Fitbit's updated iOS app doesn't go the distance

Fitbit's updated iOS app doesn't go the distance

Fitbit still lags behind more full-featured apps such as RunKeeper, according to columnist James A. Martin.

Fitbit recently strengthened its iOS app with a new "MobileRun" feature for tracking exercise in real-time via GPS. It's a step in the right direction (bad pun intended) -- but not enough to help Fitbit catch up to RunKeeper or other workout tracking apps. (Fitbit's Android update is said to be coming soon.)

At first glance, the updated Fitbit iOS app doesn't look different than its previous incarnation. But when you scroll down the dashboard, you see a new option for logging exercise. Tapping it takes you to another screen, which displays your exercise frequency by day or distance and provides stats on previous workouts.

For each workout, you can see where you traveled on a map, your pace per mile, number of steps taken and calories burned, as well as the total miles, time and overall pace.

Before beginning a workout, you can choose the type (run, walk or hike); opt to hear audio feedback, such as distance traveled, time and average pace; and set the frequency of audio feedback by mile or by time. You can also set the audio feedback volume to low, medium or high. And Fitbit lets you choose a playlist of songs for your workout, which you can shuffle or play in order.

I appreciate having these new features in Fitbit. But they're not nearly enough to lure me away from the free RunKeeper app, which is also available for both Android and iOS. Plus, the female voice that announces your audio cues in the Fitbit app is way too robotic sounding -- and she speeds through them like she's got a bus to catch.

Though imperfect, RunKeeper captures data from various heart-rate monitor gadgets, including the popular Mio Alpha watch, and incorporates that data into its exercise stats.

RunKeeper also gives you a much wider variety of audio feedback cues, such as current and average heart rate. The auto-pause feature is great for those times when I stop my run to get cash from an ATM or buy a bottle of water. RunKeeper's "Pocket Track" is another nice feature; it automatically logs a walk of 15 minutes or longer.

RunKeeper can feed its data into your Fitbit account, so if you're already a RunKeeper user, there's really no need to start tracking your exercise with the Fitbit app. Still, if you're just getting started with Fitbit, or you're using the Fitbit app on its own without a Fitbit device to record your activities, the new features will be a welcome addition.

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