Garmin has been at the leading edge of sports watch design for years and it has a range of watches to suit all pockets. The new mid range model Forerunner 220 represent something of a change in direction for the company in terms of design, but the core feature set is as strong as ever.
The Forerunner 220 comes in two colour schemes. It seems the norm these days that there has to be a purple version. Garmin calls the colour violet, but it is absolutely from the ‘pink for the women’ ideology. The violet is tempered with white. There’s also a red and black design if you prefer that.
The basic watch in both cases will cost you £219.99. If you need a heart rate monitor then adding that takes the price to £249.99. Pairing is via ANT+ which is pretty standard and so if you have an ANT+ heart rate sensor already you can avoid the extra expense.
There are some new and very distinctive features about the Forerunner 220 design which bring it right up to date as far as looks are concerned.
The whole build is plastic and rubber – the former for the watch itself and the latter for the strap. This gives it a very contemporary appearance while also helping to keep the watch lightweight. It comes in at just 40g and I didn’t notice the weight on my wrist at all. It’s also water resistant to 50 metres.
The strap is thick and chunky with airholes along the full length to help with the release of sweat as you bound along the road, park or trail. The middle row of airholes double up as the catch, a neat idea which gives you plenty of options for fitting the watch comfortably to your wrist.
The display is rather smaller than the fascia in which it sits with a diameter of 2.5cm compared to a diameter of 4.5cm for the whole unit face. The fascia may be large to accommodate all the GPS kit, but whatever the case, you don’t notice the extra space a great deal because of the fascia design. Rather than a huge expanse of non-display, Garmin has come up with a design that uses concentric circles to break the look up, as well as providing guides to the functions of the five side buttons.
Those five side buttons are large and very easy to find by touch alone. On the left there’s a button for the backlight and on/off function, along with a pair of scroll buttons that you use to move through menus and data screens when you are on the move. On the right are a start/stop/OK button and a back/lap button. The layout is very similar to that found on other Garmin watches.
The face itself is a revelation because of its use of colour – the Forerunner 220 and 620 which launched at the same time (watch for a review of the 620 soon) are the first Garmin watches to have a colour display.
The ‘theme colour’ is set to blue but you can change this, and whatever colour you pick most of the time you’ll get a mix of black, white and the theme colour (yellow, red, orange, green purple and pink are also on offer).
In addition red and green colours are used at different times. One example is that the watch uses information like your heart rate to calculate recovery time, and uses red on the display to indicate that you might need to take a rest or do an easy rather than heart-pumping workout. There’s even some colour used on the ordinary time display.
When it comes to features the standard stuff like using the GPS to measure time and distance is only the beginning. You can set up automatic pausing when you slow down – for example when waiting to cross a road on street runs. This gives a more accurate measure of time spent actually running, but it’s a feature you can turn on and off as you need it.
The usual beep and vibrating alert when you complete a kilometre or mile is here and you can also set up alerts if you go higher or lower than a certain pace or, if you have a heart rate monitor connected, higher or lower than a certain heart rate.
There’s a really nice run/walk setting for absolute beginners. You can set the watch to alert you after set run and walk times – say you start with five minute run and one minute walk, for example, and want to build up from there. The intervals go on and on till you finish your exercise.
I am a big fan of the vibrating alert – it can be difficult to hear beeps but you can always feel that little vibrate on the wrist. I’m always astounded when other sports watch makers don’t include this superb feature.
There’s an accelerometer on board so that you can use the Forerunner 220 when you are in the gym. It kicks in when a GPS signal can’t be found too.
As well as calculating distance travelled the accelerometer calculates your cadence. This is a new metric for Garmin devices to capture, and it’s really useful. A common mistake for newcomers to running is overstriding – having too long a stride. Not only can it lead to injuries, overstriding doesn’t make you go faster. Reducing stride length and increasing cadence is a way to increase overall speed – but it’s a skill and monitoring cadence is really useful in helping you hone it.
It is a shame that you can’t manually calibrate the accelerometer. It is automatically set from information gained using the GPS when outdoors. Now, this is never going to be quite accurate. When you are outside your running is not likely to be as smooth or your stride length as regular as on a treadmill. If you would rather use a footpod, you can – and the Garmin Forerunner 220 will pair using ANT+.
There are two information screens and you can set each one to show three different bits of information. So, you might set the first screen to show distance, time and pace, and then the second screen to show, say, heart rate or calories burned, or data relating to the specific lap you are on.
Interval sessions can be set up to your own preference. You can set distance or time durations, rest periods between intervals and the number of repetitions. It’s irritating that you can only save one interval session on the watch, though. It would be nice to be able to save a couple.
Battery life is rated as good for up to 6 weeks in watch mode and up to 10 hours in ‘training mode’. I managed about six hours of activity before checking the battery after its initial charge and it was down to 35 per cent, so that doesn’t sound too wayward an estimation.
The cradle into which you fit the Forerunner 220 is chunky, and yet another thing to have to carry around if you are travelling. It’s similar in styling to the chargers Garmin has used before, and while it feels robust Garmin might do well to think about the design and try to make it smaller and lighter.
The Forerunner 220 has a reasonably large on board memory and can save 1,000 laps of data. But if you want to make the most of it you need to upload the information it collects to Garmin Connect where you can analyse it to the nth degree.
In the old days you had to fire up your PC to get data onto Garmin Connect for analysis. But now it can all happen through your smartphone instead using an app called Garmin Connect Mobile. This is something Riyad first looked at with his review of the cycling specific Garmin Edge 810.
Garmin Connect Mobile isn’t as widely available as Garmin might like us to think, though. If you’ve an iPhone 4S or higher you are in luck. Not having one of these handy I used it via my new iPad Air and it worked fine.
If you’ve an Android based smartphone you aren’t so lucky. The Garmin Connect Mobile app for Android doesn’t support the Forerunner 220 as I write. If you don’t have a supported device, you’re back in the dark ages using the charge cable which doubles up for sync via its USB connector.
If you can use Garmin Connect Mobile you first need to sign in with your Garmin Connect account, then pick a device.
Pairing is pretty straightforward – it happens automatically and you don’t have to enter the code seen on the Forerunner or in the app, just acknowledge that the code shown in both places is the same.
Once you’ve paired devices your activities are uploaded via the app – it’s just a matter of a short wait while that happens.
You can then use the app to view all sorts of information about what you’ve been up to – activities you’ve completed are displayed with route maps. You can check on personal records too and these aren’t just records with the Forerunner 220, either. If you’ve had a previous Garmin device your personal records history is all there.
Garmin Connect Mobile also includes LiveTrack – a feature which lets you invite people to watch your progress in real time. Now, this might seem to have limited appeal while you are training, but I can see how it might be very useful especially if you are safety conscious. Allowing your significant other to track you when you are out on the trail lets them know where you are – and if you are late back and have not checked in with them to explain why, they can see where you are.
There’s also the opportunity to give friends and family real time information on where you are during that all important half marathon – so they know when to get to your agreed viewing spots and can take those vital action photos of you or deliver a fresh stash of go faster food. You can also use Garmin Connect Mobile to share information about what you are up to on Twitter and Facebook.
Garmin Connect Mobile even offers a quick squint at weather data for the next few hours. This could be a real help if you are off on a long run and happen not to have a weather app already installed on your phone. It’s not as accurate as it could be though – it placed me in central London when I was in fact about 10 miles to the south west.
There’s another feature that comes with using Garmin Connect Mobile and that’s downloading satellite position data for the next few days to your Forerunner 220. This makes getting a lock really fast. I found that if I put the Forerunner 220 in my porch before putting my shoes on, by the time the laces were tied it had a lock. You can tell when you’ve got reception because a flashing symbol light at the top of the display stops flashing and is solid instead, and the display changes to show your distance and time screen.
Garmin Connect Mobile does not take the place of the superb online portal that is Garmin Connect. It’s more of an extra. If you want to look at performance stats in depth you need to log in to Garmin Connect from a web browser.
Once there you’ve got access to a huge range of analytics. I took the Forerunner 220 out on a very gentle 5k cycle with lots of stops and starts so that my stats on Garmin Connect displayed in a very uneven graph. You can see more clearly than you would with a steady paced flatline graph how comprehensive the information is. To the left of the graphs you can see some of the detailed information the Forerunner captures – but only some of it!
As well as monitoring your performance you can use Garmin Connect to plan training. There are lots of training plans to choose from. You can add one to a calendar, download workouts to the Forerunner 220, and then upload your performance data when sessions are completed. There are various standard distance training plans on offer from 5k to marathon and plans for different starting fitness levels, as well as plans for complete beginners. If you don’t like the pre-prepared plans, you can create your own.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Garmin’s computers, and with the Forerunner 220 things just keep getting better. The stat gathering and analysis online offers enough flexibility for people at all levels of ability, and while there is a more expensive and more advanced model available, the Forerunner 620, I’d say the 220 has enough capability for pretty much anybody focusing on running alone.
Garmin does need to sort out its Android app very quickly though, and it would be useful to be able to calibrate the accelerometer. Overall though, the Forerunner 220 is an impressive piece of kit.
- Extremely light
- Water resistant to 50m
- Good battery life
- Attractive design
- Colour screen
- Really easy to use menu system
- Garmin Connect is an excellent web based tool
- Very fast GPS locks
- Live Tracking
- Wireless data sync via smartphone / tablet
- Can’t calibrate accelerometer manually
- App not yet available for Android
- Screen a bit small for fascia
Price: £219.99. With heart rate monitor £249.99