When it was first announced back in May, Spotify’s new Running feature sounded like it was going to let runners just open the Spotify app and go.
No more playlists and getting bored of the songs after a week. No more fumbling with your head down, tapping the wrong button on the screen to find songs that match your run’s intensity. No more tangled headphone cables, and pulling out your ear plugs.
It’s just running. And Spotify does all the work for you by automatically picking the song to match your pace and personal taste.
I’ve been using Spotify’s run feature for about a week, and while some of Spotify’s language and promotional videos about Running’s functionality were somewhat misleading, I’ll be using the feature for almost every run.
The most exciting part of the new Running feature was the automatic playlist generator of music you like based on your tempo and genre preference. You have the choice of Upbeat Run (Pop), Indie Kick, Electronic Moves, #&*% Running (Punk), Mood Booster (various upbeat music), Hip Hop & RnB, Throwback Hits (80s and 90s), Country Running, Rock To The Beat, and Total Metal playlists.
Once you select the genre you want for your run, a female voice tells you to start running so Spotify can detect your running tempo using your phone’s sensors. After about 10 to 15 seconds, the voice tells you the average tempo you’re running at, and Spotify begins playing the music that matches it.
Like a coach that won’t accept your lame excuses, Spotify won’t register anything below 140 steps per minute, and it goes all the way to 190 in increments of five.
Each tempo increment has its own playlist of tracks that match the tempo, and I noticed that I was hearing the same songs during my runs, which is the problem I was having when I was creating my own playlists. It’s fine for a while, but it’s easy to get bored of songs. But I’d be extremely surprised if Spotify didn’t add more tracks over time like it does with its other playlists. At the same time, I saw this as motivation to reach a higher tempo increment to listen to different music, like it was an achievement.
There’s also Spotify’s six Running Originals soundtracks, which were specifically written for running by “some of the world’s foremost DJs and composers” like electronic music legend Tiesto. They adapt to your run’s tempo by speeding up or slowing down, and Spotify achieves this without distorting the audio. It works like a charm and the tracks are a delight to run to.
However, Spotify also claims the Originals “magically rearrange to fit your current pace,” which created an image in my mind that the track would increase tempo as I ran faster during a run without needing any input from me. Unfortunately, this was not true.
Neither the Originals nor the genre-specific playlists adapted to any change in my tempo after the initial reading at the beginning of my run. For example, I started to run faster when I was motivated by a particular track’s build-up, but I wasn’t rewarded with an automatic mix-in to the next tempo increment, which would not only keep my faster momentum going, but would also serve as a prize or badge of achievement, which in itself would help motivate me to keep that faster momentum.
Instead, I needed to change the tempo manually by tapping the up or down arrows next to my tempo on the phone’s screen, which isn’t really “adapting” to my run. If anything, I was adapting to it by tapping the arrows to change the tempo. It took me away from the experience of running freely without interruption.
Spotify curates the music based on my initial tempo, and it does a great job. But runs are dynamic, and to truly make the music “adapt to your run,” Spotify needs to keep reading your tempo throughout, not just at the beginning.
Despite this, it’s absolutely worth checking out for yourself if you’re a runner and Spotify subscriber. It was a relief to tap one button and let Spotify choose the music for me based on my initial tempo. Of course, Spotify has other playlists with more music for running and other workouts outside of the Running feature that also let you tap and go. But the tempo-reading is truly differentiating, and helps Spotify hone in on your run’s intensity to chose the right music, and the result is excellent.
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