We have been using the Garmin Forerunner 405 now for more than a week and it’s time to look at this tool again. An earlier post was all about how great this device feels and looks, but this time we want to go a bit deeper into how it is to actually use it.
The two devices we have at the moment where in use pretty much non-stop ever since we got our hands on them. And getting the hands on them or better your finger is one of the highlights of this tool - the Bezal - as it is called by Garmin is the companies answer to apples iPod wheel. It works as a touch sensitive ring around the clock face, but other than the iPod is has no click, only touch. The fact that one can actually touch it and communicate through touch makes for a great relationship right from the start, although the device’s respond is not always as expected. The Bezal does play up and sometimes reads touches as rotations or rotations as touches, I suppose this is what the click wheel is all about. The settings for this input method are great and after testing them one can definitely find a personal best fit.
But to get things in a bit more order we’ll restart this review with the setup process. Lovely how the device it self actually gives you an introduction. At first startup the 405 introduces itself as the instruction on screen get you to use all the methods of input. This is very nice and works very well, as one is able to use the device straight away.
The first satellite connection then sets the devices date and time and your ready to go. The first satellite fix the device got really quickly. Something under two minutes, which for a central London location and inside a court, is really good.
To start tracking, two settings need to be made. One is to turn the GPS receiver on and the other one, the one I only realized after my first trip around the block was not recorded, the timer needs to be started. This makes it at first glance a bit more complicated than the previous device 201, where only to turn on the device was required.
Then off you go and you are tracked and this means tracked! Once the signal is established there is hardly anything that brings the 405 to loose it. Again this is tested in central London in narrow streets with high buildings, on buses and so on. The accuracy is generally around 7 to 9 meter. Sometimes it is actually a bit scary, when you are inside the kitchen of your ground floor flat and the device still tells you 9m accuracy or your sitting on a double-decker bus on the lower floor in an aisle seat and check your device - 7m! Being used to a 201, the reception of the 405 is a dream!
On the other hand being used to a 201 the information on the 405 is much reduced. The display is obviously smaller, but the information one can aces is also reduced. I assume Garmin aims at another target group with the 405 and they decided, that for training less information is good enough. For example there is no altitude information, no information about actual speed or location. Also, compared to the 201 the compass and the track record map are not a feature of the 405 and so are all the information’s about sunrise, sunset and so on. Further there is to mention that one screen usually only gives the user one type of information. Say on the time screen only the time and the date is displayed, but not the satellite connection or any timer information. So if you are interested in what is going on as you are on the go, you find yourself tapping and turning all the way.
To get to the input methods from there, the Bezel as much as we have fallen in love with it in the first place is not always one hundred percent accurate, as mentioned before. There are three methods of input on the Bezel itself. One is rotating round the clock to navigate down, clockwise, or up, anti clockwise. To select a menu a tap on the Bezal is all that’s needed and in you go. The third method is actually tap twice and this is for confirming messages that pop up on the screen. The 405 does, compared to the 201 not come up with questions, like, are you indoors? There are buttons on the device though, but after discovering that you can tap the Bezal you’ll probably find this more convenient and not use the real buttons much. One button is for selecting, enter, the other one is for quit, exit. One major button we do miss is an on/off button, or at least a way to turn off the device. There is no way to turn it off; you just let the battery dye. A strange thing to do really, if you think of someone doing training, as the developers may have done, who does that twice a week, this person might wants to turn the device of for the two days it is not in use.
The menus and its content are, overall very clear and simple.
Image by UrbanTick / Forerunner colour black.
A rather big thing is connecting the device to the computer, surprisingly. The device itself has no connection point, it transmits the data wirelessly via a Garmin made protocol. For this an additional USB stick called Ant-stick is required. Of course for this additional software is required and this software is preferably downloaded from the internet. There is actually no Mac software on the CD that is included in the package; only Windows support is delivered in the pack. Fortunately there is Mac support and apparently we did not get it to work on Windows yet, we are still working on this. So basically Internet is required for the setup, not only to download the software, but also Garmin makes everyone to sign up online before they are allowed to use the device. We could not really believe it at first, not even apple makes you sign up for using the iPod after you have downloaded the software, that comes actually preinstalled if you are on a Mac. So we signed up and there you go your data gets downloaded and by default is uploaded to the internet and publicly available. The default settings on your online account are set to public, so unless you change this your training or what ever you recorded on the device, including your weight, birth date or your resting heart beat rate.
After all that it is possible to change the settings in the references of the Garmin Ant Agent program, so that it does not upload to the internet directly. There are currently some issues reported and discussed online, with this special USB Ant stick. Older laptops, especially PowerBooks see to hang up if the USB stick is disconnected without the machine shut down. The MacBook we tested did work fine but just would not enter sleep mode after disconnecting the stick. Garmin seems to be working on these problems.
The tracks are saved in a .tcx file format. Apparently this stands for Garmin training centre. That is the Garmin software that goes with all this to actually visualize the recorded data. This is another thing one needs to download and set up, but we won’t talk about this here.
Image by UrbanTick / To make sure you train safe!
This .tcx data can be translated with the aid of the brilliant GPSBabel software into any other GPS related format you wish for. The only thing one has to do is select the input file format, as the .tcx is not automatically recognized as the Garmin training centre format. The right format would be .tcp, as it is called after exporting out of the real training centre, but it works fine though. The heart rate monitor data gets lost with most file transformations, as very few formats are intended to incorporate such information, but the standard stuff is there to play on Google Earth.
The 405 has better signal compared to the 201, but it also saves a lot more track points. A trip comparison showed that for the same trip at the same time, the 201 saved 234 location Points, but the 405 saved 645 location points. The route both records display does actually not much differ. The recording interval of the 201 is pretty good with few points. On the other hand the 405’s storage capacity is much more limited.
Image by UrbanTick / blue line Foretrex 201, pink line Forerunner 405
Image by UrbanTick / blue line Foretrex 201, pink line Forerunner 405
Similar is the battery life. The 405 needs to be charged every day/night. It does charge quickly though, three hours will do it. We managed to get 08h45 tracking time out of the device, wile having the GPS on for the whole time. As we are looking at tracking peoples daily routines, this is the very least we need. In this respect the 201 was pretty good. It would do during the experiment with participants two or three days before charging. If the user does turn off the GPS when inside, a normal full day out of the house, nine to nine is possible, but not much more.
Charging is a funny thing with the 405, much because of the unconventional way Garmin choose to connect the cable to the device. It is not plugged in, it is clipped on. It is a refreshing way to do it as we are used to the boring plugs we daily use on our ten different gadget that want to be fed, but makes the device useless during the charging period because the Bezal is partially covered by the clip. The 201 could be used wile being plugged in, actually this would even open more options, like external antennas or real time tracking. So the 405 can for example not be used in the car and having it charging wile playing with it.
Before summing up, some words on the choice of colour. The device is available in two colours only, who would guess it, black, and some green beige, one for males and the other one for females presumably. But actually this green beige weird colour is great looking!
Image by UrbanTick / Forerunner colour green/beige.
Over all, a superb device, it has its clearly specified target group and usage area but within this it is flexible and very good. It is definitely better than the old Foretrex 201, even though not in all areas. This review has probably been a bit harsh at times, but we loved the device right from the start and still do.
Hmm, actually we have left out the major part of the device. The training bit, together with the heart rate monitor and some virtual training partners, pace, laps and that sort of thing. We are not into this and don’t understand any of it so we cannot comment, I we haven’t even tried to use it, sorry. But apparently it is great. If you are interested in this sort of use o the device you might wana read here, Garmin Forerunner 405 review.