With the help of Intel, New Balance is the latest company to get into wearables. The shoe brand is expanding into smartwatches with the RunIQ, but they’re doing it with Android Wear, a break from the custom UI approach that other companies like Garmin, Fitbit, and Huawei (with the Huawei Fit) have taken. It’s also pretty expensive at $300, but it is a device that ticks all the boxes for runners who want to get out there without a phone weighing them down.
The RunIQ has a 1.39″ AMOLED display inside a bulky black metal case. Fortunately, bulky here refers to thickness and size — it’s a lot lighter than it looks. Inside that case is an Intel Atom processor, a battery big enough to last a whole day with mixed use, a GPS chip, a Bluetooth module, and 4 GB of storage. On the underside, there’s an optical heart rate sensor, and the bands can be removed and swapped for other 22 mm bands. The whole thing, including the stock silicone band, is water resistant up to 5 ATM.
When I say mixed use with the battery, it depends on how much you’re exercising. While checking out the RunIQ, I learned that all-day battery life wasn’t the only goal. New Balance took care to make sure that the battery can last for up to five hours with both GPS and the heart rate sensor running — enough time for marathoners to record a full race.
A lot of companies don’t use Android Wear when building smartwatches for runners because right now, it’s not the most user-friendly interface. Navigating Android Wear by touch takes a lot of tapping, swiping, and wrist turning, none of which runners are keen on doing while running. But, New Balance has taken some steps to mitigate Android Wear’s faults. They added three physical buttons on the side of the watch — one dedicated to starting and pausing runs, one home button, and one to control music. They’ve also designed their own watch face with buttons for fitness stats, which can send a readout to connected Bluetooth earbuds with a single tap. The start/stop button for runs is especially great for anyone who has ever gotten stuck at a stoplight during a run.
Music was another big part of RunIQ’s design. The 4 GB of storage allows for storing local music or uploading music from Play Music or Spotify for offline playback. Currently, that can only be done using an Android device, but a New Balance rep noted that when the Android Wear 2.0 update arrives, it’ll be possible to do that from an iPhone, as well. New Balance expects to push out their Android Wear 2.0 update sometime in the middle of the year.
New Balance also partnered with Strava for easy syncing of stats, which can be done to both Android and iOS devices over a Bluetooth connection. The watch will also work with New Balance’s PaceIQ earbuds (made with the help of Jabra), which have a dedicated button on one of the buds for fitness readouts.
The goal with RunIQ was to build a smartwatch that doesn’t require a phone for runs, but can be useful throughout the day, too. For the latter, it really depends on how much you value Android Wear — then again, if you don’t, you can just as easily leave it on the shelf when you’re done running. But, the former goal definitely looks like it’s been met — music is squared away by internal storage and Bluetooth connectivity, and GPS enables route tracking. They’ve also made it very user-friendly — throughout the run, anything fitness and running related doesn’t require use of the touchscreen.
The only real drawbacks are the price and the size. Those with smaller wrists will probably look elsewhere, especially to devices that use non-color displays to get more life out of smaller batteries. And, $300 is still awfully expensive for a smartwatch. But, for runners who want to have it all in a smartwatch, the RunIQ doesn’t look like it’ll come up short.