Sunday, June 28, 2009

Review of Garmin Forerunner 405 cx

Alright. I've had this new toy for nearly a month. I guess it's time to get myself in gear (Ha! Get it?! Gear? Oh, nevermind...) and write a review. (The alternative is to actually think of something something interesting to write about, and my brain is too fried for that. A five mile hike in too much sun/heat with too little tree cover was just miserableness and more than a little cranky.)

For anyone interested, I did do a review nearly two years ago of my Forerunner 305. At that time, I compared it to my 301. This review will probably follow suit and compare it a bit with the 305. You may want to know that I have nothing else with which to compare it; it's been Forerunners the whole way for me.

You may also wish to note that I'm talking about the 405cx, not the regular 405. The cx part is the straw that got me to finally bite the bullet and upgrade my GPS/HR monitor (can I mangle any more cliche metaphors?). The key about the cx is that it uses heart rate information to improve on its calorie calculations.

Well, let's go ahead and start there: calorie calculations. While I can't vouch for their actual, ultimate accuracy, I will say that they are clearly improved from previous Forerunners. You see, here's how the calorie calculations went before: You took thirty minutes to climb five miles up a hard hill. That's 300 calories. You took ten minutes to speedily coast back down that hill. That's 700 calories. OK, sure, the numbers are pulled out of my rear end, but the reality is that the Garmin looked at velocity/distance only and did not take other factors like elevation change properly into account. Now? It knows that you worked much harder climbing up than coasting down (or hiking up the mountain vs. strolling back down). Again, it's nearly impossible to know exactly how accurate the calculations really are, but they are within reasonable ranges, so I'm trusting them until they prove untrustworthy.

Probably one of the most striking improvements over the 305 is the appearance. Size-wise it's actually nearly the same. But factor in shape and it's a whole new ball-game. There's no way that I'm going to go to work and just casually wear this thing as my watch, but it looks much less like I took a computer and strapped it to my wrist. (The surprising downfall here is that it now looks a little more odd when strapped to my handlebars.)

Here I have it strapped to my wrist next to my normal watch. (You may admire my fantastically fuzzy German arm, if you wish. But do so silently, please.) You may not see it from the photo, but this does lead to one annoyance (of a few) with the 405 cx: because the antenna is part of the watch band, part of the band is rigid. This actually leads it to sit awkwardly on my wrist, almost facing farther away and causing me to turn my wrist more to read the dial. This sounds almost inconsequential, but it's annoying to not be able to adjust it.

Continuing on with the "form factor", there are two more major changes. One is the bezel. Rather than pushing buttons to navigate through menus, you run your finger along the bezel in a circular motion. You also switch between modes by touching and holding the bezel. Some people love the bezel; some people hate it. I'm pretty neutral. I mean, it's OK, but it's nothing special. I can use it through my medium-thick running gloves, but if it gets too wet (from rain), the bezel becomes unresponsive until I dry it off. Not a big issue for me, but it might be big for someone in, say, Seattle where residents have gills (so I hear). It's water resistant, so it doesn't break, per se; it just becomes unresponsive until it's quickly dried off.

The other issue is driving me a bit battier. They've moved the start/stop buttons from the front back to the side. This means that I can accidentally stop a workout by pushing a button (with the back of my hand, I guess). This has happened once when strength training and twice when hiking. Little is more irritating than finding that a significant portion of your workout has gone unrecorded because you somehow inadvertendly pressed stop. Definitely a negative.

One final note on form: The strap is more difficult to open and close. This may soften over time. The 405 cx does come with two velcro straps for sizing or preference, but danged if I can switch them out. I know how to switch out the straps, but I just can't get use the fork-thing to grab and slide the little doohiky enough to get it unattached. (If you had the watch, you'd understand.) So I'm dealing with the default rubber(?) watch band. It does look nicer than the velcro probably would, so I'm coping.

OK, enough about form. Let's move on to function. Back to the heart rate monitor. The connection between the watch and the heart rate strap seems vastly improved. I barely get the watch "woken up" or put the heart rate strap on when the watch tells me that the heart rate monitor has been detected. Wow. No loss of signal; no interference. Re-pairing with other accessories (foot pod and bike sensor) is just as lightening fast. I'm impressed.

Speaking of lightening fast, can we talk about GPS signal? It used to be that I'd have to stand around for quite some time before I got a good signal. I'd have to stretch, fiddle with the bike, or do something else to keep myself from looking too lame while the 305 searched for satellites. I think I even once had a neighbor wonder if I was trying to figure out how to break into his house while I was just standing there waiting for my 305 to get its act together. No such problem with this watch. On a slow day it takes maybe five seconds to get a signal. Niiiicceee.

And once it gets a signal? It's locked on. I have yet to have a problem from buildings or tree cover. It used to be a little bit of a joke to forgive my poor 305 (worse yet, the 301) for thinking that it took, say, 3.51 miles to climb up the wooded mountain trail and, say, 3.68 miles to come back down on the same path. It's a tiny antenna and it's doing the best it can, I'd say. Corners get cut; things happen. Not with the 405cx. One distance up, same exact distance back. Maybe one one hundredth of a mile in difference. I sure can't complain about that.

I can complain about the software. Same cruddy training software as the 301 and the 305. I was excited about Garmin Connect, but it's really nothing to get excited about. Other online software does much better. Sure, it may be "prettier" than Buckeye Outdoors, but it doesn't have half the power. So I'm sticking with Buckeye and SportTracks.

Regarding the software of the unit itself, there is good, and there is bad. Let's start with the good. The virtual traing partner is an interesting novelty, but not without its flaws. (Racing against a virtual partner that goes at a steady pace is slightly frustrating when you have stop lights and hills to contend with.) Chances are, though I haven't used it yet, that the courses feature will be much better because I can race against a former "me", using data from a previous workout.

Another good: Garmin listened to me and finally made "today's workout" a snap to access. Two taps on the bezel and I'm presented with the workout I had scheduled for the day, ready for me to press enter and begin. Only problem? Apparently I'm only allowed to do one workout per day. If you schedule more than one, too bad. I had hoped that, having completed the first workout, it would automatically switch to the next scheduled workout for the day. No such luck; I have to go through a few menus to access the advanced workouts. Ah, well, can't have everything, right?

On to the bad. First, if I want to switch from running mode to biking mode (they eliminated "other" for some unfathomable reason), it takes no less than nine bezel swipes and taps. Not a killer, but definitely an annoyance. If I'm going to do an advanced workout which already is set up for a particular sport, though, it will switch automatically, so it's not an annoyance I have to deal with often.

On to the really bad. If I switch from biking mode to running mode, certain things will switch automatically. (For example, I have it to auto-pause when I'm stopped when biking, but to not auto-pause when running. It remembers and falls in line.) However, the data fields it displays do not switch over. Let me give you the big example. When I'm running, I want to know what? Pace, of course. But when I'm biking, I couldn't care less about pace; I want speed. The 405 cx? Doesn't switch the display between the two modes. Seriously, Garmin? That's a huge oversight. That means that I have to set it up to display both speed and pace, unless I want to go through the hassle of reconfiguring the data fields to display every time I switch from running to biking or back. I don't want to do that, so I'm having to use precious screen real estate to always show both, which means I'm always faced with looking at something I don't care about.

Beyond that, though, the 405 cx is extremely configurable in its display. Do you want to see three things per screen? Two? One? How about three on the first screen and two on the second and get rid of the third? Done. (You can set the Garmin to automatically switch between the screens if you want, and the speed is also configurable. I like this feature.) And for your options as to what data to show, it's insane. There are not enough data screens to show all the things I'd want to show (not that I need all of them, mind you). Just to list a few of the many options for the data fields: There's time elapsed, of course, and time of day. There's cadence (current) or average cadence or just your cadence for the current lap. There's distance and elevation and heart rate (with variations). You can have it show your heading (N/S/E/W) or pace or speed or - I kid you not - sunset in case you really want to push your run to the edge of daylight.

The one significant feature missing from the display: GPS tracks. I liked that I was able to see my little GPS tracks on the 305. No, it wasn't as good as a map, but it was nice to be able to see where I had already been so I could easily track back to the known trail/path. I can't do that now. I can have it tell me how to get back to the start (or a marked waypoint) with an arrow pointing the way (as the crow flies), but what if I don't want to get back to the beginning, but rather want to get back to the path? No such luck. This isn't a deal-breaker for me (obviously), but sure is a sad feature to lose.

OK, let's see, what have I missed in this (huuuuuggggeeeee) review? Ah, yes, the new feature that is supposedly soooo fantastic: the wireless ANT sync. Yes. My computer now can grab my workout from my watch without me having to hook it up. Big whoop. Sorry, but I just don't care much about this one. Sure, I guess it's one less cable and one less docking cradle, but, well, it's just not that big a deal. And it does have times where it fails, so it actually takes longer to wait for it to attempt another transfer. Really, I'd rather just hook it up and have it sync the first time, every time.

And... um.... Hey, I think I covered it! Oh, wait, no I didn't. A couple more things.

The beeps are a little quieter. I can still hear them over my music (yeah, yeah, shame on me for exercising with headphones, moving on...), but I have to be careful about the volume. It does have different tones when you're going too fast vs. going too slow, which is good. It still plays a cute victory song when your workout is finished, which isn't good or bad but still makes me inexplicably giddy and happy.

Also, I've focused mainly on comparisons against the previous model, so let me mention a big selling point (to me): The customizable workout programs. Seriously, you can create a workout for nearly anything you want to work on. Want to work at a particular pace? Done. Heart rate? OK. Distance? Easy. A combination? Okiedokie. Alternating between various stages? No problemo. Intervals? Warm-up, main set(s), cool-down? Done, done, and done. I seriously can't imagine training without my Garmin guiding me through specific workouts. Again, the reporting software leaves quite a bit to be desired, but, again, this is easily remedied with the donation-ware SportTracks. (I wonder if I donated already. Either way, I should probably donate (again). It's good stuff.)

OK, I think that's it. Feel free to ask any questions. One thing's for sure: The hike did not damage my propensity toward verbosity.

Overall, I'm happy I switched to the 405 cx. The improved calorie calculation, snappy accessory re-pairing, and vastly improved GPS signal are not insignificant changes. (I think the elevation reporting is even improved.) Sure, there are some "quirks" which make me want to slap my forehead, but I haven't found the perfect GPS/HR monitor yet, so gradual improvement will have to do, even at the cost of occasional slip-ups.

37 comments:

deja said...

wow,woman. now THAT is a review! thanks. it is awesomely complete.

Karen said...

lol, thanks. I should put in some sort of "easter egg" surprise for anyone that actually reads the whole thing!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comprehensive, real-world review! Hopefully some of those cumbersome software design flaws can be resolved with a firmware update.

Brandon said...

Thanks for the great review! I'm currently considering the 305 and the 405cx, your review really helped!

Ram said...

thanks for the review. its really helpful as i am waiting for my 405cx to arrive in the next couple of days.

i read the whole thing, now "easter egg" pls....

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for your review, very very helpful. You almost convinced me to fork out the hefty amount...

Easter egg please, by the way... :-)

Anonymous said...

I stumbled about your blog through google and love your review. There aren't many quality reviews comparing the 405CX to the previous versions. Although, I'm still a bit distraught on which one I should choose at the REI . . .

Anonymous said...

Hi - thank you for your review - very helpful. Have you had any problems with it when running in the rain?
Thanks

Karen said...

Thanks all for the compliments on the review; I'm glad I could help.

About running in the rain - I haven't run in a downpour, but I did notice that the bezel would appear to become unresponsive when wet from a light drizzle. If I wiped it off with my t-shirt, it would immediately become responsive again. If it's really a downpour, though, and you couldn't dry it off, it would probably stay unresponsive until dried. Mid-run, this just means you can't switch between the screens; the buttons would still work. If you have the screen set to auto-switch, this isn't much of a problem.

Steve said...

Excellent post, cheers:)

So I take it I will not be able to follow a shared route without another form of navigation?

I'd hoped to be able to follow some bike courses that friends have sent without getting a map out at every turn:(

Regards,

Oggy

Karen said...

@Oggy: I don't believe so. Or, at least, it would be very limited. All I've found the 405cx to give for navigation is a compass arrow. When I once tried to use it to return to start, it told me to go in the indicated direction for 34 miles. (I had gone a rather wandering 34 miles to get to that point.) I assume it would have changed arrow direction when appropriate, but it wouldn't even tell me to go south for a mile or whatever.

I wouldn't be comfortable using that as navigation, and would prefer to at least see a track laid out before me. Perhaps you're braver than me, though. So, maybe you can, but I'll not be the one to find out. ;)

If you're on a bike and have an iphone (or another phone capable of advanced mapping), you might be interested in this post.

Anonymous said...

I run alot under the cover of trees in parkland. along river and canal banks - how does the forerunner 405 cope with it re the GPS

Chris said...

Hi. Thanks all the way from Scotland for your great review. I'm debating between the 405 or 405cx or neither just now and have a wee question. As a 'fat athlete' myself I have big wrists and I like to wear my watches loose. Please could you tell me how long the moulded strap is on the 405cx? In other words, what is the length from the buckle at one end to the last 'eye' at the other? And do the fabric strap alternatives offer greater length, if required? Sorry to ask such trivial questions, but I've scoured the running/hiking shops in my nearest town and I just can't get my hands on the product to try it out for myself. Many thanks....

Christopher.ParsonsT said...

Excellent review!!!!

Anonymous said...

Top Banana review - thanks alot

One question - did you notice any real change in Battery Life? I currently use a Forerunner 50 and am pig sick of the battery constantly running out.

It would be great if it had a decent battery life - and its rechargeable like the 305 isn't it?

Thanks

Paolo said...

Very good review, thanks a lot!!!.
I am 405 owner, and I would like to know if the improvment of CX (respect 405) is only in Calories calculation.
Thanks in andvance.
Paolo

Anonymous said...

If you latch the strap at the tightest notch, how big around is the band? I have really scrawny wrists, I'm afraid I'd have to strap the thing around my bicep, the pictures of it look so big.

Vicky said...

Thanks so much for this review (from Australia). I've bought a 405CX today. My first ever! I can't wait to get my hands on it after reading your review.

Paul said...

Great review thanks. I am looking at buying a Garmin this week and, given your experience, I wonder which one you would hand on heart recommend? The 305 or the 405cx? Is the extra cost for the 405cx worth it or would you just get the 305? I have read many reviews and there are 2 things in common on the 405cx. First is "when is rains the bezel becomes unresponsive" and second is battery life is not good. I'm gearing up to run a marathon and will be insanely annoyed if I'm running for 4-5 hours and the watch dies!! Your thoughts, or anyone else on here who can comment on which device you would buy, would be much appreciated. Best wishes, Paul (UK)

Anonymous said...

Nice review. Got one for Christmas. I think I like it overall but I hate the big buttons sticking out on the side, I too have lost parts of workouts because I accidently pushed the button without knowing it. Best bet is to not wear gloves, sleeved shirts, jackets, etc. they will all make the bezel beep.

Lasse Finderup said...

Excellent review :) I do have some questions I was hoping you'd answer?

I'm considering buying the watch, after getting my money back for my Polar F11, which had a problem with peak pulse measurements.

You write that there are only 2 modes - run & bike - and that it is a pain to shift between the two. But you also write that its extremely configurable. I want to use the watch for Spinning/biking and Strenght training - is it possible to setup a strength traning profile, and easily switch to that? (then a spinning profile afterwards)

I typically do Strenght training, then spinning afterwards.

Anonymous said...

Wow what a brilliant review just bought one and can't wait to get out and start playing

Anonymous said...

Does the 405cx allow you to run without programming for time or distance for the workout? I just want to use it sometimes to run and then see how many miles I ran.

Thanks.

Melissa said...

You and your review rock! I have been a Garmin snob and went from the old version, where you wore the big brick on your arm and a super clunky watch to the 305 which seemed so streamlined in comparison and was about to get the latest eye candy, the 405, when I noticed there was a 405CX...

Your review was just what I needed- a real, live person using it and comparing *everything* it to the 305. Thanks!!! :)

yves said...

Thanks for this review. This is real solid info o get an opinion of this tooL.
I just have one more question: the "touch screen/besel stuff": is that good? I mean, do ou get a good response and sensibility? Does not disfonction at time and after some monthes of use?
Thanks and good luck with your training.
Yves

Sean said...

It is really nice review indeed.
However, it seems people nowadays pay a lot more attention to bad features of a certain product.
Yep, there are few things to polish about the 405cx, but I must say for the way it's helping me, and the features it has, Garmin 405cx is the best sport watch I've had in a while.

moik said...

Thanks for the review

Rick said...

Well done review--the number of positive comments is a sure sign of success!

Katie said...

Thank you so much. This review is amazing.
I just ordered my new 405cx after reading a few reviews.
I'm pretty confident I've made the right choice but I'll keep you informed :)

Nick said...

I found the watch amazing and it's highly recommendable. The only issue I'm having seems to be the battery endurance but if the GPS function is not on all of the time, the battery works fine.
Worth every single penny I've spent. Thanks for the informative review.

Anonymous said...

Really a good review. The worst thing for me is losing the "map" you had in the 305 model for doing courses.

Mikey said...

Karen, thank you for that review!
I look forward to me first run with the device next week.

Regards

Mikey

garmin lover said...

Thanks for comprehensive review! its really helpful, I just bought 405CX and still waiting for my 405cx to arrive.

Anonymous said...

Can you or anyone somehow provide an example GPX (?) file? I want to analyze such a trace before buying this device. Thanks for the review! (Read the whole thing, no easteregg found...)

Maggie said...

Great review! I already purchased my 405cx, but was getting worried that I should have shelled out a little more cash and got the Garmin Forerunner 110. Although after reading your review on the 405cx, I believe I will be content with it. Does anyone have any comments on the 110? I may look into purchasing it in the future, if I decide the 405 isn't what I need. The 110 is the newer forerunner, right?

Anonymous said...

Wow!!! What a fantastic review!!! I'm looking at getting my very first GPS watch as I'm preparing for my very first marathon!!! Definitely getting the 405cx now!!! Thanks again!!!

Rick Gaston said...

I like to buy my tech when it's 3 to 5 years old, cheaper that way:) Except for shoes, those I don't compromise with. Thank you for the very detailed post. I just recently, finally got a smartphone and I love the gps tracking on it, so much so that now I want a Garmin. Couldn't figure out the difference between the 405 and 405CX so I googled and stumbled upon your blog. Thanks again for the info. I think you got me convinced to go for the 405CX instead of the regular 405. Too bad these things don't last longer than 10 hours, maybe they've invented something for that...it's been several years.