From the workshop: review of SmartHalo 2
Updated: 6 days ago
⚠ IMPORTANT UPDATE ⚠ At November 15th 2021 SmartHalo announced that they are out of cash and that they would close shop, including taking down the back-end services that the SmartHalos rely on. We gather from the statement that this basically will render SmartHalo devices useless. See their full statement here. There is an ongoing community effort to see what can be done about the situation.
The SmartHalo team recently dropped a new generation of their cycling device, the SmartHalo 2. We have gotten our hands on a few of these devices and over the last couple of days we have been busy testing them for all you readers who might be considering buying one of your own.
SmartHalo 2 is a bike computer and is intended to be used as a biking buddy. It will help with navigation and fitness tracking and it also has a built-in headlight. It communicates with your smartphone via bluetooth and can alert you if someone calls or texts. It even protects your bike with an outrageuosly loud anti-theft alarm.
The SmartHalo 2 started as a Kickstarter campaign, which means that the creators shared their vision for the SmartHalo 2 with the communities who came together to fund them. As Blu Acciaio is meant to be a positive force, helping riders boost their physical activity and taking on new challenges, we simply had to give our support to this project. It turned out that getting hold of the devices wasn't as easy as we had anticipated back in June 2019 when we placed our order.
It took more than two years of patiently waiting until the devices finally arrived at our HQ late July 2021. This felt like an insanely long waiting time and recently we had started to worry whether the technology would be outdated once they arrived. But considering that this is a Kickstarter project and that we all have been dealing with Covid, we should probably give the team some slack. And now that the Halo's are here, there are no signs of outdated technology with these devices, quite the contrary - at a first glance they seem super nice!
What follows here is laymans type of review, with emphasis on how this device actually works in practice. Check out SmartHalos site for listings of the technical specifications and features of the device.
We are not paid or sponsored to write this article.
Build quality and mounting
The SmartHalo 2 arrives in a nice box, giving it a very exclusive feeling right from the start. The box contained only necessary stuff, including the unit itself, a quad lock and various tools for mounting, a quarter lock adapter, a charging cable and an instructions manual. This makes it easy to get an overview of the content and getting the unit setup.
The unit itself
With its sleek design, dark casing and colorful leds, we really like the look and feel of the SmartHalo 2 unit. It has a big circular screen of 128x64 pixels where data about the ride are displayed, e.g. current speed, average speed, elapsed time, distance and so forth. The data is displayed in the middle, while the edges consist of 24 high intensity RGB leds that dynamically visualises changes in the currently selected data type, for instance speed. Only one data type may be displayed at the time, but changing what to view is easily done by swiping. In front it has a head light which turns on automatically when dark. The light can also be controlled manually, and the brightness can be set through the app.
The SmartHalo 2 comes with a proprietary mounting system, which includes a magnetic key. We have not tried ourselves, but according to SmartHalo its not possible to remove the SmartHalo 2 from the mount if the magnetic key is not in place. A nifty feature indeed, particularly combined with the anti-theft feature. More on that later.
If you are swapping between different bikes, as we are, the SmartHalo 2 also comes with an adapter that makes is compatible with the Garmin quad lock mount.
Especially the first few times we tried to mount the unit it was quite hard to click the SmartHalo 2 into place and we had to use a bit of force. We haven't broken any of our devices yet, but we have read about other people who have had their mounts snapped this way, rendering their units unusable. We applied a tad of some very light oil, e.g. for sewing machines, on the mounting plates, and that seemed to help. It seems like it also gets a bit easier as you mount and unmount and few times, so just be careful the first few times.
With it's simple and elegant design the device is very easy to use and it is quite responsive as well. As we have only tested it for a few days, we are not quit sure about the performance of the battery. We read somewhere that it should last 10 hours. We havent managed to squeeze that kind of time out of the battery so far. We are closer to 7-8 hours, but we still find that to be acceptable. We did however encounter a bug, being that the battery indicator shows 100%, regardless of battery state. In any case, the SmartHalo team is still working on optimising battery usage. There is a certain battery drain on the smartphone, but not really a big issue it seems. Still, good idea to kill the app when not out riding. Especially if you keep your bike in your apartment. If not the device will never turn off. The SmartHalo 2 has no on/off button. Instead it uses the smartphones bluetooth connection to determine when it should activate or deactivate.
The device is supposed to be weatherproof and so far we have tested it in pouring rain where it performed very well. The only limitation here was that it was a bit harder to swipe between the various data types when the device was wet.
Upon installation and initial upgrade of firmware, the SmartHalo 2 seemed to be a bit slow, especially for one of the devices we received. When pairing the unit we were told that this could take up to 10 minutes, but the whole process took nearly 40 minutes. Afterwards the unit seems to take quite some time to charge, so we need to be particularly patient here. However, once fully charged the unit seems to work nicely and there are no lags when out riding and swiping through the different modes. On the contrary, everything feels very smooth.
Another thing that we found a bit annoying is that when we received phone calls, the unit kept on ringing even after we had picked up the phone and we had to answer the phone on the unit as well to make it stop. We assume that these kinds of bugs will be fixed during the coming firmware upgrades.
The device communicates with your smartphone through the SmartHalo app. We have only tried the Andriod version and do not have any experience with the iOS version. The app is easy and intuitive to use, and you can easily jump between the various features; navigation, light settings, alarm settings, fitness and assistant. All of these features can be customized to suit every rider's personal preferences.
Using the app, you can also connect and upload ride data to Strava, automatically or manually. So far Strava seems to be the only partner integration, but it wouldn't be surprising if the SmartHalo team also included others over time, e.g. Komoot. It seems it is not possible to export GPX-files, so its a bit of a lock-in there. On the other hand, who cares, as long as its on Strava.. And you could of course export the GPX from Strava, after its been uploaded there.
There are two different navigation modes; turn-by-turn and compass. Both seem to be working fine and are easy to follow. SmartHalo 2 also provides routes that are custom made for cyclists and lets you choose between fastest, flattest and safest route, or will give a recommendation based on all three. It is also possible to import and use a GPX-route, if you already created one. When we tried this feature, we ran into some trouble with the navigation. The unit wanted us to go back to start all the time, instead of heading out on our ride. After restarting the route three times, we managed to get it working. SmartHalo also has a parked bike feature that will come in handy if you forgot where you parked your bike. It is however not possible to track your bike, in case it is stolen, as that would require a separate SIM-card in the SmartHalo 2 itself.
One thing we really liked about the SmartHalo 2 is that it starts tracking fitness data immediately as you start riding, no need to push any buttons. It keeps track of all your stats; distance, time, average speed, calories and more. You can easily swap between the different data types as you ride or you can look at them afterwards in the app. Maybe in the category for fun facts more than usefull for fitness purposes, but the app also calculates C02 spared.
A quite major drawback with the auto-record feature is that it will auto-end rides if left idle for more than 2 minutes. So far we haven't found any way to pause a ride. This means that if you have several short stops during a ride of lets say 20 km, it will be split into several recordings. Because of this we wouldn't recommend using the device as an alternative to Strava or the likes just yet. And also, it lacks the option for HR-sensor and many of the features you would expect from a fitness app, so probably its not so relevant for training rides in any case. On the other hand, this device is probably more intended for daily commutes than training rides, so not really a big problem with the missing HR and fitness features. But the mentioned auto pause is definitely a drawback, also for commutes. Hopefully this will be fixed in future updates. We already sent in a request to the SmartHalo Team.
The anti-theft looking mechanism is also very cool, enabling us to leave the unit on our bike at all times. We have only tried this indoors, but the alarm seems to be very responsive and with 100dB the sound was definitely loud enough to scare away any would be thieves lurking around.
The assistant lets you customize your device to some extent, by selecting witch notifications to get while riding and setting shortcuts for your favorite features. We find this very helpful.
Conclusions and wish list
After testing the SmartHalo 2 for a few days, our conclusion is that we would definitely recommend it for commuting. With it's features the unit is great for these kind of city and maybe even intercity rides. Because of the missing HR option and also the lack of other fitness features, we don't find it as suitable for exercising.
The biggest drawback in our opinion is that the unit auto-ends rides, splitting them into several recordings. Our wish to the SmartHalo team is that they will fix this - then it will be an excellent device for all commuters out there.
As a final remark, this device is still in its early days, so you should expect to encounter a few minor bugs and quirks here and there. The navigation being a little rough around the edges is one example. Another example is that the bluetooth connection seems a little bit unstable. Since the SmartHalo 2 heavily relies on the bluetooth connection, particularly to decide when to sleep or to activate, that is a bit problematic. But on the other hand, that problem may in fact be caused by aggressive power controls on our smartphones, killing apps in the bakground, and not the Smarthalo 2 itself. In any case, the SmartHalo team seems committed to release future firmware upgrades and new version of the app, so we are not worried.