February 23, 2018

Review: Suunto M5 Black Heart Rate Monitor with Movestick

Suunto M5 BlackThe Suunto M5 Black, is a very comfortable heart rate monitor that offers athletes and fitness oriented individuals to carefully monitor their exercise level by means of measuring the heart rate during exercise. The M5 will guide you to attain a fitness goal (from a list of three choices: fitness, weight or free. If you choose fitness or weight, the M5 will give guidance whereas if you choose free, no guidance will be given) by suggesting workout times and how long of a recovery period you will need after an exercise period. The box contained the watch with men’s strap, chest belt with transmitter and the USB movestick for uploading workout data to the movescount website.

I found the Suunto M5 extremely easy and intuitive to set-up. After taking the watch out of the packaging, you simply remove the protective plastic covering the bezel, push a button to wake the watch from sleep, then hold the indicated button for a couple seconds to enter the set-up mode. You’ll select the language, units of measurement (metric or imperial), 12 or 24 hour clock, time and date. After that you are prompted to enter your vital statistics:birthdate, weight, height and level of fitness (poor,, below average, fair, good,, very good, or excellent.) You then have the option to accept the suggested max and min heart rate or you can manually override that and enter your own values. Once all that’s been entered the M5 assesses your level of fitness and gives you an immediate diagnosis of whether you are overweight. Sigh. It’s rather sobering as your optimal weight based on information you entered is given. In my case, I am 6’2″, 203.9 pounds and 58 years old. I was informed that I was overweight and that my goal weight is 191.6. I guess I’ve got my work cut out for me.

Next you are able to begin to exercise or choose something else. The choices you have are as follows:

-Prev. Exercise
-History & Trend
-Fitness Test
-Web Connect

If you choose exercise, you are given the workout length of time, heart rate zone and level of exertion for the exercise period. You are free to do whatever activity you want to complete the exercise whether it be running, cycling, spinning, hiking, whatever. For me the monitor displayed: “40 minutes, 120-140, very hard.” As you progress through your workout period you are able to cycle through various screens during your workout to view your current heart rate, average heart rate, current time, the kcal you’ve burned as well as an indication of time that you’ve been working out. The monitor also displays a series of arrows that run up the outside perimeter of the watch face from the 6’oclock to 12o’clock position. As you progress through your exercise the arrows appear to fill up the space giving an indication of your progress. to assist in helping you stay within the exercise target heart rate zone, an up or down arrow is displayed next to the graphic display of a beating heart. I do wish there was the ability to set your own heart rate zones and to have the watch beed when you go below or above your zone, but that does not seem to be possible with the M5.

As I’m working out I hear the heart rate monitor play short musical tones but it’s still not clear to me what they are alerting me to. Strange. In the settings menu you’re given the option to turn “all on”, “all off” or “buttons off” but no explanation of what tones you’ll hear while exercising. My best guess is that a short 3 tone melody plays when you begin your exercise and perhaps a melody plays if you are below your target heart rate zone for an extended period of time… it’s like a prompt to get up and go. I suppose as I use the M5 more, I’ll eventually make the correlation as to what the tones are indicating.

The M5 is not a heart rate monitor that lets you set training intervals. This is somewhat disappointing for me as I was looking for a heart rate monitor that would give me that ability. After comparing the various Suunto models and also looking at alternatives such as Polar, I was left with a frustrating set of choices. I was not happy that some Polar HR Monitors did not have user replaceable batteries. I liked the clarity and ease of seeing the display on the Suunto M5 so much that that is what sold me. Way more legible to me than other watches I looked at. So for me, I gave up some needed features so that I could have an easily readable display.

The “fitness test” function is a way for the M5 to assess your level of fitness. You start the test and then walk as fast as possible for 1 mile at which point you end the test.

I like the simple operation of the M5 and although that simplicity comes at the expense of the loss of more advanced features such as setting intervals. I like that I have complete flexibility in what type of exercise activity I can engage in. The M5 keeps me on target with my heart rate display and time while I do the rest.

My biggest concern with the M5 is the heart rate transmitter and strap. It is very comfortable system but it is complex in construction in that there are two attachements that secure the transmitter to the belt. With sweat, salt and whatever else mingling with electrical connections, I wonder whether the strap will hold up over time? I can’t answer that yet.

It was also very frustrating to discover that while the Suunto heart rate transmitter signal was picked up by the monitors that are on some other exercise equipment in my home gym and the health club I belong to, the heart rate transmitters from those other monitors aren’t able to be picked up by the Suunto M5. I was hoping that I could use any of my transmitter straps with the Suunto but that is not the case. It’s odd that the other equipment can pick up the Suunto signal but that the Suunto can’t pick up the signal from the other transmitters. Should the Suunto transmitter break or fail for one reason or another, it would have been comforting to know that another of my belts would work with it. But they won’t and to buy a new Suunto transmitter belt/transmitter will set you back about $70.

Overall I’m quite pleased with the M5. It is a good looking heart rate monitor that I would feel completely comfortable with wearing while out on the town. It has a watch function that is very attractive and the display is very easy to read outdoors and even inside. The digits and particularly the heart rate number is very large and easy to read.

The M5 does not have all the bells and whistles that other heart rate monitors might have but it is versatile in the way it keeps track of your effort level no matter what it is exactly that you are doing. The M5 will not retain more than just your last workout stats but does keep a running cumulative tally of your workouts in the menu “history and trend” and this tells you how many sessions you’ve done, how may kcals burned in the last 4 weeks and how “on target” you are in the last 7 days and the last 4-weeks by displaying a percent amount. It won’t keep track of laps or splits. The M5 also has a simple alarm function where you can set a single alarm.

The M5 gets high marks for i’t’s looks and legible display. It falls short in features that runners might desire such as splits and laps. The movestick easily lets you upload your workout data to the “movescount dot com” web site.

I’ll update my review as I spend more time with the M5. If you have any questions, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to reply.

Update: Monkey Mirror upgrade. An improved helmet mounted cycling mirror.

I first discovered the Monkey Mirror in the Fall of 2011. Since then the Monkey Mirror has had an upgrade.

There have been a few improvements to the Monkey Mirror. First of all the Monkey Mirror is created out of an actual bike spoke. The improvement is that the spoke length is now a bit longer which makes it a bit easier for viewing. The difference is only about 5mm or so, but it does make enough of a difference to be noticeable. It also appears that the rubberized coating on the mirror is now a bit thicker than before. Finally, the mirror is now finished off with a clear coat. The previous mirror had an issue with water being able to sneak in between the mirror layers causing discoloration in the mirror itself along the edges. The clear coat which is now being applied should put an end to that problem.

The manufacturer of the Monkey Mirror also recommends applying a car wax to the backside of the mirror a few times a year to help prevent it from fading. As before, you can have a custom image applied to the back of the mirror and this is cool for velo clubs or organizations.

I really enjoy using the Monkey Mirror. It’s Made in the USA and of good quality.

Review: MacBook Pro MD102LL/A 13.3-inch Laptop

MacBook Pro MD102LL/AI had eagerly been awaiting the new Mid-2012 MacBook Pro upgrade primarily because of the move to the new Intel processor, “Ivy Bridge.” The 2.9GHz Intel Core i7 dual-core processor just makes this MacBook Pro fly. And it runs much cooler than its predecessors. I had my laptop running while on my lap for a couple hours and the bottom case was barely warm. Fan noise was not noticeable whatsoever. To be honest, I don’t even know if the fan was operating or not, it was that quiet.

The aluminum unibody case has remained pretty much unchanged for several years. In fact, my previous MacBook Pro, a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 4GB of RAM has the identical case that this new laptop has… it is designated as Model No: A1278 if you look at the bottom of the laptop case.

What Apple threw into the mix which made my decision of what new laptop to purchase was the addition of the Retina Display MacBook. Initially I was tormented with making the correct decision, for me, of which computer to purchase. After I weighed the differences and factored in the cost, it became clear to me that for my use, the 13″ MacBook Pro was the way to go. Here are my reasons…

-The Retina Display MacBook lacks an optical drive. For me, that was a critical feature as I am a Mobile DJ and still rip a lot of CD’s to my computer. I did not want to have to carry around an external optical drive so having the internal optical drive on the new MacBook Pro was key.

-The Retina Display MacBook does not have an Ethernet port. Again, this won’t affect all people, but for me it was an essential feature that I use all the time. I wasn’t ready to give up my dedicated ethernet connectivity port.

-The Retina Display MacBook was priced out of my comfort zone. It’s a phenomenal computer but I just could not justify the price.

Honestly, the display on the 13.3″ MacBook Pro is gorgeous. I can see where a photographer might enjoy the Retina Display, but for me, the 1280×800 resolution of the screen on this laptop is perfect. The display is bright, very bright, sharp and has excellent viewing from side to side. I’m not a big fan of the glossy screen, but I have grudgingly accepted it and in some situations it actually is nicer than a glare-free screen. But in other situations it is not the best because of the reflections on the screen of surrounding lights and such.

I had also considered getting an early 2012 refurbished MacBook Pro. That was my second-best option. But for the small difference in price, I would not have gotten USB 3.0 ports and that was important to me, as well as getting Thunderbolt. Admittedly, there are not yet many peripherals that utilize Thunderbolt or USB 3.0 but that is certainly going to change quite rapidly. USB 3.0 is 10 times faster than USB 2.0 and offers throughput of up to 5Gbps. Thunderbolt is even faster and allows daisy-chaining of monitors and other devices. This new MacBook Pro also has an upgraded facetime camera. It is now 720p HD and that’s pretty awesome.

Firewire 800 is still included on this MacBook Pro. Undoubtedly, Firewire is getting towards the end of its lifespan but many videographers are still using video cameras that use Firewire and I also have external hard drives using firewire, so this is still useful for me.

The newly added Tunderbolt port is also useable as a mini-display port and you can easily obtain adapters to enable you to hook up to DVI, VAG and HDMI. I do miss not having a dedicated HDMI port, but at least it is possible to get an adapter to fill that need.

The Lion and soon to be released Mountain Lion operating system has garnered a lot of comments both positive and negative. Personally I have not experienced any issues with Lion. The integration with iCloud is fantastic and allows me to keep my contacts, address book, bookmarks all in sync across all my devices (iMac, iPhone, iPod Touch and another MacBook Pro.)

The iLife suite of applicatons included with the computer are excellent. iPhoto, iMovie and GarageBand are tightly integrated and work well. There is room for improvement, to be sure, but I use iPhoto and iMovie all the time and it is an amazingly capable duo.

If you’re considering a MacBook Pro for the first time and are coming from the PC world, welcome. You will have a little adjusting to do but it’s really easy and you will probably be impressed with how straightforward the operating system is. It just works. I can’t even think of when I had a crash or freeze.

I’ve not yet reached the 7-hours mark for battery life, but still, I’ve been getting at least 5 hours plus so no complaints.

If you are considering the new MacBook Pro and you’re already a Mac user then you will welcome the addition of a much faster processor, the addition of Thunderbolt and USB 3.0.

I am really liking my new MacBook Pro and with 8GB of RAM, and the new i7 Processor running at 2.9GHZ (turbo-boost to 3.6GHz) you will be very happy with the performance.

Review: Grace Audio Mondo Internet Radio GDI-IRC6000

I liked my other Grace radio so much, but unfortunately for me so did my wife. She took it to her office and that’s the last I’ve seen of it. So I bought a new one for me. I choose the Mondo because my local PBS television station offered a discount on the radio and I took the bait.

Please allow me to get my gripe about this radio out right away. The sound quality is mediocre at best. There I’ve said it. If it were not for the so-so sound quality I would rate this radio a solid 5. But unfortunately it does not have great sound. It barely has OK sound. I agonized at the rating I should give this radio as a result. I settled on a 3 for the following reasons. You may not agree, but let me explain…

The Mondo is quite attractive in my opinion. I got the Black in color model. The display and controls are excellent. The Home Screen is well laid out and all the options for the radio are easily chosen using the front facing rotary knob. The number of Internet radio stations available is staggering. There are hundreds upon hundreds of stations available in all genres. You will be challenged to find your favorites since there are so many available. Just the Electronica genre alone has 604 stations.

Initial setup was easy as can be, I plugged the radio in, it displayed all the available networks on the gorgeous 3.5″ screen. I chose my network by scrolling to it and then clicked on it all with the front rotary knob. Next I entered my WPA network key. The radio connected to the Internet and immediately offered me the option to upgrade my firmware. Once I did that the radio restarted, connected to the network again and that was it. I then perused the various Internet Radio choices and added a few favorites to the programmable buttons. It is possible to store 10 favorites.

I also went through the Settings, made a few adjustments such as choosing my Time Zone and tweaked the Equalizer.

If you subscribe to SiriusXM, you can login to your account and then have access to all SiriusXM has to offer. Otherwise you are “stuck” with the thousands of worldwide Internet Rado stations, Pandora, iHeartRadio and other goodies the radio has to offer. I really like the Weather Bug choice off the home screen that displays a quick summary of weather for my city. I wasn’t expecting that little feature.

The radio has an aux-in which enable you to hook up another audio source such as an MP3 player. Actually, since the sound quality of the radio isn’t that hot, I instead utilize the RCA Component Audio outputs to feed the signal to either my Bose SoundLink radio or my mini-stereo that I have on my desk. The Mondo is capable of really great quality audio, just not through its own internal speaker. But when hooked up to another amplified speaker, now we’re talking!

The Mondo includes a remote powered by 2-AA batteries. Here’s a tip, if you have an iPhone or Android device, download the Grace app because it works via Wi-Fi and you can control your radio from the app. It gives you the ability to add stations to your favorites, set alarms and do just about everything you can do from the radio itself.

The radio has an alarm clock built-in as well as a sleep timer to play music for a set amount of time then shut off. The alarms work well. You can change the alarm sounds andset up to 5 separate alarm times. The snooze button on the radio works well.

When the radio is in standby mode, the display shows the time. The brightness of the display can be adjusted while in standby mode or completely turned off if you don’t want to see the clock or think it is too bright even in the dimmest mode.

Grace also sells an optional battery pack for the radio that will give you over 8 hours of use when you don’t have AC Power available but are still within a Wi-Fi coverage area. That really makes this a versatile radio.

There is so mcuh to like about the Mondo. If only the internal speaker sounded better.

In spite of the lackluster sound, I still love this radio. The convenience, the iPhone app, the incredible selection of stations, built-in weather forecast, aux in, audio out, USB drive music playing capability, all add up to make this one heck of an Internet Radio.

Review of SkyTex Skypad Alpha2 7″ Android Tablet

Skypad Alpha2 Available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/xmNtaY

I recently purchased this Skytex Skypad Alpha2 as sort of an experiment. I’ve got an iPhone but have always wanted to explore Android OS so I decided to take the plunge and get an Android tablet as well just to learn more about Android and have an alternative to Apple in my hands.

So far, I’ve been reasonably happy with this tablet. The construction of the tablet is solid. It does not feel like a toy at all. I’ve picked up some small tablets that just feel like plastic…not this one. It has an aluminum body.

The placement of the front-facing camera is odd since I usually expect a front-facing camera to be at the top of the device. But I also expect the home buttons to be at the bottom of the device, so I’m not quite sure what constitutes “top” or “left” on this tablet because the camera is at the bottom right of the screen if you have the tablet oriented so that the home button as at the bottom. In this case, the volume rocker and on/off button are on one side of the tablet while the adjacent edge of the tablet has the mono speaker, microSD slot, DC power in, USB, HDMI and headphone jack. The layout of ports, buttons and camera are not in optimal positions but they work where they are, it just seems a little odd and when holding the tablet I am always accidentally hitting the power button.

The tablet starts up briskly and the responsiveness of the screen was actually better than I was expecting. I have not yet noticed-with my limited use so far- any sluggishness whatsoever. Screen sliding is smooth and quick. I have watched several YouTube videos and they were glitch-free. Not the same experience with Netflix however. I experienced really bad pixelation and gradient issues with Netflix as well as some seriously bad sound syncing issues.

The tablet easily and quickly connected to my home network and surfing was very snappy. It seemed on par with my MacBook Pro quite honestly.

I’ve installed a handful of apps so far:YouTube, Kindle, eBay, Google+, Wired, Twitter and so far everything has gone smoothly. The touchscreen is responsive. Sometimes the screen doesn’t reorient when I flip the orientation of the tablet, but that may be due to the fact that some apps don’t change orientation and I’m not exactly sure how to figure out whether it should reorient all the time or not. Yet, sometimes when it is supposed to reorient, it does not.

The camera resolution is dismal but at least there is a camera. Don’t expect much from it though as it’s only 0.3 megapixels.

Obviously, with a tiny, mono speaker, sound quality is not spectacular nor very loud. I’d call the speaker barely adequate. Of course, headphones are going to give you a tremendously better listening experience.

The microphone quality was a big disappointment. Everything I recorded sounded kind of muffled and scratchy. This would not make a very good lecture recording device, for instance.

I do wish this had bluetooth, but I guess you can’t expect everything at the price point. I do miss not having bluetooth built in though.

I can’t say too much more at this point since I’ve not had the tablet very long. Buy my initial impressions are moderately positive and I eagerly await the release of the next version of Android which I will install on the Skypad as soon as I get it and will report back here with my impressions.

This seems to be a great value in a sub-$200 Android tablet worthy of your consideration.

Review of Planet Bike Superflash Tail Light

When I’m cycling, I’m most concerned about traffic coming up from behind me. I want to do all I can to ensure that distracted motorists will be able to easily see me. To help make sure this happens, I always use a tail light.

One of the best tail lights I’ve found for cycling is the Planet Bike Superflash tail light. It is extremely bright and can easily be seen even in bright daylight. At dawn or dusk, it is incredibly noticeable.

Typically the light will be mounted on your seat post or attached to the back of an under-seat bag. It runs on 2-AAA batteries and battery life is excellent. I easily get a season out of one set of batteries. It’s diminutive size belies it’s amazing performance. The superflash is about $20 and available from Amazon.com

Sylvania Light Flute – LED task light

Sylvania light fluteOsram Sylvania Products Inc 72261 Led Light Flute – SilverWhile strolling the aisles of BJ’s the other day, I discovered this great LED task light called the Light Flute. It’s made by Sylvania and it is just one of the coolest LED lights I”ve seen. What makes it so great is its overall design and functionality.

The case of the light is made of anodized aluminum which is light and strong. It feels very sturdy and the end-cap unscrews to reveal the 3-AAA batteries that power 4-white LED lights. The innovative mounting base allows for several different mounting options… magnetic, adhesive and screw mounting.

The slender light is 8.5″ long and about the diameter of your little finger. It can be mounted just about anywhere and is great for mounting under your desk when trying to re-route cables. It could also be used as emergency lighting, as an under-counter light, closet lighting… the list could go on and on.

The Light Flutes were sold as packs of 2 for about $17 at BJ’s and are also available from Amazon.com.

I haven’t had them long enough to comment on how long the batteries will last, but LED lights are generally pretty efficient so I would expect a minimum of 10-12 hours of continuous light and perhaps much more. I’ll update this post once I have a better idea of battery life.