I have a love-hate relationship with Bluetooth, especially headsets. As a regular gym-goer, I like the convenience that they offer, which by-and-large outpaces wired earbuds. However, most are not as reliable, lose connection, and don't have the best sound quality. Despite all of this, I see more Bluetooth sound devices these days than wired ones. The neckband style especially (think Powerbeats) is gaining in popularity — they're all over the gyms, hiking/mountain biking trails, and sidewalks.
So when I received the UA Sport Wireless Heart Rate, I was pretty excited. I finally understand why I see the neckbands (think LG's Tone line) so often now: it has the strengths of the neckbuds without the weaknesses (i.e. falling off of your neck when laying flat). Despite the awful name, the Sport Wireless HR (that's what I'm calling it from here on) packs in convenience, a decent sound balance done by JBL, and tolerable battery life. And just like the name says, these also monitor your heart rate during your workout and sync to the Under Armour app on your phone.
A free 12-month premium MapMyRun subscription is also included, if that matters to you. There's a lot of value on paper when talking about the Sport Wireless HR, but how does it stack up in real life?
|Convenience||These earphones stay in my ears and on my head without any trouble. I also did not have any connectivity issues with any of the phones that I tried, further boosting the ever-important convenience factor.|
|Sound||Responsive bass, strong mids, and balanced treble give the Sport Wireless HR the kind of sound quality I need to keep going in a workout.|
|Battery life||Under Armour/JBL claim that you can get about five hours of life out of the Sport Wireless HR. I got about that, though it all depends on how loud you have the volume, how much of the syncing features you use (there are quite a few), and other variables. You know, as usual.|
|Comfort||The Sport Wireless HR does not have typically-shaped ear pieces, which has its pros and cons. I have weirdly-shaped ears, so getting a good fit is always a struggle. None of the included silicon cup sizes worked just right, unlike the Jaybird X3.|
|Controls||There is a single three-button remote on the right side of the cable. The center one controls play/pause, power, and call management, while the other two are responsible for both volume and skipping. Not my favorite setup.|
Design & comfort
The Sport Wireless HR comes in a bright red package with a magnetic clasp. One of the side panels is devoted to the UA Record app, which you'll need for the heart rate monitoring and workout tracking. But when you get down to the actual earphones, they're not anything new. The red and black aesthetic is certainly up my alley and I don't particularly want something flashy when I'm working out. I was asked by one of the regulars at my gym if I had finally "seen the light and gotten Powerbeats." To a casual observer, the Sport Wireless HR resembles that product.
If you sweat a lot or like to run in the rain, you will be happy to know that the Sport Wireless HR is IPX5 rated, meaning it will resist moisture. It is not meant for swimming though (I am still looking for a good pair of swimming earbuds). As for the overall comfort and fit, I cannot fairly rate these neckbands the highest. I have weird ears and because of that, I tend to struggle to find earbuds that don't give me a headache after a few minutes — the only exception being the Jaybird X3, because that has a stellar fit.
The way the Sport Wireless HR seals is by a twisting motion. You place the silicon cup inside your ear with the whole piece tilted forward at a 45° angle. You then twist it toward the back of your ear and everything should be sealed. This is a pretty crucial thing to do not only for the best sound quality experience, but also for the heart rate monitoring in the left piece. Honestly, I couldn't get these to dislodge versus the more traditional style you might find on something like LG's neckbuds. If the default cups don't work for you (they give me an insane headache), UA has included three other sizes.
The cable runs behind the neck to stay out of the way. In my time with the Sport Wireless HR, I thought it was a bit too short; it pulled taut across my neck during some activities. There is also an included shirt clip, which I found to be less than helpful, that is supposed to assist in offsetting the weight of the remote on the right side of the cable (which does pull down that portion).
The remote itself has a microphone, status LED, microUSB charging port, and three buttons. The center is responsible for play/pause, call answering, and power. The other two flanking it control volume and track skipping, which are easy to mix up — while it's only slightly annoying to adjust the volume instead of skipping, the vice versa is downright irritating.
I doubt that anyone will be wowed by the design of the Sport Wireless HR, but that's not a bad thing. If you like flashy sound equipment at the gym, get those damn rose gold Beats. These get the job done all while being only slightly uncomfortable (for some).
One of my favorite things about the Sport Wireless HR is the bass performance. On heavy tracks, it's quite powerful and punchy, but not too strong nor artificial sounding. The songs that I listen to sounded fantastic with very balanced treble and mids, which means that I stay motivated during a workout — bad music or subpar sound quality are not the most helpful, in my experience.
I tested these out with several different artists in the metal sub-genres, like Amon Amarth, Sonic Syndicate, and Eluveitie, and whatever different styles of electronic music that I felt like listening to on Digitally Imported. I never noticed any distortion at higher volumes, though I wasn't willing to risk my eardrums to test at 100% on both phone and earphones.
The Sport Wireless HR compares pretty well to the other Bluetooth headsets in its price bracket. The battery life is pretty good, roughly around five hours or so. That twist lock method for sealing in the sound really helps to maintain the sound fidelity, a problem that I've had with several in-ear devices. As a huge fan of bass, I am quite happy with what these neckbands can put out.
For those of you who are not aware, Under Armour has been on a purchasing spree in the last few years. The company has acquired many apps like MapMyRun, MyFitnessPal, and other fitness-oriented ones. One of the benefits to that is they are all under one umbrella for syncing purposes. In the interest of this review, however, we are focusing on the main offering: Under Armour Record.
While you can use the Sport Wireless HR by simply pairing it with your phone, you get the full experience by also connecting it to UA Record. This app tracks your workout, including time elapsed, distance (if applicable), calories burned, and your heart rate information (if you have a supported device). The app itself isn't all that bad in terms of design; there's a FAB to start a workout, a simplistic hamburger menu, and a tight focus on functionality.
Right: You have to "share" a workout in order to mark it complete
The homepage is where you set your daily goals for steps, nutrition, sleep, and workouts. You can also rate how you're feeling that day on a scale of 1-10 via the meter at the bottom (the FAB kinda prevents you from selecting 9 or 10). There are social aspects to Record, too — you can see your friends' updates and achievements in your feed or compete with them in custom challenges.
When you're ready to add something to your record, hit the FAB and select whichever thing is applicable to you. Odds are, you'll be hitting the "Workout" option. Tapping into this will give the choice between tracking a workout or logging it. Select which fitness activity you're doing (gym, running, biking, etc.), tap "Start Workout," and get going.
By default, the Sport Wireless HR will regularly read your heart rate and say it aloud to you. The voice is a Microsoft Mary-like monotonous TTS engine and the constant updates interfere with the music, often causing more distraction than it was worth.
During a workout, you can tap the right earpiece to get an instant heart rate number. The readings from the Sport Wireless HR were quite different than what my Android Wear watch said. I roughly counted my beats per minute via my jugular and the earphones seemed more on point, but I would still say they spit out a ballpark number — in other words, take it as an estimation and not as a medically accurate reading.
Overall, my experience with the UA Record app was better than I expected. I did not have any crashes on either of the two devices that I tested it on and found it to be an effective way to manage the Sport Wireless HR and track my workouts.
At the time of this writing, you can get a nice pair of Bluetooth earphones that have the convenience of the neckband-style with a reasonably accurate built-in heart rate monitor for the sale price of $150 (it was $200 when I started this review a few days ago). Personally, I think that this is still a bit on the high side, but this is Under Armour we're talking about.
The sound performance, app experience, and fitness tracking all lend credence to the Sport Wireless HR's existence. They do not, however, help me to recommend these earphones at this price. That's not to say that they're bad, because they're not, but the MSRP is just not ideal. Even with the temporary price drop to $150, I am still hesitant about telling you that they're worth your money. I have seen them go on sale at some outlets for $130 or less, though; that's much more compelling for the fit, feature set, and sound quality. Otherwise, there are other neckbands with similar sound quality for much less, like these from JBL — though you will miss out on some of the more advanced features, notably the heart rate monitor.
Keep trying, Under Armour. This is a step in the right direction.