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Nike+ Review - Initial Thoughts

By hagrin - Posted on 07 September 2006

Panic set in pretty quickly. My 60GB Video iPod was no longer charging. With fear of long work commutes and long runs without music looming, I decided to hop on the Trek 7200 and make my way to the Apple Store located at Roosevelt Field. The "Genius" Bar was crowded with 4 other iPod users - all with "my iPod won't charge" problems. After I explained the troubleshooting steps I had already completed, they told me they needed to keep my iPod for an overnight battery test (translation - "We at Apple think you're an idiot and think our power outlet has a mysterious electric current that works better than the power at your house").

So, what does any good geek do when he's addicted to his iPod for the 2 hours every day on the train, the hour of biking and the hour of running he does every day? He buys another iPod.

I purchased the 4GB Nano (black) because I figured with my new found running prowess, I would want a lighter iPod and I would try out the Nike+ system as an extra motivator for completing the necessary mileage every week to be competitive in Ultramarathons. With the Nano and Nike+ system (and armband) purchased, I walked downstairs to the nearest Finish Line and picked up a pair of Nike+ ready running shoes (pictured below).

Nike Air Max 180s

Installation was smooth and easy. All you need to do to get your shoes "hooked up" is to lift up the left shoe's sole insert and remove the cushion placeholder. For the iPod Nano, all I had to do was just insert the receiver into the bottom and the Nano added the additional Nike+ menu option. As for the software side, I did exactly nothing. I already had the most recent iTunes software installed on my PC and I was good to go.

The recorded results of my first run left a lot to be desired. I hadn't calibrated my Nike+ system and it showed. My first run was over half a mile off (a 7 mile run) - definitely not the result I wanted. Therefore, I mapped a route out using Google Earth to get the exact mileage and calibrated my Nano for the first time. I ran the .85 miles, ended the calibration and went out and ran again. My second run yielded closer results, but was still .3 miles off on a 6.5 mile run - possibly due to elevation changes (slight elevation changes at that). As a last resort, I "guesstimated" a second calibration and ended the calibration a hundredth of a mile sooner than I should have. Since then my mileage calculation have been nearly 100% accurate with no more than a .15 mile difference on runs over 10 miles. Overall, I would have to say that the Nike+ system, once tweaked, does work pretty well; however, I still question its accurateness if I were to take it on hilly terrain or technical trail running.

The website offers a very easy to use interface with a pleasing visual, graphic display. However, after developing some of my own web tracking applications, the NikePlus system has a long way to go. First, the "My Records" section seems highly inaccurate. Take a look at the image below (click on the image to open the image full-size).

As you can see, this registered my first and only run at the time. I ran over 6 miles at 7:46 pace. However, the Nike+ system recorded my fastest 1 mile time as over 8 minutes - something that is obviously impossible and incorrect. My fastest 5K and 10K times were also incorrect and remain incorrect even after having logged ~10 runs. In addition, you cannot really get to granular with the statistics provided back to the system. You cannot get elevation readings and there are no heart rate measurements - readings that you can obtain on slightly more expensive GPS enabled running trackers (ex. ForeRunner 301).

Overall, the NikePlus system does work for what it is intended to do - track an individual's runs and performance while providing a large community to push yourself against and for those reasons alone, I would recommend the Nike+ system to others. I know that there have been times where I have gone to the gym just so my public statistics don't fall behind that of other runners. However, while it does do the basics pretty well, the NikePlus system has a long way to go. Nike should provide a data API for us geeks that would like to publically display their data to the world on their running blogs. Future revisions of the iPod Nano, the transistor or the receiver should come equipped with GPS so that elevation readings can be derived and tracked. Additional statistics should be provided on the NikePlus site as well as a community forums so that you can really build a tight runner's message board. Finally, and most obvious of them all, I would hope to see more accurate readings while running and displayed on the website.

While their might be better alternatives, the Nike+ system does provide runners a benefit that could help push runners to new levels while the cost is minimal (assuming you already have an iPod Nano).