Garmin's Forerunner 15 GPS running watch comes with daily activity tracking.
For Garmin, GPS has always been the key to setting its fitness devices apart from much of the competition. And with a starting price of $170, the Forerunner 15 watch delivers that functionality at a relatively low price point.
The device, which is expected to ship sometime this quarter, also brings with it more trackable details than its predecessor. You can track running distance, calories, personal records, even sleep patterns — and, with the right hardware add-on, heart rate. All of this is complimented by the company’s tracking and networking app, Connect.
But first thing’s first when we’re talking about a wearable: how does the thing actually look?
On the face
Before receiving my unit, I was warned by my ever-vigilant Mashable editor that the watch waspurple. Even still,
I was caught unprepared by the full extent of the Forerunner 15's purplenesssI was caught unprepared by the full extent of the Forerunner 15's purplenesss. It’s not that I’m not secure enough in my masculinity to rock a purple watch, of course, but even still, for most, the more extreme the color scheme, the less likely they'll wear the watch at all times — it’s not going to match a business suit.
If you’re looking for something less conspicuous, the black versions are decidedly more subtle, but still don’t exactly scream “work watch.” It's also available in red and teal. The Fitbits of the world are far more versatile as far as fashion is concerned. So is, for that matter, the the Basis. The Forerunner 15, on the other hand, is a fitness watch that looks like, well, a fitness watch, which is a bit of a bummer for a device that’s intended to track your activities all day long.
Thankfully, along with the aesthetic comes many of the other traits one looks for in a fitness wearable: it’s water resistant up to 50 meters (for sweat, rain and a swim, if you’re so inclined), rugged and lightweight at 1.3 or 1.5 ounces, depending on the size. It's worth a quick mention here that the watch comes in small and large sizes — a fact I learned after squeezing a small version of the aforementioned purple version around my wrist.
It’s no Fitbit, but the Forerunner’s relatively small footprint comes in handy particularly when it’s time to catch some shuteye. (After all, the watch has built-in sleep tracking.)
Around the back, there are four metal dots. You’ll be lining those up on the included plastic cradle when it’s time to charge the battery.
According to Garmin’s numbers, you can get a full five weeks on a charge if you’re just using it as a plain old watch. Using it for its intended exercise functionality, on the other hand, knocks that time down to eight hours. For almost everyone, it’ll get through the day just fine.
The dock also serves as your connection for syncing all of the info you’ve collected to your computer via USB. Unfortunately, there’s no Bluetooth or other wireless on-board, so you have to wait until you’re in front of a PC before seeding all of that information into the cloud.
There are four buttons around the watch’s face — all quite large for easy access mid-exercise. The top left turns the light on and off, while the bottom left scrolls through your stats for the day, including mileage, calories burned, steps taken and your daily step goal.
The bottom right button scrolls through settings, options and your workout history. It’s great having all of that information at your finger, but given the limited screen real estate, actually finding something takes a lot of scrolling — you’re really better off pulling out the old smartphone to access your stats.
The top right button with the little image of a running man on it is the time. That’s the button you’ll want to hit when it’s time to get started.
Going for a run
Unfortunately, unlike some of the competition, the Forerunner itself won’t monitor your heart rate. You’ll need the special heart rate monitor, a device that straps around your chest while you run. That’ll set you back an addition $30 if you get it bundled with the watch, or $60 as a standalone.
To get started, you’ll need to pair the watch with the monitor via ANT+ by holding them next to each other until the watch beeps. Next up, you tap the run button and then it’s a matter of going outside and waiting until the watch locates the appropriate satellite for GPS tracking — the device’s real bread and butter. Locating can take as long as a couple of minutes, but it usually takes less.
Once you’re done, you'll need to tap the running man again to turn off the timer. The watch gathers a lot of info while the timer’s on, including time spent running distance, pace, calories burned, heart beats per minute and your general heart rate zone.
The GPS functionality, meanwhile, tracks your path. You can also run without GPS tracking on — if you’re a treadmill user or you just need a little extra privacy for whatever reason, but let’s be honest, satellite tracking is a huge part of the reason for going with Garmin in the first place. Oh, and there’s also an optional pedometer, if you really want to go the treadmill route (that’ll set you back another $70).
Oh, and should that bright purple paint job not be enough to get you outside and running, the watch flashes the word “Move,” after long periods of inactivity, a not-so-subtle reminder of why you shelled out the $170 for the wearable in the first place.
Who watches the fitness watch?
As nice as it is having all of that information on your wrist, there’s only so much info you can get in less than an inch squared.As nice as it is having all of that information on your wrist, there’s only so much info you can get in less than an inch squared. As such, you’re going to want to download all of the requisite software to your devices, namely Garmin Express for syncing and Connect for viewing that data.
After downloading Express, I was prompted to download a patch for the Forerunner 15 — an issue the company will hopefully address for retail units. Once installed, syncing is a simple matter of plugging the phone into your PC and letting the software take care of the rest.
As for Connect, that’s all a bit more complicated — in a good way, mostly. Connect is the software Garmin uses across these fitness watches, and as such, the company has had plenty of opportunity to bake in features. All of the information can be a little overwhelming the first time you sign in.
Garmin’s done a good job unifying the experience across devices and OSes, so for the sake of simplicity, I’ll focus on the web version here, accessible via browser. After all, I was already in front of my computer to sync the thing in the first place.
When signing in, Garmin will ask you some personal details, both to help improve your experience and to create a profile, should you want to use Connect to actually, you know, connect with others. That’s a big part of the experience here — in fact, Connect is something of a social network, where you can compete with other users, see friends’ progress and brag about your own. What's the point of doing all of that working out if you're not going to brag about it?
Even if you chose to go it alone, there’s a lot you can do with Connect. For each run, the software displays distance, time, pace, calories, elevation and tracks your movements on a Garmin map. You can name the runs to help you keep track and attach notes about specific run details.
There’s a calendar module for a quick view of how often you’ve been running and graph showing how far you’ve run on each day of a given week. You can choose training plans, plot courses, create workouts and check out your own personal records. There are also a series of “badges” to unlock for completing different fitness activities like walking a certain number of steps in a given day.
The sleep tracking is probably the weakest link here at the moment (though the company has promised more functionality on that end down the road). The sort of in-depth REM details you get with other devices is absent. Instead, it focuses solely on how much you tossed and turned while in bed, mapping that activity on a graph. If you’re looking for some real insight into your nocturnal activities, you’re going to have to find it elsewhere.
One watch to rule them all?
At $170 as a standalone, the Forerunner 15’s pricing falls in between the Fitbit Force and Basis Carbon Steel Edition. For the money, it’s a pretty capable little thing. For those who run far, the GPS functionality is a great feature, and there’s plenty of additional information for you to pore through via Garmin Connect.
The device also comfortably straddles the line between fitness band and sports watch, offering a face for all of those workout details on the go. Still, you’ll want to pull out the old smartphone occasionally, lest you find yourself scrolling forever. But you’ll have wait until you’re in front of your computer to upload the latest info — an odd throwback.
If you’re looking for a device that can track your heart rate, that’ll cost you a bit extra — and you’ll have to wear yet another device. Ditto the pedometer for more accurate step accounting. Sleep tracking still leaves a bit to be desired at the moment.
If those things are less important to you than GPS functionality, however, the Forerunner 15 offers solid bang for the buck.
Tags: APPS AND SOFTWARE, FITNESS, GARMIN, HEALTH & FITNESS, MOBILE, REVIEWS, SMARTWATCH, Tech, WEARABLES