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A week with the Apple Watch

AppleWatchFor the last week, I’ve been keeping a diary of what it’s like living with (and using) the Apple Watch. Strapping a smart watch to your wrist isn’t the same as buying a new TV for your living room. A smart watch becomes an intimate part of your life. It changes things.

I wasn’t sure the best way to present all of my thoughts, so I decided to simply dump an unedited transcript of the diary I kept here.

For reference, I pre-ordered the 42mm space gray Apple Watch Sport at 3am on April 10th when pre-orders opened up. I did not receive my watch on launch day (April 24), mine came on April 27th.

Day 1:

My watch showed up just after lunch today. I opened it at my desk at work with a handful of my coworkers awkwardly standing over me. The packaging was nice, but seemed extremely wasteful in comparison to Apple’s other products.

The initial setup took a little while to sync everything over from my iPhone, but was otherwise easy and painless. I opted not to sync third party apps over right away.

My watch had around 67% battery remaining right out of the box.

My initial impression was that the watch felt great on my wrist, very light and comfortable. Having rather large wrists for a woman my size, I was glad I got the 42mm model, it seemed to be the right size for me. The 38mm model would have likely been dwarfed by my wrists.

Figuring out force touch took me a little while. From the keynote demos, I had the impression that force touch was more of a slamming down of your finger on the watch face, but it turns out to actually be a firm pressing down instead. This took me a few hours to figure out after struggling with a success rate of just around 10% with the slam-your-finger-method. Once I figured this out, using the watch become a lot easier.

I started with the “utility” watch face, an analog one. This seemed like the nicest looking face that provided me the information I was looking for. I wanted to try the elegance of an analog face instead of an easier-to-read digital face.

Apple Watch Utility Watch Face

The Utility face

The delay for the screen turning on when raising your wrist to look at the watch wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected based on reviews from The Verge and Daring Fireball. However, it was just enough in addition to the extra half a second telling time on an analog face takes that I switched to a digital face by the end of the day. I went with “modular” which also shows you more information about your next calendar event. Perhaps if I was the kind of person used to keeping an analog watch on my wrist, I might be quick enough to feel comfortable sticking with the utility face, but I haven’t worn a watch regularly in close to fifteen years. Though, I’m sure I’ll spend most of the week trying out different watch faces. I’m curious to see what I end up landing on in the end.

I checked my heart rate a few times throughout the day and the watch seemed fairly accurate. I’ve never worn a heart rate monitor or regularly taken my pulse before so I can’t say with much certainty how close it is to other forms of measurement. However, it did clock my resting heart rate between 55-59 bpm which is pretty close to the handful of times I have taken it in the last few months.

Sometime mid-afternoon, I switched my sit/stand desk at work to standing mode. Two minutes later, my watch told me to stand for a minute. I thought that was a little weird since I was currently standing already and had been for a couple minutes. An hour later, I dropped my desk back into sit mode and my watch again told me to stand. I had just been standing for an hour straight.

After I got off the PATH back in New Jersey on my commute home, I looked down expecting all the notifications I missed while underground to pop up, but instead my watch let me know I had forgotten to take my phone out of airplane mode. I don’t usually put my phone in airplane mode on my commute, but sometimes Tweetbot gets a little confused and doesn’t queue up favorites properly. I’ve found that switching to airplane mode serves as a good workaround to avoid Tweetbot erroring on me.

I made a quick stop at Duane Reade on my walk to pick up a few toiletries we were running low on. I always use Apple Pay at Duane Reade so I figured it was a good chance to try it from my watch. I expected this to be super awkward, but it really wasn’t that bad. The biggest issue was the numerous taps and button presses it takes to actually use Apple Pay on your watch. It makes sense though, it could be easy to accidentally trigger it if it was always on.

As I was doing my nightly strength workout and foam rolling, a friend and I started sending heartbeats and sketches back and forth. It was neat, but seemed totally pointless except for trying to be cute and waste time.

Before getting in bed, I hopped in the shower real quick to shave down the forest I had let grow on my legs over the last week. I left my watch on the entire time and didn’t have any issues.

By the time I laid down in bed and stuck the watch onto its charger, I was at 29% battery. This was around 10:30pm. Not bad after starting with only 2/3 of the battery and me playing with my new toy constantly all day.

Apple Watch Modular Watch Face

My initial configuration of the modular face

Day 2:

I woke up at my normal 5:45am to catch a 7am spin class and slapped my watch on my wrist just before leaving the house at 6:15.

Once I was on my bike and started pedaling, I started up a new “indoor cycling” activity using the builtin Activity app. I swiped the screen over to show my heart rate since this seemed like the only information I’d actually need during my class. Once my hands were back on the handlebars, the screen turned off and I only noticed it turning back on again when I actively went to check my heart rate. I felt a few notifications come in, but I didn’t feel distracted by them or wondering what they were.

My heart rate throughout the class was in the mid-160s which I guess was roughly accurate? I kind of expected it to be higher than that, to be honest. Though, I read today that Consumer Reports found the Apple Watch’s heart rate monitoring to be just as accurate as their highest-rated chest straps so I guess that’s probably fairly accurate?

After 45 minutes of what turned out to be my best spin class ever, according to Flywheel’s total power, I was eager to see the calorie count for my workout. My Apple Watch showed 251, which isn’t even in the same ballpark as the 915 calories that the Flywheel app estimates. The Apple Watch only knows my heart rate and must base on that, whereas the Flywheel app knows the time, torque, and RPM from my ride, but not my heart rate. Additionally, the Flywheel app estimates based on a person weighing 145-160lbs (I weight 145, for reference). When I entered the class into the Garmin Connect app with the time and distance (provided by the Flywheel app), I was given 584 calories. This feels like the most accurate of the three to me.

After hopping off my bike, I hopped in the shower and again left my watch on with no problems.

By 1:15pm, I still had 70% of my battery left at 7.25 hours off the charger and 45 minutes of active heart rate monitoring.

During the walking part of my commute home, I realized the proper way to think about the Apple Watch isn’t to think of it as its own thing–which because of it’s reliance on your iPhone, it can’t be. Instead, you have to accept that the watch is nothing more than a companion to your phone. A window into in existing thing in your life. Quick access.

I reveled in the simplicity of a quick glance at my wrist to check for important notifications. The red dot at the top of the watch face indicating new notifications is the almost the perfect antidote to the notification anxiety we’ve let our smartphones bring into our lives.

I started with only a pared down list of apps allowed to notify me my wrist, but I expect this to change over time, likely in the direction of fewer, not more. My Apple Watch is for the notifications I really care about, things that may be actionable or are ambient information that is only relevant in that moment. While my phone is always in reach, usually in my back pocket or sitting next to me, a quick flick of the wrist to check for anything important feels like a timesaver.

I walked in the door at home with 48% of my battery left. I had been wearing my watch for twelve and a half hours at this point.

I changed real quick for my second workout of the day, a four mile run. I slapped my Garmin Forerunner 220 GPS watch on next to my Apple watch and headed out the door while contemplating the insanity of going for a run with a $650 iPhone, $400 Apple Watch, and $250 running watch.

I used Apple’s Activity app to record my run since Apple doesn’t allow third party apps to have access to the heart rather monitor yet. Annoyingly, the app counts you down from three instead of just starting as soon as you hit the button like my Garmin does.

When my Garmin beeped at four miles, I stopped the run on both watches and compared. The Apple Watch measured 4.23 miles to my Garmin’s 4.01. Mapping my run using DailyMile’s route tool gave me 4.05 miles. Not accurate enough for serious running and training. As a point of reference, I had my phone (which the Apple Watch relies on for GPS) in my pocket with the screen facing towards my leg. Tomorrow, I’ll try having the screen facing out.

I got into bed at 10:40pm with 20% of my battery left. 16.5 hours off the charger and two workouts.

Garmin vs Apple Watch

Day 3:

I woke up at 5:30 for a nine mile run this morning. Again, I strapped my Apple Watch and my Garmin onto my wrist side-by-side and I stuck my phone in my pocket with the screen facing away from my leg. This time, the Apple Watch measured 8.88 miles compared to the Garmin’s 9.01 miles. DailyMile’s route tool measured the run at 9.25 miles. So this time the Apple watch measured short instead of long.

While I was cooling down, I tried to see my mile splits for my run, but was disappointed to not be able to find them on either the watch itself or in the Activity app that was installed on my phone when I paired my watch to it. For me, this is a complete deal breaker. If you’re a runner who is training for something, those splits are very important.

My hour and sixteen minute run ate 20% of my battery so I dropped my watch on the charger, which nicely snaps in to place with zero fuss and charges quickly, while I showered.

While walking to the office, it really hit me how much the Apple Watch demands very granular control over notifications. It’s a control that doesn’t really exist in apps yet, but developers will have to start thinking about this. For example, I want Slack notifications if I’m mentioned, but not for @all, @channel, or other keywords I alert on. All of these notifications are fine for my phone, but not for my wrist. For Tweetbot, I only want DMs and mentions; favorites, retweets, and follows aren’t necessary for me to know about immediately. With Tumblr (I know), I want asks, fan mail, replies, and only reblogs in which something is added. The thing all of these notifications have in commons is that they are either things I might want to take action on or are people saying something to me. Other notifications may be useful, but they’re not important, they’re fine to see whenever I actually decide to check on them myself. I don’t need them buzzing my wrist.

Right before lunch, I got this nice little notification that I was already crushing my activity for the day. The watch will periodically pop in with things like this to let you know how you’re doing on your move, standing, and exercise goals.IMG_2147

After lunch, my watch was at 93% battery still. This was five hours of being hammered with Twitter notifications. An hour later, 90%.

At ten to three, my watch told me to stand. I’d been sitting for not even twenty minutes after an hour with my desk in standing mode. Doesn’t this thing know I ran nine miles this morning on exhausted legs and was beat? It also seems that the watch doesn’t care if you’ve had a long standing session, it still wants you to stand each clock hour.

The weather outside was literally perfect today so I used Starbucks as an excuse for a mid-afternoon walk to enjoy it all. I paid for my iced coffee using my Starbucks card in Passbook. Just like on your phone, you’re given a QR code to scan. This was the most awkward thing ever. It doesn’t seem like it’d be much different than using Apple Pay with your watch, but there’s something totally awkward about how you have to contort your wrist while trying to line it up with the barcode reader. Maybe having the reader positioned differently would help.

Overall, the watch is really starting to feel useful. I find myself both more and less distracted at the same time now.

I’m more distracted thanks to a frequent buzzing on my wrist telling me something possibly important just happened. It’s like having someone screaming in your face “HEY THIS JUST HAPPENED! LOOK AT IT!”

But on the other end of things, I’m definitely way less distracted. The only things that buzz my wrist are potentially important notifications, not all notifications. The things buzzing my wrist are the things I want to know about right away and may want to take action on. They are the things I am constantly checking my phone for. Having these notifications on my wrist greatly cuts down on the number of times I check my phone or OS X notification center. I can trust that if it’s important, I already know about it. This allows me to keep up with important stuff without the distractions of the unimportant stuff. I’d often fall into the trap of checking my notifications and getting bogged down in the fluff. “Oh, an Instagram like, let me go see how many likes this photo has.” Knowing I can quickly check my wrist with all of the fluff filtered out is totally liberating. Plus, all I have to do is flick my wrist and look for a red dot at the top of the screen indicating if there is anything or not.

Today, I wore a dress with not pockets so my phone was either sitting on my desk or in my purse all day. While I was at work, I didn’t even need to think about my phone as long as I was staying on my floor. I’d go to the bathroom or to meetings and leave my phone behind. On the train, I controlled my music from my wrist. As I walked home, my wife sent me a few text about dinner. Without my watch, I likely would have missed them. Even in pants with my phone in my back pocket, I typically don’t feel my phone vibrating while walking (I keep my phone on silent 95% of the time). I was able to quickly respond without fishing my phone out of my purse using the canned responses and walk into the house with a pizza already on its way.

After nine hours off the charger, I had 68% of my battery left.

Overall, I’m really impressed with how smooth and snappy the UI is…until you open something that needs to pull data from your phone. Then things get painfully slow to the point where I give up and simply reach for my phone. For the most part, third party apps aren’t even worth bothering with.

I love the digital crown. I find myself using it to scroll over touching the screen. It just feels smooth and with the perfect amount of resistance. I love the taptic feedback when you get to the top or bottom of a screen.

I’m still fiddling with my watch face, but I think I’m pretty close now. I tweaked it to remove the moon phase. It’s existence felt purely ornamental.

Apple Watch Modular Face

My current watch face configuration.

I tried out heartbeats and sketches again with a coworker tonight. My impression hasn’t changed. Cute, but that’s about it.

I got into bed with 50% of my battery remaining after exactly 14 hours off the charger.

Day 4:

I woke up at 5:30am again for a seven mile run. I walked out the door with both my Apple Watch and my Garmin, but this time I fired up the Nike+ app to record my run with splits and the Apple Activity app for heart rate data. Sort of a pain in the ass to have to start a run on two different apps.

Annoyingly, the Nike+ app kept sounding off stats from my pocket for each mile. This is all configurable, but I’ve never used Nike+ so I hadn’t yet configured all the settings how I like them. Generally, I prefer my Garmin’s simple beep every mile. I don’t need my stats read to me.

Today, the Apple Watch and my Garmin measured very similarly. My Garmin was seven miles and my Apple watch was 7.07 miles (my iPhone screen was facing my leg). A 1% delta between the two is close enough to negligible for me.

Even harder than starting two running apps and a Garmin at the same time was stopping them all, but in the process I discovered double-tapping the digital crown switches between your last two apps. Neat!

Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to view my splits in the Nike+ app on either my watch or my phone. I’m sure they’re there somewhere, I just couldn’t find them easily. But when you finish your run, the watch app shows a mini map of your run for you. Why would I even want that? I almost never look at the maps of my runs. I’d much rather see my mile splits right there. I almost always check these immediately after finishing my runs.

Mostly, this all seems to be par for the course for running apps. They’re just barebones windows to basic info. Sure, it’s absolutely a tiny screen on your wrist, but my Garmin shows my overall time, overall pace, and distance (you can configure what you want, this just happens to be what I prefer). It’d be nice to get these three bits on screen at the same time. I also can’t figure out if any of these apps having manual lapping or prompting for intervals on the watch itself or if you need to access that via your phone.

iSmoothRun was my iPhone running app of choice before I got my Garmin a year ago and they’ve said they have an Apple Watch app coming any day now. I’m really hoping that’ll give me what I’m looking for. Though, Apple not allowing third parties to access to the heart rate monitor means I’ll still be running with two apps going.

My run this morning used 18% of my battery so I charged my watch while I showered again. I feel this will be my normal routine. While the battery life on the watch has been incredibly impressive given what Apple rates it for, the heart rate monitor really takes a beating on the battery. I’m kind of surprised it’s that much, actually. However, my Garmin, which has onboard GPS and no heart rate monitor, seems to get about 50 miles of running to a charge so it’s comparable.

One other interesting thing about my run today, with a third of a mile left, I found myself with a choice of darting across the light rail 30 feet from of an oncoming train (they move really slowly) or waiting. I broke into a quick sprint and went for it. We don’t need to talk about how dumb this was. Anyway, later in the day, I was looking through my heart rate data and was able to match it up to my run and see that my heart rate spiked to 194bpm from the mid-170s where it was during the last couple of miles. Really cool!

As I walked off the train on my way to work this morning, I effortlessly skipped a boring song that just came on. My phone stayed in my back pocket.

When I got to work, I pulled out my phone to check into Tumblr HQ on Swarm as I do every morning. This felt super cumbersome, even with the today Today widget. Swarm is a perfect use case for an Apple Watch app. Seems like a no-brainer to me, but it doesn’t exist yet.

Normally, I get up and walk around or just go to the bathroom a lot while at work just to keep moving. I like to stretch my legs. But some days it’s tough, either I’m really busy or just super exhausted. It’s these times when my watch yelling at me to stand is super annoying. As an office worker, you almost have to have a sit/stand desk if you want to strap an Apple Watch to your person. And even with the sit/stand desk, sometimes the watch seems to struggle to detect that you’re actually standing. My watch told me to stand at 11:50 today after I’d been standing for the last hour straight.

I’m starting to wonder if my taptics are working properly on my watch. It’s hard to get a feel for how prominent the buzzing is supposed to feel. One of my coworkers remarked that he felt like he needed to turn the intensity down on his watch, but I feel myself longing for a little more. Most people I’ve talked to seem to say literally the exact same thing I’ve said about it so who knows.

I’m also finding I have very little interest in third party apps on my watch. It’s not even just that they all mostly suck, but it just doesn’t seem like what this thing is for. The watch feels like it’s for getting quick info or performing single touch tasks. More than apps, I just really want fine grained control over notifications. With tighter control over notifications, the Apple Watch could actually save you from notification hell instead of putting you there as I was afraid it would.

Halfway through a code deploy at work today, I looked down at my watch and force touched the screen to clear all my notifications. The force touch seems to double as the perfect release for pent-up tension.

After work, I met some friends for runner happy hour. Instead of checking my phone constantly like I do when I’m out, I left it face down on the table and relied on my watch to tell me if there was anything I needed to know. Depending on how use your watch, it could easily distract you from being present with the people you’re with or it could free you from distraction.

After fourteen hours on my wrist, I unstrapped with 57% of my battery left. I don’t even check it during the day anymore. There is not battery anxiety at all. You only need to be onboard with dropping it on the charger every night…which isn’t that big of a deal, I don’t think I’d want to wear it while sleeping anyway.

Day 5:

The watch is starting to blend into my regular life and simply feel like a natural extension of the technology I already use every day. Not having to nurse the battery helps a lot with this, I think. You just let it be and it tells you want you need to know. The first four and a half hours of today only used 7% of my battery.

Just like every other day so far, my watch told at me to stand after I had already been standing for an extended amount of time. This is getting old, but there are enough times when it is right that I haven’t stood in a while that it’s worth having. I think.

This evening, I stayed in and took it easy. I just wanted to relax. I happened to fire off a tweet relating to my crush on Anna Kendrick and then my wrist started blowing up for the next two hours. Not very relaxing. It may be useful to start making use of do not disturb mode or simply taking the watch off when I want to relax.

Even with a ton of notifications today, my watch only used 47% of its battery for 14:35. However, my phone’s battery seems to be draining much quicker. That’s a bummer.

While I’m not one to invoke “this would have never happen if Steve were still alive,” it’s hard to not see how different the Apple Watch would be with Steve Jobs alive, well, and at the helm still. The Apple Watch does (or tries) to do a lot. Some of it, it’s very good at. Some of it, not so much. There is nothing simple about the Apple Watch and learning all the interactions takes some time. Steve Jobs was very much “this is what and how you’re going to use this.” The Apple Watch is “we made it do everything so you can figure out what it means to you.” It’s just different. I don’t know if that’s good or bad yet.

Day 6:

I rebooted my phone and my battery life seems much better though. So maybe it’s not an issue. We’ll have to see.

This morning’s run was 4.02 miles on my Garmin ad 4.06 on my Apple Watch. 1% difference again. It seems to be getting more consistent, but I’m not sure if I trust it yet. I just stuck with the Apple Activity app today, but I’m starting to get curious about what other apps do with GPS data. They all rely on the same data from your phone. They ask the phone where it is and it gives it a map point, but do any apps try to process that point and snap it to a road or reject points that are radically different than the points before/after? How often do they poll for data? I’m just wondering if different apps may provide difference mapping results.

After my run, I showered and my wife and I hopped in the car to drive down to Philly. My watch buzzed a few times while I was behind the wheel and it definitely took some self restraint to ignore it until stopped at a light. I don’t drive a lot anymore, but I could see the Apple Watch only adding to the distracted driving problem in our society.

When we go to Philly and walked into the race expo for the Broad Street Run, I again wished for a Swarm app on my watch. It’d be so quick and easy! As we walked around the expo, I received a ton of texts from some friends I was talking to. Getting the notifications on my wrist was a nice way to see what was worth pulling my phone out to reply to and what was fine being left without a reply. I felt less distracted than if I was looking down at my phone for every message.

We walked across the street to Reading Terminal Market and it just felt like another perfect use case for a Swarm app.

Getting into the car to head to a friend’s house, I asked Siri on my phone to pull up directions. I typically use Google Maps, but I was feeling lazy. Without doing anything, I started getting buzzing and directions on my wrist while driving. It was actually super distracting to the point where I killed navigation on my phone after a few minutes and switched over to Google Maps. I could see this being really helpful in certain situations, but for city driving with lots of turns and streets really close to each other, it was the worst.

We spent the night hanging out with our friends and I found myself distracted, but less so. I was looking at my watch a lot, but the distractions there where filtered from what was on my phone. I was taken away from the conversation few times and for shorter amounts of time. Still, I felt like I was being just as rude as I ever am.

Day 7:

I woke up at 4am today. Yes, I was surprised that 4am was actually a real time too, but it was there. The plan for the day was to knock out six miles before we headed back into Philly for the Broad Street Run. I was running perfectly on schedule, but four miles into my run, I felt my wrist buzz. I don’t typically feel distracted by notifications while running, but it was 5am on a Sunday. I knew it was either my wife telling me I was running late or…her saying she work up feeling sick and couldn’t run the race. This information was actually really helpful. Knowing our plans were going to change, I was able to stop worrying about making it back to leave in time for the race.

We ended up getting in the car and driving home and I again felt the distraction of a buzzing wrist while driving. I did my best to ignore it. Just like when trying to relax, I think do not disturb will be a must here.

After getting home, I changed to run again. I still had another twelve miles scheduled for the day. I ran out the door and finished my run at the bagel place near our house. It was about 10:30 while I was waiting in line and my watch was down to 47% battery. To be fair, I took it off the charger at 4 and had run 18 miles with it.

My two runs were measured at 6.08 and 12.08 miles on my Apple Watch and 6.24 and 12.08 on my Garmin. I sweat a lot on my second run today and it made me think about the fact that Apple made a big deal about the Apple Watch being water resistant enough to run with and avoid issues from sweat, but it requires you to keep your iPhone on you which isn’t water resistant at all. That’s kind of a problem.

Sometimes, the watch display doesn’t turn on when I expect it to and I end up twisting my wrist back and forth trying to get it on before giving up and just pressing the digital crown. This doesn’t happen a lot.

Tonight, I was doing a strength workout at home while trying to maintain a text conversation via my watch. And when I couldn’t respond with a canned response, I would walk over to my phone to type it out. It was actually way less than ideal and totally made my workout take way longer.

I crawled into bed just as my watch was alerting me that I was at 10% battery left. It asked me if I wanted to go into power reserve to extend battery life.

Two and a half of those hours were active heart rate monitoring. The watch had 10% battery left when I took this screenshot.

Two and a half of those hours were active heart rate monitoring. The watch had 10% battery left when I took this screenshot.

Overall thoughts:

I’m still trying to find a decent running app. There are a bunch out there, but I guess I’m just picky? Or maybe the problem is that I’m trying to mimic the things I like about my Garmin and fix all the things I hate about it.

When it comes to the GPS for runs, I’m just looking for some consistency here. GPS is a very imprecise technology and you have to expect a fair margin of error, but my Garmin tends to measure runs very consistently. I can usually count on it to sound off a mile in the same place every day and measure the a route the same every time I run it. This is what I’m asking for. For the short term, I plan to keep running with both watches. The Apple Watch works as a nice heart rate monitor and the Garmin is at least consistent.

Going back to what I had thought about on Day 6 regarding different apps doing different calculations with the same GPS data, my run this morning was measured at 5.07 by the Apple Activity app and 5.12 by Runtastic so it seems like there may be some processing of the data there rather than taking the points as is. I’ll have to keep looking into this.

Overall, I’m really loving my Apple Watch a lot more than I expected to. It’s not perfect, but it’s really good. As a toy, it’s definitely neat. As a communication and productivity tool, it really depends on how you use it and what you want from it. As jewelry, it’s really pleasing to look at, for me at least. And for for running, it’s probably more than good for a more casual runner, but for a serious runner it just doesn’t cut it…at least not right now.

I’m hopeful apps will improve now that developers actually have watches on their hands and with the addition of the native SDK at some point later this year.

13

Garmin Forerunner 220 review

Garmin Forerunner 220

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!

Hardware

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.

Garmin Forerunner 220

See those bumps? They keep everything snug and in place while you’re out there pounding out the miles.

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.

Garmin Forerunner 220

Software

Garmin Forerunner 220On 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.

Garmin Forerunner 220The 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.

Garmin Connect iPhone app

Garmin Connect iPhone app

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.

Garmin Connect

Garmin Connect website. PS: Gamin, STFU about segments.

Verdict

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.

Garmin Forerunner 220

Nope.

17

To GPS watch or not to GPS watch

I’ve been talking about this a bunch on Twitter for a while, but it continues to be one of those things in which I struggle to pull the proverbial trigger. Should I buy a GPS watch or not?

iSmoothRun iOS iPhone

iSmoothRun

Since day one, I’ve run with my phone and used that to track my runs. In the earlier days I used MapMyRun and RunKeeper, but for the past few years I’ve been all about iSmoothRun. The app features everything I need from the stats I want to interval/workout coaching, plus it exports data to DailyMile and RunKeeper. It’s really handy. To me, it makes sense to track my runs with my phone since I always run with it on me anyway. I like the idea of having it just in case something happens or goes wrong. There have been more than a couple occasions where I had to stop a run way early and been stuck miles from home only to have to call the wife to come pick me up. Without having my phone on me, I’d have been stuck with a long walk home. So, if get a watch, I’m probably still going to be running with my phone on me. Getting a watch doesn’t replace anything, it just becomes an additional thing to have on me.

My bigger concern, though, is how it could affect my running. I try to run entirely by feel and ignore my pace/time until after my run. I used to have my phone set to call out my pace at each mile, but I found I was becoming obsessed with it. “I know this is just an easy run, but I can totally go 10 sec/mile faster!” “What?! I’m going that slow?! No way I can let that be!” Eventually, I turned this feature off and wore my armband in a way that made checking my pace rather difficult. This allows me to only listen to my body and run entirely by effort. My running improved greatly after doing this, as did my enjoyment. My fear with a watch is that I’ll be too tempted to check it every ten seconds and I’ll become obsessed with my pace again.

On the other side of things, the Erie Marathon does not have pace groups so I’ll be on my own for keeping myself at my goal pace without being too fast or too slow. Because this is going to be another really important race for me, I don’t think I want to chance anything. Once a mile isn’t enough feedback for keeping myself on track. A GPS watch is the obvious solution to this and that may be enough to push me over the edge. Thinking about it logically, I’d want to do most of my training with the watch so I could get myself used to running with it and listening to what it’s telling me. I should make a decision sometime soon.

Garmin Forerunner 220

Garmin Forerunner 220

The watch I’ve been eying is the Garmin Forerunner 220. It’s highly recommended by everyone who has one and it has the features I want. I’ve looked at a few others, but it seems like, for the price, this is the best option. The Bia Sport watch looks great in a lot of ways, but the separate GPS piece really kills it for me.

But part of me wants to hold out just a little longer and see if Apple does, in fact, start selling an “iWatch.” Who knows what features the watch will include, assuming it actually exists at all, but one can’t help but think it’ll offer everything I’m looking for (either natively or via 3rd party apps) on top of everything else a smartwatch has to offer. Along the same line of thinking, why not just get a Pebble instead? iSmoothRun already includes Pebble support so I’d be good to go. Though, flipping back to the pro dedicated GPS watch side of things, maybe it would be better to avoid the one-device-for-everything path. There’s only so much battery life to go around and I already have to charge my phone at some point midday if I’m running anymore than 4-5 miles. A watch that relies on my phone and serves other purposes besides running not only doesn’t help that situation but it actually makes it worse by adding another device with a battery I need to worry about. A dedicated GPS watch can just be left on the charger when I’m not using it.

In typical Amelia fashion, I am taking what should be a simple technology-buying decision and making it way overly complicated. The bottom line here is that I’m about 90% certain I’m going to just go ahead and buy the Garmin in the next few days. I’ve got enough Amazon points to cover the entire cost and my Prime membership will have it to me in two days. If Apple does start selling an iWatch (or another enticing smartwatch hits the market), nothing is stopping me from buying one while still using the dedicated watch for running.

Do you run with a GPS device? If so, which device do you use? Do you like it? In your experience, how has it both helped and hurt your running?