Ray's Weekly Sports Electronics Mailbag

Hello, welcome to the Weekly Mailbag. I'm Ray, from DCRainmaker. com. If you've ever searched for reviews on sports technology - you've probably come across my site. I write about my triathlon/running training in general, along with sports technology and whatever else seems interesting to me. I started the Weekly Mailbag series earlier this spring as an opportunity to share some of the answers of the many e-mailed questions I get each week.

If you enjoy what you find here, then feel free to click the links to find even more in depth information on each topic. And if you have any questions, you can always e-mail me directly. Thanks for reading!

1) FR210 Color Options
2) Withings WiFi Scale or Tanita BC-1000
3) Getting raw HR data from GPS devices

Question #1: FR210 Color Options
From Amy-

"I am all set to click on a link from your FR210 review and buy one for myself!

However, I just want to check on one thing - Do you think there are any plans to offer the FR210 in any colors other than black? I ask because the 110 come is the pretty ladies version. Once I buy this watch, I won't be buying another for a long time, so I want to make sure as much as possible, before I do.

I appreciate any insight you might be able to share."

Nope, no plans. I actually asked the Garmin team about this during a recent conference call and they said they learned their lesson from the FR60 'million colors' option. I had asked if they specifically planned either a women's version, or any other colors (including pink), and they said no plans.

You may remember some of the confusion that occurred based on the multitude of versions and colors of the FR60. Ones with the footpod, ones without. Ones with the heart rate strap, ones without. Some with a free cheeseburger from Wendy’s, others without. Just far too many combinations occurred and they found that in the end, consumers simply wanted to be able to buy either a package—or just the unit. They also found that from a retail channel standpoint—the different colors options tended to cause issues around availability— ultimately in some cases leading to a non-sale.

Finally, in the case of the FR210—they feel that the piano black scheme is more appealing than some of the past color options. That said—I did actually make a case for my fiancée— who specifically asked me to ask them to create a single pink one-off unit of the FR210…just for her. Strangely—no pink unit has yet showed up at my doorstep. She’s still upset about that…

Question #2: Withings WiFi Scale or Tanita BC-1000 Scale
From Mark-

"My wife and I both have Garmin (Edge 305 and 500) units and love the integration with Sport Tracks and Garmin connect. I noticed that the Tanita scale will only communicate with Garmin Connect if you have the FR60 or 310XT watches (dumb!) so that is a big negative for us. I do like how the Tanitia gives you a bit more info in regards to it's measurements though.

So far it looks like the Withings scale might be the better choice for us given we don’t have one of the supported Garmin watches and the Withings scale is a bit cheaper."

Indeed, the numbers of devices that the Tanita Scale (or any ANT+ scale, though at this time, there are no others) can communicate is somewhat limited. But Garmin (and a few other device and app vendors) have made good progress at adding that into new devices. For example, the FR210 and FR410, along with even the Edge 800 all support the Tanita Scale. I think the definite trend here is to support it going forward—which makes good business sense.

However, the larger issue at play is just how darn good the Withings Scale is…for nearly half the price. The Withings Scale has a really impressive set of both connected services on their site, as well as partners. Virtually everyone (other sites) can automatically get data from Withings (your weight/body fat)—including ones most appealing to athletes here at Slowtwitch, such as Training Peaks. They’ve also partnered with a variety of other non-tracking companies like Zeo and Digifit to integrate their platforms. And finally, it’s just so simple to use. You step on—and it magically updates your account online via your home WiFi. Plus, it includes an LCD screen on the unit—something the Tanita does not.

In general, I do recommend the Withings over the Tanita for the reasons mentioned above. While the Tanita is more advanced with respect to the body metrics it offers, I find that for what I want it for—the Withings is simply a more polished and easier to use device.

Question #3: Viewing raw data on sport devices
From Howard-

"Can you tell me which, if any, of the GPS devices you've reviewed will allow you to download the raw data? My Suunto t6 shows the "raw" data that I can then copy and paste into Excel for detailed analysis but it doesn't have speed and distance. I have a heart condition that causes my heart rate to fluctuate wildly and would love to be able to see it versus other parameters, like speed, on an incremental basis (such as every 6 or 10 seconds)."

All of the devices I’ve reviewed to date allow some form of raw data download—it’s just a matter of how easy it is to interpret that data. Thus far I’ve covered virtually all of the Garmin GPS devices, as well as the Timex Global Trainer and even most of the iPhone apps out there.

In the case of the Garmin devices, you’re able to take the .FIT file and export out a .TCX file. The .TCX file is a standard XML-based file format that stores data points sequentially—including heart rate. The catch becomes how to easily extract and display that data. Certainly you can use an XML parser, but that’s probably not realistic for the masses. There reason it’s so difficult compared to a traditional simple CSV file from a Polar based device is that the GPS ANT+ based devices are not only working with data with lat/long coordinates, but more importantly—designed to handle the intermittent nature of ANT+ sensor data. Meaning, one moment the speed/cadence data may be there, but the next it’s not.

I find that the best way to analyze such data is via a separate sports activity application. By default Garmin provides Garmin Connect—but the data is too smoothed there to be of use for your purposes. A better bet would be Training Peaks or Sport Tracks, which allow you to really zoom into the 1-second recording level.

Finally, keep in mind that while all of the Garmin devices record using Smart Recording—only the older FR305 will actually record at 1-second intervals for all activities. All of the newer devices will use Smart Recording (every 3-9 seconds typically), except when a power meter is attached.

Recent Mailbags:

Weekly Mailbag—December 10th, 2010
- Waterproof ‘Women’s’ watch options
- Footpod on backwards
- HR monitor for ‘petite’ women

Weekly Mailbag—November 23rd, 2010
- Recommendation for Mac-friendly Website for managing workout data
- Is the Forerunner 305 being discontinued?
- Which slim GPS watch to get?
- Garmin Training Center or Garmin Connect?
- Garmin Forerunner 210 Molded Band?

You can find all past Slowtwitch Mailbags here, and all prior ones here.

[Editor's note: our capable editor-at-large for electronics Ray Maker is the publisher of the online sports tech blog DC Rainmaker, one of the top-ranked sites by Google for extremely in-depth reviews of advanced GPS and Heart Rate Monitors for triathlon, cycling, and running. ]