Once my Microsoft Band arrived last week, I strapped it on and prepared for testing. I've only taken it off long enough to shower and to charge it, and that's about it. The Band has been my constant companion throughout each day – and night. Despite being down with the actual flu, I only missed one day running. Except for Wednesday (which was the day I felt like I was dying), I drug myself out of bed to put in some meager mileage. Due to the illness, it was a horrible run week. My pace was off, mileage was well under normal, and distance was a real struggle. But I was still able to capture the data I wanted, in particular how the Microsoft Band's tracking compared to my longtime favorite, Runtastic.
P.S. The Microsoft Band is actually an excellent sickness companion for a number of reasons. I have a post in the works to talk about that. Stay tuned.
Runtastic is an excellent app. I highly recommend it. It's much like any of the other services. It offers an app that sources your device's GPS for maps, speed, and mileage and then synchs it to the Cloud for reporting, history, and social networking. But, there's a couple features that make it really stand out for me.
First off, is the live tracking. Live tracking keeps real-time stats and shows my progress and location on a map. You might think this is a bit creepy, having folks "stalk" you in real-time but it's actually very useful. My wife worries about me and when I take long runs (3-4 hours) to places unknown, she can jump online to see where I am, if I'm on the road back, and if I'm still actually moving.
The second thing, and the most important to me (and that which has kept me a stalwart Runtastic customer since 2009) is the voice feedback. The app itself is full of features and preference settings, more so than any other app I've tested, but the voice feedback is phenomenal. A lot of apps offer this, but not on the same level as Runtastic and they definitely don't offer the same level of customization. I have my voice feedback configured to alert me every 5 minutes and at each mile with distance, time, pace, speed, and calories. Am I running slower today? My energy is good, should I log an extra couple miles? How much do I need to increase my pace to get one more mile in before the next con-call? The feedback helps me shape the rest of my run and challenges me to continually do better.
So, Runtastic has been a champ. But, since Runtastic doesn't have Microsoft Band support – yet – could I continue my running fitness without it? The Microsoft Band doesn't have voice feedback (but it does have onscreen textual feedback) nor does it have live tracking. Can I really give these up? Interestingly enough, I've found that I can and I'll talk about that more in a follow-up article.
But, what if you're not a Runtastic fan already? What if you're just picking up the Microsoft Band as your very first fitness wearable? If that's the case, you might be interested more in how accurate the Microsoft Band's tracking features are versus some of the already established, popular running apps and services. I started running regularly in 2009, and believe me, I've tested them all to find that the Runtastic service is the best. So, how does Microsoft Band compare to Runtastic?
But, really it's less about Runtastic and more about general accuracy. Since I'm comfortable with Runtastic and the data it produces, its a good tool to use. Really, any tracking mechanism is about setting a baseline and then planning and tracking improvements.
Despite my horrible run output last week due to the flu, I've cobbled together some comparisons between running outside and on the treadmill…
For the test, I kicked off Runtastic and Microsoft Band at the same time for the exact same route. Here's the tracking results.
Runstastic Quick Stats
Microsoft Health Quick Stats
As you can see, the quick stats are pretty close in most areas. Duration and pace were both within a few seconds. There was a discrepancy in Calories burned, but I can attest, historically, Runtastic averages lower in this area across the board. I believe it's due to the effort/elevation calculation, and the fact that I've never owned a Runtastic-compatible heartrate monitor. The Microsoft Band, of course, tracks heartrate throughout the activity, so Calorie burn with the band is probably more accurate since heartrate is better for deducing effort.
The one thing that the Microsoft Band does not track in quick stats is elevation. Increases or decreases in incline have an effect on overall effort. This is a simple function of GPS and Runtastic clearly takes this into account as quick tracking data, though it doesn't relate it to the overall effort calculation. You can access an elevation summary in your Microsoft Health dashboard. Just to to the chosen run activity, go to Splits, and choose 'elevation.'
Microsoft Band Map
The maps are pretty similar, except you can see that mile markers show a slight difference. It seems to show that a Microsoft Band mile is longer than a Runtastic mile. But, in reality, it's not a case where Runtastic is not tracking accurately, but that both Runtastic and the Microsoft Band are solely dependent on the GPS hardware. I've yet to locate actual hardware specs for the GPS brand/chip used in each device, but I'm sure that has a lot to do with it. For just the 3.x miles that I tested, it's not a major thing – but when you get into high-mileage, it will become an issue if the stats are significantly behind.
Runtastic uses Google maps to supply its location data, while the Microsoft Band uses Bing/Nokia maps. I really like Microsoft Band's map better because it also shows the "heat" map along the route. The "heat" map is the green, yellow, and red highlights that show your pace along the way.
Microsoft Band Splits
Splits are a great way to judge strength. I've always been a slow starter and seem to really wind up near the end of runs. It could be because I "sense the finish line," but like to think that it's because I actually do get stronger the farther I travel. If I wasn't nursing the flu, the pace would have been a lot better, but you can see that the splits are pretty even between Runtastic and Microsoft Band.
Again, Runtastic wins for elevation gain and loss in the quick stats. The Microsoft Band doesn't even try in this category, but the built-in heartrate monitor trumps elevation/effort every time, in my opinion. Also, in this case, Runtastic provides the splits readout showing total duration.
Treadmill running between Runtastic and Microsoft Band is not truly a fair comparison, because well, Runtastic doesn’t even attempt to track treadmill time. Instead, Runtastic offers a manual entry component, allowing you to input the treadmill's own statistics. So, what you see below is what was entered into Runtastic based on my treadmill readout versus Microsoft Band actually providing tracking.
And, I have to apologize for a couple things beforehand.
First, we call the treadmill the "dreadmill" around here. Treadmill running is boring. To get through it, I have architected a spot for my Surface Pro 3 to stream movies and TV during the runs. Treadmills on their own cause slower paces and poor training, but add in a good movie…and the pace gets even slower.
Secondly, I paused after the first mile to make a quick check between the Microsoft Band and the treadmill's stats and accidentally tapped the "End" button onscreen. So, I had to start it up again as a new run. So, the treadmill shows a full 3.0 miles, but the Microsoft Band session is shown in two chunks.
Microsoft Band Treadmill
I have an older treadmill that I'm about to replace. It’s a good treadmill, just aging beyond its capabilities. It's hard to say how many miles I've actually put on it, but it's done the job. However, the belt is not as taut as it should be which can relate to inaccurate mileage. But, in the case of the Microsoft Band versus the Treadmill, the Microsoft Band shows almost a full half mile more. That seems a bit too much of a gap to blame an aging treadmill. Duration is the same, just the mileage is different. I guess I'll have to wait to replace the treadmill with a new one to get a better comparison result, or just wait until my next trip and test on a hotel supplied treadmill. I'll have to keep testing in this area.
However, again, I think it's important to note how the Microsoft Band shines in the heartrate tracking category to show effort, and ultimately to ensure your heart is healthy for the exercise you're attempting.
During my first week's test, I also attempted to compare the Microsoft Band to MayMyFitness. This was a non-starter for me because the MapMyRun preferences were weak (remember, voice feedback) and the app doesn't support music. Listening to music when I run helps pass the time and I'm thoroughly addicted to it. I'd start my playlist, kick off MapMyRun, and the music would just stop. No support.
Being one of the first to integrate with the Microsoft Band doesn't necessarily mean you should jump on the bandwagon.
Runkeeper is another to integrate with Microsoft Band right away. And, while Runkeeper doesn’t currently produce an app for Windows Phone, there are a couple pretty nifty apps that offer Runkeeper support (Caledos Runner and Catchme). I'll be testing these apps out this week. If all works well, and the apps support what I need, I might consider switching from Runtastic. Runkeeper is a popular running app for Android, and definitely for iPhone users and I have a number of friends using that service. Runkeeper is very similar to Runtastic and even offers a yearly subscription for expanded features. Runtastic costs $35.90 per year, while Runkeeper is $39.99 annually. Both have similar web features, it's just that Runkeeper doesn’t have a Windows Phone compatible app. But, really, that's OK. The Microsoft Band is the app and I have it already synching data to Runkeeper. But, if I do want to use my Windows Phone to track, at least there are third party options.
With the Microsoft Band gaining popularity, I think it's safe to say that even Runtastic will integrate with it soon. My annual subscription for Runtastic is up in July, so I'll wait until then to make my decision.
The bottom line here is that the Microsoft Band does well in many areas, and even exceeds Runtastic's capabilities in a lot of areas. If you have an app and service you currently use, there's very little gap. I've heard some complain that the Microsoft Band is too bulky. But, what's more bulky than a smartphone strapped to your arm positioned in a spot that makes it unreadable? I've traded the voice feedback of Runtastic with the Microsoft Band because the feedback is easy to consume sitting at the end of my arm. A quick glance gives me time, pace, heartrate, and mileage – and the readout can be adjusted to show what's most important to you. The Microsoft Band is an excellent runner's companion.