One of the questions we get on a fairly regular basis from people training for their first running race or triathlon is: “Do I need a heart rate (HR) monitor / GPS watch?”
Beginner runners are especially curious as to the distance they cover on their runs, and how far and fast they are running. But, after looking at the price tag for a HR / GPS sports watch, they often get sticker shock. And for good reason, most high-tech watches that record heart rate and GPS cost several hundred dollars. Forking out your hard-earned cash for such a device might signal to your non-athlete friends that you’ve finally lost it.
But there is an option: the smartphone app! There are literally dozens of so-called fitness apps available for the iPhone, Android and other smartphones out there. I’ve investigated a few, but the one that seems to offer the majority of GPS related features that a higher-end HR / GPS watch offers is called Endomondo. I own a Samsung Galaxy S4, and have been running Endomondo on that.
Garmin devices for endurance training range in price from about $130 for a basic GPS tracker that does not monitor heart rate to the Garmin 910XT which costs $400. The 910XT offers GPS, heart-rate and has a ton of really cool features most endurance athletes love to track.
Compare that to Endomondo: this and most other phone sports apps are free. There is a pro version of Endomondo that is required if you want to track heart rate. A Bluetooth-enabled strap (The Wahoo strap is approximately $70) is also needed.
Virtually every adult I know owns a smartphone capable of running Endomondo. And it’s a less expensive option if you’re just starting out. But the truth is in the details. . .
Garmin 910XT versus Endomondo
Garmin 910XT versus Endomondo
Both devices will record your time, distance and pace for running and cycling. Both the sport watch and phone app offer a social component so you can share your workouts with friends and even compete against them. With either the GPS watch or Endomondo you can export your GPS file and use it in other applications. GPS watches come packaged with a heart rate monitor strap. Endomondo does have the ability to monitor heart rate, but, you have to purchase a Bluetooth-enabled heart rate monitor strap.
The coolest feature Endomondo offers? You have the option to share your workouts in near real-time with your Facebook friends. This is cool if you have friends or family who think that all the running and cycling you do is crazy and extremely dangerous. They can click on your workout link, and get an idea of how far you have gone, and that you are in fact out riding your bike, and not a bar-stool at the neighborhood bar. But it’s probably not a feature you want to use if you have a fully public Facebook profile and your “friends” would be able to see when you aren’t home.
There is a social component to Garmin. Users can upload their workouts to Garmin Connect, and share workout data with friends via Facebook and other social networks.
The Garmin 910XT is waterproof — so you can wear it for an entire race. Coupled with an option to record your transition splits, it is an incredible tool for evaluating your race performance. Using Endomondo in a race would require you to mess with the device in situations where every second counts, and you probably would not want to risk getting your expensive phone wet. Plus, it has a ton of cool swim related features; the best being that the GPS tracking while the device is in water has been dramatically improved, and is much more accurate that the 310XT.
One big downside to Endomondo or any other running or cycling phone app: they are usually cell phone battery vampires. Because the app requires GPS to work, your battery has to work hard. Even with a fully charged battery, I have not gotten my phone to last longer than 4 hours when Endomondo is in use.
So if you are hooked on endurance sports and have plans to race and train for a long time, I highly recommend purchasing a GPS enabled sports watch. If you are still just starting out running and cycling, and are looking for an easy way to track your progress, Endomondo can’t be beat for the price or features!