After seeing all the things that my daughter’s and other folks’ smartphones could do, coupled with lower prices, I decided it was time to upgrade. I had known for a while that there were several features of smartphones that could help me as a runner and cyclist. So, I went to my provider and picked out one of their android-based smartphones and took off.
Well, sort of, took off. There is a bit of a learning curve for smartphones, but not a great one. More of it involves getting used to the change in speeds of things happening, but more on that in a bit.
I chose an android-based phone for several reasons: 1) it’s not Apple, and 2) the android operating system is based on Linux/Unix. I’m not exactly an Apple-hater, but I dislike their prices, their exclusivity, and their fakery. Yes, fakery. Underneath Apple’s fancy OSX disguise is just a regular old Linux kernel. The same kernel that runs my own PC. Whether that carries over to the iPhone or not, I don’t know. And, since the android OS is based on the Linux kernel, I am comfortable working with a Linux OS if I need to or want to do so.
To describe what I expected to happen as far as running and cycling goes with a smartphone, let’s start with how I normally ‘hook up’. Generally, when I am running, I carry my Garmin 305 and an iPod nano (Yes, it’s Apple. Please remember what I said about ‘exclusivity’). On top of this outfit, I also would carry my cell phone for emergencies and contact. My hope was to reduce three devices into one with the smartphone.
Now, how was I going to do that? The android smartphone has two ways to handle music; on board mp3 playing and Pandora. Playing your mp3 files on an android phone is about as simple as the iPod, though getting them there is not. In order to move my mostly iTunes-based library over requires some artful digging into folders and some conversion work. Then I have to dismount the micro-SD storage card, put it in an adapter, plug the adapter in my PC and move the files then vice-versa. Quite a bit of work. It would be much easier if I could just move my iTunes library over.
But, remember that word exclusive I used in context with Apple? Yep, you guessed it. Can’t do that. Since the android OS is a part of the Google system, and iTunes is exclusive to Apple stuff, I can’t get iTunes for my android smartphone. So, my library transfers are a work in progress. Though, for getting new music, the Amazon mp3 store is a good alternative. And, that brings me to Pandora.
Pandora is an online web site/service that has an app for the android phone. In Pandora, you look up styles, genres, or artists in music that you like and it builds a “radio station” around that choice. Pandora streams music to your phone that are similar in style to your primary choice. As an example, I have a Roy Orbison station on Pandora. It then sends music from Orbison, but also from Chuck Berry as well as others from the same era or style.
However, Pandora has some features not conducive to all types of running music. It’s a bit slow to start up because it depends upon your connection to its servers. It requires a lot of data transfer so you best have an unlimited plan, and you can’t go backwards on the smartphone (you can on your PC). In addition, whether it’s Pandora or your own mp3′s, the tactile feel of changing songs or stop/start on an iPod is still superior. However, I have found that on shorter runs so far, in town, that it works well enough. Oh, and don’t forget, they play ads too, but not as many as a regular radio station.
Now, for the Garmin stuff. I use MapMyRide.com to log my rides/runs and they offer an app for the android OS to have MayMyRide right on my phone. In addition to the regular features of the web site (adding routes, logging workouts, logging calories), the android app uses the GPS of the smartphone in order to log the route and the workout simultaneously.
The first time I tried this out was on a walk during my injury recovery. It was less than stellar. I couldn’t quite figure out how to change stations, so I was stuck with the shuffle feature of Pandora. I have since figured that out but I still wouldn’t recommend changing a station mid-run. Difficult and lots of dead air. The MapMyRide workout recording did well, but I had a severe problem starting and stopping the workout. MapMyRide’s server connections are severely slow and too much dependence on that keeps things slow. They would do better writing the app to use local resources on the phone and only up/download at the beginning and end of the workout.
I have since taken a couple of short runs using just the smartphone. I have been able to improve upon my use by adjusting what I am doing. I start Pandora and choose my station before I leave the house. I start the MapMyRide app and let it sit idle and getting ready right up until I start my run. I know I have to get the phone back out before I end the run and make sure it’s ready to stop the workout recording before I get to the end. And, it’s important to keep the MapMyRide app on your display so you don’t fumble with that when you’re ready to stop.
Smartphones can certainly make things easier on cell phone users and athletes. However, they come with their own new set of difficulties and limitations. In their place, they operate just fine. Out of their place, our older devices will still work better. I am just starting to test the use out on bike rides. That’ll be a future post. For now, I will continue using my smartphone on shorter runs (<5K) and stick to my Garmin and iPod for my longer runs. There are probably lots of other apps for android and iPhone users that might be better, simpler, faster, and/or easier. If you know of them, comment and let me know. Happy running!