In order to get an idea whether an iPhone and the Nike Running App were a suitable training replacement for a dedicated GPS watch I took both out on the road for a quick 5KM test. I bought a GPS watch when I found Runkeeper to be unreliable on my iPhone so I was quite keen to try out a new option. Since the Nike app is now free it’s become a fairly appealing prospect as well as providing some cool features such as Nike Fuel points and competing with other people in the world.
I’ve got the very basic entry level Garmin Forerunner 210 GPS watch; yes I know there is a Forerunner 110 but it only tells you average not current pace making it useless. The Garmin goes for about R1999 without a heart rate monitor making it a proportionally around the same as the Nike dedicated GPS watch (the Sportwatch). You could also use the Garmin as a daily watch replacement if you want people to know you’re the sporty type but you’ll generally just look like a bit of a tosser.
The Nike Running app comes on Android and iPhone; I tested the iPhone version since I lack an Android phone.
There are three important metrics when it comes to tracking sport:
- Speed to get a GPS lock
- After exercise analytics
The Nike app finds the GPS satellites faster than the Garmin watch but this has a pretty negative effect on your initial tracking. Your phone uses something called “Assisted GPS” meaning it uses cellphone towers to triangulate you quickly. This means you get a faster rough positioning but it’s not accurate immediately. Both devices require you to wait about thirty seconds until the device is accurate when activated outside. Turn your phone or GPS watch on before you tie your laces and it should be done by the time you’re finished. Let’s call this round a tie.
Accuracy is important: you don’t want to under or over count your distance, especially if you’re doing some more intense training. Even the most expensive GPS tracker will be slightly inaccurate for various reasons. As I mentioned in the start of the review, I stopped using the iPhone and Runkeeper because it wasn’t accurate enough. I ended up with 5.02KM on the Garmin and 5.12KM on the Nike Running app. You’re looking at a 2% difference which is fairly negligible if you’re doing distances shorter than 10KM. If you’re running longer you’ll want the battery life of the Garmin anyway. The Nike app is accurate enough for shorter distance runners but longer than 20KM and you’re potentially loosing about half a kilometer. I’m going to give the Garmin the point here purely because it’s more accurate.
The Garmin platform is functional looking but has all the data you might ever need and can even replay your run in realtime if that sort of thing appeals. The Nike+ service is really pretty but a bit shallow. You can also review your run in a much better looking interface but it lacks useful information such as splits. You can share via Twitter and Facebook as well as compete against friends. Nike+ is definitely cooler but lacks a level of detail found on the Garmin analytics portal. I’d actually give this round to Nike+, the competition between yourself and friends genuinely motivates you to run further and faster.
It’s simple: using your phone as a GPS and music player makes life easier than a GPS watch and iPod. For distances longer than 10KM I’d recommend a dedicated GPS watch (there are plenty of brands beyond Garmin) but for a new runner or shorter distance runner the smartphone of your choice is a decent (and free) solution.