- No smartphone needed
- Audio coaching while running
- Comfortable fit
- Poor heart rate monitoring
- Large and unattractive
- Heart rate monitor
- GPS tracking
- On-board MP3 player
- Android and iOS app
- Audio coaching
- Waterproof for swimming
- Adaptive music matches your pace
- Manufacturer: Sony
WHAT IS THE SONY SMART B-TRAINER?
Running without music, GPS tracking and a heart rate monitor can leave more seasoned runners feeling half-naked. But the alternative often means lugging a smartphone around on your run and returning with a seriously drained device.
The Sony Smart B-Trainer aims to address these issues. It’s a stand-alone music player that can track runs with GPS accuracy and even overlay heart rate data for more detailed metrics and audio feedback while training. All while your phone stays safely at home saving battery, leaving you to enjoy training without any interruptions.
But does it work in the real world? And can it compete with wrist-worn rivals such as the Moto 360 Sport or TomTom Spark, which both also offer music and GPS tracking without the use of a phone?
DESIGN AND SETUP
Sony hasn’t rushed out the Smart B-Trainer. It looks very much like Sony’s other stand-alone Walkman-style wearables, which is a good thing as it means it’s the result of many hours of planning and design.
For some, the headphones will seem a little on the large and clunky side, especially when there are smaller smart Bluetooth headphone alternatives out there already – the Jabra Sport Pulse, for example, but they don’t cram in as many features as the Smart B-Trainer.
Also, despite the size, the Smart B-Trainer is deceptively light and comfortable. That rear head strap holds the unit in place and doubles as a neck band for hanging loose when taken out of your ears, something that you’ll use far more often than you may at first think. The ear hooks that loop over the top of your ears are nice and secure.
All the materials used feel premium and the overall quality of the device is impressive. It’s clear from the outset that these waterproof headphones will stand up to whatever you throw at them – or they’re thrown at for that matter.
While they come with an attractive material carry case with internal mounts, they’ll just as easily survive being thrown in a rucksack or dropped in a puddle. Crucially, there’s no amount of sweating or rain that will stop them from working.
Unlike some Bluetooth devices, the Smart B-Trainer and accompanying app pair quickly and perfectly every time they’re used. Since the device works without a phone, you’re required to pick a program and hit transfer before heading out, which is thankfully near-instant and works well.
Buttons are plentiful on the Smart B-Trainer and easily accessible. Initially you might be a little overwhelmed with the selection, but they’re all so intuitively placed it’s easy to be in full control after a run or two.
Controls include a start/stop run silver button; play/pause for music; power, which also doubles as a progress read-out; Bluetooth connectivity; track skip; and volume rocker. You can even hold a button to take a voice memo, something I found surprisingly useful.
The Smart B-Trainer includes Bluetooth connectivity, should you want to use it as a smartphone headset, too. You can answer calls although in my experience the mic didn’t work particularly well for the person listening at the other end.
When it comes to comfort and stability, the Smart B-Trainer is near-perfect. There are multiple earbud options and even a secondary strap to pull the main one in tighter. Also included are waterproof swimming earbuds that enable the use of the Smart B-Trainer while swimming – it won’t perform tracking unless you’re outside, but it certainly sets you up well for music while in the pool.
TRACKING AND APP
Despite being a stand-alone device, when it comes to tracking the Smart B-Trainer has it all: GPS, accelerometer, gyroscope, electronic compass, barometer and heart rate monitor.
However, it’s with the heart rate monitor, which is built into the ear area, where this device falls down. It just isn’t very good at remaining connected. Even though it fits snugly in place, with no movement apparent while you’re running, it struggles to find a heart rate. The result of this is a constant verbal notification that signal is lost, then again when it’s found – which quickly becomes tiresome. I eventually ended up turning off the heart rate function completely, which means missing out on plenty of data and training programs.
When it works you get information on heart rate zones, and if training with the function you’ll be told when you need to speed up and slow down through audio feedback. This enables you to work through a training program, all without the need to look at a screen. The same applies to pace settings, where you’re verbally kept in your zone. You can also check on how you’re doing on your phone if you want.
At a glance, post-run readouts display your route on a map, speed, time, pace, and more. The menu works well to delve deeper with a pinch-to-zoom option on graphs that shows additional data such as your heart rate spread, cadence or stride over mileage. The app is clean and easy to navigate, with adequate depth to keep most runners pushing further. Only the pro-grade apps that accompany dedicated running GPS watches really offer much more than this and can often then feel overwhelming.
BATTERY LIFE AND CHARGING
When it comes to battery life for a device of this size – one that packs in a whole heap of features – I wasn’t expecting much. GPS tracking can drain a battery fast, as can heart rate monitoring and playing music.
So the conservative estimate of three hours didn’t appear all that shocking. Although this isn’t much, when it comes to running, cycling or swimming, it’s a reasonable time. Certainly, it’s long enough for a full training session or several for most. Charging the device to full capacity takes about an hour and a half, so you’ll be ready to go again pretty quickly.
Charging is via a proprietary charger, into which you slot in a single headphone. Thankfully, this will plug into nearly any USB port, making charging from a computer or your smartphone’s plug possible – ideal for when you’re travelling. You just need to remember to carry the small and light dock unit if you’re going to be away training for a while. You’ll also need to use this USB cable to transfer music from your computer to the Walkman. You can use drag and drop to transfer music, but if you want to take advantage of automatically matching your music to your pace, you’ll need to use Sony’s software to analyse your catalogue.
SHOULD I BUY THE SONY SMART B-TRAINER?
If you want to run and track your training without a phone, all while retaining GPS accuracy, listening to music and monitoring your heart rate then your options are limited. As such, the Sony Smart B-Trainer could be for you.
As sports headphones go, the Smart B-Trainer is comfortable, light, well-fitted and waterproof. The on-board storage for music is plentiful at 16GB, while the GPS makes for a full phone-free running solution. Distance tracking was accurate, feedback information was helpful and the fit was comfortable.
Where the Smart B-Trainer falls down is with heart rate tracking. Offering that option should result in better complex run tracking and greater feedback via the audio coach. In my experience, it just didn’t work effectively enough – that is when it could gather successful readings. Of course, a better fit on another person might mean different results. The hands-free microphone quality for voice calls was also disappointing.
If you’re sold on the fitness-tracking headphones form factor then the Jabra Pulse do a much better job at the expense of direct music playback. TomTom also delivers both GPS tracking, heart rate monitoring and on-board storage for music with its TomTom Spark Cardio + Music wrist-worn wearable as another alternative.
The Sony Smart B-Trainer offers good value, but only if you can get all the elements working and are happy with its large design