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Techs-Mechs: Product Review, Garmin Forerunner 305

A couple weeks ago I sought the advice of the wise members of the PdC for a new HRM/Bike computer.  I had a few specific functions that I wanted, and I also had a few models of interest.  The overwhelming majority of the responders suggested a Garmin.  Wanting something for multi sport use that could be worn on the wrist I opted for the Forerunner.  Being on a tight budget, I chose the Forerunner 305 (over the 310).  After a week+ of use here are my thoughts (on the flip).

It arrived on a Thursday when I got home fairly late (and needing to pack for a weekend away) however I really wanted to get my new toy hooked up so I set it up in haste.   My first ride was a bit of trial and error but then I spent some time with the owners manual which was quite helpful.  After getting to know the unit I gave it another go. Here's my take.

Stuff I like:

First of all I'm always pleased when a company gives you a few extra things like a watch band or watch pins, or electrical ties. I know that it's not too terribly hard to find this stuff after market, but when you really need something in a pinch it's nice to have it already.  It's a small gesture that I appreciate.

I picked up the quick release bar mount and watch strap.  the bar mount fastens to the pins of the watch and simply snaps into place with no need to wrap the band around the bars.  When you want to put it back on your wrist, it just snaps onto the bracket on the band.  Very convenient and makes for a nice neat set up.  

The HRM picks up a signal much faster than my Polar ever did (even with the chest strap bone dry) and i don't seem to get as many spiky readings.   

The monitor is fairly large and you can customize the display to view whatever data fields you want (up to 12 at a time out of maybe 50 to choose from).  I wasn't surprised at much i liked this feature.  

The true heart of the Garmin though is the data uploading  functionality (yes Sui you were right).  I am really enjoying seeing all my ride data on the screen and love that the graphs are customizable as well.  

I'm just scratching the surface of what it can do for navigation, but so far I'm encouraged and love the maps.

Accuracy of the speed and cadence seems spot on.  Like all wireless systems there is a bit of a speed-lag when watching the Garmin side by side with a wired bike computer, but it's no different than the Polar in this regard.  

The buttons are large and easy to use while riding.  No misfires and you can hear when you've changed screens.  The Polar buttons were a bit fussy by comparison as were the Sigma Sport BC1200 that I was using to bridge the time between the dead Polar and the new Garmin.


Stuff I don't love:

I was warned about the lack of accuracy of satellite based altitude when not coupled with barometric altitude.  I won't say that it is almost useless, but it is very jumpy and tends to overstate how much climbing I've done.  On my first long ride while visiting Cape Cod it seemed to be fine, but at home I see constant swings in elevation that are incorrect.  This impacts the gradient measurement quite a bit,  but the altitude eventually settles in and most of the climbs seem to register readings that are fairly close.  Regardless my next Garmin will have both. 

The cadence and speed sensor are one compact unit which keeps the look clean, but it's not easy to set up.  Plus the wheel magnet is rather bulky and you don't have a lot of room between the speed sensor and the magnet.  It doesn't need to be that close either to pick up a signal but it's unavoidable.  I swear today while riding out of the saddle i heard a couple clicks from the magnet making contact with the sensor as the rear wheel flexed laterally.  I have some less bulky magnets, but the Garmin doesn't seem to like them.  I suppose I don't need a speed sensor since it calculates the speed by satellite but it makes for a good backup in case you lose a satellite signal.  Just wish it was designed a little better.

This may be a non issue, but the quick release relies on the watch band pins to lock it in place.  Watch pins in general are not super strong and yesterday while riding on long sections of dirt roads I opted to wear the Garmin on my wrist all day in fear that it could be jarred loose.  This wouldn't be a concern on the road, and overall I like the design, just not sure how much i trust watch band pins.

Verdict: Thumbs Up!

Ok, it's not really a weekend wrist watch like the Polar was.  It's huge on your wrist, would be very prone to getting scratched and I'm not sure how long you could wear it as a watch before it needs recharging.  I will wear it skiing and hiking, but i'm not entirely sure a Edge model thrown in a pocket wouldn't do roughly the same thing.

I may eventually upgrade to the Edge 500 however the Forerunner 305 it does make for a nice clean set up on the bars which I prefer over larger stem mounted units. A fun toy and/or serious training tool that has all the functions i really need (albeit  rather fussy altitude/gradient measurements) and a near steal at $143.00.