Top positive review
Is it possible to fall in love with a running watch?
October 13, 2016
I'm a Garmin gal. I got into the running community when the Forerunner 10 was all the rage, and I was convinced a Garmin was my only choice. At the time, all Fitbit could do was offer total number of steps a day. It was a rudimentary pedometer at best, just in a cute fancy casing, with little to offer in GPS and other features that runners look for. I went with a cheaper Garmin, the Forerunner 15. Lots of my running friends were getting the fancy 910XT, 620, 235, and other "big model number, big price" Garmin watches I couldn't afford or justify for myself at the time. I had the small black model FR15, which had a green trim. I wasn't thrilled with the look, but it was the only black band available in the small size. The others were pink and purple with a white face. I wear a lot of red, so I didn't really want those colors, since I used it as an all day activity/step tracker as well as a running watch (hence, why I went with Garmin, and ditched the thought of getting a Fitbit). The only problem was going to church, where dress is a little more formal, and the look of a big bulky black running watch was a big eyesore. I wore it all the time, and I would often take my watch off in church and sneak it inside my purse because I'd forgotten to take it off before I left home.
Eventually, the problems with the FR15's syncing and consistency (software issues) plagued me enough that I decided to get rid of it and go with a different watch. I ended up getting a cheap knock-off Fitbit-like device which was a disaster from Day 1. I settled for it at the time; I still did not like the Fitbit enough for the price and certainly didn't like the fact that nothing was waterproof at the time (now there are 2 waterproof models, but the running metrics are still limited at best). My "El-Cheapo" was great as a smart watch, but horrible as a pedometer or a running or workout watch. I ended up returning it, as Garmin just announced the FR35 would be released soon. When I saw the pictures, it looked like the answer to my dreams. Not as bulky and big as the FR235 (the 235 is still priced at $329… way out of my price range), and the FR35's band choices were finally more attractive and stylish (especially for a full-featured running watch).
So now, on to what I LOVE about this watch:
+++++DESIGN. I love the square face. It looks similar to the Apple Watch or the Fitbit Blaze. It has a wrist-based heart rate monitor (which is why I'd been eyeing the FR235 before). But this is even better because the watch face is the same for all the colors. I imagine I can change the band eventually. I bought the white band and love it. I wear it all day, every day--cooking, cleaning, running, etc., and there is no dinginess at all. I once got pizza sauce on it (horror!), but cleaned it easily with a cloth and some hand sanitizer, with no red staining at all. I almost got the Frost Blue, but I decided white or black go with just about anything. The size is also a winning feature. It's not as big as the round FR220, 225, 230, 235, Fenix, etc. My wrists are small so a big round watch just seemed too "blingy" to me. It also isn't as thick on top as my FR15 was, even with the new heart rate monitor. The band is more flexible, and has more notches for a more ideal fit than my FR15 did. The heart rate sensors don't dig into my wrist (they protrude less than most any other wrist-based HR monitor I've seen), and the band is stretchy enough that it gives just the right fit.
The analog watch face option is one of my favorite features, which makes it look less like a running watch. One of the things I love most about this watch is that I can wear it anywhere, anytime (probably not to a black-tie formal event), but most of the time, it's perfect for me.
The display is easy to see, and the data fields you can put into the screen offer much more info than my FR15 did. Running is sunlight is no challenge for this device. The display is crisp and clear. It seems to adjust to lighting so you can easily see the screen. Someone compared it to the Kindle "paperwhite" screen, and that seems to be a close description. The backlight is also great for waking in the middle of the night and checking the time--it's bright enough to see, but not so bright that it will blind you. The backlight has a somewhat bluish tint that is easier on your eyes.
One of the only things I can say I don't care for is the buttons on the side of the watch. Though they are rather inconspicuous, they are a little hard to push at times. From a looks standpoint, though, it gives the watch a more sleek look, so I can't complain too much.
(A special note: on some of the promotional pictures, all the "loops" that hold the extra strap in place are black. That is not the case. The loop is the same color as the strap you order. Perhaps the beta testing of the watch only offered a black loop, but the release has proved to have a matching loop with the band.)
++++NOTIFICATIONS/phone integration. The notifications are ok. The Bluetooth range and connectivity is sometimes "wonky" but it's still a very new device and I am sure the software updates will work out some bugs. No, the face is not a full color like some of the pricier models, but that is not a deal-breaker for me. Less color means longer battery life. Connectivity to the Garmin app is not always perfect, but it does sync at least 2-3 times a day for me. And the issue could be with the app itself or my phone, not the watch.
++++BATTERY. The charging cable is much easier to attach with this model than with my FR15. The FR15's dock fit entirely around the watch face on the back. This one just clips on the side. Not that it's a big deal, but so far, I like it better. It's easier to remove. I hope it is durable over time. When I do need to charge, it takes less than an hour to get back to full charge.
And so far, the charge has lasted over 5 days. I have only used it for outdoor running a few times, as most of my runs are treadmill runs. Still, with all the Bluetooth features, the battery life seems pretty long. And the GPS connects MUCH faster than My FR15 did.
+++++INDOOR RUNNING! Living in a hot and humid climate, I rely on treadmill runs through a large part of the year. The running options have an indoor feature that gives me all the data I need to record my runs. My FR15 required a foot pod for indoor running, and even then, the activity would not register as a run on some running sites where I exported my data.
+++++WORKOUT CHOICES: This allows cycling (indoor and outdoor options), outdoor running, indoor running, walking (outside or indoor), and cardio to be recorded with the watch. Your calories burned are calculated based on the parameters you enter about yourself (age, weight, gender), and tied to heart rate (reflecting the intensity of your workout). I can do just about any exercise and tie it to one of those activities. (There is no activity specified for swimming, but the cardio would cover that, as I've read in initial testers of the product.) The running modes offer free run, intervals, run/walk, and virtual pacer. So far, I use the free run only, because I mostly run on a treadmill. However, the other options look promising as I start training outdoors again for fall races. The cardio option also has interval features, which is excellent for Tabata/HIIT workouts. It buzzes at each interval switch, and beeps to give you a warning of 5 seconds before your interval is about to change.
+++++CADENCE tracking. I don't need my foot pod anymore! I hated having to change my old foot pod over to different shoes every day (I rotate my running shoes). The FR35 tracks my cadence without the need of a foot pod. AND no more worries about the foot pod getting in the way of tags during races that some events rely on.
+++++ALL DAY STEP COUNT. This watch replaces the need for an activity tracker, as it does it all for you. It makes it much easier to keep all your info in one place. And the Garmin app is sleek and easy to navigate. When you reach your daily step goal (you can set your own daily goal or let Garmin adjust your goal on a daily basis), you get a vibration on your watch with little fireworks as a mini celebration.
+++++MOVE IQ. I recently went for a walk on the beach, just to get my step count in for the day (on my rest day). I noticed on my timeline on Garmin Connect that MoveIQ had detected the walk and labeled it as such on my timeline. However, the walk does not show up as a "walking" activity under the "Activities" tab of Garmin Connect because I did not start the activity on my watch. I feel this is something Garmin can and may possibly adjust in the software, but it is neat still to see it on my daily timeline.
I'm not a new runner, by any stretch of the word, and I'm certainly no expert. I guess you'd say I'm a seasoned or intermediate runner. I won't qualify for Boston, but the walk/run and C25K programs don't cut it for me, either. The comments I've read on some forums about the FR35 being a "beginners" GPS watch is pure bunk. This has all the features I need, and it is small enough to wear all day.
If you are on the fence (as I was) about purchasing the FR35 or the Fitbit Charge 2 (priced about $50 cheaper right now), here are the things that swayed me to choose the FR35 (besides my Garmin bias):
1. FR35 is waterproof. You can purchase a waterproof version of the Charge 2 through a 3rd party seller for $250 (original price + $100 fee for waterproof feature added). However, the Garmin already comes with that feature. So if you aren't willing to leave your device at home for swimming and water activities, then Garmin is your obvious choice. Since I live near the beach, water activities are built in to my daily life, so the Garmin is a no-brainer choice. I also don't have to worry about excessive sweat during a workout shorting out my device.
2. FR35 shows cadence. This is a big one for runners. Especially those runners who have struggled with injury like me. IT Band Syndrome not only creeps in when your leg and glute muscles are weaker, but also when your running cadence is slower. I can also tell from my cadence over time if it starts to decrease when I need to take more rest and avoid overtraining.
3. GPS built into the watch. The Fitbit requires use of your phone to make GPS work. FR35 has it built in (along with a great LiveTrack feature that is relatively new).
4. Buttons. Garmin has 4 buttons, Fitbit has 1. Some would not say this is a plus, but I don't like hitting the same button a dozen times to get to the page that I want. And there are so many running metrics you can view from your wrist without the need for the Garmin app.
5. Smartphone notifications. From my understanding, Fitbit only gives calls, texts, and calendar notifications. Garmin offers much more (AND the ability to dismiss those notifications right from your watch… big plus).
6. Size. The new FR35 is not as thick on the face as the Charge 2 appears (from the photos I've seen). Though I like the sleek look of the Charge 2 (and all the Fitbits), the Charge 2 does seem to be thicker to accommodate for Fitbit's design of the heart monitor built in. AND I'd add that the FR35 is much less bulky than Garmin's Vivosmart HR+, which was another choice I'd considered (same price, similar features, just a different look).
7. Indoor running. Fitbit does not offer indoor running metrics like Garmin. The best the Fitbit can do is offer you calories burned according to your heart rate. The Garmin FR35 offers distance, cadence, and pace, in addition to heart rate.
8. Reviews. After seeing the Charge 2 reviews (I read the critical ones of those who have had trouble with the product), I decided to steer clear of the Fitbit brand. Prior Fitbit models have been known to overcount steps (I have friends with desk jobs who drive to work and Fitbit step count shows 12k steps a day, which I KNOW is wrong). The Charge 2 seems to have reviews of undercounting steps, but also counting driving as steps. The FR35 has proven to be accurate in steps and heart rate for me, especially when compared to my prior Garmin and to other users (I have compared steps at running events including half marathons, 5Ks, and 10Ks). I know for me, a 5K is roughly 5,500 steps, a 10K around 11,000, and a half marathon ~23,000 steps.