Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Garmin Forerunner 220 (Product Review)

(while also reviewing what did NOT work for me in the never-ending quest of finding a GPS watch I love...)

I have been using the same watch for the last four years, my "trusty" Garmin Forerunner 405. It's been "mostly fine" - except that the battery life is now about half of what it used to be (it's a miracle if it lasts 5 hours now). I have also noticed that the GPS seems more "off" than it used to be. I know some of that is just the nature of GPS, but I also think it has to do with not getting firmware updates, etc.


Possible replacements for the dying 405


As you all know, I had backed BIA two years ago. I had hoped to have the ridiculously long battery life for all the ultras that I planned on running (back in 2013). Once the watch finally rolled out, I have to admit that I was disappointed. The initial launch did not include the long battery life, the wristband is VERY uncomfortable (cheap Velcro - scratchy) and the "go stick" is GIGANTIC.

The Go Stick is like 6 times bigger than my iPod shuffle!
 Thoughts on the BIA:
  • Maybe if I was a triathlete, this would be a "cooler" watch. It is STUPID easy to set up. There are three options - swim, bike, run. I pretty much only tested the bike function as I could not imagine actually trying to run with all these pieces.
  • The Go Stick is GINORMOUS. And apparently, you have to wear on the same side of your body as the watch and it had to face a certain way... all of this spells disaster for me. It's bad enough to have a two-piece unit, but all the "restrictions" made it way more complicated than I wanted to mess with.
  • I did not find I got satellite ANY faster than my Garmin. In fact, I had to try a half dozen times to get a signal at my house, even after BIA assured me that the second time attempting to get satellite at a location you have previously used would be faster. I did not get that.
  • Not overall sure on accuracy as I used only for very short bike rides. I did not test in the mountains or on a long race. I also did not wear concurrently with my Garmin to see if they matched.
  • Also - NO BACK LIGHT?? This does NOT help for when I am running ultras at night... I need to see what is happening!
  • I did really like that it synced with MapMyRun and uploaded automatically. That is a neat feature
Anyway, I ended up selling my BIA through a Facebook group and she LOVES it. To each their own!


I was REALLY excited when I found a deal that would get me the Forerunner 210 for about $150. What a DEAL.

  • The price point was great. If only it had worked...
  • Right out of the box, I had issues with the watch. I already had my 405 set up to Garmin Connect. The program recognized my new watch, I got it all set up and I took it for a super quick test run. I had a lot of difficulty getting it to actually sync with my computer. I accidentally did a hard reset, but then it synced (finally) and I figured it was fine.
  • Related - the charger for this watch is ridiculous. The charger is not very user friendly.
  • The fit of the watch is FANTASTIC. Much slimmer fit than my bulky 405. I liked the simplicity of not having the bezel and just having the buttons.
  • I wore the watch for my race in Leadville. It took a bit longer than I expected to get signal, but then it seemed to work fine. I liked my initial set up of seeing overall distance pace, current pace and distance. It was much easier to read than my 4:05.
  • However... my computer syncing problems were NOT over. I saved my run, when I plugged it in, the computer recognized that there was a new activity. However, EVERY TIME I tried to sync with Garmin Connect, it told me there was an error - the super helpful "fix" - your device failed to sync. I must have spent a half hour trying to get it to work, but to no avail. I tried the reset again, but this time it erased my entire run. I don't have time to mess with something so complicated!
  • I'm pretty disappointed this one didn't work, would have been an inexpensive replacement for the 405. I'm guessing I just got a lemon, as obviously other people have this watch and I'm assuming it works fine. Just not for me.
  • I returned the watch and got a full refund.

View the specs of the watch from the manufacturer's point of view HERE.

After all my issues with the last watch, I decided to just buy this one at REI since they have essentially a lifetime warranty on their products.

Right out of the box, I can say that I love the charger. They do not include the wall charger, but anything you have that has a USB connection will work if you can't plug into a port on your computer. The watch cradles in and is much more secure while charging than either the 405 or 210.

There are five buttons on the watch, which I find to be a perfect amount and definitely better than the dumb bezel on the 405.

1. This is the light button, as evidenced by the bulb picture.
2. Up toggle button in menus.
3. Down toggle button in menus.
4. Pretty much the most important button on the watch. This is the "stop" "go" and "unlock" button on the watch.
5. The back button to exit menus or to exit run mode to just put you on "watch" mode.

1. Your GPS signal. If it is green, you have signal and you are good to go.
2. Bluetooth - again, if it is green, you are good to go.
3. Heart rate monitor (if applicable) - I no longer use this, but it of course is a function some people like.

I LOVE THIS WATCH. I wanted to wear it multiple times, in various situations, before I actually wrote anything about it. I have tested it on roads and in the mountains, I have worn it a half dozen times, already using a total of about 10 hours.

  • The battery life is supposedly about 10 hours. I ran a 2:20ish half marathon over the weekend and when I put the watch on the charger it had used 23% of the battery, so this seems about right. The battery life overall is probably my only "complaint" about the watch. Any ultra I do longer than a 50k will required my nifty portable charger, but I'm a pro at using that, so it's not a huge deal.
  • I have gotten signal on this watch IMMEDIATELY every time I have used it. From my house (which is a dead zone) and in the mountains, at a place I don't even get cell service. MUCH faster than my old 405.
  • Like the 210, setting up the watch was SUPER easy, took just a couple of minutes.
  • The watch has BLUETOOTH. Now, if you are as technologically dumb as me, you're like, uh, what does that mean? Well, all this time, I never knew that there was a free app for Garmin connect. You can remain logged in and see all the runs/activities you have ever uploaded. Well, with BLUETOOTH, this watch syncs AUTOMATICALLY WITH YOUR IPHONE. I can't even get over how cool this is. As soon as I complete and save a run on my watch, I turn on my iPhone, open the app, it syncs with my app, and before I am even in my car, Garmin Connect has my run right there. I can even edit (add comments, name the run, etc), right from my phone. THIS IS BEYOND COOL. I can see my mile splits, max/min elevation, pace, MAP, etc. ALL FROM MY PHONE RIGHT AFTER I AM DONE.
My favorite thing to look at when I'm done is elevation - now I don't have to wait!
  • Related to the Bluetooth, you can apparently send invites to friends so they can "live track" you. I don't know exactly how this works since I haven't tried that option yet.
  • I have my watch set up for distance on the top, elapsed time in the middle, and "lap" time on the bottom. The lap time will reset, of course, every time I start a new mile. Not sure yet if I like that as my third "screen" yet or not.
  • The watch has a vibrate function. One of the most annoying parts of getting the GPS signal is heading to the start line, realizing your watch has gone into power save mode and you have to start all over. This watch gives you 30 seconds notice before going into power save mode, beeping AND vibrating every 10 seconds.
  • Related - on the lap splits, the watch also beeps and vibrates. Even if I am not listening to music, there are times when I don't hear the watch, so that is nice if you don't want to be a slave to your watch by seeing how/where you are on your run.
  • The watch actually fits FLUSH against my arm. I think that the face itself is larger than the 405, but it fits so much better and is way more comfortable in my opinion. 
  • I find the numbers very easy to read. I have not tried using it night yet, so not sure how great the light is, but I bet it's good.
  • My biggest concern was knowing if/when/how I was connected to GPS. The 405 you either left GPS on all the time (which is a big battery drainer) or you had to manually go in and see if it was connecting and you it TOLD you it was looking for signal. The 220 just "does it." So simple.
I could not be more pleased with this watch. The investment was a bit more than I wanted to spend - the version with no heart rate monitor is $250, but I only had to shell out a bit more money than what I was able to sell my BIA for and I'm totally pleased with my investment.


  1. Thanks for the review! I know my 305 will die sometime and I really want to be able to replace it without hating the new watch, spending a ton of money, or learning a whole new system.

  2. Great review - I want the 220 SO bad (originally just because it was pretty - but now that I read your review I know it has more benefits than that)!!! I have the 210 now though which is getting the job done, so I should probably try to get another year or so use out of it before shelling out $250.

  3. I had the 305 and bought the 210 when the 305 died. I like the fit of the 210 better but I really liked the way the 305 gave me data on the watch better. I miss that watch but not the shape of it. The charger for the 210 does suck. What a stupid design.

    The BIA does look a little too complicated, I don't want to worry about 2 pieces I have enough trouble keeping track of one.

  4. Thanks for this review. I currently have the 205 and so far it works when I need it to. But since it is getting older, good to have info on what would be a good replacement when the time comes.

  5. Oh my gosh, I could have written this. (In fact, I did write two posts on my GPS watch search.)

    My 405 was a POS but replacing it has been a huge hassle. I had the 210 briefly before I returned it, then the 310. The 310 stopped finding satellites after two weeks, so I returned it. Everyone told me to get the 220 (and I may do so yet). I like your description of using it with your phone. Very cool.

    For now, I have the TomTom Runner. It's a little funky to set up and it doesn't have autopause, but the company has been very responsive to my questions. I've only had it about 10 days, so I'm not sold yet.

  6. Been waiting for this review since you got your BIA. I used the 405 for couple of years, then gave it up and wanted to run "by feel" but now I miss it again. Thanks for all the great info, i'm totally sold on the 220!

  7. i knew i wanted a new watch this past christmas since, like you, my garmin 405 accuracy was getting more off. I looked at the 220, but since I knew I really wouldn't be running or racing as much I couldn't justify asking for it. I got the 210 and it gets the job done- totally agree on the charger... i always triple check to make sure it is infact charging.

  8. yayayay! Love this. Need to bite the bullet i think before NYC and get comfortable with a new watch. BIA- biggest POS on the market. That thing sucked- but apparently whoever bought mine liked it to because she just sent a follow up thank you note in the mail!

  9. I also had the 405 and LOVED it. Unfortunately while flying my bag was "damaged" and the watch was lost. i tried to find a replacement and ended up with a Garmin 410. I wish it would have buttons, but I'm getting used to it. Overall the 410 is very similar to the 405.


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