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Sports Tech Tidbits: Fitbit Charge 4, Strava adds Weather, Zwift Clubs, Suunto’s TrainingPeaks Metrics, COROS New Features and more!

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Fear not, no April Fools joke posts from me. I’ve had a specific idea for one for a few years now, but frankly it’s not really an April Fools joke if I can pull it off (and build it). Funny yes, but actually quite functional. I know, not too helpful. Someday when I’m less bored.

In any case, these are some stories from the past week that I haven’t quite had the time to dive into in more depth, but are definitely worthwhile mentioning somewhere. Despite one thinking this would be a quieter period for me, it turns out the software world has decided to make up for it! Thus, it’s actually busier than I expected. With that, let’s get into it.

Oh, and I’ve got one more tidbit of sports tech news for later. So hang tight for another non-major but notable post this evening.

Suunto adds TrainingPeaks Metrics:

Last weekend Suunto added TrainingPeaks metrics to their Suunto 9 and Suunto 5 series watches. Specifically this includes three sets of new common TrainingPeaks metrics:

Cycling with a power meter:  Normalized Power (NP), Training Stress Score (TSS), and Intensity Factor (IF)
Running metrics: Intensity Factor (IF), Running Training Stress Score (rTSS), and Normalized Graded Pace (NGP)
Heart Rate metrics: Heart Rate Training Stress Score (hrTSS)

In addition to all this, Suunto added BeiDou satellite support too (a Chinese constellation of satellites that’s gaining popularity in sports tech devices).

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For me personally, I use Normalized Power on every ride as a quick glanceable way to see how intensity of the ride is comparing to others in the back of my brain. This does require a power meter though, so keep that in mind.

From a running standpoint the one I personally find most useful is Normalized Graded Pace, which is super helpful on a hilly course with lots of ups and downs to get a quick gut-check of how that effort might have looked on a flat course. Now living in Amsterdam, that metric is 100% useless to me, given most runs have exactly zero elevation gain (or loss). Not kidding. Still, when I travel I definitely appreciate it!

They’ve got a nifty little site that explains all these metrics in more detail here, all of which are part of the Suunto Plus thingamajig. The Suunto Plus bit means that these aren’t ‘normal’ data fields like any other fields on your Suunto watch. Instead, they’re part of this special area of the watch called Suunto Plus. That means that you toggle on/off that feature in a menu:

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(To get to that menu, go like you’re going to start a sport, then go down into the sport options and you’ll see a toggle for ‘Suunto Plus’, at which point you can toggle on one of the three data sets I outlined above, or the previously added ‘Strava Relative Effort’ feature.)

And then it adds a full data page to your workout profile (i.e. running):

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Post-ride you’ll get the summary on the summary screen for these metrics. In my case my Suunto 9 is connected to Movescount, and so there’s no TrainingPeaks metrics there. Perhaps there is over on the Suunto app, but I don’t have my Suunto 5 updated yet.

Strava adds Weather & Device Info to App:

Next, a simple one: Strava has added weather as well as the device you used into your activities on mobile, for Summit members. Go update the Strava app if you haven’t, and then crack open one of your activities. After that, scroll down a smidge, and you’ll see it. However, you’ll also see the device you used (for everyone), and then the weather (for Summit folks). The device used has long been offered on desktop/web, but never app.

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This is a big deal for me personally because I set all my activities to private by default, and then manually turn them to public after I’ve validated the device name – specifically when testing unreleased things. But up until this point I couldn’t do that till I got to a desktop/laptop computer. So sometimes I’d forgot and never publish it public.

And if you’re in statute/miles mode, for the weather you’ll get the metrics in Fahrenheit instead:

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Pretty neat, huh?

Now on the weather front, I know some of you have been using Klimat.app for a long-ass time. I even tried the free variant for a bit as well. It’s cool, but I always ran into issues of it playing tug of war with my descriptions – and ultimately disabled it. However, it does have way more customization than Strava’s solution.

Still, for me, the native Strava solution is basically perfect. I’ve been using it for more weeks than I can remember now and the ‘just works’ factor is exceedingly high. I haven’t travelled anywhere recently, so I can’t speak to any weird quirks that might exist somewhere else. And while I’d normally crack a joke at the fact that the weather here in the Netherlands is the same each day: Rainy, windy, and a bit cold – the reality is that the last 2+ weeks it’s been brilliantly blue-skies sunny. In any case, go forth and enjoy yet another new feature from Strava this year. I mean, assuming you can go outside.

Fitbit Charge 4:

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Fitbit announced their latest wearable yesterday, the new Charge 4. The key bits here being that it’s now got GPS built-in (previously you connected to your phone), it’s got contactless payments built-in (previously only the special edition had it), and now it also has ‘Active Zone Minutes’, which replaces the previous Active Minutes metric and is based on HR zones instead.

All this for $149.

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I think Fitbit’s actually got it figured out, finally. Their last 18 months or so of releases have largely been panned by reviewers (myself included) – with at best a ‘shrug’. That didn’t stop people from buying them, because…Fitbit. But it didn’t help increase market share any.

However, priced at $149 is super competitive here. There’s simply nothing on the market that has GPS and contactless payments built-in for $149. Period. The closest you get is the full Apple Watch Series 3 sitting at $199. That obviously has way more features, but also is a full watch that you’ve roughly gotta charge every day or two. The Fitbit Charge 4 lasts a theoretical 7 days (historically speaking Fitbit is usually spot-on with their battery estimates, if even a bit conservative). It’s water-resistant to 50 meters and like most of Fitbit’s other recent wearables includes a SpO2 sensor.

If we look at the other viable competition – the Garmin Vivosport, it has GPS but lacks contactless payments. It sits at $129 these days, but is also coming up on 3 years old. Still, it’s even got things like LiveTrack and plenty of other sport-specific features that probably stack up better for most athletes (if you want more of a band than a watch). [Totally random side note, I was looking up the price of the Vivosport, and Amazon has refurb Vivosport models for a mere $46. Seriously. Holy crap!]

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Interestingly the Fitbit Charge 4 states it tracks swim workouts in the pool “and beyond”, however it’s unclear if that includes openwater swims (which would be a first for Fitbit). Normally I’d say no, but their press pack includes an outsized number of openwater swim lifestyle shots in it. There’s four different openwater swim shots in there, versus a mere single shot for other workout types.

In any case, I wouldn’t normally post on new products unless I had something in-hand, and soon I will. However, as you may have noticed, there’s no hands-on content out there anywhere on the Fitbit Charge 4. That’s because all of the review units are stuck in the Fitbit HQ office in San Francisco where a shelter in place order is currently in effect. They’re hoping to get review loaner units shipped from somewhere else shortly. The Charge 4 is set to start shipping on April 13th.

Note that at this juncture Google has not yet completed the acquisition of Fitbit (from a legal standpoint, let alone any technical bits) – so we don’t know what impact that’ll have on the other product lines. Also note, all imagery in this section is from Fitbit’s press pack.

COROS Adds Pile of New Features:

Not to be outdone by Suunto, COROS also added a flotilla of new features over the weekend too. These features are live for the VERTIX, APEX Pro, and APEX. While the PACE will get them next week. Also, the APEX gets Bluetooth Sensor support that the VERTIX/APEX Pro recently got.

  • Adds Battery Usage feature to track your watch habit and provide the estimated battery time remaining. Press and hold the BACK/LAP button to access this feature via the toolbox menu.
  • Adds Bluetooth-supported heart rate broadcast feature. Press and hold the BACK/LAP button to access this feature via the toolbox menu.
  • Adds Nutrition Alert feature that provides time-based reminders during workouts.
  • Adds Lap Vertical Speed data type for Trail Run, Hike, Mountain Climb, and Bike modes.
  • Adds breadcrumb navigation feature for Multisport and Ski Touring modes.
  • Adds lap as a distance option for interval training under Track Run mode.
  • Adds MGRS capability for GPS coordinates.
  • Adds full Polish support as system language.
  • Adds Runalyze integration.
  • Stores data page preferences to the COROS account in case of watch reset and new watch pairing.

As usual, you’ll crack open the COROS app and update the watch wirelessly over Bluetooth Smart:

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Looking at the feature list, the importance will vary based on your use case. Obviously, I have approximately zero use for Polish….but approximately 37.98+ million people might. The battery features look good, and I might dig into them more. COROS continues to have mind-boggling powers in the battery department. I just don’t understand. This toolbox feature seemed aimed at (rightfully) flaunting that.

The real biggie though is adding of Bluetooth Smart HR broadcasting. We saw Garmin add this back in January to their newer devices, but that was within a mode specific to virtual running (so it had pace/cadence too). Whereas COROS is a bit simpler in just HR, but honestly, it’s also more useful for a wider chunk of people (for example, just pairing to Zwift while on a bike). You can see below me using Apple TV and then pairing directly to the COROS Vertix’s optical HR sensor. Note however that in order for this to work I had to turn-off connectivity to my phone (which the COROS was using), as my guess is that it only can sustain a single Bluetooth Smart connection.

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Most of the remainder of these features are fairly minor – however, the last one listed up there is great if you need to reset your watch. Very few companies allow complete saving of settings and copying to a new device. That’s awesome.

Zwift Teases New Clubs Feature:

Zwift has started rolling out a new FutureWorks project (that’s the name for their beta stuff) that starts to give some insights into how Zwift plans to do clubs. As of earlier this week, folks that joined Zwift ‘Back in the Day’ (as in, the first few months it was out) have access to join Club Jarvis (named after the original Zwift Island). If you’re one of those special folks, then you’d have gotten a little pop-up in the app asking you if you wanted to join. There isn’t a way to request access if you’ve been deemed un-special. Sorry.

Right now, once you join a club you’ll get a new clubs tab/page on your companion app.  At the bottom of the club page are more details about the club including links.

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There’s also a listing of Club events as well as a listing of club members and their activity summary, plus some overall club stats.

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But it’s more than just the companion app. For example, in the Zwift game itself, you’ll see the option to change which club you’re active in at that moment in the game. This allows you to then see or join events for that club. A given Zwift activity can only be linked to a specific club – so you can’t double-dip if there were club vs club challenges for example.

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Now, undoubtedly most Zwifters will say “About effin time!”, and that’s true. But, at present the features are pretty limited. There are a handful of events within Club Jarvis, but those are of course created by Zwift. Right now management of events is a 100% human-driven task with various approvals at Zwift HQ.  The idea here being to delegate that off to trusted teams/clubs and their respective administrative managers.

The longer-term idea here is that team members can do that creation of events and wholly manage their team. And then further to that, the plan to be able to finally re-offer team jerseys again (they stopped nearly two years ago). Of course, to what level they plan to allow teams to create jerseys remains to be seen. The system would have to have some Zwift HQ/other approvals to ensure people weren’t submitting inappropriate jerseys. And then that, in turn, would have to have some gate-keeping to make it scalable for the 300,000-400,000 subscribers of Zwift.

My thinking though is that a lot of this can be delegated out beyond Zwift. There’s zero reason Zwift themselves should ever be digitizing/converting team jerseys to digital Zwift variants. That should all be outsourced to Amazon Mechanical Turk like platforms, complete with secondary approval systems, and then ultimately Zwift HQ approval for validation of inappropriate jerseys.

Perhaps one day I’ll be able to get the DCR kit in-game as a club, and then be able to have the thousands of you join the club. We can do exciting stuff like test trainer accuracy together as a group ride. Or something.

In any case, Zwift says that once they get feedback from this beta of Club Jarvis they’ll start expanding into existing large-scale Zwift Teams before opening it up more widespread “later in the year”.

Two April Fools Tidbits of Note:

Wait, you wanted April Fools after all? Fear not, there’s two pieces I’ve seen where I make cameos (or more). First up is Matt LeGrand’s video comparing the 1983 Casio CS-831 Calculator watch to a Garmin FR945, for triathlon purposes. Seriously, I know this is supposed to be April Fool’s, but the cinematography work in this is legit. This isn’t just a 3 minute video. Holy balls. Subscribed!

And then there’s Montre Cardio GPS’s announcement of my intention to bring forth a GPS watch to the market, later in September – complete with leaked FCC images and all.

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With that – enjoy the rest of your day, and welcome to April. And yes, it’s still 2020. Sigh…

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50 Comments

  1. Eric

    Strava [at least on android] is now also showing which device you used to record an activity. Not a huge change for most people, but I know you’ve talked about wanting it, and it’s nice to see them shipping these improvements which presumably aren’t a huge amount of work.

  2. Rob B

    Would have bagged a vivosport at that price as a backup device. Alas not currently shipping to Europe.

  3. Ryan

    Is there a date when Strava started adding weather to activities? I see it for recent activities but not for ones from a couple months ago.

  4. Pavel

    Ray, do you know if this weather feature is / will be available for web as well?

  5. Brian Reiter

    Is the weather thing a Summit feature?

    Also, I’m curious about your comment on Coros battery being mind boggling. Is it really better than the current generation from Garmin with the new power management and Sony chipset? The Vertix claims about the same battery life as a Fēnix 6X if I recall.

    I have observed that Coros brand seems to inspire evangelical devotion in its converts. 😏

    • RE: Strava Summit

      Honestly not sure there. I’ll ask. I checked with The Girl’s phone first to validate the feature had got to production. Turns out it has. But she’s also Summit.

      RE: Battery

      Yeah, best I can tell it is. Both GPS and standby. Seriously, those darn watches last forever in my drawer of watches on standby. Like, months later they’re still alive. I don’t even understand.

      RE: “I have observed that Coros brand seems to inspire evangelical devotion in its converts.”

      Well, sponsored ambassadors posting often to Instagram will do that for ya. Still, that wise business decision aside, they’re doing good stuff product-wise. My *only* caveat with them right now is pricing-wise they just aren’t competitive (however, Pace probably). The app is still rough comparative to Polar/Garmin (Suunto’s app is variable in comparison). I think this sort of update is good for COROS. But I really think they need to re-think pricing. They need to follow a Polar strategy of realizing they can’t compete on features with Garmin and undercutting just enough on price to cause people to stop and decide what actually matters. In COROS’s case, they’re roughly price-equal with Garmin, which is a non-starter except for all but the most edge of battery use cases that 99.9999999% of people won’t care about.

    • RE: Strava Summit Required

      Yes, just confirmed.

    • Brian Reiter

      I don’t think it is the brand ambassadors, really. I am vaguely aware of some but my friends I’m pretty sure are not.

      I think it is the battery life. It is not a nothing desire. It doesn’t sound exciting but I think it is something lovable over time. Certainly I have come to feel that the battery life of the Fēnix 6X is by far the best feature. (#2 is the big display.) It’s a tough feature to emphasize on marketing.

      I think it’s true in general if you don’t have to really think about the battery anymore it is liberating. Kind of half-assed charging once or twice a week while taking a shower has it covered. It removes a kind of low-level anxiety you didn’t realize was even there.

      I will tell you in the ultra world that battery is definitely a much bigger deal. I had several friends with f5, 5X, and 5 plus cursing the Garmin name and forced to use backup gps navigation during an ultra sky race. Nobody wants to lose 10km of their race but it is extra harrowing to be out on a mountain with an unmarked course and the sun fading out and have your primary navigation die.

      I don’t have a Coros but my impression in the field comparing to people that have is that the practical activity battery life is the same as the comparable f6 series. The 6X definitely will far outlast the Apex. The Vertix seems about the same. It doesn’t really surprise me that they last in a drawer. The Coros appears to do quite a bit less stuff than Garmin while idle. The Coros standard watch mode is closer to Garmin’s power save mode.

  6. Tom Mulqueen

    Ray
    My buddy’s company just brought his out
    Thought you might be interested
    link to facebook.com

  7. Giorgio Saracco

    Not seeing the weather neither on my own outdoor activities (located in Italy, date 01/04) nor on my gf (located in Germany, date 28/03) but I do see it on a friend located in UK.

    I suppose they are slowly rolling it out to all countries?

  8. Steve Short

    I think the Strava weather feature is only for activities logged by Summit subscribers.

  9. Leo M

    You typed kilmat.com, but it’s klimat.com (climate in German etc.)

    Link works great though.

  10. Mike S.

    Grr. I wish I could record my Strava activity data in Imperial and weather data only in metric. As a Canadian living in the US I’ll never get used to Fahrenheit.

    • Brian Reiter

      Reverse. But agree. I have no problem with km. You get more and go faster!

      Celsius is another matter.

      I have lived abroad for 12 years and I have trouble with an intuitive sense of Celsius. I like the entire metric system and Celsius too for science but I still prefer Fahrenheit for weather.

      Fahrenheit is a humane scale where 100 is bloody hot and each 10 degree band is a comprehensible comfort range. Each Celsius degree is too big. The difference between 20C and 25C is huge!

    • Logan

      30° is hot
      20° is nice
      10° is cold
      0° is ice

  11. Wow, thank you so much for mentioning my video on your site. I was not expecting that. “Holy balls. Subscribed!” 😂 Just let me know where I need to make out the check to.
    But in all seriousness, I’m sending you some Swim/Bike/Run/Rinse/Repeat stickers.
    Thanks you 🙏

  12. Running Otaku

    Love the April Fool’s video! I was going to do the same thing with the 2005 Casio Phys 900 I bought from eBay 5 weeks ago…but it’s still stuck in Bulgaria 🙁

  13. L J

    Didn’t know where else to post this as the comments are closed on the relevant post, but it would be nice if giveaways that are finished wouldn’t be featured in the newsletter. Happened to open it shortly after I received it today and was disappointed to find the giveaway done a few days prior.
    Thanks for your site, I do enjoy reading it when I can, which isn’t as much recently.

  14. I am interested in buying my daughter DC Rainmaker as her first track and field meter. Am I on the right track? as I have just read The Guardian review of Strava App. I presume accountability for rain maker otherwise I could go direct to apple. Please advise. This is to run in Sydney. Are maps available and from where?
    Gary S
    April 2 2020

  15. inSyt

    Restricting certain calculations/analysis to Summit members, understandable. But restricting a type of data such as weather to Summit members? Will it update weather data for past activities if you do become a Summit member at some point in the future?

    • There’s no difference from a dev standpoint between a feature and a feature. Meaning, the ‘cost’ to Strava to add some analysis is the same as weather. And in fact, weather is actually an example of something that undoubtedly costs Strava money. They have to likely pay to access some API/platform to pull that for every locale in the world. Perhaps they’re using a free source, but probably not.

    • Brian Reiter

      FWIW I implemented something like that a few years ago using a free web service from NOAA that gives weather data for GPS coordinates.

      It doesn’t mean that they aren’t using something commercial. They probably are in order to have an SLA.

    • John

      Do we know the source of the weather data Strava is embedding? Which service or API they are using?

    • Per Tommy below, it’s Dark Sky: link to dcrainmaker.com

      Somewhat unfortunate timing that basically a few hours after Strava rolled this out, Apple announced they’ve purchased them and will can the API.

    • John

      That’s what I was afraid of.

    • Brian Reiter

      I’m confused by this strategically for Apple. Surely this acquisition is not just to make the Apple Weather app better.

      For the Apple brand the problem is that weather apps are a privacy nightmare because they need location data to work. Killing the Dark Sky API will kill the most popular weather apps on iOS — which is bad for the platform.

      I suspect what they actually want to do is roll out a privacy-centric weather API “WeatherKit” to supersede the Dark Sky API. The point is this will be to allow weather apps to run with a strong guarantee from Apple that the location data is not shared with 3rd parties (like Facebook, Google, and afternoon networks).

      This is rank speculation on my part.

    • Brian Reiter

      “afternoon networks” => advertising networks.

      Thanks autocorrect. 🤬

  16. hdb

    I would have expected you to hit the two CyclingTips “news flashes” for this time of year 😉
    link to cyclingtips.com
    and
    link to cyclingtips.com

  17. Curtis Repen

    ” if you’re in statute/miles mode, for the weather you’ll get the metrics in Fahrenheit instead”

    I see what you did there.

  18. Tommy

    Looks like the weather is powered by Dark Sky. I stumbled on it in Profile>Settings>Weather on Strava. It says “powered by Dark Sky” there (on Android)

    Apple have literally just purchased Dark Sky. I’m gutted about the purchase, not just because I’ll lose the app on Android but the API support for things like this. Epic Ride Weather is great and so is the “Wind” Connect IQ field….all powered by Dark Sky.

    Will be interesting to see who Strava switch to come next year when the API gets pulled

  19. Tom Albrecht

    The Fitbit Charge 4 sounds really intriguing now that it has GPS.

  20. Bret Bartness

    Holy crap, that Casio watch review video was the funniest thing I have seen in a long time. I was on the edge of my seat trying to see how a watch with zero water resistance would fare in an open water swim!

    Rainmaker has a ways to go to catch up to Matt in the review department 🙂

  21. Hah! I like seeing Wes Salmon in your screen shot there. I’m acquainted with Wes (virtually) for like 20 years back from the PDA Buzz days. Do you have a lot of interaction with him given what he does now? Does he read this site is a better question!

  22. Kristof De Bruecker

    do you have any word about a dark mode for the strava app?

    That would be great as an update 😉

  23. Matthew

    I wish GoPro would release some software updates for the Hero8 and the app to stop them crashing so much. I often have to pull the battery out of the camera to unfreeze it, and the app doesn’t like exporting video anymore 🙁

  24. Sanford

    Strava removed the followers segment leaderboard and is useless for me now.