DC Rainmaker https://www.dcrainmaker.com Thu, 20 Oct 2016 16:15:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.6 The 3rd Annual DCR Cave Open House–December 10th, 2016! https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/10/annual-cave-open-housedecember.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/10/annual-cave-open-housedecember.html#comments Thu, 20 Oct 2016 11:12:53 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=66432 Read More Here ]]> It’s that time of year again!

Time for you to start planning your trek to the 3rd annual DCR Cave Open House!  Yup, it’s gonna be the third open house already – how time flies since we did all that construction!  Here were the first and second DCR Open House events.

The open house is on a Saturday evening for folks that want to come check out the DCR cave, and just in general have fun chatting about sports and sports technology (and wine, cheese, and cupcakes).  Oh, and we gave away a bunch of free stuff.  Watches, gift certificates, apparel, and a few random other things I had floating around.  Last year some of that got caught in customs and took forever to get out to people afterwards (and I still have something for someone that I can’t figure out who it’s for).  This year, I have it all arriving in the next few weeks, phew!  Clever Training is awesome for helping out on that front (they supply all the tech goodness!).

About 50 folks came through last year – definitely good times!  We did a bit of a quiz for some of the prizes as well.

IMG_2665 IMG_3453

Of course, the evening of the Open House I’ll have plenty of devices around should folks want to play with the latest and greatest stuff.  Anything that’s been announced will be available and fair game for tinkering, including all the newest trainers and watches.


Last year we added the first ever DCR group run on Saturday morning, which was a blast.  Two groups set out – one with The Girl, and one with myself.  We did one of my favorite runs around the city, hitting up many of the major sights.  That’ll definitely be on the docket again – so you don’t want to miss it!


Not only that – but this year the DCR Open House is on the same weekend as the Santa Clause 10K Run!  You can enjoy a nice leisurely DCR run on Saturday morning, and then throw-down in your Santa costume on Sunday morning nearby (with 8,000 other Santa’s).  I’ll definitely be one of those Santa’s!


Beyond DCR things, there’s tons of fun stuff in the city to do if you’re coming from out of town.  For example the Christmas Markets are up then in multiple locations – including the Champs-Élysées. Not to mention ice skating should be open at a few major locales around the city.  And finally, for those who want to roller blade, there’s the weekly Paris Roller events on Friday nights that are always epic (they also have a tamer version on Sunday morning geared towards families).  If you’re looking for other ideas, just drop a note below – happy to point folks in the right direction.

As you can see – it’s a great time of year to visit the city, especially since it’s just ahead of the typically more busy tourist weekends.


For the Open House:

Date: Saturday, December 10th, 2016 – Starting around 7PM.
Address: Location sent via e-mail few days ahead, but within the Paris 5th Arrondissement near Notre Dame
Closest Metro: St-Michel Notre Dame (RER-B/C) or Cardinal Lemoine (Line 10)
Food: We’ll have various appetizer & dessert items
Price: Free of course!

For the DCR Run:

Date: Saturday, December 10th, 2016 – 9AM
Address: Same as above, I’ll send out a note in the days prior with exact address.

We’ll leave at 9AM from the DCR Cave location (sunrise is 8:33AM that morning).  We’ll divide into two groups on a route that’s approximately 7.5 miles (12 kilometers), though folks can turn around early, or we’ll show folks how to take a Velib back from the half-way point if you’re saving yourself for the Santa Race (Velib’s are fun anyway!).  We’ll divide into two pace groups, one will be about a 7:45-8:00/mile (4:50-5:00/KM) pace with me, while another group led by The Girl will go at approximately 9:00/mile (5:35/KM).

Upon return we’ll have some goodies to help you replenish your nutrition for a few hours.  For those that want to pickup a Velib pass, you can actually do so before the run, right next to the DCR Cave, it costs less than 2EUR for a 24hr Velib pass.  You’ll be able to securely store bags/etc during the run here at the DCR Cave/Studio.

For the Santa Clause Run:

Not sure what you’re signing up for? Here’s my 2012, 2013, and 2014 race reports (it was cancelled in 2015).  It’s our favorite race of the year!

Date: Sunday, December 11th, 2016 – Various times in the morning
Length: 6K, 10K, plus kids races
The Race I’m doing: Race #5, at 10:40AM – This is the official Santa Clause 10K race
Race Price: 27EUR (includes free t-shirt and usually a bottle of wine at finish)
Santa Outfit Cost: 11EUR (seriously, how awesome is that?!?)
Register: This website here in English. Note, after clicking ‘Register’, the page will go back to French, there’s a little English icon up top on the right to change it back to English (if you don’t read French).

Minor useful things of note: Taking the RER-C train is the easiest way to the start, quick and simple.  They do have a bag drop inside that’s secured, along with limited bathrooms and a place to change (it’s a school gym).  Packet pickup is usually the days prior, unless you have it sent to you for extra.  It’s in the same spot as the race start.  It’s quick and simple.  Feel free to drop any questions down below about it, also the race reports probably answer a bunch as well.


For the open house simply use the form below to sign-up (just so I can figure out how much cheese to buy, and cupcakes to make!), we look forward to seeing you then!

Create your own user feedback survey

I’ll use the e-mail provided to send the final details (and a reminder) as we get closer to the date.  We’re looking forward to seeing everyone there!

See ya then!
– Bobbie & Ray

Note: Folks from various sports tech companies are of course more than welcome!

Polar M600 Android Wear GPS Watch In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/10/polar-android-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/10/polar-android-review.html#comments Wed, 19 Oct 2016 16:10:16 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=66291 Read More Here ]]> Polar-M600-Training-Start-Pretty

It’s been a touch bit over two months since Polar announced their first Android Wear device, the M600 GPS-enabled watch.  This running/lifestyle/not-triathlon focused watch was not only unique in Polar’s stable for being Android Wear, but for also including features like music playback via Bluetooth – which we haven’t seen previously from Polar.  In was in effect a totally new direction for the company in terms of wearable devices.

I’ve been using the watch since that announcement (and actually, even before that).  The trial unit they sent over in late July was initially loaded with beta software, though it has long since been updated to final production software.  It remained final production hardware throughout.  Once complete, I’ll plop it in a box and return it to Polar (in dark and cold Finland), as I normally do with test devices.

I’ve been using the M600 with both iOS and Android phones, so I’ve got a pretty good idea of where it works well…and where it’s not so awesome.  With that, let’s begin!



Let’s crack this unit open!

The first thing you’ll notice is that it does have some Android Wear goodness on the box:


From there you’ll go ahead pull the box out of the sleeve, then fold out the front door:


Inside you’ll see the M600 sitting right there waitin’ for ya.  Grab that out, as well as the charging cable and the very small manual – and here’s what you’ve got:


The manual is pretty straight-forward and basically just tells you where to place the watch on your wrist, and not to try and use it as a fishing rod.  Roughly.

Then you’ve got the charging cable.  This is actually the same charging connector as the V800, though the V800 clip doesn’t work here.


It just uses a USB connector on the other end, so you can plug it into any USB port you can find to get some juice.

Then finally, the watch itself:


The most notable item being the optical HR sensor on the back has changed from other Polar unit optical HR sensors.  Polar says this is largely just in their quest for finding the most accuracy.  I personally don’t have a problem with that, since past Polar optical HR sensors haven’t been terribly awesome.  So anything that improves that…I’m all for!


Lastly, it should be pointed out that the unit comes in both a white and black band version.  The bands can be removed and swapped around.


Here’s how it looks with a white band:


Note that the above white-band was 3D printed, as I don’t have a final version of that band, so there may be some minor imperfections there.  The black-band is final (which is what I’ve been using).

Size Comparisons:


So how does it measure-up against other units in the same category or by Polar themselves?  Well up above is the M600 (left), the M200 (center), and the V800 (right).  You can see it’s roughly in the same ballpark as the V800 from a front facing standpoint.

But what about taking the Android Wear based M600 and comparing it against the Apple Watch Series 2?  Ask and you shall receive!

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As you can see, they are quite different in size.  The Apple Watch is a heck of a lot smaller.  Then again, Apple has access to manufacturing scale and efficiencies that quite frankly Polar doesn’t.  Though battery life the two units are pretty similar.  Polar says about 48 hours when paired with an Android phone, and about 24 hours when paired with an iPhone.  I found if I left the screen off except gestures, I was getting closer to 36-40 hours paired to an iPhone.  Or about the same as I get on the Apple Watch. Thus, I’d call that aspect a wash.

Next, to line it up to some other watches in the space, most notably the TomTom Runner 3/Spark 3 (which has music and GPS & optical HR), you’ll see that it’s a big bigger than that.


Lastly, here’s the weights of a boatload of watches.  They are:

TomTom Spark 3/Runner 3: 48g
Apple Watch Series 2: 51g
Polar M600: 63g
Polar M200: 40g
Polar V800: 82g
Garmin FR35: 37g
Garmin FR25: 39g

And…the gallery of those!

dsc_3199 dsc_3200 dsc_3201 dsc_3202 dsc_3203 dsc_3204 dsc_3205

Now the challenge with the M600 is that quite frankly it looks bulky with a side order of ugly.  I have yet to meet anyone that thought it looked sleek and pretty.  The second question out of anyone’s mouth that sees the watch (after asking what it is), is: “Hmm…it’s….kinda….bulky, no?”  Always with those slow pauses in between.  Always.

On the flip-side, it’s also one of the faster Android Wear watches in terms of responsiveness.  So even though it may not be the sexiest thing on the dance floor, it can definitely throw down the moves in good time when it needs to.  But I’ll cover that more later.

The Basics:


When it comes to the basics of the watch, it’s important to understand that it’s really Android Wear first, Polar second.  Aside from the default watch face, one could easily thing it wasn’t a Polar watch at all.  It acts like any other Android Wear watch until the moment you press the front-facing button, which launches the Polar training app.

Otherwise, for aspects like looking at smartphone notifications or checking the weather, that’s all stock Android Wear functionality.  Same goes for the music player, stopwatch, and Google Fit.  About the only thing outside the training app that you’d see that’s different is if you use the default Polar M600 watch face, which includes the Polar daily step totals and goal.


The left-side button meanwhile, is for accessing the Android Wear app launcher:


It’s here you can open up 3rd party apps (Android phones only), or the default Android Wear apps (like Google Fit, Flashlight, and others).


Google Fit is where you can get further metrics about your daily activity.  Though, it’s somewhat of a duplication of what you’d get through the Polar Flow app aspects.  With Google Fit you’ll see more graphs on the watch, whereas with Polar’s Training app (and watch face) you get more information about today.  Whereas then on Flow online you’ll get more details beyond today.


So what happens once you press that front button?  It’s like entering Polar’s front door.

And the moment you do, it becomes similar to other Polar wearables.  You’ve got this familiar up/down interface for accessing things like ‘Training’ or ‘My Day’, as well as a manual sync button.  That’s it though.


My Day is where you’ll get an overview of your daily activity.  It shows you any specific workouts you’ve done, as well as your daily step totals.  It’ll also show you scheduled workouts, per Polar Flow (that’s the web service you can sync to).

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Meanwhile, the only other option left (Training) is where you execute workouts from.  It’s here that you’ll choose which sport to start the workout within:


It’ll also prompt you for any scheduled workouts that you have that day:


Once you select a workout, depending on the type, it’ll start looking for heart rate (optically) and GPS (if outdoors). Which, is a perfect transition to the sport mode section.

Sport Modes:


If there’s one thing that Polar’s really nailed it’s the widespread availability of sport modes across their different devices.  Even the budget-focused M200 that was announced a few weeks back has all the same sport modes as the M600, which has all the same sport modes as the V800.  The only caveat to that statement being multi-sport modes (i.e. triathlon), which only the V800 has.  Still, I like it when companies don’t artificially restrict software sport modes on lower hardware just for giggles.

The only downside here though is that Polar only allows you to configure/add/change these sport modes on Polar Flow, so you’ve gotta go online to do that.  It’s here that you can select which sport modes, and the specific data pages within those:


You’ll click on a given sport to customize it or the data pages within it.  This includes settings like automatic lap options, heart rate zones, and pace/speed metrics.


Note however that on the M600, you can have automatic lap, but *cannot* at this time have manual lap.


On the data page front, you can customize up to 8 pages, each with 1-4 data fields.


It’s on Polar Flow that you can also setup training plans.  These plans include things like plans for 10K races, which will include not just running workouts, but also core workouts in between the running days.  Further, it’ll populate the calendar online as well as the scheduled workouts on your wrist.  The grey ones below are the scheduled ones.  The red ones are the completed ones.


Once you’re done with all your tweaking of things, you’ll need to head back to your watch and ensure both the Android Wear and Polar Flow apps are open and that they then sync updates to your watch via Bluetooth Smart.  Otherwise you won’t see those changes.

Upon readiness to start a workout, you’ll press that front-facing button and select a sport.  In my case, we’re gonna choose running:


You’ll see above that it shows the GPS and HR icon as searching.  At this point it’ll be looking for satellites using the GPS chipset, while concurrently using that ground optical HR sensor on the back of the unit to find your HR:


Once it’s gone both done, it’ll show a completed green circle.  I can’t make it anymore clear: Do not start your workout until both of these icons are ready.  It’s incredibly difficult for units to recover and find either/or once a workout has begun, and doing so will only lead to sadness and dead kittens.  Trust me.

The good news is that the GPS find signal very quickly, usually in just a few seconds.  And the same is true of the optical HR sensor.  I’ll discuss accuracy of both in a later section.

Upon dueling green circle completion, you’ll press the sport mode to start recording, which will then take you to your data pages.


Here’s a quick gallery of some of the data pages and how they look:

polar-m600-run-complete-1 polar-m600-run-complete-2 polar-m600-run-complete-3 polar-m600-run-complete-4 polar-m600-run-complete-5 polar-m600-run-complete-6

Now it should be pointed out you have a few options for whether the screen stays on permanently or turns on/off based on gestures.  If you leave it on, it burns through more battery than if you have it gesture based.  I’ve tried both ways, and generally prefer keeping it on, so that I don’t have to wait each time I raise my arm.

With the gesture option, the screen will turn off until you raise your wrist, at which point the screen will illuminate.  But it’s just not as quick to react as something like the Apple Watch is, so it’s a bit delayed.  That can be frustrating in certain situations.

In order to change data fields, you’ll just swipe left and right on the screen.  I’ve found that works just fine and dandy, even in rain.  In fact, I filmed this video in the shower one day to demonstrate just how well the screen works in watery conditions:

The biggest downside of the unit right now is the lack of manual lap option.  It really sucks.  You can either have no laps, or automatic laps.  Automatic laps are based on either preset distance, or, section of a structured workout (i.e. interval workout).  Polar has hinted that this might be in the cards down the road through a firmware update, but nothing has been promised and nothing has happened to date.

I’ve also used the unit in both hiking as well as cycling.  In terms of the menus and such, it all works the same way there.  The only notable item is that it does *not* pair to any Bluetooth Smart cycling sensors.  It can only pair to a Bluetooth Smart heart rate strap, which it will prompt you about if it finds one in range:


The other challenge with cycling is that if you leave it on gesture based (the screen), then it’s awfully wonky to get to display the screen, and it’s really ideal.  Still, if you only ride sparingly, then it’s probably not a huge deal to you.


Once you’ve finished your workout, you’ll swipe to the left to find the pause screen. This allows you to pause a workout temporarily, or if you hold it down, it’ll allow you to save the workout.


After which you’ll get summary information about the workout:


To sync this back to Polar Flow (that’s their training log website), you’ll again need to ensure the Polar Flow app is open, and in the case of iOS, also the Android Wear app (on Android phones, it’s not required).  Afterwards, you’ll find the map and stats displayed on the Polar Flow site for all the world to see:


Do note the lack of elevation data (either by the watch itself or corrected on Polar Flow).  A bit of a surprise of a $300 GPS watch.

With sport modes all set, let’s take a quick diversion to talk about music and Android Wear, before wrapping up on the accuracy pieces (HR & GPS).



The M600 joins the ever-growing list of devices that can store music onboard.  At this point that really only leaves Garmin and Suunto as fitness device makers that don’t have onboard music storage.  With the M600, it has 4GB of internal space, but that only leaves 2.6GB of usable music storage space.  It’s enough though for most folks if they compress files appropriately to get a fair bit of music storage out of it.

The unit pairs with Bluetooth headphones.  I’ve tried a few, though in my testing I mostly used these Powerbeats ones.  It’s not so much that I recommend them (I’m fine either way), but rather just that I grabbed the red ones because I could easily spot them inside my backpack of wires.  Sometimes it’s the simple things in life….

In theory you can use any Bluetooth headphones (such as these $20 MPOW ones I often use, or even something like a JBL portable Bluetooth Speaker).  Doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s Bluetooth audio.  From there you’ll get your music machine in pairing mode, and then dive into the Android Wear Bluetooth menus to pair it up.  Quick and easy.  And in fact, that’s one of the strengths here of Android Wear, in that they’ve got more resources to validate audio compatibility than a smaller company like TomTom, which has to validate individual Bluetooth headphones unit by unit for their compatibility tables.


But there’s also a downside to Android Wear for music: It requires Android.

Unlike the TomTom Spark series, the M600 will ONLY transfer music from an Android phone/tablet.  You CANNOT use the music player functionality on iOS.  So, it’s Android only for now.


Overall I didn’t find any issues with music playback on the unit, either while running or hanging around.  At the same time, I’m not a huge fan of running with music – so my musical playback time was limited both by that, as well as the fact that once it was paired to my iOS phone, I couldn’t do music anymore (it wipes the unit if you switch from Android to iOS).

Android Wear Notables:


For some people, a major benefit of the M600 is being Android Wear.  This platform means that multiple hardware vendors can take Google’s ‘off the shelf’ (roughly) software for running a smart watch, and in turn run their apps on top of it.  This theoretically saves them the time/effort of developing such a platform, but more importantly it gives them a platform of their own for 3rd parties to easily develop on.

Said differently: Instead of Polar having to develop an equivalent to Garmin’s Connect IQ (or Pebble’s app platform, or Apple’s WatchOS platform), they’re able to use Android Wear to instantly have a platform that developers can create apps for.  And in many ways, that works out quite well for companies like Polar, Sony, and Motorola.

However, there are some limitations.  Specifically on what phone you have.  Now unlike the Apple Watch, Android Wear is actually cross-platform.  Meaning that you can use your Android Wear device (including the M600) with both iOS and Android devices.  Whereas the Apple Watch only works with iOS devices.  So that’s great for consumers.

What’s not so obvious though is that the experience between using the device paired to a phone on Android versus using it on iOS is dramatically different. So different in fact that I wouldn’t recommend it for iOS users.

I’ve used it on both platforms.  I’ve had it paired for weeks to an Android phone, and then the rest of the time to an iPhone (so about a 30/70 split, in favor of the iPhone).  Still, we’re talking over a two month period now I’ve been using it on one platform or another.  I’m basing all my iOS concerns on final hardware/software with respect to the M600.

When paired to an Android phone, it generally works pretty well.  And all the features are available.  For example, I can install 3rd party apps on the phone easily, as well as have deeper integration with voice control.  Further, the smartphone notifications work virtually 100% of the time.  Also, I can easily place music on the device for playback (which I can’t do at all on iOS).


But on iOS?  Not so much.  There’s currently no method to install *any* 3rd party apps, and the voice control is rather limited.  But perhaps more important is that the sync connectivity is at best flaky, and at worst totally unusable.  That’s because the M600 isn’t seen as a normal Bluetooth Smart notification device that the iOS Notification Center can utilize.  Rather, all communications has to go through the Android Wear app.  So that app must *always* be running in the background.

Except the problem there is that the connection constantly times out.  If I go out of range of my phone (even just to the bathroom), it’ll lose the connection.  That’s fine.  But what’s not fine is that it won’t ever repair that connection by itself.  Instead, I have to manually do it.  Every…single…time.  It just gets old, every…single…time.

So again, here’s the list of things that don’t work on iOS:

– No method to playback/transfer music
– No method to install/use 3rd party apps
– Limited Google Now commands
– Crapshoot on smartphone notifications being functional

Now some of these things may be addressed down the road with Android Wear 2.0.  But that’s a very unclear and fuzzy road.  Said release was just delayed into ‘sometime early next year’ (it’s already been officially delayed at least twice).  And while Polar has promised to update the M600 to Android Wear 2.0, they haven’t set about any timetable for doing so.  If I had to wager a small bit of cash, I’d even bet it’ll never actually happen (Polar updating the M600).

Further, while there is much speculation on things that Android Wear 2.0 may address, a lot of it is actually quite nebulous with very little concrete info on what might make the final cut.  Sure, we know some big ticket items like app independence and the ability to leverage WiFi, but we don’t yet know details of how these things start to play out on iOS (or even Android itself).  Thus, I can’t really see any scenario where this all happens by next spring.

So, as I often say: Buy a device based on what’s there today, not what’s being promised or hinted at down the road.

That’s never been more true here with the M600.

If the M600 fits your criteria (and it can definitely do that, especially for Android phone users) –than go forth.  It’s a great unit and I don’t suspect we’ll see anything like it from mainstream competitors anytime soon.  But, if you’re waiting on specific Android Wear features or things in 2.0…well…I wouldn’t buy the M600 hoping those will get added in, despite what companies may promise.

Finally, for those on Android, here’s a video I put together showing some of the Android Wear features while connected to an Android device:

Optical HR Accuracy:


Ok, now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s dive into accuracy on two specific fronts: Optical HR & GPS.  This section is all about optical HR accuracy, whereas the next is about GPS accuracy.

Sine the unit doesn’t have a 24×7 HR mode, there’s no reason to discuss that.  Sure, you can take your pulse at any given time using the Google Fit app, but it doesn’t save/record that to the Polar Flow platform.  And when it does show it – for standing still and such, it seems fine and accuracy.  But even a potato can usually measure that correctly.

What’s more complex is measuring a HR while in sport mode.  Since I’m focused on running and cycling, those are the areas I’m going to discuss the accuracy piece in.  In general, when I look at optical HR accuracy I’m testing it in variable workout types, notably things from steady-state to harder intervals.  Intervals test the ability for a sensor to quickly react to changing HR conditions. While steady-state is basically a simple test that any watch should be able to ace.

Before before that simpleton test, let me know that a lot of times people simply wear the device wrong.  An optical HR sensor should *not* sit on your wrist bone.  It should sit about 1-3cm up (towards the elbow) from your wrist bone.  While some might not like it, that’s entirely the reality of optical HR sensor technology today.  You can get incredibly accurate results with optical HR sensors if worn accurately (even better than chest straps in certain conditions).  But again, you have to wear them the right way.  Same goes for snugness.  It shouldn’t be loose.  It doesn’t need to have a death-grip on your wrist, but it shouldn’t move around (at least during workouts).

So, back to that simpleton test.  This run is rather straight forward, just cruising along in Bruges.  I’ve got three units (FR735XT in teal, Suunto Spartan with a Wahoo TICKR-X in purple, and M600 in brown).  It’s just a relatively flat run without much variability in pace:


As you can see, the M600 actually does well here, tracking within a few beats at all times of both other watches.  The FR735XT was a bit wonky in the first few minutes, and then seemed happy after that.  I wouldn’t focus too much on the spikiness of the data between the three units, since if you dig in closely you’ll see they’re all trading places a bit within a few beats.  So on that first piece, overall OK.

Next, let’s look at an interval run of sorts from yesterday. The basic structure was a 10-minute warm-up, followed by a 10-minute build, followed by a harder tempo section, then a bunch (12) of shorter intervals at the end.  Here’s how that handled (Purple is Suunto Spartan Ultra with chest strap, teal is FR35 optical, maroon is M600 optical):


So…kinda a mess.  The Suunto Spartan started off with recording nothing for a while before deciding to record the HR about 8 minutes in.  Meanwhile, the FR35 and M600 were semi-close, though with some variability.  Once all three were working, they were generally within a few beats of each other until about the 20 minute marker when I took my first recovery break.

It’s roughly at this point that everything went to crap as I started the first longer interval.  It stayed collectively crap for the first few minutes.  Both optical HR sensors were wrong, the chest strap was correct.  Then the M600 got the memo and did well for a few minutes before crapping out again.  Followed by the FR35 doing well and then crapping out.  Both woke-up by time I finished that interval.  Seriously?

Anyway, you can see as I started the 12x intervals, all three units actually agreed for the most part after the first interval.  Not sure why they nailed this section (which is more challenging to optical HR sensors), and then FUBAR’d the easy tempo portion.

In other news, let’s look at another run, this time a trail run.  In this case, I started off fairly easy, and then built into it.  The M600 was actually the only one to get it right.  I have no idea what the FR735XT (teal) or Suunto Spartan Ultra (TICKRX in purple) were doing those first few minutes.  After that point, all three units were actually pretty darn close the entire time.


You see some slight variance in the middle there when I stopped briefly to take a few photos.  But by and large the rest of the run they all agreed just fine.

Next we’ve got a ride (cycling), outdoors.  The M600 is in purple this time, with the FR735XT optical in teal and the chest strap in maroon.  I think it’s clear how this one went for the M600:


Basically, it lost the plot the entire time.  It was only correct for about a 5-minute chunk between 43 and 48 minutes.  The FR735XT was mostly correct, save a short section around the 38 minute marker.  I see no reason to analyze this ride further, it was a mess.

Lastly, one more ride.  I only had two HR sensing units on this short ride, but it doesn’t take a math genius to see they didn’t agree:


And in my case, despite not being a math genius to know which one was wrong: The M600.  Basically, it doesn’t seem to like cycling.  It was consistently under the entire time, even during harder efforts like at the beginning.

So what’s the overall summary for the M600’s optical HR sensor?

Well, it seems to suck at cycling, though, that’s often the case for wrist optical HR sensors.  Though this definitely did worse than Garmin or Mio optical HR sensors while cycling.  On the bright side, it doesn’t seem too bad on running.  It made some brief errors here and there, but largely speaking it did seem to agree with other units when those units were correct.  So that’s definitely an improvement over the last year or so on the Polar sensor front.

GPS Accuracy:


Next we’ve got GPS accuracy.  I’ve written so much about how I do GPS accuracy in past reviews, so let’s keep this super quick and short: I focus on testing devices in a variety of real world conditions comparing them against other units worn at the same time.  In this round of testing that includes runs/rides in France, Belgium, United States, and Canada.  It has included heavy/dense trees in Canada, the monstrous buildings of the Las Vegas strip, and the city and parks of Paris.  It’s a variety, just like most of us actually run.  I generally try and have 3+ GPS units on my person at once, though in some cases over the past two months I’ve only had two devices (a rarity).  In those scenarios I’ll note which one was correct for where I actually ran.  In most cases with GPS track analysis you’ll know where you actually ran for any large variances.

We’ll get right into it.  I use the same platform for both GPS and optical HR testing, so you can click on any of the links to take a deeper dive yourself.  Let’s start with yesterday’s run, which was mostly along the river.  The tree/building coverage is mixed there, due to being set along a gigantic wall.  So it’s not prime GPS conditions, but it’s not horrible either.  Any GPS unit worth its salt should pass this.


As you can see at a high level, everyone looks pretty good here.  That section with all the density of lines is where I did 12x repeats back and forth over the same few hundred meter stretch.  No issues there though, things look clean on all units actually.


That said, just around the corner it struggled briefly for a few meters after going under a bridge (right in the middle of the below image).  We’re not talking major distances here, but more than the other units did:


However, that was really the only incident on this run.  The rest of the run along the wall and below other bridges went off just fine:


Next, let’s look at at that Bruges run.  This is partially around the outer running path of the city, so relatively easy, and then I head into the down on small streets and run with nearby buildings.  At a high level, things look pretty good – and the distances are within about a 140m spread on 10K (so a 1.3% max spread between units).



Inside the town on the smaller streets though, the units did have some variance, each struggling in slightly different spots and in different ways:


But those three corners were really the only parts where it fumbled in the town.  The rest of the corners (and even smaller roads), it actually did well.  All three did.


Next, how about a trail run?  This is through woods and fairly dense trees, while including a bit of climbing too.  You can see the whole plot below.


But I want to zoom in on the densest trees, which are located here:


What’s interesting is that all three units are within perhaps 5-8 meters of each other, yet, they’re all slightly offset equally like railroad tracks.  The M600 seems to be the most offset incorrectly, specifically across some of those small clearings, though not really enough that I’d fret about it.  Again, we’re only talking a few meters offset to one side, but I figured I’d point it out.

Lastly, to quickly look at a ride from a GPS standpoint.  Here’s the three units:


Overall, this ride looks beautiful from a GPS standpoint.  I can’t really find anything in this of worry.  It nails it.


So – what’s my summary for GPS?

Overall, it’s pretty decent.  Not as good as some top-end units, but overall I’m not really seeing anything of significant concern.  Like most consumer GPS units, it’ll have its various ‘oops’ moments, but those seem rather few and far between.  On any of these activities I can point to another unit that screwed up something else an equal number of times.

You can download and analyze all of my multi-device data sets below from the table.  Note that I’ve only included data where I had two or more devices, and only on production firmware.  So I’ve left off my August activities since that was beta, also, anything where I just wore the M600 by itself.

Polar M600 Data Sets

DateWorkout TypeData TypeComparison Link

You can download the original files on any given activity towards the bottom of that page, allowing you to do your own comparisons.


Comparison Table:

Sometimes watches are easy to compare against other market contenders.  But other times, it’s a bit trickier, with this being one of those trickier times.  The reason is that once you add in features like music storage, you tend to increase price above what are usually watches in a different category.  So you start with a mid-range gym/running/lifestyle watch, but once you add in music you tend to get a higher-end price point.

So for below, I’ve added in the TomTom Spark3/Runner 3, and then the M600.  Because both play music.  I’ll add in the Apple Watch Series 2 shortly.

But fear not! You can make your own comparison table here against any devices I’ve tested or reviewed!  Easy as pie!

Function/FeaturePolar M600TomTom Spark 3/Runner 3
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated October 19th, 2016 @ 12:14 pmNew Window Expand table for more results
Price$329$149-$299 (Features Vary)
Product Announcement DateAug 3rd, 2016Sept 1st, 2016
Actual Availability/Shipping DateSept 2016Sept 8th, 2016
Data TransferUSB/Bluetooth Smart/WiFiUSB/Bluetooth Smart
WaterproofingIPX8 (good for swimming)50m
Battery Life (GPS)10 hoursUp to 11 hours (varies)
Recording Interval1-second1s
Satellite Pre-Loading via ComputerYes3 days
Quick Satellite ReceptionGreatYes

Again, remember you can mix and match your own comparison tables here, using the product comparison tool.

Final Thoughts:


The M600 is probably one of the most unique products that Polar has made in a long time.  It’s also one that’s clearly pushed them outside of their comfort zone, and I say that in a good way.  They’ve put forward a watch that allows 3rd party apps to run on it, while also allowing you to play music wirelessly from it.  Both things Polar’s never done before.  And all in all, they’ve done a good job on it.

At the same time, I’d caveat that in opening up the platform they’ve had to make some concessions.  For example the entire situation on iOS is half-baked at best.  I simply wouldn’t recommend it for iOS users that want a smartwatch.  If you’re an iOS user that doesn’t much care about smartphone notifications but still really wants a music playing GPS running watch – then sure, no problems.  But if you really want the smartphone notification piece on iOS (or 3rd party apps), this watch isn’t for you.

On the flip-side, it is one of the better Android Wear watches out there, at least in terms of performance and functionality.  It’s got reasonably good (albeit not great) performance on HR accuracy, and mostly good performance on GPS accuracy.  Not to mention music storage and of course the baked in connectivity to Polar Flow.  And if you’re on Android, then the entire ecosystem generally works quite well.

Polar has noted that consumers shouldn’t expect to see all Polar watches become Android Wear, and they proved that themselves just a few weeks ago with the M200.  Similarly, they’ve been clear that you shouldn’t expect to see that in future versions of high-performance watches, like the V800.  They noted that the interfaces for Android Wear (as well as battery requirements) just don’t lend itself well to those scenarios today.  Perhaps down the road, but…not today or anytime near-term.

With that – thanks for reading!

Found this review useful? Or just wanna save 10%? Here’s how:

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 Polar M600 below. 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.

Polar M600 Android Wear GPS Watch (Black or White)

Additionally, you can also use Amazon to purchase the M600 or accessories (though, no discount). 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.

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.

My 2016 ANT+ Symposium Keynote and Session Videos https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/10/my-2016-ant-symposium-keynote-and-session-videos.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/10/my-2016-ant-symposium-keynote-and-session-videos.html#comments Tue, 18 Oct 2016 12:47:32 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=66265 Read More Here ]]> _L5A7459

For the last 6 years I’ve gone to the ANT+ Symposium held in the mountains outside of Calgary.  This annual event caps off the busy sports tech conference season (following Interbike & Eurobike).  Unlike those other two events though, this isn’t a trade show.  Rather, it’s a conference for companies that are largely in the sports technology realm to discuss products and standards.  And, it’s hardly limited to ANT+ these days.  Just as much conversation is focused on the end-state product as the protocols used.

While there are numerous technology and protocol sessions that happen, there are equally as many business/commercial focused sessions.  But more important than all of those is the discussions that happen outside the conference floor rooms.  They’re the discussions occurring on nearby trails running, riding, or hiking.  It’s these discussions that truly influence product direction, whether it be two companies discussing a partnership – or myself trying to convince a given company to implement your ideas.

In fact, that’s really the secret agenda of the ANT+ Symposium for me.  It’s effectively my hunting grounds to be able to convince companies to change products or platforms based on what I hear in thousands of comments each week from you.  I’m able to set that stage in a fairly public way through my annual keynote address.

This year that keynote session went back to being more of my standard ‘State of the Sports Tech World’ presentation, where I discuss different trends in the sports tech industry.  What was good, what was bad, what needs to happen next.  But since I’d been doing this 6 years, I thought it’d also be fun to go and review slides from 2010/2012/2014 and see what previously bad things have been corrected.

So if all that interests you (or, if you just have 53 minutes to burn) – go forth and enjoy!

Additionally, if you’d like to download this year’s keynote presentation (PDF), you can do so below (it’s sorta big).  Further, I’ve also linked to the 2010-2016 presentation files and to the 2011-2016 video clips.

DC Rainmaker 2016 ANT+ Symposium PDF (Watch here)
DC Rainmaker 2015 ANT+ Symposium PDF (Watch here)
DC Rainmaker 2014 ANT+ Symposium PDF (Watch here)
DC Rainmaker 2013 ANT+ Symposium PDF (Watch here)
DC Rainmaker 2012 ANT+ Symposium PDF (Watch here)
DC Rainmaker 2011 ANT+ Symposium PDF (Watch here)
DC Rainmaker 2010 ANT+ Symposium PDF


Understanding Social Media in Sports Tech:

I did a second shorter presentation on understanding social media in the sports tech landscape.  This is kinda a twist on last years presentation, but with more of a focus on how smaller companies can better navigate the sports tech social media and press landscape.

But like last year, I enjoy giving specific launch examples where companies have done things well (or poorly).  So it’s always a bit of inside baseball in this session:

You can download that session here (PDF).

Panel Discussion – IoT & Fragmentation:


Then finally we’ve got a panel discussion that I sat in on.  You know what I love about panel discussions?  I don’t have to prepare for panel discussions.  I just show up and chat about the topics thrown out.  Sorta like a podcast, but with video and a bunch of other people.

Those people being: Doug Barton (IBM), Doug Daniels (Google), Rick Gibbs (North Pole Engineering), and Me.  It’s moderated by David Oro (IoT Central).

Here’s that goodness:

Phew!  Okey doke – thanks for watching!

Note: You can go back and see all my past ANT+ Symposium posts from all the years, here with one handy link!  Yes, even including when I ran into a moose on a run.

5 Random Things From a Warm Fall Weekend https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/10/5-random-things-from-a-warm-fall-weekend.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/10/5-random-things-from-a-warm-fall-weekend.html#comments Mon, 17 Oct 2016 04:00:00 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=66144 Read More Here ]]> Finally, a complete weekend back home without having to arrive via airplane or other transport mechanism.  With the busy early-fall conference/convention season complete (Eurobike/Interbike/ANT+ Symposium), it’s back to a bit of normality in my life.  Or, at last as normal as said life is.

1) Picking some pumpkins!

With the weather looking great for the weekend, we decided to beat the crowds to the U-Pick farm for our pumpkin selecting.  So instead of going on Saturday, we went mid-day Friday…when it was totally desolate.  Perfect.

This is the same u-pick farm that we’ve been going to for years, you’ll remember our previous trips hereand hereand here.  All of which is actually just a repeat of the first date for The Girl and I many years ago, seen here (though, you didn’t know it at the time).  In any case, the farm is about a 30-45 minute drive, depending on traffic.

2016-10-14 14.22.09

There didn’t seem to be any place to actually pluck your own pumpkins from a field.  But rather, instead, from bins.  So…umm…we did that.

DSC_2669 DSC_3040

And then we took a wheelbarrow full of our pumpkins (we kinda got a lot of them), and headed out into the apple orchards to get some pics with the little one:


A few photos later (390 or so), we had a nice little first pumpkin excursion set!

DSC_3039 DSC_2812

Afterwards, we surveyed and picked up a few other random items from the farm.  Because who could resist these bins?


DSC_2672 DSC_3043

For those wondering, here’s the link to the farm. It’s basically right behind the Versailles grounds limits, though, you’ve gotta go a wonky away about it.


Lots of stuff still in season though, as seen by the picking boards at the top (their site is up to date too).

2) A Small Package of Stuff

Sometimes timing doesn’t quite work out with my US mail forwarding, where I need a specific item sitting there sooner than I can wait for other items to pile-up.  This was mostly that case where I had shipped a big pile of stuff during Interbike to my hotel in Las Vegas, and then had a few leftovers that were collecting dust there the last week or two.  So I sent over this small pile of things I ordered.  This included an extra GoPro Hero5 Black battery (no idea why I only ordered one extra, when I have two cams), a Quik adapter, and a Remo smart remote.  Plus, a small preview screen and cable to attach to my DSLR camera for when doing videos (so I can see what’s going on when on the lens side of the camera).


Of course, two of these purchases were flawed.  First, for some dumb reason I ordered the USB-C version of the Quik adapter, for which I have no USB-C phone. Durr….

Then, I thought I was really smart in ordering a small 6” HDMI to Mini-HDMI cable, so that I could easily connect the screen to my camera. I even had it be angled such that it didn’t put stress on the cable.  But…apparently my Nikon D500 DX has the angle going the other way, thus making it just a bit too short (it has to make it up to that ‘in’ spot).

2016-10-16 18.42.07

So…I’ve now ordered another stupid cable, and I can’t order the iOS variant of the Quik adapter, because GoPro.com has them out of stock.

(Side note: Why on earth does GoPro.com not do/allow pre-orders/backorders?  Even the investor community has harped on the stupidity of this, specifically with respect to Karma drone, which you still can’t order anywhere – meanwhile DJI has been taking boatloads of pre-orders for Mavic. GoPro will have gone 34 days since announcement until the first order is taken.  No wonder investors are upset.)

3) Enjoying the sun in the gardens


Saturday we spent a fair bit of time up at Jardin du Luxembourg, simply enjoying the beautiful weather.  This is likely our most favorite gardens in Paris, partially because it’s not too heavily touristic compared to other spots.  It tends to be more locals there.  It’s also just a bit more calm.

DSC_3063 DSC_3084

Albeit, this was probably the busiest day we’ve seen in a long time there – be it summer or winter.  I guess the nice weather does that!  Our favorite bit of the park though is the large pond/fountain where kids can rent small sailboats and chase them around with a long stick pushing them before the wind takes them across the pond.

DSC_3093 DSC_3071

Someday our little one will enjoy doing the same.  Though, I suppose she’s gotta get onto that whole walking thing first.  Of course, if sailboats aren’t your thing, then you can just bring your own remote controlled battleship.  Obviously.


Of course, if only drones were allowed in Paris, then you might see a remote controlled aircraft carrier complete with landing aircraft (seriously, that video is actually real).  Until then…sailboats.

4) A (Free) Paris Running Tour

There are a handful of companies that do Paris running tours, but all of them cost some amount of money.  Running tours in major cities have been getting more and more popular. While I’ve published my favorite running routes on my Paris Running/Cycling resources page, that doesn’t exactly tell you the history of what you’re running by.  Hence the appeal of running tours.

One of the guys from RunParis.fr reached out and asked if I’d like to join them on their next run, so I took them up on it.  After all, it’s not only free to me…but free to everyone and anyone that wants to join!


The route started at the tip of one of the two major islands in the river Seine, and then meandered past Notre Dame and up to Jardin du Luxembourg, before working its way back along the river over to the cobbles of the Champs-Élysées.


Eventually we’d end up through the Tuileries and into the Louvre:


After which we crossed the once-popular lock bridge (Pont des Arts) and wrapped things back up again at the starting point.


The entire loop was about 10K, and Luke (the guide) had plenty of cool historical things I wasn’t aware of.  I have lots of interesting tidbits in my head that are more modern day history, but not a ton of deep historical information.  So it was actually pretty interesting hearing some of that about the places I run past every day.

I’d definitely recommend the run to anybody, not just because it’s free, but because it’s legit quite good and informative.  Thanks for the run Luke!

5) A Sunday Afternoon Eating Walkabout

After getting back from the run, The Girl and I (and the baby) headed out for a wander around Paris.  Our initial destination was brunch at town hall, as we had seen bus-stop advertisements about this event for a week or two.


Unfortunately, we didn’t read the fine print on the ad (since it was usually from afar), but apparently you had to register prior to arrival (and prior to collecting your free brunch).  Plenty of other of people (locals) at the entrance gates seemed confused about this as well, so I didn’t feel so bad.  Instead, we just kept on wandering working our away through the Marais.


We stopped by this little butcher/sandwich shop that we visited last fall (and loved), but it was close to closing time and they were all sold out.

2016-10-16 14.38.35-1

But one block away is a great food market of sorts where there are tons of mini-restaurants (as well as take-away options).  So we grabbed a bite there:


After that it was over to the park for a while to enjoy the afternoon sun.  It was about 70°F/21°C, so a beautiful fall day out.


We’d eventually work our way back across town towards Bastille to our favorite Nutella-banana crepe spot.  While there’s always a short line, they’ve got four different crepe makers running at once.  Awesome.

2016-10-16 17.42.34-1 DCIM\100GOPRO\GOPR0628.JPG


And with that – my weekend is complete. No better way to end it than a nutella-banana crepe!

Have a good week ahead folks!

Week in Review–October 16th, 2016 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/10/week-in-reviewoctober-16th-2016.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/10/week-in-reviewoctober-16th-2016.html#comments Sun, 16 Oct 2016 17:57:15 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=66081 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: Garmin Connect IQ Announces New Features and Apps/Devices
Wednesday: COROS Linx Smart Helmet In-Depth Review
Friday: Annual Winter 2016-2017 Bike Trainer Recommendations

DCR Podcast!

Here’s a handful of the topics discussed in this past week’s podcast:

– All Canadian Caller Edition!
– Discussion on GoPro Karma vs DJI Mavic drones
– Chatting about Kona and Quarq’s Qollector
– Communications in real-time during races, is that the future of Ironman?
– Ben goes to Kona
– Bike GPS’s with routable maps, what besides Garmin?
– Why semi-frequent software updates matter for hardware companies
– Which units support Bluetooth Smart power meters?
– And what happened to Look’s ANT+ upgrade option for Polar pedals?

(Side note: Sorry the audio was less than optimal these past two episodes…should be good for the next one!)

Listen to the full podcast here on the Podcast player, or just download the audio file from the same spot.

YouTube videos of note:

The YouTube’s be a flowin’! Here’s what I published this week that you may have missed:

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) Red Bull Rampage Winning Run: As always, just sit back and enjoy.  GoPro also posted a helmet cam point of view (from a different rider) to Twitter, but I haven’t seen a higher resolution version unfortunately.  Crazy though.

2) Google explains optical vs electronic image stabilization: Ignoring the cell phone, this is a good primer for understanding these two terms – which will soon be rather common terms over the next few years as these methods become baseline on not just action cams but phones.

3) Dr. Oz Wants to sell you a heart rate monitoring watch: Just don’t. Don’t. Please don’t.

4) Got a Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 and need a gimbal adapter?  No problem, one DCR reader created one for the popular Feiyu Tech G4 gimbal, and put it up on one of the popular 3D printing sites for download and/or printing services.

5) One of these days I’ll write a (another) post about poorly done studies: This may be one of them.  While it had the potential to be good, their structure is simply far too short to be meaningful (they only reached running speed for 90 seconds), and the number of data points captured is equally too small.  Then sometimes you get studies that might have been interesting, but are no longer relevant to today’s technologies when you use devices from 5 years ago that aren’t anything like today’s devices.  And then media easily gets lost.  As usual.

6) Throw your GoPro for a unique angle: In a moment of Kickstarter weakness I backed this.  It looks kinda cool, and I could probably use it occasionally (while skiing actually) to get some interesting shots.

7) Chamonix bans wing suits: Given the horrible summer, this doesn’t surprise me. The challenge here is that it wasn’t just newbies crashing, but some very senior members of the community.  When I was there this past August an individual crashed a few days earlier.  My paragliding instructor selected to tell me about this death and two others that had occurred that week…while we were thousands of feet above the ground.

8) Brim Brothers delays again: Not sure what more to say here that I haven’t said before.  I was concerned back this spring with them going forward on Kickstarter until they had 100% nailed prototypes.

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 are 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?  Oh – and if you want to get a head start on things, this page is a great resource for watching Garmin firmware updates.

Garmin VIRB Edit (Desktop): Minor update this week, though late last week had more feature updates.

Garmin Edge 820 Firmware Update: Added touch sensitivity setting, other fixes.

Garmin Edge 1000 Firmware Update: Added Group Track option, also additional Di2 features and other tweaks.

Garmin FR735XT Firmware Update: Minor fixes.

Garmin Vivofit 2 Firmware Update: Fix related to Daylight Savings Time.

Thanks for reading all!

Annual Winter 2016-2017 Bike Trainer Recommendations https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/10/annual-winter-2016-2017-bike-smart-trainer-recommendations.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/10/annual-winter-2016-2017-bike-smart-trainer-recommendations.html#comments Fri, 14 Oct 2016 04:00:00 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=66061 Read More Here ]]> DSC_2588

How the heck is it fall already? Seriously.  It felt like just yesterday I was enjoying warm summer days, yet now I’m sitting here looking out the window onto a rainy, cold, windy, and generally miserable day.  I saw snow last week during my travels. Yuck.

In any case, it means it’s time for the Annual Trainer Recommendations post!  I started this four years ago, and know many of you are looking for an updated version for this season.  This year saw a continued shift of announcements earlier into the season (late spring in fact), versus having all announcements between Eurobike and Interbike.  The theory behind this was that we’d see more trainers arriving on store shelves in the September timeframe, rather than being delayed closer to Christmas.

That’s because generally speaking bike trainer companies release new trainers at those two major trade shows in August (Eurobike) and September (Interbike).  It can however sometimes take a few months for those new trainers to make it to market.  I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to try all of them for some snippets of time since their announcements, however, some of them won’t be available for another month or two.  But more on that later.

Further, this post will NOT cover trainer apps, rather, I have a dedicated post for that coming up later this month.  Else, you can look at the last time I did that here.  It’ll be a beast of a post.

Finally, for those looking for general sports technology recommendations (watches/action cams/activity trackers/scales/etc.…), I tend to publish those in early-mid November, just before the holidays (but after any lingering products have been announced reviewed).  My goal being to wrap up all the new wearable reviews by that timeframe.  Trainer reviews will happen as final versions of trainers come in.  I’ve already posted a few this fall.

How I make trainer recommendations:


First and foremost, I only recommend trainers I’ve actually used.  In fact, that’s why this post is coming out this week and not last week, two more trainers came in over the last week that I wanted to consider.  More are also on the way.

That said, there are undoubtedly many other good trainers, great trainers even – especially in the sub-$300 range out there that don’t have electronics in them. But, even with some 15-20+ trainers currently in my possession, I simply can’t try out every one on the market today with any reasonable level of detail or authority.  There are some trainers that I’ve used hundreds of times, and others just once or twice.  My minimum bar for inclusion in this post is having ridden on it at least once.  I’ve caveated some trainers this year specifically where I’m deferring a recommendation until a final unit arrives.

When I look at recommendations across all products I make, I try and recommend products to you in the same way that I’d do to friends and family.  I keep it simple and explain exactly why I feel a given way.  My goal is NOT to make a roundup of every trainer on the market, though I will briefly discuss why I didn’t include some trainers in this piece at the end.  This is, again, my *recommendations*, not the holy grail of everything ever made by everyone.  Still, I’m lucky enough to have been able to try almost everything made by all the major trainer companies this year, at least at the mid to upper end (I don’t tend to review the 93 different models of trainers from $75 to $200).

Price Ranges & Currencies:

Last year we saw prices drop significantly for low-end trainers, but this year we saw the mid-range trainers really increase in terms of market options.  And as such, we saw a slight bump in specs at the mid-range.  I had to change my price bucketing last year, and I’m slightly doing the same thing this year.  My purpose isn’t so much moving the goalposts, as it is making the field more logical.  Meaning, someone looking to spend $599 is probably OK spending $699, and someone teetering at $499 might be OK spending that $699 too if the benefits pay out.

Meanwhile, someone looking for a $399 trainer isn’t likely the same person as one looking at a $699 trainer.  So, here’s the 2016 buckets, aligned to the trends of trainer pricing in 2016:

Budget – Sub-$400: These tend to be basic in functions, and lack automated controls, but some do still have some electronics.  Most apps support these in a basic manner.

Mid-Range $400-$1,000: These are where we see electronic resistance control, as well as the majority of features and full app integration.

High-End $1,000+: These are the high-end trainers, and primarily distinguish themselves from the mid-range by increasing durability, reducing noise, or just being expensive for the heck of it (i.e. legacy branding/marketing).

Now – you’ll notice the dollar signs, which in this case is implying US pricing.  I call this out specifically this year, because the whole pricing business has gotten kinda wonky, especially in the differences between US and European markets.  There are specific cases where something may have a vast price gap in one market (i.e. KICKR vs. NEO in the US), yet be nearly identical in other markets (some European countries).  Similarly, the European markets generally get a better deal on European-made products (Tacx/Elite), while US consumers tend to get better pricing on US made products (Wahoo).  All of which ignores the reality of MAP (Minimum Advertising Pricing), which exists in the US and doesn’t exist in Europe.

Next, be wary of purchasing trainers outside your home country (meaning, if in the US, buying from a retailer in Europe).  This is because if you have a problem, you’ll be on the hook to pay for shipping of the trainer back across the pond for service.  As one who does that regularly, it’s @#$#@ expensive. If you don’t believe me, go and look at last year’s trainer recommendation post, and see the river of tears for folks who have had to deal with cross-Atlantic shipping of cheap trainers they bought when things went wrong.  By all means, if you understand the risk – buy where it makes sense.  But do understand it’s a very real risk

And finally, note that I tend to focus on trainers that have some element of technology in them.  It’s not that I think that all non-technology trainers are the same (cause they aren’t…well…except that most are), but it’s because that’s just what I happen to review the most here.

Things to Consider:

There’s a lot of things to look for in a trainer – but some are applicable across the board from a sub-$100 unit to a $1,500 unit.

First and foremost, it needs to be sturdy.  The more plastic involved, the less likely it’s going to last over time.  Take for example, the CompuTrainer, otherwise known as the rock.  A tank really.  I’m certain I could throw that in front of a semi-truck, and it’d probably be fine.  As such, those units last 10-15 years (or more).  In fact, I don’t know anyone who’s ever broken a CompuTrainer frame (ok, ignore the flywheel).  Some electrical components eventually wear out, but the frame is astoundingly sturdy.  I find the KICKR family in that same camp.  It’s a beast component-wise.

Second, look at the attach point to your bike.  I’ll start with the ones that leverage a skewer of some sort and don’t require removal of the wheel.  In these cases, try to find one that has a ‘quick-release’ mechanism for quickly locking the trainer into place.  One that doesn’t require you to endlessly spin the tightening lever and try to find an exact spot each time.  See below for an example of a quick-release lever:


In the case of trainers that you attach your bike directly into a cassette mounted on the trainer  – called ‘Direct Drive trainers’ (KICKR/NEO/HAMMER/DRIVO/LeMond/etc…), be sure that it’ll be compatible with your bike frame.  There are only a few edge cases where this occurs (primarily higher end), but just be aware of them.

Third, look at how stable the platform is.  The smaller the base of the trainer, the more likely it is to tip over (and you along with it).  And while tip-overs are extremely rare – they are a problem on lower end trainers ($50-$150) where the base is really small.  This can be further compounded when the trainer mounts the wheel higher up – meaning a higher center of gravity.  It’s not hard to get a situation where you try and reach for a TV remote control or something off to the side and fall over.  None of the trainers I’m recommending have this issue, but in general, keep it in mind.

Technical Considerations:


Ok, we’re almost to the recommendations.  But we need to all be on the same table when it comes to some of the technical terms that we’re going to talk about.  Notably, the protocols and communications side of how trainers talk to apps.

In the sports world there are essentially two camps: ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart.  Virtually all devices use one or both of these low-power technologies to transmit and capture information such as heart rate, power, speed, cadence, and more.

In the trainer realm, that means trainers tend to support two types of things over these protocols.  The first is simple broadcasting (one-way) from the trainer to the app/device that you’re using.  This is done for the following on trainers:

ANT+ Broadcast: Power, Speed, Cadence
Bluetooth Smart Broadcast: Power, Speed, Cadence

Compatible devices, such as a Garmin Edge unit or a Polar V800 can pickup these signals and record them.  Almost all trainer companies now broadcast dual on both protocols, though there are some exceptions – such as the CompuTrainer or Kurt Kinetic Smart Control trainers, which broadcast on neither.

Next, for control there are basically two semi-standards that allow trainers to be controlled via apps:

Private communication channel: Over private-ANT or private Bluetooth Smart, or heck, even wired as in the case of the CompuTrainer.  There is no standard for controlling a trainer for Bluetooth Smart yet, so pretty much every company does their own dance.  That’s fine, but just make sure whichever app you plan to use does the same dance as your trainer company.
Open/Standard Communication Channel: Via ANT+ FE-C (virtually all trainers use this)

For ANT+ FE-C, devices such as the Garmin Edge 520/820/1000 support controlling the trainer straight from your Edge.  This also means you can re-ride your outside rides (elevation changes and all) without any other software.  Wahoo with their ELEMNT is set to allow the same as well (FE-C control), but even today they support controlling their own Wahoo trainers.


So what about Bluetooth Smart control? Well today there actually isn’t a standard trainer control over Bluetooth Smart.  Rather, each company does their own thing and shares it with developers.  So, Wahoo has their variant of a BT Smart control implementation (that everyone supports), CycleOps has theirs, and Elite has theirs, and so on.  Tacx took an interesting spin and simply wrapped the ANT+ FE-C standard inside a Bluetooth Smart wrapper and called it done (making it easy for app developers).   Either way, things are a bit messy here.  Here’s what each major manufacturer does there:

Wahoo: ANT+ FE-C on KICKR SNAP/KICKR1/KICKR2.  Gives developers access to Bluetooth Smart control.
Tacx: ANT+ FE-C on all ‘Smart’ branded trainers (except Satori). Gives developers access to Bluetooth Smart control.
Elite: ANT+ FE-C on Drivo/Rampa, plus various other older units. Gives developers access to Bluetooth Smart control.
CycleOps: ANT+ FE-C on Hammer/Magnus, older trainers have developers get access to private-ANT control, and Bluetooth Smart control methods.
BKOOL: ANT+ FE-C on all electronic trainers.  Gives developers access to Bluetooth Smart control.
Kurt Kinetic: Does not support any standards on Smart Control trainers, but has offered developer access for Bluetooth Smart control.
CompuTrainer: Gives some developers access to WiFi and wired control.  Most other developers just ‘make it work’ via wired.

This all matters when it comes to apps – but the thing you need to know is that you want your trainer to be dual capable, and should ideally support if you want resistance control across a broad number of apps.  At this stage (at a super high level), every single app supports ANT+ FE-C (on desktop), and virtually every app on mobile supports Wahoo on Bluetooth Smart.  The vast majority also support Elite, CycleOps, and Tacx on Bluetooth Smart for mobile.  Most desktop apps support the CompuTrainer (wired).

Budget Trainers (sub-$400):

This is a tricky category, and one in which I’m really going to focus on options that have electronics in them.  But let me be clear – there are TONS of trainers out there for less than $400 that don’t have any smart electronic gadgets in them and work just great.

But there’s only one unit in this price range (again, looking at USD MSRP) that has ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart broadcasting of speed, power, and cadence.  So for this reason, I’m mentioning that one.  Note that it may be worthwhile looking at the older Elite Qubo Digital Smart B+ (which I recommended last year at $450), as well as the BKOOL Smart Go offerings, which sit just a bit above this at $479USD.  But alas, you eventually have to draw a line somewhere in the sand on a price breakpoint.

Tacx Satori Smart


This is the least expensive ‘Smart’ branded trainer from Tacx, at $399US, but significantly cheaper in Europe at about 225EUR.  Their ‘Smart’ trainer lineup broadcasts your power/speed/cadence over ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart.  It does NOT have ANT+ FE-C control though because it doesn’t have automated control. Instead, you have a little lever connected via cable.  But otherwise it’ll give you your power and other metrics and let you connect your Garmin, Polar, or other App to read it.  Accuracy-wise it’s fairly good once you’ve done calibration on it using the procedure in the app.

Now, you’ll notice the caveat about being Euro pricing focused.  That’s because this is an example where the US pricing is way more expensive than the European pricing.  So you may want to figure out what’s most important to you (control or broadcasting power).  The Satori doesn’t allow automated control, but does open-broadcast ANT+/BLE Speed/Power/Cadence.  Meanwhile, trainers starting at $500 allow automated control.

Finally, this is the only trainer I’d feel comfortable ordering from Euro web shops on the cheap and shipping to the US.  That’s because there is no resistance control unit (which is where things usually break).  Thus, the likelihood of this trainer having issues is far less than the ones in the $500+ category.

Stac Zero:

DSC_3309_thumb (1)

You’ll remember this Kickstarter project from this summer, which offers what is truly a silent trainer.  I even tested it and all that jazz.  I caught up with them again at Interbike a few weeks back, and they should be shipping any day now (if the first units haven’t gone out already).

The unit works by using magnets to create an eddy-current that gives resistance.  It means that from a resistance standpoint, no portion of it touches your bike.  Thus the entire thing is totally silent (save your drive train).  It’s really impressive.  They have two versions.  The first is a trainer without resistance control or broadcasting of your power.  While the second is a power meter version that does broadcast your power (but still no resistance control this year).  The first version costs $302USD, while the second version costs $378USD.  Those prices are converted from Canadian Dollar prices, as that’s the selling currency.

I’d have zero issues recommending this trainer at this point, super cool stuff.  And I’m even more interested in seeing how it shakes up next year when they introduce a resistance control version.  I suspect if they can pull that off, it’ll be a huge disrupter in the mid-range trainer market.

$100-$200 Trainers:

This is a tough category, because there are so many entrants here and I’ve only used a few.  And quite frankly, they’re all pretty similar.

My general recommendation is to check out the Travel Trac Magnetic Trainers that Performance Bike offers (these are also branded under various other names worldwide – usually about $100-$120).  The key thing is that you want to ensure it can handle an appropriate amount of watts.  For that I’d swag 300w for those just getting into the sport, but probably more like 400-500w if you’ve got a bit more strength.  If you’re on the pointy end already, then you’ll already know your max wattage and already know you probably need more.

The most important thing is ensuring that it meets some of the characteristics that I talked about earlier in the post on things to look at (materials, build, stability, lever for control, etc…).

Finally, if you’re spending more than $200 in this category, you should really be looking at other automated resistance options.  About the only reason to spend more and get less is if you’re trying to get a trainer that supports a very high level of resistance (i.e. 1,000w), which some of the lower end trainers will fail at providing.

Mid-Range Trainers ($400-$1,000):

tacxvortex eliterampa wahookickrsnap magnuscycleops

While this is a vast price range, the best options (save one) are all clustered between $500 and $700.  And to be perfectly clear: They’re all about the same.  There are minor nuances between these trainers, for which you’ll want to look at closely depending on your needs.  Specifically, look carefully at these four areas:

A) Maximum incline
B) Maximum wattage
C) Which protocols/standards/types they transmit on (i.e. power, but not cadence, etc…)
D) Flywheel weight

That’s about the only real tangible differences between them.  They all have about the same road feel (and each company will tell you their road feel is better). They all have ANT+ FE-C, and they all work with Zwift and TrainerRoad.  Seriously, it’s mostly a wash.

The flywheel weight in theory gives a more road-like feel, but the thing is, at these weights, it’s all kinda wimpy to begin with.  I know a lot of folks want the most road-like feel, but my brain can’t really separate out the fact that I’m still inside looking at a wall going nowhere.  I’d rather have greater accuracy and more app support than the mythical road-like feel.

There are also very minor differences in how you mount your bike to each one in terms of the clasp/lever, but that’s too a wash.  About the only notable difference here is that the CycleOps Magnus has a nifty resistance knob that makes it easy to ensure your bike is at the same resistance setting each time.  It’s actually kinda brilliant.  But no matter, all of these will require calibration about 10-15 minutes into a ride to ensure accurate numbers.

With that in mind, here are your four options:

Wahoo KICKR SNAP – $599 (new price as of Oct 17th, 2016)
CycleOps Magnus – $599
Elite Rampa – $549
Tacx Vortex Smart – $529

As you can see, there’s a slight price bump (not anymore) up to the Wahoo KICKR SNAP.  I’m not sure it’s worth that over the CycleOps Magnus, though, it is available today unlike the Magnus.  On the flip-side, so is the Rampa and Vortex Smart.  Oh, and yes, there is the Tacx Bushido Smart at $799, which is nice in that you don’t need a power supply for it.  But honestly, I just can’t justify spending that much more compared to the pile of units noted above.

I know a lot of folks will want some sort of concrete answer on which of the four aforementioned trainers to pick, but the reality is that they are just so darn similar.  That’s obviously on purpose, the companies have largely modeled it after each other, and thus the end-state is basically the same.  I’d be happy with any of these four trainers.  I think the KICKR SNAP is probably the most robustly built of the bunch, whereas I think the Magnus is the most accurate of the bunch (plus it has up to 15% incline resistance, the most of the bunch).  The Vortex and Rampa are both the lightest of the bunch, thus the easiest to move around.  I’d say the Vortex is the weakest in terms of specs/resistance (especially depending on your weight), but it’s also the cheapest (even more so in Europe).

Here’s some nifty tables that might help narrow it down.  Remember, you can make your own comparison tables here.

Function/FeatureElite RampaCycleOps MagnusTacx Vortex SmartWahoo Fitness KICKR SNAP
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated October 17th, 2016 @ 7:13 amNew Window Expand table for more results
Price for trainer$549/€550/£449$599$529$599
Attachment TypeWheel-onWheel-OnWheel-onWheel-on
Available today (for sale)YesShipping Oct-Nov 2016YesYes
Uses mouse/keyboard as control unitYes (with apps)YES (WITH APPS)YES (WITH APPS)YES (WITH APPS)
Uses phone/tablet as control unit (handlebar)Yes (with apps)YES (WITH APPS)YES (WITH APPS)YES (WITH APPS)
Flywheel weight2.3KG2.6lbs/1.2kg4.4lbs/2.0kg10.5lbs/4.8KG
Maximum wattage capability1250w @ 25MPH1,500w @ 20MPH950w @ 20MPH2200W @ 30mph
Maximum simulated hill incline10%15%7%10%
Includes temperature compensationNoNoNoYes
Supported accuracy level+/- 5%Est +/-5%+/- 5%+/- 5%

Again, these are really very similar trainers.  You won’t go wrong with any of these.  Note that the CycleOps Magnus should start shipping in the next week or two, whereas the others are already out and about.  I have used a prototype Magnus a bunch this summer (as seen here), which did well.  Of course, it’s possible it went from good to bad between then and now.  But hopefully that’s not the case.

The Mid-High Wild-Card:


Now before we move onto high-end trainers, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the Tacx Flux.  For the singular reason that it has the potential to demolish both the high-end bucket as well as the upper portion of the mid-range bucket.  This trainer sits at $899USD, but is direct drive with ANT+ FE-C built into it (and Bluetooth Smart and all that jazz), not to mention being pretty darn quiet.  It’s essentially a cheaper KICKR.  The only downside is that it has a lower accuracy rate.  It’ll likely have official specs in the +/-5% range, but it sounds like that once it’s warmed-up (10-15 mins), then they’re hoping more in the 2-3% range.  As a reminder: That’s exactly how the long-fabled CompuTrainer works when it comes to accuracy and specs.  Warm-up is variable, but then it stabilizes.

So why not recommend it yet?

Well, it’s not out yet.

Simply put Tacx hasn’t started shipping the units, and as of last week had again pushed delivery dates further into the fall.  I’ve tried it a bunch of times now over the last 4 months, but all of them have been pre-production units.  The first production units might not be available in Europe until early November, with them not hitting the states until early December.  And that’s assuming nothing else goes wrong with production.

So my advice is this: If you can wait until early November, and if you’re looking at dropping more than $800 for a trainer, then I’d strongly recommend waiting.  At least if you want to save $300 (the difference between $1,199 for the KICKR and $899 for the Flux).  There’s *nothing* wrong with the KICKR at $1,199, or the Elite Drivo at $1,299.  This is simply a case of saving you money.  As soon as a production unit rolls out the factory, I’ll likely have my hands on it.  Until then, there’s really nothing more than can be said on whether it’s as accurate and quiet as Tacx (and others) hope.

High-End Trainers:


This season we saw a couple a number of new players in the higher end trainer space.  These are essentially trainers that cost more than $1,000USD, but also usually have a much higher accuracy range +/- 2%.  This year we saw a new Wahoo KICKR, a new Elite trainer (Drivo), a new CycleOps trainer (The Hammer), and of course, we saw the Tacx NEO from last year receive a very minor external case tweak to increase bike frame compatibility.

This category has seen tremendous competition and innovation this year, and I suspect it’ll be cheaper for the 2017-2018 trainer season (next year).  But for this season, you’ll have to spend at least $1,100 if you want to join this club.  The good news is the club is very solid.  The bad news is that one player (CycleOps Hammer) missed the boat (literally), and thus won’t be included at this time in the rankings.  See the ‘Why I didn’t include it’ section below for more there.

Like the previous category, all three of the remaining contenders are fantastic offerings.  Seriously, you won’t go wrong with any of them. Period.  That said, I’ll go ahead and give my top recommendation, and then my thoughts on the remaining.

Top Pick: Tacx NEO


First off, let me start by pointing out the obvious: This baby’s expensive.  It sits at $1,600USD.  But it’s the best trainer of those I’ve reviewed.  Is it worth $400 more than the KICKR or Drivo?  Probably not.  But, if money is no object – then this is it.

Historically the NEO’s claim to fame is its noise properties.  Or rather, lack thereof.  It aims to be the quietest trainer on the market.  And I’d agree – I don’t know of anything that’s more silent than this.  That’s all while having ANT+ FE-C compatibility, as well as ANT+ transmission of power/speed/cadence to any capable device.  And finally, Bluetooth Smart control as well.   Plus, this past summer they added that nifty ability to simulate road patterns, so it actually feels like you’re riding on cobblestones in Zwift.  It’s crazy cool.

The NEO is more expensive than the KICKR, at $1,699US. For Europeans, this NEO is much closer in price to the KICKR, only 100EUR difference at 1,299EUR + the cost of a cassette (about 50-100EUR).  So that’s something to heavily consider.

In my opinion, the primary reason you’d get the NEO over the KICKR is that you want near-silence.  And in my experience – it does deliver on that quite well.  There’s also a slight gap right now on the Bluetooth Smart control side for 3rd party apps (notable for iPhones/iPads that can’t do ANT+).  Tacx released access for developers to control all Tacx Smart trainers via Bluetooth Smart the last week of September, so we’re still seeing some apps get that all baked in.  I expect that to settle out by December though – thus putting them on the virtually same app playing field as Wahoo.

Now, there is one downside here: Tacx quality control on the NEO production line seems to be variable.  Last year started off with some folks having various noises coming from their units.  These had different sources, and Tacx found an issue in assembly that caused metal bits to end up in the unit.  That was supposed to solve that.  But the reality is it hasn’t.  There are still people – including even myself – who have managed to get bum units straight off the assembly line, even as recently as this past week (via retailers).  It’s a problem.  So, I’ve got no issues recommending the NEO as long as you can return it easily and quickly for a new one (within your country).  You’ll generally know within the first ride or few if something is amiss.

(Side note: For no particular reason, I don’t have an in-depth review of this unit published, despite using it all last winter.  I’ve seen zero issues with power accuracy, and you can often see those charts in various in-depth power meter reviews.  Aside from the quality control issues, I’m pretty happy with it.)

Wahoo KICKR & Elite Drivo:


Both of these trainers are new this year.  Or, at least refreshed.  Wahoo started shipping  their ‘new KICKR’ in August (aka KICKR2), which I’ve released an in-depth review on.  And Elite pushed out a totally new trainer, the Drivo, this past summer as well.  My review is also here too!

The new KICKR got far quieter, and addressed some outstanding accuracy quirks that some people had, while the Drivo upped the accuracy game by stating a +/-1% accuracy claim (and then backing it up by 3rd party labs).  I found both very accurate in testing, without question, solid.

The KICKR is priced $100 cheaper than the Drivo ($1,199 vs $1,299), and the Drivo will require you to purchase a cassette ($50-$100), so that is a downside.  On the flipside, it can claim a slightly higher accuracy rating than the KICKR.  Whether or not that additional 1% increase matters…I don’t know.

Both trainers have ANT+ FE-C control, so they’ll work with all desktop apps.  The KICKR will broadcast power and speed, while the Drivo will broadcast power, speed, and cadence.  Further, as they showed at Interbike, they’re also doing cool pedaling metrics too, which the KICKR lacks.  On the flipside, the KICKR is going to enjoy slightly more 3rd party app compatibility on mobile devices, simply because Wahoo’s been in the game longer there and more mobile/tablet apps have the Wahoo API than Elite.

Here’s a look at all three trainers, side by side in a shoot out!

Function/FeatureWahoo Fitness KICKR2 (2016)Elite DrivoTacx NEO Smart
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated October 13th, 2016 @ 6:51 pmNew Window Expand table for more results
Price for trainer$1,199$1,299/€1,390/£1,099$1,599USD/1,399EUR
Uses mouse/keyboard as control unitYEs (with apps)Yes (with apps)Yes (with apps)
Uses phone/tablet as control unit (handlebar)YEs (with apps)Yes (with apps)Yes (with apps)
Power cord requiredYesYesNo
Flywheel weight12.5lbs/5.7kgs13.2lbs/6kgSimulated/Virtual
Includes motor to drive speed (simulate downhill)NoNoYes
Maximum wattage capability2500w @ 30MPH2,000w+2,200w
Maximum simulated hill incline20%24%25%
Can simulate road patterns/shaking (i.e. cobblestones)NoNoYes
Includes temperature compensationYesN/AN/A

Again, all three are very solid, and I’d have no problems recommending any of them as a high end trainer.  I will also use all three of them semi-randomly throughout the winter.  Though…a small part of me really does enjoy the feeling of the road on Zwift with the Tacx NEO.

The Outsiders:


Now, every year there are a few trainers that don’t really fit into the norms, but somehow they end up in my bucket and I figure I’ll briefly discuss them.  These are different from the ‘Why I Didn’t Include It List’, which is next.  Think of this as sort of a curiosity of sorts.  In years past it was the Inside Ride Rollers, plus a tiny little portable trainer from Sportscraft.  These aren’t so much direct recommendations as really just kinda interesting products that you might fit into the ‘Well that’s different!’ category.

This year, I’m tossing the Revbox in that pile.  I was going to put the Stac Zero trainer in this category, but I decided it should really be moved up into the sub-$400 category above.  I think it deserved that, after all, they did start shipping.


This is a $1,400 wind trainer that effectively forces you to keep constant pressure all the way around the crank/pedal rotation.  Failure to do so makes it immediately obvious where pedaling dead spots are and is kinda like stalling a manual transmission car.  More than that though, it has the unusual capability of allowing very high power resistance with a very low cadence.  They advertise being able to hold 500w at only 45RPM (many other trainers fail these types of tests).

Now, whether or not those features are truly useful is definitely debatable.  Since last year they added a power sensor, though it doesn’t transmit ANT+ to your head unit.  Instead, only to their app…which is a solid bummer.  Further, the trainer is anything but quiet.  It’s the loudest trainer I’ve tested by a long shot.  It’s basically a small jet engine in your living room.  On the bright side, that fan output does get funneled directly back to your back, cooling you.  So that’s kinda cool.

In any case, I’ll do a bit more on this sometime this fall, more out of curiosity than anything else.

Why I Didn’t Include It list:


First and foremast, this isn’t a list of bad trainers.  If you take that away from this paragraph, then you’re mistaken.  In fact, there are some awesome trainers in here.  Instead, this list is to save me time answering the same question 482 times below for each trainer as to why I didn’t include them.  I’m keeping these explanations short and sweet.  In many cases I’ve detailed out longer answers in posts related to those products.

CycleOps Hammer: Simply put – it’s not out yet.  While I did try it back in May, far too much has changed on the internals of the unit to know how it might shape up.  Not only that, it sounds like in a best case scenario it’ll start shipping in later November or December.  But then why write a whole section on the Tacx Flux when it’s not out yet either?  Because at that price point it has the potential to be a massive industry disrupter.  Whereas as the Hammer price-point, it’s just another KICKR by a different (albeit very reputable) name.

Elite Kura: There’s nothing technically wrong with this trainer. It shares the same power meter accuracy components as the higher end Drivo.  The challenge though is that unlike the Drivo, it doesn’t allow control of the trainer.  It’s kinda like the LeMond Revolution Pro below, in that there’s no resistance control.  If that’s your preference, and you want something that has good road feel and solid accuracy – this may be your deal.

Anything older Elite: Basically, if it hasn’t got one of the new names (Rampa, Kura, Drivo), I’d consider it older tech and simply would focus on the newer stuff.  Now you might find some older units out there for a steal, but validate that it has dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, as well as FE-C (if you’re looking for a controllable unit).

CompuTrainer: Solid physical product (build/accuracy), horrible software, overpriced compared to KICKR (or even NEO). Just outdated.  But, if you can get a used one on eBay for about $600, that’s a good deal and it works with many desktop (Mac/PC) apps these days. But I wouldn’t pay any more than $600 for the unit.

LeMond Revolution Pro: The company has folded and ceased operations too many times in such a short time. While it was a good (albeit crazy loud) product, from a consumer standpoint it just doesn’t make sense. Plus, technically speaking the Wattbox isn’t up to par with many other solutions on other trainers today.

CycleOps PowerBeam Pro & PowerSync: While technically a very capable trainer, it lacks the ability to do dual ANT+/BLE. For that singular reason, it doesn’t make the list. Otherwise, it probably would. In such a shifting landscape of apps, you don’t want to be locked in on one protocol or the other. I’m only recommending purchasing trainers that are dual-capable.  Plus, with the CycleOps Hammer and Magnus replacing these – I wouldn’t pick up the older single-protocol trainers for any more than about $400 (the current $499 sale is still a bit too high for me).

BKOOL Trainers: These are very capable, and their $479 price point is really solid for the Smart Go (and their Pro at $699 with a fairly solid 20% incline rating is *very* impressive).  But when I compare them to the other four brands at the same price point, the BKOOL Trainers are missing one specific thing: Power broadcasting using open ANT+/BLE.  They do however use ANT+ FE-C, which means you’ll get it easily using desktop apps.  But unless you have an Edge 520/820/1000, you won’t get it on your Garmin head unit.  And thus for that tiny reason, I have to separate it from the other four.  If they were to enable that, then I’d have no issues lumping it in with those other options.  Or if you don’t care about that and want inclines, then go forth!

Tacx Genius Smart: This trainer is different from the other Tacx units in that it can actually spin the wheel by itself, thus simulating downhill sections.  While fun for a ride or two, I don’t find it worth the extra money.  Like anything else, if you find it for what you consider a great deal, then sure there’s no harm in the extra capability…but for MSRP pricing, no thanks.

Tacx Bushido Smart: While it has more incline simulation capability (15% vs Vortex Smart at 7%), that really only impacts you if you’re doing hills above that. It’s about the slow speed, and not actually the total wattage output.  Further, if you’re really set on spending that money, then the KICKR SNAP is $699 currently.  But it gives you slightly better app compatibility and a much beefier frame. The SNAP also gets you up to 10.3% incline, so not as much as the Bushido, but covers it for most hills. There are other nuances, but that’s the gist of things.

Kurt Kinetic Smart Control Trainers: Really? I thought they had the right idea this year with offering the upgrade kits for *any* older trainers.  While the upgrade kits were a bit overpriced (by about $100-$150), the theory was sound.  Well, until we found out that it doesn’t follow any standard (ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart ones), and as of this writing is only compatible with a single 3rd party app, and only on the desktop version of that app.  If you want the longer story, read my post here and then read through the 200 or so comments.

Trainer FAQ:

Most of this is from years past, but I wanted to repeat it for this year.  I’ve tweaked things where appropriate and/or where they’ve changed.

What about trainer tires?

I commented on trainer tires a long while back in a Weekly Mailbag post, so here’s what I said then – which still applies today.

I train everyday on the stock wheels and tires that came with the bike.  Just normal tires and normal wheels.  In fact, I don’t even bother to swap out for a separate trainer tire.  Why?  Well, my thinking is that I spend 3+ days a week on a trainer, and the last thing I want to deal with is swapping tires or wheels every time I go inside to outside or the inverse (I’m kinda lazy that way).  Further, when you step back and look at the total cost of triathlon or cycling, and the total cost of simply getting a new tire each year due to wear – the new tire is pretty low (between $30-45).

Now, if you’re riding race wheels with expensive race tires – you’ll have to balance the much higher cost of most race tires.

Do trainer tires make it quieter?

Nope, actually, not at all.  And I proved this as part of my Tacx Genius review – some actually make it louder.  I’ve then further confirmed this with a few other tire companies as well.  Most of them kinda silently laugh at the fact that people actually buy expensive trainer tires.  Hint: Just use last season’s tire and toss it at the end of the winter.

Why didn’t you recommend XYZ trainer or software instead?  It’s waaaaay better!

As noted above, it’s likely because I haven’t used it.  I’m pretty strict in that I don’t recommend things I haven’t used or know a lot about.  I know magazines love to, but I don’t.  Sorry!

Any tips or suggestions on where to place remote controls/jelly beans/bike computers/etc. while on a trainer?

Yup, you’re in luck.  I’d recommend either a simple 4-cup OXO measuring cup (silly, I know, but clips onto almost all road bike bars and triathlon bike aerobars – awesome).  Or, you can build your own like I did here in this post.

What about that desk you use on the trainer?

Ahh yes, that desk is awesome.  More on that here in my in-depth review.

Do you use a trainer pad/mat (floor protector)?

Sometimes.  You can find endless numbers of them online or at your local bike shop – usually around $30.  You can also just use a towel, just be sure that if you’re on carpet that you change the towel regularly, otherwise it’ll eventually stain the carpet below (sweat going down into it).  Here’s the thing, don’t overspend on this – that’s silly.  You don’t need a $70 trainer mat.  As long as it’s waterproof (thus, sweat proof) and offers some padding to lower sound profiles, that’s really the key thing.

What’s the quietest trainer?

Technically, it’s the Stac Zero.  But for resistance controlled it’d be the Tacx NEO, though the new Wahoo KICKR2 and Elite Drivo are both very quiet as well.

What about generic rollers, any thoughts?

I don’t have a ton of experience on rollers unfortunately.

In any event, I find that the cross-over between people who really like riding rollers and the people who really like the technology aspect tends to be rather small.  Said differently, roller people tend to be more purists who don’t want technology in the way (not all of course, but most). The one thing I do like about the Inside Ride unit is that the bumpers make it a bit easier to get used to riding rollers versus units without that, plus they support the ANT+ FE-C.  So if I had to pick a pair of rollers, I’d go that direction.

What about one of those bike protective thong cover things?

No, sorry, I don’t cover up my bike.  I’ve spent a A LOT of time on my bike, pouring a lot of sweat – many multi-hour rides.  But you know what?  I’ve never seen any adverse issues due to it.  Perhaps I’m lucky, perhaps it’s not normal.  Either way, I don’t use one.  That said, Tacx just released a cool one that actually has a cell-phone holder built in (with a protective plastic cover).  Kinda neat.

Do you use a trainer block?  Which one do you recommend?

Yup, I have a couple floating around.  In general, don’t go overboard here.  Pick up something cheap and call it a day.  I’ve got the CycleOps climbing block – which is somewhat handy in that it has basically multiple levels on it.  I don’t use that for climbing per se, but just to handle differences in the different trainer heights.  It’s $26.  But there are other cheaper ones that start at about $11.  Most of those are fine (I have a few of those too).  Just be sure it can support your weight.

Support the site, and even save 10%!

If you’re looking at any of the above devices, you can support the site by purchasing through any of the below links.  Here’s a handy table of everything mentioned above that I have a review on.  And remember that everything you purchase through Clever Training saves you 10% off your entire cart – so that will definitely help in some of the trainers’ cases.  You’ll use coupon code DCR10MHD and you’ll also get free US shipping for all items over $75.  For the Wahoo products, you’ll need the DCR/CT VIP club, but that only takes a moment to sign-up.

‘2016-2017 Trainer Recommendations’ compatiblePrice for trainerAmazon LinkClever Training Link (Save 10% with DCR10MHD)Review
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated October 17th, 2016 @ 7:14 am
Wahoo Fitness KICKR2 (2016)$1,199LinkLinkLink
CycleOps Magnus$599LinkLinkLink
Elite Rampa$549/€550/£449LinkLinkLink
Elite Drivo$1,299/€1,390/£1,099N/ALinkLink
Tacx NEO Smart$1,599USD/1,399EURLinkLinkLink
Wahoo Fitness KICKR SNAP$599N/ALinkLink
Tacx Satori Smart$399LinkLinkLink
Tacx Vortex Smart$529LinkLinkLink

Thanks for reading!  And feel free to drop any questions below, I’ll be happy to answer them.

COROS Linx Smart Helmet In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/10/coros-linx-smart-helmet-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/10/coros-linx-smart-helmet-review.html#comments Wed, 12 Oct 2016 16:35:06 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=65972 Read More Here ]]> DSC_2405

The COROS Smart Helmet hit Kickstarter about 4 weeks ago, and I’ve been lucky enough to have a unit for the last few weeks.  The company is far enough along that the unit I was handed to try is essentially a final production unit, making it a bit of a rarity in the crowd funded world.

But what makes it a rarity in the helmet world is that it has not just the ability the play music, take phone calls, and even give navigation instructions – but it does so using technology that makes it relatively safe to use.  That’s because it doesn’t use traditional speakers, but rather bone induction technology that makes it possible to still hear everything around you.  Not only that, but the microphone inside makes it easy for folks on the other end of your phone calls to hear you (The Girl said my call sounded like it was ‘totally normal’).

Of course, I’ll cover all this (and some of the caveats) throughout the below in-depth review.  But if you want the quick version, check out the overview video I put together:

With that, onto the usual in-depth review!



You’ll find the helmet in a box pretty much like any other helmet box.  This one has a nifty hole in the side to see the helmet:


The unit comes in three colors (Black, White, or Orange), as well as different sizes.


Once we slide out the inner box from the outer shell, you’ll find the helmet and its various parts inside:


Placing that all on the table, here’s what we’ve got; the following:


Now to make sense of it all.  First up is the little quick start guide:



Next we’ve got the remote control and mounting kit.  You only need two of those rubber bands, and there are two each of a larger size and a smaller size (depending on where you mount it).

DSC_1275 DSC_1276

Then there’s the micro-USB charging cable:


Inside one of the plastic bags are additional cushions, in case your head is too small for the size you bought:


Plus a reflective sticker piece if you want to add it on:


Oh…and there’s even a nifty carrying bag that it comes in.


I weighed the helmet in at 410g.  It seemed/felt pretty normal/fine on my head.  Note the company says that exact number may shift a tiny bit once they hit large volume production.


Lastly, the helmet is both CPSC and EU certified:


Ok, with all those unboxing details covered – let’s talk about how this thingy works.

The Basics:


I like simplicity, and in many ways this helmet is rather simplistic to use.  And I mean that in a good way.

I’m pretty sure all of us have used Bluetooth audio devices before (like headphones or wireless headsets), and as such the helmet is simply a Bluetooth audio device.  It’s effectively no different than that of Bluetooth in your car.  Except that unlike your car stereo this uses bone conduction.  That works by using your jawbone as a conduit for the audio, which means that it’s not subject to wind noise impacting it.  Those little red dots above are the bone induction ‘pads’ that rest against your cheeks.

In fact, this is exactly the same technology that’s used in numerous swimming music players, like the FINIS Neptune.  It’s been used for more years than I can remember.  The first device I used with this type of technology was all the way back in 2011.  Why fix what isn’t broken?

Next, it’s got a small microphone built into the upper front portion of the helmet.  This microphone is strategically positioned out of the wind, which means that even when going 20MPH/30KPH, your ‘phone a friend’ contact won’t hear the wind noise.  Instead, they’ll just hear your voice:


All of this functionality can be controlled by the included remote, which is a sorta-but-not-really small handlebar controller.  I say that because it’s definitely not as tidy as something like the Garmin remotes (be it Edge or VIRB remotes).  It’s kinda dimensionally in the same boat as the larger GoPro Smart remotes, with minor pros/cons between those two.


Here’s a look at all three:

DSC_2393 DSC_2392

Of course, none of these remotes work with each other’s products, so the discussion is somewhat academic.  The way the COROS remote works is that it’s got the following functions:

– The “+” Button: Increases volume
– The “-” Button: Decreases volume
– The “>>” Button: Next music track
– The Phone Icon Button: Actually used for walkie-talky function (in the future)
– The Yellow “C” Button: Answers/Hangs-up Call

As you can see, it’s pretty straightforward.  The remote has a simple/cheap CR2032 coin cell battery in it, and will last a year or two before you’d swap out the battery.  It mounts onto your handlebars using a plastic mount with rubber bands, kinda similar to that of the Garmin remotes, but with a bit more bulk and length.


Here you can see it popped onto my handlebars:


Overall I found the unit works perfectly fine.  Though, I did prefer it actually on my top-tube, out of the way since I really didn’t press many buttons often, once I started it.

When it comes to charging, you’ll crack open the little door on the back of the helmet, where you’ll find a micro-USB port.  It’s pretty well protected in there from water:  While charging the unit will pulse a reddish color, and once fully charged it’ll illuminate green.  Makes it super-easy to figure out charging status (the light is to the right of the USB cable where it hits the helmet).


The company says that the helmet battery should get a minimum of 10 hours of battery life with *both* audio and microphone usage, however just audio usage is probably double that – though they don’t have a specific tested value there yet.

With that, we’ve covered all the basics.  In the next three sections I’ll dive into the specifics of music/audio, then the microphone, and finally navigation with their app.

Music while riding:


Music.  That’s why most of us are here.

Sure, there’s the whole talking thing, but I suspect 95%+ of usage will be related to listening to music while you ride.  When I lived in Washington DC and rode Skyline Drive each weekend (massive pile of flashback posts there!), I’d often stick my phone in my back pocket and just listen to music from the speaker there.  Since much of one’s time spent on that road is climbing, it was easy to hear the music and the road noises while slowly creeping along.

But once I got up to speed on descents or other flat sections that music would go away.  Enter the value of something like the Linx helmet.  This would have allowed me to continue listening with that bone conduction audio. And best of all, I’d needed nothing more than my existing phone to pair to the helmet.  No special apps.

To start, you’ll pair up the helmet like any other Bluetooth audio device.  Simply hold down the power button for a few seconds on the helmet, and it initiates the pairing mode:


After finding it within your phone and getting paired up, you can use it like any other audio device.  So it doesn’t matter whether that’s Spotify or Amazon Music – all work great (and both of which I often use).  And of course default music apps too.

You can then control the playback from the remote.  I’ll typically start the music from my phone, and then once playing I’ll control playback (pause/resume/next/volume) from the remote on the bike.  It’s all pretty straightforward.


But can you hear it?


It’s super easy to hear, and works well even at somewhat low volumes.  The one thing that’s super-important though is ensuring that the helmet strap isn’t flopping all over the place.  You don’t need it like a choke leash, but you want it ‘safe’.  By that I mean that if you just wear it how helmet manufacturers tell you to wear it, then you’ll be fine.  But if it’s flopping around, then you’ll get the bone conduction pads flopping around as well, so they lose some of their ‘umpf’ when that happens.


Again: You do not need it super-tight, but you do want the pads to lightly touch your skin, and you want the strap such that if you crash the helmet doesn’t fall off. Said differently: Just wear your helmet like you normally do.


Next is whether or not you could hear traffic.

Again, absolutely.

I shot the video at the beginning of the post wholly in Parisian rush hour traffic.  I could easily hear every car passing me without issue even while music was playing.

In fact, I often forgot music was playing because I could hear cars so well.  So on that count, things are more than solid.  If for no other functions, I’d buy the helmet just for its music and not blocking traffic capabilities.

Phone conversations while riding:

Next, the unit contains that microphone we talked about earlier.  That allows you to carry-on phone conversations with folks while riding.  While there’s probably something to be said for the safety of that, there are certainly many scenarios where it’s probably perfectly safe (such as long and isolated bike paths).  So…don’t do something stupid.

The microphone is purposefully ‘hidden’ in the upper edge of the helmet to keep it protected from wind.  And it’s actually pretty impressive how well it works from a microphone standpoint.

You’ll use the audio device just like receiving any other call on a Bluetooth headset, just press the big yellow button on the remote to accept the call.  Alternatively, you can set it as the audio device when making an outbound call.

To illustrate this, The Girl and I held a quick phone call while I was riding.  We both recorded it from either side using GoPro cameras. Obviously, you can’t hear what it sounds like to me, but you can hear what it sounds like for her.  Here’s our quick video of that.  I really want to stress (as does The Girl) that the audio sounds a bit better than in the video, since there’s a speakerphone aspect at play here in order for you to hear it.

So what are the downsides to the platform?

Well, I found it occasionally difficult to hear voice audio from The Girl while riding.  I’m not sure exactly why that is, as music I generally have no problems.  My suspicion is that music has a beat, and for the most part you might know the lyrics – so your brain is filling in those lyrics for you subconsciously.  Or perhaps, The Girl’s voice is just at a certain frequency that it disappears into the road noise.

Either way, even if I held the pods against my head hard and turned up the volume totally on both my device and the helmet, sometimes I could only barely make out what she was saying.  When I switched back to the phone as a speaker (against my ear), I could hear easily.  Again, I’m not sure what to say here.  Perhaps for other people it’d work well (either on the caller or recipient side).  In talking with COROS about it, they noted they’re going to try and do some optimization of the audio a bit more, specifically around voices.

Also note that while indoors I could hear her voice fairly well with the helmet, albeit not as clear as the phone.

Now for me, I can’t remember the last time I took a phone call while cycling.  In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I pulled over to the side of the road to make a phone call during a ride.  I just simply pull over and text.  So in my case, it’s not personally a blocker.  But obviously, for others it might be.

The App & Navigation:


Last up is the mobile phone app. This allows you to track rides (à la MapMyRide), but more importantly it also serves as a way to give you cycling instructions via turn by turn routing.  Additionally, it offers a method for updating the firmware within the unit.

2016-10-11 22.16.54 2016-10-11 18.25.46 2016-10-11 22.17.12

Now, the app itself is still beta (whereas the helmet is final production), so there are some little quirks that I won’t hold against them for now.  Nothing major, just minor linguistic and UI pet peeves of mine.

2016-10-11 23.21.15 2016-10-11 23.21.27 2016-10-11 23.21.31

From a functionality standpoint, most of the pieces did work (save navigation, but more on that in a second).

2016-10-11 22.18.09 2016-10-11 22.18.27

As I noted before, the biggie here is definitely the turn by turn navigation.  For this you’ll go ahead and be able to search their online route platform (which was empty for my area), or you can create your own route through tapping.

2016-10-11 22.19.36 2016-10-11 22.19.48 2016-10-11 22.20.10

There isn’t at this time any method of doing GPX or similar route imports, which is kinda a shame.  Their mapper tool is OK, but I wish it drew the route as you added new waypoints (see above how I have a crap-ton of dots, but no lines until the end), versus waiting till the very end to find out you screwed up.  The company does say that if they hit their $250K funding goal (which…is almost certain at this point), that they’ll add in both Strava and MapMyRide route integration.  So that would likely make it far easier for folks.

Once done, you can save it to your routes list for later access.

After that, you’ll head outside and start your ride by selecting a route from the list.  This will use your phone’s GPS and then communicate the instructions via Bluetooth to your helmet.  At the same time, it’ll be saving your ride activity data.

2016-10-12 16.22.51 2016-10-12 16.14.19 2016-10-12 16.17.33

In my testing though, the navigation piece rarely worked though.  I’d get random street names every once in a while, but the vast majority of the time it never announced anything at all upcoming. It’s just that it’s a bit limited in terms of how you create and manage the routes (primarily because I can’t see the routes being created until I hit the completion option).  Hopefully that’s something minor they can cleanup in software over time, since technically the software side is still in beta (whereas the hardware is final).

The tracking and time/distance/speed pieces did work however, as did the app GPS track.  Just not the turn by turn instructions from their native app.

(Update: The company is looking into why it failed and trying to reproduce it.  Their initial thinking is that it may have to do with my location – France – but they’re still doing some digging.)

Of course – keep in mind that since it’s a Bluetooth audio device, you can easily use other 3rd party apps that give audio directions (like the Google Maps app in bike mode).  So the world is a bit your oyster here.  And those apps are well known to work well.

Lastly, they’ll be enabling crash detection in the event you have a bad day.  That’s done using accelerometers within the helmet itself.  In fact, the app already asks you for your emergency contact data (though, the functionality doesn’t appear complete yet).  This would be somewhat inline with what Garmin has done on the Edge 820 for incident detection.  The unit supports firmware updates, which you do through the app:

2016-10-11 23.21.51 2016-10-11 23.22.56 2016-10-11 23.29.28

The entire process to update the firmware is pretty easy, as you can see above – it only took about 7 minutes to finish.

Final Thoughts:


Overall, I’m pretty darn impressed with the Linx helmet.  At the Kickstarter prices of $120, that’s solid even for a well made and attractive helmet (and I like the look of the Linx).  Let alone the fact that it comes with music playing, a microphone for calls, and (hopefully) turn by turn navigation via a phone app.  Even at the final retail price of $200, that’s still a fairly solid deal.

The Kickstarter program only goes for another 12 days, and thankfully, they plan to start manufacturing/shipping just next month in November.  Looking at the hardware they gave me, that’s definitely doable (baring any sort of undisclosed behind the scenes issues).  The software side is very close to being solid, with the only issues I’m seeing more minor nits than major blockers.  Of course, as with any Kickstarter project, it’s the minor things that can sometimes become major things.

No matter, it’s nice to see a crowd funded project so close to shipping and with such stability in their product.  It’s often hard to find such projects these days, but Coros seems like a well executing group of folks.  And as such, it’s one that I’ve put in my Kickstarter order myself on.

With that – thanks for reading!

Garmin Connect IQ Announces New Features and Apps/Devices https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/10/connect-iq-2-2.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/10/connect-iq-2-2.html#comments Mon, 10 Oct 2016 22:23:48 +0000 http://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=65927 Read More Here ]]> Last week while at the annual ANT+ Symposium, Garmin announced a pile of new features for Connect IQ, and in the process, also lit up a bunch of partner apps and devices.  I had a chance to get a run-through on all the new features, as well as see three of these new 3rd party apps and devices in person.

In addition to that, there were two other tidbits of news around both a dedicated Connect IQ book this fall, and developer conference next spring.  Plus of course, some interesting metric stats on downloads/devices.  Everyone loves numbers!

Oh – if you’re not a data/dev geek, the best section to skip to is probably just the 3rd party devices section.  It’s got a nifty video that shows three partner apps/devices.  That makes all the code-type stuff a bit more real-world.

New Functionality:


Connect IQ already saw a bit of a major update this past summer, with Connect IQ 2.0 being launched.  That brought with it numerous new features, including most notably the ability for 3rd parties to record and display data directly into the .FIT files.  That data is then passed on to both Garmin Connect as well as 3rd party platforms (about which I managed to hold court with not one, but two separate discussion groups while at the Symposium, including with your favorite platforms like Strava and Training Peaks…more to come there).

This addition has been a core turning point for me in actually using Connect IQ apps myself, as I think it really opens up the door to unique sensor solutions down the road.  Up until this point, much of the data being shown in Connect IQ was more transient in nature.  I wrote about this change in more detail back this summer here.  Of note in the demo this week though was Stryd (the running power meter) pumping in more than just running power to Garmin Connect, but also their advanced running metrics as well:


So what’s new in Connect IQ 2.2?  Well, three specific features.  Actually, more like three and a half.  They are as follows:

Generic ANT Bursting: This allows CIQ apps to burst a string of high speed messages in quick succession to devices/sensors.  Typically ANT+ broadcasts upwards of four times a second, but often the same message repeated. In this case, you’re bursting at far higher message rates, to allow for transmission of longer data types quickly.  The easiest example is the Nokē lock below, where they’re transmitting a long authentication key and want that transaction to be virtually instantaneous.  This allows the app to burst the key (which wouldn’t otherwise fit in a single ANT message) such that the entire unlock sequence happens the instant you press unlock on your Garmin Edge.

ANTPlus Module: This new software module (it’s not a hardware thing) gives apps deeper access to the sensors that are already paired by the host device.  Meaning, today if you pair on your Edge 520 ANT+ lights, the Connect IQ apps have a specific level of access.  They’re allowed certain operations, but not quite all the native operations that are capable by Garmin themselves.  This aims to rectify that by giving far greater access to apps to paired sensors, such as the Bontrager lights.  This is different than a Connect IQ app making a specific ANT connection to a sensor.  Further, it doesn’t take up any additional ANT channels on the device, since it’s leveraging the existing ones.  This is being introduced initially for ANT+ Power & Lighting Control, but will expand beyond that.  It’s also being introduced first on the Edge series units that support CIQ2.0.

Downloadable Content: No, you can’t download Netflix videos to your Garmin. Well, not yet anyway.  However, what this allows apps to do is to download content to device memory/storage, versus downloading to app memory.  The benefit of this is that not only can other apps access this content, but so too can Garmin native apps.  So this allows one app to download something like a course or route, and then pass it to a different app (or even the native Garmin routing engine).  You’ll see this below in the Join app example.  CIQ downloadable content supports data types like Waypoints, Courses, Routes, Workouts, and Tracks.  Each of those acts slightly differently depending on the device type (e.g. Edge vs handheld).

Intent: This one is the ‘half’ I spoke about earlier.  Intent simply allows apps to open each other, and to pass arguments to each other.  Not like a Hilary-Trump argument, but rather a set of instructions.  This allows one app to tell another app what to do, such as to open a specific file, or to even open another app.  So one app could be a unique warm-up/stretching app, that in turn passes to the running app.

So who’s getting what?

Well, all of these above changes come to Connect IQ 2.0 capable devices, as part of Connect IQ 2.2.  As with any software platform, there will be cases where older devices won’t have the ability to run these new functions.  Said differently: Some devices will get the short end of the stick.

Right now Gamin’s list of Connect IQ 2.0 capable devices are: Edge 520, Edge 820, Edge 820 Explore, Edge 1000, Edge 1000 Explore, Forerunner 735XT, Fenix Chronos, and Vivoactive HR.  This explains it and the levels in more detail.  Notably excluded is the Fenix3/Fenix3HR lineup.

You’ll remember two years ago when Garmin first announced Connect IQ that they announced platform capabilities before devices that could leverage those.  That’s more or less the same thing here as well where there are obvious device gaps in the CIQ lineup for 2.2 going forward, but it’ll take some number of months or longer for all those gaps to fill in.

New 3rd Party Apps and Devices:


It’s without surprise that the number of 3rd party Connect IQ apps and integrated devices continues to grow.  Garmin has now shipped 3 million Connect IQ capable devices, which puts their platform pretty high up the list in terms of wearable app platforms.  The above is a chart of all the current Connect IQ capable devices…except the Epix unit.  Because it didn’t fit in the chart (much like Epix’s life in general).  That’s 21 units in total that support Connect IQ today.

Many of those thousands of apps are watch faces and other hobbyist type apps, which is great.  But at the same time, Garmin continues to try and attract more and more mainstream companies to the platform.  For example, GU just released an app last week (that’s the gel company).  Sure, it’s a long way from having an Uber app on your Fenix3, but even having the Uber app on my Apple Watch, I almost never end up using it.  Instead, pulling out my phone is my preferred method for that particular interaction.

Still, there are many cases where larger name 3rd party developers are investing in the platform, and Garmin had three on-hand at the Symposium to demo their wares.  While I’ll briefly cover them in photos/text below, this video I shot gives you a quick 60-second demo of each of the three that were featured.

Looking at them outside the video, first you have Nokē.  This company makes connected bike locks.  Previously those were done via Bluetooth Smart to the phone.  But now with their 2nd generation units coming out by the end of the year they’ll be having dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart in them.  Yet another in a growing list of companies that just gets that it’s so cheap to add in dual ANT+/BLE components, that it opens up numerous use cases versus locking customers into either platform.

This gives that Nokē the ability to interact with the Garmin devices via Connect IQ.  However, in order to do that they needed some method of authentication and authorization with Connect IQ.  So with CIQ2, they were able to use OAuth to complete that.  The Connect IQ app will work to initially authorize your specific device to open that specific lock, via a web service that Garmin Connect Mobile handles for your device.  This ensures that it’s only allowed to unlock your specific lock, and not others.

Once that’s done, you can simply tap the screen on the Edge 1000 to unlock your bike lock.  It takes a split-second and you’re good to go.  No keys, pulling out your phone, or typing in a code.  Just tap and go.  The app uses the new bursting capability to send the authentication key to the lock with virtually zero delay.


The Nokē locks run $69 for the padlock version, and $129 for the u-lock version.

Next you’ve got the Bontrager smart lights.  These ANT+ enabled lights have actually been out for some time, and are somewhat similar in concept to Garmin’s lights.  While these lights have mostly worked with the Edge 520/820/1000 series for a while, Garmin made that a bit more official back in September by actually specifying in the release notes support for these lights.  Both the Bontrager and Varia lights follow the ANT+ Lighting Control standard, making it easy to support in head units.

However, what Bontrager did here is to offer a data field that you can add on your Edge device to get quicker control over the Bontrager lights.  So instead of having to dig through a menu, you can just swipe left/right to the set data page and then change brightness/lighting settings.  Further, with Di2 control, you can even do that directly from the handlebars (as I showed in the video):


Finally, we’ve got the Join app, which was formerly known as CycleWE.  This app allows you to find group rides as well as routes nearby your current location.  What’s unique about this from a Connect IQ standpoint is that they’re using the new downloadable content and ‘intent’ functionality.  The app will download routes from their platform, and then pass that .FIT file (with routing instructions) to the Edge’s native routing engine to start your ride.

Now Join is unique in that it’s a widget, so you swipe down from the upper menu to get started, and then swipe from the side to access the widgets.  So you’ll start from the generic screen here, and then swipe to the right to access the widgets.


You’ll notice next it’ll actually leverage the GPS on the device itself to get your location, which it then passes through your mobile phone to a web service to grab routes and rides:

DSC_2102 DSC_2103

From there you can pick a ride, and then immediately save the route to your Edge for routing:

DSC_2105 DSC_2107

Pretty cool stuff.  As I noted above – all of this is within the video in a bit more detail.  Of course, as you might expect, all of these apps are beta and not quite available yet.  As such, none of them worked perfectly 100% of the time, but again, it’s just beta at this point.  I don’t have specific release dates for any of these apps at this time.

Further, it doesn’t mean there aren’t other cool apps out there.  In fact, there are tons (i.e. DWMap).  These were just the three that happened to be at the Symposium and had a few spare minutes to shoot a video while I froze my ass off standing outside in shorts with the temperature at the freezing point.

Garmin Connect IQ Summit & Book:


Next up, Garmin is launching a Connect IQ book.  Well, actually, technically it’s an independently written book, though Garmin is working hand in hand with the author (Brian Jepson) to ensure accuracy/etc.  That book will be published by O’Reilly, though Garmin will offer it for free on their site.  Free books are the best type of books.  As those in technical circles know, O’Reilly books are often supported by the company that makes the product (Garmin in this case), so that developers get free and higher quality learning content.  Which is basically what’s happening here.

That book will be available in November.  And again, free.


Last but not least, Garmin will be hosting a Connect IQ developer summit in Olathe, Kansas next spring at their corporate headquarters (that’s my behind the scenes post if you’d like to kill some time).  The goal of this is a 2 to 2.5 day developer-focused conference with Connect IQ workshops, demonstrations, and other CIQ goodness.  The target audience for this particular conference is kinda like the ANT+ Symposium in that it’s aimed more at businesses/industry than hobbyist, however Garmin says that hobbyists are more than welcome, it’s just that unlike the book, it will not be free.  The sessions at the conference will be covering both dev-focused topics as well as business-focused ones.

The exact dates are still being finalized, but it sounds like it’ll probably be roughly aligned around the Garmin Marathon in Olathe, Kansas.  That event also has shorter-distance options as well (the running race, not the conference).  I suspect if you hit up that subscription link above you’ll get the date information once it’s finalized.  I’d love though to see Garmin offer 1-2 free spots for hobbyist type apps that are unique and doing innovative stuff in the field (and well downloaded), such as DWMap.

Phew, ok. Lots of stuff packed in there!

I’ll talk a bit more about Connect IQ in my ANT+ Symposium presentation, which I hope to have posted in the next day or two (as soon as I receive the video files).  I talk about some of the pros and cons of the platform, and what it means to the future of Garmin wearables.  Of course, I talk about craptons more in that presentation about all sorts of stuff (actually, two presentations and a round-table).  So stay tuned there!

Thanks for reading!