Saturday, January 29, 2011

Garmin 305 vs Apple iPhone 4 (Runkeeper Pro)

A few months ago I made a brave move and relocated to Chicago. On the whole this has been a positive experience and I'm glad I did it. But like all changes in life, it came with some pros and cons. For instance, on the plus side I have a 0.5 mile long lap lane in Lake Michigan within jogging distance from where I live. Also, within a half mile radius I can get everything I need to survive: food, firewood, dry cleaning and an Apple Store. I also don't need a car so I sold it - that's been a huge money saver.

But there's also the downside. I now have nowhere to bike. And please don't say I can bike in the burbs. Stop kidding yourself. The burbs are better than Chicago proper but are still too congested to get any reasonable training done. Also, if you enjoy running there's essentially only one place to go: the lakefront. It is a beautiful route but there's something to be said about variety. And no, running the opposite direction doesn't count as variety.

But all things equal, the number one annoyance has to do with my Garmin Forerunner 305. It's been my trusty companion on well over 5,000 miles of logged running and biking over the years. The watch, combined with Garmin Connect and Garmin Training Center has proven to be a great tool to summarize my workout life. It's seen emotional highs and lows, been with me through my ups and my downs, my success and my struggles and always performed up to my expectations. I describe this thing like it's a friend with a soul and in a way it is. But ever since moving to Chicago it's been less and less reliable. I've reset the watch so it looks for new GPS satellites but I still have to wait over a minute for it to get signal. I'm blaming all the buildings for this issue but it's where I live. I can't make the buildings go away so I need the watch to step up its game and get with the program.

It breaks my heart that I've had to shelf the watch because on numerous occasions I couldn't get a signal. But if it's not working well I need to keep my eyes open for another solution.

And during the last week of December a solution did indeed present itself. I got an email from a vendor stating that the iPhone app RunKeeper Pro was going on sale for $0.00. For that price who can say no. So I promptly shelled out the zero dollars for it and put it on my iPhone.

After giving it a few runs I've decided it's quite a handy app for city running. It audibly notifies me every five minutes of my total distance, total time and pace. It also has no problem picking up GPS signal in the city. The app is beautifully designed and with the click of a button it stops the workout and uploads it to both Twitter and Facebook. It's also great on the iPhone battery. After a 13 mile run I still had over 85% battery left. In a word it's amazing. There's even a HRM that works with it though I have yet to buy it. It's also unclear how that would impact the battery life but if I ever decide to open my wallet for that I'll be writing all about it.

Now that I have two tools that do essentially the same thing I wanted to try them both out at the same time to see what kind of results I get. After all, if they're both getting GPS from presumably the same satellites so the information should be relatively identical.

Today's run was 13 miles using both my time tested Garmin Forerunner 305 and an iPhone 4 with Runkeeper Pro. Results from both the Forerunner and the iPhone are available for review. I started them seconds apart near the corner of North Ave & Wells. I then proceeded to run all over the west loop to the south loop then over to Soldier Field, across to the planetarium, around the aquarium, along the lake shore and finally home.

Garmin Results

Below is a screenshot of the results from the run with the Garmin Forerunner 305. It's disappointing to see the Garmin Connect service is using Bing for their maps but that's more of a problem with me than anything else.

You can see the Forerunner has me clocked in a 2:01:19 and has me ending pretty much at the same corner as where I started. Good planning on my part. Their calorie count is around 1800 calories and a total elevation change of 81 feet.

It was obnoxious getting a signal at first and I did lose signal from time to time in the city but did manage to get it back within a short time span.

Garmin Results

iPhone and RunKeeper Pro Results

Below are two screenshots, both listing the results of the same run using the RunKeeper Pro app. Comparing it with the map above from the Forerunner you can see it's identical though it looks far more attractive because it's using Google's map service instead of that craptastic Microsoft "solution". That aside though, the two tools got GPS data beautifully.

RunKeeper Pro has me logged in at finishing the 13 mile run at the 2:00:57 mark with a total of 1900 calories burned and 927 feet of climbing. I'm assuming that's net of decents because Chicago's almost as flat as it gets.

Screen shot 2011-01-29 at 6.07.52 PM.png Screen shot 2011-01-29 at 6.08.03 PM.png

The RunKeeper Pro app has me finishing the run almost one minute sooner than the Forerunner. That difference I believe is because the RunKeeper app is able to get a better GPS signal than the watch. Also, there's no function to tell the app to stop when you stop whereas the Forerunner is programmed to stop when I stop and then continue again when I'm moving again.

All in all, looking at these results I can say with confidence that the difference between the two is, based on one run, trivial and so I can use either one as my needs dictate.

Now if I can just find an app that'll make me run faster.


James said...

Thanks for comparing those two devices. I also did a comparison using the Nike+ GPS and a the Garmin 305. What I found, however, was that the Garmin watch was significantly more accurate on my normal running route. The difference was trivial for a short run, but I suspect it would become less so on a longer run. Like your example I only did one run , but it was interesting nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

Looks like you switched back to the Garmin since your most recent runs are on the Garmin Connect site. Did you decide Garmin is a better overall experience than the RunKeeper app on the iphone?

I have run 20 marathons, most with a Garmin, and I am considering switching to the RunKeeper on my iphone 4s in part so that I will have the phone with me on long runs for safety reasons and also so that I can use it to stream podcasts on my runs. I realize I could just carry the phone with the Garmin but would like to limit carrying just one GPS device if it works close to the Garmin experience. So far the RunKeeper seems like it does that but welcome your comments.