I’ve been trying on to find the perfect technical / gadget companion for all sorts of sports activities. I used to be a long time Suunto user, but the old t6 and footpod don’t cut it anymore — when everyone gets their runs plotted on a map on the net and can measure and plan their future runs with precision. As my trusted T6 started to feel old, I decided to see how the market had advanced – and what kind of applications and features I could get from my mobile phone as a sports instrument!
As we all know, modern phones have huge amount of features available for sports tracking — starting from gyroscopes, GPS and time — well everything else, except the heartrate and other bodily functions. Polar and couple of other makers have released bluetooth versions of their heartrate belts, which can be used with mobile phone applications as long as you have a supported application running on your phone. As communication between the device and the application is proprietary information, this usually requires strict NDAs between all the parties.
First application I knew about in this area was (then Nokia’s) Sport’s tracker – which initially worked only on Nokia-phones. These days iPhone and Android versions are in the making – and apparently there still exists a vibrant community. I was fan of the application and the idea of the service before, but was greatly disappointed when there was no support for my beloved N900. Few years ago I did try it with my N95 and these days I have tried it with Nokia 5230 – for which I also got the Polar heart rate belt.
In theory the package works great, but there are some glitches from time to time. My main problems are related to the lousy GPS signal receiving on Nokia 5230 and sometimes losing connection between the heart rate belt and the phone. It almost works great. But just almost. It could be that if I had data plan on my sport phone and could use assisted gps, then location would be found much faster – but while using only gps satellites, then it can take 30 – 60 minutes to find a satellite connection!
Another application I already tested was Endomondo, which I ran in ZTE Blade — an Android-phone. It also supports the Polar belt, but if I had problems sometime with the Nokia 5230, then working with the ZTE Blade and Endomondo was impossible. Connection was lost all the time. Application was nice though.
Good things with Endomondo on Android as well as Sports tracker on Symbian was that Spotify is available on both platforms, so while running you don’t need any other devices with you – as you get music you need and all the data into one single device.
A non contender to this league is Nokia N900 with it’s eCoach software. As there is no news about future development and support for either N900 nor eCoach, it is not fair to compare eCoach to others. However it actually seems to work pretty well — and Martin has provided a cool patch to make it work with Polar heartrate belt!
Haven’t yet tried it on a run, but as I tested it quickly at home – it seemed to work rather nicely. Still have to take it out for a proper spin. I still have my hopes up for this combo!
Overall my experiences with mobile phones and sports instruments has been quite poor so far, at least compared to the Suunto T6 – which worked like a soviet era tank. It is insanely reliable and works every time. If there are more disappointments with Polar heartrate belt and mobile phones, I will get back to my trusted old T6 and will purchase a GPS POD to it. It is not as elegant combo as new Garmin Forerunners or other cool gadgets, but at least it works. Every time.