“Are We There Yet?”: Experiences with Nokia SportsTracker

by Martyn Davies on 12th May 2009

I first came across the idea of tracking sporting activities using a mobile phone back in 2007, when a startup called Sportsdo had built a very nice app (for J2ME handsets), and linked it with an online service. Using a GPS handset (or a Bluetooth GPS with a regular handset), you could track your movements in real-time, or simply capture them on the phone for later upload, then you could analyze your workout later with the online tools.

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Roll the clock on two years, and we have a strangely similar idea from Nokia, in the form of the Nokia Sports Tracker beta. I hardly need to say that Sports Tracker is targeted at Nokia S60 handsets, any more than I need to tell you that will.i.am has a collection of amusing hats. I’ve been using the E71, which has intrinsic GPS and is small enough to run with. Sports clothing isn’t generally made with large and heavy tech in mind, and my earlier E61i and its accompanying Bluetooth GPS gave a “lumpy look” to my running gear. Not that I spend a lot on designer sports clothing anyway: for me “Bench” is simply a place to sit when I’m eating pies.

The N79 (which the SportsTracker home page is promoting right now) looks like an ideal companion for Sports Tracker, a little smaller than the E71, and with a useful extra feature: it also interfaces to a Polar heart rate monitor via Bluetooth, and logs this information along with the rest of your workout. It also has a gizmo so that you can strap the phone to your arm.

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Sports Tracker has a nice multi-page display that shows a map (Navteq) overlaid with a little blue line showing your position, and other pages showing realtime tracking of speed, distance, altitude and stats including minutes per km. For running I take the odd sneaky look at the display when breaks allow, e.g. when the hills defeat me and I start walking. Once you’ve finished your sport, you can either upload the workout to the service with a few key presses, or you can create an export file that you could transfer to your PC and use in various ways, for example as an overlay for Google Earth.

Nokia may not thank me for saying this, but incidentally you don’t need a Nokia handset to use the portal, as long as you’ve got a GPS or GPS-equipped phone that can record a track, e.g. in GPX format. So bring in your old performances from SportsDo, and tracks recorded back at the dawn of time on your Garmin. However, the new Nokia handsets with A-GPS have excellent lock-on capabilities, and really put my old Garmin eTrex to shame. Just for comparison, I took the Garmin with me yesterday, but it spent most of the time complaining about the “weak signal” and refusing to play ball. The Garmin is actually the reason my wife is even today skeptical of GPS technology: Her response to Garmin’s “need clear view of sky” warning is to chide me with “There it is. That’s the sky”. The E71 by comparison, was locked on at all times, and showed my moving track on the map. I was on a circular course, and I was able to use the SportsTracker display to give me some idea when I was roughly South of the starting point, so that I could turn back to the North and the car park.

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The Sports Tracker portal itself is a nice environment for looking at your sports data: it overlays your track onto Navteq and Google maps, giving you the choice of Map view, Satellite (i.e. photographic), Hybrid (of Map/Sat) or Contour. The latter is great for looking at runs in hilly places as you can easily see the reason for slow/fast sections of the run. Graphs show your speed vs. time, and you can also overlay altitude vs. time. I don’t have the heart-rate add-on, but if you do you can also overlay heartrate on the same graph.  All of your workouts can be named and put in a library, and can also be shared with groups (like selected friends or training buddies), or with the wider public. Saved workouts can also be set up as a ‘route’, then you can use this as a baseline to compare future performance around the same path.

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I haven’t tried it, but you can also upload data in realtime (assuming you’re in UMTS or GPRS coverage), and again chosen friends can watch your progress in realtime. This feature makes sense, for example, for a marathon, assuming the battery would last for 4+ hours while beaming data out constantly via the wireless data link. If battery life is a problem, you might just have to run faster…

If you have taken pictures during your workout, the client remembers where you did this and uploads markers to the service that are displayed on the map. You can optionally upload the pictures themselves to the service so everyone can share them. Also if you listened to any music tracks on the media player, it lists the track/artist names as part of the workout too. On my run through the woods I obviously had to listen to “A Forest” by The Cure, if only for comedic effect.

The SportsTracker is a beta service at the moment is free of charge, and in these hard times there’s not that much that’s free unless you’re a UK Member of Parliament, in which case of course nearly everything can apparently be charged to someone else. There’s no indication of how much it may cost if and when it becomes a fully-established service.

The portal is well thought out, if sometimes a little slow, and I’m sure that lots of obsessives like me will get as much pleasure from geeking over their workout data as they did from their time outside collecting it.

Nokia Sports Tracker: http://sportstracker.nokia.com/

Cost: Free to join and use. Some features incur data usage.

Martyn is also at VoiP User.

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