Activity Tracking 2.0 With The Garmin Vivosmart HR+

As I look down at the high-tech device on my wrist, I find it hard to believe that only a few short years ago, this sort of tech was virtually unknown. Now, it houses some pretty cool features that have become seamless to use, lightweight, and stylish. I’m speaking of course about the new Vivosmart HR+ from Garmin.

When I first unboxed the Vivosmart, my first impression was that it looked pretty nice, but no different to the dozens of other fitness trackers on the market that I’d tried in the past. I expected to see the usual: Step counting, sleep tracking, and heart rate monitoring. The Vivosmart has all of these, of course, but hidden in the small form-factor of the device, were crammed a slew of additional features, and some clever app-connected touches as well.

The Features

To keep things simple and easy to digest, here is a list of the features found in the Vivosmart HR+. Some are self-explanatory, and others I will expand on below.

  • Pedometer
  • Touch screen/swipable interface
  • Sunlight-readable display
  • Heart rate monitor
  • Sleep tracking
  • GPS(!)
  • More running metrics
  • Move IQ
  • Phone tethering for smart notifications
  • Companion Apps, which include:
    • Historical tracking
    • Run mapping
    • Activity & Health statistics
    • Workout details

And these are just the major features. Once connected to the Garmin Connect app, you have access to a heap of functionality, collaborations and sharing options, course creation, and more.

The Vivosmart HR+ really highlights the fact the Garmin have been doing activity tracking, and doing it well, since the start. The features are well thought out, the layout of the device UI is intuitive and minimal, yet informative,

The companion app (Garmin Connect) is used across the Garmin range, and can be used to set goals, and compete against friends and family.

Usability

With all these features, one can imagine that they would need a degree to operate the device. Honestly, it does take a bit of time to really delve into the details, but the nice thing is that you don’t really need to obsess over the metrics to get a lot out of the Vivosmart.

What makes this possible is the Move IQ feature. This feature is used to automatically work out when you’re performing different activities, from walking to running, cycling or using gym equipment. Other devices need you to manually specify a change in activity, but not the Vivosmart HR+.

Alongside the activity swapping feature, there is also a neat side-bar called the Move bar. Over the weeks that I tested the device, I developed a love/hate relationship with the Move bar. Basically, it’s just a line that creeps up the device face when it detects that you are standing still. Once it reaches a certain height, the device vibrates, and displays the word MOVE! on the screen.

At first, the Move bar was a bit annoying, but after a few days, it turned out to be a really handy reminder to get up and move around. As an office worker, this feature is really helpful for reducing the damaged caused by endless hours of physical inactivity.

Conclusion

The Vivosmart HR+ was a pleasant surprise, packed full of useful features and automation that set it apart as a true next-generation tracking device. It’s well designed, intuitive, and stylish. If this is the sort of device that we can expect to see from Garmin in the coming years, then I see a lot more people taking them up, or making the switch from competitors’ devices.

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

BeginningBarefoot.com would like to thank Garmin Australia for loaning us a sample device for testing. Vivosmart HR+ and other devices are available in sporting retail stores across Australia and the world

XeroShoes Do It Again With The New Prio

They’re here, They’re finally here! 

Ever since I saw my first glimpse of the new XeroShoes Prio, I knew I had to have them. Their sleek design and barefoot pedigree made them shoes to be sought after, and now, here I sit, with the box open on my lap, and I have to say – I’m not disappointed.

I expected the Prio to be light, and they are. I expected them to be flexible, and they are. I expected them to be breathable, comfortable, and affordable. Tick, tick, tick.

What I didn’t expect was that these shoes would be so much better than the competition.

Here’s a company that has been around since the beginning of the minimalist/barefoot running movement. They started with a very basic, DIY sandal, with a sole that was designed to be lighter than a car tyre. Basically it was a slight modernisation of the Huarache sandals famously described in the barefoot running classic Born to Run.

Fast forward a little less than a decade, and this tiny operation has grown up and is now producing shoes that other companies would charge upwards of $400 for (I’m looking at you Vivobarefoot).

 

Designed by barefoot runners, for barefoot runners, the Prio is an engineering marvel. It still follows the basic design of a huarache sandal, with the strapping cradling the shoe in a familiar crisscross pattern. But within that layer of strapping is now a lightweight mesh upper, which provides comfort and protection while still allowing maximum airflow across the foot. Most minimalist shoes these days have mesh uppers, but somehow, the Prio manages to get it just right, to the point where it’s easy to forget that the mesh is even there.

The protective covering doesn’t just stop at the upper however. Underfoot, there is a soft, yet thin fabric layer, covering the wafer-thin FeelTrue rubber sole. Unlike its sister shoe, the Hana, this soft inner sole features hidden stitching, which makes them more aesthetically appealing, and much more comfortable, even without the optional insole which is included in the box.

To top it all off, the Prio features one of the nicest toe boxes on the market. It is spacious enough for a full range of motion, even for wider feet, but doesn’t have the “clown shoe” effect that many wide-box shoes have.

With all of the new features in the Prio, it’s also comforting to see many of the building blocks that make XeroShoes sandals and shoes so great. The simple, yet effective grip underfoot, and the sensible lacing system make for a shoe that can be taken anywhere – off-road or on the streets.

Performance-wise, I can’t fault these shoes. I admit, I haven’t done much running in them yet (damn you, Cyclone Debbie), but the few K’s I’ve clocked up have been very pleasant, both at running and walking pace. I was very surprised at how much of a marked difference they made in running as compared to the Hana, which until now has been my go-to walking shoe.

When running in the Prio, you can literally feel the breeze blowing across your feet, and the ground underfoot, but with the security of knowing you’re not going to come to harm by the occasional rogue thorn or sharp rock.

As you can probably tell, the Prio has done more than impress, and is hands down the best minimalist shoe I have worn to date. I’m hoping they wear out soon so that I can buy another pair!

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

Beginning Barefoot would like to thank XeroShoes for providing us with sample shoes for testing. to purchase your own pair, and show your support, please visit their site at xeroshoes.com

 

Barefoot shoes: The new Xeroshoes Ipari Hana reviewed

Xeroshoes Ipari Hana

Xeroshoes Ipari Hana

It’s hard to know where the Xeroshoes team find the time to develop, test, and bring to market such a wide variety of well-crafted, thoughtfully designed, and beautiful shoes, but I’m glad they do!

It seems like just yesterday they announced the release of my favourite running sandal, the Umara Z-Trail, but now they’ve created something completely new, and very surprising from a company that has until now specialised in sandals.

I’m referring of course, to the brand new Ipari Hana, which makes its debut TODAY!

2016-10-18-09-57-50I was fortunate enough to receive a sneak peak pair to try out, and am glad I did, because these are going to fly off the shelf. Want to know why? Keep reading.

Let’s start with the construction. The Ipari Hana have a great base to start out on, as they feature the unparalleled Xeroshoes “FeelTrue” rubber soles. This makes them super-flexible and at very thin 5.5 mm, provide excellent ground feel.

Moving up, we have the insole. I’ve had a play with them both with and without insoles, and even though the insoles are technically removable, the Hanas are and are intended to be worn with them in, and are much more comfortable this way. They’ve very thin though, so there is not a major difference in ground feel with them in.

2016-10-18-09-57-37

2016-10-18-09-57-28

Next we 2016-10-18-09-57-00have the uppers. At first glance, they look like they are made of a single layer of canvas material, but on closer inspection, we can see that they are also partially lined with leather (suede?). This touch really makes the Hana feel like a proper shoe, and greatly improves the comfort factor. The leather is soft against your feet, flexible, and durable.

The Hana is intended as a casual shoe, and unfortunately isn’t waterproof, but you can’t have everything, and most minimal shoes fall into this category these days. I haven’t tried it yet on my Hanas, but I’ll likely use the tried and true Scotch Guard trick (ie: spraying them with Scotch Guard) and bump up the water resistance a little.

2016-10-18-09-58-20Finally on to my favourite bit. I don’t have a word for it, as I’ve never seen it before, but the bit of material that the laces thread through is GENIUS. I don’t know how such a simple structure can make such a big difference, but for those of us who wear shoes without socks, this is a godsend. (If you know what this bit is called, please let me know in the comments!)

What it manages to do is move the tightening action to the top of the foot, instead of the outside of the foot. This is a very subtle difference, but is IMHO a killer feature that would (read: will) guarantee I’ll be looking out for tihs feature in future shoe purchases.

On to performance. These aren’t running shoes (unfortunately), but rather sit very nicely in the day-to-day shoe category. I’ve worn mine mostly for trips to the shops and walking the dog, and the best praise I can give them is that straight out of the box they’ve felt like an old pair of shoes. What I mean by this is that they’re not stiff and don’t feel like they need to be worn in. This being said, they have begun to stretch a tiny bit, which is  to be expected wit canvas/leather, but this has only improved the comfort.

On2016-10-18-09-58-48e downside for now, is that the Ipari Hana are only available in Men’s sizes. But don’t worry ladies, there is a women’s version due for release shortly (shh don’t tell anyone I told you).

There’s not much else to say about the Ipari Hana apart from WOW. For a first full shoe, Xeroshoes have done a brilliant job. I can’t wait to see where this goes.

If you’re interested in getting a pair, act fast, and use this link to get your pair discounted to $64.99 USD during the release period (before they sell out!). 

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

Beginning Barefoot would like to thank the team at Xeroshoes for letting us road test their latest products. Please show your support by visiting their site and browsing their amazing products!

FitBit Charge HR – Worth The Price?

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

The FitBit. I’ve wanted to try out one of these since they first came out on the market a few years back, but let’s be honest, they seem like very expensive pedometers, right? As luck would have it, I recently got the chance to try out a FitBit Charge HR free of charge, and see if they’re truly worth the money that could otherwise be spent on race entries and minimal shoes.

Initial Impressions

Before even trying it on, I had to admit that this is an attractive bit of kit. I really love the minimal styling of the FitBit Charge HR, and can understand why this particular model seems to be the current most popular style.

I couldn’t help trying it on before charging it up, and with a nice wide band, and plenty of notches, it was easy to adjust and very comfortable on my wrist.

I even liked the colour tone on the device. I was given the blue band, but there are five colours to choose from (black, plum, blue, tangerine and teal).

Actually setting up the FitBit was pretty straight-forward. I simply plugged it in and followed the instructions to download the client software to my computer (via a web link), and to my Android smartphone (via the Google Play store).

I left it to charge while the software installed and let it get fully charged before giving it the initial obligatory run-in-place test.

To my chagrin, none of my steps were being counted initially and my heart rate was in the mid hundreds. Sure I haven’t been exercising much recently, but that seemed like a very high resting heart rate. In retrospect, this issue may have been related to my device being a testing sample, and was likely refurbished or at least tried and returned at some point.

Others that I have spoken to had no such issues and their FitBit Charge HR just worked.

I admit it was a bit disappointing to have issues right out of the box, but at the same time it gave me an opportunity to test out the FitBit help resources. A quick Google search led me to the FitBit help pages, which are pretty comprehensive and very helpful. Within minutes I had learned how to reset my device, and my problems were resolved.

Features

For such a small, and minimally styled device, the FitBit Charge HR packs quite a lot of features into a small package:

Heart Rate Monitor

The heart rate monitor is arguably the most high-tech feature on the Charge HR. It uses LED lights on the bottom of the device to track changes in the blood flow in the veins of your wrist. I was expecting it to need to be worn on the underside of my wrist, however it works fine in the regular watch position.

The FitBit lets you check your heart rate via a menu option accessed by the small button on the side of the display. I’m not sure why, but my heart rate usually appears elevated when I try to view it this way, though the recorded stats, viewable via the FitBit site or mobile app, seem about right. This is a bit annoying, and I wouldn’t use the device as a dedicated HR monitor because of it. I do find the historical tracking interesting though.

Other users have reported the same issue, so it may be fixed in a later update. Many users, however, report no such problems, so YMMV. Post your experiences in the comments section as I’d love to know if any of you have a similar issue.

Pedometer

The core function of all FitBits is the built-in accelerometer that is used primarily as a smart pedometer. The Charge HR is no different, and it does a great job. Like any off-the shelf pedometer, the device can count your steps as you walk around or engage in exercise. What makes the FitBit different is that it can work out when you’re driving or riding in an elevator, and stop recording your steps appropriately.

Of course, the pedometer isn’t foolproof and there will be times when it doesn’t record, or over-records your steps. Try to keep the air-drumming to a minimum though, and the differences should just about average out.

There is a default 10,000 steps goal programmed into the device which causes the device to vibrate and alert you that you’ve reached the goal. The amount of steps can be changed via the settings panel.

Sleep tracking

Sleep tracking is the killer app that you didn’t know you were missing. The data received from your device is compiled onto your FitBit account, where funky algorithms are applied, and the quality of your sleep is assessed.

It shows the duration of your sleep, periods of restfulness, and periods of wakefulness, measured based on the movements of your arm and what, if any, major movements or steps you’ve taken during the sleeping period.

As a parent with 2 sleep deprivation-inducing kids, I’ve found tracking this a morbidly fascinating experience.

From what I can tell, it’s pretty accurate, though it only records sleeps of more than an hour – power nappers and polyphasic sleepers, you have been warned.

Stairs

On top of the built-in accelerometer, the Charge HR also has an altimeter, allowing it to measure distance travelled vertically. Like the pedometer, it has built-in smarts to avoid recording elevator or plane trips.

Clock

I know, right, a watch with a clock in it – how novel. Actually the only reason I mention it here is that the FitBit Charge HR has a neat feature whereby it turns off the display when you’re not looking at it. To activate it, just lift your wrist and turn the watch face towards you, and it lights up , showing you the time (or one of the other metrics if you choose to change the defaults via the FitBit site).

It’s a cool, futuristic-feeling feature that I like, though there have been many phantom wrist-lifts where it didn’t turn on, requiring a press of the button to light it up, or else a repeated arm movement (a sure-fire way to spot another FitBit user by the way!)

Calculated metrics

All of your stats are compiled instantly as your device is synced with your FitBit account via the included WiFi dongle, or bluetooth-enable device. A couple of these are also calculated and shown directly on the device.

These include Calories Burned, and Distance travelled. Calories Burned is calculated based on your basal metabolic rate using your provided height and weight, and factors in periods of activity and rest. It’s hard to say how accurate it is, though FitBit insists that it’s very accurate.

Distance travelled is also calculated based on your height and activity, though is not as accurate as a GPS would be, and as a barefoot runner with a short stride, I’ve found it pretty unreliable.

Field Testing

The FitBit Charge HR is designed to be worn as often as possible, during the waking and sleeping hours. It has a great battery life, allowing it to function continuously for several days.

I’ve found that taking it off and charging when showering (it’s not waterproof), gives it enough of a boost to keep it fully charged without losing too many tracked steps.

And that’s my next point. Wearing a FitBit really focuses you onto the number of steps per day you’re taking. I’ve never really given it much thought before, but now I find myself pacing, or taking the longer route home, or looking forward to forgetting something.

It’s a really strange and subtle change, but does make an impact. I’ve struggled for years to get back into a regular training routine. Being focused on steps has encouraged me to move more, which has in turn helped with setting up a training schedule.

With regards to accuracy, the FitBit pretty much behaves as you would expect. Steps counted seems reasonably accurate, barring jarring hand movements, etc.

As described above, the heart rate monitor seems accurate on the app, but not on the device. I suspect that there may be some extra noise filtering going on once the data gets online, which is why there is an apparent difference. I’m guessing here though, and don’t know for sure.

The sleep tracking has been a lot of fun to look at. It’s really fascinating to see just how well/poorly you slept, and how that is affected by external factors, such as late nights, big runs, alcohol, or kids. It’s one of my favourite features, and I hope they expand this metric in future iterations.

Another cool feature that I hadn’t realised was even on there until a spoke with a friend who has one is the Friends list. This lets you create a community of FitBit wearing friends, allowing you to compare steps taken (basic default), or else challenging each other to various missions involving activity within specified timeframes. It’s surprisingly motivating if you have competitive friends.

Conclusions

I’ve been using my FitBit Charge HR for a month now, and am honestly quite surprised at the results. Since week 1, I’ve increased my weekly mileage significantly, am sleeping longer, and am now consistently taking over 10,000 steps per day.

As a tracking device, it does a fair job of reporting metrics.  Sure there could be some improvements in accuracy, but in all honesty, a minor improvement in accuracy wouldn’t change how I use the device, or give me much more useful information.

I was lucky enough to receive a testing device without charge, but knowing what I know now, the price tag (be sure to look around for deals as price can vary tremendously) seems more reasonable than it did at first, and if that’s all it costs to encourage me off the couch and onto the trails more often, then it’s money well spent.

Where the FitBit excels is as a conduit to more exercise. Its very presence encourages you to move more and pay more attention to your habits. I’m really looking forward to the next generations of these devices, to allow tracking of weight, food intake, etc. If they can do for those areas what they’ve done for movement, FitBit will be unstoppable.

Beginning barefoot would like to thank the fine folks at FitBit Australia for providing a device for testing. Have a look on Amazon.com or at a local retailer to try one of their devices out.

XeroShoes Umara Z-Trail: Yes, You Do Need Another Pair Of Sandals

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

Z-TrekThe barefoot running community is abuzz with excitement over the launch of the new XeroShoes Umara Z-Trail. But do you really need another pair of sandals? In this case, the answer is definitely a resounding ‘Yes’!

The past few years have given us some tremendous minimal footwear, so excitement over the launch of another sandal may seem surprising. The reason for it, however, is that finally XeroShoes have cracked the code and managed to produce the holy grail of minimal sandals.

Featuring a 3-layer sole that caters for abrasion, flexibility, and comfort, the Umara Z-Trail has all of the important areas covered. Add to this that they’re lightweight, expertly constructed, with a sensible, and very adjustable strapping system, and you have an amazing pair of sandals. Oh, and did I mention that they come with the XeroShoes 5000 miles guarantee?

“But”, you might be saying, “I’ve already got a pair of XeroShoes, why would I need another pair?”.  The answer to this is simple. The Z-Trails are better. Don’t get me wrong, the rest of the XeroShoes family are excellent, but they each tend to be best used in one particular area.

For example, XeroShoes’ previous release was the Z-Trek. Like the Z-Trail, it’s a postless sandal that is very light. It differs in that is uses a performance sole, which, although ideal for running, and walking on relatively smooth surfaces, can be unfomfortable after many miles on a rough trail.

Ztrail_new

The case is similar for the Amuri Cloud, which is XeroShoes’ other ‘comfy’ sandal (it also uses a BareFoam layer on the footbed). It’s a very comfortable sandal, but uses a rope-based, huarache tying system. Huaraches are great, and are very adjustable, but the thick straps of the Z-Trail give the wearer just that extra little bit more width to spread out any rubbing.

And of course, we could compare them to other brands, but really, nothing compares in terms of weight and flexibility. Lunas and Shammas are great, but they are much heavier and use a 10+mm sole. Really, the Z-Trails are in a class all their own.

On top of all this, the Z-Trail are a relatively inexpensive sandal, which brings me to my final point. The Z-Trail officially launches today! And thanks to all of the early interest, the price has been reduced during the launch period, so now is an excellent time to grab a pair for yourself.

I would love to hear what you think of these sandals, so please comment back if you decide to buy a pair (or tell us why you didn’t buy them!).

 

 

XeroShoes Umara Z-Trail Preview!

Video

Stop the Press! XeroShoes have just announced the release of the new Umara Z-Trail sandal. I was lucky enough to get a preview pair and OMG, they’re awesome.

As a special treat for Beginning Barefoot fans, I’ve put together a short review video so you can see what they’re all about.

In a nutshell:

  • They’re very lightweight
  • The new soles are durable, comfortable, and flexible!
  • They Float!
  • They’re the best sandals XeroShoes yet!

The Z-Trails launch officially on March 11th, but if you’re quick, you can take a sneak peek and enter to win a pair of your own!

Review: Xero Shoes Takes On The Mainstream With The Amuri Z-Trek

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

AmuriZTrek
Since appearing on the show Shark Tank 2 years ago, Xero Shoes have been working hard to bring their unique sandals to a larger, more mainstream audience. They came out running, with the launch of not one, but 2 new huarache-style sandals – the Amuri Venture and Amuri Cloud. These represented a major departure from their original, simple designs, and were heartily embraced by the mainstream and barefoot running communities.

Now in 2015, on the back of increasing success, the pressure has been on to come up with more new and innovative designs, and this they have done with their latest offering, the Amuri Z-Trek Sport Sandal.

Overview

Unlike all of their previous models, the Z-T2015-08-22 14.23.05rek has a more mainstream-recognisable, postless sandal style. This departure from the huarache style is a big surprise, and has opened up the market to include those of us who don’t like the rubbing and chafing often caused by sandals that split the toes.

Not ones to simply copy existing footwear, Xero Shoes have done some significant tinkering with the Z-Trek, that sets it apart from other, similar sandals.

2015-08-22 14.22.56The first difference is the near weightlessness of the Z-Trek. Unlike the thick slab of rubber featuring in most postless sandals, the Z-Trek has a sole that is just 5.5mm thick. Going this thin is something that most manufacturers have avoided as it has the tendency to increase ‘sandal slap’, and make the shoes clumsy to wear.

This is where the second feature of the Z-Trek comes into play. One look at the strapping system and it’s clear that a lot of thought and effort has gone into it. In practice, the clever use of fixed and adjustable straps significantly reduces slapping, and helps maintain the sandal’s shape when running or walking.

2015-08-22 14.23.28-1Unlike with their huarache style sandals, the Z-Trek has a custom shaped sole, which allows the straps to be threaded in without contacting the ground. This makes for a nice, clean interface between the straps and the sole, which reduces wear and is aesthetically pleasing.

There are 2 straps that form the upper of the sandal, which are permanently stitched to the sole. A sturdy plastic buckle and Velcro heel strap, however, allow for a surprisingly large ability to tighten and adjust them so that they fit just right.

Though the adjustment of the straps can take a little bit of time initially, once they have been correctly fitted, the sandals are extremely easy to take on and off, by either pushing down the heel strap, or using the quick release feature of the main buckle.

Performance

2015-08-22 14.22.37In terms of performance, the Amuri Z-Trek fits roughly in between the Venture and Cloud. They are rugged enough for trail work, but comfy enough for day-to-day walking.

On the trails, the Z-Treks fare quite well. The chevron grip system allows for solid foot placement when running on flats and uphill, and the reverse pattern on the heel does a surprisingly good job of helping stability on the downhills.

The heel cup has a slight tendency to collect a small amount of debris on the trail, which can require the odd shake or a quick finger scrape to clear out. At first I questioned whether it was needed or not, but it does seem to add to the structural integrity of the sole, and I suspect that this was why it was added.

As with the other Xero Shoes sandals, a lot of the performance and comfort gains of the shoes are gleaned when correctly adjusting the straps. This can take a few goes, and some adjustments are needed when conditions change, especially in the wet. Fortunately, this is relatively easy to do, and once done, the solid strapping system doesn’t slip and loosen, even when running.

Conclusion

The Amuri Z-Trek is a very strong effort for a first attempt at a postless sandal. There has been a lot of thought put into the design and appearance of the sandals, and they seem to have a good chance of getting picked up by more mainstream shoppers.

I look forward to seeing how these sandals evolve over time, as there is still a little wiggle-room in terms of ease of adjustment, and possibly with initial fitting. I’d really love to see more Xero Shoes in the shops where these hurdles could be easily overcome by retail staff.