Garmin Forerunner FR-15 GPS and Fitness Watch Review

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Just two days before my first marathon in 2012, Garmin sent me their new ForeRunner FR-10. It’s an entry level watch with the right amount of tracking features for most casual runners and racers. Since then I have reviewed a number of watches, and rounded them up here. When Garmin contacted me I jumped at the opportunity to check out their new entry level GPS watch! The FR-15 is easy to recommend, delivering new and improved functionality in all ways except for one – read on for more details!

Manufacturer’s Description:

Run with all your heart. This easy-to-use GPS running watch tracks distance, pace, heart rate1, calories and Personal Reacords.Pair it with a foot pod2 to capture distance data on treadmill runs. Forerunner 15 helps you stay on top of your fitness goalsbetween workouts with Activity Tracking features that remind you when it’s time to move and count steps and calories burned allday. The rechargeable battery lasts up to eight hours with GPS on or five weeks in watch/Activity Tracking mode. Upload to ourfree online community, Garmin Connect, to join fitness challenges and save, plan and share your progress.

•Tracks distance, pace, heart rate¹ and calories
•Activity tracking counts steps and calories and reminds you when it’s time to move
•Compatible with foot pod² for recording distance indoors
•Up to 8 hours of battery life with GPS on or 5 weeks in watch/activity tracking mode
•Save, plan and share your activities at Garmin Connect™

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The Watch:

If you look at the FR-15, you will note that it looks a lot like the FR-10 … because it does. In fact, aside from now having a stylish blue it is virtually identical! That isn’t a bad thing – the FR-10 came in two sizes that worked well for smaller and larger people. The FR-15 is similarly comfortable and easy to fit on a variety of wrists. I had a bunch of people try it on at work and home (I’m pushy that way!), and everyone agreed it was light and comfortable.

Similarly the display is nearly identical to the FR-10, though I feel that the new display is even crisper. You get at most two items displayed at once – Elapsed Time and Distance, Distance and Pace, Heartrate and Calories, and so on. The text size is large enough to be easily visible at a glance. It is a great compromise – larger watches display more but are often harder to see on the run, and many similar sized watches try to display too much (like the Polar RC3) and end up with a confusing interface.

That is where the FR-15 shines – all of the functionality is easily accessible, and the button controls are well labeled and intuitive. You don’t really NEED to read the manual, but it only takes a minute and then you won’t forget.

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More FR-15 Features:

Some of the features you can access are Auto-Pause, which is great if you regularly run in traffic and need to stop at intersections; Auto-Lap, which I (and seemingly everyone else) has defaulted to 1 mile; an ‘auto-pace’ that helps keep you on track; the data fields displayed on the various pages of the display when active; your weight for calculating calories; and a bunch of other settings. For fitness you can turn the system on or off, and set your goals and ‘Move’ alert.

There are not the seemingly infinite settings found in other devices, but there is a considerable amount of flexibility and control, and for me I have yet to come across anything additional I would want. Here are a few screens:

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Fitness Tracker:

One of the biggest additions to the FR-15 is the fitness tracking capability, similar to Garmin’s recent VivoFit dedicated fitness tracker. This product space is interesting now – with Fitbit having to recall their entire ‘Force’ product, Nike exiting the space, leaving the Garmin ViviFit competing against the Polar Loop, Jawbone Up, and older Fitbit products.

The allure of fitness tracking is obvious to most people – modern jobs and internet-centric society means more sedentary lifestyles than ever before, and more and more research shows that ‘sitting is the new smoking’, and that even people who exercise regularly need to maintain active lifestyles throughout the day. So a fitness tracker is a great way to ensure that you are moving throughout the day.

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Using the Garmin FR-15 for tracking fitness is simple – enable tracking, and wear the watch all the time. That’s it – then just look at your watch and it will show your steps and progress against your goal, and tapping the lower-left button will toggle through steps, goal, calories and the current date. The data resets to zero at midnight, but your last 7 days are saved for later sync-up.

Then the next time you hook up to a computer to sync the FR-15 your steps and sleep patterns. You get tracking across days, performance to target and so on, viewable on the web or your Garmin Connect app. The only thing lacking is that you have to manually specify your sleep hours – on the VivoFit you can hold the button and the system goes into sleep tracking mode, and you wake it up by holding the button in the morning. That makes the FR-15 method more approximate, but I still like the way it tracks and charts motion during the night.

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Wireless Sensors:

One of the two criticisms I had for the FR-10 was “no support for ANT+ wireless devices (such as heart rate monitor) or foot pods.”

Well … they listened.

The FR-15 now features ANT+ sensor support, meaning that if you already have an ANT+ HRM (heart rate monitor) or foot pod sensor it will work with the FR-15. Garmin sent along the FR-15 model that comes with the heart rate monitor. I didn’t have a foot sensor to test.

Pairing up the sensor was quick and easy, and I also tried with a couple of other ANT+ HRM sensors and it worked easily every time. The HRM is a standard chest-strap model, so you need to wet your skin and the sensor before it will find your heart rate for precise tracking.

Once paired, the HRM has linked up for me every day without fail. And with the heart rate displayed prominantly on the screen I found it easy to use the system to maintain constant effort based on heart rate. Well, it was easy to see the display … the rest I’m still working on!

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Battery Life:

My other criticism of the FR-10? “Battery life is short.”

Again, Garmin listened.

The FR-10 specified a 5 hour GPS life, and based on my usage the last couple of years that seems about right. That means it is good enough for most people to run a marathon without charging the day before or after … and not much else.

The FR-15 specifies 8 hours of GPS and normal use (since tracking is generally on), so I decided to test it out for a week. I didn’t plug in all week long, which meant tracking for 24 hours per day, using the HRM and GPS for at least an hour per day. At the end of the week I had done over 8 hours of use, was getting low battery warnings but everything still worked. I synced up the watch and everything was stores – activities, heart rate graphs and daily activity tracking. Very impressive for such a small and light watch.

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GPS Location and Strength:

The joke would be that GPS is all about location – in more than one way. Not only is its basic function tracking location, but how well it syncs to GPS to get started can be the difference between fun and frustration. For me the Garmin FR-10 generally would link up within a minute at home, though when in different locations it could take longer. Last year when I was traveling for work it took a few minutes the first couple of times but gradually the lock came faster.

For the FR-15 nothing much seems to have changed. At home the GPS is generally ready to go before I am, and on my trail run this weekend it still took less than a minute. Of course, if you had issues with the FR-10, chances are the FR-15 won’t be much better.

Only one time has the FR-10 GPS failed me – running the trails of the PA Grand Canyon Marathon. So I was interested to see how the FR-15 handled the Catharine Valley Trail on my run … which ended up boring because it never had an issue!

Sync-Up and Apps:

Syncing up the FR-15 is pretty much identical to the FR-10: you get a cradle that the watch snaps into with four contacts on the back. You plug into a USB port on Mac or PC, launch Garmin Express (which should auto-launch), and the data anto-syncs to the Garmin Express site where you can view it.

You can also view activities on the Garmin Connect app for iOS or Android, though honestly it is of less value for the FR-15 than for my wife’s VivoFit. That is because the VivoFit direct syncs to the app, and also has features that work together with the app that the FR-15 doesn’t support.

If there is one weakness, THIS is it – so many devices have moved to wireless sync that it is a shame that the FR-15 requires corded sync. Especially because of the fitness tracking – having to plug into a cable on a computer just to see results on your phone reduces the value of fitness tracking.

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Accuracy & Precision – Fitness Tracking:

There are two areas that I looked at – walking and running.

Running is … weird. And it makes sense – your stride length varies if you are doing hills or a long flat run, an easy pace or a more strenuous speed workout. As a result the tracking of steps to distance was fairly useless for me. I found that I could run the same basic route two days – on easy and the other pushing the pace – and get results that skewed by up to 1000 steps, which would be about 0.5 miles at a walking stride. As a result I did what most people seem to do – not use the Garmin FR-15 fitness tracking when running.

But walking is another thing – Lisa and I love to go for walks, so I was able to test the FR-15 against her Runkeeper app on the iPhone, the Garmin VivoFit and Polar Loop fitness tracker. All of these matched very well between miles and steps (using ~2500 steps/mile equivalent), and the agreement between all of them was withing less than a hundred steps across about a dozen miles walked over several days.

Accuracy & Precision – GPS and Heart Rate:

Comparing heart rate monitors is hard because you can really only have one monitor at once. So instead of making direct comparisons I used different sensors on different days on similar runs. And using three different sensors I got more or less the same message – my rate starts low, ramps as I ramp my intensity, then settles into a groove for most of my run. The Garmin HRM was the most comfortable and easist to adjust and wet of the ones I tried, and I have happily made it my go-to HRM.

In terms of run tracking, I got a bit more involved … I used my old FR-10 on one wrist, the FR-15 on the other, and the Wahoo Fitness app on my iPhone in my running belt. I wore all three across a few weeks, and all three tracked extremely well. I will let the graphs speak for themselves – but the agreement was within +/-0.1 mile across the 7 – 15 mile runs.

GPS Tracking

Conclusions:

The Garmin FR-10 provided a great entry level GPS watch which I heartily recommended. The FR-15 improves on the FR-10 in every appreciable way, with better battery life, fitness tracking and suport for ANT+ wireless sensors. The Garmin Express app and site continue to become more useful and helpful with tracking and integration features, and the ability to do sleep monitoring graphs adds another new direction.

With the FR-15 Garmin retains my vote for the best entry-level GPS watch. For $169.99 you get all the features of the $130 FR-10 and most of the features of the $130 VivoFit combined. Add on the heart rate monitor and you have a $200 all-in-one fitness data collection system!

Review: Garmin ForeRunner FR-15

Where to Buy: Garmin.com or Amazon.com

Price: $199.95 ($169.99 without heart-rate monitor)

What I Like: Great design; fantastic accuracy; useful fitness tracking; support for ANT+ sensors; super light-weight; perfect fit; great price; easy readability and controls; great choices in features.

What Needs Improvement: Lack of wireless sync.

Source: Manufacturer provided review sample

Here is my hands-on video of the Garmin ForeRunner FR-15:

Sunday Runday – Weekly Summary and Airia First-Run Impressions

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Happy Sunday! Hope everyone has had a great week. This week has been wild and crazy in our house – it started with Chris breaking his foot, then a very productive weekend of yard work, a couple of late nights talking about various things like “the future” (always a topic with high school kids) and so on.

So proud of my kids as always this week – Chris has been a trooper and continues to do great things all over the place, and Danny got back his SAT scores which were just astoundingly good. It is funny – for me math was higher than english, for him it is the opposite. Not a surprise at all, just interesting.

He is also off on the ‘junior class trip’ to Hershey Park, which is about a 3.5 hour drive from here. We were getting annoyed because we never saw any papers, never heard anything official … just paid for it. So on Thursday morning I said ‘no info, no trip’.

But as I was syncing my Garmin I did a quick search and found the application to the board of education – which had all of the necessary details. After school he took a picture of the document on my screen and posted it on Instagram … and got dozens of likes and ‘OMG I really needed this’ comments. Turns out the thing really WAS a disorganized mess! Fortunately it all turned out fine!

In the picture above you see my ‘summer runner’ gear – light hat and UV protection sunglasses, also a nice cheese and veggie omelette that fueled my Saturday long run – and the fruit (and chia) smoothie between the run and yard work. It was grapes, orange, pineapple and some cranberry juice. It was awesome.

My Running Summary

Another transition week – but instead of frost, one morning it was 66F and humid at 4AM! After that it cooled off, but never below 45F in the morning, so the gloves have been packed away at this point! After reading all of the folks complaining about a total lack of spring as their temperatures jumped to the 90s this week – I’m sorry that you are dealing with that … but with the brutal winter we had, I am not sorry for this incredible weather run we have now. You never know how long it will last, so I am savoring it while I can!

Sunday: Lisa was off and we got SO MUCH yard work done!
Monday: 15.5 miles
Tuesday: 9.5 miles
Wednesday: 10.5 miles
Thursday: 8.75 miles
Friday: 6.25 miles after work
Saturday 14.5 miles on my favorite ‘airport loop’.

Very happy with the week – a great 65 miles. I am also at ‘Day 6’ of my Running Streak. Lisa and I were up really late Thursday night chatting and I was ready to toss the streak, but was able to get home early on Friday, so I grabbed a quick run before starting dinner.

As I said last week, loving my runs lately – every. single. one. Weather can be such a huge factor, and I really let a couple of frosty mornings bog me down, and I wasn’t switching up my routine – last week changed that, and this week really worked well as a result.

Airia RUnning Shoes First Run

I had mentioned getting a test pair of Airia running shoes, and this past week I have done a few runs. Still not up to even the 10k mileage they talk about for a real evaluation, I have done between 4 – 5 miles total. Here are a few thoughts:

Pros:
– Lightweight
– Drains and dries quickly (one run in rain)
– Comfortable
– You can FEEL it change your stride … if you let it.

Cons:
– Strap across toe is in a lousy place. Bugs me on one foot, no blister yet … but it will. This strap is exacerbated by the construction of the angle making it a pivot point.
– No evidence, but I worry how the shoes would react on uneven terrain.

Overall I am impressed by these shoes – as I note in the video below, from the very start I can FEEL the changes in my calves, bottoms of my feet and quads. That is the reason I have been very careful with easing into these (very unlike me – normally I just try new shoes on a long run and hope it all works out).

Are these for you? Too early to tell – they are very specialized, and I would still consider them ‘proof of concept’. But I also wouldn’t dismiss them, either. They are an innovative shoe with loads of interesting engineering concepts applied.

I made a quick ‘first run’ video – and looking at it I see my stride is quite ‘deliberate’ and my arms look higher and tighter … which gets back to how ‘funky’ I found the feel. I have loosened up since then, but keep the pace slow as I try to work with the shoes. Check it out!

So how was YOUR week in running? Weather – great or crap? Any cool new tech to report?

Video Review – iPad Air Keyboard Cases

Belkin Ultimate

Something a bit different – I wanted to do a video entry, and have had a number of people at work and out and about asking me about my keyboard case for iPad Air and also about external keyboards for tablets in general … so I knew I had a topic!

Here are the products I mentioned:
Apple Bluetooth Keyboard ($64.99 on Amazon)
Logitech Bluetooth Keyboard for iPad ($49.99 on Amazon)
Belkin Slim Style (currently $57.28 at Amazon)
Logitech FabricSkin Keyboard Folio for iPad Air ($146 at Amazon)
Kensington KeyFolio for iPad Air (reg $99, sale $59 now at Amazon)
Belkin Ultimate Keyboard Case ($120 on Amazon)

A couple of notes:
– Some of these are personal purchases, a couple are samples for reviews elsewhere, and a couple more are things sent along from friends after they reviewed them.
– I didn’t check the prices on several until AFTER I did the review. So I had no idea about the relative pricing, to that the Apple keyboard is the same price I paid several years ago whereas the Logitech keyboard is now $30 less than I paid a couple of years ago!

Here is the video round-up!