Garmin Forerunner Watch Review (Actually, Three of Them!)

by Jason Fitzgerald

Long-time readers of this site know that I don’t encourage runners to rely on technology as a crutch when they’re training. I believe in running by feel and avoiding technology if you can.

But I’m in the minority. Most runners have GPS watches that can monitor heart rate (here’s how to use a heart rate monitor) and seemingly endless other metrics. And after all, Strength Running is not about me - it’s about you.

That’s why I accepted an extremely detailed guest post from Ross Middleton, author of Runtheline.com and a 12:45 (!!) Ironman triathlete. Run the Line offers in-depth product reviews about all the latest running gadgets, as well as training resources and race reports.

You’re in the right place if you’re looking for a new Garmin Forerunner watch.

Enter Ross:

Glance at any runner’s wrist and you’ll see an elaborate sports watch with increasingly sophisticated design and functionality. Runners are quickly realizing that they are essential training tools for tracking their training and workouts.

With almost endless models available, watch manufactures are releasing new models every year with new and improved functionality. Most have features that most people will never use.

Garmin is the original GPS running watchmaker. Following is an overview of Garmin’s three latest Forerunner models as well as my honest opinion and recommendations as to which model is best suited for both running and average fitness pursuits.

Garmin Forerunner 610

The 610 is Garmin’s most advanced Forerunner to date. Not only has it been updated with a more sensitive GPS receiver but it also features a brand new user interface that is controlled by tapping the touch screen in conjunction with standard buttons.

The Garmin Forerunner 610 is still a running watch at heart and it records all the basics like Average Page, Speed, Distance, Calories and Time. However, it records the most training metrics out of any watch on the market. It records over 50 stats, such as sunrise, sunset, laps to go (for custom workouts) and a variety of variations on pace, calories, heart rate, and cycling metrics.Garmin Forerunner 610

Custom workouts are another great feature of the Forerunner 610. You can create and store a number of custom workouts where you can specify how far, how fast or for how long you want to run as well as building up a route with different intensity levels and rest periods. You can also create interval sessions at the touch of a button.

The 610 is not only compatible with running, but it also easily switches to cycling mode with a click of a button. You can hook the 610 up to cadence and speed sensors on your bike (using any wireless Ant+ sensor) and can set up to three custom screens of live training data (up to four metrics on each screen) for both running and cycling mode. A perfect features for triathletes.

The patented “Training Effect Software” has also been incorporated into the Forerunner 610. This stat measures the impact of each training session on your fitness and even adapts to your fitness level as you become faster and stronger.

All of your training data can be uploaded wirelessly to the online Garmin Connect portal. This online data warehouse is a powerful training tool and allows you to examine your training sessions in an incredible amount of detail, as well as letting you set goals, view your routes on map, share routes and log your runs. This software suite alone makes Garmin stand out among the competition and makes it hard to switch to any other brand of watch.Garmin Forerunner 610 Bike Connectivity

Finally, one of the most powerful features of the 610 (and the below 410) is the Virtual Trainer feature. This essentially allows you to race a virtual partner who has been set to run at a certain constant pace. You are able to track your progress against the virtual trainer, who is displayed as a little running figurine on your Garmin Forerunner watch. A quick glance at the Virtual Trainer screen tells you if you are behind or in front of your virtual trainer and this is a great way to practice running at your target race speed.

[Jason’s note: This feature alone might make me purchase a Garmin watch. Studies have shown that you can race a lot faster against a virtual partner that’s faster than you – even if it’s faster than a previous maximum effort.]

Garmin Forerunner 410

The Forerunner 410 is an updated version of the best-selling 2006 model, the 405. As a result Garmin has kept all of the features of the 405 that made it such a success but have corrected some minor software problems.

Instead of having a fully integrated touch screen control mechanism, the 410 is operated by  a touch sensitive bezel. This is similar to an iPod Wheel and so anyone who is used to working an iPod shouldn’t have a problem with the 410.

Garmin Forerunner 410

Forerunner 405 vs. the new 410 model

The 410 is the watch for any runner who wants to be able to record an advanced array of training statistics but without the superfluous features of the 610. The 410 lacks a sports mode, advanced workouts, training effect, touch screen interface or vibration alerts, but you still get a high amount of live statistics as well as most of the advanced features. You can still connect the watch to your bike (for speed and cadence reporting) and you can still race a virtual partner.

The Forerunner 410 also gives you something that the 610 doesn’t: you can transfer routes that you have run or downloaded onto your 410 onto another 410 or 405 watch. This lets you swap and run other peoples routes and provides the means for some pretty intense competition!

This Garmin Forerunner watch can also be used as a basic GPS navigator. You are able to set ‘waypoints’ using the watch and then using the GPS and compass you can navigate to each waypoint. The watch also tells you how far away from the next waypoint on your route you actually are.

Garmin Forerunner 210

The Forerunner 210 is the watch for any runner who just wants to know how fast they are running, how far and for how long. The 210 is the “no frills” GPS watch that tracks the basics but doesn’t have any of the advanced features that may be hard to understand.

The Forerunner 210 gives you one screen of live training data (unlike the 410 and 610’s three screens) and you can customize it to display one of the three pace metrics (current, average or lap). The watch also displays distance and time on this screen – which are all the essentials that you need to record your running routes.

Garmin Forerunner 210

The Forerunner 210 is operated using a traditional button interface and is easy to set up and control while running.

As with the 610 and 410, you can connect the 210 up to a wireless Ant+ heart rate monitor, which records your heart rate but doesn’t display your calorie expenditure.

For a watch that claims to be ‘basic’ the 210 still allows you to set up and run interval workouts and transfer your training data to the Garmin Connect portal using the provided USB cable.

Which Garmin Forerunner Watch is Right For You?

The Forerunner 610 provides the most features and is aimed at athletes who do a lot of cycling and running, who also like having all the details of their training recorded.  The biggest downfall of the 610 is that it can’t be used for swimming because it’s not entirely water-proof.

The 610 is best for the stat junkie or the runner who likes to have the most advanced gadgets. It’s the most powerful training watch available; if you want to record every detail of your training then the 610 is for you.

The Forerunner 410 is your best option if the advanced features sound complicated or you simply don’t need them. It still records an amazing amount of training stats but doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the 610 (that 80% of runners never use any way).

The Forerunner 210 is ready at the click of a button and provides basic statistics without any fuss. Not only does if give you all of the essential functionality that we expect from a GPS watch but it also records your heart rate and can be connected to the powerful Garmin Connect portal which makes it the best value for runners who, well…just want to run!

For in-depth testing of these three watches as well as Nike and Suunto running watches, see the Best GPS Running Watches article from RunTheLine.com.

You can also check out the full line of Garmin watches on Amazon here.

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