Garmin FR60 sport watch

The amount of data exercise enthusiasts can obtain about their workouts these days is mind-boggling, really, and the Garmin FR60 is one device that adds to what you can learn about what you are doing -- both indoors and out.

The amount of data exercise enthusiasts can obtain about their workouts these days is mind-boggling, really, and the Garmin FR60 is one device that adds to what you can learn about what you are doing -- both indoors and out.

Not too long ago, devices that could measure your speed, pace, distance and cadence while running or walking were clunky. The receivers were chunky things that hung off your wrist, waist or forearm, and the transmitters used for the measuring were computer-mouse-sized. Once you got that stuff strapped on, the accuracy was also questionable.

The Garmin FR60 is one of the first devices to include slim components (although others are on the way), with a watch that’s about the size and depth of any heart-rate monitor or chronograph (and in a few colors to boot!). Also, the 1.5-inch-long foot pod and clip used to measure your speed and distance isn’t thicker, wider or heavier than the smallest USB stick floating around the top of your desk.

We used the FR60 regularly for several months and have, quite frankly, found ourselves rather addicted to its feedback. However, there are cautionary words to be told: This little beauty is not for the technologically weak-at-heart, the impatient, or for anyone who does not think the more the merrier when it comes to information.

>> Although the Quick Start manual that comes with it basically makes it sound like “plug-n-play,” it’s not really that easy. No, you can’t just put on the watch, put on the foot pod, put on the heart-rate strap and “go for a run,” as the manual says. You have to go through the setup, you have to turn on all the devices, and you have to sort out the depth and breadth of feedback and the display of that feedback. And only since late September 2009 has Garmin uploaded a number of short video tutorials to the website to help those with frazzled set-up nerves. Great learning tools, but you’ll need to go search them down on the Garmin website or YouTube since they are not mentioned in the quick start manuals -- at least not yet. Do that since the visual aid is extremely helpful.

>> The amount of information and the choice of what is displayed, how you get to it, and how it’s displayed can make your head spin. We can’t begin to describe every last option and variable, but be forewarned: The tech geeks out there will be doing their happy dances, while the folks that abide by the KISS system (Keep It Simple Stupid) will find their eyes popping out of their heads. There are FIVE “pages” (i.e. screens) of information on which you can select from one to three lines of information to be shown from more than 20 options that you can put on whatever page, on whichever line, in whatever combination you’d like. They include cadence, average cadence, average cadence per lap, time of day, lap time, average pace, average pace per lap, heart rate, etc, etc….We tested only the foot pod and heart rate capability (not bike sensor), so if we weren’t actually training but rather were going for a hike or walking the dog sans heart rate or sans foot pod, we could adjust what we wanted to see. We set up the five screens to show what would be our likely options for several activities, such as what we’d want to see on an easy run, in a race, on a hike, or on a hard or interval run. The skies the limit on what you can choose and THEN how you can change it as your mood changes. You'll either say "Yippee," or "Yikes!"

>> For the accuracy freaks, this is very accurate in most situations. But if you train on a lot of hills or switchbacks, you may find the speed, distance and pace to be off -- sometimes annoyingly so. We found on the same stretch of about 3/4-mile road going up or down that the difference was more than 0.15 -- pretty significant. Go down fast vs. going up slowly, and you’ll see measurement differences, too. Remember, its measurements are done with an accelerometer and if your turnover or foot speed varies based on the terrain, it can’t know you are going up or down. It just judges your speed based on what you should be doing. All in all, the measurements mostly average out. We found if we ran on an even track, even without calibrating it to our normal run pace, it was quite accurate. But if we walked fast or slow without calibrating it to that pace, it was off. In other words, you have to teach it how fast or slow you are for it to be more accurate. In general, you’re looking at about 98 percent accuracy out of the box or good enough for most of us average humans.

Once you have the workout tallies in the watch, you can scroll through it to your techie heart’s delight, marveling at what you did. Then, you can then download them to the Garmin Connect website and create charts and graphs to make your techie heart squeal with pleasure. No, really, it’s addictive, but it can also become obsessive, so make sure you are ready for intervention. The great thing is that you can wirelessly upload without a lot of hassle, and the charts and graphs are also created automatically for you to peruse. You can also share your data with an online community or your friends.

The foot pod is also dang secure once clipped on your shoe. Oh, we tried to get it to come off. Not that we wanted to lose it, but we ran on trails, through streams and whacked our way through some underbrush here and there. It stayed with us to the end.

In addition, Garmin is starting partnerships with various fitness equipment manufacturers to install the wireless technology on its treadmills, bikes and other indoor pieces so users can better bridge the gap between indoor and outdoor workouts, tracking and storing the data from both all in one place. Check with the manufacturer or on the web to find out which manufacturers already have the system or will be installing it.

Now, what we didn’t like:

>> You can’t delete individual workouts from the watch itself. If you aren’t the type who downloads regularly or you do verrrry long workouts -- or if you are traveling or don’t have access to download -- you may find the 20-hour memory clogs up and the recording suddenly goes off during a workout. We’d love to see the choice of either “save” or “delete” when you are done with a workout since not every workout may need to be tracked, charted and graphed. That would save the longevity of the memory banks a bit.

>> You get a one-hour warning on the memory approaching its capacity. That may sound like a lot but if you do long workouts, as we do, the one-hour warning flashing during a 2+ hour workout meant we lost the second half of the run. If we could have gone in manually and deleted a few that weren’t key, that would have been nice. The only deletion choices from the watch are “all” or “old.” And even hitting “old” won’t always save you -- it didn’t us. Another option is what other manufacturers do: The oldest workouts simply delete automatically with the assumption that if you didn’t download them, you don’t want or need them.

>> The new soft heart-rate belt -- out just since fall 2009 -- is a real step up from the hard plastic one. However, for women, the electronic casing in the center isn’t shaped ideally. Instead of being narrower at the top, it’s wider. Doesn’t make a lot of sense to us.

Our other concerns could be classified as nit-picking -- one button got stuck, but this was because we were using an early, non-production model -- but over all we love using the FR60, especially while traveling or exploring unknown terrain. We love the size (men’s is slightly larger), the color choices (men’s and women’s vary), the foot pod’s ease and security, the feedback, and the ability to choose what you want to track or see.

SNEWS® Rating:
4.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)

Suggested Retail: $199.99 (with the hard heart-rate belt and foot pod); bike speed/cadence sensor, $60; soft strap, $69. A limited edition version that comes with the soft strap is available while supplies last for $230 as of October 2009.

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