Monday, October 28, 2013

MIO Alpha Heart Rate Monitor Review

Hey... happy Monday!

Going to kick this week off with a review of a cool gadget from MIO!  So, what does MIO make?  Well, their most current product is the MIO Alpha heart rate monitoring watch.  I received this watch several months ago, but have only recently begun to really use it.  I also have an HR strap that works with my Garmin that I had used a few times, but am using it more now as well.

Why? Well, I've made the change over to doing some heart rate (HR) based training.  I became interested in this when Mark over at Paleo Runners started a tracking/training exercise on Facebook and also wrote a great blog post about HR training.  Click HERE to check it out.. and then come right back :-)

Back?  ok..  so I did a MAF test a few weeks ago, and am going to retest later this week to see if I can see any improvement.  During these few weeks I have been limiting my HR to the threshold rate (for me 132-142).  At first that meant a lot of walking.. but I'm slowly building up a better pace at this fixed HR... pretty cool!

 Anyway, so this is where the MIO Alpha comes in.  What makes the Alpha so cool is that it doesn't require wearing a chest strap (which can be uncomfortable, and more so for women runners is my guess).

Instead, the MIO Alpha uses an optical sensor in the base of the watch to gather HR data accurately and easily.  When comparing the data from the Alpha and my Garmin chest strap, I found that they were pretty much in synch, with the Alpha reflecting a more stable count than my Garmin, which bounced around once in a while.   Also, my Garmin strap doesn't monitor very well until I get a little perspiration going, then it seems to settle down.

The MIO Alpha is really easy to use.  Once you put the watch on (snugly), and hit the button, it takes anywhere from 20-40 seconds to find your HR.  And once it does, it stays locked on pretty well.  The only time I experienced any issues was when it was well below freezing and my arm was exposed. (After looking at the specs, the operating environment is 41F to 113F, so I guess I should keep my arm warmer :-) ).

The Alpha comes with a slick little magnetic USB recharger that makes it easy to charge.  And, in exercise mode, the watch will run 8-10 hours on a charge, and obviously much longer in watch mode.

Other features include a visual cue for your HR tracking while exercising.  The blue light you see above will pulse blue when you are below your set HR threshold, green when in the range, and red when you go over your max threshold (that you can set to whatever you choose).

Beyond that, the watch will track elapsed time and time of day as well.

Now, as far as other features go, this is where I think the MIO Alpha is a bit challenged.  The model I tested is Bluetooth Smart (4.0) compatible, which means it can talk to a several smartphone fitness apps like Strava and Wahoo Fitness.  My problem is I don't own or run with a smartphone.  Yes, I realize I'm probably one of the last few people out there that haven't made the leap!   So, without that connectivity, I don't have anyway to track my HR stats against a workup, which I can do with my Garmin.  For me however, I am not as concerned about that, as my primary need is a way to accurately know where my HR is so that I can slow down or speed up accordingly.  For this purpose, the MIO Alpha works outstandingly well.

The only negatives I can offer about this watch would be the potential connectivity issue AND it has no backlight!!  That really drove me crazy.. especially when running in the dark.  Finally, when you couple that with a $199 price tag (more than I paid for my Garmin 410 which is a full featured GPS and HR), it may be hard to justify a purchase.  That being said however, there is no question that the technology is amazing, accurate and easy to use. The watch is really comfortable, and I think it looks great too! If you can't use a strap, or hate using them, and run with one of the compatible fitness apps.. and you are focused on HR training.. then this could be a great fit.

If you want to see more info and specs, check out MIO by clicking HERE .  And, if you are interested in reading more, check out this be all/end all review from the master gadget reviewer DC Rainmaker by clicking HERE.

Happy Trails!


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Listen Up! Part 2: AfterShokz and Denon Exercise Freak Review and Giveaway!

Hey...  welcome to Part II of my Listen Up reviews on earphones and ear buds.  Part II you say? When was Part I?  Well, you have to go way way back to June 2012 when I reviewed the One Good Earphone from Far End Gear.  Just click HERE to go back in time and check it out.

So... what's up in this review?  Two really cool products from Denon and AfterShokz. 
I am not really one to run with headphones.  Most of my runs are on the trail or road and I like to be able to hear what is going on around me, and I don't necessarily need music to accompany my runs.

The exceptions would be the time I spend running on the treadmill (dead of winter only), or when running laps at the school track next door.  And during those times, it's not always music, but often podcasts as well.

That being said, I do really love music, so I was happy to have an opportunity to check these products out.  So if you love music, and love running with music, check out the reviews below, and of course take a moment to enter to win :-)

First up is a really cool product from AfterShokz.   The model I tested out was the Sportz M2 with mic.  So, what makes these uber cool?  Bone Conduction Technology...  that's right.... these headphones use military special ops technology to transmit sound directly through your temporal bone (skull) to your ear drum!

Ok... this isn't only just wicked cool, it also allows you to keep your ears unplugged and available to hear your surroundings.  This was a huge plus for me, as the sound restriction is a big reason why I don't run with ear buds.

It was a little weird at first, but after wearing these for a bit, it was really cool to be able to hear your music, and also hear what is going on around you.  The best I can compare it to would be like running with someone carrying a speaker behind you playing your music.  If you have it up loud, it may be harder to hear your surroundings, but certainly better than with plugs in your ears.

I did several runs with these and I was really happy with the comfortable over the ear fit, and they way they stayed put.  As for sound quality?  You certainly can't compare it to ear buds, especially the noise reduction ones, but I found the quality to be decent and well worth the trade off for being a bit safer and more comfortable.  I also found that if I shifted them around just a little bit I could find the right spot on my jaw to get the best sound.  And of course, without any holes etc, they proved to be extremely sweat proof.

The headphones are rechargeable via a USB connector and the control base clips easily to a shirt collar or hydration pack strap.  The controls include an on/off, volume, and a mic button.  Yes, these also serve as a headset for your mobile phone.  I don't have a smart phone, so this wasn't a feature I required, so I didn't give the mic portion a test.  As I noted, the over the ear fit was very comfortable and easy to run in.

Bottom line... terrific product with awesome technology. If you love to run with tunes, but want to be a little safer, this would be a great way to go!  The Sportz M2 with mic retails for $79.95 and the Sportz model without mic at $69.95.  I believe you can also find these at Office Depot.  BUT.. of course, stick around, click a few things below and enter to win a pair from the great folks at AfterShokz!

Ok... next up is the wireless Exercise Freak from Denon.  First of all, the Denon name is well known for high-end audiophile equipment.  I know that back in my college days, Denon amps were sought after for their clean powerful performance.  How long ago was that?  Let's just say that at the time MTV played music videos.. yeah, I'm that old.

What makes these cool?  Well, they are wireless (via bluetooth), function as a phone headset/mic, and of course they put out some really great sound (as would be expected).  Again, the trade-off for me is the blocking of outside sounds, so I use these primarily for track, treadmill, and riding lawnmower action.

The ear buds come with a handy little case, with 4 sizes of ear buds, and a USB charging cord. Also the behind the head wire has a reflective finish which is a great safety feature.   I did test these out running (on the track), as well as just listening while working, and of course while riding my classic 1986 Dynamark 18 HP 42" cut riding lawnmower...   yeah, that's right.. I know you are jealous.. I'm going to have to put up a full review for other tractor nerds that like mowing the back 40.. or back 1 :-)

But, I am getting sidetracked.  Back to the Exercise Freak AH-W150.   In addition to my testing, I also loaned these out to my sister-in-law to try out on a business trip.  She's a marathoner that runs with tunes and a smart phone, so I thought she could put it to a good test.  Here are her unedited bullet points on these:

-used them on a 10 mile run in SF in the middle of August; it was sunny and pretty humid
-super easy to set up the blue-tooth with my phone
-good sound; humidity/sweat did not seem to have an impact
-they did cut out at random intervals when I had my phone in my pocket...about 3/4 way through the run I started holding my phone and that seemed to help
-they were comfortable, and lightweight
-it was really annoying when the sound cut out, but otherwise they were great .

I thought the sound and sweat resistance were excellent as well.  I did get the same issue with it cutting out a few times while I had my iPod in my pocket.  So, it could be that if you bury your phone, or it is too far away, you could experience this issue.  Again, it was very brief, but could prove to be annoying.  When I had my iPpod in my hand or in my handheld, I didn't experience that issue.

The only other thing for me was that it took me a bit to find the right earbud size, and to get them situated on my ear in such a way that they were comfortable.  It seemed to take a little work, but maybe I have weird ears... probably.  My sister-in-law found them to be comfortable.. and her ears look pretty normal :-)

Currently the AH-W150 is selling for $149 on the Denon website (normally $179) and I've seen them on Amazon for as low as $109.  Besides black, they come in pink, yellow and blue as well.  A little pricey in my mind, but if you are looking for ear buds that are blue-tooth, sweat proof, and function as a headset for your smart phone, these are probably worth the investment.

Well.. there you have it. For those of you that run with tunes, I hope this helped shed some light on some great products.  But first and foremost, run safe! And, if you are interested in the scoop on even more ear buds, check out this post from Paleo Runners by clicking HERE.

Ok, as promised, I am happy to announce that AfterShokz would like to provide one of my lucky readers with a pair of M2's..   if you want to win some, you know the drill...   see the Rafflecopter entry form below!  I will run this contest until 10pm MST, Thursday October 24th, 2013.  Open to residents of the U.S. and Canada... good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Happy Trails!


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Minimalist Packing: Gobi Gear Hobo Roll Review and Giveaway!

Ok... so when I first heard about the Hobo Roll, this is the first thing that popped into my mind..  As I did a little searching for a photo, I learned that the classic bag on a stick is called a Bindle... so there you go. The first minimalist back pack!  :-)

Hobo Roll by Gobi Gear

But, what you see above is what a Hobo Roll actually is...   a pretty sweet compression bag for packing up your stuff!  What's special about it?  The Hobo Roll is designed with 5 compartments, and draw string at each end, and some serious compression straps to compact it all down.

 According to Gobi Gear, who makes the Hobo Roll, this slick traveling bag will reduce packing volume by 50% and allows easy organization and access to your gear.  Also, the bag is designed to be tough but also lightweight.

Per the product site, the specs are:

Dimensions: 15″ long x 10″ diameter (38cm x 25cm)
Weight: 3.5 ounces/100 grams
Capacity: 1160 cubic inches/19 liters

Now, before I give you my review of the Hobo Roll, keep in mind that I am a terrible packer!  My wife (who is a true organizational and packing goddess), can easily pack twice as much into a box/suitcase than I ever can.  So, if I can pack stuff in this thing, then it certainly is a great tool for the packing challenged!

Ok... so not much to this bag at all, and it really isn't all that big... lets see what I can pack into it

Ok.. so I intentionally grabbed more stuff than I thought I could fit into this sack.  What I grabbed was:

2 Tech Shirts                                         2 pair underwear (boxers or briefs? boxer briefs..ha!)
1 Long Sleeve Cotton T (BRU)             1 pair road running shoes (Vivobarefoot The One)
1 pair walking shorts                              1 pair huaraches ("J"uaraches)
1 pair running shorts                               1 pair trail runners (New Balance Minimus 10V2)
2 pairs of Injinji toe socks                       1 Garmin 410 and charger
1 Olympus digital camera                        1 Nathan Quickdraw Elite handheld ( Hydrapak Gelbot)
1 toiletry bag with toothbrush etc etc..

Well...I got really close!!  And again, I think if I had taken my time, or employed the assistance of my better half, it could all fit.  But, I was surprised I got that much in there.

And, in a nice little compact bag that is easy to throw over your shoulder, tuck into another bag, or simply attach to a larger backpack etc.   Pretty cool... :-)

But, don't take my word for it.  If this looks like something you could use, check out Gobi Gear's web page here:    The Hobo Roll retails for $28 (and use code "Barefoot13" for 15% off), BUT... you know how I roll.. (pun intended)..   with a few clicks on the Rafflecopter thingy below, you can enter to win one!

Contest will run until 10PM MST, Monday October 7, 2013.  Contest is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada... thanks and good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Happy trails!


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the Hobo Roll for free from Gobi Gear as coordinated by Deep Creek PR an Outdoor Retailer Public Relations Company in consideration for review publication.