Hands on: Sony Smart B-Trainer review

Using music intelligently to make you run faster

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Our Early Verdict

A clever idea from Sony - if the coaching plans are genuinely useful, could be a good item for runners who love music.

For

  • Sleek design
  • Integrated GPS
  • Smart music playback

Against

  • Will probably be expensive
  • App needs work
  • No Spotify integration

If there's something runners like, it's more toys to play with when pootling around the streets and fields of the world.

With that in mind, the new Sony Smart B Trainer prototype (B stands for Beat, apparently) offers a lot of new things to play with - well, it offers the same things most will be used to, but packages them in a more interesting way.

The B Trainer is a headset that looks a lot like the W Series, Sony's head-based Walkman that did nothing more than shoving music into your skull. The new device is much more advanced, packing in GPS, heart rate monitor and (likely) 16GB of space for your music.

Sony Smart B Trainer review

But that's only the basic specs. What's impressive is the B Trainer is able to listen to different training plans (such as fat burn or cardio workout) and coach you to get to those levels. Based on your speed and heart rate, it will recommend when to speed up and slow down, which means real time feedback when you need it.

This isn't a new trick, with Adidas MiCoach doing such a thing for years and already assimilating the ability into the SmartRun watch, but it's cool to see it all packaged up in one place - and it's also got an even cooler trick up its sleeve.

Sony Smart B Trainer review

If you're looking to run faster (or slower, if you're training for a specific distance) the B Trainer will play an appropriate song to help get you to the right level. Sony hasn't decided whether to do this by simply choosing the beats per minute of the tracks or analysing how you listen to music (most people have music that makes them run faster) and playing it at the right time, but it's a nice idea.

The fit is really snug and the band, which loops around behind the head, also does a half-decent job of keeping things clamped to the head. I didn't get a chance to try it at speed, but I got the feeling it wouldn't be constantly falling out.

Sony Smart B Trainer review

The button configurations are easy to use as well, meaning you can skip tracks or even take calls from your phone (if connected, it can work autonomously obviously) without having to miss a step / falling over because you're messing about with a touch panel.

And for the more advanced the B Trainer can even accept (and coach you through) interval training, which is really handy if you're looking to put together a more comprehensive program to get your fitness up.

We liked

While the price hasn't been mentioned for these new headphones, which is a key piece of the puzzle, the B Trainer is a nice idea, packing a lot of technology into what was just an MP3 player. The voice coaching is really helpful on the go, and being able to train using heart rate while also being able to properly track your route and distance is neat.

We disliked

Perhaps unfair to mention this year, but using the ear to measure heart rate hasn't been the most accurate in my tests. It's not really fair as I've not tested these out properly to measure how good the accuracy is, but I'm not overly hopeful.

It'd be great to see Spotify or similar on board here, as many people are starting to eschew the music collection, and that could suggest playlists for the device more effectively than having to guess from your own music.

Early verdict

The Sony Smart B trainer is a good idea, and one that could appeal a lot to new runners who aren't able to work out their own training plans.

The accompanying app is a little bare bones at the moment, and will probably bring a lot more functionality when these are released in Spring 2015, but it still seems to be a good way to get people off the sofa and into their trainers - plus if these headphones can actually give the right music at the right time Sony will have a really impressive product on its hands.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Phones and Tablets Editor

Gareth (Twitter, Google+) has been part of the mobile phone industry from the era of the brick to the tiny device in the pocket... and now watching them grow back up to behemothic proportions once more. He's spent five years dissecting all the top phones in the world as TechRadar's Phones and Tablets Editor, and still can't resist answering the dreaded question - "which new phone should I get?" - with 15 choices.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.