About a year ago, I heard about this awesome-sounding kickstarter that was making a new GPS watch – the Bia Sport Watch.

When I first checked out their site, I was really excited and intrigued. There were five things that made me interested in this watch:

  1. The quick-connect GPS
  2. The SOS alert
  3. The 17 hour battery life
  4. Live race day tracking
  5. WATERPROOF, baby

The quick-connect GPS sounded fantastic.  I can’t even count how many times I had stood at my front door, just waiting and waiting for my Garmin (Forerunner 305) to find satellites.  Or how many races I had started with no satellite connection, and then missing data for the first part of my race.  Grrrrr…

As for the SOS alert – safety is always on my mind whenever I run alone.  I loved the idea of just being able to push a button, and having my exact location sent to my loved ones for help.  That’s some great peace of mind right there.

The 17 hour battery life is AMAZING when you’re doing Ironmans.  I don’t have full data for either of my Ironmans because I couldn’t wear my Garmin in the swim, and the battery would die about 2/3 of the way through the run.  It drove me nuts!  Since one of the Bia creators does Ironmans, this was something they kept in mind in developing the watch.  Hooray!

Another awesome thing about this watch is the plan to have live updates and tracking right on their website.  This is FANTASTIC for race day!  For now, we’ve been making do with my family tracking me using the “find my iphone” app, which works well, but drains batteries, doesn’t update as quickly as would be useful, and is only good if the other person has an iphone themselves.  This live updating on the website would be the perfect solution for race day!

Also, this baby is designed to be worn while biking, running, AND swimming.  So I can strap it on my wrist in the morning and be good to go through the whole race!

So after lusting over the Bia for a while, I decided to go for it and pre-order one.

Throughout the production process, the Bia team kept everyone well up to date with everything.  It wasn’t without its hiccups and setbacks.

The wait was long, but it was totally worth it.

A little over two weeks ago, my Bia arrived!  The production and shipments for pre-orders were broken up into four batches.  I had been jealously watching all the people in the first two batches happily posting about their awesome Bias, and I was so excited to get mine.  I tore into the box like a kid at Christmas.

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The setup

Setting up my Bia was super easy and quick.  All I had to do was plug the charger into the USB and charge up the Go Stick – the brains of the operation.  The Go Stick houses everything for over-the-air software updates and the GPS.

Once my Go Stick was charged (which only took a few minutes), I logged on to the http://my.bia-sport.com/setup site and created my account.  Directions were clear and easy to follow.  Everything was done and ready to go in about five minutes.

Size and comfort

One of the unusual things about the Bia is its shape and size.  Most GPS watches are huge and bulky.  The creators of Bia put all the necessary pieces into a separate piece – the Go Stick – so they could design the watch however they thought would be best.  This resulted in a smaller, thinner watch, that sits at an angle to make it more comfortable and easier to read while mid-workout.  While I’ve never had an issue with my Garmin sitting uncomfortably on my wrist bone, I definitely love how small and light the Bia is in comparison.

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Don’t mind the beach pictures.  I already gave my Garmin to my friend and forgot to take my comparison pictures before I did that.  So we reunited the Garmin and Bia during a day at the beach.

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Size and comfort:  Bia wins, hands down.

Go Stick

The Go Stick is the brains of the operation.  It’s a small piece that is separate from the watch, that you clip somewhere (I put mine on my waistband).  For best results, you should clip the Go Stick on the same side of your body as the watch.

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The Go Stick is charged through a USB cable that attaches using the clip.  (The watch itself never needs to be charged.)

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Make sure to connect the metal circles on the charger with the two metal pins on the Go Stick (see below).

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When the light on the left is orange, the Go Stick is charging.  It turns red once it’s fully charged.

You turn the Go Stick on by shaking it for a second or two.  Once it’s on, a green light flashes on the front for a few minutes.  The light shuts off after a bit to conserve battery, but it remains awake for about four minutes if it doesn’t connect to the watch before then.  Once it’s connected to the watch, it will stay on until the workout is over.

At first, I was paranoid that the Go Stick was going to fall off while I was running, so I was constantly checking for it for the first few runs.  But it seems very secure, and I haven’t had any problems at all.

Go Stick: Since the Garmin doesn’t have one, it’s hard to compare, but I’ll compare charging time, since this is the unit that needs to be charged.  The Bia Go Stick can be fully charged in 60-90 minutes, which is about the same as if I were to charge my Garmin.  Some people might be annoyed by the two-part design of the Bia, but I actually like it because it makes the watch smaller.  Once the Go Stick is clipped on, I barely notice it at all.  So I’ll say it’s a tie, with a slight edge to the Bia here since it ultimately makes the watch smaller and more comfortable.

Wristband

The wristband that comes with the Bia isn’t the greatest.  This is something that the Bia team has openly acknowledged throughout the whole process.  They’re working on new, and more secure band designs, but those are still to be determined.

HOWEVER, the current band can easily be modified (using o rings, rubber bands, Road ID badges, etc.) to make it more secure.  I actually swapped mine out completely.  The Bia design works perfectly with an ankle Road ID!  (If you keep the stock Bia band, it’s the perfect size to pop your Road ID badge directly onto it as well.)

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The original stock band

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Using my Road ID ankle band – I trimmed off the extra neoprene (the stuff that overlapped a lot).

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I love it with the Road ID band.  It’s super comfortable and feels really secure.  Plus, now I have two of my essential running things in one!

Wristband: With stock bands, the Garmin is better and more secure.  However, with customization (like putting on my Road ID band), the Bia is more comfortable, and equally secure.  So… a tie?  As stock products, the edge goes to the Garmin (less comfortable, but more secure).  With modifications, the edge goes to the Bia (more comfortable and just as secure).

Quick-connect GPS

One of the absolute best things about this watch is the quick-connect GPS.  How many times have we all stood around waiting and watching that “Locating Satellites” screen, only to see the bar get to almost 100% and then jump back down to 50%?  It takes forever sometimes!  I’ve had several races where my Garmin had so much trouble locating satellites that I’m missing data for the first couple miles of the race.  It makes me nuts!

Not with the Bia!

The Bia Go Stick contains the GPS portion of the watch.  Once you shake your Go Stick and wake it up, a green light will appear on the front of it.

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Awake!

Then, you press the button on your watch (there’s only one button – simplicity at its best) to turn the watch on.

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The start screen has three options:  Run, Bike, and Swim.  You can also access other options (like Tri Mode – not yet functional, but it should be very soon!) and the settings menu by pressing the down arrow in the bottom left corner.

To begin a run (or bike, or swim – I’ll just use run for now), you select “Run” on the touchscreen.

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A new menu comes up with the options: Just Run, Run/Walk, and Indoor.  For now, only the “Just Run” setting is functional.  The interval and indoor functions are still in development and should be rolled out over the auto-update in the near future (Disclaimer:  As I am not a part of the Bia team, I have no idea what the “near future” actually is.  But the Bia team is constantly working on developing these, so I imagine it won’t be super long.)

Once you press “Just Run” on the touchscreen, the watch connects to the Go Stick and gets the GPS location.  This happens so quickly that I wasn’t able to get a picture in time before, so I had to go back and do it again with my camera ready to shoot as soon as I pressed “Just Run.”

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Total elapsed time:  About three seconds.

GPS connection speed:  Bia wins!

Ease of use

Another nice feature of the Bia is how easy it is to use.  It was designed with only one button and the touchscreen.  You use the large button to turn it on and off, start and stop a workout, and send an SOS alert (I’ll get to that in a minute).  For everything else, you use the touchscreen (this includes when you finish a workout and it says to touch and hold to finish – touch the screen, NOT the button).  By the end of my first run with my Bia, I felt like I could use all the features without a problem – and I didn’t have to read a manual to figure it out.  There is no excess of menus to scroll through, and no wondering what button does what.  The trade off here is a decrease in features (compared to a Garmin).  However, the Bia team is constantly rolling out new functions and is open to suggestions.  So I have no doubt that with a bit more time, the Bia will have everything you ever used on your Garmin.  And really, it pretty much already does for most people.

Ease of use:  Bia wins again

Visibility

The screen on the Bia is simple and uncluttered.  During a workout, it has three main displays: elapsed time, distance, and pace (the default pace is average, but you can switch that to current pace as well).  Along the bottom of the screen, it displays time of day, heart rate (if you connected it to your HRM – which you do using the small “+” symbol in the bottom left corner just before pressing the button and starting your workout), and Go Stick battery.

The only downside with the Bia here is that it doesn’t have a backlight for when you’re running in the dark.  It was in the original design, but had to be taken out due to design limitations.  However, the next generation of Bias should have the illumination, and anyone who has a Bia 1.0 will be given the option to trade it in for a new one, for only the manufacturing cost (as per one of the backer update emails we got over the past several months).  I plan on doing this once that version is out, since having a screen that lights up is really nice for those darker runs.

Visibility:  Slight edge to Garmin for now.  Once Bia 2.0 is out with illumination, tie.

Accuracy

For my first run, I was curious how the accuracy of my Bia would compare to my Garmin, so I wore them both.  They ended up being exactly the same.  Occasionally, there’s a little GPS hiccup, where it looks like you’re suddenly running in the middle of the road, but the Bia team is currently working on making the GPS accuracy even better by smoothing out some things with the software, so that accuracy should become even better with time.

Accuracy:  Tie – some people have noticed the Bia is even better than the Garmin for swimming.  I have yet to try that.

SOS Alert

One of my absolute favorite Bia features is the SOS alert.  I am always very aware of safety when I run alone, and have had many times in the past when I have actually skipped a run because it was dark out and I didn’t feel safe running by myself.  I live in a very safe area, however, (I hate to use this excuse, but it’s true) as a female, you’re always abundantly aware of your physical safety.

The SOS alert is, in a word, brilliant.

If I was out for a run and something were to happen, I can send an SOS alert to my loved ones by pressing the large button and holding it down for three seconds.  This sends an automated text alert to my contacts (which are easy to set up right through the http://my.bia-sport.com/setup website).  I set up three contacts, so that way it increased the chances that one of them would see the text right away and could call for help.  (NOTE:  When you are setting these up, it would be a good idea to text or call the person beforehand to give them a heads up.  As soon as you enter them in as an emergency contact, they will get an automated text saying they are an emergency alert and this might concern them if they don’t know it’s coming.)

When the SOS alert is triggered, your emergency contact(s) will get a text saying you need help, and your exact location.  It will update your location every 60 seconds until the alert is canceled.  You cancel the alert by pressing and holding the large button for another three seconds.

SOS Alert: Bia wins!  Garmin says “what alert?”

Auto-uploading to website

Another sweet Bia feature is how it automatically uploads your workout to your Bia activity log as soon as you’re done.  No need to plug it in to your computer to download your data.  Instead, the Go Stick uploads your workout data over the cell network.  If you finish your workout and you are out of cell range, the Go Stick saves it and will upload it to your activity log as soon as you get back in range.

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My runs are sad this week since I’m still recovering from my foot injury.

You can easily export your data from the activity log in .tcx format so you can upload it into any other tracking program you like.  The Bia team has also set up options to auto-upload your data to Strava and MapMyFitness.  Other options (TrainingPeaks, etc.) are also possible in the future.

Auto-upload:  Bia wins again!  No more need to plug in my Garmin and download stuff.

Auto-updating of software

Since the Bia is still very new, there are frequent updates being rolled out by the Bia team.  Fortunately, they had the foresight to build in the ability for these software updates to be done automatically over the air.  So any time a new function is ready to be rolled out, or a bug is fixed, the software is automatically updated on your Bia – no need to plug it in, or download anything.  Everything is taken care of for you.  The most recent update (the only one I have experienced so far) took about a minute to do when I turned on my watch before a run.  So it’s nothing that takes hours and hours and throws off your planned run.

Or if you really want to make sure it doesn’t interfere with a planned workout, you can manually check for updates at any time in the settings menu (use the down arrow in the bottom left hand corner when you turn on your watch).

Auto-updating:  Bia wins!  I don’t think Garmin does this at all.

Battery life

Currently, the Go Stick has a battery life of about 6 hours.  (I believe.  I haven’t let it run long enough to die yet.)  However, one of the upcoming features is 17+ hour battery life.  This was another of the big selling points for me.  As an Ironman athlete, it drove me NUTS that my Garmin couldn’t make it all the way through the day.  The Bia is designed to do exactly that.  The extended battery life isn’t out yet, but it’s in progress and should be coming out soon (I hope).  We’ve gotten hints of it in our backer emails over the last couple months, so I imagine it’s not too far off.

Battery life:  Currently, Garmin wins this one.  But as soon as that 17+ hour battery life is out, Bia wins.  No contest.

UPDATE:  According to the Bia Facebook page, the 17 hour battery life is now rolled out to all watches.  Hooray!

Triathlon mode

I can’t write much about tri mode quite yet, because it’s not yet functional.  However, it’s in the works and looks like it should be out in the near future.  The Bia team has been testing it at some early season races, so hopefully we’ll see that roll out soon!

Tri mode:  For now, Garmin wins.  Once it’s out, I imagine it will be a tie.

Swim mode

For now, the only swim mode that you can use is “open water.”  There are also indoor modes (lap swimming) that will be coming down the line.  I have yet to test my Bia on a swim (tonight, hopefully), so I can’t say much about it yet.  However, many people have already been swimming with their Bias and things seem to be working well.  A recent poster on the Bia Facebook page found her Bia to be even more accurate than her Garmin for open water swimming.

One key with the Bia for swimming is to clip your Go Stick somewhere where it is mostly out of the water (like on the back of your goggle strap, and/or secured under your swim cap).  This allows it to find and hold the GPS signal easily, as well as easily communicate with your watch.

Swim mode:  Based off of others’ experiences, I’ll give the edge to the Bia since it appears to be more accurate than the Garmin.

The Bia team and community

Lastly, I had to mention the Bia team (and the Bia community), because I think they are one of the things that makes this watch so fantastic.

Creating something from scratch is daunting.  And this small group of butt-kickingly awesome people has managed to create an incredible product.  In addition to that, they are incredibly customer-friendly and responsive.  They genuinely want to hear from Bia users for feedback, suggestions, and questions.  Any question or suggestion is quickly responded to via email or through their Facebook page (on which, you will find an awesome community of proud Bia owners).  I can’t say enough good things about this group.  I am super happy and proud to be an original Bia owner, and am looking forward to many, many training sessions and races with my new Bia.

The team:  Bia wins.  No contest.  Try getting Garmin to ask you for suggestions for future features!

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