I really wanted to like my Nike + iPod.
And, at first, I did. Still do, for that matter, but I can't help but be a little disappointed in it.
A week ago, I would have given it an unqualified, glowing review. After putting it through serious paces, however, I found it a bit lacking.
First, the basics.
The Nike + iPod is an integrated pedometer/shoe system by Apple and shoe giant Nike. It consists of a small receiver that plugs into an iPod Nano and a similarly small sensor that fits under the insole of compatible Nike shoes.
How does it work? Nike says: "A sensitive piezoelectric accelerometer monitors your footstrike when you walk or run and determines the amount of time your foot spent on the ground. This contact time is directly related to your pace."
This information is sent to your Nano, which logs time, distance and calories burned.
And since it is, after all, an iPod, it does all this while playing music.
If you so choose, you can have a honey-voiced female - or male - speaking in your ear, telling you the status of your workout, your pace and your distance so you don't have to look at your Nano's display.
Press the center button on your Nano and your preselected "power song" comes on, theoretically spurring you on
to longer/faster/stronger workouts.
The Nano stores your workouts - it calls them "runs," but it tracks walks, too - and can upload them to the nikeplus.com Web site for storage and comparison.
You can choose a workout by distance, time or calories burned. Or go "basic" and just go.
You can compare your workouts to previous workouts, or challenge a friend to a virtual race.
It's a pedometer on steroids. And it only costs 29 bucks.
It promised a lot, and the first several times I used it, it lived up to all those promises.
My wife and I "trained" this summer for the Breast Cancer 3-Day walk - a diary is available at ljworld.com - and wanted to quantify our training.
She has gone through a couple of basic pedometers with varying degrees of success. One was maddeningly inconsistent. One was consistently wrong.
Hoping to find a consistent, accurate model, I thought I'd serve as guinea pig for the Nike + iPod, in no small part because she has an iPod Mini, which is not compatible with the Nike toy, and I have a Nano. And I wasn't about to give up my Nano.
The first obstacle was the shoes. I don't own a compatible pair of Nikes, and I was going to go buy a pair, but I found a simple hack online that showed how to put the sensor under the laces of any ol' shoe.
I secured it with a needle, thread and a bit of hook-and-loop fastener, plugged in the receiver, glanced at the tiny instruction manual and took off.
The distance of that first walk was within a few 10ths of a mile of my wife's pedometer, and I hadn't even calibrated it. Nike claims the distance is 90 percent accurate out of the box, but that number is said to increase with calibration.
I figured it was close enough, especially after I checked the distances with my bike computer and found them within a few 10ths of a mile.
The key for me was consistency, so I kept an eye on the results.
We had a couple of loops of varying distances around the 'hood and on the bike-n-hike, and the walks were measured within 100ths of a mile of the others.
In other words, the thing was amazingly consistent.
Uploading the data to nikeplus.com was simple, and it was fun to look back at my "runs" to compare pace and distance and view the running tally.
Thus, for the bulk of the summer, the Nike + iPod seemed to be everything it was billed to be, and I couldn't wait to do the 3-Day walk to put up some really big numbers.
That's when the honeymoon ended.
The thing started shooting craps on Day One, a 20-plus mile jaunt that started at the Kansas Speedway and ended at Shawnee Mission Park.
Part of the allure of the Nike + iPod is its set-and-forget simplicity. That is, plug it in, punch a button or two, work out, stop, end of story.
I adopted a similar hands-off approach at the 3-Day, but after the first rest stop of the day, I just happened to glance down at the Nano's display. The route had measured 21â2 miles, but my workout had been "paused" and said I had walked only a mile.
No problem. I resumed the workout and headed out.
I didn't look at the Nano again until the lunch break, about 12 miles in. Again my workout had been paused, and the display read only about five miles walked.
Not even close
The pattern repeated no matter what I did. By day's end, I had walked close to 20 miles, but the Nano had recorded only 9.81.
Day Two was a little better. I thought I somehow must have bumped into the pause button accidentally the day before and made sure at every rest stop that the workout was being recorded and turned on the "lock" button on my Nano, essentially turning off the pause - and all other - buttons.
Again, however, for one leg the workout paused itself.
So, though I had walked close to 21 miles, it recorded only 18.29.
Day Three was more of the same. Miles walked: close to 18. Miles registered: 4.77.
The frustrating thing is, I have no idea why the recording failed. I'm no Nano newbie, so it's not that I'm overwhelmed by the technology. The battery is good. I locked out the pause button. Each sensor is tuned to a specific receiver, so even if the 1,499 other walkers were using Nike + iPod's, we shouldn't interfere with each other.
In fairness, I'll admit I was using the thing without headphones. They're prohibited during the 3-Day. Had I had my earbuds in, honey voice likely would have told me my workout had been paused, or my sensor had been lost. I would have known, at least, that the workout wasn't being recorded and could have rectified it.
As it is, though, I'm mystified why the thing failed.
And it's too bad.
I liked seeing that since July 29 my Nano and I have done 41 workouts together totaling 161.57 miles over 45.46 hours and having burned 19,521 calories.
I like the numbers my Nike + iPod gave me. Too bad I can't completely trust them.