The Carol Bike 2.0
A stationary bike that gives “Don’t sweat it” new meaning
Is it possible to telescope into three brief workouts per week all the cardiovascular exercise you need not just to keep healthy but to quite radically improve your fitness—and to do it without breaking a sweat?
The notion sounds as fanciful as a free and delicious lunch with no calories, but it is the promise offered by HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training), a fitness regimen that started in the 1950s and, to the great surprise of fitness-fad skeptics, is backed up today by a wide range of respectable studies. Today, HIIT is known to help reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar; burn fat and calories; and even improve brain function, among other things.
This Web-connected, A.I.-enhanced exercise bike, just launched in its second iteration, is a way to practice HIIT, with workouts customized in the cloud to suit your metrics and performance. An algorithm determines what kind of resistance you need, based on previous sessions, and adjusts it accordingly.
Your columnist has been using the original CAROL bike (its name is derived from “Cardiovascular Optimisation Logic”) for the past two years plus, and apart from its being inextricably linked in his mind with coronavirus lockdowns—hardly the bike’s fault—it has been impressive, right down to the not-sweating thing. You exercise hard, but often not long enough to perspire.
A CAROL ride doesn’t even feel like exercise at first. You just pedal away gently for several minutes, breathing mindfully, always through the nose. But then the screen goes red to herald an intense 10- or 20-second period in which the pedals stiffen up so it feels like your legs are setting in concrete. It is incredibly hard work—you need to remember to dig down with your heels to work the hamstrings—but it’s soon over, and you are back to gentle pedaling and breathing, until the next intense spell, a couple of minutes later.
You certainly feel terrific after one of these mini-workouts, which can be as short as five minutes. Though whether that’s due to the glow of self-satisfaction, smugness at having seemingly cheated nature, or genuine health benefits is sometimes hard to judge.
If there was one disappointing thing about the 2020 CAROL, it was that, while the build and mechanical quality were impeccably solid, the user experience was middling and well below the slick standards of, say, a Peloton. The CAROL screen was small and pixelated, the audio thin and scratchy, and the Android operating system poor.
The new, improved CAROL has addressed everything. The grip positions are adjustable, the screen and sound are much better, and there’s a wearable heart-rate monitor and integration with Apple Watch, Peloton Digital, and Zwift. There’s now also a much wider range of routines, including a five-minute workout said to have the effect of a 45-minute run. You can have up to eight users on one account. When they sign up, they do five test workouts to establish their baseline power. The system then tracks and analyzes each person’s performance as he or she progresses.
CAROL’s makers claim it can “turn back the clock on your fitness by 10 years—in just 8 weeks,” and quotes Lance Dalleck, a professor of exercise and sport science at Western Colorado University, as saying, “A 10% increase in cardiorespiratory fitness significantly reduces the risk of mortality and morbidity by 15%.”
CAROL sounds almost too good to be true, but it appears to be for real so long as—a big proviso—you actually do the exercises.
Though these workouts are claimed to have the same effect as 45-minute traditional ones, even a few minutes every other day can become a chore.
The Dell XPS 13 Plus Laptop
A stunning P.C. for Apple devotees and apostates alike
There was a time when P.C. laptops and desktops were crude and ugly compared with the sleek beauty of an Apple computer. Similarly, on-screen, Windows looked and performed 20 years behind Cupertino’s offerings.
This most beautiful of laptops from Dell, the new XPS 13 Plus, makes those times seem long past. Thanks to superb fonts and wallpapers, Windows, too, looks rather more modern than Apple’s desktop.
It’s hard to avoid a small intake of breath when you first see the newest Dell; alongside a MacBook, it just looks … better, industrial design–wise. And, just as importantly, it performs as well. Better, in some respects. The edge-to-edge keyboard, with its oversize keys, is sublime, and the backlit capacitive-touch function bar beneath the screen is ergonomically perfect, a better version of the Apple Touch Bar, which came and went.
To be finicky, the underside of the Dell still looks fractionally P.C.—not quite as smooth and featureless as a MacBook. And the P.C. practice of sticking a garish, hard-to-remove Intel label on the keyboard surface endures as a reminder of the 1990s.
There’s one other curious feature about the Dell that seems almost wrong. Where, you will wonder when you see it, is the trackpad? There doesn’t appear to be one.
But there is. In the futuristic style of the rest of the machine, it’s a borderless haptic pad, one of the first applications of a technology from Aito, a Dutch-Finnish company. The finger-sensing, palm-rejecting glass surface doesn’t actually go to the edge of the computer, but the active area is a lot bigger than anything we’ve seen, and your fingers adapt almost immediately to the unprecedented acreage.
It’s a scintilla of progress that Dell doesn’t even promote heavily but which has a notable impact on the functionality of computers, and we think it will force the pace of other makers to improve their own offerings. For now, this is a uniquely pleasing machine for both work and entertainment.
The Hornit DB140 Bike Horn
A horn that will make you want to play in traffic
A few years ago, this writer bought a 1959 Mini to drive around London. The ’59 Mini, one of the first models off the production line and far smaller than the Minis so popular today in the U.S., made you feel worryingly vulnerable.
While you could pretend it was the early 60s and you were a Beatle about town, to 21st-century drivers your car was a flea to be flicked out of the way, or just ignored and run off the road. It did not have seat belts or any other modern safety features, either.
So there was a vague plan, never followed through, to fit the antique Mini with a truck horn, the kind of blaring Klaxon you’ll find on a Mack. Imagine the shock for some arrogant BMW driver who tried to push you aside and received an earsplitting blast for his trouble.
The idea came to mind when this unbelievably loud bike horn was offered for review. The Hornit DB140 is a quickly fitted extra that claims to hit 140 decibels at full blast—as much as a jet engine at 100 feet, and enough for a bike rider to be heard above the angriest city traffic. In our test using the iPhone app DB Meter, the Hornit hit just 135 decibels on its loudest setting, roughly the level of a jackhammer or nearby ambulance.
All the same, the Hornit is a great safety device for the urban cyclist. As it’s quite small, it could also be used as a personal-security device. If I were robbing someone in the street and they made a sound as loud as an ambulance, I would probably think again.
The Plane Finder App
An app to be your eye in the sky while you stay on terra firma
It has been said that the best cure for fear of flying, which could more accurately be called fear of crashing, is to spend a day at a U.S. domestic airport to see the sheer number of aircraft that take off and land safely and uneventfully.
This radically updated version of a long-standing plane-tracking app could ably serve that function, too. Plane Finder, formerly PF Air, shows you every aircraft flying anywhere in the world in real time, give or take a few with faulty or disconnected transponders.
Seen en masse at continental scale, the in-flight aircraft resemble nothing less than a dense swarm of bees. Even when you zoom in to see the air traffic around a major city, or over the Atlantic, the numbers are breathtaking.
But Plane Finder doesn’t just show the aircraft around you, or around any spot you choose. Touch the yellow, bee-like representation of an aircraft and you can instantly see which airline it is, where it is flying from and to, live details of its flight path, and even where the aircraft in question has flown in the past few months. Apart from the crew, passenger list, and menu, almost everything is displayed.
As the world goes rather askew, there’s something rather therapeutic in looking at a distant and exotic place, watching flights coming and going routinely, knowing where they are headed—and perhaps imagining you are on board.
There are great cultural details to be found, too. Have a scan around Australia, for example, and at any moment in local daytime, you’ll see several aircraft of the Royal Flying Doctor Service heading to inaccessible spots to see patients. Captivating drama, captured live, to be viewed from a couch anywhere in the world.
Based in London and New York, AIR MAIL’s tech columnist, Jonathan Margolis, spent more than two decades as a technology writer for the Financial Times. He is also the author of A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book on the history of futurology