Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Jabra Sport Coach Wireless earbuds
An exercise in comfort and doof-doof
- Comfortable fit
- Enjoyable sound quality
- Easy-to-use app
- You don't get a step count in Jabra Sport
- Sensor doesn't count cross-fit reps
Price$ 199.00 (AUD)
Jabra's fitness product isn't like the trackers that are offered by other brands. The Jabra Sport Coach is a pair of wireless earbuds first and foremost, with motion sensing built in. The earbuds integrate best with the Jabra Sport smartphone app to relay voice coaching, as well as let you listen to music. Rather than counting your steps, the Jabra Sport app puts a focus on pace and intensity instead, and it includes coaching for cross-fit workouts as well.
It's a point of difference that is noticeable when comparing the Jabra to Fitbit's and Jawbone's step-counting devices. Instead of step counts and an accumulation of all the steps you've taken throughout the day, the Jabra Sport app gives you cadence, letting you know how fast you're going according to time and distance intervals.
What do they do? And how?
For those of you accustomed to counting steps and meeting step goals, Jabra's Sport app can take a while to get used to. This author found the change to be refreshing. Hearing a readout of your cadence makes you want to go just that little bit faster so you can beat your previous mark, or at least match it.
In terms of accuracy, we compared the Jabra's performance to the steps-per-5min intervals that our Fitbit Ultra records (it's the most accurate step counter we've used to date, and our comparison point), and found the Jabra to be almost completely in sync with it. The step data is based on the motion sensor that is built in to the earbuds, and this sensor is automatically calibrated by the Jabra Sport app. Calibration can also be done manually on a 400m track or while using a treadmill.
It's possible to record a workout such as a walk or a run without having GPS enabled on your smartphone, as the headphones will track your motion and give you a readout of your cadence and distance according the intervals you've set up in the app.
Enable the GPS on your phone to get the best experience, which is to say, you will have the satisfaction of seeing the track you've taken on a map. We used it in conjunction with a Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone and found the track we took to be perfectly accurate, right down to the side of the road we walked.
Choose your workout carefully before starting it in the app; you can't edit the type of workout after it has been recorded. On one of our long walks, we didn't pay attention to the workout type and it was logged as a run. We couldn't find a way to edit this mistake.
Note that in an environment with roads and traffic lights, your times might be long. The Jabra Sport app has no automation for pauses; standing still at red lights will be visible in your workout graph as tall spikes of lost time. You need to pause and play the activity manually by tapping the 'sports' button on the left earbud.
When you first start a workout, you get a daggy countdown so that you can take off exactly on your mark. This can be disabled in the app, along with a long list of other readouts. We found the pace, average speed, and cadence readouts to be encouraging.
You can set the time and distance intervals for when these readouts are made. By default they are every 10min and 1km, and sometimes a lot of readings are bunched up if the 10min and kilometer marks coincide, which can be annoying.
Cross-training circuits are a point of emphasis for this product, with Jabra touting the coaching that is given to get you through a varied workout that can include push-ups, sit-ups, high-knee-lift runs, and other exercises. The coach tells you the exercise that's coming up, how long you should do it for, how long there is to go, and what's coming up next (including rest). For anyone uninitiated in cross-training, it can be a good guide and motivator.
However, we found that the the movements we made during cross-training exercises weren't actually registered or ticked off a list. Instead, the Jabra app merely guides you through this cross-training and just records the activity as being done, even if you aren't moving.
Sound quality and earbud comfort
Jabra's Sport app is designed to play music from the music app of your choice. It will pause this music to give you the readouts of your workout, and then continue playing the music once it's done. We used Rocket Player (our favoured for Android), and found that sometimes the app didn't continue playing the music after the readout. We had to press play again manually.
Read more: AudioQuest NightHawk headphones
The earbuds themselves are supplied with silicon tips and 'wings' so that they will stay in place while you move. We used the default tips and wings, as they produced a perfect fit right out of the box, but a selection is provided. The earbuds form a seal around your ear canal and they can cut plenty of external noise because of this. You have to keep your environment in front of mind at all times because of this, and always be alert around roads and driveways -- don't let the music distract you.
Sound quality was nothing but enjoyable for working out. We played mostly trance and uplifting music for our walks, and found the range of sounds for this style to be satisfying. Bass was deep and purposeful, while vocals and high frequencies were also prominent in the mix. Rock and hip-hop were reproduced with gusto. The same deep bass and crisp high-frequency performance translated well to the heavier-sounding tracks. We didn't have to play the music at an overly loud level in order to hear the bass while in outdoor environments.
Since they are wireless earbuds, you have the freedom to move in every way you choose without any limitations. The sealed fit and the 'wings' kept the earbuds perfectly in place, even through rapid head movements, and the music quality stayed consistent; we didn't have to keep pushing the earbuds back into place.
A cord that's 57cm in length can be positioned either behind or in front of your neck, depending on your preference, and there is an in-line control with volume buttons, and a button that can be used to pause the music as well as answer and end calls (there is a built-in microphone for calls). They aren't heavy earbuds (they stopped our digital scales at 17g), and they aren't uncomfortable. We didn't ever feel like taking them out because of tightness or irritation. In fact, we also used them as regular headphones when commuting.
The only drawback is that the battery doesn't last long -- it has to be tiny to fit in the tiny space, after all. We got about 4.5 hours out of them. Charging is by way of a micro-USB cable that needs to be attached to the right earbud. The connection is covered by the silicon wing, so perspiration and rain won't get into it. A full charge can take about 2.5 hours, and we just used a typical phone charger that we have on hand to charge common gadgets, rather than a computer's USB port.
What's the verdict
If a comfortable pair of Bluetooth headphones is primarily what you're after, then these Jabra earbuds will deliver. Their sound output is enjoyable, the fit doesn't irritate, and the controls and app are simple. Those of you after some in-ear updates on the performance of your walks and runs, should find them to be up to the task, and the addition of preset cross-fit workouts means you can get some guidance on incorporating different exercises into your routine, especially if you don't already have a set workout plan.
But even if you do already have your own routine down, the Jabra Sport app can come in handy and allow you to tailor a workout to your needs. You can choose from over 50 exercises (including weight training), the duration of your workout, the repetitions, and the rest time. And if you don't want to use the Jabra Sport app at all, then you can use other common apps with the earbuds, such as Endomondo and Runkeeper. The Jabra Sport app suits them best, though.
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