Review: LifeSpan's Bluetooth-enabled treadmill desk is flawed but functional
I walk while I work.
Though my setup has evolved over the past couple of years, the basics remain consistent: I walk on a treadmill at a relatively low speed (now 2.5 miles per hour) while working at my Mac. The Mac, an external monitor, a wireless keyboard and trackpad, and the rest of my setup, all rest upon a standing-height desk.
The health benefits are probably obvious: Countless studies show that sitting all day is bad for you. I get tired of merely standing, so the treadmill desk gives my legs something more interesting to do—not to mention more calories to burn.
For the past several months, I’ve been ignoring my trusty TreadDesk treadmill, instead testing out an interesting treadmill, designed for desk use, from LifeSpan: the $1000 TR1200-DT3 Standing Desk Treadmill. (I didn’t review a $1500 version that includes a standing-height desk as well, since I already had my own desk setup.)
The treadmill’s walking surface sits about 4.25 inches up off the floor, and measures 20 inches wide by 56 inches long. It can support walkers up to 350 pounds, LifeSpan says. The full treadmill measures 70.5 inches long, 29 inches wide, and 9.5 inches tall. It weighs 130 pounds.
The 2.25-horsepower motor can go as slow as 0.4 miles per hour, and as fast as four miles per hour. Those speeds are obviously much lower than typical treadmills can handle, but I don’t think you can expect anyone to get real desk work done at four miles per hour. Typically, treadmill desk users start around one mile per hour, and some—like me—slowly inch up from there.
The company offers a couple of cheaper treadmills with the same basic features, but with slightly less powerful motors and slightly lower weight limits.
LifeSpan offers a three-year warranty on the motor and a lifetime warranty on the frame. The company says that the motor is “ideal for all-day use,” which it defines as “up to six hours of daily use.” I typically spend a bit more than that on the treadmill on workdays, and about six hours less—i.e., zero—on the weekends.
The treadmill doesn’t include any handle bars, because you’re meant to rely on your desk itself for any necessary support.
A long cable wires the treadmill to its console, which sits upon your desk. The console is just shy of 13 inches long, and it’s about 3.25 inches deep. I found that it fit just fine on my desk, behind my keyboard. It has some heft to it—it weighs three pounds—and it stays put on your desk.
The rear of the console sports a single USB port, which you can use for charging or powering a USB accessory, if desired. On the console sit six buttons and an LED screen. The buttons: Bluetooth, Start, Enter/Mode, Stop/Pause, and slower and faster buttons represented by arrows pointing down and up.
When you press the Enter/Mode button, you cycle the LED display among various readouts: time treading, steps taken, calories burned, distance walked, speed, and weight. (You provide your weight so that the treadmill can more accurately estimate your calories burned.)
The steps taken counter is extremely accurate, because it actually counts the impact of your feet on the treadmill’s surface.
The display can hold just four digits. Walking at 2.5mph all day, I frequently exceed 20,000 steps, so the TR1200-DT3’s display isn’t especially helpful on that front.
There’s also a safety key that serves as a kill switch. You clip one end onto your clothing, with the other end magnetically adhering to the console. If you fall, the cord pulls the magnets apart, and the treadmill gets shut down. I leave the cord curled up on my desk; I’m a man willing to live with a little risk.
We’ll get to the Bluetooth a little later on.
Let’s talk a bit about the physical feel and use of the treadmill. My main point of comparison with the TR1200-DT3 is the The Tread from TreadDesk, my main reference for treadmill desking. The two treads are similar, but there are distinct differences.
Both are designed to run quietly for office settings. But the LifeSpan runs a bit quieter than The Tread. While I can keep the TR1200-DT3 running at 2.5mph when I’m on a call, I find that The Tread is a smidgen too loud at that speed for phone conversations. Since I work from home, I don’t fret about bothering cubicle neighbors, but I think most would tune out either tread pretty quickly: They’re basically white noise.
Because these are treadmills that you’re running all day long, they need to be lubricated from time to time. The Tread requires a thin line of baby oil down each side. The Lifespan instead requires silicon spray. The store-bought silicon spray I acquired smelled awful, and its label bore warnings regarding a slew of negative health risks. LifeSpan provided me with a bottle of their own silicon spray which has no odor, and that makes caring for the tread far less burdensome.
The tread material itself is also different between the two. I lightly prefer the LifeSpan unit’s material under my feet, but that may well be the novelty; I’ve spent a lot longer on The Tread, and the feel of the Lifespan may well just be different and not truly superior.
One other noteworthy difference: The Tread’s top is flat, while the TR1200-DT3’s treading surface is slightly recessed, with raised edges on either side. It took me about two days to stop bumping into those side edges on the LifeSpan model, but I haven’t thought about them since.
The LifeSpan treadmill offers an additional safety feature that The Tread lacks: Its Intelli-Guard sensor detects when you haven’t taken in step in 20 seconds, and shuts the tread off automatically.
The feature of the TR1200-DT3 that had me most eager to get my hands (or feet) on the treadmill was its Bluetooth integration. The treadmill is meant to pair with your Mac or PC, so that its companion app can log your data—your steps, distance, calories burned, and such.
I tested the app with my Mac. It’s an Adobe Air app, creatively titled Treadmill Desk, and it is awful, for various reasons.
First, the app requires that you purchase a paid membership to LifeSpan’s online Fitness Club—that costs $69 for a lifetime membership. That gets you access to a densely-packed website for monitoring your progress, and the desktop app is meant to sync to it. But the app also requires that you log into it every single time you launch it. So if you quit the app and relaunch it later, you get to log in all over again.
But that’s just the start of the app’s problems: I couldn’t get that to work.
The app warns me that there’s a workout in progress, and that I should “press and hold the Stop key” to end my workout. Frankly, I don’t want to stop walking to sync my data, but even when I tried doing so, it didn’t seem to work. I press and hold Stop for a minute, and still, the app won’t let me sync. It will only sync if I unpair it, at which point it seems to lose all my stats (until I repair it again).
Amazingly, though, that’s not the app’s biggest issue. It’s an Adobe Air app. Every time I launch it, it immediately quits and then reopens again successfully. That’s an annoyance, but I can handle it. What I couldn’t handle was the fact that the app, when paired via Bluetooth, quickly set my Mac’s fans a-blazing, with a Java process consuming more than 90 percent of my CPU’s attention.
LifeSpan sent me a beta version of the software that fixed those issues, but I still won’t want to use the app. On top of the other issues I already described, it’s just ugly, locked to an edge of your screen, and not nearly as useful as I’d hoped.
I could—and did!—look past the Bluetooth issue and still enjoy the LifeSpan treadmill. But I had a few other issues worth mentioning with the treadmill.
It beeps when you turn it on, when you increment the speed by 1/10th of a mile per hour at a time, or when you push any button. That beep happens to be loud, shrill, and unadjustable. You get used to it over time, but it’s the occasional beeps—not the motor or your steps—that will drive your officemates crazy.
The treadmill’s power button is placed, bizarrely, at the rear base of the treadmill itself. So the console is always on, flashing data on its LED display, unless you crouch down on the floor, dig behind the treadmill, and find the switch. Then be ready to crawl back there again when you want to turn it on.
It’s the single dopiest design decision on the TR1200-DT3, and it makes me crazy. The Tread shuts off when you stop treading, which strikes me as logical.
Finally, my review model of the TR1200-DT3 did require a visit from a repair technician. The treadmill started making an offensive thumping noise. A bolt got tightened attaching the motor, and the noise went away. Sadly, though, a side effect of that visit was that a new noise cropped up: a click with each step coming from the back right edge of the treadmill.
Both repairs would be covered under LifeSpan’s warranty.
Don’t get a LifeSpan treadmill because of its Bluetooth integration; it’s just not worth it. I tread with a Fitbit and a Jawbone Up on my person, and those log my walking anyway.
But if you’re in the market for a treadmill desk—and boy, you really should be, as nutty as the idea seems at first—it’s a fine option. The motor runs quietly, the warranty is good, and the treading surface is pleasant.
Beyond the Bluetooth connectivity woes, the inaccessible power button and the shrill beeps are daily annoyances, but manageable ones—and issues you’ll likely grow accustomed to. On the whole, the TR1200-DT3 is an imperfect treadmill, but it’s certainly a usable one.