This review has been a long time coming, for the reasons in the last paragraph. Suffice to say, I'm glad this can finally go out. It's a great piece of tech here - an impressive app, surprisingly accurate distance tracking, and of course, good sound quality.
You know the headphones are "serious", when you see this screen on opening the app and connecting your headphones:
I used to wonder why people bothered running or exercising with music. After all, besides the usual about "quieting your inner self" and "enjoying the serenity that comes with running", there is also the practical reason of safety - how do you hear people, bicycles, and cars when you've got music in your ears?
Of course, that all changed when training stepped up - I started training indoors, and did long runs of some 1.5 to 3 hours outdoors. There weren't cars (only cows) where I ran, so a podcast or two didn't hurt (actually, 6, for 3 hours).
Earphone wires really annoyed me though, and despite the myriad ways to get them out of the way while you run, they still annoyed me.
The wireless discovery
Then I took the plunge and spent some S$140 on my first pair of wireless earphones from a certain name brand which was guaranteed sweat-resistant. Clearly, my sweat was made of tougher stuff, for the metal components in the earphones started corroding half a year later.
Then I spent some S$120 on another pair of wireless earphones from another name brand. Same thing happens, this time the button is faulty.
(repeat 2 more times)
Yep. I've gone through 4 pairs of wireless earphones in about 3 years, so I daresay that I've got some experience with these things.
What's this fancy-schmancy Sport Coach?
I read about this Sport Coach with much apprehension - firstly, this had better not corrode or spoil if it has "Sport" in its name; secondly, at this price point (S$248), it better darn well impress.
The latter, it achieves, with flying colours.
Impressive, and worth its price
Sceptics would say that with a price of S$248, you're paying for the brand. Jabra is one of THE better personal wireless sound brands out there, and money usually follows where brand value is.
However, I am glad to say that brand = quality in this case.
I won’t go into packaging - since some like simplicity (like Apple's packaging) while others like complicity (like buying a wireless router). Suffice to say, I wasn't disappointed by the box and its contents (check out the personalisation paraphernalia bundled with it)
The build finish is good - the rubber used for the USB seal and the in-ear attachment feels proper - not the cheap rubber you get in the earphones which are packaged with your mobile phones. These have some texture to them which should prevent slippage in your ear. Slippage is a common problem for me since I sweat a lot, but I didn't experience that here. The ear pieces themselves are made of a plastic which doesn't feel hollow, and also isn't too heavy like the metal-clad Jabra Rox Wireless (which I also own). It could be that the latter set is heavy owing to the magnets in each earpiece, but... that's just a guess.
Bluetooth pairing is as simple as it gets - the earphones guide you in the pairing process, and this took place without a hitch with my Android phone, and my tablet. The bluetooth signal is strong, and didn't drop the way it did when I used cheaper sets in the past. I could walk a good 3 metres away from my phone and still keep the bluetooth signal.
The sound quality isn't anything to shout about, but notably better than the other sets i've used (not naming those here, since they had succumbed to my sweat); and almost on par with the Jabra Rox Wireless.
A S$248 pair of bluetooth headphones had better set itself apart from the myriad of bluetooth options out there. So the aptly-named Sport Coach has some additional quirks.
Sensors Earphones which track your steps taken, and distance covered? I expected some half-baked fitness-tracker ability here, a mere estimation of distance covered at best. Even with the treadmill mode of a TomTom watch (which has had the benefit of my stride-length statistics from numerous outdoor runs), the final distance is always some 20% inaccurate.
So for my very first workout with the earphones, I hit the treadmill. And I was very, very impressed. See for yourself. (excuse the blurry picture. I took it while actually running)
You'll notice the speed and distance on the treadmill, and the phone app is fairly similar (not identical, but similar). That's impressive for a sensor that's in my ear isn't it?
The downside is that you must have your phone with you during the workout. The Jabra app crashed on my phone midway as I was running, and my data for the time I was running wasn't saved. All those statistics, but of little value if you can't look at it later! This didn’t happen often though; and perhaps Jabra should release an update which saves data gradually as your workout proceeds (e.g. a cache-rate of, say, 15 seconds).
A shot of the statistics:
There's also a fitness test you can do - the Cooper treadmill test. It's essentially a timed 12-minute run. With the accuracy of the sensor, you can expect the findings of the test to be fairly reliable. The most accurate way would be to run the test on a track; but hey - what's the point of all this tech if you don't play with it?
Its coaching feature isn't particularly impressive. Imagine a workout app on your phone, except this time the app connects with sensors in your earphones to gauge whether you've been moving, and also uses the earphones to communicate workout cues directly into your ears. This may be the first set of headphones which does this - but really, I think it's more the app which does this, and not so much the headphones which coach you. The salient feature is that the headphones contain sensors which integrate with the app.
What was interesting though, is that you feel more "connected" to the workout - there really is someone telling you to move, how many reps, and how long more to go. It does help to an extent, and is certainly easier than referring to your phone's screen in the case of a regular workout app.
Waitaminute - then wouldn't any pair of bluetooth earphones suffice for these cues? Yes. But, those earphones won't be able to count your reps for you. These earphones can count the reps for different exercises (40, apparently). Is this feature worth paying an extra $100 over other earphones for? Maybe... You be the judge.
Bluetooth earphones employ all sorts of methods to stay in your ears -"ear wings", in-ear gels, and even a set which had a special sticky rubber.
This set has all of this - save the rubber isn't "sticky" but textured for more grip. Yep, they stayed in my ears through my sweatiest workouts.
What I liked most was that the usb port and the sensor housing in each earpiece played a structural role as well, as they protruded in a manner which kept them in your ears. It's hard to explain - just look at that rectangular chunk, and imagine it sitting in your ear.
Is it sweat-proof?
This, I am sad to say,is answered in the negative. Before going into further detail, I must reemphasize that my indoor workouts are particularly sweaty and wet; and that I wipe down my earphones only after my workouts.
The first set started to become unresponsive after 2 weeks. It couldn't be turned on even after charging it. I suspect the in-line mic was damaged. Jabra duly sent me a replacement set, saying it's the first time they had faced that issue.
That second replacement set failed as well, this time after a week. This time, Jabra said they would carry out a thorough investigation into the issue; after a period of three weeks, I was informed that sweat had entered the in-line mic, and had affected the circuitry.
So I received a third set, and this has been working fine to this day, without the same problems.
(The review set(s) was provided to us by Jabra.)