Burn and Chill with Nike+

Nike+ Training Club – Free on the App Store

Like most people, I could definitely use more exercise. I’ve been taking a walk each morning lately, and I love doing that, but I rarely work out. In an attempt to change that, I downloaded the Nike+ Training app. This is Nike’s app specifically designed for strength training (as opposed to Nike+ Running Club).

I’ve been really impressed with the app’s design and functionality. It looks great and it’s easy to use. I especially like the voice prompts during the exercises; they’re better than other fitness apps I’ve used. At the start of each exercise, the voice tells me the basics of how to do the move. About 15 seconds in, it will then give an additional tip – usually about form. Something like, “Make sure to keep your core tight!” I really like that the app doesn’t just bombard me with all the details of a move at the beginning; it’d be too confusing. Instead, the app lets me start to get the hang of something, and then gives me tips on how to do it better. That’s nice.

I downloaded this app for strength training, but after a few workouts, my plan included a workout focused on stretching (or mobility, as Nike calls it). I found out I really enjoyed this. I used to do martial arts, and I always loved the stretching time we had at the beginning of each meeting. Intentional, guided stretching feels amazing. And that’s the great thing about Nike+ Training Club: whether I want to burn calories or chill out and calm myself down at the end of the day, there’s always a workout available! ••


Have an app suggestion, feedback, or just want to say Hi? I’d love to hear from you! I respond to all messages I receive. Drop me a line on Twitter @NickFoster56 or email me at staringatphones@icloud.com.

October App Review: Runkeeper

App: Runkeeper
Developer: FitnessKeeper, Inc.
Price: Free
Platforms: iOS, Android

As I mentioned earlier this week, I’m doing a charity 5K run at the end of this month.  This means that I need to get into shape!  For this, I’ve downloaded an app I’ve used a lot before, but had fallen out of the habit of using lately: Runkeeper.


Here’s how Runkeeper works: You click start, and then run.  That’s what’s so awesome about it; it automatically tracks your time and distance over GPS, and also calculates pace, elevation climb, and other stats.  Runkeeper also will periodically give you audio cues telling you your time and distance, as well as any workout intervals (run for one minute, walk for one minute, and so on).

There are four main tabs in Runkeeper.  The first is the one right in the middle: Start.  This is where you go to track a workout.  If you don’t want to track your workout over GPS, or you can’t (swimming would be difficult), you’ve got two other options.  The first is called Stopwatch mode, and it’s more or less exactly what it sounds like: it’s just like GPS mode except you put the distance in at the end.  The other option is manual logging.  Put in what activity you did, how long and how far, and click save.  This doesn’t give you as many details about the workout, but if you forget to track something, it’s nice to be able to add it manually.

Next is the Me tab.  This shows some basic stats: miles per month, workouts per week, etc.  This is also where you can view your goals.  This is one of the best features of Runkeeper in my opinion.  Simply put, progress bars motivate me.  A lot.  Setting a goal is a great way to keep myself on track.  Put in a total distance and when you want to complete it, and Runkeeper will show you your progress over the weeks.  I don’t have any goals set right now because I’m using a training plan (more on that in a second), but I’ve used them a lot in the past.  Since we’re talking about stats, it’s a good time to talk about Runkeeper’s pricing tiers.  You can use Runkeeper totally free, and it works just fine.  Subscribing to Runkeeper Go gives you more stats, as well as some other benefits like more training plans.  If you’re a serious runner, it’s useful, but most people won’t miss it.

The next tab is Training.  I’d never used this until getting ready for this race, but I really like it.  It shows a simple calendar, showing you what workout to do each day.  Straightforward and easy to use.

The final tab is Friends.  This is a neat feature, almost like a social network.  It’s a simple feed that shows you all activities from you and your friends.  I’ve never used this with other people, but it seems like a cool idea.  You can even like and comment on each other’s workouts.

Runkeeper does a good job of showing you plenty of data from your workouts, but what if you want that data elsewhere?  Runkeeper will integrate with MyFitnessPal and Apple Health, which is cool.  I’ve got it set up with the Health app, which is nice because I use other fitness apps too, and Health shows me all that info in the same place.  Runkeeper also has a step counting app called Breeze, which I’ve used on and off before.  Even though it’s a separate app, if Breeze detects that you went on a walk, there’s a button to push that data to Runkeeper as a workout.  Clever!

Runkeeper has been my go to workout app for years now (at least during the periods I’ve been exercising), and there’s lots of good reasons for that.  Runkeeper does its main job well, while still offering a host of other features.  I’ve really been enjoying using it over the past few weeks, and I think I’m going to do really well on that 5K this month.  ••

Microsoft Band: Fitness Friend or Bandwagon Bluff?

Recently, Microsoft announced their entry into the smartwatch/fitness tracker market: The Microsoft Band.  As the name implies, this product leans more towards the fitness band end of that spectrum.  Smartwatches seem to be all the rage these days, but only time will tell whether they’ll actually catch on or if they’re just another tech fad.  Still, for the time being, people are definitely interested in smartwatches, and getting into this market is a good move for Microsoft.  From what I’ve seen on Microsoft’s website, I actually think they have a shot with this one.  Ultimately, the product’s success will come down to whether or not it actually performs well, but Microsoft has taken several preliminary steps that will definitely help its cause.

Fitness First
As I said, the Microsoft Band is a fitness tracker first, and a smartwatch second.  This strategy directly contrasts with the Apple Watch.  For the time being, I think that this is a good play for Microsoft, even if it is a safe one.  The smartwatch market is young, and we’re still figuring out exactly how much you can, and can’t, do on such a tiny little screen.  This means that any smartwatch that attempts to do too much might end up frustrating users.  Microsoft has given the band a fitness focus, including features such as step counting, GPS run tracking, and heart rate monitoring.  The band does pair with a smartphone and give you push notifications, but from what I can tell that’s about all it does as far as smartwatch features go.  This may be enough however; any additional functionality may be so cramped that it’s not worth the saved effort of pulling out your phone.

Partnerships
I didn’t actually hear about the Microsoft Band from Microsoft; RunKeeper told me.  Microsoft has partnered with what are arguably the three most popular fitness apps: RunKeeper, MapMyFitness, and MyFitnessPal.  I like this approach.  It says, “We’re a technology company and we admit that we’re not exactly experts on fitness.  Therefore, in order to give you a good product, we’re partnering with people who do know about fitness.”  The best way for a tech company to shoot themselves in the foot is to create a poorly executed knock off of a service people already use and like.  By humbling themselves and partnering with others, Microsoft has avoided this problem.

Cross Platform
I’ve saved my biggest point for last.  The Microsoft Band will work with both iOS and Android, in addition to Windows Phone.  This is hugely different from other smartwatches on the market.  There are certainly benefits to a company only allowing their watch on their platform.  Most important is the fact that doing so will give your users a more coherent experience.  However, for someone like Microsoft, whose smartphone platform isn’t as popular as others, making their watch cross platform is definitely a good move.  Microsoft was also smart enough to use the Microsoft Band as a hook for the rest of their platform.  In the same way that the Apple Watch has Siri, the Microsoft Band has Microsoft’s personal assistant, Cortana.  Cortana does about what you would expect it to do, but there’s a catch.  Cortana is only available if you have a Windows Phone.  This approach, “Sure, this product works with what you’ve got, but it works really well with our other products,” is a good one in my opinion.  Worst case, people keep pulling out their iPhones to use Siri.  Best case, the Microsoft Band becomes another reason for people to use Windows Phone.

All this discussion leaves one question: How much does this thing cost?  The answer?  $199.  This seems just a little steep to me; I was hoping it would be in the $100-$150 range like the Pebble.  However, compared to the $349 Apple Watch, it’s not bad.  I don’t see myself buying a Microsoft Band (since I already have a fitness tracker that I like), but I do think Microsoft could have a winner here.  Only time will tell, but until then, I’d like to hear your opinion.  Let your voice be heard in the comments below!  Thanks for reading!  ••