Sport watches part I: comparing features of Garmins and a Polar

Recently I’ve been doing some research about some of the more advanced sport watches. I started using a Garmin Forerunner 10 (a simple GPS watch) about a year ago. I’ve had fun with it and I’m impressed both by how easy it is to use (I’m not a geek, after all), and the way it gives me lots of numbers and maps to look at. Plus, it provides me with an infallible record of my running and cycling workouts (barring computer disasters).

However, when I began to look online to see what more sophisticated sport watches could provide, I became hopelessly confused. The number of complicated features these watches offer is astounding. There is not only much to learn about what these watches can do and how to set them up, but there are additional learning hurdles to jump. For example, how do you analyze the huge amounts of data they can generate? How do you take advantage of the watches’ accompanying software and the ability to share your data on social networks via your smartphone?

I figured that I’m not the only person who might be confused and asking the following questions:

  1. Should I use a sport watch?
  2. Which watch is right for me?

I decided to attempt to clear up the confusion (at least partially) by posting two articles. This first one is a simple one in which I’m presenting two tables comparing sport watch features. The first table compares three Garmin running watches: the Forerunner 10, the Forerunner 220, and the Forerunner 620.

The second table compares features of two watches that are roughly comparable in terms of price and what they offer. One is the Garmin 620 and the other is the Polar RCX5 G5. I’m using these watches as examples because Garmin and Polar are the two most popular and respected brands of running watches. Garmin established its reputation for its GPS technology, whereas Polar has long been the leader in heart rate monitoring devices. These backgrounds are still reflected in some differences in these brands’ most advanced watches.

There are other brands of popular sport watches, notably from Nike and Timex, but I’ve chosen to present the leading brands here rather than give a comprehensive survey. I can also offer a note of caution about cheaper brands that I will not name here. Generally, you get what you pay for, and lesser-known brands may be unreliable, not user-friendly, and lacking good tech support.

This article is a simple one and you could get this information (and more) from the Garmin and Polar websites. I’m just trying to give a quick overview because the amount of information on the websites is overwhelming. Also, I would like to add a caveat: I’m far from being an expert in the subject of sport watches, so some pieces of information are missing from my tables. In addition, I’m sure the best way to become an expert about any of these watches is to use them and try as many features as possible.

I will be posting a second article very soon that should be more helpful and thought-provoking than this one. My second article will give people guidance about which watch might be most appropriate for their running ability, technical ability, and personality. I’ll also give my opinions about both the benefits and dangers of sport watches and why I believe no watch can replace a human coach.

Garmin 620 sport watch

The Garmin 620

Table 1: Comparison of three popular Garmin running watches

Watch Model Forerunner 10 Forerunner 220 Forerunner 620
Feature
GPS data including maps, distance, elevation
Total activity time/time spent in motion
Walk/run alerts
Vibration alerts  
Pace per kilometer or mile
Lap times (for each kilometer or mile)
Virtual Pacer™ allows you to set your desired pace and be alerted if you are more than 4% too fast or too slow
Calories burned
Keep track of your PRs for specific distances or workouts
Sharing via Garmin Connect
Water resistant (you can swim but watch will not give accurate swim data)
Fast GPS fix compared to previous models  
Accelerometer on wrist so watch can capture distance and pace indoors without a foot pod  
Create advanced workouts on Garmin Connect and download to watch (i.e. you can set complicated interval workouts with various distances and times)  
Two out of the three available screens are customizable—just not the heart rate screen  
Full colour watch screen  
Touch screen that works with gloves or sweaty fingers    
Autoscroll through the three screens can be set at slow, medium, or fast  
Battery life in workout mode a few hours 10 hours 10 hours
Extended Timeout—watch will stay in workout mode even if you are inactive for up to 25 minutes (useful to keep watch ready and oriented to location before a race)  
Advocate: shares your workout or race achievements on social media sites. You can even send out live notices during an event with LiveTrack which uses Bluetooth connectivity (BLE). You need a smartphone (iPhone 4S or higher and Android phones soon) plus the Garmin Connect Mobile app.  
Heart rate data provided with HRM-Run  
Virtual Partner™ and Virtual Racer™    
Advanced coaching features: these are accurate after HRM-Run has been used for a week to get a good assessment of heart rate data. Advanced features include:

  • Estimate of VO2 Max (accurate to within 2.7%)
  • Race Predictor can use your VO2 Max estimate to predict your finishing time for race distances between 5K and the marathon
  • Running dynamics show your running cadence (steps per minute), vertical oscillation (vertical motion through the air), and ground contact time. These numbers are measures of running efficiency and can suggest what changes in your running technique might improve your running efficiency—and thus your speed at a given effort.
  • Recovery Advisor tells you after your run how many recovery hours you will need to take before your next workout (6–96).
  • Recovery Check assesses your recovery during the first few minutes of your next run and tells you if you are recovered or not.

 

 

 

   
Polar RCX5 G5 sport watch

The Polar RCX5 G5

Table 2: Comparison of two advanced GPS/ heart rate watches:

the Polar RCX5 G5 and the Garmin Forerunner 620 with HMR-Run

Watch Model Polar RCX5 G5 Garmin Forerunner 620 with HMR-Run
Comparable  Features  

 

 
Lap times 99 laps; can set lap distance Unlimited laps; can set lap distance
Calories burned Smart Calories. OwnCal is “the most accurate calorie counter on the market” according to the Polar website. It calculates calories burned using your weight, height, age, gender, you maximal heart rate, and your training intensity. Heart rate based calorie computation.
Water resistance Water resistant to 50m. Gives heart rate even in water using the Polar Hybrid transmitter, so you can switch between sports during one training session. Can swim with watch but no heart rate data given.
Indoor workouts giving distance and pace ? Accelerometer on wrist so watch can capture distance and pace indoors without a foot pod
Screen features You can avoid using buttons by bringing your watch close to your transmitter. Touch screen that works with gloves or sweaty fingers. Full colour screen. You can autoscroll through the three screens at three different speeds: slow, medium or fast.
Customizable screens Screens can be configured to display the information you want to see during your training. Two out of the three available screens are customizable—just not the heart rate screen.
Battery life in workout mode 12 hours or 11 one-hour workouts. 10 hours
Extended Timeout in workout mode Unable to find out if Polar has a feature comparable to Garmin’s. Extended Timeout—watch will stay in workout mode even if you are inactive for up to 25 minutes (useful to keep watch ready and oriented to location before a race)
Social sharing of your workouts and races in real time ? Advocate: shares your workout or race achievements on social media sites. You can even send out live notices during an event with LiveTrack which uses Bluetooth connectivity (BLE). You need a smartphone (iPhone 4S or higher and Android phones soon) plus the Garmin Connect Mobile app.
Virtual partners A feature called Race Pace tells you the time you are ahead or behind your target pace. You will get visible and audible alarms if you are outside a certain percentage of your planned pace. The watch shows your current, average, and maximum pace during the run. Garmin has Virtual Partner™ and Virtual Racer™. Virtual Partner allows you to set a pace and then be informed throughout your run how far ahead/behind you are by distance and time. You will be alerted if you get a certain percentage ahead or behind. Virtual Racer allows you to race against the actual race splits of a distance done previously by yourself or someone else.
Advanced coaching features: This watch uses heart rate zones extensively for its coaching features. Maximum heart rate can be set by the user, or be age-based, or can be based on the Polar Fitness Test. This test measures aerobic fitness at rest in five minutes. No exertion (such as a treadmill or cycle ergometer test) is required. Polar claims that this test predicts VO2 Max as accurately as any sub maximal fitness test.

  • You can manually set your target heart rate zones or use the zones suggested by Polar based on your HRmax.
  • You can view your average and maximum HR for each lap.
  • Visible and audible alarms warn you if you are out of your target heart rate zones.
  • Use Polar’s online site to find your Training Load. It shows your cumulative training load for each day, and advises you when you should be taking rest days or training. harder.PolarOwnOptimizer  is an easy test that lets you know if your training is optimally developing your performance. It helps you set your training load so you aren’t either undertraining or overtraining. The watch will suggest when you need more time to recover.
    • You can also analyze your heart rate variability (HRV) with ProTrainer 5 software.
    • Running Index score: this measures your running efficiency. It is calculated after every run, based on the speed data from your GPS or your S3+ Stride Sensor.
    • The S3 Stride Sensor is a shoe attachment that measures running speed and distance. It also measures your running cadence and stride length. Either the S3 Stride Sensor or the GPS can give you a  Running Index score
    • Heart rate variability: you can analyze this with ProTrainer 5 software.
Advanced coaching features are accurate after HRM-Run has been used for a week to get a good assessment of heart rate data. Advanced features include:

  • Estimate of VO2 Max (accurate to within 2.7%)
  • Race Predictor can use your VO2 Max estimate to predict your finishing time for race distances between 5K and the marathon
  • Running dynamics show your running cadence (steps per minute), vertical oscillation (vertical motion through the air), and ground contact time. These numbers are measures of running efficiency and can suggest what changes in your running technique might improve your running efficiency—and thus your speed at a given effort.
  • Recovery Advisor tells you after your run how many recovery hours you will need to take before your next workout (6–96).
  • Recovery Check assesses your recovery during the first few minutes of your next run and tells you if you are recovered or not.

 

 

Advanced workouts Interval trainer guided workouts can be based on time, heart rate, speed/pace or distance. You can manually set the distance(s) and use up to 99 laps. Create advanced workouts on Garmin Connect and download to your watch. You can set complicated interval workouts with various distances and times.
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About nancytinarirunswrites

I used to be known as a competitive runner, but now I have a new life as a professional writer and editor. I'm even more obsessive about reading, writing, and editing than I was about running. Running has had a huge influence on my life, though, and runner's high does fuel creativity. Maybe that's why this blog evolved into being 95% about running, but through blogging I'm also learning about writing and online communication. I'm fascinated by how the Internet has changed work, learning, and relationships. I love to connect in new and random ways!
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One Response to Sport watches part I: comparing features of Garmins and a Polar

  1. Pingback: The middle-aged athlete part two: being a guinea pig for heart rate experiments | NancyRuns&Writes

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