LG Electronics, based out of South Korea, has existed for nearly 60 years. In the last decade their television and smart phone products have grown in popularity in the states. With big players like Samsung and Sony entering the fitness wearables market it was only a matter of time before LG would follow suit. In this entry I’ll review the new LG Lifeband Touch and their Heart Rate Monitor Earphones. Will these two items combined to offer the one-two punch needed to TKO the competition?
PREFACE: Throughout this article I will be comparing the LG Lifeband Touch to its two most direct competitors, the Garmin Vivofit Fitness Band and the Polar Loop Activity Tracker. Although I no longer have either of those two devices in my possession, I did review each of them extensively prior (see HERE for the Garmin, and HERE for the Polar). I’ll also throw in some references to my Fitbit Flex since that device is what does reside on my wrist at the time of writing this review. Please remember these are my thoughts or opinions mixed with some facts, but that your results may vary. Enjoy the blog post!
GETTING STARTED & SETTING UP
Similar to devices like the Fitbit Flex, the LG Lifeband has an accompanying application that you’ll need on your smartphone to get the most out of the device. From as far as I could tell you need some Android or iOS device to use this tracker. In contrast to the Fitbit/LG devices, the Polar Loop Activity Tracker requires you have a computer for initial setup.
Setup is swift and simple, though I found the Daily Goal (calories) confusing at first. LG wants you to set a goal for the calories you’ll burn above and beyond your basal metabolic rate (BMR). But most of us typically think in “whole day total caloric burn” (at least I do!) and most activity trackers set goals for steps or distance, not calories. After setup was complete and I further understood the goal, I went back and changed it to 500 calories as shown above, since my research indicated this is my typical achievement upon review of my Fitbit data from the last few weeks. All of the settings on the LG Lifeband are simple and easily accessible from the app, allowing changes ranging from time zones to silent alarms, and much more.
I’ve also included a few random screen shots above from the FAQ. It is worth noting that the Bluetooth connection appears to always maintain a link/connection. It would be my assumption that this is required in order to provide notifications (more on that later), but I cannot say for sure. In comparison the Polar Loop Activity Tracker seemed to rarely sync at all, and my Fitbit Flex periodically connects as needed but does not keep an established link all day long. I fear for the longevity of the LG Lifeband battery drain.
RANT! – As you’ll learn reading the balance of this article, I really loved a lot of features of the LG Lifeband. I’d dare say that had it not been for the size issue I’m about to explain I’d probably have kept it, perhaps even using it to replace my Fitbit. But alas, during my first few minutes of wearing the device one thing immediately stuck out like a sore thumb. Although the device is certainly gorgeous, the lack of adjustable sizing became an instant road block for me as I have extremely small wrists.
On the exterior of the retail packaging LG lists three size: Medium, Large and Extra Large. Best Buy and LG’s websites only shows the Medium & Large available, but my wrists are smaller than even the smallest “Medium” they offer. Shown above is my Medium sized unit on my “small” left wrist, where you can see enough gap to slide a standard size pen between the device and my wrist easily. During the course of wearing the unit it would do more than just slide up/down my wrist. It would rotate/clock itself which made it feel like it was going to fall off– and it was annoying/uncomfortable. This is also amplified by the fact that the device weighs 3-times that of the Fitbit Flex, and 50% more than a Polar Loop Activity Tracker.
My wife wears a Large band on her Fitbit Flex with all but 2 clasping holes remaining. I wear a Small band on my Fitbit Flex with 3 holes remaining. She found the Medium sized LG Lifeband to fit her perfectly so of course I found it to be way too big. (I’d guess that those who wear a Large on their Fitbit will want a Medium LG, so that it remains snug). Between the extra heft and the loose fit the device was destined for failure on my wrist. Perhaps a future Small size will resolve this concern, but for now this alone makes the device a no-go for me. But still I powered on for more testing– for those with more “normal” size wrists! 🙂 — and because I really am quite smitten with this device.
TRACKING ACTIVITY & DAY-TO-DAY USE
Okay so we’ve determined that I didn’t keep the LG Lifeband since they don’t make one in my size (how sad)– but let me just spoil the rest of this review and say that I really did LOVE the device. First off it looks great, and the OLED display really made me miss my Fitbit Force tracker. Secondly, the fact that it has a physical button and a touch screen is just brilliant! For day-to-day use the device gives you all the visibility you’ll pretty much need right on the display– from steps and calories to goals and even messages of encouragement. It even reminded me to get up and stretch when I had been inactive.
There are a few small qualms about the physical device, however. First off, I found the layout of the menus a bit strange and they lack the customization that the Fitbit Force allowed. With the pixel density provided the menus were better than the Polar Loop Activity Tracker at least. Then there was the touch display– which had a tendency to not register my finger inputs. The physical button worked flawlessly, but swipes and taps on the main display were often missed, requiring you tap/swipe a second time to reach the desired item. Not a deal breaker, but still seemed like an area of room for improvement from LG.
From within the app you gained additional visibility like a graph of your day, showing when you were most active or least, reminiscent of the Fitbit Flex companion application. But like the Polar app, here you gained information about workouts too (see next section). I found the overall layout of the app nice, though at times a bit cluttered. I think that LG could do better to spread the data out into more sub-menus and simplify the top menus. I’m also sad to see a lack of a web portal or dashboard of some sort. From what I can find your only access to the data is on your phone.
iPhone users BEWARE — after countless text messages came over with nary a vibrate, I reached out to LG and within just hours they sent back a very nice response. Apparently the iPhone doesn’t support caller-ID features, nor will it show text message previews on the display. When a phone call comes in you’re greeted with a phone icon, and the wristband does vibrate. But no ID is displayed. And text messages warrant nothing at all. This was one of the features I most anticipated with the device, so I’m sad to see it so limited with iOS. Something tells me this has more to do with iOS limitations than it does with LG and Android being so intertwined. Perhaps the Razer Nabu will have better luck.
If you were shopping for this device with NO intent of getting a heart rate monitor I’d tell you that so long as the Medium or Large fit nicely on your wrist (and within your budget) then go for it! You can integrate with MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper and MapMyFitness, and it offers all the same feature sets as the old Fitbit Force did, but that unit is off the market. Short of the lack of a web dashboard, the LG Lifeband is very nice, edging out the Polar Loop Activity Tracker because of the better display, better integration with and third party apps. Since you can see it in the dark that one-ups the Garmin Vivofit Fitness Band, but the Garmin still trumps everyone with regards to battery life. You can’t go wrong with any of those three (Garmin/Polar/LG) — but if you plan to scale up to a heart rate monitor, you’ll want to keep reading!
WORKING OUT (HEART RATE MONITOR EARPHONES)
I’ve written at length about my various exercise sensors and how I have used them to aid my exercise program. As my wife and I drove into work this morning we talked about how various people might use a heart rate monitor (HRM) in their life. And as we yammered on to no end I realized how awesome these new ear phones really are for folks. I’d be willing to bet that more than 75% of people performing cardiovascular exercise, be it at the gym, at home, or outside, already wear some sort of audio-listening headphone device. So having your HRM integrate into something you’re already using is just brilliant!
That being said, I was a bit skeptical about how well it would work. For the purpose of testing here I performed a roughly 5-minute stationary cycling ride on my home Airdyne. Testing the LG Heat Rate Monitor Headphones was done using the LG app, of course. And for comparison sake I tested my Wahoo Fitness Blue HR chest strap using the Polar Beat app, because I knew for a fact that app would run in the background okay at the same time as the LG app could run.
Before running a comparison test I ran some trials on the LG equipment, and the caloric burn always came up REALLY low. There was always HRM data, but the caloric expenditure was oddly low. While the BPM data seemed proper, the caloric data does not. I proceeded with my 5-minute ride. Below are a few photos showing the data collected.
During the workout the dashboard will show you the current heart rate, and zone data is below just off-screen. You also get GREAT feedback from the app in audio form, plus the colors change on the ring on the clip of the LG Heat Rate Monitor Headphones if you want to peak at that. Overall I was very impressed with the quality of the headphones, the fit/finish, and the sound quality for music. As far as that part of this section goes, thumbs up.
However, as you’ll see in the data above, something is fishy with regards to the collected caloric burn data. Every calculator online tells me I should burn 37 or more calories on a bike for this time frame (I averaged 12 mph according to my bike). And as noted in my old exercise sensors article, most of the apps were pretty spot-on with each other. So why is the LG app showing my calories burned as 5? Your guess is as good as mine.
While we are on the subject of using an HRM with your activity tracking wrist band, let’s take a quick moment to again reflect on and compare this new LG Lifeband to the Polar Loop Activity Tracker and Garmin Vivofit Fitness Band devices. Those two latter devices sync the HRM directly to the wristband, where the LG Heat Rate Monitor Headphones link to the phone, and the LG Lifeband to the phone, not to each other. This means that you MUST have your phone on and in range to record a workout session. To me this is a pitfall, as I think the beauty of the Garmin/Polar is the ability to leave your phone elsewhere if you want, such as the hockey rink or soccer field. Still, I also feel that your phone offers the best visual assistance when using a HRM so it makes sense for LGs approach. It also means you don’t have to buy both items, you could have the HRM without the band, if you wanted.
So…. what do I think about all this new tech? Let’s wrap it up….
CONCLUSIONS & CONFUSIONS
When my friends ask me to suggest to them an activity tracker I usually have to ask them “what is your end game?” — or — “what is your ultimate goal?” — because that helps really narrow down the devices that best fit your needs. Here is a concluding paragraph about each of the four devices that I kept mentioning here and why I might pick that over the others.
LG Lifeband & LG Heat Rate Monitor Headphones – As the most expensive option listed here you get the most cutting edge technology. For those who want to make sure every calorie is counted (be it for muscle gain, weight loss, or just keeping tabs on your body) these two items combine for one killer TKO! I’d suggest setting up integration with MyFitnessPal and logging your food, to get the total focus. There isn’t a better wrist band on the market today, but the ones that are similar (Below) come pretty close and are a lot less money. Price alone will keep many of you from buying these two items, but the price of admission seems worth it for the hardcore exercise and gadget enthusiast. For the average consumer, however, it is hard to suggest spending this much money when you can get most all of the same features for less in these other products.
Polar Loop Activity Tracker – For about half the price as the LG combo, you can pick up the Polar Loop and a Polar H7 Bluetooth Smart Heart Rate Sensor. You won’t be able to integrate with MyFitnessPal, but you do pick up a web dashboard which offers some really nice visibility to your workouts. Both the LG and Polar apps allow for VO2/heart rate learning. And both will record your exercise AND steps, giving you the all-day picture of your life. But the poor battery life of the Polar might swap some away. For those who don’t plan to record calories, or don’t care if their tracker integrates with the food/diet app, the Polar remains a solid contender from a company you can certainly trust.
Garmin Vivofit Fitness Band – You can purchase the Garmin with or without the HRM, and cost-wise it falls square with the Polar, again about half the cost of the LG. It also is stand-alone in that it cannot integrate with MyFitnessPal. While plagued with some software woes at the start, it is certain to remain a good option for the average consumer. Battery life on the Garmin wins the trophy, claiming a year. The lack of backlight makes the display on this unit not nearly as nice as the Polar, and of course the LG display wins far and away. But no silent alarms, no automatic sync, and other oddities still make the Garmin my last pick in this grouping. It is a nice device, it just isn’t my top pick (I’d take the Polar over this, and the LG over both, personally– but then of course that is where the price goes up!)
Fitbit Flex – Last but not least, my tried-and-true Fitbit love must go on. You’re almost probably wondering why it is here, but that is the device still on my wrist. If LG produces a Small version of the Lifeband I’ll give it another try, and probably migrate to their platform. But at the end of the day the Fitbit app remains my favorite, the most stable and battery conscious. For me I care first about a cheap, fun tracker and the Flex is just that. Then when I want to record HRM data I’m more than happy to do so with my phone and my Wahoo Blue HR. But I can’t deny the fact that LG is pushing the future, and the Flex is old news. Having one brand of devices working together is a nice option for new users.
At this point I’m looking forward to where things go– and hope that LG really does release a small size version of their LG Lifeband. That, coupled with the LG Heat Rate Monitor Headphones seems the best money can buy right now. I’m also anxious to see what some of the ankle-based devices will offer in the near future. Now… someone put me in touch with the VP of Mfg at LG, so that we can get my “tiny wrist” some love!! 🙂