Mobile Phone Apps

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:

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:

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:

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”:

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

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:

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.

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