Once upon a time gadgets did life’s hard work for you. But recently a new gang of accessories, headed by Nike+, have arrived with a new aim – to become our personal trainer.

Nike’s system, which works exclusively on the iPod Nano, has been joined recently by Nokia’s Sport Tracker and Orange’s e-Diet. They both provide software for your existing phone, but it's an alliance between Samsung and Adidas that has produced the first genuine rival to Nike+: miCoach.

Both are, broadly speaking, the same idea: a running aide that measures your runs and spurs you on with voice feedback and the ability to sync to a website. But there are key differences too. The miCoach software is only available on the F100 mobile phone and, with both a foot sensor and heart-rate monitor, claims to be the most advanced training system of its kind.

The boss of Nike+

It’s not far wrong. While the F110 uses a heart-rate monitor and a stride sensor, Nike+ only uses the latter. This means Samsung’s phone can give real-time voice feedback on whether you’re running at the right pace, and also create customised running plans.

There are over 200 of these, and which one you’re prescribed depends on your initial ‘assessment run’ and what type of fitness you want to achieve. Having made your choice, you’re then asked which days of the week you want to run, and are then presented with a diary of when your sessions are.

It’s all a tad daunting – plans last over six months – but is much more motivating than Nike+. Nike’s system has none of the coaching – you just choose via the iPod menu the time, distance or calories you want to burn, and run it – a and seems dated by comparison.

The phone problem

But much of miCoach’s sophistication and features comes at a cost: usability. Compared to the simplicity of Nike+, it’s nagging and fiddly. You’re bombarded with demands from the female instructor to ‘speed up to endurance zone’ while running and the heart-rate monitor feels like giant elastic band round your chest.

And, fundamentally, a mobile phone isn’t the right platform for miCoach. There’s nothing wrong with the F110 – it has a handy remote mic and being able to double-tap the screen for a progress update is great – but squeezing miCoach into a device that’s also a phone, an average camera and MP3 player makes it trickier to use.

By contrast, Nike+ nicely piggybacks the iPod Nano’s perfect control system, and gives you up to 8GB of music, compared to the F110’s measly 1GB. The screen on Samsung’s phone is also harder to read in sunlight than an iPod Nano.  

That syncing feeling

It’s not just about the hardware though – one of the big attractions of both miCoach and Nike+ is their websites. This is also one of their biggest differences. Nike+ is all about simplicity, community and slick web apps like ‘Map It’, which lets you draw good routes in your area for others to try out.

But while this is more fun, miCoach.com grinds it into the dust when it comes to features. It makes a point of having absolutely zero community features but it is extremely slick, provides a professional level of detail without making your eyes hurt and is a fantastic training tool if you’re serious about your running.  

And herein lies the dichotomy with miCoach – it’s by some distance more advanced than Nike+, but you have to use the F110 rather than an iPod Nano to use it. If Samsung loads an MP3 player like a successor to the P2 with this software, we’ll run to the shops to buy it. As it is, we’ll be jogging with our old pal Nike+.


Stuff says... 

Samsung F110 miCoach review

More advanced than Nike+, but the F110 phone can’t store as many tunes and makes miCoach harder to use