Nik's Technology Blog

Travels through programming, networks, and computers

Nike+ SportBand Review

Last year I decided to get healthy and take up running.  Being a gadget lover, I had been researching the iPod nano and Nike+ sport kit

I liked the idea of being able to record my progress, set myself challenges and map my routes etc, see http://nikeplus.nike.com/nikeplus/ for more details.

The thing was, I already had an iPod classic which was too bulky to run with, and not compatible with the Nike+ kit.  I didn't really want to fork out for another iPod just to take out for a run, so I was pleased when Nike released the SportBand, I ordered one and started my training. 

That was about a year ago, and I've been using the Nike+ SportBand for all my runs since, clocking up over 300km in that time.

Review

I thought I'd write a quick review of the product to share my experience with the SportBand and the Nike+ website, which forms an integral part of the product, since all your stats are uploaded to the site.

Hardware

The hardware included consists of a watch and shoe adapter.  The shoe adapter is designed to fit into special Nike+ running shoes, which I had already had.  If you don't want to purchase Nike+ running shoes search on eBay for "nike+ sensor" you can buy sensor pouches that fit on your shoe laces instead.

Before each run you have to hold down the big button on the face of the watch to sync the shoe adapter to the watch, then after a few seconds when you are ready to run, you just press the same button again briefly to start and stop the clock.

After using this for a while you wonder what Nike was thinking when they designed the watch.  First of all its not very sturdy, my LED broke after a few months use (see photo, left-hand side), the angle of the screen and reversed LED display are not at all easy to read when you are running.  Personally I would have been willing to pay a little more for a better watch.

Software and Website

When you get back from your run, you simply detach the watch from its strap and plug it into your computer's USB port to upload your run data.  The software driver that you install on your PC allows you to calibrate your device as well; however I found that its not very accurate and if you increase your pace you need to recalibrate the device.

The Nike+ website has been produced in Flash and looks visually impressive, but I find it to be a bit cumbersome to use and personally I would prefer an HTML website with embedded Flash graphs etc.

All your runs appear in a bar chart, with a calendar running across the bottom.  When you hover a run you get more details for that particular run.  If you click on a run you get a timeline for that run with km/mile marker points and your pace at those positions.

You can also map your runs before or after a training session to either gauge how far a route is or to assign certain runs to a particular route.  This is useful so you can see your progress over the same route.

The nike+ website also has a social element to it, allowing you to challenge other nike+ users and run routes others have mapped.  However the interface isn't as intuitive as it could be.  You can also create widgets to allow you to show your training overview on your blog or social profile, take a look at mine on the "About Me" page.  They also provide a FaceBook app, but I have never managed to get this to work.

Summary

Nike+ isn't perfect and I think that professional runners should probably look elsewhere, but for people like me who just run to keep fit and don't take it too seriously I find it helps me keep track of my progress and keeps me motivated.

Being a developer it would also be nice to get access to my run data through an API.  There are ways to do it, but it would be nice if Nike were to publish an SDK or API documentation to make this a little easier.  Services such as Twitter have thrived on 3rd party applications which leverage the Twitter API, what are you waiting for Nike?

USB U3 Smart Drives: Drives That Make Your Applications & Data Portable

USB flash drives have increased in capacity in leaps and bounds since I last purchased one. In the few years since I bought a Crucial 128MB Gizmo!, the price of flash memory has been literally free-falling, due partly to economies of scale and the mass adoption of flash-based mp3 players.
The size and sheer variety of these devices is astounding, but what I wasn't expecting when I inserted the drive was for a Launchpad application to start running, pre-loaded with special software!

SanDisk u3 Smart Drive - Cruzer Micro 4GB

I had in fact purchased a 4GB SanDisk U3 Smart Drive. U3 is a technology developed by SanDisk which effectively creates a platform for developers to build applications that install directly onto the flash drive rather than the host computer. This means that not only can you take your data with you, but you can take your applications too!

U3 Smart Drive Launchpad

When you insert your U3 Smart Drive into a USB slot on any computer, the U3 Launchpad is loaded, which is effectively like the Window's start menu, but instead contains menus to configure the drive, run installed applications and access your data. Nothing is installed on the host PC, so you can take your applications and data with you and its all secure and synced with your data on your PC back home.

The software that's available includes Skype, Firefox, Opera, various password safes, Thunderbird, OpenOffice... The list goes on. Some applications are free, while others cost a small amount of money, but most have downloadable trials. Here's a full list of U3 software.

Watch the video below for a quick guide to the U3 Smart Drive technology.

Choosing a Flat-Screen TV: Built-in TV Tuners

Continuing my series of posts about choosing a High Definition TV (HDTV), I read an article today that could potentially make some people put off making an HDTV purchase for the time being.

In the UK there are 4 ways to get TV (excluding via broadband):

  1. Terrestrial
  2. Freeview (Digital Terrestrial)
  3. Sky (Satelite)
  4. Virgin Media (Cable)

Currently only Sky and Virgin Media have HD channels that allow you to enjoy television broadcasts that exploit a High Def TV. Both services require you to have special HD set-top boxes to receive these broadcasts, you also get charged more than the standard definition (SD) package cost for the privilege.

Terrestrial analogue signals are gradually being phased out between (2007-2012) to clear up the spectrum for HD over Freeview. Ofcom published a news release on 21 November 2007 detailing the Freeview upgrade.

Built-in Tuners

Now back to choosing an HDTV. It is becoming more common for HDTVs in the UK to come with built-in Freeview tuners. This means you don't need an external set-top box top get Freeview broadcasts, this is good since analogue terrestrial tuners won't be much use to us for too much longer. The problem is that HD Freeview will require a set-top box upgrade, it also uses a more advanced coding standard which isn't compatible with the current coding standard.

So unless current HDTV built-in tuners can be upgraded via a firmware upgrade at a later date, then you'll be needing to add an HD Freeview set-top box to your set-up when they become available.

Here's the paragraph from the Ofcom new release:

"Viewers who wanted to access the new services on offer would need to buy a new DTT set-top box or integrated television, which was compatible with MPEG4 and DVB-T2."

"However, viewers with existing DTT set-top boxes or integrated televisions would still be able to access Freeview services with their current equipment."

Choosing a Flat-Screen TV: Screen Size

It's coming up to Christmas time again, and lots of people are thinking of splashing out on a new flat screen TV. Prices are becoming cheaper all the time which is a good thing, but the sheer range available can make it a daunting task. Even though prices are falling each month, deciding which make, model and size is one thing, but what about resolution, high-definition (HD) readiness, connections, built-in tuners, plasma or LCD etc?

I'm going to start by finding the most suitable screen size.

What HDTV Screen Size Should I Buy?

Choosing a suitable screen size will depend on where the television will be going, and how far away from the screen you'll be sitting. Obviously for a home theatre set-up you'll be wanting a big screen, whereas for a bedroom or kitchen you'll want a smaller size.

You don't want to give yourself eyestrain, or be so close that you can see individual pixels on the screen, but on the other-hand you don't want to be so far away that you don't become immersed in the content. Luckily there are size charts available on the web that can help determine the appropriate size for different rooms and TV placements.