The Best App for Walking

Have you ever found yourself trying many apps, each promising to do what you want them to, only to find that they do no such thing?

It can be frustrating. Luckily, it’s easy to install and uninstall them, but it gets old quickly when you do it time and time again.

Walking is an important part of our routine. We try to include 3 to 10 km (~ 2 to 6 miles) a day as a permanent part of our physical activity. What I was looking for was quite basic, really: an unobtrusive app that measured the walked distance. Something to keep track of the time and average speed – and a map of the walk would be nice. I didn’t want anything too fancy, like motivational voices, social interactions with like-minded app users, updating half of the world about my great achievements, taking part in walking competitions, locating other app users in the area (??) or any other stuff beyond simple tracking of my progress. Sure, all this “extra stuff” keeps app developers in business, but I wanted to be able to opt out of it.

Predictably, searching for “measuring walking distance by gps android” yielded quite a few options. Most had decent ratings and reviews. During the next couple of days I installed about 10 applications. Some of them were too involved right from the start, so I got rid of them before even giving them a chance in the field. I mean, give them access to my Facebook profile? Automatic update of my location and progress on their forum without a chance for me to opt out?

Several made it into the field, but after a brief test, were deemed too erratic. For example, if I walk about a 1 km route to the end and back, I expect the app to show two 1-km distances, not the 30% difference! One had motivating voice messages that I couldn’t turn off – maybe I just didn’t search long enough, but shouldn’t such control be within easy reach? Worse yet, they weren’t controlled by the sound setting of the phone, so I couldn’t even turn the volume down. After growing tired of curious glances from strangers (“Why is this guy’s jacket talking to him?”), I killed this one too. One more ate through the battery charge as if it were secretly transmitting my route to invading aliens from Alpha Tauri.

Long story short, two contenders remained to duke it out – Google Fit and Runkeeper. Both had a lot of features I didn’t need or want, such as deep integration with other services, personal goals and training plans to achieve them, running groups to join, challenges, sharing options – you name it. Both, however, made it easy to just stay with the basic functions and even shut down that motivational voice with ease. Last thing to check was their accuracy.

My assumption was that accuracy wouldn’t be a big problem. After all, it’s not like GPS is a very new and untested technology. Boy, was I wrong! Three walks later, all with known distances, Google Fit was all over the map, pardon the pun. It overestimated a 10 km walk by 27% (!), a 5 km one by 20% and a 3 km by 35%! Worst of all was the inconsistency, which excluded the possibility of adjusting the estimation. The map showed a pretty accurate route, so I suspect that the app used step count, rather than GPS, to evaluate the distance walked.

Runkeeper, on the other hand, performed with remarkable accuracy in this regard. The interface is intuitive, and it’s easy to start, pause, resume and end your workout, as well as to omit any unnecessary options.  It’s also light on battery usage, and presents all the information in a clear way:


Walking app screenshot

I felt a bit dubious about the calorie count, but the online calculator gave a similar estimation for this distance and speed.  As stated at this calculator, “There is a non-linear relationship between walking speed and rate of calorie burn. Essentially what this means is that total calorie burn while walking depends on both the distance that you walked and the speed at which you were walking. This makes calorie burn while walking slightly different from calorie burn while running, which is only distance dependent (i.e. while running it doesn’t matter what speed you run a given distance, you will burn the same amount of calories as long as the distance is the same).” Who knew?

Of course, those are gross calories – meaning, they include calories you would burn while napping. My resting metabolic rate, i.e. calories burned just by being alive, is around 80 per hour (given my age, weight, height and gender), so I just need to subtract about 175 from that number. Still, not bad for a beautiful walk around the lake:


Best treadmill in the world, I call it. Judge for yourself:

Elk Lake Elk Lake Elk Lake Elk Lake

The only (easy to disregard) wrinkle is the app’s insistence to share, post, comment, compare, take part in, etc. I wish I could dismiss those prompts summarily, and turn them on again if and when I decide to indulge those invading aliens from Alpha Tauri. Despite this, Runkeeper remains my app of choice. Allowing you to stay basic but have plenty of options should you desire more from your fitness aid, it’s quite versatile, accurate and easy to use.

Do you have experiences with other apps? Feel free to share!

Update 12/7/16

Per suggestion in the comments, I’ve tested S Health for a quick 2 km walk. It has met and exceeded all the expectations. Not only does it do everything Runkeeper did, it also adds a very nice touch. Here it is:

When I stop during my walk for whatever reason (blackberry bush, restroom break, bench with a spectacular view, photo opportunity), I want an app to stop recording time and calculating pace. With Runkeeper I had to hit the Pause button, and then remember to punch Resume. S Health does it itself, detecting both stop and resumption and pausing/resuming correspondingly. Nice!

Distance measurement is accurate. Here is a map of the route. You can see it changing the color on 1-km mark, making it easy to determine the walked distance by a glance:

S Health screenshot

This is a screenshot of a report upon completion of the walk:

S Health report screenshot

Comprehensive, and with couple additions that previous app didn’t have: I can see lowest and highest elevation on the route and weather report during the walk. Yes, it was a cold evening.

The app has a lot of additional options for the users who need them, but makes it very easy to stay with basics. To turn off the incessant reporting of each and every move, after launching the walking workout but before hitting Start button, go into Settings and turn Audio Guide off.

I believe I have a new favorite. Thanks Brian!


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2 thoughts on “The Best App for Walking

  1. I use the Runkeeper app sometimes but mostly use the S Health app that came with my Samsung phone. It’s awesome and gives options to add a variety of exercise to include hiking, biking etc. The S Health app also syncs to my watch but I’m not so sure I need that lol. I like the pics used in the blog.

    • Thank you! S Health, just checked reviews and description. Certainly worth a try! Do you find the distance measurement accurate? Description doesn’t indicate whether it’s GPS or step counter based. It may depend on a particular phone, but step count in my experience is inconsistent. Google Fit absolutely surprised me with how inaccurate the distance report was

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