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I picked up the Forerunner 405 back when it first came out this spring, and have been using it over the summer and into early fall. I was super excited about the 405 when I first heard of it about 6 months prior to it becoming available. At the time it appeared to offer everything I might want from a running watch – sleek design, GPS enabled and compatible with all my existing Garmin accessories.
One might wonder what took me so long to write-up the review then. Well, quite honestly – me and the 405 have had a ‘complicated’ relationship together. While I love many features about the watch, there are some that quite simply drive me crazy.
So I’ve been dragging my feet a bit on getting this all written up. Nonetheless, like my original Garmin Forerunner 305 review – here’s my super-detailed Forerunner 405 review. Yes, it’s a bit long – but it’s more of a reference/review than a normal post. But that’s my normal way of doing things. With that, let’s get onto the action:
What’s in the box?
Well…that depends a little bit on which version you order. But first – here’s what’s in every box:
The watch itself
The USB ANT+ Sport Dongle
USB Charging Cable
Power block to connect to USB charging cable
A bunch of manuals and paper stuff
In addition, if you ordered a version with the heart rate monitor you also get the heart rate monitor strap (see photo down below in the accessories section). If you already have a HR strap from another Garmin product, you’re likely good to go.
The appeal of the 405 is that it almost looks like a regular watch again. If you look at the history of the Garmin running watches, they continue to shrink it into a smaller and smaller platform – and the 405’s size is very impressive. Although do note that it is larger than the usual watch. I’ve placed the 405 and 305 next to each other, and then next to just my standard wrist watch for comparison.
One key item to note is that the first half inch or so of the wrist band on the 405 is hard molded plastic and NOT bendable. You’ll see that later on in the section regarding using it while swimming.
Upon powering on your Garmin 405 for the first time it will walk you through a brief tutorial regarding the basic functions and how to use some of the newer features such as the touch bezel.
The menu system on the 405 is very much like the 305 or Garmin Edge (cycling) products. You’ll find many of the same menu features and functions as those units. You can go into the settings menu and change details such as whether or not it will automatically pause your workout if you stop moving (for example – at a stoplight). In addition, you can specify modes such as cycling or running and the data fields to display.
You can choose amongst 35 different data fields to display – such as: HR, Avg HR, Pace, Distance, Lap Pace, Speed, Elevation, Grade and even Sunset time. You can also choose a graph of your HR – basically showing a mini history that moves as you go along (live). Interestingly, you cannot choose a graph of the elevation.
The Garmin 405 supports three concurrent data fields being displayed at any one point and time (the 305 supports four fields). You can then set up three different ‘screens’ (each with three views) to cycle through.
For me personally, this poses a bit of a challenge while running. First, I tend to use four fields (HR, Pace, Distance, Elapsed Time) – thus for three fields I have to drop one (I usually drop distance as I train mostly based on HR/Pace/Time). The second challenge with the three different screens is in using the bezel. If you ‘lock’ the bezel, you can’t change the screens. Thus you have to unlock the bezel, press menu briefly (but not too briefly as it won’t catch, and not too long, as then it will actually show a menu), and then cycle through which screen you want. Of course, remember that you’re either running or cycling at the same time – adding a bit (a lot!) of challenge to the task.
What’s a bit of a bummer is that one of the views the watch offers after a workout is a summary page. This summary page is EXCELLENT, but I can’t find any way to display a live view of the data. If they could make this one of the views – that’d be AWESOME – particularly for running. Many folks have also noted that the Garmin logo at the top of the watch takes up space for a full data field. It’s a very valid observation.
My guess is that if you’re reading this – you know a bit about the Forerunner 405. In particular, you probably know that the 405 features a touch-sensitive bezel. Unlike a regular watch, none of the buttons (except the two on the side) actually depress. The bezel doesn’t actually move, it’s just touch sensitive – kinda like an iPod.
Because the tiniest of touches will trigger the bezel to react, you can also lock the bezel by simply pressing both side buttons together. You unlock it in the same manner. While locked, the bezel will not respond. This means you can’t change screens and/or turn on the light (like running at night). You simply can stop/start/lap the timer.
In addition, you can change the sensitivity of the bezel, depending on your touch. I’ve found this didn’t have much of an effect.
The bezel is where virtually ALL of my frustration lies with the 405. When it was first announced, there was much hype and excitement about it. However, as reviews started to trickle in – it became a love it or hate it situation. Garmin recently posted on their blog that you should really ‘practice’ a bit before hand by watching a whole bunch of videos and trying it out before you go out in the ‘wild’.
Because this review is written by…me…you’re going to get the pleasure of my opinion on it. Obviously some people differ with me. I personally think the bezel is the dumbest thing ever. It tries to be hip and fashionable with its whole touch concept. If I wanted an iPod I would have bought an iPod. Instead – I bought a sports watch that has an identity crisis with an iPod.
If you are running hard or cycling hard then dealing with the touch bezel is a passive pain. I generally leave it locked, but sometimes I want to change screens or if running at night – turn on the light. When I unlock it and try to change screens while still running – things go downhill fast. Before I know it I’ve totally messed up my run from a data standpoint. I just want simple buttons.
Further, there appears to be a lack of thought put into what tasks would be useful – like turning on the light while running/riding at night. Another example, today on my ride I received a low battery error. Except, that unlike the 305, this error doesn’t just go away with the touch of a button or after a few seconds of time. Nope, first I have to unlock the bezel, then acknowledge the error, then lock the bezel again.
Syncing data to your computer
Once you’ve gone out and done a few workouts, it’s time to synchronize your watch to your computer. After all – that’s one of the major reasons people buy a watch like the Garmin.
Unlike other Garmin devices, this one connects to your computer using a specialized semi-propriety wireless technology called ANT+Sport. I’m sure there are some similarities to Bluetooth – but it isn’t Bluetooth (primarily for reasons for battery life). ANT+ Sport allows other companies to integrate wireless devices with the Garmin devices.
On the computer side you have a small USB dongle about the length of a paperclip. And it simply connects to the device. Look ma! No cables!
Once you finish pairing the device for the first time (which can be a bit of a pain), all you have to do is bring your device within range of your computer and it will automatically sync the workouts to your computer.
That happens via a little program called the “ANT Agent” that sits in your try and watches for the watch to come near. This of course requires the USB stick be in the computer to see the watch.
Sometimes the sync works really well and happens while the device is dozens of feet away. Other times, it just doesn’t work at all and I have to dink with it quite a bit. It’s also considerably slower than the wired cradle of the 305 – taking a few minutes at least sometimes to download just a single workout (compared to a few seconds for the 305).
While I appreciate Garmin’s attempt to going wireless for the data sync, it seems overly complex (kinda like the bezel). The cradle with the 305 was simple and functional. And it worked every time. It also charged the device – two items for the price of one so to speak. Obviously without cables, it’s not charging anything. Finally, for those with laptops (like me), the tiny USB stick is more of a pain than anything else because I always have to find it. It’s really small and easily lost. Plus, it’s only one half of the solution I need with me on the road as I also can’t forget the charging cable.
Where’d my data go?
Once the ANT Agent picks the data off the Forerunner 405 – it sends it somewhere. Where…depends on where you tell it to send it. You can either send it to the locally installed Garmin Training Center (GTC) Software, or you can send it to Garmin Connect online – which is kinda like an online version of Garmin Training Center.
Garmin Training Center (GTC)
GTC is the application you (optionally) install if you want to have a local copy of the data on your computer. This application was apparently written in 1992 and not updated since. It’s just shy of dismal in terms of functionality and ease of use. But…if you want to get the data off the watch and to other non-Garmin applications like Training Peaks – it’s required.
If selected, the ANT Agent software will send a copy of your workouts to GTC.
Once in GTC you can look at them and generally poke them like a piece of over-cooked chicken. Most importantly, you can export them to other programs to use to analyze your data. One of the most obvious reasons why GTC is so lame is the mapping – just look at the below example. Hello 90’s!
A much better option is to upload the data to Garmin Connect. This is the free web-based successor to site Motion Based (which Garmin bought). It’s cool in that without prompting you for any username/password after initial configuration, your data is automatically uploaded to the Connect site. Your data is of course only visible to you unless you share it or mark it as public (great for finding new routes!)
When the site initially came out in the spring, it was pretty rough. The vast majority of the time I couldn’t upload anything as it was constantly giving errors. However, things have gotten a lot better now and it’s quite good. Lots of good little improvements. That’s not to say there aren’t issues. For example – I just noticed that if I put in the ‘&’ symbol, it breaks the title of my activity (in programming lingo that’s called failing to acknowledge the escape character). Also noticed it didn’t correctly upload my cadence activity. So after 5+ months, it’s still not where it needs to be.
You can rename each of your workouts and view all of the data, as well as share it with other folks.
3rd Party Software
While Garmin provides the above noted software – many of us use other software suites (mostly because they are better). Just to briefly touch on a few.
Sports Tracks 2.0: Sports Tracks now natively supports the Garmin Forerunner 405. When you select to import an activity, it will automatically connect to the data retrieved by the ANT Agent (which is still required) and pickup the workouts. Quick and easy. Once in Sports Tracks, you can easily edit/tweak/view the data as you see fit, plus view it on top of satellite imagery and install dozens of plug-ins. Best of all – Sports Tracks is free with a vibrant user community.
Training Peaks Upload Agent: Regrettably, as of Oct 12th, 2008 – the training peaks upload agent does not yet support the 405. Given it’s been out for at least 6 months now, and given that free-ware developers like Sports Tracks can make it work – I’m hoping that Training Peaks will soon support the Forerunner 405. In order to get the data to Training Peaks, you must first use Garmin Training Center to collect the data and then export a TCX file to upload to TP.
Power me up Scotty!
Just to briefly touch on the charging/power system. The 405 charges via a little clip on cable that then connects to either a USB port, or the AC adapter block provided.
I do like the fact that it shows the percentage charged – nice touch! The 305 doesn’t show this while charging, so it’s a good addition.
Battery life is an interesting thing with the 405. See, you can’t technically ever turn it off. Just like a normal watch – it’s always on. So it’s always draining the battery life. This means that if you left it in your bag and went to use it a week later – it may not have enough juice to get you through the workout. So just remember that the battery is always trickling away slowly.
Based on my usage, I’m getting about 7-8 hours of active working out with it before it runs out of battery. It does charge pretty quick though. Just about 2-3 hours to fill it up completely.
Today I got a low battery warning and was able to go another hour to complete my workout and it was still working. I’m not sure how much longer it would have gone before it went kaput – but an hour’s a good warning time.
Accessories for your 405:
If your a runner who always runs outside, there’s likely little need for any of the various 405 accessories. However if you’re a triathlete, or one who runs indoors – then you’ll want to read through some of your options. Here’s an overview of a few of the accessories that are available for the 405.
Bike Speed/Cadence Meter
This allows you to use your bike indoors on a trainer and to pickup cadence (while indoors or outdoors). In addition, if you drop into a tunnel, it will use wheel distance to determine how far you’ve gone.
If you already have any existing Garmin speed/cadence magnet set ($60) or about $39 on Amazon, they continue to work with the 405. Essentially you just attach a small magnet to your wheel (like any bike computer), and then attach another small magnet to your crank arm. On your frame you use two zip ties to set in place the wireless sensor/transmitter. There’s a small button/light on it that allows you to visually verify that it’s picking up the magnets as they swing past.
I had no issues connecting up my existing transmitter to the 405, or adding a new one to another bike – quick and easy.
Running Foot Pod/Cadence meter
Like the bike sensor above, the Foot Pod ($99, from Garmin directly, but $92 on Amazon) allows you to use your 405 indoors while running on a treadmill. I *never* run on treadmills because they drive me crazy. However, on Friday I went inside and gave it a quick whirl on the treadmill after my swim. You have to first calibrate it outdoors, and that takes about 5 minutes of running around aimlessly while it uses GPS to calibrate. You can also use a known measured distance such as on a track to calibrate it.
For my first quarter mile on the treadmill it was dead on with the treadmill’s computer – exactly the same. Then it beeped an error about lost GPS signal (duh..I’m inside), and the pace went crazy for a few seconds before settling back on the precise pace of the treadmill. About a minute later it gave another error and did the same thing. It did minimally effect my overall distance as read by the 405 – but I don’t use it inside enough to be able to understand the pattern. It appears though that it for a brief second picked up a GPS signal and then lost it, causing it to think it was outdoors again and thus change the pace and associated distance.
More useful to me however is the foot pods ability to give turnover rates (how many times per minute your foot strikes the ground). Speaking in broad strokes – higher cadence is better – so this is a useful way of see how different paces affect my turnover. (Cadence above/below in yellow per foot per minute)
Heart Rate Monitor Strap
The heart rate monitor strap measures your heart rate (beats per minute). When you purchase the 405 you can choose to get the unit with or without one. Considering I already had a HRM strap from the 305 –I chose without one and just used that one. Also note that you can use the HRM indoors without a GPS signal (such as on a treadmill or trainer). You can pickup a HR strap after the fact for $60 on Garmin’s site, or about $34 on Amazon.
I wanted to call this out specifically. Unlike the 305, the 405 is not detachable from the wristband. Thus, a different bike mount is required. The $15 405 bike mount is a big ole block of rubber that the watch winds its way through. Undoing it from the mount takes a solid 30 seconds if your calm and collected – so not exactly ideal during a triathlon in transition.
You simply use two zip ties to attach the mount to your handlebars (photo below showing it mounted to my mountain bike).
There is one little problem here though. If you have a tri-bike, and don’t have perfectly round handlebars – your kinda hosed. I tried it on my Cervelo and it just doesn’t fit very well. You might be able to get by, but it looks horrible (note how below is all elongated, whereas two photos above its nice and round).
Updated addition (3/4/09): I’ve added a bunch of additional photos (below) of mounting it on the Cervelo P2C. While it sorta looks like it will work from the photos, it doesn’t really work that well. The problem is that the rubber piece has to bend outward, which in turn makes it just barely too big to get a secure fit on the wrist strap. So I’d be very concerned that on a bump it’d fly away. Then there’s the issue where it certainly won’t be easy to undo in transition area. There’s functionally nowhere else to mount it though.
Because I wrote up how to use your Forerunner 305 while swimming, I figured I’d mention it here as well. The problem with using the 405 while swimming is the initial cap placement. See, the 305 can both detach from the wristband, as well as having the advantage of having a relatively flat wristband. The 405 has a molded initial section of the wristband, which doesn’t bend. See the below comparison.
The 305 contains a really low profile, while the 405 is really high up. This means that under your swim cap will look a whole lot funnier than it would otherwise. I tried it both on its side as well as flat – it doesn’t seem to help much stylistically. Not that lack of style will keep me from using it in a pinch in the water. Really – I promise you my swim cap isn’t that excited!
I think the Forerunner 405 is a great addition to the Garmin fitness family. However, its not without its limitations. Garmin itself is fairly clear in that if your a triathlete – the 305 is still their premier multisport watch (now the 310XT). The 405 is fairly targeted at running, and just enough cycling features tossed it to kinda make it work for that application for casual use – but it’s not ideal for it. If you’re only going to be using it for running and don’t mind the limitations I’ve outlined in this review – then it’s an ideal watch for pounding the pavement.
I was really excited when I first got this watch, but my excitement for it has waned a bit. I don’t use it as often as my 305/310XT mostly due to the bezel. And therefore it would be hard for me to recommend it to other triathletes looking for a GPS-based watch when the 305/310XT is so much better in every area except for style.
If you found this review helpful in your purchasing decision, you can support future reviews like this (or race fees) by using any of the Amazon links (accessories or the units themselves). The reviews generally take 20-40 hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love).
As you’ve seen throughout the review there are numerous compatible accessories for the unit. I’ve consolidated them all into the below chart, with additional information (full posts) available on some of the accessories to the far right. Also, everything here is verified by me – so if it’s on the list, you’ll know it’ll work. And as you can see, I mix and match accessories based on compatibility – so if a compatible accessory is available at a lower price below, you can grab that instead.
As always, if you have any questions – feel free to post them below or e-mail me (if you post a question, it gets e-mailed to me). I know many folks will find this review months or even a year plus from now, but as long as I’m still blogging I’ll answer questions. Oh, and I’ve posted a slew of other Garmin GPS related posts, with can easily be found here.
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