Running Apps Review

Over the last couple of weeks I have been comparing a few of the running apps currently on the market. It is an extremely crowded area with Sports Tracker, Runtastic, Runkeeper, Nike+, Strava, and Endomondo, to name just a few.

My all-time favourite is, without a doubt, the venerable Sports Tracker (www.sports-tracker.com). It was the pioneer, originally available on old Nokia Symbian (and developed by Nokia Labs) phones, and was eventually spun out of Nokia into a separate company. The web site is currently an all-flash site (I believe they are moving to HTML5 currently and are in beta testing), which is hugely functional and looks great. Their Android and iPhone apps also look and work fantastically. Sports-tracker also sell their own branded HR monitor.

The reason I went looking at other apps was because Sport-tracker was occasionally doing a really bad job at plotting the GPS path, giving me different distances for routes that were exactly the same. Also, some of the newer social and motivational features of other platforms including challenges, and recording/reporting records such as fastest ‘x’ km, or number of runs per week, etc, were missing. I also asked Sport-Tracker about public web services to get access to run data and they said that it was not a priority for them, which was a position that annoyed me considering almost every other service offered an API.

I tried Runkeeper but didn’t like it compared to Sports-Tracker, and dumped it immediately. Next stop was Endomondo but it was way too ugly for my discerning taste (ha! – I have been working with UX Designers for too long).

Nike+ then became free and I gave it a go. I loved the simple interface, calibration option at the end of the run, the fact that it stopped the phone from locking during the run like Sports-Tracker, how you could easily read the screen while running, and, best of all, hit the screen at any time to have the run details spoken to you.

What I disliked was the data was locked up in Nike+ with no export or import options. I wrote Nike+GPX export plugin to help with that issue, and also use the Garmin Forerunner TCX to Nike+ utility (http://www.awsmithson.com/tcx2nikeplus/) to import runs into Nike+. The ‘achievements’ feature were great (although when the GPS gets it wrong it can record personal bests that are incorrect and unrealistic with no easy way to back out).

Then I had friends start to use and recommend Strava. Easy, just export the GPX file from Nike+ and import into Strava which does a great job during import to smooth the GPS coordinates, and the process is essentially seamless. The social features are great, just like a ‘facebook’ for running. The custom segments are my favourite feature, which gives you a leaderboard for public segments, which is very motivating (and demoralising at the same time) . The GAP (Grade Assisted Pace) for split times is a good feature (even though I think most elevation data is normally wrong). And to boot, Strava has a public API (which I am yet to try but will do soon).

I spent last week trying out the Android app, and was very disappointed. Firstly, it does not stop the phone locking and therefore I had to type my password while running to check the details/pause/stop the run which is unacceptable. I found the Black-on-Gray text harder to read than the Nike+ White-on-Black text, and could not hit the screen for the voice features.

Further, a friend who was trying to complete a long distance challenge had the application crash while submitting his last 22km run, He emailed tech support and the response was just “sorry, the run is lost”. I have never had that happen while using Sports-Tracker or Nike+, so am not going to risk it.  I consider this an application architecture issue that is needs to be fixed.

I checked out Runtastic last week, which seemed good but it has ads (if you don’t pay), does not seem to have (on first look) Strava’s public segments features, and has an over-blown/out-dated UI (in my opinion, of course).

So, using Nike+ on Android as my running app, and exporting to Strava at the end of the run, is the best proposition for me right now (I also import into Sports Tracker to keep it on the radar and to have my entire run-history in one place).