Garmin vs Nike+

A comparison

As my running career is getting a bit more serious lately I've decided to ditch good old Nike+ in favour of Garmin. This post describes the difference between a Garmin Forerunner 220 and Nike+ on a phone.

Garmin Forerunner vs Nike+ on iPhone
Garmin Forerunner vs Nike+ on iPhone

I've chosen Garmin as most of my running buddies (not my work mates; they all use Nike) use Garmin equipment. From research it seems Garmin markets itself towards the more serious runners. My weapon of choice is the Garmin Forerunner 220 from 2013.

I've chosen a bit of an older model as the new ones are expensive and boast a bunch of features I'm not interested in. Actually the GPS chip of the 220 is the same as the chip in the new 225 model.

I only need speedy GPS connection time, proper accuracy and feedback during my runs. At the time of buying the Forerunner 220 beat the rest of the watches in almost all reviews.

After four months

For the past four months I've used both the new watch and Nike+ at the same time for each run. For Nike+ I used an iPhone 5s strapped to my arm.

I've taken three random runs and plotted them on the map below. You can see the accuracy differences between Nike+ on a phone and the Garmin watch. Use the dropdown on the right to switch between runs.

GarminNike
This module parses GPX files on the fly and it calculates all data in real time. I have open sourced the code on Github.

Run time and pace

As you can see Nike+ is usually faster even though the distance is similar (within 200m). The longer the run, the bigger the difference. I attribute the time difference to the fact that Nike+ removes pauses from the exported GPS.

GPS connection

The main reason for choosing this watch is that it is a dedicated running device with GPS at the core of its features. The Garmin is supposed to have fast GPS connection and high precision. I expected excellent performance but nothing could be further from the truth.

The initial connection time ranged from 5 minutes to 15 minutes to not finding any connection at all. In comparison to Nike+ these numbers are ridiculous. The phone usually found a GPS signal in about 10 seconds. iPhone has assisted GPS and uses Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data to find GPS satellites.

GPS precision

On the Garmin I had the auto pause function turned on (I used the same feature on Nike+). The watch would pause itself at random intervals as it thought I wasn't running. If I didn't click the resume button myself the watch would sometimes take about a minute to find a signal again. As a data nerd this is frustrating. It did provide a good opportunity to practice my newly learnt French swear words.

Sharp bends where difficult for both devices and I ran through buildings on most runs. The weird thing is that on some days both devices where much more accurate than on other days. See run 3.

I have to caveat the fact that I'm a city runner and that I shouldn't expect amazing GPS results. High buildings and trees block the GPS triangulation and challenge the connection lock. It seems that the Garmin watch has similar results to other watches. When I used the watch for runs in the Greek mountains I experienced much better results.

Conclusion

I didn't want to loose all my Nike+ data (4 years of running) when I switched so I imported all my data into Strava. Both Nike+ and Garmin connect can push GPX data files there.

The Garmin watch always took so long to connect that I got cold and frustrated. On many occasions I switched to the Nike+ app on my phone. But, the Nike+ app on the phone was full of bugs and drained the battery like crazy. The longer the run the shittier the experience. I noticed at least 10 P1 (must fix) bugs which all crash the app or cause it to loose run data. Rather than fixing the issues Nike seems to be more interested in adding new features.

One day I decided to run with the Strava app instead of the Nike+. It was just a test but it was so awesome I haven't looked back since. For runs longer than a half marathon I always use the Garmin as its battery live is great. For all other runs I now use the Strava app.

If you are into data collection I would not recommend using a dedicated sports watch in the big city. A smartphone will always be more precise as it has assisted GPS. If you are a trail or countryside runner the Garmin is awesome.

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