Smart watches are all the rage at the moment, particularly those designed for sports. Adidas has added the Smart Run watch to its miCoach personal training system and crammed it full of tech. It includes a strapless heart rate monitor, GPS tracking, full-colour touchscreen and real-time coaching.
But all that tech doesn't come cheap. Clearly Adidas has the intention of delivering an experience that not only beats what the competition offers, but also help you to increase your performance on and off the track. We've been running with the Smart Run to see just how smart it is.
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When's a watch not a watch?
Let's get one thing out the way before we look at how the watch actually performs. The Adidas miCoach Smart Run is not a watch. Well, technically it is a watch because you wear it on your wrist and it tells the time, but you won't want to.
You won't want to because the battery life is appalling. Without running we got just over a day on a single charge. With an 8km run done and dusted on day two the watch shut itself off before 8pm.
Adidas claims in training mode you'll get four hours of battery when in run mode, or eight hours in marathon mode as the information updates less frequently, at five second intervals. Adidas also claims 14 days of life in watch mode, but even when in "flight mode" we've not been able to get more than a day and a half of power.
Yep, if you try and wear this as a watch when you aren't pounding the streets, get used to having to tell people that you're late because your watch has run out of battery. And in training mode the battery life takes a more serious hit. We've had a number of software updates to the watch during our review time so we know we are on the latest firmware but it's made no difference.
How it can be this bad is beyond us. There is a lot of tech and a lot going on, but we've never seem anything so poor when it comes to battery life for a long time, especially for a device that when not in use is not supposed to be doing anything apart from showing the time.
Now we've got that off our chests, let's look at what the Adidas miCoach Smart Run can do for you - even if it's a brief window of time that you'll be able to use it for.
The Adidas miCoach Smart Run smart watch is large, bulky, and weighs 80 grams - so it protrudes from the wrist and looks big. For guys that shouldn't be a problem as it's a fairly macho design, but we're not sure girls with thin wrists will find it appealing. Each to their own, of course.
The watch features a 1.45-inch square full colour transflective TFT LCD, with a 184 x 184 pixel resolution capacitive touchscreen display. As it's built around touch you can swipe through menus quickly which is cool.
There is also a single button which can be used to lock the screen via a simple press-and-hold so you don't accidentally set something in motion by brushing the screen, and a small Adidas logo top and centre so you don't forget who made it.
The real "magic", so to speak, is found on the rear of the display - as this is where the heart rate monitor can be found. Rather than insisting you wear a chest strap the watch is able to take your pulse from the back of your wrist and relay the information straight onto the watch. More on that later.
The watch can be charged by plugging it into a small docking station that clips around the watch. It does mean you have to carry that with you when it comes to charging - annoying - but thankfully Adidas has used a standard Micro USB cable so there's the potential to interchange between your tablet or smartphone if it's got the same connector. Sorry Apple users, no such luck there. We are confused as to why there isn't just a Micro USB socket on the watch itself - a similar complaint we had with the TomTom Multi-Sport.
The Smart Run also comes complete with a wide soft-to-touch silicon strap that stretches around the wrist. There is a strong two-pronged clasp/buckle to keep everything safe and secure and it's comfortable to wear.
The smartwatch itself is fairly potent when it comes to specification. There's 3GB of internal storage for storing music; Bluetooth so you can wirelessly connect up headphones to listen to your tunes; GPS to track your routes; Wi-Fi to automatically sync your run results when you get home; and, of course, that heart rate monitor to measure your pulse - ideal for real-time feedback or zone-based training.
Adidas hasn't detailed the processor that runs the Smart Run, and we did notice some lag when jumping from the menu screen to another screen. A little bit more processor speed would have been welcomed.
But the watch isn't designed to be used outside of its Adidas miCoach confines. Sports is the name of the game here. You can't get phone calls, emails, tweets, or anything else - for that you'll want to try the Samsung Galaxy Gear.
To get using the Smart Run you'll need an Adidas miCoach account. You'll also need a Wi-Fi access point where you know the password, as trying to set it up on a work Wi-Fi isn't really going to work.
Once logged in - let's hope that Wi-Fi password is short - you have to verify the watch and for that you'll need access to a browser from your phone, tablet, or laptop. It can't be actioned from the watch itself, but otherwise we like the fact that you don't need to download any software, or connect the Smart Run directly to a computer - it's almost ticked all the boxes for this post-PC era we're all gunning for.
Once set up the MiCoach Smart Run automatically syncs with your MiCoach data and everything is controlled via the website making it easy to access from any device you can lay your hands on. It also means you can quickly add training programmes from your computer rather than fiddle with the small screen.
It's time to start running
There are found main menu options: watch, running, music and settings. Swiping from right to left takes you from the watch face - which is customisable with a range of face options - through these, while a downwards swipe will reveal more granular settings for each one. Whether it is intentional or not, it is very Windows Phone in its approach.
Outside of the main four there's settings to see the battery meter, control settings like audio feedback and whether to have WLAN on or not and other such controls. For audio playback you can selected by artist, albums, songs, or playlists or shuffle through them all. The watch also offers a stopwatch and a timer, but surprisingly there's no alarm feature which seems bizarre for a watch.
But this is all about the sports aspect. When in the running section you get to choose to do a free workout or interval training workout. If you've gone on to the MiCoach website you can select a dedicated plan like Strength & Flex, or Lose Weight, as well as tackle some sample single workouts - but these are just more interval training tasks. There is also the promise of a Fit test, but this is still billed as "coming soon". Shame it's not present in time for the watch's release.
Beyond the workout options there is a chance to see your workout history, your lifetime stats, and charts. Charts gets fairly geeky and include time-in-zone this week, or calories burned, while the other two are more about analysing your run or runs ever since you started using miCoach. That's regardless of whether it's been a system you've been using for months before picking up the Smart Run.
On the run
Once you've worked out the type of run you want to do, it's a case of pressing "Get Ready" and waiting for the watch to find the GPS signal and your pulse. On average it's taken about two minutes to lock on, and we've used to Smart Run numerous times during testing, before an on-screen start button can be tapped to kick off the measurements.
On the run and the MiCoach Smart Run gives you three screens to scroll through. It's your heart rate, shown in beats per minute (bpm), that takes centre stage on screen one - and the bpm chops and changes in real time - alongside elapsed time and distance covered. The second screen gives more presence to your min/km along with split times if you are recording them, while the third screen offers the time as the key focus along with kcal and bpm stats.
We did a couple of runs ranging from 5km to 9km to see how the watch performed testing out different settings and features. For interval training we selected a single workout that forced us to run easy for the first five minutes, then medium for the next 20 minutes, before returning to an easy five minute finish.
If none of those default combinations work for you then it's possible to manage the display via the settings menu on the miCoach website. Simply drag and drop the elements you want where you want them. Everything is then synced with the watch. It's easy and gives you the visual setup you want.
The watch gives you a colour coded bpm to show whether you are in the right zone - which is automatically determined based on your logged fitness at miCoach - as well as vibrating if you go out of that zone for some reason; both if you are going too fast or too slow. The feedback is instant and if you are focusing on a specific plan it's fantastic in delivering information for you to work on immediately. The screen's information and layout is also very clear to view when running, a crucial feature that so many other sports watches fail to get right - the TomTom Runner, for example.
READ: TomTom Runner review
As a dedicated sports watch that you only use on training runs the Adidas MiCoach Smart Run smartwatch is fantastic. The interface is clear, the granular detail that you can access through the miCoach website is superb, and the ability to get your heart rate without wearing an uncomfortable chest strap is a really great feature. We also like how your runs are synced the moment you step back into your home Wi-Fi.
But there's a very big "but": the battery is awful. It really sucks. So much so that you can't wear it like a watch, nor be reliant that it will have enough juice to get you around a training run unless you've had it plugged in all the time just before using it.
On two occasions we've gone to use the Smart Run and found that it didn't have enough battery to get either us to the end of the run, or even to start it, because we had let the battery go dead by mistake. It should be better than that; that's not "smart" at all and renders an otherwise great product almost useless.
Worried that we had a faulty unit we've contacted a number of other journalists who we trust and are also testing out the Smart Run. They told us they were also experiencing poor battery life in the same way we have. This could be an issue with the first batch of watches, or it could be something inherently wrong with battery consumption of the Smart Run. Either way we aren't happy to recommend this device given its performance as tested. We are awaiting Adidas to send over a second unit for further testing and will update this review based on our experiences with the second device once. It's a real shame that's the conclusion, as we were so excited by the features of the watch - there's so much promise here, but the battery just kills its worth.
For the moment if you like the idea of MiCoach, it's probably best to save the £300 and stick with the app experience on your smartphone until version two comes out with a boosted battery life. Well done for entering the race, Adidas, but it looks like there's a long way to go before there's a chance of winning.