Friday, March 6, 2015

Review: Beginner Triathlete

Site: Beginner Triathlete

Score: 49/100

 Summary: Due to many disappointing issues, including features only available to premium members, poor styling, data loss, unsecured features, and a lack of connection to data stores, there's simply too many hits against BT to overcome and deliver with.


*Note that this is a review of the activity tracking portion of Beginner Triathlete only, and not a review of the myriad helpful articles, active user forum, or other features that BT provides all of which are an important and valuable resource to the triathlon community. 

Layout (25)
  • Logical Flow: It's not illogical, but it's no flow chart either. There's nothing particularly offensive, but there's an awful lot of clicking. BT isn't obviously first and foremost anything, in that it's a forum, it's a collection of articles and resources, a training planner, race report repository, and other unused nooks and crannies. As such, cramming all that into one space will produce a cluttered look, and BT is no different. There simply isn't such a thing as a logical flow to go between a race report and classified section, so there's plenty of gaps.
  • Feature Location: A little clunky at first, which is to say until you enter *a* workout somehow, you can't easily find anything. However once you do, the site wakes up and a lot of otherwise hidden content becomes exposed. From there, it's pretty simple to locate the features you're looking for, albeit from VERY long (ie too many option items) javascript hover menus. 
  • Feel: BT has a feel like 10 years ago. It's not styled in a modern way and everything is very pointy-clicky. I don't want to outright rag on it, because functionality IS important, but in my view, it's not an expensive proposition to have form and function. It wouldn't take much to skin this in a much more attractive way, but as I think about it, there might very well be a target audience that feels very comforted by this kind of styling. I could see folks who remember the html styling the 1990s recognizing the coloring, fonts, and layout from the dawn of the internet, and conservatively thinking it's fine. However, considering the site went through a 'face lift' within the last couple of years, this is really pretty bad.
  • Performance\responsiveness: Highly performant from a UI perspective, but as I'll detail later, the file upload times are horrible, taking over 10 minutes in some cases.
  • Mobile conversion: The mobile site is pretty painful to use, but functionally, it gives you everything in a mobile style. It's an amalgamation of blue buttons, with no real concept of how you're navigating around from a breadcrumb perspective, and a bit too liberal a usage of width=100% - buttons spread unnecessarily across the entire screen and are hard to like. That said, I appreciate all the work that must have gone into doing a completely separate skinning for mobile purposes.
  • Creating a plan: Oh man, this is strange. If you go into your profile you can create a plan with days, weeks, etc, and apply it to your calendar. However, this is supposed to be part of the premium membership only. Even by pointing this out here, I have a sinking feeling that I'm taking away functionality from users that they depend on, and the site admins will realize this flaw and take it away from non-premium members. Sorry!
  • Creating a workout: If you go into your profile, you can create planned workouts, albeit without interval data. The template for each day has all 3 sports, plus optional exercises and "other" sports (Archery training, anyone?) you can add. No intervals, just time, distance and pace.
Score: 16 : I tried to be as objective as usual, and only deduct points for problems. Ultimately I didn't deduct any points for the features that I suspect should be disabled, because whether that's the intent or not, the features are there currently. The styling, mobile painfulness, upload performance and layout clutter are the deductions.


Analysis Tools (20)
  • Charts are time variable: Yep
  • Heart Rate: paid only
  • Fatigue vs. Freshness: nope. 
  • Duration: Yep
  • Distance: Yep
  • Zones: Not for analysis, and I'm going to do something I rarely do - deduct a point. You can create zones, then you're asked to *manually* enter the time spent in them (it isn't calculated during upload either!), and then you find out you can't see the zone reports unless you're a premium member. A ludicrous amount of work to do for nothing. Disable it completely if I can't benefit from it. 
  • Personal best calculation:there's a place to store them in your profile, but they are not calculated.
  • Zone calculation: Yep, actually you have a few different choices as to what method to calculate with. Nicely done, with a good article written by Mike Ricci on what the different methods mean.
Score: 9: What's there works fine, but the Zones snafu had me red. Starting to run up against the premium features.


Activity Detail display (10)
  • Time analysis –  sorta not really. There's one point on the chart for each interval\lap, which is not near the level of detail captured. 1 point.
  • Maps - nope. All the data points are merely summarized by interval or, if there were none, as a workout.
  • Overlays – meaning I can add or subtract different series such as power, pace, heart rate, etc, no, you can't. You get what you get from the lap data and that's it.
Score: 2 This really isn't implemented at the level of detail that's standard across the platforms.

Coaching features: (15)
  • Follow athletes – you can examine other athlete's training logs, and keep track of who your 'friends' are to make it easy to find them. You can see their reports, but again only the ones allowed by a basic membership.
  • Provide feedback– private messages achieve this means to an end.
  • Scheduling tie in: Technically, using the planning feature I unearthed above, a coach could create a plan, send it to you, and you could upload it as your own. However, day to day changes or major changes to the plan would require subsequent uploads, constituting a hackish approach.
Score: 11: A coach could reasonably follow your progress on BT at a summary level and provide feedback via messages. However, the same coach can't create a plan for you without resorting to hackery using a feature that doesn't look like it's supposed to be available. Without the activity detail level, any sort of analysis is lost as well, as well as the ability to see the reports afforded to premium members, the functionality is limited.


Device Store Connectivity (15)
  • Garmin - Technically no. There is a provision for how to use Garmin Express\Communicator to publish to both Connect and BT, but that's not a connection to Connect. 
  • Suunto - no.
  • Strava –no

Score:2 - a little credit given for trying to be Garmin-ready, but it's not a solid attempt.


Import (10)
  •  Manual entry - Yep. The form to do so is pretty straight ahead and clearly targeted to triathlon. There is one frustrating feature, however - although you have the ability to add intervals, there's no connection between the summary duration and distance and the interval duration sum and distance sum. 
  • .fit –It took over 10 minutes for a file to finally load, but once it did, it was there. However, all of the datapoints are lost, it was merely summarized.
  •  tcx – same as the .fit, it worked, but it was both super slow (to the point I didn't think it worked at all), and then the data points were lost.
Score: 4- This has all the evidence of a major cop out by not storing the detail that comes from importing a file. If it's a database size issue, serialize it smaller, there are ways around this. Otherwise, don't give me the ability to upload, as it's not adding any value by losing the data.


Help (5):
  • Well written: Yes, very. 
  • Clear term definition: There's a glossary, and a detailed section for each feature, with screen shots to assist in locating features.
Score:5 The time was put in, and it shows.

Extra features (bonus, 2 points each)
  • Email reminders – workouts: premium only
  • Email reminders – equipment : nope
  • Workout text messages – nope
  • Sync with online calendars : premium only
  • Allow messages with other athletes: Yes
  • Allow tracking of consumables –Yes, but you have to tag the workouts with the gear manually. Technically, it's implemented though.
  • Metric\imperial conversions\Time zone\Clock\Calendar: Time zone, but not metric\imperial conversion. You have to select the unit of measure each time you create a workout.


Score: 5, one off for the metric conversion manual issue.