The Garmin Forerunner® series are a collection of GPS-enabled sports watches made specifically to fit on our wrists for sporting activities like running and cycling. The most popular on the collection are the 305 and 405 whose main difference is basically the form factor: 305s looks more sporty and bulky while the 405s are more tactful and compact. Feature-wise both models have similar capabilities so it’s just up to your taste which one you’d prefer. Click here to have a side-by-side comparison between 305 and 405, courtesy of Garmin.
I picked a 405 primarily because of its discreet look—to the untrained eye it looks just like any regular digital watch so it’s easy to wear with anything, even in the office. If you want something that screams “sporty” this watch is not for you.
Fitting and Comfort
405s aren’t the lightest or the slimmest watches around but at 60 grams it’s definitely lighter than it seems. The GPS antenna located on the lower portion of the watch gives it a “stiff” look but it doesn’t make the watch in any way uncomfortable, in fact it’s one of the best fitting watches I’ve worn—and I have small wrists. The rubber straps could accommodate just about anyone’s wrists and secures the 405 well during activities, although it can be a little difficult to put on or remove (at first).
Of course when you got a 405 you were thinking of GPS, so let’s start with this feature. I’ve had my 405 for about 3 months now and after several different scenarios I’d say the 405’s GPS feature is excellent but still has a lot of room for improvement.
- 405s as a GPS receiver: surprisingly my 405 was able to give me a high of 3 meters accuracy, although typically around urban areas it would be around 5-8 meters. I’ve used it in the Philippines and US, and GPS seems to work fine regardless of location as long as it is outdoors.
- Location saving and returning: this is a feature that would be very useful in trails. You start by saving your location as detected by GPS, move as you please, and if you need to go back to one of your saved locations but lost your way you can ask your 405 for directions. You must be moving though for this feature to work as 405 needs to know your heading to give you directions.
- Location-based information: because of GPS, 405 is able to calculate sunrise and sunset where you are. Although these features are interesting it’s something that you’d rarely use (especially that you’d have to find it in 405). It’s just there in case you want to.
- Satellite locking time: for some weird reason the time it takes to lock onto satellites vary widely from about 2 to more than 10 minutes, even if it’s done outdoors. You’ll need to be able to lock onto at least 4 satellites for GPS to be enabled, three for triangulation of your location and the fourth one for your elevation, otherwise you won’t have any reading for pace, speed, and distance. It’s really inconvenient to stay still waiting for a 405 to lock onto at least 4 satellites when you can spend that time training. We’ve used Garmin nüvi® in the US for driving navigation and in about a minute (or even less), even while moving, it was able to determine where we were, our heading, etc. so it really intrigues me why 405s take this long to connect.
- Bouncing signals: GPS signals bounces off the sides of buildings, especially tall ones. This poses a huge challenge especially if you’re running in highly urbanized areas with very high structures. Not only do you get inaccurate location report, you also get erratic pace, speed, and distance as a result.
- Elevation: at first I was surprised that GPS can accommodate elevation, later I was disappointed that it was very, very unreliable (at least for urban areas). It is the weak link to the otherwise impressive GPS. The problem probably stems from the bouncing signal issue. There are times that it seems like it’s getting the elevation of the highest peak near you and sometimes due to some weak satellite signal it detects you’re below sea level. It’s so unreliable that I don’t even bother with it—even 405s don’t include it in computing your distance covered. It’s probably useful if you’re scaling up mountains where there are fewer chances of satellite signals bouncing. Elevation readings are there to give you a general view of the terrain but don’t rely too much on its accuracy.
- Inaccurate distance on trails: because 405s don’t include elevation in its distance calculation certain routes appear shorter than actual ground-based measurements account. I first encountered it during my first train run that has a lot of steep terrain—my 405 reported a much shorter distance than expected because it was measuring linear (horizontal) distance excluding the climbs (vertical). On trails 405s may be weak in measuring ground distances but here its GPS functionality seems to be at its best.
Anyone who wishes to take their running to the next level should have a Forerunner®. You get real-time information on your wrist while you’re running so you can tweak your run while you run. It also spares you the hassle of remembering your run details as your 405 does it for you, in details. Who can remember each of their lap time accurately if you had 10 laps or more?
- Garmin Training Center and ANT Agent™: these are excellent combos for seamlessly copying 405 captured data to your computer for training analyses. Once setup, all you need to do is just get within the 3 meter range of your computer (with USB ANT Stick™ attached of course) and these software will handle the rest for you. The Training Center lets you view the breakdown of your runs, and the most exciting part for me is that it allows you to view it in Google Earth and upload it online to Garmin Connect for possible sharing and collaboration. You may also design your workouts and courses on your computer and send it to your 405.
- Workouts and Courses: you can create a workout or course program on your 405 to keep you on track with your training. You can incorporate the warm-up, cool-down, and rest between intervals of your training so “cheating” is minimized. 405s really are strict coaches!
- Garmin Connect and Google Earth: seeing your route on Garmin Connect or Google Earth is very motivating that it inspires you to be creative on your running routes. It’s easy to plan a route without 405 but you can’t really tell how long and far you ran, along with other information without one. I myself got motivated to do my “adventurous” road runs because of these.
- Auto Lap: this feature is excellent to have a “per kilometer” (or any intervals you want) breakdown of your run. This is one of the features I often use, be it on a race or just some fun LSDs. The only problem I encountered was when you accidentally pressed the lap button (which forces a lap), the following laps would follow the new lap.
- Virtual Partner: there comes a time when a runner needs to run alone. On these times you can opt for a virtual partner on your 405 to motivate you on your run. Just set your virtual partner’s pace and run and you can see whether your VP is running ahead of you or is eating your dust. It makes running solo a little more fun for those who need the extra motivation, although it can be a little inaccurate at times.
- Auto Pause: this feature is excellent for doing LSDs if you want to capture only your running time, or if you simply want 405 to pause automatically whenever you stop (or fall below a certain speed). It’s good that you don’t have to think about it, but the bad thing is that it does not react quickly enough when you start moving resulting in gaps between your route and slightly lesser distance.
- Not for sprinters: 405 are good for capturing your lap data but it doesn’t really work well for very fast runs. If your run requires split second data precision chances are your 405 data would be somewhat inaccurate. I tested 405 on a track to capture my 400 meter splits but to my disappointment some of my 400 meter laps reflect a few meters short (which is impossible because you’re running inside an oval track). 405 saves its data readings at fixed intervals and sometimes when you press stop or lap between these intervals it doesn’t get saved immediately resulting in some inaccuracies.
405s have an interesting set of accessories you can pair it with. Unlike other brands that only work for the accessory they came with, 405s allows you to use any compatible ANT+ Sport accessory: heart rate monitor, foot pod, and GSC™ 10 speed and cadence bike sensor. I only have a HRM that came with my 405 at my disposal for testing so here’s my review.
Heart Rate Monitor
I’ve only recently gotten the appreciation for this accessory that is bundled with my 405. Like many men out there I’m not used to the look of having something strapped on my chest (like a bra) so for quite some time I ignored, but due to the need for training (and curiosity as well) one day I decided to put on my bra, I mean my HRM and give this undercard a chance to prove its worth.
No doubt that Garmin’s HRM is comfortable—you’d forget it’s there and it’s hassle free—it works the first time I tried. I was conscious at first that wearing it may affect my performance but after wearing it once I’m convinced that I’d wear it a lot. Once you paired it with your 405 you instantly get real-time display of your heart rate. It was actually more difficult to remember where the pairing menu is than to actually pair the device. Pairing it gives you an additional training page on your 405 that is also customizable.
The advantage of wearing an HRM while running is that you get to monitor how much effort you’re doing while you run so you can decide if you need to put more effort, take it easier, or continue as is.
Looking at your Garmin Training Center you’d find a more robust set of information that you’d otherwise miss if you don’t have HRM.
You don’t have to worry much about your HRM running out of battery soon since its battery could last 3 years (at an hour a day’s use, according to the user’s manual) and uses an easily replaceable CR2032 (3 volts) battery.
As a watch
First and foremost 405s are watches. It is a GPS-enabled device packed with features that you tend to forget it is still a watch.
- An atomic watch at your wrist: this is definitely as accurate as a watch can get. 405s sync their time from satellites which themselves employ atomic clocks. There’s plenty of satellites to pick on the GPS constellation so you’d bound to get the most accurate time. On the downside though you can’t set your time manually (no more advanced watches) but isn’t it interesting that when somebody asks for the time everyone wearing a Forerunner® agrees?
- Good display: at first I thought that the display was mono (black dots on neutral background) but it’s actually gray scale with customizable contrast settings. The screen display is good with nice resolutions and even the font choice is good. Very legible especially during running.
- Great backlight: 405s sport one of the best backlights I’ve seen on a watch. Its brightness is adjustable including timeouts. It’s also nice to look in the dark at since it fades gradually.
- Upgradable firmware: since 405s interact a lot with computer software this feature is a must.
- Rubber straps: can fit most people, comfortable, and easy to clean.
- Weight: at 60g it’s very light (despite its bulky looks).
- Design: tactful look makes it easy to wear with any suit.
- Ergonomics: Ease of use and variety of accessories.
- Rechargeable: how many watches do you know are rechargeable? GPS drains battery life pretty quick so it’s only logical to make 405s rechargeable but in the long run this feature is nice that you’re spared changing batteries every now and then and it’s easier on the environment too as you don’t dispose any batteries in the process. 405s can be charged via a USB port or directly on a power outlet with the supplied adapter. We just have to wonder how long the built-in battery lasts and if it’s replaceable.
- Scratch-resistant display: since 405s use touch bezel you’re bound to touch the screen often. So far in 3 months usage I’ve yet seen a visible scratch on the display.
- Dual time-zone: you can save two time zones on 405s but unfortunately you can’t switch between the two easily—you have to turn on “Time2” to view the second time zone and turn if back off to view your default time zone. It’s a good feature hampered by bad software implementation.
- Touch-bezel: what makes 405s stand out from other Forerunners is its use of a touch bezel like those in iPods. This bezel has adjustable sensitivity and is used to navigate though the menu. Sometimes you’ll like it, sometimes you’ll hate it.
- Color selection: 405s only come in two colors, black and green. You’d have to opt for a 405CX to get a blue one. You’re out of luck if none of these colors are your favorite.
- Cumbersome buttons: there had been plenty of times that I thought I pressed the button but didn’t. This goes occasionally for the Start/Stop button but oftentimes in the Lap/Quit button. You’d just hate it when you had a very good run and you found out that you weren’t able to start the timer.
- Bulky: it’s not the bulkiest, but it’s not exactly petite.
- Ergonomics: the touch-bezel that surrounds the screen serves as protection; unfortunately this bezel is not protected so you’re bound to chip off some parts of it in use.
- Battery life: a standby time of only 2 weeks is absurdly short for any watch on any standard! We could understand that 405s are very sophisticated watches but if you turn off all the bells and whistles and stick to just the watch it should at least last much longer than that.
- Water resistance: according to Garmin, 405s are waterproof to IEC Standard 60529 IPX7, meaning it can withstand immersion in 1 meter of water for 30 minutes. That may be true in terms of not damaging the 405, but when it comes to actual usage 405s hate water. A slight drizzle or some splashes of water makes the 405s touch bezel and buttons inoperable, sometimes even grounded. You’ll have to tap it (carefully) to get the water out hopefully drying inside enough to make it operable again. Definitely not one you’d dare take swimming.
Room for improvement
To summarize, 405s have these to improve:
- Longer battery life
- Faster satellite locking
- Improved water-resistance
- Heart rate-based calorie computation (now included with 405CX and 310XT)
- Software (software version 2.50 for GF405 has a serious flaw)
If I could put one more feature to 405s that would be:
- Thermometer: it’s just nice to be able to see the temperature while running; it’s not that important it’s just nice to be there.
Garmin Forerunner® 405 is an excellent product. It does have its share of pitfalls but it’s not enough to tarnish the many good features that it has. It’s a GPS-enabled watch and it’s excellent where it counts: being a watch and a GPS device. Not only do you get a watch with a 405 you’d also get a coach, a virtual partner, and a great motivator. Add to that it knows where you are better than you do and can tell you your way back when you get lost. It’s amazing how all these fit on your wrist, but of course all these come at a premium. If cost is not an issue, a 405 is a good investment since it’s an investment on good health. Just an advisory: having a 405 may lead to running addiction.
Credit: Videos courtesy of Garmin on YouTube
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