An app changed my life. Seriously.

About six months ago now I took up running. Long story short, I moved offices, was no longer working near a gym, and found myself in very short supply of time while also needing (more than ever) to get some exercise on the regular. So I started running. The crazy thing is, after a lifetime of hating running, I'm now totally hooked. In part this is due to the efficient, mind-clearing, go whenever I have time nature of running for fitness. But in part this is due to my getting all geeky about it via various smartphone fitness apps that track my runs. Either way, I'm in minorly better physical shape, semi-majorly better mental shape, and and get outside way more often than before I started running.

For months now, RunKeeper Pro for iPhone has been my favorite running app. That all changed when I went to MacWorld this past January and met the folks from Abvio. Abvio's Runmeter 2.0 is a seriously great GPS-based fitness app for iPhone. Is it better than RunKeeper Pro? That depends on what you want from your fitness app: Abvio offers better on-phone data features and arguably better GPS tracking and correction, while RunKeeper sports killer iPod integration and a terrific companion website for tracking individual runs and fitness logs. 

In a nutshell, Runmeter uses iPhone's integrated GPS to track your run, bike ride, or other outdoor activities. The app's stopwatch keeps track of your activity time and calculates training data such as distance, pace, average pace, and so on. Customizable audio updates chime in at user-controllable distance and/or time intervals to let you know how you're doing. Audio updates are one area in which Runmeter has a leg up on RK Pro - Runmeter offers more user control over what data you'll hear during an activity and when you'll hear it. While that might not sound like a big deal, it is. Runmeter also offers a cool Routes function that lets you save and name activity routes that you frequent, and challenge yourself against your history on a particular route -- if you like, the app will offer regular audio updates alerting you to your current time/pace as compared to your previous best and average performances on that route. That's a pretty clever and handy use of tech as a motivational tool.

Runmeter pauses your music or other audio content when delivering an update, where RK Pro announces the data as a voiceover (with controllable volume levels). Personally I'd rather hear the updates over my music, as it just works better within the flow of my run. But some folks prefer the pause-update-resume method that Abvio chose, especially those who listen to audiobooks and spoken podcasts while using the app (according to Abvio). A few times during testing my music didn't seem to actually pause for the updates - it picked up a few seconds past where it had left off - but in general the system worked fine. Runmeter also offers control of the app itself via your earbuds' inline remote.

Where RK Pro uploads activity data to a website that offers editable, interactive maps of your activities and optional fitness logs for you to pour over once back at a computer, Runmeter keeps all of your data on your iPhone. There are pros and cons to each method, but it's hard to argue with the awesome range of data that's always with you via Runmeter's approach. Maps of individual activities, graphs of pace vs elevation change per activity, calendar views of all logged activities ... there's literally a wealth of data available on your phone, which is pretty cool if you're a stats nerd with time to kill or a penchant for obsessing over your personal bests while on-the-go.

Perhaps more important than all of its features, should you live in a rainy climate or otherwise be under cover of dicey GPS coverage, is Runmeter's knack for correcting lousy GPS data. I live in Oakland, CA where "winter" means "rainy season" and morning fog is the nor during much of the year in general - both of which make for some GPS-unfriendly conditions. Beyond that, my regular "hills" run takes me through some notoriously coverage-poor streets. Runmeter does a better job than any other app I've tried at correcting bad GPS data on the fly - which not only results in more accurate post-run data, but also cuts down on bad in-run data. To wit, poor GPS coverage can cause an app to think you've covered less ground than you actually have, resulting in a half-mile split coming in at, say, 11 minutes per mile instead of the seven minutes and change pace you're really on. Trust me, that can be disheartening when you're in the middle of an activity. Runmeter isn't 100% foolproof in this regard (bad GPS coverage is bad GPS coverage, period), but they do a great job of correcting bad data on the fly, however they do it. RK Pro has caught up with their latest release, but at least in my testing Runmeter still has the edge.

And, oh yeah, Runmeter can tweet activity updates while you're on the go and - get this - it can use text-to-speech to read incoming tweets over your earphones as they come in. I'm going to be honest with you - I run to get the heck away from the world and have no interest in my Twitter followers knowing where I am awhile I'm exercising. But, you know, people are all into social networking and this is no doubt a pretty cool feature if that's your cup of tea.

All in all, Runmeter is an excellent GPS fitness app that's tweaked to offer run-specific features (Abvio also makes Cyclemeter and Walkmeter, which I haven't tried). I'm spoiled to have both this and RK Pro to play with, though I think the choice between the two mainly boils down to features: Runmeter offers awesome, awesome on-phone data, slightly superior correction for poor GPS signals, and some nifty social networking integration. On the other hand, If you crave an interactive Website full of data to play with after your activities and advanced iPod integration while you're working out, RK Pro is for you. Either way, it's hard to go wrong.

Runmeter 2.0 is $4.99 from the iTunes App Store.


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