Technology designed for real-time training feedback is nothing new, but Canadian outfit 4iiii Innovations purport to offer ground-breaking products in the Viiiiva heart rate monitor and Sportiiiis heads-up display.
We clamped both into position over rides that comprised a mix of short, sharp crit-style laps with 2hr-plus relatively flat rides, and runs, on- and off-road, at around five and 10 miles in distance.
While you can buy the Viiiiva and Sportiiiis separately for £64.96 and £119.95, respectively, we wanted the full-on, data-heavy experience, so went for both at a cost of £159.95 (free shipping too, from 4iiii.com).
We know you’re dying to hear about those space-age looking glasses, but in many ways it’s the Viiiiva that will grab the technophiles’ attention. Aesthetically it’s similar to most heart-rate straps, but that belies its chameleon-like capacities performing the role of three: it acts as an ANT+ strap to send data to your Garmin, a Bluetooth strap for supporting apps and, the real sell, a bridge between the two.
This means it can receive ANT+ signals and retransmit to Bluetooth devices, and so opening up a whole new world of potential data-collection between ANT+ devices, like power meters and phone apps for smartphones.
‘That’s great,’ we thought, until we discovered you’d need a recent phone to benefit from the upgraded Bluetooth 4.0. In our case, our iPhone 4 was too archaic (4S onwards is fine). Our Polar, too, which uses their WIND transmission technology proved redundant. Thankfully we managed to nab an iPhone 5 and Garmin 910XT for the testing period.
There are a few options available with software for the Mac and PC, and a smartphone app. We tried both, although the app is the most useful as you can use it on the fly, so that’s what we’ll focus on.
Being committed triathletes we hit the bike first. The app displays similar info to a top-end device like a Garmin Edge 800, including heart rate, cadence, speed, power, calories and distance travelled. You can
pay extra for the Riiiide speed and cadence sensor, but we simply used the 910XT as a data source that, when paired with the Viiiiva, projected the info onto our bar-mounted iPhone. Accuracy and legibility of data were impressive.
To maximise the run element, you can purchase a footpod to calculate your cadence. It also displays pace and distance (from ANT+ device), but overall the Viiiiva performed better on the bike. Despite the accoutrements that can clamp your iPhone into place, it’s still a block to run around with. Also, despite the extra cadence information offered, it seemed a touch overkill to glance at the 910 and then double-check on the iPhone.
That said, the Viiiiva is a truly nifty piece of kit that’ll satiate triathlete’s appetites for numbers, technology and analysis. However, we knew the addition of the Sportiiiis would grab the headlines…
Behind the looking glasses
The Sportiiiis is a small device that attaches to your glasses and removes the need for looking down at your iPhone, bike computer, wristwatch…
It achieves this via a series of LEDs and a microphone, which appraise factors that you’ve paired the device with.
The bendy display fits in front or behind your glasses while the core of the device clamps itself onto the glasses’ left or right arm via zip-ties. This feels a touch parochial for a potential game-changer but, to be
fair, it remained stable and comfortable throughout.
Seven LEDs correspond to pre-programmed zones on the Sportiiiis app or software. For variation we chose the Mac software and connected the Sportiiiis via the micro USB port, which caused a few durability
concerns because of the relatively flimsy rubber cover.
When connected you can determine zones for heart rate, power output, speed or cadence depending on whether you’re on the bike or run and what ANT+ capabilities you have.
There’s an incredible amount of detail here – you can even choose the audio reminder as a man or woman – but once you’re happy, you place your bendy boom in front of your eyes, and pair the Sportiiiis with the Viiiiva and other ANT+ devices on your person. You do this by holding down the small power button, which also helps you to choose bike or run.
Then you’re ready to go… and what an experience it is. The first few runs round the edges of Bristol attracted frequent glances. Which is hardly surprising when you see a bespectacled, unclean-looking, 6ft 3in Devonian who resembles Worzel Gummidge, with a device strapped to his head using zip-ties striding past.
The lights were subtle enough not to stimulate a seizure, but clear enough to convey what intensity you were exercising. And if you did become confused as to what colour corresponded to what intensity – yes, I did – the built-in audio reminded you at regular intervals.
If you couldn’t wait, a single tap on the side of the device would give you instant feedback; a double tap would switch between paired devices (so moving from measuring heart rate to cadence, for example).
Not unexpectedly, the lights soon feel gimmicky as my failure to remember colour-coordinated intensities meant they became a minor irritant in the base of my peripheral vision. Instead I relied totally on the audio. And this is where I feel its future lies. Projecting anything in front of your eyes is going to be divisive and potentially unsafe (apparently that’s why 4iiii used colours instead of numbers).
However, further developments to see the Sportiiiis become your own coach – like, for example, telling you how long to run 400m @ 160bpm in an interval set – could provide bespoke training at a relatively nominal outlay. And that really could be a game-changer.