Sunday, July 25, 2010

Product Review - Saris Joule 2.0

Is the Joule a real Jewel?

I was persuaded to place my Garmin 705 on the shelf and give Saris’ Joule 2.0 a test. Typically, when I test a product I give it a good two-month run. Also rate the product on ease of use on the bike, post ride and support, if required.

My initial setup was Zipp 303s with a Powertap SL+, Garmin 705, Garmin cadence sensor, and TrainingPeaks WKO+ software (loaded on a Windows 7 computer). My test setup was the same Powertap SL+, Joule 2.0, WKO+ and Saris’ Power Agent. In many ways I am reviewing several products at once, Joule 2.0 and Power Agent.

At the beginning of my use in May , Training Peaks had not worked out their issues with using their Device Agent, so to get the data from the Joule to WKO+ took a few steps but this was just a ease of use issue. By July Training Peaks fully supported Joule direct download and works very well. Connect the Joule to the computer, start WKO+, hit download from device and works great.

Power Agent is a completely different animal. This is one piece of software that has potential but has been problematic from the beginning. The first issue that I had was during the device download I would get an error message that stated that there were “one or more rides have not been saved”, I still have not figured out this one. What happens if you get this error, you cannot pull the information into Power Agent. Fortunately, WKO+ does not have this error and can download the information, so the data is not lost, just not in Power Agent. Side note, if you still want it there you can export from WKO+ to a CSV file and import it to Power Agent, works but not ideal. The next issue is more of a Windows 7 and Joule issue, but to get the Joule to eject or “be safely removed” you are out of luck, almost always it errors out, so each time after you are finished you have to disconnect and get the Windows device eject error. My concern was that this could be corrupting data.

Now, on to the Joule itself. The unit was about the same size as the Garmin 705, so no concerns there. The first two positives that I found right out of the box was the ability to pair several Powertaps and the TSS function. So I could instantly setup my Zipp 303s and 404s (two different Powertaps). Thus when I went for a ride or race, select which Powertap that you have and it pairs. No more watching Garmin try to figure this out, or having to pedal a quarter mile away from a teammate while the Garmin figures out which Powertap to pair with. I LOVE this feature. As far as TSS, this has been really nice when my coach Kirk tells me that my ride should have a TSS of greater than 150, I can focus my, between interval efforts, to support this goal. The Garmin 705 does not calculate TSS, so you are forced to figure this out long after the ride is complete.

But these were the only to functions that I found positive with the Joule. I had cadence spikes being registered on the Joule but that was eventually solved by adding the $49 additional Saris cadence sensor, the cadence spikes probably occurred with the Garmin 705 but since I was using the Garmin cadence sensor I was pulling the measured data from there not the calculated cadence from the Powertap. So if you are using the Joule with the Powertap, add the cadence sensor. Side note, Garmin Cadence Sensor is not ANT+ so you cannot use it with the Joule 2.0, but not Saris issue, Garmin’s.

Ease of use became a little issue for me too on the Joule. I was use to the Gamin being setup where if the bike rolls the Garmin comes on and collects data. The Joule’s requirement to hit the mode button and Stop and Save or Stop and Delete or the Joule going to sleep and not waking until you hit the mode button was a little annoying. Got it. It’s a learning curve; I am pretty good about doing this now but did lose a bunch of data because of it.

The Garmin and the Joule both fail pretty miserably on workouts. Grant it, this might be because of my frustration on the other parts of the Joule that I did not spend a lot of time trying to figure it out but my initial reaction is that it was not very user friendly. You also have to use Power Agent to setup a workout before heading out and executing.

Saris’s saving grace? Technical support! I could go on for pages on the superior support that they provide for their products. I think by the end of my two-month journey, I could have requested a new unit and they would have FedEx’ed overnight without question. I might even be on their Holiday Party invite list, well until this review…. Their tech support is far superior to Garmin’s, probably the best support I have had with any company, so hats off to them.

Overall, I am very disappointed in the Joule 2.0. I have $550 in Joule and sensor. If I opt to sell it on eBay or Craigslist, I will fell obligated to make the buyer read this review before paying me money. I am going back to Garmin 705. It seems to be more stable and have never lost any rides or data. I cannot say the same for the Joule 2.0.