TomTom Adventurer GPS Watch with Bluetooth Headphones Review

TomTom Adventurer
4.3 / 5 Overall
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Durability
Battery Life
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The TomTom Adventurer is a one stop shop for all your workout needs. Bold statement, right? It is. But if you read into what I said you see there is specific wording in there. For working out, running, and most of your every day workout needs the TomTom Adventurer has you covered. Unfortunately this is a review for an obstacle course racing website and the watch has a flaw or two that it has had since before it evolved from the TomTom Cardio to the TomTom Spark to now.

TomTom Adventurer Features

Music  – Part of what makes this watch awesome is that it has the ability to store your music and play it to bluetooth headphones. If you use the headphones that TomTom includes it is a breeze to get it paired. If you use your own it will be a little laborious but you will pair them eventually. The other thing of note for the music is that you can sync the watch to an iTunes playlist. I’m a mac user so for me that is a big surprise since Apple doesn’t play nice with most outside companies.

Wrist Based Heart Rate Monitor – This is not a new feature for GPS or exercise watches but it works and that’s great. Its part of what makes this a full featured workout watch.

Elevation Tracking – With a built in barometer you can track your elevation without needing to have your phone or see if based on your route when you sync to a computer. If you are training for many of the OCR events that take place on out of season ski slopes, elevation will mean a lot to you in training.

TomTom Adventurer Usage

On the initial unboxing my complete excitement for the features was tempered by seeing that the watch itself was the mostly the same exact design they have had for a few years now. It is a bit sad because TomTom has made their watches functionally so much better every time they update their product line but they have stayed with the same poor ergonomics. I would even hazard to say this watch took a slight step back in comfort and look.

The casing that you separate the watch body from is hard in the center and has bulky pivoting flexible arms to wrap around your wrist. They bands feel like an afterthought and the watch is generally not comfortable to wear if you aren’t working out. The looks are pretty much the same, even the black version has an orange loop around it to secure the extra part of the secured watch band – orange is out of the question for my everyday life.

Then there is the fact that you more of less need to dismantle your watch every time you want to plug it in by usb.  It isn’t hard to do but it’s the only device that I have used, reviewed, or owned that is like this. My final touch on the ergonomics is the one centered button control. TomTom – please, please, please stop using this design. When I’m running it doesn’t feel intuitive and when you are crawling in mud you will get little bits of debris stuck in there.

Let’s get positive because this is a good watch with a ton of features. I wanted this watch so bad because of what the Apple Watch 2 didn’t do. I love tech and will often kickstart things that have a huge upside for my daily life without ever having them in hand or reading the fine print. The Apple watch 2 falls into this category, it had what is basically the feature set of the TomTom Adventurer minus a few things like a barometer. I bought it because I wanted a one stop watch for working out it ended up being a nightmare to pair and unpair headphones, get music on it, use the GPS and many more gripes. This isn’t an Apple watch review but I’m saying this to point out that the TomTom Adventurer does all of the things that the Apple Watch 2 failed to do for me.

When you use the TomTom Adventurer you will notice it makes things in life easier. After you unplug your the watch from your computer just grab your headphones and hit the road/trail/ski slope. You can do additional things like add in GPX based routes for hiking but most people will use this to workout. It never fails to sync my heart rate accurately, with gps and the altimeter tracking my movement, while the bluetooth headphones play music from the watch itself. This is the watch I have been waiting for in the tech department.

TomTom Adventurer Pros and Cons

Pros

  • All in one watch – GPS, Music, HRM, Altimeter
  • Affordable for what you get at just under $300
  • Works well with iTunes

Cons

  • Watch strap is bulky
  • USB plug feels like an afterthought

TomTom Adventurer Conclusion

Here we are at the overarching question, should you buy this watch? I can’t say definitively one way or the other to buy the TomTom Adventurer, this is really a matter of what your intended use case is. If you plan on using this for ultra running and very muddy obstacle course races I would suggest looking elsewhere. If you need a watch with all the features baked into one for every day usage, buy this watch. You can’t go wrong with this watch if you plan on exercising with it every day.

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Dario is a long time distance runner and OCR athlete. When not on the roads and trails logging miles he can be found drinking coffee while reading bad science fiction books.
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Suunto Ambit3 Vertical Review

Suunto Ambit3 Vertical
4.9 / 5 Overall
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Battery Life
GPS Accuracy
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How does Suunto’s Ambit3 Vertical compare to other premium watches like the Garmin Fenix 3?

Ever since my review of the Garmin Fenix 3, I’ve been getting requests to do a review and comparison with the Suunto Ambit3. Well, I finally got my hands on their latest and greatest edition, the Ambit3 Vertical, or Ambit3V for short. Like pretty much every watch over $400, it boasts an incredible battery life and supreme durability, but Suunto claims this watch is a must have for high altitude enthusiasts and want-to-be mountain goats. Is it really all that special? Compared to the Fenix 3, there are a lot of things that I really prefer with the Suunto, but it’s not without shortcomings. So which watch is right for you? It depends. Garmin vs. Suunto is kind of like iPhone vs. Android.

suunto box

 

Suunto Ambit3 Vertical Features

GPS  – With Suunto, you can choose between three different ping rates for GPS. 1s, 10s, or 100s. Ping rate refers to how frequently the watch updates your position; the more frequent the updates, the more accurate the watch is going to be. Unlike Garmin, there is no “smart recording” or variable rate. A large majority of the power used by the watch goes to the GPS chip, so your battery life is going to be hugely affected by the setting you choose here.

On 1s recording, accuracy is really quite remarkable. No GPS watch is going to be perfect, but the Ambit3V does a surprisingly good job even under a tree canopy. I did a few different tests here to determine it’s accuracy.

For my first test, I evaluated GPS drift. If you start an activity but remain stationary, the watch will keep racking up miles (very slowly) since there is still some uncertainty in terms of your position. Measuring the total amount of distance accumulated while stationary can be a good indicator of overall accuracy.  With 1s recording intervals, I got an astonishingly low GPS drift of only 0.03 miles over the course of 10 hours. This means that, at rest, it was only incorrect by about 15ft/hr. That’s pretty solid! The accuracy wasn’t as good with the other GPS settings, but if you’re looking for precision, this setting does a fantastic job.

For my next test, I took the watch out to a local trail that has notoriously bad satellite reception due to a combination of topography and tree canopy. For the 2.50 mile route (measured with a wheel), I’ll typically see values around 2.25-2.35 miles with my Garmin. With the Suunto Ambit3V, I recorded 2.4 miles for the loop, the highest value I’ve ever seen for the run. Still not up to the actual 2.5, but definitely an improvement. I repeated this test on 3 occasions all with similar results.

For my final test, I ran a certified 5k loop on a cloudy day. Depending on weather conditions and tree cover, I often see anywhere from 2.95 to 3.05 miles for the route with my Garmin. On the day of the test, I expected a lower reading due to the poor visibility. Garmin came in with a respectable 2.99 on but Suunto wins this contest with 3.08 on 1s-recording. I complete the test again on a sunny day with good satellite reception and recorded 3.05 on Garmin and 3.07 on Suunto (pictured below) – the Garmin seemed to improve on the sunny day but the Suunto was not phased by the weather.

suunto vs garmin

Now, it sounds like Suunto is the clear winner with accuracy here, but this only comparing the watches on a 1s recording interval! Suunto doesn’t have variable recording or any intermediate settings (2s, 5s, etc) like Garmin, so if you want battery life over 10 hours, you instantly lose considerable accuracy by increasing to a 10s refresh rate. With this recording interval, I accumulated a GPS drift of over 3 miles in the same 10 hour period as before, only increasing battery life to 20 hours. Suunto also has a 100s rate option, although unless you’re doing a multi-day hike, this option isn’t practical or accurate. However, it is nice to have the option since a 100 hour battery life would be very useful for multi day events where precision isn’t necessary (think SISU Iron, Spartan Agoge, etc).

Battery Life – Battery life on the Suunto Ambit3 Vertical can be highly variable depening on the setting you have it on. As mentioned above, I get about 10 hours on the most accurate GPS setting, 20 hours on 10s recording intervals, and 50 hours on the 100s recording intervals. While 50 hours sounds extremely impressive, this comes at the expense of significant accuracy, so if you want flawless data for your 100 miler or multi day event, you’ll have to look elsewhere. It is worth noting that my personal tests were very consistent with what Suunto advertised on their website for the watch, so I figure it’s safe to trust whatever the say in terms of battery life for other watches / configurations as well.

Also worth noting is the battery life in storage. One great future of the Ambit3V is that it “sleeps” when not being used, turning the display off and conserving battery life. You can keep this in a drawer for weeks and still have a nearly full battery for your run. Garmin is pretty good at this too, but not like Suunto.

suunto back

Suunto Ambit3 Vertical Usage

I had the pleasure of using the Suunto Ambit3 Vertical for a couple of races and a handful of super long training runs with lots of vertical gain. The watch initially seems a bit less user friendly than Garmin, but after I got used to the menu options and controls, I began to like it quite a lot. It was very reliable, had extraordinary battery life and durability, and quite frankly, looked awesome. One thing that I quickly appreciated was the quick satellite lock. While my Fenix 3 locks onto GPS reasonably quickly, there are days where it will take several minutes. The Ambit3 is AMAZING here, finding satellites within a few seconds every time.

One cool feature that Garmin simply can’t compete with is Suunto Movies. Basically, they take your GPS data and create a short “movie” showing your run (drawing a red line across the topography) while displaying some key stats from the run. It’s cool to be able to share these videos along with some humble bragging on your most recent workout. While cool, it’s limited. I think that this would be way better if they allowed you to customize the video and choose what stats to display, add photos, text, etc… Still, it’s a pretty neat feature of Movescount, their online data analysis software.

Speaking of Movescount, I really like Movescount a lot more than Garmin Connect. It doesn’t quite compete with TrainingPeaks in my opinion, but I think it’s easier to analyze data on Movescount and looks much more visually appealing. They also show some metrics like energy consumption that Garmin does not show, and they allow for zooming and scrolling across the various charts. The running heatmap is also pretty cool, showing you where other people often run around your route.

movescount datamovescount heatmap movescount graph

Despite my love for the watch, I’m not sold that it’s a must-have for people that love climbing. There wasn’t anything particularly special about the Suunto Ambit3 Vertical compared to the standard Ambit3, and I think that Garmin’s “auto-climb” feature far outperforms Suunto in this area. While it is nice to see your daily/weekly vertical gain on the watch face itself, it’s just as easy to track this with a 3rd party app like Strava or TrainingPeaks.

I actually find it somewhat ironic that Suunto chooses to display your vertical stats on the watch itself, but limits so much configurability to the phone app. Want to change the displays? Better have your iPhone handy. Basically any sort of configuration changes you want to make, you must do on your phone or computer and sync it wirelessly with the watch. This is extremely frustrating if you find yourself walking to the start line of a race trying to add a display field or modify the settings. Don’t get me wrong – it’s very easy and simple to do it on the phone and I love that this feature exists, but it’s very frustrating that you can’t also adjust these settings directly on the watch if you wanted to. This is honestly my biggest frustration. This aside, I really loved my experience!

Suunto Ambit3 Vertical Durability

The Suunto Ambit3 Vertical, just like the Garmin Fenix 3,  is built like a tank. There’s virtually nothing they could do to make it any more durable than it already is, nor is there a need to. The silicon strap is thick enough and seems quite sturdy, so I don’t imagine that it will tear or break even after extended usage. That being said, if something was going to break, that would be it… I just don’t see it happening any time soon.

Suunto Ambit3 Vertical Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Extremely good accuracy (on 1s recording setting)
  • Supreme battery life, up to 50 hours
  • Durability. Nearly indestructible.
  • Easy configuration via phone app.
  • High contrast, scratch resistant display.
  • Semi-stylish and not “overly rugged” for day to day wear.
  • “Instant” satellite lock
  • Suunto Movies

Cons

  • The buttons / controls aren’t super intuitive
  • Poor accuracy when you need battery life over 20 hours (rarely)
  • Inability to adjust some settings without smartphone or computer
  • No wifi data uploading. Bluetooth only.

 

Similar Products

Suunto Ambit3 VerticalGarmin 235Garmin Fenix 3
Battery Life2 weeks as watch, 15 hours with GPS9 days as activity monitor, 11 hours with GPS5 weeks as watch, 20 hours with GPS
GPSYesYesYes
Heart Rate MonitorYes, with additional chest strapOpticalYes, with additional chest strap
Waterproof 100 Meters5 ATM (50 Meters)100 Meters
Weight2.62 oz.1.5 oz2.9 oz.
Phone CompatibilityAndroid, iOSAndroid, iOSAndroid, iOS
Price$325.00$329.99$499.99
ORM ReviewAmazonYes Yes
BuyAmazonAmazonAmazon

Suunto Ambit3 Vertical Conclusion

Overall, the Suunto Ambit3 Vertical is an amazing watch. Many people ask me whether the Ambit3 or the Fenix 3 is better. It’s really a personal preference and depends on which features are important to you. If you run 100 milers, I think you’ll most likely prefer the Suunto because of the battery life if nothing else. If you often run mountainous trails or other areas where GPS performs poorly, Suunto has the potential to be more accurate. Suunto Movies are also super cool! I prefer the latest edition of the Fenix 3 that has a built in heart rate monitor and think that Garmin is more user friendly overall, but neither watch is downright superior. If you’ve never tried a Suunto watch, I encourage you to give it a try! I was definitely impressed and am excited to try more Suunto products in the future.

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Dario is a long time distance runner and OCR athlete. When not on the roads and trails logging miles he can be found drinking coffee while reading bad science fiction books.
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How to Replace Battery in Garmin Forerunner 405

The Garmin Forerunner 405 is a classic GPS watch by Garmin. You can find many of them available for sale on eBay for a steal. The great thing about old GPS watches like the Garmin 405 is that they still track GPS just as well as the new ones. The only thing that has been added to improve tracking accuracy is the GLONASS integration on a limited selection of  GPS watches.

So how do you change the battery on a Garmin 405? It’s easier than it looks but it requires some basic soldering skills, please proceed at your own risk. Here is a layout of the tools that I used and suggest using:

change-garmin-405-battery-1

 

1. Start by flipping the Garmin 405 over and removing the 4 rear screws with a Torx 5 (T5) screw driver.

change-garmin-405-battery-4

 

2. Once the back is unscrewed do not pull it off immediately as there is still a connector attached that you will want to use the flat head screwdriver or a spudger to remove. Disconnect carefully and separate the back from the watch.

change-garmin-405-battery-5

3. After the back is separated, carefully remove all the tape and stickers. You will also want to remove the battery which has a sticky type of glue from the rear plastic housing.

change-garmin-405-battery-6

4. Now you need to remove the old battery with your soldering iron and soldering wick. Touch the two contacts with the soldering iron, once the solder is wet, use the wick to absorb it and then separate the batteries connecting tab.

change-garmin-405-battery-7

5. Now you will start reversing the process. Take the new battery you have purchased and bend the tabs so that they will neatly wrap around the circuit board as the other batteries tabs had. **Important Note – as you can see on your circuit board there is a negative and a positive connection. Look at your battery to see which side is which before soldering on.** Then, with the help of the helping hands or real helping hands, solder the new battery onto the board. My solder connections here were very neat or clean but the important part is to not glob on too much solder and have a clean connection.

change-garmin-405-battery-8

6. Attach the stickers to the battery and the battery to the watch case rear housing. If the glue stayed on your battery and not the case don’t worry – it is snug inside of there and doesn’t require glue but you can use double sided tape if you’d like.

change-garmin-405-battery-9

7. Carefully reconnect the connector to the main watch body and screw your 4 torx screws back into place. That’s it! Charge it up and go for a run!

Garmin Forerunner 235 Review

Garmin 235
4 / 5 Overall
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The Garmin 235 is the first of Garmin’s watches to introduce their own optical heart rate monitor rather than licensing Mio’s technology. After great success with the Garmin 235, they’ve now added a built in heart rate monitor the the FR635, Vivoactive HR, and Fenix3 HR. The updated technology now comes in a slimmer design and with improved accuracy to boot.

Garmin 235 Features

The Garmin 235 is for the most part just an upgraded version of the Garmin 225 (which was reviewed here). But what sets it apart are the stats on the new model, it places the Garmin 235 within striking distance of much pricier options like the Garmin 630 and Garmin Fenix 3 HR. It still lacks a barometric altimeter, but includes other “premium” features like cycling mode, relatively good battery life, activity tracking, bluetooth notifications, and a VO2 max estimator. Until recently, you had to spend upwards of the $400 to get these kinds of features, but they’re now becoming much more accessible. While the heart rate monitor is different than the older version, you’re not likely to notice any differences here – it still works the same way, though perhaps a bit more accurately. The biggest improvement, to me, is aesthetics. The 235 is much slimmer and sleek looking than its predecessor, and the display size is much improved.

GPS accuracy – On most of Garmin’s low to mid range watches, they only have a “smart recording”, in which the GPS recording interval varies depending on speed and acceleration to make a compromise between accuracy and battery life. At this, it does a fairly good job, but smart recording will never be as accurate as the more battery-sucking “every second” recording mode. With the 235 boasting a better battery, there is now support for every second recording. This is significantly more accurate on routes with lots of turns and on most trails. I’ve seen about a 5% accuracy improvement on my local trail route when using 1s recording intervals. I highly recommend using this setting for short runs where you care more about accuracy than battery life. Long story short though, the GPS accuracy on the 235 is on par with other Garmin watches; the only thing worth noting here is the ability to choose the recording interval.

Optical Heart Rate Monitor – Optical heart rate monitor mean that you don’t wear a chest strap but it is instead measured through a sensor on the back of the watch. The accuracy is surprisingly good – amazing actually – for usage during steady state efforts when your heart rate isn’t changing super quickly, but still a bit shaky when dealing heart rate spikes. For things like interval training you will want to stick to a chest strap monitor if you want instant and perfectly synced data.

garmin-235-review-3

In addition to Optical heart rate tracking on runs, you also have the option of 24/7 heart rate monitoring. Just like during runs, it performs very well when not dealing with HR spikes. Chances are it will be right on when you’re checking your HR at your desk at work, but when you stand up to walk to the bathroom it will take some time to lock on and probably deviate up and down significantly. At the end of the day, I’m really happy with how the 235 performs 90% of the time, but would still recommend a chest strap for testing things like maximum heart rate or workouts involving short duration intervals.

Battery Life – Interestingly, battery life seems to be a bit variable, with different users reporting different numbers. This is likely due to the number of configurations with which you can use the watch. Disabling the HR sensor and using smart recording will get you up to 16 hours of battery life, whereas you’re likely to get 6 hours or so with HR enabled and 1s recording intervals; probably about 10 hours out of the box with factory settings.

Likewise, there’s a lot of variability with standby battery life as well. You’re going to get between one and four weeks in watch mode depending on your activity level, your settings, and how often you press buttons.

Overall, battery life here is really good for a watch with a built in HRM at this price point. Disabling HR puts the watch in the same league as watches like the 920xt, Fenix3, an Ambit3, making the watch suitable for many ultramarathoners (though you’d have to be elite to make it through a 100 miler with the watch still alive).

High Resolution Display – The display is really great compared the 225, which is especially great for obstacle races when the display is likely to have a layer of mud over it, limiting readability. The bright backlight, larger watch face, and high contrast makes the watch easy to ready in low-light, direct sun, and even with a layer of dust/dirt. While it seems like a minor point, it really is nice to see your stats at a glance instead of having to bring the watch 6 inches closer to your face and stare for a second!

Smartwatch Capabilities – The watch easily syncs with an iPhone or Android smartphone app, which you can then sync with third party apps like Strava and MapMyRun should you choose to do so. While Garmin Connect is getting better and has an arguably better mobile app than Strava, I still sync all of my activities to Strava. To me, Strava is the best place to keep track of all my activities from various devices, record from my phone if my watch is dead, and chase segments PR’s and CR’s (Garmin’s “segments” feature is lacking IMO). Sometimes the watch/app connection has a mind of its own and syncs whenever it wants to, but normally by closing and reopening the app you can get to connect right away. It does seem to have a more reliable and fast connection than it did with the 225.

 

Garmin 235 Usage

I’ve always been a big fan of heart rate training but, like most athletes, hate the discomfort and inconvenience of chest straps. I was really excited when I began to see optical, wrist-based heart rate monitors hit the market, but was skeptical of their accuracy; I knew the technology would improve though, and I’ve been testing various brands ever since. It was less than a year ago that I reviewed the Mio Link, and if you scan through that review it’s hard to see how far the technology is come in such a short period of time. It’s still not perfect and I’ll discuss some of the current limitations, but if you’re still wearing a chest strap for all of your workouts then you need to catch up to 2016.

I started using the 235 just as I was doing my last few weeks of training for the Georgia Death Race, so in just a two months it went a few hundred miles, went up and down thousands of feet, and I wore it pretty much 24/7. Until this watch, I’ve always opted for the top-of-the-line, dating all the way back to the 910xt in 2012. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the 235, while not exactly entry-level either, still offered many of the bells and whistles of the nicer watches and was a perfectly suitable option for my training.

garmin-235-review-2

On one of my longer training runs of the year, I used the 235 for about 6 hours of running and finished with about 40% battery life remaining. Not bad at all considering it was gathering heart rate data, gps data, accelerometer data and many of the other data points built into the watch for 6 hours. This run had lots of heart rate spikes as we did a lot of walk-running, stopped for water breaks, etc, and the watch did a decent job at still reporting accurately (I did a manual count periodically to check). The main inaccuracy I encountered was that it would take a while to recognize my heart rate was up again when I started running from a walk, occasionally reporting a heart rate in the 90’s for a few 3-4 minutes before “finding” it in the 140s. On this run and many other long training runs I did, there were other runners with me all sporting their own Garmin, Suunto, or Polar for me to compare data with. The 235 was generally consistent with the other Garmins, though it underestimates elevation gain compared to models with a barometric altimeter. Compared to the Suunto Ambit3, the 235 always came up short on distance, by up to a mile on longer runs in the 25+ range.

Teaser: on a local trail known for horrible satellite reception, the Garmin 235 recorded 2.32 miles and the Suunto recorded 2.40 miles. I wheeled the route as per USATF certification standards for a distance of 2.50.

 

Garmin 235 Durability

While not as rugged as options like Fenix and Tactix lines, the 235 is fully waterproof up to 50m and will withstand pretty much anything you throw at it. However, the wrist strap will eventually break after constant abuse. Honestly, you’ll have to beat the crap out of it through dozens of OCRs, not just standard wear and tear, but you can expect to have the rubber degrade if you’re an OCR addict that runs 20+ races a year. If you fall under this category, I’d recommend upgrading to the Fenix3.

garmin-235-review-4

Another thing to consider when using the 235 for OCR is that if the watch isn’t on tightly enough, mud will collect between your wrist and the heart rate sensor which will affect the accuracy. Be sure to opt for a tight fit on race day (but not cut off circulation) to ensure you’re not interfering with the optical heart rate monitor.

 

Garmin 235 Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Optical Heart Rate Sensor
  • Multiple GPS settings
  • HR accuracy for steady state
  • Battery Life relative to price
  • Excellent Display
  • VO2 max estimate

Cons

  • HR accuracy for intervals
  • More expensive than other “200 level” watches

 

Similar Products

Garmin 235Garmin 225Garmin Fenix 3TomTom Cardio
Battery Life9 days as activity monitor, 11 hours with GPS4 weeks as watch, 10 hours with GPS5 weeks as watch, 20 hours with GPS8 Hours
GPSYesYesYesYes
Heart Rate MonitorOpticalOpticalYes, with additional chest strapOptical
Waterproof 5 ATM (50 Meters)5 ATM (50 Meters)100 Meters5 ATM (50 Meters)
Weight1.5 oz1.91 oz2.9 oz.2.22 oz
Phone CompatibilityAndroid, iOSAndroid, iOSAndroid, iOSAndroid, iOS
Price$329.99$239.99$499.99$99.99
ORM ReviewYesYesYesYes
BuyAmazonAmazon Amazon

 

Garmin 235 Conclusion

After extensive testing with Garmin 235, I feel confident recommending this watch to anyone and everyone looking for a watch in the $300 price range. There’s honestly not much to dislike. Sure, there’s still room for improvement with the HRM accuracy, but at the end of the day, it’s accurate enough for most practical training purposes. While your most hardcore obstacle course racing enthusiasts, ultra runners, and triathletes would be better off with a top of the line watch like the Garmin Fenix 3 or Garmin Forerunner 920XT, this is the perfect mid level option for most runners and obstacle racers today. If you haven’t jumped on the optical heart rate sensor bandwagon yet, you’re missing out!

 


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Dario is a long time distance runner and OCR athlete. When not on the roads and trails logging miles he can be found drinking coffee while reading bad science fiction books.
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Garmin 225 In-Depth Review

Garmin 225
4.3 / 5 Overall
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garmin-225-review-3

The Garmin 225 is the best GPS watch I have ever owned to date. I say this because it is more than a standard GPS watch with its built in optical heart rate sensor. For my day to day needs and races under 10 hours it has served me perfectly. With that said I do wish Garmin would unlock things like UltraTrac Mode that it reserves for other watches in their line like the Fenix. After testing this watch for many months, since July 15′ as you can see on my Garmin Connect profile, I am very satisfied with it.

Garmin 225 Features

Optical Heart Rate Monitor – No longer will you see people wearing chest straps to measure their heart rate; Your heart rate is now measured with light and an optical sensor on the back of the watch(read more here, pdf warning). With this ever improving technology I have had heart rate data on ever run since I started using it. This is a huge advantage, more data is better data for optimizing training and seeing what works. The optical heart rate sensor is also always within 1-2 beats when tested against Garmin’s traditional heart rate chest straps.

garmin-225-review-2

GPS –  This is a Garmin GPS watch in 2015, it works perfect and fast. The only issues you will have with the GPS are the same issues any GPS will give you because it’s pretty much all the same these days. Fret not, this feature is still perfect.

Accelerometer – The accelerometer is actually surprisingly accurate when used on a treadmill. It even is self calibrating the more you use it when you do have GPS signal, see here for more on how it works.

Battery Life – It must be witchcraft, the battery with optical heart rate sensor on lasts for 10 hours. Think about it – this little watch on your wrist can track your location and heart rate with extreme accuracy can do it for 10 hours straight without a charge. Try using Google Maps on your cell phone for 10 hours straight without being plugged in (I know it’s not the same thing. it’s still impressive).

Garmin 225 Usage

Having used the watch for the past 5 months of obstacle race training and ultra running I have really learned the ins and outs of the watch. At first when using the Garmin 225 I was instantly saddened that I no longer had the touch screen of my Garmin 620. But it turns out I love not having the touch screen when it comes to my running watch. The ability to scroll through the screens with a guaranteed click of a button is something that is becoming long forgotten in our touch screen world. I remember when I had gotten my first iPhone after having a smart phone with a real keyboard how frustrated I was by not having buttons that I could feel but shortly after I just adjusted. This is similar because I forgot how much I love buttons on a watch so that you don’t have to look at it or hope your swipe worked. I am now converted back to the button world for watches, not for iPhones – I love my iPhone.

My love of buttons on this watch falls into an interesting status because during obstacle races the buttons on the watches are actually a little bit of an issue. During crawls I find that I will accidentally pause the watch when my wrist is bent for crawling. Otherwise this watch has held up through water pits, mud pits, and the water at rope climbs. I haven’t done a swim with it and I suggest you don’t either. This watch is not fully waterproof, see the comparison chart later on for water proof levels.

Other than these thoughts most of my usage has been rather simple in that it’s worked perfectly. I turn it on, I run as far as I want while getting all the information I could need like my average pace, current pace, miles run, heart rate, average hear rate and a bunch more, then I get home and plug the watch back in and sync all of my data. And even after syncing my data I have Tapiriik setup to sync my data from Garmin connect over to Strava so I can be cool and compare data with the service that more people use.

garmin-225-review-1

Ah, I almost forgot, one of the only down sides to the watch is sometimes the heart rate sensor doesn’t play nice for me. I’ve found that if I have particularly dirty sweat on my previous days workout sometimes the sensor is a little dirty. I can tell this because my heart rate seems capped out and not changing much at the beginning of a new workout. To fix it I either needs to sweat enough to re-moisten is and clean it in that way or I wet my finger tip and rub it over sensors on the back of the watch and it is fixed. The other way it doesn’t play nice is more of a personal issue I think. I have very poor blood flow, and on cold days when I’ve been sitting around in my house without much heat on my skin is very cold (this doesn’t bother me but freaks my wife out). When I start running, while in this condition, it doesn’t respond much to my skin until I get some blood flowing and heat up after a few minutes – I’ve found that I can speed this up by pumping my arms a bit.

Garmin 225 Durability

The Garmin 225 looks pretty much like the day I started using it. The face might have a few gentle scratches but otherwise it is unharmed. But the water rating is only 5ATM which means you probably shouldn’t swim in it. I haven’t run an OCR with it where there was any extended water sections but if I am doing a race that has it I will likely swap this out for the Garmin Fenix 3 that is 10ATM and suitable for swimming.

Garmin 225 Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Small and Lightweight
  • 10 hour battery life
  • Optical Heart Rate Sensor

Cons

  • Only 5ATM water resistance
  • No Touch Screen
  • Only 2 customizable screens

Garmin 225 Competitors

TomTom CardioGarmin 225Microsoft Band 2Garmin Fenix 3
Battery Life8 Hours4 weeks as watch, 10 hours with GPS2 days without GPS, 2-3 Hours with GPS5 weeks as watch, 20 hours with GPS
GPSYesYesYesYes
Heart Rate MonitorOpticalOpticalOpticalYes, with additional chest strap
Waterproof 5 ATM (50 Meters)5 ATM (50 Meters)Water-resistant IPX7, Up to 1 Meter100 Meters
Weight2.22 oz1.91 oz2.1 oz.2.9 oz.
Phone CompatibilityAndroid, iOSAndroid, iOSAndroid, iOS, WindowsAndroid, iOS
Price$99.99$239.99249.99$499.99
ORM ReviewYesYesYesYes
BuyAmazon Amazon Amazon

Garmin 225 Verdict

As of writing this Garmin has since released 2 more watches with heart rate monitors built in, updating the Garmin 620 to the Garmin 630, and the Garmin 230 to the Garmin 235. With that in mind I can suggest that you either buy this watch, the Garmin 225 or one of those two. There isn’t a ton of difference in my eyes except the battery life – a quick guide for that is the bigger the number the bigger the watch, and the bigger the watch the bigger the battery (life). In the future I will likely upgrade to the 235 or 630 for battery life so that I can do longer ultra races and still have a built in heart rate monitor. But for now this watch is perfect for me. Final verdict – Buy a Garmin 225 without hesitation.

 

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Dario is a long time distance runner and OCR athlete. When not on the roads and trails logging miles he can be found drinking coffee while reading bad science fiction books.
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Microsoft Band 2 Review

Microsoft Band 2
3.3 / 5 Overall
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Durability
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I came across the Microsoft Band 2 after news that my Nike+ Fuel Band SE was no longer being supported, and I said the same thing most people probably do when they hear about it; “Microsoft has a fitness device?!” I had tried the first iteration of the Microsoft Band, which was met with disappointing results. This was only shortly before I heard of the next iteration, which seemed to solve all previous concerns. I was eager to try it. I went out and bought it on November 7th, the day of release.

Also, you may not have heard that Microsoft released it’s first fitness wearable in October of 2014. More than likely you probably had no idea they released an updated version, just a few weeks ago, either. In the ever-expanding world of fitness wearables and smart watches, Microsoft isn’t exactly a name at the top of the list, but they’re changing minds with their newest entry into the market, the Microsoft Band 2.

The fitness wearable market has exploded in the last 18 to 24 months, but the common theme I have found is that a lot of devices are great at doing one thing well, but there is no device that does everything to my satisfaction. Each device I have tried, required me to compromise in one way or another. Garmin does GPS great, but lacks quality integration with your mobile device. The Apple Watch integrates perfectly with your iPhone, but can’t do GPS without being tethered to your phone. Pebble, FitBit, JawBone.. the list goes on and on, and as such, so does my hunt for the “perfect” fitness wearable.

Microsoft Band 2 Features

The Microsoft Band 2 is the most feature rich wearable I have come across however, taking advantage of all those feature, especially at one time, say during a 10K or Stadium Series Spartan Race, battery life can suffer mightily.

Battery Life – I got a little over 2 hours while tracking my Spartan Race time, distance, and GPS, but while wearing in a day to day scenario, I get two days of usage before charging is necessary. The charge time from 0%  to full comes in at only about 90 minutes, which makes it easy to fill up while I get ready for work in the morning.

Gorilla Glass – Now with the display of the Band intended to be worn on the inside of the wrist, my main concern was scratching the display. After a month of usage, with no real specific care to avoid banging it around while at the office, the display is still gleaming.

Heart Rate Monitor – The heart rate monitor tracks, in real time, your heart rate whether you’re in the middle of a run, or workout session, but it also tracks resting heart rate during the day as well. To add to that it even keeps track while you sleep, noting what your highs and lows were during each activity.

App Home Screen – Microsoft’s Health App is quite simple to use and navigate. So simple it almost seems like it should have more features built into it, but when you dive into each individual tile (all of which are able to be re-organized by the end user), you find great statistics and details just a touch or two away. For those who want even further detail, their web portal offers even more detail, including comparison amongst other users, friends or demographic based.

Microsoft Health iOS App Main Screen

Microsoft Health iOS App Main Screen

Sensors – For me, this is where the Microsoft Band 2 really excels. Again, there’s a bunch of fitness devices that focus on doing one or two of these really well, but I’ve been very impressed by the level of tech packed into this tiny shell. You’ve got a gyrometer, accelerometer, and barometer, to track movement. Galvanic skin response sensors, and UV sensors to measure perspiration and how quickly my pasty white self will need to reapply sun screen. Also, for the 1.7% of people out there that have a Microsoft Phone, there’s a James Bond style microphone built in, to sync with Cortana. I would love it if they extended this outside the Windows 10 type integration.

Extra Features – Unrelated to the world of OCR, I love that this device has integration with TaylorMade’s home grown golf GPS database. Simply choose the course you’re playing at, and the Band will automatically start tracking your shots as you navigate the course, giving you real time updates on distance to the pin, elevation, etc. The open source nature of the software as well allows people to develop their own apps and tiles for the Band. We’re starting to see some of these come out with each update. Notification for your specific sports teams, Tech news from Engadget, and more have all been released in just the last month.

Microsoft Band 2 Durability

Where the Band falls short, especially for this audience, is it’s sensitivity to water, mud, dirt and dust. It’s listed as “water-resistant”, but not for extended periods of submersion. The casing also is subject to scuffing and scratching. The Fenway Spartan Sprint left a few battle scars on my device only a few days into the usage. The folks at the Microsoft Store shared stories with me of customers returning their old bands that “looked like that had been through a cement mixer” because of the soft shell exterior and Gorilla Glass display.

Microsoft Band 2 Usage

A little background, my fitness lifestyle consists primarily of obstacle course races (Spartan, BattleFrog, Bone Frog, etc) along with events like Ragnar, road racing, and regular trips to the gym. This should give you a little bit of my desired features: Heart rate tracking, real-time GPS, workout tracking, etc.

The Microsoft Band 2 will seem bulky to some. It’s large clasp will see odd at first. It’s one of the only fitness bands that makes more sense to have the display on the inside of your wrist, but that’s the only way that seems right, to me. What it may lack in aesthetics, it makes up for in over 10 different sensors packed into a small shell. Those include: an Optical Heart-Rate Sensor, Galvanic skin response sensor, UV sensor, standalone GPS, Barometer, and more.

Microsoft Band

The Microsoft Band 2, unclasped

The Microsoft Band 2 integrates with some of the most popular fitness platforms out there, including Strava, MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, Strava, and even a TaylorMade golf GPS app as well as support for payment at your local Starbucks. Microsoft also has it’s own proprietary health database, Microsoft HealthVault, which can help you keep track of everything the Band can do: Tracking your sleep quality, weight lifting programs, yoga, running, and more. Being able to integrate into all of these databases ensures that you see the data in the manner in which you want to see it, instead of having to use a proprietary app, a huge plus in my book.

 

 

IMG_1117

On screen activity history & recaps

Microsoft Band 2 Pros And Cons

Pros:

  • Simple to use interface & AMOLED Display
  • 11 sensors, including heart-rate, accelerometer, and a standalone GPS
  • Email and text notifications, including quick-reply options
  • Microsoft Health database integration

Cons:

  • Slightly clunky design, subject to scuffing/scratching
  • Battery life can struggle while using common features
  • Water “resistant” but not water/dirt/mud-proof

Microsoft Band 2 Competition

Microsoft Band 2Microsoft BandGarmin 225TomTom Cardio
Battery Life2 days without GPS, 2-3 Hours with GPS2 days without GPS usage4 weeks as watch, 10 hours with GPS8 Hours
GPSYesYesYesYes
Heart Rate MonitorOpticalOpticalOpticalOptical
Waterproof Water-resistant IPX7, Up to 1 MeterSplash Resistant5 ATM (50 Meters)5 ATM (50 Meters)
Weight2.1 oz.2.12 oz1.91 oz2.22 oz
Phone CompatibilityAndroid, iOS, WindowsAndroid, iOS, WindowsAndroid, iOSAndroid, iOS
Price249.99$199.99 - $249.99$239.99$99.99
ORM ReviewYesNoYesYes
BuyAmazonAmazon Amazon Amazon

 

Microsoft Band 2 Verdict

Overall, the pros of the Microsoft Band 2 far outweigh the cons for everyday usage. Don’t let the stigma of the Microsoft name, prevent your from taking a long hard look at what should be a very strong competitor in the fitness wearable market during this holiday season. It’s got a great feature set, and more sensors that any other fitness device on the market, making it a feature rich juggernaut. The lack of true water/dust/mud-proofing is what really will make it difficult to commit to for the true OCR enthusiast, especially with a price tag of $249. Buy this for everyday working out and tech integration but if you need a watch for OCR usage, look to the guys at Garmin or Suunto.

 

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Dario

Dario is a long time distance runner and OCR athlete. When not on the roads and trails logging miles he can be found drinking coffee while reading bad science fiction books.
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