The 2nd app of Christmas that Deb Shinder gave to you is a fitness app called RunKeeper.
In the spirit of the holidays, we thought we'd create a smartphone series based on a popular Christmas song. The 12 Days of Christmas starts on Christmas Day, but our 12 Apps of Christmas begins today, and we'll continue to post one app per day, leading all the way up to the holiday. However you celebrate this season, and whatever device you own (or platform that it runs on), we hope that you find some gems over the next 12 days -- as these are the apps that the TechRepublic's editorial staff and bloggers actually use and feel passionate enough to write about. Here's what Deb Shinder had to say about one of her favorite apps called RunKeeper.
In 2009, I started a diet and exercise program by which I ultimately lost almost 50 pounds over the course of a year and reached my target weight. I've stayed within a 4 pound range for the last three years, but it's not always easy. The holiday season is the most difficult time, with parties and family dinners, and all those miscellaneous goodies that appear when the baking spirit hits.
I try to keep my eating under control, but I don't want to sit around crunching carrots while everyone else is indulging in eggnog and seven-layer chocolate cake. I've found the best way to minimize the holiday weight gain is to increase my exercise quota. And naturally, being the techie I am, I turn to the latest technology to help motivate me to do that.
One of my favorite ways burn some calories and at the same time spend some quality time with my "babies" -- my three Japanese Chin dogs -- is to go for walks through the neighborhood. And my Galaxy Note 2 (soon to be replaced by a Note 3) with its built-in GPS is the perfect gadget to keep track of how far and how fast I've walked and how many calories I used doing it.
There are a number of Android apps that you can use to track your workouts. I picked RunKeeper because it's simple yet offers many features that I wanted. It's available for both Android and the iPhone. The app and basic service are free, but you can also upgrade to "Runkeeper Elite" for $5/month or $20/year. Elite gives you extra features (Figure A), such as more advanced reports and the ability to broadcast the activity in real time on social media (with the free service, you can share the activity report after it's completed).
Elite RunKeeper has extra features.
You'll need to set up an account and configure a few settings first, including language (English, French, Japanese, German, Portuguese, Italian or Spanish), distance units, display options, sharing settings, and a few more. One of the most important is audio cues (Figure B). The nice thing about the app is that it talks to you -- telling you when you've gone a certain distance or have been walking for X number of minutes. You can select exactly what the it tells you and how often. I have mine set up to report every 10 minutes and tell me the time I've been walking, distance walked, and my average speed.
RunKeeper offers audio cues.
Another important setting is Auto-Pause. If you turn this on (it's disabled by default), when the GPS shows that you've stopped, it will pause the time count. This is useful if you stop for a few minutes on your walk to chat with a neighbor or let your dog do its business. Without Auto-Pause, your time keeps accumulating so that your overall average speed will fall and be incorrect in regard to your actual walking speed. You can also pause the app manually at any time.
RunKeeper allows you to connect your account to Facebook and/or Twitter and set sharing settings to control who can see the maps and reports of your activity that the app generates. You can make these visible to everyone, friends only, or just yourself.
You can use the app for many different types of activities (Figure C), from the most mundane (walking, running, cycling) to the more exotic (cross-country skiing, mountain biking, snowboarding).
You can use RunKeeper for many different types of activities.
If you choose walking or running, you can then select a saved route or just start walking without one. Touch Start Activity (Figure D) and start exercising.
Touch Start Activity to begin.
The GPS will map your route as you walk and the audio cues will keep you informed of your progress. When you're finished, press Stop and then Save Activity. RunKeeper will keep a record of your saved activities (Figure E), both on your local device and on RunKeeper.com.
RunKeeper will keep a record of your saved activities.
You can log on to the web site with your computer to access your activities (Figure F) and settings and also to interact with other RunKeeper users. You'll see a news feed there of your RunKeeper friends' activities that they choose to share, and you can edit your profile and set exercise goals.
RunKeeper information on their web site.
You can also view detailed reports of each of your activities, complete with maps. Figure G shows a walk I took back in September when visiting Hyannis Port, MA.
One of my previous walks, complete with map.
With the Elite service, you can also get reports showing graphs of activity duration and calories burned over a time frame, as well as advanced fitness reports that track your nutrition, sleep, strength, weight, and body fat percentage.
I've been using RunKeeper for almost three years and have found the free service to be all I need. It's reliable, keeps track of my walks, and helps motivate me to stay in shape.
Do you use RunKeeper or another fitness app? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.
TechRepublic's 12 Apps of Christmas
Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 additional books on subjects such as the Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 MCSE exams, CompTIA Security+ exam, and TruSecure's ICSA certification.