Alongside your daily activity and step counts (the app will keep a running total of your top "scores"), LG's Fitness app comes into its own with sessions: dedicated training segments you "set off" from the workout tab. There are no pretensions to sleep monitoring thankfully, or even diet guidance -- it sticks to movement. So I started moving. One swipe of the switch within the fourth tab starts things off. After that, you have the chance to toggle several mid-workout features.
The GPS option monitors your running or cycling routes. As you move, your smartphone will track your route while color-coding your course depending on your heart rate (warmup, endurance, aerobic, anaerobic and high intensity). This same color-coded system, from hardly trying blue to gonna collapse red, is also replicated on the companion heart rate monitor's clip: one button press on the Bluetooth transmitter will show a color-coded notification illustrating how hard you're working. You can also get the app to narrate how many calories burned, distance traveled, current heart rate and more. The voice guide will specify your current beats per minute, but try not to laugh when the voice says "bits per minute." And if you can't help chuckling, you can fortunately turn the commentary off. Which I did.
Optional: The Lifeband
LG's Lifeband Touch is yet another fitness band -- and it's a hard sell. Announced at CES alongside the headphones, it's proof consumer tech never stands still, especially in nascent categories like wearables. Half a year later, we've seen products attempting to straddle the divide between fitness gadgets and smartwatches, with the best example so far being the imperfect Gear Fit from Samsung -- a fitness wearable paired with a beautiful screen and a heart rate monitor, albeit with a fuzzy interface and temperamental pulse readings.
LG's band is friendlier but dumber. There's no OLED screen, but it works with both Android and iOS devices. No heart rate monitor, but then, that's the earphones' job. The Lifeband Touch is a solid, slightly flexible rubbery band with no clasp. Instead, there's a break in the band to slip your arm in -- it's a bangle, basically. It bends a little at the end, while the scrolling monochrome display and single button are both at the more solid end. The device feels heavier than the FuelBand, which is probably its closest competitor. LG had the foresight to add a degree of motion detection, so if you raise your wrist, the device can either show the time or the option screen you saw last.
I tried the Lifeband for a few weeks, but our review sample abruptly stopped charging; LG says we received a lemon. Even after a short testing period, I'm not desperate to use it again. Its biggest drawback is the dot-pixel screen, which is nigh-on unreadable in direct sunlight. While I haven't torn down the device to investigate, I think it's because the display appears to be pretty deep inside, meaning there's a lot of space (and glass) between the surface and what you're trying to read -- ideal for sunlight to refract and bounce around, making viewing your vitals trickier. Gesture controls be damned, you'll be cupping the Lifeband with your other hand in an attempt to read the time, your pulse or your step count. When you can finally make out the display, you'll notice three menu sections: one for battery, time and date; another for fitness stuff (calories, distances, steps, session tracking), and the last for controlling music playback.
The interface and features are richer than the FuelBand, but Samsung's Gear Fit simply looks nicer, and with a color OLED touchscreen, is more technically accomplished even if the software is a muddled mess. Swiping through the Lifeband's touchscreen is a nice way to navigate the readouts, especially compared to the FuelBand's laborious button presses. That said, the Lifeband Touch already looks dated. It seems odd that it's appeared alongside the company's new headphones, which are pretty exciting. Well, as far as headphones go, anyway.
I've never used a wrist-based heart rate monitor for an extended period because I find it uncomfortable having something attached tightly to my arm, so heart rate monitor headphones sounded like the perfect solution. LG's earphones aren't quite perfect, though. I found the wiring between the earbuds themselves and the Bluetooth unit a bit unwieldy -- the cords were prone to tangling every time I took them off. For headphones, they're not cheap either: $180 at Best Buy. There's really no other device like it, however. Intel's smart ears are just a concept for now, while other options are either gestating in crowdfunding or outright hoaxes. LG's headphones, which you can buy today, give surprisingly accurate heart rate readings. Particularly thanks to the capable app, I can recommend them to fitness types who can't do without music -- just be prepared for some underwhelming audio.