is oddly designed in that electronics clip into the middle of the strap meaning the electronics are being pulled by the strap. The TICKR is by far the most comfortable of the chest straps I’ve used and stays nicely in place. It run on replaceable CR2032 battery and you can tell the battery level from a number of apps on the phone (I haven’t had this long enough to comment on battery life). Via the Wahoo Fitness app you can even update firmware level. This is the first time I have ever seen this.

3) Garmin Ant+ chest strap. Now that I am on an iPhone this is of little use (My Samsungs had the ability to receive Ant+). It’s always been accurate anytime I have run correlation runs. It’s also the least comfortable, but is well designed and rarely moves on the chest at all. It runs on a replaceable CR2032 battery and gets something like a year battery life. It interfaces best with Garmin devices, which as it happens are my favorite bike gadget.

I also have a Scosche Rhythm+ heart rate monitor that goes on your arm and picks up the heart rate optically. This is by far the most comfortable of the heart rate monitors I use and my favorite. The Scosche broadcasts on both Ant+ and bluetooth low energy so is very flexible in terms of what it can talk to. It runs off a rechargeable battery and gets 6-8 hours of battery life.

And now comes the hot topic of accuracy. What is accurate enough? What are you wanting to do with the heart rate data? These are personal choices. When I first started using a heart rate monitor I used it only to get a more accurate count of the calories I burned on a ride to ensure I was working on endurance. Calories burned is a simple calculation based on length of exercise and your average heart rate. If this is all you care about then you ought to go for the most comfortable heart rate monitor because as you will see in a bit accuracy at each and every data point is not all that important in that it does not dramatically effect the average heart rate, and so does not effect calorie counts. Each app calculates calories with their own magical formula. Comparing calorie counts between devices, or between apps is frivolous because you have no idea or control on what algorithm it uses. So choose something (an app, a device whatever) and just stick with it. One of the things I do like to have is a complete picture of my entire exercise in a week. So if you wear an activity tracker (I have a Fitbit Blaze and Charge), you will need to see what data inter operability options there are. Preferably automatic. I use Garmin connect, Fitbit and Endomondo. They all share data to one degree or another and ends up with a complete picture of my exercise in one place, well actually two Endomondo and Fitbit. Be careful if you use multiple devices/apps that your not double counting your exercise. Generally speaking these can be cleaned up manually if need be.

I started to have some suspicions that my Scosche was becoming inaccurate which frankly was what prompted me to look at this topic again. So I started out with an over 3 hours bike ride and used my Polar H7 logged by my Polar A300, as well as my Scosche logged by my Garmin Edge 305. Using dedicated devices to do the logging (instead of a phone app) gives you much better data for crunching numbers. Apps like Endomondo are less precise about how often data is logged. For example during a 3 hour ride I saw sampling rates averaging once per 3.8 seconds (Vs once per second like clockwork for the Garmin, and Polar A300) and at worst when the phone was busy doing god only know what of 17 seconds. Interestingly enough it makes little to no difference on the average heart rate, and thus no difference on the calorie count. If you were using an app to alert you on max heart rates then this might be something you want to worry about. I saw similar sampling rates for Endomondo running in the foreground and backup on iOS and on Android by the way.

As you can see after an initial period the two tracked reasonably well. Crunching the data showed the two were within 10% of each other 97% of the time. That’s not bad correlation. And in the end it only effected the average heart rate by 2.4 beats per minute.

Calorie count is just one reason to wear a heart rate monitor. More serious athletes keep an eye not necessarily on the BPM but the zone your heart rate is in. Now being off by 10% at 180BPM doesn’t sound too bad but translate into BPM and thus into a heart rate zone and you have a bigger issue. Looking at the same data and changing the threshold to how often was the heart rate off by 10 BPM and you get a more troubling 10% of the time. And this is with the first 15 mins out of the data.

Another reason to keep an eye on heart rate is to watch to insure you are staying within a min/max. I use a heart rate alarm on my Edge 305 to insure I don’t spend too much time maxing out my heart rate. I either slow down, control my breathing or flat out stop. Being off by 10% again makes this difficult. Using the alerts on the 305 I have managed to lower my max heart rate by 20-30 BPM which has to be healthier. Similarly using the low alarm you can remind yourself when you are dogging it πŸ™‚

So now let’s have a look at a comparison of my Polar A7 logged by the Polar A300 and my Wahoo TICKR logged by my Garmin Edge 305. Now this is impressive.
Now this is what I call correlation. In the whole 3 hour ride the two were only off by 10% a mere 9 data points (seconds) in over 3 hours. Impressive. And if I change the threshold to 10BPM (instead of %) there are only 11 data points where they differ. It’s worth noting that wearing two chest straps in a bumpy sport like mountain biking can lead to the two just bumping into each other which may explain even the minor differences.

So all in all, give some thought to what you want to do with the data, and use that to choose how accurate you need your heart rate monitor to be and how much discomfort your willing to endure to get that accuracy! I love crunching number and doing data analysis …

July 12, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers, GPS Stuff, Uncategorized | Leave a comment