By Tom Demerly
Garmin’s Forerunner 610 wrist top GPS is the latest in the watch-sized Forerunner family, one step removed from the water resistant/swimmable Forerunner 310XT with its larger, squarer case at the same price point. The Forerunner 610 is a dry land only wrist top unit, like most of Garmin’s running/cycling computers. It is not intended for swimming but according to Garmin can be submerged for 30 minutes in one meter of water.
The newest feature on the Forerunner 610 is the touch screen control. Switching between data displays is done using the pressure sensitive face of the watch rather than buttons. The buttons are reserved for watch operation such as starting and stopping the timers.
Additional refinements to the Forerunner 610 are an optional improved heart rate strap and Garmin’s wireless communication with a computer via an ANT+ USB stick antennae along with a new magnetic recharging cradle.
Like many top shelf training appliances the Garmin 610 provides a massive menu of functions. When I’m confronted with lists of things a wrist top does, I tend to pick the ones relevant to me, like ordering from a menu. The rest I may experiment with, or never use at all. The smart buyer is pragmatic about what functions they will really use on a regular basis and buys the training tool that provides those functions.
The Garmin Forerunner 610 provides:
- Rechargeable lithium-ion battery with 4 week charge in power save mode; 8 hours in training mode. Recharges from outlet or USB cable plugged into computer (but not the wireless stick).
- Water Resistant to IPX7 standard but not swimmable according to Garmin.
- 1000 lap history.
- 100 waypoints for navigation/back-track mode.
- Heart rate, bike speed/cadence and foot pod capable as options.
- “Automatic” wireless synchronization with Garmin Connect and Garmin Training Center via USB ANT+ stick. (Garmin Connect is a web utility, Garmin Training Center lives in your computer).
- Virtual Partner programmable goal feature.
- Auto Pause feature for stopping at a red light during a run/ride below a specific programmed speed.
- Auto Lap for automatically recording splits at a programmed interval, generally one mile while running.
- Auto Scroll- automatically changes display through various data fields to display full workout metrics during the workout without touching the screen.
- Advanced/Custom Workouts- programmed into the watch unit prior to training for specific goals.
- Time/Distance Alert: Triggers an audible and or vibration alarm when the distance or time you programmed has been reached.
- Vibration alert and audible alarms. Watch vibrates strongly at programmed intervals such as each mile or a time interval.
- Interval timer to customize interval workouts.
- Calorie consumption estimate based on heart rate and body metrics input into watch by user.
- Customizable display screens.
- Compatible with Windows XP or newer and Intel-based Mac OS 10.4.11 or later with Safari.
- Interfaces with ANT+ compatible Tanita BC-1000 scale for body weight, body fat and hydration data (sold separately).
Perhaps the only feature missing from the Forerunner 610 is ANT+ power meter reception from an ANT+ Power Meter. It won’t be long before we see that capability from Garmin since the company bought MetriGear Inc., the makers of a pedal based power measurement device, late in 2010. Garmin has mentioned a late 2011 release of a new unit that displays power from the MetriGear pedal-based power meter. If bike power measurement is critical to you and you’ve considered the MetriGear pedal-spindle based power meter you may want to hold off on your Garmin purchase until this release.
Like all Garmin Forerunners the 610 interacts with Garmin’s on line utility, Garmin Connect, and the desk top application housed on your computer, Garmin Training Center. I’ve reviewed and subsequently bought the Garmin Forerunner 110, a basic unit that lives at the opposite end of the price and feature list as the 610. The 610 also interacts with Training Peaks and at least one additional on line training log/data analysis portal. What I’d like to see from the 610 is some expanded list of data in Garmin Connect compared to the 110. I didn’t get that. Earlier versions of Motionbased- the website’s name before Garmin owned it, did include weather information in the data. That’s gone in Forerunner-friendly Garmin Connect. You can manually enter this in a notes field in Garmin Connect. My take-away is that I cannot tell a difference between the data logged on my Garmin 110 or my 610 when viewed in Garmin Connect. That’s worth knowing if your primary interaction with you data is through Garmin Connect.
If you want some cool training features for programmable workouts, a basic navigation option for running or riding in a strange place and the option of indoor/treadmill use with an optional foot pod, cyclocomputer function, and the other things on the 610 feature list then keep reading.
The 610 acquires satellites and the optional heart rate strap very quickly, faster than previous Hot Fix Garmin units. Swiping through the touch screen functions works fairly well, and I’ve watched a number of other video reviews that seem to depict a level of precision greater than I am experiencing. It does get better with use, and Apple iPhone users will feel right at home on this touch screen. My initial response to the touch screen was mixed. After use I doubt there is any more convenient way to access this many data fields and functions this quickly. It simply takes a few uses to gain “expert” proficiency.
On a day-to-day training basis I am using the start/stop button in the upper right to start and end a workout. I use the lower right hand button, “lap/reset” to store the session and load it into memory on the watch for viewing. Until you hold the lap/reset button for four seconds the training event can be restarted. I rarely used the upper right quadrant feature set in the watch display called “training” with the exception of switching the unit from run units to bike units. Other than experimentation I didn’t use the navigation function either, although it may come in handy when training in a strange place and trying to get back to your start point. The navigation feature reminded me of the earliest Garmin Foretrex units.
Being able to configure the screen display is a useful function since it alters the size of the font in the display. I wear a 1.5 power reading glass and had no issues reading the data in all three lines while running without reading glasses. I wanted to see distance traveled, my elapsed time and my current lap pace. The history in the unit displays cumulative data in daily, weekly and monthly formats. The daily log can be expanded into a fairly detailed data screen with distance, time, calories, average pace, average heart rate, max heart rate and “TE” or “Training Effect”. Training Effect is a metric that combines data points like elapsed time, heart rate and pace/distance to assign a 1-5 value to the workout, 1 being “easy recovery” and 4.0-5 being “highly improving”. This training methodology is explained on the First Beat website, another logging/analysis website similar to Training Peaks that is subscription based. First Beat’s website, firstbeat.fi, does not yet support the Garmin 610 but will in July/August of 2011according to their site.
The unit charges from a plug-in cradle that is magnetic to help retain the watch in the charging cradle. I don’t see the advantage to having a separate wireless ANT+ data transmission for upload to your computer and also having the power cable. I’d prefer that the power cable swapped the data and charged the unit, like it does on my Forerunner 110. The utility of the wireless upload is lost on me and the USB ANT+ stick is one more thing to carry around from computer to computer. With the Forerunner 110 all you need is the cable- you can swap data and charge the unit.
Once you’re done training you plug the USB ANT+ stick into your computer and make sure you have the utility on your computer for your first use. The watch unit and the computer wirelessly transmit data and your workout goes into Garmin Training Center and Garmin Connect on your computer for naming and analysis.
I’ve purchased and trial-tested many of the Garmin units and the Forerunner 610 is the nicest of running/cycling units they’ve built so far. The data-intensive/power based athletes will miss the power measurement function but won’t have to wait long for the new models this fall- this customer should wait.
The touch screen on the Forerunner 610 does make a more convenient interface. In my trial period with the Garmin Forerunner 610 I did not have a single problem with data capture or accuracy. The unit worked faultlessly every time. It got rained on, I accidentally wore it in the shower after a workout and it was used in 110 degree heat repeatedly. My only two criticisms are that the touch screen was initially awkward, like typing on an iPhone and the ANT+ stick is redundant to the power cable. Those are minor criticisms that melt away quickly as you explore the impressive menu of training features and experience the ease of use on the Forerunner 610. Like all Garmin Training Center compatible units the interface with Garmin Training Center, which is still free, is another reason to consider the Garmin Forerunner 610.