Old Garmin = Good Garmin ▲

01 December 2018

Want to find out how and why I am still using relatively old Garmin devices?

Just yesterday, my Fenix 2 (sorry, I'm too lazy to use ē everywhere.) turned 3 years old. Well, I got it second hand, but it was on the 30th of November, 2015, when I had my first run with it. Since then I have acquired several Garmin devices, that I use on a daily basis. This post is about the road I took to get where I am now.

Disclaimer: this post is not sponsored or influenced by Garmin in any way. It is not a secret, and I am exceedingly proud to be the member of the Garmin Team in Hungary, however, the idea for this post is way older than that. The photo above was taken for example a year ago or so. I simply like my gadgets, and people often ask me, why I use Garmin, and why these specific models, so here it is.

Pre-Garmin times

I started running regularly in the spring of 2013. At that time, I used RunKeeper (after testing it with Endomondo in parallel for a while), and I was very content with it. Heck, I even wrote about it on the RunKeeper blog.

I have been flirting with the idea of buying a GPS watch pretty early on. The biggest thing that held me back was their price tag, of course. I was checking out Pebble for a year already, when I decided, that I can spend that much on myself, and running. You may be looking a bit strange at the screen now, thinking: "He is really talking about Pebble being expensive in a post about Garmin watches?!". Well, yes. I had a different financial situation than now, and I was not used to the idea of spending a lot of money on my hobby.

Anyhow, I got my Pebble, and that was one of the best deals of my life. I LOVED that watch. Simple, no fancy stuff, just what I needed. But... we all know what happened to Pebble..., but way before that:

The first step: Fenix 2

So it was the november of 2015, I was already running for more than 2 years, started cyclig, etc. It was on the summer of 2015, that I did an Ironman race, still with my Pebble+RunKeeper duo. And it was really annoying, that during the cycling part, my phone had to be on a powerbank so that the battery can last the whole race.

That frustration kept me checking out Garmin watcher more and more often. At this point You may wonder: "Just Garmin? No Polar, Sunto, TomTom?". To be honest, I have never really heard of the last two by that time (Yeah, I've been living under a rock it seems.). I definitely knew about Polar. I knew about that brand before Garmin, as a company, that is superb in heart rate monitors. My (not necessarily accurate) thinking was like this: Garmin is a company that has a lot of experience in GPS, and now also puts HR on their watches. Polar is a company that has a lot of experience in HR, and now puts GPS in their watches. Since I was obsessed with tracking more and more kilometers, looking at my maps, etc., it was obvious for me to choose Garmin.

Another reason, not to check out other brands was to avoid spending hours and hours on comparing benefits/shortcomings of different options. That is still one of the reasons, why I'd never consider using another brand, even if (and that's a big IF) there is maybe a slightly better option somewhere else. I don't care. Finding it, getting used to it would have a bigger toll, than what it is probably worth. (Not to mention the pain of transferring all my tracks.) If You haven't seen this (totally unrelated) TED Talk about the sadness the overwhelming number of options can cause, I highly recommend to spend Your next 20 minutes with it.

Getting back on track: I was really eager to buy a watch, but if I were to spend a lot of money on it, I wanted it to meet these conditions:

  • The battery should last 14+ hours in GPS mode.
  • I don't want to buy a separate unit for cycling/swimming/etc.
  • I still want to be able to eat hot food the next month :-P
And then... I just found it... the watch of my dreams... the Fenix 2.

At that time, the Fenix 3 was already shipped, and promoted, which meant that prices for the F2 dropped, and I managed to find a barely used one for around $200. It was still by far the biggest investment I had in a long time, but I am really happy I bought my Fenix 2, as it still serves me well today.

Price evaluation

For some people, a big investment can provide motivation ("If I have already spent this much money on it, I better go out and run..."). For most of us, however, it is simply shocking to spend several hundreds of dollars on a watch.

So let me soothe Your twinge of conscience: My watch cost me $200. Since then I ran 6000+ km with it. Applying some rocket-science level math, that leads to less than 4 cents per kilometer. (Or less then 6 for a mile.) That is roughly half of what I spend on running shoes per km. The difference: the shoes wear off, the Fenix 2 doesn't.

I know, a new watch is more expensive. I know that a lot of people does not run 2000+ km a year. But do the math for Yourself, and I'm sure You will be surprised, how "cheap" that watch is. To make this look even better: I could still sell this watch for $100, and I have used it for cycling, swimming, inline skating, kayaking...

Bottom line: It is not expensive if You really use it. Big investment, sure, but You probably waste way more on things that benefit You less.

Note, that I did not threw away my Pebble when I got my Fenix 2. Fenix 2 is an amazing GPS watch, but not the best smartwatch for notifications. Thus, I've used my Pebble as a smartwatch 24/7 on my left wrist, and put my Fenix on my right wrist when running.

Stage 2: Virb

I really don't like spending a lot of money on things, that are not important. This is the reason, I've never bought the newest Iphone or Galaxy phone. I'm sure, that they are awesome, but I don't really need all that functionality. A simple phone with a much lower price will satisfy me. A consequence of this was, that in the last couple of years, I always had phones, that make pretty awful photos. Formerly, this was not an issue for me, but as I started running, I wanted to share the beautiful experiences I have with my friends and family.

I had to realize, that the cameras in my phones are not suited for that. If I really want to do this, I have to get something specific for this purpose. And that's how I ended up buying a Garmin Virb around 2 years ago.

Previously, I wrote 3 posts about why I decided on a Virb:

  1. Garmin Virb test (2017.01.21.)
  2. 2nd look at my Garmin Virb: Photos and portability(2017.07.15.)
  3. 3rd look at my Garmin Virb: Recordings and editing(2017.08.23.)
You can check out the details on those links, but keeping it short: it was cheap ($140 for a used one), it was Garmin, I liked its shape, and that big sliding button.

I still use the Virb, if I want to record something. It has its limitations, e.g., the newer models are way better in smoothing the motions, but I'm still happy with it. To make this post less boring, here are some nice pictures I made with it over the years: (note: photos downscaled from full HD quality.)

And here is a video I made as well:

My commute partner: the Edge 200

It is the August of 2017. I moved to flat in a village, that is 4 km from the University where I work. This also meant, that I'll be commuting every day with my own bike, as there are no stations of the local bike sharing network in that village. Meanwhile I was also fed up with manually adding the daily commutes by hand in the evening. The first option was to use my Fenix for the commutes as well, but there were several downsides to that:

  • I did not want to wear 2 watches nearly all the time.
  • Often my day looked like this: commute to work; have a run after work; commute back to my apartment. With a single device, the two commuting cycle rides would not have been added to a single track.

Anyhow, I looked around, whether Garmin has something to offer as a solution. Formerly, I did never really investigate the Edge lineup, but then I've found a nice used Edge 200 for $60. Again, a very simple unit, but that is exactly what I loved and still love about it. Just 2 button presses, and the Edge is ready to record my commute. When I arrive, long press on the left button, and it is paused and turned off. Putting it on the bike takes 2 seconds, and the same amount of time is required to remove it and put it in my pocket / backpack.

I have never properly tested the battery, but it still lasts 12+ hours. I have put mounts on my road bike as well, and the Edge is so much better for "serious riding", than a Fenix on my wrist. (I know I could mount that on the bike too, but it's more complicated.) When I'm exploring with my bike, I can easily put a track on the Edge, and follow it. (No map available, but to be honest, it is not really needed.) The screen is simple, easy to read, no touchscreen, simply perfect for me.

Since then I use my Edge nearly every day. To be honest, I would probably still keep using it for commuting, if I were to have the newest Edge / Fenix model. This is a robust, cheap model, perfect for this purpose. Once I left it on the bike for 10 hours in front of the university, and I've only realized that mistake, I when was headed to the bike from my office. I was pretty sure, that I'll have to spend another $60 to buy a "new" one, but luckily it was still there.

I will probably not upgrade to a newer, and more sophisticated model, as I don't ride my road bike that "seriously" either. That can change in the future, of course, but until then, the Edge 200 is just perfect for me. The only downside is, that it doesn't have bluetooth, so I have to upload the tracks via a USB cable. This seems a bit bothersome for daily rides, but I don't do the upload every day. I don't mind if my commute rides doesn't appear on Garmin Connect until the weekend. So I usually plug the Ednge to my computer once during the weekend, I sync all 5-6 tracks in a minute, and leave it connected for a bit to get charged.

And yes, it works perfectly well in freezing temperatures too ;-)

The successor of my Pebble: Vivoactive

When the Pebble dream was already over, and my unit started having problems, I knew that I need to find something. My requirements were this:

  • Battery should last ~1 week.
  • I don't care about colors, or HR monitoring
  • I care about reading my calendar reminders, SMS messages, call notifications with ease.
  • Not bad if it can count my steps, measure my sleeps.
  • Preferably no touch screen.

So basically, I was looking for another Pebble, which I obviously did not find. If the new one were to have a step counter and sleep tracking, it had to be Garmin. I don't want that data in a different (let's say Fitbit) database.

The first model I tried was the first Vivosmart, which I tested for a couple of weeks, but the screen was not large enough for me to read my messages properly. Then I moved to a Vivosmart HR. The experience was much better, but still cumbersome after the Pebble. Third time's a charm: Vivoactive I gave the Vivosmart HR to my mother and got a Vivoactive, that I use it 24/7 since that day.

The watch doesn't meet all my requirements above, and the screen is smaller, than on the Pebble. In the beginning I was even worried, that it will not really last, as it is so light and slim. But it is still going strong, and I use it more, than I initially intended to. Since it has a GPS, I don't use my Fenix when running shorter (less than 20 km) distances, e.g., my community group runs on Tuesdays. This watch is more than capable to track those short runs, and the same goes for pool swimming as well. When I have a longer run, for example a marathon race, I put the Fenix on my right wrist, and track with that one, although, the Vivoactive still could do 4-5 hours when fully charged. Oh, yeah, and it did cost me $100, so, a very good deal.

I am really happy with the Vivoactive: it is slim, light, yet durable. The design is fit for everyday use, can track shorter runs, swims, and I usually need to charge it once or twice a week, depending on the GPS usage.

Last addition: Forerunner 201

You may never even heard about this model, and if You are not a fanatic, You don't really need to. To be honest, I had no idea about this unit until I googled for the first GPS watch of Garmin. That was the Forerunner 101, but the tracks can not be downloaded from that watch at all, so I got fixated on the 201, that already offered this (with a serial-mini jack cable that goes into a clip, that You should put on the watch itself.)

Needless to say, I have bought this watch purely for fun. It cost me $50, but was totally worth it. Since then I've tested it a few times, and to be honest, I love that watch. The running guy on startup is my favorite, stopping mid-screen for a little rest. But seriously, the screens are nice, the map view is actually better than on my Fenix 2 due to its larger size. Surprisingly, it still can record several hours, and its size would make You think, that it is very uncomfortable, but not really. Unfortunately, syncing from it is a drag nowadays (I needed Virtualbox and a USB-Serial converter), and the quality of the GPS is not the best. But hey, it is a 13 year old watch, it exceeded my expectations by far!

Present: the 3 musketeers and D'Ar... the Virb

So, to sum it up, this is how I use my devices nowadays:

  • Vivoactive
    • Always on my left wrist as a smartwatch
    • Short runs mid-week
    • Pool swimming
    • 5k ride to /from the train station before/after trips
    • Charging it 1-2 times a week when I'm taking a shower
  • Edge 200
    • Daily 8-15 km long commutes.
    • Road bike riding.
    • Manual track upload once a week with charging.
  • Fenix 2
    • Longer runs during the weekend.
    • Races in general.
    • On my right wrist.
  • Forerunner 201
    • Decorates my shelf.
    • Ok, sometimes I have fun with it.
  • Virb
    • Take with me when going somewhere interesting.
    • Fits into the front pocket of Camelbacks just nice.

The future?

You may ask: what is next? For the moment, nothing really. I'm fine with the setup I have now. I don't miss anything, and I can do everything important. I am considering, however, to replace my Vivoactive-Fenix duo with a single Instinct. That is a watch that (as far as I know) was designed for me. I love, that You can not listen to music on it, nor does it have a color display. It has a long battery life, robustness, and friendly price tag instead. If my Vivoactive or Fenix 2 would be lost or a family member would need it, I'd not hesitate to buy an Instinct. I am really glad, that Garmin decided to put out a watch like this, and I strongly hope, that it will be profitable, so that they will develop it further.

Ok, Mate, anything you kept quiet?

Well, kind of... If I think, that a family member would like and really use one, I sometimes buy a Garmin as a present. Of course everyone has different needs, so this list has Vivofit, Vivofit Jr. 2, Edge 130, Foreruner 15, Fenix on it (so far).

Ok, fine, I have a Garmin baseball cap, and a Garmin towel, and... You know what, let's just end this boringly long post with this, You probably need it by now:

So, are You using a watch for running/cycling/etc? If yes, which one and why?