Health & Fitness Tech Treasures [2011 Cool Yule Tools]

Health & Fitness Tech Treasures [2011 Cool Yule Tools]

Making a big comeback in this year’s holiday gift guide is the health and fitness category. Whether you’re just starting out on the path of exercise, or are a veteran athlete, the number of consumer electronics products dedicated to a person’s health has increased steadily over the past few years. Here are some of our favorites that can make a good gift under the tree for your favorite fitness enthusiast:

Watch a slideshow version of some of these products.

Products reviewed in this categorySport Elite muscle stimulator, by CompexJabra Sport Bluetooth Stereo Sports Headset, by JabraiHealth Blood Pressure Dock, by iHealthSensoGlove by SensosolutionsSport i-20 sport strap, by ArmpocketBioBrite Sunrise Controller, by BioBriteTCL 200 Digital Alarm Clock with Vibration Pad, by AmplicomSunrise Alarm Clock Advanced, by BioBriteZeo Sleep Manager – Mobile, by Zeo, Inc.SPIbelt Messenger Bag, by Overton Enterprises

The reviews:

Sport Elite muscle stimulator, by CompexThis device is a small portable electrical muscle stimulator that can help people with their workouts, both for warmup or post-workout muscle recovery purposes. If you've been working out for a while, or if you're just starting out and need something to help your muscles recover faster, this device can help.

The device comes with a number of different programs, including ones that help with endurance, resistance, muscle strength or "explosive strength", as well as warmups, recovery and a massage program. The device comes with four color-coded cables that you attach the snap-on/sticky electrodes, along with instructions on how to attach the electrodes and use the device.

At $849, this is an expensive purchase for a person who may be just starting out on a fitness program, and you may feel that if you're not an elite athlete that this isn't for you. But I disagree - one of the hardest things to do when beginning a workout program is the recovery time for your muscles. If there's a device that can help you recover faster, you're more likely to stick with the program, getting you even more benefits to get you to that next level. That is definitely worth it.

Cool Yule rating: 5 starsPrice: $849Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Jabra Sport Bluetooth Stereo Sports Headset, by JabraIf you like listening to music while running or working out, the headphone or earphone cords tend to get in the way when your arms move forward or back, making it likely that you’ll yank the cord away from the music player’s headphone port. The Jabra Sport Bluetooth Stereo Sports Headset aims to eliminate that issue, as the music travels wirelessly via Bluetooth from the music player to the headset. There is a cord, however, which connects the two earphones together, but this goes behind your head, and shouldn’t really get in the way.

To make sure that the headset doesn’t fall out of your ears, the system comes with three different Eargels that fit on the outer portion of the inside of your ear. In addition, the behind-the-ear design also keeps the earbuds in place. After a while the eargels started to get uncomfortable, but they should be comfortable long enough for you to complete your workout.

Jabra recommends that the user put their phone or music player on their right side in order to get a good wireless signal from the headset (the receiver is on the right ear headset), if you put it on the left side your body may interfere a bit with the signal. Also, most people will likely need to buy an armband for their music player or phone, one isn’t given here. However, the headset will work with the Endomondo Sports Tracker app, which helps track your fitness and analyzes results; the app will be an audio coach during the workout, giving you updates on speed, distance, calories burned, and even give you pep talks through the headset while you work out. If you don’t want to bring along your music player, there’s an FM stereo button on the headset, but it’s hard to know exactly how to tune it, you can hold down a button that performs a “scan”, but that tends to give you static-y reception.

The headset also lets you answer phone calls should one come in, but it’s a bit weird for the person on the other end of the call, since the microphone is located on the right earbud, so you’ll likely be talking louder than with other Bluetooth headsets – and really, who talks on the phone when they’re working out? Still, it was a nice feature to have for post-workout calls.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $99.99Reviewed by Keith Shaw

iHealth Blood Pressure Dock, by iHealth Billed as the “first ever blood pressure monitoring system for iPod, iPhone and iPad”, it’s hard to argue against that statement, as I’ve never seen anything else like it. The docking station has a connector port for your i-device, and it comes with a blood pressure cuff that can plug into the docking station. Users can download a free app from iHealth that lets you take blood pressure readings instantly. Readings are saved on the app, and they can also be shared with others, via Facebook, Twitter or email. It was easy to setup, and you can recharge the base via an included USB cable.

Why on Earth would anyone want a device? Clearly this is aimed at people who need to take regular blood pressure readings for disease management or other health purposes. In theory, a patient could take a set of readings and then email it to their doctor instead of having to go into the doctor’s office.

For others who don’t need such a device, it’s an interesting conversation piece, and it also shows that the iPhone, iPad and other devices could be used for future health care devices – I could see similar things that monitor glucose levels, heart rate, etc.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $99.95 (list)Reviewed by Keith Shaw

SensoGlove by Sensosolutions Nobody loves their tech toys more than golfers. If you’ve ever been in a pro shop or seen the ads for wacky golf gadgets, you know what I mean.  A German company called Sensosolutions has come out with “the world’s first digital golf glove,” aptly named the SensoGlove.

According to the company, the SensoGlove “improves the golf game with built-in digital sensors that continuously read the user’s grip pressure to ensure a consistently accurate, smooth and powerful swing for greater distance and lower scores.”

Ha. As all hackers like me know, NOTHING is going to do all that.

But what the SensoGlove does do is measure the pressure that your fingers are applying to the club. The SensoGlove is a soft, leather golf glove that has an LED digital monitor about the size of an iPod shuffle attached to the outside of the Velcro snap that you use to tighten the glove. Sensors at the fingertips of the glove relay information to the readout, which audibly beeps when you exceed the recommended pressure and then visually indicates which finger is committing the offense.

Of course, we all know that it’s better to have a relaxed grip on the club and continued practice with the SensoGlove will help you in that regard. Will it cure your slice? Will it help your putting? Will it materially affect your score? I doubt it. But the SensoGlove is a unique, techie gift that the golfer in your family will certainly have some fun with.

Cool Yule rating: 3 starsPrice: $89Reviewed by Neal Weinberg

Sport i-20 sport strap, by ArmpocketThe Armpocket Sport i-20 and I got off on the wrong foot from the get go, and it was never able to quite recover from my first impression. The first time I went running with it, I struggled to get my headphones through the “Flexi-lock Audio Port.” The Armsport claims that this audio port will set the perfect length for my ear-bud wires, lock the ear jack into my music player, and resist disconnection during workouts. I just found it a little too tight to get my audio jack through. Once my headphone jack was through the port, it was hard to attach the headphones to my iPod. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with the Sport 20, it was just frustrating.

Once I started running, my music kept skipping to the next song. The Sport 20 is intended for use with the iPhone, but I wanted to use my iPod. Because it didn’t fit very well, the Sport 20 kept pushing the buttons and moving my playlist forward. This is pretty much where it sunk it for me.

I did like the multiple pockets so everything could be organized. I could store my iPod, my license and a credit card in a back pocket, my house key, and some tissues. What I didn’t like was that I also could have carried a camera and a deck of cards. The Sport i-20 felt like a fanny pack for my arm. I might feel that way because I have small arms though. It may feel more comfortable for someone with more arm muscle.

Armpocket says the Sport i-20 is made out of memory foam that will contour to your arm to resist slipping. The material also aims to keep you cool and dry, and this was true for the most part. This also keeps moisture away from the electronics stored inside the pocket. During a major rain storm I was using this, and my iPod remained safe. However, I was a bit worried – I wasn’t as sure about the cloth sleeve compared with a typical Otterbox plastic case.

All in all, it was a good product, but I really think it needs to be used with the iPhone as it recommends on the packaging.

Cool Yule rating: 3 starsPrice: $29.95 (Amazon)Reviewed by Jennifer Finn

BioBrite Sunrise Controller, by BioBriteBioBrite is a company creating “innovative light therapy products,” and the Sunrise Controller fits in this line precisely. The alarm clock and controller aims to simulate a sunrise via any regular lamp. To use this, you plug the lamp into the controller, then plug the controller into the wall. You also need to have an incandescent light bulb under 75 watts. After that, setup is relatively simple.

I’m a fan of the Sunrise Controller. It’s a very gentle way to wake up in the morning. I used the setting so that the light starts turning on 15 minutes before the alarm, but you can also set it for 30, 45 or 60 minutes before the alarm goes off. In addition, the alarm can be set to turn on a radio, a light beaming sound, or a flashing light (from the lamp). Personally, I needed the radio or beeping to wake up; the light didn’t do it alone. However, I did find I was more pleasant and it was easier to get out of bed when the room wasn’t still completely dark, as my eyes could gradually adjust to the light.

Another feature I originally thought I would hate was that the controller controls the lamp all the time – as long as the lamp is plugged into the controller. In order to turn the lamp on, you have to use a button on the controller. My first thought was, “Ugh! Really?” Clearly, I overreacted. Because of this feature, it’s essentially attached to a dimmer, and it lets you create mood lighting or dim lighting if someone else is sleeping and you want to read/use as a night light.

Additionally, the clock face dims out when the light is off. The face is large and extremely easy to read. The icons are easy-to-read as well, so you know what to expect with the alarm. And this is the only alarm clock I’ve seen with three radio presets, so you can quickly bounce around to your favorite stations. There isn’t a dial for tuning the radio – it’s all operated by buttons (like your car stereo), so you can easily and accurately find the station you’re looking for.

As an alarm clock, I liked the idea of waking up to a “sunrise” during dark months (even for early risers in the summer). I loved the dimmer light switch feature, and the radio station options. This is a really good product and it would make a unique holiday gift.

Cool Yule rating: 5 starsPrice: $149.95 (Amazon)Reviewed by Jennifer Finn

TCL 200 Digital Alarm Clock with Vibration Pad, by Amplicom Do you have a loved one who is the polar opposite of a morning person? This is the gift for them! I loathe having to wake up even remotely early and I battle with my alarm clock on a daily basis, which is why I love testing out new alarm clocks. The Amplicom TCL 200 has a very interesting design. It comes with a vibration pad that you slip under your pillow and when the alarm goes off, the vibration pad literally shakes the bed. I found it very effective.

The TCL 200 lets you have a beeping alarm go off, the vibration pad go off, or both. Additionally, there’s a light function that illuminates the snooze button on top when the alarm goes off. Or you could also use that light function in conjunction with your telephone every time the phone rings, the snooze button flashes. The snooze button can also announce the time when pushed if you turn that feature on.

Amplicom says the alarm (for wakeup or the phone ringing) can be set up to 90 decibels. Personaly, I don’t like to be scared witless out of my slumber, so I left it at the very lowest volume setting, and found this was perfect for the gentle wakeup. However, like the other features on this clock, this volume setting is aimed for users who are hard of hearing.

The clock could also set two different alarms, and it’s smart enough to let you have a Monday through Friday alarm, a weekend alarm, or an alarm for all seven days. You can choose two of those and have both set at the same time. Plus, you can customize how long you want the snooze to last – 5 minutes or 15 minutes. I wish there was a 10-minute setting, but hopefully someday they will.

There are a few things that I didn’t love – first, it was pretty complicated to set up. I made two attempts before almost calling customer service. Instead, my boyfriend took over and a fresh perspective let him figure out where I had gone wrong. My second issue was with the vibration pad – I thought it would be pad-like, but rather its radius is a little smaller than an audio CD, and it’s about as thick as a deck of cards. Sleeping on it wasn’t too terrible, my problem was that you need to charge the pad every single day. The supplied cord is only about six inches long – therefore, you have to remove the pad from your bed, plug it into the clock, and then place the pad under your pillow every night after it recharged. If you forget, it will lose its power in two days, and the vibrating alarm won’t go off. I’d prefer if the cord was longer so that it could be plugged in always, or figure out how to insert some batteries so it could last longer.

Overall though, the clock is totally different and the vibration is a new way to wake an anti-morning person. I liked it!

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $124.94 (Amazon)Reviewed by Jennifer Finn

Sunrise Alarm Clock Advanced, by BioBrite Are you the kind of person who wakes up so early it’s still dark out? Do you find that miserable? The BioBrite was made for you. Essentially, it’s a basic alarm clock. The added feature is that before the alarm goes off, it slowly turns on its own lamp, thus simulating the sunrise. It also has a back-up, beeping alarm. You can set your sunrise to last 15, 30, 45, or 60 minutes. Fifteen minutes after your alarm has been turned off, the light puts itself out slowly.

In my tests, I didn’t wake up to the sunrise feature, thus needing the beeping. It was a soft sound, instead of painfully loud or jarring like other clocks. The addition of an audio jack that would allow you to listen to an iPod would have been a nice addition. What was nice about the “sunrise” though was that our room was already lit when we woke up on dark mornings, plus our eyes were adjusted to the light. It was similar to a sunny morning; it wasn’t like someone startled us awake by flicking on a bright light.

You can also set it up for a sunset, as the box suggests: to help “calm you down.” I don’t understand this, but if you want a fake sunset, it can do it for you. Another feature is a security setting. If this setting is on, the light will randomly turn on and off between 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. to make it appear as though you are home. One last feature that comes with this clock, although it didn’t come with my model, is a white noise feature. For an additional $10, the clock will make the sounds of a babbling brook, ocean waves, gentle rain, or just white noise.

One issue I have is with the price – even with some of these unique features, paying $120 for an alarm clock is pretty steep – but if you really struggle with getting up in the dark and you can see this device making your mornings easier, the price may be worth it.

Another odd complaint – the clock is set to demo mode when you open it – in order to find out how to get it out of this mode, you have to head to the very last page of the instruction book (and they don’t mention that you’re trapped in demo mode until that last page). It took a few frustrated attempts to set up the clock because of this feature.

Cool Yule rating: 3 starsPrice: $119.95 (Amazon)Reviewed by Jennifer Finn

Zeo Sleep Manager - Mobile, by Zeo, Inc. A couple of years ago I reviewed the Zeo Sleep Alarm clock, which included a headband that you would wear when sleeping. The headband monitored your sleep patterns (whether you were in light, waking, deep or REM sleep), and then tracked the information for you.

The company has expanded this idea to its Sleep Mobile offering – instead of an alarm clock, the system utilizes your smartphone and an app. The unit still comes with a headband and recharging base, but instead of the larger alarm clock, it connects via Bluetooth to your phone in order to make the sleep readings. The information it collects is then stored on the phone, and can be uploaded to the Zeo Web site to help you understand more about your sleep patterns. If you already own an interesting alarm clock (maybe one from this guide!), the headband/smartphone option may be appealing to you.

There’s one small downside – you need to keep the smartphone plugged in overnight when you’re tracking your sleep patterns – I’m assuming this is because the app is running during the process, and you don’t want to drain your battery. This likely means you’ll have to bring a power strip/surge protector up to your bedroom, in order to power your nightstand lamp, alarm clock, the Zeo base station and your smartphone. Still, this is highly recommended if you’re having some sleeping issues and you want to see whether you are getting enough good sleep for better health.

Cool Yule rating: 5 starsPrice: $99Reviewed by Keith Shaw

SPIbelt Messenger Bag, by Overton Enterprises The original SPIbelt (SPI stands for small personal item) should be a must-have item for runners or other workout enthusiasts who want an area to hold their personal items (phones, keys, smartphone, etc.) while they run or work out. It’s more than a “fanny pack”, the stretchy material is meant to fit snug against the body and not jiggle or shake around when the person is running or moving quickly.

The Messenger Bag is their newest version of the SPIbelt, and it has two pockets available – one can snugly hold a smartphone like an Android or iPhone; the second pocket is larger, which can hold a tablet, Kindle or other e-reader device. Unlike the original SPIbelt, which fits around the waist, the Messenger bag is worn across the chest and over the shoulder. There are two straps to adjust for a comfortable fit, and the pockets are just large enough to provide a tight fit for the phone and tablet. In fact, I took the protective case off the phone in order to get it into the pocket.

Wearing the belt wasn’t overly uncomfortable, I did get some stares from co-workers when I was wearing it, leading me to wonder whether people would put this under a jacket (such as using it for traveling through airport security instead of putting their devices in a backpack or other travel bag). From an exercise perspective, I would find it difficult to think that people would want to run with their tablets on them – I could understand running with a phone, keys and credit cards, but there doesn’t seem to be a need to have an iPad with you when running. This seems more in line with a travel bag storage system than the other SPIbelts, which are definitely aimed at the runners/athletes on your list.

Cool Yule rating: 3 starsPrice: $49.95Reviewed by Keith Shaw

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