Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Review of Garmin Forerunner 305 + Comparison with 301

OK, I know you all have been waiting with bated breath for my review, and after posting mini-plugs for other gear I decided to get my act together and post my review for my new Garmin Forerunner 305, including comparing it to my wounded 301. And, being stuck at home as I am every Wednesday, I figured now was as good a time as any.

Warning: this is the first product review I'm attempting, so it will probably ramble with no apparent organization. Yes, just like everything else I write.

First I have to make a correction to something I said before: the new 305 is NOT heavier than the 301. I just weighed them both on my digital scale, and discovered that the new one is 4 grams lighter than the old one. I'm genuinely surprised, as the 305 still feels heavier to me!

On the note of size, I'd say they're about the same overall, but the narrower, more watch-like look of the 305 makes it much more attractive on the wrist. It also looks better when strapped to my bicycle's handlebars; it could almost pass for a typical cyclocomputer. However, be aware that the 305 does not come with the nice foam kit for mounting the watch to the handlebars. You could probably work around this, but I feel lucky that I can use the materials that came with my 301.

At first I thought I'd prefer the velcro band of the former model, but the change to a rubber(?) band with a buckle is an improvement. Overall, it's a much classier-looking unit.

Though you'll typically have your heart rate (HR) chest-strap within close vicinity to the unit, I have noticed an improved connection between the two parts, as I'm able to separate them more than before and not lose HR signal. It also picks up the HR much more quickly than the older model. This is nice.

Also, the button placement is much better on the 305. It took some time to get used to, and I thought I'd hate it at first, but I love the fact that I don't accidentally press pause or, worse yet, lap when merely adjusting the unit's placement.

I haven't used the available training feature with which the Garmin can beep (read: yell) at you for training at too high or too low (ha!) a HR since over a year ago when the 301 wouldn't let me run for more than twenty seconds without screaming - I mean beeping - at me, even after long walking breaks. However, I'll pass on that many people are annoyed that the 305 doesn't emit two different alarms when your heart rate (or speed) is two high versus two low, forcing you to look at the unit to decide whether to speed up or slow down. Again, I have no experience with this, but it seems to me that this is a pretty valuable feature that the 305 appears to be lacking.


It comes with the same disappointing software as the 301, so there's no difference in planning advanced workouts or reviewing past workouts. Side note: if you have a GPS, be sure to check out SportTracks, a fabulous piece of software. It's currently donation-ware, and I'm definately donating.

Here's a big complaint with advanced workouts: the new menu system makes it HARDER to get to "today's workouts" than before. Why, oh why did they do this? If I planned on doing a particular workout today so much that I scheduled it in the training software, I shouldn't have to wade through numerous menus to get there. In fact, there should be a key-combination shortcut there!

I'm a bit disappointed and concerned with the new charging/docking system. I suppose they did it in order to make the unit waterproof, but I'm worried about the connections wearing out. I'm also a bit annoyed that I have to carry the dock around with me if I want to be able to charge it from any USB cable with an appropriate jack. Sure, the docking cradle is pretty small, but it's an extra hassle.

I'll say that, despite my trail-running fiasco in the pretty heavily-wooded Lassen area, the GPS reception is much improved. It also picks up adequate satellite signal more rapidly. It's obviously not perfect, but no small GPS unit ever will be. Altitude calculation is not improved, but let's face it: GPS is the worst way to determine altitude. If you want to know altitude, get a GPS with an altimeter/barometer.

If you're upgrading from a previous model, I'll warn you: you'll be annoyed with the software. I expected to just tell the training software to change the "user" of the 301 to using the 305. It refused. Instead, I had to create a new user, export all the workouts and history from the old user and import it to the new user. Shabby programming, in my opinion, forcing an unnecessary work-around.

Finally, the display on the 305 was poorly thought out. Others have said this. On the 301, while you have pace and some other data as the main display, you could read your HR in the upper right corner in smaller font. Let me emphasize: you could read your HR. On the new model, despite the fact that the screen is virtually the same size, they've made the font so small you'll think you're going blind. You can change the display options to work around it but, again, you shouldn't have to.

I am considering getting the optional cadence sensor, which is only compatible with the 205 and 305, so this may be a significant benefit to the new model for cyclists. A foot pod is in the works, but I'm very disappointed with its reported limited function.

So, overall, I'm very happy with the 305. I still wouldn't have upgraded from the 301 if I didn't have to, and wouldn't recommend current users of the 301 upgrade unless they have particular needs, because I feel the improvements really don't warrant the extra money, especially when taking the annoyances into consideration.

3 comments:

kotzebue said...

What are you using to keep track of your garmin info? If you haven't tried it already, I'd recommend going here:

www.zonefivesoftware.com/SportTracks/

and downloading sporttracks. I've been using it ever since I got my forerunner 201 (old fashioned technology, I know) and I really like that I can get a satellite photo with my route traced on it.

Karen said...

Oh, yes. I've mentioned SportTracks before in an entry or two. Out of Garmin's Training Center, Motion Based, and SportTracks, there's no question that the last is the most useful for me.

Though my primary goal with my blog is not posting detailed reviews, I may just have to compare these three bits of software one day.

But, thanks for the suggestion in any case! :)

Karen said...

Oh, yes. I've mentioned SportTracks before in an entry or two. Out of Garmin's Training Center, Motion Based, and SportTracks, there's no question that the last is the most useful for me.

Though my primary goal with my blog is posting detailed reviews, I may just have to compare these three bits of software one day.

But, thanks for the suggestion in any case! :)