Garmin is without a doubt a market leader in the production of GPS watches. It has some superb devices in its portfolio, and is always developing new products. My everyday GPS watch, the Forerunner 310XT is solid, reliable and easy to use, but it is chunky, and the latest additions to the range, the Forerunner 210 and Forerunner 410 make it look rather silly. They also knock the Timex Ironman Global Trainer I reviewed last year into a cocked hat for size and readability. Garmin sent me the £229.99 Forerunner 210 so I’ll be focussing on that in this review, and plan to look at the Forerunner 410 soon.
 
In the box

The Forerunner 210 comes in an unremarkable Garmin branded box. Garmin doesn’t skimp on the supplies and provides printed quick start manuals in a wide range of languages as well as a full manual on CD and international mains power adaptors. There’s also a combined charger and PC link for the watch itself and a heart rate sensor.

Set up and configuration

The Garmin Forerunner 210 is really comfortable to wear, and the same goes for the heart rate sensor.

The latter sits on a soft material strip that fits neatly round the chest. I experienced no chafing from it and the clasp is secure. Garmin makes the most comfortable heart rate sensors I’ve tried.

The watch has a rubber strap offering a huge number of notches so that it fits on the smallest – and largest – of wrists snugly.

The watch face and bezel aren’t too large for smaller wrists like mine. I do have a slight concern, though, that the strap is integrated into the watch itself and so you can’t replace it. The prospect of being unable to use such an expensive piece of kit if the strap gives way without paying a serious repair bill is a worry.

One thing I really like about the Forerunner 210 is that it doubles as an ordinary watch showing you the date and time.

It even has a single alarm, though you wouldn’t want to rely on it, as it is very, very quiet. I found I had no problem wearing it as an everyday watch during the testing period – though it does need regular charging unlike a standard wristwatch.

Garmin says it will last for three weeks, or give you eight hours of training. I gave it a battery boost about every five days just to be on the safe side because the battery monitor only displays bars rather than showing you a percentage of charge remaining.

Garmin designs its Forerunner range well as far as user ergonomics are concerned. There are four buttons arranged round the bezel, and these are clearly marked with functions. Multiple taps are required to access some features, but the on screen menus are easy to cycle through, and the menu structure is logical.

The features are relatively limited. There’s no ability to store routes and no virtual training partner. Nor is there bike sensor support or the ability to create custom workouts. All these things are, however, present in the Forerunner 410. In addition the Forerunner 210 displays a single screen of data during your run whereas the Forerunner 410 offers three customisable screens.

The plus side of this is not only a price benefit (£229.99 as opposed to £299.99), but also slightly longer battery life and much easier configuration. As with all good GPS watches you need to give the Garmin Forerunner 210 some information before you start using it. Age, weight, height, gender and a response to the question of whether you are a ‘lifetime athlete’ or not help the watch calculate its estimate of calories burned.

Enter that information and you can simply strap on the heart rate sensor, which is picked up by the Forerunner 210 in about five seconds, press the bottom left page/menu button and wait for a few seconds more while the watch gets a GPS lock, then get running. It is quite probably the quickest and easiest setup routine for a GPS watch I’ve ever encountered.

If you want to use the Forerunner 210 indoors on a treadmill then there is an optional footpod accessory, though any ANT+ footpod ought to be compatible. I wasn’t sent one of these to test so I can’t comment on how well it works.

In use

The Garmin Forerunner 210 worked without a hitch during the testing period. The watch face is easy to read at a glance – something we had real trouble with on the Timex Ironman Global Trainer. The watch tells you distance, pace or speed (current, average or lap depending on which you’ve chosen) and time taken. And if you hit the menu button at the bottom left of the fascia it’ll switch over to giving you a heart rate reading in the large central area which otherwise shows elapsed time.

One absent feature I really missed was the ability to auto stop when you stop moving. I do a lot of my running on city streets where traffic lights mean I have to stop. I like to have this stopped time taken out of a total runtime. You can always do a manual stop and start if necessary, though.

The Garmin Forerunner 210 can issue an alert based on five heart rate zones, which you can configure. The trouble with these alerts is that they are quite quiet. I often missed them, and much prefer vibrating alerts.

One other feature the Forerunner 410 offers that the Forerunner 210 does not is wireless synchronisation. That means you have to use the provided charge-cable, which has a USB connector at one end, to connect to your computer if you want to upload data to the rather good Garmin Connect portal. If you own a Garmin watch and you aren’t using Garmin Connect to record and analyse your activities, you are missing a trick.

Conclusion

It is the ease of use and simple setup that work together to make the Garmin Forerunner 210 really desirable. It might be expensive, but if you are new to the whole GPS watch idea and want a reliable, straightforward watch that comes with a heart rate monitor and can upload data to a really good online resource, then you could do a lot worse.

I would like some tweaks though. Auto stop/start, vibrating alert and a better battery charge indicator would not have cost the earth to implement, and would have been very welcome.

Pros:

  • Light, small and comfy to wear
  • Really easy to set up
  • Clear, easy to read screen
  • Doubles as an everyday watch
  • Can upload data to Garmin Connect

Cons:

  • Strap and watch are integrated rather than separate
  • No vibrating alert
  • Battery life not measured in percentage points
  • Upload to Garmin Connect needs wired link

Manufacturer: Garmin

Garmin Forerunner 210: £229.99 inc VAT