SMS Audio BioSport earbuds
A solid set of buds that includes a built-in heart rate monitor
If you want an unobtrusive, no-fuss fitness tracker, the SMS Audio BioSport earbuds are an interesting proposition. They are not just for listening to music while you workout; they can also be be used to track your heart rate. They do this via a little optical sensor that's present in the right earbud, which bounces light off your outer ear in order to measure your pulse.
This is a neat way to measure your heart rate while you move, negating the need for a traditional chest strap, but it does mean that, rather than wearing a sports watch and carrying a small MP3 player, you will have to cart your smartphone around with you while you workout. This shouldn't be an issue if you are walking, but it could be a deal breaker if you are a serious runner.
To use the optical sensor, all you have to do is wear the earphones. There is no set-up required, nor does it require an extra power source or charging (the headphones are wired, rather than Bluetooth, which we like). It gets whatever power it needs from the headphone jack of your smartphone. For this reason, the headphones don't yet work with any smartphone. You'll have to check the list of supported phones to see if yours is supported. We used a Samsung Galaxy S5 for our tests, which is a supported device.
It's a heart rate monitor that's designed to be app agnostic, but Runkeeper is the recommended sauce. We used this for our testing and had no problems getting the heart rate monitor to work. It was picked up by Runkeeper instantly, and it gave us a full chart of our heart beat throughout our walks (we don't dare run unless we absolutely have to).
For those of you who have never used a heart rate monitor before, these headphones are a good entry level device that allows you to see what it's like to measure your stats as you workout. We found the sensor to be mostly accurate for our resting rate, though to gauge the resting rate we had to start an activity in Runkeeper and then delete it afterwards. We couldn't just see the heart rate at a glance. After long sessions, the heart rate is mapped by Runkeeper so that you can see how you performed at various stages throughout your workout.
We found the earbuds to be comfortable to wear, and they stayed firmly in place as we walked (brief jogs and jumps also kept them in place). They ship with three differently sized in-ear tips that you can try out according to the size of your ears. The tips have a square-ish shape and use little 'wings' to lock-in and stay in your ears as you move. The tips that we used (the middle size) didn't feel tight, and they didn't put downward pressure on our ears or make our ears feel hot.
Sound flowed through the headphones clearly, and with good definition. We particularly enjoyed the bass response, which was audible even as we walked beside busy roads. The earbuds don't plug in and form a seal around your ear canal. As such, they do not block out all sound, so you can still hear some of what's going on around you. This is a good thing when walking around busy areas.
Volume control is limited to your smartphone, and while there is an inline remote on the right earbud, it is used only to enable the heart rate monitor, and to pause the music.
Sweat and rain shouldn't cause a problem for these buds as they are rated as being able to withstand splashes (IPX4), and they are easy enough to clean after a long workout.
In addition to the good sound quality, we like the convenience of these earbuds for tracking your fitness. All you have to do to use them is plug them in, and make sure a suitable app such as Runkeeper is installed on your phone.
We think they are best suited to beginners and intermediate users who are just getting into the fitness scene. If you're a serious runner, you might want a more traditional monitoring method that doesn't require you to carry your smartphone while you run.
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