Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Nokia Sports Tracker

One of the best apps I have downloaded since acquiring my Nokia 5800 XpressMusic is Nokia Sports Tracker (NST). A Nokia GPS enabled phone is a requirement, and while currently Nokia don't officially support the 5800, Version 2.05 works perfectly on my phone.

After some basic setting up, and entering your NST account details, you choose your activity (walking, running, cycling, skiing and other), wait for the phone to find satellite connections, and then hit start. Touch screen is supported. On the phone screen you'll see your activity time, pace and distance covered. It's not the best UI I've ever seen, but the numbers are big and clear enough. Admittedly, the 5800 screen is hopeless in direct sunlight.

If selected in the options, the block in the top left can incorporate a map, but obviously this will mean using a fair amount of data. On conclusion of your activity, you have the option to upload your workout to the net. After logging in to Sports Tracker, you will see the dashboard, which looks something like this:
The routes taken on all your workouts are colour-coded, and shown on the map beside the summary. Selecting one of the workouts presents you with more detail:
The map, courtesy of Google Maps, is now zoomed in to show your route in detail, with your points of highest and lowest altitude, as well as fastest and lowest speeds indicated. As usual with Google Maps, you can switch between map and satellite modes.

To the right of the map is the profile, showing speed and altitude against time. As you can see, heart rate is also accomodated for owners of the Nokia N79 Active, which comes bundled with a Polar Bluetooth chest strap. To my knowledge these are not available separately, which is a great pity, and a huge oversight.

One of the best features of NST is the ability to upload any photographs taken along your route. The location of each photo is indicated on the map by the camera icon, and clicking it opens a larger view. A great addition!

There is also a nice social aspect to the program, and you can choose to share your workouts with friends, create groups, comment on other people's workouts, and so on.

I'm still pretty new to the service, so there are many features that I haven't touched on here. I already have a very comprehensive cycling computer/heart rate monitor, but it'll be really great to record some of my regular routes to share with friends, and I have already started a group for my local cycling club.

Of some concern, unfortunately, are comments from TheGuru over at symbian-guru.com, that Nokia have lost interest in the service. This would be very disappointing - to my knowledge Apple don't offer anything like this for the iPhone! You can read his blog here.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, July 27, 2009

2009 Tour de France Review

Photo credit ©Sirotti
The 2009 Tour de France came to an end yesterday with Mark Cavendish taking his 6th stage win on on a packed Champs-Élysées in Paris, and Alberto Contador taking the top top step on the podium with a well deserved victory overall.

Photo credit ©Sirotti
For me, however, the last week of the Tour was an anti-climax. All the ingredients for an exciting showdown in Alps were there, but unfortunately the team tactics, and the supreme power, of the Astana Team prevented this from happening.

The gentleman's agreement that exists between cyclists prevented 7 times winner, Lance Armstrong, from showing his potential in the high mountains. Could he have attacked Contador and claimed victory for himself? We'll never know. Contador proved himself a worthy winner though, and even more than his seemingly effortless marking of any attacks on the big climbs, his victory in the final Individual Time Trial showed that he was a worthy winner of the this year's Tour.

Photo credit ©Sirotti
In second place overall, Andy Schleck of Team Saxo Bank showed his form in the mountains, and was the only rider to remotely challenge the dominance of Contador. Contador was up to the task though, but Andy has many years left in the sport, and I have no doubt he'll claim the top step in the coming years.

Photo credit ©Bettini
Third, of course, was Lance Armstrong. Some people thought Lance would win his 8th Tour this year, others wrote him off due to his age. Armstrong proved his detractors wrong, and despite some serious conflict in the Astana camp following the stage into Andorra, where Contador disobeyed team orders and attacked on the final climb, he adopted the supporting role to Contador, and undoubtedly assisted the Spaniard to his victory.

Photo credit ©Sirotti
Normally, I wouldn't comment on 4th place, but Bradley Wiggins of Garmin - Slipstream deserves a mention. A former track star, and multiple Olympic Gold Medal winner, Wiggins was, for me, the revelation of the Tour. His ability in the mountains was totally unexpected, and I would not be surprised if he were to improve on this position in the years to come.

And so, while we reflect on the last 3 weeks, I can't help looking forward to 2010.
Lance Armstrong has announced he is forming a new team with sponsorship from RadioShack, and probably with his mentor, Johan Bruyneel, at the helm. I have no doubt Armstrong will be the undisputed leader of the new team, which is as it should be. There is only room for 1 leader in a team. At 35, can Armstrong make a bid for win number 8? Contador and Schleck will have other ideas, but Lance will be better prepared after a full year training and racing; I'm looking forward to it already!

Thanks for reading.

The Problem with Nokia Music

I was really excited to see that Nokia Music had been updated to version 1.3; hopefully some useful functionality had at last been added. But once again I was disappointed.

I own a Nokia 5800 XpressMusic, and when I chose this phone, I imagined that it would replace my aging iPod Nano as my MP3 player of choice. After all, this was Nokia's music phone, and my expectations were high. iPods have been around for ages, so surely Nokia would have raised the bar in terms of functionality?

Well, apparently the programmers working on the Nokia Music application have never heard of the iPod, nor do they have much interest in music.

You see, I listen to a lot of music via my PC (MediaMonkey) and my MP3 player, and my music collection on my PC is in excess of 30Gb. However, with only 8Gb available on my Nano I am able to keep my music fresh and valid with the use of 3 key function:

  1. Ratings: I use the simple star functions to rate the music I like most. These can be changed on the Nano while I am listening to the track, and they automatically update the ratings on my PC when I sync.
  2. Play count and Last Played: Similarly, this data is updated on my PC when I sync.
  3. Auto Playlists: Most important of all, I have created autoplaylists on my PC that update the Playlist based on the above.

Based on the above, fresh playlists of all my favourite tracks are created every time I connect my iPod to my PC. Depending on the set of autoplaylists selected for the device, recently listened to tracks are automatically removed and new content is added.

Doesn't everyone do this?

Why then does Nokia's premier phone and PC app not have any of this essential functionality?

In fact, while it is relatively easy to add new music to the phone via the useful drag & drop function, I have still not been able to successfully remove older content with Nokia Music, let alone conduct a proper 'sync'. After having had to reformat my memory card twice I have given up trying, and now use the very basic music app included in PC Suite.

Nokia have put a lot of work into the Nokia Music Store, which is accessed via the Nokia Music app. However, tracks downloaded from the Store have DRM embedded, so despite the reasonable pricing (in SA), I won't be bothering anytime soon. The 'My Music' player side of the app is slow and clunky. It battles with my mere 30Gb; how would it be with 100Gb?

What the team at Nokia seem to have forgotten, however, is that people actually listen to their music, both on the PCs and on their MP3 players, and for that to work properly, Nokia Music has to be their music player of choice. I'll be sticking with MediaMonkey!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tour de France Entry List

The 2009 version of the Tour de France is underway, and after the first 2 stages it looks set to be one of the best races in a while.

I prepared a crib sheet of all the riders and teams, which you can download here.