Monday, May 4, 2009

Garmin Rant

I own a Garmin 405. This is my experience and opinion. I love getting the data, the heart rates, the elevation, the pacing. It adds a whole new dimension to running, and evaluating workouts. I do not love my 405. It is a beautiful piece of hardware - sleek, incredibly powerful and compact. But it has problems. Oh, does it have problems.

Any Heart Rate Monitor has three components: the watch, the chest strap and software to analyze the data. A chest strap is a chest strap, so I suppose Garmin's is fine. As to the watch, well it is like a Ferrari: beautiful, but it has a life of its own that is simply not controllable. First, Garmy has two buttons, but mainly navigates through a touch bezel around the edge of the watch face. Thus, a finger touch is supposed to move the menus from screen to screen. That is a great idea. Except mine doesn't work that well. First, when the bezel gets wet (which, umm, happens often during an activity in which people perspire), the bezel won't register a touch. Second, when the bezel gets moist, the watch has a tendency to timeout -- after failing to receive any input for a period of time it will assume it is turned on in error, and to save power, it will stop whatever it is doing (including a workout), go back to home screen and go to sleep. And because the bezel is wet, you can't touch the bezel to navigate back to your workout screen. And when you finally do get to the workout screen, you have to start a new workout, which you later can't combine with the one Garmy aborted). Aiiiirrrgh!!!! This has happened several times to me, about 10% or so of my workouts or so (it happened during my bad Friday workout). I used to think that this "timeout issue" was my fault -- I figured that I must have hit the bezel somehow or maybe my shirt did or earphone cord or maybe a strong wind, or it was somehow related to the moisture issue, but it isn't that. After software issue (see below), I updated the software for my 405 watch last night, and in the release notes, one of the updates was an option to turn off the "timeout" option. This is incredibly important. If you own a 405, update now! And the bezel will often feel a touch without anything touching it (My electric current sets it off?) And the watch can't find the GPS signal while running in Central Park, as I found out during a race. And the menus on the watch can be difficult. There is no way to check the battery level, and the battery power signal appears seemingly at random.

And then we have the Garmin software. To make sense of the data, Garmin provides a USB stick to communicate wirelessly with the watch and two programs: Garmin ANT and Garmin Training Center (GTC). To use the data, one plugs in the USB stick, and the ANT agent programs reads the data on the watch and uploads it to your computer. Garmin Training Center then displays the data so you can view it and work with it. Garmin Training Center has nice displays with logging, graphs, etc. GTC has a big display window to show a map, and your route on it. Except Garmin's "map" data is at such a high level that it basically only has highways and major roads -- unless you buy a map package from Garmin. Thus, on the Garmin maps, my runs appear as circles on blank empty space.

And the Garmin Training Center program is limited as to how you can edit and view the data. For example, you can't edit runs. I run on a treadmill, and it would be nice to enter my distance and pace. Can't do it. Also, you can't edit a workout. At the end of my workouts, I often lift or walk to cool down. To keep the heart rate monitor going, the stopwatch has to be running. Thus, at the end of the workout, I'd like to be able to delete the last 15 minutes or so of data. Otherwise, my average pace, average heart rate, elevation, etc, will all be skewed. Can't do it. You can't export or print the graphs. To put the ones in my blog, I have used the ancient "print screen" key and then created a jpg file from the saved data to create a file to upload.
We can all live with software that is less than ideal. But losing data is the worst possible result. Friday, after my bad workout, my Garmin Training Center crashed. When I tried to open it, I got this error message: "Error: Encountered invalid data type." Then, the box told me to call or email the log file (which it provides a button to copy) to send to Garmin tech support. I was not pleased. I hoped my data -- my 100+ workouts -- was secure. I couldn't get into GTC to check the data, and had not backed up in about a month. (Note to self -- backup every day.) This is on top of my 405 watch crashing last year and losing about 5 workouts. Over the weekend, I searched the various bulletin boards, and spent hours uninstalling, reinstalling, etc., the Garmin software. All in vain. This is not unexpected -- when I installed the product a year ago, I had very difficult install issues and spent over an hour with Garmin tech support. Anyway, as of now, I can't boot Garmin Training Center.

My run data was still on my computer, however. Thus, I could upload my data to the Garmin website, which allowed me to breathe easier and relax that my data was fine. And apparently Garmin ANT Agent is working fine (the watch is talking to my computer and transferring data to my computer), but Garmin Training Center can't open and use that data. Garmin's website has a simple logging program, Garmin Connect. Garmin Connect, though, is more limited and it takes away much of the charm of the 405 and the data.

So in the year I've had the watch, I have had my watch crash and lose data; Garmin's software won't open on my computer; and the watch crashes during about one in ten workouts, and whenever it gets wet.

But I can't give my 405 up. It looks too good, and I love the data.

So, after seeing a couple of references on other blogs, I have switched my data logging program from Garmin Training Center to SportTracks. SportTracks is a free shareware program. Thankfully, my data is there. Between my last backup and my watch, I have all my workouts. And Garmin ANT Agent is reading the data.

SportTracks has beautiful display and ... maps! It is ironic that SportTracks -- a free program -- uses Google maps, and has great map tools, whereas the mapping function on Garmin is not helpful. Anyway, I am still getting used to SportTracks. Because it is free, there isn't much introductory documentation, and I am still learning the ropes. It does have many neat features, and seems to be incredibly powerful.

And I am backing up my data every day.

Did I mention the Garmin 405 watch looks great? And I won't give it up.

UPDATE:  a lengthy and outstanding review.  Many of the comments also discuss issues with the 405 when wet...


  1. I see you have found sportracks if you're looking for a comprehensive workout log take a look at you can input the xml file through Sporttracks seamlessly

  2. Too funny...I was just complementing someone the other day on how great the 405 looked and all she could tel lme was that it sucked. I haven't heard any good things about it. Guess I'll stick with my big ugly 305 a while longer.

  3. On the Kayano post - sorry I am not sure how they compare to 2140s I stepped out of the 2000 series at the 2120s.

    I do recommend them but of course suggest you go to a proper shoe store for a correct fitting etc. Most good shoe stores have a return policy even used. Road Runners is 30 days and is 60 so it might be worth checking with the store you got your 2140s from before you send them to charity?

  4. Locking the bezel (pressing the Start and Reset buttons at the same time) eliminates problems with water, glove, or sleeve interference. I then use auto scroll to cycle though the screens.

    Hope it helps,

  5. Totally feel your frustration. I have a love/hate relationship with my Garmin too. But I've managed to work around its issues:

    Locking the bezel and using auto scroll during your runs is the best way to get around most of your problems.

    And if you want to see the battery life, just go to the time/date screen and tap the bezel once.

    Hope that helps!

  6. Greetings from sunny England. I bought a Garmin Forerunner 405 in September 2008 and I'd been pretty happy with my purchase until I went on an extended trip to Asia in April and May 2009.

    In Asia, I encountered numerous problems with my device when running in hot, humid conditions. Many of the 405 functions performed poorly or were unusable:

    1. Tracking satellites - It seemed to take forever for my 405 to locate satellites, up to 20 mins most days (in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos).
    2. Bezel problems - When I perspired heavily, the 405 bezel became unresponsive and I was unable to change between functions.
    3. Flashing light - A couple of times, the light started flashing uncontrollably.
    4. After pausing the Garmin (for example when I stopped to buy water) I often had problems restarting the device.
    5. Now I am back in the UK and I am having similar problems, especially during long runs when I am perspiring a lot

    I have to say that I am really disappointed with the performance of my Garmin 405. I would have thought the 405 had been designed to cope with hot/summer/humid conditions.

    In the UK (in winter) the device worked without problems (apart from sometimes having to wait several minutes to locate satellites).

    Finally - i dropped my Garmin removing it from my wrist and the bezel has been damaged/scratched. Again, I do feel that this is a design fault.

    I like the Garmin when it works, but these problems are driving me nuts.

  7. But you can't edit the time and distance in SportTracks either! Or have you found a way? It infuriates me that Garmin doesn't let you edit.

  8. tap the bezel while on the time screen for battery life.


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