After a few weeks of running with my new Garmin Forerunner 220, I think I can finally write up a little review for it. As you may recall, this is my first running watch–actually, it’s the first watch of any kind I’ve owned in like thirteen years–and I was a bit on the fence about the purchase. Obviously, I decided to go for it!
Overall, the hardware is pretty great. I’m really happy with it. It’s plasticy, but it feels well made and the purple and white color scheme looks cute (though, I wish there were more than just the two color options).
I was a little worried about the watch feeling a bit big, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it actually feels great on my wrist. By no means is it small, but it doesn’t look or feel huge. Though, I have big hands and wrists so I may not be the best judge of this. For me, it fits great. Snug so it stays in place, but not uncomfortably tight. A small, but really awesome feature of band/strap is the inside of the keeper loop (this is actually what it’s called, I looked it up!), there are three little bumps to help keep it in place instead of sliding and causing the strap to pop out. Nice attention to detail here.
The screen is bright and easily readable on even the sunniest of days. Though, given the overall size of the watch, a bigger screen would have been nice, it’s plenty big enough to quickly read while running. And the buttons are big and easy to press while on the move.
The beeps are plenty loud to hear, even when running down the side of a trafficy road, and the vibration is strong enough to never miss.
One of the biggest questions with GPS watches is how quickly does it get a satellite lock? My experience has been that’s it’s very quick. Most of the time, I can turn it on and put it down on the couch while I put my shoes on and by the time both shoes are on and tied, it’s ready to go. It’s snappy even when inside and not right in front of a window. The GPS also seems to measure most runs very consistently.
While the battery life is great, it lasts for a full week of running between charges, the one knock I have here is the charger. The watch comes with a little USB cradle that charges and syncs the watch with your phone. Unfortunately, Garmin chose not to include a wall wart to plug the USB cable into. You’re forced to charge the watch through your computer, unless, of course, you’re like me and have ten or so spare USB wall plugs littering up your house. If you don’t have any spare ones, you’re stuck with your computer or sharing the one for your phone. This may not be an issue most of the time, but runners are known to travel for races. These days, fewer and fewer people bring laptops when they travel and instead opt for a tablet. For many people, this will mean not being able to charge your watch and phone (and tablet) at the same time. Many people may not have a problem with this and it’s easily remedied for a few bucks on Amazon, but Garmin still should have included it.
On the software side, things are a bit different for me. Here, things are heavily lacking. Using the 220 feels like a throwback to my old Nokia 5125 dumbphone from 2000. The menus are reasonably clean and mostly intuitive, but everything feels overly cumbersome to do some things. A lot of stuff seems to take an extra button click than should be necessary.
The biggest thing that drives me nuts about the watch is not being able to use both auto lapping and manual lapping together. The omission of this feature is completely mind-boggling to me. So much so that I didn’t find out I couldn’t do it until after I tried to do it during the Firecracker 4-miler. I was hitting the lap button at each mile marker and not looking down to see what my watch was saying so I didn’t even notice it was totally screwing everything up because I still had auto lap on. After the race, I had a mess to sort through.
To make matters worse, there is no way to access the mile splits if you’ve screwed this up. At the absolute least, the watch should be able to give you mile (or kilometer splits) no matter what else you do. These should be entirely different from any sort of lapping and always available as a separate list. It’s not as if this data doesn’t exist within the watch. Each GPS data point is stored anyway.
My issue here goes beyond just saving my butt if I accidentally hit the lap button and screw up my splits (which I’ve done on more than one occasion since the race). There are regular use cases for it as well. Often times, I want to be able to see data in two different ways. For some runs, I’d like to be able to hit the lap button right in the middle so I can easily see the difference between the first and second half of my run without having to add up all the mile times manually. Or, what if I want to run down to a track near my house, do a few laps, and run back. It’s entirely likely that I’d want to manually lap each lap around the track so I can check on it later, but still have my mile splits for my overall run. Sure, I could stop running when I get to the track and start a separate workout and end up with three runs in my watch (one for the run there, one for the track, and one for the way home), but I don’t want that, nor should I be forced to do it in such a sloppy way. Even if I’m not running down to the track, if I program a workout for the watch to prompt me though, I have to give up having mile splits for that run.
The more I think about this, the angrier it makes me. It’s not as if this is a difficult engineering issue. I can’t claim to know the inner workings of Garmin’s code, but if enabling the separation of manual lapping, auto lapping, and splits based on default distance unit is more than ten minutes worth of programming, someone’s doing it wrong at Garmin. Even free smartphone apps can do this. The person (or people) at Garmin responsible for this need to be slapped across the face. It’s a classic case of a developer not taking a moment to think from the user’s perspective.
Okay, I have to move on before I throw someone through the window.
Why does the watch not include builtin shoe tracking? We all should be tracking mileage on shoes so we can retire them early, why would it not be built into the watch? I’m sure we all have our own ways of keeping track of this, I personally keep track with DailyMile. However, I don’t always enter my runs into DailyMile immediately. With the iPhone app I used to use, this wasn’t a problem. It kept track of which shoe I wore on each run so I’d always have access to this information. Now, I have to enter my run into DailyMile immediately so I don’t forget which shoes I wore. I don’t know about you, but when I get home from a run, I’m not typically running right to my computer. Most of the time, it goes something like this…rip off shoes and clothes, set up a Nuun, eat one of those cheapo freezer pop if it’s a warm day, chug a cup of water while waiting for the Nuun to finish dissolving, drink my Nuun, grab something to nibble on, and then go find dry clothes to put on. By the time I do all that, it’s usually time to start/eat dinner/breakfast or get ready for work or collapse lifelessly on the couch. Most runs don’t get logged in DailyMile until the next morning…or even the Monday morning of the following week as I scramble to get all my miles logged before the weekly email goes out. At this point, I don’t always remember which shoes I wore on which run. The watch should be able to store this basic bit of information for me without me having to remember later on. Again, this is something free smartphone apps do.
There are some things to like with the software on the watch itself and I don’t want to gloss over them. I actually like the fact that the “current pace” is rounded to five second increments. My wife used to have a Forerunner 205 (which we replaced with the 220 at the same time I bought mine). I ran with it a couple times and it would drive me nuts that the “current pace” was an exact time. I always know to take this measurement with a grain of salt, but seeing it jumping around was always annoying. Five seconds is good enough for me. I also like that you can configure what data shows on the screen and how it’s displayed. I only wish you could also configure the screen for when you’re doing a workout too.
I do like that there’s an accompanying smartphone app that can be used to communicate with the app via bluetooth. This is actually a ton more convenient than having to plug into your computer to get the data off your watch. However, the app isn’t exactly all that great. Why can I not create and edit workouts on the app? Why am I forced to go to the Garmin Connect website on my computer for this? Yet again, this is something free smartphone running apps can do without any trouble at all. Why can’t I configure watch settings via the app? Being able to go through all the stuff in the settings menu via the Garmin Connect app on my phone would be a ton quicker than doing it on the phone itself. This is not some radical concept in 2014. We have thermostats, household appliances…even lightbulbs that allow you to do this. This should be standard on a $250 smartphone-connected watch. What it comes down to is there is no excuse for the app to be a read-only window into your watch and the data you’ve set up on the website.
Moving onto the computer, whyyyyy am I forced to physically plug the watch into my computer to sync it when it can connect to my phone via bluetooth? Why can I not also use bluetooth with my computer? This is absurd. And then, when I do plug it into my computer the watch is inoperable. If I want to change something on the watch, I need to unplug it first. This means that even if I’m just charging the watch, I can’t use it to look at data or change settings or do anything. What even is this?
The Garmin Connect site itself isn’t actually terrible. The site was very recently redone, which is good because the version that was there when I first got the watch was pretty bad. Garmin Connect isn’t exactly amazing now, it’s got a bit too much going on, but it’s functional enough to do what I’m asking of it. However, it seems as though Garmin is hoping you’ll use it to connect with friends and other runners and do a whole bunch of other stuff on there. Yeah, not going to happen. All I want to use it for is setting up workouts and looking at data from my runs. That’s it. Since it works well for that, I’m happy. My biggest complaint is that it doesn’t seem to ever keep you logged in. It asks me to log in every single time I go to the site which is a little maddening.
Now that I’ve gone on for 2,000 words, it’s probably time to wrap this thing up.
Ultimately, a lot of people seem to really like this watch. It was highly recommended to me by MANY folks on Twitter and got good reviews around the internet. Unfortunately, for me, I can’t share such enthusiasm. As I mentioned, I love the hardware and I think they pretty much nailed it there, but the software makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry. Okay, that’s a little hyperbolic, but it’s highly disappointing and lacking. At $150, most of it would be forgivable. For $250…just, no.
Not only can I not recommend the Garmin Forerunner 220, but I wish I could return it. Literally, within the first ten minutes of the package being open, our kitten, Hattie, had already left teeth marks on the band so I think I’m stuck with this thing.
For many runners, these things just may not matter that much, but considering most of the issues I have with this watch have been taken care of long ago by free smartphone apps, I find it to be inexcusable. Garmin spent time adding in all kinds of other little features and building out a website that no one is going to use the way they’d hope instead of focusing on putting core no-brainer features in place. Garmin isn’t knew to this game, they are multiple generations deep in the GPS watch arena, this stuff should be there already.