Thursday, 17 January 2013

Time to Change the Clocks

I've had my Garmin Forerunner 305 for 5 years or so and it's been a pretty reliable and useful tool. It must have recorded the best part of 10,000 miles worth of activity without any problems, but over the last year or so the battery life really started to dwindle; it would last for 12 hours or so when new but it was getting down to 5 or less. Then just before Christmas it started switching itself off without warning from time to time, so it was clear that a change was called for.

This had been pre-empted somewhat in the summer when I entered a race for which one of the compulsory kit items was an altimeter. Sounds strange I know but when you're making your way up an Alpine pass, knowing how high you are is a sight more helpful than knowing where you are on the map, so I was happy with the reasoning. The 305 has a built-in altimeter based on the GPS which is fairly accurate. I argued in a blog a while ago that the calculated height gain it gave was rubbish, probably because the algorithm is insufficiently smoothed to reduce accumulation of errors, but the actual spot height you get at any one time is certainly good enough to navigate by. The real problem was the short battery life. I couldn't face the faff of going through a race having to recharge frequently, most of the time from one of those AA battery powered devices which also means carrying extra stuff. So after a bit of research and deliberation, I decided on long hilly races I wasn't too fussed about knowing exactly how far I'd gone and what the pace was and so on, so I plumped for a simple watch/stop-watch with a built in altimeter working from barometric pressure. This means that you have to get into the habit of resetting the altimeter every few hours when you pass through a known height location, but this takes seconds and is no big deal. The model I chose is the Suunto Vector,

which is light and comfortable to wear and has nice big face, easy to read in the dark. Because there is no GPS it runs off a normal watch battery which lasts several years, and I found it was exactly what I wanted for that type of event.

But it didn't fully replace the Garmin 305 because I like to record distances and pace and so on from training outings and in shorter events (the only ones where I can manage sufficient speed to make the consideration of pace a worthwhile exercise!). I limped on with the gradually failing 305 for several months, wondering if I could do without it and finally deciding that I couldn't. So I poked around the reviews again and eventually decided to go for a Garmin Forerunner 310xt.

This is by no means a "latest model", it's been around for some time but this is the first advantage because it can now be got for around half the price people paid when it first came out. The other advantages are that it is very similar to the 305 in operation so I didn't have to learn a completely new device (we old people find it hard to cope with new things, you may have noticed), and the claimed battery life is twenty hours, better than anything else on the market except the very expensive (and different from Garmin - see previous comment!) Suunto Ambit. I've used it for a couple of weeks or so now and so far have been very pleased with it. Seemingly minor design improvements over the 305 which I have nevertheless really appreciated are:

- it has a flat back rather than the "cranked" design of the 305; I have a small wrist and this makes it far more comfortable
- the strap and buckle arrangement is much easier to operate but more secure when done up
- the timer start/stop button requires a much more positive action to actuate it, so it doesn't seem to have the annoying habit of the 305 of switching off if accidentally caught on a rucksack strap, gate latch or so on.

Otherwise it seems to have pretty much the same features as the 305, although another plus I've noticed already is that the accumulated altitude gain is an order of magnitude more accurate than on the 305, so this must have been a problem that Garmin were aware of and have now rectified.

One thing I had to get used to is that my 305 interfaced with software loaded from a disc into the computer, so all the records were only held on my machine, whereas the 310xt interfaces to a web-based system called Garmin Connect, so your records are "out there somewhere" but so far they seem to be pretty easily and rapidly retrievable. I also like that the data transfer is wireless from the watch to the computer, you don't have to do or prompt anything, just leave your watch by the computer when you take it off and the latest outing gets transferred while you have a cup of tea.

So, hopefully I'm set up for the next five years (by which time I shall be a few months off seventy - quiet gulp...). Time will tell.


John said...

I had a trusty 305 which I replaced with a 310 when I had a similar problem with the battery life.
I've just started to pay more attention to the total elevation gained during a run so was interested in your comment that the accumulated altitude gain is an order of magnitude more accurate than on the 305. I also upload my run data into mapmyrun but the total elevation shown in this tool is always quite different from on the Garmin - I guess it's because it's using a different algorithm. Interestingly though both show similar values for the highest point attained.
How accurate do you think the Garmin data for total elevation gained is?

Andy Cole said...

Hi John, I'll do a more structured appraisal of the 310 when I've had it a few months and done a lot more hilly outings. What prompted my comment on elevation gain was that I've done two of my regular local runs with the 310, which have elevation gains of 950ft and 500ft. These are not hilly runs, more undulating with the odd slightly longer climb. The 310 gets within 50ft of what I think the right value is, whereas the 305 would be out by at least 100%. So I'm hopeful that the 310 will prove accurate to around 10%. Accuracy with any device/algorithm is always better over steeper courses, as I explained in my post in April 2012.

John said...

Hi Andy,

Thanks for the response and reference to your earlier post which I found interesting and helped my understanding.

I look forward to your future post on the 310.


Santababy said...

mine is also on way out, battery life is also aorund 5 hours if i'm lucky and my strap is broken. Would love the 310 :)