If you're looking for a discreet heart rate monitor for stepping up your training, the SMS Audio BioSport headphones are a fantastic option. By adding heart rate tech to headphones – a device that most people take running anyway – the $149/£129 SMS Audio BioSports reduce the need for extra wearable devices, and the associated weight and charging burden.
Essential reading: Best running tech guides and reviews
Monitoring your heart rate previously meant expensive equipment only desirable to elite runners, cyclists and athletes. However, the proliferation of wearable technology has put heart rate sensing into all kind of gadgets, which enables even amateur runnings to take advantage of the benefits and efficiencies of training using heart rate zones.
The latest of these new heart rate tracking devices is an unlikely collaboration between Intel and 50 Cent’s audio company, but do they work ? We put them through their paces.
SMS Audio BioSport: Features and design
While not the most inspiring earbuds of all time, the SMS Audio BioSport come in three colours – grey, blue and yellow. We tried the grey and black version which certainly don't inspire too much excitement, but the muted design blends in better during the morning commute.
We immediately required the smallest buds, which is unusual, and they still looked extremely bulky and angular – and certainly don’t appear as if they’ll ever fit in your ear. However, once you find your correct bud size they do sit in quite snugly, and are in fact extremely comfortable. The soft finish means the BioSports can be used for long periods without any discomfort, and we used them for a nine hour flight without problems.
Most sports headphones use a hook design to stop them falling out of your ears when running, but the BioSports simply reply on a snug fit. Again, skepticism abounds, but even during the hardest run, the BioSports stayed in place, even when the sweat starts to flow.
When they’re in your ears the SMS Audio do three things: track your heart rate, enables you to make and receive calls and…oh yes, play music. We’ll deal with those shortly, but there’s one trick up the SMS’s sleeve that’s worth a mention.
Most heart rate tracking headphones require a battery to power the sensors, but the tech inside the SMS Audio is so low powered that the energy can be harvested from the minute amount of charge in the headphone jack. That means no charging and no faff, two of our biggest wearable bugbears.
SMS Audio BioSport: Heart rate tracking
Cards on the table we were dubious about whether the SMS Audio BioSports would be able to keep tabs on heart rate to any accurate degree. They don’t feel like they’re far enough inside your ear to get a reliable reading, yet our testing out us firmly in our place.
We took them down to the local gym, plugged them into our phone and switched on the Runkeeper app in free exercise mode, before plugging ourselves into the machines.
It's really easy to start tracking: just flick the switch over to heart rate tracking mode (which disables calling features) and plug into your phone. Fire up Runkeeper and just make sure that heart rate tracking is enabled in the settings. The heart shaped icon should turn red, and you're ready to run.
The result was spot on heart rate tracking, that remained within 2BPM of the gym equipment at all times. We actually wore the Basis Peak simultaneously, and that backed the accuracy up too – very impressive stuff indeed.
There was one small outage in that specific test, but the other runs we tried outside the gym were seamless.
The SMS Audio BioSports are designed to work with Runkeeper, and you’re able to see your current heart rate at all times on the app. Of course, if you’re running then you’re not going to be looking at your phone constantly, but you get an audio read out on your current and average heart rate at every split.
It’s perfectly adequate for experienced heart rate trainers, but if it’s one of your first times out, it’s quite difficult to maintain a heart rate zone with constant readouts, and for that, we did prefer having the information on our wrists.
SMS Audio BioSport: Audio quality
Of course, no-one wants to hit the streets with a pair of headphones that can track your heart’s every beat yet make your tunes sound like Stephen Hawking scatting through a Tannoy.
Well, the SMS Audios aren’t going to be winning any awards for music quality, but they’re perfectly passable for workout riddims. The sound is a little echoey and lacks supreme detail and deep bass, but they go loud, which is all important for blocking out the sounds of the world. What's more, we readily admit that when we’re hitting mile 13, our enthusiasm for crisp and detailed mid-to-high frequencies starts to wane.
That said, if you’re thinking about splashing out on the SMS Audio BioSport for top quality commuting audio and workout heart rate tracking, they aren't the magic bullet.
SMS Audio BioSport: Compatible apps
This is where it gets a bit frustrating. At the moment, Runkeeper is the only app that the SMS BioSport headphones work with.
It would be worse as Runkeeper is a superb app that tracks a multitude of activities, such as walking, hiking, cycling more. However, if you’ve spent years building up your history in a different app, it’s going to be frustrating.
Also, a lot of the time we spend heart rate training is in the gym, and Runkeeper doesn’t currently help here.
- Accurate heart rate reading
- Only works with Runkeeper
- Audio is nothing special