Under the bright lights of CES 2014, Intel received a lot of press attention when it showed off a non-working prototype of a heart rate-monitoring earbud system. But now, some five months later, LG is selling a fully realized version of the exact same concept, and no one seems to care.
It's a shame that tech journalists aren't paying more attention to LG's Heart Rate Earphones, because the $180 hardware delivers decent audio quality and accurate heart rate data — and that's really all it needs to do. It's a simple addition to the wearables space, but introduces an entirely new product category to consumers. And unlike so many other wearables, the Heart Rate Earphones actually work.
One part audio, one part data
LG's earphones effectively combine two popular exercise accessories in a single piece of hardware. You probably already listen to music during your cardio workouts, so why not let your earbuds collect heart rate data as well? This approach eliminates the need for one those uncomfortable, chest strap-based heart rate sensors. LG's system employs a spectroscopic sensor in the body of its right earpiece, measuring blood flow beneath the surface of your skin.
According to LG's FAQ, the system is just as accurate as chest strap sensors, and veers from the accuracy of hospital electrocardiograms by no more than 7.4 percent. I couldn't compare the Heart Rate Earphones to an ECG, but A-B testing with a chest strap monitor indicated LG wasn't lying.
But best of all, the earphones can show you accurate, continuously updating heart-rate numbers during the heat of exercise. You won't get this level of reporting from Samsung's Gear Fit wristband or even the Basis Band, which has never claimed reliable real-time accuracy akin to what you get with a chest-strap monitor.
Who knew we all have two antihelices?
The LG earphones connect to a matchbox-sized wireless transmitter that you can clip to your shirt or workout shorts. The transmitter connects over Bluetooth to a wide variety of mobile devices: iPhone 4s and later, and Android devices running 4.3 and later. It charges to maximum battery capacity in about three hours, and is good for about four hours of use. But remember: Once you run out of battery life, you don't just lose the ability to gather heart rate data. You also lose Bluetooth connectivity for listening to music.
The transmitter doesn't have a display, so you need to rely on one of three other methods to get at your data. Throughout testing, I viewed my data on the LG Fitness smartphone app, but you can also see your numbers on the display of LG's Lifeband Touch wristband, a separate $150 purchase.
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