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A review of the SportyPal Sony Ericsson Xperia Active Bike Mount

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It’s not that often that I write reviews for items that actually include no electronics whatsoever.  Nor is it that often that I write a review for a single piece of plastic not much bigger than a deck of cards.  But this time, I made an exception – and I think you’ll agree it’s a pretty cool little piece of plastic.

See, back in September I reviewed the newly released ANT+ and enabled Sony Ericsson Xperia Active Android phone.  Aside from having fully integrated ANT+ support (meaning, it can connect to your Garmin sensors like speed/cadence, power, heart rate, etc…) – it’s all fully waterproofed, and shockproof.  Don’t believe me?  Well, check out this popular video I put together:

Sony Ericsson Xperia Active meets sports gel

And yes, fully waterproofed:

Sony Ericsson Xperia Active Underwater

So, with that background, the most common question on my original review post was “When is a bike mount coming out for it?”.  Unfortunately, there really wasn’t a good answer for that.  I spent considerable time checking out phone bike mounts at Interbike the following week – but none of them really fit the bill.  In short, all of the options were half-ass, at best.  None would be able to withstand an exciting trainer ride, let alone some time on a rough road.

For many, the use-case was clear: A bike computer replacement.  Or more specifically, a Garmin Edge 800 bike computer replacement.  Being roughly the same size, and just as waterproofed and durable – it starts to become an interesting platform.  Especially once you consider that the phone can run any Android app – including ones like Strava or MapMyRide.  Further, it’s always connected, allowing you to stream your data in real-time – right from your handlebars.

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After Interbike things went quite for a bit on the mount front, but eventually ahead of the holidays I was contacted by the folks from SportyPal, as they were in the final stages of a bike mount that was designed specifically for the Xperia Active.  The goal was a super-low profile mount that could happily hold the phone without losing it.  So how’d things work out?

Unboxing:

Normally I have an unboxing section in my reviews, but as is often the case with products that I get ahead of release or availability, they don’t usually have full packaging.  And that was definitely the case here, no pun intended.  So, the full unboxing is quite simply just the single piece of plastic:

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The final unit will include a handful of zip ties, which are required for attaching it to your bike.

Getting it all connected:

Now that we’re ready to set everything up, let’s talk about how your phone connects to the mount.  You’ll notice that the plastic mount has a small little round bump, this bump corresponds with the Xperia Active’s camera lens.  This little notch acts as a way to help secure everything in place – and does a really good job at it.

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I asked why they didn’t use the LED flash divot instead of the camera lens divot.  They commented that the camera lens was the most vulnerable part on the entire camera – so they wanted to protect it (which this does).  Additionally, this would allow you to use the LED flash as a flashlight (turned on permanently) in a pinch on a trail (it’s surprisingly bright).

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You’ll notice that the mount is incredibly thin – by far the thinnest overall mount in terms of height that I’ve seen for a phone.  Most phone mounts add a fair bit of vertical height so the phone looks fairly awkward on your handlebars.  But this one is basically about the same as the Edge 800.

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Finally, time to get it mounted on the bike.

This requires two simple zip-ties, which just wrap through the little holes and help to mount it tightly to your handlebar.

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As usual, just snip off the the excess:

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With that, we’re ready to roll!

Use and durability a bike computer replacement:

It’s funny, by now, I’m pretty used to using a given bike computer on my rides.  Sorta habit-like.  However, despite having both the Edge 800 and the Xperia Active on my handlebars, I never glanced at the Edge 800 – but instead, kept on checking the Xperia Active for my latest speed, distance and HR updates.

For me, it was just the sheer screen sharpness and brightness of it, and the fact that there weren’t any funky oversized protective case on it.  Nor any cover that introduced weird glare.

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The one setting I changed that was applicable to riding was to modify the phone’s display timeout to 30 minutes, from the default setting of about 30 seconds I believe.  Otherwise, the display would turn off before you finished your first few pedal rotations. Once that was set though, it’s perfect.

Now, as I noted in my previous review, the unit’s touchscreen doesn’t respond to normal glove touches.  But folks have noted that you can simply pickup a wide variety of gloves that have little tips in them designed to work with the phone.

Size wise, the phone really didn’t seem out of place, again, about the same size as the Edge 800.  Here’s a pic on my handlebars from this weekend – with the GoPro in view for some context.  I had taken the Edge off for the picture, though I wish I had kept it on now.

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And, here’s a couple more photos for good measure:

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One item of note is that if you have a triathlon/time-trial bike, you might have trouble mounting this, since some aerobar pads would block enough real estate to make that tough.  You could though pickup one of the various bike computer mounts designed to fit in between your aero bars, and mount it to that though.

From a durability standpoint, it’s really hard to show just how stable, secured and durable this thing is.  I think tomorrow I’m going to film a little video outside showing me being able to throw the phone with it mounted to something (deciding what, since I don’t think I’m going to chuck my bike), and not having it fall off.  I think you’ll be surprised – it’s remarkably secure and tight.

[Update – 1/26/2012]

Ok, I found something to attach it to that I could throw around – yup, a paddle.  From one of those inflatable boats.  So, below you’ll find an artful video of my banging the crap out of the paddle (in turn replicating a bumpy ride), and, simply just tossing the whole thing (phone and all) up in the air.  Sometimes it landed on the paddle, sometimes directly on the phone.  Again, remember that I’m tossing around a CELL PHONE.  Just because perhaps that might get lost in your video entertainment moment:

Banging the crap out of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Active with SportyPal bike mount.

A few of us were commenting at CES while playing with it then that this would be the last thing on your bike to pop-off in an accident, it’s really well secured.  My time on the rougher dirt and mud trails with my road bike (some off-roading as a casualty in a recent ride), didn’t yield any issues.  And while I’m not a hardcore mountain biker – I’d feel pretty confident in saying it won’t pop off there.

Upcoming Items of Note:

SportyPal also has an Android app that can connect to ANT+ sensors and record both GPS and ANT+ data.  Additionally, they have the usual line of branded ANT+ accessories (HR straps, etc…).  One interesting item that their app does is to take advantage of the Xperia Active’s barometric altimeter (yup, pretty cool, ehh?).

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Even more interestingly is that they will be amongst the first to support the new Sony Ericsson Smart Watch via an app they’ll be releasing.

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But what is the Smart Watch?  Well, it connects to the Sony Ericsson phones via ANT+, and will display data in real-time from your cell phone.  This could be workout data, location data, or even incoming cell phone calls.  Since the Smart Watch is fully Android, apps can also be written for it.  This probably isn’t as useful in a cycling scenario, but is much more appealing in a run workout – where the phone probably isn’t strapped to your wrist, but the watch is.  And remember, since we’re talking a phone – we’ve got all the connectivity aspects – such as real-time positions and mapping, items your typical Garmin does not have.

The folks at Sony Ericsson are sending me out the Smart Watch to me this week to test out, and with Sporty Pal being the first folks out of the gate to support it – I’ll be digging into their Android app a bit in conjunction with that testing.  Stay tuned!

Summary:

For $20, this is probably one of the coolest cheap things I’ve reviewed.  The mount will be available in the next few weeks, so you’ll have it in your hands pretty soon.  It’ll be available in both black and white initially, though, they also showed off a few more vibrant colors at CES this year.

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Finally, I’ve gotten a lot of questions on where exactly you can get the Sony Ericsson Xperia Active.  In Europe, that’s fairly easy and straightforward since a number of carriers carry it.  But in the states, none of the major carriers have it in their local stores.  Instead, you’d simply buy the phone unlocked (meaning, not tied to any given carrier) on Amazon (~$320US – Black/White, Black/Orange), following which your carrier of choice can activate it.  And yup, it includes a full warranty and all that jazz.

For example, in my case I can (and do) swap my SIM card on ATT between my iPhone, Windows 7 Phone, and the Sony Ericsson Xperia Active – all without any trouble, it just takes a second (really, just a few seconds).  The nice part here is that you aren’t stuck in any contract with a given carrier.  Note though that it won’t work on Verizon though, but will work with just about everyone else on earth, and all over the globe.

With that, as always, if you’ve got any questions – feel free to drop them below.  Thanks for reading!

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48 Comments

  1. This is so great!!

    Now we only want a good app from Garmin to record all available data and presenting a map just like the the Edge800 (I know it will not happen but you can always wish).

    Perhaps time for a little bigger review on Android apps for running/cykling

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    Hi Ray,

    Great review! Question; do you think it would also be possible (maybe with a bit of modification) to mount this mount on the stem instead of on the handlebars like is also possible with the Garmin mounts?

    Best!
    Max

    Reply
  3. Sorry this is off-topic, but I really enjoy your great reviews. And seeing Suunto has launched Suunto Ambit I was wondering if it was possible for you to get your hands on that one?

    Best from Denmark :-)

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    Perfect!

    Now that you’ll be using this phone on your bike more often I would be very interested to hear some further experiences from you re overall battery life. Would this last 8 hours on the bike with gps, ANT and possible bluetooth on? Or is that wishful thinking?

    Reply
  5. How accurate is the elevation measuring compared to a garmin edge 800/500?

    There were huge differences between my forerunner 400 and edge 500 elevation measurements.

    Reply
  6. Denis

    Another great review! Since you have Endomondo here with Xperia active, another idea for review would be the Jabra Sport bluetooth headset that says that it’s made for Endomondo. Wondering about battery life on it.

    Reply
  7. Also interested in the battery life – seems to be an issue based on other reviews?

    Reply
  8. It would be cool if the mount allowed you to take video while riding… this could make the phone/mount combo replace a gopro or contour.

    Reply
  9. Though I like the phone (I one one) and its potential use on a bike or while running – I´m afraid in real world the use is very limited as there is *no* app available to really make use of it. Endomondo will only recors HR – as will all of the different MapMy… apps. MapMy supports sensors like footpod, power meter and so on, but merely for real time display. No recording. Therfore: useless :-(

    Just my opinion – I´d be happy to hear that there is an app actually supporing e.g. power meters w/ data recording…

    Reply
  10. Thanks, Ray.

    I’d also like to know about the battery life of the Xperia Active.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  11. Anonymous

    I agree with Erich about taking video while riding. Too bad they covered the lens. Since it’s part of the mechanism holding the phone in place, its no use drilling a hole for the lens I suppose.

    Reply
  12. Anonymous

    Hi Ray,

    Questions:
    1 Where to buy SportyPal Bike Mount. It´s not on the Sportypal store.
    2 Did you test Sportypal Bike addon with Xperia Active barometric altitude?

    Reply
  13. Hannes

    In moment I use the arm strap as mount for the xperia active, but I think, this little item would be much better.

    A review on Android apps for cyclin would be fantastic, I dream of an app that transmits my speed, cadence, heart rate during a race to my Girl (so that i feel ashamed when slowing down), but up to now I just managed live tracking with runtastic, but it can’t read Ant+ sensors.

    With mapmyfitness on the xperia active live tracking does not work. When starting an activity, mapmyfitness posts on my Facebook wall that one could follow me on a map, but there only “Hannes Müller is currently not live tracking” can be read.

    link to mapmyfitness.com

    But i managed to spam my wall with an automatic post every minute during my run.

    I found some people having problems with live tracking on Android an mapmy…, but i didn’t find a solution.

    Ray, what is your suggestion for live tracking on the xperia active?

    Reply
  14. a hard mobile indeed ;) link to xperiablog.net

    Reply
  15. Anonymous

    @pdais97 …does this count?

    link to market.android.com

    Reply
  16. I have the same question as Max, will there be a way to attache the bike mount to the stem instead of on the handlebars.

    With mountain bikes it makes a lot more sense to attach it there because with the brakes, gear leavers and curves handlebars the stem would be great.

    Having said that, the curve and thickness of the stem is another matter to think about.

    Reply
  17. Rob

    The mount is now on the website from Sportypal:
    link to sportypal.com . Ordering not possible yet though. Unfortunately, it seems impossible to mount it on the stem. I think that a stem mount looks much better than a handlebar mount. The only other decent bike mount I am aware of is currently developed in Germany link to upmove.eu . Can be mounted on the stem (vorbau), but then it seems that the build height becomes a bit more, which doesn’t look as good as the very lean Sportypal mount.

    Reply
  18. I’ll pick one of these guys up thankyou.. I just exited a sprint $80p/m :( to a $30 tmobile and activated it with the unlocked active. big saving in time to come..Like you said also it works across the planet.. When I vist England(Home) just pop in my uk PAYG sim and its all good. Ill pick up a bike mount or 2 as soon as I can.. Cheers for the review

    Reply
  19. Peter Kacandes

    You can mount it just as easily on the stem of your road or mountain bike, but phone orientation will then be horizontal and apps will display in landscape mode.
    cheers,
    Peter K

    Reply
  20. Just a few corrections:

    The SmartWatch communicates to the phone via standard BlueTooth (not ANT+) so it can work with any Android phone.

    Also, the SmartWatch has its own embedded OS (not Android), but apps for the SmartWatch are standard Android developed using the Eclipse IDE and Android SDK.

    cheers,

    Peter K.

    Reply
  21. Anonymous

    Very good product, smart mount phone. Although I would not shooting video often, this restriction covering the camera is annoying detail. Instead of the hole for the camera should use the ear on the bottom of the phone. (Please excuse my English)

    Reply
  22. You can also purchase the Active from buy.com:

    link to buy.com

    currently listed at $329.99

    or at Newegg.com

    link to newegg.com

    currently listed at $299 plus shipping/tax.

    Reply
  23. expected battery life depends on a lot of things. For most training use cases, you will want to turn wifi off. You probably want to leave GPS on for tracking purposes, and perhaps the cell radio if you want to get live map updates etc.

    So, the biggest issue then is the display, and if you choose to leave it on continuously or not.

    I’ve gotten 4.5-5 hours out of it during rides with the display set to time out after 30 minutes. Display was probably active for about 1.5-2 hours.

    Reply
  24. Or you can use something like that:

    link to roseversand.de

    Reply
  25. Ray,

    You need to get that bar tape straightened up. Things have been looking a bit natty ;-)

    Reply
  26. thx man. your reviews are real in-depth.

    any chance to test running apps for iphone and android?

    Reply
  27. Hi everyone, thanks for your comments on our bike holder!

    @pdais97 – the SportyPal app records data, presents map, altitude (from the barometer), lets you set up goals, you can follow your own or other people’s routes and much more.

    @Anonymous the mount can be mounted on the stem, too. We have tried several widths and it fits perfectly. Off course, the phone will be in a landscape mode, but our app supports that, too.

    @We have had rides longer than 4 hours, but that is limited by the battery itself. The ANT+ protocol uses very little power, but GPS and Bluetooth use much more.

    @Chris we have developed and patented a solution for utilizing the barometer of the Xperia active. The problem with the barometer is the determination of the altitude of your starting point – that’s why you got inconsistent data from your devices. But, we have solved that problem:)

    @Erich we tested several solutions for the holder, and decided that it is best to keep the camera closed. The GoPro and similar cameras have special image stabilizers – that’s why they are expensive. If you take your phone, start recording and start running or jumping up and down (similar to riding a bike), the video will be all blurry. And, even it was left open, you would be able to record only your wheel and small part of the road in fornt of you, due to the mounted angle of the phone.

    @¡corre!sponsal SportyPal PRO supports ANT+ sensors except power (it’s on the to do list). For now, you can only analyze heart rate (through graph and pie chart, in app or on the web), but in the future you will be able to analyze all data from ANT+ or Bluetooth sensors.

    Reply
  28. Here are 2 pics from the holder mounted on a stem:

    link to i.imgur.com

    link to i.imgur.com

    Reply
  29. another “resistence test” for the mobile, now ice fishing!
    link to youtube.com!

    Reply
  30. Good to see a good mount coming. My bike computer App IpBike is curently in beta and just up on the market.
    link to market.android.com
    It is realy designed for use out riding with all your ANT sensor data easaly viewable along with a map with route to follow or a live graph of the data.

    Battery life using my app I estimate the following.

    Best case ANT data loging only display off no GPS 24 hours.

    Typical ANT, GPS, map on but precached no data conection display 25% about 6-7 hours.

    Worst case display 100% map zoomed right in and loading as you go about 3 hours.

    The display is the main drain, if you let it dim then 8 hours should be possible with a precached map. I will check on my ride today with this setup.

    Reply
  31. This looks a good idea and I’m keen to try it but the vibration on bike frames is terrible and this mount doesn’t provide much isolation. I’m also wondering if the aerodynamics is good enough for pro cyclists. I’ve been using the Xperia Active for live race tracking, mounting it in a pouch under the saddle using this set up link to flic.kr . I managed to crack the screen on one link to flic.kr .

    I like the LCD of the SRM PCS7 which is low power and easy to read in any daylight and thought the Active screen might not be bright enough on a sunny day so it’s interesting you say it so good. Power drain is a problem though.

    I wrote some notes on live race tracking including the Tour Down Under, a UCI World Tour Event at link to blog.urremote.com . Data includes power data from the bikes that had a power meter and some analysis.

    ¡corre!sponsal and Hannes, if you use an SRM PCS7 head unit you can use MyTracks for saving power data on the phone and Avocado MyTracks Bridge for live streaming from MyTracks.

    I was getting over 4 hours of battery life with GPS and transmitting live data but screen off. Rough estimate from Xperia x10 mini pro was 40% power goes to GPS and 40% to data transmission.

    Reply
  32. there is a alternative available at upmove shop

    link to upmove.eu

    Reply
  33. February 27. Still waiting for Sportypal’s solution “coming soon” : (

    Reply
  34. The holder will be available on March 19.
    Go to sportypal.com/xperiaactivebikeholder and enter your email if you would like to be notified.

    Reply
  35. @Danial

    The Jabra Sport is useless for cycling because all you will hear is wind. It is ok for running but lacks bass and volume. Unfortunately mine lasted only 1,5 hours until it died from the sweat.

    Reply
  36. Nice mount. I wanted to try the phone as a bike computer first and didn’t want to wait for overseas delivery so came up with a cheaper option (although will probably fork out for this soon).

    My Xperia Active came with two spare backing cases so I sacrificed one, drilled four small holes, carved a bit of foam to fit between it and the bars and ziptied whole lot together. It only takes a few seconds to rip off the normal case and clip it into the mounted one and seems to hold together well based on test rides so far.

    Some pictures are here for those who want to try this themselves. link to facebook.com

    Reply
  37. Sam Goodenough

    Great phones! I use it for mountain biking. instead of using sportypal, i use OpenGPS app (free on Play Store)for recording my track. you can record GPX or KMZ as well.
    but it provide no guide in reading GPX file.
    To track any GPX, I use Osmand which have sound feature in reading predefined track as GPX

    Reply
  38. Anonymous

    Another good option for a bike mount is to buy the Garmin quick release kit for their Forerunner series. Take the piece that you would normally attach to the watch (I use the mount kit for the 910XT) and epoxy that piece to the back of the spare Sony Active cover. Now you have a true bike mount that you can easily remove. I switch between a Garmin Edge 500 and then when I need route mapping I switch over to my Sony Active.

    Reply
  39. This comment has been removed by the author.

    Reply
  40. where or how can i buy this SportyPal Bike Mount in Indonesia ?

    Reply
  41. Thanks Ray for all the hard work you do for your readers. I recently got back to running after an year long hiatus and got the xperia active. Serves good for my usual runs along with the free liveview. Your blog not only helped me buy a Forerunner 305 (back in 2007 was when I first ran into your blog) which unfortunately was stolen last year and the Xperia active now, but it continues to motivate me to get out everyday.

    When possible, share your ideas/tips on how you get some rest after those night runs (I simply cannot fall asleep after a night run).

    Cheers

    Reply
  42. Hi Santhoskhknn-

    For me, with late workouts, I find that taking a slightly longer shower, and then getting something to eat helps.

    The (hot) shower helps because upon exiting your body temperature cools relatively quickly. This is known to in turn typically cause sleepyness. Additionally, eating food removes and hunger factor.

    Enjoy!

    Reply
  43. Thanks for the tip Ray. I’ve been doing the opposite (cold shower) all this while. Will give it a try.

    Cheers
    Santhosh

    Reply
  44. Anonymous

    how about sun’s ray test? 5 to 10 hours of biking under the sun

    Reply
  45. ursk

    Just wondering if it suits link to sonymobile.com, or whether something similar is out there for the Acro S. Thanks

    Reply
  46. VoDa

    Hi…
    I using Endomondo wih low power mode on my MTB bike with SPD+Cad sensor (timex) and HR sensor from Adidas Mi couch with GPS on and 2600mAh from Ebay and my Xperia(with latest Xperia free rom) working around 20hours…

    VoDa ;)

    Reply
  47. Nac110

    Why don’t you use Strava (http://www.strava.com)? It’s better than Endomondo specially if you’re going to use it in a bike

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      In this particular scenario, not really. For cycling folks, a major benefit of this phone is the ANT+ support. Strava doesn’t support ANT+ on Android today, Endomondo does.

      Also, in the scheme of recording data goes, Endomondo generally gets better marks than Strava does.

      That’s not to say Strava isn’t awesome on the backend (because it is – and much better on presenting cycling data than Endomondo). But for a handlebar app that connects to sensors, it’s not so much Strava.

      Reply

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