An early comparative review of the Garmin Fore... - Couch to 5K

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An early comparative review of the Garmin Forerunner 235

Jay66UK
Jay66UKGraduate

I recently took advantage of the Amazon Prime sale to buy a Garmin Forerunner 235 watch. I’ve now used it for half a week and two whole runs, so this is an "early impressions" review.

Clearly I don’t yet know the Garmin well and I am very much learning how to use it, so apologies to those of you who have been long term users and please feel free to correct/guide in the comments.

So, I’ve had my Apple Watch for almost 3.5 years, bought in Feb 2016. It’s a Series 1 (which, confusingly, is the second model to come out). It does not have built in GPS, meaning it is a slave to your iPhone for GPS. But you can run without a phone - it will uses its accelerometers to guesstimate your position after you’ve done a few runs with a phone. I never tested this as it also relies on the phone for music, and I haven’t yet run without music.

It served me extremely well as a smart watch to accompany an iPhone. Up front I will say the Garmin is slightly disappointing in this respect - it offers some smart watch functionality but the Apple Watch is much more integrated and flexible. Hardly a surprise, really, given the Garmin is a running watch with smart watch functionality, and the Apple Watch is a smart watch with exercise functionality.

All through Couch to 5k my Apple Watch served me reasonably well. It gave me the ability to put in a time or distance target and run it, it let me thread together the warm up walk, the run, the cool down walk and yet keep my running stats separated. It gave you a "halfway" alert so that my out-and-back routes worked. The Activity app had what felt like a wealth of data.

It had problems.

During my raining run, the touch screen wasn’t happy. This interfered with me loading in the running phase; setting a half distance sector; ending the run; saving it all.

The heart rate monitor was incredibly flakey. It worked perfectly during the day but, whilst running and when I got a sweat on, forget it. Even really tightening the strap didn’t help. Basically, if I sweat, it fails to record my heart rate. No biggie - time and distance are what really matter to me - but it hampered my ability to note my progress getting fitter by seeing my average heart rate fall.

The battery life was also an issue. Obviously my watch is nearing the end of its useable life - the battery will have been recharged well over 1200 times by now. On a non-running day, when I put the watch on charge it usually had 30-50% left. Ample. But on a running day once I was doing 4k and 5k runs it would regularly fail to make it to bedtime without going into low power mode and twice it shutdown completely.

But I was used to the Activity app and using it became one of those "rabbit's foot" things surrounding my runs - change that and the magic might evaporate and suddenly I’d find myself unable to run any more!

My plan was to upgrade to the latest version of the Apple Watch as a Christmas present to myself this year. The new one has built in GPS, can store music, and (if you choose and if, unlike me, you are on EE only at the moment) full phone functionality all without the phone.

Then some people (you know who you are!) started gushing about their Garmin watches. And some were talking about things like cadence and pace. And all of these runs were going up on to Strava automagically.

So I started looking at the Garmin watches and came to the conclusion that the best balance of functionality and cost would be the Forerunner 235. So I changed my plan for Christmas and I would get one of these, saving about £200.

Then Amazon Prime Day and they cut about £35 off the price. So I sprung for one.

First impressions were good - although it is pretty much all plastic, it looks quite smart. The footprint is similar to the Apple Watch and it looks like one of those slightly oversized fashion watches. It is a fair bit more prominent and the heart sensor noticeably sticks out and into your arm. (I haven’t found this uncomfortable despite almost constant wear.)

Installing the Garmin Connect app and pairing the watch was easy. I took the precaution of fully charging the watch first (about 2 hours) and in that time removed and reset the Apple Watch.

The little "quick start" manual is good but there is a much better, 20 A4 page manual available online, and this really is essential reading. Google "Garmin Forerunner 235 manual" - there is a webpage version and a printable version.

A nice feature is the one button press to see your past 4 hours heart rate history, and another shows you your daily average resting heart rate over the past week. This wouldn’t work at all at first, and it turned out that the watch was midway through installing a software upgrade.

The display is "always on" (unlike the Apple Watch) and the default face is plain, simple, readable. You only really need use the backlight in darkness.

Using it for running (which is the main point) is simplicity. A couple of button clicks and you are running. You can set up all manner of things like multi-step workouts, including warm up and warm downs, but I’ve just used the basic "run" mode.

You can set alerts for time/distance/calories to tell you every time you reach a value. So I have it set to tell me every 500m so I know when to turn halfway through a 5k.

(I will probably change this back to the default of 1k now I have found another feature. You can set an alert for a turning point a certain time or distance out. For my 5.5k it let me set 2.75k, which is brilliantly flexible.)

After your run you press one button to stop. You can press it again to resume (great for crossing roads etc). Or you can press the down button to select “save” and press the original button again. Simples. This then sends the run to Garmin Connect and, if you have chosen, on to Strava where it can be published automagically.

After a run the watch tells you your recovery time. After my 5k it said 68 hours. After today’s 5.5k run it said 3 days. It also shows your VO2 max estimate. These values need to learn from several runs and the manual warns you about this, so I’m taking them with a pinch of salt at the moment.

After each run, the Garmin Connect app has an immense amount of detail, basically just about everything the paid for Strava offers, as far as I can tell. I can now see my cadence and pace, overlay my heart rate or the elevation, see my splits and so much info about each split. For a stats person, it is amazing.

Another great feature, not on my radar at all, is the sleep monitoring function. Because the watch only needs charging a little more than once a week, you can wear it through the night. It senses your sleep stages (I’m not clear how but it must be movement and heart rate-based) and reports how much sleep you have had, with graphs of movement and depth of sleep. The Apple Watch can do this with third party Apps, but you'd need to charge the watch before bedtime.

You can have alerts from your phone come up on the watch. For the iPhone it isn’t easy to manage which ones - it seems too have to pretty much turn off the alerts on the phone to stop them coming up on the watch. (On the Apple Watch you can very easily control this on an app by app basis.)

I am on a busy WhatsApp group and my office colleague asked me to "please stop that thing buzzing" (or words to that effect). I’ve now turned this feature off!

I am very much still learning the Garmin and a bit awestruck about how much data it records, and I can already see how useful a lot of this information will be. It was a good purchase.

I am not knocking the Apple Watch at all - it is a fantastic smart watch. But the Garmin is a better running watch.

Happy to try to answer any questions, happy to receive any hints and tips.

33 Replies
oldestnewest

Wow thanks for this mini review! It's very very useful. I've had mine delivered now but yet to set it up!! Sounds quick though so I'll do that now. I can't wait to see all these running analytics (I'm a data nerd 🤓) !

Still crying into my tea that I missed the deal...

You've really sold it to me! 😊

Jay66UK
Jay66UKGraduate
in reply to Sutsha

I prefer the sleep monitoring on your Fitbit.

Sutsha
Sutsha
in reply to Jay66UK

That is a great feature. Would switching between 2 wearables work 🤔

Jay66UK
Jay66UKGraduate
in reply to Sutsha

Why not. Wear one “mainly” (prob your Fitbit) run in the other.

Saartjie
SaartjieGraduate
in reply to Sutsha

Wear one on each arm!

Crittermad
CrittermadGraduate
in reply to Saartjie

I use 2 Dive computers 🤣

Designbod
DesignbodGraduate
in reply to Sutsha

Remember the Christmas tree option for multiple wearables! I think I'd have to wear two as well. Not sure I can wear a larger watch than my Fitbit 2 all day and all night (the fact I have lots of different colour straps for it has *nothing* to do with my decision 😉😆🏃).

Crittermad
CrittermadGraduate
in reply to Jay66UK

I like my Fitbit too, (really pleased as I got it in pre run days) but can you ever have enough data? ?????

Hidden
HiddenGraduate

Apple Watch Users! Keep your eyes on the upcoming ios5 update for Apple Watch. So much more coming on the fitness apps 👍🏻

Jay66UK
Jay66UKGraduate
in reply to Hidden

Have to say I am a big, big Apple Watch fan.

Hidden
HiddenGraduate
in reply to Jay66UK

I totally agree with your statement that it’s a smart watch with fitness added. I must admit I was considering getting a purely fitness watch, Garmin or whatever, then I read about the update coming in the Autumn so I’m holding off

TedA
TedAGraduate
in reply to Hidden

Will the updates deal with the other things Jay mentions, though? Touch screen in the rain, poor heart rate monitoring and not lasting long enough on a charge to use the sleep monitoring? The latter is the one that put me off the Apple Watch. I was planning to get a Garmin if and when I complete C25K (W6R3 today). So I'm keeping a keen eye on these discussions.

Jay66UK
Jay66UKGraduate
in reply to TedA

I would say if you want a smart watch companion to your iPhone there is only one choice, an Apple Watch. If you want a dedicated running watch, at the moment my money is (literally) on a Garmin.

TedA
TedAGraduate
in reply to Jay66UK

That's the conclusion I came to as well (mainly following what people on here say). But I'm still open to persuasion.

Hidden
HiddenGraduate
in reply to TedA

As far as I’m aware there is no sleep monitoring on the Apple Watch. If you check the apple 🍎 website there’s a full rundown on the new specs. With regard to the touch screen in the rain, my watch is a series 3, the touchscreen works fine when wet and is even pressure sensitive 👍🏻. My battery easily lasts a day or more, in fact, I’ve been wearing my watch since 05:30 this morning, used it on my run and using it for all the usual things, & as at this point.... 14:53 my battery still has 86% left.! Pretty good I think but it won’t last as long as a “pure” running watch. If you want a “Watch” just for running 🏃‍♂️ there’s probably a better choice (& cheaper one) out there.

Jay66UK
Jay66UKGraduate
in reply to Hidden

Battery: a really good sign that my battery is dying.

TedA
TedAGraduate
in reply to Hidden

Thanks for that. I feel like that character on the Fast Show who changes his mind every time someone raises a new point in a discussion...

Jay66UK
Jay66UKGraduate
in reply to TedA

As with all tech it’s complicated!

Flaraflarkin
FlaraflarkinGraduate
in reply to TedA

😂😂 ifrequently feel like a Fast Show character 🤣

Forestgrump
ForestgrumpGraduate

Nice review !. Just used mine today for the first time. I downloaded an analogue watch face from the connect website and it now looks quite stylish. 20 mins after my 5k run I was having breakfast and it buzzed with a message saying “Move!”. Cheeky bugger !. Who do you think your talking to I said in the cafe drawing looks from people at the tables around me 😂😂😂

misswobble
misswobbleGraduate

I can’t believe how expensive they are though. Has it got a virtual pacer though 😃. The entry level ones have 🙂

Some of the claims Garmin make are frankly baloney. I upgraded my cheapo F10 for the slightly more expensive F15 on the basis of battery life It would last 7 hours in GPS. mode they said. Did it eck! It lasted four hours. Really annoying as it lasted no longer than the F10 🙄

My F15 watch gave me a heart rate average too the other day for the first time ever - and my cadence🧐 Dunno how that happened as it has to be used with a heart rate strap 🤷‍♀️ I wasn’t wearing one so where did the reading come from? I was in a race 😃

Jay66UK
Jay66UKGraduate
in reply to misswobble

Virtual pacer - yes according to online comparison sites. But I don’t know how/why to use it so I haven’t tried.

Designbod
DesignbodGraduate

Very Interesting review, Jay, thanks. I'm also gutted for missing out on the Amazon deal. Will stay with my Fitbit 2 + Polar with strap and Runmaster on my phone and blame lugging all those round on a slower-than-ideal pace 😆

Jay66UK
Jay66UKGraduate
in reply to Designbod

These prices will come around again or be improved - this is now quite an old model. Latest to wait will be Black Friday/Cyber Monday in late November.

Great report, thanks Jay. Will be interested to hear how you feel the heart rate measurements seem to do.

Was glad I didn’t get tempted, as I later heard Garmin have some sort of issue mixing up cadence and heart rate figures. I may still eventually get a Garmin for run data without the phone and waterproofness, but think I may have to expect to have my Fitbit on the other wrist for more reliable Heart rate data...

misswobble
misswobbleGraduate

Ah, mix up? I possibly got someone else’s data. Also I was given a 9 m stride length 🤷‍♀️

LeeU
LeeUGraduate

The Garmin watches are fantastic, I have the 735, this comes with a separate heart rate strap, this is very accurate and if very comfortable.

The sheer amount of information these watches can supply is amazing.

Good write up, thanks.

Equi-geek
Equi-geekGraduate

Just got the Apple Series 3 non cellular, second hand, from CeX, was £230 and bought a non-Apple strap from Amazon for £10. Still I do agree about the recharging frustrations and I am still struggling to set up the music on the watch. I find it fiddly to start and stop workouts. The reason I went for the Apple Watch was because I could also use it for swimming. Sometimes the sensitivity of the touchscreen is still a problem with a wet finger. Overall though it’s working for me but nice to see the Garmon has so many nice touches for runners :) thanks Jay!

HoagyM
HoagyMGraduate

Warning - Apple fanboy alert! 😉

Apple Watch series 3 non cellular here too. Given I spend most of my life tethered to my iPhone and/or iPad, it was the only choice for me.

Couple of additional points:

- It does do sleep monitoring, albeit battery life of circa 24 hours means you need to carefully plan your recharging schedule.

- Heart rate monitoring is absolutely fine, I use that all the time on my runs.

I also love being able to run without my phone, and just use the Strava app on the Apple Watch. Bluetooth headphones are optional.

Absolutely love it 😀😀😀

Tbae
TbaeGraduate

Very helpful review Jason.👏👏

Just catching up, although I did catch your purchase alert for amazon premier.

Dithered mainly because I had concerns in setting it up.Reading your review I would probably have managed it.

What an effort from you and contribution.💥

Perhaps give you a laugh, very old story from my grandmother who lived in a highland village with a Jewish jewellers shop, back in the very early 1900’s,

The shop keeper said to her and her small friends, kids goggling the merchandise with their noses pressed against the shop window,

If you want to buy a watch, buy a watch, if you do not want to buy a watch , keep your snaughtery nose off my window.🤔🙈😂

Great review Jason Good.💥🏃‍♂️💥

southlundon
southlundonGraduate

Hi Jay! I've only just seen this excellent review and you mention things on your Apple watch that I want to do but didn't you I could. Now I'm about to wean myself off the c25k app, I assumed I'd only be able to set a 'run for 30 mins' (eg) workout on the watch and that was it. Can you tell me where you found out about all this extra functionality please, such as setting it to give halfway alerts and warm up - run - warm downs? Thanks in advance :)

Jay66UK
Jay66UKGraduate
in reply to southlundon

I’ve not used it for some weeks now so I’m rusty...

When you select the Activity app it lets you choose what type of activity - pick walk. It then asks whether you want to do a time, a distance or go freestyle. Pick a time and put 5 mins in. Set it going. Half way through any activity (time or distance) the Apple Watch gives you an alert. When your 5 mins are up, swipe the watch face to the right and you can add another activity to your current workout. Select run. Select a time or distance and set it appropriately. Hit “go” or similar. Halfway through your time or distance (whichever you set) it will give you an alert. At the end of the time/distance swipe right again, add another activity, select walk, it will already be set to 5 mins as that was the last one you die, hit go. At the end hit finish (or similar) et voila, three workouts with your run isolated in terms of pace.

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