Sunday, February 16, 2014

Running Apps and GPS Phones

I have been complaining about my different running apps for a while now.  Some were more accurate than others; however, at some point I would have to reinstall the program to get it to work.  I always blamed the app for this problem.  However, over the summer I upgraded my phone from a HTC One to the Google LG Nexus 4 and instantly my problems ceased.  Or say most of my problems.
I have learned that all GPS in cell phones are not equal.  Some GPS are cellular based (triangulated by cell towers) and others directly by satellite.  An example of this is when you find you have run more miles than you know you did and there are a lot of squiggly lines instead of one smooth line when reviewing in your favorite app. 
Also, if you are on the trails, the older GPS smartphones will sometimes not work since they cannot pick up a reliable cell signal.  The newer smartphones will be able to track anywhere since they are directly using the satellite.  
  Also, older GPS phones do not clear out the latitude and longitude out of the phone’s cache.  So sometimes the program starts you out from the last recorded run instead of your current location.  I learned about this from Strava which recommended downloading another GPS app, this one which allows you to clear the phone’s cache and reset the location.  The app in itself is great; however, kind of cumbersome when you have to go through multiple steps just to use a simple running app.

The Google Nexus 4 on the other hand has had no such problems.  I have gone on many a run or ride and there has been no data inconsistency.  In fact each run or ride is exactly the same distance ( give or take a small margin for slight route adjustments).  Also, there is very little difference (again give or take a really small margin) between Strava, for example, and my Garmin fenix.
Finally, I found that just trying to find my location in my old phone could take up to three or four minutes before the location was synced up.   My newer Google Nexus 4 takes no more than 10 to 15 seconds.
If all you are interested in is tracking your activity, the newer smartphone’s GPS is as good if not better than most of the lower end GPS watches.
However, there are some things that the GPS in a phone cannot due which still makes a higher end GPS watch better.  
For example, I was noticing that my elevation on my Strava phone app was not matching what my Garmin fenix was showing – sometimes by several thousand feet.  When I queried Strava, the explanation I received was that for the most accurate elevation use a device with a barometric altimeter.  If not Strava would use its algorithms and database knowledge to estimate the elevation gain.  Well this is fine if you are running in flat residential but not so good if you are running trails.

Because of this, I use my Strava Cycling app on my phone when I am commuting on my bike each day; however, I use my Garmin fenix on all of my runs.  
If it is your choice to use a running app and you are finding inaccuracies, your choice is to upgrade your phone or to by a watch.  I really like my Nexus 4 and would recommend it for this purpose.
Now for a review of the different running apps, please check out the product review section of this blog.

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