Sony is no stranger to the wearable or music markets, it's been a player in both for years and its new device combines the two in a bid to help runners of every level, well, run. The Smart B-Trainer is a type of Walkman, but it has been designed for runners that use music in order to help them reach their goals.
We first saw the Smart B-Trainer at CES 2015 in Las Vegas at the beginning of the year and we can't deny that we were interested in what it might be able to achieve. Taking it off the Sony stand to run around the exhibition halls wasn't really an option, so we took part in a quick jog around the Regent's Park running track to see how it worked in real life.
First of all, when we say a quick jog, it was short so we won't be judging the abilities of the B-Trainer until we get it in for review but we will give you our first impressions.
Nice, unobtrusive design
The B-Trainer is waterproof, comes in various colours including baby blue, yellow, white, pink and black and the wire fits around the back of your head and over your ears for the ear buds to slot into place. We won't lie, it took a bit of fiddling to get the fit right, but once we had changed the ear buds to smaller ones, we found it comfortable.
It's light in weight at just 43g which is great and it comes with several adjustment mechanisms in the box, including three ear bud sizes, so you should be able to get a good fit. There is a rectangular block on either side that feature the various controls, sensors and the ear buds of course.
You'd think these blocks would be annoying when running, but we didn't really notice them once we got going, and the controls were easy to access and find. The power button gives you information when pushed during a run, such as distance, time and heart rate, and there is volume control and track skipping buttons on the same side.
The other side has a big silver button that allows you to start a workout and pause a workout. We accidentally paused it half way through our run so our data was a little skewed at the end. The heart rate monitor is situated in the right ear bud and therefore measures from in your ear.
First impressions of the design were that it looked nice, felt comfortable and it was pretty unobtrusive, especially given that it does enough to ensure you don't need to bring a phone out with you. Getting it to fit properly was tricky, but once you have got hang of it, we suspect it will become second nature.
The B-Trainer has some great features on board, all of which we will look into properly when we review it in full. At a glance, it has six sensors that record 11 types of running logs and it allows you to free run, or use it for specific training, whether that be a specific distance, calories or pace.
It will log heart rate, calories burned, distance, time, speed, pace, cadence, steps, stride, running route and elevation. Using all this information, the B-Trainer then recognises how you are doing and advises you to slow down or speed up, depending on the workout you have selected in order to maximise your efficiency. Think of it like a personal coach or companion and you will understand what Sony is trying to achieve. Our run wasn't really long enough to make a judgement on how well this worked.
There is 16GB of on board storage that Sony claims will accommodate up to 3900 tracks. The B-Trainer will allow you to stream from your iOS or Android smartphone too, but that means you have to take your device out running with you. Streaming also doesn't offer one the main features of the B-Trainer, which is its ability to adjust tracks as you listen and run, based on your heart rate. This is one of the downsides of the B-Trainer though, as not only will you need to start purchasing music if you are a streamer, but you will also need to ensure you have high and low tempo songs stored on it in order to get the most from it.
The waterproofing aspect means the B-Trainer can be used as a Walkman for swimming, but the sensors won't kick into action here so it is more of an added extra rather than a main feature. There is also the ability to add a voice memo during a run, which will then appear in the app so if you have a eureka moment half way through your morning job, the B-Trainer will listen.
Our first impressions of the B-Trainer app were great. You can do a lot with it and it is very easy to navigate. We know we deal with a lot of apps and are perhaps a little more accustomed to where settings and things might be located, but it took no time at all to figure this app out. It was literally a piece of cake and very user friendly.
All the information and data collected from the B-Trainer is very easily digested and we praise Sony for this as sometimes data collected from certain wearables can be a little overwhelming.
There are various options available, from choosing specific workout plans, such as endurance or fat burner, to organising your activity logs by personal best. For each run, you will be able to view all the data in number format, as well as graph format and you can compare two data points, such as pace and heart rate in a couple of taps. There are five data points that are comparable, comprising pace, heart rate, elevation, stride and cadence but you can only compare two at once.
The Sony B-Trainer has certainly made our ears prick up. It's an interesting device and it has a lot of potential. There are a couple of things we are looking forward to testing properly but we suspect we will be running a lot more when we have it.
In a nutshell: so far so good is what we would say about the B-Trainer. After a couple of teething issues with the fit - and user error during our run by pausing it - we liked what we experienced. It's impossible to pass judgement on this kind of device without using it for a good few weeks, but we are excited about spending more time running with it.