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September 29, 2008

An iPhone compatible alternative to SportsTracker

Follow-up to Sportstracker revisited from Steve's blog

This morning I discovered an iPhone app called “TrailGuru”, along with a corresponding website. It does much of what SprtsTracker does, and more. The iPhone app records a track as you are walking/running/cycling/whatever and uploads it to the website. The app gives you just basic information – distance, time, max speed, etc., unlike the Nokia SportsTracker app which generates pretty graphs and stuff on the phone. You have to go to the TrailGuru website to get the extra analysis. My lunchtime ride is here.

An improvement on SportsTracker, though, is that it keeps cumulative statistics, so if you record and upload every route you’ll get nice pretty graphs with monthly distance, duration, etc. This is much more useful. There’s more analysis it could do once there’s more data in there (year-on-year comparisons), and some other data it could hold against the rides (cadence and heart-rate data, for example), but it is pretty good as it is.

There is a problem with the recording process, though. The “moving time” it records is longer than the moving time recorded by my cycle computer. By quite a lot – over 2 minutes during my 52 minute ride today. I know my cycle computer is pretty much spot on, so it seems the GPS software is taking its time noticing that I’ve stopped. Hopefully they’ll fix this soon, unless it is Apple’s fault in which case it will take years to sort out!!

Still, if you have an iPhone and regularly run or cycle, this is definitely worth a look…

September 17, 2008

Sportstracker revisited

Follow-up to Nokia N82 – GPS stuff from Steve's blog

Back in January I wrote about Nokia’s SportsTracker, which is a phone-based application that uses GPS to record a “workout” including the route itself and various other stats, and then provides a set of mostly useful reports and pretty graphs. Since SportsTracker is on the E71 I got a couple of weeks ago I thought I’d try it again, and in particular I recorded my MacRide cycle a couple of weekends ago.

The end result is here. There’s no easily embeddable version, but you can wrap it in a simple iframe:

The workout profile is interesting, and you can clearly see Bakers Hill in the Cotswolds, about 45 miles into the route, where I had to get off and push because the hill was so steep. Oddly, you get more graphs in the phone version of the app than on the web version, which is a bit surprising.

It seems like not a lot has been done to this since I last tried it. I would really want cumulative distance and time figures to support my quest for annual totals. Those should be easy to do. A moving average speed would be good too. On the plus side, last time, I complained that you couldn’t import GPS tracks from other devices. You can now, as well as creating them manually by clicking on a map. That’s good.

Overall, this is still interesting, but not interesting enough for my purposes. I need to record every route and have cumulative statistics, like I currently get from MyCyclingLog. SportsTracker could be really good, but it isn’t yet. And given some of Nokia’s current focus on community services, the community functionality in SportsTracker is somewhat lacking too. I’d expect groups and friends in there somehow.

January 03, 2008

Nokia N82 – GPS stuff

Follow-up to Nokia N82 from Steve's blog

The Nokia N82 has a GPS receiver built in. It comes with a typical SatNav application that shows you where you are, does route finding, has a Points of Interest database, etc. The usual stuff. There are a couple of differences from a regular SatNav, though:
  1. The route finding is only visual by default. You have to pay extra for a voice-prompt service, on a subscription basis I believe. I’m not sure I like that model much. As an in-car navigational aid it is pretty useless without voice prompts. To navigate on foot, though, in a strange city, it is perfect. Having such a facility always on your person “just in case” would be really useful. However, see below…
  2. The maps are downloadable. The phone comes with very little, and when you browse to a new location it downloads the maps it needs. It can do this over WiFi, which is good because the maps are going to be quite large and it would be expensive to ship them over GPRS (or 3G?). So, if you know you are going somewhere, you’ll want to browse there in advance to make sure you’ve got the maps. If you don’t know you’ll need it until you find yourself lost, then I’m afraid you’re stuck with downloading a few MB of maps. It seems to download in smallish chunks, which is either good or bad depending on your point of view. I’ve just gone browsing around Manchester, which I’ve never looked at before, and pulled down about 2MB of data. On the plus side, I guess this means you can get map updates for free…?

One interesting point is that the N82 managed to get a satellite lock while I was playing with it at home. That’s the only time I’ve ever had a GPS device find satellites while indoors. I was sitting near a window at the time, but still nothing else I’ve tried (Garmin handheld and SatNav devices) has done so well.

So, basic SatNav functionality works as you’d expect, but with a couple of potentially irritating quirks.

Now to the main reason I was sent this phone in the first place – Sports Tracker. This came pre-installed on the phone I was sent, but it is freely downloadable. It works with any phone with built-in GPS, and also with bluetooth GPS receivers. There’s a list of compatible devices on the website.

Sports Tracker uses the GPS receiver to record what it calls “workouts”. Basically this is what regular GPS receivers would call a tracklog. From this is calculates a bunch of statistics – max/min/ave speed, etc. and produces pretty graphs of speed against altitude and similar. All of this is done on the phone itself, which is quite neat. Additionally, it is linked to a web service and will upload the information to the web where you can add comments and share route. For example, here is my lunchtime cycle from yesterday. You can see the usual stats, plus the route overlaid on Google Maps so others can scroll around it and see where you went. You can download a KML file too, so you can put it in a GPS receiver to follow. I haven’t been able to find a way to import a route into Sports Tracker itself though, to allow me to follow somebody else’s route. That seems a bit of an oversight.

Then again, I’m not sure how well the device would work mounted on the handlebars. I don’t have a handlebar mount for it so I can’t be sure. Would it survive the vibration? It isn’t waterproof, so it wouldn’t survive being rained on. I’m not sure the phone is really designed for that sort of use. I’ve been carrying it in the back pocket of my jersey. But that could get it quite damp on a long/hard ride.

I like Sports Tracker. It combines a lot of the stuff I’ve tried to do on this blog – cycling stats, route maps, etc. – in a way that’s quite easy to use. There’s quite a lot of stuff missing though. I need cumulative statistics – miles per month/year, average speed per month/year, etc. If I could just record every journey with Sports Tracker, upload it to the web site, and have everything I need calculated for me (it has the necessary data after all) that would be great. But I’m going to have to record everything elsewhere too. Nokia could do worse that look at My Cycling Log for inspiration.

Overall, then, Sports Tracker is a good start but it needs more work, not on the phone-based app but on the companion web site. The phone itself would probably work well enough for running/walking activities, but I’m not sure how useful it is as a cycling aid. It doesn’t seem rugged enough. I’d be worried about shaking it to bits if it was handlebar mounted.

January 02, 2008

Nokia N82 – The normal stuff

Follow-up to Nokia N82 from Steve's blog

The N82 is a normal “candybar” style phone – i.e. no sliders or flips. It isn’t too big or too heavy. It does all the normal phone stuff as well as you’d expect. There were a few things I didn’t like, so let’s get those out of the way first:
  1. The keypad is horrible! The keys are just too small. This alone would stop me buying one. Texting is hard work, with just too many mistakes. And I don’t have particularly big fingers.
  2. The USB cable doesn’t charge the phone. I try not to let my phone batteries get so low that I need to charge them away from home, but I do keep a USB cable at work for transfering files and for emergency charging. But not with the N82. I’d have to get a second charger, too.
  3. The charger uses a smaller connector that any previous Nokia’s I’ve had (2.5mm rather than 3.5mm?). I’ve not had a new Nokia for a while, so maybe I’ve just missed this change in policy? But I have lots of old Nokia chargers around that I couldn’t use with it.

That’s it really. There were a few other niggles, but nothing that actually put me off the phone. So, what did I like?

  1. The Wi-Fi connection was really useful for downloading stuff without running up enormous bills (applications, maps for the GPS functionality) and for using the web-browser to check email, Facebook, Youtube, etc. for free from home (not from work, obviously:-)
  2. The web browser worked very well, and the accelerometer that switched between landscape and portrait at the flick of a wrist was neat, although not entirely reliable. And obviously it is far from essential. I did have trouble with some flash-based stuff that wanted a better flash player, but I couldn’t find a way of updating the built-in one.
  3. You can leave applications running in the background and switch to them quickly, which makes a quick email check really just a quick email check!
  4. The camera works very well. It is a 5MP device with a decent lens (Carl Zeiss), auto focus and a proper flash. It lets you select ISO rating, white balance, exposure compensation, sharpness, etc., or leave them all on auto. It does VGA video at 30fps too. I had hoped to collect comparisons with a “proper” camera, but I’ve not had the opportunity.
  5. The phone also supports SIP. I haven’t had enough time to spend on this to get it configured to use my sipgate account, but this could be really handy for keeping the bills down, especially abroad. Definitely worth a play.

The PIM functionality worked as well as on any other recent phone I’ve used. It syncs with Outlook with no problems and seems to deal with Outlook repeating events well enough. I could certainly use it instead of a PDA for the basic PIM functionality.

The battery life was OK. Not brilliant, but OK. Unless you use WiFi a lot, in which case you are lucky to get two days out of it even if you don’t make any calls. Which means you really need a charger at work as well as at home. Shame the USB cable doesn’t charge the phone, really…

As a combined phone/media player/camera/browser it works pretty well. I’ve been very impressed. Apart from the keypad. Did I mention that I don’t like the keypad?

Tomorrow we’ll get to the GPS and Sports Tracker…

Nokia N82

Writing about web page

I was contacted out of the blue a few weeks ago by somebody from the WOM World web site. They’d seen this blog and thought I might be interested in looking at the new Nokia N82 phone complete with “Sports Tracker” application. The N82 is one of the new Nokia phones with built-in GPS, and Sports Tracker uses this to record routes (or “workouts” as it calls them) and keep performance statistics about them – ave/max/min speed, altitude profile, etc. – and produce pretty graphs (on the phone) of speed against altitude and such-like. Anyway, I agreed and am now the temporary keeper of a Nokia N82. Sadly it has to go back soon!

The N82 is a Symbian-based phone, and does all the usual phone stuff (makes calls, sends texts:-). A few highlights:
  • Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g), bluetooth
  • Quad-band, 3G, etc, etc
  • 5MP camera, xenon flash, 30fps VGA video recording, video-out
  • Web browser, email, the usual Nokia PIM stuff
  • 2.4” QVGA screen with accelerometer to auto-rotate between landscape/portrait
  • Music player/video player/FM radio
  • 2GB SD card provided as standard
  • GPS receiver, mapping application/route finder

The main reason WOM World thought I might be interested in the phone is the Sports Tracker application, which uses the GPS receiver to record routes and provide stats like max/ave speed, graphs of speed against altitude, etc. It is linked to a web site, and you can transfer routes to share them with others.

I’ve had the phone for a couple of weeks now and I’ll post a review is two parts, first the general phone stuff and separately the GPS related stuff.

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