DC Rainmaker https://www.dcrainmaker.com Sun, 25 Jun 2017 15:39:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.11 https://media.dcrainmaker.com/images/2017/03/dcrainmaker-dc-logo-square-40x40.png DC Rainmaker https://www.dcrainmaker.com 32 32 Week in Review–June 25th, 2017 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/06/week-in-reviewjune-25th-2017.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/06/week-in-reviewjune-25th-2017.html#comments Sun, 25 Jun 2017 09:49:21 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=75590 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: 5 Random Things I Did This Weekend in the Netherlands
Tuesday: Last Week in Review–June 20th, 2017

Ok, a bit slower week.  Was trying to concurrently write three in-depth reviews, and got about 80% the way down on all three…I suck at prioritization.

YouTube Videos I Published!

Here’s some YouTube goodness that I published this past week, don’t forget to subscribe!

Ok, this is probably one of the more complex videos I’ve ever put together.  While it may seem relatively simple – there are so many cameras/screen recording devices, audio recordings, and everything else to make it seem semi-cohesive.  Yikes!

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) Cyclist triggers emergency stop on bus, after getting buzzed: Well then, I’ve seen a lot of YouTube bike vs vehicle videos – but never quite expected that. (via Race Radio)

2) Ironman 70.3 Tire Deflator apologizes: Gotta wonder how many other things she’s cheated/etc on over the years.

3) A bike lock that disables bike when using phone: As noted in the article, given how many apps these days are legit useful while cycling (i.e. head unit type apps), this seems like it’s a solution in search of a problem.

4) How Elite makes cycling water bottles: I’d seen a chunk of this during a tour to Elite’s HQ about this time last year, but Titanium Geek does a good job at rounding it all up into a nifty post.  Fun stuff.

5) Wearables stickers that make you and astronauts awesome? Not exactly.  Love this take-down of BS science claims for Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop product.  Side note: Who the heck names their product Goop? (via Sarah Fit)

6) Veloviewer adds way to visualize how much you explore via Strava: As always, Veloviewer keeps doing cool shit. As you might remember, it’s all about doing cool shit.  Here’s mine for Paris:

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7) UCI to shrink pro cycling team sizes in 2018: The move should make for a more lively WorldTour circuit. Plus a handful of other changes as well.

8) Withings finally gets full rebranded Nokia, craps all over itself: The response was swift and ugly – people are pissed about how poorly the new apps work.  And by ‘poorly’, I mean doesn’t work at all.  Functionality that’s worked fine for the better part of a decade has stopped working, and other features have been cut.  Withings released another app update yesterday, with the descriptions basically saying ‘Making core functions actually work’.  Unfortunately I’m traveling this week, so I can’t test everything out for myself till I get back (since it’s scale focused).  But c’mon Withings – you’ve been my go-to scale recommendation for years, you’re better than this fiasco.

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 Edge 1000 Firmware Update: Fixes an issue for people in Singapore.

Garmin Fenix 5/5S/5X/Chronos BETA firmware update: Includes a pretty cool new treadmill calibration mode to get more accurate treadmill data.  And a crapton more things.

Garmin VIRB 360 firmware update: Some minor bug fixes.

Garmin Varia Vision firmware update: Two bug fixes.

Thanks for reading!

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6
Last Week in Review–June 20th, 2017 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/06/last-week-in-reviewjune-20th-2017.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/06/last-week-in-reviewjune-20th-2017.html#comments Tue, 20 Jun 2017 10:34:20 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=75582 Read More Here ]]> WeekInReview_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[1]

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: 5 Random Things I Did This Weekend
Tuesday: Fitbit Alta HR In-Depth Review
Friday: Stages Dash Bike Computer In-Depth Review
Monday: 5 Random Things I Did This Weekend in the Netherlands

YouTube Videos I Published!

Here’s some YouTube goodness that I published this past week, don’t forget to subscribe!

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) Kung Fu Nuns Cycling Across the Himalayas: Because…yes. Oh, and there’s 500 of them…going 4,000KM. Seriously, check it out. (via NY Velocity)

2) NYC Citibike has first fatality: A short piece on bike sharing and how safe they are.  Of course, everything is relative – I’ll take my chances on a Citibike over riding in a NYC cab – if for no other reason than I won’t crap my pants thinking I’m going to die each time.

3) Bike sharing expands more in the UK: Speaking of bike shares – this is an interesting piece as it talks about two Chinese companies and their expansion plans for dock-less bike sharing systems.  I know a few other cities (in fact, I think The Hague where I just was) has such a scheme.  Paris also started doing the same for motos too.

4) YouTube introduces VR heatmaps for 360° videos: This was kinda cool.  I decided to take a look at one of my 360° videos to see what people were looking at, regrettably, it doesn’t seem to actually work.  Despite having piles of 360° videos with lots of views and available for years…nothing. Sad panda.

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5) How to properly wear an optical HR sensor: This nifty little study graphic explains exactly why you shouldn’t wear an optical HR sensor on your wrist bone.

6) Garmin has revamped their Garmin Connect site a bit: I got a few questions asking what I thought about it.  Overall? Shrug.  Nothing wrong per se, and they did address the single page (Activity View) that I use almost daily – so that seems like a bit better since I can scroll endlessly and it’s far faster.  They also fixed that god-awful navigation drop-down thingy on the left-hand side that was like trying to throw darts at a moving target to get to certain menus.  So I suppose it’s better than shrug, it’s not bad. Winking smile I guess I just don’t generally get too excited about web site UI revamps (no offense to any website team).

7) GPLama (Shane Miller) reviews ROTOR 2INPower, dual power meter: I note this video he posted today, as he and I collaborated back and forth around the time of my review, to discuss some quirks we saw at the time.  Here’s how things ended up for him:

8) Strava now has an apps directory: See that everyone else (Lookin’ at you, rest of industry)?  This is why you open up your walls to 3rd party apps.  It’s also why Strava dominates now.   There are roughly some 500 or so active apps/platforms in here, though about 18,000 apps are registered.  I like the categories on the right side, like the Performance apps one.  As I’ve noted many times, if you have a platform where people are putting in fitness/sport data, and you don’t have an increda-easy to access and use API for data in/out, then you’re stupid.  Yes, I called you stupid.  The market agrees.  A 3rd party developer should be able to request a free account within seconds and get to work.  How many cool sites start off with a developer burning the midnight oil to create something on a whim?  If you want to put an approval process prior to data going live, fine, but anything beyond that – you’re stupid.  And yes, again, I called you stupid.  You’re leaving customers, creativity, and money on the table, and you can look at countless examples across the tech industry of how important easy API access is to the success of companies and adoption of technologies.

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.

DJI Spark Firmware Update: A bunch of minor fixes/tweaks as they released the unit.

Garmin VIRB 360 Firmware Update: This was the first production firmware update. Also fixed one issue seen in some of my earlier footage (exposure stability in photo timelapse)

Lezyne Y10 units Firmware Update: Huge firmware update that I talked about back at Sea Otter – tons of goodness in here.

Suunto Spartan Series Firmware Update: Another solid update with a bunch of smaller features that folks have been asking for.

Thanks all!  Have a good week ahead!

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39
5 Random Things I Did This Weekend in the Netherlands https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/06/5-random-things-i-did-this-weekend-in-the-netherlands.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/06/5-random-things-i-did-this-weekend-in-the-netherlands.html#comments Mon, 19 Jun 2017 11:55:49 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=75568 Read More Here ]]> It continues to be a busy summer, even more so with a bunch of products on the radar to get reviews knocked out as announcements occur coming into the start of the Tour de France next weekend (the weekend after this weekend).  So we’ve packed up a crap-ton of gear and I’m making a bit of a mobile office these two weeks.  First up has been half of our week in the Netherlands, starting off in The Hague.

1) Riding out in the dunes

First up on my workout list was an evening ride along the coastline and out into the dunes.  I just sorta randomly picked a route that was a simple out and back.  The first portion would be through the town/city, and then it was into the parkland area where there was cycling track without any cars.

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I was testing a bunch of stuff, all cycling related – so this sort of ‘no cars to worry about’ terrain worked well.  I didn’t need a super-long workout for this one though, so I kept it a bit shorter at about an hour.

It’s definitely a nice area.  I could certainly see the appeal of a summer vacation spot/home/trip to near the beach, with plenty of activities for everyone –and great riding/running (and even swimming) options. Though, I suspect it’s cold as balls in the winter, especially with the wind.

2) DJI Spark Wind Testing

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I’m always looking to see what content I generate tends to get the most traction.  After all, I don’t want to spend time writing/etc doing something that nobody cares about (with a few exceptions I suppose).  One video I did around the DJI Mavic last fall was that of a high-wind test.  I found myself a super-windy day and then put the Mavic (and a Phantom 4) up in the air and recorded the results.

Fast forward to a few days ago and it was super windy on Thursday, so I did a bunch of testing then with the new (and tiny) DJI Spark – and then went back out on Friday to double-down on it.  More or less the same concept as before, except this time on a mostly empty beach.

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Overall things worked pretty well.  You can check out the video here, showing how it all works:

And I got a few pictures while I was there:

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I’ve gotta say, in general, I’m impressed with the Spark.  I wouldn’t have thought it’d be something that really worked for me (since I prefer the higher end footage of the Mavic), but the size and portability is more so than I thought.  Sure I wish the props folded up even more, but the whole concept of a quick and simple drone to get in the air without a remote is definitely appealing.  I mean, don’t get me wrong – don’t even think of taking away my Mavic…but still, I could see cases where I’d bring this instead on a trip to save weight where my chances of using a drone might be slim, but I still want it in my back pocket (literally) in case I do.

3) Hello, Gouda.

Saturday morning we took a quick train ride down to the town of Gouda.  Mainly for the cheese.  Ok, actually, entirely for the cheese.

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It’s a nice little day-trip type town with an active shopping street, plenty of smaller shops, and then this weekend was also a harbor festival of some sort.  So we checked out that as well.

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Though I think as good as the cheese was, the highlight was a small gelato shop that we stopped at.  Oh, and these fried fish bits were also quite good as well.

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After hours of wandering around, we simply jumped on the train back to The Hague.  Easy as pie.

4) Back out on the bike

I went out really early Sunday morning to do a combo bike ride and get some shots I needed for the DJI Spark review around automatic tracking and such.  Going out early in this vast area was ideal, since there would be nobody around.  Plus, the rolling terrain on some of the off-shot paths makes for good footage.

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I actually had a fair bit of luck in getting the tracking to work (more than I’ve had with the Mavic), though that may be more the terrain here is easier to track than where I was testing previously in the Canary Islands.  Or perhaps there’s been some algorithm improvements.  I still wouldn’t recommend it for just going for a ride and having it follow you like the Airdog can, but it seemed improved for shorter clips.

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Now I should preface that I do a crap-ton of research on no-fly zones and such before I go places.  And the Netherlands has a crap-ton of no-fly zones.  However, this massive section of the park isn’t one of those spots.  I note this because I got cut-off early by an arm-band wearing volunteer who said the park was a no drone area.  While pleasant, best I can tell he was simply making stuff up.  There are no rules published on the park’s site, on any national site, or any other publication I can find.  Further, it’s funny – because I found a few online drone videos of the park, and a volunteer had posted on a few of them that drones weren’t allowed, yet numerous people responded that simply wasn’t true – along with plenty of links showing it was.  Either way – I wasn’t about to get into an argument about it with him, so I packed.

Again – somewhat annoying to go well out of my way to find a quiet spot with almost nobody around early on a Sunday morning, only to have to wrap up without completing. I hate wasting time.  Sigh.  Off to find another field north of Amsterdam today sometime.  Minor rant complete.

5) A Father’s Day Ride with The Peanut

Sunday it was time for a ride with The Peanut and The Girl’s family.  Both her parents are in town and we were off for a bike ride for the day.  We simply rented more traditional town bikes from a shop at the train station.  Said shop has hours that best any bike shop in America: 5AM till 2AM – Daily (with slight variations).  Seriously.  For a bike shop.  Heck, some McDonald’s don’t even have those hours.

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Bike rentals for the day were 7EUR, and that even included the baby seat for The Peanut.  We had already bought her a helmet back at Sea Otter.  Yes, for real, the helmet brand is Nutcase, and it protects The Peanut.

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The Peanut seemed to enjoy her first bike ride.  She would reach forward and hold onto the back of my running shorts when we went faster or down some hills.  And she was also pretty happy about her watch for the day.

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Out of all the baby toys one could get her – she’s most content with having a watch to poke at.  Go figure.

We rode out into the Dunes a little ways, and then walked to a beach spot.  The sand was great there – The Peanut loved looking for things to eat within it.

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Afterwards, we headed back towards the boardwalk areas and enjoyed lunch in one of the countless beachside cafes.

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And of course, we enjoyed stopping along the way to take some photos too:

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As I noted above – it’s definitely a nice area – and certainly one we’ll probably put back on our list of places to come back to.

With that – I’ve gotta get ready for a ride in a bit and wrap up some more review goodness.  Have a good week ahead everyone!

Thanks for reading!

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31
Stages Dash Bike Computer In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/06/stages-dash-bike-computer-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/06/stages-dash-bike-computer-review.html#comments Fri, 16 Jun 2017 13:30:12 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=75515 Read More Here ]]> DSC_4276

Late last summer at Eurobike, Stages announced a new product line from the company with the addition of their Dash bike computer.  But in many ways it’s more than just one product line, but rather an entire collection of products.  See Dash is just as integrated into the Stages Link site, where you can create workouts to send to the Dash as well as configure data pages for the Dash.  Same goes for tracking your power meter firmware, battery and calibration stats.  Not to forget their new mobile apps either.

Of course, as with many in this industry, things took a wee bit longer than expected for the company to get Dash to market, but as of last week it’s now shipping and available.  I’ve been using a small flotilla of beta and now final production units since April, across all sorts of conditions in half a dozen countries.  I’ve got a pretty good idea of not just where the product sits, but also where it’s going (which may be the more important story here).

As always, once I’ve wrapped things up here, I’ll send back all the Dashes I have to Stages and go out and get my own for future usage/testing.  Just the way I roll.  If you find this review useful, you can hit up the links at the bottom to help support the site.

With that – let’s dive into it!

Sizing and Weight:

First up, let’s look at size comparisons.  I’ve slotted the Stages Dash in alongside a pile of other units in this price range (or popularity range).  As you can see, it fits roughly in the middle of them.  Of course, this is in the vertical orientation.  If you go with horizontal, then it’s a different ball game.

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Looking at thickness, it’s actually a tiny bit thinner than most others if you exclude the buttons atop.  Or about equal if you include them.

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Here’s the Dash weighing in on the scale:

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Looking at weights, here’s a quick gallery of the most popular ones out there.  The Dash sits as the lightest of the larger display units, below both the ELEMNT and Edge 1000.  Thus, you can eat another cookie crumb or two.

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One final notable is that I did test the Stages Dash within the Specialized Wind Tunnel back a month or two ago.  In general, it didn’t do all that well compared to most other units.  You can read about those tests here in this post.  The point of the testing was to validate Wahoo’s aerodynamics claims, and the Dash was essentially along for the ride.

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Side Note: Missing the unboxing section?  Me too.  Despite having done like four different unboxings, I left that SD card of photos sitting on my desk and am now traveling.  Grr… I’ll add in that section when I return back.  I’ll make it extra special, perhaps I’ll add a fancy frame/border around the pictures or something.

The Basics & Configuration:

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For this section, I’m going to focus almost 100% on the device itself, with only one brief foray into the website for configuration of data fields.  Whereas later in this post I dive into the site in far more detail (as well as the mobile/desktop sync pieces).

On the back, you’ve got a micro-USB charging port, which serves not just for charging but also for syncing of workouts/data when plugged into a PC (there’s also Bluetooth Smart for sync via your smartphone).

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You may notice just above that are four little holes.  These are the barometric altimeter holes.  In the odd event you decide to put tape on the back of your unit (such as for your name/phone number), don’t cover these holes.  Like any other bike computer, doing so will give you funky elevation and temperature data.  Which in turn will enable your friends to laugh at you when they see your Strava elevation numbers look low and lame.

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Next, the unit has five buttons.  On the left side, there are two buttons, which act as a back button (lower left), as well as a power/start/stop button (upper left).  On the right side, you’ve got menu selector buttons (up/down/confirm).

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Meanwhile, on the sides of the unit, you have two grooves, one on the left and one on the bottom.  These are for the mounting system:

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The unit can be mounted in either landscape or portrait mode.  The default is landscape, but you can use it in portrait mode just fine – though the button configs takes a bit of getting used to in the portrait mode.  Data screens will re-configure themselves for either mode, but you may want to offer a bit of manual massage assistance there to make sure it doesn’t get all funky when you effectively turn it on its head.

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Diving into the menus a bit, when you first power it up, it’ll start to look for GPS immediately.  You’ll see small icons displayed along the left menu pane, showing status of sensors, GPS, and Bluetooth Smart.  In the below photo the location and power icons are illuminated, though throughout the review you’ll see photos with other icons (heart rate and Bluetooth to name two) also illuminated.

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Meanwhile, the right side allows you three core options: Activity (Change activity profile), Zero Reset (for power meter zero offset/calibration), Main Menu (access settings).

Hitting the ‘Activity’ menu button simply changes the activity profile used.  You’ll see that listed under the gigantic ‘Ride’ word.  Activity profiles store settings such as data fields and even which sensors are accessible (you can assign sensors to multiple activity profiles).  This is useful if you have, for example, a triathlon/TT bike and want a different configuration than that on your road bike.

Next, we’ve got the Zero Reset button, which triggers the standard zero offset routine for the power meter you’re currently paired to.

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What’s cool about this is that it actually records these values on Stages Link later on, something I’ve been begging other companies to do for years.  Having a properly calibrated (or validated, as it may be) unit is one of the most important things to using a power meter.  Far too many people don’t ever do this, and thus have questionable results.  By also recording the data to the site, you can start to see a history of your zero offsets.

In general, power meters’ zero offset values tend to fall into one of two camps: They stay fairly static, or within a very small range (i.e. PowerTap, Stages, etc…), or they fluctuate a bit more depending on temperature (Quarq, WatTeam, etc…).  Neither is wrong, but rather, just different.  Knowing those values is useful to determining if there’s potentially something amiss with your unit.  Further, for certain power meters (like those from Stages and PowerTap), it’ll also list if your power meters firmware is out of date, as mine apparently is:

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Note the above zero offset shows ‘0’ and an error icon.  This occurred when I somewhat purposefully spun the crank arm mid-calibration, to see what would happen.  Neat to see it properly captured that and showed up on my dashboard as such.

Here’s another from my PowerTap P1 pedals:

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(Also note that my total time/distance numbers are funky here due to being on two different accounts during my beta period.  My bad.)

With that diversion complete, let’s dive into the ‘Main Menu’ option a bit.  It’s here we can configure activity settings, add sensors, edit training pages, and configure global settings and zones.

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First up configuring any of your activity profiles settings.  You could have different settings for indoor vs outdoor workouts, or one bike vs another.  The settings options for these are fairly basic at this time:

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Mostly standard stuff you’ve seen in other units like power and cadence zero averaging and backlight configuration. However, one that is worthwhile pointing out is the continuous recording option.  When it comes to how to pause recording, you’ve got basically four options: Always-on, Manual Stop/Start, GPS auto-pause, and sensor auto-pause.  These are pretty similar to most bike computers, except the sensor auto pause.  That enables you to use a combination of sensor and GPS data to have it pause the recording, which ends up being a bit more exact and faster to respond (especially in starts from a stop).

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It’s also in the main menu that you can configure global settings across the entire unit:

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This includes things like inverting the screen as well:

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Heading back up to the main sensors menu, you’ll have the option to see saved sensors, manually enter a new sensor ID, and scan for ANT+ or Bluetooth Sensors.  When you first look at your saved sensors you can select any of the sensors to change which activity profiles it may be assigned to (such as all or just a given one).  You can’t really do much else at this time beyond that (or deleting it).

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Down in the search section, you can search for either ANT+ or Bluetooth Sensors individually:

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At this point, the Stages Dash only supports the core sensor types (power/speed/cadence/HR), but not yet things like Di2, FE-C or eTAP (ANT+ Shifting Profile).  Though, that is coming soon.  Depending on when you read this review, keep an eye out in the full comparison table down below in the review – as that’ll have the latest on where things stand.

Finally, before riding let’s hit up data field configuration.  Without question this is one major area that Stages hangs its hat on, given the vast customization and flexibility of what you can do here.  In essence, you’ve got up to 16 slots that you can do something with.  Of course, you can just as easily have only a few data fields.  How you configure them is totally up to you.

You can configure these on the unit itself, or on the site:

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But the easiest way to configure them is to use the Stages Link site, which has a data page section, which is first organized by activity profiles:

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Above you can see the core activity profile settings (Backlight, Recording Type, Orientation, and Power/Cadence zeros).  Then below, you can see the pages assigned to it.

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You can add additional pages, or click on a given page to customize it.  You can also duplicate an existing page and then edit it, making it easy to tweak minor things.  If you click on an existing page you’ll see you can select any given data field and adjust the cell height/width (making it bigger or smaller):

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For example, above I’ve selected that field and have it one block high, by two blocks wide.  But I could instead make it even bigger, increasing the text size (the little screen on the site doesn’t increase the font size, but in reality on the Dash it’s far bigger):

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As you increase/decrease the size, the number of data fields you have available will increase/decrease.  You can see that in making this giganto cell, I lost four data fields (now gray on the right-hand side).

Meanwhile, on the right side, you can select the given metric for any cell on that right side.  First is the general type (i.e. power, heart rate, etc…), then the sub-type (i.e. normalized power).  After that, you’ll select the totaling type (usually max, average, or total), and then the time span (such as 1s, 3s, 10s, etc…).  Sometimes the wording here is a bit confusing, but I suspect most will quickly get used to it.

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Of course, what this all means is that you can create the mother of all data pages, like this 16-metric page I made.  At first glance it may seem overkill, but in actuality it’s quite logical in my little brain.

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Ok, you’re right.  It’s overkill.  But I still contend it’s logical.

Finally, backing up slightly – I’ll mention that there are overall settings for the Dash available online as well.  These are located at the top of the same page you’d use to configure the Dash.  It’s here I could also rename my Dash to something else beyond the default name.

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You’ll notice the firmware is displayed up top, along with a green checkmark that life is happy.  You’ll also see the option to sync the next 7 days of workouts (upper right corner).  Lower in the settings you’ve got the option to change from statute to metric, as well as how long the unit will wait around before going to sleep, and then whether the screen is inverted or not.

The remainder of the options are around tones/alerts.  So each one dictates whether or not a tone is heard or just an overlay on the screen.  For example, you can see that for GPS found/lost it’ll give me both a tone and an overlay.  Whereas for lap, just an overlay.

With that we’ve covered all of the configuration options to date, let’s head out onto the road for usage while riding.

Riding with it:

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To start a ride it’s pretty simple.  You just select the gigantic button that says ‘Ride’.  Of course, before you do so you’ll want to take note of which sensors are connected and whether or not you have GPS signal.

In general, if I’m in the same spot as my last ride, GPS is really quick (a few seconds).  But if I’ve moved a ways (to another city/country/continent), then it takes a fairly long while – a couple minutes.  At present they aren’t using any assisted GPS files to speed things up, though it sounds like that’s in the cards.

In any case, once you’ve pressed ride, you’ll be brought to your main ride screen:

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You can press the up/down buttons to change data screens.  Here’s a quick gallery of some of the default screens mixed in with some of my screens.

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To start a ride, simply start riding (assuming you leave the defaults on).  It’ll notify you that your ride has begun. Else, you can press the upper left button to start riding.  It’s that same button that pauses the ride.  Also, if you want to zero offset your power meter (at any time), you can hold the middle right button down for three seconds, which will trigger the zero offset menu.

During a ride, you’ll press the lap button to trigger laps.  It’s the lower left button.  When you do so, it’ll then update any data fields you have that are lap-driven.  For example, if you had a lap power average, or a lap timer, those would all reset accordingly. Further, on the lap summary screen, you’ll see the totals for those laps there as well:

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Laps are used for more than manual separation though; they’re also used within the structured workouts.  One of Dash’s biggest selling points is the workout functionality, which gives coaches and athletes a much tighter integration of structured workouts than pretty much anything else out there.

These workouts can be created online within the Stages Link platform, and can be pretty extensive.  Alternatively, you can use any of their various training plans (with an annual membership fee).  Here’s an example of one:

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These can then be assigned to days on your workout (which happens automatically when choosing a plan), and thus are in turn synced to the Dash.  From there you can select them within the menu system.  You can also select any workouts you just have stored as well:

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Once selected, you can choose to ride the workout – which will automatically show you the current day’s workout:

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As you start your ride you’ll find the workout target page.  This gives you detailed instructions on each segment (or lap as it may be), and what you should be doing:

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The main thing here is just how much more space a coach (or yourself) has for instructions compared to the Garmin devices.  Also, you’ll notice you can have target ranges, whereas for workouts transferred to the Garmin devices from Training Peaks, those targets are specific to a given power value (i.e. 250w), versus a more useful power range (240-260w).

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If you change pages to your lap summary page, you’ll see not only detailed notes for the current lap, but also those for the next lap

All of this works really well, and it walks you through the workout without any complexities (as most other units do as well). Afterwards, you’ll find these stats online within Stages Link:

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Finally, to end everything you’ll press that upper left button, which brings up a menu to resume riding, end the ride and save, or end the ride and delete.

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And thus, your ride is done.

Synchronizing Data:

As you saw in The Basics section, the Stages Link platform is heavily used for configuration of items on the Dash itself.  Thus I want to briefly talk about how the Stages Dash syncs to the Stages Link platform, of which there are two options: Smartphone or desktop.

Stages has a mobile app available for both Android and iOS.  At present that mobile app is mostly just a conduit for syncing data to the website from the Dash.  There’s not a ton of settings to change from the app itself.

Pairing up the mobile app to the Dash only takes a second, and is done via Bluetooth Smart (random side note: the app supports syncing to multiple Dash units, should you have that or manage a team).  Once paired, you’ll see your Dash listed on the main page (there are just two core pages).  This first page shows you the overall sync status of the three main pieces: Ride Sync, Workout Sync, and Profile Sync.  The Ride Sync deals with completed workouts, the Workout Sync deals with upcoming workouts, and the Profile Sync takes care of device/user settings.  You can tap ‘View Sync Details’ to get a bit more…well…details, on the process:

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Also, up top, you can rename your Dash if you want.  Else, it just uses the last three digits of the serial number on the back of it. Meanwhile, the settings tab takes care of some basic options you have on the Stages Dash, including eat/drink reminders and whether or not the unit receives notifications from your smartphone during a ride.  Also, you’ve got the option to delete rides after an upload.

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As a general rule of thumb, I never delete rides, because you just never know when you might need them again.  There’s a boatload of storage on the unit – thus it’s unlikely I’m going to run out anytime soon.

Switching gears, let’s briefly talk about the Stages Sync for desktop.  This app does pretty much the same thing as the mobile version, except with less prettiness:

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You’ll go ahead and sign-in to the Stages Sync app, using your account for Stages Link (or actually, any Today’s Plan account). Once you’ve done so, you’ll plug in your Stages Dash, which the app will then associate with your account.  So if you have multiple Dash units for multiple users (like a team), it’ll correctly put the data in the right account. It’ll also update firmware accordingly:

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While this all sounds great, there’s some annoying gotchyas here, which make this the least favorite part of the entire Stages Dash experience (don’t worry, you don’t actually have to use it).  First is that the app requires the installation of the Java runtime stuffs.  I’ve gone years without having to install that again, but I had to here.  So that’s annoying because that, in turn, requires near constant patching for security reasons.

And second – more annoyingly, is that the Stages Sync app is constantly scanning for certain fitness file types – like .FIT files.  So anytime it finds those anywhere on your computer it thinks that folder is a Stages Dash unit.  You can then set to ignore that folder, but that in turn leaves a little placeholder file behind in that unsuspecting folder – like rabbit poop.  For some users, those won’t matter.  But for coaches and others that may have .FIT files from coaches laying around like candy, or being copying them to folders – it’s just an annoyance that anytime I save one the app pops up and makes itself known.  I just wish there was a ‘leave me the F alone forever’ option in the app.

Ok, my mini-rant is complete.  Really, it’s not that big of a deal, but sometimes little things get me all worked up.  Like rabbit poop.

Finally – lacking anywhere else to note this – a brief comment about Stages file formats.  By default Stages records in a new format they’ve created called .RDE. That format is available for others to use, but the key strength of it is that it can record more data points per second, ultimately accommodating their ability to do high-speed data capture like they do with their Stages app already.  In fact, on the Stages Dash it’ll already capture every pack transmitted by a sensor.  So many ANT+ devices transmit up to 4 times per second, and this will capture that data accordingly.

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On the Stages Link site you can download more common file formats (like .TCX), and the Stages Sync app will also convert them to .FIT files as well for you.

The Stages Link Platform:

One of the major plays that Stages is making with the Dash is that it’s more than just another bike computer, but rather an entire end to end deep-analysis training platform – something that nobody else really has.  Garmin, for example, has the head unit and a platform that shows activities and workouts, but by their own admission they’d redirect you to 3rd parties for deeper analysis of your workouts.

With Stages Link (that’s the name for the web platform), they’ve partnered with Today’s Plan for their web platform.  It’s more than just a rebrand (a la the likes of TrainingPeaks and Timex back in the day), as there are areas that Stages wants to take the platform further based on the core from Today’s Plan.  For those not familiar with Today’s Plan, they’re one of a number of deep-analysis training platforms that have come along in the last few years – alongside Xert and others, to challenge that of TrainingPeaks.

To begin with an overview, here’s my calendar view.  This shows me not only the workouts I’ve completed, but also those that I’ve got scheduled:

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Like any platform, I can click on a given workout and see things like graphics with given data points and hover over sections for deeper analysis:

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And they’ve got a newer beta section for what they call PI (Performance Index).

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More advanced analytics like load progression charts for CTL/ATL/TSB are also available.  What’s somewhat notable here is that you won’t see Intensity Factor (IF), Training Stress Score (TSS) and Normalized Power (NP) on Stages Link, since TrainingPeaks won’t license those to them (aka Today’s Plan) for the site.  But they are available on Stages Dash itself (which TrainingPeaks will license to).  Given these metrics are rather core to quite a bit of the TrainingPeaks’ business, it’s somewhat logical they wouldn’t make them available elsewhere.

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I mentioned earlier the plans piece.  These training plans are available to either target a specific race/event, or just a general build to awesomeness.

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The targeting of an event is pretty cool – because you’re actually selecting the event from the calendar:

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You can then choose how many weeks are in the plan as well as the priority (i.e. A/B/C), after selecting an event:

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It’ll ask you a pile of questions while generating the plan as well:

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This includes asking how many hours you’ve got each day of the week to work with:

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All of which ends up creating you a plan that lands on your calendar.  Each workout is then available to sync to the dash (it’ll do it automatically) – so that all you need to do is head out for a ride and follow instructions.

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There’s also some more mundane but really cool areas, such as the hardware tracking.  Along the top there you see the 7-8 different power meters I’ve paired with the Dash and have been using with it over the last while.  Normally if one was consistent enough to actually use the same darn power meter every time, you’d get these zero offset and battery drain graphs to be more detailed.  In my case I was mixing it up a bit, so you only get two data points – but you can see the coolness behind it (yes, even for non-Stages units).

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Another area I appreciate is how easy it is to see a list of all uploaded files.  This is handy to be able to quickly skim through and pick out any oddities.  While Garmin has this, their site is slow as molasses in this area – so this is awesome.

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A few more logistical things; you can sync Stages Link to TrainingPeaks and Strava (for outgoing files), so that when you sync your Dash unit it automatically pushes to those platforms.  Inversely, for incoming data you can use the ones on the left.  Interestingly in there is Garmin Wellness, which is different than Garmin Connect.  Garmin Wellness is the side of the house that allows import of things like step data.  Maybe we’ll see them add in Withings too – since that would round out all the major scales (Fitbit, Withings, Garmin, and a side of Under Armour).

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So what’s all this set you back?

Well, there are two chunks to Stages Link.  One is free, and one is definitely not.

The Free side is anything under the Power Meter and Stages Dash tabs, which allows you access to any configuration portions you want.  In addition, you can access the basic summary tab of an activity/workout.  Whereas all of the charting and analysis pieces require a monthly or annual membership (there is a trial available).  That’s $20 a month, or $200 a year (you do save 2 months of cost with a Dash).  All of which is more than Strava or TrainingPeaks.  In fact, even more than Today’s Plan itself which is $150.

The Future:

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In a lot of ways, the Stages Dash is very much like the Wahoo ELEMNT was one year ago.  Both companies announced around the same time in the summer (Eurobike/Interbike), and both companies were delayed until the following late spring for shipping.  Both companies have significant experience in the sector, but neither had developed a standalone GPS bike computer before.  Wahoo had a bit of a head start due to their RFLKT (non-GPS bike computer) experience, and Stages had more background in the power meter side.

Upon release, both units are/were great options.  If you looked at the Wahoo ELEMNT at the time, it had all the core pieces, but it was missing things like Strava Segments or proper routing, as well as a bunch of ‘little things’.  The challenge with defining little things is that they matter differently to each person.  One person may want cadence zero averaging, while another doesn’t care.  Another person may want the ability to specify power meter crank length on the unit itself, while another doesn’t care.  And yet another person may want ANT+ FE-C trainer control, whereas again, another doesn’t care.

For both companies though – the trick was how to go up against Garmin which mostly has all these features.  Simply being in the market for about a decade meant that Garmin had long since checked off all the 1% items that people want, or at least have come to want (bugs not withstanding).  And for the first few months, it was definitely tough for Wahoo.  I saw some early adopters that jumped in, but eventually backtracked after stumbles/blocks (only to return again later).  But now, a year later with the Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT (which runs identical software to the original ELEMNT) – people are over the moon thrilled.  I don’t think I’ve seen a product review with as many happy people as that.  But it took a year, and a lot of updating.

And that’s in some ways where I think Stages is.  They’ve got a lot of promise, and their initial product is generally pretty solid.  There are some quirks, and usability at times can be less simplistic than Garmin (or Wahoo) – but it’s also got a lot of power behind it.  Like Wahoo, they’ve got an aggressive slate of upcoming firmware developments.  Roughly speaking it’s one major features firmware drop per month (+ whatever bug fixes occur).  That’s in the ballpark of what Wahoo was doing as well.  For example, here’s the very rough major features schedule for the next few months (the below are exact quotes from them):

July: Ride History (Records, Totals, and Ride breakdowns navigable on the Dash), Advanced workout functionality (Auto Lap advance, Lap Back, out of zone feedback, Compliance score and tools, sub laps), App performance improvements
August: Course integration with Breadcrumb tracking (Across ecosystem), Shifting sensors, SmO2 sensors, Expanded App functionality to include Calendar and basic ride analysis
September: Trainer integration with workouts

But in talking with them, they aren’t 100% stuck on these being the only things.  Instead, they’re really looking for user feedback on how to prioritize other new features.  Perhaps they’d consider doing some sort of user voting forum or what-not, like some tech companies do, to allow users to help prioritize which features mean the most to them.  Again, one individuals most important feature is another’s ‘never used it’ feature, so it’s always a tough balance.

Thus in a lot of ways, I think if you’re happy being an early adopter, the Stages Dash is a solid option.  But I think where it’ll really be interesting is next spring (or winter), when they really hit their stride.  Just like Wahoo did.

Product Comparison:

I’ve added the Stages Dash into the product comparison tool.  This allows you to compare it against any other bike computer (or GPS device) I’ve reviewed.  For the purposes of this post, I’ve picked out a few that I think folks will likely compare it against.  In some ways though, it’s tricky because naturally you’d compare it against larger units (i.e. Wahoo ELEMNT, Edge 1000, etc…), but of course smaller units (Edge 520/Wahoo Bolt/Polar M460) are just as capable from a tech specs standpoint.  No worries, you can mix and match and create your own tables within the product comparison tool here.

Function/FeatureStages DashWahoo ELEMNTGarmin Edge 1000
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated June 19th, 2017 @ 5:27 amNew Window Expand table for more results
Price$399$329$599
Product Announcement DateAug 31st, 2016Sept 15th, 2015Apr 9, 2014
Actual Availability/Shipping DateJun 7th, 2017March 1st, 2016May 2014
Data TransferUSB & Bluetooth SmartBluetooth Smart, WiFi, USBUSB, Bluetooth, WiFi
Battery Life (GPS)24-30 Hours17 Hours15 hours
Recording Interval1-second & All data packets (even faster)1-Second1-Second or Smart
Satellite Pre-Loading via ComputerNoYesYes
Quick Satellite ReceptionGreat if in same locationYesYes
AlertsAudio/VisualSound/Visual/LED'sSound/Visual
Ability to download custom apps to unit/deviceNoNoYes

Again, remember you can make your own product comparison tool here.  Finally, some may ask why the SRM PC8 isn’t in the product comparison tool.  Well, generally speaking, I don’t put products in there unless I’ve written a review on it/pending.  And while I have used the SRM PC8 here and there, I haven’t written anything more than some hands-on pieces on it.  As for writing a review on the PC8?  Simply put – nobody has asked for one.  At least not in well over a year.  Not sure if the price scares people away, or the lack of functionality compared to all the offerings on the market today.  Either way, it’s the sound of silence there.

Summary:

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Overall I’m pretty impressed with where Stages landed in terms of their first bike computer.  They’ve far outdone any other company when it comes to a V1 release, and they’ve put a product in the market that’s definitely worth buying.  As I alluded to earlier, I really see the core initial market of the Dash as those who may be considering an SRM head unit.  This really targets that market, except at about half the price ($399 vs ~$750).  Not to mention a far more integrated platform from head unit to site/mobile app.

Of course, lacking things like Strava integration makes it a much tougher sell for the wider cycling audience.  As I’ve said many times before – the mere addition of ‘Strava’ to a title here on the blog dramatically increases interest in the story (despite how rarely I do it).  Any time a company has added Strava integration to their unit, folks clamor for it.  Similarly, lack of navigation/routing will also be a show-stopper for some.

Yet Stages can overcome some of those limitations by the differentiation it has with dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart sensor support (no Garmin Edge devices have this), as well as the advanced structured workout support (that Wahoo doesn’t have).  Not to mention the 16 data fields on a single page display.  Just because you can.

Finally – I’m looking forward to seeing where things end up later this year and into early next year.  They’ve built a very solid base and with frequent updates planned – they’ll become even more competitive as time goes on.

Found this review useful? Or just wanna save a bundle? 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 exclusive benefits on all products purchased.  By joining the Clever Training VIP Program, you will earn 10% points on this item and 10% off (instantly) on thousands of other fitness products and accessories.  Points can be used on your very next purchase at Clever Training for anything site-wide.  You can read more about the details here.  By joining, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get to enjoy the significant partnership benefits that are just for DC Rainmaker readers.  And, since this item is more than $75, you get free 3-day (or less) US shipping as well.

Stages Dash bike computer

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Fitbit Alta HR In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/06/fitbit-alta-hr-in-depth-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/06/fitbit-alta-hr-in-depth-review.html#comments Tue, 13 Jun 2017 16:17:17 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=75367 Read More Here ]]> Fitbit-Alta-HR-Main

In what may seem like a sea of Fitbit models, the Fitbit Alta HR attempts to strike the balance between what folks want as a straightforward activity tracker, while making some nods towards basic workout support.  I’ve been wearing a unit now for about two months – tracking my moves 24×7.  So I figured now’s a good time to dive into how well the unit works and where it stands against the competition.  Especially since the competitive landscape continues to get more and more crowded.

Before we go too far though, here’s the basic view of the current Fitbit ball field:

Fitbit Zip: Yes, they still make it (it’s not super current).  But it’s tiny and kinda awesome.
Fitbit Flex 2: A band that tracks your steps, but no display, just a mini light show.
Fitbit Charge 2: A small display, a button, and a heart rate sensor.
Fitbit Alta: A small display without the heart rate sensor (came out a year ago). No button, touch tap only.
Fitbit Alta HR: An Alta with the HR sensor (this post).
Fitbit Blaze: Their main full-featured smartwatch (no GPS).
Fitbit Surge: Their GPS watch that’s really old.

Got all that? Good.  I’ve skipped over the older Fitbit Flex, and Fitbit One…because they’re older and not superseded by something else.

One final note is that Fitbit sent me out a loaner unit to try out.  After I’m done with this review I’ll ship it back to them like normal.  Just the way I roll.  You can hit up the links at the end of this review if you find the review useful and want to support the site.

With that – let’s get cookin’!

Size Comparisons:

FitbitAltaBox

When it comes to looking at how the Fitbit Alta HR sizes up, it’s definitely one of the smallest out there in its class.  Of course, this class of devices tends to be pretty small.  Comparing it for example to the Garmin Vivosmart 3, you’ll notice both have slight differences but are very similar.

Fitbit-AltaHR-vs-Garmin-Vivosmart3 Fitbit-AltaHR-vs-GarminVivosmart3-band

The Garmin Vivosmart 3 is a shade bit larger in width than the Fitbit Alta HR.  On the flipside, it has more functions for sport and tracking than the Fitbit does. Though, the Alta HR has band swappability, whereas the Vivosmart 3 doesn’t.

If you then compare that to something like the Polar A370, you’ll see that the A370 is a fair bit bigger.  But then again, the A370 has a much brighter and bigger display and far more sport functions.

Fitbit-Alta-HR-vs-Polar-A370-1 Fitbit-Alta-HR-vs-Polar-A370

So, in general, the bigger you get, the more stuff they cram in there.  Same would be true if you compared it to the Garmin Vivosmart HR+, which is in the ballpark of the Polar A360/A370 for size – but also contains GPS.  Here’s a quick look at the weights of each of them:

Fitbit-Alta-HR-Weight Garmin-Vivosmart3-

Polar-A370-Weight Garmin-VivosmartHR-Weight

Ok, with sizing out of the way, let’s dive into the details.

The Basics:

Fitbit-Alta-HR-Customize-Screen

When it comes to using the Fitbit Alta HR, things are pretty straight-forward.  For the most part you’ve only got a few screens to tap your way through.  In a lot of ways, the majority of the data gathered by the unit is viewable from the app – not the device itself.

Sure, you’ve got core things like calories, steps, and distance shown on the device – as well as your current HR.  But to see data from workouts or HR trends, you’ll need the app.  But let’s not get too distracted yet. First the unit itself.

The display will always be off unless you either raise your wrist to look at it, or double-tap it.  I’d say about 80% of the time it correctly gets the wrist-raise, but the remaining 20% I’ll have to double-tap it.  In most cases where I have to double-tap it’s because the wrist motion wasn’t significant (like reading a book or sitting on the couch and only slightly moving to see the screen).  The battery life is as stated, about a week.  I haven’t had any issues there.

Fitbit-Alta-HR-Default-Display

Once illuminated, the unit will by default show the time of day, day of week, and date – as seen above.  You can customize this display though via the mobile app.  This includes customizing not just the clock face screen, but also whether it’s in a vertical or horizontal orientation.  As seen below, some of these clock faces also show your current HR or progress towards your goal.

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Next, we can tap our way through up to 8 different display pages.  These are listed below and can be turned on or off as you see fit.  You can also customize the specific order of them:

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Here’s how a few of them look:

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Throughout the day the unit is tracking your steps and distance, but its real motivation is to get you to move more.  So by default you’ve got a step goal (of 10,000 steps).  But you can customize that to instead be a distance goal, calories burned goal, or active minutes goal.

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Each hour, at 10 minutes to the hour (i.e. 4:50PM), it’ll buzz you if you’ve missed your step goal for the hour.  In doing so it’ll give you some little bit of encouragement to stop being lazy.

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These move reminders can be turned off, or otherwise customized for your start and end times of the day.  Or, if you decide that on Sunday you can be extra lazy.

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Of course – a big part of using an activity tracker is to track your steps and distance (as well as other activity).  With the Fitbit Alta HR, you’ll get the daily status as shown in the gallery a few paragraphs up.  But what if you want to see trending over time?  For that, you’ll crack open the app.  It’s here that you can see overview stats for each day, and then tap left/right to change days.  You can also tap any given metric (such as steps) to see what things look like for each day of the week, allowing you to scroll back as far as you’d like.

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The same is true of other metrics like calories or active minutes.  Note that the Fitbit Alta HR does not track floors however, which is why you see it as zero above.

Next, we’ve got more general notifications – specifically smartphone notifications.  With the Fitbit Alta HR, you’ll get both text and call notifications, as well as calendar reminders.  But that’s it.  You won’t get Twitter notifications or any other app you’ve got.  So if you happen to use WhatsApp for example, you’re hosed.

2017-06-01 16.16.49 2017-06-01 16.16.52

This is a weird sticking point that Fitbit continues to stick to – despite most of their competitors allowing you to customize what alerts you get (you know, the whole user in control thing).  While Fitbit has opened this up on some of their higher end units, they continue to restrict it here.

On one hand you could argue the display is tiny and almost useless for anything of length.  And that’s probably true.  But there’s no real difference in length between a text message sent via the native text and that of WhatsApp.  It’s still my friend asking if I want to meet up for a ride using the same wording.  Thus…I’m not sure why Fitbit continues to box users in.

In any case, last but not least we’ve got sleep capabilities.  The unit itself doesn’t display sleep metrics, but rather instead records sleep data as you wear it each night.  That data is then accessible from the app.  Fitbit has semi-recently updated their sleep metrics to be quite a bit more useful than it was in the past.  To begin, of course, you’ve got an overview of sleep hours by days in the week for the past week (you can go further too).  You can then tap on any given day to get more details about that night of sleep:

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(In case you’re wondering how I ended up with a crapton of sleep one night – I was transiting timezones, so things ended up funky for whatever reason that night.)

You’ll notice up top on the right that I’ve got the time asleep (6hr 16mins), but also a funky waveform like looking graph that shows you what type of sleep I was in throughout the night.  I can scroll down in the app to get more details about that, and then comparisons to my averages as well as everyone else:

2017-06-13 14.33.00 2017-06-13 14.33.08 2017-06-13 14.33.11

I can further click on the sleep details to get more sleep stage information by day.  Additionally, you can customize sleep goals, such as a target time to be asleep and wake-up each day, as well as then a reminder for you to hit the sack.

2017-06-13 14.33.16 2017-06-13 14.33.47

And with that, we’ve pretty much covered all the functionality there is on the Fitbit Alta HR itself aside from workouts.  You see, there’s no specific workout mode on the device, but rather, that’s triggered from the app on your smartphone.  So let’s head on into the workout section to dive into that a bit more.

Workout Modes:

Fitbit-Alta-HR-Workout-Modes

Unlike the Fitbit Charge 2, the Alta HR doesn’t have a dedicated button for starting a workout from the band itself.  Instead, you’ve got two options – one is to let it automatically detect your exercise.  And the second is to manually start an exercise from the smartphone app.

See, by default the unit will also automatically track certain activities (like a run or ride) using the accelerometer within it.  So you don’t need to open the app if you don’t care about a GPS map or more details.  These automatically detected activities will automatically show up within the app without any pre-workout phone touching required.  You can also tweak these if need be to make them shorter/longer.

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They’ll show up in your workouts page on the app – allowing you to see each type of activity there:

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But what if you want a workout track with a GPS track?  Or if you want more accuracy for distance than the accelerometer will usually provide?  For that, you’ll use the smartphone app to trigger the workout starting.  To do so you’ll tap the + icon on the app, then select ‘Track Exercise’ which will ask what type of workout you’re doing:

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You can only change to Run, Hike, or Walk…which…is frankly kinda stupid and lame.  Why not cycling for example?  I mean, after all it’s only tracking your heart rate from the device – so anything should really be possible here.  Or perhaps you want weight training while indoors?  Or Yoga?  Or fill in the blank here.

In addition, you can configure audio voice cues, which come from your phone (either the speaker, or headphones plugged in).  These can be customized to speak different metrics at different points.

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What happens after you press start is that you’ll get heart rate data from the unit saved directly to the app via Bluetooth Smart.  So you must take your phone with you for this to work.  You’ll also be able to see the exact distance on the app itself.  Note – there’s no additional data displayed on the Fitbit Alta HR, that’ll just do its normal screens.

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So basically, the app is acting like any other GPS fitness app – except it’s simply pairing to your Fitbit Alta HR to get your heart rate (sorta like pairing to a heart rate strap).  Speaking of which, the Fitbit Alta HR does NOT broadcast your heart rate to other apps in real-time (many other trackers do).  So no, it does NOT broadcast over either Bluetooth Smart or ANT+ standard HR profiles.  Nor will it communicate with gym machines like treadmills.

Once your workout is done you can end the session on the phone and you’ll get stats about it (seen earlier in this section).  You’ll also likely get some congratulatory goodness as you finish your run.

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As you can see, it’s a pretty straightforward experience that’s honestly less advanced than any 3rd party app like RunKeeper, MapMyRun or others.

After the workout you’ll see the completed workout data – including the map – within the app or online:

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With the sport functionality covered, let’s talk about whether the HR functionality is worth a hill of beans or not.

Heart Rate Accuracy:

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So what about optical HR accuracy?  Well, there’s two pieces to that.  First is the 24×7 HR component.  How well does it record heart rate when not in sport?  For that, I found things pretty good.  In many ways Fitbit’s optical HR sensor is better tuned for 24×7 mode than sport mode, and it shows here.  It’s sampling at a 1-second rate, and is recording quite near that as well.  And all the data I’ve seen while comparing multiple devices at once for 24×7 mode looks pretty good on the Alta HR.

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Note that the 24×7 mode data is shown on the unit itself using the HR data page, or by customizing the clock face to show it by default.  Also, the data can be seen within the app too – both in real-time as well as historical trends.

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But what about sport mode?  Well, that’s gonna vary person to person, and situation to situation.  One of the things that makes smaller band accuracy more challenging is how much light gets in from the side (daylight is the arch-enemy of optical HR sensor accuracy, and a loose fitting and very thin band is super tough).  Still, with that in mind, I went out and tested it in a few different scenarios.

Keep in mind that in order to test this accuracy you need to start a workout from the phone.  That way you can get a workout file to compare against other files with.  For these tests I was using both a chest HR strap as well as another optical HR sensor watch, and in some cases a fourth HR sensor (such as the Scosche Rhythm+ on the upper arm).  No wrist had more than one device worn.

First up is a run in San Diego on a relatively warm and sunny day.  In this run I started off at a reasonable pace and then slowly escalated.  Eventually I dipped into doing intervals – 6 repeats in total.  Here’s the overview (and the data set in the DCR Analyzer):

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As you can see, overall the Fitbit Alta HR did actually pretty well, especially in the interval portion.  Early on however in the first 7-10 minutes it struggled a little bit, and overshot on HR compared to the other devices.  For this run I had a chest strap (Wahoo TICKR-X), a Scosche optical sensor (upper arm), and the Suunto Wrist HR (other wrist).  So three optical HR sensors and one traditional chest strap.  Given the terrain during this run was pancake flat (seriously, a table-top has more deviation than this route did), I’m not clear why in the first 10 minutes we see the Fitbit Alta HR have trouble.

Still, the fact that it didn’t have trouble after that point is more meaningful to me.  As you can see when I zoom into the intervals, it tracks those quite nicely actually:

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Let’s shift to another run, this one also in warmer temperatures, but a bit more consistent in intensity for the most part.

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You can see a similar pattern to the previous run – where the unit wobbles a bit early on in terms of accuracy, but by about the 10-minute marker is pretty happy for the remainder of the run.  There’s slight differences (+/- a few BPM) over the course of the remainder, but that’s pretty normal when you start looking at slight differences in measurement and recording rates, and trying to compare those.

Now my next test was to check accuracy while cycling.  Or actually, really any other sport.  Except you can’t.

See, remember back when you choose to start a workout with the Fitbit Alta HR you get exactly three exercise types: Run, Walk, and Hike. That’s it:

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This means that for anything else you get an auto recognized activity. Which in turn means no GPS coverage.  And that matters because for years (still), Fitbit doesn’t allow data exports with HR data to non-GPS activities. Sure, you can go onto the site and click ‘Export to TCX’ for anything.  Except the file it’ll give you for a non-GPS activity is simply empty.  It’s a useless and null file.  Fitbit doesn’t call that a bug – but rather some sort of ‘feature’.  Hmm….ok.

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So…yeah.

While I could try and compare the data between the picture above and the actual HR sensors I had, that’d be pointless. Why?  Well, two reasons.  First is that the accuracy of doing so is sketchy at best.  But more important is that any person can easily see these two graphs look nothing like each other (the Fitbit seems to think I topped out at about 118bpm, despite major long climbs).  The Fitbit Alta HR is dismal when it comes to tracking optical HR on the bike – a problem I’ve had with all Fitbit units on the bike.

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On the bright side, it was still a nice bike ride.

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So overall I’d say that on the running side of things I’ve seen generally good progress from Fitbit (it’s much better than it used to be).  However, cycling is dismal as always.  As for other sports – well, again, it’s hard to know/tell because strangely Fitbit doesn’t actually let you track those sports with the Alta HR.  No indoor gym mode to track lifting, or Yoga, or anything else.

Finally, for lack of sticking it anywhere else – I’m not going to compare GPS accuracy in this review.  Like the Polar A370 review last week, the reason is the same: It’d just be comparing different phones’ GPS accuracy – not the Fitbit itself.  That’s because with the Fitbit Alta HR using your phone for GPS accuracy, the test results wouldn’t mean a whole lot. They’d vary by phone model and invariably you’d have a different model than I.  Then you get into things like firmware versions on the phone which can also impact results.  Still, for those curious – you can look at the GPS tracks with each and every data set I’ve shared above (it’s shown in the DCR Analyzer).  Alternatively, here’s a shot of one route, with four different units including the Alta HR.  Things are basically identical (albeit on a reasonably easy route):

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Note that Fitbit allows exports of the GPS track/files using .TCX format – making it pretty easy to do these comparisons.

Also note that all of these comparisons were done with the DCR Analyzer, which I recently opened up to anyone who wants to use it.  You can find more details here on it and how to get started making your own comparisons.

Product Comparisons:

Fitbit-Alta-HR-vs-Garmin-vs-Polar

I’ve added the Fitbit Alta HR into the product comparison tool.  This allows you to compare features against other products in the category, such as those from Garmin, Polar, and more.  While I’ve shown just a handful of competitors below, you can mix and match and create your own product comparison chart here in the product comparison tool.

For the purposes of below I’ve compared against the Garmin Vivosmart 3, the Polar A370, and the Fitbit Charge 2:

Function/FeatureFitbit Alta HRFitbit Charge 2Garmin Vivosmart 3Polar A370
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated June 13th, 2017 @ 12:55 pmNew Window Expand table for more results
Price$149$149$139$179
Data Transfer TypeBluetooth SmartBluetooth SmartBluetooth Smart, USBBluetooth Smart & USB
Has GPS built-inNo (can use phone for GPS)No (can use phone's GPS though)NoNo (can connect phone for GPS)
WaterproofingSplash/Rain onlySplash only50m30m
Battery LifeUp to 7 daysUp to 5 daysUp to 5 days3-4 days
Battery TypeUSB RechargeableUSB RechargeableUSB RechargeableUSB rechargeable
Changeable Bands/StrapsYesYesNoYes
Phone Music ControlNoNoYesNo
Has time alarmsYesYesYEsYes (setup on phone app)
Smartphone NotificationsCall/Text/Calendar onlyCALL/TEXT/CALENDAR ONLYYesYes

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

Summary:

Fitbit-Alta-HR-Overview

For most people, the Fitbit Alta HR pick up doing what Fitbits of the past have done: Being a perfectly capable activity tracker.  With the porting of Fitbit’s optical HR technology into the Alta series, they’ve expanded the number of wearables they have with wrist-based heart rate technology, and in this case – the ability to swap bands.

But I feel like in many ways when I look at the Alta HR, I kinda just shrug. Fitbit didn’t really deliver on anything that would drive most other existing Fitbit users to upgrade to it, unless you really like band swappability.  Which of course – some people really do.  The ability to have more fashion-focused activity tracker bands is definitely a hot trend right now.  But in looking at the Fitbit lineup it’s almost become too confusing with too many options, especially in the $80-$150 price range.

As I often note – for most people choosing the best day to day activity tracker (non-sport focused) is really better served by polling your friends.  Given that users on the various ecosystems (Garmin/Polar/Fitbit/Apple/etc…) can’t face off against each other to step/activity challenges, it’s best to pick a device that resides in the same ecosystem as your friends.  Or, if you have existing sport devices – the same as those.

For the most part, these devices from the major players in this space all work well and all have minor nuances.  Of course, one person’s most important feature is another’s “don’t care” feature – so you’ll want to validate whatever you choose doesn’t skip that 1% feature that matters to you.

With that – thanks for reading!

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

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

I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers an exclusive 10% discount across the board on all products (except clearance items).  You can pick up the Fitbit Alta HR (or any other Alta HR bands) from Clever Training. Then receive 10% off of everything in your cart by adding code DCR10BTF at checkout.  By doing so, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get a sweet discount. And, since this item is more than $75, you get free US shipping as well.

Fitbit Alta HR (select dropdown for size/style)

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

Thanks for reading!

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5 Random Things I Did This Weekend https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/06/5-random-things-i-did-this-weekend-48.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/06/5-random-things-i-did-this-weekend-48.html#comments Mon, 12 Jun 2017 11:35:29 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=75231 Read More Here ]]> Nice to be back home for the weekend, especially as the temperature heats up as we ease into summer.  Here’s what we were up to!

1) Special delivery

You know those small mailbox supply stores you see in strip malls around the states that you wonder how they stay in business?  I’ve decided someday when I return to the US I’m going to open one of them up.  Not to sell faded envelopes or 18 varieties of packing bubble wrap.  Rather, simply to deal with my own shipping and receiving.

Without question – it’s one of the biggest pains in the ass of my day to day realm.  I’m going to blame about 70% on the various French postal and courier systems, and 30% of me having stuff arriving and departing to/from all over the world with odd customs issues.  And the bigger the boxes?  The messier it is.  That blame slides back into the 70% category, as many times the French couriers won’t even bother to bring the larger items in their trucks.  They’ll just simply pretend you weren’t available and call you to pick it up (well outside the city).

Or my favorite is when delivering trainers they’ll take one look at how heavy it is and mark in the system that I wasn’t at the home/office (even if I actually was).  All of which is a long lead-up to me finally getting this special delivery test device on Saturday:

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I think it’s at about two weeks, with more back and forth communications than Apollo 13 had. But it’s here now.  And while it’s larger than my front door – it’s lighter than my backpack.  More on that later (the box, not my backpack).

2) A hot evening run

Saturday evening I headed out for a run around town.  It was definitely pretty warm.  About the hottest it’s been all year to that point (it then got even hotter on Sunday).  No matter, I threw logic aside and began my run at the hottest part of the day.  Why not?

Sometimes I go in spurts where I’d rather do more running than riding, or riding than running.  For whatever reason, I was feeling more in a running mood the last few days than a riding one.  No worries, I’ve got boatloads of riding coming up over the next few weeks with some travel to scenic riding places.  Or maybe it’s just that despite tourist-dodging, I actually enjoy running in the city in summer.

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Though mid-way through the run as I was rounding the Eiffel Tower, I decided not to backtrack my way home.  The quai on the outbound was just overly busy with people and I was feeling too lazy to dodge again.  So instead I wormed my way across the heart of the city.  In theory, it’s a shorter distance if you were a pigeon, but in actuality it ends up being longer since you’ve got to follow the roads.

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Along the way, I ran by a long grassy park leading away from Invalides where exactly 5 years ago we looked at an apartment overlooking the park when we first moved to Paris.  But when we could hear the kettle of water in the apartment next to it going off at mid-day (along with the crazy owner), we decided to pass on that one. It’s in the photo below (from my run) in the middle on the left side.

Still, how times flies!  Here’s some of that House Hunting fun!

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Shortly thereafter I also passed the fugly Montparnasse Tower.  At least the Olympic logo helps make it look slightly better.

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In any case, I finished up the run not too long after. A touch over 8 miles (12.8KM) in about an hour.  Given the heat, I’ll take it.

3) Trying to zip-line off the Eiffel Tower

Last week I got wind that as part of a promotion to do with the French Open, they’d be doing ziplining off of the Eiffel Tower.  Not from the tippy top mind you, but the 2nd platform, which is still pretty darn high up (115m/377ft).  The line then would zip all the way across the Champ de Mars (the massive green lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower).  As far as famous sites to place a zipline, this would pretty much take the cake.  Here’s a pic I snapped on my run on Thursday:

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However, by the time I heard of it – it was too late to register (it was a promotion with Perrier).  Instead, you could visit a small lounge area at the end of the zipline and tweet your way to a ticket, awarded hourly.  Unfortunately, I’ve never been good at popularity contests.  I’m also really bad at social media.

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So while I didn’t quite luck out – our good friends that were there with us did manage to score!

Lillian was far more skilled at social media, and subsequently won a slot to jump off shortly after we arrived.  The cool part is that Perrier actually had a two-camera setup on the zipline itself and then posted all of the videos pretty quickly for you to watch yourself.  Pretty neat.  Here’s her run:

As an aside, this it not the craziest zipline any of us have ever done.  That honor would go to this batcrap crazy long zipline in Val Thoren that reaches a height above the ground almost the same as the entire Eiffel Tower itself, connected between two mountain tops.

The four of us did this a few years ago in the alps.  Here’s my run:

But the far funnier one is when The Girl attempted to do the zipline and got stuck with not enough momentum.  Seriously, probably one of the funniest videos I’ve posted:

You can watch her full run (from start to finish here).

4) A hotter afternoon ride

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After my failure to launch at the Eiffel Tower, I moseyed across town back to the Studio to swap bikes.  I traded in my bike share Velib for my road bike to put in some more miles with the Power2Max NG power meter.  My hope is to have enough miles on it by the end of the week to formulate opinions for a review.

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In particular, this time I had taken even more head units than normal with me.  First was because I’m also trying to wrap up my Polar M460 review, but secondarily because I had noticed a few quirks last ride with the Fenix 5 and connecting to the NG.  So I had another unit (plus the Fenix 5) connected to it to validate some power numbers I saw.  I’ve generally had good luck with ANT+ reception on the Fenix 5 (except Stryd), so this was something I wanted to see if I could replicate.

In case you were wondering why I didn’t have the Stages Dash on there…I simply forgot to charge it.  Its battery lasts forever, then when it finally dies, it sorta catches me off-guard.  Fear not, review coming up this week!

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In any case – the ride itself was mostly uneventful.  The pyramid at Bois de Vincennes was closed for some sort of crazy cycle tour Paris event for the general public.  Thousands of bikes, most of which seemed not to have seen daylight this year.  So I avoided that as much as possible.  But then another portion of the park was closed for a walk-a-thon type thing.

Thus my ride wasn’t quite as long as I wanted, since I was hoping to kinda do mindless loops for a while – and hadn’t otherwise planned a route out of the city (a morning ride would have been better for leaving the city).

Oh well, at least I got a ride in.  Better than no ride.

5) Pool time!

Finally, I finished up my ride at a friends house.  We had picked up two small 1m wide inflatable baby pools while back in Canada.  Why on earth they were selling inflatable pool anything in Newfoundland is beyond me.  Not like anyone needs it there.  Which then again, might be why they only cost $7…Canadian.  Or less than $5USD.

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They were great though!  The Peanut and her two friends of similar age loved them, and they were easy to inflate and fill up.  And from a technical review level, if only filled with 3-4” of water, it ensured that even when the babies decided to crawl over the edge, the water didn’t spill out because of the lower of the two wall layers.  Regrettably for you, they are not as cheap on Amazon as they were in the frozen north.

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Plus, easy to take with us while traveling.  Though, I won’t likely be able to do any sort of pool watch swim testing with them.  Just a wee bit too small.

In any case, our friends have a sun drenched terrace, so we spent the remainder of the afternoon up there enjoying the pool time and wine.  A solid way to end the weekend.

Thanks for reading all!

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23
Dîner en Blanc 2017– Still the best night in Paris! https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/06/dner-en-blanc-2017-still-the-best-night-in-paris.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/06/dner-en-blanc-2017-still-the-best-night-in-paris.html#comments Fri, 09 Jun 2017 19:54:06 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=75201 Read More Here ]]> DSC_3832

It’s that time of year again for the best night in Paris.  For the last four years in Paris we’ve been lucky enough to attend the famed Dîner en Blanc (Dinner in white) event, which is a massive flash-mob like dining event held in a unique and amazing location each year in the city.  The event is traditionally held in early June, with its exact location kept secret until minutes before you arrive onsite.  Even the date is mostly under warps except to those invited.

I’ve written about it the previous times we attended – and this year will be no different.  In many ways this post is more for my long-term archival of the event than anything else.  Something that someday myself and The Girl can look back on.  It forces me to edit photos and put something to paper…err…digital paper.

The event starts off months in advance with securing a slot to the event.  It’s incredibly difficult and there’s no entry form.  You have to know someone that’s been invited in years past and remains in the good graces of the event for not violating any of the various protocols.

Then at noon on the day of the event you’ll receive a text with the initial meeting location to arrive at 8PM.  This location is in the general ballpark (within 800-1,000m) of the final location.  Because there are some 6,800 other people (this year) at the event, these locations are spread across the city around the undisclosed final location.  Ours was essentially atop a Velib station:

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It’s here that you’ll start your festivities with getting early liquids in.  Most of these waiting spots are adjacent to bars and cafes.  Then at 9PM you’ll receive another text with more specific details on where you’re going.  Before that point you don’t know the final spot – it could be anywhere.  In our case that meant about an 8-10 minute walk to the evening’s grounds – Hôtel de Ville.  In French, Hôtel de Ville means the town/city hall (it’s not an actual hotel).  In the case of Paris, there’s massive grounds outside it that host events year round (many of which you see in my posts).

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Once you arrived, you must quickly setup your tables.  With Dîner en Blanc – you bring everything in – including tables, food, glassware (no paper stuff allowed), and decorations for your table.  Likewise, you take everything out afterwards as if nobody was ever there.

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In our group (10 couples), we go with a shared family-style dining approach.  Each couple brings 1-2 dishes to share amongst the entire group.  Plus each couple usually brings a bottle of Champagne (or wine)…or two bottles depending on the after party situation. Can never have too much Champagne.

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Shortly after setup, there’s the ceremonial napkin twirl.  Our group was in the middle of resolving a land dispute with an uninvited palm tree, so I had to settle for a cell-phone photo here.

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Then it’s onto enjoying the food.  Luckily our group is full of foodies, that includes chefs/bakers, and other foodie type folks.  I mean, just look at these dishes!

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Don’t worry, this was just one-half of the cheese selection for our table:

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And of course The Girl brought a cake from The Cake Studio:

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All of which ended up on my plate:

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A couple of notes on attire and such.  Everyone is required to wear white everything.  Ideally upscale/semi-formal white something.  As noted, the specifics for bringing your own table and chairs are very detailed – down to the allowed sizes (so that everyone fits).  Plus things like cutlery (not plastic), plates (not plastic), and even trash bags (must have) are dictated.  For The Girl and I, we find everything in this world seems to be becoming increasingly more and more casual, we enjoy having some fanciness every once in a while. So we ask each year for our group to make their best efforts on the fancy front, and once again our friends came through dressed to impress.

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Going over the top is welcomed here.  Our table brings fresh cut flowers (we actually cut them down to size with butter knives at the table in fact), as well as candles.

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Other tables will bring entire candle holder center pieces.  Or elaborate lighting systems.  As long as it looks nice and adds to the night – all is welcome!

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Oh – and since everything had to be in white…don’t worry – I brought out a white watch for the occasion.  The Suunto Spartan Ultra:

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And if you need water refills?  Don’t worry – the city has you covered.  Parisian municipal water is some of the best in the world, and it’s available from these taps across the city. In both still and sparkling varieties.  This one happened to be in the middle of the rows of tables:

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One minor sports tidbit is all of the Paris 2024 Olympic bid related goods were on display, seen here in giant banners on town hall:

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Mid-way through the evening just after dark (around 11PM) it was time to light the sparklers, which are provided by the event.  It’s the only thing provided by the event (which cost $3 per couple, much of which benefits charity).

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This year was unique in that we managed to get ourselves atop a gigantic crane that was being used for photos of the event.

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While we had to wait in line a little bit – it was definitely worth it for the 30 seconds we got up top!

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For anyone trying to do a headcount here, this year there were 6,800 people at Dîner en Blanc, slightly up from 6,400 people last yearTwo years ago there were 10,000 people and then 13,000 people the year before.  While you see the majority of the people in the photo below, there were also folks across one of the bridges crossing the Seine leading out to the right (click to expand).

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After getting back from our crane-based aerial adventure (as drones would be illegal in Paris proper), it was time to cut the cake and dig into dessert:

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In addition to cake, Sudeep brought some of his pralines – which are awesome sauce.  Like others in our group, he’s been spinning up a boutique – À la Louisiane – making high-end pralines, all from a bit of Louisiana heritage (where he’s from).

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Like any high-end food item, these are best eaten same day.  It’s never a disappointing day when he swings by the Cake Studio/DCR Cave with treats!

After that, there was more picture taking…

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As well as a bit more music and dancing…

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And some more drinking.  Lots more drinking.

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Then as the clock strikes midnight everyone starts to pack back up again.

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And by pack-up, I mean do justice to any remaining bottles.  Don’t worry, a certain someone took care of that here with gusto.

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Before you knew it, it was empty in the square – left just as it was a few hours prior.  Folks are great at respecting the location and being sure to clean things up and ensuring all trash is ported out of the area.

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Luckily for us this year we only had a short few hundred meter walk home.  Remember, we’re trucking our tables and chairs, as well as glassware and plates.  Phew!

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With that – thanks again to Roger and crew for hosting an amazing event.  And of course, to everyone in our group for making yet another incredibly memorable night.  See ya next year!

P.S. – Here’s the previous Dîner en Blanc goodness: 2016 (complete with video!), 2015 (near the Louvre!), and 2014 (on the bridges)!

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Thoughts on the wearables studies (including The Stanford Wearables study) https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/06/thoughts-on-the-wearables-studies-including-the-stanford-wearables-study.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/06/thoughts-on-the-wearables-studies-including-the-stanford-wearables-study.html#comments Thu, 08 Jun 2017 13:57:00 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=74914 Read More Here ]]> As might be obvious these days, publishing a study on wearables is the fashionable thing to do.  There seems to be a new major (or at least noticed in the mainstream media) wearable study published every month.  Sometimes more often.  And that ignores the likely hundreds of smaller and never picked up wearable studies that probably occur each year in all manner of settings.

And in general – these studies are doing good work.  They’re aiming to validate and hold accountable manufacturer claims.  That’s always a good thing – and something I aim to do here as well.  Many times these studies will focus on a specific claim – such as heart rate accuracy, or step accuracy.  As those are generally somewhat easy to validate externally through a variety of means.  In the case of steps it can be as simple as manually counting the steps taken, and in the case of heart rate it may be medical grade systems to cross-reference to.

All of which are 100% valid ways to corroborate data from wearables.

Except there’s one itty bitty problem I’m seeing more and more often: They’re often doing it wrong.

(Note: This isn’t the first time I’ve taken a supposedly scientific study to task, you’ll see my previous rendition here.  Ironically, both entities screwed up in the same way.)

Why reading the manual matters

Most studies I’ve seen usually tackle 5-7 different devices to test.  Almost always one of these devices is an Apple Watch, because that has mainstream media appeal.  Additionally, you’ll usually find a Fitbit sensor in there too – because of both mainstream media interest as well as being the most popular activity tracker ever.  After that you’ll find a smattering of random devices, usually a blend of Mio, sometimes Garmin, sometimes Polar, and then sometimes totally random things like older Jawbone or others.

From there, devices are tested against either medical grade systems, or against consumer grade systems.  The Polar H7 strap is often used.  Which while not quite as ideal as medical grade systems, is generally a good option assuming you know the obvious signs where a strap is having issues (remember – that’s still a very common thing).

But that’s not what’s concerning me lately.

(Actually, before we go forward – a brief aside: My goal isn’t to pick on this Stanford study per se, but that’s probably what’s going to happen.  I actually *agree* with what they’re attempting to say in the end.  But I don’t agree with how they got there.  And as you’ll see, that’s really important because it significantly alters the results.  Second, they’ve done a superb job of publishing their exact protocol and much of the data from it.  Something that the vast majority of studies don’t do.  So at least they’re thorough in that regard.  Also, I like their step procedure for how they are testing it at different intensities.  One of the better designed tests I’ve seen.

Next, do NOT mistake what I’m about to dive into as saying all optical HR sensors are correct.  In fact, far from it.  The vast majority are complete and utter junk for workouts.  But again, that’s not what we’re talking about here.  This is far more simplistic.  Ok, my aside is now complete.)

Instead, what’s concerning me lately is best seen in this photo from the Stanford study published last week (full text available here):

image

(Photo Credit: Paul Sakuma/Stanford)

As you can see, the participant is wearing four devices concurrently.  This is further confirmed within their protocol documents:

“Participants were wearing up to four devices simultaneously and underwent continuous 12-lead electrocardiographic (ECG) monitoring and continuous clinical grade indirect calorimetry (expired gas analysis) using FDA approved equipment (Quark CPET, COSMED, Rome, Italy).”

First and foremost – the Mio Alpha 2 on the left wrist (lower one) is very clearly atop the wrist bone.  Which is quite frankly the single biggest error you can make in wearing an optical HR sensor.  It’s the worst spot to wear it.  Don’t worry though, this is covered within the Mio Alpha 2 manual (page 6):

image

But let’s pretend that’s just a one-off out of the 60 participants when the camera came by.  It happens.

The bigger issue here is them wearing two optical HR sensor devices per wrist (which they did on all participants).  Doing so affects other optical HR sensors on that wrist.  This is very well known and easily demonstrated, especially if one of the watches/bands is worn tightly.  In fact, every single optical HR sensor company out there knows this, and is a key reason why none of them do dual-wrist testing anymore.  It’s also why I stopped doing any dual wrist testing about 3 years ago for watches.  One watch, one wrist.  Period.

If you want a fun ‘try at home’ experiment, go ahead and put on one watch with an optical HR sensor.  Now pick a nice steady-state activity (ideally a treadmill, perhaps a stationary bike), and then put another watch on that same wrist and place it nice and snug (as you would with an optical HR sensor).  You’ll likely start to see fluctuations in accuracy.  Especially with a sample size of 60 people (or 120 wrists).

I know it makes for a fun picture that the media will eat up – but seriously – it really does impact things. Similarly, see in the above picture how the Apple Watch is touching the Fitbit Blaze?  That’s also likely impacting steps.

Another fun at-home test you can do is wear two watches side by side touching, just enough so while running on a treadmill they tap together.  This can increase step counts as a false-positive.

Which isn’t making excuses for these watches.  But it’s the simple reality that users don’t wear two optical HR sensor watches in the real world.  But honestly, that’s probably the least of the issues with this study (which is saying a lot, because at this point alone I’d have thrown out the data).

In case you’re wondering why they did this – here’s what they said:

“1) We wanted to check for any positional effects on the watch performance –i.e. does right vs left wrist matter? Does higher or lower on the wrist matter? So watch arm & position was randomized (see supplementary tables in manuscript).

2) We are more confident in results obtained from same workout rather than separate workouts for each device.

3) Purely practical — having the same subject perform the protocol 4 – 7 times is infeasible. It would have been challenging to get compliance in a sufficient number of subjects.”

I get that in order to reduce time invested, you want to take multiple samples at the same time.  In fact, I do it on almost all my workouts.  Except, I don’t put two optical HR watches per wrist.  It simply invalidates the data.  No amount of randomizing bad data makes it better.  It’s still bad data.

And when we’re talking about a few percent mattering – even if 1 out of 5 people has issues, that’s a 20% invalidate data rate – a massive difference.  There’s no two ways about it.

Let’s Talk Fake Data

Another trend I see over and over again is using one-minute averages in studies.  I don’t know where along the way someone told academia that one-minute sport averages are acceptable – but it’s become all the rage these days.  These studies go to extreme degrees on double and triple regression on these data points, yet fail to have accurate data to perform that regression on.

Just check out the last half of how this data was processed:

image

Except one itty-bitty problem: They didn’t use the data from the device and app.

Instead, they used the one-minute averages as reported by various methods (most of which aren’t actually the official methods).  For example, here’s how they accessed the Mio Alpha 2:

“The raw data from the Mio device is not accessible. However, static images of the heart rate over the duration of the activity are stored in the Mio phone app. The WebPlotDigitizer tool was utilized to trace over the heart rate images and to discretize the data to the minute level.”

Translation: They took a JPG image screenshot and tried to trace the image to determine the data points.

Pro Tip: They could have simply connected the Mio Alpha 2 to any phone app or any other watch device to gather second by second HR data via the rebroadcasting feature. After all, that’s kinda the main selling point of the Mio Alpha 2.  Actually, it’s almost the only selling point these days.

Or here’s how they did the Microsoft Band:

“The mitmproxy software tool [15] was utilized to extract data from the Microsoft Band, following the technique outlined by J. Huang [16]. Data packets transmitted by the Microsoft phone app were re-routed to an external server for aggregation and analysis. Sampling granularity varied by activity J. Pers. Med. 2017, 7, 3 5 of 12 and subject. In cases where multiple data samples were collected each minute, the last data sample for the minute was utilized in the analysis.”

So, let me help you decode this: They didn’t use the actual data recorded in the app, but rather, they picked data at one-minute intervals in hopes that it’d represent what occurred in the previous minute.  Yes, the Microsoft app sucks for data collection – I agree, but this isn’t an acceptable way to do deal with such suckiness.  You don’t throw away good data.

Or, here’s how they did the Apple Watch data:

“All data from the Apple Watch was sent to the Apple Health app on the iPhone, and exported from Apple Health in XML format for analysis. The Apple Health app provided heart rate, energy expenditure, and step count data sampled at one minute granularity. For intense activity (running and max test), the sampling frequency was higher than once per minute. In cases where more than one measurement was collected each minute, the average measurement for the minute was utilized, since the minute average is the granularity for several of the other devices.”

So it gets better in this one.  They acknowledge they actually had the more frequent data samples (they’d have had 1-second data samples), but decided to throw those out and instead average at the minute.

But what’s so bizarre about this is how convoluted this study attempt was when it came to collecting the data.  Remember, here’s roughly what each participant did:

image

So you see what are effectively three and a half sports here: Walking, Running, Cycling, and…Sitting.

That’s fine (I like it actually as I said before). There’s complete validity in testing across all three and a half things.  But where the mistake was, is trying to treat it as a single entity and record the data streams live.  They skip over in the study procedure documents whether these devices were even switched between running and cycling mode for example.  None of the devices they tested were multisport devices.  So did the participant stop and start new activities?  The graphs above certainly don’t show that – because doing so on most of these devices isn’t super quick.

None of which explains the most obvious thing skipped: Why not use the activity summary pages from the apps?

Every single one of the devices they tested will give you a calorie total at the end of the activity.  Here’s a few pages from these respective devices that show just that (left to right: Fitbit, Apple Watch, Microsoft Band):

FitbitCalories AppleWatchCalories MicrosoftBandCalories

Calories is prominently displayed for these workouts on all three of these apps.  This is the number they should have used.  Seriously.  Companies make this pretty little page so that every one of us on this planet can easily figure out how much ice cream we can eat.  It’s what 98% of people buy activity trackers for, and in this case they didn’t use the one metric that the entire study is based upon.

Instead, they tried to triangulate the calories using minute averaged data.  Which…isn’t real data anymore.  It’s alternative facts data.  And thus, you get inaccuracies in your results.

I went back to them and asked about this too, here’s why they didn’t use the totals in the app:

“This is a good idea, but unfortunately per-workout totals are reported as a sum of calories for a given workout. We were instead interested in per-minute calorie expenditure, which would not be reported in the per-workout summary. The reason for  our interest in the per-minute values is that there is some adjustment as a person transitions from one activity to another (in both heart rate and energy expenditure). Consequently, in the 5 minute protocol for each activity, we  used the energy expenditure and heart rate for the final minute of the protocol (to ensure that a “steady state” rather than transient measurement was obtained).”

I get what they are saying – but again, that’s not giving an accurate picture of the calorie burn.  Instead, it’s only looking at the *average* of the one minute per each protocol chunk.  I’m not sure about you, but I don’t typically throw away my entire workout, save the last minute of it.  Also, by focusing on a single minute’s worth of data, it serves to exaggerate any slight differences.  For example, if you take one minute where one unit may be off 1-3 calories, but then multiply it out over a longer period – it exaggerates what didn’t actually happen.  We don’t know what happened in those other minutes, because they were thrown away.

And that all assumes they got the right numbers (for example, the JPG graph conversion is notoriously easy to get wrong numbers from).

Note: I did confirm with them that they configured each device within the associated app for the user’s correct age/gender/weight/etc as supported by that individual device.  So that’s good to see, a lot of studies skip this too – which also would invalidate the data by a huge chunk.

Wrap-up:

Early on in the study, they state the following:

“All devices were bought commercially and handled according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Data were extracted according to standard procedures described below.”

The only thing likely true in this statement was that all devices were bought commercially.  After that, nothing else is true.  The devices were not handled in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions.  Further, the data was not extracted according to manufacturer’s intent/instructions.  And then to imply the methods they used were ‘standard’ is questionable at best.  The standard method would be to just look at the darn activity pages given on every single app out there.  Did the calories match?  It’s really that simple for what their goal was.

Instead, they created a Rube Goldberg machine that produced inaccurate results.  Which is unfortunate – because I actually agree with the theory of what they’re saying: Which is that every company does something different with calories.  Unfortunately, they didn’t prove that in this study.  Instead, they proved someone didn’t read the manual on how to use the devices.

Which ironically is exactly the same problem the last time I dug into a study.  The folks in question didn’t use the products properly, and then misunderstood how to analyze the data from it.  No matter how many fancy algorithms you throw at it, crap data in means crap data out.

Once again, you have to understand the technology in order to study it.

Sigh.

Update 1 – June 12th, 2017:

Over the last few days, I’ve received additional information that’s added more doubt and concern about the study.  Beyond those errors I identified above, it’s come to light a significant error was made by the researchers when it came to the PulseOn device included in the testing.  Back in November 2015, the authors of the study approached PulseOn to see about ways to get the raw HR data from the PulseOn unit.  PulseOn then agreed to provide them a special internal firmware version to gather that data.  However, that firmware version was only specified for HR data, and not calorie data.

In fact, it didn’t calculate calories at all – as it didn’t include the heart rate FirstBeat algorithms/libraries (which is what PulseOn uses, like a number of other companies such as Garmin, Huawei, etc…).  Instead, in that internal version it had a data field which was titled “wellness – EnergyExpenditure”.  But that’s not what’s exposed to the consumer.  See, that specific field doesn’t include any HR data, but rather only has motion-based calorie metrics when the HR sensor isn’t used.  In other words – it’s useless and non-visible data since it’s not yet paired in the algorithms with the HR calorie data.

Unfortunately, the study’s authors used the wrong data field – which led to dramatically wrong calorie results (as seen in the study).  Had the correct calculations been used it’d be an entirely different story.  And again – as I pointed out above, this was a case of trying to out-smart the default app data points that’s normally given to a consumer.  When you do so – you start to make up data points that don’t exist.

Finally – the authors have confirmed to PulseOn since publishing that they used the incorrect data field.  It’s unknown whether or not they’ll post a correction or errata to the paper.

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