Video: Fitness Gadgets

This morning we covered fitness gadgets on TVNZ Breakfast. Full details are below. Feel free to ask any questions or post comments. Click below for the video.

Fitness Gadgets Video

Item: WiFi Scales from Withings.com
Price: $370
Rating: 4 / 5
Info: Serious about tracking your weight? These WiFi scales might be just the thing. They’re not cheap at $370, but along with being incredibly accurate and measuring your body fat percentage, they have built-in WiFi and will upload your weight to a private website every time you weigh yourself. There’s even an iPhone app if you want to check your progress on the go. They take a bit of fiddling to get set up, but once you’ve got everything configured, it really is just a matter of standing on the scales each morning. The Withings.com website is easy to use, and includes handy tips about weight loss and target weights.
Item: Garmin Forerunner 405
Price: $450
Rating: 4 / 5
Info: There seems to be a strong overlap between fitness freaks and data demons. If you’re looking for a way to track your outdoor workouts, the Garmin Forerunner 405 is your device. No bigger than a decent sports watch, it packs a GPS receiver, 1000-lap stop watch, and a wireless system for connecting to the included heart rate monitor, other accessories, and your computer. After each workout you can upload the data and view the results on an interactive map. See how your heart rate changed with elevation, or compare current workouts to historical results. It’s a brilliant little device..
Item: Shake Weight
Price: $69
Rating: 1 / 5
Info: The shake weight promises a 300% improvement on traditional weights due to a “groundbreaking workout technology called Dynamic Inertia”. I’m no scientist, but the results in my case were groundbreaking hilarity. This device feels like a toy, and I honestly can’t see it doing anything other than make the user look like a prize idiot. Hilariously stupid.

Thinking about fitness

I’ve been thinking hard about getting fit. One can’t just rush into these things. I could just throw on some shoes and start running, but where would all the data go? Speed, distance, heart rate: all this information being pumped out with every step, going to waste.

I tried and failed with a few approaches. Manual exercise recording with fatsecret.com isn’t granular enough. I did have some success with Runkeeper on the iPhone, but battled with GPS sensitivity, and ironically (if you’ve been following me on Twitter), lack of multitasking – not to mention the inability to track heart rate information. Carrying some bulky GPS device in addition to my iPhone isn’t an option.

Not a giant wrist computer

Forerunner 405Chris, quite the unreasonably fit geek, suggested a Garmin Forerunner. I remembered these as bulky wrist-computers that even the most unabashed geek would have trouble living down. Imagine my surprise when the Garmin Forerunner 405 arrived on my doorstep.

The 405 looks nothing like a GPS device. I’d be quite happy wearing it as a regular sports watch, if it weren’t for constant recharging required due to the 2-week standby time. Kick it into full GPS training mode, and the battery will be chewed up in 10 hours. It does seem quite power hungry, but I guess this is fine for all but the most advanced endurance athletes.

When you consider what Garmin have packed into the 405, you can understand why it needs so much power. At its heart the 405 is a 1000-lap stopwatch with a sensitive GPS receiver that will track your speed and distance. The watch supports the ANT+ protocol, so any compatible devices can be paired with the device to add their own data. It comes with a heart monitor as standard, and you can purchase add a cadence meter if you’re a cyclist.

Using the touch-sensitive bezel, you can pull up any information during training in the form of customisable screens. Pretty much any combination of speed, pace, distance and heart rate are available. There’s also a “virtual partner” mode that tells you if you are behind or ahead of a set pace or previous recording.

Online Magic

Garmin Connect ScreenshotWhen you get back to your PC, the real magic happens. After pairing (yes, Bluetooth users will find the process familiar) with the ANT+ USB stick, the Garmin 405 will send its information up to the Garmin Connect service.

This is more like it. There’s all that data I was talking about, laid out in gorgeous infographics. You can see a track of your run, along with speed, elevation, and heart rate. You can even play back your training event and see how these measurements correlate.

Regardless of your measure, I am not an athlete. I have heard that these bizarre humans do in fact use this information to improve their ability to inflict pain on themselves. You may have felt like you were going to die running up that hill, but if the stats show you that you had 10 more bpm in your heart muscle, then you’d better go out there again and punish yourself.

Get one

You can get the Garmin Forerunner 405 for around NZ$450 from a number of different places, including here and here.

TomTom XL, Garmin 265W, and Navman S200 Review

During the Summer break, I’ve had the dubious pleasure of test driving three quite similar GPS navigation devices. The devices differ in implementation and usability, but they all do the same thing at a high level.

Understand this: a GPS device will never replace local knowledge, and probably not even a good hard look at a map. The overview you get from a map – especially when travelling long distances – helps you to get a general idea of the direction you need to go in. “Turn left in 300 metres” on the other hand doesn’t offer much information about the journey.

I did find the devices useful in a couple of scenarios though:

  • When setting a destination address with a street number, the GPSes were always pretty good about letting me know exactly where on the road the destination was. This is really good for long roads and stops you driving along slowly for ages looking for the correct street number.
  • The TomTom’s map layout was excellent in the way it showed the next few streets on each side of the current road. This way you could see street names several hundred metres before the street signs were visible.
  • The ‘ETA’ feature on all the devices was reasonably accurate. It gives you some idea of how long the trip will be, especially when travelling somewhere new.

tomtom Of the three devices, my pick would be the TomTom XL. It lacks some of the features of the others (more on that later), but if you want to actually have a usable device for your money, the TomTom is the way to go. The Garmin Nuvi 265w is a close second, but I found the cartoon-ey look of the Garmin maps a bit distracting, and the on-screen info on the TomTom was more informative.

I’ve talked about the Navman already, and the less said about it the better.

All the devices can be loaded with speed camera locations, and the TomTom and Navman offer constant road speed warnings. The Navman is over-aggressive however, bleeping the instant you touch the speed limit, which can get super annoying if you’re sitting very close to the limit. The TomTom on the other hand gives you a few seconds’ grace period before bleeping. I would also note that on both units the road speeds are not completely accurate, especially when travelling through small towns, but overall it can do a good job of warning you when you are travelling too fast.

If you like your information tabular, this should do the trick:

TomTom XL Garmin Nuvi 265W Navman S200
Price (NZD) $499 $499 $649
Screen Size 4.3″ 4.3″ 4.3″
Map Coverage NZ only NZ and Australia NZ only
Bluetooth No Yes Yes
FM Transmitter No No Yes
Spoken Street names No Yes Yes
Other TomTom Mapshare Garmin Connect Photos MP3 player and photo viewer
My Rating 4/5 3/5 1/5

Don’t read too much into the feature list above, other than the map coverage if you plan to travel to Australia.

  • The Bluetooth speakerphone on both the Garmin and the Navman was largely pointless. Sure you could pair up with your phone and make a call, but in both cases the recipient of the call could barely hear what I was saying. I think a dedicated car kit would be a better option if you need hands-free calling.
  • The FM transmitter (oh how I hate the things) in the Navman is beyond pointless. With it turned on, you only hear turn and warning information from a tuned-in radio, so the choice becomes turn warnings, or any other form of musical entertainment in your car.
  • Spoken street names are available, but always poorly pronounced and to me were more irritating than useful.