Earlier this year, we reviewed the Fitbit Surge, the Swiss Army Knife of wearables. GPS? Check. Strava integration? Check. Daily activity tracking? Check. Heart rate monitoring? Check, and it was this point that made the device so appealing. Full HR monitoring through the wrist combined with GPS tracking made the Surge the ideal gadget for any runner, biker, or person looking for something that amounts to the modern day incarnation of the Casio calculator watch.
But there was a problem. A large, glaring, awful problem, and one that made me eventually ditch the device out of frustration. The GPS tracking was downright abysmal. In early September I ran the Mid-Mountain Marathon, which is a clearly defined distance of 26.2 miles. Can’t really argue with that. But according to my Fitbit Surge I used to track the entire run, I only ran just over 22 miles that day, a variation of over 15%! That’s a terrible discrepancy and considering the abundance of wearables with far better GPS tracking, I decided it was time to make a switch.
But there was a problem. All alternatives seemed to always be lacking the Surge’s fantastic combo of both HR monitoring through the wrist and GPS. It was easy to find a GPS watch without heart rate capabilities and vice versa, but it wasn’t until Garmin announced their Forerunner 225 that a suitable replacement to the Surge was available.
The Garmin Forerunner 225 takes the GPS capabilities of their extremely popular Forerunner lineup and pairs it with their first attempt at built-in wrist based heart rate monitoring. The result is a watch that checks off every essential box for a runner but not a thing more. Here’s what to expect:
- GPS: Recall that my primarily reason for switching from the Fitbit Surge to the Garmin Forerunner 225 was because of GPS accuracy. And the Forerunner leaves nothing to be desired. The GPS accuracy is nearly spot on, with only around a 1% deviation in distance on a bad day. Garmin, of course, built it’s name around GPS accuracy, so the attention to distance tracking should come as no surprise.
- Heart Rate: For their first device to incorporate heart rate monitoring, Garmin opted to use technology from Mio, pioneers of wrist-based HR monitors, instead of building their own solutions from the ground up. The result is a very accurate heart rate measurement when running, but only when running. Unlike the Sure, the Forerunner 225 only provides heart rate monitoring when activated to record a run, whereas the Surge provides consistent monitoring at all times while the device is being worn. It’s not a deal breaker, but leaves some question about how accurate the Forerunner’s calorie count for the wearer during the course of a day is.
- Activity Tracking: This is where Garmin loses a lot of ground to Fitbit. Both devices track core metrics for daily activity like steps (and daily step goals), collective distance, and calories. But outside of that and tracking runs, the Forerunner lacks any additional functionality; it’s downright painful after the Surge. It was clear Garmin had designed the watch to be used by runners exclusively, as there is no alternative activity tracking like cycling, hiking or non-cardio workouts. Sure, you can switch these activities in Garmin’s Connect recording software (more on that in a moment), but it’s a pain in the ass and not something that is user friendly in the slightest. It’s the one major downfall with the Forerunner 225 and something that will reportedly be addressed in their next generation of Forerunner GPS watches.
- Battery Life: 10 hours of GPS tracking on a full charge is what Garmin claims. My test have gotten around 9 hours, so pretty close and more than enough for a full week of activity.
- Garmin’s Connect Software: Fitbit’s claim to fame is their extremely well done tracking software that not only incorporates an archived history of all your workouts, but pairs it seamlessly with a social insight among friends and gamification to help drive activity. Garmin’s Connect software is definitely less focused on the social and gamification aspects, although they do adequately exist, but gives users a treasure trove of diagnostics data on runs that aren’t found with Fitbit. Things like step cadence data, min and max elevation points, and visualization of all data in the form of many graphs. Connect is for a serious runner concerned about their running and not so much about workout likes, shares and proving that you can get more steps in a week than your coworker.
- Price: The Forerunner is typically priced at around the $300 mark. PS: Use our instant price comparison tool to find the lowest price among hundreds of retailers.
- Other Notes: The strap on the Forerunner is downright amazing. Lots of fitting notches and holds in place with a sticky rubber that likes to take some arm hair with it if you’re not careful. It’s very good. The watch as a whole is pretty large and not something that likes to play nice with the end of your t-shirt arm, but such are the struggles of nerdy runners who like to wear bit GPS watches. Strava integration, which is a must for me, is handled nicely with the Forerunner 225 and Garmin Connect. No problems there. Finally, the charging cradle for this thing by far the most annoying and worst design part of the whole Forerunner package. It’s not a deal breaker or anything that causes too much pain, but rather just a minor annoyance any time you need to charge the device.
I set out to find a replacement to the Fitbit Surge with top-notch GPS tracking and comparable heart rate monitoring capabilities. The Garmin Forerunner 225 is a fantastic solution to meet those needs and nothing more. It’s not a Swiss Army Knife, but a fixed blade carried by a Marine. Purpose built for one thing, durable, and very reliable when needed. Do I miss the additional functionality, especially with multi-sport activity tracking? Absolutely. Enough to make me switch back to a Fitbit Surge? I think I’ll wait for Garmin’s second round of the Forerunner 225.