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Behind the scenes: Ridiculous stories from a fitness gadget reviewer
I am fortunate enough to work with a group of upbeat, enthusiastic, and deeply knowledgeable tech lovers from across the world. As a team, we review products thoroughly, digging into features, pouring over manuals, comparing competitors, and collaborating with peers in ever-active Slack channels. My Android Authority teammates pack expertise, experience, insights, and dedication, plus of course wit and tailored writing skills.
However, whoever said “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” likely wasn’t a wearables reviewer. For starters, you can’t work out without the word work. What’s more, you can’t test tech devices without wrestling with some glitches. Here are six unexpected but entertaining hurdles I’ve encountered while reviewing fitness gadgets.
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1. Running in circles
From a budget fitness tracker to the Apple Watch Series 8, the top wearables on the market boast activity tracking to rival even dedicated GPS watches. For a reviewer, that means every time there’s a new device in the mailbox, it’s time to lace up.
A few weeks after moving into my new home, I was all set to clock runs for Garmin’s then-new Vivomove Sport, one of my favorite hybrid watches. Unfortunately, the device landed in the middle of Oahu’s rainy season. Desperate to stick to my prescribed schedule (and forgetting the importance of first impressions), I headed out in the downpour.
That afternoon I “met” many of my new neighbors as I psychotically ran laps past their homes in the pouring rain. Regrettably, the loop I chose was only about one-third of a mile, so I passed each house more than a dozen times. I waved to each person I saw, flashing something between a smile and a grimace. I contemplated ending my run at the supermarket so no one would connect me with the newly purchased house. One unseen, older gentleman yelled from inside his house, “Aloha Kaitlyn!” which only left me wondering how he already knew my name.
Soaked through, I eventually arrived back at my driveway at the same time as the mailman. To his credit, he didn’t even raise an eyebrow. He merely handed me some junk mail, confirming my identity as the current resident in case anyone was still wondering. When it came time to push the limits of the heart rate monitor, I had the foresight to move my muddy sprints to the backyard where only the neighbor’s dog could judge me through our shared fence.
2. Facing the data (or lack thereof)
Even when you do get in that run, ride, yoga, or HIIT workout, that doesn’t always mean you’ll have anything to show for it. There is nothing more demoralizing than finishing a workout, uploading the data, and seeing complete rubbish. Throughout my review experiences, faulty equipment consistently meets human error to ensure that at least one or two workouts a month prove unusable.
To this end, reviewing gadgets is a character-building experience. On one particularly dark evening, (dark emotionally, not dark as in lacking starlight), I completed three back-to-back interval workouts on the world’s most mediocre gel cycling seat cushion.
The first workout I approached with enthusiasm. Who doesn’t love endlessly spinning pedals only to move absolutely nowhere? About an hour later, when the heart rate data uploaded completely erratic, I cursed the usual suspects and started again. I was frustrated but determined. The workout was only to support data I already had from runs, and I wanted to wrap up the review. So, I stretched out the warm-up and lengthened the low-intensity periods. I blared Spotify on Alexa and congratulated myself for powering through. I think I even daydreamed about someday loving spinning so much I’d fork over the cash for a Peloton or some other high-end bike.
After the second workout, I took a shower, deciding not to sit at my desk dripping in sweat. It was only 9:30 PM, but I put on pajamas and tea water. I was riding the high you only feel after completing something you really don’t feel like doing. Satisfied with myself, I was going to upload my final heart rate graph, slap it into my review, and send it off to my editor. I was a well-oiled machine.
On my way to my desk, I picked up my sweaty chest strap and tossed it toward the bathroom. And then I stood and stared at it as waves of despair crashed over me. I had never put the chest strap back on after the first workout. Even if the review unit produced perfect peaks and elegant valleys, there would be no control group, and no way to verify its accuracy or compare data.
Blinded by self-loathing, I lost all sense of logic. First, I decided that a movie would be the best way to distract myself from the fact that I was about to continue my personal tour de France at 10 PM. I dragged the stationary bike down the stairs and lined it up about a meter from my TV screen. I also reasoned that getting the workout started and over with ASAP made more sense than changing clothes and proceeded to mount the bike in shamrock pajamas and a very wet messy bun. Less than an hour later, my Apple Watch asked if I was still working out. I was not. I was lying on the carpet, soaked in a mix of sweat and shower water, wearing loose-fitting Nikes and a pair of lucky pajamas.
3. Failing to count Zs
After all that working out, you’d think a body would need rest, but not this body. Through a unique balance of excessive caffeine and an overactive mind, my sleep tracking often suffers from a lack of data. This is problematic as many gadgets require hours of shut-eye for analysis. Instead of happily counting REM cycles and finding out what cute Fitbit Sleep Profile animal I am, I spend most mornings staring at a sleep score that suggests I might as well be out fighting crime by moonlight.
In light of this, for me, tracking sleep data for reviews is a production. I try to put my best foot forward with blackout curtains and a suitable sleep environment. I limit my post-dinner liquids and threaten the birds outside about waking me up. Naturally, I charge up the devices I need, then check and double-check their fit before tucking in. I also passive-aggressively announce that I “need to get some hours in,” like I’m announcing a deep dive into an important project. Then I lower my ridiculous sleep mask and start an audiobook.
Hours later I wake up refreshed and excited. Surely, I’ve recorded plenty of Zs. I check my device. It’s 4 AM. I’ve clocked three hours and finished Harry Potter for the 57th time. I lay in bed a while longer and wonder if other people stress about not sleeping for work.
4. Reviewing as a family affair
Earlier this year, I thought I hit the jackpot of fitness testing when the launch of Garmin’s Instinct 2 aligned perfectly with a scheduled ski trip. The device packs more sport modes than a summer camp, and I was determined to tap into some of its alpine-appropriate tools.
To adequately set the scene, I am a gear enthusiast. I like hobbies equally as much as I like buying things I don’t need for said hobbies. Thanks to Garmin, I was prepped with the perfect wearable, and I paired it with colorful goggles and a uniquely-patterned ski jacket. I flew to Utah and hit the slopes with the naivety of someone who thinks moguls look like the beetles from the Mummy.
Each night, I reviewed my GPS data, tracing the lines I’d carved down the mountain face. Seven days and one very lengthy tumble later, I found myself with torn ligaments, a dislocated shoulder, and a bruised ego. It turns out wearables can track your chair lift rides and your powdered runs, but they will also track your embarrassing toboggan ride with ski patrol. At the bottom, strangers recognized my eye-catching coat as the one they saw barrelling head first down a “tricky run,” which is what people say when you wipe out on an easy run but they want to be nice about it.
As I waited for surgery, typing up Apple Watch how-tos from my overly indulgent recovery room, I gave my best puppy eyes to my partner. For the months following, I tested review units during physical therapy sessions, evaluating features and settings from the comfort of my couch. Then I’d pass them off to my partner for runs and rides. He’d sweat his way through workouts, reporting back on noteworthy workout features and dutifully prepping for the next session. True to form, I did buy him new running shoes, but I opted for an unremarkable pair in case he takes a tumble.
5. Acting my age
Today’s wearables also offer incredible safety tools like SOS alerts, notifications, and more. For mature users, these features provide potentially life-saving assistance and peace of mind. For immature reviewers, one specific safety feature provides endless entertainment.
The Apple Watch Ultra now equips an 86-decibel siren to help users call for help on remote trails. An avid hiker, I tested the Ultra’s siren in a piney forest, on an ocean-side cliff, and in the middle of an empty field.
My incredibly helpful partner (see above) was particularly put off by the Ultra’s siren. Raised in a refined, midwestern home with manners and civility, he is sensitive to volume and very respectful of others. He was, therefore, less than pleased when I also “tested” the siren while weighing bananas at the supermarket. I don’t like bananas, and I felt that the siren would alert my partner across the store to come to find me and allow him to appreciate that I was handpicking bananas for him. I also thought that it would be fun to embarrass him. We have since decided that, like Thor’s hammer, the Siren is a power that I am not worthy of handling.
6. Tracking poor habits
During one review period, I decided I would give water intake a concentrated effort. Step one was to eliminate alternatives. This meant drinking everything else on hand to eliminate future temptation. Down went diet coke, beet juice, homemade iced tea, and oat milk. Step two was to make water accessible and attractive. I filled a variety of hydro flasks and strategically placed them at my most common haunts: my desk, bedside, and the comfortable corner seat of my couch. Step three: apply guilt. I told a variety of indifferent parties about my quest to hydrate, hoping that would translate to accountability.
Less than 24 hours later, I stood staring into an open fridge, reminding myself that beer is not a suitable solution to thirst at 11 AM. It’s not that I don’t like water; it’s that it tastes like nothing, and I find that highly unsatisfying. I drank a glass of water and grabbed a sticky pad. “You are not a cactus,” I wrote on multiple sheets and stuck them to everything I might reach for in the future. This included coffee concentrate, a pickle jar, ice pops, and my partner’s milk.
On day three, I finished one of the prefilled water bottles. I also decided to allow green tea back into the routine. On day four, I drank six cups of green tea. On day five, I started strong with rapid-fire 8oz chugs. However, I grew frustrated when I had to use the bathroom five times before 9 AM. By the end of the review period, I came to two conclusions. One: drinking almost nothing at all is easier than drinking enough water. Two: I am a cactus 🌵.