As an Ironman triathlete and avid marathoner, I was quite excited to explore sport applications on my Nexus One Android phone. My main goal was to use an Android application to track time, distance and pace during my run and ride workouts.
Historically, carrying up to three devices: a cell phone, iPod and Garmin GPS had been frustrating. The majority of my training is done using a Garmin GPS: it collects all the data, provides immediate feedback and has good stats and charts after uploading to computer. For my training purposes, Garmin’s user interface is visually manageable. Out of the many tracked variables, I mostly use three data fields on the main screen: total distance, average speed and current pace. For my runs, I also like to keep an eye on heart rate. During training I’m not as interested in elevation data or my exact location on a map. Afterwards–absolutely.
The possibility of replacing all three devices with an Android phone application sounded great. I also wanted to find out if it would be reliable enough to use during races.
My test environment was relatively simple: a short 3.5 miles loop on a bike, with a Garmin 405 as a reference device; a paved flat surface with some surrounding trees but decent satellite coverage. I made a halfway stop to make sure the application was still running and collecting data and hadn’t been interrupted with phone calls or music.
I tried 15 different free applications and narrowed the list down to eight that are absolutely worth mentioning. The eliminated applications either crashed, showed blank screen or stopped recording data.
The winners are listed in the order of popularity among Android downloads. All of them pretty much behaved themselves, reported correct distance, time and average speed. The gathered data values were comparable to Garmin’s. I liked those that offered voice notifications, integration with Google maps, and limited chart availability directly on the phone. The major issue for me was that most of them have crowded user interfaces on the main screen. My preference would be to allow me to select the main screen data fields and move everything else to additional screens.
Due to the relatively short test cycle, I didn’t experience any battery problems, an issue often associated with GPS tracking applications. Some applications even include a GPS power saving mode.
Sport applications for Android have gone a long way to generate immediate feedback during outdoor exercise. With the improved UI they’ll be good candidates for training sessions. As for the dream of using any of these applications in competition, more improvement is necessary before I’m convinced they are robust and reliable enough.
In Part 2 of Android Sport Applications, I will be exploring the stats and charts available for uploaded data.
Record GPS tracks and view live statistics such as time, speed, distance, and elevation – while hiking, biking, running or participating in other outdoor activities. Great chart settings and voice notifications. I also liked pinpoints and Google map integration. Negative: too many data fields on the main screen.
Integrated data part with Google map on the main screen; nice auto-resume and voice notification features. Includes Race Against Yourself and Free Weight Trainer for $2.99.
Included in SportsTrack applications suite. Nice charts of speed over time and Google maps integration. Uploading tracks is a paid feature. The user interface is similar to My Tracks. The application supports the Bluetooth Zephyr HxM chest band for heart rate and cadence.
Registration required for the free version. Nice features include animation on a Google map, voice notifications and a clean UI with big buttons.
Excellent training interface with only three info fields: duration, distance, and average speed. It would be better if the fields are selectable. Allows data upload from Garmin GPS devices.
Great looking icons and slick user interface, nice graph of elevation over distance, but the distance scale is not linear and you can’t set arbitrary distances. It is possible to race and compare your results with others.
Visually manageable main screen but can’t change very bright colors. The application is made predominantly for winter sports and mountain biking. Elevation and average speed data are integrated on a Google map, but unfortunately in a tiny font.
Must pay for uploads but the ability to link to a camera is a plus. Main screen has an option to include the graph data and split times.
Very nice user interface. I prefer even bigger pace/distance numbers. Negative: didn’t find a vertical bar chart without labels particularly useful on the main screen. Screen orientation can only be changed manually. Currently only available for Android OS 2.0 and above.