Garmin Forerunner 235 ‘Smartwatch’ Review (I Love It)

The Garmin Forerunner 235. I wish I had as many hairs on my head as my arms. Nice watch though.
I wish I had as many hairs on my head as on my arms. Nice watch though.

After months of stating that I won’t get a smart watch, I’ve gone and bought one. Sort of. And I’m delighted with it. It’s the Garmin Forerunner 235.

I’ve been preparing to run a marathon since the start of 2016. During training my mile paces (timings) were all over the place. During a half marathon in May, someone suggested I get a GPS based running watch to keep my paces consistent.

After a little research I realised the decent ones are well over £200 and I didn’t want to spend that much. I found a way to get a 50% discount on the specific watch I wanted, the Garmin Forerunner 235, and now I’m hooked – not just on the running features.

The watch

The Garmin Forerunner 235 is a GPS tracker, with a heart rate monitor and a step counter (commonly called an Activity Tracker).

My major gripe with an Apple Watch is that the battery lasts only a day – one and a half days at most, but the Garmin lasts for almost seven days including some long distance event tracking.

Importantly for me, beyond the mile pacing, is that events are all linked directly to Strava (my favourite mobile app since 2012). The heart rate tracking is good (it’s recorded from the wrist, underneath the watch). The watch doesn’t always show the correct heart rate, but it’s shown correctly on Strava.

As a smartwatch

What has surprised me the most, is how I use the watch for phone notifications.

I’ve stopped looking at my watch to see if there are notifications. The Garmin and my phone (Samsung S7) connect via Bluetooth. This means my phone gently vibrates with each notification. An alert is shown on the watch for everything the phone displays, including incoming calls. Whilst Bluetooth might drain the phone’s battery a little quicker (I didn’t normally leave it enabled before I had the watch), I look at the phone a lot less now, so the battery is lasting longer.

Easy to use. Not.

What's the difference between an app, Application, Data Field and widget? No idea.
What’s the difference between an app, Application, Data Field and widget? No idea.

The user interface on the watch is astounding. It must have taken the team of designers a long time to make the user interface so difficult to use and inconsistent. The watch has five buttons, each with different features depending if you keep the button pressed down for a while or not. After two months I am still discovering new features on the watch by accident!

Garmin offer an online marketplace which allows users to download different (wait for it…) apps, applications, data fields, watch faces and widgets (those are the titles of the sections on its homepage). I don’t know why they didn’t keep everything labelled as an app – but this typifies how the watch works as well.

In summary, I really like the watch. If nothing else, it helped me pace my first marathon last weekend in under four hours. The phone notifications are better than I had thought they’d be. I’ve become more interested with the daily activity tracking statistics.

If you’re thinking of an Apple Watch, question why that is, and whether there are other better, with longer lasting batteries, and cheaper alternatives out there.

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