Review: Forerunner 35

The new Forerunner 35

Last Christmas, I asked Santa for a Garmin Forerunner 35 to replace my good ol' Forerunner 305. The 305 still worked fine--I even bought a snazzy new band for it last year--but Garmin stopped supporting the software so it lost some of its usefulness.

My good ol' 305

I was also interested in the 35's wrist heart rate monitor...no more chest strap! I don't really use heart rate (if you do, make sure you have read my post on the bogus maximumum heart rate formula) but like to see it sometimes out of curiousity more than anything else.

Frankly, I rarely used my Forerunner. I'm not a big runner (and do most of my running on a treadmill) so I mostly used it for hiking. Some years ago when I lived on the west coast, I did a fair amount of backpacking and it was good for that. So I wouldn't expect to be using it all that much, but Santa wanted more items for my list (I was extra nice last year) and this model wasn't super expensive.

I'm not going to do a full review of all the 35's features; lots of other folks have done that already. Do a search on "forerunner 35 review" to see examples. Instead I'll just highlight how well it works for me.

Software

The software is the biggest improvement over the 305. There is, of course, an app that works well although it sometimes loses sync with the watch which is a pain. I still prefer bigger screens and the website works well so that's good. The mapping is excellent and will even show as a video which my 305 didn't do. Cool.

Look at me go!

One thing the 305 did that the 35 doesn't is help you backtrack if you get lost hiking. I never had to use it--despite my terrible sense of direction--but it was a cool thing to have. More expensive Forerunner models still have it, I think.

One thing I wasn't expecting is that the watch receives notifications from my Android phone (e.g. texts) which is a nice bonus.

Heart Rate

As mentioned, this was one of the things I was looking forward to. Alas, it has disappointed. It's actually worse than useless for me because sometimes it does work but mostly it doesn't. It's quite sensitive to how clean it is, its position on the wrist, the phase of the moon...who knows? When it does work it's accurate but than can change in a heartbeat (get it?) which is more frustrating than having it not work at all.

To get around this, I got a new chest strap monitor (the ones I had wouldn't work with the 35). It's disappointing to need one, but I would have needed it anyway for some things where wearing something on the wrist just doesn't cut it. Kettlebell training, for example. Or wapping.

Unfortunately, the chest strap solution isn't working well either. At higher intensity, it shows too-high rates. I checked it both manually and with a different heart rate monitor and strap so it's definitely giving erroneous readings. This is probably a problem with the chest strap sensor but I haven't confirmed it yet.

UPDATE: It's now confirmed that the problem was with the sensor not the Forerunner.

Activity Options

The 35 lets you choose from several activity options.

Walking, running, and biking all work well using the GPS to track distance, speed, route, etc. And you don't need to carry your phone with you so that's good. Another potentially nice feature is that it can sync up with Strava, which is a global site for cyclists and runners that offers some enhanced tracking options and more. Mine is synced although I don't really use Strava.

There's an activity option for indoor running that presumably estimates distance and speed based on stride length and frequency. It's not very accurate but I guess it's better than nothing if you want to automate your tracking rather than enter numbers manually as displayed on the treadmill.

The "cardio" option (I really don't like that term) could be useful for tracking heart rate (especially max) to gauge intensity level but as noted previously heart rate tracking has been a problem for me.

General Tracking

In addition to tracking specific activities that you start and stop, it tracks things like heart rate (ha!) and steps all the time you're wearing it. I've never been a step-counter person but I've actually started paying attention to this. I guess that's something.

The watch will remind you to "Move!" if you haven't for a while. But sometimes it reminds me when I'm already up and doing things which is kind of annoying. I think it mostly bases "Move Bar Cleared" on taking steps but there are other ways to move. Stupid watch.

It also estimates calories burned but that's always a rough guess. Don't rely on any device giving you real data.

The 35 offers some kind of sleep tracking but I never use it. For one thing, wearing a watch isn't comfortable for me even when I'm awake. Also, heart rate monitoring is a big part of sleep monitoring and you know how that works...at least in my experience.

Conclusion

Overall I think the Forerunner 35 is a worthwhile investment for folks who want to track their activity, especially walking, running, and cycling. As I write this, it's currently available on Amazon for only $100 (it lists for $170). That's a good deal.

If the software still worked for my ol' 305, I wouldn't have bothered getting this one. So it goes. For everything other than heart rate, this is a solid choice.

Be seeing you.

-gary

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2 Comments

  1. Dennis Hutchins

    I stopped using the Garmin Forerunner 35 when it said my heart rate was zero. I quickly removed it before I went into cardiac arrest (whew! That was close).

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