My Perspectives on Garmin vs The Rest
Garmin has always been the market leader. Suunto and Tom Tom (TT) are viable competitors. Real runners will never seriously consider Timex, Apple or Fitbit as a training tool. Since 2012, I have developed several prejudices with the brands…
– Garmin FR 410. Ugly, bulky watch with a clunky touch menu. Wet weather fail, lasting an OK 18 months. Lesson – Garmin can’t make touch screen devices.
– Garmin FR 10. Poor-mans GPS watch for ~$100. I reverted to running with an iPhone as the GPS signal takes forever, and watch has no wireless capabilities. Lesson: spend >$300 on a GPS watch.
– TT Runner – intuitive menu, easy click through. Terrible app support for syncing, lasted 6 months before buttons jammed. Lesson – TT has terrible customer support and product is unreliable.
– TT Multisport Cardio – same button jamming issues. Went through 2 watches in 8 months. Optical HR never worked on over 500 runs. Lesson – the TT QA team need to be fired. Don’t buy a TT if you value reliability.
What am I looking for today?
I would classify my needs as consistent with 95% of people with a ‘healthy‘ attitude towards training:
– Core: basic run data, intuitive menu, lasts >2 years, wireless sync, battery >2 days, water resistant, ability to wear at work, price <$400.
– Nice to have: cadence, bike mode, swim mode, activity monitor, in-built HR monitor.
– Don’t care: advanced training modes, race predictor, swim stroke counting, altitude, fancy colours.
Garmin Forerunner 235 Review
The best mid-range watch to suit 99% runner needs. Don’t go any cheaper. Only move up to Fenix (or above) if you swim, run trails or do multi-day events.
– Main positives – easy to use, big face, covers the basics with bonus Fitbit-like activity features, slim enough to fit a little girl.
– Main negatives – HR data is low-quality, Android app fraught with bugs, construction feels too ‘plastic-like’.
I like the light-weight construction, cosy rubber strap and large buttons. The fit cannot be faulted and suits skinny and obese users alike. For example, the missus is petite, 148cm tall and has no issues with size. This is one of few models that won’t ride up to her shoulder mid-run. Proof below.
Taking this one-step further, the strap is not suitable for a 10 month old – even one with wrist cankles. Infants are clearly not a target market for Garmin. Note, the daughter’s RHR is 135. That’s not good.
How does it perform on core activities?
Function – never read the manual, indicating the features are almost fool-proof. Hit start, run, press stop/save and suddenly the activity is on Strava for public shaming. Manual and automatic lap counting is quite easy via bottom-right button. Scrolling mid-run is also possible.
Battery – just fine. Realistically, charge it every two days. That’s a good outcome as my daily activity count can be up to 3 hours.
GPS signal – significantly improved. A signal is found within 10s, every time. I suspect Garmin has improved the software.
Pacing – no abnormalities to live pace. The algorithms + GPS + accelerator work well in tandem.
Heart Rate – quality is mostly sound. A common error is a random step-up in the HR (see below). This happens 20% of the time. Data quality will never be as good as a chest strap. I can confirm Garmin’s optical sensor technology >> Tom Tom.
Cadence is available – I discovered this by accident on the App. If you already have the ‘gold standard‘ 180-190 steps per minute, this matters little. Those that over-stride will find this excellent.
24/7 step-counting. This is a big deal for non-runners and weight loss candidates. 22k steps = 2k calories = 5 bacon and egg rolls.
The steps totals can be viewed on the app or Garmin Connect. I get no value from this chart.
RHR monitor is very useful in a training cycle. If it is high, take a rest day. Last week, I was down with a fever and noted that the RHR was 10 bpm higher than normal.
Again, reviewing the trend is useful for OCD-runners such as myself.
Is the Forerunner 630 an alternative?
The two models are essentially the same. Why would you choose the 630? Better battery due to no activity monitor, advanced training features. Why do I think 235 is better? Not a fan of touch screens on the 635, HR chest-strap is old technology.
Areas for improvement
Fix the bugs on the app, software fixed to improve HR monitor, more colours. Rubber strap is not detachable, implying if it breaks, you are due for a new watch.
– Fit – 5/5
– Function – 4/5
– Durability – 1 year warranty. Let me revert after 2 years
– Overall – 4/5
Do I recommend it?
Yes. The best bang-for-your buck ~$300-400 model in the market. Search online for the best Bricks & Mortar price (Kogan, 99 Bikes, JB Hi-Fi), go to Rebel Sport and ask them to beat it by 10%.