Exercise has been an important part of my life for the past 17 years. My biggest challenge is staying motivated. I don’t like gyms or running and since I exercise at home using DVD programs (Insanity, Insanity The Asylum, and Tae Bo Get Ripped Advanced), I don’t have anyone to motivate me or hold me accountable. My biggest motivator has been fitness gadgets that help me keep track of my heart rate and the number of calories burned (this satisfies the scientist in me – collecting data and tracking the results). I do this by using a Timex chest strap heart rate monitor. I have trouble with it slipping during my high impact workouts so when the Gadgeteer was offered the Spree Fitness Monitor to review, I was thrilled to evaluate its efficacy.
- Spree Headband
- Spree SmartCap
- Spree wireless Performance Optimization Device or POD (fitness monitor)
- micro USB charging cable
- Quick Start Guide
Design & Build Quality
The Spree POD is a very small sturdy device measuring 3.7 cm long x 1.8 cm wide x 1.1 cm deep. The front and sides are coated with rubber (not the top).
Along one side is the micro USB charging port.
The back is where the sensors and status light are located and covered with clear plastic. This is the side that goes against your forehead. The waterproof Spree POD sends wireless biometric data via Bluetooth LE to the custom iOS app that allows you to track your heart rate, speed, distance, time, body temperature, and calorie count and provides real time GPS route mapping.
The Spree SmartCap is made of a very light weight, breathable woven material and has an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating of 30. The inside of the SmartCap has a silicone insert along the front of the cap designed to hold the Spree POD. The back of the cap also has a velcro adjustment to assure proper fitting.
The front portion of the Spree Headband is made of silicone which blocks sweat from running in your eyes and is also designed with a place to insert the Spree POD. The headband has a high quality adjustable elastic band.
When you are finished using the Spree POD, the Quick Start Guide states that it may be washed using mild soap on a damp cloth. Even though it is waterproof, it should never be immersed or cleaned with alcohol. It is also suggested that the headband should be hand washed to extend the life of the elastic.
Setup & Use
The fitness monitor first needed to charge a few hours before its first use. The status light remains illuminated while the device is charging and will start flashing when it is fully charged. When completely depleted, my tests showed that the Spree will fully charge in about four hours.
I installed the Spree app (which is only available for iOS devices running at least iOS 7 and Bluetooth 4.0) on my iPod touch and setup my profile. Because the Spree is a Bluetooth Smart device, it needed to be paired within the app and not in the Bluetooth settings of the iPod. Within the Spree app you need to tap on “Device”, select your Spree device, and click Save.
Each of the boxes in the second screenshot (Activities, Goals, and Mark) can be selected to adjust the workout settings. Also, tapping on the tiny gray circle in the upper right hand corner of the app will keep the screen from going into sleep mode.
I had a great deal of difficulty in finding the headband’s proper placement in order to detect a heart rate. Upon first use, I spent over an hour trying to find the optimum placement. This was one of the successful positions, however, wearing it so low on my forehead felt odd. Even though this was a “successful” position, adjusting it in increments of millimeters throughout the workout was necessary because the heart rate often dropped or was completely lost. I wondered if I had the strap on too tight, so I loosened it. Sometimes, I had to adjust it lower. No particular “successful” position seemed to maintain an accurate heart rate.
When using the Spree SmartCap, it needed to be adjusted to fit low over my forehead so that it would hold the fitness monitor in the proper place. I couldn’t position the cap as low as the headband position or I wouldn’t be able to see. Thankfully this position seemed to work fairly well with the cap (but not the headband). It seemed slightly easier to properly place the fitness monitor using the cap, but I still had a great deal of difficulty getting the app to report a consistent accurate heart rate.
The left screenshot of the Spree app shows the variety of workout activities you may select from: running, walking, cycling, gym, skiing, or other. The right screenshot shows the type of workout goals you may want to set (it is not necessary to set these).
You can also set your heart rate “Mark” or “Outcomes” as shown in the left screenshot. Then in the main menu you can review your workout history or adjust your app settings.
The left figure shows an example of some historical workout data.
Before each workout, it was necessary to select “Begin Workout” and then immediately pause the workout to spend the time to determine whether or not there was a Bluetooth connection to the Spree POD (a blue Bluetooth symbol), a heart rhythm (a heart symbol that becomes red upon detecting a heart rhythm), and how much battery life was left (a green battery symbol). All these indicators are shown at the top of the Spree app ONLY after selecting “Begin Workout”. It is suggested by Spree’s website that you don’t start your workout until the red heart fills up to one third its volume which indicates the strength of the heart rate detection. Since this was a rare occurrence, all of my workouts started when the heart outline turned red.
You will also notice from your dashboard while working out that you may tap several times on each feature to reveal more details. You can tap on Time to reveal current elapsed time, your target time (if you set one), and time left to reach your target; Distance to reveal current distance traveled in miles (MI), target distance MI, and remaining distance MI; Heart Rate to reveal current heart rate BPM, target heart rate BPM and average heart rate BPM; Speed to reveal current speed in MPH, target MPH, average MPH, cadence in SPM and average cadence SPM; and Calories to reveal the current number burned, your target calories, and the amount remaining.
I have been using the Spree Fitness Monitor now for two weeks and the above screenshots show an example of one of the rare and nearly accurate Spree recordings of my progress during a workout. On this particular day, I was wearing the Spree SmartCap and the monitor was able to maintain heart rate detection as shown by the red heart located at the top of the app (although the heart rate dropped several times during the workout). I used my Timex heart rate monitor, the Spree app, and the third party app MapMyFitness (which was linked to the Spree) to record my workout data. It is interesting just how differently the heart rate monitors or apps calculate the number of calories burned. My old Timex calculated 900 calories in one hour, the Spree app calculated 711, and the MapMyFitness app calculated 426. That is a significant spread for calorie data. The Spree app and MapMyFitness app both have on record in the profile the data on my age, height, weight and gender and still have a significantly different reporting of calories burned. According to the Spree website, they include the body temperature in their calculation to get a more accurate reporting of the amount of calories burned.
Interestingly, according to the Spree website, you must purchase the third party apps like MapMyFitness because the free versions will not work with the Spree fitness monitor. However, the free version of MapMyFitness (installed on my iPod) successfully linked to the Spree fitness monitor. Also, when using a third party app, it will only collect heart rate data from the Spree fitness monitor.
Spree Wearables, Inc. is currently working on a Spree Android app. Until then, the Spree fitness monitor works with third party Android apps like RunKeeper, MapMyFitness, Runtastic, and MapMyRun (again, the Spree website says you must use the paid apps). Unfortunately, even though we are an Android household, I was unable to test the Spree using these apps. None of our older Android devices could satisfy the Android requirements (you must have Bluetooth 4.0 and be running at least Android 4.3). My phone has Bluetooth 4.0 but is only running Android 4.2.2 and the Nexus 7 (2012) tablets are running Android 4.4.4 but only have Bluetooth 3.0. *Sigh*
One of the selling points of the Spree fitness monitor is that it is one of the few devices that measures body temperature to get a more accurate calculation of calorie count and to detect if you might be overheating during your workout. The right screenshot shows how the Spree app reports your body temperature and heart rate target. The top arc shows you your temperature according to color. It goes from blue to yellow when your body is warmed up and in an optimal temperature zone and when it becomes red your body is overheating. That’s it. No report of your actual body temperature in degrees. The relative temperature readings are helpful in alerting you to slow down, but I must admit that an actual temperature in degrees would have satisfied my curiosity. The lower arc on the left screenshot shows your relative heart rate zone. It goes from blue to yellow when your heart rate is in its ideal target zone according to your settings and shows red when it gets too high.
To get from the left screenshot to the one shown on the right, you just swipe the screen on your phone. If you were using GPS while running, walking, or cycling, there would be a third screen to swipe to to show your real time GPS route mapping.
The above screenshots reveals how the Spree sporadically reported ridiculously low heart rates in the middle of a workout. These were taken within seven seconds of each other. At best this would happen maybe four times during an hour long workout and at worst, 15 times. Heart rate detection would often drop out completely, sometimes five times in one hour even as Bluetooth connectivity was maintained. During one of my hour long workouts, the heart rate was consistently 20-40 beats per minute (BPM) lower than that reported using my chest strap almost throughout the whole workout (the heart rate was detected, the Spree POD was fully charged, and there were no other Bluetooth devices on). When I am doing a very difficult workout, I want to see accurate reports on the workout data. Too much data is lost when the Spree can’t detect or keep up with my heart rate.
Even when working properly, I noticed that the Spree heart rate would lag slightly behind my Timex. As the intensity of a workout increased, the Spree would report the heart rate increase five to ten seconds slower than my chest strap heart rate monitor.
Because my workouts are such high impact workouts (Insanity/Insanity The Asylum), I need all of my workout gear to be rugged and stay put including my ear buds, my arm band that carries my phone or iPod, and my heart rate/fitness monitor. The Spree SmartCap did well and did not shift when doing jumps. However, the Spree Headband, which needed to be loose enough to report a heart rate, felt like it moved a small amount during high impact moves especially as I started perspiring.
I was REALLY looking forward to the Spree Fitness Monitor when it arrived. The concept is intriguing and seems very promising, but at this point I cannot recommend it. Despite many adjustments made in placement, tightening of the headband, making sure the device was charged and that no other wireless device interference was present, my heart rate was frequently inaccurate or dropped out completely during most workouts. Thus, most the data is inaccurate and unusable.
If the Spree had maintained an accurate heart rate, I would highly recommend it (and oh how I wanted it to!). The app is wonderful to use and allows you to track various types of activities with a variety of corresponding data. In addition, one of the things that makes the Spree stand out above other fitness monitors is the body temperature detection. Even though this feature does not show you actual temperature in degrees but relative temperature based on color (blue, yellow, red), it is helpful in warning you when you are overdoing it. I would be very interested in trying out future iterations of the device, as I am eager to get rid of chest straps during exercise. But for now, I will continue using my inexpensive Timex because it provides a consistent and accurate heart rate.
UPDATE: After having used the Spree another week, I think I have figured out how to get it to work more reliably. Once you have found the best placement for your Spree using the cap and the headband, place it there and DO NOT TOUCH IT AT ALL! Fight the urge to adjust it. If you even touch it, you may endanger the accuracy of your workout data. In one of my workouts, the first half went well when I did not touch the headband, but as soon as the heart rate fell, I adjusted it ever so slightly then for the last half of the workout, the Spree struggled to maintain a reliable heart rate. A couple of workouts since then using this new placement technique seemed to have produced much more accurate data. Even having figured this out about the Spree, not being able to have it move at all goes against the nature of exercise. Exercise devices should be able to handle a little movement. However, if you are still intrigued with the Spree or already have one, you may have greater success with it using this method (put it in place then leave it alone).
Source: The Spree Fitness Monitor review sample was provide by Spree Wearables, Inc. The Spree Fitness Monitor & Headband+SmartCap is available from the Spree Wearables website for $199. It comes in Grey (headband)/White (Cap) or Black. The SmartCap comes in other colors (pink and teal) but must be ordered separately for an additional $29.99.