When the Garmin Forerunner 110 was first announced earlier this spring, many folks were excited to finally see a GPS watch that didn’t look like a cinder block attached to their wrist. As GPS chipsets and the supporting technology got smaller, more focus went towards making the watches smaller as well. So it was only inevitable that it would finally get down to a normal sized watch form factor.
With GPS comes the ability to not only track exactly where you went on a run/activity, but also how far and how fast. These would end up being the key focal points of Garmin’s FR110 marketing campaign (or ‘scheme’ for you Brits). The watch would be targeted at runners looking to get into GPS watches for the first time. As such, the user interface would be simplified to ensure that users didn’t end up on the starting line still trying to make their watch work. During an interview with the Garmin Engineering team regarding the FR110, they related how the overwhelming goal was to reduce stories where their engineers went to races only to find some folks simply couldn’t successfully operate the more complex Garmin fitness devices.
Like all my reviews, they tend to be pretty in depth (perhaps overly so) – but that’s just my trademark DC Rainmaker way of doing things. Think of them more like reference guides than quick and easy summaries. I try and cover every conceivable thing you might do with the device and then poke at it a bit more. My goal is to leave no stone unturned – both the good and the bad.
Because I want to be transparent about my reviews, as I mentioned when I first got the device – Garmin sent me this FR110 for a period of 60 days as a trial unit. Once that period has elapsed, I send the whole beaten box back to the folks in Kansas. Simple as that. Sorta like hiking in wilderness trails – leave only footprints. If you find my review useful, you can use any of the Amazon links from this page to help support future reviews.
Lastly, at the end of the day keep in mind I’m just like any other regular triathlete out there. I write these reviews because I’m inherently a curious person with a technology background (my day job), and thus I try and be as complete as I can. But, if I’ve missed something or if you spot something that doesn’t quite jive – just let me know and I’ll be happy to get it all sorted out. Also, because the technology world constantly changes, I try and go back and update these reviews as new features and functionality are added – or if bugs are fixed.
While Garmin Forerunner 110 is the latest and most streamlined running GPS available, how does it stand up to real world pounding? For that…onto the review…
Once you get the FR110 box in your hands, it’s time to take it all apart. But first, we will take a moment to observe the outside:
Ok…observation complete. Let’s tear it open.
Now that you have all the parts laid out in neat little lines on the table, let’s go through what they all are:
First up, you have the watch itself. This comes with a handy little yellow tag reminding you to charge it prior to using it.
After that you’ll find the required charging and data transfer cable. This is unique to the FR110 and does not interoperate with any of the other Garmin’s. It uses USB to both charge and transfer:
The kit also comes with a wall charging block, that allows you to connect the USB cable for non-computerized charging.
Next is the ever important miniature paper manual. This basically tells you to turn it on and that you shouldn’t expect it to work in temperature above 140*F, among other things.
And finally, last but not least – depending on which version you bought – it comes with a classic heart rate strap:
We’ll get into the heart rate strap a bit later on in the accessories section.
With all the parts and pieces complete – let’s get onto seeing how big the watch really is.
Size and Size Comparison:
The first thing you probably already noticed, is that the FR110 is the first GPS watch that’s FINALLY normal sized. After years of work, we finally have a watch that doesn’t look like a giant 1980’s era cellphone on our wrist – and for that, we can all be thankful!
But, just how big is it compared to some of the other models out there? Well, let’s take a look:
(Yes, that’s a rolling pin…how else would you line up five of them?)
Clearly, it’s pretty small and pretty much in line with the FR60 non-GPS watch and the FR405 GPS watch and on par with your average stop watch you might pickup at a department store.
With the introductions out of the way, let’s get to using the thing. First up though, charging it. Remember, you did read the little yellow tag, right?
Just simply connect it to either a computer, or the supplied wall charger:
A bit later you can come back and get ready to start using the watch. It charges pretty quickly.
First up, let’s turn it on. When you do so, it’ll start by asking you what language you speak:
Then, it moves onto asking you things like statue or metric (miles or KM), your age and weight. This allows it to determine calorie usage.
From there you’ll want to set it by a window (or just walk outdoors) so it can get its first satellite reading. This allows is to determine the correct date of time for your location. It’s kinda like a cell-phone in that respect.
Once done, it’ll show you the time of day, and be ready to roll:
Now…let’s head outside!
Without question, the FR110 was designed for running. As such, you’ll probably want to wear it on your wrist. The device doesn’t include any sort of detachable wristband – so the wrist is the best place.
Once outside, simply tap the Page/Menu button to turn on the GPS. Within a few seconds it’s pretty much ready to start running.
From there, you’ll go ahead and press the ‘Start/Stop’ button to initiate the run.
At this point, it’ll start to show you distance travelled, lap pace – and if you have the heart rate strap, your current heart rate.
Note that the FR110 actually only has four data fields that it will display. They are: Lap Pace, Total Distance, Heart Rate, Current Time of Day. There are no other fields than those I just listed. Meaning, just the picture above – and the picture below (except one more showing just time).
The lap pace field is determined by the total lap distance divided by time spent within that lap. Laps can be set manually (by pressing the lap button), or automatically using Auto Lap (which I’ll discuss in a moment). Note that most GPS watches actually show ‘instant pace’, whereas the FR110 shows lap pace. What’s the difference? Well, pretend you’re running 5 miles at a constant pace. In the middle of that effort you decide to sprint all-out for 30 seconds. In the ‘instant pace’ scenario, the speed/pace would show your speed at that exact point in time (fast). But the ‘lap pace’ speed would only show that as an average over the entire distance of the lap (5 miles as an example), so it wouldn’t change the speed displayed very much at all (and be slower looking). Just something to be aware of.
Auto Lap is pretty cool feature that will automatically create splits/laps every time you go a set distance. Many runners do this today in races or training when they see mile marker signs, this simply saves you that step.
You can configure the Auto Lap feature in increments from .25 miles to 2.0 miles. By default it’s 1.0 miles.
During a run, when you press the lap button it will show a mini-summary of the past lap, including information such as your average pace, and total time spent running:
You can turn Auto Lap on/off whenever you’d like via the settings menu. Once you upload the data, you can see it shown for each split in more detail:
Heart Rate Data/Monitor:
One of the major drivers to getting a fitness watch is the ability to monitor your heart rate while exercising. The Forerunner 110 allows one to utilize any ANT+ heart rate strap to get heart rate readings. Depending on which FR110 bundle you buy, it will either come with the heart rate strap, or you have to buy it separately. I discuss the heart rate strap in more detail in the accessories section. Pairing the strap is relatively easy though, and only takes a moment.
Once paired, your current heart rate will display on one of the three data pages that you can show.
Heart rate data is then recorded continuously while in recording mode, and is then part of the data that is available on Garmin Connect once you upload the data from the watch.
You can use FR110 indoors if you just want to utilize it as a simple stopwatch to record an activity with time/splits. Or if you’re just training indoors often and want to record heart rate.
When in this mode, the watch will only display the current lap time, heart rate and time of day. It won’t display distance (because GPS isn’t being used).
All of this data will record just as normal and can be uploaded to Garmin Connect, where you can display your lap splits.
Note, that as of this writing (July 13th, 2010), you cannot use a footpod (Garmin ANT+ or otherwise) to connect to the FR110. I talk about this more in detail in the accessories section. If this changes, I’ll update this section.
The backlight on the FR110 is exceptionally bright and certainly isn’t your little old lame stopwatch light. This thing could be used as a beacon to flag down passing aircraft if need be.
So much so that getting a good picture of it was surprisingly difficult. Nonetheless, I sorta prevailed…98 photo attempts later:
Anyway, the light stays on for 8 seconds, though unlike other watches in the Forerunner/Edge series, the time it stays on is not adjustable.
History View on the watch:
While most folks will probably be viewing history on Garmin Connect (which I discuss later) – you can actually view an abbreviated version of your historical information on the watch itself. By holding down the Page/Menu button for a few seconds, the history option will appear:
From there you can navigate into the different activities one at a time and view summary information for each activity – including distance and time.
It’s brief, but it’s great if you’re standing roadside and want to quickly review what you just completed.
While cycling is not this watches main purpose in life – it does work quite well. First up, you’ll want to switch the display mode from ‘Pace’ to ‘Speed’:
You can use the watch on your wrist, or pickup the relatively inexpensive Forerunner bike mount (shown below).
Next, you just use as normal. It will display your speed instead of pace, shown on the bottom of the watch:
In the above picture, I have heart rate shown as well. Beyond that, the watch works in the exact same manner as while running. Meaning functions like auto lap still work, as well as history, etc…
You can of course also just use it on your wrist, which is what I normally do.
While one might be inclined to swim with the FR110…that would turn out to be a very poor decision. See, the FR110 isn’t exactly fully waterproof. The current version of the manual notes that it’s IPX7 – but doesn’t list what that means (I’m pretty sure the manual is now being updated). Unfortunately for the first FR110 demo unit that Garmin sent me, this meant it met a very early death.
See, I use a simple stop-watch for 99% of my pool swims. Most of the time I just use my trusty FR60 watch – which is waterproof down to 30 meters (scuba diving depths). Naturally, given this looks like a normal stopwatch, I assumed it too was at least waterproofed to 10-20m. But…it turns out it wasn’t.
After just 20 minutes of swimming (technically below the IPX7 30 minute threshold), it had fogged up.
A few hours later, it would be dead. Sad panda.
Now, luckily I’m a handy person – and I really wanted the data that was on the watch. So I set about with a screwdriver, a hairdryer…and made right again. Probably much to the Garmin team’s dismay when they got their mostly reassembled watch back in the mail a few days later. Sorry guys, that one last screw just wouldn’t go in quite right!
You can see in the above picture why the waterproofing failed, it simply wasn’t designed to seal a watch for prolonged periods of time.
I did indeed get the data off (Read: I won) – but the watch went back to Garmin for a swap out. I asked the Garmin Engineering team why the FR110 wasn’t waterproofed like the FR60, given they are about the same size. They said it was primarily a tradeoff in materials and the ability to keep the costs down. While I can to some degree understand that – I will point out that the FR60’s base cost is only $99, compared to the FR110’s base cost at $199. A simple $20 Timex stopwatch from Walmart is waterproofed to 30 meters. A $200 stopwatch should be as well in my opinion. But that’s just my two cents.
So the lesson learned here is…avoid water submersion. A quick shower or running with it is fine, but swimming is not. Niagara Falls Maid of the Mist boat ride is fine (above), but scuba diving is not.
I suspect the most common question folks ask when they first start looking at GPS based watches is: Are they accurate?
In short: Absolutely
In long: You have to understand how they work and the limitations. Primarily that generally speaking you’ll see slightly (very tiny, within 1-2% usually) variations of the distance measured between two devices doing the same route on the same day at the same time. Why? Well, GPS has a certain accuracy level (+/- a few meters). Thus, over the course of a multi-mile route, that variance can cause slight changes in distance. However, I generally find them very accurate. I train using GPS devices every day – often up to two workouts a day. And in most cases, they are pretty close to matching. Here’s an example I did on a run back a few weeks ago using both the Garmin 310XT and Garmin FR110 (one on each wrist). Pretty close after 10 miles of running – especially since I had a few seconds where one was stopped and the other wasn’t.
(As you can see above – after 10 miles, they were only off by .03 miles in total, and the longer one had four additional seconds, probably about .01-.02 miles right there – making them virtually identical)
Finally, even if you removed GPS and went to a footpod based system – that technology while very accurate, does have limitations with respect to stride changes and portability between shoes and people (re-calibration required).
A huge challenge amongst any fitness device is balancing battery life with functionality. The FR110 makes good strides in this area for the most part. My general test is actually rather simple: Does it feel like I’m always charging the thing? And the answer here is no.
See, the FR110 is designed to operate as a normal watch the majority of the time, which means it must be ‘lean’. The FR110 works to accomplish this in a few ways. First up, is the automatic power saving mode. After five minutes of inactivity (not in recording mode), it’ll quietly go back to regular time mode:
Second, is by using less memory to record less data streams, and doing it less often. The FR110 uses Smart Recording mode to save both battery life, as well as eventual storage/transfer space.
But what does the end resultant on battery life look like? Well, let’s start with Garmin’s published chart for the FR110:
In my experience, this has been fairly accurate. It’s hard to match tests 100% with battery life and sport devices, because there are so many factors involved – meaning, it’s not as easy as just leaving it on for a few weeks. But, in my case, it easily lasted a full length flight in recording mode from Washington DC to San Diego (about 6 hours including delays), with plenty left over to go back into normal watch mode. That’s pretty solid in my book.
Probably my favorite thing about the FR110 is that it just looks like a normal watch. This means that I can pretty much do anything with it and record standard GPS data. For example – say you take an airplane flight – you can record that data:
(You can see the speed listed above as 544 MPH on one flight) (Here’s a different flight up the coast shown in Garmin Connect)
See, because the FR110 via Garmin Connect can then be downloaded to a GPX file – which is the industry standard for exchanging GPS data points – you can do virtually anything you want, and the data is easily accessible.
The FR110 is designed to be simplistic and minimalistic – that means that accessories are currently kept to a minimum. Your current choice of accessories is simply two different heart rate strap versions (if you bought the FR110 without the heart rate strap).
The Classic Heart Rate Strap:
This is the old school classic heart rate strap that comes with (or is compatible with) virtually every Garmin fitness device out there. The battery lasts forever, and the device is simple to use and wear. You can pair it with any number of different Garmin devices as well.
Note that the FR110 (like all Garmin devices) is only compatible with ANT+ heart rate straps. So straps from non-ANT+ devices won’t work (like a Polar device).
Some folks don’t like the plastic feel of the strap, and opt instead for the premium soft fabric strap instead. But here’s a picture of the classic one on top, and the premium one on the bottom:
Introduced last summer in conjunction with the Garmin 310XT– the new Premium Soft Strap incorporates a soft fabric strap the entire way around – with only a tiny plastic piece in the front of the strap.
Personally, I love this strap and use it day to day for everything I do with all my devices. My girlfriend also uses it and loves it.
As of this today (early July 2010), the FR110 does not support the footpod. This means you can’t use the watch indoors to record distance on a treadmill (but heart rate will work just fine indoors).
However, what’s interesting is if you look at the display carefully, you’ll notice a little icon for the footpod – just like what they have on other watches to indicate the footpod is paired.
I asked the Garmin product team about this during a recent call and was told ‘They didn’t want to box themselves in and wanted to keep their options open’. I then pushed forward and asked if they were planning on adding ANT+ footpod support and was essentially given the silent smile (I describe the silent smile as essentially pleading the 5th…).
I’d be very surprised if we don’t see this enabled in an upcoming firmware update…
Also, the FR110 does not support any cycling power meters. Which, is pretty logical when you look at the market segment they are targeting (not cycling power users).
In this section I’ll walk through how the included software works, as well as a few other options for tracking your training.
The Forerunner 110 connects to your computer using an included USB charging/synchronization cable. This cable in turns makes the FR110 appear to your computer simply as a mass storage device – or basically, just like a USB thumb drive. This will be familiar for Edge 500 and Edge 705 users.
Quick note: This next section is more for geeks than regular users. As a regular user, you can just skip to the next section titled ‘Garmin Connect’.
Once plugged in, on a Windows PC it will look like this:
While on an Apple computer, it will look like this:
If you were to drill down into the the activities folder, you’ll see a list of files. One for each activity. These files are stored in Garmin’s .FIT file format, which is an encapsulated binary format designed to maximize file space.
Of course, a file unto itself isn’t terribly useful (especially because if you open it with Notepad, you’ll just see junk). The good news is that as a normal user, you’ll pretty much never look at these pieces. Instead, you’ll fully utilize Garmin Connect…
Garmin Connect is Garmin’s premier online site for managing all your activities from all your Garmin fitness devices. The site is fully free to users of Garmin devices, and also integrates with fitness devices such as the Tanita BC-1000 ANT+ scale.
Once you plug-in the Garmin FR110 and browse to Garmin Connect, you’ll be able to start uploading your activities directly from the device itself.
After a few moments it’ll collect any files which haven’t been uploaded yet.
From there you can select a given file to view details. In this case, I’ll select a simple run I did down in Florida. You can see that it shows the route of the run, as well as the high level summaries on the left hand side.
If I scroll down, I’m presented with detailed graphs for Pace, Elevation and Heart Rate.
In addition, it should be noted that the FR110 does track calories, based on your age and weight data entry when you first configured the watch. Also, it utilizes a fitness score (1-10) that’s based on how often you exercise to try and narrow down the calories a bit more.
I can also delve into the cool player functionality, which will automatically do an ‘instant replay’ of your run in high speed. Pretty cool to watch the different values (pace/heart rate/elevation) go up and down correspondingly:
In addition to being able to view individual activities, it also has a calendar for viewing your full activity schedule.
Like the FR110, Garmin Connect is ideally suited at those looking to get ‘the basics’ of their fitness data. It’s easy to use, and simple to manage your data.
Training Peaks is a popular online tool used by many athletes (amateur and professional) to store and analyze training data. I personally use Training Peaks daily as a method to upload and transmit my workouts to my coach, who then in turn analyzes them and provides feedback to me…all electronically. The service is fully web based, but has a piece of software that you can install on your desktop to assist in uploading training data to the web. This piece is called the Device Agent. Training Peaks offers both a free and paid version of the software, though the free version will cover virtually all of the features a user of the FR110 would likely use.
To upload works, you simply install and then open the Training Peaks Device Agent software:
From there, in the dropdown you’ll select the Forerunner 110 as the device type and then choose your activity file:
Once that’s completed it’ll upload the file to Training Peaks (TP) – where you can go online and check out your activity.
Like Garmin Connect, TP offers map views, as well as detailed analysis of your pace and splits.
Here’s the basic map view:
I can then drill into the different paces and splits for each run if I wanted to. One of my favorite features of Training Peaks is the ability to show ‘bests’ for different laps – such as best pace, like below:
Training Peaks also offers a host of other features, including tracking your daily metrics (weight, food, calories, you name it) as well as compatibility with a slew of other device. I use Training Peaks with my Edge 500 and Forerunner 310XT as well, as it offers in depth analysis that I desire for day to day tracking of my workouts.
Sport Tracks is my favorite downloadable application for managing your athletic activities (and also some 85,000 peoples favorite as well!). To start with, it’s free! And secondly, it’s got a ton of plug-ins that you can also grab for free doing all assortment of interesting things (see my huge post here on that).
The only challenge with Sport Tracks is it doesn’t natively support the newer Garmin .FIT files within Sport Tracks 2.0 (current version). An update to the next version coming out shortly (Sport Tracks 3.0) will support the .FIT files – but in the mean time you’ll have to do a two-step-tango and export the TCX file from Garmin Connect first. But I talked with the founder/lead developer of Sport Tracks tonight, and that’s just a few weeks away. Soon!
However, once you do that…the reward is significant!
In the Sport Tracks main console you’ll see all your activities that you’ve been doing. You can customize this a million different ways:
But we’ll go ahead and drill into a FR110 activity. Similar to both Garmin Connect and Training Peaks, ST allows you to view satellite maps as well as heart rate and pace information.
One feature though that only Sport Tracks has is the ability to reparse your laps in any distance you’d like…on the fly. Meaning, instead of having a ‘lap’ every 1 mile, you can see what it would look like if you created laps every quarter mile instead (or any distance you choose). This allows you to better analyze your workouts based on whichever distance you’d prefer. Think of this as variable lap splicing. Splits on demand!
You can grab Sport Tracks free from their site at Zone Five Software. Also check out the very active user forums if you have any questions.
I think any time you go to purchase a device – be it a TV or a fitness device – you need to evaluate what your needs are, and whether or not that product is the right fit for your needs. In the case of the Forerunner 110, the product is aimed at runners wanting to get into the ‘how far and how fast’ world of GPS fitness devices, all while doing so on a slim and ‘pretty’ form factor. To that end, the FR110 meets that goal quite well. There’s no doubt it’s easy to use, and looks nice. It also does a great job at recording data and uploading it to Garmin Connect. If I’m out for a run where I just want to simply run (and not worry about hitting exact intervals or heart rate zones) – then the FR110 is the perfect watch for that. A recent 10 mile run I did in New York’s Central Park is a great example of that.
For the other end of the spectrum, there are athletes and runners who want a different set of functionality from their devices. They (like me) are looking for complete customization of the device, and the ability to get more information out of a single device, as opposed to having multiple devices. In the case of the FR110, it doesn’t quite meet the goals of more advanced users of these fitness devices. Choosing a FR310XT or FR60 is probably your best bet. That’s not to say that Garmin couldn’t take it in that direction with either a software update, or the next generation of the product. It’s just that as the software sits today, they’ve taken the approach of keeping it extremely simple – by removing functionality found in their higher end and multisport devices. Make sense?
Pro’s & Con’s
If you’ve managed to survive to this point in the review (I applaud you!), or just simply skipped ahead – here’s the boiled down list of pro’s and con’s:
– Easy and simple to use device (you can’t screw it up!)
– Records data flawlessly, no issues with data loss or data drops
– Finally a GPS watch that looks ‘normal’
– Good battery life
– Very quick satellite acquisition with latest GPS chipset
– Simplified interface means loss of many common Garmin features
– No current support for ANT+ indoor footpod
– No workouts, courses, interval training, etc…
– Not waterproof (beyond simple rain)
– Doesn’t show current pace – only lap average
Hopefully you found this review useful! At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I use the device. Also, I took a lot of pictures over the course of writing this review – 374 of them to be exact. And I know that a lot of folks (like myself) like to see different angles of the product used in different ways. So instead of just leaving them on my hard drive forever, I’ve taken a fair chunk of them and put them up in this little gallery above for you to be able to browse through.
Found this review useful? Here’s how you can help support future reviews with just a single click! Read on…
Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.
I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers an exclusive 10% discount across the board on all products (except clearance items). You can pickup the FR110 below (with or without HR strap). Then receive 10% off of everything in your cart by adding code DCR10BTF at checkout. By doing so, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get a sweet discount. And, since this item is more than $75, you get free US shipping as well.
Additionally, you can also use Amazon to purchase the unit (all colors shown after clicking through to the left) or accessories (though, no discount). Or, anything else you pickup on Amazon helps support the site as well (socks, laundry detergent, cowbells). If you’re outside the US, I’ve got links to all of the major individual country Amazon stores on the sidebar towards the top. Though, Clever Training also ships there too and you get the 10% discount.
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.
Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible. And lastly, if you felt this review was useful – I always appreciate feedback in the comments below. Thanks!
Finally, I’ve written up a ton of helpful guides around using most of the major fitness devices, which you may find useful in getting started with the devices. These guides are all listed on this page here.
You probably stumbled upon here looking for a review of a sports gadget. If you’re trying to decide which unit to buy – check out my in-depth reviews section. Some reviews are over 60 pages long when printed out, with hundreds of photos! I aim to leave no stone unturned.
I travel a fair bit, both for work and for fun. Here’s a bunch of random trip reports and daily trip-logs that I’ve put together and posted. I’ve sorted it all by world geography, in an attempt to make it easy to figure out where I’ve been.
The most common question I receive outside of the “what’s the best GPS watch for me” variant, are photography-esq based. So in efforts to combat the amount of emails I need to sort through on a daily basis, I’ve complied this “My Photography Gear” post for your curious minds! It’s a nice break from the day to day sports-tech talk, and I hope you get something out of it!
Many readers stumble into my website in search of information on the latest and greatest sports tech products. But at the end of the day, you might just be wondering “What does Ray use when not testing new products?”. So here is the most up to date list of products I like and fit the bill for me and my training needs best! DC Rainmaker 2021 swim, bike, run, and general gear list. But wait, are you a female and feel like these things might not apply to you? If that’s the case (but certainly not saying my choices aren’t good for women), and you just want to see a different gear junkies “picks”, check out The Girl’s Gear Guide too.