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) Limitations and choice with Garmin power meter head units
2) CompuTrainer and RacerMate One Software
3) New Nike+ and TomTom Running GPS Partnership (Nike+ Sportwatch)

Question #1: Limitations and choice with Garmin power meter head units
From Jon-

"Just had a look at your preview of the Polar/Look power meter pedals. In the write up you mention that there are some limitations of using a Garmin head unit with a power meter. Could you please tell me a little more about your thoughts on this? I am hoping to do just that in the near future - with SRM cranks, or maybe the Garmin/Metrigear pedals if they get a move on."

Most of the limitations have actually been removed over the past few months with firmware updates from Garmin. For example, the FR310XT previously lacked 30 second (30s) and 3s display smoothing. But with an update in late November, both of those options made it to the FR310XT – a major improvement that makes the FR310XT a truly functional power meter head unit. That’s not to say it’s ‘perfect’ yet. For example, the 310XT lacks some of the zero inclusion options for power meters that allow you to select whether or not to include zero’s within data points for power and cadence.

On the Edge series side of things, over the past month Garmin added a number of notable power meter improvements including showing the torque value for PowerTap units for the Edge 800. In fact, some of these also made it to the much older Garmin Edge 705 – a bit of a surprise to some.

I think what you’re seeing here is the impact of the Metrigear acquisition from an influence standpoint. Garmin noted back at Interbike that they really wanted to pull ideas from the team as they integrated them into the organization. I suspect these are just the first steps there.

Speaking of Metrigear (officially dubbed Garmin Vector), the current released timeline is Q4 2011. This roughly translates to public release at EuroBike/Interbike in September, and then availability in the November/December timeframe.

Question #2: CompuTrainer and RacerMate One Software

"I am looking at buying a CompuTrainer, but I read that a software update might come out as early as February. If I buy a used one now, any idea if it will be difficult/expensive to upgrade the software? Or should I just wait? The software is pretty old fashioned, so if it's a nice upgrade it could make a big difference."

If you’re buying a used unit – it’s somewhat of a moot conversation unless the unit was purchased after June 1st, 2010. After that date, they’ll give ya a free upgrade to RacerMate One. But before then – you’ll have to purchase it. At $200, it’s a bit steep.

I don’t foresee the release of RacerMate One changing the used market prices out there. Those will stay pretty constant. In general, I’d suggest that if you find a good deal on one – grab it! Especially given that more than likely you’ll be throwing down $200 if you want the new software suite.

That said – from a training standpoint, the new software suite doesn’t largely change that experience. After playing with the suite back at Interbike, I wasn’t terribly impressed given the potential they have with the hardware components. I felt that they were artificially limiting themselves by trying to ensure it would work on older PC’s still. But, I reserve final judgment until it comes out – be that February, or late in the Spring.

Question #3: New Nike+ and TomTom Running GPS Partnership (Nike+ SportWatch)
From Paul-

"You probably already have seen the news about the new Nike SportWatch GPS powered by Garmin's competitor TomTom. I am hoping that this new product is worthy of one of your in-depth reviews. I am also interested in seeing the features in more detail along with pricing."

The Nike+ SportWatch will most definitely make for an interesting entrant into the GPS wristwatch market. Historically with the Nike and Apple partnership, Nike has focused on less competitive runners. Everything from the accuracy to the Nike+ website reflected that stance – easy to use, yet light on analysis and details.

Given the slowly growing but barely visible separation over the past year between Nike and Apple, I’m interested to see how this might impact the Nike+ components that have historically held it back from being a legit offering in the competitive marketplace. Meaning – I’m curious to see if Nike will add more detailed analysis options that appeal to many in the endurance sports world.

I do suspect that the Nike+ SportWatch will still be largely aimed at introductory runners. Though given Nike’s past, it’ll probably also appeal to competitive runners with a focus on fashion (a specialty of Nike).

From a technology standpoint the details are still relatively light. I like some of the new-to-market features that they’re introducing – like ‘slap to light’ – which is brilliant, especially with winter running and heavy gloves. But beyond that, I didn’t see much new compared to other options in the market. They’ll also be facing a Spring season full of updated GPS running watches from all the major vendors: Garmin, Timex and likely Polar as well. So no matter how it shakes out…it’s gonna be good for the consumer. Oh and yes – I’m looking forward to reviewing it!

Recent Mailbags:

Weekly Mailbag – January 11th, 2011
- Choosing device for openwater swimming measurement
- Waterproofing of Garmin Edge Cycling devices
- When will Garmin release a waterproofed FR210?
- How to fix Edge 800 that doesn’t fit well between aerobars

Weekly Mailbag – December 28th, 2010 (Foot pod Extravaganza Edition)
- Foot pod SPM – what it all means
- Weird foot pod Values
- Getting cadence and speed outdoors via foot pod?
- Saving routes with foot pod data
- Troubleshooting foot pod dropouts

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. ]