Review: Smartphone Running Apps

What’s the best running app? Well, it depends. We break down the most popular smartphone running apps and their ideal uses.

Dozens of smartphone running apps use GPS to track runs and gather your performance data, but each takes a different approach to presenting the info it gathers.

The good news is you don’t have to choose just one — you can use one you like best, or use a combination of apps to get the feedback you want.

Nike+ Running

Nike+ Running App is a popular, socially focused app with new training features.

Nike+ Running App is a popular, socially focused app with new training features.

Still improving, this pioneering running app released a new coaching option in December. It provides a training plan using existing run data to recommend a skill level for your new goals. Frequent 10k runners may get an intermediate plan aimed at shedding time from that distance, but they’ll be bumped down to beginner when they embark on a goal to finish their first half-marathon. Highly social, Nike+ Running motivates with lots of fastest- and furthest- badges, customizable goals, and plenty of ways to challenge or keep up with your running friends.

Praise: Post-run maps display your slowest and fastest segments. Runs can be paused with ‘smart’ headphones. Their website is more user-friendly than original users may recall.

Knocks: Nike doesn’t let you edit runs — likely so you can’t cheat on goals and social competitions, or gain unearned Nike Fuel.

Too Long Didn’t Read: Best app for casual runners who thrive on social reinforcement; those who don’t want to visit a website; or those who can’t imagine running without music. 

My Asics

A relative newcomer to the running app scene, the My Asics app upped the game with adjustable training plans based on your goals and previous mileage logged. These fresh plans let you set the number of runs per week and choose your run-heavy days. The run screen is a simple stopwatch display, with a lap feature to help with paces. The plan tab includes instructions for each day’s light jog or interval session.

Online, your data is accessible — and editable — with room to track eating habits, workouts, and other non-running information. The website also lets you tweak your plan, sync it with your personal calendar, and filter runs by type.

Praise: Runs can be edited — great for those who prefer non-phone distance tracking. The website opens up a world of data analysis.

Knocks: No audio feedback for pacing.

TLDR: Best app for lone wolf runners eager for a flexible training plan and tracking health and fitness data beyond runs. 

Strava provides feedback on how you performed during different segments of your runs, in comparison to your own and other runner's previous runs.

Strava provides feedback on how you performed during different segments of your runs, in comparison to your own and other runner’s previous runs.

Strava Run

Many of these apps track your runs, pace, heart rate, and elevation, but Strava does the most with the data. For runners incorporating hill repeats and sprints into their training – which is a good idea – this app will pick up that you’re running a known route. It can compare your segments or laps with those of your past runs and with other runners. You may not break any 5k records, but you could be the king of a staircase!

Strava premium ($6/month) lets you compare the segments in real time. The premium option also gives you access to your back-catalog of running data, pace zone analysis, and their own “Suffer Score” which incorporates HRM data.

Praise: GPS detects familiar routes and segments. Tracks lots of personal records to try and beat.

Knocks: Pushes their premium option like a grandmother pushes extra helpings.

TLDR: Best for runners who like to pore over their data backward and forward; and those whose training includes sprints and repeats.

Map My Run

Long a go-to for legions of runners on devices besides a phone, the Map My Run app is on version 5.4. The app includes the website’s large catalog of running routes, and a hit-or-miss route map creator based on your distance requirements.

The maps are the star here; with user-added pins to locate trailheads, restrooms, and water fountains. Map My Run syncs with most heart rate monitors, including those they sell. The premium ($6/month) version includes coaching and live-tracking updates for real-time encouragement.

Praise: Real-time stats. Tried-and-true maps with community input. The app includes nearly all the website does.

Knocks: The most unique features are kept on the premium version.

TLDR: Best for runners who prefer tracking runs on other devices, but like accessing and sharing the results instantly from their phone; and those who like changing up routes often.

Endomondo

The Endomondo app experience starts with one of its Fitness Tests to place you on an exercise program track. And from there it seems to dangle paid-version offerings. The free version lets you find routes and try to beat your previous times, presents a few challenges, and is sleek enough in its presentation. Premium membership ($4/month) incorporates HRM data, including zone training, offers training plans, and opens up analysis options on their website.

Besides the run clock, the display can be set to show several options like pace, heart rate, or an estimated amount of water to drink during and after your run.

Praise: Simple and quick-starting interface.

Knocks: Training plans and HRM zones are for paid members only. Run analysis is web-only.

TLDR: Best for someone with other activities to track besides just running. 

Runkeeper

Runkeeper’s training plans vary from racing, weight loss, and an entire section of plans called “Learn to Run” that offers plenty of couch-to-5k options. The app also lets you set goals around distance, races completion, or weight. Paid membership ($5/month) will let you compare runs and enable live updates.

Praise: Personal records include elevation climbed – nothing like a stair set or hills to skew your regular pace data. HRM Bluetooth option.

Knocks: Activity charts and graphs are only for paid members.

TLDR: Best for the casual runners who want plenty of goal options. 

Saucony's Run4Good app taps into altruism: it promotes running as a part of a healthy, active childhood — all in an effort to combat childhood obesity.

Saucony’s Run4Good app taps into altruism: it promotes running as a part of a healthy, active childhood — all in an effort to combat childhood obesity.

Saucony Run4Good

Teams of runners – individuals coming soon – compete to put in the most miles for each month’s cause. (January’s challenge is for the community to run 10,000 miles for the Boys and Girls Club of Central Sonoma County.) There’s a good cause, but individuals might not find the motivation in their 5-miler among those needed to trigger a donation. The app tracks your individual data, and keeps best times/distances, and rewards badges as you progress.

Praise: A great way for run clubs and teams to track their collective mileage or calories burned.

Knocks: The interface is clumsier than other options listed here.

TLDR: Best for runners motivated by causes more than their own performance.

Apps were tested using an iPhone 5s and showed only slight variations which likely have more to do with the GPS signal than the apps themselves.

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