Thursday, June 27, 2013

Nike+ on the iPod Nano Review - Nike Plus Website Review

Yes, yes, I have a Garmin. So no, I don't really need to use the Nike+ system at all. But about a month ago, I bought a brand new Apple iPod Nano, 7th generation. I saw that had a Nike+ button on it, but I didn't really think about it, since I haven't had a shoe sensor for years. Then I noticed the instructions said you don't have to use a shoe sensor at all. It will work without one.


So clearly I had to give this thing a try. How exactly was it supposed to work without a shoe sensor? I had no idea. Technical specs on the whole thing is sort of hard to find. Basically, it says it tracks you using an accelerometer. OK, I almost accept that. Although it also seems to work when you're running on a treadmill, so...what exactly is it measuring? Your arm movements? What if you have it in your pocket? What if you have it in a backpack? I don't know. I've given up on the science of the thing and just moved on to testing it out.

So, the Nike+ system does allow some calibration. At the end of a run, it may ask if you want to calibrate the run you just finished. You can then adjust the mileage if you know the Nike+ system has it wrong. I figured this was a pretty important feature, so I calibrated the system on three different runs before I officially started testing it.

Here is the first test - a 12 mile run through Corvallis. This run was mainly on paved, flat bike trails with just a few dirt trails thrown in. Pretty flat and simple overall.

And here are the Nike+ splits from the same run. Pretty basic, but Nike does provide your running time, your average pace for each mile and the up or down percentage change for each mile, compared to the average for the entire run.

So let's compare this to my numbers that my Garmin Forerunner 110 spit out. Now if you want to scoff at the numbers Garmin provides or that particular watch model, please be my guest. But it's as close as I can get to a "gold" standard for distance and pace, so that's what I'm using for my base comparison.

OK, the first note is the total distance. The Garmin has it at 12.02 miles and the Nike+ at 12.1 miles. That's shockingly close and quite remarkable really. An impressive feat for the Nike+ system to be that accurate on that long of a run. However, note the total time is not the same on the two systems - I walked a little to start and a little to end while I tried to get everything going and everything turned off. So there's about 3 minutes difference between the maybe the Nike+ was quite as accurate as I thought. You can also see this in the pace numbers - the Nike+ and the Garmin have a few miles where the pace looks the same, but most are quite a bit off. Still, not bad overall.

Now let's take a look at a tougher run to track. Here's a run where I went up and down Bald Hill twice and had a total distance of 9.80 miles according to the Garmin.

And here is a look at the splits from the Nike+ system.

And then let's compare the Nike+ splits with the Garmin splits.

OK, now we start to see some issues. The accelerometer seems to have some issues when the pace/cadence changes quickly. Going up and down hills causes your form to change, your stride length to change, and definitely your speed to change and the Nike+ seems to lose a little in the translation. The Garmin says I ran 9.80 miles and the Nike+ says I ran 10.30 miles. That's a .50 mile difference over 10 miles, or a 5% difference. Now depending on how you look at it, maybe 5% doesn't make that big a difference to your training. Good for you. But that much of a mileage difference changes the average pace from 10:00 to 9:30 and that's a pretty big number.

And looking at the splits, it seems the Nike+ system has my pace WAY fast going uphill. Why? I couldn't tell you. I'm guessing it's because my upper body, and iPod, move pretty normally going uphill, but my feet are taking tiny, little strides.

I've done a bunch of runs over the last month and I can confirm these general observations.
-normal, flat paved run: Nike+ will get you within 5% accuracy and usually even better than that.
-odd paces like tempo runs or odd terrain like hills and trails: Nike+ will be probably be off 5%-15%.

Now the treadmill.

Yes, the Nike+ works, sort of, on the treadmill. It's not great - usually it shows me MUCH slower than I'm actually running - but it does work. Whereas the Garmin doesn't do squat (obviously) on a treadmill. So if you're just looking for some kind of numbers and aren't too concerned with the accuracy, go ahead and use the Nike+ on the treadmill. Then again, the treadmill itself keeps pretty good record of how far you've run and your distance, so why would you need anything else? Hmmmm... Of course, when you're trying to break records and win challenges on the Nike+ website, you wear it on EVERY run.

OK, the website.

Maybe it's just the middle school kid in me, but I've got to admit, I like all the fancy graphics and colors and prizes and trophies and STUFF that is on the Nike+ site.

I mean look at all this cool stuff! What time of day you run, your fastest records, your challenges against other Nike+ members...stuff, stuff, stuff! Of course they also have this Nike Fuel thing, which makes no sense to me...but I've almost got a million units of it, so...maybe I'll win a stuffed chicken or something!

Ah, but even here, the main problem - accuracy - crops up. Note that the shot above states I have a 4:41 mile record and a 17:25 5k record. Well, I don't have either. Not even close. My 5k PR is a 19:58 and I wasn't wearing an iPod when I ran it.

So basically, if you're running for strictly health reasons or for fun, the Nike+ is perfect for you. Hey, I like it for those reasons.

But if you need seriously accurate times and distances, stick with a GPS unit of some sort.

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