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Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS Receiver and Sports Watch
 


Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS Receiver and Sports Watch

Just when you thought Garmin had cornered the market on powerful, affordable, and effective wrist-mounted GPS devices, here comes the Forerunner 205. The release of this device is a major achievement from a design and technology perspective. This isn’t just marketing-speak; the Forerunner 205 is the most accurate, most reliable wrist-mounted performance and GPS tracking tool we’ve ever tested. Yes, it’s that good. While no device this compact can do everything (yet), the 205 pushes the boundaries of what is possible from something strapped around your wrist. While the 205 doesn’t offer heart rate monitoring, or connectivity with Garmin’s wireless speed and cadence sensor — for that, you’ll need to step up to the Forerunner 305 — but it’s a great way to get basic GPS location and performance data.

View Garmin’s Forerunner demonstration video.

Choose from 12 data fields to display on the 305’s screen. View larger.

The design cleverly integrates the GPS antenna and aims it towards the sky when you’re running or walking. View larger.

The Virtual Partner function makes your workouts more competitive. View larger.

Choose from three workout modes that help you target your training goals. View larger.

The 305 features rudimentary mapping and location marking functions. View larger.

Design
The 205’s design is a radical departure from Garmin’s previous generation of wrist mounted GPS devices, which reached a pinnacle with the Garmin Forerunner 301. While the 301 delivered accurate heart rate monitoring, good performance tracking, and decent GPS reception, it didn’t quite deliver in the design department. The form factor was bulky and wearing it wasn’t much different than duct taping a full-sized GPS device to your wrist.

Not so with the 205. Garmin’s engineers obviously burned the midnight oil and have come up with a waterproof design that, while certainly not as small as a sports watch, feels just as comfortable. The curved casing allows the unit’s antenna to face the sky when you’re running, while the widescreen display is perfectly positioned for viewing when you need it. And the display certainly deserves a few kudos. While it’s smaller than the display found on previous Forerunners, its resolution is far higher, offering incredible clarity and crispness.

Garmin has smartly given the 205 a simple button layout and the buttons have a nice tactile feel with good pressure response. The right side houses the menu selection and enter buttons, while the left houses a power/backlight button and a mode button. This simple and elegant solution is a big improvement over the sometimes confusing button functionality of previous Forerunners. View button layout.

The underside of the 205 is pretty nondescript, except for a row of contacts that interface with the included charging and data cradle. The cradle is small and unobtrusive and its single mini-USB port connects to either an included AC adapter, or a USB cable that connects to your PC. In addition to data transfer with the USB cable, you can also charge the 205’s embedded lithium-ion battery via a powered USB connection from your computer.

GPS Performance
The big news about the Forerunner 205 is that it features an integrated, high-sensitivity SiRFstar III GPS receiver. What does this mean? It means that the 205’s ability to both track, and maintain a lock on, your position is better than anything before it. After an intial battery charge, our product tester had the 205 on his wrist and was tracking speed and distance with GPS satellites within 3 minutes. The next time we used the 205, satellite acquisition was nearly instantaneous. A run through dense trees didn’t faze the unit either; tracking remained true and steady. Performance on a bike was equally impressive. Whatever witchcraft has been cooked up by the designers of the SiRF technology, we like it!

The simple docking cradle makes charging and data connectivity a snap (Forerunner 305 model shown).

While the Forerunner 205 isn’t billed as a GPS navigation device, it does have some rudimentary mapping, waypoint marking, and routing capabilities. In addition to marking locations along your journey, you can zoom in or out of a simple map that displays your current direction and path. There’s also a “go to location” feature that routes you back to your starting location, or to any location you have defined. Once you have defined several locations, you can save this information as a route, allowing you to travel the same path in the future. As you’ll see below, the 205’s new “Courses” feature gives you new levels of control over how you define your favorite runs and rides.

Training Functions
The 205 is first and foremost a training tool, and its ability to organize a ton of data types into a user experience that is intuitive and simple is no small feat. Whiz-bang technology aside, if you can’t use it and make it a natural part of your exercise routine, it’s worthless. When it comes to these factors — and here’s the take home message on the 205 — this device is successful where many other devices fail.

The heart and soul of the 205 can be found on the data screens, which give you real-time information about all aspects of your workout. In fact, the 305 can display a dizzying array of data, such as calories burned, distance, elevation, grade, and heading, as well as multiple lap and pace modes.

Thankfully, the device makes it easy to define how much or how little data you want to view during a workout. You can arrange the data that’s most important to you and then make that data appear front and center on the device. Indeed, within a few minutes of skimming the manual and fiddling with the device setup, you’ll have your most important data displaying just the way you like it.

Garmin’s Virtual Partner function was cool feature of previous Forerunners and they’ve decided to keep a good thing going with the 205. If you’re the type that performs best when you’ve got a competitor egging you on, you’ll love this function, as it allows you to set up virtual running or biking companions that compete against you.

If you’re looking for an complicated workout with a variety of intervals and intensity levels, or just a quick three-mile jog against your best time last week, the 205 has you covered. Navigating to the Workouts menu on the device yields three options: Quick Workouts, Interval, and Advanced Workout. A quick workout is just that; set the distance and time, distance and pace, or time and pace of your planned workout and off you go. Interval workouts are just the same, but they allow you to add repetitions and rest between them. When you really want to get fancy with your exercise, you can step up to advanced workouts, which include goals for each workout step, as well as varied distances, times, and rest periods. You can use the Garmin Training Center software to set up these workouts and then upload them to the device.

PC Connectivity and Software
Garmin has been outfitting their devices with USB connectivity for some time now — a welcome move for those who struggled with serial port connections in the days of yore. Thanks to USB, the 205 integrates seamlessly with the Training Center software and we quickly had workout history uploaded and stored on the PC.

In a first for the Forerunner series, the Training Center software also lets you define courses on your PC that you can upload to the device. When course information is combined with uploaded workout information, the Forerunner becomes a complete guide, telling you where to go, when to make a turn, and what kind of workout to do when you’re on the road or path. Back on the PC, the software’s ability to overlay workout data on maps of the course makes it easy to see where the course offers up the tough hills and the easy recovery spots. Plus, the ability to track historical performance on a given course is a great way to measure your improvement.

The 205 is also fully compatible with Garmin’s MotionBased service, which takes your training to another level by connecting your data with the Internet. While we weren’t able to use the service, the promise of sharing courses, maps, workouts, and performance data with other users is intriguing. And if you’re a serious endurance athlete, you’ll be glad to know that the 205 is also compatible with TrainingPeaks.com, an easy-to-use web based training system designed to help athletes train for any event.

Pros

  • Radically new design is better in every way
  • Amazing accuracy and fast satellite acquisition time
  • So simple to set up and use, you will actually use it

Cons

  • Okay, it’s bigger than a sport’s watch — but so much more powerful

What’s in the Box
Forerunner 205, Garmin Training Center CD-ROM, docking cradle, expander strap, A/C charger, USB cable, owner’s manual, quick start guide.

  • High-sensitivity, watch-like GPS receiver that provides exceptional signal reception
  • One-piece training assistant that provides athletes with precise speed, distance, and pace data
  • Includes training center software, which allows users to download workout data for a detailed analysis
  • Used for multiple sports, such as cycling, cross- country skiing, and windsurfing

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What customers say about Forerunner 205 GPS Receiver and Sports Watch?

  1. 386 of 389 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Garmin 205 vs. the Garmin 201, April 12, 2006
    By 
    M. Brinker (American Airlines seat 3A) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

    This review is from: Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS Receiver and Sports Watch (Electronics)

    I’ve run 4 times a week with the Garmin 201 for the past 2 years so I was anxious to get the 205. After 10 runs with the 205 (some runs with both) here is my take on the new 205:

    Pros:

    – better form factor (although still big and same weight as the 201)

    – Buttons are more intuitive (less guessing in the dark)

    – More accurate – If I run the same run 3 times (e.g. a regular 6 miler) all 3 distances are within .02-.09… the 201 varied by as much as .3 miles. The 205 also appears to be more accurate according to “known distances”

    – Less satellite drops compared to the 201 (although see the BIG con below!)

    – The strap is rubber so it doesn’t act as a sweat band (the 201 was harder to clean and smelled for weeks after a marathon)

    – Better software

    CONS:

    – Fonts are smaller (especially on history and other screens)

    – The strap is rubber and doesn’t fit as well as the cloth/Velcro on the 201 (although the pro I think outweighs the con!)

    – BIG CON: On one regular run along the bay in San Francisco (no hills, trees, or buildings) the 205 lost satellite in a “usual” area (common for my 201 to drop in the same place) one mile into the run, but the 205 never recovered during the whole run. So the 205 doesn’t drop satellites as much, but when it does it might not recover – this is a fatal issue if it continues (note: the 201 drops often, but always recovers right away).

    Overall I would still highly recommend the unit. I definitely prefer to run with the 205 instead of the 201. I will be watching the drop-recover issue carefully to see if others report a similar problem.

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  2. 162 of 165 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Well worth the extra cost!!!, April 7, 2006
    By 
    J. Sun “Mobile Analyst” (SF Bay Area, CA) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

    This review is from: Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS Receiver and Sports Watch (Electronics)

    I wrote an extensive six-part review comparing the Garmin Forerunner 205 with my older Garmin Forerunner 201. Here is the URL to the first part and you can find links at the bottom to the other parts:[…]

    If you don’t want to read the full reviews then here is a summary of my likes and dislikes:

    Likes

    * Comfort and Form factor: Usage model is very important and while the 205 is big, it feels and wears like a wrist watch. The plastic strap is more comfortable than the 201’s velco strap, and the unit also comes with an extension strap if you need to bundle up and wear it outside your clothing. Personally, I want to look at my watch for instant data (i.e. time, pace, distance, etc) and feedback so I’m unwilling to place a device on my upper arm even if I have to sacrifice accuracy. In terms of form factor, the lap and start/stop buttons are well placed and sized on the face of the watch.
    * GPS Accuracy: The Garmin Forerunner 205’s GPS receiver seemed much stronger. I can lock onto a signal inside my house next to a window, I haven’t received one weak signal in a week over routes that caused my 201 trouble. And on my one run over a tree-covered, GPS signal-challenging course, the 205 came out a star, finally allowing me to measure a route that I was unable to with my 201. The GPS accuracy data field and the satellite acquisition screen are also cool bonuses.
    * Customization: The 205 allows you to customize 2 main screens and a third activity specific (i.e. run, bike or other) one with 1 to 4 data fields per screen. This is very cool, especially for data-driven geeks like myself. Another great thing about all the Forerunners is you can customize screens and settings on the fly without interrupting your current activity.
    * Real-Time Pacing: I’m not that interested in knowing how fast I’m going at a specific moment in time so never was a big fan of the “real-time” pacing feature of the 201. With that said, the 205 seemed to be more consistent and showed a tighter range of paces. It also seemed closer to how fast I felt I was going relevant to the current conditions (i.e. uphill, downhill, flat) than the 201, which showed a lot of variation and lag.
    * USB Cradle: Charging and uploading via USB is a nice. Much faster than the 201’s serial port.

    Dislikes

    * Display: The display of the 205 seems smaller and the history screens are dark and hard to read. I wish they didn’t use the shading and just had the plain background.
    * Real-time elevation: For me this isn’t a big deal, but the “real-time” elevation reading lags on the 205. It seems to tie closely with GPS accuracy. For example, after I finish my runs I’ll usually walk a little in my backyard to cool down. The real-time elevation reading will then “catch up” to the correct elevation.
    * Buttons: My broken power button seems to be an anomaly so far since I haven’t read of others with the same problem. With that said, the side buttons seems a bit stiff to me.
    * Battery indicator: It just shows 4 vertical bars. I liked the feature on the 201 where it told you how many hours of charge were left when you powered it on.

    Cool Stuff

    * Tons of features: There are a lot of things the 205 can do such as import courses, advanced workouts, virtual partner and a bunch of other features that I need to explore

    Wishlist

    * Reduce form factor
    * Color screen
    * Increase battery life
    * Improve waterproofing/water resistance
    * Add wireless connectivity for uploading and downloading data and information over the air to PC or mobile service

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  3. 102 of 104 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Fantastic!, June 13, 2006
    By 
    Alex P.
    (VINE VOICE)
      

    Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
    This review is from: Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS Receiver and Sports Watch (Electronics)

    I purchased the 205 to mainly get an idea as to how far I was running. This is my first training GPS device. I figured the circuit I ran was about 5k. To my pleasant surprise the 205 told me I was doing 3k more than I estimated so that was great news to me! But the 205 did not stop there. Read on….

    If you are anything like me the runs I do at 5:30a on the weekdays are not as strong as the ones I do at 8a on the weekend. A couple hours of extra sleep seems to make a lot of difference. On Saturday I ran my 8k circuit at 8a and came in at a good time (for me). I saved the 8k circuit as a “course” in the 205. The Training Center software that comes with the 205 allows for fairly easy editing of the course adding in markers on when to turn, valleys/summits and saving the course back to the 205. This morning (5:30a) I started the 8k “course” in the 205. Straight away I could go to the navigation page and with the “virtual partner” function turned on there I was racing my(virtual)self! What fun! As expected I could not keep up with my(virtual)self and based on when my(virtual)self would start to break away I knew I had to put on more power. Without a doubt the virtual partner function is going to help me improve my early morning weekday runs. While I intellectually understood the benefit of the virtual partner function until I actually used it I didn’t appreciate what difference this function will have on my training.

    [Update Dec 2006: The virtual partner function has indeed improved my training. I have shaved 6 minutes off my 8k run since I bought the 205. Each time I make a new PR I save that as the course and work against that on subsequent runs. At worst I try and keep pace with myself. At best I beat myself!]

    I find the 205 to have fairly good ability to get satellite signal. I can turn it on in our house (2 story with me on the ground floor) and get a signal. But overhead tree cover does seem to affect the current pace accuracy (see my nits below).

    The integration with Google Earth and Maps is incredible. I can save the images as JPGs and post them to my blog so every one can see where I’ve been. Tres cool!

    As I mentioned earlier the Training Center software that comes on the CD with the 205 is good. However, I would recommend going to Motion Based whose URL is provided in a flier that is packaged in the 205. I really like MB and you can check out other people’s GPS data/times.

    Now that I covered what was important to me there do seem to be some minor nits with the device that I noticed and I see other people have already commented on. The nits I would like to see corrected:

    – the extensive menu navigation. There has to be a way to simplify the menu depth and make it a little more intuitive.

    – current pace is negatively affected by overhead obstructions. On my 15k I run down a trail that has intermittent clearings and tree cover. Every time I ran into the tree cover and lost signal strength on the satellites the current pace dropped even though I’m fairly sure I was keeping an even pace with the music I was listening to. The 205 has a “pace alert” function that can alert you to when you slow down. Not very useful when every time I ran into tree cover the alert would sound. I eventually had to turn the pace alerts off as it was too inaccurate to be of any use. The overall average pace seems to be accurate.

    [Update Dec 2006: As I travel a lot the only comment I have here is when I start up the 205 in a “new” city it takes a long time to lock into the satellites. Subsequent startups are fast so there must be some initialization process that is skipped on subsequent runs. I have run in San Francisco without GPS issues so not sure why others are having problems. ]

    Overall, if you are on the fence about a GPS training device (as I was) then jump down and join the rest of us that are reaping the significant benefits of owning one. And the 205 works really well so I highly recommend it!

    Oh, the reason I did not get the 305/HRM combo is because I get heat rash from wearing an HRM.

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