Going The Distance: Nike+ GPS Vs. RunKeeper

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As someone who ostensibly tries to keep fit, I’ve found the best way to pretend to lose weight is to fiddle around with iPhone apps during my workout. First, it reduces the mind-crushing pain of exercise and allows me to go to a place in myself where I can avoid the boredom of exertion.

To that end I decided to test out the new Nike+ GPS app alongside an old favorite, RunKeeper.

Both apps have their pluses and minuses. Clearly RunKeeper is aimed squarely at the professional or at least obsessive runner, while the Nike+ software is aimed at a more casual user. Both have their value in the training arsenals of the average runner, and many of the hardware-specific features of Nike+ have been stripped out of the new GPS version, thereby putting both apps on equal footing.

Interface
When Nike+iPod came out in 2006 it essentially redefined the sports app. Companies like Suunto and Polar have long created desktop applications for tracking workouts but they have been, at best, garbage. The Nike+ interface, especially the Nike+ system for uploading runs directly to a website for tracking, was revolutionary.

The current interface (above, left) is very Nike. It’s all orange and offers very little in the way of initial control. The system allows you to start a run or select a type of run including a distance run or a timed run along with a free-form race. The app can connect with your online profile and you can share runs on Facebook or Twitter, just in case you want the world to know your failure.

RunKeeper is a bit more barebones in that it offers very basic controls along with a map. You can manually enter treadmill runs, a big deal if you’re cross-training or will be training this winter, and most of the real processing happens on the website where you can join various “teams” and add friends with whom you can share your runs.

Tracking
Both apps track your distance and speed via GPS. Nike+ also supports the Polar WearLink+ Transmitter, but it only works on Nike+iPod compatible devices, like iPods with the Nike dongle or iPhones of recent vintage. Nike+ has a unique “heat map” system to show where you were running fastest.

RunKeeper is also available for Android phones, giving it a few lengths in this competition. RunKeeper also allows you to track cycling sessions.

Motivation

Nike+iPod has supposedly always been about run sharing. However, in the three years I’ve used it I’ve never once shared a run. I doubt that I’ll ever use any of the sharing features simply because they so rarely come up in the app itself. This doesn’t mean the challenges don’t exist, I’ve just never encountered them.

That being said, both apps have some very clever ways to keep you motivated. Nike+ has the aforementioned challenges while RunKeeper has fitness classes that cost $10 each and include training sessions recorded by a real Olympian.

Once signed up, you’ll be able to follow along with the FitnessClass each day as it guides you through the program on the web, and if you are using one of our smartphone apps, through the mobile device as well. On the FitnessClass page, you’ll find a feed of activities from other FitnessClass participants, and you can help motivate/encourage each person in the FitnessClass by commenting on and ‘liking’ their training activities. You will be grouped with other RunKeeper users training for the same fitness goal at the same time. Don’t be shy, together we can help each other achieve our goals and lead healthier lives!

You can also train with friends for free. The classes are quite a clever addition to the traditional run sharing model and I’d be interested to hear how useful beginner runners find them.

Usability

Both of these apps focus on ease-of-use. You press a button and you start running (or cycling or snowboarding or any of a number of items from RunKeeper’s dropdown list.) After a GPS lock, you’re ready to train.

Both services offer voice prompts. Nike+ offers them in male and female voices. Nike being Nike, they actually hired Paula Radcliffe and Lance Armstrong to do their early voice prompts and it was great hearing Paula urge me on through another everything-baked-potato-with-bacon heart palpitation.

My biggest gripe? You have to carry your phone around with you. I’d be very worried that I’d get my phone wet or drop it, but Nike conveniently also makes a nice iPhone 4 armband that should alleviate some of that worry.

Price

Nike+ GPS costs $1.99. RunKeeper comes in two version, a Free version and a $9.99 pro version. There are also add-ons like RunKeeper Elite that offer live run tracking while in the midst of a race.

Overall

Being a nerd, I kind of like RunKeeper’s feature set more than the Nike+ app. However, Nike+ has a proven track record of getting fat people skinnier, which is a plus.

I used Nike+iPod for years and used RunKeeper and AllSportGPS during various runs over the past few months. If you are serious about training and keeping things organized and social, I’d recommend RunKeeper. If you’re newer to the social running game, I’d suggest Nike+ GPS. Either way, both are excellent trackers and excellent resources for plodders.

RunKeeper
Nike+ GPS

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