Thursday, February 6, 2014

Garmin Forerunner 220 Review

I got a Garmin Forerunner 220 GPS watch for christmas.  It's Garmin's latest GPS watch along with the Forerunner 620.  I got the watch packaged with the heart rate monitor (HRM).

Before I got this watch, last year, I was doing my runs with my Samsung Galaxy S2.  The phone and armband combined was pretty big, but it was working out OK.  Until one run, I got caught in a downpour (in Orlando, I know, crazy right?).  After that, the phone stopped working.  For my next phone, I got the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active, which is supposed to be water resistant for up to 30 minutes submerged.  I had to get a new armband for this phone, and the armband started falling apart almost immediately.  So, near the end of the year, I was resorting to just running with a stopwatch and mapping my runs out after the fact.

Needless to say, I was really excited to get this watch.  I didn't mind running with a phone in an armband, but it was tough to see my time, pace and distance at a glance.

Here are the watch specifications:


Unit dimensions, WxHxD1.8" x 1.8" x 0.5" (4.5 x 4.5 x 1.2 cm)
Display size, WxH1.0" (2.54 cm) diameter
Display resolution, WxH180 x 180 pixels
TouchscreenNo
Weight41 g
Batteryrechargeable lithium-ion
Battery lifeup to 6 weeks in watch mode; up to 10 hours in training mode
Water resistant50m
GPSYes
Radio ProtocolsAnt+; Bluetooth Smart

Ant+ is used to communicate to the optional HRM and foot pod sensor.  You don't need a foot pod sensor for indoor running however, because the watch itself records your cadence without a foot pod using an internal accelerometer.  The accuracy leaves something to be desired, and I don't know if a foot pod would be more accurate.

The Bluetooth Smart technology is used to connect the watch to a smartphone using the Garmin Connect mobile app.  Unfortunately, Garmin doesn't have an Android version yet.  The features supported with the Connect app are:

  • Live Track - Friends and family can follow your run.  This requires you to run with your phone and watch.
  • Activity Uploads to Garmin Connect
  • Workout and Course Downloads

So, for now, the only way for me to upload activities and download workouts is to use the USB connection through a computer.

The watch and the USB cradle:

















Profile of the watch:






















Arm shot:

















I had a Garmin GPS about 3 years ago that was much more bulky and a lot less fashionable.  The last picture shows the 220 in "watch mode".  I don't wear a watch for normal activities, but if I did, this one would work just fine.  Garmin watches have come quite a ways in general, daily usability.

The watch has 3 buttons on the left side: the upper button controls the backlight, while the bottom two buttons are scroll up/down buttons.  The 2 buttons on the right side are the run button (red button) and the return/lap button.

To wake the watch up, simply tap any button.  It will then ask you to hit the red button to really wake up.  At this point, GPS satellite acquisition begins.  This is my favorite part about this watch, it takes less than a minute to acquire satellites and become ready to run.  Most of the time, it takes around 10 seconds.  The watch caches GPS satellite positions for 7 days whenever you connect it to a computer to upload activities.  This is all done seamlessly in the background and the result is wonderful.  I've had to sit outside for 3-5 minutes before, with other GPS watches, to get satellites and start running.  I love this feature, the watch is always ready to go before I am!

Once the GPS signal is ready, you're ready to go, just hit the run button to start the watch and start running.  The 220 has 2 configurable screens that can each contain up to 3 data items.  The selectable data items are:

  • Timer
  • Lap Time
  • Distance
  • Lap Distance
  • Pace
  • Average Pace
  • Lap Pace
  • Speed
  • Cadence
  • Calories
  • Heart Rate
  • Average HR
  • HR Zone

There is also a heart rate screen, if a HRM is detected, showing your current heart rate and the zone (1 - 5).  And, finally, a screen with a clock on it.  While running, you can scroll through the screens  using the down/up buttons on the bottom left.  The heart rate and clock screens can be disabled through the watch settings.

You can create laps by pressing the bottom right button, but the watch is set to automatically lap every mile.  So, unless I'm running a race, I usually just leave it set to auto lap.

After you're done running, hit the run button again.  You'll then be given the option to save the run.  The 220 also keeps track of records like longest run, fastest 5k, fastest mile, and these will be displayed at this point if you've set any records.

Now, to upload your run, you'll use the Garmin Connect website.  The Garmin Express Fit program will automatically upload new runs to the website when you connect the watch to your computer.  The specifics of the run will be displayed (distance, time, pace) along with a map and several charts showing pace, HR (if heart rate data was collected) and cadence:



One of my other favorite features of the 220 is the ability to create workouts on the Garmin Connect website.  These workouts can then be downloaded to the watch and used to run with.  The watch will notify when you've reached a point in the workout, whether its time to warm up, run an interval, recover, or cool down.  I've found that it's a real useful tool and it has helped me hit my workouts better for some reason when I know I've got it programmed into my watch and I just have to respond to the buzzes.  I don't dread workouts as much!

Finally, the battery life of the watch, so far, has been better than advertised.  It is specified to last up to 6 weeks in standby watch mode and 10 hours in GPS/run mode.  I've gone well beyond 10 hours of running with just connecting it to the computer for a quick upload for the month and a half that I've been using it.

Overall, I really enjoy running with this watch.  This is my first GPS watch in 3+ years and the technological strides that have been made in that time period have really made it worthwhile.  This is also the first time that Garmin has included the ability to download workouts onto a watch that is not the highest end model.  The previous middle of the road forerunner (210) didn't have the capability to do workouts.  Couple that with the run statistics you get with pace, HR and cadence and the website becomes a powerful tool to review your runs and plan your training phases.

Pros:
  • GPS satellite acquisition is FAST
  • Watch is lightweight and waterproof
  • Internal accelerometer records cadence information
  • Battery life
  • Website integration - workouts and planning
Cons:
  • Only 2 customizable screens with 3 data items.  You'll need to step up to the Forerunner 620 to get more data items.
  • Lack of Android app for Bluetooth Smart connection.  Hopefully, this will be resolved in the near future.

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