What's the best watch for running? (Updated November 30, 2015)

November 9, 2015: Forerunner 210 versus Forerunner 230

Instead of repairing the FR210, I upgraded to the FR230. I didn't want to repair the strap and then have to get a new battery later.

Well, I have to admit, the Garmin 230 is a very nice watch. The information below may be out of date. Still, if you can get a FR210 for $75 refurbished, the 210 is an incredible value. It has intervals and everything you need for serious training.

Garmin Forerunner 210

My first impression with the 230 is that you can notice the weight difference immediately. It is only a little lighter, but percentage wise the difference is significant. Another thing about the 230 is the improved charger from the finicky FR210, FR110 charger.

I thought I'd never use the activity tracker, but the "move" alert is very handy when working all day behind a desk. It nudges you to get up and walk around.

Another good feature on the FR230 is the ability to change the recording frequency. If you must use GPS on the track, change it to one second recording. There should be other times when one second recording is very handy.

Garmin FR210 Weight Garmin FR230 Weight

We weighed the 210 (on the left) at 1.7oz. The 230 came in at a full .3oz lower at 1.4oz. That's a significant percentage lower and the difference is noticeable.

October 31, 2015

Two updates. First, Garmin is shipping the Forerunner 230 and Forerunner 630 next month. Second, my prized Forerunner 210's strap is starting to fall apart. That's the downside of the FR210. The strap is an integral part of the watch. Since it is out of warranty, the 230 looks like a good replacement. It is a shame to lose a perfectly good watch because of the strap, but the new tech in the 230 may be worth it especially for the new rechargeable battery.

July 19, 2015

First, do you really need a GPS watch? Sure they are convenient and help motivate you, but after a while you know your local running routes like the back of your hand. Once you've run enough, you know what pace you're running. If you are running on a track, a GPS is worthless because it cuts the corners. The best running watch is is your basic Timex Ironman with the basic lap counter. This is all you need and more. It is light enough that you barely notice it. No calibration or footpod required. The track is accurately measured.

There are times, however, when a GPS watch is very useful. We've tried all kinds of GPS watches and the best value is the Garmin 210. Wait? The 210? Isn't that from 2010?

Yes, the Garmin 210 is from 2010, but you can still buy it new. It has intervals and a good GPS chipset. It rarely misfires. Why not the 220? Well, the bonus of the 210 is it can be casually worn as a regular watch. Garmin made the mistake of making the 220 super flashy. Look at me! Look at my watch! Wear the Garmin 220 to the office and be prepared to answer questions about running. Does it matter? We say yes. Sometimes you just don't feel like talking about running and want to blend in. The 220 equivalent in the camera world is a full frame DSLR with an 80-200 f2.8 lens.

The 620 looks a bit better and has a few extra features, but it still screams "running watch". It also costs a lot more. The 620 also removed the navigation feature that was in the 610. They wanted to make you buy two watches for that now. The 620 adds VO2Max calculations, but the consensus is that's a gimmick. If considering the price of the 620, you might as well get the 610 unless you really don't need the navigation feature.

What about fitness trackers?

The latest trend is fitness trackers and combined trackers/GPS watches. Do they replace GPS running watches? In our opinion, it's a clear no. First, they are designed to be as small as possible. The truth is the smaller the device, the less accurate the GPS. Why? The smaller devices must have smaller antennae to pick up the GPS signals. Second, and somewhat related to the first is that effort to do the fitness tracking dilutes the overall running aspects. Software development is very difficult and expensive. With the fitness/running all-in-one, something has got to give. If more tasks are running fitness monitoring, the battery will be less for your long run. It is tiring enough having to recharge a GPS watch everyday once the rechargeable battery runs down. Runners care about different things than the general non-running public.

But I want to make sure I get enough sleep

Do you really want to a watch or bracelet to bed? No way, no thanks. I know when I get enough sleep and I know when I don't get enough. Tracking your sleep? Crazy. When your fitness tracker says you aren't getting enough sleep, what are you going to do? Stress about it and lose even more sleep trying to get to sleep earlier. Hopefully this trend doesn't mean fit-watches completely replace the mid-level GPS watch. Fitness tracking goes in the garbarge bin of things you need. Remember a couple of years ago when everyone had a step counter? To be continued...

Why do I have to recharge everyday?

The number one pet peeve about GPS watches is the battery. Perfectly good watches either have to be sent in or discarded. Usually the cost of a battery replacment by the factory is worth more than the value of the watch. It is a shame GPS watch makers can't come up with a replaceable battery. After a year or two, the puny rechargeable has too many cycles and needs recharged after every single run. Most runners just deal with it because the factory replacement cost is too much. Others upgrade their watch. I suspect very few send the watch in. This is probably by design to get upgrades and this problem is rampant in the entire consumer electronics industry. Fix the battery problem! Cut the replacement battery cost in half or make it user serviceable.

Conclusion

So step back in time. Get the Garmin 210 or go without GPS and get the basic Timex. Don't bother with cell phones GPS apps. That's the worst solution and it will slow you down plus affect your stride, arm band or not. That one arm will swing differently like if you carried your keys in your hands. Running is about getting away. If you are always connected, you're not fully enjoying running. Plus phones are way way to big to lug around. Those arm straps are a nuissance. They are a high margin item no doubt, which is why the stores carry and push them. The lightest watch is always best. Too small and the accuracy suffers. The 305 is still one of the most accurate watches, but it is a tank! The 210 is the perfect size.