This is the long awaited review of the Garmin Forerunner 305 (aka the GPS watch on a budget). Having been a student for about four years now, but equally a bit of a techie too, getting hold of a GPS running computer was going to have to happen, but on a tight budget. The Forerunner 305 ticks both boxes, available currently on Amazon for around £135 and offering GPS tracked and logged data of your running and cycling too.
It’s big. Make no bones about it, it isn’t a watch sized ‘watch’. It’s a bit like a 70’s Doctor Who style ray gun on the wrist unit. What it also is though, and quite contrary to what you may think, is a terribly good fit for a very small wrist such as mine. The unit is curved and the antenna part sits on the inside of your wrist. The screen is large and very clear and packs up to four different stats on your performance per screen configuration (and there are three of those too!). The buttons on the front are big enough to hit even with a clumsy hand, and the side ones are sufficiently far apart to mean hitting the wrong one is unlikely.
The 305 offers a huge range of functions and a heart rate monitor strap too. There is also a 205 model, which comes without the HRM function. You save very little money in foregoing the HRM so really, grab the 305 and get a bit more value for your money. The other options you have, in the Garmin range are the 310XT (triathlete’s Garmin) and the 405 which looks far more like a normal watch. Both of these options are considerably more expensive than the 305, more on this later.
The screens which you can scroll through can be configured to display between one and four items of data. For example on the first screen I have selected Time (running elapsed time), Pace (live pace calculation in minutes per mile), Distance (miles, or kilometres if you’re Damian) and Heart Rate (available in bpm or percentage of maximum heart rate). Additionally a range of other stats are selected from the huge list available for other screens, all fully configurable to your own requirements.
The unit does good job of recording your stats as you run, only really falling down when you’re under cover of tunnels and very tall buildings, where you will notice your pace go a bit wobbly. This is obviously a limitation of GPS needing to be able to ‘see the sky’ as it were, and not a criticism of the unit itself. In tree lined trails, it copes admirably.
The 305 uses a usb cable to sync and charge (unlike the much more expensive 405 which uses a wireless ANT+ unit) and this is probably where Garmin (and of course, you, the customer) save a few quid. I don’t know about you, but I like to sync the unit and immediately look at the data on the PC to see how I did. There’s no reason for a wireless sync in my world, yet another reason not to upgrade or splash the extra cash.
The Garmin Training centre software supplied with the unit is, in all fairness, functional and nothing more. It’s poor compared to your other options. Garmin however now direct you to their website, http://connect.garmin.com which is much more feature rich. I also use the free SportTracks from ZoneFive Software which is superb and provides the ability to achieve a far deeper analysis of the Garmin logged information.
Those of you who have been following the blog will be aware of the ability to embed the Garmin Connect data into a website, (see daily blog on http://1095miles.com for examples) and this is a useful feature if you’re into showing off your athletic endeavours!
My 305 has had a long and arduous year, covering about 550 miles to date, the HRM battery has been replaced once in this time (a standard coin cell affair, easy to obtain) and has been pretty comfortable and ultimately faultless. The unit itself has performed admirably for the whole year, syncing to the PC and Garmin connect so I can analyse my runs and performance in much more detail than would otherwise be possible from a HRM only watch.
I’ve had the opportunity to try out a Forerunner 405 and to be honest, it’s nearly twice the price, has a maximum of only three items of data on the screen at once, doesn’t fit my spindly wrists at all well and the bezel didn’t work very well when it was sweaty. I really rate the 305, not just because it’s cheap, but it’s *great* and *cheap* too.
It gets the full 3 miles rating in my book…