It’s Wednesday, So It Must Be Time for New Garmin GPS Watches?!?

Doesn’t it feel like I was just writing about the Garmin Forerunner 225 announcement? While it has actually been 5 months since the FR 225 reveal, since then they also added the FR 25 entry level GPS watch and each slowly trickled into availability. This year has been all about big new launches and slow product roll-outs that have left me scratching my head wondering what is happening with Garmin. Today Garmin announced three new watches that should have me excited, but instead resulted in a cynical eye-roll and vague interest in when they might hit stores – but why should I care?

It's Wednesday, So It Must Be Time for New Garmin GPS Watches?!?

The watches announced today are the Forerunner 230, 235 and 635. Basically:

Garmin FR230: This mid-range watch replaces the existing FR220
Garmin FR235: This mid-range watch is a FR230 with optical HR embedded in the back of it, replaces the FR225
Garmin FR630: This high-end watch replaces the existing FR620

These are all gorgeous, highly functional watches, but I have to confess reading the press release two or three times and still asking myself ‘WTF?’ But first, here is the actual news information so you can see what they’re announcing.

Here is their blurb for the Forerunner 235:

“Set a personal record with Forerunner 235, with ElevateTM wrist heart rate technology, GPS and GLONASS running watch with smart features. Its built-in activity tracker keeps recording steps, even when you’re not running. Pair your watch with a compatible smartphone for connected features like automatic uploads to Garmin Connect, smart notifications, audio prompts and live tracking. You can also download customizable watch faces and applications from the Connect IQ store. The 235 measures heart rate at the wrist, giving you the option to run without a strap. For more challenging runs, you can download advanced workouts and training plans from Garmin Connect.”

There is a blog post you can check out here for the FR230 / 235 and here for the FR 630.

It's Wednesday, So It Must Be Time for New Garmin GPS Watches?!?

While I suggest you visit the blog or DC Rainmaker’s preview for more details, here are my five thoughts and questions about the new products:

  • 1. Hello Mio! Goodbye Mio! Garmin was terribly excited about the Mio heart-rate monitor in May when they announced the FR225, and up through earlier this month as they talked about the watch in the press they were still bullish on the Mio technology. Now that the FR235 arrives with in-house Garmin heart rate technology, owners of the FR225 are wondering what this will mean: is the Garmin technology better than Mio? Or are owners of the new watch getting a second-rate solution that was chosen because it is cheaper for Garmin?
  • 2. OK, so the FR225 was the oddball I can now look and see that the FR225 was a ‘stop-gap’. The FR220 and FR620 were introduced in 2013, lacked activity tracking and connected features, and were honestly ready for a refresh. The FR225 took the 220, added the heart-rate monitor and activity tracking and bluetooth connectivity and that was pretty much it – it even kept the GPS ‘Smart Recording’ rather than allowing for 1 second updating. The new watches feature an updated user interface, smartwatch connections and functionality, ConnectIQ apps, and a larger and more readable screen.
  • 3. Maybe Get Social Integration Right First? In the end I was happy to see my VivoActive go; it was just too unreliable to ever be trusted. I have friends with Apple watches and they never have any of the issues I’d had daily or weekly with the VivoActive. And now I am happy to NOT have my wrist constantly buzzing for this text or that email. Reading the Garmin forums I see that poor connectivity is still commonplace with the VivoSmart and VivoActive, and I am left wondering.
  • 4. Rapid Obsolescence Doesn’t Breed Loyalty It is common knowledge not to buy an iPhone in August unless you get a tremendous deal, because September will have the new iPhone introduction. However, if you bought an iPhone in October you wouldn’t expect a new product to launch in December. Sadly that is what happened to FR225 owners, who now face the likelihood of no further firmware updates (which actually stopped coming in August), and difficulty getting help with Mio heart-rate tracker issues. Exactly WHY would any FR225 owner want to gamble on another new Garmin device?
  • 5. Really Garmin?!? Look at the image above – that is the current running watch line-up from Garmin. 15 GPS watches and that doesn’t count the four ‘fitness trackers’ (one of which also has a GPS!). Seven of those products cost between $300 – $400. SEVEN?!? Also, the new watches launch at higher prices than the products they replace – which is not a common move at this point: the FR220 is $200, which is exactly what the FR230 should cost at launch. I really have to wonder WHO is steering this ship?

It is really too bad, because also today Garmin unveiled a major update of Garmin Connect, which I LOVE – it makes the most of the screen real estate and has excellent ‘at a glance’ functionality and much quicker sync functions. I got to test this because the new app came after I had already uploaded my run this morning – so I saw how long that took, then with the new app I connected again and it was quickly up to date.

So I was already in a positive mood bias for Garmin, and then I read the new product launch and was left scratching my head. Several hours later, I ‘get it’ but still think it doesn’t make much sense in many ways. Or maybe THIS makes sense but much of the other stuff Garmin has done recently makes no sense. I’m just not sure anymore.

For now I will continue to be very happy with my FR225 – and that is the thing. I LOVE this thing. The sleep and step tracking is great (except when the server-side failed for 4 days two weeks ago), the GPS is rock solid, the heart-rate monitor has proven super-reliable for me and like I said, I really just want a running & fitness tracker. But at the same time I feel a bit of resentment towards Garmin – they were slow and erratic releasing the FR225, and seem to have stopped supporting it already (the missing sleep & step data was never recovered). This experience has made me wonder IF my next fitness watch will come from Garmin, something I haven’t really doubted in more than 3 years since I started using a GPS watch.

What do you think? Has Garmin doomed themselves by flooding the already niche running GPS market with way too many products with narrowly differentiated features? Or is this a smart move and those who jumped on the FR225 just SOL like those who bought the iPad 3?

Here are the introductory videos for the FR-235 and 630:

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About the Author

Michael Anderson
I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!

2 Comments on "It’s Wednesday, So It Must Be Time for New Garmin GPS Watches?!?"

  1. I have to be honest – all fine with me. I have a 220, and it’s all I need. I just need a watch that tracks how long I’ve run and how far I’ve gone, and being absolutely perfectly accurate really isn’t that critical, either – if it’s off by a tenth of a mile for every 10 I run, that’s fine. And it’s awesome that it connects to my phone and automatically uploads the data, but I could live without that.

    When this watch fails, which I hope is a long time from now, I’ll buy whichever watch I need next.

    Then again, I have an iPad 3 – which is also fine with me. It does what I need and now, three years on, it’s kind of slow, and maybe it’s time to upgrade it, but it owes me nothing.

    I guess I don’t sweat it much when a company like garmin comes out with a slightly better product a few months after I made a purchase. I’ve already decided that it was worth the cost when I bought it, and that’s good enough for me.

  2. My concern with Garmin is that they’re pumping out tons and tons of new watches, but they’re all incremental improvements. Why rush out a 220 or 225 if you’re going to roll out something better three months later? It’s not like they don’t know what they have on deck, and it just seems odd to try to slice and dice the market with that much specificity.

    I just compared the Forerunner 630/230/15/10…and if I were just the average consumer, I think I’d be hard pressed to tell you why I needed a 630 over a 230. The only differences between the two are a touchscreen and music controls on the 630, but is that really worth $150 more? And oddly, the lesser priced Forerunner 15 has more features than the slightly more expensive Forerunner 10.

    There’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to most of these releases, and I have trouble understanding what Garmin’s strategy is. Running watches are a niche product, and apparently Garmin has decided to further slice that niche down into mini-niches. It’s just a lot of overlapping products at just about every price point imaginable.

    Most runners I know are like you, Doogald, and buy a watch until it fails. I’d say of the Garmin owners I know, most of them are not super techy, and would likely just grab whichever Garmin fit in their budget and features. I have a really hard time believing any of them would spend more than $250 or so, especially if the changes when you move up the price ladder are so, so specific.

    So that seems like a red flag to me…it’s a lot of money invested in hardware development.

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