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Oakley Radar Pace review: Smart sunglasses are actually a great coach

This is the magic of the Radar Pace. Thanks to Intel's Real Speech technology, you can ask and respond to questions in a natural way. You can ask a question, such as, "How's my pace?" and then follow it up with, "Is that good?" Think of it as Alexa for fitness.

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Voice controls are helpful, but they're also sometimes buggy. The glasses would sometimes pick up random grunts or surround noise as questions, dimming my music and throwing me off my rhythm. Most of the time, though, it accurately heard and responded to my commands. Here are just some of the questions you can ask:

  • "How far have I gone?"
  • "How am I doing?"
  • "What's my heart rate?"
  • "How long is this run?"
  • "Why is stride rate important?"
  • "How can I improve my performance?"
  • "What's the time?"

Oddly enough, you can't use your voice to change songs or even pause your workout. The glasses auto-pause workouts when you stop moving, but there tends to be a slight delay in reaction time, which gets annoying in stop-and-go New York. That's my biggest concern with voice control outdoors: it won't always be practical, or even effective.

Creating a training program

Workout data is analyzed in real time and fed back to the glasses via the Radar Pace phone app. The app provides the option to go for a freeform run or bike ride, or to create a training program for either running or cycling. It's either one or the other, though, there isn't the option to create a training plan for both.

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The setup is fairly simple. You choose your experience level, which ranges from first-time runner to serious podium hunter, and then choose what you're training for, a race or general fitness. You then pick which days you want to workout -- don't worry, it will also recommend the number of days required to achieve your goal.

From there, the Radar Pace will create a personally tailored workout plan. Depending on your goal, it will provide a schedule of how long and how hard you should run and bike each day. It will even adapt if you miss a workout, making runs or rides later in the week longer to make up for it. This is something I've seen before from companies like Polar and Nike, but the Radar Pace's highlight feature is the midworkout voice coaching, which is a feature others lack.

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The downside

Oakley's phone app also needs work. I experienced occasional connection issues with my iPhone SE on iOS 10 (Android was fine). The Radar Pace would randomly disconnect midrun and wouldn't credit me with the miles I ran, which would affect my training plan. The app also doesn't sync with Strava, Garmin or other popular training apps. You are instead forced to manually export and import files from one app to another.

The only way to get credit for workouts is to run or bike while wearing the Radar Pace. That's a problem. I do a lot of my winter runs on the treadmill or when it's dark out. The sunglasses come with an extra set of clear lenses, but it still feels ridiculous wearing them (and talking to them) indoors or in the dark.

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Battery life will vary based on usage. Listening to music will drop it down to around 4 hours, but otherwise you can expect up to 6 hours, which is the same as the Bose SoundSport Wireless headphones. I generally saw between 3 and 4 hours when listening to music and having a heart-rate chest strap paired, which was fine for running but not long enough for some of my long bike workouts.

Audio coaching is the future

The Radar Pace is an impressive idea. Its real-time feedback kept me on pace and made me conscious about shortening my stride. Will this make me a better runner in the long run? I don't yet know, but this surely is the most impressive coaching and training gadget I've tested in recent memory.

But there are obvious downsides. It's not something everyone will necessarily want to wear, and voice-only interactions can make for awkward moments. A high price limits the appeal, too. Sure, a normal pair of Oakley sunglasses cost around $200 (sometimes more), while a good pair of Bluetooth headphones can go for $100, which means you're really only paying $150 for the bonus coaching features. Real human coaches can cost upward of $200 a month. Will this coaching software be as good in the long run? It's unlikely, but it's much cheaper.

The Radar Pace is intriguing. It needs better support for third-party apps, and it needs to be more responsive, too. I'm not the kind of person who would buy expensive sunglasses, and I don't workout with music or my phone. But the Radar Pace's ability to deliver real-time data is unprecedented. It's made me a believer in audio feedback as a killer fitness tool.

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