The Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless is a wireless set of headphones that doubles as a workout companion: Besides playing music from your phone, the Pulse has sensors that measure your heart rate, and the companion app on your iPhone integrates that with your other workout data. Many fitness tracker bands and sports watches come with a heart rate monitor, but Jabra puts the heart rate sensor in a place that is not only convenient, but also gives you very reliable readings: on the earbuds.
I took the $200 headset out with me for a few times over the course of a week, to see if these earphones just bring music to a run, or truly perform as a training coach. [Video: How to Get the Most From Wearable Devices]
Design, Comfort and User-Friendliness
Jabra's earbuds are extremely comfortable and sturdy. They never fell out of my ears. The earbuds come with tips that are available in several sizes, so you can use the one that fits best in your ears, and they also have a plastic wrapping called an earwing, which helps them stay in place even better. I found that not needing a cord to connect the headset to my phone made this headset even easier to use during a workout.
The heart sensor is on one of the earbuds, and it reads your pulse from your earlobe, just like conventional earlobe-clip heart rate monitors. I found that having the sensor on the earbuds was an excellent design concept. Other heart rate monitors that I have tested were not nearly as convenient. The ones that read the pulse from my wrist did not always work, especially when the band was moving around. Devices that sense the heart rate with a chest strap are reliable, but not very comfortable to wear.
The headset communicates with your iPhone via Bluetooth, and sends the heart rate information to the Jabra Sport Life app. The app also pulls in data from your phone about your movements during a workout session, such as the distance you ran, your speed and your pace. The app is quite simple, and makes it is easy for you to navigate between starting a session, reviewing your past workouts or exploring the other tracking options it offers. You can choose the source from which you want to play music; for example, another app such as Pandora, or from the music in your phone's library.
I found that the headset connected to the phone very quickly every time, and it always took just a few seconds for the headset to detect and show my heart rate. After a full charge, the headset's battery lasts for 5 hours of full work. So, for example, if you work out for 1 hour every day, you would need to charge the device every four or five days. The device comes with a USB cable, and you can charge it by connecting it to a computer or a wall outlet (if you have a USB wall charger adaptor).
Value of information
Knowing your heart rate can be useful when you exercise, because it will help you know whether you are working too hard or not hard enough, according to the American Heart Association. Any exercise is beneficial for general health, but when people exercise in their "target heart zone," they gain the greatest benefits and improve their heart's health by pushing it hard enough to get stronger. A person's target heart rate zone and maximum heart rate are calculated using a formula that includes that person's age.
The Jabra Sport Life app shows your heart rate in real-time, and uses it to calculate whether you are in your target zone. The app tells you what zone of exercise intensity you are in — ranging from light, to intense or maximum.
There are a number of tests in the app that you can do to find your fitness level. To personalize your training zones, you can take the resting heart rate test. This test essentially measures your heart rate at rest when you're sitting calmly, which can reflect how fit you are. A resting heart rate is usually between 60 to 100 beats per minute, but people who are physically very fit may have a resting heart rate lower than 60 bpm.
In the "Rockport test," you can find an estimation of your VO2 max, which is the maximum rate of oxygen your body consumes during exercise, and reflects your endurance. To actually measure your VO2 max you would need to go to a lab, but there are ways to estimate a person's VO2 max without actually measuring it. In Jabra's test you are asked to walk at a fast but comfortable pace for a mile, while the device is keeping track of your heart rate. You can take the test every few weeks to see your progress.
There's also a third test, known as the orthostatic heart rate test, which determines whether you are overtraining. This test measures the difference between your heart rate when you are in a supine position and in a standing position.
All these tests can be done without any device at all, because you can always measure your heart rate yourself by counting your pulse. But obviously it is much easier if an app does it for you.
Other things that the app tracks are similar to what other fitness gadgets track, such as the distance you've covered in a run (or another activity), your speed and your pace (including both the maximum and average of these factors during a session). It also estimates how many calories you've burned. [10 Fitness Apps: Which Is Best for Your Personality?]
I enjoyed working out with a wireless headset, and being able to track my heart rate and integrate that with other data gathered by the app. Knowing your heart rate can bring interesting and valuable information about the intensity of your workout. And the way the Jabra Pulse reads the heart rate — in your ears — was the most comfortable for me compared with other heart-rate monitoring devices I've tested.
I also appreciated that the app was not too sophisticated and didn't try to gather all the data possible to collect. In a way, it is minimalistic, including only the data points that matter the most.
For a runner, cyclist or anyone who does a sport regularly and wants to improve, the Jabra Sport Pulse may be worth the extra bucks compared to what you would pay for a regular headset.