Exercise Tracking Applications

I enjoy going out for a jog a few times each week. It is a good way to keep in shape, and it it gives me some personal time to zone out, listen to a podcast or music, or just collect my thoughts. I'm also a geek, and I love stats. I love collecting stats from my runs. I've used a number of different run tracking gadgets and applications, and I thought I would share my thoughts on each.

RunKeeper is a mobile application available for both iPhone and Android that uses the GPSr built into the phone to track your run, hike, bike, or any other type of trip. It uses the GPSr information to determine your location and speed, and can provide both mapping at run statistics information.

The user interface for RunKeeper is not pretty, but the real killer for me on this product is that the GPSr accuracy is horrible. This is surprising when you consider other applications running on the same hardware gave much better results, as you will see later. I made two runs with RunKeeper, and both showed totally unrealistic pace and distance information, and the track on the map was all over the place. Other gripes include a lack of integration to music on the device and no support for voice enunciation.

The only positive thing to say about RunKeeper is that the online portal where runs are stored is actually quite nice. Oh, and the price is just right at Free.

RunStar is a jogging application available only on the Android platform. It integrates with the music service to play your favorite playlist, or randomly play through the entire library. It has a power song feature which will play a specific track at the press of a button. RunStar tracks your run using the GPSr of your Android phone.

The user interface for RunStar is very nicely done. The UI is clean and well designed for use in an armband while you run with large buttons and text display. It even includes a custom sleep screen that displays your run stats. The GPSr tracking is actually quite good, which is surprising considering the horrible performance of the RunKeeper application on the same hardware. RunStar offers Twitter integration, allowing you to tweet the summary stats for your run, and Facebook integration is coming.

There are some nags I have with the application though. First, there is no online portal to view a summary of all runs. Instead, the only place to review your previous runs is via the app on your phone. Second, voice enunciation would be great. Voice enunciation is a feature that periodically speaks over your music to let you know your current distance, time, and pace.

RunStar is currently in beta development, and you can load the app for free. From the website and disabled features in the app, it is clear that the developers have some ambitious goals. This is definitely an app to watch.

My Tracks is another Android only application for tracking your exercise. Like the previous applications it utilizes the GPSr on your device to track your location and determine your distance traveled, speed, elevation, and other stats.

The My Tracks user interface is somewhere between RunKeeper and RunStar. It isn't a great UI for use while running, but it is easy to understand and use. There are three main views: the map, trip computer, and speed / elevation graph. Unfortunately, My Tracks does not include direct integration with the music features of the device, so you will need to manage your music / podcast playing separately from tracking your run. Also, the default accuracy setting for the GPS is pretty awful (over 600') so my first run thought I was tearing around town at speeds on par with The Flash. On my second run I dialed it down to the most accurate setting (33') and the run tracking was very good.

Your My Tracks data can be uploaded both to Google Docs and to Google Maps. This allows you to review runs online, and also to share them with friends. My Tracks does not offer Twitter, Facebook, or other social media integration, so tweeting your stats must be done manually.

One huge advantage My Tracks has over the RunStar and RunKeeper is voice enunciation. You can setup the interval at which you will be notified, and the voice over states your distance, time, and pace. I love this feature, as it lets me know if I'm dogging it or if I have attacked to hard early.

The Nike+ system is available in stand-alone form as a USB wrist band, or integrated with your iPod Touch, iPod Nano, or iPhone. The Nike+ system is unique from the others mentioned here as it uses a pedometer placed in the shoe rather than a GPSr to track your run. This limits the use of the Nike+ system to walks, jogs, running, and hiking. It is not able to track cycling, kayaking, or other sports that lack a foot impact. On the other hand, the Nike+ system is the only one mentioned here that will work for treadmill workouts.

The Nike+ user interface is dead simple on your iPod. I place it on par with the RunStar UI, as it is easy to use during a workout, and clear how to setup a run and get started. While the pedometer can only count steps, after configuring your stride length it is quite good at providing an estimate of your distance traveled. The voice enunciation support on the iPod is superior to My Tracks in that it can be configured to announce stats based on distance intervals in addition to time intervals, and includes an on demand announcement as well. Like RunStar, the Nike+ integrates with the music on your device and allows for playing a playlist or randomly playing the entire library. The Power Song feature is also present.

The Nike+ website is vastly superior to the others mentioned here. When you dock your iPod your run is uploaded to the Nike+ site where you can review it along with all of your other runs. You can add friends through the site and compare runs and total progress. You can set goals and share maps with other runners for nice running routes. Nike+ offers integration to both Twitter and Facebook, allowing you to automatically post your run stats to either service.

The only thing missing from the Nike+ system is a GPSr to track the route of your run (note: this might be either under development or available on the iPhone version, I have only used the iPod Nano version). Another potential drawback to the Nike+ system is that it requires the pebble pedometer in your shoe. While you can use the pebble in any pair of shoes, it is most comfortable with Nike+ branded shoes. If you happen to forget either the pebble or your shoes when you want to go for a run, you won't be able to track your run.

My Pick
I love the Nike+ system, and feel that of the systems mentioned here it is the clear winner. Unfortunately, I packed away my Nike+ dongle for my iPod Nano when we prepared to move, so I haven't been able to use it. Of the apps available on my Android phone, the My Tracks service is the one I will be using for now, but I'm keeping an eye on RunStar as I feel it has great potential.


Kevin said...

Look for buddyrunner in the market. Does all the stuff with voice over your music at certain intervals and has a website to compare your past runs. Has fb and Twitter sharing too I think. I have been using it for a month and gave up on my tracks for it.

Adam Jones said...

I'll give that a try, thanks Kevin!

nakedsushi said...

I really like RunKeeper even though I haven't used it in a while because it's been a while since I've been jogging. It's simple and has all of the basic functions I need. I was really excited when they finally put in the ability to play music during your run.

Adam Jones said...

I've really fallen off the wagon with my running. My last two outings I've used RunStar, which may not be feature complete yet, but it consistently gets my distance and time correct. There have been a couple of updates to RunKeeper recently, and I have yet to try BuddyRunner as Kevin suggested. Looks I better 1) get those running shoes back on and 2) revisit this article with some updated results.

Jade Mason