Saturday, May 15, 2010

Garmin Forerunner 110 GPS watch - a review

A couple of years ago I decided to take running a bit more seriously and to try to keep track of when, how much, and how fast I run. As a dedicated Apple-afficionado and beginner runner, the obvious choice was the Nike+ sensor (which you place in the sole of your shoe), coupled with an iPod Nano. I have been using this setup for about two years now, and I was fairly happy with it. It was easy to start using it, it definitely helped me run more and faster than before, and GPS units were just too big or too nerdy (even for me) to carry around on a Saturday morning run in the park.

However, it has always bugged me that the precision and accuracy of the Nike+ system was far from perfect, and I knew that GPS watches could do much better, not to mention that you can also put your run on a map. I caved in to the temptation a few days ago and ordered a Garmin Forerunner 110 GPS watch; here are some initial observations.

The Forerunner 110 is designed to be relatively small and simple, with limited functionality. In other words, it is targeting people like me: mostly outdoor runners (it is not very good for biking and useless for indoor running) who don't need all kinds of functionalities that most other Garmin GPS watches have. It gives you basic information like pace, time, distance, and heart rate (if you are using it with a heart rate monitor), and that's about it. The relatively small size and reasonably good (=minimalistic) look means that you can wear this gadget on your wrist pretty much every day, without looking like a total nerd.

In terms of usability, the Forerunner 110 does pretty well. It doesn't rely on the touch interface that is built into the latest and greatest Garmin sports watches; instead, it has four large buttons that are easy to push when you want to -- or not to push inadvertently when you don't want to. This can be important in the middle of a sweaty run when you are not really in the mood for the subtleties of dealing with a sensitive touch interface. For example, I often have problems with the touch-wheel of the iPod nano. Recording a run basically comes down to (1) waiting until the watch gets a GPS fix; and (2) pushing the 'start/stop' button. In my limited experience, getting a GPS fix works pretty well and relatively fast, although it did take about 5 minutes the first couple of times. That is too much for a runner. Yesterday and today however it was much better, it locked on to the satellites in less than a minute.

So far so good. The one major issue I ran into was that, after a first recorded run, when I wanted to upload the data to the Garmin Connect website, I couldn't get the watch to talk to my MacBook. It took lots of trial-and-error and one-and-a-half hours on the phone with the Garmin help desk to figure out that the charging clip that's supposed to attach to the four exposed contacts on the back of the watch was not exactly where it should have been, despite the fact that the watch was charging (or it looked like it was charging anyway). This might be just a reflection of my limited intellectual capabilities, but I doubt that I am the only one who will run into this problem.

When it comes to uploading your workout data to a website for visualization and analysis, the Garmin ecosystem definitely leaves the Nike+ setup in the dust. The obvious advantage is the visualization of your runs in Google Maps. This is a major plus for a map-lover; but in addition to that, the Garmin Connect website makes it very easy to export the data and visualize it with Google Earth or any other software that can handle geospatial data. No export options exist for the runs you have recorded with the Nike+ sensor. In addition, the quality and usability of the Garmin graphs showing pace/speed through time is way better than the flashy but largely useless attempt that Nike has put together. Compare these two graphs (representing the same run):

Nike+ website

Garmin Connect

The Nike+ graph is pretty close to useless, whereas the one from Garmin Connect looks like a plot based on real data and it shows real trends (e.g., that I was running significantly slower during the last half of the run). And this is not a reflection of poor data quality coming from the iPod software; it turns out that the resolution of that data is much better than what Nike shows you. In general, Garmin treats the workout data in a much more scientific yet simple manner, also giving you the options of taking the data elsewhere, whereas the Nike website is colorful and animated, but has limited and closed information that has been dumbed down too much for my taste.

To wrap it up, despite a few - hopefully short-lived - annoyances, I am fairly happy with this new gadget. I will try to find out later how well it can be used for geotagging photographs while hiking or doing field work, something I still don't have a simple solution for.

Update (6/20/2010): I have been using this watch for more than a month now. It works pretty well for running, although I did have a problem today: it froze at one point, and I couldn't record any new data. It was very hot and humid, and I guess the contacts on the back side of the watch couldn't handle the amount of salty sweat I was producing. Now it works again. Also, it is a good idea to turn on the GPS reception a few minutes before you start the run because sometimes it still takes 2-3 minutes to get the coordinates.

In terms of using it for hiking and geotagging photographs: I did a hike using both this watch and an older Garmin unit, and noticed that the accuracy of theForerunner 110 is better than that of the Garmin eTrex Vista Cx. The watch worked much better in the forest and in a deep, narrow valley, where the GPS signal must have been weak. The problem is that the battery of the Forerunner 110 doesn't last long enough for a full-day hike; after about 5 hours of constant GPS recording, I couldn't use it any more.

Update (2/4/2011): It looks like this watch (certainly the one that I am using) has a major flaw: when connected to a computer, the USB connection is easily broken because of the questionable design of the contacts on the back of the watch and the clip. The watch freezes and the only way I could get it back to life was to do a hard reset. This means that any data you have on the watch is lost. I have lost running data due to this issue several times; the last time it was especially annoying since it successfully got rid of the GPS record of my first marathon. Thanks, Garmin!

Update (3/30/2012): The problem I mentioned in the update above hasn't occurred since I did a software update. However, a few months ago (about one and a half years after I bought the watch) the strap broke and I don't think there is an easy way to replace it. Also, often (but not always) it takes 20-30 minutes to get a GPS lock. It is time to get a new watch, and I think I will stay away from Garmin for now.


Anonymous said...

Hey I just bought the Garmin 110 women's version and the heart rate reading would go in and out. I was running with my husband who has the Garmin 305 do you know anything about not being able to run in close proximity to another heart rate monitor? Also have you run into the 110 going in and out of reading your heart rate? I am wondering if I should bring it back to REI and get a different one. Thanks!

Unknown said...

So far I didn't have problems when I used the heart rate monitor; but I never ran with somebody with another Garmin unit. And it did happen once that I was running without the HRM, and the watch briefly picked up the HR signal from somebody else...

Anton said...

Hi, I read on another blog that the pace that is shown on the watch during a run shows an average pace and not the current pace that you are keeping. Can you confirm this?

By looking at the graph you have in your post it sure looks like it shows the current pace and not an average. If it was an average I guess the graph would flatten out the further you have run.

I'm just getting abit confused over this :)

It really would be a deal breaker for me if it doesn't show your actual pace during a run.

Oh, and one last question. Does the 110 have alerts to give you a hint if you fall behind a certain pace or to notify you every 1km's with a beep?

Unknown said...

Anton, what you read on the other blog is correct: the Forerunner 110 does not show your current pace, only the average pace for the current lap. That does not mean that it doesn't record your instantaneous pace, just that you cannot display it during your run.

Also, as far as I know, there is no feature that would warn you if you fall below a certain speed. It does give a beep when you completed a lap, with the time and average pace displayed.

The lack of these features is not a deal breaker for me, I still find the watch pretty useful, but I haven't been running for very long.

Garmin 110 Runner and Owner said...

Glad you are liking your 110! I bought mine about a months ago and couldn't be happier with it!

Like you I was annoyed by the Nike watches and thought that there must be a better alternative on the market so when the 110 came along I jumped at the chance to own one!

Mitch said...

I bought a Forerunner 110 after my Forerunner 450 strap broke. I thought it would be a cheaper alternative. However, I was very disappointed with the split feature. When you set the auto lap function it gives you the current speed you are running at the split, not the average over the last mile. How needs that? You can look at the watch anytime for the current speed. Lame. I want my 450 back even at twice the price.

Unknown said...

Mitch, I am not sure I follow what you are saying - I think with the auto-lap function the watch gives you your pace for the current lap - isn't that what you want?

Garmin 110 Review said...

Glad to see you left the darkside of the Nike+ set up!

In all seriousness though I am very surprised to read the update where you mention the issue with the 110 not coping with sweat.

Has this issue occurred again? We review a number of GPS watches and are always looking for as much information on them as possible. If this is an ongoing issue we obviously need update our review with the details. Do you have any more information your can share?

Unknown said...

That problem (the watch freezing during a run) did not occur since then. I only speculated that it was related to too much sweat -- but I don't know, it might have been simply a software crash.

I have been using the watch pretty regularly, and at this point my main concern (relatively minor one) is that sometimes it takes fairly long to get a GPS fix. This seems to be related to battery strength -- it looks to me like it tends to be a problem when I forget to charge the watch.

Ross said...

Nice review! I have been running with the 110 for a few months now and am licking the watch purely because is it so easy and simple to use.

The faulty charging clip that you mention hasnt caused me a problem but I know someone that runs with a 210 and he has found the same thing that you mention with his watch. Its shame that something as simple as a charging clip can cause so many problems!
Garmin 110 Review

New@it said...

Our area has a lot of trees and I was wondering if this would have an impact on the GPS functionality of the Garmin 110. Some parts of our training route are covered with trees closing in on each other from both sides of the road. I have no experience with GPS watches. Could you please let me know if this might be a problem before I purchase the watch?

Unknown said...

@ New@it: My impression is that the watch works pretty well in the forest as well. The red track on this map was created using the Garmin 110 watch:

Garmin Forerunner 110 Review said...

I bought the garmin forerunner 110 for my gf and she is thrilled. Its simple and she is going crazy about the color!

xuxin.xxu said...

I am very upset while get tht new 110. It cannot display the current speed while I am running. I used 305 before and got happy for the current speed/pace display on the screen to keep my speed. How can I do that now on the new 110? I hear that 210 has the function to display the current speed. I wonder why Garmin get rid of this useful function in 110. I am try to upload the 210 firmware to 110 to see whether I can change my 110 to 210 with 110 shell.:S. But, unlucky, I cannot find the 210 firmware yet.:(. I want to find somebody has 210 to copy the firmware to me.

Tintenty said...

I cam across the review whilst looking to see if anyone else has had any problems with this watch. I bought mine last October. I had a 410, but found it too fiddly. This was perfect. I mostly run off road on hills and fells in the UK. It told me how far I'd run etc and this was all I wanted.

The only bad news at first was that all my estimated distances for runs were too great.

After 6 months, it refused to charge. Tried everything, but couldn't get it working. Emailed Garmin and never got a reply. The watch would show it was charging, but it didn't actually work. Very annoying. Went back to the old watch which still works fine.

You will see from the webupdater that you aren't supposed to try and update the software without the watch being fully charged. Given that the problem is it won't charge, it's a bit of a catch 22 situation really.

Did you get your's sorted out?

kim said...

Hi,May i know how much did you pay for your GF 110 watch? Would you recommend for a runner who just started running?

Anonymous said...

I have the 110 also.

I have 2 main complaints. The first you mentioned in your review. I OFTEN have a lot of trouble getting the Garmin and the computer to talk to each other. The connection is very temperamental and the device will often charge but not be able to download data. Very frustrating.

The second problem is that there is moisture in the watch. I purchased it less than 2 months ago. The temperature has just taken a dive for winter and this results in the screen fogging up. The watch has been treated with more care than my better half since delivery, as all of my new ‘gadgets’ do.

My expectations were higher from this company.

Anonymous said...

I just received a forerunner 110W from my husband for Christmas. I have never used one of these before but I was wondering if the watch should show my heart rate constantly as I wish to time my recovery as well as during exercise..

Andrewrunner1 said...

I'm a very competive and precise runner, and the one thing I noticed that was WAY off or not accruate was the viewing of the maping. I went on an out and back run just recently and went the exact steps that I went out as I came back. I uploaded my run and the map on the garmin connect showed me going FAR to the left, and not just a little to the left but so far i was off the road... This is not the first time this has happened and I would just like some feedback if this has happened to anyone else before? Is it just the 110 of can i buy a more expensive watch that won't do this?

Anonymous said...

Had lots of problems with my Forerunner 110. The screen fogged up after running in the rain and I had the watch replaced twice under warranty. The final warranty replacement watch lasted five months before it would not hold its charge and the battery cannot be replaced. Garmin offered to replace it for $139 dollars despite it being obviously faulty from the start. I would definitely not recommend buying one of these watches.

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