Fitness watches – they’re what many wearables have migrated towards since the inception of the technology, as they can provide us useful information and metrics such as heart rate, step count, and now even reps from your weights. While we’ve seen a steady development in the functionality of this hardware, much of the core components have remained the same. Battery technology has gotten slightly better over the last couple years, but that is mainly due to software, not hardware. So what does one watch offer over the many, many others available on the market? Often it will be slightly custom software, sometimes an extra button, but most of the time, it is a minor tweak to both these things.
So what has New Balance, a shoe company, done to make their watch stand out? There’s quite a lot going on here, from the specialized hardware buttons to the sensors made to track your body to a super finite degree.
With a built-in GPS, optical heart rate monitor, a solid water resistance rating, and integrated Strava running software, there is a lot to like here. Since it runs Android Wear, you still get all the same benefits of the OS, including the ability to download music directly onto your watch.
So does the RunIQ warrant its high $300 price tag? What about New Balance’s PaceIQ fitness earbuds? Find out in our full New Balance RunIQ and PaceIQ review!
There’s no doubting that New Balance is aiming this watch at the sports/fitness crowd here. It has a relatively large 1.39-inch AMOLED display with a resolution of 400 x 400 that shows up great in direct sunlight, and doesn’t need a separate proximity sensor to dim the screen when you don’t need it. The pixel density comes in at 287ppi, so while you’re obviously not going to get smartphone resolution on this thing, it is still more than decent for a smartwatch.
It doesn’t feel a huge amount larger than a traditional sports watch
Though relatively thick, it doesn’t feel a huge amount larger than a traditional sports watch. Quite honestly, there are a number of traditional watches that are much more hefty than this thing, even with all the included internals and sensors. The bezel raises slightly from the surface of the touchscreen, likely to protect it from getting smashed if you trip while on a run. The casing is made of a hard plastic which feels very solid for what it is, and would likely only come away with a number of scratches and scuffs if you were to land on it directly. Though, if this were the case, your wrist would likely be in a lot more trouble than your watch.
Unfortunately, the three physical buttons aren’t reprogrammable
There are three buttons attached to the right side of the device, each with varied functionality. While it would have been nice to be able to be able to reprogram these to your own liking, New Balance it really pushing running functionality with the watch. A quick tap of the top button will instantly launch Strava, which is interestingly built right into the watch, with no separate app “technically” required on your phone in order to view current metrics, though you will have to download the full Strava app in order to see your route and historical data. This app in particular is full-fledged, with four different screens showing distance, time, BPM, steps, and a lap counter. There are also music controls built in here, which syncs with Google Play Music to play whatever tracks or playlist you run to best.
The center lug essentially works as a ‘back’ button, returning you to previous screens without the need to swipe applications away. This will also turn on and off the screen depending on if you’re sitting on the watch face home screen. You can also hold the button while on the home screen to open up the app menu, where you will be able to select the local apps that have custom functionality with Android Wear. There isn’t much functionality past this, but it is another method of interactive with the watch if you would prefer not to swipe around the display.
The bottom button controls playback of music. When you tap it, you get the option to play music either on the watch, or from your phone. Since you can store music files locally on the watch itself, there becomes very little need to actually take your phone with you on runs. The manufacturer says you should be able to store up to 50 hours of music locally on the device, meaning you should be able to load up all your favorite playlists to take with you on your favorite trails. While this is a feature embedded into Android Wear itself and not part of the watch, it is still quite useful, especially for a watch that is so focused on running.
The top of the watch features stationary time markers, which more or less align with the marks on an analog Android Wear watch face, but prove a bit redundant since this is already provided on the screen. This is more than likely provided solely for the aesthetic of the device, and we’re not necessarily complaining that it is included.
One of the best parts of the RunIQ’s design is the strap
One of my favorite parts of the RunIQ’s design is the strap. The included watch strap is a soft rubber one, which has an incredibly high amount of cutouts to be locked into place. Since the rubber is relatively stretchy, in combination with the super high amount of cutouts, it is extremely easy to get a good fit. Never once did I feel that I was forced to wear the watch too loosely or too tightly around my wrist – it always seemed to fit just right. The rubber also makes it so those who sweat during intense workouts will not have to worry about damaging the device. These bands are interchangeable, so you should be able to swap it out with a color that matches your style. The model we have for review was black on black, and while I personally think that it is the most understated and professional color available, some may want to swap it out for one of the other colorful options offered by the company.
The bottom of the device reveals the heart rate sensor which flashes green while active, as well as the inductive charging plates which magnetically attach to the included charger. I’m personally a big fan of the way this device charges. The magnets hold the watch to the charger quite securely so it won’t fall off from a bump, but you can still grab the watch and go without the need of any locking/unlocking mechanism.
The watch’s charger is very well designed
While some watches like the Moto 360 offer angled charging docks that allow you to use your watch as a bedside clock as you sleep, the security and strength of the magnets in this device make it feel more secure on my desk. The 410mAh battery charges pretty darn quickly, so you should be able to get a solid charge out of the device if you’re only home for a shower and have to run out again.
The watch is rated for waterproofing up to 5ATM, so while you shouldn’t go deep sea diving with this thing, it will do fine for casual swimming and running in the rain. With Apple touting the ability to swim with the Watch Series 2 as one of its primary features, we think it’s important to mention that quite a lot of watches with waterproofing exist, and the New Balance RunIQ is just one of those options.
Features and performance
One of the most marketed features of the New Balance RunIQ is that is was developed in partnership with Intel. It uses an Intel Atom Z34XX to compute all of that data from the sensors as well as run the OS, and while such a big name demands big performance, we did notice a number of issues when using some of the more data intensive parts of the watch. When doing simple things like notification mirroring and music playback, the watch worked just fine, smoothly informing me of all those Allo messages (don’t hate) and emails I get on a daily basis.
Strava on the RunIQ is pretty glitchy
The biggest performance strain I experienced presented itself when I launched the integrated Strava app, which is completely confined to the watch, though you can sync this data with the Strava app on your phone. For the most part, Strava offers the functionality and metrics you’re likely to use while on a run. While I would say that the app works pretty flawlessly while using it, backing out to the home screen while the app is paused caused the device to freeze up, and then start opening other apps and features at random. I had to just let the watch die before I could use it again at this point, as it was launching and closing Strava over and over again without me pressing anything. While this could just be some random bug that I encountered in the semi-custom software that New Balance has running on top of Android Wear, I think the 512MB of RAM in tandem with the Atom Z34XX SoC on board the device is not quite enough to store all the services that are accessed when using the application.
The Strava app in particular launches the watch’s on-board GPS, heart rate sensor, and pedometer all at the same time. Intel’s Atom Z34XX chip is made to be able to handle all of these sensors on the fly, though it is seldom that devices utilizing the SoC will use all these services at one time, and may take some more tweaking or require more voltage in order to perform the necessary calculations. I can’t say that the performance issues I experienced were all due to Intel or the New Balance team, but I can say that this thing needs just a bit more power in order to utilize all its sensors to the required level.
The only other major performance issue I encountered had to do with the speed at which the watch mirrored notifications. I’ve owned a 1st Generation Moto 360 since it launched way back in 2014, and I’ll sometimes feel the watch buzz with a notification before I even see my phone light up. The RunIQ did not offer quite the same experience in my testing. Often it would be one to two full seconds after my phone received the notification that the watch would alert me of the same thing. While this is not a huge issue for a lot of users, seeing the information on my phone’s lock screen before my watch received the same message created a redundancy which was more annoying than anything. I have to assume this issue is due to whatever Bluetooth module the company has opted to use in the device, but one can never be too sure with these things. Just know that in my personal experience, this issue did exist, so if instant notification mirroring is a make-or-break feature for you, you may want to look elsewhere.
The RunIQ runs Android Wear, so you have access to all the features that come along with that software. New Balance’s offing is currently slated to receive the Android Wear 2.0 update that many have been fawning over since LG released the Watch Sport and Style last month, but the device is currently running the older Android Wear version 1.5. Of course, the consumer-ready version of Android Wear 2.0 was just released a couple weeks ago, so we know this device couldn’t have launched with it out of the box. Still, it’d be nice to see a brand new Android Wear watch running the latest version of Google’s smartwatch OS.
If you’re wondering about battery life, New Balance says you can expect to get 24 hours out of this thing with normal use, or about five hours of active GPS usage. While I obviously didn’t go running for 5 hours to test this because I am a technology journalist, the regular usage I experienced actually surpassed the 24 hour mark. I was generally seeing about 30 hours or so on each charge, and that is actually with the ‘always on’ display feature enabled. That is pretty impressive coming from a 410mAh battery, and proves that Intel’s Atom Z34XX chip can be quite efficient when it wants to be. That said, efficiency and performance are almost mutually exclusive factors, and caused the performance issues that we discussed earlier.
The New Balance PaceIQ runs Android Wear. This is essentially the same software across a number of different watches, but there are a few small tweaks including additional built-in software among other things. The RunIQ in particular has a full blown Strava app built right in, which utilizes the built-in GPS, heart rate sensor, pedometer, and more to give you the most accurate information possible regarding your run.
I tested this app multiple times, and have to admit I had more issues with it than I would have liked. While the activity the app actually tracks is chock full of metrics and useful information, it really is hit or miss right now whether the app will tell you the activity was tracked or not. I ran with just the watch on five separate occasions, and three of these times the watch told me that I did not have enough GPS coordinates to be tracked. Initially I thought this may have been due to the fact that I didn’t have the Strava app downloaded on my phone, but then I continued to have occasional issues. The activity was actually tracked on my phone even if it said it wasn’t though, so this seems more like a minor software bug. That being said, the paths tracked on Strava were quite accurate, so it seems the onboard GPS does do quite well when it works. I did a couple of factory resets and the GPS seemed to work better after that point, but the fact that it is randomly buggy still needs to be said. Hopefully these issues will be fixed with the Android Wear 2.0 update, but we will have to wait and see if that is the case.
Requiring the Strava and New Balance apps for your phone did leave me a little frustrated, though. New Balance markets this watch as if you don’t need your phone at all, but that’s really not the case. While you can’t exactly view all of your intricate metrics about your run on a small screen like this, it still felt like I was tracking a lot of this information for no reason if I didn’t have the Strava mobile app. I would have liked if you could at least view historical data about your runs on the watch, but it seems that they only optimized it to be able to view what is going on in the moment.
The in-app music browser worked well for switching songs and adjusting the volume, but the tracks listed stopped reflecting what was actually playing past the first song. I first noticed this when Maneater by Hall and Oates started playing and I wanted to turn it up. I tried skipping back and forth between different music and jumping in and out of the music browser, but the watch never updated with the current song. This was also probably a minor bug and will hopefully be fixed in the future.
New Balance does offer an app for your smartphone, the MyNB app, which allows you to sync a lot of the data from the watch to your device. The app will ask all about you: what sports you are into, your gender, birthday, and even what kind of clothes you wear. I found this a bit invasive, as they are obviously trying to figure out how to best market your apparel, but you can skip this step entirely, so don’t fret too much if you would prefer not to answer these questions.
From here, you can read a huge amount of content related to running and fitness, and can spend “New Balance points” on new clothes and shoes. The navigation in the app is actually pretty great, and uses smooth animations to get you where you need to go. While it’s obvious that this was originally designed as a shopping app, the company has gone ahead and slid RunIQ integration right into it, which in my opinion is probably better than making a whole separate app to bog down the Play Store.
The app will prompt you to connect your Strava account to the watch, and for some reason is required to get Strava working on the watch itself. The app will get a lot of documentation detailing how to use the watch, and you can also modify things like the color theme and distance information shown on the face of the watch on the fly, though that is essentially all it does for you besides being a New Balance shopping app.
The MyNB app is basically a big New Balance advertisement
What is most frustrating about the MyNB app is the fact that you need to have it installed for setup of Strava on your RunIQ. Besides being able to change a few colors on the watch and connect your Strava account, the app is essentially used completely for shopping. After you connect Strava through this app you can essentially get rid of it, but it seems incredibly cumbersome that you should be forced to install a standalone app that does almost nothing. After this you can download Strava and use that like normal, but why should you have to use a separate app to use Strava? Since this is Android Wear, you would think you would be able to use Strava like on any other smartwatch, but New Balance seems to think forcing the MyNB app is a better way to sell its shoes and accessories.
Of course, if Strava isn’t your thing, you can always use one of the many other fitness apps available for Android. This is Android Wear after all, so if you like, you can make use of Runtastic or Endomondo as well. Yes, New Balance has partnered with Strava for this particular watch and if you don’t use it the top lug on the unit is essentially useless, but you do you. Other apps will work just fine.
New Balance PaceIQ earbuds
While the RunIQ smartwatch can be purchased on its own, the company designed it in tandem with the PaceIQ earbuds. These are Bluetooth earbuds that were designed with Jabra, and are actually based on the the Jabra Sport Pace.
See also: Jabra Sport Pace Wireless review
There is a button on the side of the left ear bud that will give you statistics from your watch, so you’ll never have to look down to get all the statistics while on your run, which is a great feature considering focusing on anything except your path is pretty dangerous when running. Unfortunately, pushing a button that goes directly into your ear is a bit uncomfortable, and you do have to exert a decent amount of force into your ear before the button actually clicks.
As far as sound quality goes, the headphones are pretty decent. The mids and highs were especially good, but the bass and lows left quite a bit to be desired. Especially for a set of headphones designed specifically for running, you would think the company would want to make bass an integral part of the design, but I didn’t particularly feel that was the case here. Perhaps with a decent equalizer you could get a good mix out of these things, but I feel they should emit these frequencies right out of the box for those that want to just grab them and go.
New Balance says you should be able to get about five hours of playback time out of these things, but from the testing I did, it was more accurate to say I got around four. Calls through the headset will definitely drain the battery a bit faster due to activating the on-board microphone, but they sounded fine. I would say that these things are a bit quiet, so if you’re in a busy coffee shop you probably won’t be able to hear the person you are talking to very well, but if you are just out for a run or walk they should do ok.
In terms of shape, these things are great. When I originally put them on, I had the absolute hardest time getting them to fit correctly. I realized a bit later that I was attempting to wear them completely wrong though, so make sure you actually read the manual and see how to get the best fit. They come with four different sets of buds to get the best fit with your ear, so you can change those out and decide which set you like. The hoop that goes around your ear is protective enough to keep them from falling out of your ears, but is also not obstructive to the point where it puts pressure on your ears. I generally can’t wear regular buds without some sort of fastening to my ears since I have particularly slippery insides (you probably didn’t need to know that), but the hoops keep them on safely and securely.
There is also a small plastic clip which is used to keep extra wire from flinging around while on a run, and I feel that this is an absolutely essential accessory. It is very small and extremely easy to lose however, so I would have liked for New Balance to have the clip hang off the headphones themselves or something of that caliber in order to keep them safe. I haven’t lost mine, but I could absolutely see how that would be the case, especially with someone that isn’t good at keeping track of their technology.
Should you buy one (or both)?
The New Balance RunIQ comes in at $299.99 USD, which is a bit of a steep price to pay for something that doesn’t necessarily offer a ton more features over something older like the Moto 360 Sport. This watch really does feel premium, however. Even if the lugs on the side of the watch don’t function like that on a traditional sports watch, they still give off that “premium” look that have demanded such an inflated cost from traditional watches over the years. The extremely adjustable and customizable band also gives you the option of letting the world know you’re a fitness junkie or looking a bit more professional.
There are some caveats that keep me from recommending this thing whole-heatedly, though. The biggest one being that it’s feature with the biggest focus feels a bit lacking. For a fitness watch that is marketed as completely separate from your smartphone, it should not require a device application to actually record and view historical data. It would be nice to be able to view and compare your old runs on the watch itself, as though the Strava and MyNB smartphone apps are extremely well made, they should not be required for someone that doesn’t want to have their phone on them all the time.
Performance and bugginess are the RunIQ’s main issues
The other major issue for me is performance. While Intel’s Atom Z34XX chip gave me faith that the company really knows how to do efficiency, I think that that chip needed to be clocked higher to produce the performance needed for a device like this. This would have needed a bigger battery if that was the case, and while it almost seems like a joke to be asking for a bigger battery at this point, smartwatch battery capacities have essentially not improved whatsoever since their introduction in 2014.
Looking at this from the perspective of purely being a piece of fitness tech, there is quite a bit to like here. It has all the bells and whistles you’re probably going to need for running and other exercise, but the integrated GPS has issues displaying data on the device itself, though this may be a minor software bug for now. The heart rate monitor and pedometer work great, but is that enough to make it this a great fitness watch? It’s comfortable and water resistant, can be used anywhere, and should last long enough to track the entirety of almost any workout, so those are positives that do give this thing a bit of desirable characteristics. With all that being said, should you buy one, even if only for the fitness tracking it provides?
At the moment, my answer is no.
If this thing had launched alongside the Moto 360 Sport, I would be much more inclined to say yes. The New Balance RunIQ is effectively a more premium version of that watch with a few more bells and whistles, and for someone who may have wanted the best of the best at the time, this would have been it. Unfortunately, by the time this thing actually launched the market was much more inflated with other options that can do the same things to the same caliber or better at a price that can either match or beat it.
The New Balance PaceIQ spells a very similar story for the brand. Coming in at $109.99 USD, they fall into a very similar pricing structure as something like the Jaybird X2s or X3s. And while they offer a great fit and nice battery life, they really don’t have any one ‘killer’ feature that would make me drop my X2s and pick them up. If you have the watch, they do offer functionality that you won’t be able to get from any other headphones, but is this something that you absolutely need?
The New Balance RunIQ and PaceIQ are very capable pieces of hardware that offer many of the same features as competing technology on the market, but don’t offer any ‘killer features’ that make them worth the price the company is asking. If you’re a fitness junkie who needs something right now, they may be worth a look, but it would be well advised to look around the market for more updated competitors such as the Huawei Watch 2 and the Jaybird X3s.
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