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Hands-on: Garmin’s New Forerunner 30 Running GPS Watch

Garmin-Forerunner-30-GPS-Watch-VO2Max

Hold on, I know what you’re thinking: Didn’t the Forerunner 30 come out last year?

Nope, that was the Forerunner 35.

At which point you’re wondering how we’re going back in numbers – but that’s just how the cards fell this time. Today, Garmin announced the new Forerunner 30 GPS watch, which is currently slated only to be sold in Europe and takes the existing Forerunner 35 watch and ‘streamlines’ it (which is a fancy term for ‘remove features’).  In doing so they made it cheaper.

Note that while it’s only sold in Europe, it’ll work globally, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve used it in the US & Canada. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s dive into all the details.

What’s Different About It:

Garmin-FR30-Optical-HR

Since the theme of today’s announcements seem to be centering on taking existing watches and making minor tweaks, the FR30 is doing something similar…sorta.  In the case of Suunto earlier today, they added a barometric altimeter and a bunch of altimeter related software features.  They then called it a new model at a higher price point.  Makes sense.

Whereas in the case of Garmin, they’re removing a bunch of features and reducing the price point – down to €149.  Different strokes for different folks.

Garmin-FR30-Optical-HR-Color-Variants

The core of what they did was to take the existing Forerunner 35 launched about a year ago and remove a bunch of features to make it a super-basic running GPS watch with optical HR.

So how does this differ from the FR35?  To start it’s designed to compete with the TomTom Runner 3/Spark 3 series that’s often found in the €100-€150 price range depending on features.

Here’s what you won’t find on the FR30 that was on the Forerunner 35:

– No multiple modes on watch: Just running, and only running. You cannot select cycling/walk/cardio/etc… (however, it will re-categorize it later properly on the app)
– No re-broadcasting of your HR via ANT+
– No support for sensors (not HR strap, nor footpod, not speed/cadence sensor)
– No interval mode
– No run/walk mode
– No Virtual Pacer mode
– No data field configuration from device (but you can tweak from the app)
– No watch-face configuration from device (but you can toggle between two faces from app)
– You can do GPS runs outdoors, or an indoor run

Essentially, this classic commercial best sums up the FR30:

So what do you get?

Well, you get to go for a run with three data pages, each with up to three data fields on them.  By default, these are:

Data Page 1: Distance, Time, and Pace
Data Page 2: Calories, Heart Rate
Data Page 3: Current date/time

However, you can use the app to change these (but not change them on the watch itself, like the FR35).  You can choose up to three pages, each with up to three fields.  The fields selectable are:

Distance
Timer
Pace (or Speed)
Heart Rate
Avg Pace
Lap Distance
Lap Time
Lap Pace (or Speed)
Heart Rate Zones
Cadence
Calories
None

You also do get/maintain auto lap, auto pause, and manual lap capabilities.  Further, you can change between Pace and Speed for this singular mode via the settings menu.  Note that you don’t have a dedicated bike mode, but if you select run and then go riding, it’ll utilize elements of MoveIQ behind the scenes to change it to a ‘Bike’ workout on Garmin Connect (but it’d still show ‘Pace’ on the watch itself unless you selected ‘Speed’ in the settings).

You also get/maintain VO2Max. This was recently introduced on the Forerunner 35 via a firmware update.  So that isn’t ripped away from ya here, which is somewhat funny because I’d imagine the target audience for this watch is much more likely to appreciate run/walk mode than VO2Max.

And you get 24×7 heart rate tracking via the included optical HR sensor (that was also on the FR35 of course).

So what’s Garmin thinking here?

Well, their hope is likely that their brand reputation will carry them further than TomTom’s, despite the fact that in every possible way the TomTom Spark series is a better value for the money in terms of software features.  Priced at the same price for the optical HR version, the TomTom Spark 3/Runner 3 has far more running functionality. For example:

– Interval support
– Heart rate strap sensor support
– Multiple sport modes, including Multi-sport mode
– Basic navigation/routing
– Swimming support (measuring in a pool)
– Support for various heart rate zone profiles
– Recovery metrics

Except there’s a catch here – and it’s a big one:

The base TomTom Spark 3/Runner 3 doesn’t include an optical HR sensor like the FR30 does.  That model (the TomTom Spark 3/Runner 3 Cardio) starts at about 50€ more at 199€.

Both brand’s optical-enabled watches at their respective price points include 24×7 HR data capture, as well as of course workout heart rate data capture.

So now someone is left to choose between a more simplistic Garmin watch at €149, or a more advanced TomTom watch at €199 (or, a more advanced Garmin FR35 at that same €199).  That makes for quite the decision matrix!

Garmin’s also probably taking advantage of the conflicting and constantly re-surfacing news about TomTom’s impending wearables death (which TomTom’s done almost nothing to help alleviate concerns on this front, unfortunately).

Garmin-Forerunner30-Wrist-Front Garmin-Forerunner30-Wrist-Side

So this might actually turn out to be a really interesting price point for Garmin.

And again, they don’t intend to take the FR30 to the US…at least not yet.  Doing so would basically undercut their own pricing too much, since unlike in Europe where there’s no MAP policy (Minimum Advertised Price), the US MAP policies allow pretty strict maintenance of the various Garmin and TomTom price points – thus keeping some products priced higher.

Running with it:

DSC_2929

I’ve gotten in a few runs with the FR30 since having it, though mostly for posterity since it’s identical hardware best I can tell to the FR35 (it doesn’t use the new 2017 Garmin Elevate optical HR sensor with better 24×7 recording rates).  As noted above, it’s simply a chopped down FR35 from a software standpoint.

Still, here’s a 5K run back home in Paris around the local park, which mixes some tree cover along with a few bridge underpasses.  You can look at the full Garmin Connect activity here to see exactly what you’d get after a run.  Or, this quick screenshot below:

imageimageimage

You’ll notice you do get things like running cadence and average stride length after the fact online, as well as elevation gain/loss, but you won’t get those during the run – which is to be expected at this price point.

Looking at the accuracy of things, we’ll start with GPS. Here’s the FR30 data overlaid with a Garmin FR935 and a Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro unit.  The FR935 is paired to a Wahoo TICKR-X chest strap, giving us three sensors in total.  Note, you can click on that link to zoom in/around the map yourself if you want.

image

If we look at the GPS tracks above, the FR30 generally does pretty well, save for a short (perhaps 100m) section on the north side of the park where it wanders a bit.  Meanwhile, on the south side of that park the FR935 goes for a similar wander.  The Suunto didn’t wander this run on GPS, but instead did so on heart rate.  The specific section the FR30 wandered in is this photo:

image

Here’s a look at the heart rate graphs:

image

You can see the Suunto got off to a really rough start for the first 4-5 minutes, and then settled out.  The FR30 actually gave the best overall HR plot for this run, besting even the TICKR-X which stumbled briefly around the 2-minute marker (plus was struggling in those first few minutes in general).  I adjusted it around the 2-minute marker and it got happy then.

Throughout the rest of the run, the chest strap and the FR30 stayed pretty much together.  Note that the HR ‘dive’ at the end of the run is simply when the FR935 (connected to the TICKR-X) got accidentally restarted for one second, resulting in that line connecting two points.  You can ignore that.

And just in case you wanted a quick look at what those screens look like mid-run, here’s the calories and heart rate page:

image

And then here’s the page with distance (miles), time (minutes), and pace (minutes/mile):

image

Of course, being all European, most of you will use kilometers instead.  But old habits die hard.

Afterwards, you’ll get summary information of the workout, including distance, pace, calories, and laps:

DSC_2943

Additionally, the unit tracks personal records (PR’s), so you’ll get those too.  These are at different steps like fastest mile, fastest 5K, and so on:

DSC_2945

And that’s the thing.  While there are way less features than the FR35, there’s still the core of a very solid and simplistic GPS watch.  And most importantly – a simplistic GPS watch with optical heart rate in it as well as smartphone notifications and 24×7 daily HR/activity tracking.

If you don’t care about those last pieces and just want a simple GPS watch, there are honestly cheaper options from both Garmin and TomTom (as well as Polar with the M200).  But for this price point, it’s definitely compelling once you include those features.

Wrap Up:

DSC_2930

Of course, it’s easy to make fun of all the features that got removed.  But what’s left is still pretty compelling for the price point:

– Still has GPS, and can log your runs indoors or outdoors
– Still has an optical HR sensor
– Still has 24×7 HR tracking and transmission to Garmin Connect app/platform
– Still has Bluetooth Smart for syncing of workouts/data
– Still can display Bluetooth Smart notifications from your phone
– Still has Move IQ, which automatically creates non-GPS runs/rides/walks
– Still has auto-pause, auto-lap, and VO2Max (really?)
– Still tracks daily steps, calories, intensity minutes, and resting heart rate trends
– Still tracks personal records

And yes, it even tells the time of day and date.

As I said earlier, it’s actually a pretty interesting little offering and makes for quite the decision of whether you value the specific additional features for €50 more (of either the FR35 or TomTom Spark 3 Cardio), or wanna save the cash and spend it somewhere more meaningful…like a donut shop.

I’m kinda interested to see what folks think of it.  As it represents two ‘newish’ things for Garmin:

A) Making a region-specific watch that has a unique feature set with a unique name (not just talking some of the Asian/Japan watch variants that Garmin makes by sticking the little ‘J’ after it but otherwise being same at launch).

B) Making a simplified version of the exact same watch hardware at a lower price point.  Sure, there’s always been cases where Garmin has somewhat re-used hardware – but never as blatant as this in the fitness realm that I can think of.  The closest I can think of would be the Edge 200/500, but even that was dramatically different in terms of the user interface and features.

I suspect if they find this strategy works, we’ll see it in other cases.  But this experiment may take some time to fully pan out.  So we’ll see.

With that – thanks for reading!

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53 Comments

  1. I think the Vivoactive HR might be a better option. For roughly 50 USD more you get all the missing features like other activities, altimeter and the ability to connect external sensors: link to amazon.com

  2. Direct comparison to FR35 is obvious, but what about a separate +/- list to vivosmart which lives at that prive point?
    + running mode
    + classic simple watch form factor instead of fancy activity tracker look
    – Stress level?

    At my last fun races I’ve quite a bunch of people which were just fine the MoveIQ results for their runs. Those do one 5k a year with their office and focus on the fitbit part of the days.

  3. Sounds like it would still be a better basic running watch than the TomTom regardless. Even with the latest firmware, that watch still gives itself priority over the athlete – to the point that you can’t press “Start” if it doesn’t have a GPS lock for whatever reason. Very tempting for solving the quick “toss on the wrist and go for a run,” use case.

    • Ah, never mind, for some reason I missed the lack of even a basic interval mode on the first read-through. That leaves the FR35 as the clear choice there, which is a bit of a pity since even causal runners do basic workouts. In retrospect I’m more surprised at the lack of a preset “run/walk” option.

    • Tim Grose

      Looks to have lap functionality and the ability to take manual laps. Even on devices costing about 5 times that is mostly all I use for intervals.

  4. I think that their focus is more the Polar M200 than the TomTom Runner 3. Same MSRP and similar target, those who look for a very easy to use watch with not much data to show.

  5. Thijs

    Okay, so, does this unit, with a number ending in (X)X0 mean that Garmin will no longer be making units WITHOUT optical HR in them?
    Maybe I need to hoard a couple of 230’s then…

    • Tim Grose

      Seems pretty standard now. TBH the optical HR sensor is so small now that on a blind test I doubt I could tell you if I was wearing a watch with or without one.

    • Tyler

      Check out the original vivoactive, and you’ll change your mind about the optical HR making a size difference.

      It’s less than half the height of any other Garmin.
      And has way better battery life without the HR; mine goes for 10 days on a charge.

  6. Riaan

    I have the F35 and love the cardio and cycling modes. Would not want to go without it. I believe many people do more than one type of activity to stay fit – in that case get the F35.

    But don’t forget Garmin’s absolutely valuable feature – the Garmin Connect App. Any other product and you mis out. The Garmin app (and corresponding website) is really great and they keep improving it.

  7. Toine

    So not having the interval mode, does that mean it is just missing the bread and butter interval mode you can set up from the watch on the higher-end watches, or does it also mean you can’t load pre-created workouts from Garmin Connect on it. Not having that feature would be a real bummer, otherwise it would be a perfect watch for everyday running.

    • Tim Grose

      It won’t have any of that but can you still do workouts the “old fashioned” way with lap distance/pace/time and taking manual laps.

  8. If Garmin continues to create new random devices with tiny differences the comparison engine will explode.

  9. alibi

    about accuracy of GPS..
    link to spectrum.ieee.org
    will we see chips like these in new fenix\etc? :)

  10. runnershigh

    Hi Ray, thanks a lot for the published reviews today!
    I am a european located runner. In 2011-2014 I used the FR110 which was a simple iteration of popular FR210. No HR-limits, no Intervalls, no adjustable data fields. But it shows any important on 2 chooseable screens.
    From my point oft view todays it would be sufficent if manufactor release one model each lineup (f.e. FR935) with an basic set of features. Advanced features could be sold by Firmware/Software upgrade. I don’t think it’s necessary to build such many very similar watches then.
    Multisport mode should even allways possible with every newer unit…that’s what I suppose.

  11. Anon

    I find Garmin’s whole wearable line COMPLETELY confusing and a total mess. And it’s not just me. Check out r/garmin on reddit too for some more examples of the confusion. I just can’t understand why everything overlaps in such a confusing and complicated way, and it’s unbelievable to me that Garmin doesn’t have some actual data about user preferences regarding what people want and then stick to a tighter lineup.

    I’m looking at making a purchase and seriously cannot work out what is most suitable.

    • alibi

      it’s because of product segmentation and trying to juice out as much cash from as much peoples as possible -_-
      (also “actual data about user preferences..” is tricky thing..)

      ps: problems at choosing almost always happening because of lack of money :(
      if i could easily spend 1 grand for product that can turn into a pumpkin next or second year, i would just buy fenix5x with metal band, and did not spending that much time reading reviews and thinking that is best for me for $300.. :)

    • Tim Grose

      If it was crystal clear Ray would be probably be looking for a new career! The choice is largely based on what you do, your budget and then whether you prefer a watch or a band. Fundamentally if you are runner these devices are all basically the same in that they all show you your pace, how far you have run and in what time and now even your HR. If that is largely all you want to know then a device like this normally works very well, is cheap and very light.

    • Dan

      I couldn’t agree more, Anon. Garmin are making a complete hash of their fitness watches.

      Nobody other than Apple ever seems to understand that the secret, the key, is to have a simple, clear product range so a consumer can go “that’s the one that I want. I’ll buy it”. Instead people are left trying to understand unfathomable different options… And give up.

    • Mike Richie

      Instead, with Apple you spend hours deciding on what finish and band you want ;)

    • Tim Grose

      And once upon the time there was the iPhone full stop. Now there are 8 current models.

    • Dan

      Eight options. Admittedly three models, but even Apple seems to be losing it.

    • Dan

      I take that back; I had no idea Apple were keeping the 7 and even the 6 in production.

  12. Tim Grose

    link to buy.garmin.com is somewhat unclear but to me it reads that the MoveIQ functionality extends to timed activities so if you start the timer and instead of running you are walking or riding or doing cardio etc etc then it works this out and classifies it accordingly for GC uploads. Perhaps you could try this to see what happens?

    Also that buy page mentions customise in relation to GCM. I wonder if you can customise some things on GCM that you can’t on the watch itself?

  13. TimRPM

    Doesn’t the TomTom Spark3/Runner 3 also have music stored on the phone? So..like..no need to bring your phone with you? Quite a big extra feature, doesn’t seem to be on the list of comparisons.

  14. Jon

    Call me old school but I like it. A basic, no frills GPS watch for people that only really care about how far they are running, pace and time. Finally, they have stripped down a watch to almost bare nothing rather than including a lot of junk that seems cool but isn’t really used and, at least to me, is just more “look at this cool stuff, like recovery estimator and VO2Max and Virtual Partner”. It reminds me of the Soleus watches, just with hopefully better GPS. Ray, I read where Timex is coming out with something similar..have you heard anything about this?

    • Yeah, they did come out with something along these lines a few months ago. It’s in my e-mail somewhere, though I honestly haven’t seen a single person ask about the watch till…now.

    • Mr T

      Yeah Timex has a $99 gps watch. It has basic functions. 3 data screens with upto 3 lines. However no Wrist HR and no Bluetooth. You have to connect to your computer to upload run.

      It does have multi-sport including transitons.

    • Dan

      I can’t really see what an optical HR sensor is doing on a ‘no frills’ watch…

  15. Tyler

    Why remove software features (like intervals, or sport modes) that cost Garmin nothing?
    In fact, it likely cost Garmin money to build the custom software for this watch.

    I understand removing the Ant antenna and other features, but software only choices is silly.

    • Because the cost to remove features is ‘less costly’ than more people buying a 50EUR cheaper unit and Garmin losing that revenue.

      Ultimately, the ability for companies to drive software-only choices based on purchase is how things work across the tech board these days. It reduces costs for companies in introducing additional hardware versions, while giving consumers additional options at lower price points that might not be possible otherwise.

    • Gonzalo Adolfo Jimenez Murcia Leviatanh

      Ray

      Regarding features I found this: Apple, FitBit Will Join FDA Program Meant to Speed Health Tech

      link to bloomberg.com

    • Tyler

      I read this as:
      Garmin misread the market on their mix of features and price point.
      So, instead of lowering price point, they are going to spool up a new production line, and kick out an iterative, mostly software degraded device.

      Net result:
      Confusion among consumers among similar products.
      And a device (Forerunner 35) which seems overpriced.

      Also, this is going to tax their support services.

      Bought my wife the 35, and the text message feature is fundamentally broken (it simply says ‘1 message’ but you can’t get to the body of the text; the same thing happened for the vivoactive at launch, and lasted 9 months).
      Garmin does not seem equipped to fix the variety of software problems on their ever more complex lineup of devices. Nor do they support them for any length of time (original vivoactive supported less than 18 months).

      They had several better options here:
      * lower the price of the 35
      * make the 30 exactly equivalent to the Spark, by remove the HR monitor (many would gladly trade money and watch size for no HR, including me).
      * kick out an improved 35

      Software degrades look like a way to screw consumers who won’t notice the degraded features until they are well into using the device.

  16. Joseph Kiddell

    Well for me it’s the ideal starter watch for my twin 8 year old birthdays. It will inspire them to improve their runs, allow them to track their progress and act as their first watch.

    I had been looking and struggling to make a decision. This is now made thanks to Garmin.

    I think they were both hoping for an Apple Watch but that is just obscene money and too easily broken, lost, eaten, traded for the 6 “special” Pokemon Cards.

  17. TR

    >However, you can use the app to change these (but not change them on the watch itself, like the FR35).

    Fun fact: you can actually set 4 data pages for the FR35 with the app or on the web (3 on the device)

  18. TR

    Also it would be interesting if someone hacks the firmware for the 35 so it installs on here. Because I’m 99% positive the hardware is the same, they only gimped the firmware/software side.

  19. Nathan B

    This looks decent for a basic running watch.

    Is it smart recoding, or 1 second?

  20. Mike

    TL;DR Garmin nerfed the FR35 to get an FR30.
    link to urbandictionary.com

  21. Dan

    A basic, simple GPS watch which easily integrates with Strava shouldn’t cost more than 100 £/$/€. It didn’t a couple of years ago… So what options are there nowadays?

  22. Nice review. Interesting that Garmin is essentially backpedaling here. Had to send my 910xt back twice and haven’t really found the Garmin GPS watches as good as they promise. I think they’re getting the squeeze from so many competitors in what was their own market. Curious to see how it plays out in the future with multi sports watches. Cheaper but no features won’t win fans but overpriced won’t either.

  23. MagicM

    So I actually think that watch is targeted to people having a fenix 3, forerunner 230 or whatever – complete and fine working watches, but lack of 24×7 HR tracking modes (convenient ones- I don’t dare to wear a chest-strap for 24 h). So instead of spending gazillions of dollars for a new Fenix 5/935, one could just splash 100 bucks (I hope that will be the street prize at some point) to get that into the boat. With the option of having a run even if you forgot your “Workout-watch” that day. And it might be a nice entrance for the +1’s of die-hard garmin fans, who are not in need of in-depth analysis of their runs (Not that I understand the “I don’t want to have too much data”-paradigm).
    Additionally, for cycling most have a head unit anyways- might also be a good daily watch for a Garmin head unit user.
    What do you think ray, will we see good sales on that anytime soon?

  24. Shantanu

    Don’t see the point of this at all, the forerunner 35 is already down to around 160 Euros on Amazon (Germany) and now Garmin launches this ‘new’ watch with a 150 Euro price tag?

  25. Curt Bentley

    What do you think this means for a potential replacement for the 235? I’ve been holding off to see what one looks like…

  26. L

    Any expectations for the release of a replcement of the 230/235 series in terms of announcement time and features?

  27. You don’t like tomtom saying they are staying in sports?
    link to investors.tomtom.com

    • Not sure what you’re saying?

      (As an aside, I called out the TomTom example specifically in my keynote session yesterday morning. Funny to see them release a statement today. Though, I don’t know if the audio/video livestream quality was functional at that point in the presentation.)