Review: iHome / New Balance Fitness Evolved Headphones
I wouldn't describe myself as a "gym rat", but I do go to the gym fairly frequently, and my routine doesn't vary much. Gym clothes on, sneakers tied, iPod Touch charged so I can continue listening to whatever audio book I'm in the middle of -- the current one is the Steve Jobs biography -- and my rather scroungy over-ear headphones so I can keep listening even as I move around and get into "the zone".
Keeping track of my time and performance on the various machines, monitoring my heart rate, and - hopefully! - seeing progress isn't something I've paid much attention to, so when the team at iHome offered to send me a pair of their new Fitness Evolved headphones (developed in cooperation with New Balance), I was intrigued. It'd track my performance and I'd even be able to graph things on my computer. Cool.
The reality was a bit more disappointing than I expected, especially given the wealth of options in the marketplace for tracking health and exercise. Heck, there are free apps that I could drop on my iPod Touch or my iPhone that offer some interesting data collection, and with the tiniest bit of self discipline with tapping a 'start' button on an app as I walk into the gym and a 'done' button as I walk out, I could even track my time spent and get some sort of visual representation of things.
The world of over-ear headphones is pretty saturated too, with just about every vendor in the marketplace realizing that there are a lot of people who like to exercise to music.
My headphones of choice, for example, are $17.99 Sony MDRQ22LP ear clips, and they work great and sound plenty good enough for the gym.
The first thing I noticed with the NB639B Fitness Evolved headphones is that they weren't very comfortable nor did they sound particularly good. I realize that most people aren't going to wear audiophile headphones when they're on the treadmill because, well, things get sweaty, but if you are listening to music, it should sound at least reasonably pleasant.
I'll say this, though: they look cool. In fact, the entire setup (as shown below with an iPod Nano, not included) is pretty slick with its red details:
The $99 price tag isn't because of the headphones, though, but the main unit that you plug inline between your audio device and the headphones. In fact, the Fitness Evolved device includes headphones but, as I said, my experience was that there are many other choices for under $20. Good news: any headphones or earbuds you use will work just fine with the Fitness Evolved device.
With a sleek and simple design, the main unit has a thumb depression for reading your pulse along with a few power and control buttons along the edges. When powered on and monitoring your results, it glows blue. Once you turn it on and get a starting pulse, it essentially turns into a digital pedometer and timer.
And that's the problem. I'm not a runner and the NB639B Fitness Evolved unit is basically a running pedometer, as you can see from my workout graph for a week at the gym:
Look closely and you'll see that since I first got the unit, I've spent just under 23 hours working out, traveling a total of 1.2 miles across 20 runs. Those are the most pathetic runs, ever, but looking more closely at the graph shows the real problem: When I spent 45 minutes on an elliptical or 30 minutes on a stairmaster, it didn't record a single step. So a week of workouts records as a grand total of 692 steps, 10 calories.
I asked iHome about this and they reported:
"Those sort of machines, and elliptical machine especially, are specifically designed to reduce or eliminate the motion and impact that comes from taking a step while running (it is the impact of your foot on a running surface that pedometers use to take readings). They are designed to not have your foot leave the running surface while in motion; your body is therefore not going through a full stepping motion, and the pedometer has no actual step to record. It is best to follow the pedometer built into those machines because they measure the number of rotations of the mechanisms and use that to translate your number of "steps"."
That's fair and logical. The end result, however, is that I cannot recommend this device for anyone other than hard-core runners who focus on the steps taken during a workout. There are a lot of options for tracking your exercise routine and for most of us, I'm afraid this isn't the best choice.
iHome / New Balance NB639B Fitness Evolved headphones, iHome.com, $99.99. Note: iHome supplied us with a free unit for the purposes of review.
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