DC Rainmaker http://www.dcrainmaker.com Fri, 29 Apr 2016 17:52:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.3 AirDog Action Sports Drone In-Depth Review http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/04/airdog-action-sports-drone-in-depth-review.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/04/airdog-action-sports-drone-in-depth-review.html#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 04:01:04 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=59437 Like most Kickstarter projects, it’s been a much longer road than anticipated to get their product off the ground.  But unlike most Kickstarter projects, AirDog literally needed to get off the ground and into the air to be successful.  It … Read More Here ]]> DJI_0763

Like most Kickstarter projects, it’s been a much longer road than anticipated to get their product off the ground.  But unlike most Kickstarter projects, AirDog literally needed to get off the ground and into the air to be successful.  It started almost two years ago in the summer of 2014, with the launch of their crowd-funded campaign for a sports-action focused drone that could film you while you did your thing.

And despite their (numerous) delays, the company now has a product that both externally and internally looks like what they initially promised way back when.  Like 1,357 others, I bought the AirDog as part of their Kickstarter campaign.  During this time I’d watched numerous other Kickstarter drone projects I’ve backed launch (and many of them flounder).  So the real question for the AirDog is – does it actually work well?

And that’s what I set to figure out starting a few months ago.  I was able to get a near-final production unit back in January, and have been using that until I recently received my production unit.  For this review I’m basing my final textual thoughts on the production unit, though including video and lessons learned from three months of flying.

Let’s get going!

(Side note to new folks: If you’re not a huge sports person and are just now arriving to my little island for the first time, welcome!  While this depth of review may seem crazy, it’s just the norm around here.  Also, since I’m focused on sports, my posts tend to have more of a focus in that area.  Enjoy!)

Unboxing:

So you finally got the box in-hand, after…well…a lot of waiting.  Here’s what you’ll find:

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First up is that it comes in a carrying case complete with a handle.  This will be handy for the interim, though I think if you carry it around a lot like this, eventually the case will break.  I’ll talk about my regular carrying bag for the AirDog throughout the post.

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Next, you’ll go ahead and slide out the box to see everything safely packed inside.

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Atop is the manuals and other paper stuff. This would be the rare exception in my reviews that I actually encourage you to read the manual after reading this post.  By ‘encourage’, I mean – ‘implore you’ to read it.  Seriously.  Front to back, back to front.  Upside-down.  Especially on the modes, it’s semi-critical to not crashing your drone.

Removing those manuals off to the side, you’ll find all the components in their own little pocket.

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Let’s put everything on the table:

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Ok, walking through each piece.  First up are the pieces for the battery charger:

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They go together like so:

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Next we’ve got the one included battery.  It was loaded in the back of the AirDog, for those not keeping track:

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The way the battery works is that it won’t enable/engage until the front wings are opened up.  So you can store it within the drone for safekeeping.  But here’s what it looks like sitting on the side of it:

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Next we’ve got the wrist strap and controller/transmitter.  There’s also a wrist strap extender if you’re wearing it over a winter jacket.  Or if your arms are like Hulk Hogan.

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Next we’ve got a spare landing gear.  Definitely don’t lose that.  You’ll likely need it after a flight or two.  In fact, just order a few of them now while you’re ordering props and batteries.  I’d go with a ratio of: One set of props to one part landing gear.

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Then there’s the props.  There are four unique props.  Well, actually, technically there are two unique props that can be re-jigged to make four different props.  But for the purposes of this discussion you have four different props (versus two different props on most other quad drones).  You’ll note the text and tip coloring as the way to tell them apart.

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Sidebar: In the event you buy extra boxes of props (as I did), they’ll come in this nifty prop case.

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You can more clearly see how only two of the four props have text (near the center) on the ‘top’ of them.  Whereas the other two have text on the flip-side.  It sounds complex now, but I’ll make it sound easier later.

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And finally, the AirDog itself from the gimbal side.  The front is the part with the gimbal (already attached) that has the GoPro mount on it.  You’ll supply your own GoPro and GoPro front case.

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Okey doke, with that all set, let’s compare some sizes and then head outside.

Weight & Size Comparisons:

But first, just a quick look at how much it weighs and the size of it, as well as how it compares to the DJI Phantom 4 and HEXO+.  Obviously, if I had endless drones I might include those too – but I don’t.  I’ve got three Phantoms (2/3/4), a 3DR IRIS+, the HEXO+, and some random Kickstarter junk drones that I’ve never bothered to take out of the box.  While the 3DR Solo was somewhat appealing, their very recent announcements make it rather clear the company is changing directions away from consumer drones.  Thus I definitely wouldn’t buy into a platform that’s otherwise going to fade into the sunset.

So as it stands today, I think the below comparisons are the most obvious ones.  First up, weight.  I clock in the Airdog at 4.48 pounds (2.03 kilograms).

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The HEXO+ comes in at 4.04lbs (1.83kg):

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While the Phantom 4 comes in at 3.08lbs (1.39kg):

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Then we’ve got size.  This is best seen in two ways.  First is just sitting on a table in a ‘transportable’ configuration:

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In the above configuration the AirDog is far more transportable, because it’s quite a bit thinner than the P4.  Also, the design is a bit more resilient to bangs (i.e. falling while skiing if it’s in a backpack).  On the flipside, it takes a few extra seconds to get it unpacked & ready to fly than the P4 does.  Here’s how I transport the AirDog – just a simple and cheap backpack:

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The above backpack has room for a total of three batteries, plus all sorts of other random crap you might take with you during the day (i.e. food, action cam batteries, water bottle, etc)… So it’s not as if the AirDog is taking up 100% of the space.

And then next, once they are opened up on the pavement or such with all props attached:

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You can see that the AirDog definitely expands a bit bigger than the Phantom 4 does, though still is ‘shorter’ (not that shortness matters at all once up in the air).

Ok, with that out of the way, let’s get flying.

Hardware Basics:

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The AirDog is super easy to use…once you get the hang of it.  I’m going to cover the basics here, but I’d encourage you to check-out my checklist section later on, as I go through the core things you need to know to avoid any snags (you can learn from my mistakes).

First up – the AirDog is incredibly travel friendly.  Seriously, it’s built to take a beating – both in-flight and in-travel.  Part of that comes from the fold-up design, which allows you to make it rather compact. Each leg folds out, and has a small button that you press to unlock the leg.  The legs don’t ‘flop’ around, rather, actually take some effort to swivel out (a good thing).  Here’s a little animated GIF of that:

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Once everything is out, you’ll have four props to place on it.  Now, the props are a bit confusing the first time you try it out, but all you need to know is: Text always faces the sky, then just match the colors up.

See, while the props actually can be inverted using a small tool – each prop has a very specific arm it needs to go on.  They don’t label them 1-4 because then it makes it less easy to swap them around.  Instead, you have two props that are inverted, and two props that are right-side-up.  One of each category is either black, or silver edged.  You can see the slight differences below at the base of the propeller cone:

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But wait, there’s more! In addition to matching colors, there’s also text on just one side of each propeller.  The key is that you simply ensure the text is always facing upwards at the end of the day.  As long as you can stand over the drone and see the text on each prop – you’re golden!

Look here at the difference in how these are both facing upwards, but one is under-mounted, and one is over-mounted:

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On the bottom you’ve got three pieces of landing gear.  One on each of the two rear arms, and then a forward center landing gear.

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While these are easy to use, I found that the center landing gear pins break easily.  On the bright side, you can still use the drone if you just put some object below that spot in the event you break it while on vacation and don’t have access to another $5 landing gear handy.

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Above is the main landing gear folded out, while below is one of the two rear landing gear pieces folded in – and then folded out.

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Next, you’ve got the battery.  You’ll go ahead and push that in place.  It locks in rather securely in the back – pretty straightforward:

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On the battery is a small LED battery indicator.  While it’s vaguely handy to use to quickly check whether a battery is full or not, I’ve learned not to depend on it.  It’s better to just pretend the indicator doesn’t exist and instead just go with ‘empty pile’ or ‘full pile’.

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Last but not least, we’ve got the AirDog leash.  This is what you use to both control the AirDog, and keep it following you.

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It snaps into the small armband that keeps it locked pretty securely in-place.  Though, I think if I was doing watersports I’d probably also use a small tether/leash on it, just in case.

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Before we get it up into the air, the AirDog does need you to provide a GoPro to capture video.  It supports any GoPro Hero4 (Silver/Black) or GoPro Hero3/3+.

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Note that it does NOT support the Hero4 Session, nor the GoPro Hero+.  It also doesn’t support any other camera.  That’s due to the unique gimbal design that basically is formed around the GoPro and creates a waterproof case:

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The gimbal is what keeps the GoPro level as well as pointed at you (automatically).  Consider that the most fragile part of the drone, so try not to apply any direct significant pressure to it.  Note that unlike some other consumer drones, there’s currently no control over the GoPro once in the air.  Though the company behind the AirDog (Helico Aerospace Industries), has received official API approval and access from GoPro (very rare, only 3DR has it), they haven’t implemented at this stage.  Thus once the GoPro leaves the ground it better be turned on, recording, and with whatever settings you wanted.

Flying with it:

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Okey doke – so now you understand how it works and you’re ready to fly it. First up is taking it out of your bag and getting all the props on.  There’s also turning it on and letting it find GPS.  Once you become good at it, the entire process can take less than 2 minutes.  To demonstrate that end to end (bag to airborne), I’ve put together this video below:

Now there are some caveats to the above video.  First, and really most importantly is that I’ve flown with the unit that day once before.  Second, it’ll have recently acquired GPS signal in that area (or nearby), thus reducing time to find GPS.

While the most recent firmware should minimize (if not entirely remove) the need for calibration pieces before flight, that may not always be the case.

These calibration (or sensor check) pieces can vary, as there are actually a multitude of different things you might need to calibrate.  Be it the AirLeash or AirDog, and then within that there are different tests to do.

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Some of these calibration tests may take only 30-45 seconds.  But sometimes you’ll sit/stand there for dozens of minutes trying to get it all happy (especially after a firmware update).  That’s why a key Pro Tip I’d give to folks is before you head out for the day, just get everything all validated and happy on flat and level ground somewhere where nobody is bugging you.  Just budget 15 minutes for this.  Perhaps you’ll only need 60 seconds.

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Ok, so it’s time to go up in the air.  At this point the remote should say ‘Ready’, and you’ll press the ‘Play’ button on the upper left corner of the remote.  A moment later you’ll confirm that by pressing OK.

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The AirDog will beep, the props will spin up, and then (hopefully) fly into the air.  Just like this:

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At this point it’ll go to the starting height you’ve set and wait for it’s next command.  I highly recommend you take-off in a spot that allows you room to take off vertically, but also room for the AirDog to ‘float’ around once in the air (horizontally).  That’s for two reasons.

First is that when it takes off it doesn’t immediately start following you (you can change that if you want though).  Instead, it’ll just pause there and track you with the camera, but not go anywhere else.  To start moving after you, you have to press the play button.  But when you do that it may move to a different orientation from you (i.e. to your left or right).  Which could whack into a tree/rock/etc if you’re in a tight space.  You can also press the play/pause button to immediately pause it though.

The second reason is that I find that the AirDog doesn’t have a great GPS chipset in it, it drifts a bit.  But it drifts a bit especially after take-off.  In fact, the only two crashes I’ve had with the unit were immediately after take-off (in tight areas) where it just drifted into trees.  Ironically, neither time was for sport purposes, but was just taking photos of it for this review.  Go figure.

That drift seems to minimize significantly after it’s been in the air a few minutes.  We’re only talking a few meters, but again, if you’re in a tight space – that few meters matters.

Ok, now it’s time to follow you.  Before you do that (or if you want before it took off), go ahead and stick the AirLeash on it’s holder on your arm.  This entire thing is fully waterproofed, so no issues with watersports.

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With it already in the air you’ll press the ‘Play’ button and it’ll swing around to the position you’ve specified.  You can adjust that position by pressing the left/right buttons on the controller.  You can also press the up/down buttons on the controller to increase/decrease altitude.  Within the app (or AirLeash) you can specify the reaction speed the buttons will have.

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Now the exact method in which it follows you will depend on which sport mode you are using.  For example, in Mountain Biking mode, it’ll follow your altitude profile.  Meaning if you go up, it’ll go up.  And if you go down, it’ll go down.  Whereas in other sport modes it may keep the same altitude (i.e. watersports).

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There are different modes for how it will track you (i.e. from which side).  For example, you can specify that it always stays to your left, but in a different mode you can instead specify that it always stays to your east.  While this may sound subtle, there’s a world of difference.  I prefer the compass style method because I find most times I can mentally track this better, and the shifts in direction is usually less than if I turn my body.

Still, you will need to be very much aware of what’s going on around you.  This is especially true in mountain environments where the road changes direction and what was ‘safe’ territory on your east in one second, is very much a rock wall the next.

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It’s one reason why in general I like to fly ‘above’ any such obstructions.  Remember that the AirDog doesn’t have any obstacle avoidance system.  It’ll happily plow into trees in front of it.  I’ve been lucky in that aside from my two photographic tree incidents, no such plowing has occurred while I was actually going anywhere.  You really need to have a very good mental awareness of how high the drone is and how high the trees around you are.  Same goes for any rocks, like this scene I shot:

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While the AirDog has a ground avoidance system, I’d categorize that as ‘mostly useless’.  That’s because unless you’re going very slow, it won’t trigger fast enough.  Also, if the ground changes rapidly, it won’t trigger fast enough.  That said, I did have one mind-bogglingly cool time where I had the unit off to my side off-road in the desert at low-altitude and the terrain under the AirDog quickly shifted up/down (like little speed bumps, but were 1-2 meters high).  This caused the AirDog to instantly shoot up into the air when it got close to hitting the ground.  I think I might have actually cleared the ground/bumps without this…maybe…hopefully, but it was nice that it did kick in and go upwards.

Lastly, when it comes to batteries, the AirDog isn’t too shabby.  You can count on about 12-18 minutes of flight time per battery.  I’d recommend having more than one battery.

By default it’ll start beeping at you on the transmitter when it gets below the 30% threshold, but it won’t force a landing yet.  Which is a good time to talk about forced landings.  See, the AirDog has two modes for what happens if it either loses contact with the transmitter, or runs out of juice:

– Option A: Spot Landing
– Option B: Return to Home Landing

Spot landing means it lands at the last known point of the controller.  Whereas ‘Return to Home’, really means ‘Return to takeoff point’.  Meaning, wherever you took off is where it’ll go to. I’ve tested both of these methods (both on purpose and on accident).

In something like Windsurfing (i.e. a watersport), you DEFINITELY want it to return to the starting point.  But in the case of downhill skiing, you definitely don’t want that.  The difference between the two means the difference between having your drone sink like the Titanic into the ocean blue, and having your drone land itself up atop a mountain while you’re thousands of feet below.

That said, I did have the unit impressively land itself back atop that @#$#@ mountain by itself one time – precisely on the edge of a cliff where I took off from.  Gotta say, that was impressive!

So for most things that aren’t water related, I recommend spot landing.  That means that you press the pause button, and then press the + button on the AirLeash (like ‘X marks the spot’) button, which means it’ll come and fly directly above you.  Then you’ll press the “H” button to land the AirDog (looks like a Helicopter landing spot).  It’ll land by itself though most times I just like to ‘catch’ it if the ground/terrain is rough or otherwise non-ideal for landing a drop on.

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And there ya have it – most of what you want to know about flying it.

For fun, here’s three different videos I’ve shot with the AirDog.  First, is my skiing video (shot on a beta unit):

For those curious, here’s the entire unedited video from take-off to landing.  Note that since then AirDog (the company) have improved the gimbal a bit, so that should reduce the wobble some (that you saw in the video).

Next, I’ve got a few snippets of video goodness tied together from a cycling trip in Mallorca.  You’ll find these here:

And another short clip I did earlier this winter while cycling just out in the countryside:

Finally, for fun, here’s a comparison of two clips between the DJI Phantom 4 Active Track mode, and the AirDog tracking.  The key things to note are the gimbal/video quality.  But while the Phantom 4 looks better, what’s notable is that when I got to the turnaround point, it lost tracking and stayed there.  Whereas the AirDog did not lose tracking.  Also note that the AirDog follows my elevation shift (very slight in this case, but there nonetheless), whereas the Phantom 4 stays at a constant altitude (it cannot automatically track/change altitude).

Oh, and lastly – note that the AirDog at this time CANNOT control the GoPro’s recording functions (nor settings).  So you really need to remember to press the ‘Record’ button on your GoPro before taking off. AirDog says they’ve been granted access to the GoPro API’s/SDK’s, but I haven’t seen the fruits of that yet.  I hope they prioritize that very highly in future firmware updates, because it’s a serious Sad Panda moment when you land 15 minutes later and realize you forgot to press record.

Firmware Updates:

Note that the AirDog does accept firmware updates, which are done via micro-USB cable to both the AirLeash (transmitter) and AirDog (drone) individually.  You’ll need a Mac or PC to complete the firmware updates.

To begin you’ll download the AirDog software app.  Then from there you’ll connect your computer to the drone or AirLeash (depending on what you want to update first).  In this case, I’ve started with the AirLeash:

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What’s nice is that drop-down box allows you to revert to older firmware versions easily, in case something is amiss and you need to go back a version (many companies make this rather tricky).

For the AirLeash, the entire update process takes only 1-2 minutes.

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Next up, the AirDog itself.  Simply connect it via micro-USB cable like the AirLeash was.  The AirLeash doesn’t need to be powered on or even nearby.  No, I don’t know why it doesn’t think it belongs to me either.  Simply tap update like before.  It took only takes a minute or two to update (far faster than the Phantom series usually takes).

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And like before, a minute or two later and you’re all done.  Quick and easy.

(Note: The ‘AirDog doesn’t belong to you’ message has since been resolved, as it wasn’t properly registering my AirDog initially.)

My Simple Checklist:

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Having used the AirDog on many flights and trips now, I’ve figured out a simple checklist to ensure you’re capturing what you want, and not holding up either yourself or others:

Day of flight:

If the weather isn’t going to change much until your flight, then before you start the day:

1) Find a flat non-metal surface with GPS signal outside and get the unit turned on
2) Complete the tilt/calibration checks if required.
3) Simply take off.
4) Validate gimbal is level when in air
5) Land (I keep flight time under 30-45 seconds, thus minimal battery drain)

Pack it back up, and head on out!

Time for action:

Here’s the steps I go through each time I take off:

1) Turn on remote, let it find GPS while you do other steps.
2) Unpack AirDog, stick battery in prior to unfolding.
3) Put on props while it’s finding GPS.
4) If in sand/snow/mud, dig hole under optical sensors. Validate no rocks near props to hit.
5) Put aircraft on flat surface, wait for GPS ready.
6) Validate GoPro is recording, and on medium crop (my preference).  Also validate things like low-light mode and related aren’t on (assuming it’s sunny out).  And GoPro ProTune is on, if you plan to leverage it later for advanced editing.
7) On remote, validate correct sport mode, and correct landing type.
8) Take off, and enjoy!

If you do these short steps, you’ll generally get solid results each time with minimal headaches.  Each one of those points is mostly tied back to a given ‘lesson’ I had to learn.

AirDog Quirks:

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To say the AirDog is flawless would be untrue.  It’s got quirks, no doubt.  None are show-stoppers, but it’s simply not as easy to use (yet) as something like a DJI Phantom 3/4 or similar.  On the flip-side, the Phantom simply doesn’t have the same level of tracking or autonomy that the AirDog has.

Some of these quirks are based on hardware decisions (and thus not changeable with just software changes), and others are based on software decisions (and likely easily addressable).

– Frequent Re-Calibration & Related Required: As noted earlier, there are a number of calibration checks that can/must be done on both the AirDog and AirLeash.  After only a few times of use you’ll get very good at these checks.  Unfortunately, they are required all too often, and can really put a damper on just getting out and using the drone when you have to unpredictably sit there and do 5-15 minutes of various checks.  They’ve made some progress towards this in the latest firmware (v.21), but even that can still require a gauntlet of checks.

– Unable to change sport modes mid-flight.  While you can manually take control from the drone in flight, there’s no way to change sport modes or introduce more ‘interesting’ video movies (i.e. a drone selfie or similar).  From a cinematic standpoint, being able to quickly change modes during an activity is the difference between a boring movie and an exciting movie.  Different shot types and styles is what keeps viewers interested.  The good news is I think this could easily be accomplished in software.  Note that you can pause the unit in flight, which is how I get many of the shots you see where I ski/bike/whatever past the drone.

– Batteries are not smart.  In fact, they’re rather dumb.  Now a ‘smart battery’ means that it knows its charge level at all times (and correctly so).  However, with the AirDog batteries you must be actively in the air and flying to get the current battery state.  Further, there are cases where the battery will misrepresent it’s LED-fill state on the ground as full, only to be in the air 30 seconds and get a low-battery warning.  I’d strongly encourage you to not rely on the battery indicators and just instead keep batteries in separate piles.  I don’t see a software fix for this. Update: They are now shipping only ‘Smart’ batteries to backers, and no longer the first generation batteries.  Woot!

– The center landing gear breaks easily.  Specifically the tiny little plastic pins snap off with little effort.  On the bright side, it’s super-cheap to replace.  But it’s more of a pain in the butt to have it broken than anything.  As noted earlier, if you do break it during a trip – you can just put any object below the front of the unit during take-off (I used a spare battery, a glove, a ski binding, and even a snow-ball once).  The box comes with an extra one, but honestly like props, I recommend you’d buy a few more sets.

– There’s no method to start recording your GoPro from the ground.  I won’t mention the number of times I forgot this.  The reason I’d forget is that sometimes the calibration/tilt process would be so long that by time you get the unit happy, you’ve totally forgot about the GoPro.  Now, AirDog has said they’ve received approval to use the GoPro API’s (making it only them and 3DR, for drones).  So hopefully that manifests itself soon with a simple start/record button.

– Gimbal quality isn’t of the same level as DJI.  This means you’ll get slightly less smooth videos in some cases (depends on weather/movement/etc…).

Now the AirDog is both unforgiving and forgiving of your mistakes.  For example, if you forget to change the landing mode from home (RTH) to spot (where you are) and the device loses connectivity while going down a mountain – then it will return to where it took off (and there’s no method to change this setting mid-flight).  On the bright side, I found out that it’s thankfully very precise at that (since in my case I was on a cliff edge and it landed exactly where it needed to).  Additionally, if there are trees in the way, it’ll happily fly right into them.  It’s not going to avoid obstacles like the P4, but the P4 isn’t quite as robust in a tree environment (especially in winter) as marketing would like you to think, as it can’t easily pickup small branches on the obstacle avoidance system.  Nor does it have sensors on top or sides/behind, so it’s only going forward (not up/left/right/back).

However, while the AirDog can also be unforgiving of mistakes – it’s also surprisingly resilient.  For example, on one take-off from the snow the optical sensors got snow stuck covering them.  This blocks the ground-avoidance capability.  This meant that while I was skiing down a steep slope doing a bit of a orbit around me, it didn’t avoid the ground but rather hit it straight up.  Astoundingly, despite getting all twirled about in the powder, it just bounced its way out and kept on going, catching back up to me moments later.  (Tip of the day: dig a small hole for the optical sensors when taking off from snow, since it easily will touch the sensors/get stuck).

I’m optimistic though that most of the software quirks can be addressed in firmware updates – and the company seems eager to take user’s feedback on everything from features to simple wording changes.

Market Comparison:

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So many of you are likely trying to decide what unit to get.  I’m largely going to focus on three in this section, but I’m keenly aware there are many other quads/drones out there.  However, drone hardware is commodity.  There are hundreds of drone models that will fly in the air, and many more you can build yourself.  What’s special is software (drone itself, control system, and then app functionality).

To that end, there is no better unit today for doing follow-me action sports.  Especially sports that require you to travel to remote places and carry a unit with you in a compact form factor.  The ease in which I can toss the AirDog in my backpack and just go with it is astounding. Sure, I have a backpack for my DJI Phantom 3/4, but it’s just not as compact or resilient.

The AirDog is built like a tank (for better or worse).  It’s designed to be modular and breakable.  If you break an arm (not just a prop), it’s simple to swap out and repair by yourself at low-cost.  It’s also waterproof (though, they won’t officially claim it).  The unit I used for the majority of these tests took two extended ocean swims (salt-water) prior to my use.  They’ve done internal waterproofing to protect components.

On the flip-side, when it comes to controlling your unit while in the air for cinematic shots – there simply isn’t anywhere as much capability as the DJI Phantom 3/4 or 3DR Solo.  Both have vast (and growing) features there.  And looking at the gimbals, the AirDog gimbal simply isn’t as stable/perfect as that of DJI or 3DR.

So – you’ve gotta ask yourself – what are you using it for? It’s honestly as simple as this:

Solo action sports: If you’re going to be in a case where you want a unit to autonomously film you, then the AirDog is the unit you want.  In this case, you don’t want to deal with anyone else controlling it.  Though, in my experience with any downhill sports I strongly recommend having someone follow you, just in case you lose connectivity they can stay with the unit till it lands.

Cinematic shots: If you’re looking to use a drone to capture shots of other things besides you (landscape, others, etc…), then you’ll get far better shots with a DJI Phantom 3/4 or 3DR Solo (assuming you can or learn how to fly either of those well).  Those platforms are designed to allow you to see your camera in real-time and nail the shot on the first try.  But those platforms aren’t designed to follow-you.

You may say ‘But DJI has a follow-me mode, and now Active Track!!’.  Sure, they do.  But it sucks.  There’s so many reasons it’s not ideal for action sports.  First, it doesn’t deal with altitude changes at all (up or down).  So it’ll just stay level as you go down-hill.  Second, with the P3 you have to take the physical RC controller (the big white thing), along with the phone attached to it.  So that’s fine if you’re in a car and just stick it on the seat.  But where do you put that in a backpack?  Or surfing?

With the P4, it’ll follow you using object recognition – but quite frankly it’s rough too for action sports.  It’ll follow in many cases, but you’ll be left standing there in numerous others without explanation for why it stopped tracking.  On the flip side, it does have forward obstacle avoidance (but won’t keep you from flying upwards into a tree, since it has no sensors on top).  So the AirDog lacks the forward obstacle avoidance, but does have downwards ground avoidance.

Finally, a few quick thoughts on other competitors in the space:

HEXO+: In my buying spree two summers ago, I also bought the HEXO+.  My two main beefs with it are that it’s massive to take with you while in sport (compared to Airdog, or even the P4).  And second, the battery is pretty horrible.  When I last tried last about a month or two ago, I was in the 6-10 minute range.  Also, you use your phone for tracking, which just isn’t as convenient for sports as the dedicated transmitter of the AirLeash/Airdog combo.

GoPro Karma: Quite simply, we don’t know enough about this yet.  It’s been touted as being sometime “early 2016”, which all signs are currently sounding like June.  But we don’t know if it’s aligned more towards the Phantom series, or aligned more towards sports (i.e. Airdog).

Lily: This could be very tempting, and the team has done a good job of going from what was a fairly well faked marketing/kickoff video to showing off lots of footage weekly on their current prototypes.  No doubt they’ve raised tons of money, but right now the quality of footage isn’t anywhere near their initial marketing promises.  Still, I’m optimistic they’ll work it out.  It’s just a question of when.

So to sum it up – if I’m controlling the shots for non-sports, it’ll be my Phantom 3 & 4 any day of the week.  But if it’s me cycling, skiing, or doing some other sport by myself – then it’ll be my AirDog.

Summary:

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While the AirDog technically isn’t the first drone to introduce a follow-me feature, it is the first one that truly works with action sports for more than just a few seconds.  It easily follows elevation shifts, it can be easily used in wet/watery environments, and can be easily transported in a simple and small backpack.  All while capturing quality at the level of your GoPro (currently up to 4K resolution).

For a first generation product it’s pretty impressive, even if the wait was longer than any of us really wanted.  Is it flawless?  No.  There are many little quirks I’d like to see addressed, either in this product via software updates, or perhaps down the road in a different hardware model.  But they’ve got a very solid the core platform to work from.  The updates and tweaks I want aren’t earth-shattering things.  They’re mostly around making it easier to film (more modes), and getting better gimbal quality out of those films (all resulting in more creative videos).  The structural design of the AirDog, beefy yet compact and foldable, is one of its best assets.

As for which drone I’ll use?  Well, it’ll depend on my purposes that day/trip.  If I’m going out to capture video of myself (solo) while cycling/skiing/running/etc, it’s going to be with the AirDog.  No doubt.  Whereas if I’m trying to capture more cinematic/photographic shots of landscape/etc, then it’s likely to be my DJI Phantom 4.  The grey area is when I’ve got someone else with me who is a good enough drone pilot to correctly follow me and get the shots I want.  In that case it’ll depend a bit on the environment and the circumstances, but if I’m covering larger distances I’ll likely go with AirDog.  Whereas with shorter distances it’d be the Phantom series.

With that – thanks for reading all!

Found this review useful?  Support the site!  Read on!

Hopefully you found this review useful.  At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device.  The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love).  As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

If you’re a fan of Amazon, you can pickup the AirDog and it helps support the site!  It doesn’t cost you anything extra, yet helps here a bunch.  If you’re outside the US, it should automatically find the right Amazon country for you – but you can always use the big Amazon country links on the right sidebar if so!  Oh, and in the future if you just click that Amazon logo before buying anything else (like laundry detergent or toilet paper), that supports the site too!

And of course – you can always sign-up to be a DCR Supporter!  That gets you an ad-free DCR, and also makes you awesome.  And being awesome is what it’s all about!

Thanks for reading!  And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible.  And lastly, if you felt this review was useful – I always appreciate feedback in the comments below.  Thanks!

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5 Random Things I Did This Weekend http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/04/5-random-things-i-did-this-weekend-22.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/04/5-random-things-i-did-this-weekend-22.html#comments Mon, 25 Apr 2016 04:00:00 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=59672 Another busy weekend, but this one almost full at home.  At least I was home by Friday night – and that’s what counts, right? 1) Trained back from UCI Headquarters in Switzerland I had gone down to Aigle, Switzerland on … Read More Here ]]> Another busy weekend, but this one almost full at home.  At least I was home by Friday night – and that’s what counts, right?

1) Trained back from UCI Headquarters in Switzerland

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I had gone down to Aigle, Switzerland on Thursday morning, to spend the remainder of the day there.  While the exact reasons I was there I’ll have to hold off for a little bit longer, I did get the chance to explore around a bit – as well as go out on the velodrome.  This is the same track that held the 1-hour world record attempts back about two years ago that kicked off the numerous other recent world record attempts.

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While I have some really awesome 360° video on the track with the 360Fly (such an awesome use of a 360° camera), that’ll have to wait too, since it shows too much of what I was doing there.  So here’s a sorta fuzzy shot that doesn’t give away too much.

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I’d also point out that I was rather happy that I managed not to crash on the track (both for my benefit and the track’s).  I was riding a true track bike, which means you must keep pedaling.  Being single-speed, it’s kinda like a spin bike in that the pedals keep going around, so there is no just stopping to coast (clipped in anyway).  Nor are there brakes.

But again, all ended well.  As did my train ride back home.  First meandering through the Swiss Alps, and then eventually into France and onto the high speed rail lines back to Paris.  It’s impressive to look closely at the front of the TGV trains once they arrive at the station.  We should hold a moment of silence for the platoon of bugs that met their fate on the front of my train:

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That’s all for now.

2) New unboxing goodness

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I often lament getting inbound boxes unstuck from French customs.  But recently we managed to get one really stuck.  Usually I can undo any stuckage (or suckage as it may be) in about 1-2 business days.  But about three weeks ago I sent over a box from our US forwarding box and things all went really downhill, resulting in it being stuck in not one – but two quarantine locations for more than two weeks. Yikes!

We finally got it all unstuck on Thursday, and delivered on Friday – allowing me to get around to unboxing a small pile of things that had been growing since February.

It’s funny, our forwarding shipments tend to go in bursts.  This one sat accumulating for over a month.  Yet in the span of last week and this week I’ll probably have to courier over three different boxes, based on various time constraints.

Up on the list was the Garmin Varia Vision (you’ll remember my post back here about that).

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I also had the Cycliq Fly12 unboxing, and the Misfit Ray.  With the Cycliq Fly12 I had two units.  One that I tore into back in California at Sea Otter, and another for unboxing once I got back.  I rode some more with the Fly12 again this weekend.  Which is a good segue into the next section!

3) Riding the Grand Prix Formula E Race Track

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This past weekend was the inaugural Grand Prix Paris Formula E.  E standing for ‘electric’. So it’s like Formula 1 cars…but without the noise or the gas.  This video from the organizers shows all the highlights of Saturday.

While I saw them setting up the track last week, I completely and totally forgot about it on Saturday until talking to friends that night and realized I missed it. Entirely.

No worries, I could recover from this!  Apparently they weren’t set to totally dismantle things till the following few days.  So if I went out Sunday morning I’d be able to ride the track.  And that’s exactly what David and I did.  Him on his Vespa, and me on my Cervelo.  Same-same, but different.

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We took turns doing laps getting video and photos of each other.  Just goofing around until 12PM when we became pumpkins with our respective wives to get back home.

And if you timed it right, you got shots with no traffic at all in them.  Given it’s a Sunday…in France, things are pretty quiet in the morning.  Interestingly, they had laid new pavement down for this route – which was pretty nice to ride on.

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I got a bunch of footage on the Cycliq Fly12 using the new PowerPod TT mount.  But I’m too lazy to edit it all right now.  So I’ll save that for my review later on.  So here’s just a simple pic of me in the meantime:

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Ok actually, a couple more pics:

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And the best thing of all? We both managed to get home just before it completely dumped out.

4) Lighting up in the DCR Cave

One of the biggest challenges I have in product review photography is what happens when the sun goes down.  Or anytime I need to take photos down in the Cave (i.e. trainers).  While the cave is awesome in almost every way, one way it verifiably sucks is lighting.  When we first built out the cave I argued with the construction folks that there wasn’t enough lights.  They said it was silly that I wanted more lights.  Like many other things with that project, I should have told them to take a hike.

There is definitely not enough light.

Most times it takes a fair bit of Lightroom work (how appropriate, huh?) after the fact to fix the photos and make them halfway decent.  And many don’t ever make the cut because of the low-light conditions.

So I spent some time researching lights while in NYC at B&H two weeks ago.  While I didn’t quite find what I wanted there, I managed to find some options on Amazon that I could get shipped in time to California during Sea Otter.  These LED panels were nice and lightweight, while also being dual-voltage.  Further, they allowed control of both brightness and temperature color. Perfect!

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I then picked up a few small wall mount brackets that I could attach to the walls.  The challenge with light tripods in my space is there just isn’t enough space.  I might buy one to use temporarily, but I much prefer them up and out of the way.  It’s also nice in that I can quickly release the lights and move them around.

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So I bought a few extra wall mount brackets that I’ll space around the cave.

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Overall pretty happy with them.  They add a ton of light and make it much easier to get the shots I want.  I’ll have to toy with the exact color balance a bit over the next few days.  And obviously, photos of lights will kinda turn out boring.  What I hope is less noticeable is how much clear photos in the Cave will be.

Update! Here’s a video I shot Monday with the new lights.  While still a bit tweaking I can do – so much better!

But so far so good.

5) At the Strada, not Strava, Café

We wrapped up our weekend having a nice brunch at the Strada Café.  Yes, it’s just like Strava, even with an orange-based logo.  Except spelled Strada and not Strava.  And like Strava, it’s also not French.

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Over the last few months it’s become our favorite local café hangout, since it’s only about 2-3 blocks from the Cake Studio/DCR Cave.  The vibe is more British/Australian than French, but the food is rather good and usually pretty light.

We’ve never had their brunch before, which is a multi-course affair that turned out to be anything but light.  This was pretty much the only thing we’d need to eat all day. After merely the first course (along with fresh pressed juices), I was already feeling full:

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Then there was the second/main course and my giant mug of hot chocolate (included):

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Never mind the finale with dessert:

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Seriously, my stomach hurts.  So good though!  Any one of these courses probably would have been more than sufficient for me.

Which reminds me, I’ve decided to go ahead and add them to my local/Parisian restaurants list.  Basically the list of places that we visit frequently and enjoy.  There are no doubt more famous places in Paris, but these are the spots we go back to over and over again with super-friendly owners and great food.

With that – thanks for reading, have a great week ahead!

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Week in Review–April 24th, 2016 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/04/week-in-reviewapril-24th-2016.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/04/week-in-reviewapril-24th-2016.html#comments Sun, 24 Apr 2016 13:35:11 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=59632 The Week in Review is a collection of both all the goodness I’ve written during the past week around the internet, as well as a small pile of links I found interesting – generally endurance sports related. I’ve often wondered … Read More Here ]]> WeekInReview_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb

The Week in Review is a collection of both all the goodness I’ve written during the past week around the internet, as well as a small pile of links I found interesting – generally endurance sports related. I’ve often wondered what to do with all of the coolness that people write, and while I share a lot of it on Twitter and Facebook, this is a better forum for sending it on to y’all. Most times these different streams don’t overlap, so be on the lookout at all these places for good stuff!

So with that, let’s get into the action!

DCRainmaker.com posts in the past week:

Here’s all the goodness that ended up on the main page of DCRainmaker.com this past week.

Monday: Week in Review–April 18th, 2016
Tuesday: Sea Otter 2016 Power Meter Tidbits: Stages & Verve Infocrank
Tuesday: My Sea Otter 2016 Trip Recap: The Festival, Riding, and More!
Tuesday: A WatTeam PowerBeat Power Meter Update
Thursday: Fitbit Alta In-Depth Review
Friday: PowerPod releases new GoPro/Garmin combo mount for triathlon bikes

Well then, that was a busy week for sure. Especially coming off a redeye from San Francisco and Sea Otter!

Garmin & Fitbit Sales:

We’re back into the sweep of spring sales for fitness tech (as seems to be an annual tradition).  First up is Garmin with a bunch of products on sale.  You’ll notice that the vast majority of these products already have successors, some of which are just starting to ship. i.e. the Vivofit 3 and Vivoactive HR would effectively replace the Vivofit 2 and Vivoactive.  Full details below.

Garmin Vivofit – $49 (was $79)Review here
Garmin Vivofit with HRM strap – $79 (was $109)Review here
Garmin Vivofit2 – $69 (was $99)Hands-on here
Garmin Vivofit2 with HRM strap – $99 (was $129)Hands-on here
Garmin Vivosmart HR – $129 (was $149)Review here
Garmin Vivoactive – $169 (was $249)Review here
Garmin Vivoactive with HRM strap – $199 (was $299)Review here
Garmin Forerunner 15 GPS watch – $99 (was $119)Review here
Garmin Forerunner 15 GPS watch with HRM strap – $129 (was $149)Review here

In my opinion the best deal out of the above would be the Vivosmart HR at $129 (never been that low before).  Most of the others are good deals too, but it just depends on whether or not you’re in the market for that type of device.  With the Vivosmart HR, at that price it’s kinda a looker.

Sale ends May 7th, 2016.  Note that for items over $75, from Clever Training you get free shipping.  But the DCR coupon code doesn’t apply to these sale items.

Next we’ve got Fitbit.  They’ve just got one item on sale, the Fitbit Flex.  In their case, that’s semi-succeeded by the Fitbit Alta, though not 100% according to Fitbit (they say they expect to keep selling the Flex, unlike the Fitbit Charge).

Fitbit Flex – $79 (was $99)

Phew – got all that? Good. Go forth and enjoy!

Stuff that I found interesting around the interwebs:

Here’s a not-so-small smattering of all the random things that I stumbled on while doing my civic duty to find the end of the Internet:

1) What not to do with cars – a perfect use for 360° video: This video is a great use of 360° video (the one inside the car).  However, I’d caution that in general I wouldn’t consider the car/human relationship wise.  Inversely, you’ve got the concert put on by The Verge with YouTube.  While this could have been cool, in reality it was just kinda disappointing.  Video and audio quality weren’t really what I expected (details on that here).  Further, they appeared to find random people in an office building to show-up, who kinda seemed forced to be there.  Anyway, cool car vs human jumping video below.

2) What’s it’s like at a hotel the NBA stays at: If you travel much, you’ll find this behind the scenes look at how a hotel manages an NBA team’s arrival kinda neat.

3) Amsterdam trials beacons for runners in park: Pretty interesting, not sure I’ve seen anything quite like this before. Note that you’ll need to use Google Translate or such if you don’t speak Dutch. (via Mario)

4) Soul Cycle in IMAX:  So expensive. I’m so confused.

5) Building hardware? Is an accelerator right for you? Even if you’re not building hardware, it’s probably worthwhile to understand this if you often jump onboard crowd funded gadgets and gizmos. (via Keith Wakeham)

6) Acer is making a GPS bike computer with a HD camera in it: For realz folks.  Now it’s technically a 720p camera, which, is a pretty rough quality level. Still, the concept could be interesting if correctly implemented.  They aim to automatically take  3-second snippets based on things like acceleration and changes to HR/cadence (kinda-sorta like what TomTom has done in their Bandit action cam).  It appears like this bike computer is based on Android (at least looking at the icons), and it has ANT+ compatibility.  Pricing isn’t clear yet, but availability in the fall 2016.

7) Garmin releases GPS-enabled band…for golfing: This is basically the form factor of a Vivosmart HR, but with a GPS chipset tossed into it.  So it’s activity tracker + golfing stuff.  While I haven’t taken one golfing (nor tested it beyond a few minutes of hands-on time, I thought the form factor/concept was interesting and worthwhile noting.  Photo I took recently of it, below.  It’s virtually identical in size to the existing Vivosmart HR, just with GPS as well.

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8) Front Derailleur repurposing: With so much talk lately of the front derailleur going away, this video comes up with some alternate uses for the component.

Sports Technology Software/Firmware Updates This Week:

Each week I quickly highlight some of the new firmware, app, software and website service updates that I see go out. If you’re a sports technology company and release an update – shoot me a quick note (just one liners is perfect, or Tweet it at me is even better) and I’ll make mention of it here. If I don’t know about it, I won’t be able to post about it. Sound good?

Garmin Vivoactive Firmware Update: Misc fixes and minor updates.

Garmin Vivofit3 Firmware Update: Small fixes, mostly launch readiness items (it just started shipping).

Gamin Fenix3/Quatix 3/Tactix Bravo Beta Firmware Update: Another boatload of new features, plus some fixes.

Garmin Fenix3 HR Beta Firmware Update: Same as above, just for the Fenix3 HR.

Have a good remainder of the weekend, and thanks for reading!

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PowerPod releases new GoPro/Garmin combo mount for triathlon bikes http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/04/powerpod-releases-new-goprogarmin-combo-mount-for-triathlon-bikes.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/04/powerpod-releases-new-goprogarmin-combo-mount-for-triathlon-bikes.html#comments Fri, 22 Apr 2016 04:01:28 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=59615 As I alluded to last week, the winds of the bike mount world be blowing strong this spring. Not one to be outdone, PowerPod has jumped into the combination GoPro/Garmin mount market for triathlon bikes with their latest product.  This … Read More Here ]]> IMG_9895

As I alluded to last week, the winds of the bike mount world be blowing strong this spring.

Not one to be outdone, PowerPod has jumped into the combination GoPro/Garmin mount market for triathlon bikes with their latest product.  This has them joining Bar Fly with their just announced triathlon/TT bike combo mount, as well as some modular options from Rec Mounts.

Mount Overview:

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In the case of Velocomp/PowerPod, they’ve partnered with Womo Designs based in Seattle to create their mount.  Womo Designs creates mostly custom and high-end mounts today, including for various pro teams.  Somewhat like another Pacific Northwest company (K-Edge), their mounts are made of machined aluminum and tend to be on the stronger end of the spectrum.  Consequently, these aluminum mounts also tend to be priced a bit higher.

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Oh – first, a disclaimer: The unit I have right now being a prototype isn’t finished/anodized with a black casing. So it’s silver.  I contemplated coloring it black with a Sharpie, but then I could only find a green or pink Sharpie around the studio.  So…scratch that idea.

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The unit latches on with two screws and the small included Allen key.

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The mount includes a Garmin quarter-turn mount at the top.  While the prototype unit I have here is hard-set for the Edge series, I’m told the final production units will allow you to rotate it for both Edge and Forerunner quick release kits (which have a 90° offset from the Edge units).

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Below deck you’ve got the standard GoPro mount.  This allows you to mount not only a GoPro, but also any GoPro compatible products.  In the case of Velocomp/PowerPod, their primary interest is in the PowerPod power meter, which uses the GoPro mount:

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But even with their own product in mind, they seem to recognize the market for other mounted accessories.  For example, any of the GoPro units:

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Or even the Cycliq Fly12, which seems well supported by this beefier mount (since it’s a beefier unit).  In other words, I probably wouldn’t stick the Fly12 on a plastic Bar Fly mount due to the much heavier weight.  Whereas this metal is more than fine.

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One interesting/unique feature of the PowerPod TT mount is that you can actually rotate the GoPro portion of the mount in any direction.  This is similar to Womo Designs’ other mounts, which allow you to loosen the screws and then point the mount in any direction you like.  So in theory if you wanted to you could point it sideways.

I’m not sure what exactly the applicability is of this type of feature, but I’ve long since learned that folks have come up with creative needs (and solutions) for just about everything out there.

Also of note is that it does include it’s own screw to lock in anything you mount below.  While you technically could use a GoPro thumb screw, you’d probably have problems with getting it out between the aerobars.  In my setup, my aerobars are fairly close together.  But if you had them further apart it wouldn’t be an issue.  So I just used the included screw and Allen Key.

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Test Video Sample:

I headed out for a ride around town with it to capture a bit of video footage.  Here’s some random clips strung together of a nice warm spring day:

Not too shabby.  The mount really has virtually no give to it.  I’d say there’s actually a bit more give in the GoPro frame plastic housing/shell itself than anything else (actually more noticeable than I’d previously realized).  Obviously with any mount, but especially in the case of a TT/triathlon bike and aerobars you’ll want to ensure the bars aren’t in the image.  But even more so – ensure that after you place your hands on the aerobars and wrap your fingers around the tip of them, that they aren’t in the frame (an easy mistake to make since they wouldn’t show up in earlier framing images).

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About the only downside to the mount is that it has a bit more vertical height than the Bar Fly combo mount.  Meaning the middle part between the GoPro and the Garmin is vertically denser.  On the flipside, you want the GoPro to be ‘pushed down’ a bit from the aerobars, otherwise you’d get them in the shot (non-ideal).  It’s the upper Garmin part you’d want more flush if possible.

Additionally, as is the case with any of these combo mounts, they would preclude (or at least make difficult) any form of front-end hydration system mounted to your aerobars.  So you’d have to consider that depending on the type of racing or training.  And speaking of racing, keep in mind that at present WTC (World Triathlon Corporation, owner of Ironman branded races) does not permit cameras in their races.  But if you’re using this mount for the PowerPod, then that’s a non-issue.  Same goes for training.

Finally, the mount will start shipping in mid-May for $59.  Though you can pre-order it now.

With that – thanks for reading!

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Fitbit Alta In-Depth Review http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/04/fitbit-alta-in-depth-review.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/04/fitbit-alta-in-depth-review.html#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 13:12:33 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=59435 It’s been a touch over two months since Fitbit announced their most recent wearable, the Fitbit Alta.  Like all of Fitbit’s entrants this year, it was designed to be more fashion focused, while giving incremental upgrades in terms of features … Read More Here ]]> Fitbit-Alta-Pink-Band-Flowers

It’s been a touch over two months since Fitbit announced their most recent wearable, the Fitbit Alta.  Like all of Fitbit’s entrants this year, it was designed to be more fashion focused, while giving incremental upgrades in terms of features like move alerts and automatic activity recognition.  The idea being that it somewhat replaces the existing Fitbit Charge (and before that the Fitbit Force & Flex) units.

I’ve been using it for the past month as my daily activity tracker, seeing how well it handles as a more low-key alternative.  And thus at this point I’ve got a fairly good handle on the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Note that Fitbit did send over the unit to try out.  But like usual after my review publishes I’ll give it back to them.  Leave no traces and all that.  Feel free to hit up the links at the bottom if you’d like to support the site (or if you just like clicking around the interwebs).

With that – let’s dive right into!

Unboxing:

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The Fitbit Alta comes in a few different colors and sizes, so those will vary slightly – but the core of the unboxing would be the same.  To begin, the inner box slides out of the outer shell:

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Inside you’ll find the Alta just sitting there, waiting for you to pluck it out.  Below it is a small treasure box.  That little treasure box contains two layers, or rather, two boxes of its own.  First up is a small pile of paper stuffs.  Manuals and such.  Whereas the other box is the charger and USB adapter.

Fitbit-Alta-Unboxed

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The USB adapter is only needed if you plan to sync your Fitbit Alta via desktop software as opposed to syncing via a mobile phone.

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Meanwhile, the charger just charges (it doesn’t sync):

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Fitbit-Alta-Charging-Clip

Here’s the paper stuff.  Basically it tells you to remember to take off the band every once in a while so you can’t sue Fitbit when you get a rash, and that you shouldn’t go swimming with it.  And that you shouldn’t put it on upside-down because you’ll get non-ideal results.

Fitbit-Alta-Unboxed-Manuals

And finally, here’s the unit itself, front and back:

Fitbit-Alta-Front-Face

Fitbit-Alta-Back-Band

Looking closer at the unit itself, it pops out of the band, which allows you to swap to a flotilla of different accessory styles.  For example, pink:

Fitbit-Alta-Pink-Leather-Band-Box

Here’s you can see the multiple pieces pulled apart:

Fitbit-Alta-Pink-Leather-Band-Swap3

Fitbit-Alta-Pink-Leather-Band-Swap1

Fitbit-Alta-Pink-Leather-Band-Swap2

The bands have that little metallic clip you see on the inside, so they don’t pull apart without depressing that (which is impossible while worn on your wrist, so no worries there).

Size & Weight Comparisons:

Fitbit-Alta-Pink-Leather-Band-Size-Worn

(Above: On The Girl’s wrist, she’s petite at 5’2” tall – so that gives you some perspective on how it looks on smaller wrists)

When it comes to size the Fitbit Alta is a fair bit smaller than the Fitbit Charge (seen below left), as well as something like the Polar A360 (which obviously has a lot more features) – but just to give some context.

FitbitAlta-FitbitCharge-PolarA360

But while it’s smaller in size, it’s actually slightly heavier.  It comes in at 29g, versus the Fitbit Charge at 24g and Fitbit Charge HR at 26g.

Fitbit-Alta-Weight-29g

Fitbit-Charge-HR-Weight-26g Fitbit-Charge-Weight-24g

As you can see, all of these are pretty much in the same ballpark, minus the A360 – but again that has a full color screen.

Garmin-Vivosmart-HR-Weight-30g Polar-A360-Weight-37g

Obviously note that the exact band you use on the Fitbit Alta will change the weight.  So they’ll all differ a little bit depending on the materials.

Day to Day Use:

Fitbita-Alta-Front-Steps

It should come as no surprise that the Fitbit does well in step tracking.  After all, if there’s anything Fitbit generally nails – it’s tracking of steps and the metrics around that.  Like all of Fitbit’s products, the unit has a small screen on it, this one oriented horizontally.  But you can rotate it if you’d like.

On the screen are the following metrics: Time (+ Date/Day), Steps Walked Today, Distance (Miles or Kilometers), Calories Burned, and Active Time.  Plus the currently set alarm if you have that configured.

That’s it.

To rotate through them you’ll simply tap the display.  There’s no swiping concept on the Alta, just a tap. And tap, and more tap.

Fitbit-Alta-Screens-Active-Minutes Fitbit-Alta-Screens-Calories Fitbit-Alta-Screens-Miles Fitbit-Alta-Screens-Steps Fitbit-Alta-Screens-Time Fitbit-Alta-Screens-TimeAlarm

All of this data is saved on the unit itself, and then sync’d to the mobile app.  You can configure it to sync continuously (called ‘All day sync’, or only when you’ve manually sync’d it.  I just prefer the all day sync, as I don’t find it hits my battery that badly.

Within the dashboard you’ll see your totals for the day (steps, distance, calories, etc..).  But you can also click on a given metric to get more of a historical view.

2016-04-20 14.45.38 2016-04-20 14.45.43

Note with the Alta the display is always off, unless tapped or if your wrist is detected as turned.  This is to save battery.  There is no option to let the display remain on at all times.  In general this mostly works, but I find it a bit finicky from time to time.  I think it’s fair to say that the Apple Watch is the most impressive in terms of recognizing the wrist turn properly.  So stepping from that to this can be a bit frustrating in how often it misses the more subtle wrist turns (such as sitting and reading, and/or eating).  I really wish there was an option to just leave the display on.

Fitbit-Alta-Front-Facing

The singular unique feature to the Fitbit Alta that’s not actually (yet) found on any other Fitbit product is the new inactivity alerts, called ‘move reminders’.  These alerts follow in the footsteps of Garmin, Polar, and many others in reminding you that you’ve been lazy that hour.

The way it works is that each hour, at 10 minutes to the top of the hour (i.e. 2:50PM, 4:50PM, 5:50PM, etc…), it’ll vibrate to remind you that you’re short on steps for that hour (assuming you are).  The number of steps is 250 within a given hour.  You can’t change the steps per hour, but you can change the ‘window’ that it’ll buzz you on.  I extended mine a bit later.  Note that if it thinks you’re sleeping, it won’t buzz you (i.e. if I slept in till 10AM).

2016-04-20 14.28.58 2016-04-20 14.29.01

Typically when it buzzes it’ll give you some cute and/or encouraging message to get you moving, along with the number of steps remaining that hour.

Fitbit-Alta-Move-Reminders

That segues into Active Minutes.  While Fitbit has a big-long article explaining exactly how they measure these, it can be best summed up as anything other than sitting when done for more than 10 minutes at a time.  So an 8-minute walk won’t cut it, but an 11-minute walk will.

Fitbit-Alta-Screens-Active-Minutes

Active Minutes are tracked both on the display (as seen above with the lightening bolt), as well as in the app.  For example, below you can see yesterday that it triggered on my run in the evening.  It also triggered at noon when I went briefly to the grocery store.  Interestingly though, last Thursday it said I didn’t trigger even once.  That’s sorta odd since I spent the entire day active on my feet at Sea Otter bouncing around.

2016-04-20 14.32.13 2016-04-20 14.32.16 2016-04-20 14.32.57

Finally, as for general use (I’ll cover sport and sleep in later sections), I should mention the battery.  The unit uses the small charging clip that you saw in the unboxing section, in order to charge.  I’ve found that it charges very quickly.  Definitely under an hour to get a full charge.

Fitbit-Alta-Charging-Clip

As for battery life, it’s on par with Fitbit’s 5 day guidance.  I’ll give Fitbit credit in that they almost always nail (or even exceed) their published battery life timeframes.  I’ve had no problem getting 5 days between charges.  And since charging typically doesn’t take very long, it’s a nice balance between the two.

Sport & Fitness Use:

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When it comes to sport and fitness use of the Alta, it’s about as hands-off as you can get.  By that I mean that while you’re actually doing your activity of choice (Running, Cycling, Yoga, Horizontal Shuffle, etc…), there’s no feedback about your workout to you on the display.  Instead, it’s just business as normal (steps/distance/time/etc…).

That’s because unlike the previous Fitbit Charge or Charge HR, there’s no method to start a workout/activity.  Instead the Fitbit Alta uses auto-recognized activities, which they call SmartTrack.

SmartTrack is designed to recognize workouts that are longer than 15 minutes in length.  But it doesn’t do that on the band itself.  Rather it does it after your data is sync’d to the Fitbit platform.  To illustrate a bit better, first start off and go for a run (oh, and put the band on your wrist):

DCIM\101GOPRO\GOPR0671.

Now again, as you’re running you won’t see anything workout specific.  Sure you’ll get your daily steps and distance, but it’s not separated out between the run and the rest of the day (like it is on other Fitbit products).

After you finish dying outside, go ahead and sync your Alta to your phone.  If you’ve got automatic sync on, then this will happen pretty quickly.

What you’ll notice now is that you’ve got a ‘Run’ activity created on your dashboard, for the period of the run.  This activity will show you total steps and calories for the run, as well as time.  But not distance or pace.

2016-04-20 14.35.07 2016-04-20 14.35.20

In my testing, it does a pretty good job of picking up the start/end times of your activity.  Where it can get tricky though is when you finish your activity with a longer walk back to your starting point (i.e. cool-down).  Most of us might not count that as part of the run, but oftentimes the Alta will.  For example, for the same run above, here’s the summary from the Garmin GPS watch I was wearing.  Note the time on the Garmin had me at 55 minutes, versus the Fitbit at 46 minutes.  It appears as though the Fitbit cut off the shorter intervals at the end (30secs running hard, 90secs rest).

If I don’t have this sort of short activity, it does seem to get it fairly close in time.

image

Said differently: If you want your 45min and 32sec run to be shown at 45:32, then the Alta isn’t for you.  If you’re OK with the run being shown at 45min or perhaps even 48mins, then it’s OK.  So if you’re just looking to go for a run for a set period of time and don’t care about distance, then the Alta is fine.  But if you’re on a training program with distances and paces, then you should look elsewhere.

It does track other activities – for example, cycling.  But in the case of cycling it won’t use your phone for GPS like the Fitbit Blaze will.  Instead, it just gives you a total time.  See below for a comparison.  At left is my summary screen.  In the middle of a bike workout with the Fitbit Alta.  And at right is a bike workout with the Fitbit Blaze (which has GPS):

2016-04-20 14.38.05 2016-04-20 14.38.08 2016-04-20 14.38.14

You can tweak which activity types it tracks, as well as the thresholds for them within the settings:

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Finally note that the Fitbit Alta does NOT have an optical heart rate (HR) sensor in it, nor can it connect to HR straps of any type.  So if HR is of importance to ya, again, the Alta probably isn’t what you want.

Sleep Tracking and Alarms:

Like most activity trackers, the Alta will measure sleep.  And also like most others, it’ll do it automatically without any input required by you.  You simply wear it, and it simply tracks your sleep.

It won’t show any sleep metrics on the device itself, though it will semi-congratulate you when you get up and walk your first steps of the day. It does it in a nice way, but sometimes I feel like it’s really saying “Well then, nice of you to get your lazy ass out of bed.  Start walking…now.”

In any case, you’ll get your sleep metrics displayed down towards the bottom of the main Fitbit app page.  If you tap that, you get a more detailed sleep page:

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You can then click on a given day and get a bit more detail about that night’s sleep.  It’ll divide up your time into Asleep/Restless/Awake.  To some degree I appreciate the simplicity here – since it’s probably more accurate that some of the sleep-state assumptions that others provide.

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Note that you can edit the times if for some reason they’re off.  In my case, I’ve found they pretty much nail my sleep times quite well.

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You’ll notice a small star next to some nights.  That indicates you hit your sleep goal.  You can customize this by hitting the little settings icon, changing the number of hours/minutes that you aim for each night:

2016-04-19 13.38.26 2016-04-19 13.38.02

Next up we’ve got alarms. You can create a silent (vibrating) alarm on the Fitbit Alta by going to your main dashboard on the app and selecting the Alta device.  Then from there you’ll select Silent Alarms and then ‘Set a New Alarm’.

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You can set additional day-specific options too.

2016-04-19 13.42.54 2016-04-19 13.43.04

Once the alarm buzzes, it’ll repeat once, then go away.  Else, you can double-tap to dismiss.  I kinda wish it would just keep buzzing till I dismissed it.  As it doesn’t last very long.

Finally, you can create multiple alarms if you’d like.  This software implementation for creation of alarms is actually one of the cleanest I’ve seen on a wrist band type wearable.  Rather nicely done.

Smartphone Notifications:

Fitbit-Alta-Phone-Setup

The Alta has smartphone notifications, or more accurately – call, text, and calendar notifications.  You’ll remember from my past Fitbit posts, such as the Fitbit Blaze, that I’ve been relatively annoyed with Fitbit’s lack of general smartphone notifications.  By that I mean that you can’t get notifications from apps like Twitter, WhatsUp, or countless others that use the standard notification center functionality (like almost all other activity trackers).

But in this case, I don’t mind that too much with the Fitbit Alta.  Why’s that?

Because the Alta screen is totally useless for any notifications at all.

How so?

Well, the screen real estate and the method it shows you text messages makes it just not terribly useful.  To begin, unlike most other wrist bands, the entire name and text message is on a single line (versus double-stacked).  Except, the screen is too short to display much other than a portion of just the name of the incoming texter, let alone the message.

Fitbit-Alta-Text-Notifications

So then it scrolls the message.  Except, the scrolling is so slow that Grandma would even get bored waiting.  Not only is it slow, but then it cuts off the text message after a few words.  Here’s an animated GIF of the text seen above (you have to twist it like on your wrist to get it to start):

TextAnimatedGIF

So basically, by the time all of this happened you could have just taken out your phone to look at the message.  Which you’ll have to do anyway because it didn’t finish showing you the text.

And don’t get me even started on the fact that the rotation of the wrist display adds even more delay and latency to this entire process (because it’s finicky in and of itself).  Or the fact that if during the wrist rotation it false-triggers, then you can’t get back to that text at all, without of course going to your phone.  It’s like Snapchatted sext, without any way to re-read the message.

Finally, yes it does display both calendar alerts and incoming phone calls.  The phone call piece is a bit better than the text piece, because there’s no text message along with it.  So it just shows a phone icon and buzzes with the name of the caller.

Fitbit-Alta-Phone-Notifications

And calendar notifications are kinda halfway in between.  I think much of the Alta’s notification display problem could actually be solved if they just used two lines to display the text messages.  That’d solve the latency/slow-scrolling problem, as well as the lack of length problem.

Comparison Chart:

I’ve added the Fitbit Alta into the product comparison tool for activity trackers, so you can go ahead and compare it against other standalone activity trackers (non-GPS).  While I’ve added a few comparative Fitbit options below, you can make your own table here in the product comparison tool.

Function/FeatureFitbit ChargeFitbit Charge HRFitbit Alta
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated April 20th, 2016 @ 9:17 amNew Window Expand table for more results
Price$109$149$129
WaterproofingATM1 (~10m)1ATM (~10m)Not really
Battery LifeUp to 7 daysUp to 5 daysUp to 5 Days
Smartphone NotificationsCall notifications onlyCall notifications onlyText/Call/Calendar only
Stairs ClimbedYesYesNo
24x7 HR MetricsNoYesNo
Heart RateNoYesNo
Optical Heart RateNoYesNo
Ability to export your data out of platformYes (paid option)YesYes
Amazon LinkLinkLinkLink

Again, remember you can make your own comparison charts here in the product comparison tool!

Summary:

Fitbit-Alta-Loops

In many ways, I feel like the Alta was a product released ‘just to release a product’.  Not because it offered a unique selling point other than being a Fitbit branded product that’ll sell by the millions.  Just like McDonald’s sells millions of cheeseburgers, doesn’t mean they’re the best cheeseburger around.  On the flip side, the Alta isn’t bad.  It’s just not great.

The Alta is in a tough spot in that I like the slimmed up form factor and design better than the Fitbit Charge.  And unlike the charge it has the SmartTrack workout automatic recognition.  But at the same time, it lacks the Charge’s ability to manually create workouts (or just a timer), which is generally more useful in a gym/workout setting.

Fitbit counters that the Alta is designed to be an all-day activity tracker, which is a fancy way of saying it’s supposed to be used for the 23 hours of the day that you’re not working out.  And in much of that it does well.  For example, the encouragement with the inactivity alerts are executed well, as is the entire app integration piece.  And even the SmartTrack triggers for long walks around town. The battery – also on-point.  All good in many categories.

It’s just too bad that the smartphone integration is so lackluster, as that’s really such a downside of the unit compared to so many other competitive options that execute that portion better.

Of course – like most activity trackers on the market today, Fitbit doesn’t have any issues counting steps or sleep or other core metrics.  And Fitbit’s main strength is their platform with millions of users on it.  Users that are likely your friends.  That matters when it comes to encouragement of hitting various step goals.  So if all else is equal and you’re trying to decide between Brand X and Brand Y, I generally recommend looking to see what your friends have on their wrists, and choosing something of the same brand to take advantage of those social features.

Wanna save 10%? Or found this review useful? Read on!

Hopefully you found this review useful.  At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device.  The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love).  As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers an exclusive 10% discount across the board on all products (except clearance items).  You can pickup the Fitbit Alta (or any other Fitbit Alta bands) from Clever Training. Then receive 10% off of everything in your cart by adding code DCR10MHD at checkout.  By doing so, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get a sweet discount. And, since this item is more than $75, you get free US shipping as well.

Fitbit Alta (select drop-down for size/colors)
Fitbit Aria Scale (compatible with Fitbit Alta, see my WiFi Scale roundup here)

Additionally, you can also use Amazon to purchase the unit (all colors shown after clicking through to the left) or accessories (though, no discount on Amazon).  Or, anything else you pickup on Amazon helps support the site as well (socks, laundry detergent, cowbells).  If you’re outside the US, I’ve got links to all of the major individual country Amazon stores on the sidebar towards the top.  Though, Clever Training also ships there too and you get the 10% discount.

Thanks for reading!

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25
A WatTeam PowerBeat Power Meter Update http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/04/a-watteam-powerbeat-power-meter-update.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/04/a-watteam-powerbeat-power-meter-update.html#comments Tue, 19 Apr 2016 18:30:06 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=59431 Today WatTeam has announced that they’ll be postponing further shipments of their $499 PowerBeat power meter, while they work out some kinks that the first shipped production units have run into. You’ll remember the journey started about 20 months ago … Read More Here ]]> IMG_7597

Today WatTeam has announced that they’ll be postponing further shipments of their $499 PowerBeat power meter, while they work out some kinks that the first shipped production units have run into.

You’ll remember the journey started about 20 months ago in August 2014 when the company came onto the market with a power meter that could be DIY glued onto most crank arms (aluminum and carbon).  It was appealing not only because of the dual aluminum and carbon nature, but because it wasn’t restricted to a specific pedal type (i.e. like Garmin Vector, PowerTap P1, or Brim Brothers).  It installed in between the pedals and the existing crank arm, and was even semi-portable in between bikes.  I had tested a beta version of it last summer, which went mostly fairly well.

The company started shipping pre-orders to customers about 4-5 weeks ago, and I’ve been testing the same version as other consumers since then.  In total the first production batch encompassed about 140 units.  Small by some standards, but also in-line with first production batch run numbers for most power meter companies.

Unfortunately since then folks have run into issues around accuracy, primarily around drift – appearing to be related to temperature shifts (but not always).  As I’ve noted in recent comments, I would be counted among those seeing issues.

While I’ve had some multi-hour complex terrain rides that were beautifully accurate the entire time, I’ve also had a number of rides that just made no sense at all (indoor and outdoor).  Like others, I’d been working with WatTeam to try and troubleshoot my issues – but it became clear over the last week or two that it wasn’t just a ‘me’ problem*, but a wider one.

*I’m always concerned about product problems that impact just me (for any number of reasons) being the singular basis of a review.  Meaning, if I’m the only one seeing it, then is it because I’m doing something wrong (my fault), or because I’ve found an oddity in the product that hadn’t been considered (their fault)?  In most cases, it’s because I’m doing something wrong.  And in most cases, companies are able to get me cooking.  Nonetheless, I tend to spend extra time going back and forth with companies when I see severe oddities, as was the case here.

In any case, at this point WatTeam has suspended further shipments and sales of the PowerBeat product while they work out the cause of the various issues folks are seeing.  They don’t yet know if the issues can be fixed via software update, or will require hardware changes.  Nor do they have a timeline established (which is probably best).

They noted that all Batch 1 people will receive a free upgrade to whatever the next version is (via hardware or software).  Or they can request a full refund at any time.  They can continue to use their PowerBeat power meter in the meantime.

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Here’s their full posted comment/statement:

“Following the release of our first batch, we’ve discovered some problems related to temperature compensation that we hadn’t caught despite extensive beta-testing. We are committed to producing an accurate, dependable power meter at a fair price, which is why we’ve made the decision to stop sales and focus on finishing R&D for v2.0 in order to have an uncompromising product.

 

Since we are perfectionists, all existing POWERBEAT owners will receive an upgrade to v2.0 at no cost when it comes out.

 

The Phase 1 product is working, but there are known issues for some customers. Therefore, Phase 1 customers can keep enjoying their current version of POWERBEAT and will get our full support and will also be entitled to a FREE upgrade as soon as v2.0 is out.”

While they haven’t specified any timelines, hopefully they’ll be able to sort out whatever the root causes are.  They seem to be very close, but clearly need more time to work out whatever their issues are.  There’s clearly demand for a $499 dual-sided power meter that’s as flexible as their product stands to be.  But at the same time, if it’s not accurate, it’s no more valuable than an empty water bottle.

Finally, since they’ve ceased sales/shipping of the product, I’ll be back-burner’ing the review until they get to shipping again and I can test whatever the final product will be.

Thanks for reading all!

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27
My Sea Otter 2016 Trip Recap: The Festival, Riding, and More! http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/04/my-sea-otter-2016-trip-recap-the-festival-riding-and-more.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/04/my-sea-otter-2016-trip-recap-the-festival-riding-and-more.html#comments Tue, 19 Apr 2016 13:00:08 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=59413 It’s time to wrap up my Sea Otter 2016 related posts.  I spent last week in the States, first in NYC for some meetings, then off to San Francisco, before finally ending in Monterey (California) for the Sea Otter Classic.  … Read More Here ]]> It’s time to wrap up my Sea Otter 2016 related posts.  I spent last week in the States, first in NYC for some meetings, then off to San Francisco, before finally ending in Monterey (California) for the Sea Otter Classic.  Of course you’ve seen some of my posts and tweets from the event over the past few days, mostly tech focused.  Now it’s time to cover some of the non-tech goodness.

The Festival:

DJI_0810

So first up – what is the Sea Otter Classic?  It’s kinda like Woodstock for the cycling industry.  Sure there’s a massive outdoor exhibitor area, but there’s a far larger bike racing area.  Plus you’ve got rolling hills full of on-site camping and all sorts of goodness.  Folks from the industry are there, but it’s not as high-strung as Eurobike or Interbike.

DSC00198

Part of that is likely because at Eurobike/Interbike there’s a heavy focus on the ‘business’ of cycling.  So there’s dealer/retailer/distributor meetings, along with a plethora of media and product launches.  While all of those elements are present at Sea Otter, they’re much more low key.  Companies may only have a handful of mostly local dealer/retailer/distributor meetings.  And while much of the media is still there, there’s far less emphasis on major announcements as you’ve seen.  Mostly just a handful of smaller announcements.

Instead, there’s a much bigger emphasis on enjoying the sunshine and riding your bike.  Thankfully, I was able to do both.  Though, the real kicker is the hundred plus races that go on throughout the event.  All day long, every day.  Anything involving two wheels and of any cycling type (cross, road, mountain) you can race.  Kids too.  It’s super cool.

DSC00213 DSC00210

The road racing was split between the automotive race track, and local closed roads around the premises.

DJI_0823

While the mountain biking and cross took place on the hills that encased the exhibitor area.

DJI_0848

There was even a (first ever?) e-Mountain Bike race.  Many industry folks took place in that.  It was pretty much like the beer mile of cycling.  Yes, that’s a banana.  And a Yeti.  Obviously.

DSC00221 DSC00231 DSC00232 DSC00235

And as I said before – there were tons of kid’s events.  Kids were everywhere, but in an awesome kind of way.  Almost all the kids I saw (both boys and girls) were definitely very into cycling.  All competing in some events, and all seemingly just out do to their own thing.  Meaning, it wasn’t like being at the mall – but rather kids were just cruising’ on and owning being awesome at cycling.  No need for helicopter parents.

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Both Shimano and SRAM (among others) had service stations setup.  So if you had anything wrong you could drop-in and they’d take care of ya.

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I should note that the food was a heck of a lot better than Interbike (Eurobike does have some pretty good food options).  There were numerous food stands setup, with a wide assortment of things to eat.

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Or, you could just sit on the Sierra Nevada beer cart and pedal your way around the venue until sunset.

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Of course as you saw, there’s certainly products there and certainly announcements.  Some 431 exhibitors were onsite.  While I posted about those tech-focused companies that had announcements, I also met with others that didn’t have anything new at the event.  For example, I chatted with Lezyne, and came back with two of their units to spend a bit more time with.

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Everyone at the festival I chatted with seems to agree that the slow shift to making some announcements at Sea Otter (vs Interbike/Eurobike) just makes so much more sense.  It’s positioned far better in the cycling calendar (April) than after the core cycling season in the fall (which never really made too much sense).

DSC00234

Of course, the trick is the balancing act that seems to occur well at Sea Otter in terms of keeping a more low-key vibe.  If you jam it full of things that dealers/retailers/distributors/media/etc all ‘need’ to be present at, then it becomes more like work than play.  And ultimately it’s the play aspect that makes Sea Otter so appealing.

Riding the Hills:

Being my first trek to Sea Otter I didn’t quite know what to expect in terms of whether to bring my bike or not.  While I didn’t this time, I did manage to get in a few rides. Getting ahold of a bike to ride thankfully wasn’t too difficult.

As with most cycling industry focused events, there are organized rides for just about every company out there.  Had I gone on every ride that arrived in my inbox I’d have made the Tour of California look like a neighborhood stroll.

But I did join in on two rides, one organized and one more freeform.  The first was a group ride that Fitbit had organized.  The purpose being to show to the media crowd how their Fitbit Surge worked as a cycling wearable.  It wasn’t a huge group, maybe 10-12 folks.  I recognized some, such as James Huang from CyclingTips.

The route started from the town of Monterey, then along the coast, before heading back up into the mountains to end at Sea Otter.

IMG_7147

Oddly, I only have three photos, pretty much taken in burst (above).  Not sure what happened there, my photography skills were lacking that morning.

Next up on the ride list was a wander with Jonathan of TrainerRoad. I say ‘wander’ in that we didn’t have a super-set plan, aside from starting off with a single loop of the road bike course (about 10-miles), and then just exploring from there.  But that was perfect, since it allowed me a bit of flexibility in terms of not missing my flight.

DCIM\101GOPRO\GOPR2353. DCIM\101GOPRO\GOPR2365.

Much of the riding around Sea Otter is weaved through military bases (much of which is now closed), which have these explosive signs everywhere.  They appear to be incredibly effective at keeping folks out.  Far more so than a standard issue ‘private property’ type sign.  I’ve decided that I might employ similar signs down the road. I mean really, who’s going to second-guess that sign?  Are you going to take the chance that it might not be bluffing?

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The scenery is pretty awesome out there, just endless rolling hills with nobody on them.  Not a single car to be found.  Beautiful.

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Jonathan had brought with him a tiny camera to take some pictures (like me, except his camera was nicer).  Though, I’m pretty sure this photo below is ripe for caption contests.  Perhaps he’s bird watching, or checking for enemy advancements.  We’ll never know.

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And finally, a thanks to professional mountain bike racer Trevor DeRuisé for letting me borrow his KTM road bike for the day.

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As you can see, I equipped his road bike well with gadgets.  Though regrettably for him, those items weren’t left on the bike afterwards.  Sorry!

Drone-ing On:

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Now the aforementioned rides were the organized ones.  But I also toyed around a bit by myself.  Perhaps the best part of that region is just how quiet and desolate many of the roads are.

Not only are there roads that are empty for hours and hours upon end.  But there are also even some roads closed to cars entirely.  For example the above road is a perhaps two-mile stretch that’s only open to…well…basically dog walkers, and the occasional lost cyclist or skateboarder.

It was great – not a soul around.  So I wrapped up some drone tests that I’ve been meaning to do for upcoming reviews.  It’s always tricky doing these elsewhere because with follow-me type functionality you want a wide margin of error in testing.  This was perfect, as there was absolutely nothing (or anybody) around.  A few miles of untouched roads that were plenty big to have lots of fun on.

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I did a slew of flights down there, some focused on follow-me type stuff.  But others just toying around because I could.  The below photos would come from one of those toying-around times.

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Both captured on the Phantom 4, for those curious.

Oh – and speaking of cameras, for those photo geeks, I shot almost everything this week (minus the items with my GoPro, iPhone or drones) with the Sony 6300 (and the stock 16-50mm lens).  I had decided to rent it from LensRentals (in the US) for the week to try it out.  Really impressed with the quality of it, and will probably pick it up as my travel/lightweight camera.

In fact, I didn’t even take a single shot on my larger DSLR this past week.  But, at the same time, I don’t think I’d be able to do that at a show like Interbike or Eurobike (or CES).  For one, by the end of each day I had burned through the battery.  Of course, that’s easily solved by just getting another battery.  But I also found that I kinda like the heft of a DSLR when doing product shots.  It just feels weird with a smaller camera.

Don’t get me wrong, the quality was awesome (including the boatloads of 4K video I shot for other upcoming stuff).  And I’d definitely take it for events like Sea Otter where my ‘photo-load’ was lower.  Same goes for vacations or just using around town (likely to replace my semi-broken Nikon AW1 mirrorless camera).  I think I was most impressed by some photo and video I did in NYC at night – just amazing clarity for hand-held shots in low-light conditions.

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Unfortunately, I don’t have a single picture of the camera itself.  Sorry.  But if you hover above any photos above, if they start with ‘DSC’, then it was with the Sony 6300.  Oh, and I did also rent the DJI Osmo too…but…blah.  Just found it too finicky for use after two days with it, so gave up on it for the rest of the week.

With that – thanks for reading all!  Back to more product reviews the rest of the week!

Missed the rest of the Sea Otter posts? Then check out all my Sea Otter posts here!

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Sea Otter 2016 Power Meter Tidbits: Stages & Verve Infocrank http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/04/sea-otter-2016-power-meter-tidbits-stages-verve-infocrank.html http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/04/sea-otter-2016-power-meter-tidbits-stages-verve-infocrank.html#comments Tue, 19 Apr 2016 04:01:45 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=59353 Best I could tell, there were six power meter companies at Sea Otter: Garmin, 4iiii, Rotor, SRAM/Quarq, Stages, and Verve. I’ve already covered the new 4iiii product announcements in this post, and Garmin didn’t announce anything at Sea Otter beyond … Read More Here ]]> Best I could tell, there were six power meter companies at Sea Otter: Garmin, 4iiii, Rotor, SRAM/Quarq, Stages, and Verve.

I’ve already covered the new 4iiii product announcements in this post, and Garmin didn’t announce anything at Sea Otter beyond their Edge related software updates. ROTOR was present, but their news was focused on getting their previously announced dual 2INpower (dual leg system) out the door, which sounds like it should be any moment now.  I’ll be reviewing that once it does get out the door.  And while SRAM/Quarq was there, they didn’t have anything new to announce power-meter wise.

So that leaves Stages & Verve.  Both had minor announcements and updates, so I figured I’d do a quick round-up of them.

Stages:

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Starting with Stages is providing some updates on the products they launched last fall at Eurobike/Interbike in 2015.

First up is their carbon variants that they announced previously.  While they started shipping the BB30 version back in January, the GXP version is looking to hit production next month.  With the BB30 version they noted they have no back orders/waiting time, and with the GXP version it hasn’t opened yet to orders.

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Additionally, the previously announced Campagnolo variant is slated to start shipping in late June.

Lastly, I asked a bit about the dual system that they’ve been testing with Team Sky and I showed updated pics of them in my Paris-Roubaix post last week.  They noted that obviously they’re still testing it, but for them it’s more of a business type decision as to whether there’s a market there at the price point they’d have to enter in.  Or if the market is too crowded already for dual solutions at a price point that would make sense for them.  I believe the term they used was ‘unconvinced’.

Verve Infocrank:

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Next we’ve got Verve and their Infocrank power meter.

Their most recent news is a firmware update last week that gets rid of the need for magnets.  You’ll remember from my review that I found their magnet setup fairly frustrating (and the use of ‘fairly’ is an understatement).  They’ve released an option now that allows you to update your power meter firmware and throw away the magnets.

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You can still use the magnets if you’d like, as the current firmware has a maximum RPM (cadence) value of 200RPM.  It has no minimum (they demonstrated 6RPM for me in the booth).  Keep in mind, unless you specifically know you do 200RPM, then you don’t need such functionality.  Most cyclists will keep below 100-105RPM for the majority of their cycling, with only brief interludes much above that.

I’ll usually test most power meters to about 170RPM, beyond which my legs fall off.  In any case, the update is free and can already be had.

Next up, they’re working on a cloud-based app aimed at giving fitters, coaches, and other physiotherapy focused folks additional higher resolution data with respect to the pedal stroke.  This data would be collected on a indoor trainer setting, using a desktop computer with an ANT+ USB stick.  It can be shown in real-time, as well as saved to their cloud based service.

They showed off four different plots while I was there.  First was a look at the torque applied to each crank arm, shown in real-time as you pedaled on the plots below.  This is kinda like the old CompuTrainer SpinScan plots.  You’ve also got your more normal metrics up top, so you can keep an eye on those as you go.

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Next there’s a waveform version of that, showing the exact same thing as above, just as a waveform instead.  It shows one complete rotation and is updating in real-time.

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Then there’s the multi-rotation waveform.  This takes the above plot and allows you to view multiple pedal rotations over a short timeframe.

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Finally we’ve got my favorite one, which is showing you the mean-max variations of your pedal stroke over time, but in a shaded area.  So think of it like the graph two above, but with the current as the line in the graph and the shaded area as your historical lines (near-term historical anyway).

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The plan is to release the app/platform at some point in the next few weeks, which will support multiple user sets being stored and available online for retrieval..  Again as noted earlier it’s really aimed at coaches, sport scientists, and other ‘service providers’ to do work with customers/clients in an indoor setting.

The pricing will vary a little bit depending on the number of users a coach/etc has, but the aim is about $50/month.

Looking for more to read? Then check out all my Sea Otter posts here!

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