A Runner’s Wet Dream – Garmin Forerunner 235 Review
Garmin Forerunner 235 is a recent generation of Garmin’s ultra line of running watches – the Forerunner, coming after its immediate predecessor, the Forerunner 225 and successor, the Forerunner 735X.
It was released in October 2015, less than a year after the launch of the 225 (Garmin’s first optical heart rate monitor) in what seemed like an upgrade to its under-fire precursor before proving to be a whole new creation. Currently, it’s one of the most sought-after fitness trackers for pro athletes thanks to its comprehensiveness and emphasis on running-related features.
I’m going to take you through a review of the running watch, homing in on the most notable features and exclusive facilities as well as its undersides. Feel free to leave your comments in the comment section at the bottom of the page and let us know what you think about the activity tracker on paper, or in real life if you already own one.
Garmin Forerunner 235 price when reviewed: $269.99
Garmin Forerunner 235 Design
The size and weight of Garmin’s fitness trackers has always been one of their winning cards when placed against rivals such as the Fitbits. The Garmin Forerunner 225 was a darling particularly due to its small size, sporty look and comprehensiveness.
Fortunately, the Garmin Forerunner 235 retained most of this features and toned them up with a little tweaking here and there.
Larger Display – More Information On The Screen
On the design facet, the plastic five-button running watch sports a screen 44% larger, now plausibly to contain more than one display field per screen and of course reduce the need for a phone during active sessions.
The good part is that the change had very little to do with the overall size of the watch; the two generations are almost the same size only that the Garmin Forerunner 235 has the screen covering a larger portion of its top surface. Not fashionable at all, but still better looking and less geeky than the Fitbit Charge HR.
The screens displays in large visible letters and graphics and is usable even in the sunniest of days. Garmin would have done more in night readability however. Perhaps they forgot it has the sleep tracking functionality as well. Overall, the bigger screen is nothing but a constructive improvement both aesthetically and functionally.
It is not touch enabled, by the way, so you don’t have to worry about your sweaty fingers blurring the screen.
The strap is the same old plastic one only that this seems implicitly elastic and consequently less irritating when worn for long periods. For those who find it less comfy having a wrist watch or armband buckled loosely around the wrist, the Garmin Forerunner 235 can be worn tightly without exactly squeezing your arm.
This actually improves the efficiency of the gizmo as a heart rate monitor as the optical tracker can still be in touch with the skin even when muscle contraction takes place. Just for the record, the straps are replaceable meaning you can go for less or more stretchable ones depending on your comfort.
The plastic underside of the watch, like most wrist-worn activity trackers, houses the charging port and the optical heart rate sensor. The charging port is not protrusive (not even as much as the light sensor) in case you’re worried about irritation and does not require extra-careful placing during charging either. The charging cable, which comes with the watch, has a clasp that holds the watch in place to withstand light shakes.
For those who would love to have their heart rate continuously monitored, the Garmin FR235 is 5ATM water-resistant too, so pool time should not be a reason to take it off.
What Does the Garmin Forerunner 235 Do?
The Garmin Forerunner 235, just like any other fitness tracker out there, tracks distance, steps, heart rate, sleep and calories. Garmin have also listed floor-counting as one of the FR235’s capabilities, but without a barometer that sounds like misplaced claim.
As regards accuracy, it happened to be quite in sync with the FR225 which was strapped to my other wrist, and, well, both of them gave me an identical figure to my manual count. Hardly a fitness tracker of this class fails on that anyway, so we are not going to dwell on it.
Heart Rate Monitoring
As you might have heard, Garmin replaced Mio Global’s optical heart rate sensor with their own in-house product in the FR235. “Teething troubles” and poor performance and breakdowns are typically what follow this type of changes but as it seems Garmin’s must have been a well-laid and executed plan as everything runs just as smooth as in the FR225.
A closer look may in fact reveal that the change was for the better. This is the first product from Garmin to offer second-by-second heart rate monitoring, which I can testify worked like a dream during testing. It produced the same curve as the Polar H7 Smart Bluetooth Heart Rate Monitor which I’ve always rated.
Activity Recording Profile
The Forerunner 235’s exercise recording feature comes in four broad training profiles:
- Run Indoors,
Your running routine must sure fall under one of these. You even have the option to switch off the other three once you find your preferred option – which you can further fiddle with by adjusting alarms, activating GPS etc. till it seamlessly harmonizes with your preferences.
A running session with your Garmin Forerunner 235 on and active will track and display your Running dynamics, lap, speed, elevation and heart rate. Due to lack of a barometer, the watch uses GPS data to estimate elevation.
During indoor runs without GPS, the FR235 can still calculate distance covered using the built in accelerometer. The feature may be a little sloppy during the start but after a few GPS tracked outdoor runs, its accuracy betters and stabilises.
Training Data Display
Whichever training mode you are in, the Garmin 235 provides you with the option to customise two screens separate from that displaying heart rate and clock.
These screens can be further partitioned into four subsections giving you a total of eight displayable fields in which you can view different aspects of your active sessions.
For instance, you can have your four-piece screen displaying the number of laps in one sub-screen, and lap time, lap pace and lap distance in the other three.
On the other screen you can have average pace, average speed, last lap time and last lap distance or even average heart rate, heart rate zone, percentage heart rate etc. The customisable fields include:
- Heart rate fields;
- Speed fields;
- Pace fields;
- Distance fields;
- Timer fields;
This feature comes in handy when you want to concentrate more on your running and less on checking the watch and toggling between screens for various stats.
In case you’re wondering why we are having this as an independent subtopic, tracked sessions and training have been classified separately on the Garmin Forerunner 235. Training includes such features as your training schedule, intervals, finishing time etc. which are also portioned into three sub-screens.
GPS & GLONASS
We all know what GPS is good at: draining your battery at double speed. Add Glonass to that! Thank goodness you have the choice to activate either GPS only or both of them at the same time.
More to the point, does your running sessions last more than two hours really? You need virtually the whole daytime to drain the FR 235 with both functionalities active. If you are one to download workouts after every session however, you may not get to see your watch take you through two.
You can use GPS+GLONASS when you really want accuracy in location tracking, but for an ordinary athlete I don’t see why this would be necessary. If you must, signal pickup of this combination is perfect on a clear-sky day. You have the option to choose between per second recording – which provides you with more detailed statistics of your pace, location and heart rate – or smart recording.
During a tracked run (in a neighbourhood you’re not familiar with), you can also use the “Back to start” feature to view the direction back to your starting point.
If you’re familiar with the Jawbone Up series, you must have heard about the smart alarm feature. It comes as the move alert in the forerunner 235, and it’s designed to keep you on the move. Just like the smart alarms, the move alert sets off a buzz on your wrist when you go dormant for a while. If you get up and make a few steps the watch will detect the movement and the alert will reset itself.
You can set the Garmin Forerunner 235’s alerts to take you through tracked activity sessions, for instance by informing you on when to walk or run, or when you surpass a certain distance, hit a pace or get out of a specified heart rate range.
Well-calibrated alerts can make running quite easy, albeit it calls for one to be informed in advance of what they need to be alerted on.
One major problem with the smart notification, which in fact I can’t understand how the guys at Garmin didn’t notice, is the fact that once you activate it, all alerts including messages, reminders and phone calls will start pouring in such that identifying activity alerts in between becomes extremely impossible.
Garmin 235 Battery Life
The FR235’s battery can last for up to a week depending on how often you use it. The most intense an ordinary runner’s schedule could be is two hours (120 minutes) of tracked activities with the GPS + GLONASS features in active mode, 24-hour heart rate monitoring, smart notifications active and vibration + audio tone alert switched on. I tried my watch with exactly these settings, and sure enough, it took me little under two and a half days to have the battery draining. Next, I deactivated vibration notification and, surprisingly, the watch lasted seven days and a few hours. You can borrow the trick and save your battery.
The problem with beep notification only is that it may force you to forfeit running with earphones because you will probably not hear any of the alerts. Also, generally noisy training environments might render vibration extremely necessary if you rely solely on the watch for strict-schedule reminders. On my part, I have never switched it on again since I tested it. I barely listen to music during my morning jogs so there is really no noise barrier huge enough to prevent me from hearing beep alerts. More to the point, I’m not a dedicated runner.
Weather – You can view your phone’s weather data right from your watch.
History – Synced with a smartphone or not, you can view comprehensive data of up to one month right from the watch.
Notification Archive – If you happen to miss a notification because the watch is in the other room charging, for instance, you can view it from a special screen that contains all recent notifications, both viewed and unviewed.
Calendar – If synced with your phone, the Forerunner 235 will also display all your upcoming events on a well-organized screen.
Auto-pause – The tracker pauses automatically when it detects you have stopped running. Another reason to keep your sweaty finders off the watch.
Do Not Disturb – If you want to kill all notifications at once, this is the feature to activate.
While I would recommend the Fitbit Surge to the average runner for activity tracking on any given day, I reckon there is still no legit competition for the Garmin Forerunner 235 when it comes to running.
Save for the lack a barometer maybe, which means elevation stats can only be extracted from GPS data, which can be horribly wrong at times, I don’t see any other downside that I can’t put up with.
My colleague, who also tested the activity tracker, kept complaining about the user interface being unnecessarily complicated, so maybe that’s something you may want to look at before purchasing the activity tracker. Personally, I was pretty comfortable with it.
For a dedicated runner, I downright appreciate the all-day heart rate monitoring facility and just how one can customise virtually every functionality, particularly the smart notifications feature, on the Garmin Forerunner 235. I fully recommend this fitness tracker to anyone looking for a comprehensive device that works like magic both on the indoor and outdoor.
Share with us your thoughts and questions about this running watch in the comment section below.
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