Garmin has created a collection of new gadgets for sports people that have a wrist-based heart rate monitor, rather than a chest strap. It’s called Garmin Elevate heart rate technology2: An optical sensor that measures heart-rate 24/7 at the wrist.
I was keen to find out if it worked – and to assess what I like and don’t like about the new style of Garmin sports watch.
I have used Garmin gadgets for around 15 years. They are good for recording all kinds of technical data, such as speed, pace, distance, laps, heart rate and some navigation. My main issue is that when you first get a new watch or navigation aid they seem too complicated.
I usually spend many hours trying to work out, from on-line help guides, how to do even the most basic of functions. Infuriatingly, one gadget never seems to be the same as the next so you need to go back to the drawing board.
The hardest Garmin gadgets to fathom are the larger-display bike GPC versions. While on holiday in Mallorca, many of us had a similar model but the menus seemed to be different on each and even when we had them apparently set up to give us the same readings and directions they often differed. That’s an aside however because I am reviewing the Garmin Forerunner 235 in this blog.
Thankfully, what I have noticed is the newer style of gadgets are a little easier to use and navigate your way around. They could be a lot simpler, however, and why can’t Garmin stick to the same menu set up and layout in all of their gadgets? please!
Still, sating all this, in terms of what you can do and record with a sports watch, Garmin really do offer a lot in one package.
It’s really lightweight (just 42g) and good looking. The sports gadgets, until recently, have looked like mini bricks on your wrist. Even my last model, the Garmin 910XT, looked large and bulky on my wrist and I could wear it only for doing sport.
Many people have commented on how smart the new watch looks. I downloaded a watch face with big numbers and I really like it. It’s smart and funky looking.
The watch is very easy to wear and comfortable.
I can read the screen display really easily. The watch face is large and very clear.
The watch also has a backlight for darker days and night-time and this works well.
The charge lasts for many days. Garmin reckon: “Up to 9 days in watch mode; up to 11 hours in GPS mode with HRM”. I have found I need to recharge it every five to six days in watch mode with HRM. The GPS mode seems to drain the battery as quickly as other Garmin watches and it lasted between seven and eight hours for me.
The wrist heart rate performance seems to be good. You need to have the strap fairly tight but not super tight and the stretchy plastic strap helps with this but as far as I can tell it’s accurate. The heart rate seems to leap about a bit when, for example, doing interval running, but it sorts itself out quite quickly. I think it’s reasonaly accurate and far better than others I have tried.
I quite enjoyed being able to check my heart rate when I wake up, at my desk and during activity. It seems pretty quick to respond to changes in activity and exertion.
The Forerunner 235 is quite easy to use (once you get the hang of it.) Be prepared to spend a few hour getting to grips with it at the start but once you do it’s reasonably straightforward.
There are more than enough features with this version. I would never use them all anyway, unless I was training very seriously for a sport, so there are more than enough to satisfy most people I’d imagine. I have used the heart rate monitor, watch, speed, distance and pace functions the most, as well as the lap function when doing interval training.
The Garmin can be switched to recognise whether you are running indoors on a treadmill or outdoors. It’s called an “accelerometer’ apparently. This captures distance and pace data when you’re running on an indoor track or treadmill, with no need for a separate foot pod accessory.
When outdoors, the Forerunner 235 is compatible with GPS and GLONASS satellites to locate your position whether you’re running deep in the woods or near tall buildings.
Both of these functions do work well.
An activity tracker also keeps track of your steps throughout the day and it can remind you to move if you have been sitting for more than an hour.
You can also check calories burned and sleep patterns. This is not something I am too bothered about but I guess its good to have it there.
There is also cycling mode that supports ANT+ Speed/Cadence sensors. This means that you can pair it to any ANT+ Speed-only, Cadence-only, or Speed/Cadence combo sensor. It does not support Bluetooth Smart sensors (of any type).
I’m not going to spend a huge amount of time in this section because it’s primarily a running watch, not a cycling watch.
It’s waterproof and I tested it while swimming for an hour in the pool. (It doesn’t have a lap counter for swimming.)
The watch links via Bluetooth with Garmin’s Connect app on my iPhone. It works really well.
There are downloadable data fields, watch faces, widgets and applications from Connect IQ. I found some of these useful, such as the watch face and the heart rate screen.
The “smart notifications” are meant to be an added attraction of the watch but they were so annoying I switched them off permanently. They tell you when, for example, someone has added a Facebook or Twitter notification. The vibration buzz of each alert just annoyed me. I tried to find a way to stop the vibration of the notifications but failed to do so.
Also, I couldn’t work out how to read more than what was shown on the screen. To be honest, I’d prefer to leave all that stuff to my phone and get on with my life and exercise. Perhaps when the technology is more advanced I’ll be more interested but for now I thought the feature was irritating.
The watch doesn’t feel very durable. While it’s fine for general domestic use and sports such as running it’s not so great for use in the mountains. I do a lot of walking and scrambling and I don’t think the casing would withstand many knocks. The face also looks like it would get scratched. I need a watch that has a metal casing for better durability.
The strap feels soft and supple. It’s an amazingly soft kind of plastic but I reckon I would need a new one within six months. I am pretty rough on my watches and need something very robust. I understand that this is a sports watch and maybe it should be reserved for only when I do sports but it looks good enough to wear all the time and I am often doing sporty stuff.
In addition, with the activity tracker part of the watch it suggests to me that it is a watch for full-time wear. It just doesn’t seem like the watch is as durably made as other Garmins. That said, I can’t prove it so far and I only have the Garmin on loan for a month.
I feel as though the strap needs to be fairly tight for the wrist heart rate monitor to work but this left indentations in my skin. This might be because my skin is old (I am 48!) but it’s a bit annoying. I found I needed to take the watch off to let my arm breath every so often and to allow the skin to smooth back to normal.
The downloads aspect of the watch seems very exciting at first but there are not actually that many of them and I could not get all of them to work. I guess this will improve as more widgets and apps are created although I have heard of people have issues with poor downloads.
There are downloadable data fields, watch faces, widgets and applications from Connect IQ. I found some of these useful, such as the watch face and the heart rate screen, but I couldn’t get the Google Maps or the elevation apps to work at all.
Overall this Garmin sports watch is a big leap in the right direction. It looks and feels a lot better than previous Forerunners and I like many of the functions and features. It’s lightweight and looks smart enough to wear all day. It’s not cheap, though, but Garmin never are.
Garmin Forerunner 235 is £279.99.