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The Bia women’s GPS watch: My detailed thoughts

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A couple weeks ago a new entrant to the GPS-enabled sports watch bounced onto the scene via Kickstarter, the Bia watch.  This unit is forthcoming in being targeted and designed directly at women.  So I’m first going to go through my thoughts from a technical and competitive product perspective, and then in a rare move, The Girl (aka, my wife) gives her take as well.  After all, it’s a women’s watch – seemed logical to ask her.

First, some more background.  With the project being on Kickstarter, the watch isn’t a sure bet.  They’ve got until July 14th to raise $400K, and in the week or so it’s been up there, they’ve raised about $71K (well, $71,140).  The timelines for the unit don’t have it available until Spring 2013.  So you’re effectively buying your watch for next running season, not this season.

The company behind it includes designers from “Apple, Nike, Jawbone, and Zoot”, and, its design and UI methodologies show that work experience.  For example, the unit has tap to lap (basically whack the watch to set a lap/interval), something that we first saw mainstream on the Nike+ GPS.

In many ways, the watch has the baseline capabilities of most GPS units out on the market today.  The differences come in form (device look), as well as advanced features.  This is where I’m seeing some of the major differentiation, in some cases for the better and in other cases for the worse.  So I decided to walk through what I like about the unit and the real promise it shows.  And then go into the things that I think they may want to re-think before next spring.

Things I like:

2G Real-time Cell-Connectivity: Last fall at the ANT+ Symposium I talked about the future of GPS watches being directly connected to cell networks.  And the Bia may indeed be the first watch to announce this functionality.  Sure, having with you cell-phones for tracking are handy today – but ultimately, nobody really wants that.  They want it just built into the watch.  No other company to my knowledge has announced their intentions to add cell-based connectivity, but I firmly believe that any watches coming out beyond next spring that don’t have this functionality will be behind the curve.  In talking to many in the industry, they get this – and Bia shows they get it as well.  Plus, it’ll work internationally too. (Update/Note: This is in the separate GPS pod, which I’ll talk about later)

Real-time Tracking: Through their site will allow users to enable real-time tracking of users (if they permit).  This solves the problem of “Where is my Ironman athlete?” over the course of that rather long day.  As noted above, there are tons of out of band solutions, but honestly, most of them suck (be it battery limitations, waterproofing issues, lack of ANT+ data, etc..).  This will be cool – IF – implemented correctly.

Safety Alerts: This feature enables the athlete/user to send an alert via text message to a predefined contact.  This is somewhat like the Spot GPS tracker “Help/SOS” button that will automatically send a text/e-mail to a predefined list.  This isn’t the same as calling 911, but it’s close enough.  In the case of Bia, it will also send the athletes coordinates as well – enabling you as the receiver to go assist that person.  This could be used in cases such as being hurt, or perhaps as innocent as ‘I ran out of nutrition’.

Fully waterproofed to 100m:  Thank god.  One of these days Garmin is going to grasp this too.  If a $15 Walmart watch can be waterproofed to 100m, than a $400 running damn well better be too.  No excuses, period.  Really glad to see they’ve (Bia) done proper waterproofing here.

Changeable straps: I like the idea, especially if perhaps down the road you could customize them (my idea, not something they’re offering…yet).  Teams could make customized straps, or people could give family members/friends meaningful straps ahead of big race (marathons/Ironman’s).

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ANT+ Connectivity: I’m glad to see they included ANT+ connectivity and didn’t go rogue on some other standard.  At present they plan heart rate monitor support for initial launch, with cadence and power meters coming down the line.  Personally, I think they need to move both of those up if they want to convert more serious cyclists.  Plus, foot pod support for treadmills.  Additionally, in order to future proof, they should add Bluetooth Smart connectivity.  With everyone in the industry I’ve talked to, all (well, except Garmin since I know the answer there) are looking at how to offer devices that include both ANT+ and BTLE support.  ANT+ isn’t going away, but BTLE is coming in, especially by next Spring. (Update: They are looking at BTLE carefully, but are concerned with BTLE pairing – a concern I share and see today)

Things I’m so-so on:

Longer Shape:  I’m not a big fan of the longer shape.  It remind me of the old school first iteration Garmin GPS units of nearly a decade ago.  However, I do see that it’s super thin, so that helps – but it is certainly a bit wider than the typical GPS unit.

BiavsGarmin

Fabric Strap: Yes, I like the changeable straps, but I’m not sold on fabric straps.  First, they can stink – really badly.  Just ask my old Garmin FR305 fabric strap.  Sure, you can wash them, but they still seem to eventually stink.  Second – and most importantly, an openwater swim start.  Triathlon mass starts are brutal on watches.  More Garmin’s find themselves at the bottom of lakes because of the roughness of a triathlon start.  I think a fabric strap will easily get torn off.  But, I’m ready to be proven wrong.

FourWatches

Separate fee for race tracking: They note a small fee, “perhaps $5 per race” for real-time tracking.  I don’t have a problem with fee for service, but I have a problem with per-race fees for technology services.  This was tried by GPS Trakkers, a product I’d largely consider a flop due to their pricing model (people want to use it for training too!).  If you want to charge a per-race fee as an option, that’s fine.  But give me the option to do unlimited tracking.  Garmin charges $5 a month for their GTU10 tracking service (after the first year), that’s fair.  Heck, even $10 a month is fair.  I just hate per-race fees.

Data integration and standard file formats: They note in their FAQ that they’ll be offering GPX and TCX files, plus integration with at least 2-4 services, such as TrainingPeaks and others upon launch.  This is good, and shows that despite some of the team members coming from Nike+ (the epicenter of data integration and openness fail), they are going with the open approach.  Open is better, using standards like GPX and TCX is great.  Nicely done.

Things I don’t like:

Tap to Lap: I disliked it on the Nike+ GPS watch, found it somewhat of a pain on the Motoactv and I’m likely going to dislike it here.  They’re prone to mis-fires, especially while cycling on rougher road, or even jumping from sidewalk curbs to the main pavement.  In my opinion, I just want a button for setting a lap.  Which brings me to…

BiaFrontView

Only one button: It only has one button for start/stop, and a touch screen for everything else.  I hear ya – one button is sexy, and it looks cool (like an iDevice they say).  But…it’s just not as functional as two buttons.  There’s a reason the touch-screen Garmin Edge 800 and FR610 include two base buttons: Start/stop, and lap.  It makes life easier.  Those are the two functions that people are constantly pressing, and they want tactile feedback that they are pressed.  If you’re finishing up a set of 16x800m on a track, the last thing I want to do as I feel like I’m going to die crossing the line is whack my watch to lap and find that it didn’t take (common).  A button just works.  It’s worked for decades.  Again, this isn’t an iPod or an iPhone for sitting on a couch – it’s something that I have to ensure works as expected 10+ hours into a race.

Separate GPS Pod: I know some people like separate GPS pods, but I’m not one of those people.  I understand the battery tradeoffs, I really do (12-18 months for the main watch, and 17 hours for the GPS pod).  But I still hate it.  It’s one more thing for me to lose, especially in a triathlon.  I’ve gotta take it from swim cap, then to bike, then to run.  Again, one more thing to deal with, and charge…and forget at home.  Smaller GPS enabled units like the FR210 have proven that GPS can fit into a very small form factor.  I’d much rather have to re-charge a device than have to deal with a second GPS pod (which I have to charge anyway).  But again, I understand some folks like the separate pod and having the main watch have a battery that lasts much longer (though, the GPS pod is typically restricted to 10-20 hrs).

The Girl’s Thoughts:

(I decided to ask The Girl what she thought, since after all, this watch would be targeted at her, here’s her thoughts in her own words.  And for those not familiar, she’s a pretty dang fast triathlete and runner.)

While The Boss never keeps me in the loop, I often poke over his shoulder at the laptop to see what might be showing up at the house in the near future.  Usually after a quick glance (sorry to the techies out there), I’m bored and moving on.  When he asked my opinion however, it caught my eye.  Ladies know “size matters”.  From what I can see, this watch is thin and forms better to your wrist or forearm.  Although The Boss immediately tried to counter me with “but it’s wider”.  I argued that it is not, instead it’s “longer” and because of this along with how thin it is, it doesn’t sit on your wrist bones and bounce around.  I’d bet (more importantly) that with this design it won’t bruise my knobby wrist bone (Ulnar Styloid) the way every single thick, bulky, and “wide” GPS watch does to me now.

I have no idea what the capabilities of this watch are going to be, like data fields, GPS, user friendliness, breakability, etc… But from the first glance video on Kickstarter I like it. It looks thin, and light, and you can change out the wrist band colors and styles to custom fit your style. Some ladies really like to “pink it up” and other just want a more tailored fitting (and useful) watch. Personally I just want a watch that is a non-issue, fits my wrist, stays in place, and doesn’t distract me from my workout.  I’m optimistic Bia will do this, but, we’ll see.
-The Girl

Final Thoughts:

I think Bia shows promise in a lot of innovative areas, areas that nobody else is doing well (or at all) today.  But April 2013 is a long time away, and the other $330,000 is a long ways away as well ($400K is an unusually high amount on Kickstarter).  A lot can happen in the industry between now and then.  There’s a lot of new players, and a lot of new money coming in – plus the established players like Garmin, Timex, Polar and Motorola are certainly likely to layer in more products before next summer as well.

Personally, I’ll be sticking in my order via Kickstarter for “his and hers” (not because I had planned to when I started writing this post, but because The Girl told me she wanted one too).  The way Kickstarter works, if they don’t get at least $400,000 (not a dollar less), they’ll refund my money (and the project won’t happen).

What are your thoughts?  I’d love to hear from the women – as well as the men.  Especially love to hear thoughts on the form factor aspect.

Thanks for reading!

29 Comments

  1. looks weird on the wrist

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  2. Olnico

    Hi Ray.
    I had a look at this project. Very interesting indeed. However there is one important point that you did not mention and that is important to my point of view: the GPS/GSM chips are not included into the watch but come as a separate unit ( the go stick ).
    So in fact and as they say, the Bia is a two piece device.
    This is why the watch itself is so thin: it is just a display unit. The real heart of the system is the go stick device. This is a quite clever design however since the wrist unit runs on a replaceable coin battery cell, whereas the go stick is rechargeable, enabling to use the wrist unit as an everyday watch.

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  3. Something I've been thinking about lately...

    Separate GPS Pod:... I’ve gotta take it from swim cap, then to bike, then to run.

    If you're wearing a wetsuit over your a tri-top/suit, would the pod work in the back pockets? I wouldn't necessarily want to try it with a watch (I'd never be able to press start).

    With a separate GPS pod, that's not an issue. PLUS you could figure out a way to make it a more permanent(ish) figure in your back pocket.

    Just something that's been in the back of my head since I really don't like putting my watch under my cap - PITA.

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  4. Honestly, I just want a watch that does everything the 310xt/910xt does, but isn't as massive. Doesn't have to look like a "normal" watch, it just has to be smaller, i.e. THINNER and less like a box. I don't need fancy, I don't need girly, I like at least 2 buttons, don't care for touch screen. I want it to work in a variety of sports, be accurate, and have straps that don't break every month. And for god's sake, NO separate GPS pod.

    Reply
  5. Hi Olnico-

    Very good point, updated the initial section to clarify that's in the seperate pod.

    Agree on your other points, similiar to say, the Polar RCX3/RCX5 - merely display units with seperate GPS pods.

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Reply
  6. Olnico

    Wow, your fast Ray !
    By the time I read back my comment you already had updated the article. For a minute I thought I didn't read it correctly. You nearly made me have a heart attack ;-)))

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  7. Hi! Might seem to be a silly point but how does it fit on the right wrist? Maybe i'm visualising it all wrong here, but the angle of the display would be ackward, no?

    On another note, I really appreciate your reviews / post. They been a 'go to' source for information since I discovered them.

    - Rob

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  8. Bob, they have a right wrist/left wrist mode with a flippable display.

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  9. Ian

    Sent the link to my Girl since she is looking for a GPS watch. Her response: "U.G.L.Y".

    Reminds me of the 101.

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  10. I like the mentality behind this, it looks neat and simple.

    I very much want a watch that can be my everyday watch and workout tracker and am tired of looking like a secondhand watch salesman with my everyday and garmin both on my wrist (I prefer to wear my garmin on the way to a track session/swim rather than have it wallowing in my bag getting damaged). I'll take having to remember the GPS pod if I can get away with one watch for all. I can imagine the single button is a bit limiting though, two buttons wouldn't necessarily crowd the watchface...

    The Girl def makes sense - I don't have particularly small wrists and my garmin has to be positioned behind the bone or it hurts, problem then is on a cold day the watch is too far up my sleeve to see easily.

    Can it track pool swims and indoor training sessions?

    Reply
  11. I've always wondered what that bone is called. My wife and I refer to it affectionately as the Garmin bump.

    The whack a lap is a bad idea. They tried this 10+yrs ago with the Timex ironman watches, except you would flick your wrist. You end up spending too much time looking down at your watch to make sure it lapped, instead of watching where you are going. I could see this work if the "tap" also provided the tactile feedback like an audible or vibration like you see on the Garmin's.

    Reply
  12. I'd probably buy one if I were a woman. I love the text message idea and you'd think most women would be sold as soon as they hear about the changeable straps.

    One point I disagree with you on is the GPS pod in the swim cap. How many women do you see wearing GPS watches during the swim? I never wear my watch during the swim due to the fear I may need scuba gear to get it back.

    When I read about the SOS message on the Spot Tracker, that feature alone almost made me pick it over the GTU. This is something I'd like to see Garmin introduce into a watch and the GTU tracker since it already uses the cell network...I'd buy another GTU just for the SOS text feature.

    Reply
  13. @Chris I'm not sure how well the GPS would function through the neoprene of a wetsuit. I downloaded Strava on my phone and tried tracking some runs with my phone in a neoprene race belt. The results were erratic, with the distances typically off as much as 10% from a Garmin watch. Then one day stuck my phone in my jersey pocket for a bike ride and Strava tracked everything perfectly. Curious if the neoprene race belt had been the source of my accuracy issues, I put my phone in my race belt, strapped it around my waist so my phone was positioned over the jersey pocket, went out for another ride, and the results this time were way off.

    Reply
  14. I've been wary about anything marketed specifically towards women ever since I got a "Lady's Mate" toolkit when I graduated high school. I find generally form tends to be put ahead of function.

    This one looks like it has a lot of function left in tact. However the wristband looks really awkward and I'm not sure on how I feel about the elongate shape. I'm also not super keen on the separate GPS pod.

    I have small girly wrists and use a Suunto Ambit. It's fairly big and a little awkward at times, but I think I'd rather stick with it.

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  15. In my opinion the classical watch shape is better, the giant single button in my opinion play well with iDevice philosophy wouldn't it be more practical to have smaller device with buttons on the side like Motoactv? Also being able to deliver only in 2013 is a shame because:
    a) Prices for existing garmin polar e.tc will go down
    b) new technology will be available.
    c)I don't see the point of waiting for so long

    separate gps pod is not for me- i can see that watch ran out of battery and charge it, while with separate pod it's easier to forget.

    And last question: do you trust small start-up compared to industry giants who have got dedicated hardware, software teams??

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  16. Separate GPS makes this a no-go for me. Especially since the form isn't something that I would want to wear on a daily basis as an every day watch (the only reason I could come up with for why a separate GPS would be acceptable.)

    In response to Stan's comment about trusting a small start up over the industry giants... Well, he obviously doesn't have small wrists. The fact that there aren't already women-specific GPS units is an indicator to me that someone needs to come in an offer some competition or else we will continue to wear units that bruise our wrist bones (a problem I also have).

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  17. damn it ray...you have cost me so much freaking money. i don't want this! i just got my wife the motoactv, but for some reason I think it would be "cool" if she had the newest things around...even though all she does it use it for her walking. I'll take one, please. Curse you!

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  18. I was kind of interested when it first showed up on Kickstarter, but I think the only real appeal is the size and shape (it won't bruise my wrist bone like my 310xt does). The separate GPS unit is a deal breaker IMO.

    Reply
  19. Anonymous

    What ever happened to GPS Trakkers? I did a quick search on Google and all the results return links that point to the Rev3Tri website.

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  20. I know that you don't like the long and skinyness, but I would take the long and thin over the bulkiness of most tri friendly GPS watches. I have normal sized wrists and would love something that was less ackward. I'm not a fan of the sperate GPS pods because its just one more thing for me to lose.

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  21. To be honest, I think I agree with every point you made. Biggest thing I don't like is the separate GPS. (Honestly, how many people actually still wear watches every day? Give me one rechargeable unit.) Also prefer buttons to tapping, and am not convinced I like the design.

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  22. It's really sad that women are afraid to try something made for them because of how little regard has generally been paid to the functionality of women's products. I run a site called SaltyRunning.com and we interviewed the makers of the Bia watch about this very uphill battle. Not only are women who care about functionality wary of women's products, but the male investors were wary of investing in a highly functional women's product! It's a Catch-22. Although I'm not one to invest in this kind of product blindly, I was an enthusiastic backer just on principle. It's time women athletes were taken seriously by marketers, races, the blog world, etc!

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  23. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  24. SBlanton

    I saw the FB post from Runner's World about this product and was so happy to see you have reviewed it. You have been my Go-To guy for reviewing watches before I take the dive from iPhone-arm band wearer to paying the price for training technology. So glad to see you are backing this product!

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  25. Thanks for the review, and I'm disappointed that I missed out on making a Kickstarter donation. I have been limping along with my well-used Garmin Forerunner 50, but need an upgrade. I read many of your reviews at the beginning of the year, but generally couldn't decide on what to buy because either the units have too many functions, buttons, or are just too big/ugly. While the 2-piece unit from Bia struck me as odd at first (too long, 2 separate pieces), I realized that as long as it has the functionality I'm looking for, it may be worth a try (although I'm leary of tap to lap, based on what I've read). I do think they are on the right track with the sleekness of it. And I personally don't need more than one strap, although I can see where customized straps might be cool (I could put my mantra on it). Thanks for the great reviews and info,
    Melissa

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  26. Kristina

    So, now that it's September 2013 and Bia still hasn't delivered the product, how do you feel? I was excited about this when I paid into the Kickstarter, but $279 and over one year later, I'm still using RunKeeper on my handheld device to track my training, and all I have from Bia is another delay and an estimated delivery date of "holiday 2013." I no longer want this particular technology anymore, I've found other devices (exerspy will report to you on your sleep, for example) I would rather be trying, but I've already paid out the $$ for one device and am loath to try another. This was far and away the biggest Kickstarter investment I've made, and it's paid off the least.

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      It's getting tougher. Had they launched in the spring as planned, it might be a better situation. My concern is whether or not they'll hit holidays (my gut says no).

      Then, once released, what the firmware state is as far as features. We've seen with Leikr (now 'officially' released), that it quite frankly has less features than a $99 GPS watch from a slew of companies - all with a user interface that feels more Alpha than 2013.

      Bia has to rock it, especially given the two-pod design and with units like the FR220/620 now having BLE connectivity for phones. While I definitely prefer the BLE 3G design over taking a cell phone, it's a more difficult sell for folk who don't mind taking a cell (since you have to take a secondary item one way or another).

      I've reached out to the Bia folks a few times over the last few months (including last week) in hopes of doing an update piece. I've received no responses.

      Reply
  27. John McGrath

    Will there be an update to this article?

    'Run,Karla, Run' blog mentioned that she used it in the MWR Naval Station Newport Sprint Triathlon.

    Reply

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