Technology has contributed to advancements in almost every field. Running is no exception. Now thanks to these little gadgets we call smartphones, we can say goodbye to the days of antiquated running watches or fitness journals and actually get some useful and comprehensive data on every run. It’s truly awesome. It’s also driving me insane.
Technology gives us infinite possibilities coupled with extreme limitations. That may sound like a contradiction but you know it’s true. I have access to more specific details and stats about my running than ever before, but having so much information available to me and in so many different forms is overwhelming and makes me very difficult to please. With so many options available to us at all times, our standards for perfection have skyrocketed through the roof. If I only had one running app to choose from, chances are I would be very satisfied with it. The best way to set someone up for disappointment is to give them lots of options.
I can’t deny that I sort of miss the days when I just ran out the door with nothing electronic on my person. Nothing but my keys tied to my shoelaces and maybe a walkman. It was freeing. Although I sometimes miss that, I can’t go back now, knowing that I can track my pace on every mile, how many calories I burned, my personal records, my exact time. I’m a prisoner to my Android and since that’s the reality, I may as well find the best running app out there. Shouldn’t be too hard right? Think again.
There are a bazillion running apps in the Google Play Store. You’d think that I would be able to find ONE that does all of the things I want it to do, especially since my requests are meager. But no! Apparently not. So first, I’ll provide a list of the not-too-much-to-ask features I’d like in my running app. Then I will go through and tell you which apps do and don’t deliver. Hopefully by the end of this article we will discover together, the best running app… in the world.
*Sidenote: I have an Android, so the following reviews are going to be of apps on that platform. I think all of the same apps exist for iPhone, but they aren’t identical, so take note*
I have 5 major criteria that I deem my “must-haves.” I will assign one “sneaker” point for every category. The app with the highest score wins. Hopefully we’ll be able to find one with 5 out of 5 sneakers.
- Split Tables – I really like to be able to see a simple table that shows my pace at every mile. I particularly like it when there’s a little rabbit next to my fastest mile and a little tortoise next to my slowest.
- Calibration – I live and run on the beach. GPS can be spotty. Sometimes the signal gets wonky while I’m running and all of a sudden my app is telling me that I ran 12 miles instead of 9 miles, and puts me at a 7:00 min. per mile pace! Admittedly I don’t mind that accident but I hardly think anyone will believe me. I would really like a running app that lets you edit or calibrate your run after it’s over so you can change the recorded distance to what you know you accomplished.
- Voice Feedback – Definitely want my app to talk to me. I like to hear how I’m doing every once in a while. I really want this function to be customize-able. Some days I want to know how I’m doing at every mile marker, but perhaps on other days I want to hear how I’m doing every 5 minutes. Wouldn’t hurt if the robot voice had a sexy British accent, but that’s icing on the cake.
- Pizzazz – In techno speak I would describe this category as interface, but to me it’s so much more than that. I like a little bit of style and inspiration integrated into the app. Some days it’s hard enough to get the sneakers on and get out the door, and it helps to have a motivational, sleek, and stylish running app to get the engines going. These apps turn your phone into a mini robot coach. I want a coach with style. May sound silly but it makes a difference to me. I’m a very aesthetic person. I want the interface to have… pizzazz.
- Bonus – This category is reserved for any additional or unique features that an app may have that I don’t see as vital, but are really frickin’ great.
I think those things sound not only like reasonable requests, but really great features. Why WOULDN’T you want to have all of these functions in a running app? I’m finding it darn near impossible to find that holy grail that features everything listed above. I mean seriously developers, get with the program.
Endomondo – This app is close to perfect, but not quite close enough.
Split Tables – 1 sneaker point. It gives you tables with a cute little rabbit and turtle for your fastest and slowest paces, respectively.
Voice Feedback – 1/2 sneaker point. It talks to you, but unfortunately this function is not customize-able. A non-British female robot tells you your distance, average pace, and time at every mile, but can’t be adjusted to talk to you in intervals of time.
Calibration – 1/2 sneaker point. It does NOT let you calibrate or edit your workout on your phone, HOWEVER, you can log on to Endomondo.com and edit your workout from the website. Nice that that option is there, but honestly it would be much better to be able to edit right from my phone. Most of the time I’m not going to remember to take the extra step to log on to the website.
Pizzazz – 1 sneaker point. This app is definitely close to first place in this area. I love the interface. It’s styled with bright green colors. The icon is some sort of strange sprinting Android head. It’s a fun and weird word to say, Endomondo, and up until a recent update, when you started to run the non-British female robot would shout at you “Free your endorphins!” I loved that! I guess I’m in the minority with my eclectic taste however because that went bye-bye with the last update. Now she just shouts “Go!” *Snooze* But even without the freeing of my endorphins, I love the look and feel of this app.
Bonus Points – 1 sneaker point. It links to your music library, so you can play your favorite running playlists directly from the app. It tells you how much water you need to drink in order to re-hydrate. It has LOTS of other outdoor sports besides running, so this app would also be great for cyclists, rollerbladers, cross-country skiiers, windsurfers, fencers, dancers, etc. And it has a really nice website to accompany the app.
TOTAL SCORE FOR Endomondo – 4 sneakers
Split Tables – 1/2 sneaker. Don’t see ’em. Maybe they are on the app somewhere but in my opinion if they’re this hard to find, they don’t count. There are split tables when you log on to the MapMyRun website however, so it gets 1/2 a sneaker for that.
Calibration – 1 sneaker. You can edit your workout directly on the phone AND on the website.
Voice Feedback – 1 sneaker. You can customize the voice feedback to talk to you either by time or distance.
Pizzazz – Full sneaker deduction. As much as this app has going for it, it’s just plain boring. The interface feels very outdated. The style is definitely lacking. I don’t feel motivated AT ALL when I use this app. This is a huge bummer because it gets points in almost all other areas.
Bonus – Zero sneakers. Other cool things not on the must-haves: it’s got a very nice website with a spectacular feature. You can trace routes on their online map and see exactly how far your routes are. Hence the name, “Map My Run.” So if you’re not sure if the run you just went on is actually the 5 miles your phone told you it was, you can go on MapMyRun and trace the route and it will give you the exact accurate distance. Very cool and very useful. But you don’t need to use the app to take advantage of this. It also has a food journal on the app. Might be useful for some. I much prefer MyFitnessPal for that so I haven’t used it, but maybe you’re an all-in-one kinda person and would be glad to have your food tracking in the same place as your running app. Major downside to this app is its wonky GPS. I’m not sure what causes it, but take a look at the route it tracked on my last run. I did not, in fact, run straight out into the water, nor did I run in loop-de-loops. 0 bonus points.
TOTAL SCORE for MapMyRun: 2 1/2 sneakers
RunKeeper – This is probably the app you’ve all been waiting for me talk about. It is definitely the one I hear the most about. I’m not sure why, as I have some major issues with it. Let’s go through the details:
Split Tables – 1/2 sneaker. This is the biggest disappointment for this app. It is very streamlined and very sleek. Not a lot of bells and whistles, it just gives you your basic running stats in a clear and clean way. So why on earth doesn’t it show me my splits!!? This is only true for the Android FREE version. My boyfriend has the iPhone version of RunKeeper and it is his app of choice. On his platform he can see split tables right on his phone. On Android, sorry you’re out of luck. As with the other apps, however, you can see your splits on the website so it gets 1/2 sneaker for that.
Calibration – Zero sneakers. You can’t edit anything on your phone. You can edit workouts on the website but only the total time and start time. You can’t edit the distance which is the thing you’re most likely to need to edit.
Voice Feedback – 1 sneaker. Totally customize-able.
Pizzazz – 1/2 sneaker. While it’s got a very streamlined and user-friendly interface, I also happen to think it’s just plain boring. It’s not 1997 boring like the MapMyRun+ app. At least it feels like it’s entered the 21st century, but I just don’t feel motivated by this interface. Runkeeper makes one snoozer of a coach. Look at what you see when you finish a run:
Bonus points – Zero sneakers. It has a pretty decent website with some cool features. Probably the biggest chance for a bonus sneaker would come from its sheer popularity. For whatever reason, it seems to be the most-used running app on the market so there is more opportunity to integrate with friends on the RunKeeper website. For me, however, that’s just not enough. No bonus sneakers for you, RunKeeper!
TOTAL SCORE for RunKeeper: 2 sneakers
Runstar – This is the little app that could, almost. So many great things about it but it falls just short of perfect.
Split Tables – Zero sneakers. This app doesn’t have a companion website like the other apps, other than a site that is just for promotion and information about the app, so you can’t see your splits anywhere.
Calibration – 1 sneaker. You can edit your distance after a run right on your phone.
Voice Feedback – Zero sneakers. Apparently this is only available in the FULL version, not FREE.
Pizzazz – 1 sneaker. Love the design and interface of this app. It’s just fantastic! Very colorful, fun, playful, streamlined, and simple. Love it!
Bonus Points – 1 sneaker. Has a cool feature called a Power-Up song. You can select a song in your music library as your designated Power song. If you’re feeling sluggish on a run, just hit the Power-up button and it will automatically play your song AND change all the colors on your app to bright orange. Pretty cool. With that, and the above and beyond design, I give this app one bonus sneaker.
Total score for Runstar: 3 sneakers
Split tables – 1 sneaker. Got some nice split tables in this app complete WITH a cute little rabbit and snail next to your fastest and slowest paces, respectively.
Calibration – 1/2 sneaker. You can’t edit your workout on the app, unfortunately, but you can log on to Runtastic.com and edit there.
Voice Feedback – Zero sneakers. So bummed about this! Voice feedback is only available in the PRO version. Heartbreaking because this is a very important feature, but everything else about this app is great. Who knows, maybe I’ll spring for the PRO version. That’s how much I like everything else about this app. There is one upside to the voice feedback, if you do get it in the Pro version… sexy British accent!
Pizzazz – Definitely a full sneaker in this category. This app is not as playful as Runstar or Endomondo, but it’s definitely got its own style. Lots of electric blue and silhouettes of people running like rock stars. The interface is sleek, easy to use and comprehensive.
Bonus – 1 sneaker. They’ve got a great website with lots of social opportunities to connect with friends. Also, kudos for the graphics and information you get to save when you complete a workout. You can make a note of how you felt that day, what terrain you ran on, and what the weather was like. Very cool. 1 bonus sneaker.
TOTAL SCORE FOR Runtastic – 3 1/2 sneakers.
Nike+ Running – This app is the biggest heartbreaker. It’s so close to perfect, it’s painful!
Split Tables – Zero sneakers. Not only are there no split tables on the app, but when I log on to view them on the website, they are completely wrong. According to my last run on Nike+, I can run a mile in 10 seconds. Rio 2016, here I come! I have no idea what kind of bug Nike has in their software that’s causing this but it’s pretty ridiculous considering what a major player they are in the world of sports.
This is the closest thing you’ll get to split tables in your summary. If you click on the mile markers it tells you your time. Though as you can see from my slowest and fastest paces, their report is hardly reliable.
Calibration – 1 sneaker. This app is actually how I even learned that one could edit workout details at all. When the GPS got off and said I only ran 9 miles when I knew I ran 11, what a great discovery to find that I could edit the mileage to reflect the correct distance. Well done Nike. Not sure if you’re the first company to think of this, but you’re the first place I noticed it. Props.
Voice Feedback – 1 sneaker. Everything is very customize-able. I believe this is also where I first discovered that voice feedback could be customized.
Pizzazz – 1 sneaker. Great UI. It’s Nike after all. They are the kings of branding and much of that is owed to their sleek and bad-ass style. Same goes for the app. It’s not too fancy and pretentious, but it’s easy to use, and it’s got rockin’ motivational energy. There’s a lot to explore throughout the app but it’s not so much excess detail that it feels overwhelming.
Bonus – 1 sneaker. This app has amazing bonus features. I love all of the things it can do. One thing you can do is challenge yourself. You can start a workout based on your previous distance, and the app will show you where you’re at, and how much farther you need to go to beat your last distance. You can also do time and pace challenges.
It’s got great integration with social media. Easy ability to post to Facebook and Twitter. Also it features the same graphics in the Runtastic app where you can make note of how you felt, what terrain you ran on, and what the weather was like. When you’re done working out, a famous athlete like Lance Armstrong (though perhaps he’s not so motivational these days. I stand by you Lance!) or Paula Radcliffe will give you a little pep talk. As shown above, you get badges every time you hit a milestone like a personal record, or working out for several days in a row. One of the coolest things you can do is tag your shoe on every run. That way you can keep track of how many miles you’re putting on your shoes so you know when to get new ones. Brilliant idea from, surprise surprise, a shoe company. And on top of all that, it’s got a great companion website with lots of features to get you motivated. This app definitely earns its bonus sneaker.
TOTAL SCORE FOR Nike+ – 4 sneakers. So close!
That puts Endomondo and Nike+ at a tie. So what will be the tie-breaker? Endomondo had 1/2 point deductions in two categories, whereas Nike had a full point deduction in only one. So even though they got the same score, there is less that would need to be improved on Nike to make it perfect. If Nike could show me some split tables and give me an accurate minute per mile report, I would have no other complaints about the app. Endomondo would need to add voice feedback customization AND the ability to edit workouts from the app itself. Then again, those are both available in some capacity in the app, just not the ideal capacity. And then there’s Runtastic! If I splurged and bought the Pro version, that would give me voice feedback and put that app in the leader position for 4 1/2 sneakers.
So believe it or not, there’s no such thing as the perfect running app. Clearly, if I were an Android developer, I would know exactly what to put in a running app and I would make a million dollars. Hopefully the big kahunas at Nike or one of the other companies are reading this and making notes.
I’ll probably just vacillate between Nike+, Endomondo, and Runtastic for awhile and see which one feels right. When it comes right down to it, you have to go with your gut.
Thanks for reading this epic review. These are the apps I have been using for awhile, but there many more I haven’t even tried yet. Perhaps we’ll do a part 2 in the future.
Do you have a favorite running app? Is it listed here? Share in the comments below.