Sometime in 2006, some co-workers and I tried our hands at running. We’re not all that fast, and our endurance isn’t all that great, but we enjoy hitting the pavement together, and we’ve all reaped some big-time fitness benefits from the hundreds of miles of ground we’ve covered in our four years of ground-pounding. What we lack in performance, we make up for in dedication – we run right through the bitter Upstate-NY winters – but none of us has ever felt dedicated enough to drop several hundred clams on a dedicated GPS training device.
But then, at long last, the Droid came to Verizon, and I finally entered the world of Android users. Not long after me, one of my running buddies traded in his Blackberry Storm for a Droid as well. Since then, I’ve tried out a couple of apps for runners, and thought I’d share a few observations here…
The first app to join me on my runs was CardioTrainer, from Android app house Work Smart Labs. I tried the free app on a couple of trail runs during a visit to California, and it did a great job. Given the unfamiliar surroundings, it was nice to have a little insight into how far I’d gone. CardioTrainer measures distance, time, pace and calories burned in real time using your handset’s GPS receiver, and automatically – and anonymously – uploads completed workouts to the Work Smart servers. There, you can view additional details about your performance, as well as check out your route on a larger map.
After returning home, I tried CardioTrainer on several routes that I had previously mapped using online tools such as MapMyRun or the GMap Pedometer. The app’s distance measurement is very accurate, and receiving spoken pace and time information proved helpful in regulating my speed and achieving a more balanced effort. Still, it’s is not without its annoyances – despite the formidable processing power of the Droid, CardioTrainer takes noticeably longer to register screen taps than other apps, especially when it’s using the GPS. During some runs, while the overall distance and time numbers are correct, large portions of the track are mysteriously missing from the track display. I suspect this has something to do with the autopause feature.
Checking in on the CardioTrainer web site, users can view their training history and data logged for each workout. Oddly, each workout’s elevation graph is accessible on the web site but not via the handset interface, while a pace graph is available on the handset but not on the web site.
- Many configuration options
- Live map display – very helpful to check for dead-end roads when running in an unfamiliar place!
- Automatic track upload to CardioTrainer web site
- Can track several different activities – running, walking, biking, etc.
- Ability to manually add workouts (such as for indoor activities, swimming, etc.)
- Configurable auto-pause stops timer and pace calculations if you stop moving
- Pace graphs only show miles/hour, not minutes/mile (which would be preferable)
- Voice guidance configuration could be improved
- Autopause can disrupt track logging
- Can export KML and GPX files, but not import
After experiencing a few quirks with CardioTrainer, I took a look in the Android Market for other options. Buddy Runner seemed to have a strong rating and a friendly pricetag (it’s also free), so I gave it a shot during today’s run. While the interface is far more sparse than that of CardioTrainer, BuddyRunner does allow customization in one area that its competition does not: specifically what data is read aloud to you during voice guidance. Rather than CardioTrainer’s pre-defined content – which alternates depending on whether you’re at a milepost or mid-mile interval – users can choose exactly which data points they want to hear.
In use, Buddy Runner is simple – the main screen provides “Start / Pause” and “End” buttons, as well as tickers displaying time, distance and pace. A map view is also provided, though I’ve never looked to see if it’s updated in real-time. I particularly like the fact that Buddy Runner gives you an option to select how your voice-output pace is calculated – it will read out either the “live” pace from your last few seconds of running, the average pace for your last mile, or your overall average pace for the entire run. Based on my usage of CardioTrainer, I’ve surmised that the only pace it reads to you is the “live” pace, which is what I prefer to hear anyway.
- Better voice guidance configuration
- Simple interface, easy to use while running
- So far, no corrupted tracks
- Configurable pace calculation (last few seconds, last interval, entire run average)
- Only tracks running – no other activities
- Autopause is either “on” or “off” – the stop interval isn’t configurable
- Requires e-mail address to enable uploading of tracks to the web, but does upload automatically
- No visible feedback on button-presses, such as highlighting – a complaint common to many Android apps
With both CardioTrainer and Buddy Runner on my phone, I’m hard pressed to choose a winner – neither is head-and-shoulders above the other, at least when it comes to running. I’m inclined to look past CardioTrainer’s occasional quirks, given that it has the capacity to track other forms of exercise, as well as input indoor workouts manually – we all know I enjoy my time on two wheels. Which will I use going forward? For day-to-day runs, Buddy Runner wins, since I can choose what I want read aloud to me while running. If both apps were to slap on a $5 price tag tomorrow, however, my money would go to CardioTrainer – it simply delivers more functionality and a smoother user interface. They’re both great apps – and I would encourage any Android-toting runner to give each a try.