Mini Reviews: Jaybird Bluebuds, iPhone Cases, Cruise Control

CES season

It’s CES time and wild and wacky gadgets and press releases are flooding my inbox. Let’s check out some of the (barely) bike related items and see what silly things we can do with them. Pardon the phone pics, undergoing a renovation here and all the real cameras are packed away.

Jaybird Bluebuds X


I’ve had Jaybird’s original bluetooth buds, the Freedom, for about a year now and have really enjoyed using them on the trainer, pairing them with the iPad to watch Netflix movies, or with a bluetooth adapter to watch TV (update: they don’t pair with bluetooth adapters, which kinda sucks). I’ve drenched them in buckets of sweat and they look and sound as new.

The new Bluebuds are a huge upgrade from the Freedom. For starters, they’re much smaller, so small (about the size of Hello Kitty earbuds) it’s hard to believe there’s a Bluetooth receiver and a rechargeable battery inside. Unlike the Freedom, Bluebuds don’t require a direct line of sight when outdoors, so you can keep your phone or mp3 player anywhere on your body with minimal signal dropouts. The battery lasts for 8 hours, and now there’s a very convenient icon on the phone that displays battery life.

The microphone has been moved from the right earpiece to a control box on the cord, and audio quality is now clear enough for making calls. Voice prompts let you know on/off and pairing status. All in all it’s an amazing little gizmo. The only complaint I have is that it’s trickier to pair (you have to forget it and re-connect each time you switch devices), and it freezes my desktop if I use it as its audio device.

iPhone Cases

My phone goes commando most of the time, but on the bike it resides in a case to protect it from sweat, rain, and, fingers crossed, crashes. The Lifeproof Fre and the Griffin Survivor both do the job, but the Lifeproof wins for slimness and ease of installation. It can also be fully submerged for underwater videos. The Griffin has more substantial silicone bumpers, but they make it difficult to extract from a jersey pocket. It does, however, retail for $30 less than the $80 Lifeproof.

Cruise Control

Cruise Control is an iPhone running app that syncs your footfalls to music by changing the music’s tempo. That’s right, it actually speeds up and slows down a song, thankfully without pitch changes. You can choose to have the app match your footfalls (free run mode), or you can set a cadence and run accordingly. If you pair a Bluetooth HR strap to the phone you can also have CC guide your run to a target HR. At the end of a run the app logs your route, pace, and distance.

The app analyzes your music and chooses a playlist of appropriate songs. Not much of my jazz and blues heavy catalogue made the cut, while all the Taylor Swift songs my daughter bought with her Christmas iTunes gift card got in. That should give you some insight into its cruel algorithm. Not all the choices made sense, though. How does this song not make the cut?

Bonus unintended usage: you can slow down songs in cadence mode for those difficult to learn guitar solos.

Put it all together!
You didn’t think this was a random selection of products did you? I slipped my phone in the Lifeproof case and tucked it under my bibs on my thigh so the accelerometer would have some motion to detect. I chose free run mode on Cruise Control (the one where the app adapts the music to match your cadence), and went for a ride. With the connecting cord tucked under the helmet there was no danger of losing the Bluebuds, and with the volume down and only one bud in it was perfectly safe.

Cruise Control is a running app so it only works with cadences between 70-100. With my cadence in that range CC works remarkably well, adapting to speed changes or gear shifts very quickly. Exceed 100 rpm and the app struggles, slowing the music to a crawl as it tries to double time your pedal strokes. Some songs work better than others but when it kicks it it’s really a joy. It’s mildly annoying to hear familiar songs at a different tempo, but if you restrict your cadence to a 10 rpm range the effect is almost unnoticeable.

Lord knows I like to pair gadgets in silly ways for fun, but it’s been proven that music is a motivator for workouts, and pedaling with the beat is more efficient (at less than max effort). I haven’t tried this indoors yet but I imagine it would be perfect – cadence changes are minimal on trainers and rollers, and the ability of music to alleviate boredom is even more welcome. 

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