A Smartphone’s Companions: The O-Synce Multiremote and Coachsmart

CHARLES LEE | 6th Mar 2015 | PRODUCT REVIEWS

A Smartphone’s Companions: The O-Synce Multiremote and Coachsmart

Whenever brand-names such as “Apple”, “Samsung”, “Sony” and “HTC” pop up in one’s mind, the instinctive reconciliation would be the smartphones that have become so commonplace that a recent online survey has shown that nine out of 10 mobile phone users are using smartphones.  While they may be common and essential items in today’s context, smartphones are relatively expensive stuff to own.  In fact, more than 50 per cent of smartphone models of any brand will set your wallet back by at least 500 dollars.  Higher-end models, depending on specifications, could cost more than 1000 dollars.  Smartphones are not cheap by any measure because they are equipped with the ability to install all kinds of apps that could perform anything from messaging to the downloading of music to the tracking of distance clocked.  As versatile as smartphones may be, it is not advisable to mount a smartphone on a handle-bar or to hold it in your hand during a ride.  Many a times, riders fell or crashed into something because of the shift in attention to their smartphones when riding.  Even if the cyclist’s riding competency is high, there is a likelihood that the smartphone might slip off from the rider’s hand.  Yet, for the sake of convenience of operating the phone’s music player and adjusting the volume amongst other functions within a hand’s reach, many riders choose to ignore the potential consequences that could be done to their smartphones (and to themselves).

Sports electronics maker O-Synce is a young start-up that was founded six years ago in Germany.  An aggressive player in the sports industry with triathletes and serious sportsmen as its targeted segments, O-Synce offers a wide range of portable micro-electronic products from cyclometers to watches to Global Positioning System (GPS) devices to enhance the users’ training needs through sophistication and simplification.

To enable riders to minimise any form of mishap from the use of smartphones and, at the same time, maximise the effectiveness of their trainings, O-Synce has introduced two products, the multiremote and the coachsmart, to their stable of gadgets.

O-Synce multiremote

Dubbed the first of its kind, the O-Synce multiremote is marketed as an ingenious product that seeks to fulfil two purposes:  One, to control your smartphone wirelessly.  Two, to keep your smartphone safe from damage due to unintentional slips from the rider’s hand.  Designed with the concept of simplicity in mind, the nano-sized multiremote, which measures at 48mm x 38mm, weighs at a mere 13g and contains only three buttons.  Exclusively in black, the multiremote appears sleek and futuristic.

According to the specifications in the O-Synce website, the multiremote runs on two frequencies:  The 2.4 GHz ANT and Bluetooth 4.0.  It is touted to be compatible with any smartphone with Bluetooth 4.0 and all ANT+ products.   O-Synce also claims that the multiremote, which is water-resistant up to 1 metre, is compatible with three apps:  the O-Synce App, the Maps 3D App and the Scout App.

First Look and Feel

Unwrapping the multiremote for the first time, the gadget impressed upon me as a miniature Star Trek spacecraft.  It is small, but larger than the size of the face of a Casio G-Shock.  It feels feathery, a plus point which roadies and cross-country bikers would appreciate.  Based on the pictures shown in the O-Synce website and on the casing, I have always thought that the greyish portion (beside the three buttons) is a screen that will display certain information.  However, that portion is a mere piece of laminated cover.  It will be a bonus if this portion could be converted to a display panel.

Mounting the multiremote was an easy affair.  Being a left-hander, I chose to mount the multiremote on the left side of the handle-bar and the device was neatly affixed without any signs of loosening.  Because of its sleek lines, the mounted multiremote was aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

Operating the multiremote

The multiremote uses a single button-type battery.  Installing or changing the battery was generally a fuss-free activity and the multiremote switched itself on automatically after the battery was installed.  To enable this gadget to control your smartphone, the O-Synce App first has to be installed.  Since the O-Synce App is only available in the Apple App Store, the iPhones would be the only smartphones that are allowed to install the O-Synce App.  O-Synce may have to retract its marketing claim that the multiremote is able to sync with any smartphone with Bluetooth 4.0.

Whilst the interface of the O-Synce App looks tidy and simple, using it proved to be a different story.  To sync the mutiremote to the iPhone, most logical users (including myself) would have selected “USER SETTINGS”.  Ironically, I was wrong.  To sync the gadgets, “BIKE SETUP” has to be selected.  Under “BIKE SETUP”, there is a sub-setting called the “Remote Control”.  Selecting it would direct you to another interface to sync the multiremote.

Most times, users will select “USER SETTINGS”.  But to synce the multiremote, one has to select “BIKE SETUP”.

Under “BIKE SETUP”, go to “Remote Control” to sync the multiremote.

 

Upon exiting the “BIKE SETUP”, my bike was positioned in the O-Synce App as the default bike, and the multiremote was synced to my iPhone.  I thought that the administrative steps were over!  But to my surprise, when I “added” another bike, I was asked to retake the administrative steps once again.  This meant that I have to connect the multiremote to the iPhone in respect of the additional bike.  Whilst both set-ups were able to connect to the multiremote at the same time, it makes no sense to sync the multiremote to the iPhone twice.  The multiremote is supposed to be a gadget that simplifies steps.  Instead, the wrong categorisation of settings (syncing the multiremote should be configured under the “USER SETTINGS”) and syncing the multiremote to the correct bike have become a hassle.

Adding a new bike will mean syncing the multiremote once again.

My first ride with the multiremote was an unpleasant and frustrated one.  The multiremote’s intended purpose is to simplify the way we ride by wirelessly controlling the iPhone (while it is tucked safely in the pocket or bag).  Instead, it complicates matters.  After syncing the multiremote to my iPhone and hitting on my favourite song, I switched the screen off (as what anyone else would have done) and was about to tuck the iPhone into my pocket when I realised that the multiremote was un-synced from the iPhone (the multiremote will give off a red and green light when it is un-synced).  After some troubleshooting, I found that the iPhone screen has to be left on perpetually.  If the iPhone is configured to auto-lock after some time (for example, 1 minute), the multiremote will be un-synced.  I had to switch my iPhone on to enable the continuous syncing of the multiremote and I was dismayed.  This negative feature not only drains the phone battery, it offers a good glimpse of O-Synce’s level of design and engineering skills.  If O-Synce wants to preserve or widen its customer base, it needs to review the approach the multiremote is synced to the iPhone.

The multiremote was placed next to the left grip on my bike’s handle-bar.  Reaching for the ‘Up’ and ‘Down’ arrow buttons was comfortable and within reach.  However, adjusting the volume of the music was upsetting.  I had difficulty ascertaining which arrow button would increase the volume and vice versa.  Adding to the distress is the fact that the arrow buttons, whether increasing or decreasing the volume, did not accurately adjust the volume to the desired level.  A single press did not appear to change the volume.  When I press and hold down the button, the volume shot up drastically, forcing me to ditch my earphones to prevent any damage to my eardrums!  Without any display feature in the multiremote, I had no recourse but to stop in my tracks and whipped out my iPhone from my pocket to ascertain which arrow button is for decreasing the volume (and vice versa).  After some fiddling, I realised two things about the arrow buttons.  One, a single press would not change the volume.  In fact, nothing would happen with a single press.  Two, the arrow button, when depressed infinitely, will increase (or decrease) the volume by three to four notches every time.  In simple terms, the volume could change from silence to loudness relatively quickly.  This explained why the volume boomed when I pressed and hold the arrow button earlier on.

O-Synce claims that the multiremote is compatible with three apps:  the O-Synce App, the Maps 3D App and the Scout App.  I would say that this might not be true.  In Maps 3D, the multiremote yielded no response regardless of how I pressed the buttons.  The same phenomenon occurred in the O-Synce App.  I reckoned that the O-Synce App is merely used as a bridge to allow the multiremote to control the iPhone’s volume.  The instructional manual offered little help as there is nothing in it to guide how to use the buttons effectively.  I decided to end my ride earlier than expected.

Is the multiremote a worthy investment?

In the aesthetics department, the multiremote gained some points with its sleek looks.  However, in the functional department, it is disappointing to report that the multiremote has failed to perform what it is supposed to do – to create convenience for the rider.  The natural expectation from any rider of the multiremote is that it should be able to execute basic functions without using the iPhone.  But having to take out the iPhone to verify if the adjustments had been correctly made is suggestive that there are significant design flaws for the multiremote.  Given the fact that many smartphones users are from the Android camp, the lack of the O-Synce App in the Google Play Store only serves to inhibit the flexibility of the multiremote.

Keen buyers of the multiremote are advised to carry out some market comparison and decide if there are products which fare better than the multiremote.  For music lovers, it would be a safer bet to invest in a pair of Bluetooth sports-grade headphones from Sennheiser or BlueAnt.  For the rest of us, it might be a better idea to purchase an iPhone mounting device and erect our iPhones on the handle-bar.

O-Synce coachsmart

Sportsmen, serious and recreational alike, are always looking at maximising resources to improve on their trainings.  When it comes to using new equipment, this means that they do not want to spend too much time on learning about an equipment.  Sportsmen want something that not only allows them to manage their training regimes, but one that is easy to learn and use.  In an attempt to meet such needs, O-Synce introduced the coachsmart, the world’s first bike computer that is touted to be able to connect any ANT+ devices to your smartphone.

According to the specifications in the O-Synce website, the coachsmart has the ability to act as the mirror of your smartphone and bridge itself to any device with Bluetooth 4.0.  O-Synce also touted the coachsmart’s capability as a standalone bicycle computer which is able to display three key information groups on the (1) bike’s speed, (2) rider’s heart rate, cadence and (3) power output,distance and time clocked.

First Look and Feel

The design of the coachsmart is like any regular bike computer.  In squarish form, the coachsmart features three buttons – a left and right arrow button and a middle round button – a design which is similar to that of the multiremote.  While the O-Synce’s website omits the exact weight of the coachsmart, holding it in one hand gives me a solid feel.  Available only in matt black, my impression was that the coachsmart should be able to handle a certain level of ruggedness.  Using the same kind of rubber-band holder (that is used on the multiremote), the coachsmart is able to secure itself onto any handle-bar of any thickness.  Attempts to loosen the secured coachsmart were futile.  This added to the assurance that the device would still be affixed securely in the roughest terrain.

Operating the coachsmart

Similar to the multiremote, the coachsmart uses a single button-type battery.  When switched on, the coachsmart displayed an ordered set of information – timing, heart rate, cadence, power output and elevation – with every press of the left or right arrow button.  But to get things started, the coachsmart has to be synced to the O-Synce App.  Similar to the multiremote, only iPhones can be synced to the coachsmart.  This is because the O-Synce App is only available in the Apple App Store.  From a business point of view, O-Synce is already losing potential revenue from the Google Android market.

An issue which was discovered when syncing the coachsmart to my iPhone is the perpetuity of switching on the phone screen and the O-Synce App to prevent un-syncing the gadgets.  In other words, the coachsmart would be un-synced the moment any of the following two scenarios occur:  One, when the screen is switched off (or when the iPhone is auto-locked).  Two, when the O-Synce App is closed.  This issue is the same as the one encountered by the multiremote.  Clearly, the engineers at O-Synce had not considered the syncing issue thoroughly before releasing the coachsmart into the market.  It is also suggestive that every O-Synce product could be facing the same problem (i.e. un-syncing would occur when phone screen is switched off or when the O-Synce App is closed).

Syncing occurs when the iPhone and the O-Synce App are on.  The syncing is indicated by the presence of the coachsmart’s wifi signal indicator, which can be seen on the top left corner of the coachsmart’s screen.

The coachsmart is un-synced the moment the O-Synce App is closed.  Notice that the wifi indicator on the top left corner of the coachsmart screen is gone.

 

A few negative observations were made during my test ride.  The first observation relates to the recording of lap times.  Despite being synced to my iPhone, there is no way to activate and stop the lap time using the coachsmart.  The only device that could start and stop the lap time is the iPhone.  This design flaw diminishes the quality of the ride as the rider has to activate the lap time on his iPhone because pedalling off and whip out the phone to stop the lap time upon completing the ride.  Needless to say, the accuracy of the lap time would be compromised.  To uphold lap times’ accuracies and to prevent any fumbling of the phone, the only approach that I could think of is to mount the phone on the handle-bar.  However, perching the phone beside the coachsmart would make the rider look silly.  As a consolation, the coachsmart proves useful when it comes to the resetting of lap times for subsequent laps.  At the end of my first lap and so on, I was able to press the middle button to reset the lap time for my next lap.

The second observation relates to the tracking of the bike speed.  At one point of my ride, I switched off the O-Synce App’s “Location Services” in my iPhone.  Consequently, the speed reading in coachsmart turned zero.  When I switched the “Location Services” back, the speed reading returned.  This suggested a number of things.  One, the iPhone is the actual “CPU” of the entire coachsmart ecosystem.  This means that the coachsmart derives the speed reading from the iPhone’s O-Synce App.  Two, the speed reading is dependent on the GPS of the iPhone.  Third, the coachsmart is not equipped with a speed sensor.  These findings are disappointing because with today’s level of technology, I am of the view that the coachsmart should be better equipped to complement the iPhone.  Rather than mirroring the iPhone’s O-Synce App, it might be better to rely on the iPhone itself as the all-in-one bike computer.

The third observation relates to the host of information that the coachsmart could display.  Although the coachsmart could display information such as heart rate, cadence and power output, I realised that such information could only be available when the coachsmart is synced with the assortment of O-Synce accessories (i.e. the speed sensor, the cadence sensor and the heart rate belt).  With a wide offering of all-in-one products in today’s market, avid and novice riders might not want to carry separate devices to allow the main device to display the necessary information for them.

O-Synce’s speed sensor

O-Synce’s cadence-and-speed 2-in-1 sensor

O-Synce’s cadence sensor

O-Synce’s heart rate belt

Is the coachsmart a worthy investment?

The coachsmart impressed upon me as a simple device which depends largely on iPhone’s O-Synce App and other accessories for the output of information.  While it performs expectedly as a mirror of the iPhone, there would be a limit to the amount of information and data that the rider can receive if the coachsmart is used without its peers.  The coachsmart works nicely on some riders who might not want to track every piece of information.  To another group, they felt that coachsmart would save on battery life as there is no energy-guzzling function for it to feed to.  My personal preference is to have a device that could do everything.  An all-in-one device might be more expensive.  But the cost of buying every coachsmart accessory might eventually add up to the same amount as an all-in-one device.

The coachsmart is built with the O-Synce’s concepts of “Simplicity” and “Less is More” in mind.  At the heart of these visions, the coachsmart should work towards the simplification of things.  Unfortunately, it relies excessively on the iPhone and other accessories.  Perhaps, to set things right, it should at least have the ingenuity to work as a basic cyclometer.  Or else, I think I would be better off using my iPhone.

O-Synce accessories are needed to complement the coachsmart before data such as heart rate could be generated. Otherwise, the respect portions will be blank, as seen in the above illustration.