Sunday, April 30, 2006

Another Reason Why the Garmin Forerunner 205 Rocks!

Today's run is one of the main reasons why I'm so glad I replaced my Garmin Forerunner 201 with the newer and more accurate Garmin Forerunner 205.

This morning I decided to run the King Canyon trail, a forested fire road that runs alongside the Upper San Leandro Reservoir. It was on the first half of this trail that helped demonstrate the Garmin Forerunner 205's superior GPS accuracy as compared to the Forerunner 201.

Instead of turning around about halfway through as I did on earlier runs, I decided to continue to where the trail outlets near another park in my town. I rarely run the whole way because I never knew how long the full segment was since my Forerunner 201 would always lose its signal along the route.

However, today was the day to finally get an accurate measure of this trail. It was a nice sunny morning in the mid-to-upper 50s and the trail was drying out nicely. Still some muddy patches, but not as bad as the last week.

From the trailhead to when I exited it at the other park, the 205 performed perfectly. I did not see another person on the trail nor did I encounter any cattle that usually graze within the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) watersheds. GPS accuracy was always from 18-30 ft.

The 205 measured the section of trail at 4.61 miles while SportTracks crunched the GPS waypoints and came up with 4.62 miles.

Total run was 10.65 miles and although I felt like crap most of the way, I'm glad I finally know the distance of the King Canyon trail after being in the dark for so long. Now this is the reason why I got the Garmin Forerunner 205. Next stop Redwood Park and the French Trail...

Friday, April 28, 2006

Bones in Motion BiM Active Mobile Service Comparison Review with Garmin Forerunner 205: Introduction

Dedicated versus converged devices. The debate is ongoing. Which is better? Which one will win out? In the mobile space it's iPods versus music cell phones or text versus telephony. Things are not much different in the world of personal activity monitoring devices. Do you want distance or heart rate monitoring? Is GPS device or a foot pod accelerometer more accurate? If you want both distance and heart rate monitoring then which is more important, measuring distance or your heart rate?

In the end it always comes down to a highly subjective and personal decision. Usage model is king and compromises still rule the day. Adding to the debate is a new mobile service from Bones in Motion that combines the mobile world with personal activity monitoring via Sprint Nextel's Power Vision EV-DO network and certain GPS-enabled cell phones.

Back in February I wrote at my Mobile Analyst Watch blog about the launch of Bones in Motion's integrated BiM Active website and mobile service. Since I'm a dedicated device running geek, I was a bit dismissive of the whole thing. Fortunately, I've been participating in the Sprint Power Vision Ambassador program and consuming 3G data like it's going out of style with the Samsung A920 Multimedia cell phone. The folks at Bones in Motion graciously agreed to provide me with a pre-release version of the BiM Active Java application for the A920 handset so I could do a comparison review versus my Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS personal training watch.

Before starting, let me make it clear that I AM NOT THE TARGET AUDIENCE for the BiM Active mobile service. As I mentioned, I'm a dedicated device running geek, who wants specific features and functions, lots of data on my runs ands training, and prefers using a PC application to log and analyze the data versus online websites, such as BiM Active and MotionBased.

In my opinion, the BiM Active mobile service is geared more towards recreational athletes, especially women, who:

  • like to run, bike, walk and/or hike
  • want to carry a handset while exercising for safety/security purposes
  • don't want or need all the functions and data of a more complex (and expensive) device
  • would rather spend a monthly charge for a mobile service rather than own a device with its upfront costs
  • don't obsess over having to know the absolute exact distance of their activity
In a nutshell, they want something that is simple and easy to use, and records how long the activity took and how far they went. If the distance is off by a bit then it's not a big deal.

WARNING: Potential users should make sure there is Sprint Nextel coverage in the area where they plan to use the service. Depending on the cell phone, BiM Active can still track GPS data if you go outside of Sprint coverage areas, but to actually start and resume an activity you have to be within Sprint's coverage area.

Here are links to the rest of the review:
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Bones in Motion BiM Active Mobile Service Comparison Review with Garmin Forerunner 205: Getting Started

The Bones in Motion BiM Active mobile service is currently available in the U.S. via Sprint Nextel at $9.99 a month and users must also subscribe to a Sprint data plan as well. Even though it is a Java application, one of the challenges for any company trying to deliver a mobile app/service is porting it to each platform and handset. As Bones in Motion rolls BiM Active out to more handsets and works with more carriers then hopefully adoption will follow. Currently there are only six cell phones enabled for the service. I've been told by Bones in Motion that the Samsung A920 Multimedia cell phone has passed internal Sprint testing and will be available for the service any day now.

Customers interested in the service can sign up in two different ways They can either use their web-enabled Sprint Nextel cell phone to search the Sprint Power Vision portal and download the BiM Active application or go to the BiM Active website, enter their mobile number, receive a text message with a link to the app and then download it to the cell phone. I did the latter and installing the app was very easy and straightforward.

After launching the app you see the main screen above with four options. Go gets you on the way to monitoring an activity; View allows you to see info on your last activity; My Info has an odometer, weather and location info; and Settings enables you to customize the appearance as well as providing an activation code so you can go to the BiM Active website and link the phone to the free online service.

Setting up a web account is easy to do and after logging in you are presented with a bunch of personalized and localized information. There is a link to connect the cell phone to the website by entering the activation code found under settings on the handset. The website is an integral part of the overall service and is used for viewing activity data transmitted from the cell phone, so it is very important for first-time users to set up everything properly.

Once everything is set up, you can get started with a few clicks. Hitting Go takes you to a screen that lets you select the type of activity (Run, Bike, Hike, General). After selecting the activity, the next screen allows you to choose if you want to hear an audible tone when you reach a certain distance (i.e. every 1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, mile, etc). Since you can't take manual splits at this time, this setting is also for automatically recording splits for the stated distance, such as every mile.

Next the cell phone will search for satellites and when acquired, you can hit OK to start recording. Satellite acquisition was pretty quick and usually took about 10-15 seconds, which compared quite favorably to my Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS personal training watch. The 205 usually takes at least 30-40 seconds to acquire satellites, which is why I usually place it on the ground in my back yard first and then put my shoes on before starting a run.

One thing to note is right now you can NOT use the BiM Active service and talk on the phone or listen to music at the same time. It's either one or the other. However, Bones in Motion plans to offer this type of functionality (i.e. record an activity AND listen to music or talk on the phone) in the near future, which will make the service even more attractive.

Currently to get around doing only one thing at a time issue, if you get an incoming call while using BiM Active, the service is suspended so you can take the call. When the call is finished you are then given the option to resume monitoring the activity. The same holds true if you want to take a photo or do something else in the middle of an activity. You first pause and then suspend BiM Active. Next you can take your photo, make a call, etc., and then re-launch and resume BiM Active where you left off. Of course, if you continue moving while BiM Active is suspended then your activity is resumed at the location where you restarted and not where you stopped the activity.

When you start the activity, there are two screens if the flip phone has both an internal and external display. Above is a screenshot of the information on the internal display, while below is what you see on the external screen when the flip is closed. In the case of the A920, the external screen is a black background with white characters, which makes it a bit difficult to see in strong sunlight. Using the external buttons to perform a certain function is on a cell phone to cell phone basis. For the A920, hitting any of the buttons will turn on the backlight for the external display.

Here are links to the rest of the review:

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Bones in Motion BiM Active Mobile Service Comparison Review with Garmin Forerunner 205: On the Run

So how did Bones in Motion's BiM Active service fare when I took it on the run. Surprisingly, quite well. It is missing some features that I would personally like, but the beauty of these kinds of services is that they can continue to make enhancements to BiM Active for both cell phones and the website. Of course from Bones in Motion's perspective, porting these updates for each different manufacturer and cell phone model is a pain, and users have to be notified to download the latest updates, but at least users aren't stuck with an outdated device as the service is improved.

I ran with my Samsung A920 Multimedia cell phone and BiM Active on four separate occasions totaling roughly 38 miles. I purposely chose routes that either use to cause my old Garmin Forerunner 201 GPS reception problems and/or were remote and less frequently traveled (due to time of day and/or location). I did the latter since this is one of the primary reasons to carry a handset when running or exercising alone.

PLEASE NOTE, carrying a cell phone is not a substitute for using common sense. In an ideal world, we wouldn't have to worry about these things, but unfortunately reality is very different. Don't let carrying a cell phone lull you into a false sense of security, and throw caution to the wind, unless you have an even more advance converged device that includes cell phone, BiM Active, pepper spray and/or a taser :-)

I opted to hold the cell phone instead of using an arm band that would secure the cell phone to the upper arm. In order to improve reception, I was advised by Bones in Motion to carry the handset with the back facing up towards the sky since this is where the antenna and GPS chip were located. Ergonomically, it's a bit awkward due to the cell phone design, and I'm guessing folks with smaller hands might find it uncomfortable. I'd probably recommend purchasing an arm band and using it that way instead.

In order to start, pause, resume and stop recording your activity, you need to flip open the cell phone and press the appropriate soft key. This is a bit of an inconvenience, especially if you come to a stop sign or light and/or carry the cell phone in a pocket for cycling purposes. I usually just let the time run unless I think I'll be waiting for more than 5 seconds.

In these situations, it would be nice if one of the cell phone's external buttons could be configured to pause the recording. It would also be nice if there was an option to take manual splits instead of only the automatic splits of the pre-determined distance, which is selected before commencing an activity. There is an audible notification every time an automatic split is taken.

The data presented on both the internal and external displays during an activity are minimal but enough (i.e. time, distance, average pace, last split, calories burned, etc) so if you're looking for a lot of information then this is not for you. Having the external screen helps since you don't have to flip the phone open during the activity to view information. Again being able to configure what type of info you can see on the screens would be nice, but not necessary.

One of the best things about the BiM Active service is transferring activity data from handset to online. When you complete an activity you flip open the cell phone and press stop. You are then given the option to save or discard the activity. If you select save then it uses the Sprint Power Vision Network to upload the data wirelessly to the BiM Active website. No cables or cradles to connect to your PC. You just have to hit the BiM Active website to check out the details of the activity. Nice and easy...

Here are links to the rest of the review:

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Bones in Motion BiM Active Mobile Service Comparison Review with Garmin Forerunner 205: Accuracy and Data

I found the accuracy of Bones in Motion's BiM Active service to be pretty good. Distances recorded by the mobile service usually averaged around 2 percent less than the distance calculated by my Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS personal training watch.

For example, my first run included a loop around the local country club golf course. It was early in the morning, the course was closed, and a number of holes rise up into the hills surrounding my town. There are some great views and quiet and remote sections. My 205 measured the run at 9.34 miles. SportTracks, the donationware GPS-enabled exercise logbook PC application that I use, calculated the run at 9.32 miles by analyzing the GPS waypoints from the 205 and crunching the numbers using their complex algorithms.

BiM active recorded the run at 9.06 miles. Details of the run, including map, charts and splits, can be found here at BiM Active's free blog for members . Bones In Motion mentions that the ability to publish activity data to external blogs is coming soon.

On another run, I took the cell phone on the same forested and canyoned trail that demonstrated the Garmin Forerunner 205's superior GPS accuracy as compared to the Forerunner 201. The trail was muddy in many places, due to 25+ days of rain in the month of March and the first half of April, but the weather was nice and sunny for a change. BiM Active again did very well and actually continued recording my distance on the out portion of the fire trail even though I was out of the Sprint coverage area for about a mile or so. At the turn around point at about 4.8 miles, BiM Active was only off on the low side by about 2 percent.

However, without knowing I was outside of Sprint's coverage, I decided to suspend the service so I could take the above photo of the trail with the Samsung A920's camera. When I tried to resume BiM Active, I couldn't because I was out of the Sprint coverage area, but after running back for a mile, I was able to resume and all went well for the rest of the run. If I didn't suspend BiM Active at the turn around, it probably would have recorded the entire run, even though the BiM Active FAQ states certain cell phones won't record outside of the coverage area. Of course, YMMV (your mileage may vary) so make sure you have Sprint Nextel coverage in the areas you plan to use the service and the right cell phone.

My latest run with BiM Active was fairly uneventful and the mobile service recorded it at 9.92 miles while the Forerunner 205 said 10.07 miles and SportTracks calculated it to be 10:06 miles. I also uploaded the same run from my 205 to MotionBased, which measured it at 10.09 miles. Less than 2 percent difference. Details of the run recorded by BiM Active can be found here so you can compare the two online services.

I wish I was able to provide more detailed analysis and compare the routes from BiM Active and my 205, but currently BiM Active's website only allows users to upload activities from other GPS devices from Garmin and Timex. So if you like the BiM Active online service and have a GPS monitoring device then you're in luck.

However, if you prefer a PC app, like SportTracks, then you can't export your BiM Active activities to your PC just yet. The folks at Bones in Motion told me they are working to add this feature to the BiM Active website so you can export activities into GPX and/or XML format and play with the data in other apps/services, such as SportTracks, Google Earth, etc. In my opinion this will make the service even more appealing.

Here are links to the rest of the review:

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Bones in Motion BiM Active Mobile Service Comparison Review with Garmin Forerunner 205: Review Wrap-up

After testing Bones in Motion's BiM Active for a little more than a week and comparing it to my Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS personal training watch, I have put together a list of likes and dislikes as well as a wishlist for the future:


  • Simple and easy to use. This point is very important since BiM Active is targeting mainstream recreational exercisers and not hardcore, data-driven, gadget geek athletes like myself. Simplicity is best. This is why the iPod succeeds where others fail.
  • Fast GPS satellite acquisition times. At 10-15 seconds, it much quicker than my Garmin Forerunner 205
  • One-click wireless uploading of activity data to the BiM Active website. Again simple and easy with no cables and PCs to mess with.
  • Can currently pause and suspend mid activity to take a call, photo, etc and then resume from where you left off
  • Enhancements. New features and updates, such as the ability to record an activity and listen to music on the cell phone at the same time, can be added to both cell phones and the website in the future. Users are not necessarily locked in to old features and functionality
  • The BiM Active website also accepts data from other GPS devices
  • Pricing. This is my biggest concern regarding the viability of the service. Personally, I believe the network operators, content developers and service providers are charging way too much for mobile content and services, which in turn is keeping adoption rates low. It will all depend on customer usage models and being able to price accordingly to other services they use. I like the BiM Active service, but at $9.99 a month or roughly $120 for a year is it worth the price? I think if it was priced lower at around $5-6 a month then it would be an easier decision for consumers and more would try it out. A per activity pricing model might be nice too for those folks who only want to record activities on an occasional basis, such as while traveling, etc.
  • Coverage. If you are in a Sprint no coverage area then you're out of luck
  • Must flip open handset to start, pause, resume and stop recording. Not a major problem, except maybe for cyclists, but an inconvenience nonetheless.
  • I know Bones in Motion is working on this, but being able to use BiM Active at the same time as talking on the phone or using the cell phone as music player will be a huge plus
  • Export data. Allow BiM Active data to be used in other apps, such as SportTracks or Google Earth
  • More customization. Allow users to customize what info can be seen on the screens and configure external buttons to pause, stop, resume or take manual splits.
  • Auto pause. If the user comes to a halt, such as a light or stop sign, BiM Active will pause recording until user is in motion again
  • More enabled cell phones and carriers beyond Sprint Nextel. This pertains to both potential users and Bones in Motion. A wider audience hopefully means greater adoption
So what does this all mean. It all comes down to usage model. If you are a recreational athlete, especially female, who:
  • likes to run, bike, walk and/or hike (duh!)
  • wants to carry a cell phone while exercising for safety/security purposes
  • wants something easy to use and doesn't want or need all the functions and data of a more complex (and expensive) device
  • would rather pay a monthly fee for a mobile service than own a device with its upfront costs
  • doesn't obsess over knowing the exact distance of your activity and can live with distance monitoring that is somewhere between 1 to 3 percent off on the low-side (i.e. 5 miles instead of 5.1 miles)
then BiM Active just might be perfect for you. It's easy to use, the service is convenient via both the cell phone and website, and reliability and accuracy is pretty good. The monthly pricing is a bit high and you need to make sure there is Sprint coverage in the areas you intend to use it.

As I noted in my intro, I'm not the target audience. I still prefer my dedicated device, the Garmin Forerunner 205, because of its greater accuracy, customization, and tons of bells and whistles. It's expensive and complex, but I like lots o' data for feedback during the run as well as for post-run analysis. With all that said, I could still envision using the BiM Active mobile service on an ad hoc basis (i.e. forgot watch and want to get in impromptu activity) if there was a per activity pricing model and the export data feature was available.

Overall BiM Active is a good option for the mainstream recreational athlete. If you fit the target audience criteria, don't mind spending $9.99 a month (plus a Sprint data plan) and want a bit more features than a standard stopwatch, but don't want to spend $$ on a dedicated and more complex GPS device, then it is probably worthwhile checking out. The service was pretty solid other than a couple of slight mishaps due to using a pre-production release on my Samsung A920 Multimedia cell phone.

More importantly, since the service is only a couple of months old, hopefully Bones in Motion will continue to add new cell phones and enhancements to BiM Active as they go along, such as using the service as well as the phone or music player at the same time. I'll be very interested in seeing how this mobile service fares as there seems to be a lot of potential for doing some cool and innovative stuff.

Since I'm not the target audience, I will supplement this review by asking some female runners in my area to test out the BiM Active service. Stay on the lookout for this in the weeks to come.

On a closing note, I would like to give Garmin a heads up that they better watch out. Although BiM Active targets a different audience than Garmin's higher-end dedicated devices, they still better be careful. BiM Active is going after the mainstream mobile market, which is much, much bigger than Garmin's potential market. I mean global cell phone market leader Nokia sold 75 million cell phones worldwide in the first quarter of 2006 alone. To put the cell phone market into even better perspective, the total number of iPods sold in the 5 years since it was introduced is roughly 50+ million.

I've wondered in the past why Garmin doesn't jump into this market and partner with carriers and cell phone manufacturers to provide a mobile personal activity monitoring service similar to BiM Active. It's not like they don't have the expertise in house as they already offer the Garmin Mobile GPS navigation service in conjunction with Sprint Nextel. They also acquired MotionBased last fall so they have the website aspect covered as well. Are they afraid a mobile + website service will cannibalize sales of their dedicated devices?

This is a potentially huge market that dwarfs the current market for dedicated personal activity monitoring devices and might offer up a lot of recurring revenue goodness to boot. Of course the key word here is potential. In my opinion, Garmin should stop waiting and start acting on a competing service. Better yet, they might consider acquiring Bones in Motion and put even more mileage between them and the competition....

Here are links to the rest of the review:

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Friday, April 07, 2006

First Look: Garmin Forerunner 205

As many of you know, I've been talking for some time about upgrading my favorite mobile device, the Garmin Forerunner 201 GPS running watch and replacing it with one of Garmin's Next Generation Forerunners.

The Garmin Forerunner 205, pictured to the left, just started shipping. Originally, due to my procrastination over which model to purchase, the 205 or the 305 with a heart rate monitor, I ended up waiting too long. When I finally ordered the 205 via, it was on backorder until mid-March.

However as luck would have it, I'm an impatient gadget geek, and while calling REI to check on the status of the order last Thursday night, I was told by the customer service rep that the Seattle retail store actually just got in a couple of units.

I quickly called the Seattle store and ordered the 205, paying $20 extra to have it shipped 2nd day air. Usually I go all out to pay as little as possible for shipping, but I figured I already had gone this far so it made little sense to torture myself even longer to get my hands on the product.

The Forerunner 205 arrived this afternoon and I had a chance to play around with it. I didn't get to take it for a run, but will compare it to the 201 on my run tomorrow morning. Here are my initial thoughts on the Garmin Forerunner 205:

  1. It's bigger than I thought it would be. The picture on the right is a side by side comparison (201 is on the left and 205 on the right). A lot of the size of the 205 is taken up by the antenna, which is built into the bottom of the display. It still feels a bit smaller because it's not as wide as the 201.
  2. The display of the 205 is a little smaller and for some reason doesn't seem as bright or sharp as the 201.
  3. While the 201 had 3 set screens and one customizable with 3 data fields, the 205 allows you to customize 2 main screens and a third activity specific (i.e. run, bike or other) one with 1 to 4 data fields per screen. For example, on my main screen I have 4 fields - total time, total distance, average pace and time of day. On other screens, I have lap time, lap distance, lap pace, elevation, GPS accuracy, etc. This is very cool, especially for data-driven geeks like myself.
  4. I like the 205's plastic strap much better. I was never a fan of the 201's velcro strap.
  5. The side buttons seems a bit hard to push. I hope they loosen up. The Lap and Start/Stop buttons on the face are nice and large so that's another plus.
  6. The GPS receiver seems much stronger. I can lock onto a signal inside my house next to a window. This never happened with the 201.
  7. like the fact I can connect the 205 to my PC via a USB cable and the charging cradle (see pictures below). Charging via USB is a nice bonus. For some reason, the watch doesn't feel that secure in the cradle. It's not a tight fit.
That's all I can think of right now and I need to get to sleep so I can wake up early for my run (I hope it doesn't rain). If you're in my neighborhood tomorrow morning around 6 a.m. make sure to say hello. I'll be the running dork with the big devices on both wrists.....
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First Run: Comparison of Garmin Forerunner 205 and 201

Yesterday I posted my initial thoughts about my new Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS running watch compared to my former favorite, the Garmin Forerunner 201. I didn't get to take it out for a run until this morning so the following post will try to compare the 205 with the 201 both pre, during and post activity.

Before I jump into it, yesterday I left out one photo showing the 205 with other devices to get a better idea of the size. In the photo above are from left to right, the Forerunner 201, Forerunner 205, Audiovox SMT-5600 Windows Mobile smartphone and a new Timex mid-size running watch for those days I don't need a GPS (i.e. speedwork on the track). I hope this helps.

Both the Forerunner 201 and 205 were set to the most smoothing for pace. The 205 also has a data recording option of either smart recording or every second, which is most accurate but only allows you to store 3.5 hours of activities. I kept it on smart recording, but will play around with this feature on future runs.

The weather this morning when I left was about 38 degrees and clear skies with some fog in some areas. As usual, I put the 201 in my backyard to give it time to acquire a satellite and then I put on my shoes in my garage. I tried to start up the 205 while in my garage but it took a while to acquire the satellites. It seems a little faster booting up than the 201 but I wasn't timing it.

The Run
I got started at around 6 am and ran a relatively relaxed 9.7 mile run. I picked a route where I sometimes had a weak signal on my 201. Above is a photo of the overall route. The yellow line is the path generated by the 205 and the red line is from the 201. These maps were generated by first uploading the runs to MotionBased, which I believe then uses a complex algorithm to map the GPS waypoint data from the device. I then exported KML files to my desktop and then played with them in Google Earth.

I wore the 205 over my glove on my left wrist and the 201 on my right wrist. I never wear a watch on my right so it was an awkward feeling made even more so due to the shape of the 201. For more detailed info on the run from both devices, I posted them both at MotionBased. The data from the 201 can be found here, while the data from the 205 is here.

The 201 used the Auto Pause function so there is a discrepancy in overall time. Plus, I started the 205 first and wasn't able to figure out how to hit the lap buttons on each device simultaneously so there will be a lag in split times for the 201. Here are some observations from the run:

  • While the 205 is still a big watch, it feels more comfortable than the 201. It fits more like a watch, while the width of the 201 makes it feel more unnatural on the wrist. Plus, I like the plastic strap a lot more than the 201's velco strap.
  • The side buttons are stiff and not easy to push, but the lap and start/stop button are better placed than on the 201 and also not stiff.
  • I originally had the tones turned off, so couldn't tell if I was pressing the buttons on the 205. After turning it back on during the run it was much better.
  • In theory I like the fact of having upto 4 data fields on one screen on the 205. In practice, it's sometimes hard to see and know what you are looking at, especially in lowlight conditions. Even with the backlight it's not easy. With 4 fields the fonts sizes are smaller and harder to read, but then again I'm 40+ so maybe it's just age
  • I don't use the "real-time" pacing feature of the 201. I much prefer knowing the average pace for the entire run and the current lap pace. I'm not that interested in knowing how fast I'm going at a specific moment in time. I did set one of the data fields to display "real-time" pace on the 205. The 205 seemed to be more consistent and showed a tighter range of paces. It also seemed closer to how fast I felt I was going relevant to the current conditions (i.e. uphill, downhill, flat) than the 201, which showed a lot of variation and lag. My guess is that if you need this feature then the 205 is more accurate. How accurate? I don't know. It's not a big deal for me cause I won't use it moving forward.
Post Run
After finishing my run, the 205 showed I ran 9.63 miles and the 201 had me at 9.58 (less due to starting 5-10 second later). I estimated the course at 9.7 - 9.75 based on past runs using the 201. Not really a big deal. Uploading the data from the 205 to my PC and to MotionBased was much faster via the USB port as opposed to the 201 serial port.

So while there was a miniscule difference in distances from each device, the differences became more pronounced after MotionBased's algorithms churned through the GPS waypoint data and mapped the runs. MotionBased calculated the distance at 9.67 for the 205 and 9.89 for the 201. At the bottom of the post are 4 photos from different points along the run. The yellow line represents the 205 and the red line the 201. It might be hard to see but the 205 for the most part follows the path I took more closely, and has less zigging and zagging than the 201.

One thing I don't like about the 205 as compared to the 201 is when looking up the history of past activities. When you highlight an activity in the By Day list, a summary of it is in a shaded section at the bottom of the screen, which is hard to read because the font is really small. There is also an extra step when you select the activity. You are first taken to a summary screen and asked if you want to view laps. When you click yes then you can only see 2 laps at a time (the 201 allows 3), and again if you highlight the lap you get summary info for the lap in a shaded section at the bottom.

Overall I like the 205 a lot. It's more comfortable on the wrist, has better placed buttons (lap and start/stop), more features I'll use, and hopefully will be more accurate too. I plan to do another write up or two after taking it on some trails with heavy tree cover and/or canyons, where I have always lost GPS signals in the past.

If you have any comments or questions then please feel free to let me know....

Here are links to:
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Day 2: Garmin Forerunner 205 Solo Run

Thought I'd post some additional thoughts on my new Garmin Forerunner 205. I'll get the bad news out of the way first, my 205 is already broken :-( The power button stopped working and after speaking with Garmin customer support, they will ship me a new unit tomorrow.

In the interim, I can still use the 205. How? Well, I have the cradle hooked up to my PC via the USB cable for uploading and charging. By placing the 205 lightly in the cradle just so the contacts hit then it turns on.

To turn it off, I have to upload the data from the 205 via Garmin's Training Center software, SportTracks or the MotionBased syncing app and the unit automatically turns off. It's inconvenient, but at least I can still use it until I get the replacement.

With that said, I'd like to send props to the folks who developed the donationware desktop application SportTracks, which has quickly become my running logbook of choice (I used Excel before) to record all my miles and other stuff.

I've been using it with my Garmin Forerunner 201 to upload my activities and I like how you can edit the data and see all kinds of information. Plus it has a mapping function and uses some kind of algorithm to calculate distance and elevation based on the GPS waypoints from the device, similar to MotionBased.

When I first received the 205, the device wasn't yet supported by SportTracks. However, they were very responsive and within the day made some quick changes to the software so I could upload activity from the 205. And this was all before I made a donation! So many thanks and the PayPal donation has been sent.

After wearing both the 205 and Foreunner 201 yesterday to compare the two, I decided to take the 205 solo so I could focus more on the run than having to hit multiple buttons. It was a little warmer this morning (44 degrees) and the skies were overcast after rain during the night. I again tried to pick a route where I had previously encountered weak GPS signals with the 201. Above is a map from the run exported directly from SportTracks. Here are some more thoughts on the 205:

  • Satellite acquisition time was sluggish this morning. I wasn't sure if it was due to leaving the 205 at the backdoor of my garage or the weather
  • I said it before and I'll say it again. The strap is very comfortable. I hardly notice I'm wearing the 205. The unit also comes with an extension strap if you need to bundle up and want to wear it outside your clothing
  • I still haven't gotten a weak GPS signal beep in two days
  • There is an auto scroll feature that cycles the 205 through the 3 screens about once every 6 seconds. It's a nice feature so you don't have to worry about pushing the stiff buttons (I hope the broken power button was an anomaly)
  • The beep tones are helpful but kind of tinny sounding so if it's noisy you might not hear them. It would have been nice to have a way to chose the volume level (i.e. low, medium and high)
  • There is a data field which allows you to see the GPS accuracy in feet. I'm not sure how low it goes. The lowest I've seen in my area is 17 feet and usually it's in the 20s. This is another cool feature for the really anal types
  • The history screens are still too dark and hard to read. I wish they didn't use the shading and just had the plain background
  • The battery indicator just shows 4 vertical bars. I liked the feature on the 201 where it told you how many hours of charge were left when you powered it on.
  • I used the every second data recording feature this morning and it seems to be more accurate based on looking at the map from SportTracks. It says you can only record 3.5 hours of activity, but I'm unsure if that is at a time or overall. In other words, is that all the 205's internal memory can hold? Need to find the answer to this one.
Overall the 205 had me at 9.72 miles, SportTracks calculated it at 9.77 and MotionBased at 9.86. I'll say it's around 9.7 - 9.75 based on past runs using the 201.

I'll try to do another comparison between the 205 and 201 tomorrow on an out and back course through some canyons that always caused the 201 to lose a signal. I'll also keep you posted on the return situation as well....

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Day 3: Another Comparison Run with the Garmin Forerunner 205 and Forerunner 201

There must be huge pent-up demand for mobile devices that cater to gadget geek runners because traffic has more than quadrupled since I posted my first look at the Garmin Forerunner 205, my first comparison run between the 205 and Garmin Forerunner 201, and a day 2 solo run with the 205. It probably doesn't hurt that there are not many 205s out in the wild yet.

Before I get in to today's run, I posted all the Forerunner-related photos in my spanking, new Flickr account so you can see everything in one place.

This morning I decided to take the 205 and 201 out again on another comparison run. As opposed to the first time, I wore both on my left wrist (see above). I also set the 205 back from every second recording to smart recording.

The weather was pretty miserable: a chilly 42 degrees (for the Bay Area) with a light to steady rain, and a slight breeze. It even hailed for part of the run. Also, the fact that my power button is broken meant that I couldn't use the 205's backlight, which made it tough to see info during the earlier part of the run due to it still being dark out.

I kept both devices under the sleeve of my windbreaker most of the run to minimize getting rain on them. The 205 supposedly can be submersed in one meter of water for up to 30 minutes, but I don't know how that translates into rainy conditions.

I ran an out-and-back route (see photo above with red line indicating the route of the 201 and the yellow line representing the 205) with the first 2.6 miles on local roads then the next 2 miles on a paved trail that drops roughly 175 ft in elevation (620ish to 450ish). I then turned around and re-traced my route. The photo above and below were both generated by SportTracks and Google Earth.

The trail section I ran is part of a paved rails-to-trails path that has every .25 miles marked. The markings are pretty accurate since I believe they were measured with a wheel by the local college an/or high school.

The second mile (going out which is the third mile coming back) of the trail section goes through a canyon of sorts. In the picture below you can see open space hills on the left and trees on the right. The path itself is not really under cover, but I've lost the GPS signal on my 201 there in the past.

The overall run I estimated at 9.2 miles. The 201 and 205 both gave me similar results. The 201 had me at 9.28 miles with SportTracks calculating it at 9.37 and MotionBased at 9.40. The 205 had me at 9.26 miles with SportTracks at 9.25 and MotionBased at 9.30. The out and back sections were also pretty much the same and the 2 mle measured trail section came out as 2.00 for both on the way out and 1.98 for the 201 and 1.99 for the 205 on way in. Not much of a discrepancy.

I was pleased with the 201s performance since I haven't used it on this trail for almost two years due to past GPS reception problems. I'd have to credit Garmin for the improved performance because I have updated the software on the device several times and that seems to have made a difference.

However, if you look closely at the photo of the mile section described above, you can see that the 205 (yellow line) pretty much follows the trail while the 201 (red line) wanders. This is probably why SportTracks and MotionBased calculated the mileage for the 201 higher than the 205.

You can see the run details at MotionBased for the 201 and 205.

One last note. I usually don't read manuals until I'm stuck on something so I didn't catch this cool new feature of the 205. When you power up you get the locating satellites bar. If you hit the up or down buttons, you can see a bar graph of which of 30+ satellites are acquiring plus the signal strength level. There is also another screen which shows the satellites in a compass format with the ones acquired highlighted. Very cool stuff that only a geek could love.

I'll try and take both out on a fire trail that I never could measure with the 201 if things dry up here. Also I'll play around with the elevation stuff to see if I can write intelligently about the subject...

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Day 4: Garmin Forerunner 205 Solo Run Over Forested Trail

Good news today. First, hats off to Garmin's customer support for sending me the replacement Garmin Forerunner 205. They ended up sending it Next Day Air for delivery on Saturday and it arrived this morning. Service doesn't get better than that. The unit is all charged up and ready to use for my run tomorrow.

Second, if you run often on tree-covered/forested routes and/or through challenging GPS reception conditions, and have qualms whether the 205's GPS accuracy is improved enough over the Garmin Forerunner 201 to make it worth the extra money, well, this post might help you make up your mind. Disclaimer: your mileage may vary.

There was a lull in the rain that has afflicted the San Francisco Bay Area this week and I woke up to a crisp, sunny morning with temps in the upper 30s and some lingering fog. I only used my broken-buttoned 205 for my run and took a chance on some dirt trails nearby that usually caused my 201 tons of GPS reception problems.

I ran an out-and-back route with the first 2.2 miles over local streets and a paved walking trail. This put me at the trailhead staging area/parking lot. The trail is part of the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) and goes along the East side of the Upper San Leandro Reservoir. Due to the recent rain, the trail was very muddy in spots, but luckily I was able to navigate them without losing a shoe.

The photo above is of the 1.1 mile segment that goes from the staging area through a wooded section to a dirt fire road that comes to a cattle gate. After the gate the trail starts to climb in the the hills and woods. On my 201, I would usually lose the GPS signal in both the wooded section, and as the trail climbed into woods to the 1.1 mark.

The photo above and below were both generated by SportTracks and Google Earth. The yellow line is the path generated by the 205 and the red line is from a run last week over the same trail in similar conditions (clear and sunny) using the 201. While the 205 stayed pretty close to the trail in the above segment there was a lot of wandering by the 201.

The photo above is of the next section of the trail that I've never been able to accurately measure due to my 201 always losing the GPS signal. This part of the fire trail rolls up and down, following the contours of the steep, forested hills as they rise above the reservoir.

There are parts that are heavily shaded and I would usually just run for a prescribed amount of time before turning around and heading back. Most times the 201 measured the out segment at least 15-20% shorter than the return so I would end up guesstimating the distance by dividing the total time by my perceived pace (i.e. 10 minutes at around 8:30 min/mile equals approximately 1.15 miles.

The 205 did a very good job tracking along the actual trail. There was some wandering but it was nowhere near the amount the 201 did on this section from last week's run. Plus, I never had a weak GPS signal warning on the 205 today and the GPS accuracy data field always stayed within 20-30 feet.

I was duly impressed with the 205 today. The overall distance of the run was 9.68 miles on the unit. SportTracks calculated the distance by crunching the GPS waypoints at 9.67 while MotionBased used their algorithmn to clock it at 9.76 miles.

The 205 really nailed the splits of each segment. Going out it recorded 2.23 miles to the trailhead, 1.09 miles to the start of the rolling/winding/shady section of the trail and then 1.51 miles to my turnaround point. The way back it recorded me at 1.5, 1.11 and 2.23 respectively. Very consistent. Here are the run details at MotionBased if you're interested.

I like buying the newest gadgets so I could easily justify the 205 purchase, because of its better form factor (e.g. shape, more comfortable strap, lap and start/stop buttons, etc). Plus it has more advanced features than the 201. However, until today I wasn't sure if its increased accuracy was really worth the extra money.

On my other runs the accuracy differences between the 205 and 201 were minor. Only until the waypoints were mapped by SportTracks or MotionBased could you really notice a difference. However today's run definitely highlighted the 205's improved GPS accuracy and reception.

So like I say for other mobile devices, it really comes down to the individual usage model. If you're not an anal data geek, don't want to spend two fitty and/or run on wide open routes with great GPS reception then the 201 should be fine.

However, if you regularly run routes that go under heavy tree coverage and/or challenging GPS reception conditions then the 205 or Forerunner 305 might be your better bet, especially if you want the most accurate measure of how far you ran.

Again, your mileage may vary and this was only one run under cover....

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First Week: Garmin Forerunner 205 Review Wrapup

Unless my new Garmin Forerunner 205 (the second one) explodes on me or suffers major quality or GPS accuracy issues, this post will serve as a wrap-up review of the Forerunner 205 after playing with it for one week.

However, before I jump into summarizing my thoughts, I first one to touch on my run this morning where I tested the course and virtual partner features. This morning was my seventh day running with the 205 (4 with the broken power button unit and 3 with the replacement - thanks Garmin customer service for the quick turnaround!).

I've been sort of sidetracked from my usual training schedule in my enthusiasm to test the 205 and compare it with my Forerunner 201. Plus, the extra mileage was making me feel a bit rundown. The recent rains in Northern California didn't help either.

For today, I decided to get back on schedule and put in a steady half-marathon/marathon-paced effort over a course in my town that is used by the local high school for its annual Fourth of July 5 mile fundraising race. I use this route for tempo-like efforts and I start and end at a different place, and don't run the tangents so it comes out to around 5.1 miles.

I've been wanting to use the 205's course and virtual partner feature, but since I haven't run this route yet with my 205, I needed to find another way to get the course onto my device. Brad Culberson at MotionBased has developed a neat little online course creator that allows you to plan a route using Google maps, pick a pace for that route and then save it to your PC. Using Garmin's Training Center software, you can then upload the course to your Forerunner 205. Not wanting to lose to my virtual partner, I chose a conservative 7 minute mile pace and after plotting the course it came out to be 5.1 miles as well. Now I was all set.

The weather this morning was rainy as usual and I warmed up by running 1.7 miles to the start of the 5.1 mile course. I saved this activity and reset the 205. I went into the Training menu, selected courses and then the course I had created and uploaded. I chose Do Course, pressed start and I was away.

With virtual partner enabled as well, you get two extra screens and a revised main screen. The revised main screen tells you how much of the course distance and time is left. The first extra screen is of two graphical running icons and the distance separating you from the virtual partner based on the goal pace (i.e. 7 min/mile) and the actual pace/distance run. The second extra screen shows your progress as a dot along an elevation graph. If you have maps enabled on the unit, you can also hit mode to chart your progress via the route.

Virtual partner is kind of gimmicky, but it was fun to see myself virtually pull away during the run. I ended up getting in a pretty decent effort and I heard victory beeps right at the finish notifying me I had beaten my VP. I then finished up with a 2.4 mile cooldown.

Plotting the route (and measuring it for that matter) was pretty accurate via the online mapping tools so if you run solely on roads and don't need the latest gadgets and data then this might be a free way to measure your runs. The other cool thing about the 205 is now I can create a course from today's effort (route, distance and time) for use at a later time. This course will be at today's pace so if you like to measure your progress (or lack thereof) over a specific route then VP is for you.

Details of the 5.1m mile run can be found at MotionBased.Below are two graphs of the elevation along the route. The first is taken from SportTracks and charts the elevation and distance with my pace. The second chart is from MotionBased and only shows elevation as it corresponds to distance.

With that out the way, here is my first week wrap up of my likes and dislikes of the new Garmin Forerunner 205 as well as cool stuff and wishlist for the future:


  • Comfort and Form factor: Usage model is very important and while the 205 is big, it feels and wears like a wrist watch. The plastic strap is more comfortable than the 201's velco strap, and the unit also comes with an extension strap if you need to bundle up and wear it outside your clothing. Personally, I want to look at my watch for instant data (i.e. time, pace, distance, etc) and feedback so I'm unwilling to place a device on my upper arm even if I have to sacrifice accuracy. In terms of form factor, the lap and start/stop buttons are well placed and sized on the face of the watch.
  • GPS Accuracy: The Garmin Forerunner 205's GPS receiver seemed much stronger. I can lock onto a signal inside my house next to a window, I haven't received one weak signal in a week over routes that caused my 201 trouble. And on my one run over a tree-covered, GPS signal-challenging course, the 205 came out a star, finally allowing me to measure a route that I was unable to with my 201. The GPS accuracy data field and the satellite acquisition screen are also cool bonuses.
  • Customization: The 205 allows you to customize 2 main screens and a third activity specific (i.e. run, bike or other) one with 1 to 4 data fields per screen. This is very cool, especially for data-driven geeks like myself. Another great thing about all the Forerunners is you can customize screens and settings on the fly without interrupting your current activity.
  • Real-Time Pacing: I'm not that interested in knowing how fast I'm going at a specific moment in time so never was a big fan of the "real-time" pacing feature of the 201. With that said, the 205 seemed to be more consistent and showed a tighter range of paces. It also seemed closer to how fast I felt I was going relevant to the current conditions (i.e. uphill, downhill, flat) than the 201, which showed a lot of variation and lag.
  • USB Cradle: Charging and uploading via USB is a nice. Much faster than the 201's serial port.

  • Display: The display of the 205 seems smaller and the history screens are dark and hard to read. I wish they didn't use the shading and just had the plain background.
  • Real-time elevation: For me this isn't a big deal, but the "real-time" elevation reading lags on the 205. It seems to tie closely with GPS accuracy. For example, after I finish my runs I'll usually walk a little in my backyard to cool down. The real-time elevation reading will then "catch up" to the correct elevation.
  • Buttons: My broken power button seems to be an anomaly so far since I haven't read of others with the same problem. With that said, the side buttons seems a bit stiff to me.
  • Battery indicator: It just shows 4 vertical bars. I liked the feature on the 201 where it told you how many hours of charge were left when you powered it on.

Cool Stuff
  • Tons of features: There are a lot of things the 205 can do such as import courses, advanced workouts, virtual partner and a bunch of other features that I need to explore

  • Reduce form factor
  • Color screen
  • Increase battery life
  • Improve waterproofing/water resistance
  • Add wireless connectivity for uploading and downloading data and information over the air to PC or mobile service
This wishlist seems to be standard gadget geek fare for any droolworthy device so please take it with a grain of salt.

So that's it for now. I hope you found these reviews helpful. Next up I hope to review Bones in Motion's BiM Active service. BiM Active is a mobile service currently through Sprint that provides GPS personal fitness tracking and logging via a cellphone. Once I get a Sprint handset to play with, I hope this will be my next review project....

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