Several people have asked if I am going to post a review of my Bia Sport GPS watch. Obviously, there’s interest in this gadget but skepticism that it can’t replace Garmin, which has become (perhaps too much of) an additional appendage for so many of us.
I’ll admit, I like my Garmin. I backed Bia when they were looking for funding on Kickstarter, because I saw the potential in their offering, not because I was looking to replace my Garmin. Although Bia is compared visually to the Garmin on Bia’s web site, Bia’s founders aren’t looking to try to convert Garmin users, according to DC Rainmaker’s review. They aren’t planning on offering all the features of Garmin. But what they do offer is something quite unique, and definitely worth a look.
I’m not interested in gimmicks or good looks. I want features and function. I use a Garmin 310XT because, as a triathlete as well as a runner, I need the multisport option. I need a watch I can wear to swim, bike, and run. I don’t care that the Garmin is big…and looks bigger on my admittedly small wrist. It works for me. As a result, I’ll be honest that I’ve only worn my Bia for a handful of runs. (I haven’t worn it on my bike because there’s no cadence sensor…and cadence is something I need to work on, according to the coach.) That being said, I’ve tested it out sufficiently to write an honest review that I hope helps some of you make an informed decision.
Worth noting: Bia Sport has sent out regular, numerous, detailed product updates e-mails for those who backed them, and I’m guessing for anyone who has since ordered one. These updates have been informative as well as amusing. The failures and missteps, disasters and setbacks, along with the successes, have all been shared. Cheryl Kellond and her dedicated team have given us a no-holds-barred-behind-the-scenes look at what it really takes to create and roll out this product. I’ve been reading through the updates as I put together this review, and finding things I didn’t notice the first time around. I’ve included relevant info from these updates in my review.
Bear in mind that this is still very much Bia Beta. Many planned features are not yet functional, such as the connection to a heart rate monitor (although that should be available in mid-late May, according to an amazingly fast reply Rebecca just sent to my query about this), and “coming soon” appears when I select features such as “swim” or “triathlon.” Upgrades are sent to the unit automatically; Bia lets you know on their web site when they plan to roll out the additional features. Therefore, I will avoid commenting on features that aren’t yet operational and instead focus on what Bia currently offers.
Let’s start with the good stuff. After all, there’s plenty to like about the Bia Sport.
1. SOS feature. This is far and away the #1 reason for getting a Bia, in my opinion. Setting up the SOS feature just takes a couple of minutes and involves entering the cell phone numbers of the individuals you want contacted in case of an emergency. If said emergency occurs, you simply press and hold the button (there’s only one) on the unit and the SOS message along with your exact location is sent to the number. Bia has the same GSM chipset as a cell phone, enabling live streaming of your exact location. It was with this feature in mind that I took my Bia with me on a solo run at Manassas Battlefield last Sunday. I rarely run at the Battlefield alone, but I was in need of a trail fix and some alone time, the weather was perfect, and I just couldn’t resist. Knowing that a push of a button would send out an SOS signal gave me peace of mind.
2. Live data uploads. Because of the GSM chip mentioned above, your workouts are automatically updated – no synching or pairing required. Currently Bia uploads to Strava and Map My Fitness as well as to your account at Bia-Sport. This upload includes a detailed map of your route; here’s a run I did in Laguna Beach (business travel is so rough…can’t wait to try it out there again next week…) in March:
3. Size. Bia is small and light. It has an easy-to-adjust velcro strap. If you find Garmin or other GPS watches bulky, you will like the slimness of Bia.
4. Waterproof. Both the watch and the GoStick (The GPS part) are waterproof. The GoStick can even survive the washing machine. Handy for those (of us) who don’t check pockets.
5. Ease of use. There’s not much to Bia. Choose your sport (currently run or bike) from the menu, press the button, and go. Press the button to finish the workout. Select to save or delete the workout. Get on with your day. I won’t tell anyone you didn’t wash your hair…heck,
sometimes I don’t…
6. Feedback. Oh yeah. Garmin gives you feedback on your workout. When was the last time your Garmin called you a badass?
1. There’s no backlight. This is a problem when you’re running in the dark. See Laguna Beach picture above; this run was at 6:15am and it was pitch black. I couldn’t see anything on the Bia, in fact, I wasn’t even sure I had started it! (From Bia product update #48: The backlight got cut in the final round of changes. To fit it back in would have required circuit board and mechanical changes that our fledgling company just couldn’t absorb. This was *the* most painful tradeoff we had to make in development and one of the top features we are committed to bringing back for the next version. We are working right now on optimizing user interface and readability in as many other ways as we can. This one hurts, and we feel it.)
2. Bia is designed to fit around that awkward bone on your wrist that, apparently, is an issue for many Garmin users. And this works just great if you wear your watch on your left wrist. But I wear mine on my right wrist. I know, I’m difficult like that. Which means that Bia bangs right into that bone unless I wear it higher up on my wrist.
3. When I run, the fields that display are: time (as in stopwatch), distance, and pace. In that order. The time of day also displays in the bottom left corner. In the bottom right is a visual of how much battery life the Go Stick has left. I can’t change the fields or how they appear. There’s no auto lap feature, which is something I use on my Garmin so I can see my pace per mile.
4. The Go Stick only lasts 6 hours. There’s a planned upgrade to 17 hours which should be rolled out in mid-late May. I haven’t yet got into the habit of plugging in the Go Stick like I do my Garmin, and so it always seems to need charging. Last time I ran Bia did give me a helpful warning that was something like, “make it quick, your Go Stick only has 2 hours left!”
5. I have to remember two things – the watch and the Go Stick. I try to keep them together, but they tend to drift apart, much as my heart rate monitor drifts apart from my Garmin. It’s one more thing to lose/forget. Wearing the Go Stick isn’t a big deal, although I didn’t clip it on well on one run and it did go flying off mid-stride. Thankfully, I heard it hit the ground.
6. It’s ridiculously quiet. There’s an almost imperceptible beep when I touch the on-screen buttons. (From Bia product update #48: The “beep” from the watch is not as loud as we wanted. I’d rate it a “good enough” not “excellent”. )
Look, it’s not perfect. Many features are yet to come. I am anxiously awaiting the heart rate and triathlon features to become available. What’s nice is that upgrades will automatically appear on my Bia, just like they do on your smartphone. If Bia can truly deliver on these and other promised features, then, for those who asked, yes, I think Bia will offer you everything you currently use Garmin for. Because, let’s be honest, how many of us really use all the Garmin functions? Heck, I don’t know what half of them are.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for simplicity and style and don’t need a whole lot of bells and whistles, but like the idea of SOS capability and automatic workout uploads, check out Bia.