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Magellan Echo: Works just fine, but does too little

Susie Ochs | Jan. 17, 2014
The quantified-self movement has a dark side: Once you start counting your steps or tracking your workouts, you might be surprised at the outrage you'll feel if something goes wrong and your device doesn't count a walk or run.

The quantified-self movement has a dark side: Once you start counting your steps or tracking your workouts, you might be surprised at the outrage you'll feel if something goes wrong and your device doesn't count a walk or run.

I walked two miles once with my iPhone's GPS function turned off, which meant that RunKeeper recorded those 30-or-so minutes of activity but showed that I went zero miles. I was livid. All that exercise for nothing?

The Magellan Echo watch will keep that from happening. It doesn't do a lot: It's not a real GPS running watch that can track your runs on its own. It doesn't save any data to sync back to your phone.

It's just a wearable Bluetooth display that provides real-time data about your run, while you're running. And it offers a couple of buttons for you to remotely control a supported running (or cycling) app while your phone stays in your pocket or armband or wherever you keep it while you're running (or cycling). So although the Echo is definitely helpful, its functions will likely be too limiting for most users to justify the $150 purchase.

Limited phones, limited apps
Since the Echo connects to your phone over Bluetooth LE, it's compatible only with recent iPhones (4s and newer), the fifth-gen iPod touch, and some recent iPads ... in case you take your iPad running or cycling with you, perhaps? (Hey, I don't know your life.) It doesn't work with Android phones just yet, but since KitKat supports Bluetooth LE, that should come later.

The nice thing about Bluetooth LE is that it doesn't use a lot of power, so you won't have to charge the Echo as you would a GPS running watch. The Echo runs on a regular coin-cell battery; Magellan estimates that the battery will last about six months.

One small drawback: You don't pair a Bluetooth LE device to your iPhone by going to the old, standard Settings > Bluetooth menu. Instead, you have to find the pairing command inside of each compatible app's settings. To have the Echo search for a compatible app running nearby, first press the bottom-right button on the Echo; when the screen shows that an application has been found, you press that button again to confirm the pairing.

The fact that the pairing process differs slightly from app to app isn't a huge deal. The bigger problem is the relative paucity of Echo-compatible apps, at least right now. You can use the Echo with iSmoothRun, Map My Run, Strava Cycling, Strava Run, and Wahoo Fitness. My standby, RunKeeper, isn't on that list, but luckily iSmoothRun can upload to RunKeeper. Other developers could add Echo compatibility to their fitness apps in the future — but let's not count those chickens before they hatch.

 

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