HTC badly needs to get a Grip

Running the techno hills of Barcelona

HTC Grip

It's been a tough week, running-wise. The eagle-eyed of you might have noticed this column was absent last week as I've been in Barcelona for the annual smartphone carnage of Mobile World Congress.

But while I nearly drowned in new Galaxy phones and metal clad monstrosities, I did have time to do some really awesome things in Spain's fair city.

I'd really recommend the running tours around the historic sites at sunrise (if trotting along with a super-speedy-but-super-knowledgeable German man is your thing) or taking the short hop into Mount Tibidabo to run the Carretera de les Aigues trail – an amazing (and flat) track that spits you right out into a fantastic view of the entirety of Barcelona.

Me in the mountains
Voted one of the most beautiful trails in the world, don'tchaknow

But you know me: spending too long doing proper running without talking tech is never going to happen. And this week I've tried a couple of things from HTC - a brand you wouldn't normally associate with fitness, let along running - as the metal phone maker has begun to spread its wings.

Why is it doing that? Well, with the smartphone market becoming tougher and tougher as new players enter, the brand wants to push into new, emerging categories (it also launched a hugely exciting virtual reality headset in the HTC Vive) by using partnerships with the likes of Valve and Under Armour to get into new markets.

HTC Grip

The HTC Grip was a surprise inclusion at MWC, and I'm including it here as it's a curious device, despite not coming to the UK any time soon.

The Grip is a Nike FuelBand style device, an electronic bangle that looks like a futuristic ASBO device… albeit the kind of future we saw in Fifth Element rather than Demolition Man, with flashes of neon green, created in partnership with Under Armour.

It's like the Fuelband as well in that it comes in three sizes with spacers to allow for the optimum fit, although I can't see a time when I don't accidentally catch arm hair in it when shutting the clasp.

HTC Grip

The key thing here is it's GPS enabled, which allows it to be one part running watch and one part smart bracelet, connecting to the phone when you want it to and working perfectly happily as a standalone device when you don't.

I was a bit unsure as to what this would actually mean in real use - HTC seemed to be more focused on pointing to it as a good running companion, but yet the promotional pictures are all in the gym, bringing to mind that 'go hard or go home' mentality most brands try to sell their fitness goods under.

There's a small display on the top (that looks like E-ink, but is actually something called Passive Matrix OLED… think of it as the grandfather of the tech in Samsung's phones, and takes very little battery).

I'm a little confused by this thing from HTC, as it's not really clear what's different from other devices out there. The GPS tracking seems to be rudimentary, with info on your speed, distance etc, but no obvious training plans or similar from HTC or Under Armour.

HTC Grip

There's no heart rate monitor on the back, but you can connect to a Bluetooth chest strap if you're desperate for the info.

But again, there's not a lot of info on what that can do with the bangle beyond the app (Under Armour Recorder) giving post-run feedback, so I'm not sure of the benefit that brings beyond more info.

The HTC Grip can also do things like give you information on upcoming appointments, flip music tracks on your phone or check the time – although the last option isn't that useful as it's not an 'always on' display.

I really couldn't get my head around the swiping interface - there are no tactile buttons on offer here, so you're limited to slipping your finger around the screen and hoping for the best, and the same with the home button.

That said, it's not anywhere hear the final version, and without being able to take it out for a test drive it's not really fair to pass judgement on the HTC Grip.

In short: I like the look of this, a lot. It's nicely fitting and should bridge the gap between running watch and step tracker. But who needs that? It's designed for the 'elite athlete' – and surely they'd have something more whizzbang.

Plus it's not coming to the UK anyway – come on Under Armour, at least let us look at it.

Good for: The elite athlete that only just realised technology is a thing and lives in the US

HTC Re

HTC RE

You might be looking at this and thinking 'hmmm, that's not really for running is it?'. Or possible 'is that a tiny periscope / inhaler'?

But when HTC first showed me this, again as part of its new branching out into new non-phone product areas, the first thing I thought was how it would fix a massive problem I have when out running.

Think about it: the 16MP sensor and massive storage (through microSD) are just what I needed for taking a snap of the great moments when running without having to break stride to fumble for a smartphone.

The design is so ergonomic for holding it in one hand easily - again, perfect for the trails or the early morning jetlag-beating runs.

Except you do need to stop. This camera has zero ability to reduce blur with any kind of motion, leading to one run offering up 60 shots of something a drunk Picasso would have been ashamed of.

Re
You too can take amazing photos like this when you encounter horses down pitch black cycle paths at night

Even when stopped, you have to be really careful with the way you angle the HTC Re, as without a screen you're just guessing at framing. I found I had to take 10 shots per attempt and maybe one would come out OK.

It does perform very well when it comes to video though. Again, running isn't the best way to take a short movie (unless you're well into the Blair Witch Project) but when wandering it's not so bad.

I'm disappointed by the Re. I thought it would have been perfect, something I could hold for the entirety of a two hour run and avoid having to remember nice scenes, but it's not really capable for the task.

Good for: The casual jogger who's more into pics than PBs

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