Karin gave me a Garmin Vivofit for Christmas. It’s one of those little wrist-mounted activity trackers. Being a Garmin, it fits in nicely with the fitness gadget ecosystem I have going already (running watch) and tracks my steps and sleep… or at least how much I move around when I sleep. It looks like it’s going to form the core of yet another step-up in my self-quantification efforts as we move into 2015. Turning everything I do into a number… does that make me more aware of what I do and thus healthier? Or does it just make me neurotic? We’re about to find out, I guess.
For about the fourth time, I’ll be dropping by the Running Room tonight and giving my “how to use your watch” talk as a guest speaker. This time it’s for the combo LTR, 5K and 10K group who are probably less likely than even my halfers to have a bit of expensive technology on their arms to track their hobbies. The talk isn’t so much about how to “operate” that GPS watch you’re wearing, but instead it’s an overview of how to “use” your watch to run better: tracking on-the-trails and between runs, managing goals, evaluating progress, gauging performance, and training to targets built around heart rate, intervals, and data-driven measurables. I tend to sell a few watches each time I give the talk because inevitably a week after I speak I get at least one or two people proudly showing me their new toys.
I spent my Christmas cash this year on an upgrade to my tried-and-true Garmin 305 GPS-enabled running watch, and bought myself the lately-released Garmin 620. I wouldn’t call myself a Garmin fan-boy, but the only two sports watches I’ve ever owned have been Garmins and I tend to recommend them when newbies come asking… but mostly because (a) I’ve never had any issues and (b) I know how to tweak and tune them when those same runners inevitably come asking me for tech support a couple weeks later, new watch in hand.
My old 305 was still functioning, but things were getting sketchy with it (connection issues with my computer that may or may not have been the computer’s fault) and the non-replaceable battery was showing its age and I didn’t really trust it for longer distances, like, say that marathon I ran a couple weeks ago.
So, I researched. I browsed. I poked a display model in a store. And I inevitably bought the orange-and-white edition of the Garmin 620 from Amazon on Boxing Day, getting it express shipped to my house to arrive a few days later and in time for my 2014 running adventures.
For Everyday Running
I logged about five thousand kilometers on my 305 and (with the exception of a few rests) I don’t expect that schedule to let up any time soon for my time with the 620. To date (and for a reference point in this review) I’ve run about 130 km with the Garmin Forerunner 620.
Whereas I’ve never been a guy who likes wearing the heart-rate strap, the 620 has inspired me to add that particular piece to my wardrobe with the abundance of extra data it provides… it’s not just for heart rates anymore!
But here’s the thing: a mere half-dozen runs with the new watch and I’m impressed. Mostly. And I give it a four-star rating because I think a couple things are missing (which could potentially be added in a firmware update, maybe) that I’d grown very used to on my old watch.
- Has held up in the cold… and doesn’t seem to get cold (ie. painful-on-skin-cold) in sub-zero temperatures.
- Apparent fast start up time… no more walking in circles waiting for the watch to find a signal. But I call it “apparent” because it seems like if the GPS can’t get a lock in a short time it falls back to the accelerometer until it can get a better signal. It looks like its ready to go, but it might only start picking up real GPS after a few minutes of running. I haven’t decided if I like that part.
- Automatic uploads of data before I’ve even changed out of my running kit.
- 75% of my runs are run+walk interval training… it’s just how I’ve been doing it. And while both the 305 and the 620 have beeps to tell you when the interval had elapsed, only the 305 had a 5 second countdown warning. That’s a tough feature to loose.
- The user interface, particularly around pausing your watch could use some work. You stop your run and it asks you to save, but I had to research (all over the place) to finally find out that you could just hit the start button again and it would continue recording where you left off.
Of course, most of the running I do is training. But readers of this blog know that I recently finished a nearly-year-long stint of preparation for the Dopey Challenge in Walt Disney World Florida and so (counting that and a 5k run on January first) about half of the running (count-wise) and more than three-quarters of the distance I’ve covered with this particular watch strapped to my arm has been race-related… which is actually pretty unusual.
The watch held strong for all of them, and I had no complaints about performance, and the added feature of a vibration mode (for tracking my run-walk intervals) was particularly awesome in the din of 26,000 other runners and a haze of beeping and other noises. Starting it up was fast, and (in the dark of some early, early, early morning starts) the always-on feature was perfect for keeping an eye on the time while waiting in our coral.
- Battery held strong, recharged fast, and even after the marathon was still at 53%.
- Vibration mode was great in the crowds.
- Doubled as an extra alarm clock for some 3am race-day wake-up calls.
- Traveled across the continent and never had any GPS acquisition issues.
- Automatically measured my “time in motion” versus my “time standing still” — which may seem like a silly stat, until you find yourself stopping for photos a measurable amount in a Disney race.
- I had to fiddle with the auto-time-off feature because the race starts were a little unpredictable and the watch kept threatening to turn off just as we were queuing to start.
I’ve tended to avoid running indoors, partly because of the fact that I run to spend time outside… so why run on a track, y’know?
But this past winter forced my hand… and my feets… and I found myself getting in some necessary distance on the local indoor track because the streets were too cold, icy, snowy and dangerous — sometimes all at the same time. For a bunch of those I found myself using a little phone app as a lap counter, punching the button for every one of the (as many as) 130 laps I was running, while still using my 305 as a timer. Cumbersome.
(I should note, the track is an indoor track and the anti-UV windows they have set up there block something close to 100% of the GPS signal from sneaking in. The 305 couldn’t tell that it was even still on this planet while it was inside that building.)
Two of those aforementioned indoor runs took place AFTER the 620 arrived. Still too cold. Still too slippery, I slipped on the new watch and did more training laps inside. For the first run I kept using the app to count laps… but then when I compared the distance measured it to what the 620 had recorded without GPS and just using the accelerometer: there was less than a lap discrepancy (across fifty laps) in distance.
I only used my phone to listen to music on that second run.
- Accelerometer = awesome!
- Long shot feature request would be a way to connect to open wi-fi networks — like, say in the cafe next to the track where they have free internet — without using a computer to set it up.
I’ll admit. I bought the luxury model of watch because I like gadgets.
Yes, the feature list on this sucker is big. Too big to list here, and that’s not the point of this post anyhow. If you want to read about what this watch does, check out the numerous other and much better reviews and of course the product descriptions available for this watch.
Also, the bluetooth & wifi enabled features have meant effortless uploading of my data to the Garmin Connect website and (given that I run a lot at night, in the dark, in isolated places and often in terrible road conditions) having the tracking feature (which we’ve used now for both training runs and races) is going to be a feature that alone is worth the price of admission. What-up-safety folks?
- Auto-tracking and auto-upload of data.
- Did I mention… so. much. data!
- One you get used to that part of the interface, the option to save or discard a “run” has been useful, especially when I’ve accidentally started something (or just wanted to play.)
- Auto-upgrades itself via wifi.
- Garmin Connect. I just like it.
- Live tracking is not compatible with my Android Galaxy Note phone. (Luckily I also have access to an iPhone 5S.)
- So many features, yet documentation was… ?? Found some online stuff — or maybe I’m just blind — but I consider myself tech-savvy and I struggled with some of the setup. Or maybe I’m just getting old.
After taxes I paid over $500 bucks for this little watch. And it’s made of plastic (which is great for being lightweight, but… plastic!) I guess it just doesn’t “feel” like a $500 watch.
Based on five races and a month of running I’m giving this watch a 4 out of 5. It’s got some quirks (and I haven’t given up hope that they might appear in a firmware upgrade at some future date) but I can see how this little watch is going to serve me well over the coming years of training. If you’ve got the cash and are in the market for an upgrade — I don’t think I’d recommend this as an entry-level watch for new runners — this could be your watch. Just don’t come asking me for help using it.
After five years of service, hundreds of runs, and thousands of logged klicks, I think I’ve officially retired my Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS running watch as of last night. The new 620 arrived in the mail and after getting it all set up I broke from my original plan of not running again in 2013 and took it out for a brief three-and-a-half klick run in the snow, wind, and minus sixteen temperatures. It’s pretty awesome, and I’ll need to do a fuller blog-type review later and after logging more time with it, but between the live tracking, auto-uploads, and abundance of new data and running metrics I think I’m going to be enjoying the tech update. Also, because of how it all works, I’ll be using my Garmin Connect Profile — http://connect.garmin.com/profile/8r4d — a lot more in the coming months and years: why not connect with me there?