In Depth Review of the 4iiii Sport-iiiis ANT+ Heads Up Display System

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It’s been almost a year to the day since we first heard about a small company called 4iiii, which aims to bring a heads up display system to a pair of sunglasses near you.  Over the past year they’ve been working to make last years alpha-level hardware a reality.  And this evening I got a chance to go hands on with the final production setup for the first time, during an actual run on the Vegas Strip.

The goal of the 4iiii system is to provide you with much of the same information that’s displayed on your Garmin Forerunner (running) or Edge (cycling) device – but do it in a way that’s simply safer for you as a rider.  Their aim really isn’t to replace your Garmin, but rather compliment it with the core information you need.  The 4iiii system works by connecting to ANT+ sensors (heart rate, speed, cadence, power) while either cycling or running.

Once connected to those sensors it will provide feedback to you in the form of a color coded LED system that’s ideally set to be visible in your peripheral vision.  You can then customize these LED’s for your difference zones (or ranges), for each type of sensor.  Some might ask why not simply display actual digits or numbers.  While that was their initial plan as well, they found that was actually just as distracting as one looking down at their Garmin unit.  By using color coded LED lights, you wouldn’t have to shift focus from the road.  After all, it’s the road that’s important (especially when cycling).  Below is what it looks like if you’re looking through the glasses.  I set the camera to focus on the area about 15 feet ahead, which meant that just like the human eye – the LED light bar is effectively within the cameras peripheral vision.  Note that you can change the position of the LED bar as you see fit (up/down, etc…)

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The 4iiii system is designed to connect to your existing glasses.  Having been talking with them pretty regularly for about a year now – this was probably the biggest engineering challenge that took a lot of revisions to finally get right so that it stays locked in place.  And based on my testing and running tonight – I’m pretty confident they nailed it. It doesn’t budge.

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While the system doesn’t budge, it does allow you to disconnect the main unit from the mount part – which is connected to your glasses using mini-zip ties.  This enables you to quickly slide the 4iiii unit off your glasses, should you want to change glasses (i.e. to a clear pair, for running/cycling at night).  You can see the little rail on the upper edge of the 4iiii unit, just to the left of the blue Oakley symbol – this is where you slide it forward to disconnect:

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While you’re running or riding, the system has a small speaker that communicates to you if you’re below/at/above your target (for speed/cadence/HR/power).  The speaker is located on the bottom of the unit, where the small red circle is (the red square is a button, and the black rubber piece covers the MicroUSB port):

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This voice can be customized to speak at different intervals, or simply not speak at all…it’s well understood that sometimes silence is golden.  It’s also in the cards to allow it to be set to remind you a customizable number of times before it stops reminding you.  For example, if you’re below zone for 3-5 consecutive reminders on a given portion of a workout/race, you probably have a good reason for that and don’t really want to hear someone yelling at you.  The good news is that of course even if you disable the audio, the display will still be visible – so you can always see that.  The speaker is close enough to the ear that the sound is easily heard – despite everything going on around you.  We ran down the Strip with quite a of racket and no issues hearing the audio cues:

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In order to show you what that looks and sounds like I put together this short video running with the glasses.  Understand that by time we could meet up it was late at night…and dark…and this was the brightest (non-Strip) place I could find.  So focus on the functionality and not my video skills while running.  I’ll retake the video in the daylight in the next few days.

4iiii Heads Up Display System While Running

You can clearly hear the audible warnings, as well as see the change in LED status.  Again, it’s a bit difficult running holding a video camera while holding a pair of glasses at the same distance at eye level…and doing so at night.  But you probably get the idea.

The little LED light arm is fully movable and customizable.  For example, on my wife’s sunglasses she found that she prefers it inside the lens of the glasses (between her eye and the lens).

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Whereas on a different pair of sunglasses they gave me to try out, I preferred it on the outside.  No worries though, you can switch and swap all day long:

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Speaking of which, let me show you how flexible the little arm is.  I shot this super simple video demonstrating moving it around and it staying put – as well as a bit of a 360* tour of the unit.  You can hear the audible warning selection change each time I tap/brush up against the touch sensor.  It’s designed to be easy to tap, hence why it’s somewhat sensitive (but you can change that, as we’ll talk about later).  I found that once you’re running though – it doesn’t falsely trigger.

4iiii LED Bar Flexibility, and general 360* view of the unit

About this point you may be wondering how it’s all configured.  The unit itself can pair directly with the supported ANT+ sensor types – no additional computer/software required.  But they’ve also got an application (both for PC and Mac) that allows configuration of the device and virtually all of the settings.  Let me briefly walk you through it.  Do keep in mind that this is pre-release software so some additional options will likely appear and probably move around.  They’re expecting to finalize it in the coming weeks after feedback from Interbike.

Interestingly, The Girl and I actually had the laptop opened up on the hood of our rental car testing all of this in a vacant parking lot at UNLV – just off the Strip in Vegas.  We had hoped the UNLV track would still be illuminated, but unfortunately it wasn’t.  So this had to suffice:

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The unit connects to your computer using a MicroUSB plug, which is right under the bottom of the unit itself:

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Let’s start with the basic profile screen.  This page is used to help determine simple HR zones for those that want to use the defaults.  It also helps to write the user information to the 4iiii unit as well:

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Next we have the LED zone setup pages and tabs.  These pages help you define the LED light configuration for each of the different zones and sensor types.  The best way to think of this is a mapping between a given color and a given HR/Speed/Cadence/Power zone (range).  Don’t necessarily think of them in the sense of ‘good or bad’ – but rather simply color allocation.

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In the case of cadence for example, you can see how I’ve skewed the range to better align to my goals for a higher cadence:

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You can of course save the different zones and map them to profiles – somewhat like saving a settings file:

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You can also see here that you can set whether or not you want the unit to alert you when you change zones, or whether or not you want to hear a voice prompt telling you about your zone state:

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On the bike power front, you can see basically the same setup – just customized for cycling.  You can drag each of those bar lines to any number you like, as you can see that I’ve done below to odd numbers like 301 and 404:

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Next we have the overall device setup and configuration page.  This page is divided into a number of sections.  The first controls the LED light’s themselves.  The unit has an ambient light sensor so that it will automatically adjust to different light conditions.  This means that its brightness is adjusted based on whether your out in the bright sun, or running at night like tonight.

But you can override these settings should you wish to.  This also includes blink rate and overall max brightness.

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The audio tab (next) at the moment only has one adjustment slider, to control max audio sounds – so I’m going to move onto the sensors tab.  On this tab you can setup wheel circumference.  This will allow the unit to know how far you’ve gone while on a bike. Like I noted before, there’s still some areas to fill out here with respect to settings.  For example, expect to probably see the ability to control footpod calibration and other settings.

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Last but not least, is the TipTap page.  This controls the sensitivity of the touch sensor in the glasses.  You saw in the earlier video just how sensitive it can be when set on the most sensitive setting.  You can tune this down to make it a bit more lax:

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Once you’re ready to confirm the settings you simply hit the ‘Ready to upload’ portion, which will set the configuration onto the unit.  That process takes about half a second to complete – so it’s super quick.

It should be noted that there are some areas which aren’t yet in this firmware/software build that I have – which includes the recording of workouts.  The unit will “absolutely ship” with the ability to record workouts to standard file formats that you can upload to sites like Training Peaks or Sport Tracks.  It’s just not in the current software build that I have on my unit.  They’re moving at such a fast pace that both The Girl and I actually had slightly different features with new software versions over the past few days. Great to see the speed of a startup.

Finally, 4iiii’s will be making available the usual array of ANT+ sensors (footpod, heart rate strap, speed/cadence).  They had some branded ones available this evening to play with.  Though they noted that the final branded versions will actually include the newer premium HR strap (like the latest 2010/2011 Garmin premium HR strap – the one that’s vastly improved), as well as the 4th generation footpod (like the most recent Garmin footpods, tiny and smaller than pictured below).

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Overall I’m pretty excited about where this is going – and I’m looking forward to getting more time with it both on the bike and while running.  The Girl noted that for her as one who only recently started cycling, that one of the scariest parts of first learning to get into the less stable positions like aero (triathlon/TT) was having to then add in the layer of looking down at her Garmin to check on her different zones (power, heart rate, etc…). This would in effect remove that requirement – at least as far as zone management is concerned.

4iiii will retail for $199 (not including the glasses themselves, it’s BYOG), and should be in retail channels within about 4-6 weeks.  The units are indeed waterproofed, so there’s no concern about rain water.  Given my luck with running in the rain lately, I’m sure I’ll be trying that out shortly.

As always, if you have any questions – feel free to leave them in the comments below.  As I get more time with the 4iiii unit, I’ll update this post with additional thoughts/photos/videos/antidotes.  Thanks for reading!

For the latest Interbike coverage, remember I’ll be tweeting nonstop, so you can catch all the latest action there.  And here on the blog you can use this tag to see all the Interbike 2011 posts. Thanks for reading!

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40 Comments

  1. Cyborgs are among us! :)

    Reply
  2. Interesting concept. Reminds me of HUD type displays used by pilots and soilders to convey vital information.

    I wonder how close a display can be to ones eyes and still be readable. Is that a design limitation? I know we can make out color even if it is really close, but text might be blurry.

    Reply
  3. Wes

    build it, but I won't come :-)

    Reply
  4. I'd like to think I'm pretty forward thinking as far as technology goes, but this is one stupid product.

    Reply
  5. I'll be curious to know after weeks of use if the audio turns out to be the more useful prompt. If so, it could probably be engineered more cheaply in v2 as an audio-only device.

    Reply
  6. sam

    I just don't see how this is useful.

    I guess it's targeted at the athlete who is so fresh that he/she is unable to safely glance at a computer, but competitive enough to need to stay in the right zone all the time?

    I wish them the best of luck, but unfortunately this does not seem to me to be a compelling product.

    Reply
  7. Seems nice for doing longer intervals. Offends my fashion sense though.

    Reply
  8. just read this! to me... VERY cool! but im not sure if these other guys even READ the review! im a triathlete to stay in shape, and compete... AND, avoiding accidents is critical. i train on roads that don't always have a shoulder... and idiots fling open car doors without looking. i know dozens of guys who got a "door prize" while looking away for just a split second. a device that allows me to get the data i really need, while concentrating on the road is pretty exciting. and to be able to hear it all? awesome. also... heard a rumor its only 200$? i want one!

    Reply
  9. Sounds pretty cool to me! I saw this at Interbike and tried them on. When on the street I can totally see the benefit of not having to look down at a computer when focusing on a single metric. I want one!

    Reply
  10. Anonymous

    Yeah, and rear view mirrors are useful too and about as dorky. Pass!

    Reply
  11. Anonymous

    Very interesting concept. Application is not limited to just running and cycling. I am a paddler (C1, V1, V6, Outrigger, Dragon Boat), races can range anywhere from 60sec to 6 hours and I do not have the option to look at my wrist or a mounted handle bar. Large potential for paddling sport, especially for training and long distance races.

    Reply
  12. Anonymous

    Any idea where they will be selling them?

    Reply
  13. How easy will it be to pair it with Garmin 305?

    Reply
  14. It will not be possible to pair with the FR305. You can pair with the FR305's sensors (i.e. HR strap, speed/cadence sensor, or footpod), but not with the watch itself.

    Reply
    • Middle school runner replied

      I assume The same applies for the timex global trainer- that sportiiiis will not pair with the watch but will with an added foot pod or hrm?

      Can you now change the settings for how many times the audible voice tells you too speed up/slow down? You wrote about that feature,

      "This voice can be customized to speak at different intervals, or simply not speak at all…it’s well understood that sometimes silence is golden. It’s also in the cards to allow it to be set to remind you a customizable number of times before it stops reminding you."

      But I didn't see an explanation of how to specialize such details, sorry if I just missed it and the answer is already there, but there was no info on audio at all that I noticed. HELP would be appreciated, thanks for the awesome post and reviews.

      Reply
  15. Lets see how it works...
    BTW, the PR agency tells me the unit is available from the company website.

    Reply
  16. My first test was only 50/50.

    The lights are too small to distinguish between green and yellow while running/running in full daylight. At the end of the day things are better, however one still needs to focus on the lights in order to stay in the zone.
    The audio prompt is great though, esp. when one wants to move glasses up, on the forehead (when gets too dark to look through the lenses).

    Reply
  17. it pairs up very easily with my heart rate monitor and cadence sensor. great that the LED brightness can be adjusted as it might get too bright during night ride. however, to configure the device you can only do so on a computer. it will be great if it can be configured on my iPhone. bought mine at link to hrmdiscount.com

    Reply
  18. Anonymous

    interesting to see that its only on one side, was there any issues with weight and it being lopsided? How heavy is it?

    Reply
  19. It's incredibly liteweight, so no issues with lopsided in any of my runs (including longer 20-miler ones). The downside to that is that with the thinner materials, it could/would probably break easier.

    Reply
  20. I love this device, but I am having battery life issues. It seems to be draining even when it is turned off? Has anyone else had this problem? I'm only getting 1 hour out of it.

    Reply
  21. Definitely haven't had that. I wonder if it's either having a problem charging fully, or isn't correctly shutting off afterwards.

    I'd ring up support. Knowing those guys, they'd likely be happy to swap out your unit if they can't fix it. Especially if you tell them I told them to. ;)

    Reply
  22. Middle school runner

    I assume The same applies for the timex global trainer- that sportiiiis will not pair with the watch but will with an added foot pod or hrm?

    Can you now change the settings for how many times the audible voice tells you too speed up/slow down? You wrote about that feature,

    “This voice can be customized to speak at different intervals, or simply not speak at all…it’s well understood that sometimes silence is golden. It’s also in the cards to allow it to be set to remind you a customizable number of times before it stops reminding you.”

    But I didn’t see an explanation of how to specialize such details, sorry if I just missed it and the answer is already there, but there was no info on audio at all that I noticed. HELP would be appreciated, thanks for the awesome post and reviews.

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Correct, the Sportiiii's pairs with a HR strap and/or footpod, but not with a watch.

      I don't have one handy at the moment to validate if they've allowed you to customize it in a subsequent update. I do know their support/social media channels tend to respond very quickly though.

      Reply
  23. Su-Chong Lim

    @Middle school runner: I just upgraded to Sportiiiis 2nd hardware iteration which includes a hard power/select button (with a real "click") rather than a capacitance "touch" button and more colours on the LED rainbow choice, which is really cool. Independent of LED flash frequency and brightness (both of which can be adjusted), the audio alerts can also be adjusted as to volume and frequency, and, during announcements, whether or not pace/speed, heart rate, and/or running cadence (each selectable yes/no) are to be included in the announcements. Additionally, you can specify if you want an announcement if you are below or above target range. I set my announcements at a rather high frequency for now (every 1.5 minutes -- I set it up before a race and left it there), so I'm usually on top of my parameters at any given moment, and am already aware when they drift, usually appropriately in response to terrain or tactical changes, so I have almost always set this last option off in my own personal use; but of course you can personalize this feature to fit your preference, or even set the whole audio to off. Oh, if you have the audio on, but you want to hear right now what's going on, just tap the unit with your finger and this will force an audio announcement to read from its script.

    I am still learning to optimize this gadget, and am constantly seeing new ways to give me meaningful feedback. My latest revelation is to understand how running cadence is key to race efficiency. I have currently set up cadence to be my primary LED displayed parameter, and found that I can set up my Sportiiiis to display cadence segment range widths of 1 (one). This worked so well in practice that I kept the bandwidth at 1 but moved the target band to an appropriate race cadence (97 for me) for a half marathon last Sunday, and it worked brilliantly. The advantage of a 1 spm bandwidth is that you get a given LED (location and colour) signal corresponding to a given single number, say 97, rather than a range, which is much easier to digest on the fly and under duress (dying from oxygen lack). I found I went minutes on end without deviating from my target, and when I did, usually only by 1, unless we hit hills. Having just retired, I'm at the other end of the age spectrum from you, so I should be getting slower, lol, but I find with intelligent use of meaningful data there is the potential to slow that inevitable trend. (I'm just getting into biking now and can't wait to learn to play with the biking features!)

    The above presets are set up using the configuration utility loaded on the personal computer. You can change some things like audio volume on the fly by holding down the power button till the options cycle to "volume change" (the voice guides you through the process) each cycle changes the volume one notch.

    Reply
  24. Taff Tanner

    I have had this now for three weeks, and apart from a few teething troubles like upgrading the viiiiva hrm unit to 1.4 and replacing my old adidas footpod with their striiiide version, am pretty much enjoying my running a lot more. The led colours can be adjusted to whatever you like - I have a neon pink in my "just below max zone" and my hill reps are kickass since now there's no glancing down to look at the watch, just work hard until we are in the red zone, and then recovery back into the green zone - it's a real iiii-opener!

    Reply
  25. Nikolai

    Thanks for the review!
    Device can be amazingly useful for XC-skiing where you don't really have an option to check the data displayed at your wrist without breaking your stride. I think I'm about to buy one.

    Reply
  26. shadowmate

    I have this. Awesome. Great bit of kit and even when my recon Jet comes i will still use this. They dont really like Android though so i cant use the app, just having to configure them through my computer. And i cant use the Cliiiimb addition.

    Reply
  27. Lisa Hanks

    Does this pair with garmin footpod , HR monitor, cadence bike sensor ?

    Reply
  28. earl

    So if I already have a Garmin 800, Garmin heart rate monitor, Powertap and sunglasses, I only have to buy the Sportiiiis? Will this then record/monitor speed, cadence, power and heart rate - no need to change my heart rate monitor or fit their own cadence/speed sensor?

    Reply
  29. Lars

    Hi!
    Due to your Black Friday/Cyber Monday tips I'm thinking about purchasing the Sportiiiis. If you have defined limits for two connected sensors (e.g. heart rate and power), will it alert when you leave the target zone of the non-active sensor? E.g. your current sensor is the heart rate monitor (you're in the target zone here) and you shoot out your power wad - will it warn you?
    And as always: thanks for testing! ;-)

    Reply
  30. David

    Ray, do you still occasionally use this? I just bought one to sort of play with. The one thing that is somewhat disappointing is the "shelf life" of the battery. I charge it immediately after using, then go to use it 2 days later and the battery is already down to 80%.

    Also you might want to update the pricing information. It is now only $149, or $199 with a Viiiiva.

    Reply
  31. Mike broyles

    Have you used the Cliiiimb a and if so how do you like it?

    Reply
  32. David

    Ray, did you ever check with your USAT referee contacts as to whether this would be legal in a race? I don't know if it counts as a "personal audio device". (The rules don't ever actually define that term, yet it is used 4 times within the rules.) It is personal, and it generate audio. But so do almost all watches depending on your definition of "audio". If a watch "talked" instead of beeping, would that be illegal?

    Thanks

    Reply
  33. Jack

    One more question on the connectivity side of things:
    If I connect the Sportiiii to my existing Garmin HRM, is my Garmin watch capable to record the data from the same heart rate strap, or can one ANT+ device only pair with one other? I like the running dynamics from my 620. Putting on a second heart rate strap just for the Sportiiii would be silly.
    Thanks in advance.

    (Oh, and thank you very much for your spectacularly good blog!)

    Reply
  34. Andy Rake

    Complete rubbish. If im paying that much for an attachment that simply blinks lights at me then i want more than that. I want a proper full-on HUD with numbers, not a sequence of flashing lights.

    Their argument is that a HUD with numbers on is as distracting at looking down. Sorry! im just not buying it. I could argue that its just as distracting having a series of lights blinking away in front of you that you have to interpret as you are cycling along.

    its a rubbish concept.

    Reply

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