Product Reviews – DC Rainmaker https://www.dcrainmaker.com Thu, 13 Feb 2020 20:04:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.13 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/images/2017/03/dcrainmaker-dc-logo-square-40x40.png Product Reviews – DC Rainmaker https://www.dcrainmaker.com 32 32 Garmin Vivoactive 4 Smartwatch In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/02/garmin-vivoactive-4-gps-smartwatch-in-depth-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/02/garmin-vivoactive-4-gps-smartwatch-in-depth-review.html#comments Thu, 06 Feb 2020 05:00:20 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=108952 Read More Here ]]> Garmin-Vivoactive-4-Review

It’s been about 5 months since Garmin first introduced the Vivoactive 4 series  (alongside the Garmin Venu). Both watches, screen aside, are nearly identical. And in that time Garmin has also introduced a number of themed Vivoactive 4 variants (such as ones from Star Wars, Avengers, and Captain Marvel). However, they’ve also quietly tweaked a number of features in the Vivoactive 4 – making it a bit more polished than it was on launch. Minor things you might not notice, like prettier end of workout screens with maps and HR charts.

The main appeal of the Vivoactive 4 was adding in a second button – making it easier to use for sport scenarios, but also a slew of more general fitness features. Aspects like structured yoga workouts. And unlike the Vivoactive 3/Vivoactive 3 Music, all editions of the Vivoactive 4 have music. There’s just now a smaller one (Vivoactive 4s) and a bigger one (Vivoactive 4). Plus all those special edition ones.

Now, despite having used the Vivoactive 4 on and off since August, I hadn’t quite got around to writing a review. You’ll remember I published my Garmin Venu review in earlier December after a number of months. And then the day after that I switched over to the near-identical Vivoactive 4. And it’s been on my left wrist since then. So, tons of usage, and tons of workouts in the bag. Thus, review time.

Note that while initially I was using a loaner media Vivoactive 4 from Garmin, that’s long since gone back to them. Since then I’ve been using my own Vivoactive 4 that I went out and got myself. If you found this review useful, you can hit up the links at the end of the post like usual to support the site.

What’s New:

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The Vivoactive 4 is, as one might assume, a progression of the Vivoactive lineup. However, it’s worth noting that so is the Venu. The Vivoactive 4 and Venu share virtually every feature, with the only differentiating aspects of the Venu being those that are specifically display driven. So such things as higher quality animations and better quality watch faces on the Venu over the Vivoactive 4. In discussing the features with Garmin, there are no non-display associated features that are in Venu that aren’t in Vivoactive 4, or vice versa.

The other thing to note is that previously there were separate editions of the Vivoactive lineup – one for music (e.g. Vivoactive 3 Music), and one for non-music (Vivoactive 3); now that’s all under a single umbrella with music – whether you have Venu or Vivoactive 4. On the flip-side, you now have two different sized units, and things cost more. The pricing is as follows:

US Pricing:
Vivoactive 4/4S US Pricing: $349
Venu: $399

EU Pricing:
Vivoactive 4S: €279 & €299 depending on bezels/buttons
Vivoactive 4: €299 & €329 depending on bezels/buttons
Venu: €349 & €379 depending on bezels/buttons

Though, we’ve already seen cracks in that pricing. Back at Christmas things were down to $299USD, and even right now they’re $25 off and Venu is $50 off. I suspect that’ll become the new norm for most of 2020.

With that, let’s talk all the new offerings in relation to the past model – the Vivoactive 3:

– Music now standard: Including Spotify, Amazon Music, and Deezer
– Vivoactive 4 is 45mm and includes a color touchscreen display
– Vivoactive 4S is 40mm and includes a color touchscreen display
– Added secondary button to side: Used for lap, back, menu access
– Added hydration tracking to manually track liquid intake with widget and app
– Added Estimated Sweat Loss post-workout
– Added Respiration Rate for all-day and sleep metrics (and certain workout types)
– Added Breathwork Exercises (way different than simple breathing stress features)
– Added Workout Animation functionality: For Strength, Cardio, Yoga, Pilates
– Added new Yoga and Pilates Built-in workouts: Includes step by step animations
– Added ability to design Yoga workouts in Garmin Connect: Complete with step by step pose animations
– Added ability to design Pilates workouts in Garmin Connect: Complete with step by step animations
– Added PulseOx for 24×7 blood oxygen tracking
– Revamped health stat widget akin to latest Fenix/Forerunner models
– Switched to Sony GPS chipset like remainder of Garmin 2019/2020 unit lineup
– Switched to Garmin Elevate V3 optical HR sensor
– Battery life at 8 days standby for the VA4 and 7 days for the VA4S, and 6 hours of GPS+Music

As you can see, the vast majority of new features on the watch are far less focused on the swim/bike/run athlete that’s more common in Garmin’s Forerunner and Fenix lineup, and instead focused on a bit more of the lifestyle athlete that may be more varied in their day to day activity – which to be fair, was always the strength/target of the Vivoactive lineup, as this is within that family.

Also, as noted there are two sizes of the Vivoactive 4 (the 4 and 4S), however, feature-wise they’re identical.

DSC_6578 DSC_6582

Though battery-wise there are some differences:

Smartwatch mode (no GPS): 8 days for the VA4, 7 days for the VA4S
GPS time (no-music on): 18 hours for the VA4, 15 hours for the VA4S
Music + Animations in Strength Workout + Workout: 4.5 hours on the VA4, 3.5hrs on the VA4S

Finally, for those not familiar with the wider Vivo lineup, here’s all the baseline features found on both the Venu & Vivoactive 4:

– GPS tracking of activities (no reliance on phone)
– Workout tracking of range of sports including running, cycling, pool swimming, skiing, golf, gym and many more (full list down below)
– Structured workout support via downloadable workouts
– Quick on the fly intervals
– Training calendar support
– Optical heart rate sensor in watch
– 24×7 tracking of steps, stairs, calories, and distance
– Smartphone notifications from iOS/Android
– Garmin Pay for contactless payments

Since release, virtually all of the new Vivoactive 4 & Venu health/fitness features have also worked their way into the Fenix 6 lineup, and some also the FR945 and FR245. As is common with the Garmin ecosystem, I would not expect any of these new features to make their way back to the Vivoactive 3. Of course, bits like the screen are hardware driven. I would, however, expect that the Venu and Vivoactive 4 will stay largely lock-step in their firmware updates/features.

Unboxing:

Garmin-Vivoactive4-4s-Unboxing

The Vivoactive 4 & 4S are identical from an unboxing standpoint. So I’ll go through the parts of the Vivoactive 4 slowly, and then just dump a pile of photos from the Vivoactive 4S variant at the end. Seems fair, no?

The box from the Vivoactive 4 follows the same design as…well…basically every other Garmin box:

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Box-Front Garmin-Vivoactive4-Box-Back

Crack it open and you’ll find the Vivoactive 4 chilling inside looking up at you, hopeful of its life ahead. Of course, you’ll likely beat the crap out of it with all that sportiness you’re planning.

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Box-Opened

Inside the box you’ve got exactly four things:

1) The watch
2) The USB charging/sync cable
3) A paper quick start guide you’ll ignore
4) A warranty card you’ll also never read

See, here’s the family photo:

Garmin-Vivoactive-4-Insides

Here’s the back of the Vivoactive 4. There’s a small serial number sticker on it in this photo. It didn’t last but a week or two.

Garmin-Vivoactive-4-Back

And here’s the charging cable. It’s the same charging cable used on the majority of Garmin wearables in the last few years.

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Chraging-Cable

And finally, here’s the weight of the watch. The Vivoactive 4 comes in at 51g:

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And here’s the Vivoactive 4 and Vivoactive 4S side by side:

DSC_0179 DSC_0180

Oh, and a quick unboxing gallery of the Vivoactive 4S:

DSC_0162 DSC_0168 DSC_0172

Got all that? Good, let’s get to using it!

The Basics:

Garmin-Vivoactive4-MainBasics

If you’re looking for a complete user interface overview, simply hit the Play button below. I go through everything from the basics of activity tracking to guided yoga workouts to music and payments. Plus much more.

But, if videos aren’t your thing – no worries, I’ve still got you covered. First up we’ll start with the watch faces. Like all Garmin watches, you can customize these watch faces from a pile of pre-loaded ones, or you can download 3rd party ones, or make your own watch face (such as from a photo).

To download custom watch faces, simply download the Connect IQ app, which accesses the Connect IQ app store. That includes not just watch faces, but also apps and data fields for the Vivoactive 4:

Garmin-ConnectIQ-Watch-Faces1 Garmin-ConnectIQ-Watch-Faces2

The Vivoactive 4 is an always-on watch, meaning the display never turns off. While this is how every Garmin watch except the Venu works (and even that has an always-on option too), it’s not as common within the more broad smartwatch world. So, I just wanted to point it out. Within this mode the battery life is claimed at “up to 8 days” for the Vivoactive 4, and 7 days for the Vivoactive 4s. I’d say things are roughly in that ballpark given I’ve got daily workout usage that would decrease that. Given it’s winter and I’m doing less outdoor GPS activities and more indoor workouts, my battery life is slightly skewed, but I’m getting through the majority of the week on a single charge with daily ~1hr workouts, and about 1-2 of those are outdoors with GPS. I usually make it about 5, maybe 6 days, on a single charge.

Backlight settings will impact that, which are customizable within the settings menu. This includes things like raise to wake (to turn on the backlight). Though, the display is perfectly visible without a backlight in all conditions except a pitch-black room. Fwiw, the display’s backlight is bright as heck, and I’ve used it almost every night to change an infant’s diaper at 4AM in a lightless room. Welcome to my world.

Going back a bit to the basic interface – it’s a touch screen, however with the Vivoactive 4 they’ve added a secondary button.  I find the two button shifts a huge upgrade. I was never a fan of the singular button design. But the two buttons are spot-on for their purpose, especially in sports (to have a dedicated lap vs start/stop button).

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Buttons

From the main watch face you can swipe up/down through what are known as widgets. These widgets display all sorts of health and fitness information (and you can download 3rd party ones too). They also provide quick access to apps like Spotify. For example here’s the Garmin Health Stats one, which allows you to see things like heart rate, stress, body battery, and breathing rate in one quick glance:

Garmin-Health-Widget-Overview Garmin-health-widget-stats

Or the ‘My Day’ widget, which summarizes most of your basic fitness metrics:

Garmin-Vivoactive4-My_day

You can see how each of the statuses is further detailed once you tap on it:

DSC_1927 DSC_1924 DSC_1926

Anyway, back to the basics and new features. There’s the new hydration tracking functionality. The way this works is that you define three ‘vessels’ (or cups, as you see them), and each of these are basically custom containers. So Cup #1 could be an 18oz bottle, cup #2 could be an 8oz cup, and cup #3 could be whatever else you want. Anytime you tap on that cup it automatically adds the appropriate amount of tracked liquid. Presumably it’s water, but perhaps you’re going for an extensive bar hopping, it could just be beer.

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Hydration_Widget

All of this can be customized to metric instead of cups, by the way. And you can add water within Garmin Connect Mobile and it should merge together (right now that’s not working for me). The whole point of this is largely water tracking. For those trying to lose weight, one of the best ways to support that is drinking lots of water (for a variety of reasons that Google can help on). You’ll see your goal progress (as defined in settings on the app) around the outside, and a little animation when you achieve it. If configured, the Vivoactive 4 will remind you every 2 hours (10AM, 12PM, 2PM, etc…) to log how much you’ve drank.

Garmin is approaching this feature much like the female menstrual tracking functionality they added this past spring in that it’s technically a Connect IQ widget that’s pre-loaded onto the Venu/Vivoactive 4 watches, but we’ve already seen it expand to other watches.

Garmin-Connect-App-Hydration Garmin-Connect-App-Hydration-Cups

Next, there’s the new breathwork features. Now, unlike typical “slowly breath in and out” features we’ve seen on various watches, this is at an entirely different level of breathwork, often called mindful breathing.

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Breathing-ChooseSport Garmin-Vivoactive4-BreathWork

It’s here you can choose a specific breathing technique:

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Breathing-Technique

And then it’ll guide you through it, with the count-down timer slowly moving in and out as the rings:

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Breathwork-BreathIn

Now in certain activities you’ll also get the new respiration rate data. The new respiration rate feature does not require a heart rate strap, and is working constantly behind the scenes within the optical HR sensor to measure respiration rate (basically, breathing rate). You can see it on a dedicated widget on the watch – inclusive of trending over the last 7 days:

Garmin-Vivoactive4-RespirationRate

And here’s the data from within Garmin Connect Mobile:

Garmin-Connect-RespirationRateDaily Garmin-Connect-RespirationRate-Month

The Vivoactive 4 and Venu both have PulseOx measurement as well, joining the growing list of Garmin watches that have the capability. You can toggle it to automatically measure 24×7, just at sleep, or only on demand:

Garmin-Vivoactive4-PulseOx

As with my past experiences with this, I’d take this with a grain of salt. However, if you do take measurements you should roughly follow exactly as would be done in a medical setting: Keeping it snug, while seated, and not moving. Also, keep in mind it’s a battery blowtorch. If you turn it on, you’ll significantly increase how often you have to re-charge the watch.

Next, there’s sleep tracking. This works automatically behind the scenes on your watch. You won’t see the data on the watch, but rather on Garmin Connect Mobile/Web. I find that it’s generally pretty good for me, even despite having a newborn at home that has me up at all weird hours of the night. However, I do find that sometimes if I’m up at say 6AM, and then fall back asleep for another hour till 7AM, it won’t always catch that last little bit if it’s super short and the sleep quality isn’t good. But, by and large, it’s a perfectly fine yardstick for me.

GarminConnect-Sleep-Daily1 GarminConnect-Sleep-Daily2 GarminConnect-Sleep-Week

Note that I don’t have any way to judge the whole deep/light sleep bits. So I mostly ignore it. Just like Garmin totally ignores naps. It has no way to account for naps unfortunately – so these don’t count anywhere. Also, those rare 10hr days were due to glorious jetlag of flying from Europe to Australia and back.

Beyond these features, you’ve got smart notifications just like on past Garmin watches. Note that the watch isn’t just limited to text messages. You’ll get anything you’ve configured on your smartphone for notifications. You can see a variety of notifications here as well as some YouTube ones:

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Smartphone-notifications

Finally, there’s also calendar sync too – which automatically syncs to the watch from whatever calendars you’ve got set up. As does weather too. All of which are up in the widgets gallery a bit earlier.

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Calendar-Notifications

Oh, wait – one more thing – here’s a huge gallery of many of the widgets. There are more than this, but this is what I have configured on my watch at the time:

Now that we’ve covered virtually all the basics, it’s on to the sporting realm!

Sports Usage:

Garmin-Vivoactive4-WorkoutModes

In the previous section I talked about many of the health features like hydration, breath work, and activity tracking, but for this section I’m going to slide into the sport elements, including bits like running and the new animations related to indoor workout types. I’ll first cover these new features and then from there we’ll look more closely at the sport modes for sports like running, including data field and settings configurations.

We’ll start though with the new workout animations. This concept isn’t new to the industry, in fact Fitbit did it years ago. The idea being to give you guidance on how to move your body into positions for certain workout types like strength, cardio, yoga, and Pilates. Since these types of workouts are most prone to being done incorrectly from a body form standpoint, the thinking is to show you exactly what you should be doing for each movement. Atop that, Garmin has included some 41 different structured workouts between those categories.

To begin on this journey, we’ll dive into the sport menu. It’s here that you can choose any sport, be it running or cycling, or in our case – Yoga:

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Yoga-Sport-Choose

Next, we’ll swipe up and choose ‘Workouts’. This is where we can select from one of the pre-canned workout routines. Just like a guided workout at your local studio, minus all the bendy people around you.

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Yoga-Workout-Selection

After you’ve selected one, it’ll specify and show you how many steps it has. In this case our workout, ‘Wake up, Energize’, has 77 steps. Which sounds like a lot, but each time you do a pose that’s considered a step, so is any rest period between them. As well as any repeats. It goes by faster than you think.

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Yoga-WorkoutSteps

If we press to view one of the steps, we’ll see the number of seconds listed next to each one. You can see how at this pace things would go pretty quickly.

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Workout-Options

However, if you tap one of those steps you’ll get a short animation showing you that specific pose:

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Yoga-Animations

You can go through any of the steps if you want to ahead of time. Or you can just skip that and simply tap to start the workout. Which is what we’ll do. It’s at this point the timer starts, and it begins recording (including your heart rate behind the scenes). You’ll see that it shows a green circle around the outer edge of the watch, acting as a timer that slowly closes as the time completes.

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Yoga-Workout-Midway

You can also swipe to the next screen to get a different style count-down timer clock. However, you’re essentially along for a ride here. When the time for that pose is up, it’ll vibrate your wrist and display the next pose/instructions.

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Workout-Yoga-Clock

And finally, you can also display a normal data field layout, including your breathing rate and heart rate, as well as stress score.

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Yoga-Stress-RespirationRate

Both the stress and respiration rate data fields are new to Garmin with the Vivoactive 4/Venu lineup, and were specifically put in there for the Yoga activity. Of course, you can ignore this data during your session if you want. That’s because all the data is recorded, so once you finish your workout it’ll give you a workout summary that lists your poses, timings, and breathing rates.  Now the overall poses/animations concepts are essentially the same whether you’re in yoga, Pilates, cardio, or strength. Obviously the specifics for each workout are different, but the way the Garmin unit works is the same. With strength training, you’re also getting rep-specific information too.

However, where it really starts to get interesting is that you can create your own workout  from Garmin Connect/Garmin Connect Mobile:

GarminConnect-CreateYogaWorkout1 GarminConnectCreateYogaWorkoutPoses GarminConnectCreateYogaWorkout2

Note though that you won’t see any of the animations when you build your own workouts. So that’s a bit of a bummer.

From here let’s switch back to some traditional Garmin sport features. As you saw earlier, there are boatloads of sports to choose from. Even boat ones like rowing too. Many of these are customized to the specifics of the sport. For example, running is pretty straightforward, but something like downhill skiing/snowboarding will actually automatically count your runs and vertical, pausing correctly each time you take the lift back up.

To start a sport mode, from the main watch face you’ll simply tap the upper right button. You can then customize your favorites here, so that the ones you use most often are at the top of the list. In our case, we’re going to select Run by tapping it:

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Run-Mode

Depending on the sport mode, it’ll start the GPS acquisition process. The GPS status is then shown at the top of the watch, and will go solid green once acquired. In most cases it’ll just take a few seconds to find GPS. In fact it downloads GPS pre-cache data from your phone to find satellites faster. It’ll also show any sensors you’ve got paired, as well as the status of the optical HR sensor:

Garmin-Vivoactive4-WaitGPS-Status

Oh, and sensor-wise it supports: heart rate, headphones, cycling speed/cadence, running footpod, Tempe (temperature sensor), ANT+ cycling lights, ANT+ cycling radar, as well as golfing club sensors. Note for most of those above it’ll support both the Bluetooth Smart & ANT+ variants of them.

Garmin-Vivoactive4-SensorsPaired

Back on the Run starting screen, you can swipe up from the bottom to go ahead and do a custom workout. These would be if you downloaded a workout from Garmin Connect or made one online or via the Garmin Connect Mobile smartphone app. In other words, if you made your own fancy interval workout, or have a training plan loaded (like a 5K/10K/etc plan, all of which Garmin has for free). Garmin also has pre-loaded a few individual workouts in here too.

Garmin-WorkoutSelections Garmin-Vivoactive4-WorkoutModes

You can customize any of your sport screens.  You can do so within the settings on the watch itself (still not on phone app). You get three customizable screens, each with up to 4 data fields on them. You’ll also get a heart rate gauge screen too.

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Screens-Config Garmin-Vivoactive4-Four-DataFIelds

You can further configure bits like auto lap (distance based), auto pause, auto scroll, and the GPS type (GPS/GPS+GLONASS/GPS+GALILEO):

Garmin-Vivoactive4-AutoPause-GPS-Modes

The Venu uses the same Sony chipset as every other Garmin watch released in 2019 (and every other watch released in the last year+ from Suunto, Polar, and COROS). We’ll get to GPS accuracy later.

With all that set, we’re ready to run. Simply press the upper right button again. Just pretty much like every other GPS watch out there it’ll show your running stats in real-time, including your pace, distance, time, heart rate, and any other metrics you’ve added.

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And here’s the heart rate gauge page:

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From a lap standpoint you’ve got both automatic laps (which you can define), or manual laps by pressing the lower right button to trigger a new lap. If you want to stop your workout (or start again), press the upper right button. Once you’ve paused the workout, then you’re given the option to save or discard it.

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If you choose to save it, it’ll show any PR’s and VO2Max changes first:

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Then it’ll show you the summary screen.  This screen has actually been updated considerably since the Vivoactive 4 launched. Now it shows both a breadcrumb outline of your run (like Garmin’s higher-end Fenix 6 & Forerunner 945 watches), but also shows a nifty heart rate chart of your run:

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Run-SummaryScreen DSC_1894

After that, you’ll also get run totals, lap splits, and time in zone.

DSC_1898 DSC_1903 DSC_1900

Of course, all of this goodness is transmitted to Garmin Connect & Garmin Connect Mobile using WiFi or Bluetooth (depending on what’s in range). Then in the smartphone app you can pull up any of the stats for that workout:

It’s also on Garmin Connect online (website). Here’s an example of one, but you can click on this link to see the full thing and zoom around and such yourself.

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Atop that, if you’ve got an account on Strava, MyFitnessPal, TrainingPeaks, or a pile of other apps – it’ll send the file immediately to them as well. It usually shows up within a few seconds of you finishing your activity. Here’s a run on Strava from the Vivoactive 4:

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Last but not least, there’s the newish Garmin Safety & Tracking features. These started rolling out last spring to Garmin watches, and are now baseline on most units including the Vivoactive 4 and Venu lineup. These are grouped into roughly two buckets:

– Incident Detection: If you crash your bike, or fall while running and walking (you can configure individually)
– Assistance Alerts: Will send an emergency alert to predefined contacts with your live GPS location

The assistance alerts are loosely based atop Garmin’s LiveTracking features, which are also available as well (so you can share your live location with friends/family each time you start a workout). Again, the main goal of assistance alerts is if you’re somewhere you feel unsafe and want to semi-discretely let someone know you may be in trouble – holding that upper right button for three seconds will start the alerting process. However, all of these require your cell phone to be within range (since it uses that for cellular connectivity).

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Incident-Detection Garmin-Incident-Detection-Options

For the crash/incident detection, I’ve not yet had it false-trigger on the Vivoactive 4. I have had it false-trigger on the Venu once (in 3-4 months) and a few other units prior to that. The algorithm is looking for a high-g impact event followed by no movement (I was waiting for friends to catch-up). Still, you can simply cancel it within 20 seconds. For safety assistance alerts, you’ve only got 5 seconds though (those require holding it for 3 seconds though). Given it’s winter and I’m riding outdoors less, that’s probably why I haven’t seen much there.

Garmin-Safety-Assistance-Vivoactive4 Garmin-Vivoactive4-Safety-Assistance-Alert

So about now you may be wondering how the Venu/Vivoactive 4 differs from a sports standpoint compared to something like the Forerunner 245/245 Music. The main thing is around the physiological tracking – so bits like training load or recovery, which aren’t tracked on the Vivoactive/Venu series. Additionally, there’s also course following (so the ability to follow a specific route navigationally).

However, inversely, the Venu/Vivoactive 4 actually has a barometric altimeter, while the FR245 doesn’t. A slightly odd quirk in Garmin’s watch hierarchy. In addition, the FR245 doesn’t have the advanced yoga, Pilates, or related animations either. In other words, it’s still a bit of a confusing mess to figure out which watch has which features.

Music:

Garmin-Vivoactive-4-Music-Details

With all editions of the Vivoactive 4 containing music capabilities, that means you can pair it up to Bluetooth headphones (or even a Bluetooth speaker) and play back music or podcasts anywhere without a phone nearby. The Vivoactive 4 has 4GB of music storage on it (though slightly less usable space), and supports the following music streaming services for offline playback:

– Amazon Music
– Deezer
– Spotify

In addition, you can of course drag your own music files on there, as well as configure podcasts to download. Though, the podcasts bit is mostly a mess – since it requires you to connect to your computer. Instead, if you want podcasts, it’s better to do so within Spotify – which is what I do.

Everything else works great though. The Vivoactive 4, like most other 2019 watches from Garmin, are just so much better at music than older Garmin watches. And this is primarily a function of learning from the earlier Garmin music watches in 2018 – such as the older Vivoactive 3 Music. A lot of that was around hardware and antenna designs, but also the admission/realization that a huge chunk of people are using less than optimally designed headphones that simply needed to be accommodated for.

I’ve largely used mine with the AirPods or PowerBeats Pro, and dropouts are virtually unheard of.  For example, during yesterday’s track workout – not a single dropout with my PowerBeats Pro’s. Happy days.

To demonstrate the music bits, I’m gonna show Spotify since that’s what I use personally. But all the streaming services work pretty similarly within the Garmin framework (this is by design, and is why Garmin has more music streaming platforms on their wearables than anyone else – even Apple). First, you’ll get your account authorized. This is basically pairing your watch to Spotify. It only takes a second. After which you’ll be able to add new music from the watch. You’ll see you can choose from playlists, albums, podcasts, and playlists that were made for you or predefined by Spotify (such as workouts):

Garmin-Vivoactive4-ChooseSpotify-Playlist

Once you’ve selected something to download it’ll ask to sync the music via WiFi. This takes a bit of battery, so it’ll ask you to plug in your watch if under 50% battery. I keep wishing this threshold was lower, but it is what it is.

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Update-Spotify-Music

Typically speaking you’re going to see download speeds at about 8-10 songs per minute. While not lightning fast, by the time you put on your running clothes or what-not, the watch is fully updated. And you certainly don’t have to update all the time, or really much ever. Just when you want new songs.

After download the music is available for you to play back with headphones. You can connect just about any Bluetooth headphones. In my case I largely just used the Beats PowerBeats Pro:

Garmin-Vivoactive-4-Music-Spotify-PowerBeats

You can pair multiple pairs of headphones as well if you’d like, which is kinda handy.

DSC_2064

From there you’ve got simple music controls on the watch, as well as from certain headphones that use standardized controls like volume up/down or skip track. There’s technically two ways to do this. The first is to simply swipe to the left mid-workout, which takes you into the more general widgets, which also has music. And the second (much longer) way is to long-hold the upper right button, getting you into the shortcuts menu and then accessing music there.

In any case, as noted I’m pretty happy with the music functionality on the Vivoactive 4 for my needs. No dropouts and access to Spotify, which is pretty much all I care about.

GPS Accuracy:

Garmin-Vivoactive4-GPS-Accuracy

There’s likely no topic that stirs as much discussion and passion as GPS accuracy.  A watch could fall apart and give you dire electrical shocks while doing so, but if it shows you on the wrong side of the road?  Oh hell no, bring on the fury of the internet!

GPS accuracy can be looked at in a number of different ways, but I prefer to look at it using a number of devices in real-world scenarios across a vast number of activities.  I use 2-6 other devices at once, trying to get a clear picture of how a given set of devices handles conditions on a certain day.  Conditions include everything from tree/building cover to weather.

Over the years, I’ve continued to tweak my GPS testing methodology.  For example, I try to not place two units next to each other on my wrists, as that can impact signal. If I do so, I’ll put a thin fabric spacer of about 1”/3cm between them (I didn’t do that on any of my Garmin Vivoactive 4 activities however, all workouts only had a single device per wrist).  But often I’ll simply carry other units by the straps, or attach them to the shoulder straps of my hydration backpack.  Plus, wearing multiple watches on the same wrist is well known to impact optical HR accuracy.

Next, as noted, I use just my daily training routes.  Using a single route over and over again isn’t really indicative of real-world conditions, it’s just indicative of one trail.  The workouts you see here are just my normal daily workouts.

I’ve had quite a bit of variety of terrain within the time period of my Garmin Vivoactive 4 testing.  This has included runs in: Amsterdam (Netherlands), French/Italian/Swiss Alps, Australia, Singapore, and Las Vegas.  Cities and mountains, trees and open-air, plus waterways and seas. It’s hit them all. For the most part though, I’m going to focus on the workouts in the last 4-5 weeks, since that’s the most current firmware versions and best represents what people should expect today.

First up we’ll start with something relatively easy, a run a few weeks ago in Adelaide, Australia. I say ‘easy’ because while there were some initial buildings, for the most part this route only had occasional trees and clear skies. The ending of the run did however have a tricky building section. Here’s that data set, starting off at the super high overview level:

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This comparison includes the Vivoactive 4 of course, but also the Polar Vantage V and Garmin FR945 for comparison. If we look at the start/ending points, you’ll see the right side of the track is reasonably good (also, the FR945 I mis-pressed the start button, so it started a couple mins later when I noticed). However, upon the return on the left side you can see the Vivoactive 4 ended up in the drink. Not substantially off, but this was a tricky point next to the building, and it seems to be incorrectly offset about a dozen meters into the water briefly. Not the end of the world, but worth noting.

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Mind you, the Polar Vantage V did nearly the same thing just seconds before. Albeit this time through some townhomes.

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Looking at the left side (the return), you’ll find the Vivoactive slightly offset from the path I was running on, just about 2-3 meters. Not massive of course, but notable.

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For the most part, the run was perfectly fine. However, if we zoom all the way to the top of the run, you can see where the offset started, when I made the turn back towards the beginning. It’s here that the unit offset itself for the remainder of the run by those few meters.

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But overall, you can see this didn’t appreciably change the distance much by itself. Compared to the Vantage V at 10.08km, it’s pretty similar. Note again that I started the FR945 late, hence why it’s a kilometer short.

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Next, let’s increment things again, to a track workout from this past Sunday. In this case a track workout in southern Amsterdam, but also inclusive of running to/from that location – which, turned out to be the most complex part of it. Ironic, given that track workouts are typically one of the most difficult things for a GPS watch to get right (due to the constant turning nature of it). Here’s that data set at a high level:

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Let’s work through this one starting at the track. That’s usually where things go wrong. Here’s all three watches overlaid atop the track:

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A couple of things to note (if you click to expand), is where the lines aren’t on the track. I basically followed the road in, yet the Vivoactive 4 and Garmin FR945 didn’t. They decided to cross the drainage ditch. Amazingly, the Apple Watch Series 5 actually got this right – which…is…unusual.

To make it clearer, I’ve changed the Vivoactive 4 to yellow below, and then got rid of the rest of the watches:

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You can see quite clearly that it totally fumbled the ball coming in/out of the track. I entered/exited in the upper right corner precisely the same way each time, right onto the extended zone on the track. Whereas the Vivoactive 4 thought I was on the football field next door. You’ll also see that accuracy-wise things are mostly within the track the entire time, but on the western edge, I often touched the trees. I was in Lane 1 the entire time however.

For comparison, here’s what the Apple Watch Series 5 on the other wrist looked like:

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I’m pretty sure that makes that fairly clear.

Now, getting to/from the track varied. On the way in, things were kinda all over the map, with the Apple Watch mostly being the most correct.

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Whereas on the way out, all three watches decided it was worth their while to stick together as a pack. The lines were spot-on there.

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Now, let’s talk about the start/ending of this route. It’s a mess. And nobody is spared, but the Vivoactive 4 clearly takes the cake for the biggest mess. It’s drunk, and out in the water. I changed it to pink here to make it easier to see than the yellow. Sorry for this color wheel confusion:

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The FR945 and Apple Watch Series 5 mostly stuck together on the return. Whereas on the way out the FR945 was most correct and the Apple Watch Series 5 was off in the buildings.

At the end of the day, some of this meandering cost the Vivoactive 4 some distance:

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But as always, using total distance in this scenario is a bit dangerous/messy, because something can undercut one area and overshoot another and be the same distance.

However, it’s not all bad news. For example, take this run in Singapore a bit over a week ago. The Vivoactive 4 did perfectly fine there:

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Even as I ran under the massive and sprawling building arches that extended over the running path for hundreds of meters, it nailed these sections perfectly:

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And again, I’m under the arches of this building, and the Vivoactive 4 was spot-on:

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All the units got slightly confused for a brief moment when I went entirely underground, but the Vivoactive 4 did just fine. And all units were spot-on perfect heading over the bridge:

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And distance-wise, things were pretty similar too:

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Finally, let’s look at a cycling activity up in the woods. I typically don’t see many issues on road bike riding, but it’s always fun to check anyway. Here’s that data set:

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The ‘city’ portions of this were perfectly fine. So I’m going to ignore that. Instead, let’s talk about the mountains. Here’s the initial climb up. This was relatively slow, because, well, it’s a steep climb. But, all the units were spot-on:

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And once up in the mountains and staying on relative flats, things were good too. But instead, let’s dig into the high-speed curving descents. These were at 30-40MPH and often were twisting. On a relatively tame section, things were pretty good:

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However, there was one spot where the Vivoactive 4 missed the turn signal apparently, seen in purple below:

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You will note however that the Polar Vantage V also skipped a turn or two there, just before the Vivoactive 4 did. But otherwise, beyond that one tiny spot, it was perfectly fine.

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Distance-wise these are fairly similar, but there’s no knowing exactly which one is correct:

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So – what’s the summary here?

Well, it’s a mixed bag. For those wanting super high precision, the Vivoactive 4 doesn’t seem to offer it. Sure, I’ve got some perfectly fine runs. But for every perfectly fine run, I’ve got a not-so-hot run to counter it. I could go one for one back and forth. Undoubtedly, no watch is perfect, but for whatever reason, I seemed to get better results out of the near-identical Garmin Venu than Vivoactive 4. Given we’re over 5 months since the release of this watch, and all these samples are on the latest firmware, largely in the last two weeks – I’m less optimistic this is an easy fix for some of these issues.

Still, I suspect it may not matter to many people. Some of my GPS issues are me nit-picking. Which, is what I do. You can decide for yourself whether or not it meets your needs.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Heart Rate Accuracy:

Next up we’ve got heart rate accuracy.  This roughly falls into two buckets: 24×7 HR, and workout HR.  As is usually the case with most devices these days, I see no tangible issues with 24×7 HR.  It works well across both normal daily routines as well as things like sleep.  Speaking of which, I talk about RHR values and 24×7 monitoring here and why it’s interesting.

Garmin-Connect-Vivoactive4-Daily-HR GarminConnect-Vivoactive4-MonthlyHR

Before we move on to the test results, note that optical HR sensor accuracy is rather varied from individual to individual.  Aspects such as skin color, hair density, and position can impact accuracy.  Position, and how the band is worn, are *the most important* pieces.  A unit with an optical HR sensor should be snug.  It doesn’t need to leave marks, but you shouldn’t be able to slide a finger under the band (at least during workouts).  You can wear it a tiny bit looser the rest of the day.

Ok, so in my testing, I simply use the watch throughout my normal workouts.  Those workouts include a wide variety of intensities and conditions, making them great for accuracy testing.  I’ve got steady runs, interval workouts on both bike and running, as well as swimming – though, I didn’t focus on optical HR accuracy there.

For each test, I’m wearing additional devices, usually 3-4 in total, which capture data from other sensors.  Typically I’d wear a chest strap (usually the Garmin HRM-DUAL or Wahoo TICKR X, but also recently the Polar H9) as well as another optical HR sensor watch on the other wrist (lately the Polar OH1 Plus, as well as the new Mio Pod). Note that the numbers you see in the upper right corner are *not* the averages, but rather just the exact point my mouse is sitting over.  Note all this data is analyzed using the DCR Analyzer, details here.

We’re going to start with something simple here first – a relatively straightforward 5KM run with not a lot of variability. This is compared against an HRM-DUAL chest strap, a Polar OH1 optical HR sensor, and the Polar Vantage V optical sensor. Here’s that data set:

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As you can see above, for the most part it’s pretty close. However, the first 4 minutes is accented with a number of offsets. Initially you’ve got a bit of a slower ramp from the Vivoactive 4. That’s not unusual, and is really only lag of a few seconds. However around the 90-second marker we see some splitting again, going a bit lower, which is shown more dramatically at the 4-minute marker being about 10BPM low.

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It however corrects itself and is perfectly fine the rest of the run.

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And again, while I dislike averages, you can see that the earlier differences had negligible impact on the run averages (Note the FR945 is showing the HRM-DUAL chest strap data):

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So let’s make things more difficult. Straight up outdoor track intervals. No need to mess around here, let’s go for broke. Here’s that data set, compared against an Apple Watch Series 5 and Polar H9 chest strap:

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This workout shows approximately a 14-minute warm-up/build, followed by 5x800m and then 4x200m intervals. The Vivoactive 4 is in purple, and as you can see, it’s actually pretty darn good for the most part. Not perfect, but likely more than acceptable in most people’s minds.

Let’s look at the 800m intervals specifically more closely:

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Here we see that while very close, there is a bit of separation between the Vivoactive 4 during the build and recovery of each hard effort. It’s not much, and you’d likely never notice it out on a track without comparative data. Essentially, it’s lagging by a couple of seconds. In the first interval it lagged by slightly more than I would accept, however for all the remaining intervals we’re only talking a few seconds of difference. This is actually a pretty good result for Garmin’s Elevate sensor. Also, we see that virtually all of the early Apple Watch Series 5 teething pains with their optical HR sensor are gone now.

Next there’s the 200m intervals. Well, technically they were 30-second sprints. Either way, the pace for these is about 5:00/mile, so cookin’ along. There’s 90 seconds of recovery between each one. In this case you’re mostly seeing the HR catch-up towards the end of each interval. That’s just normal for how your body reacts to this. Still, what we see here is that the Vivoactive 4 did the first one fine (build), but then struggled on the 2nd one quit a bit. The third one also has significant lag, but the 4th interval is pretty much spot on.

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It’s almost as if the Vivoactive 4 was…err…warming-up. Still, in this scenario nobody is using heart rate to pace 30-second intervals. It’s just not practical due to HR as an indicator lagging given the shortness of it. So this is more about post-run analytics.

Next, let’s look at an indoor bike workout. I’ve done a lot of indoor bike workouts over the last two months. And the trend I see tends to be about 80% of the time aligned to this first result, and about 20% of the time aligned to the second result. Here’s the first indoor bike example:

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As you can see, the Vivoactive 4 is drunk. Yes, it’s roughly on the same ‘highway’, but it’s all over the place. Totally loses the plot. And for this workout I’m not doing anything crazy – I’m just pedaling. This is a pattern I’ve repeatedly seen with the Vivoactive 4 on indoor cycling workouts, and is honestly unlike anything I’ve seen from Garmin previously. To validate these I’ve even got two totally different units sourced on two totally different continents months apart – both show the same patterns.

However, about 20% of the time I get something like below, which is better but not great. This workout was separated just two days from the above workout and on the exact same watch. There’s only the Polar H9 shown here as a secondary example, but that’s good enough to see that it’s better than above – though still wobbly:

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And again, another indoor bike workout with a crapton of different sensors, and only the Vivoactive 4 was drunk:

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So what about outside cycling? Glad you asked, here’s that data set:

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This was down in Australia on a ‘fun’ ride up into the hills/mountains and back again. You can see how the first 2/3rds has higher heart rates as we climb and pedal harder, then a short break at the top to check out the view, followed by lower heart rates as we descend. The purple of the Vivoactive 4 seems to stick out the most above, showing you where it’s offset from others. But let’s zoom in to a few of the climbing portions:

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You can see above that, for the most part, the different sensors are fairly close. However, there are a few drops around the 1:02 marker where the Vivoactive 4 is considerably off-beat from the rest. That massive climb in HR to 185 or so is when the grade painfully goes to 20% (on a road bike). It sucked. I suspect those two dips are when I’m holding tighter on the handlebars and that causes strain for the optical HR sensor. Whereas other climbing portions are mostly fine, albeit still with some little spikes on the Vivoactive (drops more accurately):

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As for descending, the Vivoactive 4 was a solid mess there. The Polar Vantage V was roughly in the ballpark with the Garmin HRM-DUAL and MioPod sensors, but the Vivoactive 4 basically flat-lined and gave up on life:

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This isn’t super unusual per se for wrist-based sensors during vibration-laden descents, but again, the Polar sensor here had no issues on my other wrist.

So ultimately, the Vivoactive 4 optical HR accuracy seems a bit mixed. On easier scenarios (which is any form of indoor cycling) it seems to fumble the most. Heck, even during some running warm-ups it fumbles a bit. Yet for harder scenarios like the 800m intervals, it actually does fairly well, which matches what I saw with other track workouts too. For outdoor cycling, it shows the occasional dips/spikes that we see indoors, albeit at less frequency. It did have trouble descending.

So again, like GPS, you’ll have to decide whether it fits your requirements or not. If you’re just looking for ballpark accuracy, for running it seemed mostly OK there. Whereas for cycling it struggled more than I typically see for Garmin’s Elevate sensor.

Product Comparison:

I’ve added the Garmin Vivoactive 4 into the product comparison database, allowing you to compare it against other products that I’ve reviewed in the past.  For the purposes of below I’ve compared it against the Apple Watch Series 5, Fitbit Ionic, and Samsung Galaxy Active Watch 2 –  which are the ones most people will be comparing it against from a sports/fitness standpoint.

Note that with all these watches – but especially the Apple Watch, there are many cases below where “with 3rd party apps” can be used.  The same is largely true of Garmin, Samsung, and somewhat with Fitbit.  But the Apple Watch tends to offload more core fitness functionality to 3rd party apps than the others. I’ve tried to thread the needle of apps that I roughly know exist where I’ve listed that.  But it’s not perfection in terms of knowing every app on earth.  Ultimately, I don’t think any consumer does (or should). Plus, we’ve actually seen a pulling back of wearable apps from companies over the last year (basically, they stop updating them). Making it even harder to know an up to date app from a dysfunctional one dying on the vine.

Finally, I didn’t add the Garmin Venu into this set, because honestly the features as seen below are identical between the Vivoactive & Venu, save the differences in battery life due to the differences in display. So, here’s my two-second thoughts on the display differences:

The Garmin Venu display is by far the best display Garmin has made to date. It’s not Apple Watch level display, but it looks really damn good. After three months of daily Garmin Venu wearing, I ‘went down’ to the Vivoactive 4 for these last few months. And I’ll readily admit the first day it was like ‘Ugh.’ But after that first day, it became the new normal and didn’t bother me. And in fact, without a Venu display side by side, it seems quite nice to me. Plus, I get more days battery out of it – which is handy.

Ok, onto the full chart:

Function/FeatureApple Watch Series 5Fitbit IonicGarmin Vivoactive 4Samsung Galaxy Active
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated February 6th, 2020 @ 8:07 amNew Window Expand table for more results
Price$399/$499 (cellular)$229$349$199
Product Announcement DateSept 10th, 2019Aug 28th, 2017Sept 5th, 2019Feb 20th, 2019
Actual Availability/Shipping DateSept 20st, 2019Oct 1st, 2017Sept 5th, 2019Mar 9th, 2019
Data TransferBluetooth SmartBluetooth SmartUSB, BLUETOOTH SMART, WiFiBluetooth Smart
Waterproofing50m50m50 meters50 meters
Battery Life (GPS)6hrs GPS on time (18hrs standby)10 hours18 hours GPSUndeclared (claims 45hrs non-GPS)
Recording IntervalVaries1-second1s or Smart Recording1-second for GPS, 1-minute for HR
Satellite Pre-Loading via ComputerYes via phoneYesYesYes
Quick Satellite ReceptionMost timesGreatGreatYes
AlertsVibration/Audio/VisualVisual/VibrateVibrate/VisualVibrate/Visual

And again – don’t forget you can make your own product comparison charts comparing any products using the product comparison database.

Summary:

Garmin-Vivoactive4-Music-Summary

Overall the Vivoactive 4 is a solid upgrade over the Vivoactive 3, if for no other reason than the darn second button. Plus of course the music in all models and the other health bits. But really, that button. It might sound silly to those unfamiliar with sports watches, but the user interface is greatly improved when you’ve got two distinct and quick confirmation and back buttons. Many watches have this feature alongside their touch screens.

Now while the new health features are handy, I can’t imagine they’ll be a significant enough draw for existing Vivoactive 3 users. But if you’ve got an older Vivoactive, or perhaps are coming from a different watch – then they might just tip the scales. Or, perhaps it’s Spotify and Amazon Music offline support. Or just being a sport-first watch.

However, within that context it’s not perfect. I’ve found the optical HR accuracy a bit mixed. Oddly it seems to perform better in tougher conditions for me, but has oft struggled in easier conditions. For example, it handles indoor and outdoor running intervals breezily, yet fumbled over itself for relatively benign indoor spin/trainer workouts with minimal movement/intensity. For GPS, it was the same mixed bag as the heart rate was. Definitely not the best Garmin watch accuracy-wise I’ve seen in the last 12 months.

Lastly, is price. As I’ve said since the beginning – the Vivoactive 4 at $349 is overpriced compared to the competition (or even compared to Garmin), especially for less athletic focused folks where a $199 Apple Watch is probably a better all-round option. But I think Garmin sees that too. They dropped the price to $299 during the holidays, and it’s back at that again right now. To me that’s still a bit pricey but is a fair price and I suspect we’ll see it stay there.

Finally, the Vivoactive 4 feels more polished than past Garmin Vivoactive attempts. It feels less plastic-looking, primarily due to bezel design. I’ve been surprised at how many asked what the watch is (since it has no branding on it), liking the looks of it. Between the apparent looks, and the actual underlying functionality – overall it’s a solid option for a fitness/sport focused person.

Found this review useful? Or just want a good deal? 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 $79, you get free 3-day (or less) US shipping as well.

Garmin Vivoactive 4 GPS Watch
Garmin Vivoactive 4S GPS Watch (select from dropdown)
Garmin Vivoactive 4 First Avenger GPS Watch
Garmin Vivoactive 4 Legacy Saga GPS Watch (Star Wars)
Garmin Vivoactive 4 Captain Marvel GPS Watch
Garmin HRM-DUAL (dual ANT+/Bluetooth HR strap – review here)

And finally, here’s a handy list of some of my favorite Garmin-specific accessories for the Garmin watches. Of course, being ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart compatible, you don’t have to limit things to just Garmin.

ProductAmazon LinkNote
Garmin Cadence Sensor V2This is a dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart cycling cadence sensor that you strap to your crank arm, but also does dual Bluetooth Smart, so you can pair it both to Zwift and another Bluetooth Smart app at once if you want.
Garmin HRM-DUAL Chest StrapThis is one of the top two straps I use daily for accuracy comparisons (the other being the Polar H9/H10). It's dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, and in fact dual-Bluetooth Smart too, in case you need multiple connectons.
Garmin HRM-TRI/HRM-SWIM StrapsWhile optical HR works on some newer Garmin watches, if you're looking for higher levels of accuracy, the HRM-TRI or HRM-SWIM are the best Garmin-compatible options out there to fill the gap.
Garmin Puck ChargerSeriously, this will change your life. $9 for a two-pack of these puck Garmin chargers that stay put and stay connected. One for the office, one for your bedside, another for your bag, and one for your dogs house. Just in case.
Garmin Speed Sensor V2This speed sensor is unique in that it can record offline (sans-watch), making it perfect for a commuter bike quietly recording your rides. But it's also a standard ANT+/BLE sensor that pairs to your device. It's become my go-to speed sensor.

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible.

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Polar’s New H9 Heart Rate Strap: Everything you ever wanted to know https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/01/polars-new-h9-heart-rate-strap-everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/01/polars-new-h9-heart-rate-strap-everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know.html#comments Wed, 29 Jan 2020 11:07:25 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=108549 Read More Here ]]> DSC_1722

Polar has announced today a new heart rate chest strap, undercutting slightly their higher-end H10 strap with a less expensive offering that ditches the onboard storage, while still maintaining the trio of connectivity choices (ANT+/Bluetooth Smart/5kHz). Essentially, it’s Polar’s perfectly priced strap to counter the Wahoo TICKR and Garmin HRM-DUAL chest straps.

I’ve been using the strap for the past few days to see how it performs. Though, like most chest straps these days, it pretty much does exactly what you’d expect it to do, and accurately too. Since it doesn’t have any ‘fancy’ features like internal storage or running efficiency metrics, it’s relatively straightforward to use and test, and give you my initial thoughts.

Now one twist on this strap is that like the H10, it actually does retain Polar’s newish SDK functionality. This means that it’s ideal for some of Polar’s B2B partners to leverage for various applications beyond just simple heart rate such as ECG and HRV data. Also, with the 5kHz connectivity, it’ll work with all those gym treadmills and machines that still somehow don’t have Bluetooth or ANT+ connectivity in them.

Finally, I’ll attempt to keep this post efficient. After all, from a consumer standpoint (non-developer) it’s just a strap that transmits your heart rate on multiple frequencies. Sure, it has compatibility with apps like Polar Beat and Polar Flow…but that’s not really any different than any other Bluetooth HR strap.

The Basics:

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The Polar H9 strap comes with two components: The chest strap itself and the modular pod that pops into it.  The strap itself is their SoftStrap branded lineup, which most folks find pretty darn comfy (myself included). It’s adjustable in size from really small to pretty darn big. It’s also easily replaceable in case you’re one of those people that go through chest strap bands like I go through cookies.

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Note the strap does have some differences to the H10. For example, the H10 includes these grippy dots, whereas the H9 doesn’t. Also, the H10 includes a clip on/off clasp, whereas the H9 you just slide it through a little loop.

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Meanwhile, the pod is a starkly different grey color – something I haven’t seen from Polar’s historically black pods. Either way, the color matches the DCR Cave’s photo/unboxing table well.

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On the back of the pod you’ll find the small door for opening up the CR2025 battery compartment. This coin cell battery should last you about a year with 1-hour’s worth of daily usage.

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After which you pop open the door and pop in a new coin cell battery. Simple as that:

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The strap will automatically activate once it detects heart rate signal between the two electrodes. This occurs when you snap the pod into the strap and then put it on your chest. Alternately, you can give the two sensing pads a small massage with your fingers and it’ll wake up the strap. When it doesn’t detect a human, it’ll go back to sleep automatically.

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There’s no visible lights or such on the strap itself once powered on. Instead, it’ll just start broadcasting concurrently across the three formats:

– ANT+ heart rate (unlimited connections)
– Bluetooth Smart heart rate (one concurrent connection)
– 5kHz analog heart rate (unlimited connections)

The only thing that’s notable here on the Bluetooth Smart side is that the Polar H10 allows for dual Bluetooth Smart connections versus just the singular concurrent connection on the H9. My bet here is this is more of a differentiating limitation by Polar than a hardware one, as I suspect it’s the same chipset. The main use case for concurrent (dual) Bluetooth Smart connections is where you want to concurrently connect your chest strap to something like a Polar watch (which only does Bluetooth Smart for current models) as well as an app like Zwift on iOS/Apple TV (also only Bluetooth Smart). You can use unlimited ANT+ connections with a single Bluetooth Smart connection at the same time.

For most people this is more than enough, but if you’re a big enough geek like me – it’s a limitation I occasionally hit up against.

In any case, to demonstrate the three connectivity options – first, here’s a Garmin Edge series device connected via ANT+. You can see it in the pairing menu, as well as the connectivity type (and, the ANT+ Manufacturer ID Polar is assigned of 123, each company gets their own ANT+ ID).

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Then, we’ll layer in a connect to Zwift on an iPhone via Bluetooth Smart:

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And finally, for the pièce de résistance, I’ll connect to it with my treadmill via analog 5kHz connectivity (showing pulse at 74). My treadmill doesn’t support any of the newfangled ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart stuff.

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Cool, huh?

Now, at this point that’s basically all you need to know about the strap. It’s now broadcasting your heart rate and doing the things you need it to do. However, you can use it with Polar’s apps. Again, it doesn’t have any storage or accelerometers in it, so it’s purely broadcasting heart rate. But Polar’s apps each have different purposes. Typically Polar Flow is for adding your device in for firmware updates and sync (on other products), whereas Polar Beat is for doing workouts.

If we pair it up to the Polar Beat app, then they’ve got a variety of heart-rate training programs as well as the ability to record your trainings and then sync them with various 3rd party apps. At present it shows up as an H7 strap, but I’m sure by the end of the day it’ll quietly show as an H9. You’ll notice there’s the option to enable/disable ANT+, broadcasting at all, and GymLink (the analog bits). Kinda cool.

IMG_4588 IMG_4589 IMG_4590

Ok, with that – I think we’ve covered all there is to know about it connectivity-wise and basic use. After usage, like any other chest strap, I recommend simply washing it off with water. I often just do this in the first minute or so of taking a shower after a workout. Then simply hang it up to let it dry. The entire strap and pod is waterproof to 30-meters.

Initial Accuracy Data:

Here’s data from an initial workout. This was an indoor workout because the weather is miserable here right now and was basically hailing blueberries like an angry tornado yesterday.

First up is the data from the indoor bike. In this case I had a boatload of other sensors onboard, all carefully positioned so that they don’t interfere with each other. In total, I had all the following:

A) Polar H9 Strap (Upper chest)
B) Garmin HRM-DUAL Strap (lower chest)
C) Polar OH1 Plus optical HR sensor (upper left arm)
D) MioPod optical HR sensor (upper right arm)
E) Garmin Vivoactive 4 watch (left wrist)

Phew. Data file extravaganza!

Here’s what that looks like:

image

As you can see, that’s pretty boring. The Vivoactive 4 accuracy mostly sucked like a drunk pedestrian, but everything else was almost identical. Some minor variances between the two optical HR sensors, but by and large pretty darn similar across all of them. This included a few sprint efforts, and a variety of changes in intensity. The H9 is in teal connected to the FR945 as an ANT+ chest strap, while the HRM-DUAL is in orange connected to the Peloton bike. The other colors are shown to the right.

image

You can see the entire set of data, inclusive of zooming in and out as you see fit here. Ultimately, it’s pretty boring. There’s virtually no difference between them.

Now, I had plans to have an indoor treadmill interval workout for you this morning as well. Except, I’ve spent the last hour troubleshooting Zwift and Bluetooth Smart sensor connectivity. So, no run now. Maybe later once I finish placing the entire setup underneath a high-speed bus out front of the studio.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Product Comparison:

DSC_1747

I’ve added the Polar H9 strap into the product comparison database, within the heart rate sensor section. That’s got boatloads of heart rate straps in there, though for the purposes of comparison below I’ve slated it against the Wahoo TICKR series, Garmin HRM-DUAL, 4iiii Viiiiva, and Polar H10 – all being chest straps. If you want to compare it against optical sensors like the Polar OH1+, Wahoo TICKR FIT, or Scosche 24, you can do that in the product comparison database too.

Still, to make your life easier, I’ll distill this entire table down to basically three lines:

Polar H9 vs H10: The H10 has storage for workouts sans-device (meaning, it’ll sync them from strap to phone). It also has accelerometer data that you probably won’t ever use, it does dual Bluetooth Smart connections.

Polar H9 vs Garmin HRM-DUAL: The Garmin strap has dual Bluetooth Smart connections like the Polar H10, but lacks the 5kHz analog signal for gym treadmills/equipment. Both are priced the same. Essentially the main difference here is deciding which use case fits you best.

Polar H9 vs Wahoo TICKR or TICKR X: Assuming the base TICKR (not the TICKR X), they’re the same for ANT+/Bluetooth Smart connectivity, but the Polar H9 has the analog 5kHz that the TICKR doesn’t. The TICKR is cheaper. If looking at the TICKR X, it has offline storage like the Polar H10 and a bunch of running focused metrics you might use 2 or 3 times (only with their app).

Polar vs 4iiii Viiiiva: As usual, the 4iiii Viiiiva gets basically no respect. It’s got more software features than everyone above for about the same price. I personally don’t find the strap all that comfortable though. It doesn’t have dual-Bluetooth Smart or 5kHz, but does have bridging of ANT+ accessories to Bluetooth Smart (including footpods/power meters/etc…). Plus offline storage. I think it also farts Canadian rainbows too.

Make sense? Good. Here’s the table of them all:

Function/FeaturePolar H94iiii ViiiivaGarmin HRM-DUALPolar H10Wahoo TICKR
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated February 5th, 2020 @ 11:42 amNew Window Expand table for more results
Price$59$79$69$89$49
Product Announce DateJanuary 29th, 2020Jan 7th, 2013Jan 30th, 2019Jan 5th, 2017Jan 6th, 2014
Product Availability DateJanuary 2020July 2013Jan 2019Jan 2017Apr 2014
Battery Life1 year200 hours3.5 years1-2 years1-2 years
Battery TypeCoin Cell CR2025Coin Cell CR2032Coin Cell CR2032Coin Cell CR2025Coin Cell CR2032
ANT+YesYesYesYes (with firmware update)Yes
Bluetooth SmartYesYesYES (DUAL BLE CHANNELS)Yes (dual BLE channels)Yes
Analog for gym equipmentYesNoNoYesNo
Usable HR data underwaterYes (with certain older 5kHz watches)NoNoYES (WITH CERTAIN OLDER 5KHZ WATCHES)No
Bridging ANT+ to Bluetooth SmartNoYesNoNoNo

And again, remember you can make your own comparison chart with all the heart rate straps/sensors I’ve reviewed (optical and chest straps) in the product comparison database here.

Summary:

DSC_1755

The Polar H9 fits a gap in Polar’s lineup for offering a tri-band chest strap at an affordable price, undercutting the price of their own product (the H10) to put something on the market that should actually do well competitively since it really does stack up well against the Garmin HRM-DUAL and Wahoo straps. Each strap has their own minor differences that you’ll have to ultimately decide which strap, if any, makes the most sense for your specific needs. But ultimately, I’d be more than happy to use any of them on a daily basis.

I’ve really got no complaints about the H9. Sure, I’d love to have seen two Bluetooth Smart connections like the H10 – but that’s product differentiation for ya. And sure, I’d love to have seen storage of workouts like the H10 – but I’m not actually a fan of how Polar’s H10 workout storage functionality works logistically. So that’s not a big loss (I find it cumbersome compared to how others work). I’d note the Polar OH1 Plus’s offline functionality is awesome – and one of my daily testing sensors out there because of that simplicity.

As for accuracy, things look pretty good at this point for what I’ve tested. More to come there. While my treadmill workout as planned crapped out, I did actually start the workout before I ran out of time – and within that realm things were matched up 1:1 against the HRM-DUAL. Again, hopefully this afternoon I’ll be able to win the battle against electronic devices and get that workout knocked out for real, with more juicy running interval data.

Until then – as I said up above – this seems like a nicely landed product by Polar. Good price, good functionality, and based on their longstanding success of existing chest straps that the vast majority of people seem to really like (myself included).

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 Polar H9 Heart Rate strap (or any accessories) 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.

Polar H9 chest strap
Polar H10 chest strap
Polar OH1 Plus optical band

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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87
Stages Further Lowers Power Meter Pricing to $299 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/01/stages-further-lowers-power-meter-pricing-to-299.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/01/stages-further-lowers-power-meter-pricing-to-299.html#comments Mon, 06 Jan 2020 08:00:00 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=107928 Read More Here ]]> StagesPower2

No matter how you feel about single-sided power meters, there’s zero denying that Stages and their timing of the decade deal with then Team Sky, dramatically increased power meter consumption. In the rising tide lifts all boats department, they took with them not just (at the time) the budget end of the power meter spectrum, but also the mid and high end too. Not to mention aiding in the smart trainer realm by making it easier for people to train on the same power numbers inside and out.

These days of course, Stages is far more than just left-only power meters. They’ve got dual sided ones, as well as their Stages Dash lineup of GPS bike computers, and sometime in the next month or two – also their indoor smart bike. All of which ignores the bulk of their business in selling indoor non-smart bikes to gyms.

The point being, that despite the long term trend probably (most definitely) shifting away from companies like Stages making add-on power meters (and instead having them just built in the cranks), that day isn’t anytime soon. And today’s permanent pricing shift is basically Stages saying they aren’t going into the sunset quietly. And there’s no reason to – they’re likely the most used power meter company out there.

Today’s announcement brings the price of a Stages single-sided power meter to $299 from $529, and the dual-sided Stages LR units from $999 down to $729 for the Ultegra version.

● Shimano 105 R7000 Power L $299USD/ £299/ €299/ $549AUD
● Shimano Ultegra R8000 $349USD/ £349/ €399/ $649AUD
● Carbon BB30, GXP Road, and GXP MTB L $499USD/ £439/ €499/ $799AUD
● Shimano Ultegra R8000 Power LR $729USD/ £689/ €749/ $1199AUD
● Shimano DuraAce R9100 Power LR $999USD/ £939/ €999/ $1499AUD

Now one might think that Stages is trying to take money out of the hands of the Favero, Garmin, SRAM, and others of the world. And certainly, that’s true. But I suspect the goal here is actually also protecting against the less expensive and less well known brands that have crept in over the past couple of years. Companies like Avio, Tempo, and Magene. All of these companies are shipping units today, though some of them have some sort of ‘catch’. Be it limited availability to a specific region, no Bluetooth Smart support, or questionable technical support in a country half a globe away. Some of them *are* accurate though, and some of them might actually make a lot of sense for your needs.

Stages is basically pulling a ‘Men in Black’, waving their hands, and saying ‘You didn’t see those units’. Because at $299 – it’s hard to argue with that pricing or a well established company.

The units that get the price reduction are all Gen3 models, which has overwhelmingly seemed to have resolved all the waterproof sealing and signal issues of years past. These have dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, and use standard CR2032 coin cell batteries.

StagesLRDual

However, on the flip side, the Stages LR units are still Shimano R8000/R9100 crankset based, which means they’re still subject to some of the variability that all power meter manufacturers are struggling with, specifically on the right side of that crankset (which is why it doesn’t terribly impact the single-sided left variants). Even Shimano themselves has struggled – perhaps more than others – with instability of this crank arm design for attaching power meters to it. Shane Miller and Keith Wakeham have talked at length about this.

Still, I think the deal here is all about the single-sided crank arms. Now, I’ve discussed my concerns with single-sided crank arms for years (which simply double the left leg power to give total power). Most people aren’t actually balanced (which is fine), but more importantly, many people actually have variation in their power balance. You shift your leg balance as you fatigue, or even at certain levels. My power balance shifts the more wattage I put out – it’s different at 250w vs 500 vs even 125w.

But, I’ve also noted that training with a power meter that’s a few percent variable is definitely better than no power meter at all. If you can afford a full power or dual-sided power meter – great! But, if you can’t, or if this is perhaps for a bike that having perfection in your numbers isn’t as important, then that makes total sense. As always, do your research. I’ve written boatloads on this in the past.

(I know, I owe you a 2019…err…2020 power meter buyers guide, but honestly, nothing of note happened in 2019 in the power meter world. In fact, today’s announcement is the biggest shipping-focused power meter news of the last 12 months.)

With that – I’m back to CES related goodness. Stay tuned to the site, Twitter, and Instagram!

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86
GoPro Light Mod Accessory In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/gopro-light-mod-led-accessory-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/gopro-light-mod-led-accessory-review.html#comments Thu, 26 Dec 2019 10:55:56 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=107789 Read More Here ]]> GoPro-Light-Mod-With-Diffuser

Way back when the GoPro Hero 8 was announced, the company also announced a series of ‘Mods’, err…accessories as the rest of the world calls them? In any case, there were three announced accessories at the time:

1) The Media Mod: This was essentially a frame around the GoPro that added mic/charging/HDMI/adapter ports, and a built-in shotgun mic
2) The Light Mod: A small light that attached to the Media Mod accessory, but also has a standard GoPro mount too
3) The Display Mod: A small flip-up selfie screen to see yourself when shooting. Like DJI’s OSMO Action forward-facing screen, but way bigger

Now at the time, GoPro announced these accessories would be available ‘later in 2019’, specifically December. Also at that time, I had a funny feeling this would be a bit of a ‘sliding into home’ kinda thing, given that not a single accessory was available for any media to check out back then. Sure enough, a mere week before the end of the year, GoPro delivered on that promise, at least for the Light Mod. The Media Mod won’t start shipping till later in January now, and the screen mod not till March 2020. As a brief imagery refresher, here’s the three mods:

image

Still, with the Light Mod mod here now, I figured a super quick look at it is worthwhile. Once the Media Mod hits in January, then it’s worthwhile to review the entire kit together, since they’re kinda designed to work together. I started off writing this post thinking it’d be like 6 paragraphs and done. Somehow it ended up longer. Somehow something that has one button and four modes ended up being this long. Sorry-not-sorry.

The Hardware:

In any event, here’s what’s available now – the Light Mod. In the box is the small Light itself, a USB-C charging cable, a GoPro mount adapter, and a small silicone diffuser:

GoPro-Light-Mod-Unboxed-Parts

I weighed in the light at 26g (excluding the GoPro mount, but with the built-in cold-shoe mount). You’ll find the USB-C charging port on the side:

vlcsnap-2019-12-26-11h22m22s402

On the bottom of the light is a standard cold-shoe adapter:

GoPro-Light-Mod-Cold-Shoe

Which means it fits just fine on my regular cameras, so it’s not really limited to just GoPro cameras (in fact, since most cameras have a hot/cold shoe mount on them by default, one could actually argue it works better on non-GoPro cameras).

GoPro-Light-Mod-Cold-Shoe-Mounted GoPro-Light-Mod-Cold-Shoe-Mount-GH5

Here’s the tiny GoPro mount to cold-shoe adapter plate:

GoPro-Light-Mod-Cold-Shoe-GoPro-Mount-Adapter

Remember, a cold shoe means there’s no power transfer between the GoPro/Media Mod, and the Light mod (versus a hot-shoe would have connectivity of some element). In fact all components of the GoPro ‘Mod’ ecosystem are self-contained from a power standpoint, and somewhat disappointingly can’t share power. Meaning, if you walked out the door with the Media/Light/Screen mode, you’d have to charge three different units including the GoPro itself (GoPro, Display, Light…the Media Mod is powered by the GoPro).

Now because the GoPro Media Mod isn’t yet available, I had to improvise a little bit to simulate where it’ll fit normally. In some situations I just used electrical tape to the top of the GoPro. But most of the time I used a GoPro 3-Way pole along with a GoPro Swivel Clamp to get pretty flexible lighting. Check out the full video to see both examples live.

image

Within the light there are four modes you can toggle through, pressing the top button:

image

The modes are:

Level 1: Low brightness – 20 lumens (6hrs battery life)
Level 2: Medium brightness – 60 lumens (2hrs battery life)
Level 3: High brightness – 125 lumens (1hr battery life)
Level 4: ‘Overdrive Mode’ – 200 lumens for up to 30 seconds at a time
Strobe: Crazy blinking strobe action

At first I thought the strobe setting was a bit useless, as it just blinks like a horrifically blinding bike light. But GoPro says it’s for “signaling and visibility” though, so I guess my drunk bike light might not be too far off. In any event, the light temp is 5000K, which works out well for me and how I light most of my videos inside – as well as feels pretty natural outside. The CRI is spec’d at “90+”.

The fourth ‘Overdrive mode’ is accessed by double-pressing the button quickly, which then enters the ‘Overdrive’ mode. It will stay in that mode for 30-seconds, and then automatically go back down to the ‘High’ brightness level. Sorry there are no samples of this in the review, I had asked GoPro’s PR company how to enable this nearly a week ago and didn’t receive an answer. Now that I know how, I’ll get some samples taken when it gets dark out again. Though, given it’s only active for 30 seconds at a time, the use cases are a bit more limited.

Speaking of light things, it also includes a small silicone diffuser, which, does exactly as the name implies – diffuses the light to make it a bit softer, seen below attached to the front (and above sitting next to it).

GoPro-Light-Mod-Diffuser

And, the thing says it’s waterproof to 10m. I lightly tested that, but didn’t have time to get the waterproof test chamber fully spun up for this quick post. Maybe down the road.

Finally, I think it’s worthwhile pointing out the obvious: There are cheaper non-GoPro lights, and more expensive non-GoPro lights out there. As there always is with GoPro accessories. For fun, I picked the most popular non-GoPro light on Amazon and bought it. It was $25, and is also waterproof and has a GoPro mount. It’s far more powerful than the GoPro Light Mod, but also far bigger. In the pictures it looked smaller than it was (the pictures are accurate, it’s just my brain):

GoPro-Light-Mod-vs-GoPro-Hero-8-Black-Size-Front

They both actually have fairly similar battery lifetimes. It’s also designed for heavy underwater use – so that’s an element of it. Either way, I point this out merely because there are plenty of options here, and I think the biggest advantage of the GoPro light is just that it’s really damn small. Whereas if you need a crazy big light, such as to illuminate a large vehicle, it’s not really the best choice.

GoPro-Light-Mod-Vs-GoPro-Hero8-Size

There’s also this $25 smaller light that I didn’t try, as it wasn’t available in my country last week. It’s got seemingly semi-similar specs, though lacks the built-in cold-shoe mount (it has an adapter but has a standard tripod mount instead). And when I say ‘seemingly similar’, emphasis on the ‘seemingly’ part, since it lacks exact lumen specs. In any case – point being there’s other options out there, but it’s a bit of a trade-off on any of them. Price vs convenience. The usual really.

With all that covered, let’s look at some quick sample comparisons.

Test Images/Video:

GoPro-Light-Mod-Attached-Swivel-Clamp

I’ve piled all of these samples into a simple video here that you can press play on, and in about 10 minutes be done with it. Just the facts, quick and easy.

First up, here’s a few sets of four images in varying light levels, taken as stills from a video shot in 4K/30 with no ProTune settings. I’d be able to eek out a bit more light in ProTune by upping the exposure, but for the purposes of showing the light, we’ll just keep things simple. The first is out on the street in a fairly dark area with almost no street lights, with this initial set sans-diffuser. The 3-way is held at arm’s length, as you normally would:

GoPro-Light-Mod-No-Light-On GoPro-Light-Mod-Low-Level-No-Diffuser GoPro-Light-Mod-Medium-Level-No-Diffuser GoPro-Light-Mod-High-Level-No-Diffuser

Next, the exact same set, this time with the diffuser:

GoPro-Light-Mod-No-Light-On GoPro-Light-Mod-Low-Level-With-Diffuser GoPro-Light-Mod-Medium-Level-With-Diffuser GoPro-Light-Mod-High-Level-With-Diffuser

Next, here’s a good example of adding a bit of fill light to a shot that might have been acceptable otherwise. In this case I’m standing on a running track that has its stadium lights on, but this is a community track – not the Olympic Games. As such the lighting is fine for running or playing soccer/football on the interior, but less ideal for a GoPro. This is on the edge of the track, without the light, and then again with the light on high with the diffuser (this is all in the video too)

vlcsnap-2019-12-26-11h33m04s292 vlcsnap-2019-12-26-11h33m23s733

As you can see, it definitely helps to fill in the bits of darkness, without completely killing the background imagery.

Finally, to get a bit more action-like for this action-camera, I head out for a ride. Now I actually decided to go with the cargo bike for a unique reason: It allows me to light the foreground pretty nicely on this moving object – similar to doing any other sports activity at night. Beyond that, there’s a small light on the front of the bike, but honestly it’s less powerful than the GoPro light.

2019-12-23 23.49.42

No diffuser in this case, since I wasn’t really looking to minimize or soften the light here. The photo I took above was under some lights so you could see the setup, whereas below is while moving on a dark street.

GoPro-Light-Mod-Sample-On-Bike-Not-On GoPro-Light-Mod-Sample-On-Bike-Low-NoDiffuser GoPro-Light-Mod-Sample-On-Bike-Medium-NoDiffuser GoPro-Light-Mod-Sample-On-Bike-High-NoDiffuser

Oh, and finally, two photos. I know these aren’t exciting – that’s OK. The purpose is to show you the light. The below is a comparison in photo mode between hand-held no light and hand-held light.

GOPR2817 GOPR2819

So there ya have it. Perhaps for my final review with the media mod I’ll come up with something more creative to light, but for now I think this gives you a good impression of it.

Wrap-Up:

GoPro-Light-Mod-In-Depth-Review

I’m actually kinda surprised. I honestly didn’t expect to really find much value in this when I first heard about it this past summer. The media mod, yes, but less so the light mod. Mostly because I think the renders made it appear much bigger than it actually is. I pictured something the size of the entire GoPro, but in reality it’s super tiny. As such, I think it might actually find a home at the bottom of my backpack on trips. It doesn’t require a special charger, which is a plus, and eventually I suspect the Media Mod will mostly live on my GoPro, so it’d cover the mount aspect.

We’ll see, but I actually think $49 is a fair price for it. Sure, GoPro accessories are always a bit pricey, but usually the more advanced ones tend to be worth it (less so for the simplistic extra-parts type pieces, or batteries). But in this case I think they actually got the price right. So kudos.

With that – look forward to a more complete Mod review down the road in January or so, once GoPro starts shipping the Media Mod bit, which will pull everything together.

Thanks for reading!

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DJI Mavic Mini In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/dji-mavic-mini-in-depth-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/dji-mavic-mini-in-depth-review.html#comments Thu, 19 Dec 2019 19:49:02 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=107468 Read More Here ]]> DJI-Mavic-Mini-Review-Sports-Focused

The DJI Mavic Mini is DJI’s first drone under 249 grams. It’s a fact you’ll see and hear a lot when anyone talks about this drone. And in some more limited than people realize situations, that means something. For example, in Canada it means you can fly the drone without taking a test. And in Japan, where the Mavic Mini is actually even less heavy (199g, at the cost of a smaller battery), it means you can fly it there within the micro category.

And yes, it’s an impressive feat. What DJI has managed to cram into that 249g is a drone that flies 30 minutes and takes 2.7K video. Things that simply don’t exist anywhere else. But, for most other jurisdictions worldwide, it’s a bit of a false sense of meaning. For example, at this time it simply means you don’t register it – a 1-minute task that the majority of people don’t mind. In 2020 the framework around that might change some, depending on government bureaucracy. And in the EU the 250g floor and associated proposed rules don’t actually apply to ‘drones equipped with cameras’, so you’ll still be subject to all the same rules anyway.

However, while the company has crammed in a lot to the Mavic Mini, they’ve also taken out a lot. There’s no obstacle/object avoidance, making it the first drone in nearly 4 years that DJI has made without the technology. Also, unlike most of DJI’s less expensive drones, you can’t fly it with your cell phone. It requires a controller – making it slightly less portable (or pocketable) than may appear at first glance.

Still – it’s impressive. The question is – are these trade-offs worth it? That’s what I set out to find out.

Unboxing:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Boxed-Combo-Set

I’ll be unboxing the DJI Mavic Mini Fly More Combo, which is what I’d recommend most folks get. As regular readers know, I’m typically not a huge combo person, but most of DJI’s combos make sense, especially if you plan to get extra batteries. This kit includes three batteries in total, plus the triple-battery charger case. It also includes a fancier carrying case, and prop guards you’ll never use. Said differently, if you only plan to get one extra battery – then skip the combo (a battery alone is $69). Whereas if you plan to get two batteries, then obviously get the combo.

Probably one of the most notable things is the 249g indication down at the bottom. Of note is that this 249g is without the prop guards.

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Box-249g

Once you remove the innards of the bigger box you’ve got the pretty carrying case inside, along with a box where the prop guards are:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Fly-More-Combo-Unboxed-Parts

Here’s the carrying case opened up, showing the Mavic Mini, remote controller, and battery charging station:

And here’s everything from the combo kit all laid out swanky-style on a table:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Fly-More-Combo-Unboxed

First up, a closer look at the batteries, which remind me more of DSLR style batteries than bulkier drone batteries. Super impressive what these things pack-in flight-time wise (30 mins theoretical):

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Spare-Batteries

Then there’s the threesome charging case, allowing three batteries to party all night long and get charged:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Battery-Charging-Hub

Next to that, there’s the 18w wall charger block, as well as a pile of extra props:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Spare-Props

Then there’s the remote control, charging cables, and remote control to phone cables:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Controller DJI-Mavic-Mini-Controller-Phone-Connection-Cables

Then the prop guards:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Prop-Guards

And finally, the Mavic Mini itself:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Unboxed-Device

Don’t worry, you’ll get plenty more shots of that throughout the post. And finally, here’s two shots of the drone on the scale. One with the battery inserted (and a micro-SD card), as well as another of just the battery:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Weight-249g-Scale DJI-Mavic-Mini-Weight-Battery-99g

While many times companies are a bit wishy-washy with the weight specs, this doesn’t appear to be one of those cases. Which is logical given how much is on the line for being over by even 1g.

Drone Hardware Basics:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Controller-Ready-Basics

For this section I’m going to cover the basics of the DJI Mavic Mini, things like the hardware, batteries, and so on. For specifics on video and photo, as well as sports-applications – check out those sections down below.

First up is that the Mavic Mini travels in a folded state, which is roughly the size of a phone’s footprint, but about the thickness of a mouse. Look, I don’t know, that’s the closest thing I could find to it.

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Next-To-Mouse

You’ll simply unfold each of the four arms out. Some swing out horizontally, while some have more of a vertical ‘over/under’ type action:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Unfolded-Legs

Finally, if you haven’t yet, you’ll want to remove the plastic gimbal protector.

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Gimbal-Protector

In theory, you should always travel with the plastic gimbal protector. But in practice I forgot to put it back on about half the time (and by ‘half’, I mean ‘all), and with any of the DJI drones in the last 2-3 years it hasn’t been an issue (prior to that, they were more fragile).

Next, you’ve got the battery. It slides into the back door of the unit, which opens up like a backwards Antonov cargo jet:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Backdoor-Battery

Unlike other DJI drone batteries, the Mavic Mini batteries don’t have battery status indicators on them. So in order to check status you’ll need to insert the battery into the drone and press the bottom button once, or put it on the charging kit base, and see the LED status there:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Status-LED

In that back door you’ll find a micro-USB port and a micro-SD card slot. The USB port is for both charging the battery if in the drone, as well as downloading images if need be. I will say, I’m disappointed to see DJI backtrack to micro-USB here. They had been USB-C on a number of other drones till now.

DJI-Mavic-Mini-SD-Card-Charging-Port

DJI says that charging time is 90 mins via micro-USB regardless of whether that’s in the aircraft or with the charging hub, which charges up to three batteries. Flight time is claimed at 30 minutes (more on that in a moment).

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Charging-Hub

As a reminder, the battery makes up 40% of the system, weighing 99g out of 245g. If you buy the drone in Japan, you’ll get a reduced battery that only weighs 49g. However interestingly, you can purchase the larger 99g “international” battery (aka “the normal one”), and it’ll work just fine. It’ll simply just take you over that Japanese 199g limit.

On the micro-SD card side, it accepts cards up to 256GB. Pretty standard stuff. Note that internally the drone doesn’t have secondary internal storage like some DJI drones do. However, if you forget a card it’ll stream photos and videos in 720p back to your phone. So I suppose all isn’t lost there.

Next, on the bottom of the drone are two ground-detection sensors. These simply detect the ground to enable smoother landings:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Downwards-Sensors

Gone from this drone though are the front (or any other direction) obstacle avoidance sensors. These would normally be where I’ve outlined below. Given the cut-outs, I’ve gotta wonder if perhaps they were part of the design but were ultimately cut to save on weight.

DJI-Mavic-Mini-vs-Mavic-Obstacle-Avoidance-Sensors

Either way – I think this is *by far* the most disappointing aspect of the Mavic Mini. This is a drone that’s basically designed for less-experienced drone users, and yet lacks the one feature that helps less experienced drone users the most. Mind you, DJI has included obstacle avoidance in every one of their drones since 2015. In some of the higher-end/newer drones, it’s 360° coverage (including above/below). But all have at least had frontwards facing avoidance.

Having more than a dozen drones, I’d classify myself as a fairly experienced drone pilot. But I still find tremendous value in the obstacle avoidance sensors – mainly when you’re trying to get either complicated or hard to judge shots – especially at fast pace. It keeps you out of trouble. Again, it’s a huge disappoint DJI cut this. I would have much rather them shrink battery life from 30 minutes to say, 23 mins (thus shrinking the battery a bit), and putting in those sensors.

Finally from a drone hardware standpoint there are four props as you’d expect, with two different types of props on each drone. The difference is noted by whether the racing strips are single or double-striped:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Prop-Differences

Again we see more savings here. Unlike other DJI drones that use quick-snap props, these require a screwdriver to replace. Spare props are of course no big deal in the drone world. Eventually you’ll break a prop, often through something like bumping a rock on take-off or landing, but there are a thousand ways to break props.

Either way – the point here being to remember that you need to now take more than just your spare props with you, but also a tiny screwdriver to change said spare props. I don’t mind this sort of trade-off in the pursuit of weight gains. I just hope it doesn’t make itself to other higher-end DJI drones.

Lastly there’s the remote. This is the most slimmed down version of a remote we’ve seen from DJI yet, slicing off almost every function and all displays except the core flight ones. It even has less functions than the previous budget drone from DJI, the Spark. Which, I think is actually fine here.

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Remote-Controller

On the front you’ve got the following:

A) Two removable joysticks
B) Automatic return to home button
C) Power button
D) LED lights for power/battery status (of remote)

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Controller-Top-Down

Meanwhile, on the topish-back-edge there’s:

A) Record video button (start/stop)
B) Camera shutter button (take photo)
C) Gimbal controller wheel

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Back-Buttons

Once you expand it open you’ll find it includes a second set of joysticks inside. You can simply twist these to remove them, which can be handy to save space while in transit:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Controller-Sticks

And then from there you’ll place your phone in, and connect the cable to your phone. By default, it ships with the iPhone connector in there, but the box also contains both a USB-C and Micro-USB controller connector:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Controller-iPhone-Connected

However, unlike other controllers, there’s no dedicated charging port here. Instead, you’ll unplug the phone connection cable and charge there:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Charging-Port

With that, I think we’ve covered everything you might want to know on the hardware side of the house.

Drone Flying Basics:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Flying-Sky-High-Not-Mile-High-Club

With our hardware journey over, let’s get this little thing up in the air. To do so we’ll unfold it, remove the gimbal cover, and then touch the bottom button once, followed by a long hold to power it on. Once done, the drone lights will illuminate and stay on.

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Power-On

Next, go ahead and insert your phone into the controller and then do the same step-step tango of the power button to get it turned on, also, crack open the DJI Fly app. This is (yet another) DJI app for the DJI Mavic Mini (as compared to the DJI Go 4 app used for most other drones in the last 2 or so years).

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Opened-Controller

Also, don’t forget to unfold the antenna arms as pictured above. This is the proper way to get the most range out of them.

If you haven’t checked for new firmware, it’ll show that on the home screen of the DJI Fly app, inclusive of any updates. Updates are always worth doing, but I’d recommend doing them the night before you fly – rather than standing next to your drone freezing your ass off on a snowy winter day.

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Firmware-Update-Available DJI-Mavic-Mini-Firmware-Updated

I will give credit to DJI on the DJI Fly app being a bit cleaner of a firmware update experience than the DJI Go 4 app. Not massively cleaner, but the UI is better.

Assuming everything is connected and paired (and updated), you’ll then see the view of your camera. You’ll also see a full-screen view of the map if you tap in the lower left corner on the mini-map:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Pre-Take-off 2019-12-19 12.50.04

The map is important to flying in a legal place, but it shouldn’t be assumed to be correct. Generally speaking, DJI doesn’t have all the restrictions in there. For example, it lists numerous places around me that says are merely ‘Warning zones: Fly with caution’, when in fact those are no-fly zones. So you’ll need to do your own research here. You can tap on any given zone on the map and get more details about the zone (or, at least what DJI thinks that zone is).

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Map-View

Also, now’s a good time to mention that if you did take the charging case along it makes for a nice little take-off spot:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-On-Box

With all that set, to take-off you can either press the take-off button on the screen (left-side arrow going up from a circle), or you can hold the two joysticks inwards and downwards towards each other, which starts the power-up sequence and allows you to take-off manually.

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Take-Off

Now that the drone is in the air you’ll see status information on the controller – including how high and far it is from you as well as the speed (lower left corner), while the lower right corner is photo settings (exposure compensation and lock). Meanwhile, the upper right shows you signal strength and battery/SD Card durations. Finally, the upper left shows you the current mode (Mode P = Position).

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Take-off-Complete

Along the right side you’ll see the recording button/status, as well as the ability to change settings related to the camera, including playing back of clips. You’ll notice a thin line along the middle-right side, that’s the gimbal pitch (up/down). I’ll get more into the photographic bits in the next section.

However, from a flying standpoint it handles extremely well – just like any other DJI drone to be honest. Which, is a good thing – it should be a non-issue. I’ve had no issues flying in higher wind speed either (gusts to 25MPH+), which as I’ve shown time and time again isn’t really going to be a problem: Aircraft are designed to fly into the wind, that’s sorta what they do.

The only time wind is ever an issue is if it’s beyond the aircraft’s max speed (in the case of the Mavic Mini – 29MPH), in which case you’ll simply drift. Or, if it’s super gusty beyond the gimbal’s responsiveness capabilities – but that hasn’t been an issue on DJI drone gimbals in years (DJI drone gimbals are generally considered among the best in the world, for good reason).

DJI-Mavic-Mini-In-Flight

Of course, without obstacle avoidance you’ll have to be more careful with the drone. For example, long-time DJI users may notice that as I approach myself there’s no warning on the screen that I’m close to an object – something you’d see on every other DJI drone. Compare left (DJI Mavic Mini), versus right (DJI Spark), whereby the Spark shows the warnings that I’m too close to myself.

DJI-Mavic-Mini-No-Obstacle-Avoidance 

Sport mode acts as fast as you’d expect, inclusive of the fact that the gimbal is a bit jerky in that sport mode – primarily when you come to stops/starts. Inversely, cinematic mode simply slows everything down from a movement perspective, kinda like someone putting speed limiters on you, making it easier to get smoother movements. It’s technically not doing anything to the camera, but rather just to the flight controls.

The battery seems to go to the distance, though not quite the 30 minutes advertised. For example one recent flight I took off at 96% battery, I drained it to 0% battery, forcing it in the sky over and over again. It landed approximately 24 mins 6 secs after take-off. Of course, battery performance goes down on colder days. This day it was about 50°F/10°c. Still, it’s usually more than enough for my purposes. I don’t usually tend to take super-long flights. I tend to do higher quantities of shorter flights in more varied locations to get the shots I need.

When it comes to landing the drone you can always press the ‘Return to home’ button on the outside of the controller, or the same button on the screen to get it back home:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Return-To-Home

At which point it’ll immediately fly back to you at the predefined altitude in the most direct ‘as the bird’ flies manner. Or, you can manually fly it back to you and land. I’d recommend always manually flying it back, merely so you can improve your flying skills but also to avoid any obstacle issues.

When it comes to settings you can configure, you’ve got a handful. This is where you start to see some of the core differences compared to other higher-end DJI products. First is the safety tab, which allows you to set a max altitude and max distance, as well the Automatic Return to Home (RTH) Altitude. For max altitude I set something well below the max legal limits (so 120m is perfect), and then the max distance I usually do the same. For the RTH Altitude I actually tend to go a bit higher to 50m. The reason being (especially with the DJI Mavic Mini given it has no object avoidance) to clear any random obstacles trees/buildings/telephone phones/etc… that might come in its way. Where I am, 50-meters easily covers that.

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Safety-Settings-Tab

There’s a handful of other settings there, including the Update Home Point, which can be useful if you’re on a moving object (such as a boat) to update the home point to the current position. However, this drone does *NOT* have automatically updating home point (like many others), so it won’t keep updating the drone to the current location of the controller.

Next, there’s the control page, which includes the flight modes. CineSmooth simply smooths things out (this has other names on DJI’s higher-end drones), position is the default mode using GPS and the downwards sensors, and sport mode is much faster and you’ll often get jerky gimbal movements.

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Controls-Settings

Other settings include going from Follow (default) to FPV mode (though, I find it pretty poor at replicating FPV movements). As well as changing the joystick modes and unit preferences.

Then you’ve got camera preferences. This is where you can go from 4:3 to 16:9, as well as add some overlays for histogram, grid lines, tweak the cache, and anti-flicker settings.

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Aspect-Ratio-Settings- DJI-Mavic-Mini-Camera-Overlays

Now normally I’m not a huge fan of shooting in 4:3 (versus 16:9), because it means more work in post-production. However, in the case of the Mavic Mini shooting in 2.7K versus 4K, you actually can get a bit more resolution out of the 4:3 because it retains the same field of view (left to right angle), however extends it higher up vertically.

Next, there’s the transmission page, which shows you the current frequency and current channels used (and the ability to tweak them). Realistically, 99% of you will never have a need to touch this page.

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Transmission-Page

And finally, lastly there’s the about page which dives into firmware and database versions, as well as serial numbers for the unit.

DJI-Mavic-Mini-About

With that, let’s go a bit deeper on the cinematic side of the house.

Cinematography Details:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Cinema-Photo-Video-Details

For most people, the camera details on the Mavic Mini are more than sufficient. Sure, it’s not 4K, but again, most people don’t seem to care about that (even though I do).

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that DJI says they didn’t put 4K in there because of cooling concerns with the image processing pipeline. Which, isn’t believable for a second. After all, this is the exact same imaging gimbal and pipeline hardware used in the DJI OSMO Pocket camera, which doesn’t have the advantage of having constant cooling airflow moving around it. No, the more likely reason is that including a 4K camera at the $399 price point would likely heavily undercut other mid-range products DJI would invariably want to introduce in 2020.

Still, I really wish DJI would have considered a ‘Pro’ unlock option – for example for $100 extra via software the ability to unlock 4K/30 (or even 4K/60) along with a handful of other camera settings would be welcomed, and something I’d happily pay. I’m not asking for Log recording here, just for a bit higher resolution that the camera pipeline is more than capable of.

So let’s dive into some of the camera settings. First, before you get it in the air there’s the setting I mentioned earlier within the camera preferences. This is where you can go from 4:3 to 16:9:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Aspect-Ratio-Settings-

It’s also where you can add some overlays for histogram, grid lines, tweak the cache, and anti-flicker settings.

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Camera-Overlays

Here’s what the gridlines look like, and then gridlines + histogram (which you can move around) + overexposure warnings:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-GridLines DJI-Mavic-Mini-Histogram-OverExposure-Warnings

As I noted, I’m normally not a huge fan of shooting in 4:3 (versus 16:9), because it means more work in post-production. However, in the case of the Mavic Mini shooting in 2.7K versus 4K, you actually can get a bit more resolution out of the 4:3 because it retains the same field of view (left to right angle), however extends it higher up vertically.

Now, also up in the control settings are the gimbal sensitivity settings (Control > Gimbal > Advanced), where you can tweak the pitch and smoothness of the gimbal up and down movements.

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Gimbal-Settings

Next, we’ve got another slate of recording-specific settings. First up is by pressing the button above the recording button you’ll swing out three options for video/photos:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Photo-Modes

These allow you to toggle into video, photo, and QuickShot modes. QuickShots are where you’ll do short automated flight routines that capture a specific preset cinematic move. In the case of the Mavic Mini, that’s one of four moves. More on that in a second.

Within the video options you can change the frame rates and resolutions. On the resolutions front you’ve got 2.7K or 1080p. Within 1080p you can do 24/25/30/50/60FPS, while within 2.7K you can do 25/30FPS:

2019-12-19 12.57.03

There’s no option to change file types or cinematic profiles like on higher-end drones. What you see is what you get here. The only option you’ve got is the ability to change the exposure compensation (EV) in 1/3rd increment stops as well as lock the exposure compensation, both of which are accessed in the lower right corner:

DJI_Mavic-Mini-Exposure-Compensation

You’ll start and stop recording by either pressing the record button on the display, or by pressing the dedicated record button on the back left side of the controller.

While recording you’ll get the recording time shown next to the play button. If you want to adjust the gimbal’s orientation (up/down), you can use the small gimbal wheel on the back of the controller, which pitches the gimbal up or down. You can change the sensitivity of this wheel within the settings menu.

Next, let’s get into QuickShots. These are pre-planned cinematic moves that allow you to get fancy looking shots without knowing how to do much more than tap a green box. Each of these shots is generally about 10-20-seconds in duration. There are four shots in total: Dronie, Rocket, Circle, and Helix:

vlcsnap-2019-12-19-17h11m23s111

For the Dronie, Rocket, and Helix shots you can configure how far away the drone will go as part of the shot (for the circle it just maintains whatever distance the drone is already at). For example, above you see that the ‘Dronie’ shot will rise to 25 meters. To get started you need to identify the object for the unit to take its fancy shot on. By default the Mavic Mini will try and identify some objects within the frame – like people for example. If so it’ll show a green dot above them. Else, you can simply use your finger to draw a green square over someone/something.

vlcsnap-2019-12-19-17h13m02s965

Once that’s done it’ll have a rectangle around the object and you can hit start. For some moves (like orbit), you can choose the direction of travel. After hitting start it’ll give a three-second countdown before beginning its movement:

vlcsnap-2019-12-19-17h12m48s508

The camera will automatically try and keep that subject in track as the camera works its way through the sequence. Remember again, there’s no obstacle avoidance here. So if you do a circle or dronie and then send the drone off backwards into a tree then there’s nothing stopping it from killing itself. Still, assuming you’ve got a clear area – this is by far the easiest way to get really nice smooth cinematic shots of anything you’d like – even a static option like a tower or such. Fear not, I’ve got lots of video footage of this down below in the sports section.

Finally we’ve got photos. The Mavic Mini takes 12MP photos in JPEG format in either 4:3 or 16:9 mode. For 4:3 photos those are 4000×3000px, while for
16:9 they’re at 4000×2250px. Once you toggle into photo mode, you’ll see two options – single or timed shot:

2019-12-19 12.57.57

Single photo mode means you can trigger a photo manually using either the button on the display, or the dedicated photo button on the controller’s upper right side.

Meanwhile, timed shots are actually one of my favorites – and I’m glad DJI didn’t cut this feature here. It allows you to set a repeat timer that simply takes a shot every X seconds, where X can be every 2s, 3s, 5s, 7s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 30s, and 60s apart. I’ve gotta say though, from a sports standpoint I’ve never understood why DJI can’t simply put 1-second as an option. There’s a vast difference in the sports world between every 1 second and 2 seconds. Like, do we really need both a 2s and 3s if I can get a 1s? No.

2019-12-19 12.58.01

Of course, this option can also be used for non-moving scenarios, like creating a manual time-lapse. The Mavic Mini doesn’t have any of the time-lapse/hyperlapse features of the higher-end drones. So you could take a bunch of higher resolution photos and create a time-lapse out of it (even netting yourself a 4K time-lapse once you did all the leg work of converting those still images into a video time-lapse.

Before we wrap things up, here’s a quick random set of photos in a gallery. Keep in mind it’s kinda the ugly season here in the Netherlands, so, everything is shades of brown and browner. Except for grass, which is always crazy green. Also, nothing is edited in any way – straight out of SD card to here.

For most people though that are just getting into drones, the Mavic Mini’s camera functions will cover all the basics pretty darn well. Like any product, once you start seeing functions/features in higher-end products, then the more you second-guess whether the lower-end product will meet your needs. But if you don’t know all those fancy features exist…then all seems right in the world.

Sport & Athletic Usefulness:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Mountain-Biking

Ultimately, the Mavic Mini is the least capable sports drone DJI has made in years. Mainly because it doesn’t include any ActiveTrack functions, meaning it can’t actively follow you like all the remainder of DJI’s drones. That said, there are some clever ways to leverage DJI’s QuickShot functions as a mini (and brief) ActiveTrack function. After all, QuickShot is actually leveraging ActiveTrack under the hood.

First though, when I’m doing sports stuff with drones, I’m primarily talking about tracking myself. Meaning, a drone following me doing cool stuff. That’s my jam. I don’t typically have someone else piloting a drone following me. I have yet to unlock the paparazzi level. If you do have your own entourage, then honestly you won’t find much downside to the Mavic Mini, except again lack of ActiveTrack for easier tracking of subjects while you’re flying.

So within those confines, the majority of this section is how a solo person can use the drone to capture their stuff solo. And typically speaking looking at drones, I’m using one of two modes (not-specific to Mavic Mini):

A) Sticking it in the air in a single static spot, turning on video or setting it to take constant photos every second or two, and then riding/running/etc through the shot.

B) Using some form of ActiveTrack type function to have the camera follow me while I’m moving.

To understand those two, here’s a simple shot using Method A:

[This post contains video, click to play]

That’s pretty straightforward I think. I’ve gotten almost all of my epic drone photos over the years with that method.

But then here’s a shot using a variant of Method B:

[This post contains video, click to play]

To which you’re probably saying: Wait, I thought the Mavic Mini doesn’t do ActiveTrack, how’d you get those shots?!?

For that, you’ll need to creatively use the QuickShots method while moving. I’m not gonna lie – it’s a bit tricky and takes a bit of practice to make it work. Mostly because you’ve only got 10-15 or so seconds for the shot. So that’s the shot-time you need to go from being still enough to follow you, to tracking you through the shot. Also, you can’t move very fast

To demonstrate this, first, you’ll get yourself in as close to position as you want for the shot. Let’s assume you’re cycling (running is easier, since you’re moving slower). Go ahead into the QuickShot menu and select a shot. This works on all shots for the most part, the key is just not starting too close to the drone, but not too far away that it can’t find you. Ideally about 10 meters away is perfect. If you start too close, you’ll quickly out-run the tracking on it.

vlcsnap-2019-12-19-17h22m13s832

Now go ahead and identify yourself by tapping the green dot (or creating a green square above you). Then, once you press the start button – begin moving. It’ll already be tracking using its internal ActiveTrack functionality. The only visible difference between this ActiveTrack and the bigger ActiveTrack on other drones is that this ends in 15 seconds. It’s like one of those really time-limited freeware apps.

vlcsnap-2019-12-19-17h22m19s326

The trick to making this entire thing is using those three seconds to get up to speed fast enough so that the remainder of the cinematic move looks normal. For running, that’s easy of course. But for cycling it can be hard. Also, there’s the further balance of not outrunning the tracking aspect. It doesn’t seem as fast to respond to speed changes as some of the larger drones. In general, I’ve found that the ‘Dronie’ quick-shot tends to be the most forgiving and where I get the best results during faster movement. The ‘Circle’ is the least forgiving. While the Helix is the most impressive if you manage to nail it.

So – putting it all together, here’s what’s possible with enough finesse.

Pretty cool, huh?

Lastly, there’s the practical issues here with using the Mavic Mini for sport: You have to carry more stuff.

With the DJI Mavic Air & DJI Spark for example, you can control both with your smartphone or the controller. Sure, the smartphone has you limited to roughly 100m of range, but for most sport tracks tracking a human, that’s way more than you need. After all, beyond that range you’re just a meaningless dot anyway. The Mavic Mini only connects via the remote control, so if you’re cycling or trail running for example, you’ve gotta take both with you now – effectively doubling your volume. Sure, the other drones were heavier, but for most cyclists it’s more about pocket volume than pure weight – especially at the grams we’re talking here.

Still, if you’ve got two free pockets, you can stash both in there – as I did numerous times. And while riding, if you want to maintain positive control, I just use a QuadLock mount with the controller simply rubber-banded (old Garmin mounts bands) to the phone.

DJI-Mavic-Mini-Bike-Handlebars DJI-Mavic-Mini-Handlebars-Quadlock

Plus of course you’ll still need your phone somewhere too.

So, as I started off this section with – the Mavic Mini is pretty much the least capable DJI drone when it comes to self-supported sports tracking. I’ll generally take my Mavic Air (or even a DJI Spark) instead of the Mavic Mini, simply because it means I only have to take half the stuff – even if it is heavier.

Product Comparison:

I’ve added the DJI Mavic Mini to the product comparison database, allowing you to compare it to other drones I’ve reviewed in the past. For the purposes of below, I’ve put it up against the DJI Mavic Air, DJI Spark, and Skydio 2.

Function/FeatureDJI Mavic MiniDJI Mavic AirDJI Spark
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated January 2nd, 2020 @ 7:24 pmNew Window Expand table for more results
Price (non-combo)$399$799$499 ($549 combo)
Announcement DateOctober 30th, 2019Jan 23rd, 2018May 24th, 2017
Shipping DateNovember 2019Late January 2018June 15th, 2017
IncludedWith comboYesWith combo
Weight249g439g300g
Folded Dimensions57Hx82W×140L mm49Hx83W×168L mm55Hx143W×143L mm
Unfolded Dimensions55Hx202Wx160L mm49Hx184W×168L mm-
ControllerYesWith comboWith combo
Use only phone as controllerNoYesYes
Battery30 mins20 Minutes16 minutes

And again, you can compare any other drones (such as the DJI Mavic 2 Pro/Zoom) in the full product comparison table here.

Summary:

DJI-Mavic-Mini-In-Flight-Pretty-Review

On one hand, the Mavic Mini is the perfect beginner’s drone. It’s tiny and lightweight, enabling it to fly under the thresholds for certain regulatory restrictions, has approaching 30 minutes of flight time, while also shooting 2.7K footage – and the quality of that footage is quite good. Not to mention being very reasonably priced at $399. However, in other ways, it’s the least ideal drone for beginners since it lacks obstacle avoidance – useful for both beginners and advanced pilots alike.

Within the primary focus of this site, from a solo sports standpoint, the limitations continue. Again, if you want to stick the drone in the air and ride/run/etc through the shot – then it essentially acts like DJI’s higher-end drones. But given it lacks ActiveTrack functionality, any more advanced tracking will have to be done via the creative ‘repurposing’ of the QuickShot functionality, or with someone else doing the flying. Anymore more than 10 seconds of solo sports drone following simply isn’t an option here.

All that said, I think the Mavic Mini could be a great platform for DJI to build upon in the future. So many parts of it check all the right boxes, but for me personally there’s just those small gaps that make me go ‘Aww…so close!’. I’d love to see a Mavic Mini Pro that costs $499 instead of $399, has 4K enabled, adds obstacle avoidance, and has the option to pair to a phone as the controller. Oh, and ActiveTrack. Being a US Citizen living in Europe, I straddle both regulatory frameworks, and frankly the 250g limit has no practical meaning for me in either location given registering a drone in the US isn’t a big deal to me, and in Europe the 250g limit doesn’t apply to camera drones. Though, when I visit my wife’s family in Canada, this drone is a viable option given the new heavy-handed limits there.

In other words, if you’re Canadian – this might be the drone for you. How about that?

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

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

Note that DJI sent over a media loaner for me to try out, like always this review isn’t sponsored in any way. Once I’ve finished my tests here I’ll send it back to them and then decide if I want to go out and buy my own or not. Simple as that.

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

DJI Mavic Mini (Amazon)
DJI Mavic Mini Combo Pack (Amazon)
DJI Mavic Mini (B&H Photo)
DJI Mavic Mini Combo Pack (B&H Photo)

Atop that, here’s a pile of accessories for the DJI Mavic Mini, all via Amazon or B&H:

ProductAmazon LinkB&H Photo Link
DJI Mavic Mini
DJI Mavic Mini Charging Dome
DJI Mavic Mini Extra Battery
DJI Mavic Mini Fly More Combo Kit
DJI Mavic Mini Two-Way Charging Hub

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

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

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33
Fisher-Price Smart Cycle Trainer In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/fisher-price-think-learn-smart-trainer-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/fisher-price-think-learn-smart-trainer-review.html#comments Fri, 13 Dec 2019 17:29:01 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=107239 Read More Here ]]> vlcsnap-2019-12-13-15h04m18s639

We have arrived: The pièce de résistance of my five consecutive days of indoor smart trainer reviews. We started the week at $3,500 with the Wahoo KICKR Smart Bike, and yet we’re going to finish the week with an $89 smart trainer that somehow, inexplicably, has more features and broader app compatibility than that bike. No really, I’m not kidding.

I’ve been wanting to review this smart trainer/bike for quite a while, but getting it in Europe is challenging. Sure, Amazon will offer to ship it to you, but that more than triples the price of the bike. Fear not though, that’s what parents are for. I purchased the bike back in October and then suckered my parents into checking the beastly box as their luggage on a trip over in early November. Since then I’ve been testing it thoroughly, along with my two toddlers. The third peanut being only a handful of weeks old hasn’t gained certification to use it yet. Don’t worry, just give her a few more months.

Of course – I know of only one way to review a smart trainer, or an indoor smart bike. And that way I shall review. If you’re a regular here, then you’ll find this review on-point with my normal ones. If however you’ve just landed on this page due to the magic of Google, god help you. You have no idea what you just stepped into.

Getting it assembled:

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This is by far one of the most detailed boxes I’ve seen, externally speaking. Anything you want to know about it, it’s there.

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In total, assembly will take you about 8-10 minutes. Realizing you don’t have the right batteries will take longer. I actually shot a video of this entire thing, which one day might make a full video review.

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But I’ve gotta pick up the kiddos in far less time than it’ll take me to edit it. So, here’s two screenshots.

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Somehow, inexplicably, we didn’t have any AA batteries at the DCR Cave. So we had to find some of those. They go within the battery compartment at the rear of the wheel. It’s not terribly clear how many hours of battery life these will actually last – but we haven’t hit it yet.  Knowing that the device is primarily Bluetooth Smart driven, it should last quite a long time. There are some lights though that are leveraged, which would be a much bigger battery burn.

The Hardware Basics:

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Now that you’ve got it all assembled you’ll need to decide what device you’re going to use to connect with. If you left on the tablet stand, then simply load your tablet into it:

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The twirly knob at the back acts as a lock – however, your 2-year old will easily defeat that. So I’d strongly recommend having a case around your tablet. We do, though I didn’t take it out for the photos.

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If using an Apple TV or other device, then you can ignore the tablet bit. Either way, it’ll all connect via Bluetooth Smart. So you’ll want to ensure the bike is actually turned on. That’s the little slider. If the light is green, you’re good to go. The blue light to the left is the active Bluetooth Smart connectivity light:

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The bike will go to sleep after a while if left alone. Because nobody is going to remember to turn it off. Ever.

Once you crack open an individual game, all the controls shift from the iPad or TV to the actual bike itself. This will undoubtedly confuse you and your child numerous times when you just want to tap on the screen. Nothing will happen. The bike has numerous controls:

A) Joystick: Mostly for navigating menus
B) Left handlebar button: Usually select, but also some in-game actions like horn honking
C) Right handlebar button: Also select, but also some in-game actions like jumping
D) Green Nav button: A way to change to different parts of the game, like hitting settings.
E) Steering: Rotating the handlebars steers the bike
F) Pedal: Pedal forward to go forward, backwards to go backwards

Got all that? Good, you’ll still probably try and press the screen. I promise ya.

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On sizing, the unit does feature an adjustable seat-post between three positions:

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However, this mostly adjusts the height of the seat comparative to the ground, and doesn’t seem to considerably shift the leg reach required. Our 2-year-old can touch the pedals but not consistently make a rotation, whereas our 3-year-old is able to no problems. This of course makes sense given the age range on the box is 3-6 years old.

The crank arms are 90mm, unchangeable.

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Also, one cannot change pedal types. So if you wanted to swap these flats for SPD’s or a Look-KEO cleat, you’re out of luck.

So how loud is this thing? Of course I’m gonna include that type of info. Can’t have a trainer review without it!

As for road-feel (or inertial feel)? It has approximately as much inertial road feel as a paper bag.

And finally, the tablet holder is easily removable:

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Simply press the two side buttons concurrently and then pull it out. It’d be challenging for a child to do it, but easy for an adult.

The App Ecosystem:

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As with all my smart trainer reviews, I detail 3rd party app connectivity as well as sensor functionality. Given that, there’s no smart trainer on the market that includes not only support for as many technology platforms as the Fisher-Price Smart Cycle, but more importantly – actually builds those darn platforms and apps themselves. Don’t believe me. No problem, here’s the list of apps they have:

A) Apple iPad (any size)
B) Android Tablets
C) Amazon Fire Tablets
D) Apple TV (any that support apps)
E) Amazon Fire TV (2nd gen+)
F) Android TV

For comparison, Wahoo merely has an Android and iOS app that simply records your power output. Or, Fisher-Price says: “Aww, How cute – your app records numbers! Our app teaches you numbers across half a dozen platforms with graphics that somehow rival Zwift.”

Within this app ecosystem there’s essentially separate apps for each of the different ‘Think and Learn’ apps, which is Fisher-Price’s branding for this entire segment. Each app has a theme, such as being for STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) or reading, while concurrently having a kid-friendly themed wrapper around it (such as ‘Tech City’ or Barbie).

You’ll have to buy one of these apps, and each are $5 (payable as an in-app purchase via your app store). There’s the following apps:

– Tech City: Focused on letters/spelling/phonics/vocab
– Hot Wheels City: Focused on science, building, physics, counting/addition/subtraction
– Blaze STEM: Focused on math, engineering, science concepts like velocity and basic physics concepts
– Sponge Bob Deep Sea: Primarily focused on ocean animals, but also things like sorting
– Barbie Dreamtopia: This is more on the creative side, with focuses on music and colors, and building things (like track sections)
– Shimmer Shine Math: Counting from 1 to 100, shapes, sequences, number recognition

All of these apps support the Bluetooth Smart interactive integration to the Smart Cycle.

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You can download the apps free of charge, however, once loaded you’ll need to pay to unlock them. Interestingly though, first it requests you to pass an adult test:

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And then you’ll have to authenticate as normal with the app store to complete the purchase:

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In our case, I bought a few different ones, but they seemed to enjoy the Tech City and Barbie ones the best. They actually don’t know what Barbie is at all, but they know what cupcakes, small dogs, and rainbows are, so that was a winner.

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Meanwhile, they know what dinosaurs are, so that was also a winner.

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I did find it somewhat curious though that for an entire game built around a bicycle, I haven’t found any actual bicycle avatars. Go-karts, hovercraft, monster trucks, and even drones. But no actual pedaling bicycles.

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Now generally speaking all the games have an educational purpose in life. There are very few modules within the games that are just meandering around doing nothing. You’re doing things like recognizing letters, doing math, or some other learning goal based on the theme of the game.

Here’s a game where the user has to collect the letters of the alphabet one after another:

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Most of this is driven by the steering aspect, which is simply rotating the handlebars – it seems fairly sensitive actually, so there’s a bit of granularity there:

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One nice thing about the games is that they don’t seem overly strict. Meaning, my daughter can happily recite the ABC’s, but doesn’t yet know which actual letters go to those vocal sounds. So while she’s supposed to collect the letters in a certain order, it’ll constantly tweak things so that she doesn’t give up entirely. In other words, it helps you complete the game one way or another.

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Of course, that only goes so far – but as long as you manage to keep pedaling, you’ll eventually end up finishing a module in most cases.

Right now, our kids are at the younger range of the spectrum, so a lot of the details of the games go over their heads. However, some they do understand, and it’s fascinating to see even in a handful of minutes how they quickly figure out what they’re supposed to be doing without much or any big human introductions. Undoubtedly if one’s Peanuts were closer to the 4-5 yo range, more of the games would click faster.

Finally, there’s apparently up to 15 levels of each game (and about half a dozen main games, each with about 3-6 mini-games inside them). In other words, there’s far more levels, games, modules than all of Zwift combined. I’m not kidding. You could be like Level 50 on Zwift and still not have found the end of the cupcake Barbie rainbow here.

Zwift & TrainerRoad Integration:

Now technically there’s no direct 3rd party integration with Zwift (however, TrainerRoad is another story). First though, I’ve got buckets of sensors to solve any lack of Zwift integration, and to properly pair up with TrainerRoad. After all, I can’t have my daughters merely knowing how to read and do math equations. We need structured Ironman season-long training plans at age 2 and 3.

The challenge is that the Smart Cycle completely ignores the industry standards for speed, cadence, and power transmission. Here, let me recap:

ANT+ Power Meter Device Profile: Nope
ANT+ Speed or Cadence Device Profile: Negative
ANT+ Trainer Control (FE-C) Device Profile: Nuttin
Bluetooth Smart Power Meter Device Profile: Zilch
Bluetooth Smart Speed or Cadence Device Profile: Proprietary speed only, no cadence data
Bluetooth Smart Trainer Control (FTMS) Device Profile: Zero effs given

Fear not, I can solve this problem. Well, some of them anyway. Unfortunately, the pedals on the Smart Cycle don’t follow any industry standards for attachment, so I can’t just pedal-wrench on a pair of PowerTap or Vector pedals. And the ‘flywheel’ doesn’t technically move. The bottom bracket would be actually semi-viable with enough hot glue and sharp objects, had all the bottom bracket power meter companies not gone out of business.

So instead, I decided to go old school style: A magnetless speed sensor.

If you remember back to the day prior to smart trainers, most people were using basic trainers with a speed sensor on it. That sensor then transmitted speed to the app and the app had a power curve for that given trainer. It translated the speed into a power value. It was hardly perfect, but it’s still used today.

So I grabbed a pair of sensors. First off, no self-respecting cyclist parent is gonna let their kid train without a cadence sensor. So I tossed that on the left-hand crank:

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But the speed sensor is trickier. It’s normally designed to go on a wheel hub, rotating over itself constantly. The wheel doesn’t rotate on the Smart Cycle, and using it vertical like a cadence sensor doesn’t net any speed. However, turns out I can place it just fine on the other crank and it still seems to work without issue, giving me MPH/KPH. I did find that while it worked oriented just like the cadence sensor, that it seemed to reach higher speeds when placed on the end of the crank. If you wanted to commit to leaving the sensor there permanently, you could remove the rubber casing and just leave the inner plastic bit permanently epoxy’d to the crank arm.

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So first up was loading up TrainerRoad. The Peanut’s been listening to Coach Chad lately on the Podcast, and after totally ignoring his advice about Stroopwafels, she’s ready to get a hard workout in. So I pair up the speed and cadence sensor using Bluetooth Smart on an iPad:

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Then, I select to use VirtualPower, which uses the speed and a known power curve to determine wattage:

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With VirtualPower you need to select a known trainer type. No problem, from the brand I choose Fisher Price:

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And then I select my trainer:

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It has a known power curve for this smart trainer loaded into it, allowing a little-human to throw-down the wattage to compete with their bigger human peeps. With that – she was ready to begin the DCR 30×30 accuracy test:

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Unfortunately, it’s at that moment her sister came around with a Stroopwafel and all bets were off. Waffle 1, TrainerRoad 0.

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Getting things back on track, it was over to Zwift on Apple TV. First was the task of getting everything paired up. I had to fight the app numerous times to stop trying to pair to all my smart trainers and running power meters nearby. But eventually I convinced it to stick on the speed sensor:

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Next, I had to choose a wheel size. Zwift only allows a few variants here, and I tried a few variants, but it didn’t seem to have too much of an impact on the end-state watch. The challenge here is that ideally I’d want to totally tweak this to be right-sized.

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Next, I’ve gotta choose a trainer. Surprisingly, choosing ‘unknown’ actually works reasonably well. In theory, you’d want to choose a trainer that has an unusually low speed to power ration (power curve), but I don’t know of one off-hand.

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And with that, I was ready to race. I mean, The Peanut was ready to race:

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For realz, this actually works. If you use the default (unlisted) trainer, then most pedaling at normal toddler (or even adult) speeds nets you about 50-80w of power, not really enough to compete since you’re only going 8-15MPH depending on cadence.

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I tried toying with the wheel-size using the Garmin Connect Mobile app, but it appears that Zwift ignores that and applies its own wheel-size (that you’re forced to select), else the handicapping system would have worked better.

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Ideally Zwift would simply implement the Fisher-Price trainer power curve like TrainerRoad did. After all, Zwift does have a Schwinn legit smart tricycle trainer in their lobby:

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In any event, The Peanut did quite like the concept of racing against me on the bike, but did seem to prefer just using her rainbow course instead of Watopia. Sorta like concurrently riding TrainerRoad and Watopia to get XP’s…errr…Drops.

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Of note is that in the event you want to create your nut their own Zwift profile, the minimum weight you can enter for a rider is 99 pounds (44.9KG), with a minimum age of 14 years, and a minimum height of 4ft (1.22m).

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This does mean that their W/KG translation will definitely be far out of whack. But hey, that doesn’t seem to stop a bunch of racers in Zwift either.

Accuracy Testing:

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Normally I test trainers for power meter accuracy. However, the Smart Cycle lacks a power meter, or any power metrics. Something about trying to keep things fun or something.

But it does have a speed sensor via cadence. Technically it’s measuring cadence to drive the speed calculation. But I was curious – how accurate was that measurement? Or, more specifically, how granular was it?

Turns out…not very granular.

Best I can tell there’s 3 levels of speed. Meaning, no matter how fast you pedal it’ll fall into one of three buckets:

– Slow
– Medium
– Fast

It’s entirely plausible Medium and Fast are the same bucket in some portions of the app – there’s no way to tell since speed isn’t shown in any games I’ve found yet. The closest I can get to that is by trying the ‘Jump’ module within the Blaze app, which teaches you about “velocity”:

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Based on extensive jumps, I’ve plotted the speed curve as follows:

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And thus concludes the accuracy section of this review.

Product Comparison:

Naturally, I’ve loaded the Fisher-Price Smart Cycle into the product comparison database. Given it’s a full-featured bike (versus just a standalone trainer), I’ve slated it up against the Wahoo KICKR Bike, Tacx NEO Bike Smart, and Wattbike Atom. Obviously, those are all its natural market competitors. Note that you can make your own comparison chart to see how it stacks up against your own trainer, such as a Wahoo KICKR or Elite Direto, within the product comparison database.

Function/FeatureFisher-Price Smart CycleTacx NEO Bike SmartWahoo KICKR BikeWattbike Atom
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated February 12th, 2020 @ 9:22 amNew Window Expand table for more results
Price for trainer$89$3,199$3,499~$2,500USD
Availability regionsMostly USGlobalLimited InitiallyUK/South Africa/Australia/Scandinavia/USA
Power cord requiredNo (coin cell battery)NoYesYes
Flywheel weightRoughly 2.2LBS/1KGSimulated/Virtual 125KG13bs/5.9kgs9.28KG/20.4lbs
Can electronically control resistance (i.e. 200w)NoYesYesYes
Includes motor to drive speed (simulate downhill)Not exactlyYesYesNo
Maximum wattage capabilityN/A2,200w @ 40KPH2,200w @ 40KPH2,000w
Maximum simulated hill inclineAll the hills25%20% (and -15% downhill)25%
Ability to update unit firmwareMaybeYesYesYes
Measures/Estimates Left/Right PowerNoYesNoYes

And don’t forget you can make your own comparison charts here.

Summary:

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For the money, there’s no smart trainer on the market which delivers as much functionality as the Fisher-Price Smart Cycle. App compatibility across virtually every larger-format screen you can think of, half a dozen themed apps with dozens of modules (courses) between them, and more alphabet games than there are letters. Now I know my ABC’s for sure.

Hardware-wise it appears well built. Even as an adult I could sit on the bike and it didn’t feel like it was going to fall apart. Albeit, I was unable to get my legs in the right position to pedal unless I used an accessory chair. Plus, neither the KICKR Bike or NEO Bike can steer, or go in reverse. Also, neither have horns or bouncy options.

About the only downside would be the global availability – it’s mostly restricted to the US/Canada unless you can find an importer. The Amazon Europe sites all offer it, but they also add hundreds of dollars of shipping costs. Maybe there’s a business model for bringing in containers of these bikes to sell to athletic DCR reading parents. What triathlete cave wouldn’t be complete without this?

With that – thanks for reading!

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

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

I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers exclusive benefits on all products purchased. Unfortunately, Clever Training doesn’t carry the Smart Cycle. So Amazon is the only option there. But, if you want to buy other big person trainers, you can read more about the benefits of this partnership here. That way you can pick up your own smart trainer through Clever Training using the links in those reviews. By doing so, 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, if your order ends up more than $79, you get free US shipping as well.

Fisher-Price Smart Cycle Trainer (US – Amazon)

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible.

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Kinetic R1 Smart Trainer In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/kinetic-r1-smart-trainer-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/kinetic-r1-smart-trainer-review.html#comments Thu, 12 Dec 2019 20:26:18 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=107125 Read More Here ]]> DSC_9840

It’s been 16 months since the Kinetic R1 was first announced at Interbike 2018. That was back when Interbike still existed. Since then, Interbike has dissolved, Kinetic started shipping the R1, then stopped for half a year, then resumed again this past summer. Also, TikTok is apparently a thing now and has nothing to do with the sounds of time passing by delayed trainers.

The R1 is Kinetic’s first go of a direct drive trainer. While the company rode the wheel-on trainer bus far longer than almost anyone else (and quite well too), that era is slowly fading away. Certainly the company could have just created a standard direct drive trainer like anyone else, but they decided to incorporate one of their marque features: Side to side tilting, or in Kinetic parlance – rock ‘n rolling. The R1 borrowed that function from the company’s past “Rock & Roll” series of trainers which had a beastly tilting frame that gave such a motion as you pedaled away, especially in sprints.

But, as Kinetic has learned over the past year – the trainer bar has been raised. Trainers are now quiet, and consumers demand more accuracy than ever before. In fact, that’s been a core struggle for the R1 since its re-release this past summer: Firmware update after firmware update promised to fix issues, with each successive update fixing one issue only to cause another. Last week the company released what they believe is the most accurate firmware update yet – 2.40. So, once again I updated the R1 and completed all the required ancillary steps. With the intent that this time one way or another, this review was going out today before the clock struck midnight and Cinderella turned into a green pumpkin.

Note that Kinetic sent over a media loaner of the R1 to try out. As usual around these parts once I’m done with it here I’ll get it boxed up and sent back to them. If you find this review useful you can hit up the links at the end of the post to help support the site.

What’s in the box:

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I’m always excited when I get a new box design. Not so much the exterior, but rather the interior. And as you’ll see – Kinetic’s interior is definitely different than the others. In this case though, different is good.

Once you crack it open you’ll find three large blocks of cardboard. GPLama selected to use these as podcast dampening panels in his office. I might let the kids use them to cushion their landing jumping off furniture they shouldn’t be climbing on. Either way, they keep the entire assembly neatly in place while also being recyclable.

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Remove those things and you’ll find the R1 chillin’ there protected by a plastic bag, which you can remove as well:

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Meanwhile, there was a small side box in there that you took out. That’s got all this stuff in it:

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That would be the:

A) Power supply
B) Incredibly well illustrated manual
C) Extra cadence sensor
D) Promo stuffs for 3rd party apps

In addition, as of Nov 24th, Kinetic is also including an 11-speed cassette in the box. At some point in the next few months they’ll work to get that actually pre-installed, but hey – including it in the box is way better than not including it at all. In my case, I was pre that date, so I just went out and bought another. By now Wiggle assumes I’m laundering in cassettes.

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Here’s a closer look at some of those boxed pieces:

Oh right, I didn’t show the trainer yet. Look – it’s totally assembled out of the box:

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With that, we’re done on box shots. And it’s time to get it setup and using it.

The Basics:

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So now that we’ve got the trainer sitting there it’s time to get the cassette on. As noted earlier, in my case I just went out and bought a cassette. But these days it should be coming with one. Though it’s plausible that relatively new change is taking a little bit of time for all retailers to implement. And as I earlier mentioned, right now it won’t yet come pre-installed.

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So I went to my drawer of cassettes and found a previously loved one that I took off a trainer I had shipped back a few days prior, and got all the tools I needed. Now’s a good time to note that the quick release skewer comes pre-installed in the hub (seen above). Meaning, you’ll need to take that out to install a cassette.

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To install a cassette, you’ll need two tools. A lockring tool (or lockring + a wrench, in my case), and a chain whip. In this case, you need the chainwhip since you can’t get a good grasp on the flywheel.

The entire process only takes 2-3 minutes tops – super quick and easy …again, assuming you have the tools.

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Once installed it should look roughly like this:

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Next, you’ll need to circle back to that baggie of parts and find the correct adapter or quick release skewer for your bike. Or not. Because unless you did something horrifically wrong on the previous step, you’ll have just removed that quick release skewer. Assuming you didn’t lose it in the last 90 seconds, go ahead and stick it in. Or, if you’ve got a thru-axle bike, then put those adapters in instead.

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Next, grab the power cable. Here’s what that looks like:

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In my case, I did a quick arts and crafts project so I could figure out which power block is which in a few months:

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I’ve gotta ask – why is that not a *single* indoor trainer maker can find a way to label their power blocks so that we know what it’s for months or years later when it gets separated from its trainer as it always does eventually? Can’t someone just stick a sticker on it at the factory? This isn’t picking on Kinetic – as everyone else is exactly the same. Even the $3,500 Wahoo KICKR Bike and $3,200 TACX NEO Bike don’t have logos on the bricks. Granted, they are literally bigger than bricks. So I suppose it’s harder to screw that one up.

In any event, plug it in:

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You’ll see that USB port sitting there. Don’t worry, it’s not used for anything. Well, at least not any of the major apps.

I think PerfPro was or is using it, but Zwift and others aren’t. Which is too bad, as the idea that Kinetic had was that in wireless-dense areas where dropouts are of concern (or security of data, such as an esports event), that you could used the wired connection instead. Unfortunately, nothing has come of it.

Once you’ve got everything plugged in, you’ll go ahead and mount your bike to it:

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After that you’ll want to update the firmware. Definitely update the firmware (I talk about that in the next section). And then you’ll want to do their 20-minute calibration procedure. The company says you’ll only need to do this longer procedure once, using their app. It’s easy, but not quick – as the name implies.

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You simply pedal aimlessly for 20 minutes, and then at the end of it you’ll spin up to 25MPH and coast down.

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At that point the company says any future calibrations can be done using the shorter spin-up/coast down calibration procedure. Also, calibrations are stored on the trainer. So if you do a calibration using the Kinetic App, then the calibration values will also be applied for 3rd party apps like TrainerRoad or Zwift.

Before we go into a bunch of other details – note that the Kinetic R1 actually has the ability to ride without power. You’ll have noticed that option right below the calibrate button in the left-most screenshot above. The way it works is that you need to specify the ‘position’ that the trainer’s resistance unit will stay in, once powered off. At which point you’ll ‘lock’ that position in 5 unit increments between 0 and 100 (though, I can’t find any documentation on exactly what those units translate to):

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Of course, using it without power implies either an impending apocalyptic trainer ride, or that you’re planning to travel with it. The R1 definitely isn’t light – in fact, it’s one of the heaviest (if not the heaviest) trainers out there. But it does have a handle on it for moving it around, which helps:

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Also, the legs fold under it.

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You’ll simply loosen the two screws at the back using your thumbs and then it’ll allow the legs to swing open or closed:

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Given the R1 is a smart trainer, it’ll change resistance automatically in a few different ways, primarily driven by different applications/methods.  But most of this all boils down to two core methods:

ERG Mode: Setting a specific power level – i.e., 230w.  In this mode, no matter what gearing you use, the trainer will simply stay at 230w (or whatever you set it to).
Simulation Mode: Simulating a specific outdoor grade – i.e., 7% incline. In this mode, it’s just like outdoors in that you can change your gearing to make it easier or harder.  Wattage is not hard-set, only incline levels.

In the case of simulation (aka slope) mode, the R1 can simulate from 0% to 20% incline – which is slightly above the competitors in this sub-$1,000 price point (crazy to say that, as even a year ago these specs at this price would have been huge). The Elite Direto X goes to 18%, the Saris H3 goes to 20%, the Wahoo KICKR CORE simulates up to 16%, while the Tacx Flux 2 is 16% as well. Honestly, there’s little reason most of this matters if you use the defaults in Zwift, because it automatically halves the values anyway. A 10% grade feels like a 5% grade. You need to change the ‘Trainer Difficulty’ level to 100% in order to feel it (and most people don’t bother to).

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The second mode the trainer has is ERG mode.  In that case, the company says up to 2,000w of resistance. Although, realistically, you don’t care about that. I can only barely (maybe) break 1,000w for a second or two, and even most front of the non-pro pack cyclists aren’t going to top 1,800w.  The pros would only be just a bit beyond that.  Said differently: Peak numbers in this competition don’t matter.  Instead, what matters is actually a harder metric to make clear – which is the ability to simulate high grades and lower speeds (especially if you’re a heavier cyclist).

I’ll cover all the ERG mode accuracy bits down below, including timing of responsiveness seen in this test:

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We’ll talk more about accuracy later on in the accuracy section – so what about road feel?

Like I always say – for me personally, it’s hard to separate the fact that I’m riding indoors from outdoors. It’s still a trainer, and I’m still looking at a wall in front of me.  My brain can only turn off so much of that.  Still, much of the road-like feel is driven by the flywheel, and be it physical or virtual, flywheel sizes tend to be measured in weight.  This impacts inertia and how it feels – primarily when you accelerate or otherwise change acceleration (such as briefly coasting).

All that prefacing done, the Kinetic R1 has reasonably good road feel. Not quite KICKR level, primarily around larger accelerations and decelerations, but for subtle shifts it responds well.

Except – that’d be ignoring the marquee feature of the R1, which is the side to side swaying (rocking). The entirety of the trainer will rock from side to side – essentially just like that of the Kinetic Rock & Roll base that they’ve had for years. The difference though is that this isn’t a detachable base like it was then. The entire structure is built from the ground up as a cohesive direct drive trainer that tilts. I’ll show you it in a second in a quick video snippet, but here’s a glimpse of the range of the tilt:

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Now to my surprise, it’s actually really hard to tip this thing over. In trying other tilty-type devices recently (and even some less than optimal trainers), it’s somewhat easy for a tall person on a tall bike to tip it. But not this. It might feel like it will, but it won’t. You can see how it tilts as you get on it – which takes a few tries to get used to as it tilts towards you:

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Once upright it should stay centered. Unlike the Rock & Roll series where you had a small adjustment screw, any left or right incorrect leanings are actually just adjusted with the feet:

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I’ve found that once you get on it, as long as it’s pretty close – then give it a minute or two of pedaling before you make any adjustments. For whatever reason I’ve found after I’ve relocated it that it seems to take a short bit of time to ‘settle’. Once in a static spot there aren’t any issues here. Usually just a simple single rotation of either of the left or right castors will solve the issue and get you nice and straight.

Now it’s easy to want to show this in a full out sprint. That’s what most people do – and sure, I’ll show you that too. But the real benefit for the R1 as well as rocker plates is that very subtle movement on long trainer workouts. Trek did a study around it and showing how much pressure that little bit of movement helps with over time (primarily on your butt). Which makes sense. Outside, your body is constantly compensating for slight changes due to the bike moving. But indoors on a rock of a trainer/bike, it doesn’t.

Here’s a quick clip of some of that movement from a few different angles:

As for sound? As you just heard, it’s not silent. Not even close. In fact, I think it’s probably the loudest trainer I’ve tested in 2019. It’s based on ‘older’ belt design, which is what ‘contributes’ to that voluminous sound:

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This trainer is also louder than your average fan by a long shot – so the typical mantra of ‘well, my fan is louder’, doesn’t apply here. Hopefully they can re-design the belt for 2020 (which would de a totally different unit though, as it was for Wahoo and Saris when they redesigned theirs). I suppose assuming that R1 means ‘Release 1’, that such a new trainer would be an R2. Though I suspect the earliest we’d see anything like that is Eurobike 2020 (late next August).

App Compatibility:

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The Kinetic R1 follows all of the industry norms as you’d expect from a smart trainer  As you probably know, apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, SufferFest, Rouvy, Kinomap and many more all support most of these industry standards, making it easy to use whatever app you’d like.  If trainers or apps don’t support these standards, then it makes it far more difficult for you as the end user.

Though interestingly – the road to get to this point for the R1 was rather long. They started off on a different communications platform than most other companies, and with that they had to deal with a long list of early teething compatibility problems. These weren’t directly Kinetic’s fault – and in fact, one might argue they were paving the way for others. Still, it undoubtedly hurt them early on. Today though as a consumer (or even an industry insider), you’d never notice.

The R1 transmits data on both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart, as well as allowing interactive resistance control across both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart.  By applying resistance control, apps can simulate climbs as well as set specific wattage targets.

The unit supports the following protocols and transmission standards:

ANT+ FE-C (Trainer Control): This is for controlling the trainer via ANT+ from apps and head units (with cadence/power data). Read tons about it here.
ANT+ Power Meter Profile: This broadcasts as a standard ANT+ power meter, with cadence data
Bluetooth Smart Power Meter Profile: This broadcasts as a standard BLE power meter, with cadence data
Bluetooth Smart FTMS (Trainer Control): This allows apps to control the trainer over Bluetooth Smart (with cadence/power data)

Note that the cadence was initially in the R1 firmware, then removed, but it’s back now as of firmware 2.40 (which is what this review is based on).  Between all these standards you can basically connect to anything and everything you’d ever want to. Be it a bike computer or watch, or an app – it’ll be supported.

In the above, you’ll note there’s cadence data baked into the various streams. That’s handy if you’re connecting to Zwift on an Apple TV, due to Apple TV’s two concurrent Bluetooth Smart sensor limitation (plus the Apple TV remote).  This means you can pair the trainer and get power/cadence/control, while also pairing up a heart rate strap. Kinetic also ships in the box a cadence sensor – though I suspect they’ll stop doing that soon. To spoil a portion of my accuracy section later on, I see no issues with cadence accuracy on firmware 2.40.

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For me, in my testing, I used Zwift and TrainerRoad as my two main apps (which are the two main apps I use personally).  In the case of Zwift, I used it in regular riding mode (non-workout mode, aka SIM mode) as well as ERG mode (workout mode). Whereas in the case of TrainerRoad I used it in a structured workout mode (ERG mode). I dig into the nuances of these both within the power accuracy section.

Starting with Zwift, you can see the Kinetic R1 listed as not just a controllable trainer, but also within the regular power meter and cadence section. You’ll want to pair it up as a controllable trainer (which will also pair it as a power meter):

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You’ll see the trainer enumerated in a fairly similar manner on TrainerRoad as well:

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Also, TrainerRoad’s tips page on using smart trainers in ERG mode:

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I’d *strongly* recommend you either read that page, or just simply do two things:

A) Calibrate the Kinetic R1: No seriously, you absolutely positively must do this for the R1. For realz.
B) Ensure you’re using the small ring up front: This is for ERG mode specifically, shift into the small ring to get better control

As far as calibration goes, you can complete it easily from some apps. It worked for me in TrainerRoad on an iPad, but not in Zwift over Bluetooth Smart (Apple TV). You’ll see either a calibration prompt in the app (like TrainerRoad). For example, here it is doing the spin-down within TrainerRoad on an iPad using Bluetooth Smart:

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It’s super easy to do, you just pedal a bit fast for a moment until it reaches a given threshold speed, and then you stop pedaling. It’s going to measure how long it takes to coast to a stop. Super easy.

Next, Kinetic does have their own app as well – which includes both a free tier and a paid tier. I just used the free tier, which is where you can update the firmware as well as calibrate the trainer. Additionally, it allows you to do some basic workouts for free too. Starting off with the firmware update piece, you’ll find the Kinetic R1 chilling in the list of nearby sensors:

2019-12-12 10.52.35 2019-12-12 10.52.40

From there you can choose to update the firmware by pressing that green ‘Update Firmware’ box. I did find that sometimes this whole page was a bit finicky. It seemed to hinge on whether or not the app thought it had positive control over the trainer. Meaning that sometimes it would connect, but wouldn’t enumerate the device information section correctly. That usually corresponded with the ‘Has Control’ box not toggling when I requested it.

To solve that, I found that some unpredictable combination of putting my phone into airplane mode, killing/closing the app, and unplugging the trainer seemed to fix it. In other words, the same steps you take for just about every other connected smart device on the planet.

Once you’ve pressed the firmware update button, it’ll walk you through those steps – takes perhaps 2-3 minutes to complete, after which you’ll notice the firmware version is updated – in my case to 2.40 (the latest as of this writing).

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And finally, as noted earlier, their app actually has a ton of workouts in it, roughly 60 or so:

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Very few other companies have this much in it for free. If you want to pay their $9.99/month subscription, then you’ll also unlock training plans, 200 more workouts, custom workouts, support for other trainer companies, and the ability to stream YouTube Playlists, local videos, and Dropbox videos within the app framework. Again, I only used the free version, but still, they’ve done a solid job sticking a lot of things in here:

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You also get recorded workout history details too, and the ability to share it with all the apps you see above as well as iCloud and Dropbox (I connected my iCloud account to have the files end up there). Ok, with that, let’s talk accuracy.

Power Accuracy:

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Sigh.

Just sigh.

What sucks about writing this portion of the review is that all you need to know is in one word two lines above. But of course, I can’t just write that. Instead, I’ll detail just as I do on accuracy.

But it’s worth noting this is hardly my first go at this. In fact, I’ve been making goes at this for months now. Other people have been making goes at this since summer. One way or another, firmware update after another, things just aren’t accurate. Back in August it was overshooting sprints by hundreds of watts. Then they fixed that but undercut any decelerations, so you’d get mean/max graphs like this:

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That’s 50w lower than the other power meters.

Along the way they re-introduced cadence measurement (woot), and also added a new calibration procedure (meh). On firmware back in early November that calibration procedure made a massive amount of difference to point in time accuracy. A near 50 watt shift. The Yelp review of the calibration procedure would say: Must do, would ride again!

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But it didn’t fix the deceleration issues. That was supposed to be fixed in 2.40 – the most recent firmware released about a week ago. So I got that updated today and then did the 20 minute calibration procedure again, to exacting instructions using their app.

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And then, I did my usual TrainerRoad 30×30 test.

But before that, note that over this testing period I’ve tested with three different configurations across two different bikes:

Canyon Config #1: PowerTap P2 dual pedals, Quarq DZero Power Meter
Canyon Config #2: Favero Assioma Duo pedals, Quarq DZero Power Meter
Giant Config #1: Garmin Vector 3 dual pedals, Stages LR dual-sided Power Meter

Ok, back to the 30×30 test. This test measures responsiveness as well as accuracy. The goal being to see how quickly a trainer can shift between a high and low wattage level repeatedly. In this case the 30×30’s have a recovery interval of roughly 150w, with a work interval of 428w. So…off I went, rinse and repeat over and over again:

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Starting off with the easy part – responsiveness. The trainer actually hit this no problem. Ignoring the first set where the higher wattage caught me by surprise (more on that in a second), the R1 easily hit the target wattage within 3 seconds each time. That’s pretty much exactly where I want to see things.

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So kudos there. And for the most part if I could keep my cadence steady, it also kept things pretty even too. But as you can see two screenshots above, I wasn’t quite as steady as when I usually do this test. As noted, it calls for me hitting 428w and holding it for 30 seconds. Over and over again. On most days that’s not a problem for the 8 reps I have (15 or 20 reps might be different).

But on this day I thought it was weird that I found the power a fair bit harder than I thought it should be. Not ‘gonna die right now’ harder, but more of a ‘Really, am I that much of a slacker?’ harder.

So, let’s turn to the numbers to find out why. Here’s the data compared against the Favero Assioma Duo pedals and the Quarq DZero power meter:

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Holy balls. It was underreading by upwards of 50w! Meaning, the trainer thought it was doing 428w, when in reality it was in the 480’s! No wonder my legs were grumbling. You’ll see a bit of variance between the Favero and Quarq. I’ve been having issues with the left leg on the Favero reading low lately, and thought it was fixed so I brought them back into service today, but clearly it’s not fixed yet. No big deal, the Quarq is dependable as ever, and you can see the break-out in the left/right graph showing the lower than normal Assioma left. Back into the desk he goes.

Of course, as the intervals wore on, I was having a tougher and tougher time. The gap at some points was 75w+, with the Quarq occasionally touching 500w versus the usual 428w.

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Now this test was done right after the calibration period, which was 22 minutes all-in. Plus I did some other easy pedaling before this too for a few mins. And I re-calibrated the other power meters again too. According to every bit of documentation I have, this should have been as perfect a setup as possible for the R1 to succeed. Also note that I recorded the signal on both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart channels and it was identical.

Oh – and before we move on, cadence was perfectly fine:

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There’s two points it briefly drops out on the ANT+ signal, but stays perfectly accurate on the Bluetooth Smart signal – so that tells me it’s just some random transient wireless thing. Happens.

So with that test done I headed off to Zwift to check on SIM mode, which is regular simulation mode. I thought perhaps there’s some weird ERG mode accuracy quirk. It’s something I actually saw a few years back on the Elite Drivo early on. They fixed it quickly, but it’s a core reason why I always test across multiple control types.

In this test I rode the Zwift Titan’s Grove loop starting in the desert and back around again. This is a great test ground because you get high flywheel speeds throughout the flats of the desert, followed by the non-stop rollers of the climbing Titan’s portion, and then a few sprints tossed in too. Here’s that data set:

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Appropriately, the green line is the Kinetic. As you can see, it’s well below the others approximately the entire time. I was still doubting my legs as I did the first sprint. As I spun through the sprint line I appeared to struggle to hit my usual sprint powers. Sure, I just had been slayed by my 30×30’s, plus the calibration ride before that – but surely I could manage at least 750-800w?

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Nope. All I got out of that according to the R1 was a mere 600w. Frustrated I re-grouped again for a few seconds, which the R1 entirely dropped my power to zero watts, and then gave it another go. It barely broke 600w.

My actual power? Just about 800w on the dot. Right where I thought it felt like.

As we continue through this set the story is repeated, just at varying intensities. Every once in a while it gets close, but usually it’s 20-50w low. The entire ride I’m sitting there demotivated trying to figure things out.

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Sure, I was loosely watching the other GPS units recording the Favero and Quarq, but I figured it was just showing things slightly latent. It’s not till you get the full chart loaded up that you realize how bad it was. One of these days I’ll get some sort of system to show me these charts in real-time on a big screen TV or something. Until then, I’ll suffer the entire workout….for you.

Where it gets even worse is the non-stop rollers later in the route. Every time I’d crest a hill I’d get double-hosed. First, I get hosed by the fact that I didn’t get credit for my wattage. And then second, I’d get hosed because the R1 would bottom-out the power, meaning it went far lower than I actually went. Talk about getting kicked when you’re down.

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Finally, for my finishing act I decided three more sprints were in order. Because…I needed an excuse to start drinking. I don’t know.

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Seems pretty clear that didn’t work out well – I got shorted nearly 200w on each one.

I don’t know what to say at this point. I’m sure Kinetic would ask that I retest again, perhaps something went wrong with calibration. But how many times have I done that now? And that’s ignoring the months I waited for them to get their house in order.

If it was a simple firmware update that I could make, and then immediately see the results – it’d be one thing. But it’s not. It’s a firmware update followed by a 20-minute calibration ride. And then I can see the results. After which I’d still need to get in both Zwift and TrainerRoad rides again to cover both SIM and ERG mode.

I think I’ve given things more than their fair share here to get themselves sorted out. I know the Kinetic folks are trying hard, but I just don’t think they have the expertise to solve this problem. Everything seems to be two steps forward, one step back. Or two steps forward, 28 steps to the side. Each successive firmware update fixes one problem to break something else. Though, on the bright side – cadence is looking pretty good these days.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy portions were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Trainer Comparisons:

I’ve added the Kinetic R1 ($949) into the product comparison database, where you can compare it to any trainer that I’ve reviewed or have in the DCR Cave. For the purposes of below, I’ve slated it up against the Wahoo KICKR Core ($899), Tacx Flux 2 ($899), Saris H3 ($999), and The Elite Direto X ($899). Or basically, the least expensive direct drive options for each of the brands. Of course, you can mix and match and create your own product comparison chart in the product comparison tables here. And of course, my complete Winter 2019-2020 Trainer Recommendations Guide as well.

Function/FeatureKinetic R1Elite Direto XTacx Flux 2Wahoo Fitness KICKR CORESaris H3 (CycleOps Hammer 3)
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated February 10th, 2020 @ 8:29 amNew Window Expand table for more results
Price for trainer$949$899$899USD/€799$899$999
Trainer TypeDirect DriveDirect Drive (No Wheel)Direct Drive (no wheel)Direct Drive (No Wheel)Direct Drive (no wheel)
Available today (for sale)Ships Nov 1st, 2018YesYEsYesYes
Wired or Wireless data transmission/controlWireless & WiredWirelessWirelessWirelessWireless
Power cord requiredNoYes (no control w/o)YesYesYes
Flywheel weight14.0lbs/6.3kg4.2KG/9.2LBS7.6kg (simulated 32.1kg)12.0lbs/5.44kgs20lb/9kg
Maximum wattage capability2,000w2,100w @ 40KPH / 3,250w @ 60KPH2,000w @ 40KPH1800w2,000w
Maximum simulated hill incline20%18%16%16%20%
Measures/Estimates Left/Right PowerNo9EUR one-time feeNoNoNo
Can rise/lower bike or portion thereofNoNoNoWith KICKR CLIMB accessoryNo

And again, remember you can make your own comparison charts here for all trainers I’ve reviewed.

Summary:

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The Kinetic R1 trainer is on paper the trainer that everyone wants to ride. The whole notion of movement – be it large or small – while riding indoors will undoubtedly shift closer and closer to center stage over the coming years. Having it integrated into a trainer makes a ton of sense. Having reasonably good inertial road feel atop that is even better. Recent inclusion of a cassette as well as a drop in price make this unit super compelling – again, on paper.

However, I don’t live in a paper world. In my world how the trainer actually works matters. And while the motion aspects work really well to give that subtle movement feeling, the accuracy side of the house just can’t stick the landing. And that’s before we talk about noise. This is most definitely a garage trainer. You can’t ride this in the same room as someone else watching TV (no really, I tried, my wife gave up after 5 minutes and left). A few years ago that would have been fine, but this is 2019 going on 2020, I’m pretty sure this is the loudest trainer I’ve tested this year – by far.

I suspect, rather, I really want, Kinetic to sort out the accuracy issues here. But I just don’t know how long that’s going to take. Perhaps it’ll be a magic bullet next week. But it almost might not be till next year. Perhaps something just went wrong in my calibration this time that didn’t happen last time. I don’t know. But, if I of all people can’t get it to work – what are the chances you can?

Thanks for reading.

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

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

I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers exclusive benefits on all products purchased. You can read more about the benefits of this partnership here. You can pick up the Kinetic R1 trainer through Clever Training using the links below. By doing so, 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, if your order ends up more than $49, you get free US shipping as well.

For European/Australian/New Zealand readers, you can also pickup the R1 via Wiggle at the links below, which helps support the site too!

Kinetic R1 Smart Trainer (Clever Training – Save 10% with DCR10BTF)
Kinetic R1 Smart Trainer (EU/UK – Wiggle)

And finally, here’s a handy list of accessories that most folks getting a trainer for the first time might not have already:

ProductAmazon LinkNote
Basic Trainer MatThis is a super basic trainer mat, which is exactly what you'll see me use. All it does is stop sweat for getting places it shouldn't (it also helps with vibrations too).
Front Wheel Riser BlockHere's the thing, some people like front wheel blocks, some don't. I'm one of the ones that do. I like my front wheel to stay put and not aimlessly wiggle around. For $8, this solves that problem. Note some trainers do come with them. Also note, I use a riser block with *every* trainer.
Tacx Tablet Bike MountI've had this for years, and use it in places where I don't have a big screen or desk, but just an iPad or tablet on my road bike bars.

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible.

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4iiii Fliiiight Smart Trainer In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/4iiii-fliiiight-smart-trainer-in-depth-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/4iiii-fliiiight-smart-trainer-in-depth-review.html#comments Wed, 11 Dec 2019 17:03:26 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=106897 Read More Here ]]> DSC_9806

The Fliiiight is a different kind of trainer on so many levels. First off – it doesn’t use any sort of traditional trainer resistance technology to provide resistance. Instead, it recreates gradients and wattage levels by moving magnets, which depending on how close they are to your metal wheel rim will increase or decrease the amount of work you have to put in. The primary benefit of this concept is that it creates exactly zero sound. At least the trainer itself anyway. Your bike’s drive train will still create sound depending on how clean you have it (or how good your mechanic/parts are).

This design isn’t new though. This past spring, 4iiii bought STAC, which previously made the STAC Zero trainer. That trainer had the same technology foundations, but lacked style (it was traffic cone orange) and was finicky to set up. You had to deal with alignment issues as well as installing these weights on your wheels. But once you got it all set up, it worked just fine. The new Fliiiight gets rid of the weights, as well as the alignment issues. Now it has this crazy cool robotic alignment system. Frankly, I could create and play GIF’s of it all day long.

However, beyond all the tech bits – this trainer is different in its target market. While not clear from 4iiii at launch (or even till I finally started testing it) – it was designed for a rider that could put out less. Power that is. Simply put – this trainer isn’t for most people at the front of the pack. Nor for many people in the middle of the pack. I’ll get into all that below – but 4iiii now says that this trainer is designed for someone with an FTP of about 200w – and I’d agree with that (though, with some more caveats that I’ll get into).

But before we get into all those details (and trust me, there are many details) – note that 4iiii sent me this media loaner sample to test. Once I’m done with it here for testing I’ll sort out how to get it back to them in Canada. Just the way I roll. If you found this review useful, feel free to hit up the links at the bottom to help support the site – I appreciate it!

What’s in the box:

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You’d easily mistake the 4iiii Fliiiight box for someone who managed to order a double-stack pizza. It’s actually almost identical to two pizza boxes stacked together. It’s amazing.

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Slide off the sleeve, and crack open the top – also, pizza box style.

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Inside you’ll find a sticker that’s your quick-start guide. It literally is as simple as this sticker implies.

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Open up the stickered level, and you’ll see the trainer just chillin’ there:

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And then here’s everything laid out for its maiden unboxing photo:

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There’s only a few parts inside, as seen below:

A) USB-C cable with nifty magnetic attachment thingy
B) Three spoke clasps (you only need one)
C) A trainer skewer

Here’s a closer a closer look at that:

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Those spoke clasps are used by the optical sensor on the trainer to detect your wheel speed. You simply just slide it around one of your spokes and you’re good to go. Just like giving your spoke a hug.

And that’s it. No wheel weights here, nor anything else. Oddly, not even a USB wall outlet adapter. Though you can use any USB adapter port you have sitting around your house. The trainer has a battery in it, which is claimed for 2 hours of usage. In my testing though I just ran it plugged in all the time to an older iPhone wall adapter. The way USB works it doesn’t matter what you plug it into.

The Basics:

So now that we’ve got it unboxed, we’ll get it setup. Which is equally as simple. First, unfold the legs and stand the trainer up:

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Next, unfold the rear arms. Its’ technically a two-level origami unfolding process. It takes approximately 3.8 seconds. Any slower, and you need to do some more reps to get your form down:

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After that go ahead and stock the spoke hugger on your favorite spoke. It doesn’t matter which spoke, but just arrange it so that it’s closer to the outer edge of the wheel.

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And finally, mount your bike using either your existing metal skewer or the included one. If you have a plastic skewer on your bike from your wheel, swap it out. Don’t worry, you can use the metal one for regular riding as well.

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Now’s a good time to mention that you do indeed need a wheel rim with metal in it. If you’ve got yourself a fancy carbon wheelset, that won’t do here. The magnets need the metal to interact with.

Oh – and even better is that you don’t even need to keep your tires pumped up, like this:

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You’ll want to ensure the bike is nice and snug. The entire robotic moving arm system works best when there’s no sway of the bike itself, as it’s already having to deal with the fact that your wheel isn’t true from the like 28 times you tried to jump the curb and failed.

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Finally, go ahead and plug it in to ensure it’s charged up. The trainer has a USB-C port on it, that charges its internal 2hr battery. But what’s cool is that 4iiii included a set of these tiny little magnetic USB-C breakaway adapters (you can actually buy them here). This means if you trip over the cable it won’t rip away from your trainer. You know, like Apple used to have on their MacBook’s before we all had to move to 4 ports filled with dongle adapters.

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I’d love to see more and more trainer companies shift to USB-C for standardized power delivery. If only because it’ll make my life easier having to keep track of which power plug is for which trainer. Most trainers don’t actually need that much power, and some of them even generate their own power. Obviously they’ll require more power than this lowly USB adapter below (such as a laptop charger) – but heck, at least there would be a standard.

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If you haven’t turned on the power switch by now, it’s a good time to do so:

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You’ll notice that as soon as you either power it on, or spin the wheel and stop pedaling the robotic arms will go to town. They’ll close up on the wheel and then release. This is the automatic calibration feature. Yup, that’s it – your trainer is now calibrated.

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What’s really cool about this is that it not only aligns itself across the entire horizontal length of the back of the trainer (in case you didn’t put your bike in centered), but also figures out your exact wheel width and position too. Seriously, just click play and watch the entire sequence – including the normal riding sound it makes towards the end:

Now let’s start pedaling for realz. You’ll notice as you pedal that the little robotic arms are constantly swaying in and out. This is because your wheel likely isn’t true (perfectly even). It’s using that spoke magnet to measure your wheel speed in real-time, and then countering for the variations in your pedal stroke in real-time as well. It’s almost as fascinating to watch as the calibration sequence.

As you request more power from the system (such as going from 150w to 300w), the arms will move closer and closer to your wheel rim, providing more resistance. The idea being that they never touch, else that’ll make some noise (but is otherwise harmless).

And remember that little spoke condom? That’s actually passing by these optical sensors right here. The white helps the sensor see it clearly compared to your spokes:

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Now given the Fliiiight is a smart trainer, it’ll change resistance automatically in a few different ways, primarily driven by different applications/methods.  But most of this all boils down to two core methods:

ERG Mode: Setting a specific power level – i.e., 185w.  In this mode, no matter what gearing you use, the trainer will simply stay at 185w (or whatever you set it to).
Simulation Mode: Simulating a specific outdoor grade – i.e., 6% incline. In this mode, it’s just like outdoors in that you can change your gearing to make it easier or harder.  Wattage is not hard-set, only incline levels.

In the case of simulation (aka slope) mode, the Fliiiight can simulate from 0% to 7% incline – which is below the competitors in this price point. The Elite Tuo goes to 10%, the Saris M2 to 15%,  the Wahoo KICKR SNAP simulates up to 12%. Keep in mind that by default on Zwift your gradient is halved (this doesn’t impact your speed or power required, just gearing). While I always use it at 100%, here’s what that setting shows by default at 50%:

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This means that by default a 10% gradient becomes a 5% gradient unless you change it to 100%. Which in the case of the Fliiiight is probably a good thing, given its relatively low ability to replicate grades.

The second mode the trainer has is ERG mode.  In that case, the company claims up to 2,200w – but there’s no way in hell it’ll ever hit that unless you’re doing like 900RPM. This is very low in the smart trainer world, even for a $500 smart trainer. And this probably gets to the core ‘challenge’ with the Fliiiight: It’s essentially designed for riders with an FTP up to about 200w. FTP is essentially how much wattage you can hold for approximately an hour. So if you can hold 200w for an hour, your FTP is 200w. If you can hold 285w for an hour, your FTP is 285w. There are various ways to test this that don’t require you pedal balls to the wall for an hour, just lookup FTP test or RAMP test.

In any case, let’s step through each of these very Fliiiight specific aspects one at a time. First being ERG mode responsiveness. Here’s my standard 30×30 test using TrainerRoad, which shifts between recovery at about 150w, and then intervals at about 420w. Repeating every 30 seconds. For this test I’m looking to see how quickly a trainer responds, as well as how well it holds the set point. We’ll get into the actual power accuracy portions (comparative to other units) in a later section. First tough, responsiveness:

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So you can see for the first set above, it was really low. Huh.

Turns out my cadence was around 85RPM. A bit lower than my usual 90’s or so, but hardly an issue on any smart trainer I use. As such, the trainer wasn’t able to supply the required power – short by some 50-70 watts, since my wheel speed wasn’t fast enough. You can see that as I brought up my cadence into the upper 90’s the Fliiiight was able to provide the power just fine.

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As such, for the next set I kept my cadence above 100RPM, and the trainer matched the required/requested ERG mode set point of 428w just fine (give or take a few watts, as is normal for most trainers):

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I eventually found that for these sets I could get away with approx. 98RPM. Any lower and it wouldn’t hold resistance.

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Why does this matter?

Well, if you wanted to do low-cadence drills you couldn’t do so – at least at these wattages. If you had a target of say, 300w, then sure, there’s no issues there. That’s where we get into the FTP bit of 200w. The trainer, as you can see, can certainly put out more than 200w just fine. But if you’re doing training sessions, then you’ll undoubtedly have parts of a structured workout that are higher than 200w. That’s how you get stronger. If you just train below FTP, it’s unlikely you’ll make meaningful training gains.

Now – I circled back to 4iiii on this to see if the challenges I had with cadence and getting more power were expected. Essentially they said they were. However, they also gave an option to tweak the distance buffer between the magnets on the arm and my wheel. Remember that controls how much power the trainer can respond with. Normally they have a bit of a margin of error to handle less than true wheels so they don’t rub. But one could reduce that margin through settings, and that’d, in turn, give you more resistance.

So I did that (it’s a feature of their upcoming Android app, but 4iiii Support has a website you can change it from as well). It allowed me to set the Motion Limit in closer. By the time this releases to the public it’ll be much prettier and probably have normal human terms. But to test the concept out, it worked just fine.

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I then tried TrainerRoad 30×30’s again. Good deal – much better in terms of top-end power. I was able to do the first set at 77RPM and it was coming in at 450w. Granted, the power was a bit higher than the set point, but I wasn’t super even in my stroke since I hadn’t entirely expected it to actually match me at 450w for 77RPM. I then did a second interval, this one in the mid 80’s, and it was still able to hold the power just fine.

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So ok – ERG mode is fine within that context of holding power, assuming you’re riding in the fastest possible gearing combination (big ring in front, smaller rings in back). Unlike other trainers in ERG mode, the 4iiii is the opposite. It *wants* wheel speed. The faster the better. All other trainers are the opposite (slower flywheel speed is more responsive/accurate). The downside though is that with this change the road-feel got worse. Substantially worse. Like pedaling through mud. But, at lower wattages (I also tried the mid-200’s and low 300’s), it was better.

What about SIM mode – meaning, regular Zwift riding? Well, in a nutshell it’s the same, except even worse. Way worse.

See, unlike in ERG mode where you can just put your bike in the fastest possible speed and it’ll be acceptable, you can’t do that in Zwift (or other road simulation type apps). You need to shift to deal with changes in terrain, or to catch-up to a breakaway in a sprint. So what ends up happening is you run out of gears to get the resistance you need, be it on the flats or even during climbs (with the default settings) – but more than anything else also on descents.

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Take the above screenshot for example – that’s as much power as the trainer would allow me to do – and that’s at a cadence of 100pm down a mere 2%.

On the flats, here’s me trying to sprint:

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Note that I’m in my hardest gear and the unit is only giving me 420w of resistance – at a pretty darn high 125RM.

The same was true trying to go through Titan’s Grove with the rollers. I simply couldn’t get it to give me the power I needed without having to hold a cadence of about 100+RPM throughout the entire thing (my natural cadence is more around 90-95RPM). For example this bit here I snapped a shot at 76RPM, but even up this 7% grade it could only do 158w. My legs at 76RPM should easily have been pushing 300+ watts in here in my hardest gear:

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Now I get it – I’m a more powerful ride than many. But not that many. My numbers are hardly epic. My sprints top out around 900-1,000w, and my FTP floats in the 285-295w range. So again, if you’re a less powerful rider, this would technically probably work just fine for you. For example, my wife could ride this trainer just fine from a power standpoint, her wattage isn’t above 4iiii’s thresholds.

Now – there were certainly times where I found just the right balancing of gearing and gradient that I was in a good spot. But on a rolling course like this it was few and far between.

But wait – what if I applied the 4iiii buffer app tweaks like I did for TrainerRoad? Would that help? Yes, somewhat. I was able to fairly easily hit the mid-250’s at only 65RPM. And, with all of my juices flowing I spun up to 140RPM and the trainer topped out at 716w. I suspect I could get it higher still.

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However, that gets into road feel a bit. In other words, how does inertia feel – do the accelerations feel like riding on the road? With the original STAC Zero trainer they added wheel weights to help with inertia. Sure, they were finicky to setup, but if you got them nailed – it was good. Not $1,200 Wahoo KICKR great, but good enough good. But the Fliiiight doesn’t have weights, instead trying to do it all with magnets.

And for at least my non-perfect wheel – it’s just not a great feeling outside of ERG mode (ERG mode is mostly acceptable, but not great). Now perhaps my wheel is super abnormal, but I suspect not. In fact, this metal wheel has only a handful of miles on it. I virtually never ride it since it came with one of my bikes and I virtually always ride other wheelsets I have with PowerTap hubs in them for power meter testing. So it’s not like this wheel has thousands of miles on it. My bet is that it has at most a few hundred miles, maybe even just a few dozen miles.

I wish I had a better story here, but ultimately I think that in 2019 going on 2020, the magnetic driven technology might be too little too late to compete with other trainers at this price point. Had they had this technology 4-5 years ago at this price point – absolutely. Trainers were different then. But these days with the KICKR SNAP and others at $499 with mostly good road feel (and zero of the power limitations above), it’s a hard sell.

Though, to be fair – the 4iiiii Fliiiight is certainly far quieter than anything else in this price point (by miles), and from a power accuracy standpoint (as I’ll discuss), it’s far more accurate than any other trainer in this price point (or even other trainers at double its price). It nails those two categories, but like Captain Kirk: Scotty, I need more power!!!

App Compatibility:

When it comes to app compatibility, the 4iiii Fliiiight follows the industry norms as you’d expect from a smart trainer in 2019.  As you probably know, apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, Sufferfest, Rouvy, Kinomap and many more, all support most of these industry standards, making it easy to use whatever app you’d like.  If trainers or apps don’t support these standards, then it makes it far more difficult for you as the end user.

The unit supports the following protocols and transmission standards:

ANT+ FE-C (Trainer Control): This is for controlling the trainer via ANT+ from apps and head units (with cadence/power data). Read tons about it here.
ANT+ Power Meter Profile: This broadcasts as a standard ANT+ power meter, with cadence data
Bluetooth Smart FTMS (Trainer Control): This is for controlling the trainer over Bluetooth Smart from a variety of apps.
Bluetooth Smart Power Meter Profile: This broadcasts as a standard BLE power meter, with cadence data

In the above, you’ll note there’s cadence data baked into the various streams. That’s handy if you’re connecting to Zwift on an Apple TV, due to Apple TV’s two concurrent Bluetooth Smart sensor limitation (plus the Apple TV remote).  This means you can pair the trainer and get power/cadence/control, while also pairing up a heart rate strap.

In my case, I largely tested with Zwift and TrainerRoad – simply because those are the two biggest apps out there today.  Within that framework, I did both regular riding in Zwift, as well as ERG workouts in TrainerRoad. If you do structured workouts in Zwift, then those are identical to TrainerRoad, leveraging ERG mode.

Starting with TrainerRoad, you’d go ahead into the Devices area and find the Fliiiight listed:

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I went ahead and disabled PowerMatch, because for testing reasons I want to know it’s thinking for itself and not relying on another power meter.

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Now somewhat interestingly TrainerRoad still shows their boilerplate text for the Fliiiight upon pairing, which is actually incorrect. In this case, we need to do the opposite of what it says (go with a big gear and go fast):

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Next, I loaded up my usual 30×30 trainer test.  This is something I end up running on virtually all trainers as a great way to validate ERG mode responsiveness.  It starts off with a short two-minute ramp, and then it oscillates power at 30-second intervals between a low wattage (about 150w on this day), and a high wattage (~430w). You can run this same workout yourself here.

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Obviously we’ve talked about the results of that already up above, so no need to rehash that.

Next, let’s look at Zwift.  Here things are pretty darn similar.  You’ll start off by pairing to the Fliiiight trainer within the equipment menu:

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After that, you’re off and cruising in Zwift.  Of course, in regular (non-workout) mode, Zwift is transmitting the grade to the Fliiiight, which in turn automatically adjusts the grade on the trainer:

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And again, I’ve discussed how this all works up above in the ‘Basics’ section in terms of road feel and such.

Finally, 4iiii has their own app for some configuration bits of the Fliiiight trainer, including firmware updates. This app is available on iOS today and shortly on Android (but they have a support website that gets you the other functions in the meantime – in fact, even some additional features not on iOS, so fear not Android folks). From the app you can go ahead and check the battery status as well as update the firmware:

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You can also do a ‘calibrate’-like command (it’s just recentering the arms), as well as dork with some other settings you probably shouldn’t touch. And finally, you can also control the trainer in either ERG or resistance level, handy for super quick testing.

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All of this worked just fine for me, as well as did connectivity. I didn’t experience any Fliiiight specific dropouts, largely using Bluetooth Smart to both Apple TV and an iPad (and both an Android phone and iOS phone for configuration).

Power Accuracy:

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As usual, I put the trainer up against a number of power meters to see how well it handled everything from resistance control accuracy, to speed of change, to any other weird quirks along the way.

In my case I used two different bikes set up in the following configurations:

Canyon Bike Setup: Favero Assioma Duo power meter pedals, Quarq DZero
Giant Bike Setup: Garmin Vector 3 dual-sided power meter pedals, Stages LR dual-sided crankset

This is all in addition to the trainer itself recording power. While I have PowerTap hubs for rear wheelset, all of those are laced into carbon-rimmed wheels, which aren’t compatible with the Fliiiight.

In any case, I was looking to see how it reacted accuracy-wise in two core apps: Zwift and TrainerRoad (Bluetooth Smart on Apple TV and iPad). The actual apps don’t typically much matter, but rather the use cases are different.  In Zwift you get variability by having the road incline change and by being able to instantly sprint.  This reaction time and accuracy are both tested here.  Whereas in TrainerRoad I’m looking at its ability to hold a specific wattage very precisely, and to then change wattages instantly in a repeatable way.  There’s no better test of that than 30×30 repeats (30-seconds at a high resistance, followed by 30-seconds at an easy resistance).

There’s two ways to look at this.  First is how quickly it responds to the commands of the application.  So for that, we need to actually look at the overlay from TrainerRoad showing when it sent the command followed by when the Fliiiight achieved that level.  Here’s the levels being sent (the blue blocks via the green line) by TrainerRoad (in this case via Bluetooth Smart on iPad) and how quickly the Fliiiight responds to it:

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On average, responsiveness time was actually OK. It took about 3 seconds once it received the command, to go from 150w to 428w – which is perfectly acceptable and normal.

So what about power accuracy? In this case, I’ve compared it to a dual-sided set of Vector 3 power pedals, as well as a single-sided Stages LR. Technically it was dual-sided, but only when you remember to swap out the battery when it dies. So it was more of a Stages R, than LR. Either way, it gives us another data point, though I think the Vector 3 are good enough for telling this story. Here’s this data set:

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As you can see, it’s pretty darn close. If we look at the 2nd interval where I stabilize a bit, you’ll see the wattages are within 5w of each other (at 440w) – or a spread of 1%, not too shabby. In theory, the Fliiiight should be the lowest value of the units here because it’s furthest down the drivetrain (for which there is still drivetrain loss), but in practice we see them all about the same value-wise this ride.

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It’s also notable that we see the power floor isn’t impacted much here – it holds accuracy at lower wattages just fine:

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And cadence you ask? Very close. Not exactly the same between all three – but within 1-2RPM of measurement across the entire range.

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And for fun, here’s the mean/max graph on that ride. You’ll see that the Fliiiight is slightly lower than the other units, exactly as it should be.

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Next, let’s slide over to Zwift. This file is from the Titan’s Grove course where I’ve been testing all trainers this season. I use this course because it allows me to do some high flywheel speed stuff early on with the desert bits on the flats, and then I climb up over a series of rollers and climbs before descending a bit. It’s very demanding of trainers, but covers a broad range of terrain. Here’s that data set:

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Accuracy wise that’s actually really really good. The three units are virtually identical. There’s a disconnect or two in here on both the Stages and briefly on the Fliiight side, so likely indicative of some wireless interference, but power wise these three are virtually identical when viewed at the full-ride level. We see this impact the mean/max graph later since one of the data dropouts was 18-seconds long during a harder effort.

So obviously, let’s zoom in on some sections – starting off with some early sprint attempts:

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Accuracy-wise though the power is very very close during the ramp and build. The Vector 3 measures slightly higher, and the Stages R is closer to the 4iiii Fliiight (but that’s doing only single-leg power capture at that point on the Stages).

Normally I do these sprints at about 900w. But as you can see, I topped out at roughly 500w. That’s as much resistance as the trainer would give me when I put it in the hardest gear possible on my bike. In fact, if you look below at my cadence, you’ll see that I was spinning at 129RPM in order to get those 500w.

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I repeated some sprints a bit later as well, but again it required me clearing nearly 130RPM in order to get the power above 500w:

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Now as you can see throughout other parts of the ride, the accuracy is actually really good. It’s very very close together as I swing through these rollers climbing up at 350w+:

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And finally, here’s a look at the cadence on this ride. Again, you can clearly see I’m struggling across all devices with WiFi interference and occasional drops:

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But from a cadence standpoint, all the units were almost always within 1RPM of each other, and occasionally up to 2RPM. More than good enough than even most higher end trainers this year.

Ultimately – from a straight power and cadence accuracy standpoint the Fliiiight is actually really good. That matches what we saw with the STAC Zero too. While the trainer may not be able to output a lot of power, it’s able to track that power very accurately across a broad range of riding scenarios in multiple apps. Good on them.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Product Comparison:

I’ve added the 4iiii Fliiiight into the product comparison database, where you can compare it to any trainer that I’ve reviewed or have in the DCR Cave. For the purposes of below, I’ve slated it up against the Elite Tuo, Wahoo KICKR SNAP and CycleOps M2 – which I think are fair comparisons. All those units are $499 and wheel-on trainers, and the Fliiiight is $499 right now on sale. Of course, you can mix and match and create your own product comparison chart in the product comparison tables here. And of course, my complete Winter 2019-2020 Trainer Recommendations Guide as well.

Function/Feature4iiii FliiiightElite TuoSaris M2 (CycleOps)Wahoo KICKR SNAP (2017)
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated December 17th, 2019 @ 5:07 pmNew Window Expand table for more results
Price for trainer$599$499$499$499
Trainer TypeWheel-onWheel-onWheel-OnWheel-on
Available today (for sale)December 2019Available November 2019YesYes
Power cord requiredNo, 2hrs battery capabilityYesYesYes
Flywheel weightN/A2.5kg / 5.5lbs2.6lbs/1.2kg10.5lbs/4.8KG
Maximum wattage capability2200w1,250 (40KPH)/2,050 (60KPH)1,500w @ 20MPH1,500W @ 40KPH
Maximum simulated hill incline7%10%15%12%
Can rise/lower bike or portion thereofNoNoNoWith KICKR CLIMB accessory
Includes temperature compensationYesYesNoYes
Support rolldown procedure (for wheel based)N/AYesYesYes

And again remember you can mix and match and create your own product comparison chart in the product comparison tables.

Summary:

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At first glance the 4iiii Fliiiight is everything I wanted the STAC Zero to grow up to be. Prettier, less finicky, USB-C charging – even nifty robotic arms and optical lasers. How can it get better than robots? However, the end-product is a bit more tricky than I expected – primarily for more powerful riders.

If you’re a less powerful rider – then I think the Fliiight is definitely an very valid option, especially if they continue to offer it at $499. To me that price point makes sense given the other contenders in the market are at $499. And there’s no trainer that’s quieter than the Fliiiight. Nor seemingly any that’s actually more accurate. Really, from an accuracy standpoint this thing pretty much rivals a KICKR or NEO any day. No issues there.

The challenge though is for more powerful riders there’s just too many compromises to make. In discussions in early November, 4iiii stated a target market rider FTP of 200w. However, in later e-mails they specified a range of up to 250w. I think the 250w FTP is really only valid if you’re more of a triathlete doing largely steady-state workouts (and only with the magnetic buffer tweak). But even all that considered, the road inertia feel isn’t great. Sure, it’s not terribly different than the STAC Zero was – but trainers and price points have moved on. The trainers of this year, wonky manufacturing and power accuracy issues aside, are physically better and more realistic than trainers of two years ago – but now hundreds of dollars cheaper.

Ultimately you’ll have to decide if the tradeoffs of this trainer meet your specific requirements. For myself, it wouldn’t be an appropriate trainer. However, for someone like my wife who is far smaller and needs less of a wattage ceiling – she’d be able to train on this just fine. All while still being super quiet.

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

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

I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers exclusive benefits on all products purchased. You can read more about the benefits of this partnership here. You can pick up the Fliiiight trainer through Clever Training using the links below. By doing so, 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, if your order ends up more than $49, you get free US shipping as well.

4iiii Fliiiight

And finally, here’s a handy list of accessories that most folks getting a trainer for the first time might not have already:

ProductAmazon LinkNote
Basic Trainer MatThis is a super basic trainer mat, which is exactly what you'll see me use. All it does is stop sweat for getting places it shouldn't (it also helps with vibrations too).
Front Wheel Riser BlockHere's the thing, some people like front wheel blocks, some don't. I'm one of the ones that do. I like my front wheel to stay put and not aimlessly wiggle around. For $8, this solves that problem. Note some trainers do come with them. Also note, I use a riser block with *every* trainer.
Tacx Tablet Bike MountI've had this for years, and use it in places where I don't have a big screen or desk, but just an iPad or tablet on my road bike bars.

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible.

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