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A look at the new Garmin FR410 Touch Bezel

(Note: This is a bit of a teaser on the FR410, the full FR410 will be posted later this week.  Thanks!)

There is no watch out on the market today that’s quite like the Forerunner 410, except of course its older siblings the FR405 and FR405CX.  With it’s touch bezel design, it stands out from all other slim GPS watches, simply due to its unique user interaction system.  But being different doesn’t equate to being perfect.  In fact, the older FR405 has a relatively storied history of being either a ‘love it or hate it’ watch, due purely to the touch bezel.

This is because either you love the touch-bezel design that lacks all but two buttons, substituted with touch-sensitive control over traditional buttons.  Or you simply hate it, and prefer standard force press buttons.  Up until recently however, the FR410 was the only ‘slim’ GPS-enabled multi-sport watch from Garmin.  But with the new FR110 and FR210 now allowing runners and very casual cyclists to get GPS data without the bulk of other watches, the FR410 has some competition in the slim space.

So when the FR410 came onto the market a little over a month ago, there were many questions around the ‘improved’ touch bezel design.  Garmin made a point of noting how the FR410 should handle water better, as well as just general day to day use.  Given my past ‘history’ with the FR405, I was eager to see how it performed, specifically with respect to the touch aspects of it – and most importantly, to see how it had improved.

So, for the past five weeks I’ve been wearing the watch nearly 24×7 – in fact, as I sit here on a plane flight now, I’m wearing it.  I decided that there were essentially three use cases for the watch and its touch bezel – starting with the easiest – dry conditions without gloves, then to moving to those with gloves, and then finally a rather watery test.

This post doesn’t replace my usual in depth review, but rather just touches on the bezel pieces.  So with that, let’s get cooking…

The Dry Lands:

In my experience I’m able to easily navigate the watch’s touch bezel on dry land, with general accuracy in the 90% range.  This includes running, walking, cycling and eating ice cream – all acts that I feel are important to watch usability.

Here’s a quick video clip I put together showing simple navigation of the menu’s in a dry environment.  I would try and do something running at the same time – but my video skills aren’t quite up to the task, you’ll just have to trust me that it’s pretty much the same:

Part 1: Simple FR410 Touch Bezel Test

As you can see – I’m able to wander through the different menu’s without issue.  You’ll note I largely stayed in the settings area – simply because that’s the most complex menu’s to navigate.  Simply swapping data views/pages is as easy to tapping the watch just once.

The Cold Lands:

While much of my recent travel has been to nice warm places, I’ve been bumping in and out of far colder places for a day or two here and there.  First was some snow in Washington DC, then the wet and cold Newfoundland, and then the really cold Zurich.

In all cases I was wearing gloves while navigating the FR410.  Because in those scenarios I didn’t think to videotape myself, I just simply adorned gloves instead for the below view.  I tried a few different pairs, and I’ll do something similar to what I did with the Edge 800 glove tests in the future, but for now – I suspect most runners use thin gloves like myself when running.

Part II: The magic gloves

You can see in the video that I struggle to get the FR410 to do what I want – eventually giving up and going back to no-gloves.  So, it’s a mixed bag.  For simplistic running tasks, it generally works fine since it’s just one tap on the bezel and eventually it takes – but if you need to go into the settings while wearing gloves, things get tougher.  It tends to be that the actions requiring up/down movement are the toughest.

The Wet Land:

And now…the wet environment.

What’s funny here is that I initially put together the below video back in December in between two different trips.  There was no rain on the radar, so I just used a shower instead to replicate it – which worked exceedingly well.  But during a slew of recent runs in the Seychelles I ended up spending a lot of time in the rain.  Lots of rain.  Lots of wet jungle rain.  I’m not sure how that’s different than Washington DC rain…but just trust me that it is.  Well, to be technical, wet jungle rain is simply rain with really high humidity.

At any rate, during such jungle time I was able to really put it through it’s pace – and found that it performed identically to the shower.

That is to say, that it works just fine.  Accuracy was typically in the 85-90% rate for complex things – and about 95% for simple stuff.

But, since I already had a video put together – one that involved rubber ducks no less – I wasn’t going to let it go to waste.

So, the video is divided into three pieces in the shower:

1) No water spray 
2) Direct shower water onto watch (like pouring)
3) Direct bath tub faucet (as if you were running in a waterfall)

The last one…well…I had a moment of inspiration from Mythbusters.  It’s neither useful nor realistic…but it’s fun!  It’s at the end of the below video.

Here ya go – the full water test video:

Part III: The water tests, a trio of aquatic fun.

As you can see, things largely work fine in the water in normal spray and rain conditions.  It’s only when I went over the top that things went a little quirky. All good there.

Wrap-up:

There’s no question the touch bezel has been improved.  Without a doubt it makes less errors than previous iterations of the product.  In general I have no issues in a dry-configuration without gloves.  I see issues with gloves depending on use case, though it’s possible that over time I’d gain more finesse with it and probably get the margin of error down to a pretty minimal level with gloves.

With wet circumstances the touch bezel is generally quite functional for easy and quick operations with minimal water – a huge improvement over the past.  But I did find in real world testing that occasionally water combined with clothing pieces that touch the bezel, can cause it to be touchy, no pun intended. While my final bathtub faucet test was clearly over the top, the other spray shower tests are no different than what you’d encounter outdoors with a wet bezel.  So that’s good that those were without issue.

Finally, when one looks at the FR410, one has to ask themselves what it is that they want from the watch – and in particular, the bezel. Is it that they just want a slim GPS watch?  Or a slim GPS watch with the full functionality of many of Garmin’s more advanced watches?

I guess in my mind a case still hasn’t been made on WHY specifically a touch bezel is needed/wanted over standard buttons.  I don’t understand specifically what it brings to the table.  When you look at why most folks buy the FR405/FR410, it isn’t ‘for the bezel’, but rather ‘for a slim product that has more functionality than the FR110/FR210’.  I continue to hope that at some point a FR210 watch body will end up with the firmware of the FR310XT – as that’s clearly what forum after forum, e-mail after e-mail, and in never ending person discussions with folks want.  Probably 1/3rd of all e-mail I get is about a slim watch with those capabilities.  I can dream, right?

Bezel thoughts aside – I am enjoying the watch though and wearing it basically 24/7.  As noted at the beginning, look for my full in depth review on the watch in the next couple days.

9 Comments

  1. Love to see that they improved the "bezel". We have the FR405 and I hate it completly but my girlfriend loves it.
    So I will keep wearing my Suunto T6 and keep on waiting for a nice small watch like the T6 with a internal gps but without a "Bezel".

    Reply
  2. I own the Forerunner 405 and am quite happy with it. No issues on the bezel or getting wet.
    I wonder if I need to update to the FR410 or wait a bit longer on a total redesigned watch!?
    I guess I gonna wait.
    The bezel, when getting used to, is fine for me.

    Reply
  3. Vijesh

    Thanks for the videos Ray. Looking forward to the full review.

    Reply
  4. jay

    Absolutely spot-on - a slim 310XT would be ideal.
    It was the touch bezel that made me get a 310XT instead of a 405CX in the first place.
    Oh, and your review was also quite helpful! :-)

    Reply
  5. Thanks for the teaser Ray.

    I love my 405 as well and have never had a problem with it.

    Reply
  6. Hi Ray I'm 100% with your comment on dreamed watch at the end I purchased the 210 simply because it was thinner then 410 and 310xt - the ones I really love but I can't use 24/7 - however,looking to the future usage, I 100% miss 410 software.
    On top my 2 cents are:
    in 210 all the screen is used to show data while is not the case in 410 so I felt able to better see numbers w/out glasses;
    210 body is much more flexible so you can really use 24/7 while 410 is not so flexible and I felt uncomfortable.

    Reply
  7. Daryl

    Not a big deal, but on the 405 I own, I have noticed an interesting quirk where the ‘smoothing’ algorithm on the stored bike cadence values are lower than the instantaneous values during the first 5 or so minutes of a ride. I assume the formula used for averaging is using zero’s, resulting in the lower than expected numbers.

    I have always wondered if this is a model specific problem or a global Garmin one.

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    Amen! The 405/410 software in the 210 body, and all my GPS-watch dreams will come true. The 210 was released way after the 405, costs pretty much the same, but is severely feature crippled.

    A 405/410 without the bezel, and I would never need another watch. But I guess that doesn't align well with Garmins revenue goals...

    Reply
  9. cesar

    pasos a dar para funcionar con el 410 gracias

    Reply

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