The Garmin Forerunner 610 is a watch with a built-in GPS and a huge range of data logging capabilities - it's designed to be an all-in-one tool for anyone looking to track their workouts or fitness routines. We can't think of anything workout-wise that's missing from it; our chief concern is the battery life and sometimes-fiddly touchscreen.
Garmin Forerunner 610: Design and operation
The Garmin Forerunner 610 looks just like a normal watch - from a distance we'd struggle to tell it from a good ol' fashioned G-Shock. It is a bit chunky at 14.2mm thick, but the curved metal rear case means it's comfortable even when tightly strapped on during exercise.
The face of the watch is just under 46mm wide, and the touchscreen LCD is 25mm in diameter; it's easy to read the time off the Garmin Forerunner 610 at arm's length, but reading some of the smaller text requires bringing the watch closer. There are three physical buttons on the Forerunner 610's case: a power/backlight button, and stopwatch-style start/stop and lap buttons.
The touchscreen of the Garmin Forerunner 610 is a resistive one. You can use any implement to operate it, but we found that a soft tap or swipe occasionally didn't register - you'll get best results if you use a bit of force. Since the touch-sensitive area is only a little over an inch in size, using a forefinger means it's possible to occasionally hit the wrong button; we opted to use our slightly daintier pinky fingers to move through the Forerunner 610's menus.
Thankfully, the menus are simply laid out and easy to navigate. There are four main screens for the Forerunner 610 to display during exercise, which can be swapped between by tapping or swiping across the face of the watch - the normal date/time, a heart-rate read-out (for use with the optional heart-rate monitor), GPS info, and a page of customisable workout stats.
If you want to delve into the settings of the Garmin Forerunner 610 - maybe to change your minimum and maximum heart-rate settings, or to change your preferred distance measurement from miles to kilometres - you'll need to tap the bottom of the screen and swipe vertically through menu options. The button for each sub-menu is only around 5mm tall so it's possible to tap the wrong one accidentally, but this isn't much of an inconvenience and we found we only had to visit the menu a few times throughout our testing of the Forerunner 610.
Our review unit of the Garmin Forerunner 610 was bundled with a heart-rate monitor, which is worn on a chest strap. You can also purchase a Garmin foot pod, which has an accelerometer to measure your cadence, stride length and other exercise minutiae. Coupled with the inbuilt GPS, the foot pod ensures you'll always be able to track your running or cycling speed and performance.
Garmin Forerunner 610: Performance
To test the Garmin Forerunner 610, we took it on several hour-long runs over a couple of weeks, with the bundled heart-rate monitor strapped on. Now, we're not exactly prime athletes, but we think we took the Forerunner 610 on a suitable range of exercises to test its capabilities. In any case, we got uncomfortably sweaty. It wasn't fun.
After we'd fully charged the Garmin Forerunner 610, we took it on a stroll through the built-up business districts of North Sydney. It took about five minutes to find and lock on to enough GPS satellites to provide accurate location and distance data, but after that we found we could walk around the area's skyscrapers and tall buildings without entirely losing the GPS signal.
Once we were out in the suburbs in more open terrain, the Forerunner 610 never had trouble acquiring a GPS lock and did so within two minutes each time. When indoors, the GPS cuts out quickly; the watch defaults to an 'indoor' low-power mode.
Once you've taken care of the watch's initial setup, all you need to do is hit the start button when you begin exercising, the lap button when you finish an interval, and the stop button when you can't be bothered to move any more. The Forerunner 610 takes care of all the data entry and can store 180 hours of data - even if you don't download the watch's saved data to a PC, this is a year's worth of data if you're running for an hour every two days before it's full.
Using the Garmin Forerunner 610 with the bundled heart-rate monitor brought out the statistics geek in us. We found ourselves checking the results every few minutes throughout the day, cataloguing our heart rate during walking and running and sitting and lying down and eating and coughing and talking - it got a little excessive. In any case the heart-rate monitor worked as we expected and we got a wealth of data to plug into Garmin's Training Centre application.
The Garmin Forerunner 610 syncs wirelessly and uploads data to your PC through the bundled Garmin ANT+ wireless USB dongle - Windows XP onwards and all recent flavours of Mac OS X are supported. We didn't have any problems with only plugging in the dongle when we wanted to upload data - no crashes or loss of data.
The Garmin Training Centre application lets you view your activity against a map, create custom work-outs to carry out, and look through a huge number of graphs and figures and statistics. It even works with Google Earth, so you can share or show off your routes and data with others. We found the application had more data than we knew what to do with - we think anyone up to professional athlete level would be catered for.
Similarly, you can use the Garmin Forerunner 610 and ANT+ dongle to upload data to the Garmin Connect+ website. It's got a small range of social features - you can compare your fitness routine with other Connect+ users if you want, or export some of your data to Facebook, Digg or del.icio.us - but the value lies in its wide range of logs, listings, goal settings and analysis that the service offers. If you think keeping track of your exercises would be valuable to your fitness, the Forerunner 610 and Garmin Connect+ offers more data than you could reasonably need. The data logging and feedback features of the Garmin Forerunner 610 are excellent.
Garmin Forerunner 610: Battery life
We tested the Garmin Forerunner 610 over two weeks, over eight runs of 30 to 45 minutes in length. As we're writing this review it's only just run out of battery life; Garmin's claim of eight hours battery life during active use are credible. If you're not using the GPS every day or two we think it'd be possible to stretch the battery out to a monthly recharge.
The Forerunner 610 comes with an AC adaptor that clips into two electrical contacts on the back of the watch, with magnets to hold the charging plate secure. If you keep the charger plugged in it's easy to regularly keep the Forerunner 610's battery topped up.