Running Technology Products (Wearables)
With running technology moving at a pace that Usain Bolt would have trouble keeping up with, we’ve got the lowdown on all the best gadgets that you should know about.
There are quite a few different categories nowadays, but they all fall under the moniker of wearables. Essentially it’s electronic tech that you can wear somewhere on your body, either your wrist, waist or ears or even wrapped around your arm. You can fit some in your pocket so for the sake of this article we will consider anything that you can take with you for a run wearable or for the pedantic among you – pocketable.
The Main Contenders…
- Sports watches, including GPS and heart rate monitors from Casio and Timex.
- Smart watches – Apple Watch and Android Wear.
- Activity trackers: wireless-enabled wearable technology devices.
- Handheld tech: mainly GPS devices similar to a mobile phone in size, but more detailed and accurate.
- Music players, such as iPods and MP3 players, for more enjoyable excursions, especially on long runs.
- Running apps for smart watches and smartphones.
They’re as old as the hills, well compared to most things techy, they seem absolutely ancient. Remember the old Casio miniature wrist calculator watches from the 1980s? Well fortunately things have moved on somewhat since then. Now you can get your wrist watch in as many options as you like. There’s the cheap-and-cheerful bog-standard sports watch that does little more than tell the time and has built in timing functions to time your runs. A bit more advance is a sports watch that includes a GPS tracking device. Further up the scale, with a corresponding dent in your bank balance, is such trickery as a heart rate monitor built into a wrist piece.
You are fare better getting a quality branded item that you can rely on than getting cheap crap that will let in water or perspiration from your wrist. Also plastic will feel much better to run with. Expensive hand-crafted luxury wrist watches from Tag Heuer and Rolex look mint in a nightclub or in the office, but they are far too heavy to be running in. The weight of them will be annoying and imagine how grumpy you will come home if you fall over and scratch your beloved time piece? Not good.
Casio and Times are the Best Value Sports Watch Brands
Brands to consider are the old favorites like Casio and Timex. They come in lots of varieties if all you want is the basic stop watch functions. They are available for approximately £30 upwards.
GPS watches are yours starting from £100 if you want a quality Timex option, which would be our choice, as the IronMan range is popular and I did own one personally a few years back, although mine was a heart rater monitor rather than GPS.
There has been a tendency from manufacturers to bring out watches with one or two buttons, which does simplify the design, but on the other hand it can make it tricky when finding menus and actually working the watch. Instead of extra buttons, to access features you have to do different length presses, which can be tricky and might not suite everybody. This is definitely something that you should consider when purchasing a watch of this kind.
Read our guide on Buying Running Shoes.
Smartwatches – Android Wear and Apple Watch
Although I haven’t owned one myself, though it’s about time I did, smartwatches seem to be getting more popular as the operating systems mature and battery life increases slightly. The trouble with battery life is that it only increases incrementally, because the developers always cram more features in so any improvements in longevity are quickly swallowed up by the increased tasks that the watch is asked to do by the operating system. You know how bad smartphone batteries are – well watches are even worse!
There are quit a few apps suitable for running in the Android and Apple app stores and most manufacturers have a corresponding app. Take Garmin for instance, they have plenty of wrist ornaments to choose from and although they are expensive, in the case of smartwatches you really do get what you pay for.
A cheaper budget offering won’t hold the same level of accuracy when it comes to heart rate function and GPS location tracking. With a normal heart-rate monitor, you usually have a belt that goes around your chest, but with more modern smartwatches they can check the pulse in your wrist. This isn’t necessarily the most reliable way, even if it is the most convenient. Also as with most things in life, a dedicated system that does one task will usually do it better than a multi-choice apparatus, although when paying a high price you automatically expect the product to do its job. This is where each sport tends to have its go-to brands, such as Garmin, which professionals use not just for for sponsorship, but because they actually work properly and can be relied upon.
There are plenty of decent-quality branded smartwatches on the market for you to choose from. Apple, Samsung, Garmin and even Tag Heuer have offerings that will synchronize to the appropriate operating system that they are designed to work with.
Read our guide on High Visibility Running Apparel.
Activity Trackers – The Original Wearables
The first thing you need to consider when buying an activity tracker is whether you want a simple dongle, with less features and lower complexity, or do you need a watch-style offering that is more complex and includes a screen. The fact a you can have a tracker with a screen will most likely make it easier to use because you can look at the screen instead of trying to hear a beep or judge what is going on by a few simple flashing lights. Touch-screen options will possibly work on their own, whereas the dongle style might need to link up with a smartphone.
Second thing to consider is do you need a built-in heart rate monitor? As mentioned with watches and smartwatches, a dedicated monitor is always going to be more accurate than a built-in simplified version. That need’t be a concern, though. You can use basic measuring devices on your normal runs, then say once a month you can use a proper dedicated device to more accurately measure your fitness levels.
Thirdly, battery life is usually awesome on a screen-less dongle. This is one of the bonuses of doing without a screen and keeping it simple. You can expect anywhere from six days to six months of battery life from a fitness dongle like FitBit.
Fourthly, accuracy is next on your check list. Can you get away with the simple ‘rough’ measurements that a dongle will give you? If so then just do as we have already mentioned and get the proper gear out once a month or whenever you need properly accurate measurements in order to know if you are making progress in your quest for fitness.
Lastly, waterproofing is something that you will need to consider. It’s essential for IronMan types who will be spending time in the water with the frogs and the fishes, but even runners are out in rain and tend to sweat a lot. Play it safe and get a waterproof device. It’s highly unlikely that in this day and age waterproofing isn’t a standard feature, but just ask the question when you’re in the shop.
Handheld Technology – GPS Devices
While handheld devices aren’t as convenient as wrist-worn technology, they are far more accurate and have better battery life. If you are on an ultra-endurance event and stuck in the middle of the desert, you really need something reliable that can be put in a backpack or even a bum bag. When it comes to a matter of life or death, reliability is what you need rather than comfort and convenience.
Garmin are leaders of the pack when it comes to handheld global positioning systems. One of their top-selling devices is the Garmin GPSMAP 64. This is a professional device for people who are serious about the outdoors. It’s rugged design is able to locate signals from GPS and Glonass – the Russian equivalent of GPS, which ensures that you won’t go on the missing list unless you throw it in a river on purpose.
For a local run this bit of kit might be overkill, but on a more serious mission on another continent, it could quite literally safe your life and your colleagues as well.
You can always use your smartphone and a set of free or upgraded headphones to listen to music when you go for a run, but a specialist music player will leave your phone battery charged up for what it does best – taking and making phone calls. If you’re running near your home then it’s not big deal, but when in the wilderness, it’s always best to try and save your phone battery for emergencies. We all know it’s sod’s law that when we need to make a super important call then our battery will be on its way out. It would be highly annoying to miss out on a call or be unable to make one all because you’d been wasting precious battery juice on your favorite music. That’s where an MP3 player comes in handy…
Back in the 80s Sony Walkman was the famous best friend of a music-loving runner. Nowadays things have moved on from tape recordings to CDs and now we don’t have anything physical at all – it’s all done in bytes and downloads. Apple are now the kings on the block with their famous iPod range. Sony still do Walkmans to this day, but they are also of the more modern MP3 variety.
For ease of use, you can opt for miniaturized technology that combines headphones with a tiny music player. This saves you taking your bulkier smartphone or other dedicated music player. All you need is a slightly bulkier set of headphones, but they’re still hardly noticeable when you put them on.
As with all the other running tech – make sure you keep in mind to check if it’s waterproof. The only other concerns when it comes to music are the size of the hard-drive in gigabytes. You will be able to store literally thousands of songs on an MP3 player’s memory stick. Songs take next to no space at all compared to videos and movies.
Running Applications for Smartphones and Smartwatches
There are endless running applications for both smartphones and smartwatches. You can use them as standalone applications or link your watch to your phone or if you have a wearable wristband you can sync that to your application.
All the major companies will have a fitness tracking app that can take stock of how many paces you have done, how fast, how far, etc.
Well-known apps to look out for are:
- Endomondo Sports Tracker.
- Calorie Counter and Diet Tracker.
- Daily Burn.
- Runtastic GPS Running, Jogging and Fitness Coach.
- Personal Running Trainer.
- Nike+ Running app.
- Adidas Train + Run app.
- Strava Training.
- Endomondo Sports Tracker.
- SportMe Marathon & Running.
- Get Running.
- Rock My Run.
- Couch to 5K Runner.
- Get in Shape: Couch to 5K.
- 10K Trainer.
To be honest, most of the applications come in either paid or free versions, so check both lists to see which one you prefer. Some of the best apps are actually the free versions. I’ve had plenty of joy with the Nike+ app. Before that I used to use the Nokia Sports Tracker, back in the day when Nokia phones were cool – what happened to them, eh? – then it changed its name to Sports Tracker and now I think it might have either bit the dust or it has been swallowed up by a newer kid on the block.
Apps are a highly personal thing with everyone thinking that theirs is best. They’re a bit like football teams in that regard.
**Great news, I have just rechecked and found that Sports Tracker is still available and has all the features you need in a running app. Definitely one to put on your to-do list.
Five More Runner’s Reads
- High-Visibility Running Apparel
- Buying Running Shoes
- Running to Lose Weight
- Treadmill Running Basics
- Jogging Tips for Beginners
Running Technology Summary
We hope that you learned something from our wearable running technology guide? If you’ve got some tips or advice that you wish to share with our readers, then please let us know in the comments below.
Until next time, stay safe, keep fit and injury free. From the team at How to Run Faster and Longer – happy running!