Garmin Vivoactive HR Review

Garmin Vivoactive HR Review

Like all my reviews, this is a down and dirty, no mumbo jumbo review using my real world experience.

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PROS:

Comfortable: This thing is comfortable. The material that the strap is made from is a polymer of some sort that has a soft and almost silky feel to it. It is easy to grip, yet doesn’t pull on my arm hair (which there is plenty of).IMG_20160609_124554712_HDR IMG_20160612_131516971It has a traditional hook and loop style clasp and the retainer loop has a “tooth” in it to hold the band. It’s lightweight and once you slip it on it’s pretty much forgotten about.

Battery: So it came out of the box with about 80% battery, throwing caution to the wind I didn’t even charge it, I just set it up and put it on. I verified that the HRM to always on, fiddled with the settings and let it do its thing.  It has had 4 days of active use,thus far. I used the GPS while I walked, the HRM is still going and the battery appears to have moved all of about 20%. Not too shabby. They claim it will get somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 days of battery life (based on usage of course).

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HRM: The HRM is the same unit as used in my Fenix3 HR and is as accurate as my other devices. To validate the HRM I wore the Vivo, my Mio Link, The Fenix3 HR and my Polar FT7 with chest strap.

IMG_20160612_115647733The Vivo read 57 as my Resting Heart Rate, the Mio & the polar both read it as 55, and the Fenix3 had it at 56 . As a control I hopped onto one of the machines at the gym and grabbed its HRM pads, it read 56 as my resting, off by a 1-2 BPM, but not bad. As I did my workout I looked and it was always within 2 BPM of any of the other devices.  In the picture it shows it as 41, this was taken at a different time and was accurate at the time.

Garmin Connect: if you’re a smartphone user, and face it if you’re reading this you probably are, you can install the Connect app to sync with the Vivo. it will allow you to see your dashboard of stats, add new “apps”, widgets, and watch faces. You can also do those things via your computer and the connect website. You can also add friends(called connections), set it to sync with other apps (such as Endomondo, Runkeeper) and devices like the Garmin Index Scale.

GPS accuracy: While the GPS does take a few seconds to get a lock it seems to be fairly accurate.  My phone clocked my walk today at 4.49 miles, the Vivo clocked it at 4.50. Considering the size of the device I can live with a slight delay in lock time as long as it keeps the lock and is accurate for my activities.

Operation: The Vivo is pretty straight forward to operate, two buttons and a touch screen. Most of the navigation is done using the touch screen, with the buttons being mainly for start stop activities. The left button is the power/Stop button, a long press will bring up a menu of options for locking, powering off, etc. IMG_20160612_115547046IMG_20160612_115540215The right button is used to start/stop activities. A single press brings up the activity menu and long press brings up the device’s main menu with setting and such. Even without looking at the manual most people will be able to figure out the device with little trouble.

Screen: The Vivo uses a full color transflective type display with a back light. What does this mean to you? It means the display is readable in direct sunlight and when it’s dark it has a sensor that tells it to turn on the back light so it can be read. This makes the battery life a lot easier to manage as compared to standard always lit lcd /led/oled displays. IMG_20160612_115637262IMG_20160612_115514990IMG_20160612_115631532IMG_20160612_115654752Unlike other devices the sensor for lighting up is motion based, flick your wrist, tap the screen, touch a button and it lights up.


Water resistance: this sucker is rated at water resistant to 5 ATM. Which while it sounds all cool and whatnot, it really just means you can sweat, wash, shower, & run in the rain with it. You can swim in the pool/lake/ocean with no issues, but diving to depth is a no no.

Music Controls: With a simple downward flick of your finger you’re at the music control screen. It can control your device’s default music player.
It has volume up and down, track forward and reverse, and of course play pause.IMG_20160612_131719889

Smartwatch capabilities: The Vivo is a “Smartwatch” which means it connects to your phone and can display alerts from mail, text, social media, and even incoming phone calls. This is a very handy feature, allowing you to keep your phone in your pocket/purse/backpack or where ever it is you keep your phone (as long as it is within 30 feet or so).IMG_20160609_125020625IMG_20160609_124846052

Size: I’m not going to lie, this thing isn’t the smallest thing out there, it’s nowhere near the largest either though. For the size of the device the weight is surprisingly light. However if you have dainty wrists, it’s going to look a bit out of place. The face area is 1 1/2″ wide and 2 1/4″ long. It is shown here next to my Fenix3 HR.IMG_20160609_123341510

 CONS:

GPS: That’s right, Even though I said it was a plus, it’s also a minus. The GPS takes its dear sweet time to lock, not surprising. Based on the size of the device the antenna is pretty small, and probably a bit weak. It took an average of 12 seconds seconds for it to lock, but once it did It never lost signal. My Fenix3 HR takes about 7 seconds on average to lock. While not a huge amount of time, it is something to note.

Proprietary USB connector: This is one of my biggest pet peeves. It means one more cable to keep track of. One more expense if I lose the original cable. I get it, you want a cool way to connect to your device, but you decide that for whatever reason you can’t use a universal cradle for all your devices. Bully for you, but I hate it. This thing is large enough that they could have put inductive charging in it. Drop it on a Qi based charging pad and walk away.
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Price: At $250 this thing is pretty pricey. I’m not saying it isn’t worth the cost, just that it’s pretty pricey. Though when compared to other devices with all the features it has, it is reasonable. As a note it is the same cost as the comparable FitBit Surge (see my review of that here: https://rowald.net/2015/03/12/fitbit-surge-lightning-review/)

Summary:

So looking at the Vivoactive HR as a whole, you can see the PROS, outweigh the CONS. It’s a solid little device with some nice features. It’s a definite step up from your typical glorified pedometer, that’s right Fitbit, I’m looking at you. The HRM is accurate, the GPS is a bit slow, but it’s accurate once it gets a lock. It’s comfortable, not terrible to look at, has downloadable apps,widgets, & watch faces, can do basic navigation and has a good battery life. If you can get past the price tag. I think most people will feel it’s a great workout/daily life device worth strapping on their wrists.

Dr. Squatch Natural Soaps

Another bright Idea

As always this will be a down and dirty type of review, or clean as the case may be. It will be based in real world terms, not fancy marketing hype. Ready or not, here we go.

Disclaimer: None, the soap was not provided to me by the manufacturer, I obtained it myself, as I am a direct customer of theirs.

Common Background: I workout a lot, therefore I sweat. Let me restate that I workout and I sweat a lot. That’s more accurate. As a result I shower frequently. I’m always looking for that better product. One that works better, smells nicer, lasts longer, and is still gentle enough for those days that I need use it multiple times. I have tried many different brands of soap. Bars, powders, and liquid in my pursuit of cleanliness.

You may not have ever heard of Dr. Squatch (http://www.drsquatch.com), if you haven’t, read on and maybe you’ll find the surfactant  you’ve been looking for.

Dr. Squatch offers a wide variety of natural soaps all with classic manly scents. I prefer the Gold Moss Scrub bar as it has scent that reminds me of the the North woods.Right So let’s get into the good, the bad, and the other

 

GOOD:

All Natural: Being handmade soap, the glycerin is retained in the bar, and they use non GMO coconut, hemp, soy, and olive oils to help keep your skin moisturized and soft.

Cold Processed: Cold process soap has no need to add harsh chemicals or preservatives. That means it’s safer for your skin and the environment.

Scent: All of the soaps have great scents. the moment you open the shipping box you get hit with it. Don’t get me wrong it’s not overwhelming, but it is very present.

Lather: Being natural soaps loaded with glycerin these soaps have plenty of lather-ability

 

BAD:

Size: All of their soaps are square blocks, not the standard rectangle shape so they won’t fit in a standard carrier if your taking them on a trip.

Cost: I won’t lie, their soap isn’t cheap. It costs about $7 a bar. but if you get on their subscription plan it gives you a price break.

Durability: For the average person that showers everyday a bar will last about 2 weeks.

 

Other:

Uses: Because it’s all natural I actually use these soaps instead of shampoo. My hair is softer and smoother than it has been in years thanks to these products.

 

Conclusion:

In my opinion Dr. Squatch makes a fine product, one that I would happily recommend to friends and family. The cost is a bit high, but the quality outweighs the cost. If you are looking for a great soap that will leave you clean and smelling manly Dr.Squatch is the product for you.

 

Aftershokz Trekz Titanium

Another bright Idea

As always this will be a down and dirty type of review. It will be based in real world terms, not fancy marketing hype. Ready or not, here we go.

 

Disclaimer: None, this equipment was not provided to me by the manufacturer, I obtained it myself.

Common background information: I work-out a lot, I sweat profusely and I have shorted out at least 4 dozen headsets in my pursuit of sweat-proof earphones/headsets to use while I run, lift, and bike. If you have read my previous reviews, you will remember that I reviewed other Aftershokz products last year. Well my friends, we find ourselves at another Aftershokz review. I am happy to say that I have found another great headset that I can recommend. Like their predecessors these are a bit different than standard headsets/earphones in that they are an open ear, bone conduction type of headset. That means they sit on your cheekbones and send sound to your inner ear, not like tradional heatsets that go in your ear. So without further rambling, I present the AfterShokz Trekz Titanium http://www.aftershokz.com/collections/wireless/products/trekz-titanium

If you are unfamiliar Aftershokz, read on and maybe find a new must have. Read my previous reviews of their products, or visit their website. If you’re a return Aftershokz fan, welcome back. When I first came across Aftershokz, I was looking for bone conductive headsets. I knew they were out there but hadn’t ever found any Bluetooth ones before. Anyone who knows me knows I HATE, and yes that is a strong word, but I absolutely hate wired headsets and earphones when I exercise. My gorilla arms tend to flail about and get tangled up in the wires and rip things off my noggin. I was happy to find that someone had stepped up and created a Bluetooth BCH and couldn’t wait to try them out.  I have never looked back and this headset is no exception to that rule.

Good:

Comfort: I cannot stress this point, enough, because they do not go in your ears, but rather sit on your cheek bones, they are extremely comfortable. I wore them for a total of about 10 hours the first day I had them, and just like the previous model, I almost forgot they were there, except for the constant rhythm I had in my head.

 

Fit: The Trekz fit like, most other wrap behind headsets, but because of the titanium wire-frame design they have a naturally snug feeling. If you’re worried about them falling off while you work-out, don’t. I know some of you out there are going to be like, “But I really workout hard/fast/violently/whatever…” Yeah I do too. I do 45-60 minutes of weight training followed by 60-90 minutes of trail/road running. In the course of my workout my head gets flung into many different positions, sometimes with a fair amount of force. Guess what, they stay in place just fine. They fit securely in front of your ears and have a silicone stabilizer wings (new to this model) that you can add if you have a smaller head. They have stayed in place so far for me, in excess of 10 hours of workout time so far. As a note Aftershokz has stated that they are coming out with a smaller version of these for children or those of you out there with smaller heads.  If you’re wondering, YES, they are glasses friendly .

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Sound Quality: If you’re looking for a headset that can be an audiophile’s wet dream, I’m going to ask you to kindly stop ready right here, as these are not the headphones you are looking for.  If, however you are looking for a headset that has great audio, phone capabilities, and decent battery life, I’m talking to you. I was surprised by the sound quality of the Trekz, even compared to the Bluez2/Bluez2S models which were very good. They do a great job of reproducing the sounds that you would normally have going into your ears. The bass was bassy but not overbearing, the mids and highs were there and represented well. If you have them cranked all the way up you can hear the music coming out of them from a distance, but if you set them down on a hard surface they will shake and rattle all over the place, letting you know it’s vibration that you are hearing. They have improved on the “Leak Slayer” feature, which helps cut down on audio leakage, which was an issue for the originals. As far as call quality I have made a few calls with them and people say they can hear me nice and clearly and I can hear them very well too. They have an additional microphone for noise reduction, and it appears to work as advertised.

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Packaging/Accessories: when most companies are trying to give you as little as possible when you buy their products, it’s refreshing to see one going a bit better. Like the Bluez 2, the Trekz are packaged well in a nice box. Inside that box is a semi-rigid carrying case, a charging cable, a warranty card, a quick start guide, a multi lingual instruction sheet and the ear plugs (for when you are say, on a plane or train, and can block out all noise). Unlike some of the other brands that give you throw away packaging and the headset, it’s nice to get the little extra touches with these.

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Controls: New to this model is a more simplified button set, consisting of just three buttons, down from four. They are: power on/volume up, volume down, and a multifunction button. The power and volume buttons are rubber coated/booted physical buttons. They work as intended and are easy to use. To answer a call you press the multifunction button on the left “ear” piece (when you are wearing them), this will pause any media you have running. To end the call you press the button again. To make a call a double press of the button gets you into the dialog for that. To play/pause your music you single press the multifunction button. Dead simple.

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Battery: They claim a 6 hour battery life. I was able to get almost 10 hours out of them the first day I had them. The first couple of hours were at about 80% volume, while the rest was at 50% or a little below. I’m not sure what volume they have their number spec’ed for but, as always, your mileage may vary.

Multipoint Connectivity: A welcome addition to this model, multi-point connectivity is finally here. Unfamiliar with the term? It means the headset can be paired to more than one device at a time. Previous models could only be paired to one, like your phone. If wanted to use it for your computer or tablet as well you had to go through the pairing process every time you switched devices.

Warranty: They come with a 2 year warranty, that covers defects in workmanship and sweat damage. As a side note, they truly stand behind their products. I destroyed 12 pairs of the original Bluez, about that many of the Bluez 2 headsets with my overactive sweat glands. They happily replaced them no questions, no qualms. They even interviewed me about my experience with their customer service. This is a company that I can say honestly, really cares about their customers. The customer service staff that I have worked with have all been great. Always courteous, always genuine, and always eager to help me get my issue resolved.

 

 

Neutral:

Sound Quality: I know I just said this was in the good column, but there is something I need to tell you about that is neither Good nor Bad when it come to the sound quality. Remember these are an Open Ear style headset. That means you can still hear outside sounds/noise when you use them. For me this is a good thing, I often run along roads and busy streets, and being able to hear approaching traffic is always good. Also being able to hear your breathing and your foot falls while running can aid in your training efforts. While I enjoy the solitude that my in ear headsets give me, the safety factor takes precedence when running outside. Being able to hear ambient noises can be a strange experience at first, but you’ll adjust quickly.

Price: The Trekz have a MSRP of $129.99 but I imagine that street price will vary a bit once they are publicly available. The price point is not too outrageous for a Bluetooth stereo headset of this quality, but I know not everyone can shell out this kind of moolah for a headset.  To date these are the highest quality Bone Conduction Headset I have had.

 

 

BAD:

Comfort: Again, I know I just said this was in the good column, just hear me out. I had no discomfort with the Bluez2 but the following goes out to anyone who is new to bone conduction headsets. You will likely have no discomfort while wearing/using them. You may notice a strange sensation when you take them off. After being on your head for a long time, you may notice a weird tingling sensation on your face (no doubt from being shook for an extended amount of time.) and you will likely notice a sense of relief when you take them off. Because they put pressure on your face, it apparently builds up after a while. I only noticed it after taking them off and only the first few times I wore them. These days I am so accustomed to them that I never have any discomfort or after effects.

USB Flap: In order to maintain the Water resistance/Sweat Proof-ness they have a small flap that covers the USB port. It’s made of plastic and is held in place with a welded joint. I would have rather seen a flap with a slightly more rubber-like consistency, as opposed to the plastic they are using but that is neither here nor there. It has been ok so far but we will see how it holds up. All of the previous models have been surprisingly resilient, so I expect no less of this model.

 

Conclusion:

Conclusion: The Aftershokz Trekz are a good buy, even if you have to pay full retail price. They have performed well for me so far and will be my daily driver (replacing the Bluez 2S model) for working out and running, assuming I don’t prove the sweat-proof claims inaccurate. If you are in the market for an open ear headset, (and you really should be if you exercise anywhere that situational awareness is a factor) give these a try. If the price point is outside your budget look at the previous models. The Bluez 2S or Bluez 2 are readily found for a fair amount less than these, while still providing the open ear benefits.

Ubiquiti EdgeRouter™ Lite Review

BunsenLike all my reviews, this is a down and dirty, no mumbo jumbo review using my real world experience.  Today we will be looking at the Ubiquiti EdgeRouter lite (ERLite-3).

If you’re not familiar with Ubiquiti, (http://ubnt.com) they are a manufacturer of wired and wireless networking gear built for commercial and industrial use. Anyone who knows me knows I won’t let a little thing like that keep me from using it at home. I have a Cisco modem, Open-mesh access points and now a Ubiquiti router.

Disclaimer: None, this equipment was not provided to me by the manufacturer, I obtained it myself.

Pros:

Design: The industrial design of the ERLite-3 is nice. It’s a simple metal box with 3 gigabit ports, a console port (for you CLI junkies) and a power port (on the back side.

Size: I won’t lie; this thing is small. Coming in at 3” x 5” x 9.5” and weighing in at less than 2 pounds, it’s much smaller than the ASA5505 that it replaced.

Configuration: Ubiquiti has a really nice user interface they call the EdgeOS. It’s easy to navigate, provides a tone of useful information about the device and what’s going across it and provides some wizards to help you get up and running quickly. I had the router up and running with the basics in less than 5 minutes.

Features: being a commercial device I would expect it to have lots of features and options. It does indeed have a nice selection of things to play with. You can configure static routes, it supports OSPF, RIP , and BGP. It has an integrated full featured firewall, NAT translation, can be used as a DHCP server, supports QoS, supports IPv6, does site to site ipsec and OpenVPN  VPN, L2TP/PPTP remote access vpn, can be configured using gui or CLI, and has a nice suite of monitoring and admin tools.

Layer 3: Yep this little guy is a layer three device (DUH) that can handle 1,000,000 pps with 64 byte packets and 3 Gbps with 512k or larger packet sizes. Not too shabby.

Price: I hate to use the word cheap, so let’s use inexpensive. The ERLite-3 has a MSRP of $100.00 I picked mine up on amazon for $92.

Neutral:

No wireless: I’m listing this because inevitably someone will ask “does it have built in wireless?” NO. This is a commercial class device where routers and wireless are generally separate device in the infrastructure.

POE: No this device doe not have POE, nor does it support POE pass through. I wouldn’t expect it to at this price point. Just putting it out there , because we all know someone would ask.

Cons:

Configuration: I know, I know… I have Configuration as a PRO, well there is one little niggle that made me also put it here. The wizards to help you set up the device are great, unless you want to use an IP address scheme different than the 192.168.1.0/24 that it come with as a default. The wizards will allow you to put in a different address scope, but then completely ignores it and sets up your network with the default scheme anyway. While not a huge deal it does mean that you will need to go make some manual changes to your DHCP scope, your interfaces and the like after you run the wizards. Obviously if you use the CLI and configure it that way you don’t have this issue, but let’s face it I’m a lazy mouse jockey.

Other:

Warranty: Ubiquiti provides a one (1) year warranty.

Summary:

Looking at the tally sheet, the PROs out number the CONs by a large margin. This is really a great piece of equipment, especially at a sub $100 price point. It is silent, inobtrusive, and so far reliable. I have also noticed a consistent increase in my over internet speed since switching over to this device. So If you’re looking for a great router and POE and built in wireless are not an issue for you, the ERLite-3 is a no brainer decision.

ERlite-3 edgerouter_lite IMG_20141224_182730

OrangeMud HydraQuiver Vest Pack 2 Review

Another bright IdeaLike all my reviews, this is a down and dirty, no mumbo jumbo review using my real world experience. Continuing in a new direction today, this will be a non-tech gear review. Today we will be looking at the OrangeMud HydraQuiver Vest Pack 2

So, you’ve never heard of OrangeMud (www.orangemud.com)? Yeah I hadn’t either until last year when a good friend and fellow runner (Yeah you, Ed) introduced me to their stuff by giving me his Double Barrel HydraQuiver.

I will say this before I get into the review, if you are into buying American designed and American made (As a note, OrangeMud is based out of Corona California) products, like I do, you need to check them out. OK enough chit chat let’s get to it.

Disclaimer: None, the manufacturer did not provide this to me, though I wouldn’t turn down anything from them (hint, hint Josh).

Pros:

Breathability: The VP2 is made from a mesh patterned synthetic material. It’s lightweight, allows plenty of airflow when in use and so far has proven to be extremely tough.

Weight: Weighing in at 9.4 ounces without the included bottles, and 14.7 ounces with them (that’s 264 and 416 grams respectively for my metric friends). This thing is light. Which aids in the comfort aspects

Durability: I’m not going to lie, I’m rough on gear, but the VP2 has proven to be just as rugged as the Double Barrel Quiver it replaced. I’ve had it for a while now, and put well over 500 miles in while using it. It’s been in the woods, and the city and has had zero issues.

Storage: The VP2 has plenty of storage space (198 cubic inches). Two (2) shoulder pockets that can accommodate smaller items like protein bars, gel packs, and energy chews and two (2) front pouches that are big enough to hold items like my phone (I use either a Nexus 6 in a case or a Note 4 in a case) with no issue. All of the pockets are made of a nice stretchy material so you can jam-pack them if you want. I routinely carry 3-4 gel packs in each shoulder pocket, my phone in a front pocket and whatever snack I want quick access to in the other front pocket. If that isn’t enough space for you you can buy an optional accessory pocket that can go in the elastic lashing straps between the bottles.

Hydration: The VP2 comes with two (2) 20-ounce bottles but can fit bottles up to 24 or more ounces thanks to the adjustment straps on the bottle sleeves.

Adjustability: The VP2 has 2 adjustment points. The side straps ,which you should set & forget and the chest strap which you should use for your fine tuning. Basically you put the thing on and make the side straps snug, really snug. Then you use the chest strap to find the right tension to keep it in place.

Comfort: The VP2 is very comfortable to wear, like the Double Barrel I have worn it for hours at a time and never had any issues with discomfort or chafing. The design of the mesh allows plenty of air flow and does not retain moisture.

Neutral:

Fit: OK, I’m a big guy; more than a couple of people have called me a Sasquatch. I’m 6’3” and anywhere between 235 – 250 pounds depending on the time of year. The VP2 fits me but it’s a little small in my opinion. Not small as it it’s hard to get on and off or adjust; small as it the bottom of the pack falls in a spot that feels a bit awkward for me. I’ve let OrangeMud know that I would like to see a Plus sized version of the Pack and Josh Sprague (the owner and all around nice guy) has said that it is on the road map. If you’re 6’ or under and of a medium or slighter build this will be great for you. If you’re bigger in the chest region, or of a larger build, like I am, you may want to look at the Double Barrel HydraQuiver, though you do lose the front pockets with that model.

Bottle Placement: I’ll admit it took me about 10 runs with the first HydraQuiver I had to get used to it. It takes a bit of finesse to reach behind your head and grab or place a bottle from the sleeve, though once you get the hang of it, it’s no big deal at all. In the beginning I probably dropped the bottles half a dozen times trying to put them back. They held up and are still in use today.

Bottle Sleeve: I’m listing this here because the Double Barrel had a fit that held the bottles a bit snugger than the VP2 does. I’ve been told that people requested a looser fit because they wanted it to be easier to get the bottles out. OK I can deal with that; I use a spray on adhesive (the stuff used to make rugs less prone to slipping) to make the sleeve grip the bottles a bit more.

Cons:

Price: At $149 MSRP the VP2 is expensive, but like most things you get what you pay for. The VP2 is well constructed, and is made by a small American company. Factoring in that I’d say that it’s a little high but not outrageously so.

Other:

Warranty: OrangeMud provides a 90-day money back guarantee, a one (1) year warranty on the workmanship of their accessories and a limited lifetime warranty on the packs.

Summary:

So looking at the HydraQuiver Vest Pack 2 , you can see the PROS outweigh the CONS. The pack is durable, lightweight, and good for road running & for trails. It has plenty of storage, and won’t chafe you, even after hours of sweaty use. Sure it’s a little bit on the expensive side, but you get what you pay for. Also your purchase is with small company designing and manufacturing quality products here in the USA, and that’s always a good thing. I can wholeheartedly say that the VP2 is Rob approved.

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Carson Footwear Iguana Racer Review

Another bright IdeaLike all my reviews, this is a down and dirty, no mumbo jumbo review using my real world experience. We are taking a new direction today, this will be my first foray into non-tech gear reviews. What are we going to see today, what has the dubious honor of my first tech-free review? Carson Footwear’s Iguana Racers.

If you’re not familiar with Carson Footwear (http://carsonfootwear.com/) I can’t say it’s your fault. They are new player in the footwear world, but at 2.5 years old they are definitely making their way into this ever-burgeoning field.

I will say this before I get into the nitty and the gritty, if you are into buying American designed, American made (As a note, Carson Footwear is based out of Milwaukie Oregon), and almost entirely American sourced products, you need to check them out. If you like to buy from the underdog, the small guy, the hip new upstart, check them out as well. OK enough chit chat let’s get to it.

Disclaimer: I contacted Everett Carson after a mutual acquaintance introduced me to the product, and he was gracious enough to agree to let me have a pair of his premiere offering for review. This will not influence my review, but in order to have full transparency I want to let you know.

Pros:

Breathability: The upper of the shoe is made of a tough, synthetic fiber in a tight mesh weave. It’s lightweight, allows plenty of airflow when in use and so far seems to be pretty tough.

Weight: These shoes are light. I have big feet (size 13 or 14 depending), and shoes normally list the weight for a size 9-10. I can tell you that these are probably the one of lightest pair of shoes I own. 10.3 ounces is what the postal scale shoes the size 13 weighing at. Pretty light.

Durability: I’m not going to lie, I’m rough on footwear, but these have been pretty darned good so far. I’ve run a couple hundred miles on the trails and the roads (combined) as well as walked around San Diego during Comic Con with these guys. They have also pretty much become my go to casual shoe, so they get a lot of mileage on them.

Sole: The sole on these is pretty nice, aside from the lug pattern, which is good on the trails it’s made from lightweight polyurethane instead of your typical EVA. From what I have read this material wa created especially for Carson with the help of BASF. I’ve also read that it helps to dissipate force horizontally as well os vertically so it can be thinner than its EVA counterparts.

Designed, Built and mostly sourced from America: For some of you that might not be a plus, but for me it is. I like supporting smaller, independent manufacturers and if they can add more to their local economy as opposed to somewhere in China or Bangladesh, even better.

Trailability: The PU sole with its unique lug pattern is great on multiple terrains. Dirt, gravel, sand, muddy areas; they performed admirably under most conditions. The one area where I saw a dip in gription (grippyness and friction) was in wet surfaces. They can be a bit slippery on wet stones and grass. Not terrible by any means but it seems to be their weakest point.

Neutral:

Zero Drop: I won’t mislead you; I like zero drop footwear. Inflated heel height is not natural and you shouldn’t stand for it (pun intended). I know a lot of people either don’t know the difference, don’t care, or think it’s weird but having the front and rear of your feet at the same point is where it’s at for me. For those who don’t know zero drop means that the front and the rear of the shoe are the same height. Typically running shoes have anywhere from 4mm – 16mm of difference between where the forefoot and the heel are in relation to the ground.

Stack height: Measuring in at 10MM the Iguanas fall squarely into the mid-range stack height for me. My work shoes are zero drop, .5mm stack height VivoBarefoot RAs and my marathon shoes are Altra Paradigms with a whopping 34mm stack height.

Don’t let the stack height fool you though, I have run 6-8 miles courses in these and they are as comfortable as some of my shoe with 18-24mm stack heights for the same distance.

Price: At $100 they fall right into the upper price point for non-professional runners, but factoring in the fact that they are manufactured and assembled here in the USA it’s a bargain as compared to most other companies that have everything made overseas.

Cons:

Fit: These run a bit smaller than I am used to. Truth be told I probably need a size 14 in them. They have a narrow toebox, and crowd my caveman toes together a bit. Luckily though the upper material is stretchy and they expand on the landing portion of my stride to allow my toes to splay a little bit.

No Rock Plate: Every shoe has to make compromises, weight for cushioning, breathability for waterproofing, or in this case no rock plate for flexibility. I get it, It’s not a huge negative but I wanted to make sure I let you know, being a minimalist shoe, they are very thin and flexible, which means no protective plate. For me that’s no a big deal but for some people it may be.

Other:

Warranty: Carson provides a one (1) year warranty on the workmanship of the shoes. You’ll get a nifty warranty card with the serial number of your shoes when you get them.

Packaging: like most shoes, they come in a box, but in that box is a nice bag to store your shoes in. In a world where companies like to give you less and less, it’s a nice touch.

Summary:

So looking at the Iguanas as a whole, you can see the PROS well outweigh the CONS. The shoes are durable, lightweight, good for road running, and great for trails. They are a little bit on the expensive side, but you get what you pay for, and really don’t you want your feet to have the best quality you can get for them? If you have wide feet consider getting a size larger than you usually wear. Don’t worry there are different patterns for the shoes, so you don’t have to have reptiles on your feet if you don’t want to. After a couple hundred miles and my daily life I can say that Carson Footwear is Rob approved.

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Fitbit Surge: Lightning Review

Another bright IdeaLike all my reviews, this is a down and dirty, no mumbo jumbo review using my real world experience. I’m shaking things up and starting directly with the CONS.

CONS:

HRM: The HRM isn’t as accurate as my other devices. To validate the HRM I wore the Fitbit, my Mio Link and my Polar FT7 with chest strap. The Fitbit read 57 as my Resting Heart Rate, the Mio and the polar both read it as 51. As a control I hopped onto one of the machines at the gym and grabbed its HRM pads, it read 52 as my resting, off by a few BPM, but not bad. However the disparity widened during my run today. At the height of my run, the FB registered my BPM as 163. The Polar and the Mio both clocked in at 176. That’s 13 BPM and a pretty big difference.

GPS: The GPS takes its dear sweet time to lock, not surprising. Based on the size of the device the antenna is pretty small, and probably a bit weak. It took about 25 seconds for it to lock, but once it did It never lost signal.

Size: I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty big. If you have dainty wrists, it’s going to look out of place. The face area is 1 5/16″ wide and 2 1/4″ long.

Proprietary USB connector: This is one of my biggest pet peeves. It means one more cable to keep track of. One more expense if I lose the original cable. I get it, you want a cool way to connect to your device, but you don’t want a cradle, so you design so goofy little pin style connector that has a weird shape. Bully for you, but I hate it. This thing is large enough that they could have put inductive charging in it. Drop it on a Qi based charging pad and walk away.

Price: At $250 this thing is pretty pricey. I’m not saying it isn’t worth the cost, just that it’s in the same realm as devices from Garmin, and the like that have a lot of the same features, plus do mapping and cadence.

PROS:

Comfortable: This thing is comfortable. The material that the strap is made from is a polymer of some sort that has a soft and almost silky feel to it. It is easy to grip, yet doesn’t pull on my arm hair (which there is plenty of). It has a traditional hook and loop style clasp and the retainer loop has a “tooth” in it to hold the band. It’s lightweight and once you slip it on it’s pretty much forgotten about.

HRM: OK I can hear you now, “You just listed the HRM in the CONS”. I did, but keep reading Skipper. The HRM is optical. It has 2 pulsing lights that allow it’s sensor to measure your pulse rate on your wrist. No more uncomfortable chest straps (more for the ladies and us fat guys). Being a large guy and pretty hairy guy, I have always hated chest straps. The pull hair, the get pushed down by jiggling fleshy parts and they have trouble getting readings through my overly manly fur. Having the HRM be optical and on your wrist eliminates all that frustration.

Battery: So it came out of the box with 50% battery, throwing caution to the wind I didn’t even charge it, I just set it up and put it on. I turned the HRM to always on, fiddled with the settings and let it do its thing. I even left the cable for it at work. I wore it the rest of the day, all night, and still have it on this morning. It used the GPS while I ran, the HRM is still going and the battery appears to have moved all of about 10%. Not too shabby. They claim it will get 7-10 days of battery life (based on usage of course).

Fitbit Community: Being a fit bit it has all the accoutrements that any of their devices has, including the website, mobile app and fairly rabid fan base. People LOVE their Fitbits . The website shows your recent exercises, weight goals calories burned, calories consumed and water intake. It has areas to challenge your Fitbit friends, log your food intake and what have you. Their food database is nowhere near as expansive as MyFitnessPal, nor does it link with MFP. That is a shame but it is what it is.

GPS accuracy: While the GPS does take a while to get a lock it seems to be fairly accurate.  My phone clocked my run today at 5.36 miles, the Surge clocked it at 5.37. Considering the size of the device I can live with a longer lock time as long as it keeps the lock and is accurate for my runs.

Operation: The Surge is pretty straight forward to operate, three buttons and a touch screen. Most of your work is going to be done using the buttons, while navigation is done using the touch screen. Wake the device up, button. Choose an exercise, scree. Start/stop/pause buttons. View text messages, screen. You get the picture. Without looking at the user guide, it took me less than 2 minutes to have the navigation and operation of this thing down pat.

Screen: The Surge uses a transflective type display with a back light. What does this mean to you? It means the display is readable in direct sunlight and when it’s dark it has a sensor that tells it to turn on the back light so it can be read. This makes the battery life a lot easier to manage as compared to standard always lit lcd /led/olem displays.

Water resistance: this sucker is rated at water resistant to 5 ATM. Which while it sounds all cool and whatnot really just means you can sweat, wash, shower, & run in the rain with it. It is not designed for use as a swimming tracker (needs at least a 10ATM rating for that). You can probably splash around in a 4’ pool with no issues, but diving depth is a no no.

Summary:

So looking at the Surge as a whole, you can see the PROS, outweigh the CONS. It’s a solid little device with some nice features. It’s a definite step up from your typical glorified pedometer that the rest of the Fitbit family of gear is. The HRM is a bit inaccurate, but not terribly so. The GPS is a bit slow, but it’s accurate once it gets a lock. It’s comfortable, not terrible to look at and has a good battery life. If you can get past the price tag. I think most people will feel it’s a great workout/daily life device worth strapping on their wrists.

UPDATE: 7/6/2015

Well The surge is still working like a champ. Battery life with my mixed use (GPS 4 days a week for runs) is about 4-5 days per charge. It has survived my circuit shorting sweat and been in the shower pretty much every time I have. I can say that the Surge is Rob Approved.

UPDATE: 9/29/2015

The newest software update has made this device even better. Improved battery life, mile mark notifications, and general stability improvements. the last update I would like to see is the ability to get email notifications. If it had that it would be the complete package. I still say that the Surge is Rob Approved.

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AfterShokz Bluez 2 Review

As always this will be a down and dirty type of review. It will be based in real world terms, not fancy marketing hype. Ready or not, here we go.

 

Common background information: I workout a lot, I sweat profusely and I have shorted out at least two dozen headsets in my pursuit of sweat-proof earphones/headsets to use while I run, lift, and bike. If you have read my previous reviews, you will remember that I reviewed other Aftershockz products last year. Well my friends at Aftershokz have graciously provided me with a pair of their newest headset to torture. Iam happy to say that, I have found another great headset that I can recommend. Like their predecessor these are a bit different than standard headsets/earphones in that they are an open ear, bone conduction type of headset. That means they sit on your cheekbones and send sound to your inner ear, not like tradional heatsets that go in your ear. So without further rambling, I present the AfterShokz Bluez 2. http://www.aftershokz.com/collections/wireless/products/bluez-2

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If you are unfamiliar Aftershockz, I can say I’m not that surprised. Though I expect that to change any day now. When I first came across Aftershokz, I was looking for bone conductive headsets. I knew they were out there but hadn’t ever found any Bluetooth ones before. Anyone who knows me knows I HATE, and yes that is a strong word, but I absolutely hate wired headsets and earphones when I exercise. My gorilla arms tend to flail about and get tangled up in the wires and rip things off my noggin. I was happy to find that someone had stepped up and created a Bluetooth BCH and couldn’t wait to try them out.

Good:

Price: The Bluez 2 MSRP is $99 but I imagine that street price will vary a bit once they are publicly available. The price point is not too outrageous for a Bluetooth stereo headset of decent quality. It’s great when you take into consideration, that bone conductive sets are usually higher than this when wired.

Comfort: Like my review for the Decibullz (http://aosp.us/?p=799) and the original BLUEZ (http://aosp.us/?p=862) , I cannot stress this point, enough, because they do not go in your ears, but rather sit on your cheek bones, they are extremely comfortable. I wore them for about 8 hours the first day I had them, and just like the previous model, I almost forgot they were there, except for the constant rhythm I had in my head.

Fit: The Bluez 2 fit like, most other wrap behind headsets, but are most similar to the Motorola S10/S11 headsets, in the fit department. If you’re worried about them falling off while you workout, don’t. I know some of you out there are going to be like, “But I really workout hard/fast/violently/whatever…” Yeah I do too. I do 60-75 minutes of cross-fit style training followed by 60-90 minutes of trail/road running. In the course of my workout my head gets flung into many different positions, sometimes with a fair amount of force. Guess what, they stay in place just fine. They fit securely in front of your ears and have a band in the back that helps keep the tension on them. They have stayed in place so far for me, in excess of 8 hours of workout time so far. A small change from the original is that the tension strap is not adjustable. So far that has not been an issue because it fits snugly and has some stretch to it.

 

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Sound Quality: If you’re looking for a headset that can be an audiophile’s wet dream, I’m going to ask you to kindly move along, as these are not the headphones you are looking for (Jedi mind trick active).  OK are those guys gone? Good. OK, for the rest of you out there who are looking for a headset that has great audio, phone capabilities, and decent battery life, I’m talking to you. I was surprised by the sound quality of the Bluez 2, even compared to the originals which were good. I had tried bone conducting headsets a few years back and was, let’s just say, underwhelmed by them. The Bluez 2 do a great job of reproducing the sounds that you would normally have going into your ears. The bass was bassy but not overbearing, the mids and highs were there and represented well. If you have them cranked all the way up you can hear the music coming out of them from a distance, but if you set them down on a hard surface they will shake and rattle all over the place, letting you know it’s not sound but vibration that you are hearing. They have implemented a new feature called “Leak Slayer” which helps cut down on audio leakage, which was an issue for the originals. As far as call quality I have made a few calls with them and people say they can hear me nice and clearly and I can hear them very well too. The Bluez 2 have an additional microphone for noise reduction, and it appears to work as advertised So they actually do perform very well as a phone headset.

Packaging/Accessories: when most companies are trying to give you as little as possible when you buy their products, it’s refreshing to see one going a bit better. The Bluez 2 are packaged well in a nice box. Inside that box is a soft carrying case, a charging cable, a warranty card, a quick start guide, a multi lingual instruction sheet and the tension band. Unlike some of the other brands that give you throw away packaging and the headset, it’s nice to get the carrying case included. That being said, I’ll never use it. I never used the rigid case that came with the Bluez.

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Controls: The power, volume, and multifunction buttons are rubber coated/booted physical buttons. They work as intended and are easy to use. To answer a call you press the multifunction button on the left “ear” piece (when you are wearing them), this will pause any media you have running. To end the call you press the button again. To make a call a double press of the button gets you into the dialog for that. To play/pause your music you single press the multifunction button. Dead simple.

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Battery: They claim a 6 hour battery life. I was able to get almost 8 hours out of them the first day I had them. The first couple of hours were at about 90% volume, while the rest was at 50% or a little below. I’m not sure what volume they have their number spec’ed for but, as always,  your mileage may vary.

Warranty: They come with a 2 year warranty, that covers defects in workmanship and sweat damage. As a side note, they truly stand behind their products. I destroyed 12 pairs of the originals with my overactive sweat glands. They happily replaced them no questions, no qualms. This is a company that I can say honestly really cares about their customers. The customer service staff that I have worked with have all been great. Always courteous, always genuine, and always eager to help me get my issue resolved.

 

 

Neutral:

Sound Quality: I know I just said this was in the good column, but there is something I need to tell you about that is neither Good nor Bad when it come to the sound quality. Remember these are an Open Ear style headset. That means you can still hear outside sounds/noise when you use them. For me this is a good thing, I often run along roads and busy streets, and being able to hear approaching traffic is always good. While I enjoy the solitude that my in ear headsets give me, the safety factor takes precedence when running outside. Being able to hear ambient noises can be a strange experience at first, but you’ll adjust quickly.

 

BAD:

Comfort: Again, I know I just said this was in the good column, just hear me out.I had no discomfort with the Bluez2 but the foillowing goes out to anyone who is new to bone conduction headsets. You will likely have no discomfort while wearing/using the Bluez2. You may notice a strange sensation when you take them off. After being on your head for a long time, you may notice a weird tingling sensation on your face (no doubt from being shook all day) and you will likely notice a sense of relief when you take them off. Because they put pressure on your face, it apparently build up after a while. Like I said I only noticed it after taking them off and only the first few times I wore them.

USB Flap: In order to maintain the Water resistance/Sweat Proof-ness they have a small flap that covers the usb port. It’s made of plastic and is held in place by a flimsy little, for lack of a better word, tether. I would have rather seen a rubber plug style door that is welded to the plastic than what they are using. It has been ok so far but we will see how it holds up. The original Bluez had the same type of connector and it was surprisingly resilient.

 

Conclusion:

Conclusion: No bones about it (see what I did there?), well excluding your cheek and inner ear bones (you do know you have bones in your ears right?), the Aftershokz Bluez 2 are a good buy. Even if you have to pay full retail price, but who does that. They have performed well for me so far and will most likely become my daily driver (replacing the original Bluez) for working out and running, assuming I don’t prove the sweat-proof claims inaccurate.

 

UPDATE 5/30/2014:

So, I have put these things through the wringer. Over 20 hours in the gym, and 200+ miles running in conditions ranging from light rain to high humidity and heat. They have had more sweat and moisture on them then should be legal and all the while they have performed great with nary a peep of complaint. These are by far one of the best headsets on the market today.  I can finally say that the Bluez 2 are Officially Rob Approved.