A detailed Adidas miCoach Smart Run review: Adidas enter the smart watch business

If there’s been one breakout trend thus far in 2013, it has been the rapid rise to prominence of wearable technology, with a special focus on the sports and fitness market. The sports watch market has rapidly evolved beyond the heart rate monitor watch, incorporating ever more tech and gadgetry. To meet this end, Adidas have incorporated their MiCoach personal training programme into this smart run watch, meaning that not only do you get real-time personal training, but you also get a full heart rate monitor, a colour touchscreen and GPS tracking.

Within minutes of getting your hands on this tech, it becomes immediately apparent that Adidas are chasing the serious trainer with this technology. For one, the inclusion of this volume of technology dictates that the watch does not come cheap. The feeling here is that Adidas have looked at their core-competitors and have decided to seriously trump them, throwing caution – and cost – somewhat to the wind. So how have Adidas fared?

 

Adidas MiCoach spec

We wanted to begin this review by diving straight into the MiCoach Smart runs specification, as this is both one of its biggest selling points and largest downsides. Later in this review, you’ll note that we’re very hard on the devices battery life and design, but both are directly related to what’s sitting ‘under the hood’. So to avoid beginning on a negative, we wanted to point out all of the goodies that Adidas have supplied with this smart runner.

There’s no doubt that this device is backed by some serious grunt. It’s got 3GB of storage dedicated for storing those power tracks that get you through the hard yards allied with Bluetooth to allow you to hook up wireless headphones. The watch also has advanced GPS tracking, allowing it to capture your running routes and on-barded Wi-Fi which automatically syncs when you get back home, meaning all of your running data is captured and secured instantly. On top of this, is a wireless, strapless heart rate monitor which reads your pule through your wrist, doing away with the need for irritating chest straps, although there is the option to incorporate one for additional accuracy, if desired.

This watch is most definitely targeted at sports use, and sports use only. It’s no smart watch competitor to say the Samsung Gear, so if you’re really looking for a device which will swop functions with your mobile phone, allowing you to tweet or make calls, then this is not for you.

Battery life

There’s increasingly blurred lines between heart rate monitors / sports watches and the new breed of activity trackers. The clearest defining line so far has been the watch element, as heat rate monitors have always been able to be used as a general sports watch. This distinction blurs with the Adidas MiCoach Smart Run, largely because its battery life is so weak. So when does a watch effectively stop being a watch? A solid 12K run in the morning meant the battery was wacked by 18:30. Therefore, this product certainly has its flaws if you’re seeking a day to day sports watch with advanced training tech.

Much like other ‘smart watches’ on the market, the MiCoach watch is hindered by the sheer amount of grunt work that it has to do. All of the tech within it is great, but it comes at a battery cost. In the same way that using the maps on your smartphone (GPS functionality) wipes your phones battery, it does likewise on this watch. The other similarities with smartphones, not least the colour touchscreen and software applications mean that its battery is as limited as many smartphones.

So how does the battery life break down? Again, much like a smartphone, this smart watch has a flight mode. This is the most battery efficient as it cuts out a lot of the software applications and GPS tracking, leaving the watch in a glorified standby mode. On this mode, we observed just over two days’ worth of battery life. On the other end of the spectrum is the full training mode, which appears to be good for 3-4 hours of battery life. This can be pushed to more like 8 hours if you’re on the marathon mode. In this setting, the watch will update on five second intervals, which limits the software calls and extends out the battery life. For the vast majority of trainers, the marathon mode will more than suffice for day to day training, meaning that at a push, the average trainer could get a weeks’ worth of training out of the watch (presuming you turn it off after your session).

The battery life is the Achilles heel of this watch. To be really frank, it’s so weak that it borders on being pathetic. Yes this device has no shortage of tech, but neither do competitor watches and smart devices, and they can certainly muster up more than three hours’ worth of ‘proper’ use. This is perhaps a challenge faced by a sports manufacturer trying to play the full technology game. Adidas are pushing through plenty of firmware updates, so far to no avail, leading us to guess that there are some hardware inefficiencies.

 

Adidas MiCoach Design

The watch itself weighs in at 80 grams, and is a rather large unit. On smaller wrists, which mine admittedly are, it is a bulky and large watch. In a gym environment, the bulk is prohibitive and threatens to catch on equipment. Indeed, walking around with something so large on my wrist meant that I was constantly concerned that I would catch it, or worse still, smash it.

On the upside, the touch screen benefits from the additional size. Navigation is aided by the size, and additionally, towards the end of a workout, when you’re tired and a bit shaky, the extra screen size enables you to continue navigating around the watch. So there are definitely pros and cons when it comes to the hulking design, but either way, it’s definitely something to be aware of. The screen itself is powered by a 184*184 pixel TFT LCD 1.45 inch touchscreen display. The display has the same kinds of gesture controls that you’re probably used to from your smartphone, meaning you can swipe and slide your way through the various menus. This can be locked by pressing a single button, meaning the device won’t scroll away through a workout, draining that ever precious battery life further.

The watch comes with a docking station which is used to recharge it. This is powered by a Micro USB cable, meaning that non-Apple device owners will likely be able to interchange their smartphone and tablet chargers with the docking station. It’s a shame however that the watch itself does not carry a Micro USB socket directly, doing away entirely with the need for the docking station.

 

 

 

Up and running

The Adidas MiCoach works in conjunction with an online Adidas account. Once you’ve set that up, as well as Wi-Fi on your watch, then the technology will take over and start syncing your workouts.

The actual workout data is accessed via the Adidas website, meaning that you can always login and check your data from any one of the plethora of modern connected devices, from tablets to smartphones, taking in games consoles and everything else in between. This is far easier and more practical than trying to make the Adidas watch fully autonomous which it isn’t. It’s easier to input training programmes and play with statistics on a screen a little bigger than 1.45 inches anyhow.

 

Working out with the MiCoach watch

The watch has no great depth of menus, all of which are navigated to via simple gesture swipes. There are just four main menu items; watch mode, running, settings and music. The watch faces can be customised, but as already noted the Adidas watch is too limited on the battery life front to be much use here. So little thought has gone into this as a pure watch that Adidas have even emitted to include a basic alarm function, which we found strange.

On the music front, the watch works like a simple MP3 player. You can shuffle the tracks, or choose individual albums or artists. This is basic but sufficient, because this is all about sports after all.

The workouts can be initiated from the Adidas website. So if you have a specific workout agenda, you can set that up online before you even hit the gym or the road. There are a bunch of specialised plans on there, including the typical ‘Lose Weight’ and ‘Strength and flex’ offerings. There will soon be a fitness test function – currently ‘coming soon’ – and there’s a number of one off workouts based on interval training that are loaded into the system.

You can also track your workout history, all nicely displayed with charts and graphs. Other vital stats, like calorie estimates are also included.

And you’re off…

Once you have the workout decided, you simply pop the watch on and wait for it to sync. During this process it picks up your pulse rate and locks on to the GPS network – a process which averages around 90 seconds to compete.

Once you’re off, your menu is limited to just three options. One showcases your current heart rate allied against distance and time. You can also easily access split times and minutes per KM on the second screen and the third screen focuses on your outputs, like calories burned and BPM stats.

 

 

Verdict

The Adidas MiCoach smart run watch is a very capable dedicated sports watch. We used it seven times across a range of different workouts and were generally impressed. From strength training to outdoor jogs right back to treadmill sprints, it always had something to give.

We really like the interface – it’s clear, concise and is not ever burdened with superfluous information. It achieves this whilst giving you access to the kinds of detailed, granular stat attacks that make you want one of these watches in the first place, largely thanks to the excellent companion website.

The fact that you don’t need a bulky uncomfortable chest strap is another bonus. These things pinch, leave strap marks and are a general hindrance. We strongly believe that these are one of the biggest reasons why HRM uptake is low, even amongst keen cardio warriors. Devices like this Adidas smart run are a great way to overcome this problem whilst still getting accurate workout data. The data capture, via immediate Wi-Fi sync makes this process all the better.

However – the device has a serious Achilles heel in the form of its battery life. The fact that the firmware updates pushed through thus far have done nothing to help here is indicative that this watch may be ‘hard’ on its hardware. Make no mistake, Adidas have added the spec to this device, and somewhere along the lines something has to give. We feel that a three hour battery life in full workout mode is shamefully light though. It’s a genuine shame.

So in conclusion, Adidas have entered a very strong field in this wearable tech race of 2013. They’re a most welcome addition, but they have work to do if they have desires on winning.

 

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