The Running Geek … part 2

As I was saying …

At the start of this year I’ve tried to go running using bluetooth earphones, and met with mixed poor results. Alongside the bluetooth earphones I had also decided to try and do away with bringing my phone with me whilst running. I previously owned a Sony Xperia Z, and the earphone socket showed the pink hue on the hydration detector suggesting it had at some point come into contact with water, and the back had begun to lift away from the chassis. The waterproof flaps were also showing signs of regular use, and overall it was just feeling a bit tired – and on the odd occasion the microphone wouldn’t work on phone calls. All of this was probably not helped by being brought on runs in an armband which would inevitably end up quite damp, due to running in the rain, and also due to my previously mentioned propensity to sweat profusely. The fact that the armband was designed for the slightly smaller Galaxy Nexus phone (at times I can be quite cheap [not that the OH would believe me] and re-use stuff that isn’t quite right for the job) didn’t help either. Anyway … I quite liked the idea of a new Nexus phone, but the Nexus 6 wasn’t available quite yet, so I ended up with a Huawei Ascend Mate 7. I could write lots about what I like and don’t like about this phone, however that’s not really the point here.

Ditch the phone, and get a watch

The Ascend Mate 7 definitely doesn’t fit the armband to go running, and is pretty large, so I had in mind to get some kind of watch. I liked the idea of a Garmin, Polar, or TomTom fitness watch, preferably with heart rate sensor. However, these are quite expensive (see, I really can be cheap!) – especially for a watch that I’d likely only wear whilst running, which given my available time might amount to one hour per week. I then quite liked the look of the FitBit Surge, however it was also not available at the time I was buying. Also, I’ve learnt that although getting data into FitBit is easy, getting that data out is not so straightforward and as far as I’m aware the FitBit Surge wouldn’t really integrate with other apps I might like to use. None of these options also provided an ability for listening to podcasts whilst running either. At this point I decided to look to smartwatches as a potential option.

GPS was a necessity – the whole point is to ditch the phone so I didn’t have to run with it. That narrowed the options drastically to either the Samsung Gear S Watch which runs Tizen or the Sony Smartwatch 3 which runs Android Wear. Neither of which would pass the OH’s ‘is it ugly?’ test though. Not being a fan of the Samsung Android styling, and having liked the Sony phone I had, I went for the Sony Smartwatch 3.

The Not-so Good

Almost immediately I found some limitations – syncing media content to the phone is not something that many apps do. As far as I’m aware only Google Play Music and the Sony Walkman will sync music across to the watch. Pocketcasts is my podcast app of choice and at the time had no Android Wear support. OK, slight compromise, I’ll listen to music whilst I run. I had tried a number of running apps on my phone – Endomondo, Runtastic, Strava, and Runkeeper (I’m persistent …), and whilst some of these did support Wear, it was really only to remote control the app on the phone. In other words you were expected to take the phone with you! Not exactly what I had in mind – but probably due to not many watches having GPS therefore not being a focus of development. This has improved lately, however the best application is still the independently developed Ghostracer which could upload data to Strava (and now Runkeeper too).

The watch also takes a bit of time to acquire a GPS lock – phones typically use their SIM to help optimise the location identification, whereas this is not available on the watch, and as far as I’m aware phones can also cache Satellite data to help speed up location services, and this is also not available on the watch. You can manually start the GPS under the watch’s ‘developer options’ which I generally do on my walk over to where I run hoping that a lock has been acquired by the time I get there (the subway tunnel does not help this though). Otherwise there’s a bit of standing around looking like a dork waiting for the watch to lock onto the GPS satellites …

The Good

When the bluetooth earphones worked it was great running with just the watch and listening to music. When not running, having the watch mirror notifications from the phone was something I got used to quite quickly and would have to say it’s ‘nice to have’, but not exactly essential. The watch also supports Google Fit, and counts steps so this could at some point replace the FitBit I still use (although it seems as though the Google Fit step counting can be a bit varied at times). The Sleep as Android app could also potentially replace the sleep monitoring function of the FitBit too. And, it tells the time too, which is a bit of a bonus (except for the embarrassing time I changed the watch face and read the time wrong when asked … problem exists between watch and brain [pebwab] in this instance).

The annoying …

The recent update to version 5.1.1 added wifi, wrist gestures, and a screen lock – but does seem to have introduced GPS lock problems.

Here’s a nice Strava entry from early February: https://www.strava.com/activities/250676755

This was run in the halcyon days of the watch and wireless earphones working in perfect harmony. 3 external laps and one internal lap, all neatly recorded.

Here’s a not-so nice Strava entry from last night: https://www.strava.com/activities/321682771

Same route, GPS locked at the start of the run – no earphones, and using the Polar chest strap heart rate monitor.

Both of these should be following the same route. Last night I’d noticed the distance wasn’t updating after a while so paused for a bit to try and re-acquire GPS lock (with a bit of swearing at the watch too). Apparently, GPS issues have been reported by other users (on all versions of Android Wear on the Smartwatch 3). I’d be quite tempted to downgrade back to an earlier release, but that seems to be impossible (or at least very difficult – so possibly a weekend job). Some suggestions are to factory reset the watch after the update to 5.1.1, so I’ve done that and will be testing again later this week.

Ignoring the garbage statistics – I do know that I definitely run faster in the winter months. Given it was 30C and horribly humid last night, this isn’t exactly surprising though.

Where does this leave things?

I have a suspicion I’ll be back out running with a phone in the next few weeks – it acquires GPS better, and I can listen to my podcasts/music more reliably. In conclusion – this has not been one of my more successful technology ideas …

[Another 1100+ words – this time on wearing a watch …]

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