Samsung, Adidas take on iPod, Nike

Samsung Electronics and Adidas have joined the race against Apple and Nike to offer people a device that plays music and keeps track of workouts.

Samsung's miCoach music-mobile phone even lives up to its name by encouraging people as they run, telling them to "speed up" if they aren't keeping pace, and giving them updates on their heart rate, time left in their run, and more.

The system includes a heart-rate monitor, a sensor to attach to a pair of running shoes and a Web workout journal to help people design and keep track of fitness programs.

With miCoach, Samsung and Adidas enter the fray against Apple and Nike, which started offering the Nike+iPod sports kit in the U.S. in July, 2006, also aimed at people with active lifestyles.

The Nike+iPod system also keeps track of workouts, telling runners the distance traveled, calories burned and other information via earphones, as well as on the iPod display screen.

The main differences between the two systems are that the Samsung model is also a mobile phone, while the Apple one is just a music player. Any runner can stop their music and workout by pressing a button on the miCoach, then answer a phone call. But the device has far less music storage capacity than the iPod. The miCoach comes with 1G byte of storage space, while the iPod Nano comes in 4G byte and 8G byte capacities.

The cost of the two systems is also different. Samsung/Adidas buyers will pay around €400 (US$612) for the deluxe kit with the miCoach mobile phone, heart monitor, shoe sensor and more. That compares to a US$328 gift pack offered by Nike for the Nike+iPod system, which includes an 8G byte iPod Nano, a $100 Nike shoe gift card, a 30-minute iTunes card and the Nike+ Sports kit.

One key detail for avid runners is that the Samsung/Adidas system does not tie a user to a specific brand of shoe like the Nike+iPod system does. The sensor sold with the Samsung/Adidas system fits on the laces of a runner's shoes, while the sensor in the Nike+iPod system is built into the shoe.

The miCoach will be available first in Germany, then the rest of Europe by the end of March, according to Sophia Kim, a Samsung representative. At least two different kits will be sold through Samsung and Adidas stores and mobile phone retail outlets. The basic kit, which includes the miCoach mobile phone and arm band, will cost around €200, while the deluxe kit, which also includes the shoe-sensor, heart monitor and more, will cost about €400.

Prices have not been officially set yet, Kim said, nor has a time frame to enter North America or Asia.

The miCoach mobile phone is a slim, 14.5-millimeter thick slider handset with a 2-inch LCD (liquid crystal display) screen with a textured back to offer better grip. It comes in seven colors, including pink, red, dark gray, sapphire and silver. The handset includes a 2-megapixel camera and can connect to a computer via a USB (universal serial bus) connection or wirelessly with Bluetooth.

Adidas designed the monitoring systems for the miCoach package, as well as the Web-based coaching and training system, Kim said. The two companies are working together on sales and marketing.

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