[UPDATE]: To view the most recent Nike+ GPS (now Nike+ Running) app features, check out our post that includes our thoughts on the update and in-app photos! Note that many of the differences between the sensor system and the GPS-based app remain the same as those described in this post. Now there’s just even more features included with the GPS app that continue to make it the better value!
Nike+ is one of several popular run-tracking applications currently on the market, and is the first motivating tool I used to get myself started, and excited, about running. Initially, I used the Nike + iPod sensor (with my iPhone 4 and a pair of Nike running shoes with a built-in spot for the sensor), but I am currently using the Nike+ GPS application. In this post, I’m going to present a summary and comparison of the two Nike+ options, as well as an explanation as to why I ultimately chose to use Nike+ GPS. For a quick overview of the features offered by each application, see the included chart near the end of the post.
What You’ll Need: The Nike + iPod sensor is priced at $19 and is compatible with the iPod Touch (4th generation or later) and the iPhone (3GS or later). If you have an older iPod nano, you will need the Nike + iPod Sport Kit ($29), which includes a wireless receiver to connect the sensor to the iPod. The new iPod nano, the iPod Touch and iPhone are able to connect wirelessly to the Nike+ sensor without this additional attachment. The sensor, which is about the size of a (rather thick) quarter, fits into a small pocket beneath the liner of any Nike+-compatible shoe and tracks your distance traveled and your pace using an accelerometer. I’m told that you can also buy a small pouch that can be attached to the shoelaces of any running shoe, so there are options that allow you to skip the cost of acquiring a pair of Nike running shoes.
Set-Up: Setting up the Nike + iPod sensor on the iPhone is a fairly easy process. The application is actually built into the OS of the iPhone, but doesn’t show up on the home screen until it is activated. To activate it, go to the main settings screen, scroll down until you see Nike + iPod, select it, and simply turn it on. Once activated, you can specify your gender, weight, age, preferred units (miles or kilometers), and a PowerSong (a song that plays to pump you up during your last few minutes of a run). To connect your iPhone to your sensor, you just put it in your shoe, select sensor, and then walk around for a few seconds until the iPhone picks up the signal. Now, you’re ready to start running!
Going for a Run: As with set-up, using the Nike + iPod application is very simple and self-explanatory, as one would expect from an application that is built into an Apple product. You have four options to select from when you start a run: Basic (“an open-ended workout”), Time (“a workout with a timed goal”), Distance (“a workout with a distance goal”), and Calorie (“a workout with a calorie burning goal”). After selecting a goal, you choose the music you’d like to listen to while you run, and then you’re good to go. During the run, a male or female voice (you can change this in the settings) will update you every half-mile on your distance, time, and pace. You will also be notified when you reach your halfway point. It is important to note that you must carry your iPhone or iPod with you when you run (and make sure your phone and sensor are communicating properly) in order for the sensor to track your runs. The sensor has no recording or storage capabilities on its own.
The Data: Data collected by your Nike + iPod sensor will be stored both on the Nike + iPod application and on the Nike+ website (after you create an account). Data is uploaded wirelessly to your Nike+ online account every time you run, and can also be updated by syncing your iPod/iPhone with your computer. The data on the application shows you the most basic information, including your total distance, your best mile time, and the time/distance/pace/calories burned for each individual run. Information such as how your pace changed throughout your run, your splits for each mile during a run, and your best 5k/10k are available only on the Nike+ website. Nike has done a great job integrating the application with the website, and the data available on the website is clearly laid out for the user. In addition, features such as challenges (example: try to run 211 miles in 2011) and goals (example: run 12 times in 4 weeks) help the user to stay on track and become a better runner. My only gripe with the website is that it can often be very buggy because it is all flash-based. Some pages won’t load the first time you open them, and changing any settings is a pain in the butt because things freeze up a lot.
Nike+ GPS Application
What You’ll Need: The Nike+ GPS application costs $1.99 and can be downloaded from the App Store. Currently it is only available for iOS users. It is compatible with the iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad (does anyone try to run with their iPad?) and requires that you have iOS 4.0 or later. To use the GPS functionality of the app, you must have an iPhone, as the iPod Touch can only locate you if it has a WiFi signal.
Set-Up: Setting up is, again, very easy, although in this case, it is all done from within the app itself. You input the same basic information as in the Nike + iPod application, but the Nike+ GPS app gives you a few more options. With Nike+ GPS, you can adjust the frequency of the spoken feedback during your run, as well as what information it is telling you. This is especially helpful on long runs, where I find that I prefer to have less spoken feedback so that I’m not constantly reminded of how far I have left to go. Having more spoken feedback (e.g., every 0.25 miles) can also be helpful, though, if you are trying to pay close attention to your pacing during a run. Another facet of the Nike+ GPS app that is not available with Nike + iPod, and can be configured in settings, is Facebook and Twitter integration in the application.
Going for a Run: Starting a run involves the same basic process as with the Nike + iPod application, but the Nike+ GPS again manages to give you more options. The first option you can choose is to simply “Start a new run”, which will give you the same choices (minus the “Calorie” option) as you would have if starting a run with the Nike + iPod. The main difference is that you have to specify if you are indoors or outdoors. If indoors, i.e. on a treadmill, where a GPS wouldn’t record any movement, the application will use your iPhone or iPod Touch’s accelerometer to track your distance/pace/time. I’ve only used this feature once, but it appears to do a fairly good job in terms of recording distances accurately. If outdoors (and if using an iPhone), the application will track your distance/pace/time using the GPS. When starting a run, you can also choose to share your run on Facebook. This will post a link to your Facebook wall indicating that you have started a run and your intended mileage. When friends like or comment on this post, you will receive feedback during your run in the form of cheers. It adds a whole new layer of fun to going out for a run, and it is really encouraging to know that your friends, even if only in a trivial way, are supporting you. The second option you can choose when you start a run is to “Play Tag”. Here, you can create a new game of tag, or participate in an ongoing one, with friends on Nike+. The game can be set so that, for example, the last person to run within a certain amount of time is “it” or so that the person who does not run a certain distance is “it”. The former option allows friends of all abilities to participate, while the latter is a good way to push you or your friends to achieve more and run farther! The final option when you begin a run is “Challenge Me”. With this option, you can choose to “take on your last run” by running farther, running longer, or running faster. You can also try to beat one of your records. All things considered, I think it is clear that Nike has really outdone itself in creating an application that truly makes it more fun to run, as well as more social, even if you are technically running by yourself!
The Data: Data is stored both within the application and on the Nike+ website. It is uploaded wirelessly to the website after each run. The data that is uploaded to the website is the same as the Nike + iPod app, except that it now includes a GPS route of your run that can be viewed in the app or online to see where on your route you were fastest and where you were slowest. The data available in the Nike+ GPS app itself is more complete than that provided by the Nike + iPod app. Instead of only being able to see my fastest mile and total distance, the Nike+ GPS app allows me to view my total mileage, my average pace for all of my runs, my total duration and calories burned for all of my runs, and all of my records (fastest 5k/10k, mile, kilometer, longest run, etc.). I was also very pleased to find that even though some of my data on the website was recorded using the Nike + iPod application, all of this historic data was pushed to my Nike+ GPS app and is included in the statistics provided by the application.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed my experience much more with the Nike+ GPS app than the Nike + iPod sensor system. While both applications have the same basic functionality in that they offer the user an accurate and clear view of their running progress, it’s the little extras that really set Nike+ GPS apart. It does not make sense to me that the Nike + iPod app lacks the ability to view some of the historical data provided by the Nike + GPS app, as well as the social integration aspect and the ability to customize vocal feedback during your runs. It’s made by the same company! I also feel that the Nike + iPod application would be so much stronger if it took advantage of the GPS capabilities of the iPhone to automatically validate the accuracy of the distances recorded by the sensor, and to provide the runner with a map view of their route. Additionally, although not as important, the aesthetics and interface of the Nike+ GPS app are much more pleasing than the Nike + iPod app. To summarize, here’s a chart I put together quickly to illustrate the major differences between the functionality and features included with both of these applications:
If you have the choice, I would say definitely go with with the Nike+ GPS app. You’ll save yourself $17 (plus any money you might spend buying Nike+ compatible shoes) and you’ll get more for less, which is something everyone loves! In the long run, you’ll also save money (and help out the environment), because you won’t have to replace the sensor, which has a non-replaceable battery and a battery-life of about a year. Regardless of which Nike+ option you do choose, both represent a great effort by Nike to help people track their runs. I feel good about my experience using each of them and both helped me become more motivated to run, especially when using them in conjunction with the online Challenges and Goals features.
For those of you who do not use Nike+ to track your runs, what are your favorite running applications? We hope to test more in the future and would love to hear your recommendations!
Meagan is a geochemistry research lab manager, runner, Netflix binge-watcher, and Mom to a rescue dog, a bunny, and a human child. She started running in May 2011 and ran her first half marathon in October 2012, followed by her first marathon in October 2013. In July 2018, she joined the triathlon world and completed an Olympic-distance race. After an extended break (pregnancy/maternity leave), she is making a long-overdue return to running and is preparing for a high-elevation half marathon at Crater Lake National Park in August 2020.