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.

Join 10,000+ Runners and Get Faster!

Get the Strength Running PR Guide ebook and tips to run faster (without the injuries).

Share
JimDog

It’s funny to me (actually sad) that none of the *new* watches from Garmin have all of the features of the *old* Forerunner 305 (Navigation is just one I can think of off the top of my head). That is still the best watch they’ve ever made in my opinion. Whenever mine dies, if they don’t have something with all the features of the 305 I’m going to buy another 305, even if I have to buy a used one at that point.

Fitz

Good to know Jim. If/when I’m in the market for a Garmin I’ll look into the 305.

A b

The 305 is apparently no longer in production, so if you want it, now is the time

Fitz

Thanks for the tip! Go get’em…

Eva

Agree! I love my 305 and would get the same one if I needed to.

Kate

Garmin is coming out with a new watch the 910xt. Update to the 310xt (and 305) series. Review here http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2011/10/garmin-forerunner-910xt-in-depth-review.html

910xt made for triathletes, also good for ultra-runners! Battery life expected 20hrs, barometric pressure for altitude (instead of GPS), COMPLETELY waterproofed… safe to swim with.

I currently own the 405 and would NOT recommend it. The touch bezel is very annoying. When it gets even slightly wet (from sweat or rain) it renders the bezel almost useless. Plus it beeps at you constantly…. if your shirt touches it, if you brush up against something, when it gets a drop of rain on it…. you get the picture.

Fitz

20 hour battery life?! I think that would be fine for most people’s uses :) Thanks for the update Kate

Steve

Another long time 305 user here… My “beeper” stopped working a year and a half ago (not uncommon for the 305) and it does not stay “clipped” into the charging base very well but otherwise works fine. My wife laughs at the large watch I wear (and calls me the running geek, Beaker – did I mention I wear a Halo headband to complete the running nerd look), but it is actually nice to have a large screen.

I’ve done some research about the other Garmin options. There is nothing compelling to get me to change at this point. I have a footpod for the 305 which is nice when running indoors on a treadmill and/or to track your running cadence.

I don’t obsess over my current run; however, it is a fantastic tool to download data into SportsTrack and monitor how your overall training is going. I don’t recommend Garmin’s software. Take a look at SportsTracks; I like it much better. It also has some great plug-ins. (I have no vested interest or ties to SportsTracks – just a satisfied user)

Steve

One other thought about the 305… my only real complaint is that I wished it acquired satellites more quickly. I understand the new models do this. It is not a showstopper, but it is the one improvement I would make to the 305. With that said, if I had to replace my current 305 today, I would get another 305. Just my personal preference.

Leslie

I bought the Forerunner 210 last year when I started running. At first, I thought I was crazy to pay so much for a watch but I now I think it was such a great investment. It has really helped me improve my times and distance. I would definitely recommend this one for someone that is just beginning but is committed to becoming a better runner. It’s defintely worth the investment!

Jason

Good to hear Leslie

Tony

Just bought a new 305 to replace the 205 that sorta shorted out and fried while running a long run in a downpour. It definitely picks up the satellites much faster than the 205. Nice piece for the money!

Jason

I guess the consensus is clear – the 305 is the way to go. Thanks for letting us know Tony.

Brandon

I LOVE the 310XT! This watch has served me well over the last couple of months that I’ve had it. The battery life is phenomenal and plus its waterproof! I can use it for over 2 weeks without charging, and that’s running over 30 miles a week. It isn’t exactly the prettiest watch, but the orange is kind of cool. Here’s a review if that helps: http://www.forkstofeet.com/2013/06/garmin-310xt-unboxing-review.html
A friend of mine also recommended the 305 for me but I didn’t like the reviews on the satellite loading times. The 210, 410, and 610 look more sleek and casual, but really I kind of like the look of a small computer on my arm, lol. I’m sort of a geek, so that’s a plus for me. I have also heard of complaints about the sensitivity of the bezels on these devices. I would recommend that people look at their budgets and needs before purchasing a GPS watch. These watches can get pretty expensive. But, then again, running is probably the cheapest sport around.

Denver Mom

Do Garmin watches ever go on sale?

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 6 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: