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11 comments

Is Nike's Alternative to GPS Watches Worth Trying?

Posted March 15, 2010 3:06 PM by merph

As I mentioned in my last blog entry, I took up running at the beginning of this year in order to get myself into shape. Just as a calorie tracking program helped to motivate me to lose weight, I knew that tracking running would help me to stick with it. Since I already owned an iPod, I decided to try out the Nike+ system.

What is Nike+?

Nike+ is a collection of products that work together with an Apple iPod in order to track your runs. This collection consists of a wireless receiver that plugs into your iPod, a small piezoelectric accelerometer (sensor), and a variety of running shoes with a built-in compartment where the sensor is placed. The sensor monitors how long your foot is on the ground and uses that information to determine your pace. The software needed to make this all work is already built into the iPod's operating system.

But what can it do? It tracks your running time, distance, pace, and calories burned. It also gives you vocal feedback at specific intervals or when you press a button on the iPod. All of this information is stored in an .XML file, which is uploaded to the Nike+ website when you sync your iPod in iTunes. There your run will be graphed out and you can view an archive of all of your past runs.

The Good

I have used Nike+ for two months now and have logged 90.14 miles. Since the sensor is always in my running shoes, all I have to remember to do is to plug in the receiver and head out the door. I always listen to music when I run, so it feels like I'm not adding another piece of hardware in order to track my running. The software is simple and easy to learn and to use.

As you run, the Nike+ software will give you vocal feedback. This is great because it keeps you from having to look down at a stopwatch or even think about how far you've gone. You're told when you've made it halfway through your run and when you're finished, along with several other updates along the way.

Being a big computer nut, I love being able to see my runs charted out online. Nike+'s web site also interfaces with Facebook and Twitter, and will share your runs with those services if you choose to enable the option. There's also a community on the Nike+ site itself, where you can find running friends and compete in challenges.

The Bad

While running, it is very easy to hit the wrong button on an iPod. This can result in your workout getting paused by mistake your song starting over or getting skipped, or your volume being turned down -- all of which mess up the rhythm of your run.

The sensor is limited on what it can pick up. If there are any changes in your stride, it has no way of knowing. I've recently had a problem with this as I've increased my fitness level over the past two months. I realized just a week ago that a run that registered with Nike+ as 4.56 miles was really 5.6 miles. That's a pretty huge difference, as my pace was calculated at nearly 11:00 per mile when it was actually a tad under 9:00 per mile.

The Ugly

The sensor's battery is not replaceable. If it dies, you have to buy a new sensor. This is not a huge issue for me, as I only use my running shoes for running. But for someone who uses the same set of sneakers all the time, their battery would be slowly depleted with every step they take. That could be avoided if you were willing to go through the hassle of taking the sensor out of your shoe or turning it off and putting it back in. Either of these takes the same amount of effort and (for me at least) the act would get old very quickly.

While the web site's content is great, its presentation and reliability is not. The entire site is Flash-based and more often than not, parts of the page you're trying to access will not load. Trying to access your information online can sometimes be frustrating.

Conclusion

The Nike+ system may not be perfect, but it is a great way to start out at least for an amateur runner like me. If you already own an iPod, the investment is minimal compared to GPS watches. For more serious runners, or for those who don't have an iPod, I would suggest to get a nice GPS watch instead… they are far more accurate.

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#1

Re: Is Nike's Alternative to GPS Watches Worth Trying?

03/16/2010 8:12 AM

Jaxy,

Nice article. I am already a Nike+ user. I just wanted to mention that you do not have to own Nike Shoes to use the system. Third party vendors sell pouches that velcro to your shoe laces and hold the sensor in place. I have been using it for over a year and have had no problems.

I agree with your assessment of the innacurate mileage. I have used the mapping tool on their website as well as the google maps G-Map Pedometer (just do a search on google for G-map pedometer) and I chart out my course before I go for a run and then when I finish I just recalibrate the mileage if it is off by more than a couple tenths of a mile.

I also should mention that the website can be a good motivational tool for people trying to get in shape. I have found that joining the 'Challenges' offered on the website definitely motivates me to go running even on the days I would rather sit at home. You can find me on the Nike+ website as H2OEngineer.

Cheers

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: Is Nike's Alternative to GPS Watches Worth Trying?

03/16/2010 8:16 AM

Thanks for bringing up the shoe pouch, I didn't think to mention it.

(btw I'm not Jaxy) ;)

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#3
In reply to #2

Re: Is Nike's Alternative to GPS Watches Worth Trying?

03/16/2010 8:19 AM

Sorry, I just saw the name on the first page.

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#11
In reply to #1

Re: Is Nike's Alternative to GPS Watches Worth Trying?

03/16/2010 1:13 PM

You're very welcome. I slaved over this blog for a total of zero (0) minutes

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#4

Re: Is Nike's Alternative to GPS Watches Worth Trying?

03/16/2010 9:33 AM

With a distance/speed measuring error of about 20%, it's safe to say Nike+ will not replace GPS any time soon. The web site problems you report are just stupidly inexcusable for a company with Nike's resources. Thus this sounds like a consumer buzz-driven product that sells mainly because it's got Nike and Apple on the cover, versus actual useful athletic or coaching equipment.

Now, I absolutely love my iPod Touch, recently traded in the PC for an iMac, and Nike sponsors my hero Lance Armstrong, so don't let my comments detract from your experience. But what this really represents is an opportunity for a competitor with its stuff together. Thanks to Nike, the market's ripe for the plucking - where did all the VCs* go?

* VC = venture capitalist

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Anonymous Poster
#5

Re: Is Nike's Alternative to GPS Watches Worth Trying?

03/16/2010 9:48 AM

All of these low end products have some value but if you are really interested in a long term health program that maintains conditioning and weight then miles is the least of your concern. I use a Body Media Fit, wear it on my upper arm all the time, and it creates a snapshot of activity throughout the day and sleep efficiency at night. The device has been tested for a couple years USC's study showed that it worked better than diet plans, better than gym memberships, even better than personal trainers.

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Anonymous Poster
#7
In reply to #5

Re: Is Nike's Alternative to GPS Watches Worth Trying?

03/16/2010 10:55 AM

I am slso working on a health programm for conditioning as well as for weight control.

I like your alternative, can you elaborate a bit more about this Body Media Fit.

Thanks

Have a great day

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#6

Re: Is Nike's Alternative to GPS Watches Worth Trying?

03/16/2010 10:27 AM

Just to clarify, I am in no way a fan of Nike and I think the website leaves much to be desired in terms of functionality and reliability. I also do not think that the sensor is anywhere close to the accuracy of GPS. The sensor is merely a pedometer, and is in no way meant to replace GPS. However, I think that benefit of not having to carry an additional device on my runs is what makes the $20 investment worthwhile for me.

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#8

Re: Is Nike's Alternative to GPS Watches Worth Trying?

03/16/2010 11:53 AM

BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING!!!

All the new gadgetry that they make that has a tracking feature is violating your privacy. What they don't tell you is that they are doing it in they sales promotions.

It is telling any one and everyone where you are at at any given time. The government, the police, burglars, stalkers and any one that may want to do you harm. They can say it is secure but with all the hackers on the internet can they guarantee it. There are all ready web site reporting the locations of people using these devices.

The only one that needs to know where you are it you. So protect yourself throw it away.

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#9
In reply to #8

Re: Is Nike's Alternative to GPS Watches Worth Trying?

03/16/2010 12:55 PM

Nike+ doesn't have a location tracking feature... but I suppose that could be said of GPS watches.

Personally I'm not the tin foil hat type.

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#10
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Re: Is Nike's Alternative to GPS Watches Worth Trying?

03/16/2010 12:56 PM

This device does not intrinsically have a GPS element built in to it. The sensor merely communicates the number of steps that you take to Ipod and then your speed is calculated when the time is taken into account. If you have an Ipod touch or Iphone these may have GPS components that can be tracked but the Nike+ chip does not.

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