Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Garmin GPS Watches: The Progression – [Correction]

January 25, 2007 by · 15 Comments 

Garmin 201

Garmin Forerunner 201/205/301/305

EDIT (January 25th, 2007): Thanks to the eyes of a careful reader, we have corrected some mistakes in the model numbering throughout this article. Mainly, there was some confusion as to which were the old models and which were the new ones. The text below now reflects the changes.

GPS-based fitness watches really started reaching beyond a few early adopters in 2003 with the launch of the Forerunner 201/301. I remember the viral marketing that took place at my local running club – each and every week seemed to attract additional Garmin converts. The ability to track pace, elevation, lap times, and heart rates (on the 301 model) and store all this information on the computer as part of a training regime made the watch an indispensable tool.

The 301 is, nevertheless, quite bulky at 1.7W x 3.3H x 0.7D but more importantly, is not very ergonomic. Not only does the unit shift downward on the wrist because of the weight but even in the typical running position, the watch (and GPS sensor) is still not facing the sky (needed for optimal satellite reception).

Garmin Forerunner 205/305

Garmin 2

Then came the Garmin Forerunner 205/305 models earlier this year! Wow. If the 201/301 models took the active runners by storm, this model has surely captured the hearts of even the most occasional of runners.

From a technical point of view, everything was better. A new high-sensitivity GPS receiver placed in the base of the watch so it was facing up while running. A new greyscale screen with a resolution of 100 x 160 (more than double the 201). A completely redesigned look that was comfortable and snug on the wrist.

Well, almost everything was better. The battery-life did come down from an advertised 15 hours on the 201 to just 10 on the 305. That said, unless you are entering iron-man competitions, you will never need more than 10 hours of battery-life in one single session. So as long as you are willing to recharge between workouts (which is a given if you are excitedly downloading your information onto your PC daily) the battery-life is not an issue.

In terms of accuracy, I found that 305 to be extremely accurate (plus or minus 1% of actual distance on normal days). This is a big improvement over the 301 which could easily be off by plus or minus 5% in normal conditions. However, I found the trade-off in favour of accuracy is detrimental to the time it takes locating satellites when the watch is first activated. Even in partly cloudy conditions, I find the 305 can take up to 5 minutes to locate satellites whereas my 301 takes only a few seconds. To be fair, once the 305 has located the satellites, it is then better at keeping them for the remainder of the workout.

In conclusion, the Garmin 205 and 305 are the top of the line in GPS watches at the moment. If you are even remotely into running as a form of fitness, one try of the watch and you’ll be hooked.

Carlos Eduardo’s Experience:

Although I never owned the prior version of the Forerunner, I currently own the Forerunner 205 (Without heart-monitor). As far as running is concerned, this watch has revolutionized my interest in the sport. I thought running was the most boring thing ever before this watch. This watch has appealed to my love of instrumentation, and now my body has a odometer and speedometer (but no RPMs since I don’t have the heart monitor). I go out running and have a blast using the virtual partner feature that allows you to set a fixed pace competitor and see how you are doing relative to him/her.

However, I have had my fair share of frustrations with the watch. The first being how damn long it takes to associate with the GPS satellites before you start running. You can’t start running until it does find them, otherwise it’ll never pick them up. Which brings me to my second gripe: If you do ever lose GPS reception whilst running, it can sometimes take a long time to pick it up again, and leave you with an inaccurate measurement.

I have had days where it just lost reception mid-way through my run, and never found it again. Very annoying. Case and point, today I went running for what has typically been a 8K run. I didn’t give the watch enough time to synchronize to all the satellites it could, but enough so that it registered seeing some. After running, it only registered having ran 2.3Km, even though I know the distance was 8K from previous runs. Of course, this throws off all the other measurements as well. I’d say this happens one out of every 15 runs.

However, that aside, I can’t emphasize how much this watch will change the way you look at running. I’ve seen Arnau do some fancy stuff with Google maps whereby he can see where he ran and track where exactly his pace dropped, etc. I’m not there yet insofar as running is concerned, but soon. very sooon..

UPDATE (Jan 29th, 2007):

If you have the Forerunner 205 or 305, I highly suggest you download and install the new firmware that is available for it. It greatly reduces the ‘lag’ experienced above in authenticating to the satellites.

The firmware download and instructions is available here:

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