Reviews

I’m a self confessed gadget freak and another close shave with ebay and a ridiculously expensive but absolutely essential running watch has triggered the creation of this page – my homage to sports gadgets, gear and utilities that you can almost not afford to live without.

The Sports Watches

The sports watch seems to be my running gadget of choice and to date I have tried and reviewed the following: Swimovate Swimming watch, Garmin Forerunner 305, Garmin Forerunner 405, Garmin Forerunner FR60, Polar 800SD, Polar 200SD, Nike+ Sportband and the Adidas miCoach Pacer (the links take you through to my review pages).

Garmin Forerunner 405

Garmin Forerunner 405

The latest version of the amazing Forerunner series. The GPS running watch has now been packaged as an everyday watch and is now smaller than a brick. It has a swanky touch sensitive bezel and all new graphical features but it’s still no good for swimming.

Check out my review here.

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Garmin Forerunner 305

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This is a dream machine, its like one of those tamagotchi pets that you have to look after. My tamagotchi forerunner requires exercise and it’s nutrients come in the form of data – it physically pushes me out of the door with my trainers and forces me to find new routes to entertain it. I haven’t started stroking it yet but its a close call.

The 05-series looks a little more attractive than its predecessor (01-series) but its still a shed of a computer to put on your wrist, its never going to become your everyday watch. The 305 also has added heart rate functionality unlike the 205 model.

The forerunner is first and foremost a gps unit so this means maps, lots of em, you’ll find this blog littered with images of my routes. If you do the same route day in and day out you are rewarded with the same image – here lies the motivator to get out and run new routes and further distances and so on.

It’s been designed with runners in mind so it provides the typical data fields such as pace, distance, time etc but you can also set the exercise mode to bike or other so then you can switch speed for pace if thats more appropriate. Back with running, I have mine set to beep at each km to tell me what my average pace has been which is really useful for hassle free pacing in a race. If you really want to be sure of hitting your target you can set up a virtual racing partner and chase a dot around the screen – just be aware of lampposts, rivers and other obstacles.

The jewel in the forerunner’s crown is SportTracks an independant and free software utility that just rocks! More on that down the page.

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Polar RS800SD

I’m a sinner! Despite having proclaimed a serious commitment to the forerunner I appear to be shifting my affections towards another. So far I have been able to resist – it is after all, shockingly expensive – but ultimately resistance is futile, so I will attempt to rationalise my decision to have two all singing, all dancing running machines.

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This watch would be the absolute pinnacle of runners watches, if only it had gps functionality.

Polar have rightly chosen to stick with their speed sensor footpod to determine running distances and speed. I’ve mentioned before in my comparison of the Polar RS200SD and the Garmin Forerunner 305, that the polar model actually provides more useful information when you are out on the run as its pace reading is stable and reliable. GPS on the other hand tends to jump around a bit as the signal strength wavers, even on apparently clear days I have to alter my route a little in sporttracks as it keeps suggesting that I was running along the riverside path and alternately jumping from path to the middle of the river and back again.

The downside of the speed sensor model is that it doesn’t enable you to plot glorious little route maps of where you’ve been and also the foot pod isn’t a great way of telling how fast you are travelling on a bike or skis for example. Now if it had a little gps add-on, it would be made! Well what do you know? Polar have announced that a little GPS add-on will shortly be available for the RS800 so all my dreams are about to come true.

One of the other super useful features present on the RS800SD is that it measures cadence and stride length, I could have hours of fun tripping myself up as I try to both reduce my stride length and increase my cadence.

Oh and its waterproof, so if I ever did jump into the middle of the Thames or move to the tri-side I could still collect data.

Right, I’m sold, I’m just off to Ebay again……

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Running Shoes

I have tried out the Asics Gel Kayano 14, Mizuna Wave, Salomon Pro GTX, and Inov8 Mudclaws.

Asics Gel Kayano 14

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This is the latest incarnation of my favourite running shoe. The Asics Gel Kayano 14 is the high end offering in the asics stability range, and as such is designed for the mild overpronator. Like its predecessor the Kayano 13, it is one of the few shoes recommended for the heavier runner, which is perhaps why I am so attracted to it.

I wasn’t expecting a huge improvement between the Kayano 14 and the Kayano 13 but I have to say the new version is definitely more comfortable. I’ve had these two models under the spot light trying to find an explanation for the differences in the ride. There is an increased amount of gel around the rear foot and I’m pretty sure the foam at the heel has increased in thickness too. Apparently the foam is a new springier version and there is a new heel collar. Although I can’t tell the latter points by looking at the shoe I do get the sense that my foot is being held at the heel. It’s an odd sensation really, rather as though my foot is being guided onto the ground as I run. It makes me feel quite stable and sure footed and I found myself ducking and diving a bit on my first run with them.

Runnersworld tagged these as the “best update” in their spring shoe buyers guide and I have to agree. I got mine from Distance.co.uk who are offering the best deal I’ve found so far – the cheapeast price, free delivery and super prompt dispatch.

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Other Running related gadgetry

Nokia N95

Here’s my review of the all new, potential running wonder gadget, the Nokia N95.

Nokia N95 vs Samsung D900

This phone has a lot of similarities to the much hailed iPhone, in that it’s a do-all wonder phone. Differences are that the N95 is available now, does more but of course isn’t quite as pretty or desirable.

I got it cos I love Swiss army knife electronic gadgets and I sold it to myself on the basis that I would now be able to run with a lot less stuff in my pocket. This one phone replaces my old phone, an iPod, a 5MP compact camera and a GPS unit. Admittedly I never run with a compact camera, preferring to settle for the rather spiffing model included with my old super slim an’ sexy Samsung D900.

Nokia N95

So this now means I am running around with a considerably larger brick in my running shorts. I still haven’t weaned myself off the separate iPod either so I am going to have to work hard to prove the running wonder gadget claim. So far it just pulls my shorts around my ankles as I try to run.

Great features of the phone are its camera – a 5MP number with a load of different settings and in phone editing options. You can crop photos and then immediately upload them to flickr which is quite useful. I’ve never seen a phone camera with as many configurable settings. Quality is good too.

The video is of extraordinarily high quality but I seem incapable of uploading this to youtube without spending 2 days converting and then shredding with windows movie maker. The TdF movie I placed on the blog shows no resemblance to the version you see on the N95. I am clearly inept.

The best bit is the mapping feature. It has a built in GPS which will home in on your current location in a Google Earth style. You can either download the local maps to your memory card in advance or it will download the area as and when required. I’ve downloaded all the Prague maps so that I can find my hotel without recourse to a street map. Fingers crossed this works or me and my phone will become quite unpopular, quite soon.

The media player is again very good but I haven’t yet sussed out a very efficient way of loading my tracks onto the phone. I really need it to link with iTunes so I don’t have to do any faffing with new libraries and playlists and stuff but at the moment I am restricted to the application shipped in the box. I may come back to this when I’ve sussed out my options.

One weird thing with the phone is that shutting the slider doesn’t end a call. That has got me into trouble a few times when I have made comments about the call while still connected. There is a dble slider mechanism which acts to switch the layout between portrait and landscape and I imagine this is way it doesn’t close connections.

Its a doddle to connect up to the internet, using either my service provider network or any unsecured wireless LAN. This is a great thing because now I can access facebook from work and generally bypass their outrageous 15min internet restriction. An amazing number of sites work very well on the small screen.

I also wanted to get rid of my pda when I got the phone so I am now relying quite heavily on the calendar function. This is by no means as good as my dell axim version, as it is not easy to see what is lined up for a future week without looking at individual days. You can sync the calendar directly with google calendar or any iCal calendar by using goosync so I am currently trying to live my life out online. Hopefully I won’t miss anything too important in the teething stages.

It has a standard array of Office applications but unfortunately these are only viewers for reading email attachments. I think you can fork out for editable versions of these packages but that’s just too disappointing.

So in summary, it is not really your common or garden go-faster type of running gadget, more a gentle sauntering along, holding the waist band of you shorts sort of running gadget. It will encourage you to stop regularly to take amazing snaps of cows, edit them on the fly and then publish on-the-move, blog posts direct from flickr. You may also need to stop from time to time to confirm your location on the gps, search for the nearest pub and alter the route accordingly.

*UPDATE* I’ve now moved on to the Nokia N82, check out my first impressions and a comparison of the two phones here.

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SportTracks

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If you’ve got a gps unit then you need SportTracks, don’t worry, this one is free so you definately can afford it. Even it you don’t have a gps I reckon its still worthwhile having as your dedicated training log – it just won’t look so pretty without the route maps.

This screen shot just shows the basic activity screen but there is stacks more hidden away – weekly, monthly and yearly reports; splits; athlete stats including weight and injury/illness status. Again the blog is littered with examples.

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Asics Barrios Backpack

Not terribly geeky but I’m chuffed with it all the same.

Asics Barrios Backpack

I use it for commuting, where I can get it to hold the bare essentials very snugly and I’ve had no chaffing injuries despite running about 75 km with it (not in one go).

It has a peculiar bottle holder that I haven’t fathomed out how to use and the side mesh pockets are too tight to fit in anything that I’ve tried to shove in there but they would take gels etc.

It has a stowable holder for your cycle helmet and I’ve tried running the Bushy Park Time Trial while wearing the backpack laden with cycling shoes and helmet – didn’t lose anything. Its quite comfortable for cycling too but if was going on a long trip I may need to start looking around for a bigger sac.

*UPDATE* I have now found the larger sack I needed for fully loaded running commutes. After trying both the Inov8 Race Pro 18 and the Salomon Raid Revo 20, I have plumped for the Salomon model. Extremely comfortable, if perhaps a bit sweaty on the back, and holds everything I need.

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