Fitness Apps: The Case for Tiny Smartphones

Noah Kravitz
 from  Oakland, CA
| August 18, 2009


David over at TmoNews, via the folks at BGR, thinks that HTC's forthcoming wee Android phone, codenamed Click, may debut in time for the holidays. I'll go so far as to say we'll see it at CTIA in October. While some are scoffing at the idea of Android OS running on such a small phone with a small screen and no physical keypad, I think you can make an interesting case for undersized but overpowered mobile devices. How? Three words:

GPS Fitness Apps

Okay, that's actually not what's going to make or break smaller, cheaper smartphones in the mass market. But lemme tell ya, after a few weeks of "running" (my out-of-shape gait is more like a shuffle than a run, really), I can make a pretty good case for a smaller phone with full access to all that Android, iPhone OS, or any other modern smartphone platform has to offer.

I'm working on full reviews of a few GPS-based fitness apps, and have been testing them out by going for runs with a smartphone clipped to my shorts. Like Apple and Nike's "Plus" system - which uses a dedicated sensor in your shoe and software/sensors in your iPod or iPhone - GPS fitness apps not only track your time, distance, speed/pace, and such as you run/walk/bike, but they also upload your workout data to a server. Post-workout you can log on to a Website and check out everything from your total mileage history to Google Maps of your workout routes complete with nifty features like elevation graphs. I like the elevation graphs, myself, because they make me feel better about running so slowly - I live in a very hilly area ;-)

What's cool about smartphone fitness apps is that I can listen to music, track my workout, and stay in contact via cell phone all via a single device. No, I'm not talking on the phone while running, but it's nice to have the thing on me in case a loved one needs to reach me in an emergency or I totally bonk during my run and have to text someone to come pick me up and carry me home. Don't laugh - half a mile seems like forever when you're an over the hill professional blogger. Okay, I'm exaggerating.

What's lame about smartphone fitness apps is that running with an iPhone or myTouch 3G clipped to my shorts in a holster case isn't as comfy as running with a tiny little iPod nano or Nokia 5310 held in my fist or secured via a belt or armband case. Depending on which shorts I'm wearing, I sometimes have to fidget with the holster case lest it bounce around or worse yet, tug my pants down a little with each bounce. That's the last thing I need, a bouncy phone messing with my four minute miles. Also, prolonged use of GPS can be a nightmare for battery life (especially if you're in an area with spotty 3G coverage) - though running a GPS fitness app with your smartphone's display turned off helps a little bit, anyway.

Still, for as long as I keep running I'm likely to either swear by one route tracker app or another, or give in and carry a tiny, cheap cell phone rubberbanded to an iPod nano equipped with the Nike + system. Tracking my routes is too much fun to give up, and I need all the "fun" I can find to help keep me off the couch and on the road. Maybe a tiny smartphone like the HTC Click - or that oft rumored iPhone nano - is just the trick for GPS-enabled exercise fanatics. Sure, a wee little Android phone wouldn't be for everyone, but if it was this easy for me to see a solid use case right off the bat, just imagine what HTC's engineers, marketers, and bean counters have been able to come up with.