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Hands-on with Runmeter

Sang Tang

New year, new you, and there are a host of location-based iPhone apps that can help you look a bit more lithe at Point B than you did at Point A. Runmeter [iTunes link] is one of them. Like almost all apps in its genre (Nike+ and RunKeeper Pro [iTunes link]), Runmeter's main purpose is to track the distance you run and provides you such niceties like your pace and time. It doesn't get any simpler than that. However, Runmeter is also equipped with some features that separate it from the crowd.

While there exists a host of location-based running apps on the iPhone, in my experience RunKeeper Pro serves as the benchmark GPS-based running app on the iPhone. It strikes a nice balance between ease-of-use for those who just want to get out and run while also providing some advanced features for the more training-oriented runner.

The most obvious difference between Runmeter and RunKeeper Pro is price. At USD $4.99, Runmeter's price is half that of RunKeeper Pro. But this lower price doesn't necessarily translate into a lower quality product. Rather, Runmeter just has a different focus.

Compared to RunKeeper Pro, Runmeter is less interval-training focused. Rather than getting your splits at a set distance, or your distance given a specified time interval, Runmeter allows you to race against yourself and tells you if you were faster this time around. And if your overall run was faster or slower, it's indicated as such within the app's built-in calendar.

Another differentiating feature is customized announcements. In other words, if you just want to hear your elevation and pace, you can do that. And if you want to hear your competitor time, pace, remaining time and calories, you can do that as well. And you can arrange them in whichever order you want to hear them.

But my favorite feature in Runmeter is its integration with clicker-enabled iPhone earbuds. You can squeeze the clicker to trigger announcements, like the aforementioned customized arrangement. One thing that I like about running with the Nike+ kit on the iPod nano is that, whether it's in your pocket or strapped via an armband, you can feel your way to the center button and press it to get your distance, pace, and time.

However, Runmeter is not without its quirks and annoyances. In particular, the app doesn't announce the beginning of a run. On most running apps I've used, starting a run will initiate a voice telling you that you're good to go -- something along the lines of "beginning run" or "activity started." But on Runmeter, there is no such audio cue or feedback; you have to look at the screen to see if it's tracking you.

At its $4.99 price, Runmeter will likely get the attention of those who are a bit hesitant toward RunKeeper Pro because of its $9.99 price tag. Whether or not Runmeter is the right running app for you, however, will depend on the way you train. If you like to race against yourself and monitor your improvements on a specified course, then Runmeter will likely serve as a better option. For the more interval-minded (be it time or distance), however, I find RunKeeper Pro a better option.