First up – if you want a super-technical review of the Forerunner 220, go elsewhere. This is very much a standard runner using it for a week type of review.
So just over a week ago I took the plunge and bought a new running watch, the Garmin Forerunner 220. The first GPS running watch I ever used (before that I used mapmyrun and an adidas wrist-stopwatch) was a Garmin Forerunner 110. After that I was given a Timex Runtrainer for free as part of being a volunteer pacer for the London Marathon in 2013, and as that had a higher price tag and a heart rate monitor, I switched to using that. For various reasons I wanted to move back to a Garmin model, and as I was able to sell my Timex and get some bonus cash for doing a magazine focus group, I didn’t feel too bad buying the Forerunner for £189 (without HRM, with club discount) from Up and Running Leeds Central.
In this review I’m going to go briefly over the reasons I switched back to a Garmin and whether it has so far lived up to those, and also run through a few extra things which I’ve liked about using the watch.
My first main reason for switching – and I’m sure that this is something that everyone looks for – is how good the satellite reception is. I always remembered the Forerunner 110 not taking very long, but the Runtrainer would always take a few minutes, normally asking me ‘whether I was inside’, and ocassionally complaining of weak signal and sometimes losing it – sometimes under a short tunnel but also just when it was a bit cloudy. I also have a Garmin 510 for cycling and that picks up sattelites in under a minute. The Forerunner 220 didn’t dissapoint on this front – every run so far I’ve had near immediate access to GPS signal. This might sound like top rate whinging, but especially when it’s cold and wet you don’t want to be hanging around shivering while you wait for the watch to whirr into life.
The second reason I wanted to switch to a Garmin was for ease of use with Strava. I use a Garmin 510 for cycling, and I find Strava the best site for posting activities to from a social point of view and for the innovative segments system, allowing you to challenge yourself an others over particular hills or stretches of road. Timex does have some compatability with Strava, but it involves a very convoluted system of uploading individual files once they are saved to your computer. With the new Forerunner 220, I moved away from manually uploading rides to Strava, and tried out the new ‘automatic sync’ function. This means that when you upload an activity to Garmin Connect, Garmin’s activity review tool, it will automatically appear on Strava in a minute or two. This function works very well, although it would be handy if it would carry across the name of the activity as well. This made me revisit Garmin Connect as well, which since I left for the frankly baffling Training Peaks courtesy of Timex, has gone through a massive overhaul. It looks much better now, and has the ability to have different pages with customisable panels, and the ability to set goals – something that is currently a premium feature in Strava.
One of the interesting functions of the Forerunner 220 is the ability to put workouts onto the watch. I wasn’t sure how good this system would be, but it proved to be pretty easy. At lunchtime at work I went on to Garmin Connect, put together a workout – a 10 mile run with 800m intervals and 400m recoveries, the standard Yasso Test. This was then very simple to load onto the watch when I got home, select the workouts menu, and then off I went. Based on how different intervals are selected when you prepare on Garmin Connect, it will come up and indicate ‘Run 1/8’ when the interval starts. One of the nice functions of the watch is that when it indicated an interval, or indeed any autolapping, it will vibrate, make a noise and come up with the backlight, which is useful for keeping track of your performance. I’ve only done a simple workout with fast/slow/fast etc., and it may well be more complex on workouts that gradually speed up, or ones that involve heart rate rather than distance, but I found the workout tool a lot easier than I expected.
The Forerunner 220 has a ‘personal records’ function – at the end of the run it will pop up with a few things such as estimated fastest time over a range of distances, furthest run etc. To me I find these slightly superfluous – the majority of runners I feel will know if they have hit a PB in a race, and for runners who are interested enough in their sport to spend a reasonable amount of money on a watch, there main goals are unlikely to be furthest distance. Also for myself the majority of these records are wrong, as the watch isn’t loaded with my previous running history.
So far a week into using it I’ve been incredibly happy with my decision. It’s lived up to all of my basic requirements, the ability to share all of my activities socially and seamlessly in one place is incredibly convenient and workouts have been a useful tool that I will explore more. As a footnote, the charging clip is a major step up from previous Garmin and Timex models with fairly loose clips for the charging pin. The new model clips firmly around both edges of the watch face, ensuring charging and syncing contact is solid. The new colour screen is very good as well, and it is very simple to switch between the main page – usually showing distance, time and pace, and the second page with heart rate and cadence (not that I have any idea why cadence is useful).
Garmin have really stepped up with the Forerunner 220 – so far definitely not an investment that I feel I will regret!