Thursday, November 20, 2008

Nike+ iPod Nano and wireless headset

Over the last couple of years, I've been in search of my personal holy grail in terms of running-related gadgetry. In short, I've been looking for:
  1. the lightest and most compact iPod that
  2. supports the Nike+ sensor/running shoe hardware, and
  3. supports the use of a wire-free, sweatproof stereo headset
Before I describe the solution, let me briefly explain why this is hard to do.

Currently, only two members of the iPod family support the Nike+ sensor: the Touch 2G and the Nano (I have a 2G model). The smallest iPod is the Shuffle but it doesn't work with Nike+. The iPod Touch 2G comes with built-in support for Nike+ but is considerably more bulky than the Nano, plus I already have a iPhone 3G which is basically the same hardware as the Touch 2G plus a phone (and GPS). Unfortunately, the iPhone is not Nike+ compatible.

Next problem: the Nano doesn't support wireless stereo because it doesn't have a bluetooth chip. Actually, none of Apple's iPod/iPhone models can play music wirelessly even if the model happens to have bluetooth. Go figure.

This means a separate bluetooth dongle is necessary. Fact: there is only one dock connector per iPod. The Nike+ receiver uses the dock connector. The iPod Touch 2G has the Nike+ receiver built inside, freeing the dock connector for a bluetooth adaptor, but the Nano needs to have the Nike+ receiver plugged in at the bottom. Unfortunately, the headphone socket is also next to the dock connector at the bottom of the Nano. Severe competition for limited space:

I settled on a refurbished, i.e. 40% off, Jaybird JB-200 headset. It is sweatproof (very important for long-term use). It may also be ordered with an iPod-specific or a generic headphone plug dongle. (I got both.) It also has a microphone for regular bluetooth headset functionality. And mostly importantly, it also claimed a useful 5 hours of battery life, comfortably long enough for a marathon.

Even at a discount, these things are by no means cheap. And bluetooth's limited bandwidth does not make for audiophile or critical listening quality, but when I'm running do you think I care? (There are high-fidelity headsets based on Kleer's proprietary wireless system but they don't advertise sweatproofing and there are other downsides.)

Funny thing happened inbetween my placing the order and receiving the product. iLounge came out with a negative (C-) review. Given the cost, if it had come out a few days earlier, I probably wouldn't have ordered.

The headset is a bit fiddly but stayed securely put on my midweek ten mile run. And it's wonderful not to have wires to snag and yank your earbuds out.

There is a wire that connects the receiver on the right side to the left side. I had to shorten it using a tie-wrap so it wouldn't drag on my neck and interfere with head-turning.

The generic Jaybird dongle is plugged into the Nano 2g earphone socket with the Nike+ receiver inside my Marware Sportsuit Relay case (which doesn't appear on Marware's website anymore):

The Marware case is wonderful because it allow the Nano to be wrist-mounted - which is more comfortable than bicep-mounting - and is specifically designed to hold the Nike+ receiver as well. Since we've gone wireless, the constant flicking of the earphone cable is no longer a problem.

The generic dongle is about twice the size of the iPod docking connector dongle because headphone sockets don't supply necessary power, so it needs to have an internal battery. The combination looks rather unwieldy but crucially doesn't interfere with running.

Bluetooth reception from the wrist is excellent without annoying interruptions. (Placed in a pocket, you will get dropouts as body parts may temporarily block the signal while running.) Sound quality is running compatible: certainly, the Nike+ voice announcements come through loud and clear, and music does not require a low noise floor given labored breathing.

As for the iPod-specific dongle, I use that with my iPhone 3G for music only. The built-in bluetooth of the iPhone is only for calls.

There are a lot of pieces to lose. Here is the docking station for charging both the headset and the generic bluetooth dongle:

UPDATE: November 24th, I had some problems with the increase volume button, it seems stuck on, As of November 25th, the headset is dead. It charges (red light goes on and then off), but it doesn't turn on anymore.


  1. Hugely helpful review on the Nike+ technology. Thanks a lot!

  2. I have been wondering if there is ANYTHING out there that allows wireless headset along with the use of the Nike+ system... you should email apple/nike your very thourough delimma... I would love to see a solution!!!

  3. I haven't found an "acceptable" solution for my Nano 2G.
    Just going to bite-the-bullet on an iTouch 4G.
    They've "finally"" integrated Nike+ "&" BT, about time!