The Garmin Forerunner 110 (henceforth known as the FR110) has been around since early 2010. It is the least expensive model in the Forerunner series ($179.99 w/o a HRM strap, $229.99 w/ a HRM strap) that offers both GPS and heart rate tracking (the FR70 and Forerunner 10 are $50 cheaper, but the former is HR-only and the latter is GPS-only). I have been running with the FR110 since August of last year, which is about the time I realized that my iPhone’s battery wasn’t going to be able to make it through longer and longer training runs for our half marathon with the GPS feature running. Overall, I have found the FR110 to be a good investment in my running career. The quality of both the data and the device itself live up to the high standards I have for a product from Garmin, one of the leading GPS companies in the world, and, perhaps more importantly, being able to review how my heart rate changes throughout my run and getting accurate measurements of my pace and distance have helped me to better evaluate my fitness goals and progress.
What You Get
When you open up the box containing your brand new Garmin Forerunner 110, you will find:
- The Watch (duh).
- A charging cable/clip (more on why this is the WORST EVER later).
- An AC-adaptor so you can charge sans computer.
- An ANT+ heart-rate monitor strap (if you got the version that includes it).
- An instruction booklet and a reminder to charge the device before you use it.
Once you get your watch charged up, you’re just a few easy set-up questions (age, weight, fitness level, etc.), and a satellite connection (which is required to complete the set-up as it’s how the watch sets the time and date), from going on your first run. The FR110 tracks time active, distance, pace (or speed), and heart rate (if you have the HRM strap on). It also has an adjustable Auto-Lap feature. The default lap is 1 mile, meaning that at the end of each mile (lap), the watch displays a summary screen letting you know your pace for that lap. One thing to note is that the FR110 does not display your instant pace (i.e., your pace at the exact instant you look at the watch or, in other words, how fast you are moving at that instant in time). Instead, it displays your average pace for your current lap. I actually find this to be more helpful than instant pace (which can jump around somewhat erratically), because, with my Auto-Lap set at 1 mile, it allows me to keep track of what my overall pace will be for that mile and it is easier to gauge, for example, what the effect of walking for a few seconds to take a drink of water or eat a snack will be. But, I suppose in some ways it makes it more difficult to tell if you are speeding up or slowing down too much to keep a consistent pace because (depending on how far along you are into that lap), it can take quite a few seconds to start to show in the average pace.
1. Reliable, accurate GPS tracking. I have had no problems with my watch maintaining a satellite connection or recording distances accurately. Again, that’s pretty much what I would expect from a Garmin product, but it’s good to know, right?
2. Looks like a watch. Many watches with built-in GPS are pretty bulky, sometimes to the point where they look almost comical on someone’s wrist (e.g., the Garmin Forerunner 310XT). The FR110, while still a little bulky on my small wrists, still looks enough like a regular watch that it would be fine for everyday wear.
3. Sturdy, but comfortable. The watch face/buttons and the rubber used to make the band feel very sturdy and well-made, but the rubber is “soft” and pliable enough so that it is comfortable for long periods of time against bare skin. I also haven’t noticed any discoloration of the rubber from sweat, which has started to become an issue with my Polar FT4.
4. Straightforward to set-up and use. This watch means business, and it’s a pretty simple business. From set-up to getting a run going, there’s never really any confusion about how to operate it–it’s very intuitive, especially if you have any familiarity with using a regular digital watch. Navigating between different screens and making changes to the settings are equally easy processes.
5. Can be used to track bike rides. Although I haven’t tried it myself, apparently this watch works very well as a GPS tracker for biking if you switch the tracking from “Pace” to “Speed”. Multi-function is always a plus in my book.
6. Good battery life. You probably shouldn’t plan on running any ultramarathons with this watch, as the battery is rated for only 8 hours of continual active use (i.e., GPS tracking on). That said, 8 hours is pretty respectable, and, because of the power save mode that the watch automatically reverts to after 5 minutes of inactivity (i.e. tracking has been paused or stopped), the watch is designed to go without charging for up to a week with 45 minutes of daily use (3 weeks with no GPS/HRM use). The key for me is that the battery life is as advertised, and I haven’t felt the need to constantly plug it in.
7. Data can be downloaded/manipulated. The Garmin Connect website is a great for uploading, storing, and displaying your data, but it’s also great that they give you the option to download your GPS files so you can manipulate them however you choose. This openness also means that the data can be transferred to other services, like Nike+ (see Steve’s article for instructions).
1.. Charging clip is horrible. The design of the clip for charging and transferring data is terrible. You have to align the four pins on the clip perfectly with the four metal contacts on the back of the watch or it won’t charge or connect to your computer. I’ve gotten better at getting it just right, but at first, I was having to spend several minutes messing with it to get it to work. I know this may not seem like a big deal, but it’s ridiculous that something this simple should continue to take a couple tries to get it right every time. What makes it worse is that moving the watch just a little is sometimes enough to break the connection. If the watch is connected to your computer when this happens, you get a warning about the possibility of data being corrupted–yikes.
2.. GPS acquisition inconsistent. Depending on where I am in the world, the amount of time this watch requires to acquire (whoa, crazy phrase) a GPS signal is incredibly inconsistent. Sometimes it will acquire a signal in a few seconds, but sometimes, like at our apartment (grrr…) it can take 10-15 minutes (even if I go outside with it). Much to my dismay, it also turns out that Power Save mode can still activate while the watch is trying to acquire a signal (if it takes >5 minutes), and if you aren’t there to press a button to stop it (you have 30 seconds to interrupt it), it means the watch has to start the process all over again. Maybe we just live in a weird satellite dead-zone (although we have managed to find a magic spot on a shelf in our bedroom that seems to get better reception than the rest of our apartment–weird, right?), but I’ve read about other people having trouble with satellite acquisition taking more and more time the longer they have the watch. For now, the magic shelf seems to do the trick, but I’m keeping an eye on it.
3. Limited features/price. I understand that the FR110 is meant to be the entry-level Forerunner option, but I think Garmin would do better to make it a little bit less expensive considering the features it lacks compared to the next model up in the Forerunner line. For only $20 more, you can get the Forerunner 210, which gives you the option of connecting it to an ANT+ foot pod for accurate tracking during indoor use. The 210 also allows you to set custom heart rate zones and create custom interval training routines on your computer and then load them onto your watch. If you are far enough along in your running career that you feel the need for GPS/HR tracking, it follows that interval training, a common feature of race training plans, is not too far ahead of you, so it might be better to get the watch that allows this right off the bat.
4. Heart rate strap is uncomfortable. The included HRM strap that comes with some versions of the FR110 is Garmin’s standard version, which means that the front half of it (where the electrodes are) is one big piece of flexible plastic. Because of this, the strap is not the most comfortable, is a little hard to fit right, and can cause some chafing (preventable with Body Glide, but it’s the principle of the thing!). Garmin does make a Premium HRM Strap that is soft and elastic all around with only a small, removable plastic module for transmitting data. I’ve stuck with the standard strap because I don’t want to shell out another $60 to get the soft strap one, but the fact that the plastic one even exists kind of baffles me.
5. Not waterproof. The FR110 is water-resistant, so it can withstand all of the rain and sweat you put it through, but don’t plan on using this watch to track your open-water swims if you’re a triathlete. Not a problem for me, but I could see it being a bummer for others.
In the end, I have to say that I have mixed feelings about the FR110. It is definitely not a bad choice by any means, and in many ways is the perfect GPS/HR tracking watch for the no-frills runner who only wants the basics or a beginner who doesn’t want to get in over their head with some of the complex features offered by the more advanced Forerunner watches. Partially, I think my lukewarm feelings are the result of me being ready for a more advanced watch that offers features like different heart rate zones and interval workouts, both of which are available on other Garmin watches, albeit at a higher price. If you aren’t interested in those features, I would still suggest going for the Forerunner 210 instead. For an extra $20, you’ll have the ability to upload workouts to your watch if you decide you want to, but will otherwise have the same easy-to-use watch with the same features as the FR110.