In my previous post I wrote about the demise of my Garmin Edge 305. While I’m waiting upon Garmin to help me resolve this issue one way or the other, I need another means of logging my rides. Of course the other device I have with a GPS is my iPhone. I’ve bought several applications previously that can do this including RubiTrack for iPhone, Ascent for iPhone, etc, but none of them have really impressed me. So I took another look on the AppStore. This is where I found MotionX and what a find!
Let’s cut to the chase. Having started the application, it immediately starts locating your position. A spinning globe at the top right of every screen shows you the current GPS status. Once you’ve got a lock, press start on the main tracking screen and start hiking, walking, running or as in my case cycling! Once you’re going press the lock icon in the bottom left and MotionX locks the screen putting a little slider in the bottom right to unlock the phone. This is great if you want to put the phone in your pocket without fear of affecting the recording. It also allows you to turn down the displayed output to preserve battery life.
The first screen shows the elapsed time, distance, current, max and average speeds. Just like on most cycle computers. There is also a camera button. Click this and you can take a photo with the iPhone’s built in camera and have it tagged with your ride. Once you complete your ride, click stop, then save it. You can resume the ride and it’s worth noting, you can even stop, exit the app, switch off the iPhone only to come back into the app later and resume. Useful if you’re taking a coffee break!
The red arrows at the bottom taskbar flip through the other screen available:
The map screen shows a Google Map with your ride overlaid. Any map tiles required are downloaded as needed, but the author has been very smart and allows MotionX to cache the map images. Upto 50mb of images in fact which is a lot. This means you can pan around and cache map images before riding or if you’re going out of phone signal range you can cache the images before you leave and still have them available. Nice!
Not just road maps either, by clicking the top right tool button you can choose between different map types.
The next screen in the list is the track screen. It doesn’t show a map, but does show the route drawn out onto the grid indicating the earth’s longitudinal and latitudinal lines. Options allow you to select whether up in the current direction of travel or North.
The waypoint screen shows a list of all the waypoints the app knows of. There are a standard set of global Points of Interest that come with the application.
There are also some autocreated waypoints and finally as a user you can create your own waypoints from any screen. Waypoints can be created by
– Using the ‘TapTap’ tool on the map screen
– Using the current GPS position
– Entering a Lat/Lon position
– Entering a range and bearing from your current position
This is really nicely done. Similarly you can use the ‘Go to’ button from any screen to select any waypoint to navigate to.
On the list of waypoints, against each one is a distance to the waypoint from your current position. This is straight line distance.
The position screen provides details about your current GPS fix. The lat/lon coordinates are displayed along with
– signal strength
– GPS accuracy
– distance and bearing to a waypoint (if selected)
While we’re mentioning altitude, this is an area that really lets MotionX down. I don’t believe it’s anything to do with the application itself but the way altitude is ‘calculated’ from the GPS signal. The altitude is very poor in my opinion. I rode along the coast today and the reading was +25m whereas when I came inland and up hill it changed to +5m. Go figure!
The compass screen displays a compass as you might expect, but the compass only works accurately if you’re moving (above 3mph is recommended). This is just because the iPhone does not have an electronic compass built in so needs to look at the GPS variation and calculate which way you’re moving and not which way is north as you look at the device.
There are a stack of options screen I won’t display here that allow you to configure MotionX just how you want it. The sharing options are very good. MotionX will share rides/activities with your Facebook or Twitter account and can even send an email to several email addresses automatically with a summary of the activity and a GPX files attached so you can upload the route into your preferred Mac/PC application. Nice!
In summary this application is awesome for just $3.99 Australian dollars. It does have a couple of big issues. Neither are the application’s fault.
1. iPhone’s battery life – I rode out today using MotionX to record my ride and the iPhone ran out after about 3 hours of recording. This can be improved by turning off bluetooth and wireless and by turning the brightness to 0. As I mentioned earlier you can turn down the display within MotionX when recording, but that is different to turning down brightness. I’ll try again tomorrow with everything turned down and see how that goes. But 3 hours just isn’t enough for me! You can consider buying a Mophie Juice Pack which will double battery life if you’re serious about this application and I’m considering doing that myself.
I turned off bluetooth and wireless today and rode for 3 hours and 5 mins. The battery indicator was showing about 30% left and green, so it does make a big difference. Further I did another test this afternoon and this time as Mark pointed out, turned the phone off with the top button after starting the recording and it recorded everything perfectly. Battery use seemed to be negligible, but the recording was only for an hour while driving. This is excellent and really does make this application very usable.
2. No heart rate – My Garmin captures everything MotionX does, but also my Heart Rate. The iPhone doesn’t yet have that capability so your rides will have no HR information associated with them. You decide if that’s an issue for you.
3. No handlebar mount. Again not an issue with the app, but for this to be useful as a Garmin replacement it really requires the iPhone to be mounted on the handlebars. There are mounts out there, but I don’t know how good they are.
I found this handlebar mount on Amazon. Looks great. Going to order one this afternoon and report back
Thanks to Andrew for his comments. There are other considerations if you want to replace a Garmin with MotionX.
4. Like HR mentioned above, no cadence is available.
5. Weather proofing. OK if it’s in your pocket, but you wouldn’t want the iPhone out in the elements unless you can find a handlebar mount with a weatherproof case.
I thoroughly recommend this application for cycling and hiking. It’s the best GPS app I’ve seen yet for iPhone.