GPS watches or apps on your phone?

I have seen reviews where people use various apps on their IPhone or Android phones to measure and log speed, distance and pace. Are these making GPS watches less popular? Yes, you have to take your phone with you, strapped to your arm probably. Yes it`s not moisture proof [sweat and rain]but cases are available. But it`s certainly a lot cheaper to get an app.

So are apps making GPS watches redundant?


  • No - don't have an iphone or an android  - but did buy a GPS watch -
  • Not at all simply because the GPS on most phones are shite imho. I have run the same course with both a smart phone and Garmin310xt and find the phone gps freaks out more specially in built up areas, the phone gps when used round an area such as the docklands really goes mental and suggests I can run though buildings, the Garmin still freaks out but vastly less so.
    My phone can also not measure my cadence or heart rate, and you can not swim with it..... there is also the convince with having the device on your wrist.
  • I saw an image a while back showing how many times each checks your position. The phone systems check much less often meaning the route is much less accurate
  • I dont think you can program in an interval session into a phone, or program in pace zones with audible alerts.

    You would certainly struggle to see how far / fast you had travelled whilst actually running - and smart phone battery life is worse than a May Fly.

    Its a bit like pople who go fell walking with a map app on their phone instead of a proper handheld gps with map and compass.... Yeah - it kind of works a bit, but not very well or for very long or with any kind of reliability.

  • MuttleyMuttley ✭✭✭

    I paid £100 or so for my 305. And £20 for my phone.  I have no intention of acquiring a smartphone or iPhone so have no idea of how much they cost, but I suspect it is more than £120. When these doohickeys combine the cost and the full functionality of the Garmin (on payg please), then I might be tempted.

    It'll probably happen at some stage but not just yet.

  • I use the Runkeeper App in my iPhone. Its not wonderful but it does give me reasonably accurate assesment of how far and how fast I have run.Ideally I would have a GPS watch and hopefully Santa will bring me one.However I do have a skinny wrist so not sure which watch will be best for me?
  • i used an app on my desire hd which was fine and pretty accurate.  The only problem was that if you were trying to stick to a set pace it was nigh on impossible to see the screen when it was strapped to your arm - I therefore stopped using it and gt myself a garmin 405cx which is just bloody brilliant!!
  • I have used both this year extensively. I can assure everyone that the Garmin is WAY more accurate and tracks a lot more data. Some iPhone apps (esp. Runkeeper - which I have used for tons of activities) often have the calories well out, the distance made up, the times based entirely on when the activity started and stopped (if importing it) etc.

    I now leave my iPhone in my bag, clip on a iPod Shuffle if I want something to listen to (currently Running and Life Podcasts) and use my Garmin 305.

    The apps are great for beginning etc, especially Get Running (Couch to 5k) which is brilliant and got me started and moving well.

  • I have a HTC Incredible S that I put in my running belt and use earphones. I use Cardio Trainer App (Android). It plays my music, talks to me telling me splits and pace, gps even maps my route and I could upload them to Facebook if I wanted. Love it. A GPS watch won't do this for me.

    I also have a history on my phone of time, distance, pace and calories burned.

    Todays run

    49 Mins, 5.5 miles, 9:01 pace, 708 calls

    1. 7:14
    2. 9:02
    3. 8:53
    4. 9.44
    5. 9.45
  • MuttleyMuttley ✭✭✭
    You took 708 calls while running 5.5 miles at 9 min miling? That's what I call multitasking.
  • I was without my Garmin for a few days while I sent if off for a refurb. I used 2 apps while I was without.

    I think the first  was run keeper. I had run a 6 mile route in 57 minutes I knew the distance and clocked the time. The phone clocked me as doing 11 milesimage

    Now much as I would have liked to believe it.....The next day I did a 6 miler and it measured it as less than 4 and clocked me doing 13mm...

    I did wonder if you were starting and had no idea how far you were running how you would be in for a shock in a race...

  • Phones use AGPS (assisted gps) since the gps inside the phone is not strong enough it uses the network to assist plotting your position. Hence the inaccuracy of the apps. They are fine for a casual, just out for a jog while keeping track of distance type runner. But for more accurate,detailed progress and stats, a dedicated gps device is a must.
  • On the london marathon my Garmin 205 had me finishing on Birdcage walk, Docklands had confused it, however cardio trainer on my htc desire also regularly adds 10% to my distance wherever i run, but as someone said it plays music and talks to me which helps.
  • Whilst not completely accurate, the music is a massive motivational factor for me.
  • Can you program an interval / tempo session into a phone app?  If not, what's the point? 

    I love my Garmin - it's a fantastic piece of kit.   Yes they're not 100% accurate but neither are those phone apps! "Carrot has just finished a Runtastic run of 17.58 miles in 36 minutes"... erm yeah, right.

    I only run with music when I'm on a treadmill in the gym anyway, and then the treadmill tells me how far / fast (or slow) I'm going.  And even they aren't guaranteed accurate!  I wouldn't want to take my phone running with me, certainly not strapped to my arm anyway.  Do they have waterproof covers? 

    I doubt phones would make GPS watches redundant, much like how Sat Nav hasn't made the good old reliable road atlas redundant image

  • I do think my Runkeeper App is reasonably accurate.Fortunately I have not had any crazy runs of 18 miles in 35 mins or anything like that.I do know that GPS isn't as accurate on hills although I suspect that may be the same with a Garmin GPS watch?
    For me its about cost/value/portability etc.If you have a smartphone id say use the apps if you can be bothered carrying the phone however there is no doubt I would prefer a GPS watch but we can't all afford them.
  • GPS hardware in early/ cheap smartphones is too inaccurate for apps to be very good. Latest hardware eg iPhone 4 is very good and the apps are getting better. DC Rainmaker goes into this very thoroughly here:

    Over the last 11 weeks I've used Runkeeper and iSmoothRun apps on an iPhone4. I couldn't see the point of a specialist watch when the phone already had the technology. However I eventually bought a Garmin Forerunner 610.

    The apps are good. I like the way the phone talks to you to provide updates and coaching during the workout. They automatically squirt the data up to websites like which is much more convenient than messing around with USB sticks like you must with the watches. However I found that the pace based coaching didn't work at my slow running speeds. This is because the apps sample GPS position every 5 seconds and use algorithms to interpolate the track and pace. The 610 can be set to sample every second. Comparing tracks, I find the watch more accurate and the pace coaching works.

    I did try using a wahoo fitness dongle to get heart rate and cadence data into the phone from chest strap and foot pod. It was too unreliable for me and I gave up with that.

    So now the 610 is my primary device but I still use the phone as a backup sticking it in a ziplock bag when it's raining. I think apps are a great way to get experience with GPS tracking and learn what you really need from these devices. However, if you start to get more serious about using them, the current technology comes up short of the special purpose watches. You get what you pay for I guess.

  • I previously used Run.GPS on all my previous phones. As mentioned the phones GPS is not great so I used a bluetooth GPS receiver which it a lot more accurate.

    Now switch to a Garmin.

    I switched because on a couple of occasions it locked up or lost the signal and would not get it back until the phone was re-booted. Really annoying during a race.

    Not easy to start them at the beginning or a race, hit the start button, lock the screen and then strap to your arm. Ok for a marathon, waste of time in a 5Km. Then reverse the process at the end.

    The arm strap Velcro has damaged some of my clothes.

    The only thing I miss the voice of the lovely lady every mile telling me a load of stats (distance, time, current pace, average pace).
  • I don't have a phone which does stuff like that, and have no desire to get one.

    I use a Garmin for training and racing, especially to keep an eye on my pace.  A phone app may be able to do that, but it's much harder to read a phone screen than a gadget on your wrist.

    Also it does monitor HR if you want, and it can stand up to a bit of rain and sweat.

    So no, I don't think that phones with make Garmin-type gadgets redundant, especially as they seem to be less than accurate (from the posts above) in any case.

  • Why do people automatically assume that you need to be able to see the screen to get a run-down on pace, heart rate, and so on?
  • Because that's the way I do it on a Garmin?

  • Having come from a phone to a Garmin, I can understand why the screen is useful...
  • I couldn't wait to get my Garmin so I could leave my phone at home.
  • ^^ i'm the same, garmin is weather proof, i can look at my pace/distace etc at a glance, i dont need a sweaty uncomfortable arm band on or an unnecessary belt, much better.

    and B is right about the accuracy, i did a comparison carrying my iPhone, an android phone and my garmin. this was my results.

  • Another example as to accuracy, although as you can see the Garmin is not 100%

  • That's similar to what I get. I've found that over distances of about 5 miles the clipping of the path due to less frequent samples on the phone seem to smooth out so the total distance measured ends up being roughly the same as the watch (<5% variance). Of course, over a longer distance that variance becomes significant. The inaccuracies on any given short segment do mean that pace calculations can be wildly out on the phones particularly if you are running slowly.

    I think it is important to bear in mind that civilian GPS isn't 100% accurate anyway, particularly in bad weather, the woods or urban environments. Even on the watch I sometimes get wild differences on the same route showing me running through buildings etc. Having a device that gives precision to two decimal places for distance and pace seduces you into thinking it is more accurate than it really is.

    If my training plan didn't require me to run at specific paces for given distances, I would have been quite happy with the phone provided it wasn't lashing down with rain. I still prefer the phone reading out my stats rather than having to fiddle with the touch screen on the watch to see what I want to know. I expect newer models of phone will eventually support 1 second sampling and be as accurate as the watches.
  • I don't think that Smartphone Apps will make the Garmin redundant in the near future.

    Most Smartphones include a camera and a clock but people still buy and use separate cameras and wear ordinary watches.

    Smartphones are damn clever bits of kits and do lots of things moderately well in a single package. Some people will find that they are all they need.

    Like a lot of the people here I'd rather use a tool specifically designed for a task if I get the choice.

    Once the Smartphone has done away with the need for people to buy cameras then maybe the Garmin will be next but there is a long way to go before that will happen.
  • Weevil - people still use cameras because the image quality from a camera is far greater than that from a phone's camera. There's more to it that than the final image (aperture, sensor size, speed of use, flexibility, and so on), but there's not much between getting GPS in-line with what a Garmin can do.

    That said, receives 25 uploads per second, and those all come from iPhones or iPads.
  • Intermanaut - Disagree that it is as simple as that. Lets face it the vast majority of people using cameras stick it on automatic and do point and click stuff and never print the pictures so a 5Megapixel camera on a Smartphone will probably do the job for 80% of the population. As you hint at "Traditional" cameras have the controls positioned in an optimal layout for taking photos. They aren't compromised by the fact that they have to use controls designed for other purposes.

    In my mind the same is true of Garmin type device. I have both a Smartphone and a Garmin and when I'm out running I find the watch a more usable device.

    Even allowing for a Smartphone being as accurate as a Garmin I'd still choose to use a small, dedicated, robust device made for the purpose with the controls readily available and accessible on my wrist than a larger more delicate and fiddly device in my pocket or strapped to my arm.

    And while the sales of Garmins may decline as some switch to using Apps on Smartphones I think that there will remain a significant number of people wanting to buy and use dedicated devices.

    But each to their own. I can see that many people will switch. The question was would it make Garmin devices redundant and my point is that there remain reasons why some people will prefer Garmins to smartphones. Like Smartphones and Cameras many people would argue that they aren't the same although they can be use for similar purposes.

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