Thursday, November 07, 2013

Review Magellan Echo Watch and iSmoothrun: Connecting SmartPhone Run Apps to your Wrist

I have been much intrigued by the Magellan Echo run watch (MSRP $149, $199 with HR strap) since it was announced at Outdoor Retailer. The last year I have been running with Strava on my iPhone as I love how it aggregates all my runs, elevations, segment performances, and friends activities. I only pay attention to stats after the run as I stash the phone and the audio cues can sometimes be hard to hear. When racing I use my Nike+GPS in parallel to keep closer track of pacing and time. Duplication.

Essentially the Echo watch acts as a display and controller for popular fitness apps including my social favorite Strava, as well as RunKeeper, Wahoo Fitness and my new favorite iSmoothrun ($4.99 Apple App store). The Echo transmits data and controls from your phone to your wrist.

I tested all 4 and they work fine with varying degrees of flexibility as to what can be displayed on the watch from a single static screen of distance, time, and average pace currently for Strava to literally dozens of options for iRunsmooth including cadence (from accelerometer) that can be configured to appear on multiple screens.All the apps supported also include basic phone music controls accessible from watch buttons.

Magellan very cleverly leverages the GPS on the phone, its processing power and internal and external low power sensors (accelerometers, HR, foot pod, etc...), as well as low energy Bluetooth LE Smart communications  built into increasing powerful phones that fitness apps take advantage of. In the future I believe, as we all are so reliant on our phones, that these "dumber" smart watches that act as displays and controllers will become far more prevalent than standalone,  complex and expensive GPS watches.

The more minimal approach of what the watch is asked to do reduces the battery requirements of the watch. The Echo is rated to last 6-12 months on a single standard watch battery. Update: I have used the Echo 6 days a week with all runs in cold weather since early November. March 1st the battery died. I estimate I got about 140 hours of live run time life or 4 months out of the Echo battery which I feel is excellent due to the low temperatures it was subjected to on every run. It also reduces the weight and complexity of the watch. No charging! Synching of data is via the phone as the watch essentially records nothing beyond what is is supposed to display.

Communications of data from your fitness app to the watch face is via Bluetooth.  Command of the app is via buttons on the watch:  Start/Pause, instant audio interval (from phone) for iRunSmooth multiple data elements configurable from the app,  a backlight, and basic music controls. Screens are scrolled by tapping the watch face, a bit fussy but functional.
Start up and synch is very reliable and fast. No looking for satellites as the phone already knows where they are. All the watch and apps are doing is opening a communications channel to each other.

Open the app. Put your phone away. Press the top left button on the watch to connect to the phone. Press the bottom right button of the watch to start and pause the workout. Tap the watch face firmly to scroll between data screens. When the workout is complete press the bottom right pause button. When you can take the phone out and end the workout. No fumbling to get at your phone to stop, pause or do intervals.

The only thing I would like to see on the watch that is not included for now is vibration alert capabilities ( although Echo does beep when it synchs to iSmoothRun so some audio alert capability is available)  and standard alarm watch buzzing. At this point only iPhones from the 4S on are supported by the Echo watch or any app above due to their consistent use of the Bluetooth Smart LE required to communicate with the watch.  Androids are hit or miss at this point as not many support Bluetooth Smart LE yet.

Instead of a full review here of the Echo I refer you to DC Rainmaker's excellent and exhaustive review of the Echo and the supported fitness apps.
Also see Pete Larson's excellent review at I introduced Pete to the Magellan iSmoothRun combination last year.

I was planning on only reviewing the watch but when I stumbled upon iSmoothRun (iOS only at this time) and given the magic is really in combining the phone app and the watch here is a further introduction to iSmoothRun with a focus on its strong interval capabilities.

It works seamlessly with the Echo watch. It is the most full featured run app I have used with outstanding flexibility as to what you can display on the watch and app and logging of data. Everything from temperature, wind chill, stride length, cadence, splits, HR, and on and on.

You can easily set up 5 custom screens on the watch via the app with any of the many data elements captured by the app displayed.

iSmoothRun Screen Set Up

iSmooth Run has a very flexible way to set up workouts such as intervals or even steady pace runs. Use the interval editor to set up as many intervals, warm and cool downs, steady state runs as you want. Each can be based on time or distance down to the 1/8 of mile.
iSmoothRun Set Up: Intervals, warm up, steady
You can set target paces or HR's that the app can optionally give you audio cues for including speed relative to goal pace, start stop time, distance, average pace, cadence, HR, etc.. The watch can be set up via the app to show each interval's data: distance, lap pace, HR, etc..You pick.

iRunSmooth Intervals Editor and List
 Create a workout by adding the intervals you want in any order, picking the multiple of each when you set up the workout.
iSmoothRun Workout

I use the watch and audio cues in combination. Great utility and flexibility when combined with the Echo. An ideal way to do custom yet consistent workouts when away from a track. A few bugs with the labeling of workouts. Titles don't change when you edit but it is very easy to delete and redo an interval.

iSmoothRun in particular allows upload to Strava and a multitude of other fitness sites along with supporting dozens of sensors. They do not have a companion web site and focus on the in run features and data capture. Yes, you can see your stats in great detail in the app's log including graphs but where you store it on the web for further analysis  is totally up to you, competitors of iRunSmooth permitting...  Here is a screen capture of the current export options :

iRunSmooth Export Options
For a very fine way to tote your phone without a pack or belt check out the 2014 Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts, 5 pockets including 2 large enough for iPhone in case. My review here

Disclosure: I purchased the Magellan Echo watch and iSmoothRun app.


Anonymous said...

Sam, the Pebble Smartwatch working in combination with iSmoothRun is a much better option. I have used both, with the Echo dying on me after 3 months and being unable to get any in warranty support , I tried the Pebble and found it to be much better integrated, with iSmoothRun (who wrote the Pebble app to manage the comms between the phone and watch).

It provides audio cues for intervals and other features, and the display is better. The Pebble being a 'smartwatch' has other apps of interest, like the swimming app, activity monitors etc, whereas Echo is an overpriced one trick pony.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, meant to say 'provides vibration cues', not audio cues in previous comment.

Sam Winebaum said...

Thanks for info on Pebble and iSmoothRun. My Magellan which was great for a long time "drowned" at Boston and stopped working. I have moved on to a Garmin Vivoactive, for now... I miss iSmoothrun but even though I said I wouldn't I don't miss carrying my phone, except when I miss pictures!