Monday, January 26, 2015

Review: Final Surge

Site: Final Surge

Score: 47/100

Summary: Poor layout and flow, premium coaching only, limited data sync, no help tools, and lack of analysis tools make this one a difficult sell.

Layout (25)
  • Logical Flow: On login you're presented with a large calendar, a set of icon buttons, an account area, and a menu bar. The icons are all repeats of the functions in the menu or settings, and one of them (Mailbox) doesn't do anything and even goes so far as to say it's a feature that's coming soon.  There are some gaps observed when using different features that definitely are not thought out. For example, when creating a workout in the future, it would make logical sense that it is planned, not actual, but it shows up as an actual workout.  There is a 'Planned' toggle switch, but it doesn't turn off the Actual section, so you don't really know what you're doing. In another example, I expected the 'Reports and Statistics' tab to have, well, more than one report just because of the grammar, but there's only one report. More on that later.
  • Feature Location: The icons are confusing, until you ultimately decide not to use them and stick with the menu bar. This proves to be especially important in the mobile conversion, where the icons don't actually work at all, but more on the mobile part later as well.
  • Feel: In a word, unfinished. As a basic example, the 'Home' icon corresponds not to home, but to 'Dashboard', and brings you to a different place than the default page you get when logging in (Calendar). Additionally, there are actually two different icons for getting there, styled differently. The same applies to the calendar, which has no less than three different ways to get there. After a while you get the sensation that it's very much a work in progress and not a finished product.
  • Performance\responsiveness: Many of the functions don't load instantly and there's no indication the buttons were hit properly, leading to many double taps.
  • Mobile conversion: The site renders, but the icons stop working altogether. The menu collapses and still controls everything though. There's no spillover, but some of the forms (for instance the workout creator) render so far down vertically that you can't remember what you're doing. I was getting very frustrated until I saw something at the bottom of the screen scroll that said 'Mobile Site'. Strange, why not just detect it and send me there like every other web site that has a dedicated layout? Odd. Once I switched over, the styling improved dramatically. So much better in fact, that I would have preferred it to the 'Full Site' version. However, we're talking mobile here, and mobile wise, it's only ok - forms are still long and require a great deal of scrolling up and down. There is an app available, but it's out of scope for this review - it's no great feat to adapt a web site to have excellent functionality specific to mobile devices, and apps aren't the place for them in my opinion. 
  • Creating a plan: In the basic (non premium) version, you can't. Period. There is a tool for coaches, but it's highly work intensive, and out of scope from the review.
  • Creating a workout: Comprehensive, including everything from temperature, humidity, weather, RPE and 'Feeling' (Great to Terrible), Warm up, cool could feasibly spend 10 minutes creating a workout report. In my opinion, there's actually too much information. I'll never know the humidity percent, and even if I did, I would put it in a notes section, not a number value. Considering that most athletes would pull all the data from their device store (only Garmin in this site's case), most of this information wouldn't populate unless done manually, which is realistically too time intensive. Regardless, as I'll get into later, there is no use for all the data, as you can only see it in a workout detail view. 
Score:8 This might even be a little generous here, but at least a couple of people spent a lot of time working on the site. However, one of them made a decent one (mobile) that doesn't make sense on a big screen and is too feature rich for a mobile device, and the other made a confusing one that also doesn't make sense on a big screen and is too feature rich for either a mobile or desktop device.

Analysis Tools (20)
  • Charts are time variable: Yes, the one chart is time variable.
  • Heart Rate: no
  • Fatigue vs. Freshness: no
  • Duration: Yes
  • Distance: Yes
  • Zones: No
  • Personal best calculation:No
  • Zone calculation: Nothing calculated. You can fill in your own, but there's no logic behind it. 
Score: 10 Again, I think I'm being generous again. There is only one report, and all it does is sum up the workouts by type (swim, bike, run, etc) for distance and time and display the results in a table. At the summary level there are no charts to be found. All of this is odd considering there are charts in the detail section though - if you own the charting libraries and knowledge, why not use them? Stranger still, the non-application website (just what you see before you log in) shows a chart that isn't included in the application - Duration By Activity.

Activity Detail display (10)
  • Time analysis –  yes 
  • Maps - Honestly, I'm not fully sure, but I'm pretty sure. I could only import the last 30 days of Garmin data in and I haven't been on a GPS-tracked run since early December, as I hate running in the cold. I see the code for it in the source, so I have to believe it's there, but from looking at the source code it isn't integrated with the data (like when you hover over a data point, it doesn't show the corresponding marker on the map).
  • Overlays – yes, if you switch to 'Advanced Analysis' on the chart you can see 4 axes at once. Why not just make this the main view? 
Score: 9: I can't deduct for feel twice, but I wanted to. The big chart\little chart thing was a clear miss, though.

Coaching features: (15)
  • Follow athletes – not in the free version
  • Provide feedback– not in the free version
  • Scheduling tie in: not in the free version.
Score: 0: this is a premium feature only. I gave the 'Coach mode' a whirl in trial mode, and found a lot of the features I was looking for in the basic version, but I can't give any points for it. The difference between coach and basic mode isn't justified by the price ($9.95/month or $99.50/year), there's simply not enough tools to reach for my wallet given the alternatives offered by the competition.

Device Store Connectivity (15)
  • Garmin - yep, but only pulls the last 30 days to start
  • Suunto - nope
  • Strava – nope
In what's turning out to be a theme, I'm disappointed it will only sync data from the last 30 days, a couple of points off for that.

Score: 3

Import (10)
  •  Manual entry - yes, with intervals.
  • .fit –yep
  •  tcx –yep
Score: 10

Help (5):
  • Well written: Honestly, there is none. Just a form to send a request for support.
  • Clear term definition: None. The zones are for you to decide on and define, there is no load calculation, recovery, etc. 
Score: 1 More generosity. The 1 point is for having a support request screen. As if by insult, there *is* a help document (albeit in pdf document, for some unknown reason), but it's only available to coaches. If this tool is only intended for coaches, why make it available to anyone else??

Extra features (bonus, 2 points each)
  • Email reminders – workouts: yes
  • Email reminders – equipment : nope
  • Workout text messages – nope
  • Sync with online calendars : nope
  • Allow messages with other athletes: not that I saw
  • Allow tracking of consumables – yes
  • Metric\imperial conversions\Time zone\Clock\Calendar: yes
Score: 6 bonus points

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Review: Endurance Tracker

Site: EnduranceTracker

Score: 97/100

 Summary: An excellent tool, and a lot of thought and execution has gone into it.  The main hits against it are styling issues, all of which could be easily addressed, but the main functionalities are all there.

Layout (25)
  • Logical Flow: All the navigation is achieved from a fixed menu on the left side, with the selected option in a giant pane. 
  • Feature Location: Very logical, nothing is more than a click or two away, if that. There's a LOT of information on the account settings section, to the point where I would rather see it as one of the buttons to the left, as opposed to its top-right hand corner location.
  • Feel: Laid out logically, resizes well, and has no obvious flaws. I took a peek under the covers, and it's a very standard Microsoft implementation, which explains the layout choices. They work, don't bother reinventing the wheel. However, it looks about 10 years behind the times. 
  • Performance\responsiveness: Page performance is solid. However, there were a couple of times where I had to reload the page completely when buttons stop responding.
  • Mobile conversion: The site renders on a mobile device, but not specifically. There is some right hand spillover, but it's more than acceptable - just scroll a little to the right and it's there. Menus collapse and buttons are resized and replaced, but it's easy to tell it's all out of the box stuff, and not directly adapted for a mobile phone. 
  • Creating a plan: You can create a planned workout, and copy it. You can also (through the account settings) create periods such as Base, Build, etc, that show up on your calendar to the right side of a week view as colorings. It took a little banging around, but I was able to figure out how to create and access a library of planned workouts, which then drag onto the calendar. The only thing I found myself wanting was the ability to copy entire weeks worth of activities. I made a feature request rather than deduct a point, because it's not a standard feature across different platforms.
  • Creating a workout: Pretty simple.You can add different settings, such as distance, speed, pace, etc, then give a broad 'Workout Description' containing the information about intervals, however there's no way to specifically design intervals. Customized to the type of workout, so for instance power is available for Bike, but not Swim or Run. 
Score:19 : What it lacks in glitz and slickness, it makes up for in functionality. There was so much available that I found myself thinking of features I wanted that weren't there, which is both good and bad. For instance, I gave myself decent notes for a pool workout, but couldn't find a way to print it out so I could bring it with me on deck. However there had to be points taken away for mobile adaptation and the old feel of it.

Analysis Tools (20)
  • Charts are time variable: Yep
  • Heart Rate: yes
  • Fatigue vs. Freshness: yes, although it's not 100% clear how the terms are arrived at. It looks like a hijack of the Performance Manager chart on Training Peaks, but there's no formula given.
  • Duration: Yep
  • Distance: Yep
  • Zones: Yep
  • Personal best calculation:Yes. although the swim wasn't pulling in for some reason. I suspect it's because I pulled information from Strava, which has poor swim tracking capability.
  • Zone calculation: Yep
Score: 20: Nothing missing that I would reach for.

Activity Detail display (10)
  • Time analysis –  yes 
  • Maps - yes, but interestingly *not* Google Maps, it's MapQuest. 
  • Overlays – yes
Score: 10: Everything is there, including point editing.

Coaching features: (15)
  • Follow athletes – yep, I was able to create a different account as a coach, request an add, and see activity.
  • Provide feedback– I could leave notes on workouts, and was able to use the messaging interface.
  • Scheduling tie in: Nicely done, I can "emulate" the athlete, gaining control of that account and allow scheduling, analysis, etc.
Score: 15: It's all there!

Device Store Connectivity (15)
  • Garmin - yep
  • Suunto - nope
  • Strava – yep
I'm disappointed it will only sync data from the last 30 days, a couple of points off for that. *edited* I stopped doing this for other sites, unfair to do it to this one. I *could* upload past activity if I needed it, but that's unnecessarily laborious. Interestingly, TrainingPeaks is listed as a data source, as is RunKeeper, and Withings. Nothing like going at the competition with a flower!

Score: 10

Import (10)
  •  Manual entry - yes, but again without intervals.
  • .fit –yep
  •  tcx –yep
Score: 9

Help (5):
  • Well written: Solid, but I have to deduct a point for the fact that it leaves the main site to get to the help section. At least default to a new window! I shouldn't have to hit the back button to get back to the application.
  • Clear term definition: We're data driven athletes, so it's not enough to say its modeled after Banister's TRIMP. We're given that it's also not a linear scale, which is not an incorrect way to look at things, but formulas would be nicer..  
Score: 4 – I could really have taken 2 points away, but a lot of work went into it, which gets one back.

Extra features (bonus, 2 points each)
  • Email reminders – workouts: nope Actually, it is there, pointed out to me after the fact. It was tucked in the Account Settings form, and at first blush I didn't realize this is what it was for.
  • Email reminders – equipment : nope
  • Workout text messages – nope
  • Sync with online calendars : yes
  • Allow messages with other athletes: yes
  • Allow tracking of consumables – chains, shoes, etc :yes
  • Metric\imperial conversions\Time zone\Clock\Calendar: yes
Score: 10 bonus points

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Review: Training Peaks

Site: TrainingPeaks

Score: 62/100

 Summary: The biggest player in the field, but as a free tool it’s not very feature laden. The ‘all new’ view has been all new for a while now, but it’s still missing several features. The ‘classic’ version has a lot to offer, but no scheduling capability, which is a big strike.

Layout (25)
  • Logical Flow: Looking at the ‘Modern’ view, everything is driven by either the Calendar, Profile or the charts. While this streamlines things quite nicely, there’s a lot of real estate that could have been used for other things. 
  • Feature Location: Frustrating to say the  least. In the classic view you can easily create Routes, but you can’t even find the feature in the new version. Also missing is the ‘Plan’ purchase option, plan application option, workout library, friends…strange. I’m not sure anything made it to the new version. The ‘Classic’ view makes it much easier to appreciate where everything is, as well as what you don't have access to in the free version. 
  • Feel: It feels solid, but with the lack of all the features in the new version, I find myself wondering why it hasn't been fixed yet. Having two 'live' versions of the same tool looks very unprofessional.
  • Performance\responsiveness: Page performance is good, no evidence of third party libraries causing unnecessary performance issues.
  • Mobile conversion: The site itself actually can’t render on a mobile device. All you can see is a portion of the calendar, with no ability to enter classic mode, your profile, etc. Considering how standard this is with css these days, this is pretty bad. To be comprehensive, there is an app available, but that's out of scope for this evaluation.
  • Creating a plan: You can create a planned workout, but you can’t actually schedule it unless you pony up for the full version for a whopping $20 a month. Even then, you can’t create blocks or plans, you can only buy others plans. Coach mode ($99 license fee and $49 per month!) allows this, but since I’m evaluating the free side of things only, this is a no.
  • Creating a workout: Again, you can create workouts but you can’t schedule them in the future, so a no.
Score: 10 : It looks nice, and if you use the ‘Classic’ mode, a lot of the features are easier to find, but so much of this site is driven by the pay side, it’s a rough score.

Analysis Tools (20)
  • Charts are time variable: Yep
  • Heart Rate: nope, only in paid version
  • Fatigue vs. Freshness: nope only in paid version
  • Duration: Yep
  • Distance: Yep
  • Zones: nope, only in paid version
  • Personal best calculation:nope, and to clarify what I mean, there's no reason with all of the data stored that all of these sites can't find your best 5K, 10K, swim at various distances, FTP, etc. It's a simple algorithm to write! 
  • Zone calculation: Yes, and quite good, in that they allow many different methods to calculate the zones. My only beef is that it’s not based on the incoming data, it’s just entered as part of your profile
Score: 15: A lot of what you want is there. Training Peaks has a copyright on the Performance Manager chart, their version of Fatigue vs Freshness. By not including it in the basic version they take away their own points.

Activity Detail display (10)
  • Time analysis – graphed yes, but no zoom in basic version
  • Maps - yep
  • Overlays – can’t turn things on or off in basic version
Score: 8: A lot of information, just a few features limited in basic version.

Coaching features: (15)
  • Follow athletes – not in basic version
  • Provide feedback– not in basic version
  • Scheduling tie in– not in basic version
Score: 0

Device Store Connectivity (15)
  • Garmin - yep
  • Suunto - (edit) yes, this was added in March 2015.
  • Strava – nope
Score: 10

Import (10)
  •  Manual entry - yep
  • .fit –yep
  •  tcx –yep
Score: 10

Help (5):
  • Well written: very much so. Arguably more work went into the documentation than the site!
  • Clear term definition: couldn't be clearer. The principles are Joe Friel's, Andy Coggan's, and others, all published works. Terms are their calling cards.
Score: 5 – This is a big feature of Training peaks – very detailed help menus, FAQs, term definitions, videos, and more

Extra features (bonus, 2 points each)
  • Email reminders – workouts: nope, premium only
  • Email reminders – equipment : nope
  • Workout text messages – nope, premium only
  • Sync with online calendars : nope, premium only
  • Allow messages with other athletes: nope, premium only
  • Allow tracking of consumables – chains, shoes, etc :yes
  • Metric\imperial conversions\Time zone\Clock\Calendar: yes
Score: 4 bonus points

Activity Tracker website reviews

I'm going to start reviewing the many different activity trackers that have sprouted up over the past couple of years. I'm going to evaluate each based on the features available for a free account, namely

  • Layout: does the flow make sense, are features easy to find
  • Analysis: Heart rate, fatigue vs. freshness, duration, distance, load
  • Activity display: granular analysis of time points
  • Scheduling: creating a plan, creating a workout
  • Calculation: personal bests, zones
  • Equipment store
  • Coaching features: follow athletes, provide feedback, schedule workouts
  • Connectivity: allow connection to Garmin, Suunto, Timex, Polar, Strava data
  • Upload: allow upload of fit, tcx files
  • Help: Well written, clear term definition
  • Messaging: allow messages with other athletes
  • Performance
  • Profile settings: metric\imperial conversions
  • Extra features: email reminders, sync with calendars
On the radar to be tested:
Any I've missed? Let me know.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Back in the saddle again...

First week around 500 load (488 as of today, but who's counting?) since last summer, and I seem to be holding up well. Of course after 3 weeks of it I'll appreciate the down cycle week, but at least today I seem to be absorbing it.

There's definitely still work to be done with Triweaver, I think more with how it displays the plan than anywhere else. Right now it only displays the name of the planned week, but I feel like laying some charts and images in there it will improve.

Garmin Connect continues to be fritzed, but as a Suunto guy I don't really care. I DO care that the new Fenix3 looks amazing, and my watch is still really really blue, but that's all I mind Garmin for at the moment. I continue to daydream that Suunto will step up in the data sharing department, it's a glaring oversight at the moment.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Garmin Connect gnomes

Not to be outdone, Garmin Connect was on the fritz this weekend, following on the heels of Suunto's blackout. This wasn't nearly as bad; the service API was still available,  the web page server couldn't render the 'Modern' site content, but was fine with the 'Classic' site content, albeit slow. Judging by the error messages I saw, it was related to JBoss stability. I continue to marvel at the Java stack. Do you really need anything more than Tomcat? Is JBoss doing something worth $250K? Spend the same on a knockout Linux\Unix guy and some proper load balancing and let's discuss.

</nerd rant>

Swimming more frequently again, it's coming back slowly but surely. Today's 'oh yeah, I remember that!' moment was to keep the kick focused. Band drills in order soon. Immediately felt another anchor get lifted off. It's a lot easier to work on the swim when you've had the sensation of swimming fast without a ton of effort - which took years to get to. It's not so much muscle memory as it is sensation memory. I can feel each thing I do and it's effect on getting back to that.