Review: Garmin Forerunner 305

Wednesday, 25 January 2006 09:46 | Written by 
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 (by Rob Mousley)

Garmin Forerunner 305 
 Forerunner 305

The Garmin Forerunner series of GPS units proved an instant hit with paddlers when they were released a year ago. Garmin has just released the next generation of units in the form of the 205/305 series.

I was fortunate enough to lay my hands on a Forerunner 305 for a weekend. In what I'm told is the first independent public review worldwide of the Forerunner 305, here’s what I found…

 

First Impressions

The unit really looks the part of a new generation – the case feels far more robust and the screen has a far higher resolution than that of the 301.

The heart rate monitor strap also has the appearance of much better quality; it’s softer and more comfortable too.

USB Port

The biggest complaint that paddlers have about the older 301 units, relates to the onboard USB port. The rubber cap that fits over it is just not up to the job of keeping salt water away from the delicate electrical contacts and the only way to ensure the longevity of the unit is to treat the port with silicone spray or grease and to tape the cap in place while the unit is in use.

Forerunner 305 on cradle 
 The USB cable now plugs into the cradle

This problem is much reduced on the 305 because Garmin has sensibly removed the USB port from the unit. To charge the unit and to connect it to your PC, you simply clip it onto a small cradle. A USB cable plugs into the cradle, which communicates with the unit via a set of 4 electrodes. Of course the electrodes are prone to corrosion when immersed in salt water – but this can be reduced by coating the electrodes with silicone grease.

 Enhanced Functionality

Almost every aspect of the unit has been improved. Major changes are:

  • The positioning and sensitivity of the antenna. The unit is designed for runners and the antenna is placed at an angle below the screen so that it faces upwards when worn on a runner’s wrist. Of course when you mount the unit on a surf ski, the antenna faces the floor. But this didn’t seem affect reception on the two occasions that I tried it.
  • Removal of the USB port.
  • The addition of “Course” functionality that allows you to record a particular downwind run for example and to compare subsequent runs against it (or against each other).

Plenty of minor enhancements:

  • Fans of the “auto pause” feature in the Forerunner 201 will be pleased to see its return. (Auto pause allows you to set up the unit to record only when traveling at a speed above a set threshold).
  • There’s an “auto lap” feature which triggers a new lap under any one of a set of different conditions (position/distance).
  • You can set up alerts for almost any condition you can think of triggered by time, distance, speed, or heart rate. These complement the already exhaustive Workout capabilities which allow you to set up simple, interval and advanced (i.e. freeform) training sessions.


Using the 305

305 on foot strap
 
 Foot strap mounting

The unit is designed to be strapped onto your wrist like a watch. You can’t do that when paddling though as the unit is so sensitive that it measures the speed of your wrist as it moves through the stroke. So I simply attached the unit to the footstrap of my ski in the same way that I do my 301.

During the weekend that I had the demo unit, I paddled twice. Neither paddle was in particularly extreme conditions so the unit’s waterproofing wasn’t rigorously tested.

But I did find that:

  • The position of the antenna didn’t seem to affect satellite reception.
  • The screen is easier to read than the 301’s.
  • During the second paddle (a race) the HR monitor stopped reading correctly during two five-minute intervals. But this seems to be a problem with all HR monitors (I’ve experienced the same thing both with the 301 and a Polar unit).

MotionBased.com

When I arrived home after my race, I was keen to download the data from the unit to Training Center, the analysis software that Garmin provides. Alas, my current version of Training Center wouldn’t talk to the 305 and the local agent hadn’t given me any software. (The production units are supplied with a new version of Training Center that includes support for Courses.) What to do?

Enter MotionBased. MotionBased specializes in writing software for GPSs and their support for the 301 (and now 305) is extraordinary. I found them at www.motionbased.com

I downloaded their “MB Agent” software, registered with the website and in very little time had my activities uploaded to my account. From there I could analyse my paddles, graph my heart rate, speed, and a dozen other metrics.

A particularly cute feature allows you export your track into Google Earth. If you haven’t come across Google Earth, it’s time you checked it out (www.googleearth.com). Here’s the track of our race last Sunday superimposed onto a satellite image of the area.

Langebaan Lagoon 
 Race Route exported to GoogleEarth

Quite apart from the more serious analysis functionality of MotionBased, it’s worth checking out just for the fun of it.  They even allow you to make your session data public.  Here are the three paddles that I did using the Forerunner 305:

First route, Social paddle in Hout Bay, South Africa:
http://trail.motionbased.com/trail/episode/view.mb?episodePk.pkValue=418533

Second route: warm up before a race at Langebaan Lagoon, South Africa
http://trail.motionbased.com/trail/episode/view.mb?episodePk.pkValue=418534

Third route: The race itself
http://trail.motionbased.com/trail/episode/view.mb?episodePk.pkValue=418535

What of the 201/301 series?

Garmin will continue (for a while at any rate) to sell the Forerunner 201 and 301 units at a reduced price. I noticed that you can pick up a Forerunner 301 on Amazon.com for around $170 now (approx. R1020).

Where can you buy a Forerunner 205/305 in South Africa?

  • Brian’s Kayaks (claim they’ll beat anyone else’s price – call them)
  • Sportsman’s Warehouse
  • Cape Union Mart

A note on “Grey Imports”

The local distributor for Garmin is Avnic Trading. I asked them why the South African prices are so much higher than those in the US.

Richard Gie, Avnic’s General Manager explained, “Our pricing is set by our principles and unfortunately the result is the discrepancy between our prices and those in the US.” He added, “We can’t support grey imports, but we try to make up for it with outstanding support for our local customers. For example, we are very liberal with our policy on water-damaged units. We replace them immediately, no questions asked. Try that overseas! Plus we replace them with stock units, so there’s no waiting. And the warranty is immediately extended by another full twelve months.”

“Remember too”, Richard said, “that Amazon prices don’t include the VAT that you’ll pay when the units arrive, plus you still have to pay delivery costs.”

So, for South African consumers the choice is: pay the higher price here in the knowledge that you’ll enjoy the insurance of great local support or pay a lower price for a grey import with the risk of having to ship the unit overseas if it goes wrong.

Where can you buy a Forerunner 205/305 in the US?

What I like

  • The robust case.
  • The high definition screen.
  • The added functionality.
  • MotionBased.com. (Most of which is free to use)

What I don’t like

  • The units generally cost about R1000 more in South Africa than in the US. “Grey” imports are not supported by the local distributor so you’re taking a chance if you bring them in yourself.
  • The antenna design, which is optimized for running, not paddling. (It doesn’t seem to be an issue though. My test unit worked just fine.)
  • The USB port on the cradle; my USB cable did not fit snugly, about 2mm of the metal tongue being visible outside the socket. It should plug snugly all the way in.
  • The cost of the advanced features MotionBased.com!

Summary

If I could afford the estimated retail price of R3200, I’d buy one of these units like a shot. As it is, I’ll be content with my 301 unit that, let’s face it, provides me with all the training and recording functionality that I need. When the 301 dies, I’ll upgrade.

(Of course, were Garmin to offer a trade-in option, I’d be first in the queue!)

 

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