As mentioned back in January, Nielsen-Kellerman have now released their new Speedcoach GPS model 2 which allows you to set up workouts on the unit and, more importantly, also released their Link PC software which allows you to download your workout data for later review, a feature that was on the old NK Speedcoach Gold and XL range but was sadly omitted from the first generation NK GPS. I picked one up to do a review of the new features and see if it is a worthwhile upgrade from the first model.
The GPS Model 2 (or GPS2) is available in two options, the standard GPS2 or the GPS2 with training pack, the features of which are outlined below:
- 5Ghz GPS Chip
- Impeller speed measurement (with the correct fittings)
- Accelerometer rate meter (no reed switch required)
- Improved Data Recall and Interval Summaries — 25 hours of memory
- Upgradeable Firmware
- Auto Backlight
GPS2 with training pack (in addition to the above)
- Programmable Workouts (Training Pack only)
- Heart Rate (Training Pack only)
- Compatible with LiNK – NK’s connected environment of apps, web analytics, and sensors (Training Pack only)
Its worth noting that the training pack features are all able to be activated via a firmware update, so if you are looking to save money initially then you can buy the standard GPS2 and then update it at a later date by buying this, but it does mean you are paying double for the training pack features ($100 via upgrade rather than $50 at initial purchase). Personally I would recommend getting the training pack update straight away if you think you’d ever be interested in using those features.
When you recieve the GPS2 it comes in its own bag as shown below (phot shows both models of the GPS2)
And includes the following things
- The NK Speedcoach GPS2 unit
- Charger cable and Plug
- Elasticated mount (for attaching to a wing rigger)
- Carry Case
- Manual and Instructions
- The coloured bumper case you had chosen
If you bought the model with the training pack it also includes an NK USB Bluetooth 4.0 dongle which is used to sync the GPS2 with the LiNK software on your PC
Note that this is a bluetooth 4.0 (or bluetooth smart) dongle, so not the common bluetooth that Windows PC’s include which is normally Bluetooth 2.1. Bluetooth Smart is currently pretty rare in PC’s and Laptops (see a list here) which is why NK include the dongle with the pack as otherwise you arent able to sync the speedcoach with your PC. Its a little bit of a pain as the Dongle is tiny and could be very easy to lose! But the good news is that Bluetooth Smart is currently included in almost all the new mobile devices available nowerdays (mobile phones, tablets etc) and newer laptops like the Macbook and Microsoft surface have bluetooth smart built in, so in future it will hopefully be possible to sync the Speedcoach with the LiNK software without the Dongle.
Looks wise the GPS2 looks exactly the same as the GPS1 (here’s the two side by side)
Pretty indistinguishable no? However once you turn them you can see the difference in that the GPS2 has the higher firmware version and, in my model, mentions the training pack firmware that is installed.
Using the GPS2
Works in exactly the same way as the GPS1, along the top of the device are 4 buttons which, from left to right, act as a:
- “stop/start” button, or a “back” button when in the menu
- Scroll through different options in the bottom left display
- Scroll through different options in the bottom right display
- A select/forward button when in the menu
Relatively simple and once you’ve had hands on time I find you quickly pick up how to set it up for use.
In order to turn on the GPS2, you press and hold the top left button after which the screen displays a black band that states the device is stopped and the clock is halted, one press of the left hand button switches the device to ready and then rowing automaticlaly starts the clock. Another press stops the GPS2 and if you hold the button down then you get a reset option (where the current data shown on the screen is reset but the saved data in the memory is not) or hold it down for longer and you get the “off” option which turns off the device when you release the button. The screen has very good contrast and so its easy to read even in direct sunlight
Rate is picked up by an internal accelerometer and ive never had any issues with this over the old reed switch setup that NK used in older models, even dropping the rate down to 16 spm is picked up well so no concerns there.
If you click the far right button, you are taken into the main menu and you are presented with the following list of options
- Data recall to scroll through the data recorded in the memory
- Data LiNK you select when connecting the speedcoach to the LiNK software
- Setup goes into further setup
- About tells you more specific information on the speedcoach
If you click on setup then you get the option to change the speed input (impeller/GPS) and also set up a HRM which is as difficult as putting the HR Monitor on (any Bluetooth smart belt will do) and then selecting it from the list! Speed/distance setup changes how the information is displayed, auto pause stops the clock when you stop rowing and then advanced allows further tweaking
Under advanced the two most important settings are Impeller Calibration and GPS Speed Smoothing. GPS Speed Smoothing means setting the number of strokes it will average the speed over and present it to you, it is useful to have some smoothing as boat speed is quite variable stroke by stroke, so smoothing will make it easier to get a consistent speed.
Impeller calibration is very useful for rowing on moving water (ie a river) where a GPS is less useful. This is because a GPS measures your speed relative to the ground so when a stream is involved you get incorrect readings of speed. A good example of this is a case where you are racing into a stream that exactly matches your racing speed, on the a GPS this registers your speed as 0 m/s but it is not as you are racing hard! An impeller however measures your speed relative to the water that you are passing through, so ignores the stream and, in the example given above, would be giving you your correct boat speed.
The calibration of the impeller depends on the location of the impeller on the bull however, so NK has a clever solution where the GPS2 can “self calibrate” essentially by rowing a set difference upstream then downstream and comparing the GPS data with the impeller data and suggesting a calibration value.
So that’s diving through the menu’s of the GPS2, going back to The screen of the front (where you’ll be spending most of your time!) you’ll find it is split into 3 rows, a thin row at the top and then two larger rows that is split into two rectangles each.
Running from the top down – The top row shows the time and, in the model with the trainingpack, a small heart that shows either that a Bluetooth smart heartrate belt isn’t attached (clear) or that one is (black). It also shows whether the Speedcoach is presenting the speed/distance information from the GPS or Impeller by stating GPS or IMP, and finally it shows the battery level
The middle row shows the rate on the left hand side, and the current speed on the right hand side
The bottom row can display 2 pieces (one in either square) of user selectable information from the following list
- Chrono (workout time)
- Distance per stroke
- Average Split
- Heart Rate (only in training pack model)
This is essentially the same layout that NK has had for years on their speedcoaches so if you’ve ever used an NK before you’ll probably be familiar with how it is laid out, personally I think it is a good way to present the information but often find I wish there was an option to scroll through the data displayed in the bottom two panes as you were rowing so you could get to see more information than just two pieces, for example when doing a long UT2 paddle you’d be interested to see your HR and time, but distance and average split would be of interest too, perhaps (if it’s possible) a future firmware update might make you able to set a rotation time on these panes so that every 5-10 seconds it switches to the next piece of information so you are able to see everything without having to stop and press buttons
Setting up workouts
Setting up and running a workout is remarkably easy and can be done directly in the speed coach menu.
Selecting workout shows the first page where you can either run the last workout you ran on the device, do a single distance or single time or set up an interval session
Within the intervals menu there are a 6 sessions programmed it, and although you can change all of them to whatever sessions you like, you can only have a max of 6 sessions programmed at any one time
Selecting one of the workouts you can either run the workout, or change it as you wish
- Countdown – runs a countdown into the piece for a set number of seconds, useful for a “rolling start”
- Intervals – number of intervals you are running
- Work – length of work (seconds/meters)
- Rest (seconds/meters)
- Number of sets
All making it very easy to set up and run whatever workout you want
LiNK is the name NK has given to the planned range of software that will support the GPS2 (and potentially any other piece of hardware that comes out with LiNK support), currently it only comprises of a Windows PC software (XP, 7, 8, 8.1) which I will go over here, but Mac support is being worked on and my understanding is that eventually an .apk will become available which means that mobile app developers could get involved with developing mobile apps to make it easier to review workouts when out and about. NK themselves state that they are open to suggestions from users so if you pick one up, get in touch with them to ask for the features you want to see!
As the windows PC software is currently a first release it really is quite simple at the moment and can be downloaded here, they have a great set of videos explaining how to use the software so you can check those out for further information on using the windows software, but basically it really is as simple as activating the Sync setting in the speedcoach GPS2 menu
Then on the windows software you’ll see your speed coach so you can select it (it’ll even give you the option to rename it)
Then it will export the workout data to your PC
Once it’s in the NK windows software you can then click on the workout you’re interested in reviewing and click export to file
This exports an excel file which displays the workout data in a simple table that you can then review.
A really nice feature is that these grade will also spit out a second file which is a .FIT format. This includes all the same stroke rate/heart rate data along with speed data and location data taken from the GPS which you can then upload to the training software of your choice (e.g. trainingpeaks, sportlyzer, garmin) which is extremely helpful if you are looking to collect all your workout data on one site and you already use a site like garmin to track cross training data. It’s worth noting this file is created even if you were using the Impeller rather than the GPS, as it just tracks the GPS in the background.
One interesting thing here then is that it is actually possible to review both the GPS and impeller data and see thing like the course that you took and also if you were racing on a river, how much stream there was on that day (as the GPS would measure the distance in relation to the ground/is assuming no stream, where as a correctly calibrated impeller measures the speed in relation to the water around you so ignores the stream), as an example this weekend I raced in a head race upstream which was 2000m on the GPS, but 2140m on the impeller, due to the fact I was racing into the stream. Currently you can only work this out manually but perhaps future software/apps could automatically show the rivers stream so you can take that into account.
When I started using the first SpeedCoach GPS, it was obvious that NK had created a great speedcoach that is simple to use, displayed the important information clearly and usefully as possible and allowed a lot of flexability for use by not needing a reed switch for rating (so is easily moved between seats) and by allowing speed to be measured by GPS or an Impeller, so for racing you could easily remove the Impeller to reduce drag but still get speed readings from the GPS, despite how great the first model was however I always felt it was held back by not being able to download and review the outing data, or be able to set workout intervals to automatically run through on the water – two features that were in the earlier XL and Speedcoach gold models and which made it a choice between which was more important to you (GPS or workout/data review).
Now however the Speedcoach GPS2 has resolved this issue and means that you can get one device that does it all. That’s not to say that the XL models are now redundant as the radio feature of the XL2 and XL4 is still a useful coaching tool, and if youre not interested in using the GPS feature then they are still a good option to consider, but as an all in one device for rowers and coxes GPS2 is currently the NK device to get.
Some suggestions to NK/developers working on LiNK software to potentially improve the GPS2:
- Implement an option to add a rotation time for the bottom two panes so that every 5-10 seconds they scroll through the outing data as you are rowing, so that you aren’t stuck on the data panes that you chose when you started rowing (or that you have to stop to change them)
- Allow the Windows LiNK software an option to use internal Bluetooth 4.0 when your laptop has it – My windows tablet has Bluetooth 4.0 but currently theres no way for me to make the LiNK software use it instead of the Dongle!
- Provide the .apk to other developers so that mobile apps can be developed to sync with the NK GPS so you don’t have to break out the laptop!
- When the device is collecting Impeller/GPS data, programme the LiNK software could automatically calculate the strength of the stream so that race performances on a river can be compared