Review: Sports Tracker Mobile Phone App

A month ago, the folks from Sports Tracker contacted us to see if we’d like to try out the beta version of their new app for Android-based phones. Their app was available for iPhones previously, and seemed to make most users happy, so this one got our interest.

A little preamble, though: I am very new to the world of smartphones…until April of this year, my existing cellphone didn’t even take photographs! My wife and I took the plunge and bought matching HTC Evo Shift 4G phones on the Sprint Network, and I entered the realm of apps and mobile computing with glee. The Sports Tracker app is the first sports-based tool I’ve used; and I realize now that there are many others on the market to choose from. For the purposes of this review, I ran the Sports Tracker beta on Android 2.2, and downloaded the “final” production version once I upgraded to Android 2.3.3.

The start screen looks like this:
DSC05861s

It gives you “at a glance” information on your current status and last workout. Along the bottom of the screen is a tab bar to select your workout diary, settings and friends lists, among others. This bar repeats on a couple of the available screens within the app.

Once you’ve selecte “start new workout” , you are presented with this screen:
DSC05861s

This is the screen you will see during the course of your ride. More basic ride parameters are presented, including elapsed time, distance, and current/average speeds. There is also a map of your current position and the route. If you notice at the top of the screen, there is an orange button with a lock icon; this locks the screen from inadvertent presses in theory, but I had some issues with that. I’ll discuss that in a bit. One of the features in the setup of the Sports Tracker app is the ability to choose an “autopause” speed of 3MPH or 1MPH…if your speed drops below the preset autopause, the timer stops. This is a boon for folks riding in areas with lots of stop signs and lights; I don’t current have those problems as I am blessed with an extensive paved trail network mere yards from my house.

Once your ride is completed, you are presented with this screen:
DSC05866s

This screen gives a ride summary, including a map of the full ride. If you’ll notice the tab bar on the bottom, it has changed from the initial screens shown above. The tabs at the bottom of this screen give the user the ability to take a more detailed look at the ride, including lap “splits”:
DSC05867s

and a chart showing speed and altitude changes on a graph:
DSC05868s

I haven’t really been able to make heads or tails of the lap splits; I can’t figure out how they’re calculated or what they’re really showing me. The speed/altitude graph is pretty handy, though, and gives the user control to break it down over each piece of the ride (using the slider bar just below the graph).

Another feature is the ability to track heart rate using the phone’s Bluetooth and an appropriate Bluetooth-enabled heart rate monitor. I didn’t have access to one, but I understand that Polar makes a reasonably-priced transmitter that is reported to interface nicely with the Sports Tracker app.

As you may have noticed from the ride summary screen, the user has the ability to share his or her workout with Facebook, Twitter, and the Sports Tracker community online…or simply keep it to themselves. I share mine with Sports Tracker and with my friends on Facebook, and have had periodic issues with that, as well.

The last screen I’d like to show you is the “diary”, where the user can compare rides against each other:
DSC05865s

The Sports Tracker account one creates to use and share these workouts also gives one access to the online tools on Sports Tracker’s website. The web-based version has a number of comparison tools not available on the phone, and some are pretty handy for tracking season-long progress or to gauge changes in fitness.

Let’s talk about some of the glitches I’ve experienced: as I mentioned earlier, the screen lock button only sometimes locks the screen…I’ve returned from a ride and pulled my phone out of my pocket to discover that the app shut off midway due to an inadvertent screen press. Also, sharing my workouts has been hit-or-miss — sometimes the phone synchs nicely with Facebook; other times I’ve had to go to my Sports Tracker account online to share a ride. The phone always synchs properly with the Sports Tracker setup online, though. Finally, a couple times I’ve used the app, one summary is shown on the screen when the ride is completed…and when I look at my diary later on via phone or computer, the numbers are a little different (different total distance or avg. speed). This can be frustrating — luckily, I double check the numbers with a bike-mounted computer. And, the Sports Tracker online site allows a user to edit the details of any given ride, so I was able to plug in the correct numbers.

A brief word about battery life: the Evo 4G phone I have has a surprisingly weak battery…even with the 4G feature turned off (4G is not yet available in my city…ugh), a 2-hour ride with Sports Tracker running drinks up about half of the charge. Since the GPS is running constantly, this may account for some of the energy drain. Obviously, your mileage may vary in terms of battery life depending on your phone and your phone’s features.

I love being able to see the maps I “generate” as I ride, and I love to be able to share my rides with my friends (and also take a look at THEIR rides…a couple of my Facebook homies are using the app). I do wish there were some other features included with the app; namely, some settable alarms…things like an avg. speed warning, a countdown timer, heart rate alarms, or alarms that alert the user to a new personal best. I’ve read some reviews of other Android- and iPhone-based sports apps, and many of the others on the market include such alarms. In practice, though, I’m not entirely sure how often I’d use such a thing — I like to keep my average speed up, but I’m not out to set any records and I’m not training for anything.

The glitches I experienced were annoying, to be sure. I expect that Sports Tracker will offer updates in the future and debug things based on user input. Let’s put it this way: when it works the way it is supposed to, it’s a lot of fun and of great use… but when it bugs out on me, that’s a bit of a pain. Since the app is free (at least on the Android Market), it’s probably worth a try. I mean, what do you have to lose?

Finally, for an excellently-written and thorough review of the iPhone-based version, please visit our friend Andy over at London Cyclist.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.


8 Comments

  1. Steve A August 1, 2011 4:05 am 

    While I didn’t notice Andy complain about battery life, I presume that is also an iPhone weak point when used for this purpose. To last for a century, it looks like extra battery capacity is needed.

  2. Mike Myers August 1, 2011 4:07 am 

    It’s not just this program OR Android phones that have battery life issues. I use AllSport GPS for iPhone, and a two hour ride will drain half the battery life. I can see using this app for workouts where I’m returning home directly after(to charge up) or for commuting(where I’ll charge at work).

    I wonder if the battery life on bike mounted GPS units is better?

  3. Ghost Rider August 1, 2011 6:01 am 

    @Mike — this is good to know. I suppose if one turned off as many other apps and features to conserve battery, a long ride might be possible. But the screen and GPS function both stay on for the duration of use of this app, and that is a huge drain.

  4. Alex August 2, 2011 12:05 pm 

    The lap splits are, in this case, your 1 km. lap times (.62 miles). I’m sure there’s a setting to make your splits 1 mi. instead of km.

  5. Ghost Rider August 2, 2011 4:23 pm 

    Alex…derr, thanks. I didn’t recognize the pattern of .62 miles until you mentioned it (math is not my strong suit; I am a librarian, and we’re notoriously bad mathletes). Thanks for pointing it out 😉

    Strangely enough, there is an app setting to display all the data in Imperial or metric formats, but here’s another glitch…as mine is set up to display in Imperial units. I guess the lap split display doesn’t listen to the master-settings!

  6. sally August 2, 2011 8:07 pm 

    I’ve done 7 hour bike rides (century rides) using the Android MyTracks app to record my GPS route and I still have a good amount of battery left at the end of the ride. I have a Droid 1. MyTracks is free in the Android marketplace (open source app developed by Google engineers). MyTracks doesn’t create all the fancy graphs shown in this article, but it can export your GPS data to a PC program like SportTracks that can create graphs like that.

  7. Roger Waggener August 11, 2011 12:23 pm 

    I have not tried the app you described in the article, but I have tried one from MapMyRide which is similar- and associated with a similar web-based service.

    I have switched to an app called ‘Move! Bike Computer’.

    There were two reasons for my switch- one was battery life. Move! is not associated with a web-based community service so I can greatly extend my battery life by disabling the data radio while I’m riding. I’m not familiar with the app you described, but I’m confident it’s like MapMyRide which I used, in that it is constantly using your data connection to keep in touch with the web-based service. Yes, the GPS does use some battery power, but not nearly as much as the data radio and you can use only cell-tower triangulation mode which is not quite as accurate as true GPS but uses even less power.

    The second reason stems from the same data connection issue. The first time I rode my bike for commuting 22 miles to work I had MapMyRide running. I was excited to get my first bike commute recorded. However when I tried to make a call during the ride to let my boss know I’d be a little late- my phone completely crashed and had to reboot. I was bummed that my route recording was ruined. I figured out the reason later- Android phones cannot maintain voice and data connections concurrently and when I initiated a voice call with MapMyRide connected to the web- it crashed. Iphones can, but Android just can’t. So I chose to try a bike computer app that did not need constant data contact with a service.

    Move! is rather basic, but it gives me what I need- and provides a kml file of my route I can email to myself from the phone and import into MapMyRide later if I wish.

    If you stick with Sports Tracker but need longer battery life, get some cheap extra EVO batteries from Ebay and break your trip into segments and swap fresh batteries in between the segments.

  8. Martin December 16, 2013 6:07 am 

    Hi, I had Samsung Galaxy SII with android and I used Sports tracker and Locus maps for hiking. I have never had a problem that the battery would be low at the end of the day (6-8 hours on a trip with no problem) Now I got Iphone 4s and not only that sports tracker is being shut down if you start other apps but it drains battery like crazy.. But it is not problem of sports tracker…it is problem of iphone. Especially of it´s GPS module.
    On Samsung it worked perfectly with no problem. I just started tracking when I set on a bike and I didn´t care about ST until I got back home when I turned it off.. The calories without HRM shows a little higher numbers but for orientation it is better than nothing. Great app!

Leave a comment

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