Gear Review: SPINTSO Ref Watch Pro

As I’ve said before, the thought of spending $147 on a referee watch is enough to make me grab my match fees and hold on tight.  But after using the SPINTSO Ref Watch Pro in several matches, I can unequivocally recommend it with my highest possible 5 star rating.

The watch is manufactured for SPINTSO International AB of Sweden, a company dedicated solely to refereeing technology.  According to the company website (which has more than its’ fair share of broken English), the company derives its’ name from Sport Intelligent Solutions.

Measuring 5 cm across the face by 4.5 cm tall, the SPINTSO Ref Watch Pro is a behemoth, far larger than any other watch I’ve ever worn (referee or otherwise).  The trade-off for this large size is a very easy to read face and easily accessible buttons that can’t be pressed accidentally by large fingers.  Although the watch felt heavy at first, I quickly forgot about it once my first match using it got started.

The watch band is plastic, ensuring that it won’t stay wet from perspiration.  It features 10 sizing holes for the standard watch hasp, so the watch should fit nearly every referee’s wrist.  The band also includes a unique but simple locking mechanism that ensures the end of the strap won’t flop around.

Water resistance to 60 meters means a rain storm or hand washing shouldn’t pose a problem.

It operates on two readily available CR2032 watch batteries.

Build quality appears to be solid, with no problems after use in six matches.  It’s available in two color combinations: black with grey accents or black with orange accents.

The SPINTSO offers three basic modes of operation: normal watch functions like time, date, etc; stopwatch; and referee watch.  For this review, we’ll focus on the referee watch mode.

In referee watch mode, the SPINTSO displays up to four different timers at one time: a countdown timer that stops when you stop for injury time; an elapsed time counter that never stops; an added time timer that runs only when you’ve paused the countdown timer; and a halftime interval timer that runs automatically during halftime.  Both the countdown timer and halftime timer can be preset for any amount of time.

While a match is underway, the Up/Start button is the only button used to control the operation of the watch.  Pressing it starts the timers at the beginning of the match, while pressing it once timing has started pauses the countdown timer and starts the added time timer.  Another press of the Start button restarts the countdown timer when play is ready to resume.  One of the great features of the watch is that added time is automatically calculated and added to the countdown timer; while the math isn’t that hard, those of us who are slightly dyslexic or “math challenged” will appreciate the convenience.

All signals to the wearer are through vibration of the watch; there are no annoying beeps to alert players that time may be up.  The vibrations occur in two patterns: short and long.  Short patterns are used when play is stopped for an injury and continue every 10 seconds while the countdown timer is stopped to remind the referee to restart it once play resumes.  The long vibrations signal the start and end of each half.

I could go on describing the various features of the SPINTSO Referee Watch, but a short demonstration video will give you a much better idea of how it actually works.  In the video, I used two halves of 5 minutes each and a 10 minute halftime period.  (This was so I didn’t have to hang around for 100 minutes with my camcorder).

On the downside, the programming and setup of the watch isn’t all that intuitive, and the user manual needs to be rewritten by a native English speaker.  But these are minor quibbles for a watch that really makes refereeing more enjoyable.

[box style=”light-blue rounded info” ]Tip: once timing is complete in the second half, all timers on the watch stop; not even the elapsed timer continues to run.  If you’re uncomfortable with this arrangement, you can easily add a “third period” during programming so that the watch will keep running after full time plus added time has been reached.[/box]

In summary, the SPINTSO is a well thought out, well constructed time piece clearly developed with soccer referees in mind.  While you may not relish the though of spending $147 on a watch, after using it you may find yourself wondering how you ever got along without it.

SPINTSO Ref Watch Pro is available from the following online retailers (prices current as of 21 February 2016 and include shipping):

Referee Store.com, $134 (USPS Priority Mail)

ProReferee, $147 (USPS Priority Mail)

Official Sports, $160 (UPS Ground)

 

Gear Review: Molten Valkeen Whistle

When I first announced that I would be reviewing the Molten Valkeen Whistle ($53, Referee Store.com), I had some interesting comments on social media. The best, by far was this: “For $53, it better recognize fouls AND give me the correct restart!”

Sadly, the Valkeen will not solve our restart woes, but it is one hell of a whistle.

The Molten Valkeen is from the same company that created the Dolfin whistle and you’ll immediately notice the resemblance.  Japan-based Molten says that several years went into R&D and that over 100 prototype whistles were produced.  The final product – which derives its’ name from Valkryie, the goddess of war – is a pealess, two tone whistle that the company says produces “two interfering frequencies, 4.15 kHz and 3.67 kHz, [resulting in] a unique beat.”

The pack-ins include a standard lanyard and a set of unique whistle holders the company calls a “Flip Grip”.  The Flip Grip comes in three different sizes, and the packaging includes a sizing guide to help select the proper fit.

I’ll try to not overstate my conclusions, but the fact is, this is the best, loudest, easiest to blow whistle I’ve ever used.

[box style=”light-gray rounded shadow comment”]

For $65, it better recognize fouls AND give me the correct restart!

[/box]

The Valkeen has a uniquely colored  tone, thanks to the dual sound chambers and the harmonic overtones it creates.  It sounds like a whistle you’ve heard before, but at the same time, you realize it is somehow different.  This makes it quite difficult to get an accurate recording without professional recording gear (that didn’t stop me trying; see below).

It is amazingly easy to blow.  From the short tweet of a simple foul, to the long ring of a penalty decision, I found it was very easy to get the tone I wanted.

The Flip Grip is such a revelation, it leaves you wondering why no one thought of it before now.  Not once did I feel I might drop the whistle.  It sat very secure between my fingers, even while my fingers where very wet from sweat, rain and hydrating fluids.

Effusive praise notwithstanding, $65 is a lot to pay for a whistle.  While I can definitively say it is the best, most comfortable, easiest to blow, most commanding whistle I’ve ever used, I can’t say it is worth $53 USD.

If you are very serious about your refereeing, or are a gear nut (or both), then you should probably dip into the secret account and cough up the dough.  Otherwise, see our comprehensive Whistle Roundup for much more affordable options.

At this time, the Valkeen is available in the USA only through Referee Store.com.

 

Gear Review: Casio RFT100 Referee Watch

UPDATE: As of 30 January 2015, the RFT100 is no longer available.  You might consider the SPINTSO Referee Watch 2S instead (at the same $99 price).

The Casio RFT100 Referee Timer achieved notoriety as the official referee timer in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Although it has been quite popular in the referee community, it has been nearly impossible to buy one – at least in the USA – for several years.

Our friends at Referee Store.com have solved the sourcing problem and now offer the RFT100 for sale on their site for $99.

The Basics

The RFT100 is made from high impact PVC, and is two-tone blue (sorry, no referee black).  The watch face is larger than other watches I’ve worn (including the previously review Casio XYZ), making it easier to read.

There are six buttons on the watch: Adjust, Mode, Start/Stop, Vibrate, Reset, and Light.  Most of these are self-explanatory, but the single button for Start/Stop is a most welcome feature.  That button is bright yellow, making it very easy to find quickly.  The Start/Stop button also feels different, as it is rectangular in shape and it surrounded on three sides by a hard plastic cowling.  This makes it easy to find the button without looking down at the watch.

The watch strap is plastic, which I personally prefer as it is more sweat resistant.  The strap uses a standard hasp-and-hole mechanism and has 11 size stops.  It employs a unique shape at the top, matching the “offset” design aesthetic of the watch itself.  While this makes for an attractive watch, I wonder about the availability of replacement straps.

The RFT100 requires a CR2025 battery (included).

The manufacturer claims the watch is water resistant to 50 meters, although I did not confirm this through testing.

While Casio provides a 2 year warranty on this watch, Referee Store.com offers its’ own 2 year  “warranty on defects where we will replace any watch that is defective due to no fault of referee/user.”  Nice.

Operation

Using the watch is very similar to the W756B-1AV Digital Sport Watch, and, I suspect, all Casio watches.  The Mode button allows you to enter any of six functional modes: time, stopwatch, timer, alternate time zone, world time, and alarm.  Once you’ve entered a mode, the Reset button allows you to modify certain parameters of each mode – alarm time, for example.  As with the W756B-1AV, the timer function features nine useful preset countdown timers: 45, 40, 35, 30, 25, 20, 15, 12 and 10 minutes. Pressing the Reset button cycles through each of these choices in turn.  After you’ve selected the appropriate half length, timing commences by simply pressing the Start/Stop button.  Should you need to stop timing for injury, substitutions, etc., a quick press of the Start/Stop button halts the timing.  Pressing Start/Stop again resumes timing.  While the timer is running, time of day is displayed in the top section o the watch. You’ll have to calculate added time on your own by consulting your backup watch.  If your backup is counting down also, then simply subtracting the time remaining on the RFT100 from your backup gives you added time.

The most important feature of the RFT100 is the ability to set alarms – including the countdown timer alarm – to vibrate when expired instead of the usual audible beep.  This avoids the problem of players asking why play is continuing after your watch has beeped. The vibration pattern is ten successive double vibrations of 1 second each; the vibration alarm does not repeat after completion.  Once reaching 0:00, the timer function automatically begins counting up and continues until you stop it.

In testing in two matches, the RFT100 performed perfectly and was very easy to use.

Recommendation

If you’re ready to step up your gear, but don’t want to spend $150 on the SPINTSO referee watch, the RFT100 fits the bill quite nicely.  The large watch face and easy-to-feel Start/Stop button are big plusses, and the vibrate-on-alarm feature is one I haven’t found on any other referee watch under $100.  It’s easy to use, durable and is manufactured by a reliable brand name.

Overall, I rate the RFT100 four stars out of five.

The only factor preventing me from giving the RFT100 a top 5 star rating is the price.  $96 is a bit steep for what you get; A $79 price point would put the RFT100 closer to the middle between the entry level W756B and the top of the line SPINTSO (which will be reviewed in this space soon).

User Manual geek?  Click here.

Gear Review: Fox 40 Classic Eclipse whistle

Late in 2011, the Fox 40 company announced the first major revision to its’ flagship Fox 40 Classic pealess whistle since it was introduced over 25 years ago. The new Fox 40 Classic Eclipse ($8.50, plus shipping) retains the sound of the original Classic, but adds several new features, some more useful than others.

The first thing you notice about the Eclipse is the sleek styling. Where the Classic has a squared-off look, the Eclipse is swept-back, with rounded edges. This really changes the aestheic of the whistle, but, unless you’re a whistle freak like me, that won’t matter to you much.

The finish of the Eclipse is now a glossy black, rather than the flat black of the original Classic. In addition, Fox 40 has included a color additive called “SpectraBurst” that allows the whistle to glow in the dark. The company materials say that the whistle will glow the same color that the whistle is. Since my whistle is black, that may explain why I’ve never seen it glow in the dark. Glow-in-the-dark is not something that matters to me at all. However, someone using the whistle for safety reasons may find this an appealing feature. In that case, I think I’d pick a color other than black.

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The most significant change in the whistle is the inclusion of an integrated, co-molded Cushioned Mouth Grip. This is different than the CMG versions of the Classic, which had a cushioned mouth grip added to the finished whistle. The mouth grip on the Eclipse was designed in from the beginning, resulting in a sleeker profile. In the mouth, the Eclipse isn’t quite a cushy as the Classic CMG; I find that I prefer the feel of the Eclipse over the CMG, but that’s just a matter of personal taste.

All in all, I find that the Eclipse is a worthy addition to the Fox 40 lineup. It looks cool, feels good in the mouth, and still produces the classic, er, Classic sound. The price is higher than the original Classic, but you do get more features for your money. For me, I think I will probably stick with my Fox 40 Sonik Blast whistles. I still find the Blast the easiest to blow, and the tone is slightly different from the Classic, which is handy in crowded parks. If you prefer the Classic, you should try the Eclipse.

Gear Review: RefsCall Flag Set

Sometimes I feel like I should be on the payroll at Official Sports International. While I’ve always had good customer service experiences with OSI, I find the lack of documentation and thin item descriptions in the online catalog frustrating. So, many of my reviews of OSI gear end up conveying very basic information that is simply left out of the official OSI description.

Such is the case with the RefsCall flag set ($235) available from OSI and Referee Store.com. To help you decide whether to spend $235 on a set of flags, OSI provides the following information:

A full function electronic flag set at a great price. Set includes two flags for the assistant referees, an arm receiver for the referee in the middle and a distinctive set of OSI checkered flags plus flat flag case. Most OSI swivel flags will fit on these poles. The receiver can be set for sound only, vibration only or for both sound and vibration. The system has been produced for all kinds of weather and will perform very well in wet conditions. Easy to use and each component takes a standard 9V battery. A set of three batteries is included with each set. Exclusively from Official Sports. 1 year warranty.

And that’s it.

To make the decision to spend this amount of money on a beeper flag set, I’d like a little more information, and maybe even a downloadable owner’s manual (as it happens, the printed sheets included with the flags don’t tell you much, unless you can read German. Luckily, iTOOTR kann ein bisschen Deutsch sprechen)

Sigh. Well, I guess this where iTOOTR comes in. So, I don’t look at it as helping OSI so much as helping referees decide whether a given item is worth the purchase price. In this case, I’d answer that question with a qualified “yes”.

The Flags

The flag handles are made of high impact black plastic, and are longer and fatter than standard flags. The plastic is smooth and this could lead to the handle being a bit slippery, especially in wet or sweaty conditions. I imagine this could be easily remedied by applying some tacky tennis racket grip material, if desired.

The butt end of the handle features a screw cap, that when removed reveals the 9V battery. Replacing the 9V battery isn’t a straightforward as it might seem due to a tight fit; I had to wrestle with the battery and finally resorted to using a small flathead screwdriver to get the battery out far enough to get my fingers on it. The user instructions claim that the batteries in the handle will last for at least 5000 actuations of the transmit button.

The transmit button is a soft piece of frosted clear plastic, backed by a spring for resistance. A green LED sits right above the transmit button and lights when the button is pressed. When the button is held down for longer than about 1 sec, a short beep is emitted from the handle. The instructions give no indication about this functionality; my guess is that it simply indicates that transmission has taken place.

The flags themselves are standard issue OSI checkered flags, and appear to be the same as on the Basic Swivel Set (#1532). The poles are the same swivel design as found on other OSI flag sets; the poles are equipped with a small collar near the base that has loop velcro attached to it. The flag material has the corresponding hook velcro material that keeps the flag securely attached to the pole.

The flag and handle weigh in at 7.5 ounces, including battery.

The Receiver

The receiver, worn by the referee, is also made of black impact plastic. It is designed to be worn on the arm, using the included armband (more on that later). The dimensions of the receiver are 3.25″ long, 2.375″ wide, and 1″ thick. Including battery, the receiver weighs 3.3 ounces.

The receiver has two buttons on the side and two LEDs on top of the unit. The buttons serve three different purposes: to power the unit on and off; change the notification signal between tone, vibrate, or both; and to place the unit in “Learn” mode for pairing with the flags.

The instructions don’t give an estimated battery life for the receiver. Each component ships with a 9V battery pre-installed.

Accessories

Included with the flags and receiver are an armband for the receiver and a simple nylon zip bag for carrying everything. The armband is very simple: a black nylon fabric with velcro at either end, and a clear vinyl pouch through which the armband is threaded. The pouch holds the receiver when in use. I was immediately suspicious of the vinyl pouch; it just didn’t look like it would hold up all that well. Furthermore, due to the design, the armband doesn’t hold the whole receiver flush against your arm, but only that part of the receiver that touches the armband. As a result, the receiver could flop and move slightly when you’re running. I quickly decided on a replacement armband, which I cover below.

The included nylon bag is similar to many other flag carrying bags you’ve seen. This one zips closed instead of using velcro flaps. It’s bright yellow and has the RefsCall logo screen on one side. It won’t provide much more than basic protection for your flags, but assuming you put your flags in your ref bag with your other gear, they should be protected against most hazards. If you’re so inclined, you can purchase a specially made, foam-lined carrying case for the somewhat exorbitant price of $75. I really don’t think it is necessary, as these aren’t delicate pieces of high-tech electronics.

Usage

Before using the first time (or after changing the battery), you’ll need to pair the flags with the receiver. This is a fairly simple operation and is described fully in the user instructions. The receiver can be set to sound a beep, vibrate only, or beep and vibrate. I chose to use the vibrate only option, and in two games, had no problem recognizing when the assistant referees were asking for my attention.

It is possible to press the transmit button on the flags without activating the receiver; I discovered that a very quick press and release of the transmit button was not picked up by the receiver. I strongly recommend that your pre-game include a quick test with your ARs so they know how long to hold the button in order for the signal to be received.

After use in two matches, I can report that my crew encountered no glitches with the flags. None of the ARs reported a time where they pressed the transmit button that I didn’t respond with eye contact. The flags came in handy in two identical instances in both games: injuries that were behind play and out of my sight.

A little bothersome was the fact that a brand new alkaline 9V battery in the receiver was shot after only two matches. I’ll report back after a few more uses to see if this trend continues.

A very important point that is not included anywhere in the OSI documentation: both transmitters trigger the same response from the receiver. This is in contrast to the (significantly more expensive) Ervocomm and Touchline flags, where each transmitter sends a unique signal to the receiver (e.g.; one beep from AR1, two beeps from AR2). I didn’t find this to be a problem at all, but it is something that you should know before you purchase.

Recommendations

In terms of match fees, $235 is a lot of money to spend on a set of flags, so you should think carefully before buying beeper flags. I found that I had an increased level of confidence knowing that I was not going to miss an offside flag or some nonsense going on behind my back. That being said, the flags aren’t a substitute for ongoing eye contact with your ARs; you have to think of beeper flags as an additional tool at your disposal, not a crutch for bad habits.

If you find that you miss the odd offside flag – and you’re fairly serious about refereeing – you might find these flags give you just that bit more confidence.

Once you start using beeper flags, make sure you cover how you want them used in your pre-game. Here’s how I handled it:

I want a signal (i.e., press the button) in the following situations:

  • All offside decisions
  • All fouls
  • Quick in/out of play decisions on my quadrant’s touchline, or on the goal line
  • When, at the taking of a penalty kick, you have a problem with the outcome
  • Substitutions (AR1 only)
  • Any other time you feel my attention is needed immediately and I am not looking at you

Since only 1 of the 4 ARs with whom I worked over these two games had used beeper flags previously, I intentionally tried to keep the instructions simple and to the point. As mentioned earlier, I also had them “practice” pushing the transmit button while holding the receiver so that they could get a feel for how the system works.

Finally, I mentioned the suspect looking armband earlier. I elected to purchase a armband designed for a smartphone and use it instead. I bought the Philips Actionfit Sport Sleeve armband ($15) and it worked quite well. It holds the entire receiver firmly against your arm, so that it doesn’t flop around when you run. The armband is available in a couple of different sizes, and Amazon stocks them as well. You’d do well to buy one of these, along with plenty of spare batteries.

Six Month Usage Update

  • The plastic grips do get slippery when wet, which led to a couple of drops when raising the flag
  • Because the programming buttons are on the outside of the receiver, it is easy for them to get accidentally “pressed” when using the Philips armband.  Putting the receiver in the armband first, then turning it on, and only then putting the armband on helped alleviate this problem
  • The receiver can occasionally forget its’ programming, requiring you to re-pair the flags to the receiver.  Be sure to check operation well before kick-off
  • The receiver can rarely “lock up” such that no amount of button pressing will shut it off.  In this case, only by removing the battery can you “reboot” the receiver.  This never happened during a match; only when trying to re-pair the flags to the receiver
  • If you prefer an adjustable armband, a good alternative is the TuneBelt Armband Carrier for MP3 Players.  I’ve tried it and prefer it to the Philips armband.

Click/tap the image to enlarge.

 

Gear Review: A Good Eraser for Write On Cards

I love the write on cards from Custom Cards (full review here) and use them consistently.  You can use either pencil or permanent marker on them without any problem.  After experimenting with both, I find that I prefer using the Bic Permanent Marker (full review here), primarily because it is a full size pen that clips to my shirt pocket, making it easy to retrieve.

The challenge with all write on cards and permanent marker is getting them clean and ready for the next use.  Alcohol containing liquids like (yecch) Axe body spray, sunblock spray, or even nail polish remover all work well, but I have found they damage the surface of the card over time.

Enter the Staedtler Mars Plastic eraser, $4 on Amazon.  This eraser works well on both pencil and permanent marker.  In the case of permanent marker, you need to use it right after the match, as it doesn’t work nearly as well if the ink is allowed to set in for an extended period of time.  In this case, back to the sprays.  It does require a little more elbow grease than an alcohol-based spray, but on the other hand, your gear bag doesn’t end up smelling like a 14-year old boy.

NOTE: The product on Amazon is slightly different to the photo below.  The product on Amazon is all white, like the left side of the “combi” eraser below that I bought at an art supply store.  The blue section contains a small amount of solvent in the material.  In my tests, the white section was just as effective as the blue section.

 

staedtler-mars plastic eraser

Gear Review: OSI Elastic Wristband Lanyard

The Elastic Wristband Lanyard from Official Sports ($2.95, here) is a simple device for carrying your whistle on your wrist.  This allows you to let go of the whistle while you record game information, have a friendly conversation with a player, etc, while still keeping it quickly accessible.

The basic information given on the OSI website leaves out some important information.  For starters, the wristband is not adjustable, per se.  It is made of stretchy elastic material that should stretch to accommodate all but the largest of wrist sizes.  An important note: if you have small wrist, e.g., you are a female referee or a young teenager, you may find this wristband is actually too large to feel secure.

The inside of the wristband features a soft nylon material that makes it quite comfortable.  The plastic clip feels secure when new, but I wonder how it would hold up to repeated removal/replacement of the whistle.

The length of the lanyard itself is just right in my large hand, with a whistle attached.  The lanyard itself measures 10.5 cm from the wristband to the end of the clip.  The wristband is 9.5 cm wide when laid flat, with a circumference of about 7 cm (it obviously stretches to a larger size when worn).  The stitching attaching the lanyard to the wristband seems secure enough.

In summary, if you prefer a wrist lanyard, you may want to try the OSI Elastic Wristband Lanyard.  Without any moving parts to loosen, it should be very secure on your wrist, and, depending on your preference, you may find it a more comfortable alternative to traditional wrist lanyards.