RunKeeper vs MapMyFitness.. and Strava, and iRunner, and iSmoothRun..
(Last edit: 2nd May 2015)
Several of my friends use exercise recording apps, particularly for walking, running, and cycling. I had a look at a few options, but found two that seem to have broad appeal. These are RunKeeper (which is not just for running), and MapMyFitness (also known/available as iMapMy, and in specialised form as MapMyRun, MapMyRide..)
These apps allow you to:
- Record start and end times of various sport/exercise activities
- Record your path, including speed and altitude, using GPS built into an iPhone or Android device
- Listen to music while exercising, with periodic voice-over announcing your progress
- Set goals and report your progress
- Report statistics on your activities, including e.g. monthly totals, fastest time on a route, estimated energy spent
- Accept data from capable heart rate monitors, pedometers, sports GPS recorders etc
- Share your activities and favourite routes with friends (who are also members), and/or the whole world.
- Publish your achievements on Facebook and Twitter
My aim here is not to give an exhaustive review of these products, but to point out a few differences and share my experience.
RunKeeper have recanted on the “with ads” approach and now offer a single app without advertisements. Paid membership increases the range of reporting available from their web site.
RunKeeper’s site is clean and fairly straightforward.
Strava takes a similar approach to RunKeeper. Paid membership unlocks goal tracking, more reporting and analysis.
iRunner / iCardio is free for basic function, which includes ability to upload your workouts to Strava and RunKeeper accounts. In-app upgrades are very affordable. You can “go pro” for all features (about $10), or just add options for external sensors (like a heart monitor), custom routines, and fitness assessments more cheaply.
MapMy is free (with ads). Paid membership removes the advertisements, and higher subscription levels provide extra reports, printed maps, training plans, and priority customer support. The first paid level, “bronze”, is $30 p.a.
If you don’t want to pay $30 each year, you will find the iMapMy web site heavily bogged down with animated advertisements. Apart from the annoying visuals, it makes the site slower to use, as the animations often load before the page displays properly.
If you do pay, the MapMy web sites are transformed into something much more usable and navigable.
iSmoothRun pro is $5.99. It has great dashboard options, has uploads to all the major ecosystems including both Strava and MapMy. Even better, they quickly added support for the Pebble smartwatch. Now I can have the phone in my back pocket when cycling in cold/damp weather, or in a pouch when running, and quickly see vital stats on my wrist.
It’s hard to beat the value of “free”, though I hated MapMy’s web site in free/advertising mode. iRunner’s upgrades are so cheap it hardly matters. Looking at the fully paid versions, Strava looks the most expensive, but if you’re going to pay a monthly or annual membership you’ll want to look in more detail at the features available. Each system is a little different.
Ease of use
Both products take a little fiddling to work out, but I find RunKeeper just a little more intuitive to use.
Mobile Features & Capability
MapMy seems a little more sophisticated. The most notable difference I’ve found is support for multiple laps in a run or ride. Both will allow you to record a path that contains multiple laps, but only MapMy will treat them as laps of a circuit and allow lap splits. Edit: Strava does this better.
Finding / sharing routes
RunKeeper makes it easy to save a mapped activity as a “route”. You can then select this route when using it again, and hence compare times. Routes can be shared with friends. Searching for routes only shows those published by my “street team” (list of registered friends).
It doesn’t seem to work the same in MapMy. I found it rather confusing, but the answer may be in their new web site (currently in “beta” testing) with the new “courses” feature. Registered users can switch between the old and new sites until the new one is finalised. Searching for routes in MapMy shows many results from all users. However, it doesn’t seem to search by location very well.
Each product has a support forum, accessible after you have registered. I can appreciate that providing end-user support to many thousands of users, for GPS-using software running on mobile phones, would be quite a burden, and many issues may actually be completely unrelated to the software. MapMy appears to have a good commitment to participating and answering questions. RunKeeper seems a bit overwhelmed.
Any mobile phone will consume more power while using its GPS receiver. The same goes for apps that access the internet. Keep this in mind when planning longer runs or rides.
Previously: MapMy has a problem causing continued heavy battery use after you stop using the app. That’s right, record an activity, end the activity, and switch away from the app, and the battery will continue to run down — not quite as quickly while actively using GPS, but enough to flatten a newish iPhone’s battery overnight. I normally get 2 days including plenty of talk time. Users on their support forum report the same thing occurring on Android phones.
The workaround is to force the app to close. Normally, apps remain open in the background on both iPhone and Android. On iPhone, double-tap the “home” button, and the bottom row of the screen presents a scrollable view of open apps. Press and hold one of them, and they will show a small red “x” above them. Then you can tap an app to completely close it. Press “home” again to return to the normal view.
Don’t be too hasty with this workaround. iMapMy is very web-centric; if it hasn’t yet sent your activity data via the internet, force-closing the app means losing your records.
Update: I hear this may have been fixed around October 2012.
Members of our club have taken to Strava, which seems a mature system. It supports only two activities: running and cycling*. The iPhone app seems a little basic, with no voice announcements, no screen rotation, and a display of average but not current speed, though serious riders would have a speedo / bike computer / sports GPS, and probably not be wearing earphones.
At first I was surprised there’s no distinction between road and mountain biking, but found you can list specific bikes and nominate which one was used on each ride. I would like to be able to do this in the iPhone app though.
The web site features have clearly had a lot of input from serious enthusiasts and competitors. Most notably, rather than simply calling a whole run or ride as a “route” which can be shared and re-used, Strava supports segments. A segment could be a hill climb (or descent), a loop, or any other section travelled. The great thing is they are detected automatically. Having completed a run or ride, any included segments are listed with it on the web site, along with your time(s) for the segment, indicators of your best times, and your rank among all Strava users on the same path.
Since it distinguishes segments from whole runs/rides, I can ride to a meet, compete several laps of a circuit with breaks (tag-team) and ride home, all recorded as a single “ride”, yet am able to compare the actual circuit laps.
* Update: Strava now supports walking, windsurfing, skating, swimming, various skiing and other nordic activities..
* Update: Cyclists, use a bike mount; see further down.
(Update: section added Feb 2013)
I got a heart rate monitor for Christmas, and started looking into how it could help me train. This led me to prefer Digifit iRunner to record my rides and runs. It features a number of ways to report your progress with popup and lock-screen alerts, and configurable voice feedback. iRunner’s configurable dashboard is great; large fonts for a quick read! DigFit has a good recording and reporting on its own web site, but iRunner also allows upload to 7 other fitness sites, as well as social media like Facebook. This means if you or your friends have committed to Strava or Runkeeper ecosystem, you can get the benefits of iRunner without losing your results or your friends. There is one notable omission from the upload list: MapMy isn’t supported. Also, the upload has to be done manually (a couple of screen taps) at the end of a workout. It’d be nice to have this made automatic, but that would be tricky if you then want to edit/annotate a workout as it’s already been sent.
Update July 2013: Strava response to recent issue: “We recently deprecated our older API versions which DigitFit was using to upload to Strava. We’re now working with the DigiFit developers to get them set up with our new V3 API. They’ll have an updated app available soon that will resolve this problem, but I don’t have specific timing on its release.”
iRunner is free, though some features depend on paying a modest in-app fee to upgrade.
While Runkeeper and Strava can record heart rate, iRunner and the DigiFit site are particularly focused on “cardio fitness”, with reporting on time spent in different heart rate “zones”. Clearly you need a compatible heart rate monitor to get this benefit. Sensor support does require a paid upgrade to the app ($2.99). Your maximum heart rate is configurable. Default zones are fixed at 50-60, 60-70, 70-80, 80-90, 90-100%, but you can make your own; some trainers recommend different ranges.
iRunner can give voice feedback on heart rate. I soon found the alerts annoyingly long, as they stated not just the band, but the minimum and maximum heart rates for the band (in bpm) every time. Thankfully, the makers added an option to turn that off, so now it can just announce “entering band 4″. That’s much better when learning the discipline of an all-aerobic workout.
iRunner has companion editions, iBiker and iCardio. “All our apps offer the same multi-sport functionality. There are small differences in initial defaults and quotes & tips oriented to the name.” iCardio is the only one available for Android phones.
Heart rate & training recommendations
Here’s some sites I found useful:
One interesting snippet from the Yahoo answers link:
A better measure than heart rate while running is how quickly it recovers. After you run, time your heart right at the end, at 1 minute, and at 2 minutes. The faster it recovers, the better your conditioning.
iRunner includes a “cool down” feature, which ends the “session” but shows a graph of your heart rate for the next 2 minutes. The cool-downs are recorded to DigiFit, but are not part of the workout uploaded to other sites like Strava.
MapMy seems a little more capable than RunKeeper, and better supported. Handling of “laps” almost convinced me to switch from RunKeeper. The battery problem convinced me not to.
RunKeeper is a little easier to get started, and if your aim is “what can I get for free”, a much nicer site. It supports a very broad range of exercise activities, with goal-setting and social media
bragging accountability. RunKeeper is a good choice for general exercise alone or with friends.
If you run or ride with a club, or competitively, Strava does it better, though the others are catching up.
For voice feedback on heart rate, a large-font dashboard, use iRunner.
For great dashboards and Pebble integration, use iSmoothRun.
If you’re willing to spend some money for a comprehensive package but still don’t know, then use iRunner or iSmoothRun but also set up accounts on Strava and RunKeeper. Send your data to all of them, look at what they tell you, and look at the upgrade options. Then buy a bike computer or training watch, with GPS and heart rate sensor, and upload to any system you want.
If you want to see and control your fitness app while cycling, you’ll need a mount, particularly if you want to keep an eye on heart rate, energy burn, or other stats. Using a mount will give better GPS accuracy than carrying a phone in the back of your jersey or in other pockets, especially at corners, except when you’re crouched low over the handlebars. It’s about how much of the sky is blocked by your body, and therefore how many satellites remain visible. When you turn, the ones in use will be lost, and your phone will have to find and lock onto others, perhaps taking half a minute to settle. I found this makes a significant difference for Strava segment matching.
My experience with a couple of models is here.
If you need a case / mount for your iPhone or other smartphone, click here to get a 10% discount on a QuadLock!