It has been over 3 weeks since I started running with my new Garmin Forerunner 220 and over 85 miles logged. While I have not tested all the features of the watch, I can definitely attest to the basic functionality. Throughout the review, you’ll notice me compare it back to the Nike+ SportWatch GPS which I ran with for two years until the screen stopped working when we were in Croatia. This review is not meant to be fully comprehensive but a starting point for those interested in comparing Nike versus Garmin. For true comprehensive reviews of all watches, I really like DC Rainmaker.
Set-up: it was very straightforward to set up the watch. Aside from the basic items you edit when you connect your watch to the computer and Garmin Connect for the first time, there are features you can also edit directly through the menu of the watch. Some of my favorite features which were not available on the Nike+ watch are:
- –Auto pause: where you can set the watch to pause the workout based on a certain pace or if you’re stopped. Right now my watch is set to auto pause when stopped which is very convenient for stop lights or water fountains.
- –Timeout extended: this is a very cool feature because it holds the GPS signal for 25 minutes. Initially, I left it at the normal setting but found that I like the extended much better. I can start searching for signal and let it go for a while before the start of a run. This is will be extremely helpful in a race setting when waiting in corrals.
- –Data screens: you can set two data screens on the Garmin and then have it autoscroll while on a run. Nike+ only allowed for one data screen. The data screen only allows for three fields but this is actually perfect since the font size is large enough to see while running. If you want to add more fields than the second data screen is helpful. I have mine set up now for two screens but on the second screen, only one field is different and the two are the same.
- –Pace alerts: I haven’t personally used this feature but it is neat that you can set fast and slow alerts so the watch notifies you when you’re running too fast or too slow. I ran with a friend who had this feature set and it seemed to work well.
- –Theme color: this is a minor feature, but at least the watch is not just black and white. Though it seems that when you update device software, it loses the color setting.
Usage: the watch itself is visually appealing and ridiculously light. I know that sounds like a weird statement but when I had the Nike+ watch it felt like I was wearing something ginormous on the wrist. This watch band actually bends (like a normal watch) unlike Nike so it wraps around my wrist better. Even though the face of the watch takes up my whole wrist, I don’t have issues with the band hurting my wrist when the watch shifts around. When I wore the Nike+ watch for other workouts — i.e. push ups / planks, etc, the watch would leave marks on my wrist. I have a tiny wrist (I can’t buy bangles tiny wrist), so I am not sure if people with bigger wrists have this issue with the Nike+ watch or not. Even though I picked the violet / white color instead of the black / red option, I still wear the watch to work occasionally. Not sure if it’s professional or not, but I love how the watch is a great alternative to my more professional stainless steel watch. On to the actual usage of the watch, it is extremely easy to get started with a run.
- –Power off: there is a power off feature which is great since you can set it to that when not wearing the watch to save battery.
- –Run button: this is the most important button of all as it unlocks the watch and then searches for GPS signal and Bluetooth connectivity to your phone if you have it set up. This is also the same button you use to pause a run and is the “enter” button for the menu.
- –Turning GPS off: the up and down arrow buttons are what you use to turn the GPS on/off. Once you know how to do it, it is really easy. This is unlike Nike+ as it required you to go into a menu to search for it. The arrows are also what you use to scroll through the menu.
- –Menu: the menu is not the most intuitive to use if you’re used to the Nike+ interface since there are so many more options, however, the options are what makes the watch cool. For the Garmin, just be sure to scroll through all the options to find what you’re looking for.
- –Alarm clock: I don’t typically use the watch as an alarm clock but when I am in a hotel room where there is no alarm clock and the outlet for the phone is on the other side of the room away from the bed, I use the watch as an alarm (ha, seemed to happen a lot in Europe). It takes a bit of scrolling through the menu to find the alarm clock. On the Nike+ watch, it is quick to set, which I guess is a nature too of the increased functionality.
- –Battery life: The battery life is incredible on the watch. I used to charge my Nike+ watch every couple of days some times the battery would just drain overnight randomly or if the buttons hit against anything in a bag, the battery would drain as well. I can go what seems like weeks of active use on the Garmin without charging it. However, when I sync the watch (see below) it charges itself. Also, it is nice the battery meter shows percentage available when you have it plugged into the computer.
- –Normal run: if you’re just trying to use the watch to track distance, pace, and time then the watch is incredibly intuitive. If you sync your watch regularly then there shouldn’t be an issue receiving GPS satellite. Every time you plugged in the Nike+ watch to the computer, it would update satellites so that was convenient, but with Garmin, it looks like you actually have to open Garmin Connect in order for the updates to occur. I am still completely convinced that it does it though but out of all the runs I’ve been on with the new watch, I usually get signal very fast and today was the first time that it took a couple of minutes.
- –Intervals: the back button tracks intervals during runs outside of what you have set up for laps initially. My watch is set up for 1-mile increments so when I am running intervals, I just hit the back button each time I finish one. On the Nike+ watch, you tracked intervals by touching the screen, which was fairly sensitive so I would accidentally hit an interval even if it was not.
- –Treadmill runs: in some reviews, I read that the watch had some issues with tracking distance on a treadmill if you didn’t use a shoe pod. Since I already had two shoe pods for the Nike+ watch and one of the cool features of the Garmin is the internal accelerometer which allows the watch to measure pace and cadence without an additional shoe pod, I opted to not purchase the optional shoe pod yet. So far on the treadmill, my overall distance and pace have been around 95% accurate on easy to progression runs. From what I understand the issues with the accuracy may be due running intervals. However, my Nike+ watch with shoe pod was always at least 10% off in accuracy so this is an improvement and if I wanted to, I could still buy a shoe pod.
- –Real time tracking: this is a neat feature that I actually mentioned to a Garmin representative at a local running store a couple of years ago. If you set up your watch via Bluetooth connectivity to your phone and turn on the feature for real-time tracking then essentially your friends and family can see where you are real-time on a map. I haven’t tried this feature yet but will do so soon so that way we have it ready for my upcoming races. The only downside to this is that it will need to pair with the phone which means if you don’t already, you would need to run with your phone and the Bluetooth connectivity may drain the phone battery.
- –Internal coaching and training plans: this is a feature that I have yet to use since I am following a hybrid team and Hal Higdon marathon training plan for Chicago and NYC (more on that to come). I imagine though this feature will be very useful when I am training for one specific race myself, like when I was training for the half marathons this past spring.
- –Heart rate tracking: I didn’t purchase a heart rate monitor with this watch which is part of the main reason I opted for the Forerunner 220 versus 620. I used to run with a heart rate monitor and when it stopped working (I am not convinced it was battery related), I just gave up on it too. The heart rate monitor I was using was the Polar Wear Link for Nike+ and unless I lathered on the Vaseline, it caused a lot of chafing. Any way, that is a long answer for why I don’t run with one now and didn’t purchase the one for the Garmin. However, if I did, the watch would have heart rate tracking capabilities.
Data: this is my absolute favorite part! I am using a combination of Garmin Connect and RunningAhead to track my runs now. I used to be an exclusive user of Nike+ for my watch and FuelBand but now only for the FuelBand. I love the Nike+ interface and the data tracking piece has been the most difficult in the transition to the new watch.
- –Syncing a run: to sync a run, I can do it via Bluetooth to the Garmin app on my phone or I will need to attach the watch to the dongle and then sync to RunningAhead through the computer. The Nike+ watch was easier for this part since I was able to plug the watch directly into a USB port to sync and charge.
- –Garmin Connect: it seems to do a fine job uploading runs especially via Bluetooth on my phone and I can even edit runs on the app. The one thing that Garmin lacks is the ability to track my shoes which is huge for me since I switch between two pairs of shoes regularly and was completely dependent on Nike+ to track my shoe mileage. I do like the Garmin Connect community where I can “friend” other users to see their current runs. This is like Nike+ and the main reason I still sync to Garmin Connect instead of just RunningAhead.
- –RunningAhead: the reason I also have an account with RunningAhead is because of the shoe mileage tracker or as they call it “equipment”. If it were not for that I would just stick with Garmin Connect. However, as I use RunningAhead more, I am finding more features about the site that I like. In addition to all the details associated with a run, I can track courses, tag runs based on type — i.e. long, interval, tempo, easy, fartlek, race, etc (and if I select a race, then it will know when I set a new PR; this is helpful as the watch registers PR regardless of whether it was a race or not), weather (Garmin Connect also has this based on when and where I was running), and training plans. Also, the summary pages are more useful than that of Nike+. The user interface isn’t the slickest especially when compared to Nike+ but the features are far more superior.
- –Historic data: this is the biggest pain point with switching to the new watch. It took Josh quite a bit of work to find ways to export my historic data from Nike+ into RunningAhead. Since I was tracking many data fields in Nike+ – shoes, notes, terrain, and how I felt; it is a harder import. Also, on my blog before I had a slick mileage tracker based off a script that Josh wrote using Nike+ PHP library but with the switch over, an updated script using RunningAhead’s API is needed since the way the data fields are stored are completely different. There is so much more to this than what is written and I am by no means an expert, so please send me a message if this is something you’re interested in learning more about.
Overall, I am a big fan of the Garmin Forerunner 220. As with any change, there is an adjustment period and since I was so integrated with Nike+ and the data, the switch required much more work. I used to be the biggest supporter of the Nike+ watch and online interface and I guess if you compared it against the older Garmin models, it made a lot more sense but since Nike hasn’t updated its watch in years, Garmin blew it out of the water with the new Forerunner models.