What’s the best run tracking app out there? We put the four most popular running apps through the paces, literally and figuratively! Read on for a comparison of Nike Plus, Runkeeper, Strava and MapMyRun.
What are we looking for in a running app? Accurate tracking is a must for us, so we definitely go with GPS-based apps rather than pedometers. We like real-time stats, so we can stay on track with our target pace. We also like post-run stats so we can review our split times.
Nike Plus has published both iPhone and Android apps. We really liked Nike’s simple and clean display. We found it to be the easiest to use out of the 4 running apps. Simply tap “Begin Run” and you are greeted with a countdown: 3-2-1-start!
This is what you see while you’re running:
We love the simplicity of the display. The large mileage display is easy to read at a quick glance while you’re huffing it. The current pace and elapsed time are also shown. The pace is relatively accurate and doesn’t fluctuate too much like some of the other apps. However, we wish we could see the average pace, which would have been useful for making sure you’re on track for your overall goals for the run. The map view is easily accessible with a quick peel back, if you prefer to see your route on a trail run.
Another nice feature is the lock icon, which turns off touch input while keeping the display on, so you can read your stats without accidental button presses.
After your run, you can see your post-run stats right on the phone. The standard stats are there: duration, average pace, calories burned and lap times. To see the lap times, we had to turn the phone sideways to landscape view, which was not obvious, but we figured it out. We really liked the “mood” indicator that you can set after each run, ranging from a smiley face to a frowny face. This might come in handy when you want to remember later just how hard you pushed on that last workout. Even if you never look at the “mood” again, it’s somehow gratifying to click on the frowny face after limping back tired as a dog or on the smiley after a triumphant PR. We also really liked the fact that Nike Plus uses the time and place of the run to record the weather, so we remember which runs we had to power through under a 90 degree sun versus a cool, cloudy 65 degrees.
The display is a bit cluttered compared to Nike Plus. The bar chart for pace is pretty but doesn’t really give useful information. Icons like the camera, orientation and the GPS strength also seemed extraneous. However, we did like the choice of stats shown. Both the current pace and the average pace are available, and we constantly monitored both as we were running. The Stop and Pause buttons are also conveniently placed, so you can easily mash to end a race just as you cross the finish line.
For post-race stats, all the essentials are available right on the phone: average pace, mile splits, route map and even an elevation chart. This is by far the most full featured app as far as what is available to see right on the phone.
On runkeeper.com, you can dissect even more using their FitnessReports and upgraded Advanced FitnessReports (available with subscription). There, you can see sophisticated charts of calories burned, elevation, speed, pace, etc. You can see trends across activities and really get a great picture of your training progress.
The display reminds us of Nike Plus in its simplicity. We like it. However, the average pace (actually current pace) seems to fluctuate more, and is thus less useful than it is on Nike Plus. We are confused why Strava decided to drop a decimal place on the distance indicator, showing tenths of a mile instead of hundredths of a mile. This makes it harder to run exactly a 5k or 10k during a workout.
Strava offers as much post-run information as Runkeeper. Average pace, mile splits, route maps and elevation charts are all available. The presentation is pretty, but it takes a few more clicks to get to the stats, so we found ourselves not looking at them as much.
Perhaps its most distinguishing feature is a community feature that Strava calls “Segments”. These are essentially predefined courses where other runners have gone. Simply find a segment on a map, physically go to that location and run the course to compete with other runners who have done the segment. See where you rank on the leaderboard and try to outrun others. Nike Plus and Map My Run have a similar feature, but Strava has far more courses and much better participation.
Map My Run
Map My Run is another popular choice. It has apps for iPhone, Android and Blackberry (really, Blackberry?). Let’s cut the suspense and get right to the point. This was our least favorite of the bunch. Here’s the screen you see while running:
We found the formatting to be very ugly. The selection of font sizes seems haphazard and makes it hard to zero in on the important numbers while you’re running. The largest readout is the current pace, and it jumps all over the place. Our guess is that it’s an instantaneous measurement that is possibly even affected by how your arm swings. The pace number is largely useless for keeping you on track for your goal.
In addition, the app is limited in its display of post-run stats. For example, you must go onto the website to see your mile split times. The website itself is quite dated and cluttered too. The experience is simply not as polished as the competition.
Final Report Card
|Nike Plus||Runkeeper||Strava||Map My Run|
|Features during your run||A||B+||A||C|
|Features after your run||A-||A||B+||C|
|Stability and polish||A||B||A-||C|
|iTunes star rating||3.5 (8.5k ratings)||4 (12k ratings)||5 (1.2k ratings)||4 (52k ratings)|