Gadget Comparison - My Favorite Device to Track Activities and Runs - And a Link Up!
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Oh hi, February! How are everyone's resolutions going?! Hopefully by now we've gotten past some of the difficulties of sticking to a fitness routine, we've reignited our resolutions, and we've identified some of our motivations and obstacles.
For many people one obstacle to chasing fitness goals can be simply how to track progress, especially since tracking goals and setting smaller goals is so important for resolutions success! Back in October during my 31 day running streak I posted about a fitness tracking app called MapMyRun. I've used it since 2010 and this app is still by far my favorite tracking system, but over the years I've used a few different devices to track the data that goes into MapMyRun. I'm super excited to share my (not so humble) opinions with you, and point you to some great posts on other fitness trackers via a link-up with other members of the Triangle Area Bloggers (triFABB) group!
Tracking on a Smartphone
Back when I first started using MapMyRun to track my runs I just downloaded the app onto my phone and ran with my phone. This is a great cost-effective option if you want to try tracking your runs without shelling out some bucks on a device. (It's also really helpful if you're going to carry your phone anyways, whether it's for listening to music or podcasts or audiobooks or because you're like me and you run to explore until you get hopelessly lost and need to navigate home.)
- It's cheap because you probably already have a smartphone. That's all you need - download the app and you're good to go!
- You have an all-in-one device. Want to listen to podcasts, music, or audiobooks? Done! You can just download them onto your phone.
- You can navigate home if you get lost. (Like somebody I know...)
- If anything (heaven forbid) goes wrong, you can make an emergency call. I don't know about you, but I rely on the safety net of my phone quite a bit. As a mentor I bring my phone with me in case anything happens to anyone in my group, and when I run solo I usually bring my phone with me just in case anything happens to me.
However, I eventually discovered a few things that weren't so appealing with tracking on my phone.
- Tracking quality relies on the GPS tracker in your phone, and that may not be the best GPS option. GPS tracking on phones can vary wildly (especially since most phone GPS service is routed through a cell tower) and if you don't have service on part of your run you may find yourself going back and carefully cleaning up the data points on your route. (And trust me, if you care about your running data you don't want to sit there and meticulously adjust all the little data points on your running route.) This can also cause a major problem if you are relying on your phone to guide your distance and your pace during your run. It's certainly a nasty surprise to think you ran far and ran fast only to discover you're a whole mile short in reality because your phone's GPS data points zigzagged all over your actual route.
- Carrying your phone can be a pain. If you're not planning on entertaining yourself with your phone as a noise-making distraction or counting on your phone to navigate you home then carrying your phone can actually be annoying. If you put it in an armband you might end up chafing (never fun!), and if you carry your phone in your hand you'll probably sweat all over it or drop it (also not fun and a very fast way to send you to your local wireless carrier store to order a new phone. Trust me, don't do this.) Even if you don't manage to ruin your phone on a run, it's a sure way to eat up your battery.
- Your phone can turn into a distraction and detract from your run. You know all those Facebook notifications you get every five seconds? That friend who texts you nonstop? Your mom calling you randomly? Yeah, you can't really ignore all those notifications if you've got an app running to track your run. And if you're trying hard to settle into your run and not stop constantly for every new *ping!* on your device then it can be an annoyance and hindrance.
- Your phone app may be missing some more advanced features. Sure, you may compensate for some features that you want (like tracking cadence, doing interval training, etc.) by buying MVP access in MapMyRun or downloading some other apps, but after a while it's just annoying having to jump through hoops to make it work.
Verdict: Your phone is a great entry-level device to track your run with MapMyRun, but if you really need greater accuracy and durability, or if you are concerned about battery life or if you want to unplug from distractions then it may be an annoyance on runs.
Tracking on Fitbit Flex
Okay, okay, so this post is going up and is going to be immediately obsolete because Fitbit is now selling the Fitbit Flex 2* which looks snazzier and sleeker, but there are a few points to keep in mind if you're not interested in tracking your runs and activity on your phone but you're not quite ready for a GPS watch.
- The Fitbit Flex* (and other activity tracker wearables) are great for - you guessed it! - all day activity tracking. Apps and GPS watches are great for specific workouts, but if you're interested in your overall day - sleep, steps, vigorous activity, calories burned - then a dedicated activity tracker can be really informative. I was enamored with getting all the stats about my entire day when I wore my Fitbit.
- It's a more stylish wearable. Color coordinating! Sleek, minimalist design! Even designer jewelry styles! If you want something cute that gives you comprehensive info about your activity and doesn't scream "AHHHH I'M A RUNNING NERD!" the Fitbit Flex (or similar trackers) is a good option.
- The Fitbit can sync to MapMyRun. Oh, and all those challenges in MapMyRun where you can participate in competitions to win prizes after a certain number of workouts or a certain number of miles? As long as the challenges allow walking stats you are GOLDEN. Hello, easiest way to hit all your challenge milestones!
- The Fitbit standalone app is actually pretty good. You can easily see activity via cumulative daily steps and mileage, as well as strenuous activity (recorded as active minutes), keep a food diary, and input data on yourself and fitness goals for some pretty decent metrics and recommendations. All this and you don't even have to connect to MapMyRun.
As much as I liked the standalone Fitbit app though, much of MapMyRun covers features like food tracking, calories, etc. It's just that Fitbit does it prettier and in a more holistic way. The real issue is when you get serious about your running data.
- It doesn't track your runs. At all. Yeah, it's great for daily activity and giving you overall information, but if you want simple "track my run, give me my distance and my pace" functionality the Fitbit and other activity trackers won't cut it. When I wore my Fitbit and wanted to track my runs I had to get creative. And not in a good way. See, if I had Fitbit synced to MapMyRun then if I put on a GPS watch or tracked via the phone app then MapMyRun would show double mileage for that day (it would have the tracked data, plus the Fitbit data for the entire day). BUT if I took the Fitbit off and just tracked runs with a watch or phone then my Fitbit information would be off and there goes all the happy pretty stats showing calories burned vs. calories eaten. (It was a royal pain.)
- I had issues with durability. My Fitbit only lasted a few months before it crapped out and stopped charging. I've known other people whose Fitbits lasted well over a year, but I was not thrilled when it died a few months after I got it. Customer service was friendly, but not accommodating enough to offer a replacement, so I didn't miss my Fitbit too much after it died.
Verdict: The Fitbit Flex is a good option for all day activity tracking. Keep in mind the Fitbit Flex 2 is now available and it looks even more stylish than the original. It still won't track your runs, but Fitbit has other options (like the Charge, Blaze, and Surge) that are intended for active fitness. Although if you're going to care about your running data so much that you need that functionality, then you might as well go for...
Tracking on a GPS Watch
Oh baby! The gold standard of tracking your runs: the wonderful GPS watch. Don one of these and serious runners throughout the land will recognize you as one of them! Welcome to the wonderful, mystical realm of being that runner.
Of course, there are some huge differences between different GPS watch models. I used the Garmin Forerunner 10* for a couple years (the latest base model is now the Garmin Forerunner 25*, but there are still plenty of new Forerunner 10* watches out there at a good price). This little baby was a joy for my first foray into GPS watches, and for around $100 (or even cheaper if you buy used) I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in trying out a GPS watch for the first time. In the fall of 2016 I upgraded my watch to the Garmin Forerunner 230, and let me just say it is L-O-V-E. (Hey Garmin Forerunner 230, will you be my Valentine? 💝) Since these two gadgets are pretty different I'll split up the pros and cons by model.
Tracking on Garmin Forerunner 10
Oh, the sweet little pink and white device that got me through plenty of long runs and races! This chunky little block with a simple LCD screen and buttons on the side kinda reminds me of an old Tamagotchi in a way - clunky, simple, but functional and addicting enough to form an attachment to.
- Tracks runs via reliable, durable, water-resistant GPS. Yay! What more could you want if you're just interested in your running data? No routing through cellphone towers and skewed run data. No duplicated efforts. No annoying blips and bleeps and notifications from the world protruding on your run. It has one job and it does it well.
- It's bulky. I tried wearing this daily for a while. It's...a pain. You'll knock it on stuff, catch it on jacket sleeves, backpack straps, grocery bag straps...it loves to just get in the way.
- It's slow to get GPS signal. Make sure you've got a five minute head's up before you take off on your run. Start the GPS request, stick it in a window, and then go put on your running shoes before you strap it on and take it for a whirl.
- The battery life could be better. 5K races? Fabulous. Half marathon races? Great. Marathon races? Ehhhh not so much unless you're Meb. If I dragged my feet on a long run I would frequently get a notification that the battery was about to die towards the end of thirteen miles.
Verdict: If I were to recommend a GPS watch to someone looking to upgrade their run tracking from a smartphone app then this is the one I'd recommend. Affordable. Simple. Functional. Customizable screens, good tracking, good reliability, good basic features. It's a lovely little win in my book, although once you start craving fancier features, faster GPS response, a better battery for longer runs, and activity tracking you can easily upgrade to....
Tracking on Garmin Forerunner 230
Ooooh it was love at first tracking! Really what pushed me over the edge from the Forerunner 10 was the battery life and slow GPS signal, but the Garmin Forerunner 230* is a great mix of daily activity tracker, nonintrusive daily wearable, and fast and responsive running device.
- Looks good and all the cool runner kids have one. Oh if only joining the cool kid clique in high school were this easy! (Though most of them have the 235 instead of the 230 - the only difference is the 235 does heart rate tracking too.)
- Slim profile and...oh hey! Look at the time! Remember when we used to wear watches for the sake of knowing the time? Yeah. Good times.
- Activity tracking! All the joy of the Fitbit (well, minus the Fitbit app), all the knowledge of daily data and trends, and all the usefulness of GPS tracking. 💚
- Fast GPS signal. No more taking off down the road and three-quarters of a mile later you finally have signal!
- The Garmin Connect app is a solid standalone app. Easy to check daily activity info and dive into running stats. I'll still sync to MapMyRun for now because of the historical data, but the Garmin Connect app is available on Android and Apple, as well as on the web. Not bad!
- Great battery life. I am mean to my poor watch - I make it last all week doing activity tracking and through a long run. I am mean to my poor watch and it still performs beautifully.
- Smartwatch capability. Yep, get all those pesky notifications from your phone about your friends. Even better? "Do not disturb" mode. (Heaven! 🙌)
- Customizable screens and more advanced features. Sure, the Forerunner 10 has customizable screens, but the Forerunner 230 just takes it to a whole new level.
- Price. But other than that I really can't come up with any complaints, and about $250 for a smartwatch/GPS tracker/activity tracker? Not bad.
Verdict: Love love love! 😍 And while I didn't upgrade all the way to the Garmin Forerunner 235 like most people choose (the 235 has heart monitoring capabilities, but, ehhhh), I've loved tracking daily activity and GPS runs all in one great device. It's a good option for the intermediate runner.
If you're interested in the super geeky review details of the Garmin Forerunner 230 I recommend checking out DC Rainmaker's site: https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2015/11/garmin-fr230-fr235-review.html
Oh, and of course I've got some obligatory pics of Ryder modeling the devices. Because as usual when I was photographing the goods he stuck his nose into the pictures, and we all know what happens after that...