Heads up – October 22nd, 2017! There’s currently a nice deal on the Garmin Vivoactive HRGPS watch (which is the mid-range watch that tracks running/cycling/indoor swimming), it’s $50 off and down to $199. You can find the deal at Clever Training (free shipping!) or Amazon.
For clarity, the Vivoactive HR was recently surpassed by the new Vivoactive 3, which adds some new features including contactless payments (NFC). If you don’t care about that type of stuff, then in most ways the Vivoactive HR is still a great option, and $100 cheaper than the Vivoactive 3 at this point.
The Garmin Forerunner 610 represents the next generation running watch from Garmin. The watch builds on many areas that the FR405 and FR410 carved out – including a slim profile and advanced workout features. But it also adds a number of heavily requested features, including some functions that had long been cut out of other Forerunner models. Even more, it’s the first Garmin touch screen running watch. But is a running watch the right place for a touch screen? And does this next version of the Forerunner meet the needs of the vast runner demographic? Well, stick around and I’ll explain.
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 – Garmin sent me the Forerunner 610 for a period of 45 days as a trial unit. Once that period has elapsed, I send the whole package 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 athlete out there. I write these reviews because I’m inherently a curious person with a technology background, 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.
So – with that intro, let’s get into things.
Once you’ve got the Forerunner 610 box in your posession it’ll be time to crack it open. Interestingly, Garmin has changed up their standard packaging with the FR610, opting for a black box instead of the more traditional blue-colored ones
From there we’ll go ahead and get all the pieces laid out on the table. The pieces are all individually wrapped in some plastic bags, so I’ll walk through them one by one after this.
After you’ve removed the plastic bags, here’s the end resultant:
Let’s get the less exciting pieces out of the way first (save the best for last, right?). For that, we’ll dive into the power block. This connects to the charging cable and allows you to charge the watch without a computer’s USB port. It’ll also charge any other USB gadget you happen to have. The US version comes only with the US power clip, so if you’re elsewhere in the world you’ll need additional power clips or a standard adapter.
Next we have the even less exciting manuals and CD’s. It’s largely just a pile of paper stuff that you’ll probably never read.
Then we’ve got the ANT+ USB stick. This is where it starts gettin’ good! This USB stick wirelessly communicates with the FR610 via ANT+ and downloads your workouts. It works quite some distance away (a few rooms away). We’ll talk about it more later on.
Then we have the latest edition of the premium soft strap heart rate strap. There are two versions of the FR610 – one comes with the heart rate strap, and one doesn’t. This is the strap you’ll get if you get the bundle with the HR strap. I’ll talk more about the strap options later on in significant detail.
Now…the good parts! First up – the charging cable. You’ll notice that it has changed from watches of the past. Instead of being the FR310XT/FR405/FR410 dual-prong style clip or the FR110/FR210 quad-prong clip, they’ve moved to a magnetic latch style system.
This new charging clip uses small internal magnets to secure itself against the back of the watch. In many ways it’s actually kinda like the Timex Global Trainer charging clip where it straddles both edges of the watch (except that one lacks the magnets).
I asked the Garmin team why exactly the change from the previous charging cables. They said that one of the issues they found with the previous clips is that while they worked for most folks, they found that if the charging cable/watch got accidentally moved then the charging could be disrupted – leaving folks without a charged watch at runtime. The new clip using the magnets ensures that even if it gets bumped, it will still hang on and charge the watch.
Outside of the charging clip, we’ve got the watch itself. The back is metallic (and magnetic), and the front is glass that’s slightly inset to (hopefully) prevent glass cracking issues like the FR310XT and the Nike+ Sportwatch have occasionally seen.
On the sides you have three physical buttons. The left hand side is the power/light button, that also doubles to trigger connection to the Tanita BC-1000 scale.
On the right you have your standard start/stop and lap/reset buttons.
Then you have two touch screen buttons that are near the edge of the screen. On the bottom of the watch where you see the three blue lines, this acts as a way to toggle the menu and home screen.
And to the left at the 9’oclock position you have what would be a blue arrow that essentially performs both confirmation and ‘back’ functions within the menu’s. On mine the button isn’t visible, but it’s still functional. It looks just like a little blue triangle on retail units.
Finally, the band itself is a slimmer black band, similar to that on the FR110/FR210 and much nicer than the older and thicker FR405/FR410. It’s also interchangeable with a fabric soft strap accessory that you can purchase.
The FR610 decreases the size from the FR405/FR410’s primarily through a thinner watch body and strap. It doesn’t appreciably change the actual watch diameter. Personally, I think this is fine. The FR610 manages to allow you to squeeze in four concurrent fields (compared to three with the FR405/FR410), all while maintaining roughly the same size. I think if you went any smaller you’d have to sacrifice either information or readability.
Comparing it to other Garmin units, you’ll see that the majority of modern Forerunner units have pretty much the same watch face size now. The one exception being the multisport focused FR310XT (orange one), which maintains a larger profile (and far more features).
Looking from left to right, the watches are the FR60, FR110 (FR210 is identical body), FR405 (FR410 is identical body), FR610 and finally the FR310XT.
The area you most notice the sizes is in thickness, where you can see the bulk of the FR405/FR410 and the FR310XT rising above:
In general though, you’ll see most of the watches have now stabilized in the size department.
The initial setup process has been further reduced with each new Garmin that’s been released. It used to be that there were about 10 Monty Python style questions it would ask you. Now it’s down to just a handful, mostly used to ensure you’re not stuck with a watch reading out a display in Ellinika. Cause that would just be Greek to me…
After you answer time format, gender and a few others, then you’ll be all set and ready to gather satellite reception. I found the FR610 incredibly quick when it came to reception – even faster than my FR310XT. The first time after turning it on it took maybe 20 seconds to find satellites. Then subsequent times upon turning it on were always less than 10 seconds. The FR610 uses Garmin’s Hotfix technology to remember where you were last time and thus be able to remember where the corresponding satellites were that it needs to talk to.
Once you’ve completed initial setup, the last item would be pairing any additional ANT+ sensors you might have. For example, depending on if you bought the FR610 package with the heart rate strap, you’d want to pair that piece. Additionally, if you bought a separate footpod for indoor treadmill use – you’d want to pair that too. And finally, if you have an ANT+ bike speed/cadence sensor – you guessed it, you’d want to pair that as well.
With that – we’re ready to get on outside!
Before we go for a run though, let’s talk about the biggest change to the watch – which is the new touch screen. The FR610 builds on technology used in the newly released Edge 800 cycling computer which now includes a touch screen display. These screens are unlike your typical phone touch screen though, and are designed to handle everything from rain to gloves. You may remember some of the videos I put together as part of the Edge 800 touch screen review (linked above). I decided to do some of those same tests to see how it fared. First up though, is a quick video to let you get the feel for the touch screen. As you can see, it works pretty well. Sure there’s a few times where either I or the touch screen made a mistake – but in general I didn’t have many issues.
Here’s the first video just showing some general use wandering in/around the various menus:
Garmin Forerunner 610 Touch Screen Demonstration
Of course, the most common question is how does it perform with gloves? Well, no problem – here’s three pairs of gloves. I would have done this in one take, but I simply lacked the ability to get one of the pairs of gloves off in a timely manner. No retakes here, just the way it is. The first pair of gloves you’ll see is a common $1.00 cheap glove that you’ll find at every running expo in the world. Also happens to be my go-to gloves virtually all fall and winter. Then I’ll transition into a stiffer glove that I primarily use for cycling. And finally…I go into the giant mitten. Yes, a mitten.
Garmin Forerunner 610 Touch Screen Glove Test
As you can see, I generally didn’t have any problems. Also keep in mind that once you start your run, there really isn’t too much of a reason to wander aimlessly through the menus. You’ll primarily just be swiping left/right to change already configured display pages.
Finally, last but not least is how water affects it. This evening during my run in the 84*F weather I got plenty soaked, much of that water ending up on the FR610. In general it didn’t affect use of the watch. However, I figure there’s no better test than simply taking it into the shower with direct water pressure and using the touch screen. So here ya go – with water cascading down onto the watch and actively using the touch screen without issue:
Using the Forerunner 610 in simulated ‘heavy rain’ conditions.
All in all I found the touch screen to generally work as expected. While one can certainly debate the merit of having a touch screen at all, I didn’t find it to detract from the watch. Previously I found the older touch bezel design of the FR405/FR410 to take away from the watch’s functionality. In the case of the FR610, it all seemed to flow pretty well.
With running being the main focus of the FR610, it’s time we got out and ran with it! After you turn it on you’ll either be at the menu screen or the main training screen, depending on how much touching you were doing while you were turning it on. Here’s what the main menu looks like:
One of the first things you’ll want to do is to pick out your data fields. For me personally, I use Heart Rate, Pace, Distance and Time.
With the FR610 you can have up to four different pages of data, each with up to four fields (or as few as one field). This is an increase from the previous 3 fields on the FR405/FR410.
As you run, the data is not only displayed, but also recorded for later analysis. Everything from pace to distance to heart rate to elevation, and even running cadence if you have a footpod, is recorded.
In addition to configuring data that you can glance at you can also configure the FR610 to simply beep/display/vibrate at you should you run afoul of your pre-determined goals. These are called ‘alerts’, and with the FR610 you can setup alerts for distance, heart rate, time, calories or cadence.
In addition to the alerts I just noted, they’ve added a new feature – which is the ‘Run/Walk’ alerts. What this enables you to do is to follow one of the many run racing plans that have you running for a set period of time (such as 10 minutes), and then walk for another set period of time (1 minute).
You can configure both the run and walk times from any number between 00:00 and 59:59. It’ll simply alternate back and forth and beep/vibrate/display a warning as you hit the run/walk intervals. Note that you cannot specify a distance, only a time.
On my long run tonight I actually used this feature to remind me to intake both nutrition/hydration but also to do some drills I had to do every 10 minutes. While a typical time alert would also work, this is better in that it reminded me essentially twice – once at the beginning of my nutrition period, and again by time I should be done. Pretty useful stuff, even if I’m not using it for its intended purpose.
Another commonly used feature of past Garmins is the Virtual Partner functionality. This feature allows you to set a specific pace (i.e. 8:30/mile) and then it’ll show you how far ahead/behind you are relative to that given pace. You can customize the speed/paces for both bike and run. It uses a little stick figure man to represent both you…and the pacer:
However, a new addition to the FR610 is the Virtual Racer functionality. This takes the simple pacer concept a step forward and allows you to race against your previous runs. For example, if you ran a specific 10K course last week in 45 minutes, it’ll have the little stick figure man run your 45 minute pace, while you try to just barely edge him out at 44:30. You can select any previous run from the list:
But it gets even better in that you can download any activity from Garmin Connect to the unit and race against that. For example – you want to head to the Boston Marathon and beat your friends exact time from last year? No problem, just download his workout from Garmin Connect onto your watch, and then attempt to best him as you virtually run ahead or (as it may be), behind him.
In addition to pacing you can download any workout you create from Garmin Training Center to the FR610 as well. This allows you to create some pretty complex workouts on the computer and then quickly transfer them to the watch to execute:
Once the ANT+ agent transfers them to your watch, you’ll be good to go!
Of course, if you don’t want the complexity of Garmin Training Center you can simply create basic interval workouts on the watch itself. You just define key pieces like work and rest intervals and you’ll be good to go.
Speaking of resting… If you run in the city quite a bit, you’ll probably end up using the Auto Pause feature. This functionality automatically pauses your run when you come to a stop – or fall below a given threshold speed. While you’ll want to be careful in using this functionality in a race (because the real clock doesn’t stop), it’s an easy way to keep from forgetting to start your watch again after that stoplight.
[Updated Section]: In addition to the watch monitoring your run it can also act as a guide when you’re lost. It does this through the navigation and saved locations area. It does not unfortunately however have standard Garmin Courses functionality. This functionality allowed you to download breadcrumb style routes to the watch to follow along.
The functionality is slightly different on the FR610 compared to previous Garmin watches. Instead of offering a straight course following option it offers that functionality within the confines of the Virtual Racer component. Meaning, there is no separate courses functionality like most Garmin watches. While you can download courses from Garmin Connect and other sources, you cannot follow them with the little compass/breadcrumb. You can however still choose to track back to start – allowing you to navigate back to the start of an activity.
Navigation itself is from current location directly to a saved location. Saved locations must be entered in on the watch itself. Once you’ve chosen a previously saved location (or create a new one on the watch with lat/long), then you’ll be available to follow along with the compass on the unit. It’s not quite like a car GPS, but rather more boy-scout-esque. But it gets the job done.
Lastly, you can go ahead and create waypoints for specific locations – such as common places like ‘Home’ or ‘Where I parked my car’. That way if all else fails on a run gone wrong, you can simply tell the Garmin to get ya back home.
One final newly added area I want to cover is the re-introduction of 1-second recording mode. Back in the FR305 days you as a user had the option to either record activity data using Smart Recording mode, or 1-second recording mode. In Smart Recording mode it would attempt to reduce the recording storage needed and take samples every 3-6 seconds (on average). Whereas in 1-second recording mode (known as 1s), it simply recorded data points every second.
After the FR305, that option went away. 1s mode was only available if you connected an ANT+ cycling power meter. This lead to a lot of problems for folks that were only recording heart rate data and ended up with files that often had very few actual data points in it due to Smart Recording removing many of those data points.
Well, I’m happy to tell you the option is now back!
Yup, you can now turn on 1s recording mode for the watch as a whole and all activities will be recorded at the 1-second interval. If you open up the raw files, you can see the 1-second recording is indeed now in effect:
Hopefully we’ll see this ported back to other Garmin units via a firmware update, I know both myself and many others would love to see that.
The FR610 includes a high contrast backlight that is easily readable. You can change how long you’d like the backlight to display once tapping the power/light button:
I prefer the backlight setting of ‘Stays on’, as typically if I’m running at night I just want it to be on when I glance down. As you can see below, it’s plenty bright:
Heart Rate Training and Calories:
One of the most popular areas aside from using the GPS functionality is the ability to record one’s heart rate while exercising. The FR610 uses an ANT+ enabled heart rate strap that wirelessly transmits your heart rate to the watch itself. Depending on whether you buy the FR610 bundle with the strap or without you’ll have the ability to do that automatically. Here’s what the strap looks like:
Once you’ve got the strap on, you’ll want to go ahead and pair it. It only takes a second for it to find your strap. After pairing it’ll remember your specific strap forever, and won’t pickup other people’s straps – so you don’t have to worry about interference:
While exercising you can setup either heart rate alerts or heart rate zones if you so choose. You can also display your heart rate in a variety of ways, from instant display to averages or zones. Or you can simply record the data for later evaluation. This data is then transmitted to Garmin Connect as part of your activity file:
By knowing your heart rate, the FR610 can determine your calorie burn by utilizing 2nd generation Firstbeat technology. Firstbeat is a method to evaluate your heart rate and determine caloric burn based on known parameters about you including age, weight, height and fitness level. With this information it can estimate calorie burn for your activity.
This is then shown on the display of the watch (and an alert can be setup when you reach a given level), and is also transmitted to Garmin Connect for record keeping purposes:
The FR610 includes a screen lock that you can unlock simply by swiping after you tap the screen. Essentially it works just like an iPhone/iPod would. The screen lock is activated when the watch goes into power save mode. You cannot however activate it yourself.
But unlike the iPhone it includes a cute little animation that shows a runner ‘evolving’ from crawling to runner, and eventually to collapsing again. Nice touch!
Using the watch…as a day to day watch:
The FR610 can be used as a day to day watch as well, and given its size – it fits quite nicely. I personally found the previous generation FR405/FR410’s too bulky for that. But this one has been holding down the camp on my wrist constantly now. In normal time mode it simply displays the date and time:
You can also create an alarm, should you have a reason you want to wake up (not sure why you’d want to interrupt your sleep though…):
To be clear upfront, this watch is primarily designed for the running crowd. But Garmin added in a number of features to make the cycling piece work just fine if you happen to swing both ways. One of the biggest changes you’ll notice over past Forerunner watches is that virtually every menu setting has a separate area for both cycling and running. Meaning they no longer have to share many of the same settings. You can see this below as an example in one area where you set training pages for both bike and run separately:
In addition to all of the running features noted above, the FR610 also includes support for ANT+ speed/cadence sensors that allow you to gather speed information while indoors on a trainer (or outside if you’d like), as well as cadence information about how many times the crank arm rotates per minute (RPM).
This of course requires an additional accessory, the roughly $35 GSC-10 (or any ANT+ compatible speed/cadence combo sensor). The sensor looks like this:
I’ll talk more about the sensor in a bit.
In addition to displaying speed/cadence sensor data, you can configure an entirely different set of data page views for just the bike. This is pretty cool as it allows you to quickly swap back and forth without re-inventing the wheel data-field wise. For example, while I’m riding I may be interested in both speed and cadence on one page, but more than two metrics on another. You can mix and match just like you can on the running side.
Of course there comes the question of where exactly to place the unit. Some folks prefer the simplicity of their wrist, but personally I like to have it mounted on the bike itself – mostly because that way I don’t have to constantly turn my wrist to see the data.
In that case Garmin sells a cheap little rubber mount kit that wraps around your bikes handlebars. This works well whether it’s a road bike, mountain bike, or even a beach cruiser. You can see the rubber mount kit here:
And here I’ve got it wrapped around the bars:
And finally, with the watch placed on the mount – just like you’d place it on your wrist:
Note that because you have to wrap it around the rubber mount just like your wrist, it’s not super conducive to quick removal in places like a triathlon – so that’s something you might want to keep in mind.
Speaking of triathlons – if you happen to have a triathlon bike, you can still use the same rubber mount, except you may have to get creative about where you mount it. For that there’s a few companies that make small arms that you can move watches onto. FSA and UCM are companies that come to mind. I quickly grabbed a slightly larger version of that mount, so it didn’t quite fit in between my aerobars (long about 2mm), so for the purposes of this photo I have it mounted to the side. But it gives you an idea on the options there:
As you can see, you’ve got a few options on a time trial bike. In an ideal world Garmin would have created a quick release attachment kit for it that locks into the existing FR310XT and Edge 500/800 mounting systems…but, ya can’t win em’ all.
Side Note: Multisport mode/options:
Just as an ancillary note to the triathlon/cycling pieces above, it should be noted that the FR610 does not have a multisport mode like the FR305 and FR310XT do. This means that you can’t do a swim-bike-run recorded event on a single file (including or excluding transitions). Now they have improved this slightly over the alternative of ‘nothing’ by allowing you to quickly swap between running and cycling mode merely by holding the lap/reset button down to display a change sport dialog box:
Despite the very protective looking metallic design, the Garmin Forerunner 610 is actually only waterproofed to IPX7 standards. This means that it can be submerged in up to 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes. It also means that it’s not designed for active swimming on your wrist with constant pounding against the water. The Garmin manual on page 39 warns against explicitly this task:
I’ve previously killed IPX7 Garmin Forerunner watches due to wearing them on my wrist during an indoor swim (in less than 20 minutes). If you’re looking for a fully waterproofed solution you’ll want to aim towards the FR310XT instead, which offers complete waterproofing down to 50 meters.
Now, just because it’s IPX7 doesn’t mean it can’t go out and play in the rain. In fact, it’s more than fine in both the rain and casual water submersion (as you saw earlier with the shower video). For example, I plunked it down in my bathtub for just under 10 minutes – and it came out just fine and dandy:
If you’re looking to use the watch in a triathlon to measure the swim, you should leverage the swim cap method in order to gather accurate distance without killing the watch in the process. Also, for more fun with IPX7 bathtub immersion of expensive gadgets, see this post.
Tanita Weight Scale Compatibility:
Like most of the modern Forerunner and Edge devices that Garmin has created lately, the FR610 supports ANT+ enabled scales. At the moment, the only entrant into that category is the Tanita BC-1000 scale. This scale measures your weight, body fat and hydration levels and then wirelessly transmits it to the waiting Garmin FR610.
To trigger the two devices you simply hold the power button on the FR610 for a brief moment and it’ll go out and search for its ANT+ enabled scale friend. Once it’s found the scale the BC-1000 will begin blinking, indicating its ready for you to step on.
Within about 5-7 seconds the scale completes the reading and transmits it back to the watch, where it appears on the screen:
In addition to appearing on the FR610 screen, it then transmits that data to Garmin Connect the next time you upload data from your watch. Once you’ve logged into Garmin Connect online, you’ll see your metrics within the health section:
The two products together offer a fairly seamless way of gathering the data and tracking it within Garmin Connect.
Accuracy and Satellite Chip:
While I intend to put together a full accuracy report in the coming 4-6 weeks of all the new GPS fitness watch models out there (similar to before with precisely measured routes and varied conditions), I will say that I’ve seen no issues with satellite reception or accuracy on the FR610. I’ve run on trails with fairly wooded tree areas on winding paths and it never dropped reception or produce weird paths showing loss of accuracy.
The satellite chip itself is the the SiRF SiRFstarIV with the Instant Fix II technology, which makes the satellite acquisition process even faster than previous generations. As I noted earlier, I’m finding that I can get satellite reception after turning on in less than 10 seconds in some cases. Incredibly quick.
Fitness Equipment (Gym) Compatibility:
While I don’t have a piece of gym equipment in my place that is ANT+ compatible, I have shown off this capability a bit in the past in previous posts. What this functionality allows you to do is to link-up with ANT+ enabled gym equipment (typically Spin bikes and treadmills) and have it automatically and wirelessly transmit your performance data to the watch.
For example, on a spin bike it would transmit speed/cadence and even power (watts) – depending on the model. Note that it will record power, but won’t display it on the watch itself. I demo’d a bit of this at Interbike this past year with the FR60 – one of the few watches that supports this functionality.
While the number of gyms that have this equipment is incredibly small, it is pretty cool if you happen to stumble on it. Here’s more information from my overview this past fall. Additionally, I spent some time at a local Gym using the FR610 to play with equipment there. For more information, see that post.
There are a number of accessories that can be purchased with the FR610 to extend its functionality. Here’s a brief overview of all the options:
The footpod allows you to gather pace, distance and cadence data while both indoors or outdoors. For example, if you’re running on a treadmill this would be required as GPS won’t show you moving. Outdoors it’s useful if your route takes you through a tunnel where you’d lose GPS reception.
The foot pod easily snaps right onto your shoelaces in a matter of a few seconds. After which you’ll want to calibrate it on a track to ensure the highest level of accuracy. I’ve found however that after correctly calibrating the footpod, I can actually get both GPS and footpod data to align exactly. Pretty impressive.
If you plan to hook up the Garmin FR610 to your bike, you’re going to want to pickup the speed/cadence sensor kit to get speed, distance cadence while indoors on a trainer (and cadence outdoors). The good news here is that these kits are relatively inexpensive (compared to the foot pod anyway), and they’re also fully compatible with every other Garmin fitness devices.
This means that if you already have one for a different Garmin device – you’re good to go. And if you get one now, and eventually upgrade your Garmin watch, then you’re still good to go. The speed/cadence kit can be picked up for about $35.
Heart Rate Strap:
Garmin introduced a slightly new heart rate strap with the Edge 800 – and that same strap has been carried through to the FR210, FR410 and now the FR610. This new strap aims to reduce many of the spiking/dropout problems of some of the previous straps. And based on my testing over the past 6 months – it does a pretty good job of this. It’s reduced those problems for me by about 95%. There’s still an occasional spike – but mostly they’re gone.
This new strap looks like this:
However, be aware – there are still two older (more common) types out there, which compared, look like this:
One non-Garmin accessory that integrates with the FR610 is the Tanita BC-1000 Wireless ANT+ Weight Scale. This scale uses the ANT+ protocol to communicate with the FR610, allowing it to wirelessly record your weight and body fat readings, which are then transmitted to Garmin Connect.
The FR610 includes software that helps you analyze your activity after you’ve completed it. Initially you’ll need to pair your FR610 with your computer using the ANT+ USB stick that’s included in the box.
The pairing process only takes a second though and simply requires you to confirm the pairing on both the computer (PC or Mac) and the watch:
Once that’s done it’ll automatically synchronize your workouts to your computer and to Garmin Connect (though you can disable the Garmin Connect piece if you choose).
Additionally, this same avenue is used for firmware updates – which occur usually a few times per year for most Garmin watches. This allows them to deliver both bug fixes and feature enhancements.
Once you’ve synchronized your watch, the data will be available on Garmin Connect to analyze:
Garmin Connect (free):
Garmin Connect is Garmin’s free web-based portal that allows you to manage and track all of your Garmin activity data. Whether that be a run, a bike ride…or even flying in a plane. If a Garmin created it – then you can pretty much see it on Garmin Connect. Once your activity is uploaded, it’ll be available for detailed analysis here:
From here you can then scroll down and drill into many different metrics such as pace, heart rate, elevation and cadence:
In addition to the overview of each activity you can replay the activity, as if it were a short video:
The site also includes a larger calendar view that you can use to track your activities over time. From here you can also switch to list view, if you just want a simple list of all your activities.
Garmin Connect has a number of other easy to use features such as setting up goals, tracking health information (as you saw in the Tanita Scale section earlier) and creating reports. Perhaps the most useful aspect of Garmin Connect is the millions of activity files up there that you can search – allowing you to find routes anywhere in the world that you’ve travelled. That’s how on a recent trip to the country of Jordan I found a workable cycling route…just by searching Garmin Connect.
In general Garmin Connect is targeted towards more casual users, whereas some of the next products I discuss are focused towards those wanting more analysis capabilities.
Training Peaks (3rd Party):
Training Peaks is one of the largest 3rd party software options. They have two versions, one is free and one is subscription based. Regardless of whether you pay, the entirety of Training Peaks is a website (except the device agent software you can install to upload files). I use Training Peaks as my primary method of tracking my training efforts. The major reason for TP over Garmin Connect is the advanced analytics. Additionally, it provides a completely seamless conduit between myself and my coach – something that my other software favorite (Sport Tracks) can’t do.
While at the time of this writing Training Peaks doesn’t officially support the FR610 yet, it still works just fine. I was able to simply select the watch from the right-side dropdown and it automatically grabbed the .TCX file to upload to Training Peaks (the FR610 creates both a .TCX and .FIT files, for backwards compatibility with older applications).
From there I was able to log-in and see my run without any issues at all:
If you’re looking for very advanced analytics in a web based form, there’s really no other option out there today that has as many features as TP and is completely web based.
Another non-Garmin option is SportTracks. SportTracks is a Windows only client application that allows you incredibly in depth analysis of your workouts. Perhaps one of the biggest strengths though of SportTracks is the ability to allow community developers to extend the application with plug-ins. As a result, there’s a ton of totally cool functionality that’s been added over the years (some for a fee). SportTracks as an application has a free-mode with some limitations, and a paid mode for $35.
Because the FR610 exports out both .TCX and .FIT files, SportTracks has no problem consuming these files today:
Once imported, the files act just like any other activity within SportTracks – allowing you to slice and dice the data as you see fit:
If you’ve got a Windows based PC, I definitely encourage you to check it out (free or otherwise).
The FR610 represents an update to the previous generation running focused FR405 and FR410 – but omits the troublesome touch bezel that both of those watches had. The primary selling point of this series of device is the slim ‘watch-like’ design – effectively reducing the wrist footprint of the larger (and slightly more capable) FR305 and FR310XT. With the FR610 maintaining that smaller form factor and moving to a much cleaner touch screen interface – it makes for a very compelling running watch.
When comparing the FR610 though to other running focused watches like the FR110 and FR210 though, you see a dramatic difference in features and functionality. The FR110 and FR210 watches are designed for folks that want a simplified GPS-based running experience that essentially just tells you how far, how fast, how long. Whereas the FR610 aims to offer advanced features like workouts, intervals and heavily customizable data fields.
To me perhaps one of the biggest (yet least noted) features is the re-inclusion of 1-second recording mode. This has been a huge pain point for many Garmin users since it was removed after the FR305 back some years ago now. I love the fact that they’ve listened and re-introduced this – and hope to see it return in the firmware for other watches.
So looking at who I’d recommend this watch for, you’ve got a few different categories:
1) The Triathlete: While the FR610 is certainly a great watch for the run leg, and a ‘good’ unit for the bike leg, I’d strongly recommend looking instead at the multisport FR310XT. Yes, it’s a bit bulkier – but when it comes to the water (that’d be the first leg of the triathlon), there’s really only one option today in the Garmin lineup that’s completely waterproofed. I know a lot of folks (including myself) were expecting this to be the FR310XT replacement, which it’s definitely not. I don’t have a timeline for that unfortunately – but I’d be very surprised if we had to wait until next year – given the competition. Given that tri season is upon us though – I’d just recommend picking up the FR310XT and not looking back.
[October 2011 update: The FR910XT was introduced as the new best of breed tri watch.]
2) The Casual Runner: The casual runner will be happy with either the FR610 (this watch), or the cheaper FR210. In general the FR210 is probably a better entry level watch – but both devices are simplified enough where you’d be comfortable either way.
3) The Advanced Runner: The FR610 is really aimed at this market. If you were previously considering the FR405 or FR410 – just ignore those two now and go with the FR610 – you’ll be quite happy.
4) The Cyclist: You want the Edge series of devices, check out the Edge 500 – it’s the best bet here. If you want a crossover device, than go with the FR310XT. While the FR610 does have cycling functions – it’s twice the price of the Edge 500. Compared to the FR310XT, it’s the same price. The FR310XT has more cycling functions than the FR610.
A) One bundle for $349 will include the watch, USB ANT+ stick, charging cable and the exciting manuals.
B) The other bundle for $399 will include the watch and the ANT+ soft premium heart rate strap, along with all the other goodies that come with the cheaper version.
Given the $50 price differential, if you plan to buy the HR strap at any point – it’s best to save the $5 and pick it up ahead of time. If cash is short though, you can always buy any ANT+ HR strap later on (including the new 2010 premium edition one – just see accessories above).
As for availability, the watch will be available in ‘very limited quantities’ at both the London and Boston Marathon expo’s this weekend. Beyond that it won’t be until May 6th that it’s widely available.
Over time this comparison chart has slowly grown. Your best bet is to simply click it and view it in all its full screen glory. The goal here being to compare the most popular GPS based running watches that I’ve reviewed thus far.
Note: I’ve also gone ahead and uploaded the manual in PDF form, until Garmin is able to add it to their site. You can download it here.
Pro’s and Con’s:
Finally, no review would be complete without the infamous pro’s and con’s section:
– A GPS watch…that looks like a regular watch
– Adds 1-second recording option for all workouts
– Adds Run/Walk reminder feature (which can be used for all sorts of other things, like nutrition)
– Adds Virtual Racer feature, ability to race past performances/others
– Accurately tracks distance, heart rate, pace and a ton of other metrics
– Ability to change data fields at any time by simply pressing and holding data field
– Touchscreen works as advertised – no issues
– Connects to ANT+ foot pods and speed/cadence sensors for indoor workouts
– Connects to ANT+ weight scales and gym equipment
– Works as a normal watch (time/date/alarms) when not being used for fitness
– Wirelessly downloads workouts via ANT+ to computer
– Battery life is still limited at 8 hours
– Doesn’t support ANT+ power meters (cycling)
– Not fully waterproofed for swimming
– Lack of standard ‘course’ download and follow/review option
– Changed charging connector (some might see this as benefit, but I’m not convinced)
As always, thanks for reading, I appreciate it. If you have any questions – feel free to post them below, I try to answer as often as possible. Thanks!
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 Garmin FR610 either with or without HR strap (and accessories). 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 or accessories (though, no discount on either from Amazon). 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 most places 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.
Clever Training Link (Save 10% with DCR10BTF)
Clever Training Europe (Save 10% with DCR10BTF)
B&H Photo Link
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated June 18th, 2016 @ 5:09 am
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. 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!