BioConnected HR+ Review: Aussie-made for fitness fanatics

Alex Kidman 31 October 2017 NEWS

BioConnected's heart rate sensing headphones are ideal for fitness-fanatic iPhone owners.

Quick Verdict
BioConnected's headphones work well within a fitness context, although they're not likely to be your everyday pair of Bluetooth headphones, unless you run every day.

The Good

  • Excellent app
  • Solid fit for running
  • Works with other fitness apps

The Bad

  • Audio is only ordinary
  • iPhone-only at launch
  • Low Bluetooth range.

The use of Bluetooth for audio purposes is absolutely nothing new, but it's a technology that has enjoyed a significant resurgence as newer mobiles, such as the iPhone X, Google Pixel 2, HTC U11 and Huawei Mate 10 Pro have all dropped traditional 3.5mm headphone jacks.

You can now get Bluetooth headphones to suit multiple styles, including those purpose-built for fitness tracking. BioConnected's HR+ headphones are Australian designed with a particular accent on tracking heart rate through your ears to a custom-built app for tracking your fitness.

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Design

Whereas some fitness headphones, such as the Jabra Elite Sport opt for a single-bud-per-ear approach, a la Apple's Airpods, the BioConnected HR+ headphones have a more classic cabled behind-the-ear design.

The basic physical design is very simple with one notable exception. That's the "shark fin" style ear clasps, which sit behind the actual earbud plugs. The idea is that you insert the actual buds into your ears, and then twist so that the fin locks the entire earpiece into place using the inner folds of your ear.

There's a definite learning curve to this approach, and I'll be honest here. It took me ages to get the "feel" right for when the left side bud was positioned such that it wouldn't move while I was out on a run. It's somewhat frustrating when it does come out because it's not a quick refit process.

The tight fit of the shark fins, once you get them down pat, does work well across different exercise types, but it also gives them a lot more presence in your ear, which means that they're not the best option for simple everyday listening. I've been using them as my at-desk music headphones for a couple of weeks, and while they're functional, after an hour's listening the fins were definitely less comfortable in my ears than a regular pair of buds. They're very fitness-focused buds, however, so that's not the most critical problem.

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App

Aside from straight audio, the reason you'd pick up the BioConnected HR+ headphones is for their ability to track your heart rate from within your ears. BioConnected's contention is that this is a more direct and accurate way to measure heart rate than a wrist-mounted monitor because there's a more direct measurement link through the blood vessels in the ear, and significantly less movement on the sensor compared to a wrist bracelet.

bioconnected_app_250Where BioConnected takes it a level further is in not only tracking your heart rate, which other apps and devices already do, but also your heart rate variability, in order to give you a more complete picture of your fitness journey. It does this via its own rather impressive free app, which runs along the same lines as most fitness tracking apps. You set your goals and exercise type, sweat away and it tracks it all for you, presenting you with a wide array of easy-to-read statistics when you're done.

By default, the BioConnected HR+ headphones will give you an audio update of your progress every two minutes, although you can tap for a quick update at any time. The idea is that you'll have a general idea of your progress on a continual basis without actively having to stare at your phone to do so.

The one major caveat here is that at launch, the BioConnected app is only available on the iOS platform. According to company representatives, the plan is to have an Android app available in early 2018, but for now, the richest display of BioConnected's data is limited to iPhones only. Or presumably, iPads if you were insane enough to go running with an iPad. I wasn't willing to test that one out myself because I do have limits (although few) on how ridiculous I'm willing to look in public.

The data that the BioConnected's app presents is logical and easy to read, and it's particularly nice to use the "ghost racer" feature to try to beat previous runs if you regularly run the same routes. If you're not able to run with friends, a ghost of your previous effort is a smart way to at least keep yourself on pace.

BioConnected has made the heart rate sensing in its headphones available to other popular fitness apps such as Strava, Runtastic and MapMyRun, which is a great step if you're concerned about the viability of the platform. That's the one way you could use them right now if you're an Android user because they're otherwise standard Bluetooth headphones.

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Performance

The BioConnected HR+ headphones have a very standard, vocally driven pairing mechanism that should prove no issue if you've paired any Bluetooth devices in the past. If you do want to use BioConnected's app, you'll have to download it beforehand and sign up for a free profile.

Fitness headphones historically haven't offered the best of premium audio, and the BioConnected HR+ are very much fitness headphones. You can guess what's coming, right? They're entirely adequate headphones for working out to, but they're not high end in terms of their overall audio output, with somewhat weak bass notable across multiple tracks.

While I was out running and groaning, that didn't matter so much, but when I was sitting quietly listening, it was more apparent to me. Again, this is absolutely par for the course when it comes to fitness headphones. They're not noise cancelling headphones, but the combination of bud and shark fin does give them a fair degree of noise isolation if you like blocking the world out while you work out.

I did have the noted issue with wearing them while sitting at my desk and getting uncomfortable. But while out running their general light weight and a few neat inclusions such as the volume control sloping backwards down my neck did make them more comfortable than some headphones I've used while running.

Speaking of movement, the one significant Bluetooth limitation I hit with the HR+ headphones was Bluetooth range. When you're running with your phone in an armband or in your hand it's no issue, but beyond just a few metres from my phone, the audio from the HR+ headphones got noticeably sketchy. Again, this speaks to their core focus as a set of running headphones, but if you do like to wander with your headphones on, it's a concern.

Battery life is moderate given their size, although I did hit one unusual bug during my testing. At one point the headphones went flat without warning, at which point the app stopped working. I can very much understand that without power they couldn't pump audio to my ears or data about my blood flow to the app, but they're already relying on GPS tracking within the phone for speed data. It would have been nice to be able to finish my run and at least get some comparative data for it.

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Verdict

BioConnected's marketing for the HR+ is unashamedly aimed at the fitness market, and that's the audience for whom these headphones will make the most sense. If you're after a general everyday pair of Bluetooth headphones they're not going to be ideal on audio quality or comfort grounds, but if you want a hard wearing and very smart pair of heart rate tracking headphones, they're a very good buy.

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Pricing and availability

The BioConnected HR+ headphones cost $299, available from BioConnected's web site.

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Specifications

Product Name
BioConnected HR+
Speakers
8.6mm Audio drivers
Battery size
120 mAh
Connectivity
Bluetooth

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