In keeping with the popular trend of adding activity monitoring to devices, back in April Garmin announced their latest running watch – the Forerunner 15 (FR15). This would take their popular FR10 budget-focused GPS running watch and then combine it with the Vivofit activity monitor. Effectively the FR10 and the Vivofit had a baby, and that baby was called the FR15.
I’ve been testing it for the past month on all assortment of runs, rides, and just a lot of walking around – getting to understand how it all works. And now, I’m ready to give you the low-down.
To be clear, Garmin sent me over a FR15 to start testing with until retail availability. Like always, I’ll be shipping that back to them in Olathe, KS, in the next few days and going out and getting my own via regular retail channels. That’s just the way I roll.
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.
The FR15 comes in a bunch of colorful flavors and then two sizes and once further, two packaging contents. But essentially everything boils down to one thing: With or without the heart rate strap.
So, for the purposes of this unboxing the unit has the heart rate strap. If you buy it without the strap, then you’ll simply lack the strap in your box. The unit itself is identical, so if you add a heart rate strap later (or, if you already have an ANT+ strap), then it’s all still good.
After removing the plastic you’ll basically find four things: The Garmin FR15 watch, the USB charging cable, a pile of paper stuffs, and then the heart rate strap.
The heart rate strap (if you bought that package) is Garmin’s classic plastic strap, officially the HRM1. It’s been around the block for some time, but generally works just fine.
Next you’ve got the USB charger. This is how you’ll download your workouts as well as charge the unit. You can plug it into any USB port you’ll find on the planet (USB ports ‘request’ the power they need, so there’s no problems as long as it fits in the hole).
Then you’ve got the paper manuals. After you finish this post you won’t need them.
And last but not least there’s the watch itself.
And here’s the back of things along with the strap.
Now that it’s unboxed, let’s talk about size.
Size & Weight Comparisons:
When it comes to size, the FR15 is actually offered in two sizes: Small and Large. Unofficially it’s Men’s and Women’s, whereby the colors roughly align to what either gender might be most comfortable wearing.
In my case, I was sent a blue ‘large’ FR15 to try out. The good news is that the FR10 and FR15 share the same outer shell (both sizes), so while I didn’t have the smaller sized FR15 with me, I am able to show you exactly how big it is, since the FR10 is exactly the same as the FR15 (small FR10 = Small FR15, and large FR10 = large FR15). Make sense? Good.
Above you’ll see how it compares to other budget and mid-range running watches. From left to right: TomTom Runner/Multisport, Suunto Ambit2 R, Timex Run Trainer 2.0, Garmin FR220, Garmin FR15/10 (Large), Garmin FR15/10 (Small), Garmin FR70.
And here’s the thickness:
Looking at just the small and large variants of the watch, you’ll see the screen is shrunk slightly, as well as the outer shell:
The depth however does not change at all:
Looking at weights, I was curious if the FR15 added any more weight than the FR10. Turns out, it’s exactly the same:
The smaller size is a fair bit lighter however:
Overall the FR15 in the small size is pretty much the smallest (dimension-wise) GPS running watch on the market.
As noted earlier, the FR15 comes in a variety of flavors. These are basically two camps – large and small. Ostensibly the smaller colors are more womanly, and the larger colors more manly. But there are no hard rules and even the most manly of men can rock the purple.
To understand the size differences, here’s the two FR15 sizes right next to each other. Again, functionality wise both are identical.
First, here’s the two larger colors, red and blue:
Next, we’ve got the three smaller colors: Purple, teal, and olive (green).
And again, all five colors here:
Ok, fashion show over. Onto using the little thing.
Before we dive into the running side, a brief note on battery life. The FR15 got a bit of a battery upgrade from the FR10. The older watch used to only get 4-5 hours in active GPS mode, which often wasn’t enough to finish a marathon for many in the target audience of the watch. The FR15 now however gets 8 hours of active GPS time. In non-GPS mode it’ll get up to 5 weeks for activity tracker/standby/watch mode. Obviously, if you use it 4 hours a week in exercise, then you’ll cut down the overall battery life to about two weeks. The battery icon is displayed at all times on the left side of the watch as seen above.
Now that we’re outside and ready to run things are pretty simple. You’ll go ahead and tap the blue button (upper right corner) to start GPS search. This will also initiate the unit looking for the previously paired heart rate strap and footpod. In the event it can’t find its past friend, it’ll get all promiscuous and find a new partner to hookup with.
While it’s doing that it’ll be looking for GPS signal. Now the FR15 isn’t quite as smart with caching as some of the newer GPS devices – likely because it’s built on the same GPS chipset as the FR10. So you won’t usually get 1-2 second load times. Instead, it’ll generally be in the 10-30 second range.
Here’s a short video showing this from my run last night:
Just for random comparison – I also shot two other videos right before/after this one with two other watches, the FR620 and the Polar V800, simply for comparison.
Once you’ve got GPS signal you’re ready to roll. Simply press the blue button again to start the recording/activity. From here it’ll switch into one of your two display pages.
The FR15 mirrors the FR10 when it comes to display pages. A display page is simply a screen that shows you some run metrics, such as pace, speed, distance, time, calories, etc…
The FR15 follows a bit of the Panera Bread “Pick Two” model. Meaning, you can pick two paired metrics for a screen, and you’ve got two screens to work with.
Note, for the pace/speed metric you can choose whether to display “Average Pace/Speed”, “Current-Instant Pace/Speed” or “Lap Pace/Speed”. It’s a bit of a global setting though, so you can’t mix and match and have one page be average pace and the other page be instant pace.
In addition, you also get one further page (for a total of three) that’s dedicated to showing your heart rate (top) and heart rate zone (bottom):
And lastly, you get the usual time/date page shown during the run (time of day).
Those pages will all update continuously during the run. As is common in most watches you can also create laps. Laps are often used to mark chunks of a workout (such as warm-up and cool-down), as well as used to split-up mile/kilometer markers.
The FR15 allows you to enable autolap for every 1-mile or every 1-kilometer (no alternative configuration). Alternatively, you can simply enable the manual lap-key which turns the lower left key into the lap button:
These laps will then appear in your Garmin Connect activity file afterwards:
The FR15 has a few options to help you pace during a race or training (aside from just looking at the pace). The first is the ability to configure walk/run alerts. This is very popular in certain marathon training programs where you run a set period of time (i.e. 10 minutes), and then you walk a preset period of time (i.e. 1 minute).
These alerts on the FR15 are time-based only and allow you to first specify a run-time (minutes & seconds):
Then, you’ll specify a walk-time (minutes & seconds):
During the activity, the unit will simply alert you automatically every time you hit the threshold for walking or running.
Next you’ve got Virtual Pacer. Virtual Pacer simply tells the unit that you want to set/keep a known pace – such as 7:30/mile.
As part of this it’ll actually add a new data page for you.
It’ll then alert you when you stray too far from that:
Note that this is different than Virtual Partner found on some of the higher end Garmin units. In Virtual Partner it’ll also tell you how far ahead/behind a given pace goal you are. Whereas Virtual Pacer doesn’t really have any memory – it’s simply a moment in time thing.
In my testing I’ve found that the Virtual Pacer piece gives you about 10-20 seconds of being off-pace before it alarms, assuming you stray more than about 5-10 sec/mile off pace.
Next we’ve got heart rate alerts. These alerts are tied to either a specific heart rate zone (i.e. Zone 2), or tied to a specific range (i.e. 139-149bpm). You can select what it is that you want to tie them to:
You can also configure only a high-alert, or only a low-alert. It’s actually more flexible than I would have expected.
Then, while running (with a heart rate strap), the unit will automatically chirp at you if you stray above/below that zone. Remember that you generally want to set a reasonable range for a heart rate zone, because your HR will usually fluctuate a little bit with terrain. For example, most people have no less than 3-5BPM per HR zone, with most zone’s ranges being about 5-10BPM.
Last but not least the unit supports Auto Pause. This means that if you do a lot of city running you can configure it to automatically pause the unit when you slow down for a stoplight.
Next when I look at GPS accuracy I’ve seen no issues with the unit after the last 3-4 weeks. It’s consistently in the same ballpark as every other GPS device I’m using. Here’s a few random end of run photos:
When we look at instant-pace, it’s also very solid. In fact, it follows the same fairly smoothed instant-pace that we saw with the FR10 that so many people have come to like (as it reduces GPS jumpiness). To demonstrate that I’ve included two videos below.
The first is what it looks like starting from a standstill at the beginning of an interval set I was doing. It shows me picking up speed and leveling off pretty quickly after I make a turn off the slightly downhill bridge:
And the second video shows me coming to a stop from steady-state running and how quickly it reacts:
Finally, if you’d like to look at the GPS tracks, here’s some from last night comparing the three units I had with me. All ended up with a final distance within .03 miles. For those unfamiliar with GPS accuracy – that’s pretty darn good actually, especially for a city route with numerous underpasses/bridges and tall buildings.
When it comes time to pause or stop the workout you’ll use the same blue button again to do so. If you need to pause for a bathroom break/etc, you can simply scroll down to resume to start right back up again and keep the same activity.
Or, you can press ‘Save’ to go ahead and save the activity so that it’ll upload later to Garmin connect. It’s here that it’ll show you a small history of the run:
The unit tracks a handful of common PR’s (Personal Records) for common running distances from 1-mile up to a full marathon. If you break one of these records during a run you’ll get notified:
Now, one thing I really like is that you can revert back to a previous record in the event that the record you just set isn’t valid. For example, when I was driving one day the watch accidentally got bumped on. In doing so, it recorded new PR’s for all my categories. As much as I’d like to throw down some of these times, it skews things quite a bit.
But the unit includes the option to both clear a PR, as well as to revert to the previous PR. Very nicely done:
Speaking of which, the unit stores about 5-7 of your most recent runs (full history), which you can view in the History menu. It’ll automatically delete/overwrite older runs.
Once you plug your unit in via USB to your computer, that data will be sent up to Garmin Connect for you to look at online. But I’ll dive into that a few sections from now – so hang tight there!
Treadmills & The Footpod:
The FR15 builds on top of the FR10 by adding in support for treadmills via a footpod. The FR10 didn’t support any ANT+ devices, nor the footpod, thus you weren’t able to get pace or distance indoors on a treadmill.
With the addition of the footpod you can now get that on your watch, as well as get cadence information recorded too.
To pair the footpod to the FR15 you’ll simply put the footpod near the unit when you turn it on to search for GPS:
After that, it’s paired. The FR15 will automatically calibrate the footpod via GPS. In talking with Garmin, they recommend you run no less than about 300m to ensure proper calibration – but it’s better to run a bit more (all outdoors with good GPS coverage). It’s usually best for GPS based calibration to try and choose a relatively straight route, simply so you aren’t making a ton of turns and impacting the accuracy.
Note that footpod accuracy is impacted by placement. So if you happen to move it around on your shoe (or change shoes) you’ll want to go out for another run to ensure it’s calibrated. The FR15 is “continuously calibrating” the footpod while running outside, according to my discussions with Garmin.
When it comes to cadence, the FR15 will record cadence from the footpod (both indoors and outside). It will not however display that cadence as a data field on the watch itself. Instead, that’s only visible on Garmin Connect (or any other compatible 3rd party site) afterwards, like below:
Note that I think the addition of the footpod support is pretty cool. But I’m also a little bit suspect here. That’s because I’d expect that the accelerometer within the FR15 could likely record pace/distance on a treadmill with reasonable accuracy (like the FR220/FR620 does) without needing a separate footpod. I suspect this is likely simply an upsell maneuver, but it’s a little bit odd given that Garmin has discussed adding calibration support to the Vivofit for running. Thus meaning that a cheaper product would actually work better indoors than the more expensive product. Albeit, the Vivofit lacks any of the pace displays.
When it comes to indoor activities with the GPS off, the Garmin FR15 will still give you calorie burn data as long as you have a heart rate strap connected.
This means that if you’re doing a weight machine workout, or on a spin bike, or just doing the sideways shuffle with your BFF (and your HR strap is still on), it’ll still capture calorie data.
The below was from a super-easy spin on a bike, the high end Garmin Edge 810 with a power meter measured just slightly higher calories, but still in range of being the difference of a gummy bear or two.
When it comes to which of the many different calorie burn methods that Garmin uses on their different devices, the FR15 will basically match that of the Vivofit. Which means they use their own internal algorithm rather than the FirstBeat algorithm that’s licensed for some of the higher-end devices.
In my testing, I’m finding that the two algorithms are generally in the same ballpark – within about 10-15% of one another. However, there will likely be cases on an individual basis where sometimes it’s closer and sometimes it’s further.
Ultimately, when it comes to calories no device on the market is ‘perfect’. Not Garmin, not Polar, not Suunto, nor Nike. It’s really an estimate. And there are a slew of companies that all claim to have the best engineers or the best physiologists on staff and that their respective algorithms are the best in the world.
And you know what? For the most part, the different algorithms from different companies usually end up being roughly the same. One company might weight one specific condition differently than another, but ultimately I find time and time again that it’s all a wash. Focus on the big picture things, and not trying to have the calories within exactly single-digit (or even the tens).
The FR15 does not have a cycling mode, however, you can change the display to show your current activity in speed terms of either MPH or KPH. To do this you’ll go into the data fields option and change to ‘Speed’ instead of ‘Pace’:
Once in this mode you’ll see speed in values such as 15MPH or 20KPH.
When using a bike, you can wear it on your wrist, or you can go ahead and put it on a bike mount. Garmin makes a simple one for about $9 that works fairly well (for any watch really, Garmin or otherwise):
When you complete the activity do note that it’ll show up in Garmin Connect as a ‘Run’, and not a ‘Bike’ ride. It’s an easy change though; just select the drop-down box for activity type and change it to ‘Cycling’ (or, any other sport you want).
With that, you’re good to go. Note that if you use it for cycling you may want to clear the PR’s that you might have set while cycling, since the unit doesn’t track them separately (see the end of the running section above for how to do that).
Note that the FR15 does NOT connect to the ANT+ Speed & Cadence sensor, nor to any ANT+ power meter. I definitely don’t expect Garmin to add support there, since even on their $250 FR220 it’s not supported. It also won’t connect to any Bluetooth sensors, since it doesn’t have a Bluetooth chipset within it.
Activity Monitoring & Step Tracking:
The FR15 includes a built-in activity monitor, which counts steps throughout the course of the day. This makes it just like a FitBit or Nike FuelBand, keeping track of activity outside your runs. The unit and logic is based on the Vivofit, and as a general rule you can use many of the same assumptions that the Vivofit does within the FR15.
When it comes to display, the unit will always display the steps on the front of the watch-face (again, this is GPS-off 24×7 mode). Below the steps is a progress bar towards your daily goal:
In addition, you can press the little feet icon button (lower left) to change the display to show other activity metrics. For example, the next screen will be your daily goal and remaining steps towards it. The daily goal is automatically generated by Garmin Connect based on trending over the past few days. If you miss a target it’ll slowly lower you down, and if you exceed a target it’ll slowly increase the daily goal:
In addition the unit will show you the estimated step-distance for the day (in either miles or kilometers). This will be inclusive of any runs you may have completed that day as well:
Finally, pressing the button one last time will take you to calories burned – which is inclusive of your baseline calories. So, you’ll see this number rise over the course of the day even if you’re sitting watching the World Cup:
The unit will stay on whatever screen you’ve left it on. If you press it once further it just brings you back to a simple date screen, showing the current date:
Like the Vivofit, the FR15 aims to keep you moving. Thus, if you haven’t moved at least 200 steps in the last 1 hour, it’ll go ahead and chirp (lightly) at you and display ‘Move!’ on the screen:
To clear this, you’ll go ahead and walk about 200 steps. After walking the required distance you’ll hear a faint chirp and it’ll go back to the steps field.
Note that you can turn off any of the beeps/alarms/etc through the system settings if you’d like:
From a step counter perspective, here’s some numbers showing how accuracy looked like over a bunch of random dates where I wore multiple units at once:
Garmin FR15 Activity Tracker Data
Now, there’s an important thing that I need to point out, which relates to activities that track well and don’t track well. As noted the FR15 is a wrist based tracker, and thus like every other activity tracker on the planet it depends on accelerometer movement to determine steps. Internally it’s constantly trying to decide whether every single movement you make is a step, or just you doing something odd with your hands.
To that end, I think people need to realize that no two companies will be alike in their algorithms there – and that honestly most are pretty similar. And further, it’s more complex for wrist based trackers than clip (waist) ones. For example, wrist-based trackers won’t work well if you’re pushing a shopping cart or mowing the lawn. And it’s plausible depending on how you wash the dishes, it might incorrectly pickup that.
But the thing is – I don’t tend to find that makes that grand of impact at the end of the day. If you’ve got a goal like 8,000 steps or 10,000 steps – having an extra 100 steps washing the dishes isn’t make or break (no matter the manufacturer). Sure, you could log an extra 1,000 steps in Costco on a Saturday and perhaps not get it accounted for (tip: push the cart with your other arm). Thus, you’ll have to decide if that tradeoff is worth it.
My overall point is: No activity tracker is absolute to the exact step perfect – not FitBit, not Garmin, not Nike. You should be looking at the bigger picture, and not focusing on a slew of smaller edge scenarios (like holding a shopping basket in a gas station convenience store).
Garmin Express (Desktop):
In order to synchronize data (both fitness activities as well as daily steps), you’ll need to install Garmin Express on your computer. The application supports both Mac and PC, and is quick and easy to get installed.
Once installed go ahead and open Garmin Express, and then connect your FR15 to your computer:
This will open up a window asking you if you’d like to setup the FR15 within Garmin Express:
Assuming you press ‘Continue’, then it’ll go ahead and ask you to link up with a Garmin Connect account. This is definitely required if you want to view any of the data that you’re capturing (especially the daily steps). In my case I already had an account, so I just linked it to that. If this is your first Garmin device, you’ll need to create an account (it’s free, and only takes a second).
Interestingly, for those that happen to have both a Vivofit and a FR15, it’ll ask you which one to take the step data from:
At this point, you’re ready to go!
By default anytime you’ve connected your FR15 to your computer and Garmin Express is open it’ll automatically sync to Garmin Express. You can also just manually press that ‘Sync Now’ button too. Though, honestly, it’ll already have done that for you.
And in the event there’s a new firmware update, you’d see it show up within Garmin Express. For example, later this summer Garmin is planning to release a firmware update for the FR15 that will enable it to complete sleep tracking. So you’ll be able to simply connect it to Garmin Express and have it update to gain that functionality.
Now that it’s plugged in and sync’ing to Garmin Connect online, let’s dive into that.
Garmin Connect Online:
Garmin Connect is Garmin’s free online training log and activity/steps log site. It started in the GPS activity world, so much of the focus is there, but with the introduction of Vivofit back in February it expanded to include steps and sleep tracking, as well as some of the social aspects.
It received a user interface overhaul in February as part of that update, and as such looks a bit different these days. Some users are still on the older version of Garmin Connect, but Vivofit and FR15 users automatically get the new version (simply because all the step-related activity isn’t there in the old version).
Once you’ve logged in you’ll be brought to this main dashboard.
The dashboard has a bunch of pods that you can drag around and customize. For example you can see some of the reports at the bottom, as well as a pod showing one of my recent runs that I can click on to expand out. You’ll see the leaderboard standing for my Garmin ‘Connections’ (which are kinda like Friends on a social media platform like Facebook/Twitter/etc…).
If I click on the ‘Steps’ pod I’ll be brought to more detail about my steps that day. For example, here’s today…err..yesterday.
You’ll see that I far exceeded my goal steps of 6,493 (damn straight I did!), and then you’ll see the actual distance. In this case, The Girl and I happened to go out for a long evening walk around the city, which bumped the numbers. Further, along the way I earned a badge – the 500,000 Step Badge. Meaning I’ve walked 500,000 steps with the unit (or rather, Vivofit + the FR15 in my case).
Down below you’ll see a breakout of my steps. I walked a bit around 9-10AM to a meeting, and then was mostly working from 10-7PM, with a few brief spurts of steps around lunch time.
If I look at step trends over time (a link just below my screenshot above), I can pull up reports based on different timeframes. And, I can change those to be calories or other activity-driven reports.
Within the social aspects I can follow certain people and then as a result I’ll see their activities and steps, or can mix and match what I want to see:
Changing the focus to activities all of my GPS and non-GPS runs will show up in the activities window. From there I can select one to open fully and check out the details on. I’ve gone ahead and shared this activity if you’d like to poke around.
In this case, a bit of a brick interval/tempo run from last night. Starting with the top portion you’ll see the summary information along the left, and a map on the right. I can change the map provider to Bing or Google, and then also change whether it’s map view or a satellite view.
As I slide down the page I get to pace and timing details on the left, and then the post-calculated elevation data. This is done after the fact online.
On the right side it’ll flag any Garmin Segments I’ve crossed. These are not Strava segments, but rather Garmin’s variant instead. Essentially you can compete against people on what are usually short route segments (often less than a mile, but sometimes up to a few miles).
Further down the left side is my lap data. In this case I left auto-lap on, so it’s just showing my lap splits. While on the right side you can see a graph of my paces.
Last but not least we’ll get weather pulled automatically from a nearby source and then you’ll see an elevation graph along with a heart rate graph. You can go ahead and zoom in on both of these if you’d like within the site and examine them more closely.
Going back up quickly to Segments, I figured I’d briefly cover it since it’s Garmin’s newest ‘thing’. Like almost all the Segments you’ll find in the city of Paris, they were created by me. In this case I created this one 3 weeks ago, and, as of now it’s still populating the leaderboards. I assume it might complete in the future, or, it might not. It seems to be a common complaint right now on Segment leaderboards neither updating nor completing. As I kinda like to harp on – the Segments feature will never catch on if this sort of stuff isn’t fixed.
Finally, note that Garmin Connect does include Training Plans for most running race distances, as well as triathlons and some cycling plans. The plans are at various skill levels and different intensities. These plans can be added to your online Garmin Connect calendar.
However, it’s important to note that the FR15 won’t actually walk you through those plans on the device itself. So it’d be more of a paper thing. Still, given they’re free and most of them are actually pretty good – it’s something to consider.
Last but not least, note that you can download and use Garmin Connect Mobile on your iOS or Andoid device. This is Garmin’s mobile version of the site. From the app it’ll pull data from the online site, but not directly from the phone to your FR15. That’s because your FR15 doesn’t have any Bluetooth capability in it to talk to the phone. So you first have to plug it in to your computer per above to see the data on the mobile device. Nonetheless, still an option to check up on things.
Overall, I suspect most FR15 users will find Garmin Connect perfectly suitable. As most advanced users will point out, it’s not the most detailed training analysis platform on the planet, but, for I’m guessing 95% of the population it works just fine.
For everyone else (like me), I can simply take the .FIT file from the unit and upload it to any fitness log site of my choosing (i.e. Strava, MapMyFitness, TrainingPeaks, Sport Tracks, etc…). They’re all fully compliant with the fitness activity data.
Note however that at this time there still isn’t compatibility with the daily step activity data with any other sites. The oft-requested and once rumored MyFitnessPal still hasn’t shown up. Perhaps though with the first two of the direct sync partnerships finally being unveiled this past week, we’ll see MyFitnessPal and others pop-up soon.
As I’ve been doing on all reviews over the past year or so, I’ve been including a section on bugs and/or issues that I’ve seen within my timeframe using the unit. Do remember that a ‘bug’ is different than ‘by design’. For example, the lack of a feature is something I highlight within a given section is considered ‘by design’, whereas something not really working right is considered a bug. In the case of the FR15, such bugs fall into one of two categories: The device, and the platform (app/site).
In the case of the device, things are really solid – I haven’t actually seen anything in a lot of runs, a few rides, and four weeks of step data. So from a device standpoint, I’ve got no complaints at all – the device itself works spot-on for me.
In the case of the platform, Garmin Connect v2 (Modern) has come a fair ways since the initial Vivofit launch in February. There are still some oddities (like the Segments feature I noted earlier), but from a pure FR15-specific bug perspective I’m not running into much.
Which doesn’t necessarily mean I like the new Garmin Connect. It just means that I put up with it and that from a technical standpoint it does what it says – even if I don’t necessarily like how it does it.
Product Comparison Tables:
The FR15 makes things a bit tricky in that I actually have two separate categories in the product comparison tool – one for GPS units, and one for activity trackers. While the GPS unit category already had line-items for 24×7 activity tracking, I did need to expand activity monitor product type slightly to accommodate it. That said, it’s still two distinct product types for the meantime, thus there are two charts at play.
The first from the GPS product category is the FR10, FR15 and FR220. I went with just showing Garmin-only units on this chart to show the progression of features more easily. Of course, you can always make your own charts with any products in the product comparison tool here.
Next, looking at the activity tracker category I went with the Vivofit, FR15, and Polar Loop. All three of which support heart rate tracking during an activity. Again, you can always mix and match your own products via the comparison table tool.
It’s funny, I find that in general (no matter the brand) the products with the fewest features tend to do the best in my reviews. Likely because those product teams can really nail those features and ensure they ‘just work’. The more complex the product the more features and the more ways to screw up.
With the original FR10, it was the simplest product Garmin has really released in the fitness space – and it was enormously popular. With the FR15, they simply took the FR10 and plunked a Vivofit into it. Essentially taking another simple product and merging the two together. With that, I’ve found it’s incredibly simple and has a really high ‘just works’ factor.
The only significant mistake I believe Garmin has made here is that they didn’t put Bluetooth into the unit. Given that virtually all activity trackers these days sync via Bluetooth to your phone, the Garmin FR15 sorta stands apart as the lonely one without it. It’s also a bit suspect that they aren’t including wrist-based pace while on a treadmill given the unit should be quite capable of it (instead of forcing you to buy a footpod). And while I initially had complaints about skipping the sleep tracking functionality, Garmin has committed that will be added in a FR15 firmware update later this summer.
So while there are things I wish the FR15 had – like Bluetooth sync to my phone, if one understands those limitations up front there’s few things for me to poke apart. And, if you understand that this isn’t a $400-$500 GPS watch, then your expectations will likely be met. Which, in some ways goes back to the opening paragraph in this section: The more features that Garmin adds the higher the likelihood that there could be bugs. With such a simple product I’ve run into virtually no bugs – and it’s great.
Thus, if you’re looking for an entry level GPS running watch that can also be used as an activity monitor this is the best one on the market today (albeit, it’s the only one on the market today). And if you’re looking for an entry level running watch (and don’t care about the activity tracker piece), then this is still a very solid choice and would be among my top recommendations, especially given how few (virtually none) complaints I see from people on the running side of the FR10 (precursor to the FR15).
With that – thanks for reading!
Found this review useful? Or just want a good deal? Here’s how:
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 exclusive benefits on all products purchased. By joining the Clever Training VIP program you get a bunch of money-saving benefits, which you can read about here. By doing so, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get to enjoy the significant partnership benefits that are just for DC Rainmaker readers. And, since this item is more than $75, you get free 3-day US shipping as well.
(Note: There are a slew of colors available, simply select them from the dropdown on the site)
Additionally, you can also use Amazon to purchase the FR15 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.
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.
I swim, bike and run. Then, I come here and write about my adventures. It’s as simple as that. Most of the time. If you’re new around these parts, here’s the long version of my story.
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Want to compare the features of each product, down to the nitty-gritty? No problem, the product comparison data is constantly updated with new products and new features added to old products!
Wanna create comparison chart graphs just like I do for GPS, heart rate, power meters and more? No problem, here's the platform I use - you can too!
Think my written reviews are deep? You should check out my videos. I take things to a whole new level of interactive depth!
Smart Trainers Buyers Guide: Looking at a smart trainer this winter? I cover all the units to buy (and avoid) for indoor training. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
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 2023 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.