It’s not everyday you wake up thinking you’re going to spend it coding a RESTful API, but it was a cold, rainy day here Sacramento so I thought why not plug in the Jaybird BludBuds X headphone’s for a battery life test and begin my own personal hackathon.
When I walked out of Best Buy after purchasing the Jaybird Reign I had big expectations for this sleek looking silicone band; available in black and white. Wooed by its design and fresh activity tracker thinking I was ready to join team Reign and go beyond simply counting my steps and calories burned. I was pumped to run, swim and bike alongside my new personal and wearable coach.
There is an ongoing debate on how music should be delivered to your ears. Some want it like Dre, tweaking the music to emphasize the bass and vocals, while depressing the “less interesting” middle frequencies, thus giving it a sharpness to your ear. Others may want their music a little more flat sounding or prefer it be like a “CD” and finally you have the “the way it was recorded in the studio” crowd. Defining each of those presets is a little subjective in my opinion and going to be a picky crowd to please. So how do all these online music services like Beats, Rdio, Spotify and Tidal make everyone happy? (more…)
The tipping point in my choice to throw on the Nevada Wolfpack sweats and drive to Best Buy and return my Garmin Vivosmart and pay a little over $200 for this sexy-silicone-band-with-a-brain was a video that I watched on Twitter @jaybirdsport. Ironically the video wasn’t about the Reign at all, but Jaybird company employees having fun together while supporting a good cause: the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and inspiring others. Stay with me on this.
After a few more minutes swiping through the timeline and looking into Jaybird I noticed that the company, all the way from the CEO, Judd Armstrong, to the employees cheerfully drenching buckets of ice water on their heads have a real passion for helping people attain their goals, as well as for their flagship ear buds which I hope to review soon. This review, however, is all about my first 48 hours with the Reign and how Jaybird is raising the bar for activity trackers.
What makes the Jaybird Reign different from every other activity tracker on the crowded shelves of similar product is that the Reign focuses on aligning your body with your physical activities and uses the biometric data collected from the band to help you attain the level of fitness you strive. It’s not just something you wear around your wrist to count how many steps you have taken and calories burned. As I prepare myself for a Triathlon Sprint I selected the Reign to be my inner-fitness voice, which is perfect because the Reign wants you to forget you’re wearing it. It wants to become part of you from the minute you wake up until the moment you fall asleep and then guide you into a healthy tomorrow, challenging your fitness activity and keep you in “the Go-Zone”.
I admit, the first 48 hours with the Reign have been a little off balance. Part of it is me understanding how the Reign’s philosophy works and breaking my previous “step tracking” thought-behavior which is to judge my progress on a count step and calorie burn. Nutrition is a piece of the puzzle Jaybird has yet to even put on the table, so you’re best options are MyfitnessPal or Livestrong’s MyPlate (my preference app right now for this data type). The Reign science learns your activities, sleep patterns and monitors your Heart Rate Variability (HRV) so that you know it’s a great time to challenge yourself or a good day to rest up. Do you ever feel like you’re getting sick or stressed over a deadline at work? Believe it or not this shows up in your HRV and the Reign uses this data to your fitness advantage. Now, if it just would all work as well as it’s packaged and advertised; Jaybird has some work ahead of itself, but I think it’s a challenge they are up to accepting.
The Reign packaging is magniflorious.
I haven’t seen a piece of tech packaged so beautifully since the first iPhone. The cover unfolds, revealing a stunning, master-crafted fitness band that is “soft and seamless with sand-blasted chrome clips”. It is everything, if not more in-person than how the promotional video describes. Under the space gray foam awaits all the wonderful accessories, including the micro USB charger, two extra silicone straps with clips for sizing, an ankle strap for cycling and two silicone bands without the clips for swimming. Also included is a small tool for cleaning the clips. What would have made the packaging better then Apple’s are small graphical icons indicating each item would be used. For example, a small gray icon of a swimmer under the bands without clasps and maybe a small illustration of the tool and clip to imply cleaning. A minor touch like that would have saved me a trip to the online FAQ.
Fitting was a snap. Although I was concerned at first because the sizing graph on the back of the box indicated that a small was appropriate for me, where as, other activity trackers I have used (Fitbit Flex & Charge and Garmin Viviosmart) I sized to a large. Jaybird’s chart was correct and all Reign bands in the small package fit comfortably. I use the tighter one when I worked out this morning because it fits snugger higher up my arm freeing up the wrist joint and found the slightly bigger one more comfortable while around the office (or Starbucks in this case) since it fits a touch more loose like a watch, and ankle strap was secure, snug and almost invisible awhile I rode down the American River Trail.
Charging took longer than expected; almost 3 hours and at first didn’t work. Tech excites me and the Reign was un-boxed before I left the Best Buy parking lot. The small charge clip was easy to figure out and snap onto the pod. I plugged the micro USB cable into it the charging clip and the other USB end into my car; simple. I expected some lights to blink to indicate charging, but nothing happened (and yes, I turned on my car to give the USB port power). I jiggled the cable and a red light began to blink. When I got home and moved the charger indoors I had the same problem. The same jiggle fixed it. I am expecting that the soft, flexible USB cable has an internal issue and will eventually need replacing. After about 3 hours it was completely lit up red with one green light; I assumed it was charged, although I would have expected all the lights to be green not just one. This confused me at first but my tech instinct said it was good to go so I unplugged it and slapped it on my wrist.
Now this is when the Reign started tripping me up. I popped the pod into the band. It snapped in magnetically, but honestly the magnets are not as strong as the video on Jaybird’s website make them sound. Purely by accident, I dropped it from about 6 inches onto the carpet and that was enough to make the pod pop out. Later that night I took off my jacket from a cold evening walk and the band flew out the sleeve, again, the pod landing on the carpet a few feet away. I suppose while adjusting my sleeve and gloves I inadvertently unclasped the band without feeling it; ah, not good. I expected the magnetic clasp to be much much stronger than it actually appears in the promotional video. The click sound is cool though; reminds me of the magnetic power-clip on my Macbook Air, which is designed for a quick, non-destructive release. So, despite the style is cool on the Reign it may not be a practical solution for a $200 wearable device that you really don’t want to quickly release or lose during a vigorous workout.
Pairing the Reign pod with my iPhone 6 was just as clumsy. I followed the directions displayed in the app, lightly wet the top and bottom of the pod as well as my finger and then press the top for a few minutes (they state it could take longer than 20 seconds) with the band on my wrist and finger on the cylon eye (lighted strip) to no success.
Eventually I checked the online FAQ and removed the pod from the band and tried again. Still no pairing success. A bit frustrated, and reaching the 10 minute point of a simple Bluetooth pairing, I licked the pod and squeezed it with my thumb and index finger firmly and bam! 5 seconds later it was paired.
When I verified my pairing through the iOS 8 settings I noticed something interesting. My other BT devices: my car and FitBit Charge all had a blue circle “i” icon that would allow me to “forget” the device but the “Reign” did not. Additionally, the Reign would not synch if another Bluetooth device was also connected. Finally paired, and my last task of the night, I went to bed with great anticipation to see how well the Reign auto-detected my sleep and to try the Go-Zone for the first time in the morning –goodnight moon.
Seven hours later, the morning sun peeked between the blinds waking me up. I took my phone off the nightstand and tapped the Reign app to see what my sleep was like but to my disappointment the phone and pod wouldn’t sync and no sleep was showing on the app’s Sleep page. After restarting the app a few times still no success, I restarted my phone. Eventually the Reign app indicated “Band Found” and synched, but unfortunately having to quit the app several times. Once the app was done “synchronizing” and then “Processing” to my next disappointment no sleep was tracked. I flipped it to the “Go-Zone” page where it said “Try again tomorrow upon waking” and that I did; only to awake to the same message the next morning.
Throughout both day’s the Reign successfully tracked and labeled my mile walk around Huffaker Hill in Reno, as well did a good job at knowing when I was inactive (or driving or sitting in Starbucks writing this for the past 2 hours). Then, the following morning it tagged my 7-Minute workout as a “general activity” correctly without me having to tell it what type of activity I did. I don’t expect it to be smart enough to know the difference between Crossfit or Yoga workouts, but the fact it didn’t type it as a walk, run, ride or swim was great! Later in the day I went for a short 7 mile bike ride and used the included ankle strap for cycling but categorized it as “sports” and not “cycling” (see above screen shot).
Just imagine the possibilities if Jaybird considers partnering with some other fitness focused apps like MapMyFitness, Active.Com, RunKeeper or Livestrong’s MyPlate and integrate a social user base with challenges software based coaching for 5/10ks, marathons, triathlons and more. As of now, the Reign is stuck in the yellow-zone; use with the understanding it has some rough edges to smooth over.
Clearly there are problems, but thankfully most can be addressed with software updates. The current Reign app for iOS is buggy only in the sense in that it won’t synch properly when you want it to. Eventually there is a data burst and it magically appears accurate. My tech-gut tells me that there is probably an issue with their Bluetooth stack and the pod’s firmware to communicate with the iPhone. However, at this price point, problems like this should have been ironed out before it reached the consumer’s wrist.
I have contacted Jaybird support via twitter and they promptly -I mean within hours fast- replied asking me to contact their technical support. We will see what they can do. Hopefully in the next few weeks and after several app updates, the Reign will be a game changer in the fitness world and help me accomplish my goal of a Sprint Triathlon.
Keep an eye on my Twitter @sjamesmccarthy for an update to this review and deeper look at the Jaybird Reign’s app.
- Pros: Great design with a unique, new approach at fitness activity tracking!
- Cons: Software and synching appear to be a bit buggy.
Product Source: Purchased at Best Buy