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printed June 23, 2017
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Hands on with the New Balance RunIQ Running Watch

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Jan 7, 2017, 12:38 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

New Balance partnered with Intel and Strava to create the runner-focused RunIQ. This smartwatch runs Android Wear and includes core features such as GPS and a heart rate monitor. Here are Phone Scoop's first impressions.

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The RunIQ from New Balance is an Android-based smartwatch that specifically targets runners. The watch is a collaboration between New Balance, Intel, and Strava. It hopes to gain traction with people who prioritize fitness over the connected features typically associated with smartwatches, though it offers those tools, as well.

There's no question the RunIQ is a sport watch. It is made from hard plastics and silicon, it features oversized buttons that are easy to use, and it is water resistant for those times when you get caught running in a downpour. The RunIQ is not overly fancy, and in fact is downright simple in appearance. The core watch is available only in a dark gray color, but a wide variety of colored, silicon straps are available (orange, green blue, purple, red). New Balance says the RunIQ is compatible with any standard 22mm strap, so you can swap them out if you want.

New Balance RunIQ  

I like that the RunIQ keeps the size under control. Compared to the Casio WSD-F20, the RunIQ is downright dainty. It is lightweight and not too wide. It should be comfortable enough for most people. The materials are decent, but not the best. The hard plastic of the main watch body is certainly strong, but the silicon straps felt a bit flimsy to me.

Three hardware buttons are located on the right side of the watch. They are quite large and easy to find and use, even when wearing gloves. The travel and feedback on the upper and lower buttons is just okay, but the large, central button works very well.

An optical heart rate monitor is positioned on the bottom of the watch. New Balance took a slightly unique approach with the design of the underbelly. Typically, wearables with optical heart rate monitors need to be worn tightly in order to work well. Optical heart rate monitors rely on darkness, hence the need to be snuffed against your wrist. New Balance added a donut-shaped buffer around the heart rate monitor. New Balance says this lets people wear the watch at a comfortable degree of snugness while still blocking enough light so the heart rate monitor works properly.

New Balance didn't do anything fancy with the display. Like nearly all Android smartwatches, the display measures 1.39 inches an has 360 x 360 resolution. The unit we examined looked good. The size/resolution combo mean on-screen elements are plenty sharp. Indoors, the brightness appeared to be good but we were unable to see just how well the display does outdoors under the sun.

The RunIQ will ship with Android Wear 1.2 aboard, but New Balance insists the watch will be updated to Android Wear 2.0 as soon as Google releases the refreshed platform. The unit we saw was still running Android Wear 1.2. The core user experience (settings, apps, menus, controls) works just like any other Android Wear smartwatch. New Balance has added a significant number of its own fitness-focused functions for running.

Chiefly, the RunIQ offers Strava, which is a fitness app available to Android and iOS devices. Strava allows users to track workouts and share them with an online community. Beyond Strava, the RunIQ has GPS for tracking runs, walks, and hikes. The heart rate monitor can hook into workouts, too, for tracking fitness levels and performance. The wearable includes a wide variety of stopwatches and other timing functions, including easy controls for managing laps when running loops. I didn't see any performance issues with the unit on hand in Las Vegas, but it will be critical to see how the RunIQ functions with Android Wear 2.0 aboard.

Interface  

New Balance didn't share too many specifications for the watch. We know it runs an Intel processor, but not which one. We also know that it has 24 hours of normal battery life, but only 5 hours of battery life when using GPS and the heart rate monitor at the same time. That's not so great.

The price is decent at $299. That puts it inline with most other modern Android Wear devices, and much less than that of Casio's $500 F20. New Balance says the RunIQ will ship before February 1.

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