Watch-vs-App The GPS Battle – It Isn’t Really A Fair Fight

forerunner10sI have said it before on this site and I will say it again at some point, but you really only need a good pair of shows and some clothes you probably already own to run. With that being said, you most likely want to keep track of what you are actually running somehow and most people start off doing that with their smartphone. There are lots of apps available to track your runs, walks, hikes & bikes and most of them do a really good job of organizing the data in a way that will let you see your progress.

I have been using an app called RunKeeper since 2012 and I have loved looking at old runs from when I tried to start running back then and comparing them to runs I have made this year. RunKeeper has been my friend, and the motivation I got from looking at the data is what pushed me to keep at it until I got this running thing to be a real part of my life. There are some drawback in my opinion to using an app to track your runs. An app can use data, so your data plan needs to be considered before you start running with an app.  I believe the actual GPS tracking doesn’t use data, but the app constantly sending the info to the cloud for live tracking and other features available can use data.

In general the way GPS works is your phone communicates with satellites to calculate your precise location at any given moment. Smart phones have gps receivers built into them and some phones have better ones than others. Most phones will check your location around every 3 or 4 seconds. So if you are running or walking it places a series of dots on a map and then connects the dots to make your route.

The problem is that a lot of people don’t care at all about having pinpoint accurate gps location on their phone. Smartphone manufactures have to squeeze a lot of features into some pretty small places, so gps receivers don’t get a ton of attention. They are good, but they aren’t great. When running with any phone I have ever had it will show a route that has me crossing back and forth across the road frequently or cutting through fields.  It ends up with a route that looks like a drunk person was doing the running and couldn’t keep straight. For a casual runner looking to burn calories this really shouldn’t affect anything. If you are getting more serious it may drive you crazy, as it did me.

We all know the shortest distance between to points is a straight line. So if the app is adding a bunch of turns jumping back and forth across the street it is adding distance that I didn’t actually run. The time is correct and the distance is wrong so my pace is wrong. I could run the exact some route 3 days in a row and get different distances.

When I got my Garmin Forerunner 210 I immediately saw the difference. My runs all of a sudden looked like a sober man was running. The connect the dots game is gone and there appears to be one smooth line following the path I ran. All of a sudden I could tell if I was running on the right side of the path or the left side of the path. The accuracy of a dedicated GPS watch was drastically different than that of my phone with an app. I still upload my runs from the Garmin to the RunKeeper app so all the data is still in one place. Plus, I get the benefit of not having to run with a big smartphone strapped to my arm. I don’t listen to music so I don’t have a need for it.

Having a GPS watch may not be necessary to run, but if you are at least a little bit obsessed with the data from your runs it will make you extremely happy to have one. GPS watches come in all price ranges and I believe any of them should have at least the accuracy of a phone. Garmin is the most popular brand and they have watches anywhere from around $100 to over $400.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *