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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Withings Pulse O2 Review

The Pulse O2 is the latest version of the Pulse activity tracker from the French firm Withings.  The big changes from the original Pulse are the addition of the ability to measure blood oxidation levels and the ability to wear the Pulse O2 on the wrist (previously belt clip only).  All in all the Withings Pulse is probably my favorite activity tracker that I have reviewed so far but that is getting a little ahead of myself.

Like usual I received a review sample of the Withings Pulse O2 from the manufacturer and after any lingering questions from this review are answered the unit will be shipped back.  I do this so that you all know my reviews are unbiased and I did not receive any sort of compensation in any form (a free product is compensation in my book) to write this review.  So Enjoy!

In The Box

So on to the good stuff aka: the Withings Pulse O2 and getting it out of the box, which I might add, is appropriately sized for the rather small Pulse device.  It is a personal pet peeve when packing is WAY out of line with the contents, it is just wasteful!  But I will give Witihings big points for the packaging as it is just fun.  Well, aside from the fact that in the picture to the left my review unit fell out of its place, darn USPS (insert Lance joke), but once you get the box open it is full of secret compartments which is fun as you can see below.

In the center left is the actual Withings Pulse device and next to it is a wrist band and then a belt clip which allows you to choose how you want to wear the Pulse.  Also in the package's hidden compartment at the bottom, an orange arrow lets you know to open it, is a MINI USB dongle and I mean mini quit literally mini as it is the smallest USB cable I have ever seen before. Keeping with the arrow theme there is another at the top right of the package where you can slide out the devices quick start guide from its sneaky hiding place.  Again I love the packaging and attention to detail.  To me if a company puts this much effort into the packaging of their device then you know the device will be polished and trust me not to jump the gun but Withings doesn't disappoint.  So that is actually everything that comes with the Pulse as you can see it all arrayed here.

Set Up & the Pulse Unit

You can read the quick start guide on how to use the Pulse O2 but honestly it is 100% unnecessary as the device is simple as pie to use, I've been on a pie kick recently!  To start you will need to download the Withings Healthmate app which is free on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.  

Once the app downloads you will need to join Healthmate by creating a quick account which is pretty standard with just about every service out there now.  Then you will select the device that you would like to pair with Healthmate.  There is the soon to be released Auria Sleep Device, Withings range of smart scales and blood pressure cuffs, and smack in the middle is the Pulse O2.  Now one cool side note of the Healthmate app is that even if you do not currently own a Withings device you can use the Healthmate app to measure your heart rate (detailed in my Healthmate update post here), track weight/other health measurements, and best of all leverage the iPhone's M7 Motion Co-Processor to actually conduct activity tracking using your phone.  It isn't as good or thorough as an activity tracker but hey it is free!

Once you select the Pulse the app brags a little about how awesome the Pulse is then asks you to install (aka sync) your device.  From there you start the Bluetooth pairing between your smartphone and the Pulse device.  Once that is complete then you are 100% good to go.  Which means you  will immediately measure your heart rate which will subsequently be high from all of the Pulse based excitement you have just gone through.  Sadly I don't cover the heart rate monitor part of the Pulse O2 until later but trust me it was the first thing I did too after I unboxed mine.

Using the Pulse O2

After you have checked your heart rate you will immediately want to start using your Pulse but first lets look at a quick size comparison to other activity trackers.  I happened to have the Misfit Shine and the Polar Loop handy so I threw all of them on for some direct comparisons.

The odd thing about the Pulse is that when worn on the wrist you can kind of tell that it wasn't originally designed to be worn that way. (The original Pulse could only be worn on a belt clip)  Now it isn't too big or anything, as the Polar Loop is actually still thicker, but its shape is just a little odder.  Although the Loop is bigger it is a more consistent and rounded shape where as the Pulse O2 is pretty much just BAM it's there.  It really hasn't detracted from day to day use and you get used to it but it definitely wouldn't hurt for Withings to look at a form redesign as the wrist calls for completely different shapes than a belt clip worn device.  Though as you can see, the Misfit Shine is the smallest of the devices by a fair margin where as to be fair it doesn't have a full display or a rechargeable battery which both the Polar Loop and the Withings Pulse O2 do.

As for using the Withings Pulse O2 that is pretty darn simple...wear it!  Yup that is really all that is involved with using the Pulse, wear it somewhere on your body.  Luckily you even have options on how you want to wear the Pulse as it comes with both a wrist band and a clip.  So you can wear it like a watch or clip it onto your belt, pockets, or anything else that you can think of.  Also, if for some reason the wristband or the clip won't work for you the Pulse works perfectly well without either as you can literally just drop it in your pocket and it will track your activity throughout the day.  I know sometimes you think this is so simple how could anyone mess it up?  Well the only way I could think of was to just not take the Pulse with you but Withings even has you covered there as the app has an option to select "Forgot My Pulse" and the Withings Healthate App will use the data from the iPhone to fill in activity data where none is available from the Pulse.  So it is 100% idiot proof, and clearly I only "forgot" my pulse you know for testing purposes and I would never actually fall into that idiot group for which this device is proofed against; just wanted to make that clear!

The Pulse O2 does have an LED screen so in addition to syncing all of the metrics to the Withings Healthmate app almost everything is viewable on the actual device.  To turn the screen on from the sleep mode, which doesn't display anything, you tap the only physical button on the device in the top right corner.  This will pull up the time/date/steps screen which can be configured into a horizontal layout or a vertical layout for wearing the Pulse on your wrist and making the numbers easily legible.  The vertical view can be set for either the right or left wrist.  Pushing the button again will scroll the device to the steps screen which displays the current step total for the day.  Swiping the steps screen to the right will allow you to view the step totals from previous days.  While swiping to the left shows distance & time for any running during the current day.  The Pulse will detect running versus just normal walking or movement.  Being just an activity tracker it isn't 100% accurate but in my testing it tends to be within a few minutes of my GPS watch on 20+ minutes runs and withing 0.2 miles distance wise, so not too shabby.

Continuing to tap the physical button will pan through the screens on the Pulse that display different metric totals for the current day.  On each screen swiping to the right will allow you to pan through that metrics total for previous days but you can only swipe to the left for the steps metric.  After steps there are screens for elevation climbed, distance covered, and calories burned.  Now for the elevation climbed the Pulse O2 uses a built in barometric altimeter to accurately track changes in elevation and pairs that data with activity data to make sure you are actually moving while the elevation is gained.  And you know not just riding an elevator!  For the calories burned this figure is the number of calories burned in addition to or above your normal calorie burn.  Depending on certain personal physical attributes each person burns a certain number of calories each and every day by just living.  The Pulse does not track those calories but instead is tracking the calories that you have burned above and beyond that standard burn rate figured by your activity for the day.

All of the extra stuff is awesome but at the end of the day the Withings Pulse O2 is an activity tracker so it is "kind of" important that it functions well in this area.  And as no surprise it functions particularly well in it's daily duties.  So well in fact that you kind of just forget about it.  Which does have the negative aspect of not really encouraging you way the same activity trackers can (Misfit Shine comes to mind) but hey you can't really argue with a device that is so functional that you just forget about it until you feel the need to check your steps.  Just like the device itself not much really needs to be said about it's function as an activity tracker but luckily that leaves me room to cover all of these other awesome features that the Pulse does in addition to being an awesome activity tracker.


Now you are probably wondering with features like an LED screen, a barometric altimeter, and a heart rate monitor how good is the battery for the Withings Pulse O2 and the answer is spectacular!  The Pulse's battery is rechargeable via mirco-USB cable that is good for up to TWO WEEKS!  Yes you read that correctly the battery is good for two stinking weeks.  Now to be fair how often you turn the screen on and more importantly how often you measure your heart rate will determine how close to that two weeks figure you come to.  For example, when I first got the Pulse in and measured my heart rate multiple times per day I only got about 1 week out of the Pulse.  But on the other hand once I just let the Pulse do its thing and only checked my heart rate once per day I got something like 12 days of battery life.  Now there does exist better battery life from activity trackers that use replaceable coin cell batteries (although none deliver quit the same set of features and the same screen quality) but to my knowledge no other activity tracker with a built in rechargeable battery even comes close to rivaling the battery life of the Pulse O2.  I mean the Polar Loop has a worse quality screen (but no barometric altimeter of heart rate monitor) and it would only get about half to 1/4 of what the Withings Pulse can do.

Heart Rate & Blood Oxygen

One of the big features of the Withings Pulse O2 over other activity trackers on the market is that the Pulse can measure both resting heart rate and blood oxygenation levels.  Now the Pulse can't continuously track either measurement unlike say a Basis B1 but it does upload both metrics to the Withings Healthmate App for tracking over periods of time.

To initiate a heart rate measurement you have to scroll through all the screens on the Pulse until you reach the last one which is how both heart rate measurement and sleep tracking can be activated.  Obviously the  crescent moon is sleep tracking and the heart is heart rate.  But to initiate heart rate you just click on the heart icon and slide down then place your finger over the heart rate sensor on the back of the Pulse O2 device.  You have to hold it still there for a couple of seconds once complete both heart rate in beats per minute and blood oxygenation displayed as a percentage will be displayed on the screen.  Although the stats disappear after a couple of seconds you are able to return to the heart rate/sleep tracking screen and scroll to the right instead of down and see the last heart rate measurement.

Now personally it seems that the Pulse O2 reads a heart rate a few beats higher than other heart rate monitors.  The hard part to tell is whether it is the activity of initiating a heart rate measurement that increases my resting heart rate or a mistake with the device but it always seems to read 5-10 beats higher.  For example with a heart rate monitor laying down I will usually have a heart rate of around 60 bpm but the Pulse tends to pull measurements around 66-75 bpm.  The oxygen saturation level worked well and would only fail to read about once every 15-20 readings which I consider pretty darn impressive.  Although I think blood oxygen saturation levels are interesting the issue I have is that to me that number is most useful immediately after exercise which would pull a heart rate that wasn't resting.  So to get effective numbers from one you are throwing off the other.  I don't think I am special or anything but in a resting environment I never got a lower blood oxygen level than 97% and almost always 99 or 100%.  (Normal is 95-100%)  So I didn't really know what to do with the blood oxygenation numbers.

To be clear the Pulse O2 can't continuously track your heart rate but instead pulls one figure.  Also, to slightly complicate the procedure you have to get the Pulse out of either the wrist or belt loop holder to measure your heart rate.  So it can be a bit of a hassle although I will say that the move to include a wrist holder for the Pulse does make it significantly easier to measure heart rate over the waist clip.  I think it would be really nice if it were possible to make a cut out in the wrist clip that would allow the Pulse to measure heart rate while still clipped in, although I don't think currently the Pulse's heart rate sensor could do that anyways.  To me that would just make it way more usable than in its current form.  I tended to check my heart rate pretty consistently when I first started using the unit but then how often I checked my heart rate tapered off pretty much completely.

Sleep Tracking

The sleep tracking mode on the Withings Pulse O2 is actually one of my favorite features on the entire device.  First, for accurate sleep tracking the Pulse needs to be worn on the wrist using the wristband and it is generally considered to be more accurate to wear it on your non-dominant hand.  I am right handed so hence I wear it on my left for sleeping, and everything else too actually but that isn't the point here.  To start sleep tracking you must manually engage the sleep mode by scrolling through the pages on the Pulse till you get to the last heart rate/sleep tracking screen.  To start sleep tracking you slide down across the touch screen on the crescent moon icon and then the screen will switch to having the word ON with a directional arrow to the left.  You then slide across to the left to engage sleep tracking.  This double swipe, and in different directions, is so that sleep tracking is not accidentally engaged.  I personally have not had any issues with engaging sleep tracking and the double swipe is simple to work even when the eyelids are more than a little heavy.  Once the sleep mode is engaged it is on to the easy part, sleeping.

Wasn't my best night of sleep
The Pulse does all of the work while you are catching some Z's monitoring your state of sleep (light or deep) and tracking how often/how long you wake up in the night.  All of the data will be sent over to the Withings Healthmate app so that you can consume colorful charts to your hearts delight.  Now, just like you have to manually activate sleep tracking you also need to manually end sleep tracking to switch the Pulse back to normal activity tracking.  To end a sleep tracking you simply press the physical button on the device to pull up the sleep timer screen then push the button a second time followed by a swipe across the screen to end tracking.  When in sleep mode the Pulse displays the total time in sleep mode on the screen when the button is depressed.  So you can't see any other stats or track your heart rate while in sleep mode but to be fair you should be sleeping anyways right?  Now, luckily Withings covered your butt in the event you forget to end sleep tracking as the Pulse will automatically end sleep tracking if you are active for 15 minutes straight (aka walking around).  I think it is a great feature as tracking my morning routine as part of my sleep will throw off both my sleep tracking from the night and my activity tracking for the start of the day but there is one problem with the feature.

It will sometimes end your sleep tracking when you didn't want it to because you were forced to get up in the middle of the night by say your whining Husky pup who decides that 3am has to be the best time to use the restroom.  So if that process takes a little while which it is like to when she is more interested in chasing beetles than getting the "mission" accomplished the Pulse will end your sleep tracking with you.  Now if you are cognizant enough to think to check you can re-engage sleep tracking if it was prematurely ended and the Pulse will actually stitch both sleep tracking sections together into one.  Which is pretty darn smart as no other activity tracker that I know of can do this and it again covers your butt.  My issue is that sometimes at 3am I am not quit of a mental state to think to check my Pulse if I am awoken so the sleep tracking will just conclude after a handful of hours of sleep.  Either way the automatic ending feature is far more good than bad especially given that Withings has built in features to return to sleep mode if you accidentally exit it.

Now for the colorful graphs those will all be within the Withings Healthmate app or website which I will talk about in a minute but for sleep tracking you get an awesome amount of data.  The top of each screen is a graph which shows deep sleep in dark blue, light sleep in light blue, and periods awake in orange.  So you can visually see how you changed from sleep modes and when something awoke you in the middle of the night.  Below the graph you will get your total sleep in hrs:minutes along with the percentage of your goal of which mine is 8 hours.  Below you get even more data including your total time in bed (adds time awake and time asleep once sleep mode is engaged), how long it took you to fall asleep (not particularly accurate, I'll explain), total time awake, and the number of times you woke up from sleeping.  Then there is a bar showing your total amount of sleep with your light sleep time compared to deep sleep time as a percentage of your sleep goal.  Also, in the Healthmate app you can see all of the same sleep statistics over a week long period.  The graph at the top will show each day in a comparative fashion and all of the figures at the bottom will be weekly averages of the same statistics for individual nights.  This is really useful for seeing how you have slept over large periods of time as you can pan through well over a month in seconds and see how your averages changed from week to week.

Now the pesky subject of sleep tracking accuracy.  It is really hard to really test this without a sleep lab (which I would LOVE to do) so I can just discuss it from more of a comparative point of view with other activity trackers (you can read my sleep testing comparison article here).  There is some argument over how effective any of them are give that all of their sleep tracking is based on solely movement.  I think that the Withings Pulse O2 has the most accurate sleep tracking of any activity tracker that I have tested.  The periods of sleep and awake tend to correlate pretty exactly with how I felt I slept.  The only area it tends to be off is the time it claims it took me to fall asleep.  I know I take longer than say 11 minutes to fall asleep especially when I turn the Pulse's screen on and see that the sleep timer has already hit 20 something minutes.  Now, to be fair I do think that is because I tend to lay exceptionally still while waiting to fall asleep so I don't think it is the Withings Pulse in particular that has an issue but I just sleep weird sometimes.

But overall I think the sleep tracking on the Withings Pulse O2 is spectacular.  It is extremely detailed and very easy to read the data.  The ability to easily consume the data produced by the Pulse's sleep tracking is really well above par for the market and what takes the Pulse to a different level than other activity tracking products out there.

My improvised Cycling Mode

My biggest single gripe about the Withings Pulse O2 is that there is no measurement for cycling.  I ride a LOT so it kind of sucks that all of that activity is not in any way shape or form tracked by the Pulse.  It isn't the norm, yet, for activity trackers to not have a cycling or swim mode but is definitely becoming more common.  I really like my activity tracker to represent a holistic view of of my day.  But that is difficult to do if I ride my bike for 2 hours but according to the Pulse I have moved all of 300 steps.

Now, I did improvise my own version of a cycling mode which although far from perfect does help.  Withings if you read this review then a good takeaway would be how to create a cycling mode for the Pulse right here.  So when I ride I put the Pulse into the belt clip  and then clip that onto the bottom of my cycling shorts.  This positions the Pulse on top of my left thigh so that it get's jarred (aka counts a step) as I go through the motion of a pedal stroke.  Now this is hardly accurate given that it is A. counting cadence not so much effort and B. the Pulse is treating it as walking not riding which clearly burn different amounts of calories and therefore different amounts of activity.  On the positive, it kind of works somehow though the Pulse doesn't count every pedal rotation as a step only some.  I don't know how or why but it actually works out pretty accurately compared to other activity trackers with a cycling mode like the Misfit Shine.  A one hour ride around the River Trail usually gets me 5,000-6,000 steps of my 10,000 step goal using my improvised cycling mode.  Using the Misfit Shine's dedicated cycling mode for the same ride will usually count to about half of my activity goal for the day.  See for some reason it "kind of" works.

Yes it is hardly perfect but if Withings were to do some testing using the Pulse in that manner they could create a dedicated mode and therefore a way of processing that activity data to make it far more accurate.  Just saying I would love to see the Pulse include such a cycling mode similar to the sleep tracking mode, it would be a really cool feature.  Also, it would be a huge advancement on competitors like Fitbit that also don't have a means of tracking cycling.

Withings Healthmate App

The Healthmate app looks a "little" confusing when you first open it but actually starts to make a lot of sense although some of what causes that original confusion is redundant and could be streamlined.  The default view when opening the app is the timeline view which basically shows all of your information on a timeline based on you know, time!  Your steps for the day will always be at the top of the screen as well as percentage to goal and a graph of when you took those steps; which you can slide to left to see your current weight trend.  Arrayed below the top activity area will be all the other data from the Pulse and the Healthmate app in order of time.  This will include info like resting heart rate checks, weight, sleep tracking, and stats from previous days.  So this lets you scroll down to see all of your data grouped by day for pretty much eternity.

At the top of the timeline screen is a little plus icon that allows you to enter measurements for heart rate using the iPhone's camera, weight manually (Withings makes two Bluetooth scales that automatically syncs the data with the Healthmate app), manually enter blood pressure (Withings makes a Bluetooth blood pressure cuff as well).  If you click on any of the data points along the timeline the app takes you to a detailed screen for that data point type.  For example, if you click on a heart rate measurement the detailed screen shows you all of your heart rate points graphed over a period of time that is user controllable.  It is in this screen that you can edit or delete manual entries or data points.  Clicking on a weight point shows all of your weight measurements over time and the ability to see Fat Mass and BMI over time as well (manual weight entries allow you to enter Fat % and BMI in addition to just weight).  I have already covered what the detailed sleep screen looks like but for the detailed activity screen you get to see all of your activity info that shops up on the Pulse's screen but a little more easily.  It makes it much easier to get a complete view of your day.  One thing I did want to point out is that I love how the Healthmate app does calories burned.  It will actually tells you your calories burned via activity but then also combines that with an estimate of the number of calories you burn simply by living to give you your total calories burned for the day.  I just really like that calories are shown both ways versus just one or the other.

Also at the bottom of the activity detail screen the app shows long periods of activity like say a walk with more details about that specific period of time.  It will tell you whether you were walking or running and display the total distance, time of activity, and calories burned during that period.  It takes a minimum threshold for an activity to show up with dedicated information which seems to be about 8-10 minutes.  Seems like a reasonable time threshold to me which cuts down on you just walking around the house to show more serious periods of activity like a run or walking across downtown.


The other view for the Healthmate App is the dashboard which shows the same information as the timeline but only for the current day.  Each type of data is broken up and given its own segment (activity, heart rate, sleep, weight, etc) and the order of those segments is user customizable.  The only real additional info on the dashboard versus the timeline is the Withings butterfly logo at the top where each wing is a segment of your health and they fill up as you do better in that particular area, the feature is called Wellness Levels.  In the picture to the right you can see my heart is great, sleep is pretty good, activity is okay, but weight isn't so good because I hadn't entered my weight in a couple of weeks when this screenshot was taken.

Outside of the two main views there are several other screens which are pretty standard to the activity tracker field: a leader board screen (which I don't use as I'm friendless), a profile screen (where you set up all of your info and other cool stuff I'll cover in a second), and last there is a reminders screen where you can set alerts for you to do things like check your blood pressure or record your weight.  I have set 2 reminders the entire time I have been using the Pulse and they have not once gone off so I am going to label this feature as not exactly functioning.  There are some other options as well below but for the sake of some sort of brevity I am going to pass on discussing them as they are all pretty standard, but thorough and with a now almost annoyingly awesome Withings attention to detail.

Now in the profile screen you can do a few cool things that I just wanted to briefly touch on.  One of them is the ability to send blood pressure data form the Withings Bluetooth blood pressure cuff to your doctor by email.  I could definitely see some awesome uses for this style of feature down the road.  Picture the ability for doctors to get a holistic view of your health level and not just a one off view when you are nervous as hell as they prod you with things.  Along the same lines you can share your entire Withings Dashboard with others be them doctors, coaches, or friends simply by sending them an email.  But the really cool feature in the profile section is the ability to pair the Healthmate app with other health/fitness apps to pull and share data.  The current partnerships are with MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, and BodyMedia.  Through this you can pull and share info back and forth with these apps.  For example, on MyFitnessPal it will share with the Withings Healthmate app info like caloric intake versus your calorie expenditure for the day based on the Pulse.  I think like the Dashboard sharing this feature is only the tip of the iceberg and some really cool partnerships could be leveraged to add some tremendous features.

Now the one question you are probably asking that I haven't answered yet is, all of this data is awesome but how do I get my data from the Pulse to the Healthmate App?  Well I'm glad you asked and luckily the answer is just simply Bluetooth 4.0.  The Pulse can't sync data over a USB connection to a computer but instead syncs all of the data completely wirelessly with a mobile phone.  By default the Pulse will background sync with the Healthmate App as long as you have the app running in the background on your phone.  Since the last app software update I have found the background syncing to be significantly improved and usually pretty close to the stats on the actual Pulse, meaning it is syncing pretty often to keep it up to date.  In the event you feel like the Pulse hasn't synced recently enough or if you are just impatient and want to see the data immediately you can trigger a manual sync.  To do so you simply hold down the physical button on the Pulse for 3 seconds and have your phone withing Bluetooth range.  You don't need to open your phone or anything as long as the Healthmate App is running on the background on your device.  It'll take about 10-15 seconds to sync and your data will be perfectly up to date.

Withings Healthmate Website


The Helathmate website at the end of the day shows the exact same information as the Healthmate App so I'm really not going to give it too much space here, I really just want to focus on the bigger features or the differences from the mobile app.  The top of the web application has a pretty cool little piece where it maps out your level of activity and your level of sleep per day in 30 minute intervals over a week.  It becomes a cool little color coded view of your week which is definitely an interesting perspective.  Below that on the web dashboard is a layout of widgets for each category of information that can be clicked on for more details in much the same way as the dashboard view on the Healthmate App.

The only other views on the web app is a measurement table which allows you to see a table of all measurements for a specific type of data.  You can choose which category of information you want to see and control the time period for which you are seeing.  It is useful if you need to remove accidental data points which I actually do on occasion when I show off how the Pulse's heart rate monitoring works to other people.  I don't want to keep their heart rate data so I just delete it off of the web application or the iPhone app.  The other view is the badges view where all of your earned badges are available for viewing.  On the Healthmate App the badges show up in the timeline as they are earned but on the web version you can see the highest badge earned for each category (lifetime distance, lifetime elevation, and daily steps) as well as other lower badges that were previously earned.

So the Healthmate web version doesn't have a lot of additional features but it does make it a little easier to see some of your information on a much larger screen.  I really do like the inclusion of a solid web version of the app which some people don't think is necessary anymore but I strongly disagree and I really like the Healthmate web version.

What I love

  • Accurate Activity Tracking
  • Great Sleep Tracking
  • Effortless to use
  • Battery life is stellar
  • Love the wrist or belt clip choice
  • HEART RATE Tracking
  • It just works!!!

What I don't Love

  • Not waterproof
  • Heart rate seems to read high
  • No cycling mode

Bugs

I have actually had almost no bugs what so ever using the Pulse.  Now to be clear a bug is a glitch and not a feature that was built in by design even if I think it isn't the best way to do something.  Originally there seemed to be an issue with background syncing of the Pulse to the Healthmate app but the most recent software update to the Healthmate app took care of that.  Also, a while back there was an issue with the Healthmate app not giving you any of the badges for distance, elevation gained, etc. but the same update fixed that as well.  So the Pulse is running smoothly and basically bug free which is very nice to see!

Summary

So yeah there are a few areas that I think the Withings Pulse O2 could be improved but honestly it delivers pretty much everything you could want and then a lot extra!  The Pulse is the most accurate on both sleep and activity tracking of any monitor that I have tested so far and it blows the competition away with the inclusion of the barometric altimeter, 2 week battery life, and heart rate/blood oxidation monitoring.  The app is thorough and has some great partnerships to bring all of your data into one place.  The Pulse O2 retails for $120 so it is just a tad high of the middle of the activity tracker market but to me actually delivers the same features of the more pricey devices at around $130 and up.  My biggest reservation is the lack of a cycling mode as I am just a huge cyclist and it sucks to not track that part of my day but my little improvised fix gets me over that reservation. At the end of the day it is my favorite activity tracker to date and I strongly recommend it!

I just want to point out that I don't even spend that much time in this review discussing the Pulse O2 as an activity tracker.  That isn't because it is bad in this area, quit the opposite, it is actually one of the best but it just does so much else too.  Which highlights maybe the best feature of the Pulse it just works and works so well that you don't even think about it!

Support This Site

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Monday, July 28, 2014

My Week in Runs & Rides

Mountain Biking is Tough...& Painful (Monday)

So being off on Mondays now I try to find things to fill my time and given it was the last day of wonderful weather before we returned to regular Arkansas July (95+ and 80% humidity) I decided why not go mountain biking.  What could go wrong?  Answer: my face!

The start of my face crushing journey started with me heading down to work to grab one of the mountain bikes.  Yes, I don't own a mountain bike and I have only ridden one a handful of time.  Again, what could go wrong?  So after I got my mountain bike I headed out for Burns Park with my new mountain bike named Bear (we name our bikes at work) and my day hiking pack, because all mountain bikers need a CamelBak right?  I quickly came to rue not having mountain bike pedals and shoes as it just feels "odd" to not be clipped into a bike anymore but then again I might have a few more bruises if I had been attached at the feet to Bear...Continued Here

First Run with the Wahoo TICKR Run (Wednesday)

I was pretty excited to get the newest heart rate monitor from Wahoo, the TICKR Run, in for some testing.  You can read my Wahoo TICKR Run in for Review Post Here.  But my first run with it was earlier this week when I took it for a short 2 mile run around downtown. There wasn't too much special about the run just 2 miles at an average pace of 8:54/mile but I did learn thanks to the TICKR Run that I run like a darn Clydesdale!  My Running Smoothness score was 88 for this run when the average runner has a score of 100, so a little room to improve!  My TICKR Run review should be out in about a month so look forward to it.

Running South Main (Sunday)

Some how I found some sort of motivation to go for a run after I had to get up at 6am on a Sunday.  Nicole and I have been house sitting and she had to work at 7 so it equaled an early drive back in to Little Rock.  I have a weird habit of being unable to go back to sleep after I have been woken up (trust me I tried when I got home); pair that with no Tour stage on, started later in the day, and I didn't really have much of an excuse not to run.  So I laced the shoes up and headed off towards South Main for a different route.

The best part about running on the weekends is that you can pretty much run through all of the stop lights as the downtown area isn't very busy outside of the main tourism drag.  So I took Main Street south into the SOMA area and meandered around for a little bit before crossing over the I-630 interstate on a foot bridge to get to MacArthur Park.  I then looped around the outside and back around the park before heading home.  The whole run took me 28:17 and covered 3 miles.  I was a little disappointed because the Wahoo Fitness app messed up on the GPS side (hence the Garmin Connect embed below) but luckily the TICKR kept right on, ticking?  Because it still sent great data to my Garmin Forerunner 220, love the advantage of dual broadcast!

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Mountain Biking is Tough...& Painful

So being off on Mondays now I try to find things to fill my time and given it was the last day of wonderful weather before we returned to regular Arkansas July (95+ and 80% humidity) I decided why not go mountain biking.  What could go wrong?  Answer: my face!

The start of my face crushing journey started with me heading down to work to grab one of the mountain bikes.  Yes, I don't own a mountain bike and I have only ridden one a handful of time.  Again, what could go wrong?  So after I got my mountain bike I headed out for Burns Park with my new mountain bike named Bear (we name our bikes at work) and my day hiking pack, because all mountain bikers need a CamelBak right?  I quickly came to rue not having mountain bike pedals and shoes as it just feels "odd" to not be clipped into a bike anymore but then again I might have a few more bruises if I had been attached at the feet to Bear.

Arkansas River Trail below
Mostly looking and feeling the part of a mountain biker I headed across the river towards Burns Park which is the closest location for mountain biking that I know of at about 4-5 miles.  On the way I stopped to try and ride what I thought was a trail up my favorite climb, Fort Roots, but it just ended up being washed out, overgrown, and WAY too much work.  I beat a hasty retreat back to the road and just climbed the normal paved route so that I could ride the trail down into Emerald Park which I had seen as I road by on the River Trail before.

This decision equaled about 30-45 minutes of me mindlessly wondering around the top of the bluffs chasing any washed out creek bed that just might be a trail down, expertly markers of trails North Little Rock is not.  My efforts did yield me a handful of cool pictures off of the top of the red rock quarry bluffs that I normally ride underneath and not on top of but most of my trails ended up being routes for high schoolers to get to the bluffs and do ungodly things rather than any sort of mountain bike trail.  Eventually I did find the trail down through Emerald Park and aside from one slide out on a rocky switchback I managed to make it down no worse for the wear just extremely frustrated at my inability to find any sort of "fun" trail.

Which leads me to why mountain biking in Arkansas might just not quit be for me.  See in Arkansas we have rocks, and a LOT of rocks, and some more rocks for good measure.  So guess what the mountain bike trails are made of...ROCKS!!!  Everywhere there are rocks so I was getting bounced all over the damn place for 2 and a half hours.  I don't know if a full suspension bike is a pre-requisite and my borrowed Bear of a hard tail just doesn't cut it or what. My idea of "fun" mountain biking is smooth dirt packed single track where you can get into a rhythm and just have fun.  Not get bounced around the entire time.  The worst part is that I would get teased with small sections of soft trail that I could just fly down or up (I don't dislike climbing) and I would think this is just so much fun why don't I do this more often.  But then I would be hit with a section that was so broken up with small rocks that my ass would hurt and I would constantly loose my crappy platform pedals.  I would then think why on Earth am I doing this?  It isn't fun, this is in no way shape or form fun.  This is what my punishment in Hell will be; I will be bounced all over rocky ass mountain bike trails.  But then it was back to soft dirt trail and I was all like Woo-Hoo speed again only to repeat the cycle again shortly.

That is until I was almost done with my riding and I "might" have been getting a little cocky when fate gut checked me pretty hard.  Yup, I got that pretty little gash in the bottom of my chin by clipping my handlebars on a tree and subsequently sending me over said handlebars.  My right leg actually took by far the worse with 2 huge bruises on my thigh and another good bruise/scrape on shin.  I also got a little bruise on my left hip and some bruising on my chest to go with my sweet chin gash.

I literally flew over the right side of my bars and fell hard on the right side of my body ending with the crescendo of my chin into a rock, a pointy rock I might add.  To be honest it could have been way worse though as I didn't break my jaw or teeth.  And although the gash looks pretty bad my nurse (aka my girlfriend Nicole) decided it was unnecessary for me voyage to the emergency room for stitches.  The one crappy part about the incident is that because the River Trail is AWESOME it is actually faster to get around by bike from one place on the trail to another than by car.  So I actually ended up having to pick myself off of the ground and dust off my somehow surprisingly un-damaged Lyon College cycling kit.  I then inspected my trusty Bear bike for damage and was at least grateful that he didn't have a chin gash to rival my own.  I then held my hand to chin for a little while to remove it covered in blood, the wound bled a LOT.  It was also a little creepy to see my blood all over a rock and the trail although the worse part by far was just not really having any clue about the extent of the damage.  Funny enough I had thought of taking my hiking first aide kit with me given that my impromptu mountain biking backpack had room but decided against it.  I guess my face is the only real place I couldn't doctor up anyways.  So I just ended up washing out the wound as best as possible using the water from CamelBak then resaddled up old Bear for a tail between the legs ride home.

I think someone needs to just let me know if the rocks are always a part of mountain biking, and I won't do it ever again, or if my idea of dirt/mud/sand trails is achievable.  If so someone let me know where!  All in all my Burns Park Trail riding equaled a total of 18.8 miles and I gained 1,173 feet of elevation. My moving time was 2:08:57 which doesn't count my time flopping around on the ground with a hurt chin.

My Awesome Thigh Bruises

1 hour after crash

12 Hours after Crash




18 Hours after Crash


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wahoo TICKR Run in for Review

After an "interesting" day of mountain biking, more on that story to come, I arrived home to find a package sitting on my doorstep.  Said package turned out to be the Wahoo TICKR Run the newest heart rate monitor by Wahoo the company that first delivered Bluetooth heart rate monitors to the market.  Although the TICKR Run is more than just a "simple" heart rate monitor, much more!

To start the TICKR Run can broadcast heart rate data over both Bluetooth 4.0 and ANT+ so effectively every major product on the market today will work with the TICKR Run.  It is nice to know that no matter what product you are using or whatever you upgrade to in the future your accessories will continue to work with it.  Right now the sports technology market is definitely in flux right now with a shift from what was 100% ANT+ (and some random device specific protocols, I am looking at you Polar) to Bluetooth 4.0 starting to break in.  Originally with the use of smartphones for fitness training but also some devices are now following the trend as well with both the Polar V800 and the new Suunto Ambit3 both supporting Bluetooth 4.0 and NOT ANT+.

But a dual broadcasting heart rate monitor is great but nothing groundbreaking.  The Wahoo includes some other impressive features especially Running Smoothness (yea Wahoo trademarked the phrase which was a smart move) which measure vertical oscillation (how much you bounce), ground contact time, and cadence all from the TICKR heart rate monitor.  This allows the Wahoo Fitness App to create a Running Smoothness score to help runners try and be more efficient and healthy for their running form.  Now the Running Smoothness features will only work while using the iPhone Wahoo Fitness App and not when using a normal GPS running watch.

However, the TICKR Run can also use the same sensors that compile the Running Smoothness to determine speed and distance when running indoors on a treadmill.  This allows you to replace a foot pod cadence sensor with the TICKR Run.  Wahoo is not the first company to do this and there has been a big push to include accelerometers in devices other than foot pods to measure speed & distance.  The Garmin Forerunner 220 and 620 both have built in accelerometers to determine distance and speed but I haven't been particularly impressed with the feature on the FR 220 (My overly detailed review of the Garmin Forerunner 220 Here).  Garmin also captures many of the same metrics as Running Smoothness does with their New HRM Run heart rate monitor but it is only compatible with Garmin's top end running watch the Forerunner 620.  But the Garmin FR 620 is $400 and the HRM Run is $100 where as the Wahoo TICKR Run is $80 and uses the phone you already use.  I think we can clearly see which is the better value but I'll leave that up to you all.

So, I will be testing the Wahoo TICKR Run in the coming weeks and then posting my usual Overly Detailed review.  In the meantime if you would like to support this site you can head over to Wahoo Fitness to get yourself a TICKR Run. It allows you to get an awesome product at a great price and I get a small percentage back at no cost what so ever to you..  So to recap: you get a great product and I get to keep writing some way overly detailed reviews...Sounds like a win-win to me!  Or you can visit Wahoo.com for more info on the TICKR Run.

This picture links to the Wahoo Fitness Store

Monday, July 21, 2014

My Week in Runs & Rides

So as it will become quit obvious through reading this post I rather handily failed in my goal to get back to working out out more appropriately this week.  My week started out good with back to back good rides but then I started my work week and with my new schedule that has me working through the afternoon and early night that means I have to run/ride in the morning.  Now there is ample time to workout before work but then there is the Tour de France on TV so it becomes a bit of which would I rather do.  And trust me it is pretty hard to beat my bed followed by a delicious latte and the Tour de France.  Luckily tomorrow is a rest day so maybe I can motivate myself.  If anyone has any motivation tips don't hesitate to share!

Triing the River Trail (Monday)

In an effort to be how would you say; Less Lazy!  I started the week on a high note by heading out for a ride Monday afternoon in the blazing heat of a 90+ degree day.  Because it was so hot I actually caved in and wore my triathlon top in an effort to stay cool hence the name of this ride.  To be more cohesive I went ahead and wore my Giro Mele Tri shoes instead of my normal cycling shoes but I had to cave and wear socks.  I guess I'm just not a true triathlete yet.

There wasn't much to my ride I just took it as a time trail effort from the edge of downtown Little Rock back around to the I-30 bridge in North Little Rock.  That section was 14 miles on the dot which I did in 44:06 at an average speed of 19mph.  On a side note I was pretty thrilled to carry 19mph as my average speed.  My average wattage was 191 with a pretty high average heart rate of 183bpm.  It might be a little more effort than I would want to put into the bike leg of a triathlon but it is encouraging as the Degray Lake Sprint Triathlon has a 16 mile bike leg and actually has less overall elevation gain than the River Trail.  The fastest bike leg last year had an average speed of 19.5mph.

Hills of the River Trail (Tuesday)

In an effort to improve my hill climbing abilities after my climb of Devil's Den a couple of weeks back I went out along the River Trail with a goal to hit every major climb that I could.  So I set out to hit all three climbs that are easily accessed off of the River Trail in one long ride.  Those climbs are Overlook Drive (0.7 miles at 8%), Pinnacle Valley Road (0.7 miles also 8%), and Fort Roots (1 mile at 5%).

I have always hated Overlook Drive because it just goes straight up at 8% with no respite.  Pinnacle Valley is easier with sections over 10% but even a small downhill in the middle to catch your breath for a second.  Now on Fort Roots is my favorite kind of climb because it only averages 5% which is a gradient that I can truck along at for a long time.  I prefer long, flatterish climbs to steep short ones although Arkansas tends to have an abundance of the latter.  Now I didn't manage to set a record up any of these climbs but I was thrilled to make it up all three in one go of a ride that was 38.5 miles long and had 1,500 feet of elevation gain.  It is no day in the alps but definitely some hills for Central Arkansas.


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