Garmin’s Forerunner 205

 Personal Trainer Series



Forerunner 205
Fitness GPS with High Sensitive Receiver
August 30, 2006
Release 2
(Info on updating GPS Chip Software)
Review By: Sam Penrod

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Overview

The Garmin Forerunner takes basic GPS navigation and turns it into a system for managing and keeping track of fitness.  Simiar in features to its predecessor the Forerunner 201, the Forerunner 205 comes in a new shape and size and features the high sensitive Sirfstar 3 receiver.  The Forerunner is designed to allow for measurement and timing of exercise routines, through walking, jogging, running, biking and even skiing.  However it also includes most of the features in a basic GPS unit, such as marking waypoints, reviewing track logs and could even work for geocaching.  This review is specifically for the Forerunner 205.  There is also the Forerunner 305, which includes many more features, notably a heart rate monitor.   The Forerunner 205 lists on the street for $250.  Check discount prices here.





Comparative photo of Forerunner 201 on the left and the Forerunner 205 on the right

The Forerunner is a wrist GPS unit, with a built in antenna and small screen.  It is lightweight, just 2.7 ounces and can be connected to a computer via a USB port with the included connection bracket.  This allows you to upload and download information and use the MotionFitness program, to monitor your exercise routine.  The Forerunner 205 package includes the "Training Center" software.  You can also download free updates of the software by following this link.  With the addition of the Sirfstar receiver, the Forerunner 205 has dramatically better reception than the previous Forerunners, allowing a user to easily get and retain a satellite lock, even if you are running near tall buildings or on trails in thick trees which can interfere wtih satellite reception.

The Forerunner is also compatible with MapSource and can both receive and send information such as waypoints and tracklogs from MapSource.  (No MapSource software is included with the package, but if you already have it, the Forerunner is compatible.)  Tracklogs created on the Forerunner can also be seen on maps in MapSource.  (Although it will only download your last ten tracklogs, even though the Forerunner seems to retain track data for a much longer time.  Garmin claims it stores up to two years of training history.) 



Side Angle View

Although the Forerunner itself is not mapping capable, it does have a map page where tracklogs and waypoints can be seen, in relation to your location.  The scale goes from 120 miles down to 20 feet. You cannot pan the map.  The Forerunner includes additional features from a basic GPS, such as the ‘Virtual Partner’, which helps keep you on pace, with a time and distance you specify.  There is also, ‘AutoPause’ which stops your timer when you stop moving, for example at an intersection or stop light.



This shows the size of the Forerunner 205 as compared with an AA battery

Included in the Forerunner 205 package, is the Forerunner 205, wrist extension strap, A/C charger for the internal battery, data and charging mount bracket, training software, manual.

The Unit

The Forerunner is 2.75 ounces and has a wrist strap attached.  An expansion strap is also included.  The GPS has a built in antenna and the screen is about 2/3rds the size of the unit.  There are six buttons: power, mode, reset, enter and zoom in and zoom out.  Also, the reset and enter keys double as a lap key and start/stop, when the unit is in the specific data field mode.

Main Menu



The main menu page is accessed by pressing the mode key and it features four categories:  History, Training, Navigation, Settings

History



The history is basically the equivalent of a ‘tracks” page in a basic GPS.  What I found to be nice is that you can go back to a specific date and compare your time and distance, with what you did with your current run.  You can look at Last Run, Last Week, Last Month and History Totals.  You can see specifically your run time, distance, average pace (by mile) and calories burned.  It does keep separate data for running, biking and other.

Training Assistant

These features are unique to the Forerunner from other GPS units and are specifically for fitness training.

Alerts

Time/Distance Alert
This allows you to set alerts for when you have either a user specified distance or a user specified time.  Default is one mile and 30 minutes.

Speed Alert
You can specify an alert if you go above a speed and a separate setting if you go below a speed.  
You can also select these alerts to remain off.

Auto Pause
This feature allows you to stop your timer if you stop at a stoplight or are waiting for traffic at an intersection 
but don’t want it to affect your moving average, etc.   You can set it for when you stop moving or a custom speed.

Auto Lap
You can also specify when to trigger a lap.  Default is set for 1.00 mile, but you can customize it for a marathon, 10K, 5K, etc.

Virtual Partner
This may be the most helpful feature in the Forerunner.  It allows you to set a goal, for how far you want to run and in how much time you want to do it.  It will give you a message on the screen telling you how far ahead or behind you are of your ‘partner.’  You can customize the distance and time.  From looking at the virtual partner you can train by only looking if you are ahead of your goal.  Easier to glance at on the go, rather than having to think about time, distance, etc.



Workouts

Quick
This allows you to set workouts for either, Distance and Time, Time and Speed or Distance and Speed.  Helpful to allow you to craft what is most important to you during your workout.

Interval Training
This allows you to specify a distance to run and how long you can rest, before resuming.  Or how long you run and how long you can rest.  Gives audible alerts for when you have traveled the distance or time, when you are eligible to rest.

Courses
This allows you to customize a 'course' or other route you like to run and then measure your progress on that particular route and distance.  You select from a previous run/biking route and then have the same distance, etc.  And on the map page, it will highlight what the route is, for you to follow.  (When you start navigating using this feature, the only way to stop it is to press the reset/lap button on the front of the unit.)

Auto Multi Sport
This feature is used if you are using the Forerunner in some kind of a triathlon or other event where you transition from one sport to another.



Navigation

This is where the Forerunner doubles as a basic GPS unit, where you can create a waypoint or navigate to a waypoint.


Mark Location
This is how you mark and create a waypoint.  It is also the only way to see your current lat/lon and altitude.  You can edit the specific lat/lon, the waypoint symbol and name, up to six characters.

Find Location



Navigating to a waypoint is done in this menu.  Options include ‘all’ waypoints, ‘nearest’ waypoints and ‘delete all.’    
When you select a waypoint to navigate to, the map screen appears on the left and an arrow and distance to the waypoint, shows up on the right.  You can navigate to the waypoint on this page, including a geocache.  (There is no dedicated geocaching function, although the Forerunner is compatible with EasyGPS, a program used to upload geocaches/waypoints to a GPS unit.)  By selecting a specific waypoint, you have the option of ‘delete’, ‘map’ and ‘goto’ as well as editing the name, symbol, lat/lon, and elevation.

Back to Start
When you begin your run, the Forerunner can lead you back to your starting point.  It will use the internal tracklog to return you to the beginning.  Similar to Garmin’s trackback in other units.

Routes
This is where you can build a route of waypoints and then allow the Forerunner to route you to one waypoint, to another.  Not really helpful in fitness training, but good if you are using the Forerunner for basic GPS navigation.  You can select a new route and then build the route using the find menu.

Satellite Page
This gives you two screens of the satellite page.  The first will show you the round version, showing the satellites and where they are in relation to the sky.  And when you press the up or down key, you will see the second satellite page, which will show you the current GPS accuracy, as well a graph page, so you can see the signal strength on each satellite.  (See screen examples below under Satellite Acquistion)

Settings

General
The settings page is similar to other GPS units, where you can set time zone and units such as miles or kilometers.  The ‘Custom Page’ allows you to set a data page with the data fields you are most interested in.  I like the time of day, distance and total time on the run.  But there are several other options, such as calories burned, pace, elevation, grade (of up or downhill.)  ‘User Profile’ allows you to enter your weight and then specify the desired pace times for running, jogging, walking, etc.  (This is to calculate calories burned.)  You can also specify if you are running with extra weights in the running profile, or in the biking profile, the weight of your bike.  ‘Set Display’ is where you specify how long the backlight remains on and set the contrast of the display.  There are also numerous languages available that can be selected here.  

Map
This gives you the option of ‘North’ up or ‘Track’ up in the mapping page as well as showing or not showing your waypoints and whether or not to show the map in the rotation of screens or not.



Data Pages

There are three data pages, the custom page, where user can set data fields, as well as the time, pace and distance page and another page which features lap pace, lap time and lap distance.  This is basically a stopwatch for your run/walk.  When you are on this screen, is where the lap and start/stop buttons are activated, which double as the reset and enter button in the other screens.  To reset your run, hold in 'reset' for three seconds, (it will countdown from three before resetting.)    When you have the timer running, is when pressing the lap key will start a new lap if you want to measure distance, for example on a track.  Otherwise the lap distance goes to the value set up in the system.  When you have a data page on, use the arrow keys to toggle between the different data pages.

Satellite Acquisition

The Forerunner with its built-in antenna located below the screen, does a great job acquiring and keeping a satellite lock.  We found it is best to wait until you are outside, before turning it on.  If you have it on inside and don’t get a lock, a message will appear within a couple of minutes, asking if you are indoors. 





This allows you to switch the GPS function to 'off.'  You can also do this in the settings under 'General' and then 'System." When we were outside, we typically had a lock in 30 seconds and once we had a lock, had no problem keeping it while we were on our run or walk.  There is no lat/long page with the Forerunner, however by pressing the ‘mark’ key, you can find your current lat/lon and elevation.  A small satellite in the upper right hand corner on the data pages, flashes while acquiring satellites and is steady, when you have a satellite lock.   There is no WAAS correction available in the Forerunner, however this is not really necessary in a fitness GPS and probably burns more battery power.  

As of November 2006, Garmin posted a software update for the Forerunner's GPS Sirf Receiver Chip.   Running this updated software on my Forerunner seems to have dramatically improved satellite acquisition times when the unit is turned on.   As of this writing, it is not available via Garmin's WebUpdater and so you must download the file from Garmin.com by following this link and then run it with your Forerunner connected to your computer.   The GPS Receiver software is currently "GPS 2.90" and you can check your unit's software version by selecting the "Settings" on your Forerunner, then "General" then scrolling to the bottom of the page and selecting "About Forerunner."  (Garmin also says after the update, it may take longer than usual to get a new satellite fix the very first time you turn the unit on).

Battery

The Forerunner 205 has a built in lithium battery, with an average battery life of 15 hours.  It typically requires two to three hours for a complete charge.  The battery charger is included with the package.  There is a battery level indicator on the bottom of the main menu display to show you how much battery time you have left.   A message flashes on the screen while the battery is being charged and changes to say 'battery charge complete', when it is fully charged.  As with most Lithium batteries, you do not need to allow the battery to be completely discharged before re-charging.  

USB Connection

To connect the Forerunner 205 to the battery charger and USB computer connection, a supplied bracket snaps on the bottom of unit.  You then connect the USB cable to the bracket's port. 

Waterproof

Yes, you can wear your Forerunner in the rain, if you really like to run in the rain.  Garmin says it is safe to keep it in one meter of water for up to 30 minutes.  This should get you through even the worst downpour.

Backlight

There is a backlight available, accessible by gently pressing the power key.  You can set it in the settings, under 'Display' to how long you want it to stay on.  Default is 15 seconds.  Once you activate the backlight, it will turn on each time you press any key. You cannot change the backlight level, it is either on or off.

Areas for Improvement

The Forerunner 205 does pretty well overall for what it is designed for.  A few things I wish it would do, would be user configurable fields on the compass page.  It would also be nice if you could plug the USB connector directly into the unit for charging and extracting data, without having to use the bracket.  However this is probably not possible, so the Forerunner is waterproof.   We did not find any obvious problems or bugs while using the Forerunner.


Questions:

Can I use the Forerunner on a bike?
Yes, use the Setting's page and select "Biking" and then select "Use This Sport"  

Can I use the Forerunner in a car?
Yes, but the unit seemed quite confused like Superman was wearing it, when it comes to speed, lap and pace.  It seemed to mess up our averages of actual exercise.

Would you say the Forerunner is a suitable unit for basic GPS navigation?
Yes, for basic navigation, such as what you would get out of the basic eTrex or Geko models.   But no mapping or car navigation is possible.

Can I wear the Forerunner as a watch?

Yes, but you will receive numerous compliments such as, "that watch is huge" or "can you see the time okay?"  Of course you can respond, it does other things and usually most people are impressed that it is a functioning GPS receiver as well.  Because of the redesigned shape,  it does look more like a watch, although a big one, compared to the long skinny shape of the 101, 201 and 301 versions.  You will also have to consider the additional wear and tear physically on the unit by wearing it more often and wearing out the internal battery.

Other Observations

I have not really used the Forerunner for running, only biking.  However I have found it very useful to log the distance I have traveled.  As far as for running, my wife uses it almost daily and trained for several 5K runs with it.  She reports that the Forerunner made it quite convenient to know at anytime where she was distance-wise in the run along with her pace.  It also allowed for her to take a different route anytime, without having to stick with the same pre-measured route for her run.  As far as accuracy, the Forerunner seems to be pretty good, as compared to a pedometer or odometer in a car.  Although she did report that when taking the same route, the final destination would vary, but usually less than 200 feet in a three mile long run.  This can probably be attributed to variations in GPS accuracy.  As always, your Garmin unit will operate the best, if you are using the latest free software available from garmin.com.  Connect your Forerunner 205 to your computer and use Garmin's WebUpdater to make sure it is the latest firmware.

Summary

The Forerunner product seems to do a good job for what it is designed for, as an electronic personal trainer.  Using the added software of Training Center will help those who are really trying to get into shape. It is lightweight, easy to read and the virtual partner is probably the most helpful feature.  Overall we would say that the Forerunner 205 seems to be a good product for the money and we have found few problems with using it.  If you want it to help you with an exercise program of walking, jogging, running or biking, the Forerunner seems to fit what you need, while also offering some basic GPS functions.

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