Gear Test: Mobile versus Mountain 2016

This September a few of the team at Chitter Chatter ventured into northern Wales in an attempt to run up Snowdon and back down again.  A challenge in itself.  We weren’t alone however as we took some of the latest and greatest mobile tech along for the ride to put it all to the ultimate test of the elements.  And those elements did not go easy on us or our gear, with howling rain storms, rock drops, 45mph winds and ice-cold rivers.  Did it all survive?  Find out here…

Start line of Man vs Mountain
Waiting at the start line (in the rain)

The event was the annual Man vs. Mountain run organised by adventure race experts Rat Race; a 22-mile, 5500-foot acsent race, starting within the walls of Caernarfon Castle, up to the Snowdon summit and back down again, finishing in Llanberis – where a choice of hot soup or a can of Stella await you at the finish line – your choice.  Around 750 people take part in the race each year which on average takes 6 hours to complete.  It’s an absolute beast of a challenge both physically and mentally, but complete it and it’s one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do.

Not only was this a test for the team of Chitter Chatter’s Ben, Danny and James, but the mobile gear they took with them was going to get the fully off-road-tested to see just how well it all performed in these conditions – after all, those of you that enjoy taking part in outdoor adventures and sports need to know that your kit is going to survive the ride too.

Here’s what we took:

  • Apple iPhone 6s
  • Apple iPhone 6 Plus
  • Samsung Galaxy S7
  • Samsung Galaxy Gear Watch
  • Urban Armour Gear (UAG) Military-grade cases for iPhone 6 and S7
  • FitBit Flex HR
  • EE 4G Action Camera
  • GoPro Hero 4

And a couple of apps to track us (so we had some proof we’d not just stayed in the pub):

  • Strava Premium – running on the iPhone
  • Endomondo – running on the Samsung S7

Plus music courtesy of our friends at Spotify and SoundCloud, pumping through JVC Sweatproof Headphones for those quiet periods when you needed some beats alongside the sounds of nature to get you going again.

The morning of the event
It was a good 5 hour drive from London to northern Wales which thankfully we had completed the night before so we arrived at the event’s start in Caernarfon Castle at 8am on a very wet, cold and windy Saturday morning, after a quick cup of instant porridge and some strong coffee.  All our mobile kit was fully charged with phones cased-up courtesy of rock-hard case providers UAG, and both the GoPro Hero 4 and EE 4G Action Camera were sealed in their included water-proof housings.

The race had a delayed start of 30 minutes so there was plenty of extra time to stand around in the rain and get wet.  Both HD cameras had no problem handling this as both housings are well made with water-tight seals – you can swim with both underwater so a bit of rain wasn’t going to cause them too many problems.  The Samsung Galaxy S7 claims to be water-proof and was indeed more than happy being soaked in the rain whilst we took photos of the crowds of runners getting ready to set off.  Both the iPhone 6s and 6 Plus are not officially splash-proof but seemed fine in the rain whilst we had them out, although we were quick to dry them off and get them away after taking a few pics and making sure Strava was all setup correctly.

Our wave eventually set off at 9.15am and it was a small jog followed very quickly by a staggered walk to get through the crowds out of the castle grounds and onto the main race route where we could properly start running and begin our ascent.

Endomondo down
It was about 5 miles in when after a quick check we realised Endomondo wasn’t tracking our distance.  Strava had kicked in fine and GPS quickly found us.  It took a bit of swearing at the Endomondo app on the S7 for it to finally decided to wake up, locate our position, and thankfully it had been logging our mileage so far – it just hadn’t wanted to tell us.  It didn’t seem to be a fault of the phone, more the app delaying displaying what distance we had covered so far – similar to the issue you may have experienced on the Nike Run app when you unlock the phone and it takes a few beats to update the display with your current time and how far you’ve run.

endomondo-logo-1-300x300
Endomondo is available for iOS and Android

Samsung S7 takes a shower
Endomondo app problems aside, the Samsung S7 held up well in rain that did not stop for the entire duration of the race.  It was sometimes stashed away safely in the jacket pocket and at others out for photos and quick glances that Endomondo was behaving.  After an extremely rocky final ascent up Snowdon with some lovely razor-sharp rocks to cut your legs open, we had the S7 out in the howling wind and rain for a couple of photos and some video from the top to prove we had made it.   It was difficult to clear the lens but still managed to take some high-quality photos that you expect from the S7’s camera.

Waterproof iPhone?
If you go by the official specs of the iPhone 6 and 6s Plus, both really shouldn’t be out in bad weather but they coped fine with being out for a few minutes to use the camera and a quick panoramic video to prove we were at the top of the mountain – it was also one of the most impressive views we’ve ever seen and despite 750+ other people running around you, felt very remote.  Given the 6 and 6s Plus are not supposed to be water or splash proof (unlike the new iPhone 7) we wouldn’t recommend keeping them out in the rain for too long but we quickly dried them off again in our pockets and all seemed okay with both models at the end of the race (although note, we did not take them in for the lagoon jump or river swim!).  The battery of the iPhone 6 Plus held up well too – considering it was powering Strava for nearly 7 hours plus a bit of Spotify and some photos/video, it still had 65% left at the end of the race – much more than we had left.  The iPhone 6 Plus, whilst it has a bigger screen and better camera than the smaller 6, also has a larger battery capacity, which is ideal if you’re out and about all day.

EE 4G Action Camera vs. GoPro Hero 4
Battle of the cameras.  The GoPro Hero 4 is one of the best portable cameras in the world – it’s not cheap but it’s action-cam-vs-hero-4tough, durable and reliable and is trusted by hundreds of professional and amateur athletes and camera operators all over the world.  Having taken a GoPro along for Tough Mudder and Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest (where we ran it directly into a wall after forgetting it was strapped to James’ chest), we were pretty confident the GoPro could take on Snowdon and it had no problem being dropped on the rocks (slight scuff on the case) and being whipped out for some video footage on the ascent and at the summit before we began our journey back down.  The EE 4G Action Camera has two added benefits over the GoPro – a watch worn on the wrist which allows you to control the record and pause functions of the camera (as well as tell the time) and it’s also SIM-enabled which means you can stick a 4G SIM card in it and stream your footage live to your friends and family.  The trade-off for this added functionality is weight and size – it’s quite a lump compared to the not-that-tiny-anyway GoPro and if you were wearing it strapped to your chest or head for any long period of time, you’d definitely know about it.  That said for shorter events or non-sporting events, it’s great to be able to live stream – be interesting to see where EE decide to take that feature given the rise in popularity for live video on sites such as Facebook and gaming-site Twitch.  You of course need to decide if you’re going to be streaming all the time or just occasionally, in which case a Pay as you go data SIM may be a better option to purchase with the EE camera instead of a Pay monthly contract.  The downside of that being you have to pay for the camera upfront but if you have the cash that’s probably the better option for this type of device (unless you want to live your life like your on Big Brother).

Samsung Gear 2 Watch – anyone found one?
If you are ever river bathing in the area of Snowdon, please keep an eye out for a Samsung Gear 2 Watch.  Yes, somewhere at the bottom of the river is our Gear 2 which survived all the elements up the mountain and back down again, happily tracking our pace and distance, before falling off Danny’s wrist as he swam through the river after the cliff abseil near the end of the race.  It didn’t even take a knock but it somehow came loose and then it was gone with the fishes.  Not what we were expecting as this is a great bit of kit but sadly it wasn’t a fan of swimming.


Stay tough
UAG (Urban Armour Gear) phone cases are military drop tested and wear that badge with pride.  To achieve this certification, products must be dropped from a height of 48 inches, on each face, corner, and back. It gets dropped 26 times and must still function properly to pass the test and there must be no damage to the to the touchscreen.  True to their claim, the UAG cases looked after our iPhone 6 Plus for the duration of the race.  Whilst we never dropped it accidentally, we tested it a chest-high drop onto the rocks of Snowdon – it bounced and the phone came away unscathed.  Whilst not the sleekest-looking case range, there is no doubt that if you want a sturdy case to protect your £600 phone, UAG are the ones for the job.

UAG cases
We used UAG cases on the iPhone and Galaxy S7

Strava
Strava tracked us perfectly for the entire duration of the race and having used Endomondo, Nike Run and MapMyRide in the past, is probably my favourite running / cycling app.  The social element is well done too given that it has such a large user base that even if you’re friends aren’t using it, you can find nearby runners / cyclists to compare your times and routes against.  The only failure was the Beacon tool which is available with the Premium version of the app.  The Beacon is supposed to let close friends or family know where you are by allowing them to track your position – ideal if you’re off running remotely on your own.  Whilst it worked in testing the day before the race, when we fired it up on the day, it didn’t send out the text alert it’s supposed to.  Possibly something that needs more testing before we can fully recommend it.  That aside though the free version of Strava works brilliantly and the Premium version allows users to access all sorts of extra stats for a monthly fee.

strava_logo
Strava is available for iOS and Android

The Finish Line
The good news is that only one piece of kit didn’t make it back down the mountain – the Samsung Gear Watch, due to it’s faulty strap.  The rest of the gear successfully survived all the elements.  Both the iPhones and the Samsung S7, despite looking pretty delicate when compared to something like a JCB phone, survived the sweat, wind, rain and, thanks to a UAG case, being dropped onto rocks.  We definitely would have been looking at smashed screens without one.  Strava and Endomondo (despite its slow start) tracked our progress well and both the HD cameras were ideally suited to outdoor action footage in whatever weather.  For sport though, the GoPro definitely takes the win as it’s lighter and smaller to carry around – although if live streamings your thing then the EE Action Cam is the way to go.  The FitBit Flex HR did a good job of tracking our steps and heart rate, it also survived the river swim (even though we meant to remove it before we jumped in).  With Strava running too it was probably overkill on the fitness tracking but it was good to see the hardware was up to the job given previously it’s only been used by us on urban runs.  And if you don’t want to be carrying a phone with you – and lets be honest, you don’t really want to be covered in loads of gadgets when exploring the great outdoors, then the FitBit is an ideal, low-profile fitness tracker, and far less fragile than an Apple Watch.

As far as the event itself goes, we couldn’t fault it and if you’re thinking about signing up for Man vs. Mountain we’d thoroughly recommend it.  Thank you to all the organisers and marshals at Rat Race.  Amazing location, well organised, you’ll meet some great people along the way and when you cross that finish line, you’ve really earned that Stella….or soup.  Hopefully see some of you there next year.

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