So, here it is! Last week I got a new gizmo in Lidl, a “spur of the moment” buy – well, in my defence I had seen it in the catalogue before, but since I was considering getting a bluetooth heart rate monitor to interface with my Android phone I didn’t give it that much thought. Anyway, when I went last week to Lidl for my groceries I had a long look at it and in the end the relatively low price (£14.99) convinced me 😀 .
It is quite full-featured (the user manual is quite sizeable, too!), having “regular” watch mode (eg comprising time & date, chronometer, alarm and even dual time zone support!), pedometer mode and HRM mode. The good news is that these functions are not independent, ie you can go for a run whilst tracking your heart rate and seeing all the relevant information on the screen, which albeit tiny is more than enough in terms of legibility (and it even has a blueish back-lighting to help when going for runs in the dark).
Aesthetics and ergonomics
OK, in terms of aesthetics is not the prettiest watch you’d find; it is quite bulky too, which is why I won’t retire my Casio – I’ll just take this one out of the drawer whenever I want to go for a run, as it is too big for everyday “normal” use. It is not as waterproof as my Casio, too – the manual states a tolerance of up to 3 bar, which according to them is just rain- and splash-resistance. Shame, I won’t be able to use it on the boat!… (anyway, for that I plan to get a cheap, waterproof Android phone and a Bluetooth HRM, as soon as my savings allow for that!…)
But it is functional, and the aforementioned display is good enough to accommodate the speed or HR as you’re going along in quite big digits, along with an accompanying graphic which, in pedometer mode will tell you if you are trending towards an increase or decrease in speed, and in HRM mode it will graphically tell you where your current HR is in terms of the typical minimum and maximum brackets for your age range (very handy!). There is also a bottom row with additional information which can be customised, eg you can select to have the distance run displayed alongside the speed, or your current heart rate, or your average speed… the choice is yours :).
The actual heart rate sensor is mounted on a chest strap (as all HRMs are), and I had absolutely no issue with it, and it seemed relatively comfortable in the 7.5k test run I had on Thursday. Probably in longer runs it might prove worse, I have to test that properly but unfortunately I don’t have proper long, uninterrupted running trails around here like I do in Porto, so that will have to wait for the Summer holidays! 😛
Functionality and user interface
As I mentioned before, the screen is quite good in terms of the amount of information it can display. The user interface is also quite simple to navigate, and I only had trouble finding some advanced settings because I didn’t read the user manual properly (more on that later). The rest is just a matter of navigating with one key and confirming with the other, and long-pressing to reset the counters. Nothing more simple!
The communication with the HR sensor is also quite simple (and apparently it is coded, so I won’t have problems with running with people also wearing HRMs!), the only issue is that you need to moisten the sensor in order for it to make proper contact with the skin, but that seems to be the case in most sensors out there…
One thing that I really liked is the fact that the timing will automatically stop when you are stationary (since it is detecting both my footsteps and the lack of them!…). Running in an urban setting here in England requires continuous stopping, as zebra crossings are rarer than the actual zebras around here, and the general rule to crossing a road is to cross anywhere, provided that there are no cars coming, which may work if you are walking but it is really annoying if you’re running. I would have to manually stop and start my stopwatch whenever that happened, which was not ideal, especially since I couldn’t hear if the action was actually carried out (I use earphones), and in the end I’d be continuously checking my watch to see if the timing was still on (and try doing that at night, even with a backlit screen!).
It also has some very neat stuff, such as memory of the highest/lowest/average heart rate, and fitness mode, which consists in measuring the heart rate drop along a specific period of time, which will assess your recovery after a strenuous exercise (of course you can always do this with a stopwatch and taking heart beat counts during 15 seconds, but it is much simpler this way!! 🙂 )
The only real issue I had with it, which was really all my fault, was related to the calibration of my step. Following the typical male technocrat attitude, I only skimmed across the (quite sizeable) user manual and skipped the section on pedometer calibration in its entirety. And the result was quite evident: the 7.5k test run I had on Thursday was counted as only 5k, and I could see during my workout that the “instantaneous” speed would never go over 10 kph, which is quite low for me, as my average pace is slightly below 5:00/km, which in kph should be exactly 12! (I have been ill and only returned to proper running recently, but still!…)
After that, I went to the troubleshoot section of the watch and there it was, written exactly for fools like myself, that if the speed readings were not presented correctly you’d have to calibrate the device. And actually the algorithm is quite sophisticated, as it takes into account a lower and an upper limit, which are configurable, and then asks you to run and walk a predefined distance to assess the size of your step. After calibrating it with a 400 m track I went on a test run again (I had the motivation of testing this watch, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone out as the weather was horribly windy and damp!) and I had a much lower error of about 300 m in a 4.5k run (and this time the error was by excess, it overestimated the distance ran). I will still do some additional calibrations, as I feel that I’ve set the higher limit too high (13 kph, when I normally run at 12!) and I’ve also used a quite short calibration track – next time I’ll do 1k, which is exactly two laps around my cul-de-sac.
In conclusion: for a fraction of the cost of a Garmin specialist runner watch (they retail for well over £100-£200!) you get something that will most definitely help you assess your running workouts (and they also thrown in a bicycle holder to use the watch as an HRM during a bike ride!). Obviously it doesn’t have exactly the same level of functionality (you didn’t expect GPS and data export from a £15 device, did you?), but if used while aware of its limitations it can serve you quite well. A must buy, definitely! 🙂