Garmin Forerunner 610 Review

The Forerunner 610 is Garmin’s first running and cycling watch with full touch screen technology. Incorporating many of the advanced industry leading features that we have come to know and love, the Forerunner 610 takes all the best bits of the previous forerunners and adds a few more! Not only has the watch been updated with a much improved user interface but the addition of more customization options and the new Training Effect technology make it a very powerful training tool.

Garmin Forerunner 610 Watch

Garmin Forerunner 610 Watch

For those of you that are new to RunTheLine, I just want to explain a little about the site and how this review is going to take shape. I am just a normal London based runner who has taken the jump into the word of triathlon and have entered my first IronMan (July 2011). Triathlon is a much more technical sport than I ever envisioned and as a result I spend way too much time pouring over the various kit reviews and magazines, checking out the latest products that claim to shave minutes of your race times. I have always had a bit of a thing for technology and gadgets and so always jump at the chance to review the latest gizmos available to us amateur athletes.

Just so you know the context of this review, I emailed Garmin a few weeks ago requesting a trial Forerunner 610 and they were kind enough to oblige. As Garmin are the first company to launch a GPS watch with a full touch screen interface, I was very curious to see how the watch would perform in the field and was very happy to have the opportunity to give the watch a full test run. I have tried out some of the latest GPS watches such as the Forerunner 410, Timex IronMan Global Trainer and The Suunto T3d, and so feel that I have a good command of how the various watches perform against each other. Also, as I am training 10-15 hours a week for the UK IronMan triathlon, I have clocked up enough miles to know just which of the various watches’ features I either never use, or just could not do without.

This review is going to be structured like my other reviews that appear on this site. I am going to give an overview of each feature of the Forerunner 610 and then go on to explain how that feature performed during training. The review will finish up with and examination of the Garmin Connect software and advice on how to use the watch effectively during training.

Feel free to leave your own comments, experiences or questions at the bottom of this review or drop me an email if you want to get in touch.

Garmin Forerunner 610 Review – In The Box & Setup

Straight from the box it is easy to see the first set of improvements that Garmin have made to the Forerunner 610. The watch has the same slim profile that characterizes the Forerunner line, but has been updated with a metal back section that gives it feeling of durability and substance.

The Forerunner 610 is supplied with the new style heart rate monitor, wireless ANT+ data transfer stick, USB/Mains charger and owners manual. The only thing that you might need in addition to these bits of kit is a cycle sensor to capture cadence if you are planning on using the Forerunner 610 to capture cycling data.

Setup takes a matter of minutes, and involves entering in a few bit of information about yourself such as age, height, weight and gender. The watch uses this information for a variety of calculations such as heart rate zones, Training Effect (more about that later) and calorie usage, so it is important to take the time to enter these things correctly.

Garmin Forerunner 610 Review – Touch Screen User Interface

Before going on to explain the various features of the Forerunner 610, it is worth taking a minute to have a look at the new and updated user interface that Garmin have updated the watch with.

The first opportunity to get hands on with the watches’ touch screen interface is during the initial setup phase. This involves trying to enter the correct bits of information into the various fields whilst trying to get a feel for the sensitiveness of the screen to touch commands. I have a touch screen phone that takes a light touch to operate so it took me a while to realise that I needed to press harder when navigating around the Forerunner 610.

Four Quadrant Main Options Page

Four Quadrant Main Options Page

Once all of the essential setup data has been entered you are shown a screen that is split into four quadrants named History, Training, Setup and Where To. This is the area of the watch where you can change the various options, customize the watch and also access some of the more advanced features that make the Forerunner 610 such a powerful training tool. Under the Training section you can change all of the auto-lap and auto-pause settings as well as the Virtual Trainer or Custom Workout settings. The Setup section is where you can pair the device up with the various sensors (if it doesn’t do this automatically) as well as changing settings such as heart rate zones, user profile, system settings and even the time and alarm settings (yes that’s right, it even tells the time!). The History section of the menu is where you can examine your previous training sessions before uploading them to the Garmin Connect Online Portal and the Where To section of the menu is where you can go to navigate your way to or from pre defined GPS waypoints. All of the features I have just mentioned will be explained in greater detail below.

Forerunner 610 Review – GPS Tracking

 

The Forerunner 610 uses a GPS sensor to track and record your movements when out training. It uses this information to feed a variety of statistics such as distance, pace and speed, and it is vital that the GPS sensor is therefore as accurate as possible to reduce erroneous readings. The Forerunner 610 contains the SIRFSTAR IV chip set which is the most advanced chip set to date and drastically reduces the amount of time it takes for the watch to lock on to satellites when you pull it out of power save mode and enter into training mode.

Garmin advises that the watch can take up to 30 seconds to gain a satellite signal, but I have get to be waiting more then eight seconds for a signal when I have used the watch. Something that really surprised me was the fact that I am able to gain a signal even when I slip the watch into training mode indoors – something that even my Garmin Satnav cant do!

Even In Urban Areas The Forerunner 610 Finds Satellites Quickly

Even In Urban Areas The Forerunner 610 Finds Satellites Quickly

The Forerunner 610 is compatible with a Garmin FootPod, which sits on the laces or your shoe and feeds data to the watch when you are running. The advantage of having a food pod is that if you lose satellite signal then the watch will continue to record data from the Footpod until a point where you gain reception again. This was a really useful feature with Garmin Forerunners of old, which were prone to losing reception during city running, but since the forerunner 210 was released last year I haven’t had this problem in any of my runs around Central London.

Forerunner 610 Review – Customisable Training Fields

 

After a few minutes of tapping and swiping the menu I was quite happy navigating and began the process of setting up the watch ready for its first trial. As my next planned training session turned out to be a cycle I wanted to change the watches displays to reflects some useful cycling specific stats. A major improvement over older models is that with the Forerunner 610 you are able to switch from Running to Cycling mode quickly (by holding down the Lap/Reset Button) and can also setup a completely different set of training fields for each sport.

For both the Running and Cycling sport mode you can have up to four separate pages of training fields, each of which can display up to three different fields of data. Unlike any other sports watch, these fields can be customized either before a training session, or at any point during a session. This is a very useful feature as say for example you are out on a long marathon training run and then decide that you want to run some intervals half way through the session. Instead of re setting up the watch to view lap-pace and lap-time on one of the custom fields (assuming that you didn’t already have then set up already) you can not hold your finger down on one of the fields when in training mode and select another fields whilst the clock is still running.

The Forerunner 610 has 50 different training fields that you can choose from when you are customizing the watches’ training screens in each of the two sport modes., which is by far the most amount of choice out of any GPS watch on the market at the moment. As the watch has both a cycling and a running mode, you can have different combinations of fields for each sport and can switch quickly between the two modes.

Forerunner 610 Review – Cadence Sensor

The Forerunner 610 wouldn’t be a top end sports watch if it didn’t include some kind of cycling interface. We have already seen that it has a cycling mode where you can customize four different pages of training data with three different fields, but that kind of functionality wouldn’t be very usefull if the watch didn’t measure some half decent stats about your cycling performance.

Forerunner 610 Wireless Ant+ Cadence Sensor Compatibility

Forerunner 610 Wireless Ant+ Cadence Sensor Compatibility

The watch effortlessly pairs to any Wireless Ant+ cycle sensor (not supplied with the watch). Once paired with this device, the watch can keep a track of your current and average cadence, and then feed this back to you in real time.  Cyclists can use this information to keep track of how fast they are spinning their legs to make sure that they aren’t working too hard – something that is very useful for endurance races.

Forerunner 610 Review – Auto Pause and Auto Lap

 

Anyone who has used any of the previous Forerunner models will be familiar with the Auto Pause and Auto Lap features. Auto pause is great if you are ether doing structured sessions that involve lots of starting and stopping, or you run in places where there are lots of road crossings (towns and cities etc) as the watch automatically pauses until you start running above a certain speed.

The Auto Lap feature is something that is very useful in training, as you can set the watch to automatically lap after a certain regular time or distance interval. I use this to count off mile reps when I am running or 5 miles when I am cycling, as the summary data that is displayed for several seconds after each lap is a good way of checking performance at regular intervals.

Forerunner 610 Review – Heart Rate Training

 

Ever since the release of the Edge 800 Garmin have been including new style heart rate monitors with each of their latest Forerunner models (210, 410 and 610). The new style heart rate monitor has a smaller sensor unit and more flexible straps, which make it much better fitting. I always struggled to run with the old style monitors as to avoid it falling down my chest mid run, I would have to make it unbearably tight. Running with the new style monitor is almost a pleasure and I often forget that I am wearing it. More importantly, it is not restricting in the slightest and so can be used when undertaking tough training sessions such as hill sessions and interval training.

Using the Heart Rate Monitor with the Forerunner 610 opens up a whole world of extra features. You can pre set heart rate zones (or use the automatic ones that the watch calculates from your profile data) either before or during your run, and the watch will then alert you If you stray out of these zones. I wont get into the specifics of heart rate training now, but there are various ways in which you can use heart rate zones to pitch your training at the correct level. Just as an example, if you are on a long recovery run then you can set the watch up to ensure that you don’t run to fast – a nice little feature to make sure you aren’t over training during peak season.

Pairing the heart rate monitor with the Forerunner 610 couldn’t be easier. The moment you hit the ‘ready to run’ or ‘ready to ride’ option (the equivalent of putting the old Forerunner’s into Training Mode) the watch searches for any heart rate monitor in range. Once found, the watch and monitor stay paired until the watch enters power save/standby mode, which avoids the problem of it picking up the wrong monitor during a congested training session or race. The watch will work with any Wireless Ant+ monitor so if you have an older heart rate strap then you can still use this with the Forerunner 610.

Forerunner 610 Review – Calorie Counting & Alerts

The Forerunner 610 calculates the amount of calories that you have burnt over the course of a training session and displays this figure on the watch as a live training field. The watch uses both your profile data and your heart rate to give a better indication of your calorie usage than most other watches on the market. Accurately knowing how many calories you are burning when exercising is something that everyone can find a use for. Runners looking to lose weight can use the watch to see how many calories they are working off, whereas long distance road runners or cyclists can monitor their energy levels to see how much fuel they need to consume to avoid burning out.

Taking the endurance running/cycling theme a step further, Garmin have included a set of options that allow you to set up calorie alerts. Every time you train to a certain level of calories the watch will vibrate or beep to alert you that you have reached that level. Endurance cyclists/runners can use this feature to remind them when they need to take in gels or food on long distance events; something that helps to avoid forgetting when you need to take on valuable fuel.

Forerunner 610 Review – Virtual Trainer

Another nifty feature of the Forerunner 610 is the virtual trainer. This option allows you to race against a virtual figure on the watch that you can pre set to race at a certain pace. When activated, a new screen can be seen along with the other training pages, that details how far behind or in-front of the virtual trainer you are.

Setting Up The Virtual Trainer

Setting Up The Virtual Trainer

You can choose wether or not to display the virtual trainer as one one of your training screens by using the option in the virtual trainer menu.

Virtual Trainer Main Training Screen

Virtual Trainer Main Training Screen

Forerunner 610 Review – Custom Workouts and Interval Training

 

Intervals are without doubt one of the toughest and most challenging workouts that any runner or cyclist can do. The last thing you want to worry about is keeping track of each interval’s split times and distances, which is where the Forerunner 610 pipes up with another top end feature. Using the training menu you can quickly set up custom training sessions (including intervals) where you can specify the distance or time of each rep, and also the recovery time between each rep. The watch will alert you when you have finished each rep and also when rest time if over and it is time to start a new rep, whilst all the time automatically keeping track of your individual splits.

Update 22 May 2011 – First Race Test

Up until the 22nd May, all of my testing had been during training sessions and I had yet to put the watch through its paces in a race scenario. Race testing is important as it is the only way to see if the watch does everything that it is meant to do when it matters the most! You dont want a watch that is prone to malfunction or is intermittent and  unreliable, as if you cant trust your time piece then this can completely mess up your game plan.

In preparation for my UK IronMan this July, I entered the Buckinghamshire Tri GrandPrix Middle Distance race, with the aim of just getting round the course and not really aiming for any time in particular. I wanted to use the new Forerunner 610 as during training it was quick and easy to switch between cycling and running mode without having to spend ages fiddling through menus and options.

The watch was easy to put on during the first transition and after unlocking, it found a satellite signal within a few seconds. At this point I had just reached the bike mount section of the transition and was surrounded by other cyclists. As such I was conscious of weaving around on the bike as I was clipping in, adjusting my riding position and ripping open the first of many energy gels and so didn’t turn my attention back to the watch until about half a mile out of transition. Whilst wearing riding gloves I was able to tap the ‘ready to cycle’ button without any problems and was soon counting down the miles. I had the watch set up to chime every time I hit each five miles and a quick glance at the watch face every now and again was enough for me to check my average speed and total time on the bike course. I also used the five mile chimes to regulate my energy gel intake as every other chime meant that I had cycled another 10 miles (roughly 35 minutes) and was therefore needing to take water an nutrition on board to prevent burn out later on in the race.

Wearing the watch at the Emberton Tri GrandPrix

Wearing the watch at the Emberton Tri GrandPrix

60 miles flew by and before I knew it I had reached the second transition. After a quick change of shoes and a race belt adjustment I stopped the watch, reset it and then changed it to running mode. The fiddling around took about 10 seconds and the watch was easy enough to manage whilst stumbling around on tired legs. The watch chimed every mile to remind me that the finish line was almost in reach and after a surprisingly fast half marathon the race was over. On second glance, the watch had only recorded 11.5 miles on the run stage which seemed a little strange to me. Worried that the watch had been failing to record distance correctly I approached a marshal and questioned the race set up,  thinking that something had gone drastically wrong with the watches GPS. Thankfully the race organisers had made a last minute change to the course and the run section was a little short.

All in all I am very happy with the way the watch performed during the half IronMan. It was easy to use when cycling with gloves and when stumbling around transition, the battery didn’t die after five hours like some of the other GPS watches that I have used and the stats seems to be what I would normally expect. I would be more than happy to use the Forerunner 610 in my main IronMan in July!

Forerunner 610 Review – Summary

No Forerunner 610 review would be complete without a summary of some of the key features! I am happy to say that Garmin seem to be onto a winner with their latest creation. One of the biggest gripes with the old touch operated Forerunners (405 & 410) was that they were difficult to operate when running or when wearing gloves, and as such many people really didn’t get on with them. Having learnt their lesson, Garmin moved the touch operation from the bezel (Forerunner 405 and 410) to the watch screen and in the process made it much easier to operate. The screen is responsive to touch even when wearing thick cycling gloves and makes moving though the various screens of training data quick and effortless.

Despite the watch being water resistant, it is not suitable for swimming, meaning triathletes may want to look at either one of Garmin’s triathlon specific sports watches or the Timex IronMan Global trainer. Having said that, the slim profile and metal back section of the Forerunner 610 make the watch much more practical to wear than the timex, and also give it a much more durable feel than any of the other Forerunner models.

Some welcome additions to the Forerunner 610 is the ability to quickly move in between running and cycling mode with the click of a button as well as a high sensitivity GPS receiver, training effect technology and over 50 live training metrics that you can view in real time.  All of this adds up to make the Forerunner 610 one of the most advanced GPS watches on the market and make it an extremely powerful training tool for any runner or cyclist

That concludes this Forerunner 610 review. This has by no means been an exhaustive review and I will be adding to it as I continue to use my 610. If there is any parts of the watches functionality that you would like me to have a closer look at, or any parts of this review that you think I need to revisit then let me know via the comment for below.

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