There are a host of fitness trackers out there, some that work extremely well and others that make you wonder how they even got on shelves in the first place. Our friends out at Pear Sports, meanwhile, sent out a Pear Training Intelligence system for us to review, and as it turns out, it's a surprisingly powerful system, once you get past the incredible number of hurdles involved in keeping it running.
The Pear Training Intelligence system starts with a chest-mounted unit, complete with elasticized belt that allows it to stay in place. Two sensor pads along the belt keep track of measurements, and the whole thing syncs up with Bluetooth. A set of earbuds, complete with several different sizes for a comfort fit, plugs into the device of choice—either an iPhone (News - Alert) 4S or better for iOS or an Android running at least OS 4.3—and a nylon gear bag helps keep everything in one place. An app helps handle much of the processing of the device's functions, and the whole thing is geared toward working together. Those interested in getting one, meanwhile, can buy direct from Pear Sports for $99.95, or from several other outlets.
In all honesty, getting the device set up to actually carry out its function was perhaps the worst part of the operation. Just getting the app took forever, as it would not turn up in a search of either iTunes or the App Store under several different names. I ultimately had to get it by going through Safari and manually entering the Web address of the app as found on iTunes. I'm not sure what happened there but it may well have been the most cumbersome thing I've had to do recently. Even opening the box made me afraid I was summoning Clive Barker's cenobites. There were little plastic seals, then a part that slid out, then a tab, and finally, the unpacking itself, which was sealed in several little compartments. I give Pear due credit for offering up several earbuds in various sizes, but even these were a chore; each came in its own tiny Ziploc-style baggie. The chest strap, thankfully, is elasticized and adjusts well even to my size of chest, but only just; it will be important to take note of this. However, there are plenty of accommodations made here to ensure that just about everybody can put this to use right out of the box, and that is a welcome development indeed.
Calibration, meanwhile, was a fairly arduous task; the instructions say "slightly moisten the contact pads" on the chest strap unit. To which I said, okay, a bit of water on the fingertip should do. Oh, how wrong I was. Eventually, I settled on taking an entire washcloth to my chest just to get sufficient "moistening" to be read. Then there was a period in which I needed to activate the chest unit; this part wasn't mentioned, that I noticed, in the instructions. Eventually I found a section of the app that dealt with this particular issue, and thankfully, could figure it out from there. The app is actually pretty nicely laid out, with easy connections to the dashboard that made it sufficiently intuitive to figure out from there, but I'm concerned for those who don't handle a lot of technology just getting started with this. Also, not the best idea to do this using an iPad; the app is optimized for iPhone 5, and it probably is better to have something that you can just strap to your wrist as opposed to carry in your hand. It's not that big a bother, but it is something to take note of.
Actual use, meanwhile, seemed better suited to the advanced user than the beginner; the calibration workout required an understanding of "perceived effort," which wasn't easy to figure—how do you tell the difference between moving at a "very very easy" pace and merely a "very easy" pace? Pear will demand you know—and actually using the device won't be easy either. It loses contact frequently and demands water at a pace a hothouse flower might envy. But once it's all said and done, it will compute a staggering amount of information, like the best target heart rate range and other matters based on the type of exercise engaged in.
The Pear fitness tracker is a finicky system that will take quite a bit of calibration and playing with to get it to work, but when it does work, it's going to work in grand style. I'm actually quite impressed by the sheer amount of options this system offers, and for those who have used a fitness tracker before, this one may well be a great one to upgrade to. For the first-time user, however, just know that, going in, there will be a fairly substantial learning curve. Much like the workout itself, it won't be walk-in-and-go, but once you are in, then it'll be much smoother sailing.
Pros: Covers a huge amount of workouts, multiple sizes to accommodate most any body type
Cons: Finicky, demanding and occasionally depends on vague perception to make measurements.
Edited by Maurice Nagle
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