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Monday, January 18, 2016

Advances in Technology

When I began (seriously) running over 5 years ago (after my second knee surgery), multiple devices offered decent options for managing your training - IE GPS technology, heart rate monitors, and music (for those who run with music).  Not only were you able to accurately measure run distance, pace, elevation gains and losses (and much more), you could precisely measure heart rate and caloric burn - all with your favorite tunes!  For many runners, this meant carrying your smartphones with you as you ventured out on a run (using a variety of apps).  For me, I despised running with bulky devices and left the phone at home.

In my previous reviews, I discussed random electronic devices that worked for me (IE a Garmin 305 GPS wristwatch and an iPod Nano paired with the Nike+ foot sensor).  Well, much has changed since then.  I've upgraded to a Garmin 610 GPS wristwatch (picture 1) back in 2012, and downsized my music by purchasing an iPod shuffle touch (picture 2), which is much smaller than the Nano.  These devices have served me well over the years, but I was always yearning for something better.

Garmin Forerunner 610 GPS Wristwatch

iPod Shuffle Touch

The Garmin Forerunner 610 is a touch screen device that enables you to track your activity to the Garmin Connect website.  Garmin's website, or dashboard, is really easy to use and self explanatory.  It utilizes Google Maps architecture to overlay your run data onto a street map format (similar to a car GPS) or with actual satellite imagery (depends on how accurate the satellite imagery is for your respective location).  Initial setup was a pain; the 610 utilizes a bluetooth wireless transfer of data (unlike a tethered USB transfer cable like my older 305).  Pairing the 610 device with the USB bluetooth receiver was a pain, but thankfully I was able to sync it.  I already owned a Garmin Connect account, so configuring my account with the 610 was a breeze (much easier than the initial device pairing).  

Sync Issues: For all of my activities with the 610 (well over 3 years of use and several hundred miles), I'd say that 98% of my runs sync'd with no issues.  For the remainder of the runs (with sync issues), successful pairing of the 610 wristwatch with the bluetooth USB device was the root cause for delay.  This was apparent even after all firmware was updated.  A simple reboot of the computer and removal and re-insertion of the bluetooth USB device solved those sync issues.  Not bad considering the reliability and ease of corrective action.  It was designed to simply sync by placing the watch next to your computer (with bluetooth USB devices plugged in).  Not always so simple...

Touchscreen: The touchscreen on the 610 isn't so reliable.  The device has a power button, start/stop button, and reset/lap button.  There is also a "home" button on the face of the watch, but I found that it wouldn't work all of the time.  Additionally, I always have trouble navigating the menus of the device via the touchscreen.  It doesn't always work as advertised - a cursor button would have been more effective.

Faulty Heart Rate Monitor (chest style): Lastly, I purchased a separate heart rate monitor and paired it with the 610 (effortlessly, as compared to my initial pairing with the bluetooth USB device).  Unfortunately, Garmin's heart rate monitors lack the reliability of most heart rate monitors (IE as on treadmills or with other heath tracking devices).  This hear rate monitor was an absolute waste of my money, and I DO NOT recommend it to anyone.  I still use the 610 (minus hear rate monitor) and completely satisfied with it.  However, the device's days are coming to an end.  

iPod Shuffle Touch: As for the iPod shuffle touch, I never had any issues with this device.  I encountered an "anomaly" after my return from my recent plantar fascia injury; I discovered the iPod's battery depleted and recharged it prior to my latest activity.  Little did I know, that by allowing the iPod shuffle's battery to die, the device defaults to a date of 1 April 1970, even after an initial recharge prior to my activity!  Had I sync'd the device to iTunes first, I would have avoided this anomaly.  But, since I was unaware of this phenomenon, I unknowingly sync'd my iPod device (via iTunes) to my Nike+ account and the run data reflected a 1 April 1970 date.  Funny.  I had to call Nike+ representatives to resolve this issue.  A Nike+ representative answered the phone on the first ring and was able to fix the issue.  The reliability of the iPod and amazing customer support through the Nike+ team won me over (again).

Well where do we go from here?  I'll tell you.

I have been researching the latest in running and sports electronics technology and I think I have found what I've been looking for (over the past 5 years)!  TomTom makes a device called the Spark Cardio + Music (picture 3).  This device claims to provide the user with real-time hear rate monitoring capability (similar to a FitBit HR) and GPS tracking as well.  The music feature...  Well, they just got my attention!  I've been trying to find a device that incorporates ALL of the above features into one singular device.  And judging by the YouTube video reviews, TomTom has seemed to have nailed it with this watch!  Did I mention that it syncs run data to your Nike+ account?  Well, it does...  Boom!  I could possibly ditch the old watch w/faulty HR monitor, iPod, and Nike+ foot sensor.

TomTom Spark Cardio + Music

So far what I've read and observed in video reviews (regarding TomTom's claims on this device) is overwhelming (for me).  Here is a potential device that will allow me to accurately track my runs with GPS, provide a precise measurement of my heart rate throughout my workout, AND allow me to listen to music!  Voila!  I'm still learning about the device's capabilities, but so far I'm sold.  The only negative thing is the fact that I'll have to purchase bluetooth wireless sport earphones (which aren't cheap).  This device will also track your activity throughout a wide variety of workouts other than running - another bonus feature!

In summary, with this one device I can combine all of my older devices into one!  And, I'm getting more out of this by measuring my heart rate during a normal day's routine...  I'll have to check this out and report back to y'all when I have used it for a while.  Check back soon for a more thorough review on the TomTom Spark Cardio + Music.

As always, thanks for visiting my running page and stay safe out there!

Happy running and God bless!
"Fight the good fight, finish the race, and always keep faith"
2 Timothy 4:7

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