What is a smart running watch and do I need it?
When I was a child there were two types of people (actually there were more but two make things easier for me). Guys that stayed home and played with gadgets and guys that went out and played sport. Things are not so clear anymore. Fast forward to today and technology companies are trying to make us believe that smart devices are essential tools for running and other sports. Does this mean that spending a packet on some high tech smartwatch by Garmin or buying the Xiaomi Mi Band 5 for running is going to improve the performance of an amateur runner? This is what I will explore in this article.
Summary of this post
The Mi Band 5 and more recently, the Mi Band 6 are cheap, comfy and easy to use. They offer a great deal of features that you may or may not need, as a newbie runner. However, unfortunately, they do not track distance accurately enough for people that have specific training goals. For that, you will need to buy something more expensive and reliable. Still, take nothing away from the Mi Band, it’s a great watch for casual runners, or even to use for everyday wear.
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From Xonix to Xiaomi
Don’t you miss the good old days when sports watches were big and chunky and the coolest feature they had was that blue light. They didn’t tell you your heart-rate or how many steps you took because you couldn’t care less. They were not linked to an app that tracked your performance and sleep. Smartphones didn’t even exist.
In the future, now, watches have become smaller and smarter but have they become better? In other words, if you are running to lose a few pounds or like me, to finish a big race, do you need a watch that’s going to mind boggle you with all these facts, figures and graphs?
Until now, I have never owned a smartwatch and if I could, I would ditch my smartphone too. For me, less is more. Okay, I guess I’m being a bit extreme. However, I don’t believe that new is always better. So, being the skeptic that I am, I was looking for a cheap, basic digital watch that I could use to train for the upcoming Istanbul Marathon. As a runner with no professional aspirations, all I needed from my watch was for it to tell me the time. I was well prepared to work out the distance myself and write it down in a small notebook.
To my surprise, my wife did some research online and purchased the Mi Band 5 for me. She’s really good at buying stuff online. Thank you Fay.
Xiaomi Mi Band 5: Initial thoughts
To be honest, I’ve never even heard of this brand before. However, the quality and build looked and felt good. I quite liked the simple design and easy-to-use interface. The touch screen also felt really smooth and fast. The only problem I had was that I found the dials to be too darn small.
I am by no means blind. I only use glasses for reading and using the computer for long periods. On the Mi Band 5, I can read the time but I feel like I need to concentrate to do so. I find this annoying. Especially during a run in a busy area where I need to be aware of my surroundings. I want my watch dials to be big, clear and in my face, like the old-school Xonix.
Also, they squeezed in some mircoscopic icons between the dials that are simply impossible to read off your wrist, no matter how good your vision is. So if you are someone who wears glasses or has a minor reading issue, stay away from the Mi Band 6, 5, 4 or any other. This is not the type of gift you would want to buy for your father who has bad eyesight. It’s a shame because the Mi Band 5 would be really easy to use, especially for the older folks.
First Run with my Mi Band 5
Thankfully, I was able to use the smartwatch without having to cart my smartphone along too (having to run with my phone would have been a clear deal-breaker). Although, some features were not available due to the watch not having built-in GPS. After selecting the running option, I was once again annoyed by how small the info is. If you are someone that is obsessed with looking at your time, distance and heart rate, maybe this is not the best watch for you. Also, you need to touch the screen to turn it on for a few seconds. This would be a bother if I had a bottle of water in the other hand.
- The band is really light and comfortable.
- The timer would automatically stop and vibrate each time I stopped moving. For example, when waiting to cross a road. Once I began to move again it would automatically continue.
- It also gave me a vibe at every 1 kilometre interval and showed me the time it took. I thought that was cool. This feature is also customizable. You can set an alert for a fixed time or distance.
- The number of steps and heart-rate throughout the run were also calculated. Personally, I don’t see these as beneficial in any way.
Check Xiaomi Mi Band 6 price on Amazon
- The distance tracking is far too inaccurate for running. I would run the same distance 5 days in a row and sometimes get discrepencies of up to 100 meters per kilometer.
- The writing on the running interface is kind of small, even for someone with good vision.
- Brightness is not auto-adjustable.
- There’s no way to keep the screen on. This may sound silly, but I think it is a problem that the screen shuts off after a few seconds and the only way to turn it on is by touch. So, if I’m running with water in my other hand, I need to hit the watch against my side to wake it up.
The Mi Band 5 compared to other smartwatches
The Mi Band 5 cost 267TL in Turkey, which is less than 40USD. It’s not going to break the bank. It is a good looking watch that doesn’t cost much more than a regular Casio. But how does it match up to the big players like Garmin and Fitbit. I compared the Mi Band features with a colleague who has a similar looking Fitbit. The features are pretty similar, without going into too much detail. About the Garmin, it has bigger dials, which is awesome but it also costs 100s of dollars.
Mi Band 6 update
I didn’t buy the Mi band 6 and I probably won’t since my 5 still looks and works just as well as the day I bought it, a year ago. This is a good thing. What’s not so good is that reviews of the Mi Band 6 show that it is still not tracking runs accurately enough, which is really a shame. I guess it’s just not made and priced to be a proper runner’s watch.
Check Garmin price on Amazon
If you are a beginner, like me, who is looking to finish your first marathon, anything will do. Spending lots of money on a fancy watch aint gonna take you past the finish line and neither will dwelling about too many smartwatch stats. However, it can’t be stressed enough that the distance tracking on Mi Band shouldn’t be trusted! I think the Mi Band 5 and 6, for that matter, is perfect for people who run just for fitness, not races, or take long walks in the park.
I think the Mi band is good looking and good value for money. It has great battery life but the dials are too small for me. If you are looking for a watch that will give you more random stats like stride length, you should seek professional help. If you still have an old Casio, it will do the job. If you really want to improve your running times, then go and buy something expensive. It’s expensive for a reason. I’m still saving for a decent running watch and once I have got it and run with it, I’ll let you know if it’s really worth it.