Jabra Elite Sport Review

Over the past couple of years, I’ve had opportunities to try out various Jabra earbuds, from the Sport Pulse, Sport Rox (discontinued), and Sport Coach. Earlier this month, the new kid in town, Elite Sport dropped and I had the pleasure of putting them through some routines consisting of workouts of various paces and some cross-training. Marketed as “True Wireless Smart earbuds”, Jabra has somehow managed to incorporate the everything but the kitchen sink into the Elite Sport. In a (large) nutshell, here are what the boffins at Jabra managed to squeeze into 2 typically premium built buds:

  • HR monitor
  • Tri-axis accelerometer Motion sensor
  • 4 x digital MEMS microphones with advanced noise cancellation
  • Passive noise cancellation, with HearThrough feature streaming in external ambient noise for awareness.
  • BT 4.1, completely wireless between left and right units
  • IP67 rated to be waterproof in fresh water up to 1 meter for 30 minutes.

On top of the usual volume and playback controls, the user can enable HearThrough (more on this below), activate Siri/Google Now, and manage calls. When paired with the Jabra Sport Life app (iOS and Android), the user will also be able to start/stop/pause a workout and get realtime coaching feedback as well. In short, the JES is a souped up Sport Pulse and Sport Coach.

My first experience what somewhat a clumsy one on my part when, to my horror, I dropped it as I was unboxing it. However, the JES is made of sterner stuff and no harm was done. My heart rate shot up for a brief second though! As you can already guess, the JES comprise of 2 wireless earbuds where the connectivity is not only wireless between the playback media device but also between the left and right earbuds. That means, each unit houses its own battery. The clamshell case that comes with the JES functions not only as a storage but also a power bank. With a full charge lasting around 3 hours, the case holds enough juice to charge the earbuds twice, extending the number of hours before the next top up to 9 hours.

This is great for travelling but unless you’re a very fast marathoner, you won’t have enough charge to last your race. Nevertheless, under normal use it’s a perfect option.

As usual, prior to using any new piece of electronics, it’s a good idea to charge it up. In the case of the review unit, the battery level indicator was already in amber. You can get an indication by opening and closing the case. A 2-hour charge later via the supplied micro USB cable and you’re good to go. Basically the front indicators reflect the earbuds’ charge level while the side indicator, the casing’s charge level.  The casing has a little rubbery feel, so it won’t easily slip out of your hands.

Note: Charging isn’t NFC charging but instead via the contact points on the earbuds and the casing, so you’ll need to place them in the correct left/right position.

Once the trivialities are done, it’s time to have a good look at the JES. They’re small but not as compact as the Sport Pulse and a little larger than the Sport Rox. The right bud functions as the Master and houses the HR monitor which you can see from the photo (right) below. The right unit also controls the power, pause/play, call answering functions, while the left (let’s call it the Slave unit) controls the volume and track selection.

Pairing the JES to a media device is ridiculously easy. I’ve used the JES with the iPhone and iPod with no issues and they always connect at the first instance.

The Jabra Elite Sport allows a great degree of fit customization. Choose from 3 sizes of EarWings, EarGels or opt for FoamTips. All bundled, of course. The availability of the FoamTips hint at its premium leanings.

  • 3 sizes of EarWings (S, M, L)
  • 3 sizes of silicone EarGels (S, M, L)
  • 3 sizes of FoamTips (S, M, L)

It took me a while to find a good fit especially with my right ear but I finally found the best position to wear them – at a slight upward tilt. Different wearers will find their best fitting, of course.

It’s amazing that the BT connection goes from the device to the right unit and to the left with little to no noticeable lag. Once paired, pressing the play/pause on the device resulted in near instant response from both Master and Slave. There’s a very very slight lag, only noticeable if you’re really paying attention. I suspect, the JES has some kind of memory buffering. The sound quality is trademark Jabra – punchy and clear in the mids and highs. Definitely enough kick to get you going.

So it has been 2 weeks since I got hold of the Elite Sport. I’ve worn it for weekday running outdoors and on the treadmill. I also wore them while performing core exercises on the mat. On the treadmill, they’re paired to the iPhone, running the Jabra Sport Life app. Outdoors, they’re paired with the iPod because I dislike lugging a phone around. The HR detection and readings are pretty accurate, within 3 bpms of the Garmin chest strap’s readings. Only twice did the readings dropped over the weeks’ usage, which is admirable.

aired with the app, the Sport Elite can provide audio prompts for Time, Speed, Distance, Pace, Steps, Cadence, Calories, Heart Rate, Heart Rate zone, VO2 Max estimation, Repetitions, and Real Time audio coaching. To read more about the cool functions of the Sport Life app, pop over to my review of the Jabra Sport Pulse or Sport Coach. P

Another observation I logged during my weeks’ of use was that I noticed the connectivity range between the Master and Slave units are very short. Remove the right unit from the ear and connection to the left unit will be cut. Remove the Slave unit however, and the Master keeps on pumping the tunes while the Slave is silenced.

While the units are as solid as can be – their weight palpable in the hands – it isn’t an issue when worn. In fact, the longest period of time I wore the Sport Elite was 2.5 hours. I put them on as I left the office listening to music from the iPhone. As I was walking along Jalan Ampang towards KLCC, the evening traffic was at its worst. A double tap on the Master enabled the HearThrough function which immediately amplified the ambient sound. The music continued streaming from the iPhone in my pocket but there was a heightened sense of awareness of my surroundings, without having to remove the buds. Jabra relied on the built-in mic to amplify the sounds, in case you’re wondering. Neat! The feature can be enabled/disabled via the Sport Life app.

Call handling was seamless and sound came out excellent. The caller on the other end of the line could hear me clearly, even with the background traffic noise and placement of the mic at the ear level. I’m very impressed with this. In case you’re wondering how the units look like when worn, check out the photos below.

The bottomline? The Jabra Sport Elite’s total wireless features will prove the most appealing to gym and fitness buffs where cables and cords often get in the way of gym equipment. Whether you’re on the mat or going through high intensity routines, you wouldn’t want any semblance or cords to get in your way. It’s a niche product for sure but if that’s what you’re waiting for, the Jabra Elite Sport warrants a serious consideration.

Pros:

  • Completely wireless.
  • Quick and easy connection to devices.
  • Superb Jabra sound.
  • Feature-filled Sport Life app.
  • Secure fit (after tweaking around).
  • Solid build.
  • Nice HearThrough feature.
  • Fantastic call quality.
  • Very nice bundle of tips, including foam types for even better sound. I use Comply tips for my night listening sessions on my Shure earphones, so I appreciate the fact that Jabra bundled the foam tips.

Cons:

  • Tricky to handle for butterfingers.
  • Short battery life of 3 hours per charge (carrying the case will get you 2 more charges).
  • Need to bring the case wherever you go.
  • Price. The Jabra Sport Coach, which has plenty of features too, is a much more affordable option, although without the heart rate monitoring.

The Jabra Sport Elite retails for RM1,259.00 and is available at selected outlets from the following retailers and selected Jabra resellers: All IT Hypermarket, ViewNet Computer, Thundermatch Technologies, Mobile Arena, NOP Cellular, HLK Superstore, and Lazada is the exclusive online partner and reseller http://www.lazada.com.my/jabra-official-store/?spm=a2o4k.brand-212.0.0.lq4yuA 

Word of caution: Regardless of the earphone designs, please be always mindful of traffic and other safety threats. Always use your better judgment and never listen at extreme levels of volume or over prolonged period of time.

Disclosure: The JES is a review unit kindly provided by AMT PC Distributors Sdn Bhd, the sole distributor for all Jabra products in Malaysia.

Jabra Sport Coach Wireless Review

Jabra, one of the world’s leading producers of headsets and earbuds recently added the Jabra Sport Coach Wireless (SCW) to its range of great-sounding, tough-wearing Bluetooth earbuds. Having put it through some sessions, I can now share some of my experiences with you. It helps if you’re familiar with their Sport Pulse Wireless and Sport Rox Wireless but if you aren’t, you can read about them by following the links provided. With that, let’s get going.

The SCW is optimized for cross-training and indoor workouts when paired with the smartphone but it works perfectly fine as standalone Bluetooth earbuds should you work it with your other Bluetooth enabled devices such as the iPod. The SCW rides on the Jabra Sport Life app on the smartphone, the same as what the Sport Pulse Wireless works with. But because the SCW is geared towards indoor workouts and drills, you’ll be prompted to update the app the very first time the SCW is paired with the smartphone. The update presumably includes additional voice prompts and programmed workouts.

The SCW shares the same design queues and battery life (5.5 hours) as the Sport Pulse Wireless (SPW). It’s lightweight, comes with different sets of EarGels and EarWings for a custom fit. Likewise, a FitClip is bundled for the wearer to secure excess length of cable behind the head such that the cable doesn’t flop around at the back. Once you’ve found your fit, the earbuds stay put – I can’t emphasize how important this requirement is, given how the SCW is intended to be used. A flat unit charges up to the max in 2 hours and this is done via a micro USB cable. The charging port is cleverly hidden away under the right side earbud. Connectivity with the smartphone or media player is made either via Bluetooth or NFC and like any sports earbuds worth mentioning, the Sport Coach is IPX55 certified for water and dust resistance.

So far, everything that has been covered is pretty much the same features you’d find on the SPW (minus the heart rate monitor) and Sport Rox Wireless. Now comes the feature-set that’s unique to the SCW, and that’s the audio coaching features. The SCW comes with the TrackFit motion sensor which measures distance, pace, steps, cadence and calories burned. Geared towards the fitness crowd, the SCW has more than 40 exercises built-in, catering to beginners and advanced enthusiasts.

A sampling of the workouts the SCW can handle.
Each workout comes with static images and descriptions.

The workouts are grouped into several circuits, 5 of which – CardiCore, TakeOff, BellyBurn, PushPerfection and MadCore – comes preset with the Jabra Sport Life app. Since I’m the curious type, I poked into the MadCore circuit just to see what’s in there. You can see from the screenshots below that it consists of a single set of workouts based on timing and reps, with 10 seconds’ rest in between.

If you’re mad enough, just hit the “Use Circuit” and you’ll get started right away.

If the preset is a bit much or still too mild for your liking, you can go ahead and duplicate the preset and then customize it according to your needs. You can tweak parameters such as number of sets, rest time, and add additional workouts. In the example below, I duplicated the MadCore circuit.

And since MadCore didn’t sound badass enough, I went ahead and created a circuit called Get Hammered. Just because I could 😀

“Can’t touch this” would be a nice track to be included in this playlist.

Thankfully I checked myself before I got started and promptly changed my workout to CardiCore, albeit the modified version. I kicked things off with a slow jog, drills and some ROM routines. I selected Running as the activity and had the Jabra Sport Life app playing from my iTunes playlist. It was just a short run on the warm sunny morning yet I was sweating like I had just completed a 10K. The SCW performed as expected – it sounded just like any Jabras that I’ve worn, which is a good thing. The ROM routines didn’t dislodge the earbuds as I bounded here and there. Ending the warm up will bring up the summary screens. You can add a photo and share your session on several social media sites, no different from the usage experience as the SPW.

Then, it was time to get down, literally, to the circuits.  Press the Sports button located on the left earbud to call up the Sport Life app on the phone. Then on the phone, just select the desired circuit. I kept things relatively straightforward but over-estimated my fitness! In the course of performing these workouts, I also discovered that overall strength was unevenly distributed – something not surprising since running is just about the only sport that I do on a regular basis. Therefore the 20 reps of lower body routines were QED since squats and lunges are already part of my weekday post-run regimen. The push-ups are another thing, though 😦

Now comes the part where my rating of the SCW drops a couple of notches. Conceptually the on-board TrackFit motion sensor should allow automatic tracking, progression and guidance for the athlete. It should be able sense how many reps have been executed and therefore knows when to move along to the next phase. The SCW, however, didn’t realize that potential. For example, it was able to track the time-bound routines but found itself at sea with the repetition-bound ones. What this means to the user is that she will need to count the number of push-ups, crunches executed and upon completion of those tap on the phone to progress the workout to the next routine.

Try doing that when you’re huffing and puffing, and trying to get into the zone and you’ll understand how frustrating the user experience can be. On the other hand, the transition screens were functional. Enough visual cues on your routine and the remaining time till the next one will keep you apprised. As will the audio announcements, inter-playing with your music playlist. However, since the SCW is unable to track certain types of routines, slowing down when completing a particular routine (for example, as you’re tiring) will not trigger a motivational message. It’ll be nice if the voice could scream out, “C’mon move it, you slug!” in full Dolby quality sound when you’re struggling 3/4 into your session!

Once you’ve completed the required sets (I only managed 3), you’ll be able to get a snapshot of what you’ve just accomplished. I seriously doubt that what I did burned only 55 kcal even though I rarely pay any attention to that measurement.

I’ve since used the SCW without the Sport Life app a number of times, pairing it with the iPod 7th Gen and the iPhone 6+ with no problems. In fact, switching between previously paired devices seemed easier with the SCW – I just needed to hold down the multi-function button for 5 secs till the blue light comes on for a new acquisition.

So is the SCW for you? It depends on the type of athlete you are. As a runner, I can see incorporating it as part of an overall fitness or post-run regimen. It works well as Bluetooth earbuds and if Jabra can work out the kinks in the tracker (not sure if it’s sensor or firmware related), the SCW will present a good buy for those seeking their first wireless earbuds. The other option is of course the cheaper Sport Rox Wireless, which is a solid alternative.

Pros

  • Retains the good stuff that Jabra is known for – build and Dolby sound quality, lightweight construction, custom fitting courtesy of EarWings and EarGels.
  • Less finicky pairing and repairing process in a multiple device environment compared to the Sport Pulse Wireless and Sport Rox Wireless.
  • Conceptually good, catering to the fitness crowd and the cross-training athlete.
  • Customizable circuits with a wide variety of routines that the user can mix up.

Cons

  • Tracking of repetitions is not quite there, resulting in a less-than-desirable user experience.
  • Battery life is still constrained to 5.5 hours.

Disclaimer:  The Jabra Sport Coach Wireless is a review unit courtesy of Jabra Malaysia. It retails for RM649 (including GST) and is now available at IT Hypermarket Sdn Bhd, Harvey Norman, Machines, Radioshack and Viewnet Computer Systems. Jabra is an official partner of International Triathlon Union events. For more information please visit: http://my.jabra.com/Products/Bluetooth/JABRA_Sport_Coach_Wireless/Jabra_Sport_Coach_Wireless

Previously reviewed on Jan 6th, 2016

Jabra Sport Rox Wireless Review

With the current health and fitness boom, choices are aplenty when it comes to shopping for a set of Bluetooth earbuds geared towards the active person. In my opinion, it all comes down to three factors: fit, sound and price consideration, in no particular order.

I reviewed the Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless (SPW) in April [read it here] and found the lightweight premium buds with integrated Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) to offer excellent sound quality. More importantly the SPW has the best and most comfortable fit I’ve experienced in a pair of sports earbuds. That counts for a lot since I sweat buckets and have flippant ear canals that has floored every sports earbud that I’ve popped in. The downside? The SPW needs a smartphone to work and no matter what, it couldn’t connect with the 7th Generation Bluetooth-enabled iPod Nano. Since I dislike lugging my phone on a run, my time with the SPW is pretty much limited. Then, there’s the eye-popping RM899 price tag as well.

There’s a lower-priced alternative to the SPW, and that’s the award-winning Sport Rox Wireless (Rox). At RM549 it’s not exactly pocket change to be sure, but if sound quality, comfort and fit, ease of use, and durability are what you seek in a sports earbuds, it could be something for you.

Where’s the Rox? I already had them on, rocking out some tunes!
“Massive Wireless Sound”
Print on the box pretty much states all the features.
In the box: Carry case, micro USB charging cable, 3 sets of EarGels and EarWings. Not shown are the user guide pamphlet and activation code for the Jabra Sound app

The Rox is not as featherweight nor has the HRM features (and therefore assisted training modes) the SPW comes with. Neither does it have the extensive set of voice prompts of the SPW. It does, however, have the same great fit of the SPW, with 4 sets of ColorCore EarGels and 3 sizes of EarWings in the box. It retains the Dolby HD sound support on top of the standard BT 4.0, NFC connectivity, and is built to U.S. Military standards for weather (IP55), shock, sand and dust protection. Like most sports earbuds in the market, there’s a built-in mic to take calls (should you pair it with your phone).

When you hold the Rox in your hands, you’ll immediately feel the fantastic build quality from the cord down to the metal bits. The Rox comes out of the box without the EarWings attached but since I really like the secure fit it provided in the SPW, I fitted the Medium-sized ones to the Rox. I’ve not experienced excessive bouncing of the cord behind me to necessitate attaching the Fitclip but it could be an option for you.

Charging is via the micro USB port located under the left ear bud cover. Out of the box, this unit charges fully in about 1.5 hours.

A feature unique to the Rox are the magnetic earbuds. Both can be joined or separated to enable/disable the standby mode. Another battery-saving feature is the 5-minute auto off when the buds are separated and not connected to any device. Charging the unit is simple; flip up the back cover of the right earbud to expose the micro USB port and the rest is a no-brainer. It takes around 2.5 hours to fully juice up the unit. Pairing the Rox with the Bluetooth device is also a simple affair. If your phone or device is NFC-ready, you’ll just need to slide it along the Rox’s volume rocker where the NFC zone is located to pair up.

The Rox doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the sound department. Music is punchy and lends workout-tunes the needed excitement to pull you through the workouts. Synth, dance, house, and rock all shine, and while it won’t be the final word in terms of audiophile quality (c’mon, the source files are in compressed MP3 format after all!), acoustic-leaning tracks in Everything But The Girl’s Amplified Heart, SEAL’s Best 1991-2004 Acoustic, and Tristan Prettyman’s Say Anything track in Cedar+Gold albums is as involving. Marc Shaiman’s The Ruling/Graduation track in the Patch Adams score got the rightful ground-shaking treatment while pounding hip-hop grooves threaten to turn you into Snoop Dogg.

The Rox isn’t marketed as noise isolating buds but as the seal is good, ambient sound is almost negligible. The secure fit means going through drill routines on top of hopping and bounding will not dislodge the buds. I’ve done a couple of runs in heavy downpour without losing a beat too. As you can see from the topmost photo, I went with the double-flanged EarGel, which I felt gave me the best fit for the sound.

Bluetooth buds appear to still be limited by the sub-6 hour battery life. In the case of the Rox, the published battery life is 5.5 hours. I can understand this shortcoming since these buds are designed with size and weight in mind. Don’t go expecting a device this small to pack a 3100mah battery! If you need to listen for a longer duration, the wired option is still the way to go, at least until the day technology brings high capacity micro-sized batteries (at a low cost) into mass market devices. The other question is whether the wearer can tolerate a 10-hour continuous listening period. Is it even safe to plug in for that long a period?

So, is the Rox for you? If it’s Bluetooth sports buds that you seek, and won’t mind the slightly higher price (to basic Bluetooth options) in favor of the build, fit and sound quality, then the answer is yes. If you need and can tolerate even longer listening period, stick to the wired type. Personally, I’m hooked to the wireless buds and unless I’m in an event exceeding 10 hours (which is super rare!), I won’t be reaching out for the wired buds anytime soon.

Pros:

  • Great fit and sound for a pair of Bluetooth sports earbuds.
  • Fantastic build quality that’ll stand up to real-world use.
  • Accompanying Jabra Sound app provides sound customization.
  • Unique magnetic earbud cover that doubles up as standby feature.
  • Easy pairing with the 7th Generation iPod Nano and iPhone.

Cons:

  • There are cheaper Bluetooth sports earbud alternatives (but not by much and not necessarily as great fitting and sounding).
  • Battery life of 5.5 hours is 30 minutes more than the SPW but some folks will demand more. Real world experience (during the recent Gold Coast Airport Marathon) puts the battery life somewhere around 4 hours. Battery low messages were prompted at around the 3 hours 45 minutes mark.

Word of caution: Please exercise caution when plugging in during an outdoor workout. Be always mindful of traffic and other safety threats. The majority of my listening happen at the KLCC Park (where there are high human traffic) and 1K loops around my housing area. I don’t recommend running solo with the ears plugged. Always use your better judgment and never listen at extreme levels of volume, nor for an extended period of time.

Disclaimer: The Jabra Sport Rox Wireless is a review unit courtesy of Jabra Singapore. It retails for RM549 (including GST) and is now available at all ALL IT Hypermarket Sdn Bhd, epiCentre, Machines, Radioshack and Viewnet Computer Systems around the country. You can learn more about the Jabra Sport Rox Wireless here.

Previously reviewed on July 9th, 2015

Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless Review

The usage of Bluetooth-enabled headsets and earbuds are fast gaining popularity amongst runners. Through casual observation of plugged-in runners as I went through my training runs last week at the park, I counted at least half of the peripherals worn were of the wireless variety. The advantage is obvious – less cables flopping around.

I love my music. I believe it has its place in a runner’s kit. The tunes will take away the boredom of a solo run in a looping course. The runner will find it easier to practice pacing with the aid of music. However, some of the reasons why I rarely do so are:

  1. I like to run light and dislike carrying stuff.
  2. Earbuds that fit my problematic ears are impossible to find. I’ve tried Sony (many variety including the version with ear loops), JBL and Yurbuds but they all slip out once I get all sweaty.
  3. The sound quality of “sports buds” aren’t that great. The music are either too tinny or bass-heavy.

With the launch of the award-winning Sport Pulse Wireless (SPW) late last year, the Danish company Jabra has suddenly made a compelling case for me to carry my phone along for some of my workouts. The SPW is essentially a set of Bluetooth (BT) 4.0 earbuds with a built-in electrocardiogram (ECG) accurate Heart Rate Monitor. Jabra commissioned Campbell University in North Carolina, USA to independently verify the performance of the heart rate monitor technology for fitness and active usage. The comprehensive trial included runners on a treadmill and simultaneously tested Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless against a medical ECG machine. The results clearly showed an extraordinary accuracy with a 99.2% correlation. We’ll get to my field test observations shortly.

Before that, here’s the tech spec sheet for those of you techies out there.

Unboxing
The SPW comes in a sturdily constructed box with a magnetic latch. Flip that open and this is what you see.

The earbuds, a clam-shell case and a quick user guide.

Unzip the clam-shell case and here’s what you get.

4 Fitclips, 3 extra sets of EarGels™ and EarWings™ in a selection of sizes. And a short micro USB cable.
Close-up of the EarGels™ and EarWings™

The heart of the SPW lies in the left earbud, identifiable by the little heart icon you see below. There’s also the grey coloured Sport button in the middle which you press to start the tracking.

The heart of the matter.

Readying the SPW
As with all new gear, it’s always best to temper the excitement by first charging the unit. To charge the unit, just pull aside the right side silicon EarWing to expose the micro USB port. Fully charging a unit will take up to 2 hours. While charging, a tiny red indicator will light up. The same light will turn green once the juice is fully topped up.

There you are!

There’s an app for that, unless you’re a Windows Phone user
While the charging takes place, you will want to download the Jabra Sport Life app. You can get the app from iTunes [link] or the Google Play Store [link]. Sorry Windows Phone users – the app’s not available for you. I’m an app hoarder and I can tell you that this app is one of the most loaded fitness app out there. It utilizes your phone’s GPS for distance/pace/time/speed tracking, and reads out real-time customizable key metrics. The app even allows you to set your target pace, heart rate zone or interval training segments. Press the Sport button on the left earpiece and you can get auto coaching feedback. Then there’s the 3-mode fitness test function where you can run your own periodic analyses.

The 3-mode fitness tests are:

  • The Rockport Test – designed to measure your VO2 max level, which gives you a precise measurement on the volume of oxygen you can consume while exercising at your maximum capacity and guidance on how well it rates against your age, weight, and gender.
  • The Orthostatic Heart Rate Test – monitors your current state and helps you understand if you’re overtraining or under stress.
  • The Resting Heart Rate Test – a great way to understand your base fitness level. Over time you can see how your resting heart level is trending.

As you can see, it’s clear that the app was not designed as an after-thought.

On top of that Jabra Sound app [link] which comes free with every SPW purchase via a code redemption. This app complements the SPW by adding the signature Dolby sound to your music amongst many other features such as equalizers and playlist management. All rather impressive, and you can find out more about the app here.

Pairing
This is a simple process of pairing the phone with the SPW, no different from pairing of your other Bluetooth accessories. Just enable Bluetooth on the phone, press the Multi Function button (the middle one on the control) and a voice with confirm your connection. Once connected, you’ll be able to see the battery status of the SPW on your phone as well (see screen shot below, indicator is to the right of the BT one). Now, if you own one of the newfangled phones with NFC, you can connect the two that way too.

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Customizing
Like all other lifestyle tracker apps out there, you’ll be guided through your profile setup, in this case a very quick process.

Next would be selecting the right EarWing and EarGel to fit your ears. The manual recommends the user to test out with all the sizes provided as not only will proper sizing enhance your listening experience and comfort, getting a proper fit will ensure the HR reading is accurate.

Just another step before you head out and that would be to calibrate your HR reading. I was seated when I did this and my HR read 58bpm. Not bad if I may say so 🙂 .

After which you’re pretty much good to go. I was in a rush when I tested the SPW, so I didn’t toy around with the other tracking modes like target pace/HR setting. As mentioned earlier, you could even setup HR Zone Training or Interval Training, as well as your playlist of your choice.

Note: If Strava, MapMyFitness, Runkeeper, and Endomondo are your preferred fitness apps, you’d be happy to know that the SPW works with them too.

The photo below shows how the buds look from the rear. The cord is very light and not too long. In my several sessions with them, it never got in the way of my run despite my attempts at dislodging it – very secure. My first run with them was a short 5K covering a number of training zones, from fat burning to cardio to VO2Max. For that run, I had the phone in my hand. As such the tracking was very accurate against my Garmin’s – from the distance, pace to the HR call-out. In fact whenever the variance of the HR recorded by the Garmin HR chest strap and the Jabra was within +/-3bpm. I was very impressed coming off the first experience.

To put the SPW through more , I made sure I wore them for my box jump drills 2 days later (I didn’t bring them along for the Shape Run as I prefer to race light). Again, the buds stayed put in my ears! You can get pumped up with a kick-ass playlist while you’re doing your weights, plyos, drills and so on. Not to mention having your HR read out to you at regular intervals. This is great stuff.

The 3rd run in the SPW was a mixed experience. I carried the phone in a waist pouch and the BT connectivity was occasionally wonky. This went on for a few kilometers when the buds died on me, its battery completely drained. I suspect the weak battery level was the cause of the unstable connectivity and I’ll be sure to report back after several more runs.

Data Logging
The Sport Pulse Wireless is able to capture a ton of data. Utilizing an accelerometer, it’s able to record what you see and more below. The mapping feature is achieved in conjunction with your phone’s GPS.

Listen, listen, listen!
One of the outstanding features of the SPW, other than the HRM function, is the sound quality. This earbuds have got to be one of the best, if not the best I’ve heard. I’ve dabbled in hi-fi separates some time ago to recognize that. The sound that the SPW dishes out have great separation. Highs doesn’t sound tinny nor wreck your ear drums. Bass is tight and punchy as how it should be. Once burned in, I’ll bet they’ll sound even sweeter. Instruments that get all muddled up in the mix when I listened using other brands are revealed. It has knocked my 3 Sony buds (RM300 and below) and my previous favorite, Griffin, out of the park. It performs better than the JBL too. I’ll admit that it’s the earbuds I use even when I’m not working out.

More running and working out to do then!
It’s only been a week of living with the SPW but I’ve thus far been impressed with it. While I don’t usually listen to music when I’m out running (I believe that at times, the runner needs to connect to and deal with the mental side of running), I don’t totally discount the fact that music does add to the enjoyment of working out, especially on easy and recovery runs or drills. Due to its feature-rich functions, I’ve yet to dig below the surface of what the SPW has to offer and I’ll be sure to do a follow-up post once I’ve bedded in after a few more weeks.

Pros:

  • Very accurate HR readings.
  • Light and unobtrusive.
  • Accompanying apps are well thought out and are feature packed.
  • Great fit, 4 customizable fit.
  • One of the best sounding buds that I’ve listened to.
  • Works with a host of popular fitness apps.
  • Supports NFC on top of the standard BT 4.0.
  • U.S. Military standards for weather, shock, sand and dust protection.
  • Trivia:
    • Jabra is an official performance partner for the ITU World Triathlon Series
    • Jabra has won numerous accolades like the T3 Gold Award, CNet’s Editor’s Choice, Red Dot Mobile Choice – Best Accessory, CES Innovation, and iF Product Design Award.

Cons:

  • Premium pricing could put it above many’s budget. There’s the non-HRM Jabra Sport Rox Wireless which has many of the SPW’s features.
  • Battery life of 5.5 hours could be better.
  • Inconsistent read out of pace when the battery levels are low.

Word of caution: Please exercise caution when plugging in during an outdoor workout. Be always mindful of traffic and other safety threats. The majority of my testing occurred at the KLCC Park where there are high human traffic. I don’t recommend running solo with the ears plugged. Always use your better judgment and never listen at extreme levels of volume.

Disclaimer: The Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless is a review unit courtesy of Jabra Singapore. It retails for RM899 (post-GST) and is now available at all ALL IT Hypermarket Sdn Bhd, epiCentre, Machines, Radioshack and Viewnet Computer Systems around the country. You can learn more about the Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless here.

Previously reviewed on April 17, 2015

AfterShokz Trekz Titanium Headphone Review

In all of my reviews on earbuds and earphones, I’ve always emphasized on the importance of exercising safety when considering running outdoors to music. I’ve my personal safety protocol when it comes to running with earbuds plugged in.

Music continues to feature in many of my runs these days, more so these days having moved nearly half of my weekday sessions to 5:30am. On double days, I alternate between the outdoors and the treadmill. Without some kind of diversion, I wouldn’t be able to get through the miles without losing my sanity!

When I read about a new sports headphones to hit the Malaysian shores recently that focuses on safety, my interest was piqued. Relying on bone-conduction, the AfterShokz Trekz Titanium (ATT) lets you listen through teeny vibrations generated by patented transducers which are then conducted to the wearer’s inner ear by way of the cheekbones. As you can guess, that method leaves the ear canals uncovered, all the better to allow the wearer retain a fantastic level of situational awareness. I’ve put the gear to test and came away pretty impressed. There are some compelling pluses and some areas which can be improved, so let’s get to it.

Where are the earphones? I was wearing it when I took this shot. 😀

The ATT comes in a medium-sized box and inside is where you’ll find a zippered soft carry case, a QRG (Quick Reference Guide), a pair of foam earplugs, a pair of silicone FitBand (should you require a snugger fit), a micro USB cable, and a small 2-year warranty card with online registration. The earphones itself is made of flexible titanium encased in silicone sleeve so you can confidently handle the device with confidence. The micro USB charging port is located under the rubber seal and 45-minute charge from a PC topped up the juice – charge indicator will change from red to blue. The unit probably still had a good amount of juice left hence the shorter than the published period of 90 minutes.

Micro USB port for charging.
Blue = fully charged!

The Volume Up button doubles up as the power button as well and the wearer will be greeted by a female voice prompt. The first pairing was with my iPhone which was very easily and quickly done.

Pairing was very easily done.
Bluetooth and battery level indicator are displayed on the phone.

From then on, it was a matter of getting acquainted with the unique listening experience. Unique because with the other earbuds, surrounding sounds are always blocked out, allowing for an immersive musical experience. With the AfterShokz, you get to hear everything from the sound of the photocopier, colleagues chatting and of course, your music. Audio quality (AQ) is a mixed bag. On paper, the frequency response ranges from 20Hz to 20KHz, which isn’t the most dynamic in the market. Given that the Trekz Titanium adopts an open-ear concept, the music will always lose the low-ends. If you’re looking for thumping bass, the ATT will not impress. However, the mids and highs were surprisingly open and presented with great clarity. The AQ will vary by wearer due to anatomical differences, sensitivity to frequencies and how one positions the device. You do have the option to stick the 2 foam plugs in to block off the outside noise resulting in AQ changes – bass levels are immediately boosted, ideal for casual listening when not working out.

A point worth noting is that there’s a little sensation of vibration when music is being played depending on how loud you’ve set the volume. It isn’t uncomfortable but I thought it’s something I should mention.

Sweating profusely but the ATT still held on nicely.

With the indoor listening out of the way, it was time to take the ATT outdoors. Since I dislike lugging my phone when I run, I paired the headphones to the iPod Nano 7th Gen. To pair the ATT to another device, just hold down the power button to put it back into search mode. The Bluetooth pairing was quicker than my Garmin in acquiring a sat lock, so it was a very quick affair as well.

Again, there was practically no bounce from the ATT, even when the pace picked up. I was able to detect all ambient sounds, passing traffic, approaching vehicles from behind and to even engage in a conversation. It was as if I was running to background music rather than an in-your-face experience. If anything, I found toggling the volume to be a rather fastidious affair, finding it hard to engage the correct buttons.

The ATT fits over the ear and the transducers rest just in front of your ear, on your cheekbone. Looking at the Trekz Titanium’s band, I thought that the headphones will bounce a fair bit as I run but none of that happened. Well, I’m pleased to report that I thought wrong. The fit was secure from the get-go. Changing of the tracks were easily done with the multi-function button on the left earpiece. Double-tapping it will advance to the next track while triple-tapping it will reverse the selection. Pausing requires a single tap as is taking a call (which I separately tested at home) via 2 noise-canceling mics located at the tip of both earpieces.

Techies will be interested in the spec sheet below:

 

So the AfterShokz has surprised me. Granted, one shouldn’t expect ground-shaking audiophile quality music (even though the mids and highs are pretty sweet) out of it but as workout headphones with a strong emphasis on safety, it performs as described. A few friends and I remarked that it would be nice if a 4GB flash memory for music storage can be incorporated into the left earpiece so that there’s no need to carry around another MP3 player or phone.

Pluses:

  • Excellent situational awareness.
  • Bluetooth.
  • Good fit with no bounce.
  • Very easy to connect.
  • Voice prompt.
  • IP55 sweat-resistance.
  • 6-hour battery life should accommodate most training runs.
  • Open mids and highs.
  • Reasonable pricing for a pair of Bluetooth earphones.

Can Be Improved:

  • No internal flash storage.
  • Weak low end
  • Access to volume controls needed some getting used to.

Word of caution: Regardless of the earphone design, please be always mindful of traffic and other safety threats. Always use your better judgment and never listen at extreme levels of volume.

AfterShokz Trekz Titanium is distributed by Distexpress (M) Sdn Bhd and retails for RM499. is available at TheMarathonShop outlets.

Disclosure: The product was made available for my use as an AfterShokz Ambassador.

Previously reviewed on June 22nd, 2016

Book Review: You Know You Are A Runner by Richard McChesney

 

Runners and their idiosyncrasies have been well documented and a source of jokes around the carbo loading parties for ages. Not only we acknowledge (and celebrate, woo hoo!!!) all the weird behaviors and rituals but our other halves have had to bear with our “issues” and quirkiness too. There have been books written about it but none quite yet as presented in the manner of You Know You Are A Runner.

It takes a runner to know another and author Richard McChesney certainly captures our behaviors succinctly through his captions and the 40 illustrations created by UK based professional cartoonists, Steve Bright (Brighty) and Robert Brocksmith (Brock). Being the race director for the Lower Hutt park run in New Zealand where he lives, I’m sure he has come across many unique characters.

Both genders of runners are not spared in his book, and body parts, love of apparels, stress testing and holiday planning are only some of the subjects lampooned. I can think of a few more but perhaps McChesney and his cohorts will cook up a sequel.

The book is a very quick read (too quick, in fact 🙂 – that’s what happens when a fun publication on the thing we love to do comes out) and is available exclusively on Amazon for USD2.99 (Kindle version) and US7.99 (paperback).

You Know You Are a Runner… is the first book in the “You Know You Are” series. Other upcoming releases for this year include:

• You Know You Are A Golfer…
• You Know You Are A Nurse…
• You Know You Are A Dog Lover…
• You Know You Are 50…
• You Know You Are An Engineer…

Visit www.YouKnowYouAreBooks.com to join their mailing list and be notified when future titles are released, or find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/YouKnowYouAreBooks, or on twitter (@YouKnowYouAreBK).

Originally published: Aug 4th, 2013

Book Review: Overthinking the Marathon by Ray Charbonneau

From the author of “R Is For Running: A Primer For The Footsore” and “Chasing The Runner’s High” [both previously reviewed here], comes his latest book on “Overthinking the Marathon“.

More a compilation of a series of diary entries spanning 5 months, Charbonneau’s latest documents his preparations leading up to the 2012 Cape Cod Marathon (CCM), one of the most scenic marathons in the US. He’s frank from the outset to warn readers though that the book is not a training manual nor a collection of stories of an elite runner or a unique adventure of 7 races over 7 continents. However after reading the 366-page tome, I can say that Charbonneau’s quite a machine.

If you’ve been running for a number of years, been the competitive type and are already racing in the veteran category, you’ll definitely understand the nagging feeling that your best race is still out there. When Father Time is catching up, when the aches and soreness from the running are taking a little longer to abate, and when a past injury revisits. Yet when The Calling resonates louder and louder, you just need to answer it. Plan your goal race, lay out your plan and get to the starting line ready to answer the calling.

Charbonneau, a house-husband, is no slouch (he’s BQ’d numerous times) and his personal bests and distances covered are what I could only dream of and so you pretty much know that he prepared for CCM from nearly every angle. Which involves plenty of cycling, kayaking, strength training (Page 100 even has photos of him executing a few core exercises), trail running, massage, acupuncture, and one case a training run of ultra distance when he lost his way during a training run and ended up logging 35 miles! In case you’re curious, his training plan is similar to that of the FIRST program. You would’ve guessed already in the first place, with the variety of activities he put in.

Organized in a daily recap format, the going was a little tedious at first but as race day draws nearer, we share in his excitement. All the pre-race rituals like monitoring the weather, getting a pre-race haircut (see, I’m not the only one who does that!), selecting his race day shoe (Hyperspeed 4) and putting up a packing list. His goal? 3:27:59. I’ll leave the question whether he succeeded or otherwise for you to find out.

Suffice to say that  Charbonneau won’t be quitting running anytime now and will be looking to many more races including the 2014 Comrades amongst many other ultras. I learnt among many things that while we may think that our last race will be the one we’ve ran our best, the truth is that we will keep on running and racing “simply because the activity itself is the reward”. If that’s something all runners can’t relate to, I don’t know what will.

This book is recommended!

About the author:
Ray Charbonneau lives in Arlington, MA with his wife and their two cats. You can often find Ray and Ruth out on the streets running, but Felix and Phoebe stay inside. His stories have appeared in both national dead-tree publications and landfill-saving electronic formats. Find out more at www.y42k.com and on Facebook. Find out where you can get your copy of “Overthinking the Marathon” here.

Originally published: Feb 25th, 2013

Book Review: 101 Winning Racing Strategies For Runners by Jason Karp

Click on image to get to the Amazon.com page

At only 152 pages Jason Karp’s book 101 Winning Racing Strategies for Runners is a quick and easy read. It’s much less intimidating than one of the many process manuals in my workplace! Short needn’t be a bad thing as Karp focuses on the essential details. The book is structured according to themes such as Winning Training for Racing Strategies, Winning Pre-Racing Strategies, Winning During-Racing Strategies, and Other Winning Racing Strategies. By now, you’d have guessed that this book is geared towards those who want to train for a race and to better their timing. It’s perfectly fine if you’re in the sport just for social reasons and to stay healthy. For the rest, this book will give you a framework on how to approach your running and racing in a systematic manner.

Many pointers shared by Karp are not new to seasoned campaigners but with this book, you don’t have to stay in the game for years to learn the hard way.In the first module, “Winning Training for Racing Strategies”, Karp spend some time talking about the importance of training smarter and with purpose. This section resonates with me as a person seeking to improve my racing times on top of a hectic lifestyle and ties in to the training program I’m using presently. Another point that I agree is Tip # 8 “Spend time running at faster speeds” – one simply has to train the body to perform at a level it’s expected to be racing on. Other aspects covered include among many other areas, hills, drills, running economy, intervals, periodization, and training consistencies.

“Winning Pre-Racing Strategies” introduces the mental aspect of racing. Think of it as psy-warfare for racing. Here, you can expect the advice that coaches will drill into their runners, except in this case with the book, you’ll get some benefits (you can’t replace having a coach, really) of having a coach. With sections on mind games, self pep-talk, race planning, working out a sustainable pace, you can be forgiven if you have visions of Sir Alex Ferguson standing in front of you! This was the module that I enjoyed the most. Many of the points put forth are not as obvious to those training without the guidance of coaches.

Racing tactics come next in the third module “Winning During-Racing Strategies”. Here, Karp shares various methods where the runner can employ given various situations. You’ll learn when to sit and kick, whether to run even or negative splits, surging, how to pass others, staying aggressive while maintaining situational awareness. These are just some of the tips given out in this module and once you’re through with this section, you’ll gain an extra measure of respect for the way the elites approach their racing.

The final module “Other Winning Racing Strategies” covers wide ranging topics from understanding estrogen to learning from past races to becoming a tougher runner. I found some of the tips to be fillers eg “Don’t race when fatigued” and “Wear the right shoes” but some may overlook the obvious. Nevertheless I like Tip #78 “Know the why behind the how”.

Some tips are for pretty hardcore racers out to not only win but also create enemies, something most of us won’t be found doing. For example Tips 40 “Get a scouting report of the opponents” and 45 “Say something debilitating to an opponent at the starting line”. I don’t think it’s something Ryan Hall would do or say to Dathan Ritzenhein, for example. But I suppose there will be overachievers out there who will resort (yup, I’m using the “resort” word) to these approaches. Perhaps the world of elite racing is a dog-eat-dog world too 🙂

In conclusion, I find the book to be a very good primer towards performance based running. The writing style is easy to read with little meandering. It therefore gets the information to the runner and out of the way so that the he can get going in shaping up his training program – a training program that suits the level of commitment required to get to their goals. If you want to check the book out, just hit the image at the top of this review.

About the author

Dr. Jason Karp is a nationally-recognized running and fitness coach, freelance writer and author, and exercise physiologist. He owns RunCoachJason.com, a state-of-the-science running coaching and personal training company in San Diego, California. As one of America’s foremost running experts and the 2011 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, Dr. Karp is a trusted source of information. Through his writing, conference presentations, DVDs, and numerous print and television interviews on topics related to running and fitness, he brings the state of the science directly to the public. A sought after speaker on running and fitness, Dr. Karp is a frequent presenter at national coaching and fitness industry conferences, including U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, American College of Sports Medicine, IDEA World Fitness Convention, SCW Fitness MANIA, National Strength and Conditioning Association, ECA World Fitness Convention, and FitnessFest, among others. He has taught USA Track & Field’s highest level coaching certification and was an instructor at the USATF/U.S. Olympic Committee’s Emerging Elite Coaches Camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. He also holds clinics for runners, coaches, and fitness professionals.

He is a prolific writer, with more than 200 articles published in numerous international coaching, running, and fitness trade and consumer magazines, including Track Coach, Techniques for Track & Field and Cross Country, New Studies in Athletics, Running Times, Runner’s World, Women’s Running, Marathon & Beyond, Fitness Management, IDEA Fitness Journal, PTontheNet.com, Shape, Oxygen, SELF, Ultra-Fit, and Maximum Fitness, among others. He is also author of five books: Running a Marathon For Dummies (Wiley, 2012), Running for Women (Human Kinetics, 2012), 101 Winning Racing Strategies for Runners (Coaches Choice, 2012), 101 Developmental Concepts & Workouts for Cross Country Runners (Coaches Choice, 2010), and How to Survive Your PhD (Sourcebooks, 2009).

Dr. Karp has coached cross country and track at the high school, college, and elite club levels. In 1997, at age 24, he became one of the youngest collegiate head coaches in the country, leading the Georgian Court University (NJ) women’s cross country team to the regional championship and winning honors as NAIA Northeast Region Coach of the Year. His personal training experience ranges from elite athletes to cardiac rehab patients. As a private coach and founder of REVO2LT Running TeamTM, he has helped many runners meet their potential, ranging from a first-time race participant to an Olympic Trials qualifier. He has been profiled in a number of publications and received the fitness industry’s highest award in 2011. A competitive runner, Dr. Karp is a nationally-certified running coach through USA Track & Field, is sponsored by PowerBar as a member of PowerBar Team EliteTM, and sits on the advisory board of the Egg Nutrition Center.

Dr. Karp received his PhD in exercise physiology with a physiology minor from Indiana University in 2007, his master’s degree in kinesiology from the University of Calgary in 1997, and his bachelor’s degree in exercise and sport science with an English minor from Penn State University in 1995. His research has been published in the scientific journals Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, and International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. He has taught at several universities and currently teaches dissertation writing at the University of California-San Diego.

Follow Jason on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dr-Jason-Karp/211019085601110
https://twitter.com/#!/runcoachjason
http://www.youtube.com/user/runcoachjason?feature=guide

Originally published: October 18th, 2012

Book Review: Chasing the Runner’s High By Ray Charbonneau

Click to go to the Amazon.com page

In “Chasing The Runner’s High“, Ray Charbonneau tells the story that would be familiar to most runners out there. The progression from running track in high school to running his first marathon, to qualifying for Boston, dealing with injuries and overdoing it, and subsequently tackling on the ultra-marathon. In many ways, his story could’ve been any of ours. You know how obsessive we are in our pre-race rituals, running gear and tracking of our weekly mileage?

And we do know about the lure of racing don’t we? Charbonneau caught the racing bug in such a big way that he literally raced himself to injury. Of special note was the candor with which Charbonneau talked about his addiction to alcohol and his subsequent realization that he had to make a decision to keep on running. We often have to question what we seek in this sport. Is it to discover how fast we can run or how far we can go? There aren’t many who can balance the pursuit of both goals without having to pay a hefty price. I like the fact that the author pointed that out that we often had to make a choice.

Part autobiography, part collection of reports and part cautionary tale, Charbonneau’s writing style is straight-forward and easy to read. The narrative does rambles occasionally and some race reports are pretty detailed like his maiden attempt at the ultra Midsummer Lights Relay and the Vermont 50, where he ran off course. Folks looking to get some training programs won’t find them in this book. 2 Appendices providing advice for new runners wrap up the 11-chaptered book.

Overall the book is a good early effort by Charbonneau and I look forward to more experiences as he tackles the roads and trails ahead.

About the author:

Ray Charbonneau lives in Arlington, MA with his wife and their two cats. You can often find Ray and Ruth out on the streets running, but Felix and Phoebe stay inside.

Ray is the author of the books “Chasing the Runner’s High: My Sixty Million-Step Program” and “R is for Running“. His stories have appeared in both national dead-tree publications and landfill-saving electronic formats. Find out more at www.y42k.com.

Originally published: June 3rd, 2012

Book Review: R Is For Running By Ray Charbonneau

Click to go to the Amazon.com page

First of the two books by Ray Charbonneau that I’ve just completed is “R Is For Running: A Primer For The Footsore“. You’ll have guessed correctly from the title that the publication is a lighthearted one.

Charbonneau shapes the book – more a booklet actually – in the format of a 4-lined stanza per alphabet, easily consumed in one sitting or over 26 days at one alphabet a day dosage.

Non-runners or newbies may not be able to catch some of the tongue-in-cheek humour but recite the verses in a room full of seasoned road warriors, and you’ll see knowing nods all round. The chuckle factor varies quite a bit from some pretty average takes to succinct ones. For example the one on DNF closes with the advice to “go home to mend” which is the best thing for one to do.

I found myself wishing for more examples. For example the letter T was represented by “Trophy” when “Taper” could’ve been included. Perhaps the additional material could be used for a follow-up ?

So what’s my favourite alphabet? It’s got to be “E”.

E is for Endorphins
The runner’s high
They’re what we’re all chasing
One answer to “why”.

And don’t let anyone whistle the Sesame Street theme while you read that!  You can find “R Is For Running” at this Amazon.com link .

Originally published: May 28th, 2012