Android Wear smartwatch as a device for runners

Introduction

I didn’t liked the idea of smartwatch for a long time. Primary because those devices were not standardized and every manufacturer has his own operating system. Because of this fact the app developers were forced to write the integration for every watch basically from the scratch.

With the introduction of Android Wear (and in future the Apple Watch) this situation has changed – application developer writes the integration once for specific system and it should work with wide range of devices. Which means hopefully the integration will be better and will have more features than e.g. the weak RunKeeper for Pebble. Let’s face it – there is always a leading platform/operating system. I really hope for smartwatches it will be Android Wear (and maybe the Apple Watch but we are still waiting for the release).

My initial idea was that the watch and app integration would replace my current Garmin watch completely. I always run with the smartphone (music player and miCoach audio coaching) so this would be a perfect solution for me with additional benefits like – changing the music during the run from the wrist or identity the caller. Is that the case already? Can Android Wear and run app replace the running watch for me? Let’s check!

Hardware

First of all let’s talk about the hardware. Every Android Wear device now depends on Android based smartphone. For my tests I have used the Samsung Galaxy S4 which is my daily use smartphone.

galaxy s4

As the Android Wear device I decided to go for LG Watch W100.

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Why this particular model? It’s simple. Because:

– it has a bright IPS screen – don’t like the round ones

– it doesn’t have the heart rate monitor – those doesn’t work properly during training either way so I didn’t see the reason why should I have to pay for it

– it looks really nice on the writs (even my finance was surprised that it was not another “geeky gadget” or big silly watch like my 310XT)

But most of all because it was quite cheap:). I was able to grab one second handed for about $130 so it’s quite a good bargain my opinion.

Software

Several running applications have already introduced the support for Android Wear. Those are:

Endomondo

SportsTracker (and also SportsTracker PRO and FitCloud – those are almost the same apps, more about this here)

RunKeeper

Runtastic

Strava

My Tracks

How well is the integration with smartwatch done? We will go over each app and make a small review of this particular functionality.

Let’s start with…

Endomondo

The Endomondo Android Wear support was introduced on 8th October 2014 – here are the release notes. How to start using it? Very simple – if we have Endomondo installed and the watch is paired correctly with the phone we can be pretty much sure the app is already available on the smartwatch.The integration is included in the free version of Endomondo (not in PRO – you can read about this here).

First of all what are the configuration possibilities. Quite good actually! We can configure up to 3 screens with 2 data fields each.

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The available data fields are:

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We can also configure the theme (dark/white) and use the heart rate monitor from the watch. But of course if we have a HR strap then this one is preferred because the optical HRM on the current Android Wear smartwatches doesn’t work well (both the one from Samsung S and Moto 360 – yes, that real shame:/).

Additionally we have a Tracker View which cannot be edited – it is shown every KM/MILE and informs about the average pace of the last KM.

This is how it looks on the watch:

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And with white theme:

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It quite promising. The training can be started/paused/stopped from the wrist. During the training we can turn off the app on the watch and enable e.g. the music controller app to change the music. Afterwards when we go back to Endomondo it will still work and continues the training. But that’s not magic because the host app is running on the phone. After going out from the app during the training it is still active on the watch face and we can still see the time and distance.

Ok so what are the problems with this integration? For now I see several.

2 data fields per page it’s just not enough. 3 is a must in my opinion. At least time, pace and heart rate on 1 page. Now I have time/distance and heart rate/pace and I often change between this 2 pages. But at least the swipe works quite good during the training. But this probably will start to be a problem in winter while wearing gloves (and yes I have the gloves compatible with capacitive screen).

The second problem that has probably disqualified the Android Wear integration for me is the instant pace. It just doesn’t work at all. It’s not smoothed in any way (at lest that’s how I see it). During steady run in pace 5:30min/km it often goes from 3min/km to 7min/km. It’s just crazy how inaccurate this is. And the worst is – there is no “current lap pace” or “last minute pace” data field. One of the biggest advantage of the training watch for me is the instant pace (with foot pod or smoothed with GPS) or current lap pace (with GPS). If this one doesn’t work correctly then the product is useless. And that’s sadly the case with Endomondo Android Wear integration.

SportsTracker (SportsTracker PRO, FitCloud)

The second app on my list is SportsTracker. I will not cover the installation because as previously it’s already on the watch if installed on the phone.

From the app we can start the standard 4 types of training: gps record, gps live, sensor only, sensor live. On FitCloud we don’t have the “Live” session trainings.

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So what are the configuration possibilities? None. Literally none. We have the standard data fields that are provided by the developer which are:

Time/Distance/Calories

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Speed

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Pace

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Heart rate

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Heart rate %

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So we know that there is no configuration options. So how does the integration works? Not so good as Endomondo. We can start the training but I haven’t found any possibility to stop it or even pause. To do that we have to grab the phone and open the app. Also when it comes to starting the training – we just select the training type and then wait until the phone acquire GPS fix and/or connects to the sensors and then automatically starts the timer. Very bad.

The only advantage over Endomondo that I see is the pace metric that is basically the last minute average pace – that works quite well.

The integration is not bad but is requires some polishing. If the following thing would be added:

– ability to stop/pause and explicitly start the training

– ability to configure the data pages

– ability to work in background on watchface

Then I think it would be almost perfect. And if the developer would add to the application the feature to calibrate the foot pod and calculate instant pace from foot pod then I think this could be the app that could replace my Garmin. Maybe in future.

RunKeeper

Ok let’s focus on RunKeeper. What are the configuration options? None. What are the data screens? Only 1 with: duration, distance and pace.

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We can also star/stop/pause the training and the app works on the watch face:

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There is a bug that doesn’t allow me to change the units from imperial to metric – and since I’m not used to imperial units then sadly the data fields are useless for me.

Nothing more to say here – really poor. Just start/stop/pause and 3 metrics. That’s not what I was expecting.

Runtastic

It’s hard for me to say anything about this Android Wear integration simply because the app doesn’t start on the watch. Nothing happens after execution so “Sorry Winnetou”. Well, actually something is happening – executing the app runs the Runtastic app on smartphone. That’s it. I assume it’s some kind of a bug that will be fixed in the future.

Strava

Strava Android Integration is on the same level as RunKeeper. It has no configuration options. Has 2 screens with split pace/time and distance/time.

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We can start/pause and finish the workout.

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That’s it. What I like about it is the split pace metric which works much better than instant pace on Endomondo. That’s probably the biggest (and one only) advantage of this app. Also I have a feeling that the app design looks very poor and outdated. It doesn’t work on the watch face but that’s not a problem in my opinion.

My tracks

Just wanted to mention about this one because it has basically one advantage over the Runtastic – it works:)! The only functionality it has it to start/stop the recording and that’s it.

That’s how it looks:

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The app works nice on the watchface. But honestly – nothing much to say here.

Conclusion

Can any of the app on Android Wear replace my current Garmin Forerunner 310XT (or any running watch at all)? At this point I don’t think so!

Of course if you don’t expect any advanced features or don’t bother with the instant pace problem on Endomondo or lack of configuration options for SportsTracker then it’s should be quite ok for you (good enough:)). But if you are an aware user then most likely you will be disappointed (just like I was).

But what if you already have the watch with Android Wear and want to use it for running? For now I can recommend only Endomondo and SportsTracker. Only those apps have fairly decent Android Wear integration and with some improvements those apps could compete with dedicated running watches.

For the other apps I have the feeling the developer just wanted to have the fancy feature “Android Wear integration” on the checklist and that’s all.

I hope this situation will change in near future. I strongly believe that both Endomondo and SportsTracker teams (and also the other ones but they have lot more to do) would improve and make the smartwatch integration a killer feature:).

Until that day I will just leave my smartwatch at home and use, as always, my good old Forerunner for my workouts.

As always thanks for reading.

PS In my review I wasn’t focusing on the things like battery life because it’s specific for the LG G Watch. If you are interested in the review of this specific watch then let me know in comments. I will do my best:).

PPS I have share my toughs on both Endomondo and SportsTracker feature requests forums. I have a little hope my voice will be listened by the developers. If you agree please visit the Endomondo or SportsTracker feature request site and share your ideas (or add plus on mine:)). Thanks in advance!

4 comments

  • Sony Smartwatch 3 with built in GPS might be something to review…?

    I love Strava but use my Polar v800 for running and squash and cardio. My runs I upload to Strava to check segments and leader boards.

    • Hi. Actually I have tested the Sony Smartwatch 3 already and it’s on my pending list. Stay tuned. I know it’s almost 2 years from your comment but it happend so in my life that sadly I didn’t have time for the blog. But if you are still interested stay tuned:).

  • Nice write up. I was thinking of getting an android wear watch but the data fields is a minimum for me also. Let’s hope the app developers unless the wear apps quickly.

    • Hi. Recently I have retested the apps and sadly those Android Wear were not updated. But in the meantime an app appeared that allows to have more data fields – Ghostracer. In my opinion it’s now the best solution for Android Wear in terms of running.

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