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Hands-on Gear Review
Strava App Review
Cons: Limited data in “real time”
Strava is the most unique product in our test. It is best described as a suite of software and a social network for cyclists and runners. As compared to the rest of our devices, the Strava App on your smartphone is simple and a bit cumbersome for "real world", real-time use. The online data-management and results-comparing social network, however, is slick, useful, and complements almost all of the watches we tested. We recommend that all active outdoor aerobic athletes enroll in the Strava community. Many will also be well served by the phone app, but the vast majority will collect data in their preferred fashion and end up comparing to one another through the Strava website and social network. Whether you will use Strava on your phone on its own, or upload your data from a dedicated stand-alone device, read on for more information about how it stacks up and integrates with our other tested equipment.
RELATED REVIEW: Best GPS Watches of 2017 for Running & Training
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
As a training tool, Strava is very unique. This app (free in its most basic form with paid upgrades available) uses the instrumentation inherent in your smartphone to generate data on speed and distance. There are cycling and running modes (in fact, we have reviewed it separately in our Bike Computer Review also) and the data output is simple and clear. The most unique attribute, however, is the social-networked attribute. Strava connects many users and compiles information on times for various pre-determined "segments". For immediate and readily available comparison of your own performances or against the performance of other Strava users, this app is one of a kind.
Ease of Use
The Strava app is quite intuitive and easy to use. In the smartphone friendly modern world, easy downloads and intuitive usage is expected of an app like this. Strava delivers.
Like any app, downloads are readily available for iPhone or Android users alike. You can sign in with basic information, customize with a photo, and search for other athletes to "follow". Signing in via Facebook streamlines the search for your friends. Strava automatically scans your Facebook friend list for Strava users.
Once ready to train, the "record" screen is clear and large. Basic data is shown here while riding, but it isn't until after a ride and you upload your information that you can see things like elevation change and how you compare to others on the route you've traveled.
Further "ease of use" criteria are more subject to your smartphone than to the Strava app. Battery life, interface, and weather resistance are a function of your phone and case than they are inherent to Strava.
The Strava app, for real-time monitoring of your training is one of the simplest products we tested. Without upgrades or aftermarket sensors, it simply displays distance, speed, and elapsed time. This is valuable information and is all that most people will want most of the time. However, every other device we tested offers more features for in-activity monitoring. There is no comparison at all to something like our Editors' Choice Suunto Ambit 3 Sport.
The real appeal of Strava shows in the data-management phase of your training. The above-mentioned ability to compare split-times to your own and others' performances is amazing. Tapping into a huge, fit community of like-minded individuals spurs motivation and inspiration.
The most important measure of any of the tested products was data management. We further divided this data-management into "during activity" and "post activity". For in-activity, the Strava app is one of the poorest performing. You must pull your phone from your pocket or somehow rig it to be visible. And then the data displayed is limited and simple. As mentioned above, every other watch we tested offers more options for data displayed on device. However, the post-event data of Strava is awesome. The good news is that you can also collect and monitor information with all but one of our tested devices (The New Balance GPS Trainer does not support saving and uploading data) and then upload that data to Strava.com for review on that platform. This latter-most strategy offers perhaps the best of all worlds!
For on-foot usage like most of our readers here will employ, the Strava app as tested on an Apple iPhone 5s was the most accurate device in our review. Over the course of four laps on a standard track, the phone and Strava together recorded exactly one mile. This accuracy, much like that of the Nike+ Sportwatch GPS, is due to the combined and complementary GPS and footstep data. Much like a pedometer, Strava uses the sophisticated motion-sensor in the phone to count footsteps and correct the sometimes error prone gps signal. Nike does this same thing with an external foot pod for the tested Sportwatch.
Ease of Set-up
This was by far the easiest device to set up. Provided you have even the most basic smartphone skills, you'll be able to download the app, login, enter your basic info, and begin recording in a couple minutes at most.
Strava is as durable as your smartphone. No more, no less. Additionally, the software and interface is being updated all the time, so if you use Strava on a regular basis you will always be getting new features and bug fixes.
Scoring the actual physical specs of the Strava app is difficult, as each phone it may be loaded onto is different from another. However, any way you slice it, no phone is as compact or "wearable" as a dedicated GPS watch.
Probably the best application of Strava is as a complement to your dedicated training watch. Collect and view the information in any one of many data-saving GPS watches and later upload it to Strava.com for comparison, competition, and motivation. For monitoring activity in the heat of the moment, our testing team found the information to be too simple and the process of viewing a phone to be too cumbersome. In the cycling context however, with one of many available smartphone handlebar mounts, Strava becomes a more viable training tool on its own. Because of that, we awarded it our Top Pick honor in The Best Bike Computer Review.
In its free version, membership in Strava is a no brainer. At its most basic, you get to participate in a lively community and keep track of your friends and other athletes. The free app is also worth having for occasions when you forget to bring or forget to charge your dedicated training watch. Some users will need only the Strava app for recording their endeavors. One tester who uses the paid, premium version of Strava appreciates the ability there to compare results on a more sophisticated matrix. The paid upgrade allows for recording of cycling power data and for comparing results with additional qualifiers like gender and age. With a few different ways to "buy in", the value of Strava can be as much or as little as you like.
Strava is an exciting community and motivational tool accompanied by a very basic training data display. If you prefer to go out and charge, and only review your progress post-event, the Strava app and community may be for you. If you want more readily available and sophisticated data during your run, you'll need one of our tested dedicated watches.
Other Versions and Accessories
With adapters, there are aftermarket sensors to bulk up the data collected by the premium version of the Strava app.
— Jediah Porter
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