After running for half a year, I decided it was time I treated myself to a GPS based fitness device. A little reasearch later I decided on the Garmin Forerunner 405cx. I mostly compared it to the 305, but decided I would use it so much I had a reason to get myself the newest and best. Here’s how that went.
I bought it because…
… i liked the look of it. The 305 just seemed a little more dated. For this reason I managed to justify the extra cost by weighing down the desicion with the improved calorie formula, the sleek touch bezel and the wireless sync feature. Some reviewers pointed out that the touch bezel was essentially unusable in the rain or while sweating heavily, and that the battery capacity was slightly disappointing (partly because it doesn’t have an off button). I thought that these were limitations I could live with while fondling my MasterCard.
No. I mean seriously. I guess this is a sort of a “me too” feature. Any product that want’s to come across as remotely modern these days has to sport a touch based interface. The silver ring around the display serves as a sort of iPod-esque scroll wheel with additional touch-to-enter and menu access sweet spots. When the watch is new, dry and you’ve just washed, you can manage a pretty accurate navigation experience using it. But even then you miss your menu item or a tap doesn’t register quite often (even the official promo videos show this problem). Once you start sweating a little, your effort has to be greater if you have a precice goal in mind with your touching. The bezel will easily register a dual tap instead of a single tap, essentially turning the backlight on instead of doing what you want. And if it’s raining (or if you just get really sweaty), it basically becomes non-responsive or goes haywire. You can always lock it by pressing the two physical buttons, but… no. Then you’re stuck with auto toggling info screens or just a single one.
The watch lets you customize the data fields you want to see from a vast array of options ranging from the basic time, distance, HR, pace and averages of the above, to time of day, compass direction and sun up/down. You can have a total of three of these pages in addition to the heart rate page and the page that sums up the most relevant information for the current workout. Great. But since trying to toggle through these pages will have you forget that you were running in the first place, you want to make a screen that displays the three (3 is max per page) things most interesting to you. The problem is that this will make one data item readable, and the other two will make you slow down, wipe the screen (subsequently displaying the next data page because you touched the bezel, then tapping like mad to get the page back) and squint because of their size. I should mention that I’m 29 years of age and my eye sight is perfect.
While the battery capacity itself is fine, once you begin having some of the problems listed below, you almost forget it even has a battery. Compared the other Forerunners in Garmin’s lineup, this on does not have an off button. Instead it remains in a daily watch state, consuming very little, but still some battery. In this mode, it will last 2 weeks on a full charge. I have yet to experience that. What I don’t get is that Garmin must have known through testing that this device will have to be charged pretty frequently. And since that is done by a charging clip (similar to the Forerunner 110), what it the point of using wireless only syncing? With the Forerunner 110, this charging clip doubles as a PC/Mac connector for syncing (with simultanious charging). But the 405 has to be synced through the wireless ANT+ USB stick it comes with. Don’t get me started..
You need to have Garmin Ant Agent open and the USB stick plugged in at all times for the wireless syncing to be a real benefit. As a single laptop user, that stick is plugged and unplugged, and the windowed Ant Agent application does not always stay open, I must admit. This means that when I’m done running, it’s not a walk in the door, sync complete before I’m done showering kind of scenario like Garmin will have you believe. I will have to walk downstairs, plug in the ant stick and launch the application. The fact that the sync itself is wireless is of absolutely no benefit to me. Much of the process is physical anyhow. Why not use the same system as the cheap, entry level 110? At the very least as an option? Then I would be able to charge the damn thing at the same time, and I would only need the Garmin Communicatior plug-in to upload my workouts to Garmin Connect. But this comparison is only valid for the times when the sync actually goes as planned. Read on.
The 405cx is clearly an undertested device released way too early. I feel like a beta tester for a device I dug deep to purchase. It didn’t take many runs before the watch started behaving very weird. The most frequent problem being that syncing fails and needs up to 10-15 attempts to complete. There are numerous threads on Garmin’s official forum describing this problem, nevertheless they claim they have never heard of it.
Then there’s the battery drain status bug. Basically you will take the watch out of sleep mode, check the battery and think “78%, great, that’s more than ample for a long run”. Then you get dressed, step outside, take the watch back out of sleep mode and it will complain about a nearly empty battery. It’s either that or it will shut down mid run. The sync bug started for me after the watch had shut down with a workout in progress, but none of the other users on the Garmin forum mention that as a possible factor.
Last sunday, after running the Oslo Marathon 10k, the watch took on a new bug. Like it was more exhausted than I was, it shut down and immediately attempted to restart itself. This resulted in a seemingly endless reboot cycle, accompanied by a startup beep every 5 seconds that drove people around me mad. Eventually it managed a full restart and decided to celebrate by splashing the low battery warning across the screen. I should mention that the battery was absolutely topped up before the race, I completed in 47 minutes, and the dead end reboot cycle went on for around 45 minutes after that. If that’s any indication of the battery life on this thing, you won’t even be able to use it for a full half marathon unless you finish among the real athletes.
I’m tempted to say shame on you, Garmin. Even though not everyone (though quite a few) have experienced the bugs I have, the design shortcomings of this device are enough to send it straight back to the R&D department. I cannot help but thinking that the Forerunner 405 was a launch with all fingers and toes crossed at Garmin. The functional shortcomings are an imminent experience for all users and I guess Garmin only hoped that the awesomeness of the design and form factor would help people forget that it was basically broken as it left the factory.
I, for one, am returning my Garmin Forerunner 405cx and getting a 305 to replace it (and saving $150 in the process).