Monday, 3 May 2010

Garmin 405 - 800,000 points - One Year of Tracking

The two GPS units provided by Garmin are now in use for the UrbanDiary project for one ful year and this seems a good point to follow it up with a review of the use and performance of the device. This is a follow up from the first test review published on urbanTick a year ago. Since then 365+ days have elapsed and we are still going.
And really to take it up front, the performance is through out impressive and completely positive. The few minor points we'll be talking about later on, but for the most of it both units performed perfect every day year through out the seasons. This is a great result.
Since they arrived back in April 2009 they were in use every day for the whole day. This puts them to a usage time of some 200'000 minutes. During this time the have collected some 800,000 track points with time-space information for the UrbanDiary project.
The UrbanDiary project is run by urbanTick and is an investigation to record the spatial extension of everyday persona routines in the city. The two 405 units have been used for a longtime study. Two participants used them for the whole year to track their movement.

Image by urbanTIck for urbanDiary / GPS tracking over one year by two participants. Person a is covering in pink the western end of the map and person b is moving around central and north London.

For the previous review the comparison of the Foretrex 201 was used. This proved to be not really comparable, since the forerunner 405 performed so much better. This time we could use the iPhone or a like to compare. To be honest, this, even though we tried it, is nothing you want to do for a whole year. Tracking with the 405 on your wrist is such a convenient thing to do, after two days you forget that it is there. Apart from a slightly paler tan around your wrist in summer there are no longterm complications.
The satellite reception is through out very good with little errors in the resulting records. In fact only a handfull of points needed manual corrections out of the 800,000 records in the database. Here in London there are a particular locations were a signal is weak or lost. For example on the DLR it is even for the 405 difficult and most of the time impossible to get a decent signal due to the glass used in the carriages that prevent the satellite signal to penetrate.
One of the points of critique is the Bezel, the main input element on the device. It touch sensitive navigation is not without hicks and there is nothing more annoying than having this creepy feeling of a tool not responding the way it is intended to. This is to say that the technology works very well, but the few hangs and glitches are probably more annoying than anything else. Occasionally the Bezel will simply not register anything. Not sure if this is connected to wet, or cold fingers, but usually locking and unlocking the device will help with this. The second point is the missing feedback from this method of input. Having a click or any tactile and audio respons would improve the experience quite a bit.
A second point of critic should be on how the device handles the information. There is no option to delete something or manage the data directly on the device. This can only be done via the desktop software. More importantly the device does not inform about the state of the internal storage. So no clue give if the storage is full and worse the device simply starts overwriting the old information. So one has to be careful and regularly sync. And this regularity depends on the activity. If you are out for a week on a tour and recording everyday most of the day, more frequent syncing is required compared to a normal working week where you could probably go for the whole seven days without syncing.
Over this quite long period obviously the bodys of the watches have taken a few hits and this is now visible as scratches and marks. This is again mainly the Bezel that shows most of the markings. There is a exposed kerb around the display and this is where the hits go. As a result this area is partly black instead of the initial golden colour. There are two three scratches o the rest of the plastic body but they are less prominent even though larger. The material copes well with it. Also the actual wrist band looks pretty good, probably not like new, but there are no sweat marks as one might expect.
The second important point of critique is the battery life. This is not really the devices fault. The longterm performance of the battery, in fact is very good, with no sign of earlier battery drain after a continuos usage for a whole year of using and charging every day. And this is the point, the device needs charging every day. It has out of the box an about 8 hours battery life. It would be nice if this could be longer. For now to use it continuously one has to addable the habit of plug in every night. The charging time however is impressively quick. One hour is good, two hours wil probably fill it. And you'll have it filled up 100% under three hours. The USB charger has the benefit of working with your computer or laptop, so there is never far to go to charge it. For outdoor usage in this post the use of the 405 with the freeoaderPro solar charger was reviewed. It is a realy good solution for when you are on the road and the weather is nice.

Image by urbanTick / The two devices after constant use for one year, every day, all day.

Regarding the buttons, for one there is the missing power button to mention. I still kind of think this would be something to have. Probably mainly because it needs the charging essentially. It is designed as a watch and no one turns the watch off before they go to bed, but I guess this is one of the points were it doesn't quite work out to be two things at once. I woud like to turn the thing off, preserving battery and starting it up, with a ful battery, as I need it, the next morning. Currently it turns off if the battery is dead and it turn straight on while charged. It has to be said on is usually sleep mode, e.g. displaying the time. We have also debated weather the option to turn on the satellite reception is a needed option? In the context of the UrbanDiary project there was no use of the device without the GPS, tracking is required constantly. For other uses however, there might be a benefit to being able to preserve battery, if you are training at the gym for example. The way to handle it in our case is not to touch the satellite setting, but to start-stop the timer. Stop the timer will put the device in sleep mode after one minute, turning on the timer wil prompt the device to lock to the available satellites, as simple as that - almost a power button.
The design is very simple and quiet. Not a product to attract too much attention for its shape or colour. It fits for everyday use, however it is sort of a cross mix that is a bit undecided. In the long run one might wish it were a tick more distinct. But this is maybe a personal preference for subtile statements. On the other hand the design cleverly conceals the rel size and clunkyness of the thing. I have voted for the green model back then and still would, the black model seems to hard to me, but I am aware that a lot of people prefer it. Maybe an extended colour palet with dark red and a yellowish-orange would be something. Maybe for an urbanTick special edition?

To sum up, as already stated in the introduction the Garmin forerunner 405 is a really great tool and performs to a standart of its own. The price is high, for a full set between £280-300, but this is in the long run very well invested. If you are tracking and able to charge it frequently this is the tool for you. Lets see how it goes in the second year with different participants.

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