Best Bets in Garmin Forerunner Family

menu-spacer.png4th Generation Garmin GPS

Remember the original Forerunner 201 introduced in 2003; it was a real brick to strap on your arm and, while the GPS worked great on open roads, it frequently got lost in the woods.  The much improved 205 and 305 came along in 2006 with the form of an over-sized watch.  The “05” models had a better GPS receiver that was reasonably accurate in the woods and downtown canyons.  In 2009 Garmin introduced the 310XT for the triathlon crowd.  That model was quickly followed by other “10 Series” models (e.g., 110, 210, 410) the following year.  These watches all had an even better GPS receiver (SiRFstarIV) and, except for the bulky 310XT, could be used as your regular wrist watch.

 "01 Series"
 "05 Series"
 "10 Series"
 2001 - Forerunner 201  2006 – Forerunner 305  2010 – Forerunner 210

On September 16th Garmin announced the first products in their fourth generation of Forerunner GPS watches:  Garmin Forerunner 220 and Forerunner 620.  The Forerunner 220 will replace the 210 as Garmin’s mid-range running watch.  The Forerunner 620 will replace the 610 as Garmin’s top running-specific watch.  The official release date is “Fall 2013.”  Unofficial reports say watches will be available for shipping November 5th so maybe Santa can get you one for the Holidays.

“20 Series”

 Forerunner 220
 Forerunner 620


The Forerunner 220 (Black/Red or White/Purple) will list for $249.99 and $299.99 with a heart rate strap.

The Forerunner 620 (Black/Blue or White/Purple) will list for $399.99 and $449.99 with a heart rate strap.

What’s New in the “20 Series” Gadgets?   

Advanced Features Added to Forerunner 220.  Lots of features that were previously only available on the more advanced Forerunners have been included on this mid-range model.  For example, you can download interval workouts from a computer to the watch; you can customize the data fields shown on the display; the watches are now actually waterproof to 50 meters; and the watch can vibrate on alerts (a feature I love on my 310XT).

Bluetooth Connectivity.  Both “20 Series” watches can be paired with a smart phone.  Planned workouts and completed activities can be transferred wirelessly.  You can even provide live tracking of your run to friends and family (via Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, etc.).  Just to be clear… you will have to carry both the Forerunner and your smart phone for live tracking your run around Canandaigua Lake.

Currently the Bluetooth connectivity is only supported on iOS devices starting with the iPhone 4s and above.  Android devices may be supported at a later date.

Pre-loaded Satellite Locations.  Both new watches are the first Forerunners to support satellite pre-population.  This means that satellite coverage maps for the next 7 days are downloaded to the watch, allowing the watch to quickly find satellites when you switch to Run Mode.  This should mean less standing around waiting when you go out the door to run.

The Forerunner 220 will download the satellite coverage maps via USB anytime you upload a completed workout.  The Forerunner 620 will do the same via WiFi or USB.  The coverage data are good globally (not specific to your hometown).  With the pre-loaded data, you should be able to step out of your New Delhi hotel and your Forerunner will be ready to go just as soon as at home.   

WiFi Connectivity.  This new feature will only be supported on the Forerunner 620.  You will be able to pair your 620 to more than one wireless network, e.g., add both your home and work WiFi networks.  After configuring a WiFi network, the Forerunner 620 will use the network for wireless uploading of completed activities to Garmin Connect and for downloading firmware updates.  In the case of downloading updates, you will be asked if you want to accept the update.

Run/Walk Alerts.  Want to use a run/walk/run strategy in your next marathon or ultra?  Garmin now has the feature for you.  You will be able to set the length of your run and walk segments and be alerted for when to switch between running and walking.  This new feature allows the Forerunner 220 and 620 features such as Auto Lap and Auto Pause to remain active even while using the Run/Walk Alerts.

Crazy Advanced Stuff.  The Forerunner 620 will come with a new heart rate strap, the HRM-Run.  This heart rate strap contains a 3-D accelerometer inside of it.  The accelerometer (and some elegant signal processing) is used to track three new metrics:

-       Cadence – total steps per minute.  This has been previously available with a foot-pod accessory but now it is integral to HRM-Run heart rate strap.

-       Vertical Oscillation – vertical motion in centimeters.  The system will estimate the “bounce” in your torso within each step.

-       Ground Contact Time – in milliseconds.  The system will estimate the amount of time your foot spends touching the ground on each stride.

The Forerunner 620 also adds a feature to estimate your VO2Max based on your heart rate during activity.   DC Rainmaker reports that the feature uses an algorithm to determine VO2Max from the combination of Heart Rate Variability + Heart Race + Speed + Distance.

Another new Forerunner 620 feature is Race Predictor.  This takes the VO2Max number and estimation tables to predict performances at standard race distances.  Comment:  Both VO2Max estimates and predicted race performance calculators can be found on the internet.  VO2Max is easily estimated using a recent race performance.  For example, try the Attack Point Vdot Calculator.

A final “coach in the watch” feature on the Forerunner 620 is a Recovery Advisor.  The firmware looks at the data from your last workout and gives an estimate for how long it will take to recover before your next workout.

For More Information

DC Rainmaker is the most complete source of reviews on all brands and categories of running and cycling gadgets.  For more details, comparisons with other Garmin Forerunners, many photos and feature lists, see his First Look at Garmin’s new FR620 & FR220 GPS running watches.

My Recommendation for Gadget Runners

I previously thought the “sweet spot device is the Forerunner 210 with enough running features for most of us at a friendlier price point.”  It is a good watch and should be available at a heavily discounted price now that its replacement product has been introduced.  However, I cannot recommend it.  The band on the watch breaks and cannot be replaced.  My new recommendations are:

Bargain Option:  The Garmin 310XT is available online with a heart race monitor for about $180.  This watch cannot be used as your daily watch and it is a little clunky.  However, it has all of the features you could ever want (except for the new Run/Walk Alert), has great battery life and can be used for both running and cycling.

Sweet Spot Device:  I expect the new winner here will be the Forerunner 220.  It is launching at the same price as the 210 did in 2010 and comes a much better feature set and very useful customization options.  Also, the band is replaceable.