The Sweet Setup picks Runkeeper as their favourite running app

If you've been around this site for a while, you'll know I'm a runner. I've had a bit of an obsession with running apps for a while. I regularly try out new ones and while there are a few I use semi-frequently, the one that's stuck through the years is Runkeeper.

I started using Runkeeper back in 2009 (I think), and have used it on every run since 2011. I even signed up for the Elite membership because I like the advanced reports. Also because I want Runkeeper to stick around.

The guys at The Sweet Setup picked Runkeeper as their favourite run tracking app. It's a very thorough article and worth a read.

Week 10: Bitcoin, SCUBA diving, and another running app

Newsweek's The Face Behind Bitcoin

I find Bitcoin fascinating. I don't know or understand it enough to make any intelligent comments about it, but I am admittedly captivated the the whole thing. It'll make an awesome movie in a few years.

This article from Newsweek about Satoshi Nakamoto, the man supposedly behind Bitcoin, is a good read. I don't think anybody knows if he's really the one that created Bitcoin, but he sure sounds like he has a great backstory:

Descended from Samurai and the son of a Buddhist priest, Nakamoto was born in July 1949 in the city of Beppu, Japan, where he was brought up poor in the Buddhist tradition by his mother, Akiko. In 1959, after a divorce and remarriage, she immigrated to California, taking her three sons with her. Now age 93, she lives with Nakamoto in Temple City.

The movie is going to be great.

SCUBA divers rescue dolphin

This is from earlier in the year, but I just saw it this week and need to share it. If you read my blog you might know I like SCUBA diving. In this beautiful video a group of divers rescue a Bottlenose Dolphin from entanglement during a dive. Just amazing.

More info at at the Manta Rays Hawaii website. I've bookmarked the site and it's in my list of places to go SCUBA diving.

Rundercover

And if you're a regular reader, you will also know that I'm a runner and have reviewed a few running apps in the past (Zombies, Run!, TrailMix Pro). Well, a few guys got together and want to create a new one called Rundercover. They explain it as a "thrilling interactive audio-game that makes your outdoor exercises more fun and more rewarding".

They have a kickstarter page where they're trying to get funding and an official website.

Rundercover sounds a lot like Zombies, Run! but they're planning on using the motion sensor in the iPhone 5s and GPS to do clever things. It sounds interesting, but it also sounds like it'll be filled with in-app purchases to buy random stuff like guns and tools that you presumably need to complete the missions. It's not really clear to me from the description, but if that's the case I think it'll ruin the experience.

Zombies, Run! does have in-app purchases, but it's only for new missions. That makes sense. Creating a new mission costs a lot of money (writers, voice actors, studio time, editing, development), but buying "stuff" is a totally different thing. It would be awful if it turns out to use the same business model as this little gem.

TrailMix Pro Review - Run to your beat

Those of you who've been hanging around in this corner of the Internet know that in addition to being somewhat of a geek, I'm also a runner. As such, I'm always excited to check out new tech toys that combine these two passions. One such thing is an iPhone app called TrailMix Pro.

TrailMix Pro Review - iPhone app Screens

What is TrailMix Pro?

First and foremost, TrailMix Pro is a clever running app that automatically changes the beat of the song you're listening to so it matches your pace.

If you run faster, the song will speed up; if you run slower, the song will slow down, without changing the pitch.

I'll confess that at first I thought it was a bit gimmicky, but in practice I found it to be surprisingly useful and a lot of fun.

Running to the beat of music

The idea of running to music that matches your pace isn't new to me. I even started a website about it! In fact, a couple of years ago I went through the process of adding beats-per-minute (BPM) metadata to all songs in my iTunes library using a software called beaTunes. Now I just create smart playlists with different tempos and use the appropriate one depending on how fast I want to run. It's awesome; but it's also a pain to have to add the BPM metadata to new songs.

TrailMix Pro solves this problem, as it figures out the BPM automatically. And the fact that it can change the tempo of a song as you run is pretty cool.

This live-tempo-changing turned out to be a killer feature for me. You see, unless you run shortish distances on a completely flat surface, you're likely not going to maintain the same pace for the entire run. Hills, for example, naturally slow you down. On long runs, you'll get tired towards the end. Having the music match your pace automatically is brilliant.

Of course, you can also set a specific pace and TrailMix Pro will adapt the tempo of all songs to match. They call this Cruise Control.

Oh, and it's also a pedometer.

How does it work?

TrailMix Pro uses the accelerometer in the iPhone to detect your motion as you run or walk. It then analyses the information and uses it to determine your pace and to count your steps. And since it knows which track is playing, it simultaneously finds the BPM of the song.

So now TrailMix Pro knows your steps-per-minute and the beats-per-minute of the song you're listening to. With these, all it needs to do is calculate the difference between them and make the song faster or slower to match your pace. Pretty clever, I think.

TrailMix Pro in actual use

OK, so how good is it in practice? Well, I think it's pretty obvious by now, but I think it's pretty cool.

The process couldn't be easier. Put in your earbuds, fire up the app, pick a playlist, tap on the Magic Shuffle button, and start running.

That's exactly what I did on my first run with TrailMix Pro. I was thinking about writing this review and wanted to see how easy it was to get the hang of it. At first, it was a bit weird. The first song was from Pitbull (don't judge, I like it only for running) and because I was walking slowly it plllaayyyeed veeerryyyy sllooooowwlllyyyyy. Pretty funny for an upbeat song. But as soon as I started running the tempo picked up and amazingly matched my footsteps exactly.

As I went about the run, the music kept up with my pace. It was great. When I got to the hills and slowed down, so did the song. My feet kept hitting the floor in sync with the beat.

For my next run, I decided to set the pace myself using Cruise Control and try to keep up. I went on the exact same route as the previous run and did maintain a higher pace. I'm already thinking about a training plan using both Cruise Control and normal modes.

After using TrailMix Pro for several weeks, I've realised it pays to create playlists specifically for running. For example, avoid slow songs and songs with no bass. These sound weird. In one fairly fast run, the track changed from Pendulum to Nearness of You, by Norah Jones. Trust me, no matter how much you speed up Norah Jones, it's impossible to get it to match your beat.

By the way, if you use Runkeeper (or similar) and, like me, get a nervous twitch at the mere thought of loosing your stats, you're in luck. You can use both apps concurrently without a problem. Just don't play any music through Runkeeper and you're good.

TrailMix Pro Review iPhone app screens

Conclusion

TrailMix Pro was a pleasant surprise. Honestly, my only complaint is the interface. The design has a lot of room for improvement, but it works fine and is intuitive enough. My real issue is this whole sharing on social media push that many apps do. It drives me crazy.

When you finish a run, you get a screen with useful stats (steps taken, time spent, average pace), and a big ass "Tell Your Friends!" message with huge Facebook and Twitter buttons. OK if you like that, but I find it really annoying.

That's a minor gripe though. The truth is that I found TrailMix Pro useful and enjoyable. It makes it exceptionally easy to match your music to your beat.

I've kept using it and I know I will continue to do so.

Zombies, Run! First Impressions Review

Last month I ran my second marathon. Just as the first time, I didn't train as much as I should have. It was tough. Finishing a marathon is an amazing experience, but running 42 kilometres without training properly is demanding. In my case, it was so rough on my body (and mind) that I stopped running for over a month.

Zombies, Run! Review

This week I decided to start running again. I wanted to take it slow and not too seriously to get back into the rhythm. It was the perfect opportunity to try out Zombies, Run!, an iPhone app I've been curious about for months.

Zombies, Run! in a nutshell

Zombies, Run! is a weird combination of a fitness app and a game, with a twist. Think of it like RunKeeper in the world of The Walking Dead with the gameplay of the first SimCity.

In essence, it's a running app that entertains you with a post-apocalyptic story while you run and rewards you with basic gameplay afterwards.

Put in your earbuds, start the app, and go. You're a character in a zombie infested world and have to complete several missions as the plot unfolds. The app tracks your distance, time, pace, and calories burned via GPS. As you run, you collect supplies which are used to help build the main town, heal wounded, or support soldiers.

First runs with Zombies, Run!

I've run 3 missions of Zombies, Run! The first one begins with you riding in a helicopter that gets hit by a rocket. You're the only one that survives the attack. A radio operator tells you there are zombies around you and begs you to run for your life.

As you run, your own music starts playing, which is pretty cool... if you chose an appropriate playlist. On my first run I didn't specify one and I ended up running to Rachmaninoff. The first thing I did when I got back was create a few playlists specifically to run while being chased by zombies. Subsequent runs have been much more engaging.

The story seems a bit too similar to The Walking Dead. The main town in Zombies, Run! is Abel Township, which made me think of of Woodbury. Abel Township has the Major, while Woodbury has the Governor. Your character is a "runner", which reminds me of Glen. To be fair, it's still early in the story. I hope it develops further into its own plot.

There are several nice features in Zombies, Run! For example, the way they integrated intervals is awesome. At seemingly random moments, zombies get too close and start chasing you. To escape, you need to increase your pace by approximately 20% for about a minute. Sounds easy, but by the third time it's tough.

Another good idea is the radio station. Each mission is either 30 minutes or 1 hour in length (you choose), but you can continue running past the time. The mission ends and a radio station kicks in where the radio operator and another guy play DJs as part of the story.

Zombies, Run! also integrates with Runkeeper so your run data appears in both places.

Conclusion

I bet Zombies, Run! is one of those apps that people either love with a passion or avidly hate. I'll confess I absolutely loved it. And I honestly didn't think I would.

As a disclaimer, I am a fan of The Walking Dead (both the comic and the TV show) and the "undead" genre in general. I'm also a runner. So I may be biased.

In any case, one thing I can say is that I'm looking forward to my run tomorrow morning. I want to know more about Abel Township and what happens next with the story. That's more than any other running app has done.

UPDATE (12/09/13): I've been running with Zombies, Run! consistently for over 3 months and still like it just as much. My only complaint is that you have to download the missions and I've found myself out the door at 5:30am ready to start only to realise the next mission isn't available. They're about 8mb each, so it only takes a minute or so to download. But still, it's annoying when you're ready to start. I wish it had a setting to let it download the next 3 missions automatically over Wi-Fi. Other than that, my thoughts above hold true.