Archive | June, 2008

Impressions of Garmin Forerunner 205

16 Jun

One of my multipurpose GPSes gave up the ghost recently, and I picked up the Garmin Forerunner 205 as a possible replacement. Here are some comments based on my week with the device:

  • uploading tracklogs (‘syncing’ in Garmin-speak) was easy and painless using the provided USB cable and dock. You can use the provided GTC, Garmin Training Centre (more on that later), or else use any number of 3rd-party apps like SportTrack, G7ToWin, GPSDump, and others. The 3rd-party apps will also export the tracklog as a tracklog, while the Garmin adopts a logbook paradigm instead.
  • receiver sensitivity is not as good as I hoped for. Since the SirfStar III chipset is used, I expected good sensitivity. Instead, the GPS briefly lost its fix 4 times during a 20 minute run along the Bow River in Calgary; I ran on a pathway shaded by poplar trees. When I uploaded my trip, the Garmin GTC software said I’d complete five “laps”. Like hell I did!
  • Speaking of GTC, it maintains a database of activities by date, and further splits out your activities by type: running, biking, or ‘other’, which could include anything from hang gliding and paragliding to riding a motorbike, skiing, etc. When you start your activity, you tell the GPS what type of activity you are undertaking. Otherwise it will go into the ‘other’ category. The GTC does not understand or know about tracklogs.
  • The Forerunner 205 can record 3.5 hours of activity at 1 point per second. If your activity is longer than that, you need to put it into “Smart recording” mode. No information is provided on what this means or how long you can expect to record. Further, you can’t set the GPS so it will stop recording when its memory is full. Instead, it will begin over-writing earlier activities. Not good for record record flight attempts!
  • You are quite limited in the data fields you can display. Yes, you can display speed, altitude, heading, but not rate of climb or descent, or even distance to next turnpoint.
  • You can create waypoints and then create routes that use these waypoints, but there’s no simple Go To button or feature.
  • You can’t use the GPS as a watch because you cannot select the current time for display. A small clock appears in some Settings displays, but it doesn’t show the seconds, only the hours and minutes.
  • There is a start/stop button and a lap button, enabling you to record just the parts of your activity that you are interested in. Each time you lose satellite coverage, you also create a new lap. If that’s not what you wanted, then you can export the data in a .gpx tracklog format, open the file with a text editor, and stitch together the segments by removing pairs.
  • The small screen can only show up to 4 data fields at one time. However, there are two main pages plus a sport-specific page (e.g. you can have separate layouts for biking and running), so in fact you have 3 pages x 4 fields = 12 fields in total you can display. You can tell the GPS to automatically ‘turn the page’ between screens, and set the interval to slow, medium, or fast so that you cycle through all the pages and data you want to see
  • The wrap-around body is designed to ensure that the GPS antenna always faces the sky. This works well for running, but the angle may not be right for biking with a flat-bar bike. For flying, it would be okay for paragliding, but likely poor for hang gliding. However, the Forerunner probably does better at biking than the Edge model does at running! When you start up the GPS, it will likely take at least a minute to get its initial 2D Fix, and another minute to go to 3D (with altitude). During this time you should not walk or move at all, otherwise you will have to wait longer, or have an incorrect altitude in your tracklog.
  • The GPS comes with 2 lengths of wrist-strap, so virtually all wrist sizes can be accommodated.

Conclusion: an acceptable running GPS, but has poor performance under tree canopy. Not as good for biking, and poor for use while flying.