Review: Jabra Sport Pulse Bluetooth Earbuds with Integrated Heart Rate Monitor
If you’re a serious runner, cyclist, or endurance athlete, chances are you have used a heart rate monitor at some point during your training. Heart rate monitors have been around for a long time, and they can be an essential tool in learning how to workout more effectively and efficiently. But they can also be bulky and cumbersome to wear, which is why the Jabra Sports Pulse wireless earbuds are such an intriguing product. These tiny earphones not only connect to your smartphone to provide music during workouts, they also have a fully-functional heart rate monitor built into them as well. This gives outdoor athletes an opportunity to replace their bulky chest strap monitors with a much smaller, more comfortable option. The question is, how well does the Sports Pulse perform?
Jabra has a long history of making excellent wireless audio products, including a range of earbuds specifically designed for fitness. These earphones use Bluetooth technology to connect with a smartphone, mp3 player, or similar device, in order to provide music, podcasts, or other audio without the need for an annoying wire running between the earphones and the audio source. The Sports Pulse earbuds not only serve that function, but also include an integrated heart rate monitor that can provide audio cues about the wearer’s performance while exercising, and transmit workout data to a special app installed on their smart device. The result is a full-featured, data driven approach to training that quite literally puts the tools you need to plan, organize, track, and evaluate your workouts right in the palm of your hand.
Paring the Sports Pulse earbuds with another Bluetooth-enabled device takes just a few seconds, and before you know it, you’ll have music piping through the tiny speakers. A handy in-line remote allows users to adjust the volume – as well as pause and start their tunes – all without ever having to actually touch their smartphones. I came to truly appreciate this feature during my testing, as provides some control over your device, while it remains safely tucked away in an armband case or gym bag while you’re running or exercising. A built-in microphone allows you to take phone calls while working out if you’re so inclined, although I actually found the mic to be more useful for interacting with Siri on my iPhone instead. The mic allowed me to prompt the “digital assistant” to read text messages or set important reminders while I was running.
Despite Jabra’s legacy of making high quality audio products, one of the more disappointing elements of the Sports Pulse for me was the sound quality. While these earbuds do manage to crank out clear sound, volume levels weren’t particularly high and there wasn’t any real sense of connection with the music I was listening to. That isn’t to say that the sound quality was especially awful either, it just was very unremarkable, with audio coming across as sounding bit distant or detached. Considering my past experiences with Jabra’s products, I simply expected more from the Sports Pulse. If there is one aspect of these earbuds that I’d like to see improved on future versions, it is without a doubt the sound quality that they produce.
That said, the real selling point on the Sports Pulse is obviously the heart rate monitor, and it is important to note that it works very well. To use it, you simply push a specific button on the side of the left earbud, and a voice in your ear will count you down to the the start of the workout. From there, the Sports Pulse begins monitoring your activity, providing updates at predetermined intervals that are specific to the type of training that you are conducting. For instance, while running, the voice tells you the total time, the distance run, your current pace, and your heart rate of course. It’ll also tell you which workout “zone” you are in that point in time, with “fat burning,” “cardio training,” and “intense cardio training” amongst the options. At the end of the workout, all data is stored in the Jabra Sports Life app on your smartphone, which efficiently tracks all workout data over time, and provides methods for improving performance. On an iPhone running iOS 8, the data will also appear in the “Health” app to further chart progress over time.
The fact that Jabra has managed to squeeze a heart rate monitor into such a small package is remarkable. But there are other nice features of wearing these headphones too, not the least of which is the liberating feeling that comes with not having an annoying chord running from your ears to your audio device. It truly is a wonderful experience to able to run without fear of entanglements of any kind, or having a cable flapping against you as you go. I also appreciated that Jabra shipped the Sports Pulse with four sets of ear gel tips and ear wings, allowing you to mix and match to find just the right fit for your ears. Considering that these earbuds a bit larger than most, finding that correct fit is essential.
On the flip-side, there were two areas of performance that I wasn’t particularly excited about. First, battery life is approximately four-hours, which is enough to get you through a couple of nice long runs, but it also means you’ll be recharging these earbuds every few days. I understand that a device of this size has a very small battery, but I would have really liked to have seen better battery life. Remembering to charge your earbuds is a bit of a hassle, so keep your old wired ones close at hand for when you forget. The Sports Pulse earbuds also operate a bit inconsistently, with certain button pushes not activating the functions they are intended to. For instance, the button on the left earbud is meant to start workouts, but there have been times while testing them that no matter how many times I pressed it, nothing happened. That same button should also pause a workout midstream if you stop for a break, but it wouldn’t always do that for me either. When they work, the Sports Pulse earphones are great, but when they don’t behave consistently, it can be frustrating trying to figure out what is going wrong.
Design and Ascetic ★★★★
Small and lightweight, the Sports Pulse earphones are clearly built to be as unobtrusive as possible. They are a bit larger than standard earbuds however, and at first they felt somewhat odd in my ears. But after testing a variety of combinations of gel tips and ear wings, I was able to find just the right fit, improving comfort and stability in the process. The inclusion of the inline remote and mic add extra functionality to the product, which may convince some people to want to use their Sports Pulse, even when they aren’t actually working out. The mediocre sound quality and battery life will likely discourage that however, although they do make a decent hands-free device for phone calls while in a car.
As far as earbuds go, the Sports Pulse is a very solid product. Jabra knew that we would be putting their wireless earbuds through the wringer during our tough workouts, so they tried to make them as durable as possible. That includes making them dust, sand, shock, sweat and waterproof to what is described as a “military standard.” Additionally, the earbuds themselves are encased in carbon fiber, and wrapped in a rubberized coating, as is the cable that runs between them. This helps prevent accidental damage as well, protecting these expensive earphones from an number of threats. This product is so well reinforced that you can actually feel the quality while holding them in your hand. The Sports Pulse earbuds are meant for use outdoors, and they are definitely built to survive in that environment.
It is tough to judge the value of Sports Pulse wireless earbuds. On the one hand, they are a compact, lightweight wireless audio system with a built in heart rate monitor specifically designed for outdoor athletes. On the other, they deliver only average audio performance, but come with a premium price tag. If you’re serious about your endurance training, and are tired of wearing a heart rate monitor strapped to your chest, than this is a product that will seem incredibly liberating in many ways. But if audio performance is one of your chief concerns, chances are you’ll have higher expectations from a $200 product. If that’s the case, you may want to look for other wireless earbuds, and stick with the chest strap for awhile longer.
All in all, the Sports Pulse is a great product that is let down a little by its unimpressive sound quality and occasionally inconsistent behavior. But it is also a glimpse of the future of workout technology, integrating a heart rate monitors and pairing it with a smartphone to provide performance monitoring and data analytics. As more of our workout devices become “smarter,” we’ll continue to see more of this, hopefully helping us to exercise more intelligently as well.
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