For Christmas last year, the Dashing Wife and I got Garmin Forerunner 235s for each other. We had been using the same Garmins for the last 5 years and it was time to upgrade. She had a Garmin Forerunner 310XT and I was using a Garmin Forerunner 205. My Garmin was having issues charging (putting it through the washing machine didn’t help), and the Dashing Wife’s Garmin had a cracked screen and was not holding the charge very well.
If you have been researching running watches, I am sure you have seen a bunch of websites talking about what these watches can do and what features they have, but I will try to talk about what they can do.
Most people will give a review after a few weeks, or even just a few days of using whatever they are reviewing. Not me, I am giving you a review after a solid 9 months of use. That’s nearly 900 miles run, and over 3 million steps. It’s like reviewing an entire pregnancy instead of just the morning sickness part.
(Translation: I wrote this review 8 months ago, and have been a lazy blogger and I am finally getting around to posting this review. I haven’t posted any new blogs this year. Sorry.)
First, there is really only one difference between the Garmin Forerunner 230 and the 235, which is the built in heart rate monitor on the 235. This feature will tell you your heart rate without the need of wearing a chest strap (which is a $50 add on feature with the 230). Now, I have never run with a heart rate monitor before, but I can imagine that they might start chafing. I have also heard (unconfirmed) stories of older watches picking up other people’s heart rates in a race. So, having the heart rate monitor directly on your wrist is very nice.
Having the heart rate monitor can tell you how hard you are training, assuming your aching legs, labored breathing, and throbbing chest can’t tell you the same thing. But the heart rate monitor will tell you what work out zone you are in, and, depending what type of training you are doing, can help focus your workout. You can also learn your VO2 Max, or recovery time, and get an accurate calorie count with a heart rate monitor.
The downside of the built in heart rate monitor will cost you:
1) An extra $80 for the 235 over the 230 (though only $30 more than the 230 with a chest strap);
2) There is a thing that stick out of the bottom of the watch that can push into your skin and will leave a dent in your wrist. This is really not that noticeable when you are running, or just wearing the watch;
3) About 5 hours of battery life during a run. According to the manual, the 235 will last about 11 hours in normal mode with the GPS on, while the 230 will last about 16 hours. For most folks, 11 hours is plenty of time to finish any race that you are going to do, even a marathon. However, if you are going to be running ultras, 11 hours may not be enough to complete your race. I’ll talk about some tricks to overcome that later.
4) Only three color choices. With the 235 you can get basic black, black with red accents (marsala), and turquoise (frost blue). While the 230 you can also get yellow or purple watches (you can buy yellow or purple bands for $30 to accent your 235 – which my wife bought for me for Valentine’s Day, 6.5 months ago)).
5) About 1 gram (0.1 oz) in weight, which really isn’t that big of a deal. That is about 6 drops of water.
Other than the heart rate monitor (and the color), the 230 and 235 are identical and function the same way. The watch is much more like a watch than the old Garmins were. It does show the time, and is a fitness tracker, which is a fancy thing that tracks your steps.
Because it is a fitness tracker, you can wear it all the time. This also wears down the battery, but at a much slower rate because the GPS isn’t on, or it shouldn’t be. Without turning the GPS on the watch will last about 9 days (the 230 will last 5 weeks, yes weeks, or 35 days – see how that heart rate monitor eats the battery). Basically, the watch will last you about 5-6 days depending on how much you run. After taking my watch off the charger Monday morning, then running two 30-ish minute runs on the weekdays, and another hour run on Saturday, my watch was at 8 percent battery life at the end of Saturday night.
You can manually adjust your step goal (it defaults at 10,000 steps, about 5-6 miles walking), but the step count will automatically adjust over time. I can usually hit 5,000 steps pretty easily, and am usually over 6,000. Though on run days, I usually add another 5,400 (4 mile run) or more steps. With the step counter, I have found that I will pace while brushing my teeth or will run in place to get my step count up.
The watch will also track your sleep, assuming you wear it when you go to sleep.
I don’t wear it while I sleep. I haven’t worn a watch outside of running or scuba diving since high school (over 20 years ago), and I was told to not wear a watch while sleeping because it constricts your wrist. So I don’t wear it. I take it off when I get into bed and put it on when I get up. The Dashing Wife wears her watch, and it will tell her when she wakes up in the middle of the night, usually because one of the kids or dogs was making noises. Or somebody (me) is talking in their sleep about driving a merry-go-round through Walmart.
As a running watch, it is pretty cool. The new 235 is far lighter than the old Garmins, like a lot lighter. Because the watch is always on, it finds the GPS signal fairly quickly, as long as you are outside. Usually, it finds a signal within 5 or 10 seconds. However, I do notice that the 235 is more affected by cloud cover than my old 205 was. My 205 would find satellites in the middle of my house, and in any weather condition. The 235 will take about 15-20 seconds if it is cloudy.
Because I run the same route on my weekday morning runs, I know where every half mile is. I notice that my 2 mile turn around is different depending on cloud cover. I have found that waiting a minute after the watch has found satellites before running makes it better.
Also, while you run, because you have the heart rate monitor on the 235, you can tell what zone you are in, and the watch will figure out what your recovery time is supposed to be (which I pretty much ignore).
One of the reasons why I bought the Garmin 230/235 was because it allowed four data fields to be displayed while you are running. I like having time running, distance, pace, and average pace. But you can also display your heart rate (you need the chest strap with the 230), elevation, your predicted finish time, or a myriad of other bits of data. Another bonus is that it will display hours, minutes, and seconds on the time, where the 205 and the 310XT would only display hours and minutes after 59:59 in the four fields mode. The 230/235 also offers five different data screens to scroll through as opposed to only three with the older models.
At night the screen is easy to read if you shine a light at it, where I found the 205 very difficult to get the right angle and would have to turn the back light on. The 230/235 watch also has a feature that will turn the backlight on if you turn your wrist to look at it. It has accelerometers (like your cell phone does) and can figure out when you do that move. One negative is that the numbers are smaller in four field mode than they were on the 205, so they are a little more difficult to read at a glance, but I’ve gotten used to it.
The 230/235 has audible and vibration alerts for whatever you want. Distance (I get an alert every half mile), time, pace, etc.
The Garmin 230/235 offers the similar features with biking, but you can pair some sensors attached to your bike with the watch to get more data. It is a little difficult to look at the watch on your wrist when biking. You may have to put the watch on the inside of your wrist, so you can look at it without taking your hand off the handle bar. Unlike the other watches, there does not appear to be a triathlete kit where you can pop the watch off your wrist and pop it on the bike handle bar like I had with my 205 (many of the larger square face Garmins have this option). Also, biking doesn’t add to your step count.
The 230/235 also have an indoor run function. This disables the GPS and figures out your distance based on how you usually run and your step count. The manual says it uses the accelerometer in the watch to determine distance. I have used this function on the treadmill and it wasn’t that accurate. The watch said I ran 4.5 miles instead of the 4.25 miles the treadmill said I did, but I had the incline on, which would have made me run harder and could have confused the watch. The weird thing is that the Dashing Wife’s watch says she runs less. And to answer your next question, we have calibrated our treadmill and it is accurate.
I do need to test the indoor function on my normal running route, just to see if that would make a difference. Also, the more you wear the watch, the more it learns how you run and walk, and will make that function more accurate.
Remember when I said above that I was going to let you know of some tricks to extend your battery life during a really, really long run. Well, the indoor function would allow you to do that. You could set your watch on that function for the first bit of the race. You would have the timer going, and a basic idea of distance. If you know where your aid stations are supposed to be, then you can calibrate your distance (in your mind) until you get to a point where you turn the GPS on. Another trick is turn off your Bluetooth, the automatic light that comes on when you hit a distance, your audible alarms, and anything else you don’t need. I ran with my Garmin 235 for 9.5 hours and still had over 30% battery life, which means, after some careful math, I should have been able to squeeze out another 4 or so hours. This would be about 2.5 more hours than the manual said I would get.
If you have the Garmin 230 (which says 16 hour battery life while running), by turning everything off, you should be able to gain an extra 3.5 to 4 hours.
Now, if you are running a point to point hundred miler, and you are going to take 36 hours, this may not be the best watch for you, but if you are doing a loop course, or will have some drop bags, than the watch ma work. A trick you can do is to bring along a lipstick charger, and charge it while you run. The connection is pretty simple, and I know several folks who do it with their Garmins, albeit not the 230/235. I have tried it while waiting to pace a runner. I stuck the charger between the band and my wrist. It wasn’t entirely comfortable, but it charged my watch. I also experimented with the GPS and run tracking on. It works, and gains battery charge, even while GPS is on. Because the charging hook up is on the right side of the watch, if the watch is on your right arm, the connection might be easier.
The part where the watch really shines is when you pair it with your smartphone via a Bluetooth connection. This will allow you to get text messages on your watch, facebook messages, email alerts, phone call alerts, and weather updates. Most importantly, you can download your data to Garmin Connect. Personally, I only connect the two when I finish my run or at the end of the day. The connection runs the battery down, and I don’t need my wrist buzzing or beeping every time Endorphin Dude tells me that he is bored. However, the data that Garmin Connect shows you is pretty impressive. Note: you need an internet connection to see all the data, so make sure you have your phone connected via wifi so you don’t eat your data. You can also connect the 230/235 to a computer via Garmin Connect. I think the watch has its own wifi, or can connect via wifi, but I haven’t done that yet.
Garmin Connect will show you the normal run/bike data, distance, time pace, where you ran, lap splits, etc. But it will also show you your cadence, your heart rate (if you have that option), moving time vs. total time (it will calculate your pace minus your pee break), calories burned, and even the weather when you were running.
Garmin Connect will also display your heart rate throughout the day (with the 235), your step count, how much you slept, and you can even input your calorie intake, weight, and a few other things. The watch is a full on health tracker after all.
With Garmin Connect you can download apps for your watch. You can download a five field data screen, and a whole bunch of different watch faces that you can show off. You can choose between a digital watch face, various analog faces, even one that uses words to say the time (i.e. Six Twenty Eight). Some faces will show your step count, current heart rate, or some other information if you want. I am currently using the Back to the Future face, which looks like the control panel in the DeLorean (I’m a dork). There is also an app where you can download tracks to your watch, so you can follow a trail. The only issue is that you can only zoom in about a kilometer.
Overall, I like the watch, and I like the features it offers. I am not completely sold on the heart rate monitor, but I also haven’t been using hear rate zones in training. During the day, I notice that I will look and my heart rate will be 110 when I am just sitting at my desk. Then I move the watch, and it drops back to my normal resting heart rate of 50 (+/- 5 depending on my caffeine level). It may have something to do with the fact that I am a hairy sweaty bastard, as my wife does not have this issue.
I also am not a big fan of wearing the watch all the time. But it has been nearly eight months now, and I am used to it.. 23 years of not wearing a watch takes a while to get over. I do miss the “Just a GPS/running watch” functionality of my old Garmin 205. That said, I like having all the information that this watch gives after my runs.