When I finally decided that I wanted to get a GPS running watch, I didn’t know what watch I was going to get. All I wanted from a GPS watch was to measure my speed. I have been doing my fartlek for a while, and I wanted to know my pace during my run. Well, simple enough request, right?
So I started searching. I browsed Amazon for GPS watches with the best reviews, googled for the latest fitness watches that just came out, and went through pages of GPS watch reviews on fitness magazines to online communities. And I found a watch that did everything that I wanted, and plus a whole lot more. I picked up a Garmin Fenix 3.
It was around June. It had only been a couple of months since Fenix 3 came out, and I remember that there weren’t any online discounts available. Note that I consider myself a value shopper (my wife can vouch for that), and very price conscious. I hate paying the full price, if I can run some simple searches to find out deals online. But I simply couldn’t for Fenix 3. So I did a very unusual thing. I walked in to a REI store, and pick up a brand new Fenix 3 at its full price. It was $550 plus tax.
Fenix 3 was a great looking watch. It had a bright color screen without any grainy pixels, it featured GPS and GLONASS location (I heard that GLONASS is a Russian GPS that can be used as backup when GPS is not working; never got to test it myself, though), it did navigation, it showed temperature, altitude, mobile phone alerts, and heart rate using the included heart rate monitor. Oh yeah… it also had the speed.
After trying it out for a couple of days, however, I realized that I really did not mean to spend $550 on my GPS watch. Let’s think about it for a minute. When was the last time I went out hiking in wilderness relying only on my GPS watch to find my way back home? Well, it has not happened yet, and I don’t see that happening anytime soon. I knew I had an impulse purchase. Thankfully, REI was gracious enough to take my return. No questions asked.
Then I was back at the drawing board. It wasn’t Fenix 3. Then what would it be? What was the right watch that I needed to measure my speed? Let’s see, I wanted to use a watch for running, primarily for running, and maybe indoor running as well. Yes, heart rate monitoring would be a must. Oh look. Garmin had the new watch that did not require a separate heart rate monitor. Let’s check it out. It was Garmin Forerunner 225.
It must have been July because I remember ordering a Forerunner 225 from Amazon, and receiving it when I returned from a couple of nights in Monterey. Unboxing it, doing a quick setup, and wearing it, it felt solid. It had a very intuitive navigation, and it was easy to use. The optical heart rate monitor was working as advertised when I clicked a button to read my heart rate on the fly.
So I gave it a real try. I took it to 24-Hour Fitness, and wore it three times on my treadmill run. But for some reason, it just couldn’t produce the accurate heart rate reading for me. I would say about 20% of time, it was showing totally off heart rates, something like 220bpm at one time, and on the other times, it was showing sharp drop of heart rate in the middle of the run. After I failed to get a consistent heart rate reading, I realized that I wanted my measurements to be accurate. As we geeks say, garbage in, garbage out.
Forerunner 225 was not meant for me either. After spending about a week of honeymoon, it was back in the box to be UPSed out to Amazon. By then, I was getting a bit desperate to find a GPS watch that would work for me. So I started widening my search, and looked for something that’s simpler, cheaper, and perhaps more reliable.
Then I found Polar M400. It was built for runner, and had all basic GPS functionalities, plus activity tracking and bluetooth message display. And to make it even more attractive, it was sold for under $200. What a bargain, I thought. I found a deal through Google Shopping site, and ordered one. Finally, I found a watch that would be just right for me. No fancy features. Just an honest GPS location tracking, speed, and heart rate monitoring. Just what I wanted. Problem solved. I just had to wait for my M400 to be delivered through ground shipping.
While my anticipation of M400 built, there were a couple of things that happened. A very bad omen, if you ask me. I found the M400 price dropped by about $40 within a few days after I ordered. Bad sign because it gave me an incentive to return and buy it again if the seller was not going to match the price for me (the seller did not agree to do that, BTW). But even worse was to find this damning report by fellrnr. He was basically saying that he couldn’t recommend M400 because its GPS accuracy was the worst out of all the watches that he tested. And test, he did. If you take a look at his report, he goes into science-journal-article level review process to vet the series of GPS watches, and concludes that M400 is not even fit to be called a GPS watch because its accuracy is so bad.
My anticipation turned into a liability of owning a lemon. In reality, I didn’t know whether M400 would be so bad that I wouldn’t be able to get my speed reliably. All I knew was that I wanted a quality device that captured good data. The thought of knowing that there were better options out there, I just couldn’t live with that hanging over me. So I did what any sensible geek would do. I returned the watch, the moment I received it.
Now, at this point a dilettante may have given up on the idea of getting a GPS watch. But hey, if I were a quitter, I wouldn’t be a runner. I had to find a watch that would work for me. So I dug in and read the fellrnr’s report closely. And to my surprise, he found that Polar V800 had the highest GPS accuracy out of a dozen or so GPS watches that he tested. I searched and found a few other articles discussing GPS accuracy, and found that V800 owners rarely complained about its GPS accuracy, while other watch owners had a few negative comments regarding their GPS accuracy.
From then on, I started to monitor V800 price, and found this great deal where it was sold for under $300 including H7 bluetooth heart rate sensor on eBay. That’s how I ended up with my V800.
How do I like V800? I like it very much. I have been wearing it on my run since I got it in late August, and GPS tracking has been superb. Looking at the GPS tracked route, I can see where I cross the street, and even how I ran off the path to avoid pedestrians. With that level of GPS accuracy, I know that my speed is pretty darn close to the real speed that I run.
What about that speed? Well, we’ll talk about that later. Let me just say that I did not regret my career choice of being a geeky product manager. 🙂