Garmin Forerunner 230 Review

When Garmin released their latest updates to the Forerunner series I was like a kid in a candy shop. I’d been looking at the Forerunner range for a while, so the 6xx series had been on my radar, but now with the updates to the 2xx range a number features previously only available in the higher range have made their way down into the so-called ‘mid-level’.

Which Forerunner?

Just before the announcement of the new watches I’d been very close to splashing out on the Forerunner 920xt. Yes, it’s targeted at the triathlon market, and it had lots of features I’d probably never use (I’m not much of a swimmer), but it had a much larger screen area than the Forerunner 620. Then, just in time, the new watches were announced.

Other than cost, the main differences between the three as far as I was concerned came down to the following (these aren’t the only differences, check out the spec sheets for that):

Forerunner 230 – Optional External heart rate monitor
Forerunner 235 – Optical heart rate monitor allowing 24/7 monitoring
Forerunner 630 – Touchscreen and additional running dynamics

The watches had been out for a few weeks now and feedback was slowing coming in from early adopters – a good place to see this is on the Garmin forums.

A number of the running dynamics available in previous models had made their way down to the 230/235, including recovery advisor and VO2 Max monitoring, and a bunch of new measures such as ground contact balance, vertical ratio and lactate threshold had been put into the 630 to make this the more premium choice.

As much as I LOVE stats, I didn’t feel I needed the additional dynamics enough to justify the increased cost, and after watching a few videos of users double and triple swiping/tapping the touchscreen to get it to register inputs I decided the touchscreen wasn’t for me either.

So now we were down to the 230 and 235. I’ll admit now that I really wanted to get the 235. I really wanted the optical heart rate monitor to be accurate, and although most feedback from the field was good there was a constant background murmur of inaccuracies and problems of the sensor locking onto a runners cadence after a while rather than their heart rate. This was something which may or may not be fixable in future firmware updates, etc, etc… That was it. I’d rather have the minimum inconvenience of putting on the heart rate strap and getting accurate results when I wanted them than have 24/7 tracking which was not as reliable.

The decision had been made and I put in my order for the Garmin Forerunner 230.

So, how is it? Read on for the review…

The Review

From the colour options available I plumped for the subdued black and white version, although I was tempted by the bright yellow and may buy the coloured band soon. Going for the package including the heart rate monitor meant it all came in one box along with the usual manuals and USB charging/sync cable.

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The watch features up and down navigation buttons and a light on/off button on the left hand side, with a white select button and a back button on the right. The Forerunner 230 has a flat back (the 235 has the optical sensor here) and features the 4 pins used by the charge/sync cable.

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The watch isn’t particularly thick and I find it quite comfortable for everyday wear. The default watchface is perfect for me, but you can also download connectIQ watch faces (as well as lots of different apps and data screens) if you fancy something a bit different.

Smart Features

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Finally becoming a true smart watch, the Forerunner 230 connects via bluetooth to the Garmin connect app to provide information such as calendar events and local weather, along with notifications and incoming call alerts. As an iPhone user the watch will alert me of any notifications setup within the notification centre, allowing me to customise it to receive just the alerts I want. Perfect.

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For those times where you know your phone is around somewhere, but you’ve no idea where, the Find my Phone feature allows you to tell the phone to make itself known with an audible alert. This has come in handy more than once!

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Having all of this bluetooth integration also means that all of you run data can be sync’d over the air, with no need to connect to the computer to download your info. The connect app then allows you to view your stats and run data along with the option to export to 3rd party apps like Strava.

Oh yea, the running bit…

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Now, all of these smart features are great, but I can hear what you’re saying – how is it as a running watch? Well, it pretty much excels here as far as I’m concerned.

A few times I have forgotten to put the watch into ‘run mode’ in advance of needing it, but each time the GPS has taken only a few seconds to lock on and I’m ready to go. It also features the option of using a combination of GPS + GLONASS (Russias GPS system) for improved accuracy, but this will cost you a little in terms of battery life.

In additional to the default data screens, you have the ability to customise two data screens with between 1 and 4 data items on each screen. These items can be any combination from the available categories of time, distance, pace, speed, heart rate, cadence, temperature, elevation and then some additional items including items from calories to sunset time. As you can tell, this is quite comprehensive and covers pretty much anything the watch can record. And if there is something missing, just check out the connectIQ apps for all sorts of additional data screens, or if you can’t find what you’re looking for you can create it through connectIQ yourself!

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Among the boatload of other features available, two that I find particularly useful are the intervals and finish time.

The intervals allow you to setup any combination of intervals you like, with any particular rest periods or distance in-between, and the watch will coach you through these exactly as prescribed, with both audible and vibration alerts. Great if you don’t have any fixed distance points.

The finish time option adds a data screen showing you the estimated finish time, along with pace fields, for a selected distance. Want to ensure you’re on track for that sub 3:30 marathon without constantly working out splits in your head? Easy peasy.

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And then post run you have access to all the information from your workout at your fingertips from a general overview to specific splits and heart rate training zones.

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Recovery time uses some magic formula in the background to work out how long you need to recover from your last run, and it’s accumulative so if you run again before the counter reaches zero it will work out the next recovery period automatically. I wasn’t expecting too much from this, but to my surprise I’ve actually found it to be quite accurate. The VO2 Max is a stat that I’m keeping an eye on but can’t comment on it’s accuracy yet as I’ve not had any other VO2 Max tests to compare it against, however I think it’s used as part of the race time prediction feature which hasn’t been too far off.

Heart Rate Monitor

I was a little worried at first that the heart rate monitor would be uncomfortable. It needs to be strapped tight enough that it doesn’t fall out of position, but not too tight that you know it’s there, and I find this really easy to achieve – after a couple of goes I can whip it on pretty fat. I quickly forget I’m wearing it and it doesn’t interfere with running in any way.

Sometimes these chest straps can give false readings early on in a run if there is no skin moisture, so I always pop a finger under the tap and then run it across the 4 pads to add a little moisture before I strap it on. And as far as I can tell it’s not missed a beat so far!

Battery Life

This is obviously going to vary person to person, but I’m currently getting about a weeks usage between charges. My typical usage is as a watch with smart notifications between 7am – 10pm and running with GPS + GLONASS for about 40 miles a week.

Conclusion

You can probably tell from the tone of this review that I LOVE this watch. It does everything I need it to and more, and it does it all very well. If I had to find fault, then every now and then I need to force quit the connect app on my phone and restart it to get a reliable sync, but this doesn’t happen too often and will hopefully be fixed in an update at sometime in the future. Thoroughly recommended!

If you are thinking of purchasing this watch please consider using the links below. You get Amazons great service and pricing AND you help this site at the same time as we receive a small referral fee.

Forerunner 230 – Optional External heart rate monitor
Forerunner 235 – Optical heart rate monitor allowing 24/7 monitoring
Forerunner 630 – Touchscreen and additional running dynamics

One comment

  1. Hi Paul. Congrats for the review. Complete and straight. I was thinking about to buy this watch and after read your review, I am closer to buy it. However I still have a doubt about this watch. I bought the Forerunner 210 about 2 years ago and now the watchband is breaking. Is possible to replace the watchband by yourself? The FR210 don’t allows the replacement and you must send your watch to Garmin replace it.

    Thanks!

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