Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Product Review - Speedo Aquabeat

I recently ruptured my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) meaning that for the foreseeable future I won't be doing any running of any sort! This is massively frustrating to me as I was intending this year to concentrate on running events rather than triathlon, which I have been doing for the last couple of years. Unable to run I have found myself swimming more. Whilst I've always enjoyed swimming it's not something I have ever done enough of as part of my triathlon training. My thinking was always that I can swim a mile pretty comfortably and that the effort required to get speed into that swim was probably better spent on the bike or out pounding the pavement. 
Take away the ability to run and suddenly the pool has a greater lure. It's convenient, more or less, as there are a couple in Cheltenham that I use, Brockworth 25m pool which is a couple miles or so down the road and the Lido which is just the most beautiful swimming pool; particularly on a sunny school day afternoon when there's hardly anyone else in there! Guaranteed to make you feel like a millionaire with your own private pool! I also swim at St. Nicks pool in Warwick where I work during the week.
As I was swimming more frequently I began to increase the laps and time in the water, swimming currently between 45-60mins a session. This is boring! Particularly in an indoor 25m pool. Whilst I am comfortable in my own head there is a definite need for a diversion. It's a bit like running on a treadmill. When I run outdoors I never use music or anything. Even on my long runs, which 90% I do solo, I never use music. I have always preferred the meditational aspects of running and the clarity of mind you get when out on the road. When on a treadmill that is different and the lack of scenery etc makes it almost essential to have music. so it was with this rationale I decided to buy a Speedo Aquabeat MP3. I opted for the 1GB version in black and bought it from Amazon for £49.90 with free delivery.
When it arrived I was pretty excited! Out of the box you get the Aquabeat, headphones, headphone extender lead, ear plugs (that connect to the headphones) and spares, net carry bag, instruction manual, USB charger/transfer lead  and a mini CD-rom. The device charges through USB via the headphone port. Loading tunes was easy, the software installed in a couple of minutes and recognised the Aquabeat immediately it was connected. It's then a case of browse, drag and drop. You then set the play order which is pretty cool as you can select an increasing tempo in songs to cover the workout time, warm-up, main sets and cool down.
A couple of things surprised me one was the size of the device, it's not small. My kids have Zen-stone mp3's and they are about a third of the size of the Aquabeat. I can only imagine that the Aquabeat needed to be larger so the buttons can be worked without looking at it and also that maybe to make it waterproof it needs to be larger. Secondly the software was on a CD as opposed to a download from the internet.
The headphones have a clever design. So that there is minimal wire to deal with the headphone lead is very short and has a coil like a spring so that any flex is catered for without the need for a longer, looser lead. the extension turns this into a standard length headphone wire making the Aquabeat easily useable as a normal MP3 player. The headphones are the in the ear type with the hooks that go over the back of the ear. They need to be secure. They have connectors, they come with spares too, that are like ear plugs and channel the music further down into the ear than normal headphones do. they are surprisingly comfortable.
First swim and I needed to connect them to my headphones. this was a little tricky as the clip on the Aquabeat is understandably tight so it does not release easily, that makes it tight to actually connect. I tried to connect it to the back of my goggles, which are also Speedo, and it would not fit. After a couple of minutes experimenting I secured in to the right had side strap, the loose bit that goes through the securing loop (does that make sense). It didn't look ideal but actually works fine. I then had to disconnect it as needed to turn it around so that the headphone jack points backwards and so doesn't take the force of water. I was pretty frustrated by this time as the securing mechanism is incredibly tight and so taking it off and connecting it is not easy. My advice would be to actually sort this out at home and not just as you are about to get into the pool!
At the water side I plugged the headphones into the Aquabeat and into my head! hit play and the sound came through loud and clear. Volume is easily controlled with simple and large enough buttons on top of the player. Plugged in and playing I got into the water and went under. It is a weird sensation being underwater with an MP3 player! I swam a length front crawl and as I moved my head to breathe I could feel water in my ear and then I'd lose the music in that ear. I stopped after a length and wiggled them about a bit (very technical) got the fit better and set off again. Now it was fine and I finished my set.
I have used it subsequently on every swim session and have had no problems, the sound does fade a little at times depending on the water in the ear but is more than adequate. It works well at steady pace with good consistent sound quality. If you up the pace and get a little more wash the sound can get drowned (see what I did there) a little by the water noise. I now cannot imagine swimming without it - frankly it's brilliant and you should get one.