RunKeeper

RunKeeper - New Activity

Starting a new activity in RunKeeper

I’ve been using RunKeeper on my iPhone for about a year and half now, and – while it has its issues – it’s a great little app for tracking exercise. I only use it for running and walking, but you can use it to track cycling, hiking, skiing – 13 types of activities, as well as an “Other” option.

When I started using the app, it had a lot of great functionality (that I didn’t use) but the interface was little kludgy, but with the release of RunKeeper 3.0 at the end of last year, the UI is crisp and intuitive. It’s easy to create a new account and jump right into a new activity.

RunKeeper

RunKeeper’s Activity Tracking Screen – So, I wasn’t running when I snapped the screenshot. So sue me!

Like other apps of its ilk, RunKeeper uses your GPS to track where, how far, and how fast you run, walk, etc. Most of the time, this works really well, but I’ve discovered that you’ll want to turn off your phone’s Wi-Fi to get the best tracking results. (The tracking has been known to go a little nuts from time to time otherwise. I’ve seen add 1/3 to 1/2 a mile to my distance because it tracked me someplace I’d never been, apparently due to interference.) I won’t say that it still doesn’t have some issues with accuracy, but frankly I have yet to see an app of this type that doesn’t.

During your activity, you get an easy-to-read display featuring elapsed time, average speed or pace (an optional setting), calories burned, distance and current speed/pace, with easy to access “Stop” and “Pause” buttons and a graph of your progress. Swipe to the right and you’ll get a map showing where you’ve been. You can even take a picture from this screen if you so desire. (I’ve been known to do this on walks. Coupled with the app’s social features, it makes for a nice way to share what you’ve been up to.)

Speaking of social features, RunKeeper integrates easily with Facebook and Twitter and will share as much or as little as you want, depending on your account settings.

One of the nice features is the ability to switch from a daytime (white background) to a nighttime display (pictured above). It seems like a small thing, but if you’re running at night or early in the morning, that white daytime display will blind you!

RunKeeper - Me

All about me.

RunKeeper also plays your music for you via the Music app. Just choose from your available playlists when you’re setting up a new activity, and when you begin, you’re rocking out. For some reason – possibly to do with iTunes Match? – this function suffers from the same kind of weirdness as the GPS tracking, so turn off your Wi-Fi before beginning. (I’ve had the app refuse to play music through my entire run – until the last five seconds.)

RunKeeper also integrate very easily with my Polar H7 bluetooth heart rate monitor. The app is great for tracking heart rate – among its abundance of available audio cues are average and current heart rate, as well as heart rate zone. (I still haven’t figured out if the voice is excited or panicked when telling me I’m in the 90-100% range!) Those cues are quality recordings of a pleasant, young-sounding, female voice, unlike some apps, which sound like the old standard female computer voice we’ve all come to know and loathe.

My only issue here is that the app does not use heart rate in its calories-burned algorithm. This was almost a dealbreaker for me, but the rest of its functionality was too good to pass on.

To be honest, RunKeeper has too many features for me to review here – I haven’t used most of them yet and may never. You can save routes that you’ve just run for later use. Via the web site, you can create your own routes by clicking and dragging on a map. (The web site also features graphs of your activities.) The app encourages you by letting you know when you’ve broken a personal record – like activities in a week or average pace for the month. The app tracks your weight, allows you to set training goals, offers training tracks for everything from Beginner-to-5K training to weight-loss.

RunKeeper is free for iPhone. They offer both free and Elite ($4.99/month or $19.99/year) membership packages. The Elite package gives you access to more detailed fitness reports and RunKeeper Live, which broadcasts your activities in realtime. This review is based on a free account.

While Endomondo’s community may be larger and Polar Beat may offer better accuracy, RunKeeper is the best all-around exercise tracking app that I’ve used.

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Lose It!

Lose It!

Lose It! iOS app

As you may or may not know, I’m a gadget/tech freak. When I began my last weight-loss quest a few years ago, a friend of mine told me about his experience using FitDay to count calories and track his weight loss.  This time around, I was actually inspired to take up the quest again when a co-worker told me about the Lose It! iPhone app and its barcode scanner.

One of my biggest beefs with FitDay was the tediousness of logging my food. The database seemed to be lacking nearly everything I ate, and even when the food was there, the process of searching through FitDay’s somewhat kludgy interface made the process unpleasant. It was also some time before FitDay released an iPhone app. That app turned out be nearly as much fun to use (none at all!) as the web site. The blame for ending my weight-loss endeavors falls squarely on my shoulders, but lack of user friendliness of the tools I had definitely contributed to my decreasing desire to actually continuing keeping up with my calories.

My Day

The Lose It! iOS app’s “My Day” screen.

So when I heard about Lose It! and its barcode scanner (which is not unique to this app), I thought I may have found a tool that I could stick with. I’ve been using Lose It! for a little over two weeks now, and thought it would be a good time to share my experience with you.

It was easy to sign up for a Lose It! account – a pretty straightforward process, similar to that of many web sites. It was simple to enter my starting weight and set my goals. My first surprise was when the app informed me I’d need to limit myself to about 2,020 calories a day to lose 2 pounds a week. FitDay had limited me to 1,500! (Another reason why I hadn’t stuck with it – I’d stayed hungry for 6 months!) Other apps have limited me to around 1,600.

Turns out Lose It! uses a different formula for calculating your calorie restriction than some other systems do. That’s not a bad thing, just something to keep on your radar.

When you first log into the app, it takes you to an empty food log page, but since the log is actually the second item in the row of tabs at the bottom, I tapped My Day just to check it out. It’s a decently designed, simple affair with a chart of the day’s calories at the top, a note on the week’s caloric intake in the middle, and at the bottom a pie chart of protein, carbs, and fats.

Barcode Scanner

Lose It!’s barcode scanner.

You can add food to your daily log by tapping the + button at the top right of this page or the Log page, so I tapped the button and it brought up a list of meals.  I select the appropriate one, which brings to me to a screen of options: Search Foods, Scan Barcode, etc.  So, excited as I am about this one I tap Scan Barcode and get the expected camera view with scanner sights.  I grab something to scan, and it goes smoothly.  Generally the scanner works well, though sometimes in situations with lower light in the background, the camera has difficulty focusing.  That’s not really the app’s fault though.

The great majority of the time, whether you search or scan, the nutritional information matches the package.  Based on my limited knowledge, it seems pretty accurate on non-packaged foods as well – like fresh produce. Since Lose It!’s food database is curated, you have a reasonable assurance of accuracy, though there are sometimes discrepancies.

Food Log

Lose It!’s food log.

Once you’ve entered all the foods for your meal, your food log contains an easy-to-read list of all the items with their calories and the total calories for that meal. There’s also a – usually – generic graphic next to each item. Some will have a crossed fork and spoon, a white coffee mug, a triangle of cheese. Sometimes you’ll be surprised – like with the extremely detailed French’s mustard bottle or the rather disconcerting brown pile that represents raw sugar.

The Motivate tab features your Lose It! friends, including how much weight they’ve lost, when they last logged in, and how many calories they’re over or under budget for the week. One of the nice things about the social aspect of Lose It! is that you can share recipes with your friends. Since my wife and I are both using the app, I can enter a recipe for whatever we’re having for dinner, and she doesn’t have to duplicate the work to get the info.

Goals

Lose It!’s Goals page.

Yes, you can enter your recipes, which is another plus over FitDay. Starting the process was not intuitive, but once started, it was easy to complete. (You could create custom foods in FitDay – and you can with Lose It! – but I had to use Spark Recipes to enter my recipes and get the nutritional information to enter into FitDay’s system.)

The Goals tab is pretty much what you’d expect. It shows you your goals, calorie budget, and a surprisingly motivating line chart of your weight-loss progress. At the bottom is a bottom to record your weight for the day.

The More tab is where you create recipes, custom foods and exercises, and adjust your app preferences. It’s also where you can upgrade your account to Lose It! Premium for $39.99 per year, which leads me to one of my major issues with Lose It! Many of the features a Premium upgrade will get you come for free with   tracking apps. For instance, I also use RunKeeper – which I’ll review here later – and you can sync your RunKeeper data with Lose It!, greatly simplifying your exercise tracking. But you have to have the Premium account to so. There are several devices – Fitbit, for example – that you can sync also, but, again, they require an upgrade. Similar – and very good – apps like MyFitnessPal offer similar functionality – like syncing with Endomondo for exercise tracking – for free.

All in all, Lose It! offers a friendly, straightfoward, simple-to-use app that provides enough information and motivation to be extremely helpful in your fitness journey.