Heart rate monitors are no longer the exclusive domain of fitness gadgets. The last 12 months have seen sensors make their way into smartphones and wearables, replacing for many of us the need for a standalone pulse monitor. The problem is a lot of these options have been unable to deliver accurate heart rate mesurements, partly because those sensors have to maintain contact with your skin; if they slip, then the readout skips. Maybe LG has the answer, then: Put heart rate monitoring technology into a pair of Bluetooth headphones. If you’re like me and are constantly wired for sound during workouts, what could possibly be better?
LG’s Heart Rate Monitor earphones link to an iOS/Android app, with absolutely nothing burdening your wrists. LG’s fitness app can even add your exercise sessions to a step counter, so long as you buy LG’s optional Lifeband Touch fitness band. What’s more, the app also integrates with other fitness apps like RunKeeper. It all sounds great on paper, but there’s a problem: the headphones don’t actually sound good. Let me explain.
LG’s new headphones look like run-of-the-mill sports headphones, but at $180, they’re pricier. They’re in-ear buds supported by rubberized tubing around the wire, which help keep them inside your ears. There’s even an extra flexible wing to support the fit, ensuring they stay snug during your morning run or squat superset — that’s important here because the heart rate sensor needs to be against your skin to measure blood flow and give that all-important readout.
The headphone wires draw together at a lanyard clip which also houses play, pause and volume controls. The clip is sturdy, and it’s at the perfect point to tether to your t-shirt, making the wires less likely to get in the way — at least while you’re wearing it. The earphones then plug into a Bluetooth module which provides the power and has its own clip; this one’s waist-level. The module is small and light, with a backlit power switch that offers up a color-coded guide to your heart rate at a button press. (There’s also audio guidance for battery levels and your activity, but I’ll come back to that.) Despite their Bluetooth connectivity, that means there’s just as much cabling as other wired earbuds. It would have been better if all the hardware was housed inside the headphones.
Because the earphones connect through micro-USB to the Bluetooth module, it means you won’t be able to use these with a typical headphone socket, which also means having to keep the set well charged. I found they lasted roughly four hours — about four gym sessions of constantly monitoring my pulse. But you can expect them to last much longer if you’re just listening to music.
The heart rate module itself is lodged inside the right earbud, and there’s a subtle design difference between the two buds, suggesting that the sensor points to your outer lobe rather than shining (infrared shines, right?) into your earhole. The results are accurate, especially compared to the erratic results we’ve seen from other heart rate sensors. During training sessions — it only measures your pulse when you start a session from the app — I also strapped myself into a blood pressure monitor at my local gym to get a second reading. Measurements from both were within one or two beats per minute of each other. What’s nice, too, is that the earphones’ heart rate reading doesn’t fluctuate as much as wrist-worn monitors I’ve tried, probably because these stay more firmly in place. If you’re curious about such things, you can view your readout in the app anytime.
Alas, while the headphones make a pretty excellent heart rate monitor, the sound quality is distinctly trebly. Maybe my tastes tend toward Beats-style bass sound profiles, but compared to other in-ear buds, wired or wireless, these don’t pack the same audio punch. My guess is something had to be sacrificed to make space for the heart rate sensors. Worse, at substantial volume there’s a moderate degree of noise leakage. Gyms and outdoor running can often require the top volume, but move into a quieter area with other people and they’ll soon twig to your shameless workout soundtrack — the one you wouldn’t ever make public. It’s a shame, but sound quality appears to be a secondary concern here.
To use the headphones you’ll need LG’s Fitness app, which does a lot of things right. There are both Android and iOS versions, meaning you can use it with nearly every modern smartphone capable of connecting to Bluetooth Smart. That might not seem like a big deal, but remember Nike’s FuelBand was iOS-exclusive until very recently, and Samsung’s Gear Fit will only work with Samsung phones.
Four tabs guide you through a summary page for the day, week and month; an activity tab for calorie-based scrutiny; as well as a heart rate tab, workout tab and the (practically hidden) “more” tab, where you’ll find most of the settings. This final tab is where you connect with third-party apps and compatible hardware. Cleverly, LG has offered cross-compatibility with MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper and MapMyFitness, apps that you might actually use. LG also supports a few third-party heart rate monitors, including devices from Polar and Zephyr.
Alongside your daily activity and step counts (the app will keep a running total of your top “scores”), LG’s Fitness app comes into its own with sessions: dedicated training segments you “set off” from the workout tab. There are no pretensions to sleep monitoring thankfully, or even diet guidance — it sticks to movement. So I started moving. One swipe of the switch within the fourth tab starts things off. After that, you have the chance to toggle several mid-workout features.
The GPS option monitors your running or cycling routes. As you move, your smartphone will track your route while color-coding your course depending on your heart rate (warmup, endurance, aerobic, anaerobic and high intensity). This same color-coded system, from hardly trying blue to gonna collapse red, is also replicated on the companion heart rate monitor’s clip: one button press on the Bluetooth transmitter will show a color-coded notification illustrating how hard you’re working. You can also get the app to narrate how many calories burned, distance traveled, current heart rate and more. The voice guide will specify your current beats per minute, but try not to laugh when the voice says “bits per minute.” And if you can’t help chuckling, you can fortunately turn the commentary off. Which I did.
Optional: The Lifeband
LG’s Lifeband Touch is yet another fitness band — and it’s a hard sell. Announced at CES alongside the headphones, it’s proof consumer tech never stands still, especially in nascent categories like wearables. Half a year later, we’ve seen products attempting to straddle the divide between fitness gadgets and smartwatches, with the best example so far being the imperfect Gear Fit from Samsung — a fitness wearable paired with a beautiful screen and a heart rate monitor, albeit with a fuzzy interface and temperamental pulse readings.
LG’s band is friendlier but dumber. There’s no OLED screen, but it works with both Android and iOS devices. No heart rate monitor, but then, that’s the earphones’ job. The Lifeband Touch is a solid, slightly flexible rubbery band with no clasp. Instead, there’s a break in the band to slip your arm in — it’s a bangle, basically. It bends a little at the end, while the scrolling monochrome display and single button are both at the more solid end. The device feels heavier than the FuelBand, which is probably its closest competitor. LG had the foresight to add a degree of motion detection, so if you raise your wrist, the device can either show the time or the option screen you saw last.
I tried the Lifeband for a few weeks, but our review sample abruptly stopped charging; LG says we received a lemon. Even after a short testing period, I’m not desperate to use it again. Its biggest drawback is the dot-pixel screen, which is nigh-on unreadable in direct sunlight. While I haven’t torn down the device to investigate, I think it’s because the display appears to be pretty deep inside, meaning there’s a lot of space (and glass) between the surface and what you’re trying to read — ideal for sunlight to refract and bounce around, making viewing your vitals trickier. Gesture controls be damned, you’ll be cupping the Lifeband with your other hand in an attempt to read the time, your pulse or your step count. When you can finally make out the display, you’ll notice three menu sections: one for battery, time and date; another for fitness stuff (calories, distances, steps, session tracking), and the last for controlling music playback.
The interface and features are richer than the FuelBand, but Samsung’s Gear Fit simply looks nicer, and with a color OLED touchscreen, is more technically accomplished even if the software is a muddled mess. Swiping through the Lifeband’s touchscreen is a nice way to navigate the readouts, especially compared to the FuelBand’s laborious button presses. That said, the Lifeband Touch already looks dated. It seems odd that it’s appeared alongside the company’s new headphones, which are pretty exciting. Well, as far as headphones go, anyway.
I’ve never used a wrist-based heart rate monitor for an extended period because I find it uncomfortable having something attached tightly to my arm, so heart rate monitor headphones sounded like the perfect solution. LG’s earphones aren’t quite perfect, though. I found the wiring between the earbuds themselves and the Bluetooth unit a bit unwieldy — the cords were prone to tangling every time I took them off. For headphones, they’re not cheap either: $180 at Best Buy. There’s really no other device like it, however. Intel’s smart ears are just a concept for now, while other options are either gestating in crowdfunding or outright hoaxes. LG’s headphones, which you can buy today, give surprisingly accurate heart rate readings. Particularly thanks to the capable app, I can recommend them to fitness types who can’t do without music — just be prepared for some underwhelming audio.
One of the things you can’t find on the Apple TV is an official store for apps, but this hasn’t kept the tiny box from becoming a solid device for entertainment purposes. To make things better, the Apple TV is adding Fox Now and CNBC to its ever-growing content repertoire, though there are the usual pay-TV caveats to consider. If you do have the right subscription, however, you can unlock each application’s full potential right away, which means access to a lot more videos, live and on-demand. Fox Now, for its part, features full episodes from different shows, including Glee, Family Guy, New Girl and Masterchef. CNBC, meanwhile, lets you watch a live stream of some of its programming if you’re a cable subscriber; as 9to5Mac points out, there are on-demand clips available within the news-focused channel, but that’s as much as cord-cutters should expect. Both new apps are showing up on our Apple TV already, so be prepared to see them on yours the next time you power it on.
Getting Democrats and Republicans to pass an act of Congress is the exception more than the rule. But if there’s one thing both sides of the aisle can agree on, it’s that the US policy for unlocking phones is backwards. Early last year, it became illegal to unlock your handset for use on other carriers unless your provider directly gives you the permission to do so. Thanks to moves from the Senate and House this month, legislation to remove this restriction is just a presidential signature away from passing; it’s not a permanent solution, but at least it’s a step in the right direction for consumer freedom.
What is unlocking?
Many mobile operators in the United States add restrictions to every phone they sell. These “locks” prevent you from being able to use your phone on other networks. If you put an AT&T SIM inside a locked T-Mobile phone, the only phone calls you’ll be able to make will be to 911. This lock also applies to international carriers, so travelers will be hit with extensive roaming fees for data, text messages and phone calls.
The vast majority of US carriers have policies that, under specific conditions, will grant you a code to unlock your device. This usually only happens when you’re a long-term customer in good standing who has a valid reason for unlocking it (such as military service or lengthy international trips). Problem is, these operators are still in charge and they can decide whether or not they want to give you the code. Under current law, this is your only legal option; if AT&T declines your request, you’re out of luck.
Fortunately, this isn’t the only available option if you need an unlocked phone. There are a number of such devices available through independent retailers and manufacturers. Since they’re sold without carrier involvement or subsidy, these handsets don’t come with any locks. Keep in mind that you’re often paying more for the privilege, but at least you won’t have to deal with contracts or financial commitments of any kind.
Why was it illegal?
It all comes down to Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed in 1998. (We do a deep dive on the ruling here.) In short, Congress recognized that changes would have to be made over the passing of time, so they “future-proofed” it by giving the Library of Congress (which oversees the Copyright Office) the ability to make — and renew — exceptions to the law once every three years. In 2006 and 2010, the office granted an exemption giving customers the opportunity to unlock their phones however they pleased, but the renewal was denied in 2012.
Subsidy locks fall under copyright law because the DMCA states “no person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title.” Since these locks are software-based and technically only licensed to the phone’s owner, the 2012 ruling argued that they’re included in this definition. We technically own the hardware, but not the software.
Sadly, the ruling felt like a step backwards for the mobile industry, especially since exemptions were made the two previous times. The Librarian of Congress denied an extension because consumers have more choices for alternative options and carriers’ unlock policies are reasonably flexible.
After the ruling took effect last year, a petition to the White House (titled “Make Unlocking Cell Phones Legal”) was drafted, requesting lawmakers take action to get the decision reversed. The document collected more than the 100,000 signatures needed to mandate a response from the government. Fortunately, White House representatives agreed, saying they “believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones without risking criminal or other penalties.” Shortly after, Congress started to work on legislation addressing the issue.
Change didn’t happen overnight — this is Congress, after all — but after debating and voting down several proposed bills, lawmakers unanimously approved Bill S.517 (it passed the Senate on July 15th and the House on July 25th). The bill now just needs a signature from President Obama in order to take effect, and he said Friday that he intends to sign the bill when it crosses his desk.
While many Congressional acts are longer than a Harry Potter novel and stuffed with more pork than a Hawaiian luau, S.517 is only four pages long and shockingly straight-forward. The bill restores the unlocked phone exemption, asks the Library of Congress to determine if tablets and other devices should be included in that exemption and grants consumers more opportunities to get help from third parties when unlocking their phone.
What happens next?
If only the bill could be as simple as it looks. Unfortunately, the bill is a band-aid that provides a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Since it restores the exemption that the Library of Congress denied in 2012, legal phone unlocking is only guaranteed until the exemption period is over next year, at which time an extension must be approved for another three years.
Although it’s possible that the Librarian won’t renew the exemption when the time comes, the overwhelming support from Congress, the FCC and the entire Obama Administration make that outcome much less likely. Even the LOC, in a March 2013 response to the petition, agreed that “the question of locked cell phones has implications for telecommunications policy and that it would benefit from review and resolution in that context.”
The passing of S.517 is great news for consumers in the United States, but it’s just a small reminder of a much larger problem. The only way for the phone lock issue to be resolved permanently is for Congress to make changes to the DMCA, which is much easier said than done because of the influence of special interest groups and lobbyists. There’s a glimmer of hope, however: The Washington Post reported yesterday that lawmakers plan to take a closer look at those aspects of copyright law that made phone unlocking an issue from the beginning. That’s supposed to happen sometime this fall, but given how long it’s taken for the government to get to this point, this is likely just the beginning of a lengthy fight.
[Image credits: Getty Images, Shutterstock]
While Facebook might not be your favorite social media platform out there, it is quite large and still used by millions. A new round of changes are headed to Android and iOS in the next week in regards to the app and what you will be able to do. As it sits right now you can chat will the messenger directly in the Facebook app. However, Facebook also has a Facebook Messenger app that is a dedicated standalone messaging client that is used specifically for chitter chatter. It seemed silly at the time to have the same access in both apps. Apparently there is a migration underway that will disable the chat function from the main social network app and require you to use the Facebook Messenger app to continue your conversations.
“In the next few days, we’re continuing to notify more people who if they want to send and receive Facebook messages, they’ll need to download the Messenger app. As we’ve said, our goal is to focus development efforts on making Messenger the best mobile messaging experience possible and avoid the confusion of having separate Facebook mobile messaging experiences. Messenger is used by more than 200 million people every month, and we’ll keep working to make it an even more engaging way to connect with people.”
I can already hear the wheels turning and the hater comments coming. While I may not be a personal fan of Facebook, this change is something we have seen coming for a while now. G+ operates in the same fashion if you stop to think about it. We have G+ for the social network side of things and Hangouts for our conversations and chats. On the Google front though, it has always been that way, where as Facebook has not.
The change was forced in Europe back in April and Facebook says it saw “positive results” in terms of engagement. If you do a fair amount of chatting through Facebook you may as well grab the free Facebook Messenger app today and start getting used to it now before the service is completely disabled in the Facebook app.
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It certainly would appear that today is offering up some pretty good news in the way of social interactions. Moments ago we alerted everyone that Facebook would be pulling the messaging function from the main app and shifting everyone over to the Facebook Messenger app. Now we find out that Blackberry is up to a few things in regards to the BlackBerry Messenger app that is also on Android, iOS and Windows.
During a Q&A session at the BlackBeryy Security Summit in New York, Enterprise Chief John Sims outed a little bit of information about the BlackBerry Messenger app (BBM). John stated that a redesign is coming down the pipeline for BBM for Android and iOS that will give it a more native appearance.
We have seen cross-platform apps in the past that have failed to make app redesign and visual changes prior to porting over. Often times we see iOS first apps that just get ported over to Android and retain the look and feel of an iOS app. It makes it look a bit weird and can sometimes be a little confusing since we do things a bit differently on Android then iOS, Windows or BlackBerry does. Giving their app an overhaul to make it blend with each OS could help boost users and not seem so far out-of-place.
Mr. Sims didn’t offer up a timeline or expected update date for either of the redesigned versions of BBM sadly. At least we know they are working on it though. Any of you guys die-hard BBM users? Do you think a redesign will a welcomed addition if BlackBerry? It certainly wouldn’t hurt in my book, I just hope they are doing their due diligence and working through the Android design guidelines to make it clean and smooth.
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Apple’s growth in the overall worldwide smartphone market continues to slow as it loses ground to smaller Chinese vendors releasing more affordable devices, even as the smartphone market itself grows substantially.
According to IDC’s latest estimates, worldwide smartphone sales for the second quarter of 2014 grew 23.1 percent year-over year as smartphones continue to replace feature phones, with a record quarter of 295.3 million shipments.
Apple shipped 35.1 million iPhones during the quarter, up from 31.2 million during Q2 2013, for a share of 11.9 percent, a slight drop from its 13 percent share in the year-ago quarter. The company’s growth was at just 12.4 percent.
Samsung, the vendor that has long held the top spot with the most smartphone shipments, fared even worse during the quarter, with estimated shipments of 74.3 million for a 25.2 percent share of the market, down from 32.3 percent in Q2 2013, and overall growth of -3.9 percent.
Smaller Chinese vendors like Huawei and Lenovo continue to see significant growth, with Huawei shipping 20.3 million smartphones during the quarter for a 6.9 percent share and growth of 95.1 percent, while Lenovo shipped 15.8 million smartphones for 5.4 percent market share and growth of 38.7 percent.
Despite a challenging quarter for Samsung, and to a lesser extent Apple, the strong market demand boosted results for most smartphone vendors. Emerging markets supported by local vendors are continuing to act as the main catalyst for smartphone growth. Among the top vendors in the market, a wide range of Chinese OEMs more than outpaced the market in 2Q14. By far the most impressive was Huawei, nearly doubling its shipments from a year ago, followed by another strong performance from Lenovo.
As noted by IDC, Apple’s second quarter is typically its seasonal low of the year due to its release schedule. Apple may see significant growth later in 2014 as it gears up to release the iPhone 6, meeting consumer demand for a larger-screened device for the first time.
Apple has also made efforts towards releasing low-cost devices in BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) markets that are ripe for growth, but it is difficult for the company to keep up with the myriad low-cost devices coming from manufacturers like Lenovo and Huawei in those markets.
Apple’s newly refreshed Retina MacBook Pros, released this morning, have already begun showing up in Geekbench benchmarks, offering a look at the performance boost of the updated machines compared to their predecessors.
A GeekBench 3 result for the entry-level 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro indicates that the new machine is eight percent faster than the entry-level 2013 Retina MacBook Pro, and only two percent slower than the mid-level Retina MacBook Pro released in 2013.
Single-Core performance for the machine came in at 3050, up from 2811 for the similar 2013 model, while Multi-Core performance was also impressive, at 11586 vs. 10730.
The new Retina MacBook Pros feature upgraded Haswell processors in 2.6 and 2.8 GHz dual-core configurations for the 13-inch versions, and 2.2 and 2.5 GHz quad-core configurations for the 15-inch models, with build-to-order options featuring a 2.8 GHz quad-core processor available for the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro and a 3.0 GHz quad-core processor available for the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro.
All of Apple’s 13-inch Retina MacBook Pros now come with 8 GB of RAM standard (upgradeable to 16 GB), while 15-inch models come with 16 GB standard. The high-end 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro has seen a $100 price cut, and buyers now have the option to upgrade to 1 TB of flash storage on both 13 and 15-inch models.
As noted by John Poole of Primate Labs, with the newly refreshed Haswell Retina MacBook Pros, customers are receiving mid-level performance at an entry-level price.
Though the update brings some decent gains to Apple’s Retina MacBook Pro lineup, the new Haswell processors are largely a stopgap measure designed to hold customers over until Intel’s more powerful and more efficient Broadwell chips are available next year.
Apple’s refreshed Retina MacBook Pros are available today at Apple retail locations and its online store.
Amazon today updated its Kindle for iOS app to version 4.4, adding several features that have been requested by Amazon customers to make both sync and navigation within the app easier.
Books will now sync to the most recent page read across all Kindle devices and Kindle apps that are registered to a single Amazon account, making it easier for users to swap between various Kindle devices. A feature in the navigation menu continues to allow customers to manually sync to the furthest page read if desired.
Kindle Placeholders have also been implemented, letting customers jump to different areas of a book without losing their current reading spot, and it’s also possible for students to export notes, highlights, and more from “Print Replica” textbooks.
Kindle for iOS has also gained Wikipedia Smart Lookup, letting readers select a word and get more information from Wikipedia
Kindle for iOS Version 4.4 provides several customer-requested features that make sync and navigation easier.
Sync to the most recent page read – Any books you are reading on Kindle for iOS will now sync to the most recent page read across all Kindle devices and/or reading apps registered to your Amazon account. Customers can still manually sync to the furthest page read from the left navigation menu.
Kindle Placeholders – Allow customers the freedom to explore other areas of the book without losing their current place. Jump directly to previous locations with “placeholders” on the progress bar.
Notes Export – Studying for the next exam or writing the next term paper just got easier. Students can now export notes, highlights, and more to e-mail from their “Print Replica” textbooks, giving students easy access to their information.
Wikipedia Smart Lookup – Select a word and learn more from Wikipedia in the Info Card at the bottom of the page.
Performance and stability improvements.
Summer sale son apps and games keep popping up every day. Square Enix has added another one of their famed Final Fantasy titles to the sales list today. Taking the 1992 release RPG from $14.99 down to just $7.99 for a limited time.
If you are in a spending mood today you might also want to snag a few of the other Final Fantasy titles while you are at it. Square has Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy IV also on sale for $7.99. That should give you plenty of entertainment to get you through those long hot days of summer and help you stock up for the long cold winters. Below are all the links you need. The Playboard widget might not be reflecting the sale price right this minute, but it is appearing on the Play Store.
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Some of the main items that Beats Music claims set it apart from the competition are its personalization and curated content. Looking to boost both of those areas, Apple’s pending purchase has tossed in a few tweaks. First, if you’re familiar with the service, you know that upon launching the app for the first time, you’re prompted to select a few of your favorite artists and genres to give Beats a clue to your audio sensibilities. Those selections are now editable, making adding and deleting easy for evolving tastes. You’re also able to access a list of recently played tracks from the handy Sentence feature — just in case you forgot to mark ‘em for later. More playlists have also been added to the Just for You section, increasing the amount and range of recommendations. All of the recent additions are available now through the service’s mobile and web apps.
Source: Beats Music