Misfit Shine Fitness and Activity Monitor – Review

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The Misfit Shine is a sleek and chic fitness monitor and activity band that can be both worn on the wrist, talked into a sock or sports bra, or tucked neatly into one of the beautiful accessory pieces of jewelry the company offers.
Right out of the gate, the Misfit Shine is one of the prettiest options I’ve seen when it comes to fitness monitors. It looks more like jewelry, or live a matte river pebble than a fitness device, which is a nice change. The band comes with an included wristband, or magnetic clip, so you can choose where and how to wear it.

How Shine Works
IMG_1157While I was still gaga over how beautiful the device looked, I had difficulty getting it working out of the box. I went through all of the steps Misfit outlines to get the band set up,  but the device just would not work. I put the battery in and took it out again several times, hoping to get things working but to no avail. I even tried using a different battery than the one Misfit includes, just to see if mine happened to be dead. That didn’t work either. Looking closer at the inside of the device, I had an idea: it appeared to me that one of the metal connectors that is supposed to touch the battery was not touching properly, so I took some tiny pliers I have, and bent it to make better contact. Then I popped the battery back in, and voila!, it worked right away.  I’m pretty sure Misfit would not advocate for people to go mucking about with the interior guts of this device untrained, but this is what worked for me. Either way I was pleased that the device was now working.
The Misfit band works similar to other fitness bands, in that you also download a free companion app, set up a free account, and that’s the way you view and use most of your data.

The Device Displayshine lights
The display on the band itself is a circle of subtle LED lights. Depending on how much of your step goal you’ve completed, a different number of lights in the ring light up. I really liked this subtle display, despite the fact that it required some thought to calculate in my head, and was what I’d call at a glance.  Even so I’d know if I was a quarter or halfway to my goal, if not the specific numbers.  What I did, however, like about the ring light display is that it reminded me of looking up into the night sky at stars; it reminded me of staring up at constellations.

The App
The Shine uses “points” to calculate your activity levels. This is one thing about the device I did not like. With other bands, your actual steps ARE your goal, and to me that’s something tangible that I can see and understand.  I know that to get more steps, I take more steps.  But with the Misfit Shine, I’m not sure what the points mean, or exactly how I get  a good amount of them. IMG_1996I found that frustrating, but that may be a personal preference. I know some people who swear by the Nike fuel band, and it uses a similarly random system of points. To each their own I suppose. I should point out after that complaint that when you go into the app, you can actually get more specific details about how many steps you took, how far you went in terms of distance, and how many calories you burn, so happily,  the info is actually measured and available to you.

While I found the step count slightly off compared to the device I normally use, the actual mileage, or number of kilometers I went that day was actually quite similar. Ditto for the calories burned. While calibrating the Shine would be the ideal solution; unfortunately, it’s not an option, and that that is a source of frustration for other users too. One person I found on a chat board  pointed out that as a very short person, the device was vastly over calculating her metrics.

Sleep Function
Like many similar fitness devices, the Misfit Shine also will calculate and track your sleep.  The app will display deep versus lighter sleep in a grid, so it’s easy to read at a glance. It will also give you an overall number of hours you actually slept, versus what your sleep goal is (mine as it turns out is a rather unrealistic eight hours per night!)
I also found that sleeping with the Shine was quite easy; the smoothness and thinness of the band means it is very unobtrusive, and doesn’t get caught on anything, particularly on sheets or under pillows.   The device also has the option of allowing you to edit your recorded sleep, in case there has been an error. Not that I found any errors in my sleep tracking.

Other Functions
The Shine can also be used as a watch with simple taps, and it will display the time using solid and flashing lights around the edge of its lighted display. Another plus is that it is waterproof 250 m, so you can use it well swimming. It syncs wirelessly via Bluetooth which is always handy as well.

Battery

The Shine uses a small disc battery, about the size you find in a key fob (nickel sized), technically called a standard CR2032 coin cell battery.  That means no charging or recharging, which is nice.  Misfit says the battery should be swapped out every 4-6 months, or when it stops working.
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The Verdict
In short, I really like the looks of this device, possibly better than any other fitness band on the market. While I didn’t appreciate the points function of the app and it’s calculations, the fact that my step count and distance are available within the app is important and means I don’t have to rely on Misfit’s points.   I am also personally a big fan of fitness devices that are versatile, or that have a core piece you can remove from the band, and tuck wherever you want. I use this feature frequently, and will tuck my fitness monitor into my bra, or a sock, if I don’t want to wear an obvious rubber athletic style band (my regular band, a Fitbit) to an elegant function, date, or night out. The nice thing about the Shine is people might not realize that it is even a fitness tracker.
While the app and it’s layout is not my favorite, the information is all there, and easy to read. It’s also very easy to navigate through historical data or previous days with a simple swipe.misfit grab
In short, I would definitely recommend this band to someone who is looking to start out on the fitness track. Particularly the type of person who doesn’t want everyone to notice they are wearing a bulky rubber band around their wrist, since the Misfit Shine is much more like a beautiful bracelet then a utilitarian fitness device. Form and function, all in one great and customizeable package, since different colour trackers and a variety of band options are available.

Misfit Shine is available for $99 on the company’s website, and for the same price on Future Shop’s site in Canada.

Looking to check out other fitness devices?  Read about the Basis Peak, Fitbit Flex, and check out info on some other devices that I featured on CTV News Tech Talk.

Review: Jabra Sport Coach – Wireless Bluetooth In-ear Headphones that give you fitness feedback

jabra man earphonesCords suck at the gym.  They get tangled in your equipment, wrapped around your arms, and generally get in the way. So I was happy to test out a new set of (mostly) wireless headphones this week from Jabra.  The Jabra Sport Coach headphones fit snugly in your ear, and lock in place with customizable rubber eargels that tuck into the grooves of your ear, to keep them from slipping and keep sweat and noise out. While the Sport Coach is billed as “wireless” and “Bluetooth” headphones, it’s worth noting that there is still a wire that connects the two earbuds together.  You wrap the wire behind your head, and it stays out of your sight while you’re wearing them.  The “wireless” part refers to the fact you don’t need to plug them in to your device. They’re also rechargeable, using a hidden port underneath one of the rubber eargels, and the battery level is monitored on your phone or tablet.

Headphones that are more like a fitness band

The Jabra Sport Coach pairs with an app for your phone, which is where these earphones diverge from the everyday.Jabra_Sport_Coach_red

The earphones have what Jabra calls its “integrated TrackFit™ motion sensor”, which makes these headphones work a lot more like a fitness band, than a set of headphones.  You can track distance, pace, steps, cadence and calories burned, all with the earphones as the sensor, displaying the stats on your smartphone.

The “Jabra Sport Life” app lets you track and analyze your cross training workouts and gives you what Jabra’s dubbed “in-ear coaching” while you work out.

What kind of Coaching?

I’m so glad you asked!  Two kinds! For starters, the Jabras will give you progress updates and occasional information alerts from a nicely accented female voice in your ear, telling you, “50% of distance goal completed!” or similar. It can basically give you pace, time and distance split times if you’re a runner, and you can adjust what info comes into your ear, and how often.

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Jabra Sport Coach headphones app

But, and here’s where things get interesting, the Sport Coach can also talk you through a cross training workout circuit. This genius feature allows you to select from a handful of circuits (CardiCore, BellyBurn, TakeOff, etc.), adjust the time or reps you want, and then once you hit ‘start’ the soothing voice talks you through a series of adjustable and customizable exercises (jumping jacks, push ups, burpees, sit ups etc.) and counts you down through each one.  While the exercises are simple, and sure, you could do them yourself, I actually found having someone in my ear telling me what to do, and what was coming up next kept me going. Another neat feature of the cross training coaching is that you don’t even need the app  on your phone.  The voice coach tells you what you need, and you can move to the next exercise when you finish one, by hitting the button on the left earbud, meaning you’re hands free.   But if you really want more help, the exercises are explained with pictures on the app.

Pairing & Bluetooth

The Jabra Sport Coach headphones were really easy to set up and pair.  I had them ready to go in minutes. It’s a simple matter of putting the headphones into pairing mode, and linking your phone, or tablet (or both!  The Jabras will pair to more than one device at a time!) then using them to play music, TV, Netflix… whatever you want! A small button integrated into the cord give you control over the music tracks and volume.

Likes and Dislikes

Wireless/Like– I really loved going wireless at the gym.  I run, and you don’t realize how much you fuss with cords until you don’t have one hanging down your front.

Fit/Like– The fit is great with the Sport Coach.  They seal out more than enough noise for me.  I was unable to hear the distracting gym techno while I was wearing these and playing my own tunes.

App/Like– The app was very easy to use and navigate.  Its simple design and soft colour scheme were easy on the eyes, and non-distracting even while hoofing it at a brisk pace. I also found the voice coach rather soothing.  (Note to Jabra: I also happen to think a Marine Boot camp coach voice would be fun too!)

Sound/Like-  The sound quality in these headphones is great.  Music and TV sounded crisp and clean, and wasn’t crackly at all, despite being wireless.

Coaching/Like– I found myself doing an extra round of exercises, thanks to the voice coaching.  It helped motivate me and keep me on track.

I guess I don’t really have any dislikes or complaints.  The Jabra Sport Coach worked great, sounded awesome, and were a perfect configuration for wearing to the gym.
Jabra Sport Coach headphones come with a zip-around softshell case, and replacement eargels, and are available at Best Buy in Canada for about $179. For more info you can also hit up Jabra’s website.

Travel Gadgets & 5 Top Travel Tips

tech talk 3We all look forward to travel in the busy summer season.  With the number of travellers climbing, and delays inevitable, it’s a good idea to bring along some tech to keep you sane, entertained and connected while on vacation, whether it’s a plane trip or a road trip.  This week on CTV Morning Live I shared some good gadget picks, as well as my top travel tips.

Top Gadget Picks:

Comfy Noise-eliminating Headphones

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On CTV Morning Live, I showed off some headphones.  House of Marley’s Over-ear “LIBERATE” Headphones ($99) are soft and plush with a good sound, retro styling, and ability to block out airplane drone and angry toddlers.

Jabra_Revo_Wireless_image_1440x1440px_06Ditto for the Revo wireless headphones by Jabra.Going wireless is huge for air travel; no cords getting caught up in the seatbelt, or getting tangled when you get up to use the washroom.

If over-ears seem too bulky, my personal favourite headphones are the Monster Adidas in-ear headphones, because they block out noise like a boss, and are ultra comfortable to wear.

Adapter/Router Powerpack by Satechi

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When travelling abroad, it helps to have a variety of plugs available to recharge your gadgets.  An interesting take on that is a versatile, compact adapter kit from Satechi that doubles as a wireless router and signal booster for your hotel internet.  The Satechi Smart Travel Router / Travel Adapter with USB Port adapts to fit into four of the most common plug configurations used around the world and has different modes for your wireless networking.

I also shared my 5 Top Tech Travel Tips on CTV Morning Live:

tech travel junePack extra headphones.

Headphones get lost, break, or you forget them, and of course without them, you can’t listen to music, TV or watch movies.  Stash an extra set of small earbuds in your carry on and you wrap them up with a handy Cord Taco to keep tangles at bay.

Bring your cables.

Beat delays by bringing your charging cable, plug and/or an external battery pack to supply juice through the longest flights or most annoying delays.  Never put them in checked baggage, as they sure won’t help you in the plane’s underbelly.

Preload TV shows, movies and podcasts at home onto devices.

Airport and hotel wifi is notoriously slow, and can be tedious to set up (nevermind having to give out personal info to get the connection).  Save time and frustration by filling your device with content you can watch all trip long.

Always carry-on your electronic devices.

They’re expensive, sometimes have personal info on them, and let’s be honest, it would be devastating to lose them or have them stolen from checked luggage.  Carry them on no matter how heavy that makes your carry-on bag.

Stash all your cables and accessories in one zippered bag.

It keeps them all in one place, makes them easy to find and keeps them from getting tangled up in the rest of your luggage. Of course, carry that bag on too as insurance.

If you’ve got a great travel gadget tip, I’d love to share it.  Post yours in comments.

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‘Basis Peak’ Activity, Fitness and Heart Rate Monitor Review

basic peakBasis Peak is a sports and fitness watch with built-in activity monitor and heart rate monitor. The watch comes in both black and white, and the model I tested (black) has a very subtle white-on-black display, that’s very easy to read, yet not super glaring and in your face.  If that beautiful display has a downside, it’s that it’s completely invisible in the dark.  The watches are large, particularly for a woman, so that’s something to keep in mind when choosing one, and because of the built-in heart rate monitor, they are also quite thick.  With that said, it is fairly light and easy to wear, and I got used to it fairly quickly. The watch uses an external (and rather bulky) charger to recharge the built in battery, which lasts about 4 days.

Specs:

  • 24/7 automatic fitness and sleep tracking
  • Heart rate during exercise—no chest strap needed
  • Automatically tracks walks, runs and rides
  • Automatic sleep detection with sleep stage insights
  • Smartwatch notifications for text, email, call on your wrist

Set Up
IMG_1977Setting up the Basis Peak was not the easiest task. I ended up setting it up twice, both to check out the process in detail, and becacuse I had problems with the app that forced a reinstall.
The first time, right out of the box, was definitely much easier.  You download the app and set up an account, which was simple enough.  Then you strap on the watch and start moving. Sort of.
I didn’t really realize it, and it wasn’t quite clear, but not only do you have to get the app up and running, you need to pair the Peak watch with the app, and your phone. It took me a couple of days to realize the app was not updating with info from the watch. So I did some further reading and research, and realized the two devices were not actually connected; they needed to be paired.
In my initial set up, I had connected the app to the watch, but as it turns out I also needed to connect the watch to the phone.  I needed to also go to the watch’s main menu, and select “Pair” with the phone and app. Once that was done, I started getting info, though not immiediately.
The watch itself is quite easy to operate, with a fairly simplified menu. There are four basic screens on the watch itself: The time (main default screen), your heart rate, and the main menu, and then sometimes a fourth screen which most often has showed me a random graphic of a fox. Sometimes this will also display messages that come in via your phone. You navigate between the screens using simple swipe gestures.IMG_1979

The second time around, re-setting up the Peak was a huge problem.  I had to uninstall the app, as it had completely stopped functioning.  I reinstalled it, and had to repair the watch, but it took about 8-9 attempts before it would find the watch.   Once I had repaired the app and the Peak, there was still no data coming in.  The watch would say ‘syncing’, but nothing was happening.  After about 35 minutes, data finally appeared in the app, but that was well after I’d left the gym and my treadmill testing behind. Suffice to say, if you’re having trouble re-pairing your Peak and your phone, keep trying, it’ll work eventually.

Message Notifications
One great feature I found myself enjoying about the Basis Peak, was the fact that text messages, phone calls, and Twitter notifications all came into my wrist, with a very subtle vibration. I did not get emails, and I don’t know if that’s a setting i can turn on and off, or it’s just not supported.  (Either way, I’d rather not read  along email on a 1″ screen on my wrist anyway, so I didn’t dig too deeply into this.)  While the font is rather small to read, and long messages must be scrolled through, it was easy enough to read them, and decide if I needed to stop what I was doing to respond to them on the phone, since I wasn’t able to respond to them via the watch/device itself. The watch (I keep calling it a ‘watch’ because that’s what it looks most like, though Basis calls it a ‘Fitness and Sleep Tracker’) also has a do not disturb function which is helpful if you are needing to focus and want to turn your alerts off.
basis peak
Heart Rate Monitor
I will say this about most wrist-based fitness and activity monitors or heart rate monitors; They are not scientific devices, and I certainly wouldn’t call the information absolutely accurate, especially in a medical sense. But what makes many of these devices great is that they give you the best possible idea of what’s going on with your fitness and activity. So with that caveat I can say the heart rate monitor on the Basis Peak was quite accurate for me. Especially since the only other heart rate notification I would be able to compare it to is the one I use on the treadmill at my gym. In as much as that one is accurate, so is the Basis Peak. It gave me basically a matching heart rate so I had confidence it was about as accurate as anything else I would use. I did like that when I was running, or my heart rate was high, the Peak displayed it constantly, allowing me to check it at a glance.

The App
IMG_1994If there was one thing I did not particularly care for about the Basis Peak, it’s their app. I found it difficult and complicated to read, hard to navigate, and generally just a pain in the butt. Compared to some other devices where all the info you need is on your main screen at a glance, I thought there was too much going on with the Peak app.  It does this bizarre thing where, if I were to go for a 50 minute run and then walk after, it breaks the activity up and shows it to you based on what your heart rate was. So if my heart rate was high for 20 minutes it will display that differently than what the heart rate was when I walked for 40 minutes. It took a while to figure out what the device was displaying, and how it was relevant.  The tiny horizontal bar graph it uses to display this info is also very confusing, and too tiny to be of any relevance.
I also found a significant lag between when I completed the activities, and when they appeared in the app. More often than not I would have to do a manual sync several times, to get the information to update, and even then it wouldn’t show up for about 30 minutes or so. I found that particularly frustrating when I was at the gym, doing a run, and wanted an instant update on my status and progress. At least I was getting instant heart rate readings on the watch itself.
The app’s main dashboard is also a very confusing display of what it calls ‘habits’ plus some other info like your recent sleep or activity, except most often the app would display mine as “Get moving to see your activity”.IMG_1991
Oddly, during testing, the watch also counted a 45 minute time span one evening where I was sitting watching TV, as sleep, and I couldn’t find a way to delete or modify that info.  That tells me this device’s app needs some work.
I do like the idea of the Peak ‘habits’, as kind of a game. You can choose several ‘habits” to get into, and completing them will give you digital badges; things like getting in a few thousand steps before noon, or meeting your sleep goal, or even wearing the watch for a certain number of hours per day. You get the idea.
The app also has what it calls a ‘charting’ feature which will display your movement and activity over the course of the day. A great idea to see when you are most and least active, except when I was testing it, it was only available for the current day. I found no way I was able to go back and get historical data for comparison, or even to compare day over day month over month while using Charting. You, however, can find historical data in the “Activity Feed” tab, then click on the activity for the day to get your chart, but it took me days to figure that out. Even then, if you want to look at different days you cant swipe through a calendar, you have to go in and out of the Activity Feed and click on individual days.  Doing that was clunky and tedious.

The Fox

basis peak cat foxRandomly sometimes a fox would pop up on the fourth screen, whether I was at home or on the golf course.  So what is it?  I had no idea, and I didn’t get any clues from the Basis website.  Searching the web, I found out it’s a sleeping cat, and a place holder for your activity notes.  It’s supposed to be a reminder to get up and get active so there’s something to show.  Cute idea, except how is it supposed to motivate me if it I have no idea what it is? I’d love it more if when you tapped it,  you got a message that says, “Cat-napping?  Get up and move!”.  Then I’d feel it was helping me.
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The Verdict
While I very much like the Peak itself, and would probably wear it just as a cool watch, with built-in heart rate monitor at the gym, I don’t think that using it with the app is something I would do. It’s just too much data that I don’t need and too hard to pour through it and figure out what’s going on, or which screen it’s been squirreled away in. I did also particularly like the notification functions on the watch; it’s a nice added feature which as it turns out comes in rather handy.
I’d certainly look at re-evaluating my thoughts on the app, if it were to undergo some kind of simplification and or redesign. But for now it’s just too much.

Get this watch if you want a watch and heart rate monitor.  Don’t get it for the confusing and clunky metrics.

Basis Peak is $199 on the company’s website, and is also available in Canada at Future Shop for $349.  Why the price discrepancy?  You’ve got me!

I recently demonstrated the Basis Peak and several other Wearables on CTV Morning Live. Watch it here.

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I Love Fitness Trackers, but the Ibitz Unity Misses the Mark. Here’s Why…

I Love Fitness Trackers, but the Ibitz Unity Misses the Mark. Here’s Why…

For the price, the Ibitz is a decent, and very basic step counter. But to me it’s missing some of those key elements I mentioned above, that make monitoring your fitness fun and entertaining — and that keep you wearing it. There’s no display whatsoever, so there’s no way to know how close or far you are from your step goal; you need to log on to the phone and sync the tracker to get that info.

Products I’m LOVING Lately: FitBit Flex

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Finally! My Fitbit Flex arrived last week, and it’s been arm candy ever since!

The Flex is a fitness tracker built-in to a wrist band, that tracks your steps, counts how many calories you’re burning, and with the help of its super sleek app, how much food you’re eating, water you drink, and what you weigh.

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I picked the Fitbit based on a few factors:

1. Online reviews: Most people like it. You can’t please everyone, but by and large, users are happy with what the Flex offers. Check out some other reviews here and here.

2. Syncs with MyFitnessPal App: I’ve been using this great tool on my iPhone for 6 months and love how it keeps me honest with what I’m eating and how much activity I have. The Flex keeps track of all my movements; walking, steps, gym workouts and automatically syncs it with MFP, and lets me know how much more or less I can/should eat. Compatibility of this device with this app is really my number one reason I picked the Flex.  Especially because online reviews on compatibility with the UP were really not good.  Seems that there’s quite a few bugs.

3. Secure wristband with changeable bands: The band snaps securely closed, and is adjustable, meaning it’s not getting lost. it’s waterproof too, which is a plus. You can also purchase additional colours so it never stands out with what you’re wearing.. if you don’t want it to.

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4.  Wireless Sync; The Flex band automatically updates the app whenever iPhone and band are in proximity.  The UP needs to be physically plugged in.

So what does it do and why might YOU want one? Well, on its own, not much. But it does make me hyper aware of my activity level, and has been encouraging me to get up and move more during my normally sedentary workday. I’ve been going out on lunch hour walks. Getting up and making one trip to the ladies room, and another to the water cooler, just to add steps. I’ve been parking at the back of the parking lot and hoofing it in to the door instead of trolling for rock star parking. I’m not really wearing it for weight loss, so I can’t speak to that, but in terms of getting me up and moving, it’s great.

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I DO have a few recommendations for the FitBit folks:

1.  A watch would be nice; since I’m already wearing a watch-like accessory, would it be hard to add a wee display?

2.  The Jawbone UP has a timer and will buzz you if you’ve been sitting too long.  Also would be a nice addition to the Flex.

3.  Power nap function and optimum wake-up; Again, things the UP has that the Flex doesn’t.  Power nap lets you sleep for 20-40 minutes and wakes you up at the optimum time in your sleep cycle so you’re not crabby and disoriented.  It wakes you in the same way in the morning.  The Flex just wakes you at a set time.  Why not go the extra mile here, FitBit?

In all, I’m happy with the Flex, but will definitely look forward to software updates or the second generation model.

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