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Improve your fitness and help get in shape with the Garmin Forerunner 610: Review

Garmin's Forerunner 610 is their premier GPS watch, and after testing it for a couple of weeks, I agree it is one of the best. As summer approaches, you may want to consider the 610 and hit the road.
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1 of 15 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Garmin Forerunner 610 retail box

The Garmin Forerunner 610 has been one of the leading GPS fitness watches for a couple of years, but I just recently had the chance to try one out. It is really the device that sets the bar for running, but we should see new devices like the offer up some serious competition soon.

My preferred device is the Motorola Motoactv, and after using the Garmin Forerunner 610 for a couple of weeks, I have to say that the Motoactv remains my preferred fitness device. It's pretty amazing to me that a company focused on phones can make one of the best fitness devices, but I will explain why I think it is in the text below.

I am surprised that Garmin and other fitness-focused companies haven't yet released GPS watches with MP3 playing capability like the Motoactv, since I see most people out on the road with headphones in and being motivated to compete with music. I was hopeful that the new TomTom devices would include MP3 capability, but that doesn't look to be the case, so the Motoactv should remain the primary choice for those looking for a device that does it all.

If MP3 functionality is not important to you, then the Garmin Forerunner 610 is an excellent choice. I was especially pleased with the long battery life and accurate tracking. I put together a list of pros and cons summarizing my experiences at the end of this post.

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Garmin 610 retail package contents

I was sent the full Garmin Forerunner 610 package, which includes the Forerunner 610, heart rate monitor strap, special USB charging cable, USB A/C adapter, ANT USB dongle, and instruction manual. The charger piece has a magnet in it, and works through two contacts that touch the bottom of the Forerunner 610. I found the reported battery life of at least a week of running (45-minute runs each day) to be accurate.

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Charger attached to the 610

The Garmin Forerunner 610 is built like a tank, and definitely feels worthy of the $350 price. It has a metal back, glass front, and durable rubber wrist strap. There are three hardware buttons and two touch buttons that accompany the touchscreen panel. The touchscreen is not sensitive to finger touch, but rather fingernails. This makes it less likely that you will accidentally touch it and activate functions, but I find it sometimes takes a few taps with my nail to make things happen. After using capacitive touchscreen smartphones and tablets, along with the Motoactv, using the Forerunner 610 takes some practice.

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Front of the 610 with charger in place

The top-left button activates the backlight, while also turning the device on and off. The upper-right button is used just to start and stop the timer. The bottom-right button marks new laps and resets the timer. I find it odd that you press and hold the bottom right button to reset the device, which acts to save the previous workout.

The touch-sensitive area on the bottom activates the menu options. The left touch-sensitive area is used to go back.

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Heart rate monitor

The included heart rate monitor strap is adjustable, and fit me well. The sensor snaps on to the front with two detection panels in the strap.

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Back of the 610

I am not a fan of having to use the Garmin ANT USB dongle to sync data from the Forerunner 610, and much prefer the wi-fi connectivity of my Motoactv. I keep finding that the Garmin takes about 5 minutes to connect and download a single run. I also don't like that I have to use a PC to sync a workout.

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Side of the 610

The software on the Forerunner 610 is pretty basic, but it gets the job done. After turning on the 610, it attempts to find GPS satellites and determine your location. I found that it regularly determined my position within about 1 minute. After that, you can simply tap the start/stop upper-right button and be on your way.

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Garmin 610 next to Motoactv

While on a run, you will see your distance, time, pace, heart rate, virtual partner status, and clock functionality. I like that you can go in and customize the number and type of data that appears, from one to four cells of data.

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Motoactv and Garmin 610 on my wrist

When you press the Menu button, you will see four icons for History, Training, Setup, and Where To. History shows your exercise history, while Training gives you options for alerts, laps, pause, and virtual partner setup. Setup lets you control the heart rate monitor connection, alarm, foot pod, user profile, and more. The Where To option helps you figure out where you are, and gets you back to where you started.

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Underside of the Motoactv and Garmin 610

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Typical view from Garmin Connect site

Garmin gives you free access to its Garmin Connect website, where your collected data is synced for you to view and use. Unlike the closed system of Nike products, you can export data from Garmin and import it into other services. I use Runkeeper to share my activities with friends, and sync to my Jawbone Up, so I appreciate the openness of the Garmin site.

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View of history on the 610

You can set and manage goals, view and set up training plans, schedule runs, and much more on the Garmin Connect website. You can view all of the fine details of your activities to help you track improvements and progress.

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Menu options

The Garmin Forerunner 610 is a fantastic GPS watch, and one that I know meets the needs of many people, including some of my friends. I plan to stick with my Motoactv, though, because I like the integrated MP3 functionality. You can find it online for $400 with the heart rate monitor, or $350 without the monitor. DC Rainmaker has some of the most details fitness reviews ever, so I recommend you check out his Garmin Forerunner 610 review when you get a chance, too.

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Typical running data

Pros:

  • Decent battery life for most fitness activities

  • Superb quality product

  • Large buttons that are easy to press

  • Easy interface with core functionality

  • Full function website

  • Open nature of data so can be used with other services.

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Stats report

Cons:

  • Need special USB ANT dongle to sync Forerunner 610

  • Touchscreen not very sensitive to finger press.

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