Adidas miCoach Pacer Review: Interactive Fitness for Casual Marathoners

miCoach Pacer

For the past three weeks I've been testing out Adidas' miCoach Pacer, the newest entrant in the increasingly crowded field of interactive activity monitors. Personal training gadgets have been around for years, but the category has become better defined to appeal to different kinds of people in recent months. On one end of the spectrum are the simple calorie-counters, like Philips DirectLife and fitbit. On the other end are the geek-triathlete devices, such as the GPS-enabled Garmin Forerunner which straps onto your wrist like a small computer. In the middle are devices for casual marathoners: the Nike+ iPod system, and now Adidas' latest--which is the most full-featured of the mid-range systems that I've used.

The $140 miCoach Pacer combines a pedometer, heart rate monitor, calorie counter, and real-time coaching into a device that easily connects to your iPod (or another audio player). Equally important are the online coaching tools that you sync the device with to keep track of your workouts and advance you along a fitness regime that can range from learning to run to improving your marathon time.

sensorThe Pacer is actually three separate pieces of gear that work together: a stride sensor that attaches to your shoelaces, a heart rate monitor that straps around your chest, and the main control unit that collects the data and clips onto your workout armband or shirt. After a 12-minute assessment run to calibrate the three devices, the Pacer begins collecting data as you walk, jog or run. I found the stride sensor (which is basically a pedometer with a triaxial accelerometer inside) to be accurate compared with Google's running distance mapping programs, and my own calculations during a drive along the same route. Readings from the heart rate monitor were also in line with the data I've collected from other heart monitors that strap around the chest. The chest monitors are more accurate than wrist-strap heart rate measuring devices, but not everyone likes working out with a piece of gear stretching around their solar plexus. That said, Adidas' stretchy chest strap was of higher quality than others I've used in the past, and was never uncomfortable.

pacer

The brains of the Pacer are housed in a black pill-shaped unit designed by the Adidas Innovation Team that is about the diameter of a large wristwatch and made of rubberized plastic. By plugging one end of the unit into and audio player and your headphones into the other side of the Pacer you can listen to music and also get instructions from miCoach as it guides you through different workouts. (Adidas is also introducing a line of headphones today at CES 2010 in a partnership with Sennheisser.) There are two options available via a switch at the top of the Pacer: Free mode, where the device will simply gather data; and miCoach mode, in which the virtual coach will supply audible feedback through the headphones. Another 'fast-forward' button on the top can be used to select different workouts in the miCoach mode, such as a recovery run or intervals speed training.

There are competing devices on the market that include a built-in MP3 player, such as the Philips Activa. But I think Adidas made the right decision here--let Apple handle my audio needs, since they do it so well already. Sure, it would be nice to automatically sync my playlist with the miCoach software (more on that in a moment), or play a motivating song with a touch of of a single button, but it's not essential. And my iPod's audio quality did not deteriorate in any noticeable way from linking the Pacer between my iPod and headphones.

The virtual coach doesn't interrupt the workout often. She's there to tell you the time, distance, pace and raise a flag when you're out of the prescribed heart rate zone (I chose the soothingly robotic British female voice, but there is also a male coach available). Adidas chose a minimalist approach here, but pushing a button on the front of the Pacer gives you an instant update on your current stats when needed.

The heart rate measurements were an issue for me. There are four zones, green, blue, yellow, and red being the highest. A comfortable pace for me put me just on the top end of the blue zone, and this resulted in repeated alerts that I needed to slow down--even though it felt like I was going at a comfortable pace. This problem is not unique to Adidas' gear, as aerobic training parameters have always seemed like an imperfect science to me. Luckily, there is a way to adjust the settings in the Pacer.

miCoach

After the run, the Pacer connects via USB to a Mac or PC and uploads your data (you'll need to plug it in before your first run and install a small software program to enable synchronization, as well as register with the miCoach Web site). The Web interface coupled with these devices is often where they trip over their laces, but not in this instance. The miCoach site is easy to navigate, and includes just about everything you need in order to track and improve your running. The dashboard shows your latest workout time, calories burned, distance, pace, heart rate, and stride rate along with a preview of the next workout and overall achievements (such as mileage) to date.

With a few clicks the data becomes much more granular, showing heart rate over the course of the specific workout for example. You can also map each of your routes, and save them in a series, all through a Google map interface that's been embedded within the program. There is a field for jotting notes about each run, as well as a box to enter the music you listened to during the run. The miCoach software recommends a schedule for you, which is accessible from a simple calendar interface that can be adjusted easily by dragging and dropping the workouts into different days. The Web site, which was created by Adidas along with Molecular, does not miss a step--it's intuitive, fun to use, and keeps pace with almost everything a runner needs.

Some geek-athletes might complain that the Pacer is lacking a GPS for tracking the exact route of each run. But given the integration with Google maps for entering your route within the interface, I don't see the need for a more exact and automated tracking system. And how often do you get lost and need directions home while jogging?

The glaring feature missing from the miCoach Web site is social connectivity. Adidas neglects to supply a way to compete against other runners using the site, or find a running partner nearby. I'm not arguing that runners should be able to facebook or tweet their every workout from the interface (please, never automate that feature), but running is a solitary enough sport without the help of a robotic coach. This is a huge lost opportunity for Adidas. And given the popularity of social networks today, it's surprising that was left out of the software so completely. [Update: Adidas says that a miCoach social community will be launched at the end of March!]

Despite that missing link, the Adidas miCoach Pacer is the most full-featured and enjoyable personal training device on the market. While it might be overkill for someone who is just starting to get their running legs, anyone who wants to train and stay fit while also satisfying a hunger for personal metrics will be well-served by miCoach.

miCoach Pacer

  • Size: 56mm x 41mm x 16.75mm
  • Weight: 22.9g
  • Attachment Method: Clips to workout apparel or MP3 holder via clip on back of unit
  • Audio Interface: 1/8" stereo headphone jacks (TRS connector)
  • Power: Rechargeable 125mAh lithium polymer battery
  • Battery Life: 10 Hours
  • Workout Time: 10 Hours
  • Charge Time via USB: 3 Hours
  • Sensor Communication Link: ANT+™ protocol to Heart Rate Monitor and Stride Sensor
  • RF Frequency: 2.4 GHz
  • Sensor Communication Range: < 2.5m
  • PC Connection: 1/8" TRS to USB series "A" connection (cord included)
  • Operating Temp: -15 to +40°C

Heart Rate Monitor

  • Ref Size: 63mm x 38mm x 10.5mm
  • Weight: 19.5g (no strap)
  • Power: user-replaceable CR2032 lithium battery
  • Battery Life: > 1000 hours active life (2.8 years @ 1 hr/day usage at 20°C)
  • Communication Link: ANT+™ protocol
  • Operating Temp: 0 to +40°C
  • RF Frequency: 2.4 GHz
  • Communication Range: < 2.5m
  • Water Resistance: 1m
  • Measuring Range: 15 to 240 BPM

Stride Sensor

  • Ref In-Shoe Size: 34mm x 23mm x 8mm
  • Total In-Shoe Weight: < 8g (including battery)
  • Ref Size with Shoe Clip: 45mm x 29mm x 13mm
  • Total Weight with Clip: < 9g (including battery)
  • Attachment Method: Attached to shoe using one-piece clip or placed in the midsole cavity of adidas compatible footwear
  • Speed Range: 36 km/hr to 19.8 km/hr (2.2 mph to 12.3 mph)
  • Power: user-replaceable CR2032 lithium battery
  • Battery Life: > 5 months (at 20°C), extreme cold can affect battery life
  • Operating Temp: 0° to +40°C
  • Communication Link: ANT+™ protocol
  • RF Frequency: 2.4 GHz
  • Communication Range: < 2.5m
  • Sensor Technology: Dynastream Technology
  • Calibrated Speed/Distance Accuracy: Run 97%
  • Uncalibrated Speed/Distance Accuracy: Run 95%

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9 Comments

  • david

    I have had some inside info that there is a product coming out at the end of 2010/start of 2011 which will not just be better than the Micoach or the Nike+, it will be a lot better. Has some completely new functionality.
    http://www.mi-sportmp3.com
    It`s not on their site at the moment but I am waiting for this baby.

  • Nikki B

    This sounds great! I hate nike sneakers but have wanted the nike + for a long time. My only concern is that I wouldnt want to run with teh heart moniter. is it possible to use the unit without it?

  • Polly White

    I would love to try this! However I've been running with Nike plus for about three years. I have lots of runs stored on the Nike website. What I would like to do is import my data from Nike to the new Adidas site. It would be an easier transition and I would not like to leave behind all those great metrics! This looks to be a great device and a delightful way to motivate and strengthen my runs.
    Theseoldlegs
    Age 55

  • Jane Griswold

    This looks like a nice product. I am a heart monitor user and have purchased several numetrex bras to wear with my polar monitor. From what I can tell the micoach system will work with my numetrex - it has a built in heart sensors so I don't have to wear a strap. The heart monitor snaps right into the bra - super comfy. They also make a shirt for the guys.

  • Mark Gentzel

    Noah - I wanted to let you know that you can adjust the heart rate zones, but you don't do so on the Pacer, you do it on the website. Once logged in go to Settings->Coaching Settings and follow the Adjust Settings link to a tool for adjusting them.

    Cheers!

  • Marcus

    We need to do simple daily exercise, as much as possible, everyday in order to maintain healthy. This Adidas miCoach Pacer can be a great help in monitoring our daily exercise routine. Aside from that, we're pretty sure that we are not exceeding our body limit. Mark@Schoo Grants