SmugMug + Flickr

So SmugMug bought Flickr. After reading about the news, I went to my unused Flickr account and deleted it along with the Yahoo account that I was forced to create to continue to use Flickr after Yahoo bought them many years ago.

I briefly considered trying SmugMug and actually signed up for a trial account, but it’s not what I’m looking for in a photos service.

I’m looking for something to safely backup my photos and sync them between my devices without me needing to think about it. I also want some very basic sharing between family members and an easy way to share out to email or a text. That’s it.

iCloud Photos does a nice job for me and meets those minimal needs pretty well. I’d love a more sophisticated family sharing feature, but maybe that will come in iOS12 this fall. Shared albums or Airdrop work well enough for now.

For sharing with friends and family, there are a few options that aren’t appealing to me anymore. Facebook is definitely out. Instagram is also not great, partly because it’s really just Facebook, and also because they don’t really have album support.

So that brought me back to my own website. WordPress has good photo management and gallery features and I can easily text or email friends to go look there if they are interested in seeing some vacation photos.

Optimize for Time Spent

I saw Paul Ford speak in 2014 at XOXO Fest in Portland and it was most excellent. This piece he wrote about time really resonated with me when I read it this morning. Thanks to @jamesshelley for sharing it on micro.blog today.

In everything we do at Hover at a product level, we’re really trying to optimize for time spent. What’s the least amount of time we can take from our customers and get them on their way?

Every second that a customer is spending trying to get their domain setup, or dealing with a DNS outage, or trying to get a password reset or even finding a good domain name is a second they aren’t spending doing the stuff that really matters to them.

If we’re a speed bump in the road that prevents someone from getting their business up and running today, or painting a great picture, or putting a new roof on someone’s house, then we’re not doing our jobs well enough.

But I’ve wasted enough of your time…

p.s. You can also watch that XOXO talk on Youtube if you have 18 minutes and 54 seconds of time to spare. I have no idea how many heartbeats that is for you, but for me that’s about 850.

Switching to WordPress.com

I’ve been a user of self-hosted WordPress for many, many years. But with my hosting plan at Siteground coming up for renewal in a week or two, I decided to see if WordPress.com would be a better option.

The Personal Plan at WordPress.com provides an ad-free site, free custom domain and enough storage for me for $60/year (in Canadian dollars). The coupon code “personal25” gave me 25% off meaning I could get a year of hosting for $45CAD. That’s per site, mind you, and I have two sites right now between this one and my running blog.

wpcom-vertCompare that to Siteground which is $3.95USD/month for the first year, and then a hefty $19.95USD/month once that first year is up. Even next year when WordPress.com is $60CAD/year for each site, I’m coming out way ahead.

Some limitations

WordPress.com does have a few limitations that I needed to see if I could handle. First up, they limit the themes you can use. There are a bunch of free ones and then some premium ones that cost more money.

It turned out that the theme I was using on my self-hosted blog called Independent Publisher 2  is one of the free ones that WordPress offers for free. For my running blog, I’ve been using a theme called Hueman for a couple of years and that isn’t available as a free theme on WordPress.com. However, a visually similar theme called Rowling is available for free and it was pretty trivial to switch over since I’ve actually used this theme on my self-hosted setup in the past.

WordPress.com also doesn’t allow for the use of plugins. I did a check of the plugins I was using on my self-hosted blogs and came to the realization that none were required if I switched to WordPress.com. This included a plugin to add 2FA to my admin login, the WordPress Jetpack plugin and an SSL plugin that helped with ensuring my Let’s Encrypt SSL cert worked well.

Again, this didn’t turn out to be a problem since WordPress.com includes 2FA support for logins natively, includes Jetpack for all blogs natively and also handles SSL natively and automatically.

Making the switch

In the end, I opted to go with WordPress.com for both sites and set about to make the move over the weekend.

IMG_0244

The WordPress app on iOS

Migration was super simple. I exported everything from my old sites using the WordPress Export tool and used the corresponding Import tool at WordPress.com to bring my posts and pages over. That tool also pulled over all the media and attachments automatically. No FTP, no nothing. And everything in my posts was remapped to the new URLs.

I did a bit of work to get the theme widgets arranged and setup like they were on my old self-hosted sites which took about 15 minutes total. With about an hour of work total, I had both sites moved over and up and running.

One of the unexpected bonuses of switching is using the WordPress.com apps on my laptop and also on my iOS devices. I had used it with my self-hosted sites in the past, but it just feels faster and more tightly integrated into WordPress.com making posting and managing the sites easy.

There’s still a place for self-hosted WordPress if you need the flexibility of choosing whatever theme you want, or if you need to use some custom plugin. But for the average blogger? WordPress.com is the way to go.

 

Getting Back to an Independent Web

This is the second iteration of a post I’ve been working on that might eventually live on the blog at Hover. Comments and feedback are welcome!

I first got on the internet back in 1994. Back then it was a far different world than the one we live in today. To get online, I first grabbed a copy of The Computer Paper and flipped to the backpage where there were listings from dozens and dozens of dial-up internet service providers (ISPs) in the Toronto area.

I picked one from the list, called them up and got an account. $19.95/month for 28.8kbps dial-up. About a week later a floppy disk showed up in the mail (seriously) with the software I needed to get my Windows 3.1 computer online.

Within a couple of years I started maintaining my own website. I hand-coded it using Netscape Composer (downloaded from TUCOWS) and it was all hosted at http://www.interlog.com/~jkoole which was the little bit of space dial-up providers often gave each user. That URL no longer works because Interlog is long gone, but a little piece of that site lives on through to the present day in the form of a list of links to sites I visit regularly that’s part of my current little hand-coded personal website.

A place to call my own

Sometime around 1997, I decided I needed to have my own place online. I had switched to use a wonderful new technology called the cable modem that was offered by our cable provider Rogers. I went from 33.6kbps dial-up to speeds of 1Mb/s on Rogers Wave. Incredible! But my website at my dial-up provider was now gone since I cancelled my service with them and I needed to put it somewhere else.

This was my very first lesson in data portability. Of course, since my site was just a bunch of static HTML files, it wasn’t hard to move it from one host to another. But the URL change meant that I had lost all the equity I’d built up as many of my friends and family had been using my little portal as their homepage too.

So I did some research (online, of course) and registered my very first domain name – jameskoole.ca. I signed up for hosting from a small provider out in New Brunswick, Canada who ran a hosting business out of his home using a server at a colocation facility. My awesome website was back online and this time I wasn’t just renting a space online. Having my own domain name meant I was in control from now on.

Over the years I continued to work on my website. I posted updates about my life and started uploading my vacation photos to share with friends using gallery software. Then the blogging craze started and I moved first to Movable Type and then in 2003 I switched to a cool, open source content management system called WordPress (version 0.7) which is what I still use today (no, not version 0.7). Over that time, I used many different web hosts depending on my needs and budget. Switching around was easy because I could just dump out my content and move it to the new host, re-point the DNS and it all just worked.

Things like blogrolls, comments and trackbacks came along and allowed bloggers and content creators like me to interlink to each other in small (and large) networks. I made friends, shared opinions and read what others had to say. It was fun and it all worked nicely.

And then came Facebook.

Trust us! We’ve got you covered

Don’t bother getting your own domain name and building your own site, they said. Get on Facebook, find your friends and start posting, they said. We’ll take care of the rest, they said. Photos? Upload them to us. Events? We can help with that. Groups? Check. And it’s all free! Yeah, you’ll see some ads, but they’ll be relevant to you. So they are good ads!

Find-us-on-Facebook-signBusinesses went all in too. TV ads and billboards started showing Facebook URLs instead of domain names. Facebook stickers started appearing on storefront windows.

Facebook was everywhere and everyone was getting on Facebook.

We all got lazy

Fast forward to the present day, and we’re starting to see some of the horribly negative consequences of putting our content and effort into ad-supported services run by tech giants.

We’ve lost control of our data, our privacy and maybe even our society. Facebook has collected so much data about us that we can’t even comprehend it anymore. Based on Mr. Zuckerberg’s testimony in front of US Senate and Congressional Committees recently it seems obvious that even Facebook itself doesn’t have a good handle on what they are doing and the monster they’ve created.

It’s our own fault, really. The truth is that we all got lazy and complacent. Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Google, Blogger and others came along and recognized an opportunity. They gave us easy solutions to getting online and we took them up on their offers.

But our usage and reliance on these services came with consequences that we failed to consider when we abandoned the “good old ways” of the early internet. We scoffed at those early pioneers who told us we would be better off using the open standards they had created.

It used to be important to own our content and ensure it was portable. Then Facebook and Twitter came along and promised to make it all so easy. The only downside was we no longer fully controlled our own content, and we used their domain names and drove traffic to their sites. Sure, you can always download your data and…well…you can look at it? Sort of?

On top of all of that, we were also forced to “trade” every single bit of data about ourselves that these services could take from us including everything we did, read and looked at away from their services.

It’s time we go back to the good old days

The time has come to take back the web and go back to how things used to work. It’s really not all that complicated and lots of people have already been doing this for many years.

All the tools exist. Here’s what you do:

  1. Get a domain name and a website to forms the core identity for each person who wants to create and share online. Maybe that’s a WordPress blog, or a Micro.blog site, a Squarespace site, a Ghost blog, a hand-coded website hosted on GitHub or even served up locally from your own computer. But be careful what you pick! Make sure whatever service you choose has true data portability and offers the ability to host at your own domain and not theirs. Pro-tip: if it’s ad-supported and “free” then it’s likely not going to be a good choice.
  2. Use syndication to enable sharing and discover-ability. Once you are up and publishing, there’s no reason you can’t syndicate it to other places. Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is the answer. It has existed for a long, long time and works really well. There are lots of clients around still and pretty much every decent content management system (CMS) generates standard RSS feeds.
  3. Use comments and trackbacks to interconnect and facilitate discussion. Remember comments? That’s what we used to do before Twitter and Facebook came along. If you read a blog post and want to comment, do it. If you have a lot to say, write a post of your own and link back to the original. Keep a list of the other sites and blogs you like and read on your website so others can discover them too.

My efforts to take back the web

Here’s what I’m doing to make this a reality. Many others are also either making the switch back to an independent internet, or never stopped doing it this way.

I publish everything on my own site and domain name first. I use WordPress.com for this because they offer true portability and a system I’m very familiar with at a low cost, but there are a ton of good content management systems that would work fine. As long as there is an RSS feed, you are good to go.

I can post short “status updates” that are basically tweets, or longer posts and even photos and videos. I can use the web to post, or a number of different apps on my mobile phone or tablet that can post to WordPress using their open standards. I can make pages that act as my resume or profile and I can link out to any other places online that I want to.

Most of the time I post first on my own website and then the magic all happens. Remember that owning and controlling your content at your own domain doesn’t mean you have to stop using other services. You own and control it!

In my case, I’ve stopped posting to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram because I don’t think the privacy trade off is in line with the limited value they provide, but if you have audiences or friends there, then tools exist to continue to post out to those services. The key is to include links back to your site at your domain, and to avoid driving traffic to a domain you don’t own or control.

This is referred to as Publish (on) Own Site, Syndicate Everywhere (POSSE) and there are a number of great ways to accomplish this. A neat little service I use called Micro.blog does a great job syndicating your posts out to a good list of services including Facebook and Twitter. Instagram is trickier because they are the least open of the major social networks, but it’s possible to syndicate using OwnYourGram if you must use their service. IFTTT can also take an RSS feed and push out posts to other services fairly easily.

The IndieWeb is alive and well

As you might expect, there are tons of people who are working to create and share the tools that make all this possible for the average person. And it all starts with a domain name.

At Hover, where I work, we’re big fans of a open and independent web and we’ve built smart tools into Hover that help you connect your domain name to whatever service you want. If you change your mind about whatever tool you use, it’s easy to switch and keep your content at your own domain forever. And even if you change your mind about Hover, getting your auth code and transferring your domain to another registrar is simple.

Once you have a domain name, you need a way to get a site online. That could be a simple WordPress site using WordPress.com or self-hosted using a relatively inexpensive shared hosting plan. Or you can use Micro.blog which is a nice, easy to understand way to publish short posts (just like Tweets or Facebook status updates) that you control. Just make sure whatever service you choose values an open and independent web and supports using a custom domain that you own.

Get Involved

The IndieWeb organization is dedicated to maintaining independent internet publishers and creators. They have a ton of information and even tools that help creators take advantage of what the internet can offer without selling out and giving up control of their content to companies and services that are far more interested in monetizing your personal data than helping you share ideas. Check them out and get involved.

It takes a little time and effort, but in the end, it’s more than worth it to own your content and be in control of what and where you publish the stuff you create.

Reclaiming Your Social Life Online

There’s been a lot of talk over the years about creating a “Facebook killer” to replace Facebook with something that isn’t a horrid privacy disaster.

Remember Diaspora? How about Ello? Or Path? Yeah…pretty much nobody else does either.

The one thing almost all of these services or ideas miss is that we already have a replacement for Facebook. It’s just that over the years we all forgot how to connect the dots on this wonderful thing we call the Internet.

Here’s the solution (aka how it used to work):

  1. A domain name and a website forms the core for each person who wants to share. Maybe that’s a WordPress blog, or a Micro.blog site. It could be a Squarespace site, a Ghost blog, hand-coded and hosted on GitHub or even served up locally from your own computer if you’ve got the know how to do that.
  2. RSS ties everything together. If you want to publish to your own website and then syndicate it to other places, then Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is the answer. It’s existed for a long, long time and works well. There are lots of clients and pretty much every content management system (CMS) can generate RSS feeds. Remember Google Reader? It’s how we used to get news, information and updates from our friends blogs.
  3. Comments and Trackbacks interconnect everything. Remember comments? That’s what we used to do before Twitter and Facebook came along. We’d read a blog post, and leave a response in the form of a comment. If we had a lot to say (or if we wanted to re-blog or amplify a post to our audience) we’d write a post on our own website and a trackback would link the original post to ours.

We all got lazy

Facebook and Twitter made us all lazy and now we’re paying the price. It used to be important to own our content and ensure it was portable. Then these services like Facebook and Twitter came along and promised to make it all so easy. The only downside was we no longer controlled our own content, and we used their domains and drove traffic to their sites. Never mind we also had to trade every single bit of data about ourselves that these services could take from us. And ads. So. Many. Ads.

My efforts to take back the web

Here’s what I’m doing to make this a reality. Many others are also either making the switch to an independent Internet, or never stopped doing it this way.

I publish everything on my own site and domain name first (you’re reading it right now). I use WordPress for this but there are a ton of good content management systems that would work fine. As long as there is an RSS feed, you are good to go.

Self-publishing doesn’t mean you have to stop using other services. In my case, I’ve stopped posting to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram because I don’t think the privacy trade off is in line with the limited value they provide. But if you have audiences or friends there, the tools exist to continue to post out to those services. The key is to include links back to your site, and not drive traffic to a domain you don’t own or control.

This is referred to as Publish (on) Own Site, Syndicate Everywhere (POSSE) and there are a number of great ways to accomplish this. A neat little service called Micro.blog does a great job syndicating your posts out to a good list of services. IFTTT can also take an RSS feed and push out posts to other services.

The IndieWeb is alive and well

The IndieWeb organization is dedicated to maintaining independent Internet publishers and creators. They have a ton of information and even tools that help creators take advantage of what the Internet can offer without selling out and giving up control of their content to companies and services that are far more interested in monetizing your personal data than helping you share ideas.

If you want to get started down the road to owning your own content and identity online, then the first place to start is with a domain name. I recommend Hover because I happen to work there and we are focused on usability and privacy, but any leading domain registrar will do. You can get a domain name for about $15/year.

The reason I like Hover is because we don’t tie you to a specific service or tool. Instead, we built smart tools into Hover that help you connect your domain to whatever service you want. And if you change your mind, it’s easier to switch and keep your content at your own domain forever.

Once you have a domain name, you need a way to get a site online. That could be a simple WordPress site using WordPress.com (like this site) or self-hosted using inexpensive shared hosting. Or you can use Micro.blog which is a nice, easy to understand way to publish short posts (just like Tweets or Facebook status updates) that you control.

It takes some time and effort, but in the end, it’s more than worth it to own your content and be in control of what you publish.

How I Am Keeping My Content in My Control

I’m mostly documenting this for myself, but if it helps someone else, that’s great! This is also a work in progress.

The centre of my online world is a WordPress install using the domain jameskoole.com. That site is hosted by Siteground at the moment, but because it’s WordPress, I can move it around as needed.

I’m using the theme Independent Publisher 2 which looks nice for short posts and is free. I’ve done some limited customization via CSS.

WordPress has a few plugins installed to make my life easier.
* Jetpack: mostly for Markdown support and also to make it easy to post from the WordPress app on iOS.
* JSON Feed: creates a JSON feed that micro.blog consumes in addition to the usual RSS feed.
* Really Simple SSL: the best way to get SSL support in WordPress (along with a cert from Let’s Encrypt that is all handled by Siteground in cPanel).
* Markdown Editor: a nice replacement for the post editor in WordPress that has Markdown syntax highlighting and support.
* Insert Headers and Footers: an easy way to add “rel” links to the header to identify other sites you control.

I write most of my posts in WordPress, although I can also post from the micro.blog iOS app, or the WordPress iOS app. Once posted, they spread out via the JSON feed to micro.blog which posts them to my timeline there.

Posts get tweeted via micro.blog which has an API integration that works very nicely. You have to pay for the $2/month plan, but I’m, happy to support the service. Another option is to use IFTTT.com and the RSS to Twitter recipe.

Instagram is complicated because they suck and don’t have an API that allows posting. Currently I post to Instagram natively, and then I use the Sunlit iOS app to manually report that picture to Sunlit which really just posts it to my WordPress blog (and micro.blog via the JSON feed). That also posts to Twitter, although I can exclude those if I wanted to.

I tried OwnYourGram for a short time to automate all this and it worked okay. The biggest downside is that the cross-posting from Instagram to everything else can be delayed by hours and hours depending on polling times. I’d rather just manually repost to Sunlit so I’m in control.

Review: Q Energy Drink

Like most runners, I drink a specialized energy drink while I run instead of plain water. But unlike most, I don’t drink Gatorade, Powerade or any of the other big name energy drinks.

Instead I carry Q Energy in my bottle. I first started drinking Q back in 2011 (after my bike crash) and found it to be a great alternative to the sugary concoctions that the big sports drink makers peddle. When you consider that Powerade and Gatorade are made by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo respectively, you’ll get an idea of what you’re really drinking. It’s basically high fructose corn syrup and water, with some salt, potassium and a ton of marketing.

Q Energy, on the other hand, is an all natural product developed in Vancouver, Canada. It’s Health Canada approved and scientifically tested. 4 grams of natural cane sugar and a bit of stevia provide the sweetness, and there’s also a bit of caffeine added for that little boost during exercise.

What’s in it? And what’s not?

The Q stands for quercetin, a natural antioxidant that helps deliver energy at the cellular level. Along with that, Q also contains herbal extracts, vitamins and electrolytes. The flavour is mild, and they make lemon-lime, wildberry (my fav) and orange.

A good bit of scientific study has shown that quercetin provides proven performance improvements. I’m no scientist, but I do know from using Q for a few years, that it provides everything I look for in an energy drink: good taste, thirst quench and additional energy.

Compared to Gatorade and Powerade, Q is missing a few things: that oily texture, overly sweet taste, and gut-rot inducing levels of carbs. It also lacks things like chemical anti-foaming agents and preservatives.

Q comes as a powder in a single serve packet and you mix it with water yourself. Because it lacks those anti-foaming agents and chemical dispersants, Q has a cloudy look and sometimes foams up a bit. I don’t notice either of those things when I drink it from the bottle. Even the colour of Q is natural, derived from sweet potatoes.

Online, or in stores

I get my Q from the Q Drink Healthy website since it’s not available in too many stores in the Toronto area. Thanks to the Q Drink Healthy Club, they automatically send me a six week supply every six weeks or so. When I’m between training cycles, it’s easy to delay a shipment or change the timing if needed. If you live in Western Canada, you can find it in local health food stores.

If you want to give Q a shot, you can get a free sampler pack from the website. Normally they charge $3 to cover shipping, but if you use code “Koole” (that’s my last name) on checkout, you’ll get the shipping for free too.

Disclosure: I use Q Energy Drink on pretty much every run and have for years. Once or twice they’ve sent me some extra Q free of charge to share with friends.

Review: Pace! – Running Pace Calculator by Endorphin Apps

Looking to track your personal bests, or calculate target pace for your next race? Pace! – Running Pace Calculator by Endorphin Apps has you covered.

paceThis iOS app from the makers of Runcast lets you keep track of personal bests, and make a plan to set new ones. The app was recently updated to version 3.0 which brings metric and imperial measurements (automatically set based on your location), as well as a new design that makes it easy to enter new pace goals.

Easily plan, share and calculate

Once you’ve entered your race distance and goal time, you can call up splits for the race so you can make a pace band. Or share your goal on Twitter or Facebook with a neat image to make it official.

The app also includes a handy Boston Marathon Qualification calculator. Enter your birthday and gender, and the app will tell you your BQ time and pace.

Made by runners, for runners, the Pace app is a nice addition to your running toolkit.

Pace Screenshots

Available for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad

Pace from Endorphin Apps is available in the iOS App Store for $0.99 (USD) or $1.39 (CAD) App Store Link.

Review: Running by Gyroscope

Running by Gyroscope lets you take your GPS run data and combine it with a photo to create stunning images to share on your favourite social media service.

Terrain layout

The “Terrain” layout lets you overlay your stats over a map of your run.

GPS data from your runs is automatically loaded into the app via integrations with both Strava and Runkeeper. Once a new activity is detected, the app alerts you with a push notification to let you know that you can create a new image.

Multiple Templates

There are a number of templates including map views (terrain, satellite and a dark street map) along with overlays that you can put over a photo taken on your run.

Each of the templates is really slick looking. Some, like the bar template, put the key metrics from your run along the bottom of the photo. The route template adds a small map of your run.

There are also a pair of fun images including the Donuts template (how many donuts you burned on your run) and the Elevation template that provides a visual on how much climbing you did on your run.

Post to Social Media

Once you’ve created your image, you can either save it to the camera roll for sharing to Twitter, Facebook or Dailymile, or use the built-in “share to Instagram” feature that makes it easy to post to the popular photo sharing service. You can also share and view it on Gyroscope’s own service, alongside other runners’ pics.

Why I Like It

I’ve used a few other apps to make these kinds of photos including Fitframe, and FitSnap. The images that Running by Gyroscope creates are more visually pleasing to me, and the integration with Strava makes it easy to choose a run to visualize. The addition of a route overlay also set it apart from competitors.

As mentioned, Running by Gyroscope is a free app, available on the App Store for iOS. Learn more at Gyroscope’s website.

Here’s some sample images to give you an idea of what you can create with the app:

 

Review: Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless Earbuds

Ask a runner what the worst thing about running with music is and they’ll likely tell you it’s the headphone wires.

Those who know me, know that I’m not a fan of running with headphones for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest is the headphone wires that always seem to be in the way.

Jabra Sport PulseI used to treadmill run with an iPod and a pair of Apple headphones, but after snagging the headphone cord and dropping my iPod or iPhone off the treadmill for about the millionth time a few years back, I swore off the headphones for good.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve a chance to test out a pair of Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless earbuds to see if going wireless would get me back into running with music.

Disclaimer: Jabra provided me with a pair of their earbuds for me to test out at no cost. As with other reviews where I’ve either paid for or received products at no cost, these are my own opinions and there was no pressure or input from Jabra on the content of this review.

Unboxing and setup

First impressions were good. The packaging is nice, and documentation is good. It’s actually a little weird at first to be holding a pair of headphones where the earbuds have a wire that only goes from one bud to the other instead of to a 1/4″ headphone jack.

The headphones are very light and the box included a nice carry case and a variety of different sized ear bud covers along with a variety of sizes of what Jabra calls ear wings so you can get a comfortable fit for your ears.

IMG_3964After a couple of test fittings, I settled on a good combination that felt snug in my ear, but not too snug. I was worried that the headphones would slip out on runs, but a bit of jumping around confirmed that wouldn’t be a problem.

Once the fit was figured out, the next step was getting them hooked up to my iPhone via Bluetooth.

I put the headphones on and held down the middle button on the remote (yes, there’s a standard iPhone remote and mic on the wire, so no need to pull your phone out to change tracks, or even to make a call). After a little beep, the woman’s voice guided me through the setup process. That was a nice touch, and a bit of a surprise, to be honest. Usually these things are a bit of a mystery to setup with flashing lights or no prompts at all.

It took just a few seconds for my iPhone to detect the Jabra earbuds and that was it – all done. Last step before a test run was to charge the battery. Charging is handled by a hidden micro USB port in the right earbud and a short USB charging cable is included. Battery level can be seen in the Jabra iOS app, or right in the menu bar of your phone when connected.

Sound quality

I’m not an audiophile, and I generally wear Apple EarPods headphones when I’m out and about, and a pair of Bose over-the-ear headphones at the office when I’m working.

The Jabra earbuds were no match for the Bose (as expected), but were the equal of the Apple EarPods, if not a bit better. Because they are in-ear, they do filter out a bit more of the noise around you than the EarPods do. That’s maybe a plus for music, but potentially a bit of a minus for runners from a safety perspective. That said, I didn’t find there was too much sound isolation when I ran with them and didn’t feel like they compromised my safety.

The takeaway here is that if you are used to decent headphones, you’ll find these sufficient. The sound quality is nothing to write home about, but they do the job and provide good sound on the run.

Heart rate monitor functions

You’ll note that Jabra calls these the Sport Pulse Wireless Earbubs. That’s because they’ve incorporated a heart rate monitor (HRM) into the left earbud. It measures heart rate during your workouts through an optical sensor.

Having the HRM in your ear means one less thing to worry about – no need to wear the usual HRM chest strap, or in my case a wrist-worn Mio Link HRM. That’s the theory, at least.

In practice, my testing showed the HRM was sometimes fussy and also inaccurate.

Maybe with some additional practice putting them in, or with more runs to play around with the fit, I could have made it better, but I wished it would have just worked right from the start. I felt that the fit was snug (almost too snug) and the HRM did accurately detect my heart rate some of the time. Bummer.

As a result, on test runs, I heard a voice in my ear a few times on the run telling me that the left earbud needed to be adjusted. It caused a great deal of distraction throughout the latter stages of my run.

A other consideration is that headphone-based HRMs only work if you have them in. Take your headphones off to take a break from the tunes, or to have a chat with a buddy, and your heart rate data stops. I couldn’t imagine wearing these for a full long run, but I’d definitely want heart rate data for the full run.

The biggest downside for me was that there’s no way to get that heart rate data to a Garmin or other running watch. I could use the Strava iOS app instead of Jabra’s app and get the data that way, but that’s limiting for me since I’m not a heavy Strava user and my running friends are mostly on Dailymile and Garmin Connect.

The Jabra Sport Life app

To get the most out of the Sport Pulse, you really need to use the Jabra Sport Life app. It’s available on iOS and Android for free and provides similar functionality to other running apps like Runkeeper or Runmeter.

During the run, the app announces pace, heart rate, distance and other metrics at regular intervals. I found the voice a bit difficult to understand because of a heavy British accent. I’d prefer something less distinctive, but you might think otherwise.

The app itself is servicable, but if you already run with a different app (or a watch), you likely won’t be keen on making the switch. One nice touch in the app is four fitness tests that can help you determine things like your resting heart rate, endurance capability, and even to see if you are pushing it too hard and over training.

Like the run mode, all the fitness tests include vocal prompts and combine the data from the heart rate monitor along with pace and distance info (from the phone’s GPS) to come to its conclusions.

 

Compatibility with other apps

Users of the Strava, Runkeeper, Endomondo, Runtastic and MapMyFitness apps can get the heart rate data to those apps as they have the required support built in. Users of other popular running apps like Dailymile or Runmeter are out of luck in terms of heart rate data.

If you are just interested in listening to music or podcasts on your run, the headphones work with any of the music apps out there, including iTunes, Rdio, Spotify, etc. I tested it with Rdio and Castro (a podcast app on iOS) and experienced no issues with dropouts.

As mentioned, the built in mic means you can take calls without pulling the phone out of your pocket, or waterbelt pouch. And in my testing Siri worked fine for sending texts or doing quick searches where the results were read back to you (like the weather, baseball scores or the time).

The verdict

Based on my couple of weeks of testing, if you are a runner who like to run with music, the Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless earbuds are a good choice to get rid of the annoying wires. They fit pretty well (with lots of sizing options included) and stayed put during my runs. Sound quality was good and the Bluetooth connection worked well with no dropouts.

On the other hand, while the Sport Pulse offers a nifty in-ear heart rate monitor, more serious runners may be annoyed by occasional inaccuracy in heart rate readings, and some fussiness in getting them working reliably. Additionally, the lack of integration with Garmin and other fitness watches could be a dealbreaker for some. For that reason, I probably wouldn’t recommend them if you were buying them specifically for the heart rate monitor function.

On the app side, the Jabra Sport Life app is well-designed and decently executed. It it does the job if you are looking for a good GPS-enabled tracker app, but the lack of community means many runners will opt for Strava, MapMyFitness or one of the other fitness apps with Sport Pulse HRM support. Having audio feedback during your run is nice, although more voices would be appreciated. The addition of some fitness tests sets the app apart from others that just track your runs.

Personally, I’d probably opt for the less expensive, but similar Jabra Sport Coach and save the $50-$80, or the Jabra Sport Wireless+ which are $100-$150 less (but with a different, over-the-ear design). The design of the Sport Coach model is nearly identical, and while the focus of those is more on cross-training, they’ll do the job as a pair of wireless headphones.

Pros:

  • No wires to mess with
  • Good sound quality
  • Easy to setup and use
  • Built-in optical heart rate monitor
  • Integration with some popular running apps

Cons:

  • Heart rate monitor function is inaccurate and fussy
  • HRM doesn’t work with Garmin or other fitness watches
  • Pricey if you only use the wireless headphone functions
  • One more thing to remember to charge

 

You can find the Jabra Sport Pulse earbuds (and other models) at BestBuy and London Drugs, or direct from the Jabra website. Retail price is $249 (CDN), or about $200 (USD) south of the border.