Face Off: Garmin vs Nike+

Posted: 16th May 2013 by mockjogger in Equipment
Tags: , , ,
Garmin Forerunner 210

Garmin Forerunner 210

Nike+ Running iPhone

Nike+ Running iPhone

<                  vs                  >

In the red corner, the reigning champion – iPhone 4GS with Nike+ Running app, Sennheiser neckband headphones and an upper arm iphone pouch.

In the blue corner, the challenger – Garmin Forerunner 210 GPS watch with heart rate monitor.

A committed Nike+ user since ’97, I’ve just gone all Garmin. In this post I compare the two. The data freak in me has broken free, so you may just want to check out the conclusions and then be on your way. Otherwise, be ready for some pretty map pictures and a rambling comparative analysis.


• Garmin is accurate to within the resolution I could achieve by hand-entering run routes on MapMyRun

• Compared with MapMyRun, Nike+ consistently over-estimates distance by about 1.4%, and therefore tells me I am running about 10s/mile faster than I actually am

• Nike+ is just as accurate as the Garmin in open parkland over short distances but makes a bit of a hash of running around tall buildings and seems to lose accuracy over longer distances

• Garmin is not perfect at running around tall buildings, but seems to have more compensation intelligence, resulting in an overall more accurate measurement

• If you are making the transition from mock jogging to slightly serious jogging you need a Garmin

I have been running on and off since 2007. In that time, apart from a brief fling with Endomondo, I have faithfully recorded my runs on Nike+. Initially, I used an iPod Nano with a foot sensor. When that died, I upgraded to an iPhone with the Nike+GPS app, now called Nike+ Running.

So I have nearly 200 runs logged, and in that time I have developed a questionable relationship with the spoken voice Nike+ Lady. I’ve accepted the slightly inconsistent results from runs over the same course and put the minor differences down to corner cutting and pedestrian dodging. I’ve sworn at the machine when it occasionally went nuts and told me I had just run a world record 5K, and put it down to finger trouble. But recently I really have started to question the accuracy and consistency of the recorded run distances and pace.

The inquest really stared after the Rock’n’Roll Edinburgh Half Marathon in April. This was my first race. Nike+ recorded me running 13.48 miles, some way beyond the official 13.1 mile distance. I could just about persuade myself that the extra distance was due to route inefficiency – it’s impossible to run the perfect line when there are loads of other people running the same course. But the doubts lingered. The difference was really too much. I started to look more closely at my recoded maps.

The Nike+ site is excellent. Uncluttered, well designed, fast and graphically interesting. It concentrates on the big picture rather than providing detailed stats. But it is possible to interrogate runs closely. In doing this I could see the occasional blip, when the GPS synch time occurred after a direction change, and the compensation algorithm took some time to recover. This tended to credit me with the occasional fast split and over-stated the total distance run.

The blips started to annoy me. My goal is to run a marathon some day in under 4 hours, and have been pacing my training runs to match this objective. I’m not going to argue with a couple of seconds here or there, but 10 seconds on pace, for example, is nearly 5 minutes over the marathon distance. That’s more than annoying.

So I hit google, took the plunge and purchased a Garmin Forerunner 210 GPS watch, complete with heart rate monitor. The set up was dead easy. The watch does what it should, the buttons are in the right place and it just works. There is enough feedback during the run: time, distance, average or instant pace, lap time, heart rate, to keep things interesting without being a distraction. Well, I hit a bush when studying my heart rate changes running up a hill, but that’s another story.

There is enough data to keep a data freak happy post run. The only grumble I have is that it doesn’t talk to me with half mile updates, and I don’t have Sanya Richards Ross popping into my ‘phones about 400 metres from home telling me “you have almost reached my goal – keep it up!”. Clearly I’m not going to have the same relationship with Garmin that I have with Nike+. This is all business.

Here’s how the accuracy works out. I have used both Garmin and Nike+ to record the same five runs. I have used the same route three times. I have mapped the runs on MapMyRun. The following table shows how the runs were recorded on Garmin and Nike+.

Run #Map My Run DistanceGarmin DistanceGarmin PaceNike+ DistanceNike+ Pace

The distance results have a consistent pattern. Garmin accuracy is within the resolution I can achieve by hand entering a run on MapMyRun. Usually the distance recorded on Garmin is ever so slightly less, but as MapMyRun tracks down the middle of a road rather than the inside footpath I believe that that is consistent.

Here is a trace taken of a 7 mile run with Garmin.

Garmin Holyrood Park

Over 5 measured runs, Nike+ over-estimated the distance by 1.36% compared with MapMyRun. It therefore calculates that I am running, on average around 10 seconds per mile faster. Here is a trace taken with Nike+ over the same run.

Nike+ Holyrood Park 3

On flat open terrain Nike+ matches Garmin accuracy, but it does not handle tall buildings and sharp corners well. This leads to inflated distances. Here is the Nike+ trace zoomed in on a built up area. I’ve highlighted a blip where the device thought I veered right then left when in fact I was running in a straight line. Thus the overall distance recorded was higher than it should have been.

Nike+ zoom

Here is the same zoom on Garmin. Notice that it recorded a straight passage.

Garmin zoom

Garmin is not perfect around tall buildings but the compensation algorithms have some built in common sense which means the actual recorded distance is accurate. Well, accurate enough for a slightly serious jogger. I have no idea what I will do if I evolve into a real serious jogger.

So I’m moving to Garmin. I’ll miss Nike+ Lady but I’ll take the accuracy and consistency. I’ll miss the wireless synch and auto upload of run data, total data and PB data to the blog, but I’ll settle for a wired synch and some data bashing.

I’ll still be running with music. The iPhone will stay at home now though, and I’ll be carrying a new iPod Shuffle. and I haven’t abandoned Nike altogether. I still monitor my daily movement activity on my Fuelband.

  1. Scallywag says:

    This was FUNNY. Glad to know the Garmin is accurate isshhh but as you said, everything NIke does is just so swish I cant help but love their stuff too! Sometimes wish the Garmin had a bit more flair to it.

    • mockjogger says:

      Hi Fiona – I completely agree! I’ve kind of switched to Garmin but I can’t let go of the Nike+ site and presentation, so now I am uploading my runs from Garmin to Nike+. Luckily awsmithson wrote a nice and easy app to do that: www.awsmithson.com/tcx2nikeplus/