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?
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.”
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: