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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Android Running Apps - Thoughts and Observations

First off, I'm not going to label this as a review since I'm only commenting on the features of these apps based on my own needs and experiences, rather than fully exploring all available features and performance.  Also - due to the dynamic nature of mobile application development, many of these observations could have occurred on obsolete versions.

All activities were done on my Samsung Galaxy S2 (Sprint) over the past two months.  This phone is notorious for having GPS issues, so I won't be discussing accuracy here.  I'll limit the commentary to the features, aesthetics and personal preferences.

I should also note that my primary activity is running, but I do occasionally ride a bike on the trainer or outside.  For this reason I didn't include Strava for this post, because it's primary geared towards cycling and has a couple of running aspects thrown in as an afterthought.

So let's dive right in...


While the RunKeeper app doesn't provide much in the ways of analytics "in app" or online, it does contain a few unique features.

  • Extremely customizable voice feedback during workouts.  You can set it to provide feedback on pace, distance, speed, etc, on either time or distance intervals.  The time intervals down to 1 minute, and distance down to 1/4 mile.
  • Free, extremely customizable interval workouts with voice commands.  You can basically create interval workouts to your heart's content.  It also makes it easy to repeat, rather than manually enter the same interval 10+ times.
  • Can log non-GPS workouts easily
  • Multi-sport
  • Won't allow you to begin a GPS workout without having a lock on your GPS signal.  It will try to acquire satellites for about 10 seconds and if unsuccessful, asks if you want to continue without, or continue searching.  This is similar to the standalone GPS receivers that I own from Garmin (Nuvi 1350 and Oregon 450) 
  • Can't do much other than record workouts in app.  For example, after a workout the history screen will show these vertical bars which after dozens of workouts on this app, I still have no idea what they mean.
  • Website provides more analytics than app, but not nearly as much as other apps.

Home Screen

Custom interval creation

History screen with mysterious "bars"


Nike has put together a beautiful, running specific app with some unique, but not necessary bells and whistles.

  • Beautiful UI
  • Fun encouragement from running celebrities
  • Playlist integration
  • Very encouraging with the challenge to beat your PRs
  • Optional data for weather and surface conditions
  • Battery drain (1hr 53 min trail run, down from 98% to 47%)
  • Will start without having Satellite lock
  • Not Multi-sport, Running only
  • Asks to "calibrate" GPS by stating how far of a workout it recorded and then asking how far you actually ran.  If I had something more accurate, I would just use that!

Nike+ Home screen

Workout history


This is a clean app with just about all the features I need.  The opportunity to win actual items for working out is a really cool plus.  This is the only app I paid for the "pro" version.  The only reason I did that was to explore the pause feature from the headset button, which in the end, didn't work anyway.  The pro version was $4.99 in the Google Play Store.

  • Records Personal Records
  • "Challenges" to win real stuff for working out.  All you have to do is enter the contest online.
  • Facebook upload doesn't include comments
  • Playlist integration
  • Simple Web-Interface, has a very geeky forum-type feel to it.  It's unrefined and segmented, but for some reason I like it.
  • Multi-sport

  • It does have a "Pause" feature using headset button, but didn't work 100% for me.  It worked the first time, but after that, ended up pausing my music, and calling someone.


Online mapping is one of the best, but the phone app is has menus which are difficult to navigate.

  • "Courses" (like Strava Segments)
  • Multi-sport
  • As the name would suggest, it has one of the best online mapping tools.
  • Slow and wordy voice feedback every mile: "Your current distance is one mile; Your current overall pace is 9 minutes, 23 seconds per mile..."

MapMyRun home screen

"Courses" feature, explore difficult climbs from other users so you can try to beat their time


The phone interface is pretty "busy", but functional.

  • Customizable dashboard
  • Nice in-app analytics for previously recorded workouts
  • very light on the battery use (38 min run, only down 10%)
  • Most functions are customizable
  • Playlist integration
  • Multi-sport
  • Optional data for weather and surface conditions
  • Manual entry (non-GPS) is a little clunky with up/down arrows to enter times and distances - no keyboard entry.

Runtastic home screen

Workout history

Garmin Fit

Garmin's extremely light app does the basics, and has a huge plus with Garmin Connect online.  There is no free version of this app; it is $0.99 in the Google Play Store.

  • Decent in-app analytics, but only after the run
  • Auto upload to Garmin Connect - very nice.
  • During run, only basic options are to "hit the lap button"
  • No voice feedback on pace or other data during workout

Garmin Fit home screen

"In workout" view

Sports Tracker

Very nice interface, with a similar amount of features as MapMyRun, but much easier to navigate.

  • Nice interface
  • Strava-esque segments online, using the Explore function.  Very social as can comment and "friend" people. 
  • Nice online interface with lots of data
  • They just introduced a Bluetooth 2.1 Heart Rate Strap.  This is the traditional bluetooth which uses more battery and hence this hardware is only said to have 30 hours of battery life.  The upside to this though, is that compatible with essentially all smartphones, not just the ones with Bluetooth 4.0 or Bluetooth smart.
  • Only audio updates down to 1 mile (like most others), but lap splits given, rather than overall averages

Sports Tracker Home Screen

Explore feature by map.  I don't know this Michael Johnson guy, but I could try to beat his time.  BTW - all activity types show up while panning the map.

Activity history view: Speed and Elevation chart

So which one is "the best"?  I'll simply say that on a daily basis I use RunKeeper.  Even though the interface in app and online are limited, the customizable interval and audio feedback (down to the 1/4 mile) are crucial for my neurotic brain with a constant thirst for information.  Ultimately in order to adjust pace, I need feedback on a more frequent basis than at 1 mile intervals (or 1km) and RunKeeper is the only app which provided that in my experience.

I really liked Endomondo, Sports Tracker, and Runtastic though.  If they were to offer the features that I need, I'd consider using one of these as my primary workout app.  One last item of note is that never, not even once, did any of these 7 apps crash.  This is extremely reassuring to a runner concerned with keeping track of reliable workout data.

Final rankings
(with absolutely no regard for scientific analysis or metrics; It's just my opinion folks)

1) RunKeeper
2) Endomondo
3) Sports Tracker
4) Runtastic
5) Nike+
6) MapMyRun
7) Garmin Fit

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