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App review: Nike+ GPS

Nike's dalliances with technology should be familiar to our readers by now, with the crowning jewel of course being the Nike+ run-tracking software that pairs a shoe-mounted sensor with your iPhone or iPod. Well, it was. The gargantuan sportswear company is moving with the times and throwing the hardware away with the introduction of its all-new Nike+ GPS application. No longer restricting our running shoe choice is groovy, but the app itself has the even loftier aim of simultaneously acting as your fitness guru, motivator and record keeper. And all it asks in return is access to the accelerometer and GPS modules inside your iOS 4-equipped iPhone or iPod touch (the latter's lack of GPS means it loses out on route mapping, but all other features are retained). So, let's see how this baby runs, shall we?%Gallery-101563%

The first thing to be said about any of these fitness-tracking apps is that they're attempting to streamline things you can already do. You can listen to music, record run times, and map out your routes yourself, with distances, elevations and average speeds all available to the industrious data logger -- but if you get the app, all these things are done for you. It's critical, therefore, that the Nike+ GPS application gets the detail of its data tracking correct before anything else is even discussed. Thankfully, that's exactly the case here, with accurate readouts for speed, distance, and all the rest. GPS mapping of our runs was wonderfully accurate, though we might take issue with its elevation measurement. If you look at our run breakdown here, you'll see the measured elevation being very different at the beginning and end of the run... which would be fine if we hadn't started and finished at the same spot.

There's a lot to love for micromanagers here, as Nike breaks things down to quite a granular level, with stats like your fastest and slowest mile (or kilometer, for Euro types) as well as a graphical representation of your average speed. Both the iPhone and online interface show a great deal of polish as well, with pleasing little animations livening up proceedings. Nike has had a good long while to perfect its online logging software (more than 444 million kilometers have been logged by sweaty Nike+ users) and it shows. If there is a fly in the ointment, it's the incessant "More From Your Run" advert that kept popping up wherever we went on the Nike+ web portal. Even when you discount the fact that we already had the app it implored us to obtain, the sheer petulant obnoxiousness of the ad was enough to discolor what was otherwise a pretty enjoyable user experience.%Gallery-101564%
As to Nike's stated goal of challenging and motivating users, we think the company has succeeded with flying colors. Voice alerts during your run give you the vital stats such as time, distance and pace, and post-run entreaties for you to go faster, longer, and further really do work (the inclusion of online medals and trophies also doesn't hurt). The whole thing is also amplified with a social aspect, where you and your friends can trash-talk each other into a fitter, better lifestyle -- or whatever. Frankly, we don't have all that many sporty friends, so we're not exactly overwhelmed with glee at the opportunity to compete with them. At least you know the option's there, and Nike's large community of similarly minded run stat obsessives could well be something that spurs you on to do a bit more running.

There are some shortcomings, however, that need to be mentioned too. Firstly, the app generally prefers to be kept in the foreground -- and provides its own lock-screen button -- but that means your phone's screen is never completely turned off, which together with the liberal use of the GPS radio will make a quick dent in your battery's juice supply. We'd advise against using the Nike+ GPS app on a half-hour jog in the morning and then expecting a full day's productivity from the same phone without a recharge. Another foible for us is the perplexing omission of a lap counter. The iPhone's ultra-basic stock Clock app can keep lap times, but not the Nike+. And oh yes, we almost forgot -- when you achieve a milestone of some description, you get a celebrity giving you a peppy Attaboy message. We're not joking, Nike calls the audio greetings Attaboys 2.0, and we call them absolute rubbish.

To conclude then, Nike has put together a very polished app, with few downsides that we can really harp on. It makes for an entertaining little accompaniment to what's usually an unpleasantly dull affair, and it certainly manages to generate an itch to keep improving and bettering your numbers. Which, given the budget price of $1.99, makes it a winner in our eyes.