- VO2 Max test features
- Comfortable fit
- Great audio options from app
- Expensive price-tag
- Distorted sound at times
- Dubious heart rate readings
The heart rate chest strap is firmly under attack. First we saw the TomTom Runner Cardio and Adidas miCoach Smart Run put pulse-taking on our wrist, clocking your bpm using optical lasers.
Now the new Jabra Sport Pulse wants to read your vital signs from inside your ear. So is combining your running soundtrack and heart-rate tracking a winner or it just a gimmick?
Find out in our Jabra Sport Pulse review…
Jabra Sport Pulse: Design, build and comfort
Forget sound and any clever trickery, comfort is top of the list when it comes to choosing the right pair of running headphones. Luckily Jabra has gone a long way to ensure you get the in-ear fit that’s right for you with the Pulse.
They come with four different ear gel and four different ear wing sizes - buds to you and us - and you can combine XS, S, M and L to ensure a snug fit. Once you've identified which gel and wing combo is best for your lugholes, the Pulse buds fit pretty snugly.
You basically want a pair of headphones you can forget you’re wearing while running and, in our tests (including a combination of trail and road running), they didn’t fall out once.
At just 16g, they’re nice and lightweight too, although if you’re running long distances then the lack of neckband could be a problem. And should you decide that you want to run music free at any point there’s no way to clip them on. It’s a small point but it is annoying to have to find somewhere to stash them before, during and after your runs should you not want them in your ears.
Jabra Sport Pulse: Heart rate monitor and controls
The heart rate tracking is built into the left ear plug. While there’s the obvious benefit of not having to wear a chest strap, having your heart rate and music combined does have its drawbacks. If at any point you want to run without music, or you need to take the left earbud out, you’re no longer tracking your heart rate. You’d be surprised how often this can happen on a long run or in a race situation like a half or full marathon.
The Pulse’s earbuds are encased in carbon fibre and are connected by a short black wire that sits behind your neck. Their reinforced cables and housing have been built to US military rain, shock, sand and dust standards, so they're plenty sweat and weather-proof.
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They look as durable as any running headphones we’ve tested with cables that stand up well to being left in a sports bag, although the carry case included makes it easy to add a little extra protection.
They are charged via micro USB, which is neatly hidden under the wing of the right earbud.
In terms of controls there’s a simple on/off button on the side of the left bud, and a set of remote controls for volume, track skipping. There’s a decent quality built-in microphone for taking calls on the move as well.
Overall, Jabra has done a good job. They look good, they feel good on the move and they feel like they’ll last at least as long as any of the competitors on the market.
Jabra Sport Pulse: App and tracking
It’s always a bit of a worry when newcomers try to recreate GPS tracking apps to compete with the likes of Strava, Endmondo and Nike+ Running. They often fall far short of the features offered by the big guys in that space. However, the Jabra Sport Pulse app is surprisingly capable.
Somewhat annoyingly you have to download two apps in order to make the Jabra Sport Life app work, eating up valuable storage on your smartphone. But beyond that there are some really nice touches.
The app itself is free and can be used without the headphones, but it’s only when you pair it with the Pulse buds that it really comes to life. In addition to the usual stats you get like calories, pace, distance, maps and splits, the Pulse app uses the built-in heart rate monitoring to offer some great additional features.
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There’s heart rate zone training for a start, with voice coaching that makes sticking in a training zone far easier. You can also choose to run a free workout or aim for a pace, distance, time or calorie burn goal.
There’s interval training too. It's relatively easy to set up from the phone but could be made faster and simpler with a function to let you duplicate interval segments you’ve already created.
Sadly, there are fairly limited options for how you construct your interval session too. The app only lets you choose a time or distance done at a certain min/mile pace. This could be easily improved by allowing you to set just time or just distance interval targets, rather than having to try to predict your pace. Most interval sessions consist of doing a certain distance in a certain time rather than at a certain pace.
The app display is nicely customisable so you can prioritise the information that’s important to you. There’s a wide range of data options on offer including, duration, distance, pace, average pace, speed, splits, calorie burn and cadence.
Jabra Sport Pulse: Music playback
Music-wise, you can select your source from within the app; so you can launch Spotify, Google Play Music or the tunes you've loaded onto the Jabra Sound app. You can also add YouTube playlists, which is great if you like listening to live music which is more readily available on there.
On-the-go voice updates are also fully customisable. You can switch them all off or have any combination of seventeen bits of info relayed over the headphones at whatever intervals you choose; time or distance.
The post-run analysis is pretty strong too, with decent heart rate, pace, elevation, cadence and heart rate zones presented in easy to understand charts.
You can also add your own workouts if you’ve done something while you were without your Pulse buds or the app. It’s a nice touch for keeping data in one place. No one likes an unlogged activity.
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What really impressed though were the fitness test features in the app, like the orthostatic test that we've seen on high-end GPS watches like the Polar V800. This lets you find out how your on-going training is affecting your resting heart rate.
The inclusion of the resting heart rate test and Rockport test - where you walk one mile at a comfortable pace to measure VO2 Max - make this one of the most scientific training solutions out there.
Jabra Sport Pulse: Accuracy
Jabra claims that test data showed a 99.2% correlation when tested for accuracy against an electrocardiogram machine. In our tests we had a few problems, particularly with the maximum heart rate readings.
For example in one test, over a half marathon, it gave us a whopping 208bpm maximum heart rate combined with a 187bpm average. This was 5 to 10bpm higher than the stats we got using the Polar V800 with a chest strap over the same course.
Jabra Sport Pulse: Syncing and pairing
Set up is nice and simple, and the headphones paired first time, which is not always the case with Bluetooth headphones that can sometimes be a pain. Once you’ve paired the first time, the Jabra Sport Pulse will connect with your smartphone automatically from then on, reducing the need for faff before you head out and run.
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We did experience a few moments where the Bluetooth connection dropped out momentarily, which is a bit of a worry; particularly if you’re in a race situation. The last thing you want to have to do is stop to fiddle and reconnect.
Jabra Sport Pulse: Sound quality
On the whole the Sport Pulse buds kicked out decent, rich audio with good volume and full bass, as you’d expect from a company whose heritage is audio. That said, they do distort a little at the highest levels; but then it’s always smart to be able to hear what’s going on around you so there’s every chance you won’t be pushing the volume to the max.
A really nice touch is that the Jabra Sound app also adds full-spectrum sound to your streamed YouTube content.
Officially the Pulse’s battery gives you talk time of up to five hours, but more crucially music playback for up to five hours too. In our tests we easily hit that, even with high volume levels.
How we test