Saturday, February 14, 2009

Trail App for iPhone review, very promising

I downloaded and installed the Trails App for the iPhone 3G today. I did it right before my run tonight. I also brought along my Garmin Forerunner 205 in case the app didn't work. I'd like to start by saying that the iPhone for me, as a runner, is a music player first, GPS tracker second. So if this app wouldn't work with my tunes playing, I don't care how accurate it is I wouldn't use it. Fortunately, as long as you remember to start playing your tunes first, Trails will happily work with the music in the background. You can even skip songs using the mic button on the iTunes headphones. Now, onto the app.

You start off a run by creating a "track". I'm going to include the date in every track I do as to not get them confused. Once you've created the track, you hit record. I was a little dismayed at first as the timer didn't start and the distance accrued didn't show up for about 10 seconds, but then it started functioning normally. Another important thing to test for me was would the app work in my pocket, so I tucked it away and began running normally. I checked in after about half a mile to see if it was still working and it was obediently drawing a little track of me running. So far, so good. I put it back in my pocket for good and started running my usual "S" Pattern through the Parkside neighborhood. I then crossed 167th Street into the Tinley Terrace subdivision, then on back to my house in dowtown Tinley. All told, it was 10km (Trails defaults to metric), about 6.25 miles.

Now the fun part: Getting the data off the iPhone and into Google Maps. Ideally, Trails would use the .kml format that Google Maps uses, but it instead uses the standard .gpx format. The Trails app allows you to email the .gpx file to anywhere you want, and I e-mailed myself the file. Once I got on my computer I opened and saved the attached file. Now I had to find a .gpx to .kml converter, and Google found a free web-based one here at Once the .kml file was created, I logged into my Google Maps account, created a new map, and imported the result:

View Larger Map

As you can see, pretty good. And unlike my Garmin Forerunner, the map was created by me so I don't have to worry about Garmin's TrailMotion service losing my maps.

One of my major concerns was battery life. Would the iPhone be able to simultaneously play my tunes and track my run without running down the battery? The answer is happily yes. According to my free memory app, I still have 31% of the battery left after running over an hour, and I did not start at 100% either. I believe the iPhone and Trails should be able to handle all my weekday morning runs without any problem whatsoever, and even some of my longer weekend runs as long as I don't go into the city or a heavily forested area. So far I am tremendously impressed with this app. If you own an iPhone 3G and are a runner, consider downloading this great app.

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