Serious athletes and fitness buffs are probably all too familiar with using a heart-rate strap as a way to measure their exertion levels. But you’d be hard-pressed to convince non-athletes that wearing a chest strap or heart-rate wristwatch is something they need to do.
Enter LG Electronics’ heart-rate-measuring earphones. With these new earphones, LG is bringing heart-rate tech to an accessory that nearly two-thirds of consumers already wear while they’re exercising, according to market research group NPD.
This past week, I gave these $180 Bluetooth-equipped earphones a run. Literally. I used them along with LG Fitness for iPhone, an app that shows your distance, time, heart rate, oxygen consumption and more. (The earphones and app also work with LG’s new Lifeband Touch activity-tracking wristband, but sometimes a girl has to take a break from activity-tracking wristbands.)
Let’s get the downsides out of the way first: I wish the earphones were lighter. The earbuds themselves are soft and comfortable, but the earphones are connected to a plastic medallion that started to irritate me during long workouts, making me suddenly miss my sweaty heart-rate chest strap.
And the LG Fitness app needs work. Perhaps the biggest issue I encountered with the LG earphones-and-app combo was that my running distances were inaccurate. At one point, the app said that I had achieved a seven-minute-per-mile pace during a run — something I wish were true, but it’s not.
That said, having heart-rate-monitoring capabilities right in my earphones was theoretically convenient. And I did really like one feature of the app: It uses color coding to show you which heart-rate zone you’re in — endurance, aerobic or anaerobic — so that you can easily see your exertion levels change in real time. I found this to be much easier to interpret with a quick glance than with numeric jumps (i.e., seeing my heart rate progress from 133 to 141).
So this product has some positive features. But it’s not perfect.
There are two parts to the earphones themselves: The earphones and the square, plastic clip-on medallion. The earphones stream music and audio cues wirelessly from your phone, but they’re not wire-free, because there’s a flat plastic wire connecting the earphones to the medallion.
This plastic medallion holds the Bluetooth tech, as well as the data-processing power that sends your activity data to the mobile app, so it’s sort of a necessary evil.
The over-the-ear part of the earphones and the earbuds felt surprisingly comfortable. There’s a small rubber “shark fin” that fits into the upper portion of the ear for a snug fit. The heart-rate-tracking tech is built right into this part of the earphones.
But the flat plastic wire, the audio-control clip and the attached medallion add a lot of weight to the earphones, making them less comfortable after extended use.
Sound quality was good enough. Serious audiophiles need not apply, but LG has worked enough audio magic with these so they’re not just a one-trick product.
And battery life is pretty good: LG estimates that one charge will get wearers four hours of fitness tracking, and in my experience this was accurate. I made it through five sub-hour workouts before needing to recharge.
But then there’s the LG Fitness app. As I’ve written before when reviewing wearable technology products, I find the software component of these to be hugely important. If the software sucks, you could have the greatest hardware in the world and it won’t matter.
First, the basics: The app is free to download, and runs on both iOS and Android phones. There are four tabs at the top of the app: Home, Heart Rate, Workout and More. Home and Heart Rate appeared to be almost interchangeable, showing logs of completed workouts, calories burned and heart-rate levels. These were a little confusing.
The Workout tab was more straightforward. This allowed me to record a new workout, and while exercising I could see a whole bunch of different metrics. This included the color-coded heart-rate zones that I liked. I could also customize voice alerts and tap a little music icon to exit the app and control music.
To compare the earphones’ heart-rate tracking capabilities with those of a standard chest strap, I wore both products to a cult meeting in a dark room with steel bikes and a Lycra-clad leader; and what I mean by that is that I wore them to a modern-day spin class.
During the workout, it seemed like the LG Fitness app (connected to my earphones) was consistently spitting out a heart rate that was one or two beats per minute higher than the box on the bike (connected to my chest strap). But my post-workout analyses showed that both devices recorded my average heart rate at around 132 BPM, so the earphones monitored almost exactly the same levels as the heart-rate strap.
However, things got weird when I went running outside. I ran my standard 2.5-mile route, and the LG Fitness app would record this as three miles or more.
LG didn’t really have an explanation for this, but did say that distance is measured through the accelerometer that exists in the earphones. So, either that accelerometer was sensing an inaccurate number of steps, or there are flaws in the way the data is processed.
There are other issues with the LG Fitness app, too. I couldn’t specify which type of activity I was doing (running, cycling, etc.) at the start of a workout. I successfully connected to — and shared my workout data with — Facebook, but after connecting to RunKeeper, I saw no way to share my LG Fitness workout data with that app.
Another small annoyance: During the sign-up process I accidentally saved my gender as “Male,” and couldn’t figure out how to change it. It turns out that if you want to change your profile info, you have to deactivate and restart your account.
And the LG earphones currently don’t work with any other fitness apps.
So I can’t wholeheartedly recommend spending $180 on these earphones — yet. Both the hardware and mobile app could use some refining. But I do like the idea of earphones that measure heart rate, and I’m looking forward to improved versions — whether from LG or other electronics makers.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.