Garmin Forerunner 15 and 220 reviews: Lightweight and powerful fitness and life tracking

Garmin Forerunner 15 and 220 reviews: Lightweight and powerful fitness and life tracking

Summary: Garmin recently rolled out updates to its low and mid-range line of fitness watches. One integrates life tracking while the other adds smartphone connectivity.

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  • Garmin Forerunner 15 retail package

    Garmin is a leader in the world of mobile GPS and runners know them well. As we hit the summer months and people look to get into shape and enjoy the weather outside, I wanted to take a couple new devices for a spin.

    Garmin recently announced one of the first combination GPS watch and daily activity trackers as well as their next generation midlevel running watch. I spent the last month with both the Garmin Forerunner 15 and Garmin Forerunner 220 devices and am in better condition than when I started thanks in part to both of these devices.

    You may recall back in May when I reviewed and then purchased the Garmin Vivofit activity tracker. I still wear that device, the battery is still going strong (it lasts up to a year with no charging), but it doesn't have GPS to track specific exercise sessions so something else is needed for when I go running.

    Let's take a closer look at these two devices with the text of my reviews on the first two pages and images following them.

    Forerunner 15 Hardware

    The Garmin Forerunner 15 looks to be an upgrade of the Forerunner 10 with some added functionality you can find in the Vivofit. It's a rather chunky little device, but is also very light (43 grams), comfortable, and attractive.

    The model I tested is blue and black with blue color highights around the front face and on the large run button. You can also buy the Forerunner 15 with a black band and green highlights or with a red, teal, or violet band. The colors are intended to give it some style and appeal to a broad market.

    There are four buttons around the display. The lower left is used to scroll through daily activity data appearing at the bottom of the display, marking a new lap, and returning to the previous screen. The upper-left button is used to toggle the backlight and to turn the device off. The upper-right button, blue on this model, is used to start and stop the timer as well as to choose the selected menu item. The bottom-right button is used as the down button to scroll vertically through lists.

    There are plenty of openings in the watch band to fit any wrist size. To charge, connect, and update the Forerunner 15 you snap the device into a charging cradle that attaches to the pins on the back connected to a USB cable.

    The display bothers me a bit since I am surrounded by very high resolution mobile displays all day, but when you consider the functionality and battery life, then it makes perfect sense. It is a 2.5 x 2.4 cm mono display with a resolution of 55 x 32 pixels and is not a touchscreen.

    It is waterproof and sweatproof so you can take it just about anywhere. The battery lasts for eight hours when using the GPS receiver and about five weeks when used in watch/activity tracking mode. I was able to easily go through a week of runs without charging, but I did connect to sync the data to my Garmin Connect account and Runkeeper.

    Device and Connectivity Software

    There is software on the Forerunner 15 to make it very easy to go for a run and track your run with the GPS receiver. You simply put on the FR15, press the blue run button (upper right) when you are outside and within sight of GPS satellites and then press start. When you are done you simply press the run button again to stop the timer.

    While you're running, the time, distance, pace, calories burned, beats per minute and heart rate zone are recorded. The last two require that you have a hear rate monitor connected to the FR15. The FR15 connects to heart rate monitors via ANT+ and not Bluetooth. There is no Bluetooth radio in the FR15, which is why you can't connect it to a smartphone for wireless syncing. I used the MIO Link to connect to the FR15 and record my heart rate.

    The activity tracker acts similarly to the Vivofit with steps taken being counted and your goal dynamically adjusting, based on your activity each day. You can view the steps you took and the distance on the watch.

    Like the Vivofit, if you remain stationary for too long a prompt appears on the display. In this case, the word MOVE appears.

    The FR15 does not connect to the Garmin Connect app on your phone, like the Vivofit and other Garmin GPS watches. You must connect via the USB cable and charging cradle and then the data is synced to the Garmin Connect website. From the website you can view, manage, and share all of the data that is captured. This includes exporting your run data to use with other apps or to archive it.

    Some long-time Garmin users are not happy with Garmin Connect, but as a new user I find it to work just fine. I am able to view all of my data, export my run files and upload them to Runkeeper, and share activity with friends.

    There is also a Garmin Express PC application that is used to perform software updates and manage the hardware itself. I have seen a couple of updates during my test period as Garmin works actively to keep the device up and running for you.

    Usage and experiences

    The Garmin Forerunner 15 is not the most fashionable wrist-mounted device so if you're dressed up for the night you may not want to be wearing it around. However, the blue and black looks like a rugged watch and I liked wearing it around daily. It doesn't track sleep so you won't be wearing it to bed.

    I like to run, but have pretty basic needs for tracking my runs and the Garmin Forerunner 15 satisfies me in that regard. The other Garmin units, like the 220 and 620 capture much more data for the avid runner. I just want to know my pace, how far I am running, and my heart rate. I haven't yet evolved to be an avid data tracker where I need to know all my biological information, and I have simple training plans that don't include splits, intervals, and such. I may move into that type of training in the future, but right now I'm just happy to get out and hit the road three to four times a week.

    I understand the Forerunner 10 was one of the most popular GPS watches Garmin ever sold and think the FR15 will succeed as its replacement.

    Pros and cons

    To summarize my experiences with the Garmin Forerunner 15, here are my pros and cons.

    Pros Cons
    Long battery life Low resolution display
    Lightweight and comfortable Need to connect via cradle and USB to sync data
    Easy to manipulate buttons  
    ANT+ support for heart rate monitor connectivity  
    Accurate daily tracking functionality  
    Reasonable price for advanced functionality  

    Pricing and availability

    The Garmin Forerunner 15 is available now for $169.99. You can also buy a bundle with a heart rate monitor for $199.99.

    The competition

    There really is no current direct competition to this device since there are either dedicated GPS sport watches or dedicated life activity trackers. Amazingly you have to go back a couple of years to the MOTOACTV to find a device that has both of these types of functions, but that one is no longer actively supported and has rather terrible battery life.

    Specifications
    45.5 mm high x 57.2 mm wide x 15.7 mm thick
    25 mm x 24 mm display with 55 x 32 pixels resolution
    Weight of 43 grams
    Water resistant up to 5 ATM
    Stores up to seven activities
    ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart wireless technology
    5 week battery life in activity mode and 8 hours in training mode

    Conclusion

    I really like the idea behind the Garmin Forerunner 15 and I think it was a good move for Garmin to make the product. However, I am disappointed in the lack of Bluetooth to sync to my phone; a feature that you can find in their Vivofit and other Forerunner watches individually. I don't like having to connect to my PC for daily activity data, but don't mind making that connection for uploading workouts.

    The Garmin Vivofit can't be beat for worry-free daily activity tracking and it's a major relief to never worry about charging it up. The Forerunner 15 also offers excellent battery life and, considering the additional functionality it offers, I wonder if I can trade in the Vivofit for a Forerunner 15.

    Garmin has a large selection of dedicated GPS watches. (Go to the next page for my review of one of them.) Even though you can get the previous generation Forerunner 10 for $40 less, I would recommend the Forerunner 15 even if you never plan to use the daily activity tracking functionality. If you have basic needs for training data collection, then the Forerunner 15 is a great choice.

    I highly recommend you read the DC Rainmaker review (his reviews on all fitness gear set the standard) and the Engadget review for more opinions on the Garmin Forerunner 15.

    Contributor's rating: 8.5 out of 10

  • Garmin Forerunner 220 retail package

    Garmin looks to have three levels of GPS running watches and a couple levels of their multi-sport gear. The Garmin Forerunner 220 is the replacement for the 210 ($50 more in price), which is their mid-level running watch.

    Unlike the Forerunner 15, there is no daily activity tracking functionality in the Forerunner 220. It is a dedicated training device and offers increased functionality over the FR15 in regards to training.

    Forerunner 220 Hardware

    The Garmin Forerunner 220 is an upgrade to the Forerunner 210. One of the major improvements is the reduction in thickness and the better fit around the wrist. It is also 11 grams lighter, which is pretty significant when the total weight is just 41 grams.

    The model I tested is red and black with red color highights around the front face, on the back and in the openings of the strap, and on the large run button. You can also buy the Forerunner 220 with a violet band adn white face.

    There are five buttons around the display. In the lower left you will find two buttons close to each other that are used to move up and down through the different menus and display options. The upper left button is used to toggle the backlight and to turn the device off. The upper right button, red on this model, is used to start and stop the timer as well as to choose the selected menu item. The bottom right button is used as the back button to go back one level as you navigate the device software.

    Like the FR15, there are plenty of openings in the watch band to fit any wrist size. The charging cable/cradle fits around the back of the device and snaps into place quite securely. I only connected the charging cradle to charge the device and update the firmware of the FR220.

    The display is color, but not so colorful as to be distracting. Highlights are easy to see and the display is very visible in direct sunlight.

    It is waterproof and sweatproof so you can take it just about anywhere. The battery lasts for up to ten hours when using the GPS receiver so I could easily go a week on a single charge.

    Device and Connectivity Software

    The software on the Forerunner 220 is easy to use and you don't have to spend much time configuring it for your run. There are plenty of options for what data you want to appear on one or two displays, including distance, pace, speed, heart rate, lap time, timer, and more.

    I used the MIO Link to connect to the FR220 and record my heart rate. While the FR220 has a Bluetooth radio, it cannot be used for a heart rate monitor as it is dedicated to your smartphone connection.

    The FR220 connects to the Garmin Connect app on your phone and this functionality works quite well. You can even take your phone on the run with you and enable Live Tracking so that people can follow your run. This seems like a great thing to do for races and I plan to test this out in my upcoming half marathon.

    The Garmin Connect website works to collect the data you upload to your smartphone or via the Garmin Express PC application that is also used to perform software updates and manage the hardware itself.

    Usage and experiences

    The Garmin Forerunner 220 is a rather awesome GPS running watch and is the one I may purchase to go along with my Vivofit used for daily life tracking. I love the color display, super long battery life, ease of use, and key information provided on the display.

    I have pretty basic needs for my training and cannot justify the $150 premium to get the Forerunner 620 even if it is an amazing looking device. The Forerunner 220 provides me with the ability to sync to my Android phone (iPhone too), provide me with pace alerts, and auto scroll through two screens of data as I run.

    I don't run inside on a treadmill as I am blessed with fairly mild weather in Washington that allows me to run outside all year long. I understand there is decent footpod support, but did not test this functionality.

    Pros and Cons

    To summarize my experiences with the Garmin Forerunner 220, here are my pros and cons.

    Pros Cons
    Clear color display  Wide bezel around viewable display
    Long battery life  
    Lightweight and comfortable  
    Easy to manipulate buttons  
    Custom workout functionality  
    Helpful coaching and training software  

    Pricing and availability

    The Garmin Forerunner 15 is available now for $249.99. You can also buy a bundle with a heart rate monitor for $299.99.

    The competition

    There are plenty of competitors in this category and I have tested a couple of them like the MOTOACTV and TomTom Multi-Sport. The Garmin Forerunner 220 is priced about $50 more than some of the other mid-range devices, but they don't all connect to iOS and Android devices either.

    Garmin has a lot of experience with these devices and their current products are well defined and safe bets for purchase. I like the easy button system on the FR220 and couldn't really get used to the touchscreen on my friend's higher end Garmin device.

    Specifications
    45.5 mm diameter x 12 mm thick
    25.4 mm round color display with 180 x 180 pixels resolution
    Weight of 40.7 grams
    Water resistant up to 5 ATM
    Stores up to 200 hours of activity data
    ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart wireless technology
    5 week battery life in watch mode and up to 10 hours in training mode

    Conclusion

    I have run a couple of half marathons in Seattle and the GPS devices I used failed me both times since there were tunnels on the course. The Garmin Forerunner 220 has an integrated accelerometer to help keep you on track when you run through tunnels or lose GPS.

    While I really like the Forerunner 15 and could get rid of my Vivofit, I think I would rather have a nicer Forerunner 220 and the Vivofit that I can wear and forget about for a year.

    The FR220 is very light and I don't even notice it is on my wrist. I love that my MOTOACTV syncs via WiFi as soon as I walk into the door from a run and the Forerunner 220 is able to do even better with syncing to my Android phone wherever I am. I never have to connect the FR220 to a PC, unless I am performing software updates.

    I wouldn't know what to do with all the running dynamics and advanced data collected by the Forerunner 620. I think the 220 is perfect for recreational runners like myself who run to stay in shape and are not trying to win any races.

    The battery life allows me to train all week without worrying if I charged it up before a run. It is a cool looking GPS watch and likely to be my next fitness purchase. I have a half marathon coming up in August and may need to get one soon.

    I highly recommend you read the DC Rainmaker review. His reviews on all fitness gear set the standard.

    Contributor's rating: 9.5 out of 10

  • Forerunner 15 retail package contents, with heart rate strap

Topics: Mobility, Android, Health, iPhone, Reviews

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2 comments
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  • Garmin produces really beautiful things

    Garmin produces really beautiful things
    oyun oyna
    jerryy26
  • Replaceable wristlet

    Garmin 220 has replaceable wristlet. Plastic wristlets live is not so long. And I think you prefer change wristlet only but not the gadget (as in the case of Garmin 15).
    VladArtukov