By Jonathan | March 5, 2009 at 9:49 pm
This review is a long time coming…but here we go. Back in July 2007 Abi decided that she wanted to use some leftover birthday/Christmas/wedding money to buy a new watch. Not just any watch, a GPS watch that was designed to be used while running or biking. As much as I love technology, I actually thought this was kind of a silly idea…the watch was ridiculously expensive at the time, and I didn’t think we would use it very often. However, within a few days after the thing showed up on our doorstep, my thoughts about this particular watch changed entirely.
Most people have heard of Garmin. They’re the ones that make the GPS devices for your car so you don’t get lost looking for some specialty store that you’ve never been to in an area of town you’re unfamiliar with. What you probably are not aware of is that Garmin makes other GPS-enabled devices that aren’t designed for use in your car. For instance, Garmin also makes devices for running, hiking, biking, fishing, phoning, flying, and others that I choose not to list here. This post will focus on the running aspect of the aforementioned list.
Upon initially taking the Forerunner 305 watch out of the box the first thing I noticed was it’s size. It is one of the larger watches that I have come across, but considering the fact that it’s a small computer that communicates with satellites in outer space it’s really not that ridiculous. Putting the thing on my wrist didn’t look nearly as bad as Abi’s, but she has tiny girl wrists and I have thick, hairy manly wrists. In either case if you make the comparison between cell phones in 2009 to the Zach Morris Phone in those old ‘Saved by the Bell’ episodes, the Garmin watch really isn’t all that bad.
After charging up the internal lithium ion battery, we were ready to go for a run. The one crappy thing about any GPS device is that it must communicate with satellites that are very, very far away. Like 12,000 miles away. Sometimes it takes a while to get a signal from one or more of these satellites. Once the watch is turned on, it immediately begins searching for available GPS signals. Depending on the surroundings, these signals may be found more quickly than others. For instance, if you’re in a large, open field it will be easier to find a signal than if you’re hiding in the woods somewhere. After a signal is found, you’re ready to go.
Pressing the start/stop button does just that: it starts the timer and begins tracking your run. The Forerunner 305 has a whole slew of items that you can display on the main screen at any given time. Anywhere from 1-4 items can be viewed simultaneously, including but not limited to your time, current pace, your average pace for the run, your current/average speed, the total distance traveled, the distance traveled since the last split, and even a small map of where you have been in case you get lost in a neighborhood (it’s been done before…thank goodness for the map). There are other nifty fields that we don’t use very often like elevation, GPS accuracy, grade, heading, sunrise, and sunset (for a complete list of everything, check out the user guide).
The Forerunner 305 also includes a heart monitor, which is useful [and entertaining] to see how hard your body is actually working during a run. I’ve heard that some people actually think that running by heart rate is better than running by pace/speed, but I don’t have any research or links to back that up. All I know is the better in shape I am in, the less work my heart has to do to keep me at a reasonable pace.
Perhaps one of my favorite features about the watch is being able to download runs onto a computer by attaching the watch to the computer via USB cable. From within the Garmin Training Center software, you are able to track your run on a map, as well and view detailed statistics about each lap. Below I offer a few screenshots of a run Abi and I completed last summer:
This is the breakdown of each lap from this particular run. We had the watch setup to automatically split after each mile.
This is the map of the run. Each dot represents a transmission from a satellite. The watch updates every one second or so. The further you zoom in, the more dots you see.
This is a graph of pace vs. time, and heart rate vs. time. Other items can be graphed such as speed, elevation, distance, and cadence (for biking). The Windows version of this software enables you to smooth out the line a little so you don’t get the constant up/down rocky line. This probably has a little something to do with the accuracy of the watch, and the lack of support for the Mac.
Overall I have to say that I am thoroughly impressed with this purchase. At first I wasn’t a believer, but now I tell everyone about how cool this watch is and constantly recommend it. There is a new model of the watch out, the Forerunner 405, which I know very little about. I looked at the specs of the 405 versus the 305, and it looks like very little has actually changed, but it does come in green. The 405 is slightly smaller, and can wirelessly transmit data to your computer instead of using the provided USB cable…but other than that it doesn’t look like the price jump is worth it. I would buy another 305 if I were purchasing a new GPS watch tomorrow.
Accuracy – I was running down a standard residential street and just for fun ran back and forth from curb to curb on either side of the street. The results of my zig-zag run were recorded.
Features – There are 32 different pieces of data that you can put on the main display of the watch, up to four at a time. The display is large enough to read all four.
Size – For a GPS communicator it’s quite small, especially compared to GPS watches from a few years ago or the devices most people are used to seeing in cars.
Cost – Last check on walmart.com, the watch was still $215. It’s still pretty expensive, but if you use it regularly I think it’s worth it.
Size – For a wristwatch it’s still pretty big.
Difficulty finding satellites – Sometimes it takes five minutes or so to find a signal strong enough to use before you can start your run. Personally I use the extra time to stretch out a little more.
Mac support – Software support on the Mac is mediocre, at best. Windows support is much better…but I refuse to use it!
I hope you have found this review somewhat useful. If you are a serious runner, I would highly recommend using a watch like this for training. If you are a recreational runner training for a race, it will definitely be helpful, but might not be worth spending this much money on a watch. If are someone that goes out running right now without any watch at all, the Forerunner 305 probably isn’t for you!