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Hands-on Gear Review

Garmin Forerunner 230 Review

Best Buy Award
Price:   $250 List | $174.95 at Amazon
Compare prices at 4 resellers
Pros:  Small, reliable, with Garminís software behind it
Cons:  Limited features, short battery life
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   Garmin

Our Verdict

This is the smallest GPS watch in our test, but by no means the least featured. Larger devices like the Suunto Ambit family or the Garmin Fenix 3 have more features and longer battery life, but the Forerunner 230 has exactly what most runners need. It is similar in features and function to our Top Pick Nike+ Sportwatch GPS, but offers a different and complementary data management style. Essentially, the Garmin is great for numbers-driven folks, while the Nike will appeal to those interested in comparing to a community of other users. Garmin makes GPS devices, and basically only GPS devices. Its technology is reliable and its post-event data management is comprehensive and efficient.

New Version - December 2016
Garmin has confirmed that the Forerunner 210 has been replaced in November 2016 by the Garmin Forerunner 230, which retails for $250. This new version has a completely new look and interface design, and has added several key features. We have updated the price comparison links on this page to direct you to the new Forerunner 230 version, as the version we reviewed is disappearing rapidly from the market. Keep reading to find out more!


RELATED REVIEW: Best GPS Watches of 2017 for Running & Training

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Score Product Price Main body size Weight Battery Type
86
$469
Editors' Choice Award
45mm diameter, 12mm thickness 73g lithium ion
80
$450
50mm diameter, 17mm thickness 82g lithium ion
79
$250
Best Buy Award
43mm diameter, 11mm thickness 52g lithium ion
77
$149
Top Pick Award
52x32mm rectangular, 14mm thickness 66g not specified
67
$150
44mm diameter, 15mm thickness 60g not specified

Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Jediah Porter
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Saturday
August 29, 2015

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The New Garmin Forerunner 230 vs. the Older Version


The Forerunner 230 is a sleek beauty; retailing at $250, the Forerunner 230 has replaced the Forerunner 210. Garmin has stated that they have simplified the Forerunner 230 with, "Concise, easy-to-understand charts, graphs, maps and more let you view your activities, track progress toward goals and wirelessly upload and share relevant data directly with the online Garmin Connect network."

Check out the side-by-side comparison below, with the Forerunner 230 pictured on the left and the Forerunner 210 shown on the right.
Garmin Forerunner 230
 

Here is a summary of the key differences between the Forerunner 210 and the Forerunner 230:
  • New Design — The Forerunner 230 features a streamlined aesthetic and a new selection of color options.
  • Updated Features — The Forerunner 230 can track distance (with a built-in accelerometer), pace, time, heart rate (when used with a heart rate monitor), and VO2 Max (also when used with a heart rate monitor).
  • Garmin Connect — You can automatically upload to Garmin Connect, allowing live tracking, audio prompts, sharing on social media, notifications, controls for music, and activity tracking (which includes counting your steps, distance, calories, and sleep). The Forerunner 230 allows the user to access Connect IQ and download data fields, different watch faces and widgets, and other applications.
  • GPS and GLONASS Compatible — GPS and GLONASS satellites and can be used to locate your position (even if running deep in the woods, according to Garmin).

Hands-On Review


The Garmin Forerunner 210 predecessor, the ForeRunner 110, was the first watch to bring GPS functionality to a device with "normal" dimensions. The 210 updates include additional heart rate data displayed on the device, and the watch is now compatible with an accessory foot pod. The compact stature, combined with Garmin's solid experience in the field and the company's robust data management options, all at a reasonable price point, makes this device an easy choice for our Best Buy award. If you are looking for an entry-level GPS watch for basic data collection while out and about, you'll do no better than the Forerunner 210.

Performance Comparison


The Garmin Forerunner 210 on the summit of the Grand Teton. We love the small size that is equivalent to a standard watch  and much smaller than most other GPS watches.
The Garmin Forerunner 210 on the summit of the Grand Teton. We love the small size that is equivalent to a standard watch, and much smaller than most other GPS watches.

Ease of Use


Among the stand-alone GPS watches, the 210 is among those the easiest to use. The interface is a little less intuitive than that of our Editors' Choice, the Suunto Ambit 3 Sport, but the simple feature set makes it easy enough to navigate. As compared to it's cousin, the Garmin Fenix, the Forerunner has a similar feel, but far fewer features and fields to navigate through.

Similar to the Fenix however, is Garmin's extensive data management experience and development. Garmin has been in this business longer than any other manufacturer. The company's suite of technically sound software and online data management has something for everyone. Whether you use Garmin Training Center on your PC or Garmin Connect through a web browser, you'll find a data management strategy to suit your tastes. In either case, you can view statistics on your latest run as well as a summary of recent and past workouts. With Garmin Connect, kind of like the Strava App, you can compare efforts to other Garmin users.

Garmin Connect unites Garmin users around the world. And there are a great number of them.
Garmin Connect unites Garmin users around the world. And there are a great number of them.

The Garmin Forerunner 210 seems to strike a perfect balance between simple on-device data display and management, and comprehensive post-event information review. On the device you monitor pace, distance, and time. If you use an aftermarket heart rate band you can see real time exertion as well. After a workout, once the data is uploaded to your computer, you can see much more data. You can see information on individual laps, averages, and create graphs of exertion and pace. For the casual trainee or first-time GPS watch user, this is how you want it to be. You want your watch to be really easy to use while on the go, but be collecting information for review post event.

Finally, in terms of ease of use, the Forerunner 210 is by far the smallest device in our test. Those with small wrists or who wish to use their GPS watch for every-day use, will love this small form-factor. Essentially, Garmin has gotten the instrumentation miniaturized to the point where a GPS watch can be the same size as your standard Timex athletic watch. Brilliant, and much appreciated.

It is nothing short of remarkable that this tiny device fits in such accurate GPS technology.
It is nothing short of remarkable that this tiny device fits in such accurate GPS technology.

Features


We could easily justify rating the feature set of devices in two different categories. There are those features you will use during a run, and those you will use after the exercise. In terms of during your run, the Forerunner 210 is in the same category as the Strava App or Top Pick winning Nike+ Sportwatch GPS. In any of these you'll see speed, time, and distance, and little more. The New Balance GPS Trainer also shows this same basic set of info, but adds an original equipment heart rate strap. All of the other simple devices just listed require after-market purchase of a heart rate strap. In terms of in-run features, you may do well with any of these simple training tools. The differences are subtle and minor. One of the most important differences in these products is that to use Strava alone requires your smartphone. While training vigorously, viewing your phone is far less convenient than viewing a watch.

Screenshot of just one page of data generated by the Forerunner in conjunction with Garmin Connect.
Screenshot of just one page of data generated by the Forerunner in conjunction with Garmin Connect.

Comparing these same four products and their post-event features is more telling and differentiates them further. First of all, the New Balance offers no way of saving data for later or further review. It is not in the same league. The Strava App saves training data to Strava.com. You can review your run in a little more detail there. You'll get some basic averages and a map of where you went. Most importantly with Strava, is you'll get comparisons to the performances of many other users, as well as to your own time and speed on pre-determined "segments". This social network aspect of Strava is the primary appeal. The good news is that you can collect data with your Forerunner 210 and still upload it to the Strava database. Then you'll have all the advantages of both.

Finally, perhaps the best comparison of post-run features is to the Nike+ Sportwatch. The Nike watch saves its data only to the proprietary Nike website and community. If you are already using this platform with something like the Nike + Fuelband, this will be very appealing. Because of the inspirational and motivational aspect of Nike's social network and "whole life" suite of activity monitors, we awarded the Sportwatch GPS our Top Pick award. Those already using a Nike device will do best to stick with the Nike family. However, Garmin Connect or Training Center are far more comprehensive and data-centered than the Nike platform. If the hard numbers get you stoked, Garmin is for you. If you are motivated by comparison to others, upload your Garmin-generated data to Strava. Like Nike, Garmin now makes watches like the Forerunner 210 for specific activity tracking, and daily fitness trackers. All the data collected is organized together in Garmin's training software and communities.

Accuracy


With an especially tiny GPS antenna and no motion-sensor "double-check" feature, the Garmin Forerunner does surprisingly well with accuracy. Over a course of known length (one mile) the 210 was exactly accurate while we experienced some minor discrepancies in less formalized, comparative testing. We would expect that the greatest accuracy would come in devices with larger antennae and, because of the inherent margin for error in GPS technology, some sort of motion-sensor oversight. Devices like the Suunto Ambit 3 Sport and the Nike Sportwatch with its attendant foot pod, use an accelerometer to sense and count movement. If the GPS data doesn't seem to make sense as compared to the step count from the motion sensor, the device can recalculate and essentially omit bad GPS data. The price-point 210 doesn't have this attribute included, but does pretty well considering. It is, for instance, more accurate than the New Balance GPS trainer with similar technology. One can only assume that Garmin's deep experience in the field solidifies the device's accuracy. With the accessory foot pod, the ForeRunner 210 will be even more accurate.

Ease of Set-up


Aside from the Strava Smartphone app, there isn't a device easier to setup. Simply plug the Forerunner 210 in to charge and wait an hour or so. Once charged, walk outside and let the on-screen prompts direct you. You'll be asked to enter some basic personal data, and the time and date will set automatically with GPS signal. You can then begin to run or walk. You need not plug it into a computer or even enter the time manually. Because the feature set is so simple, you can do all of your configuration on the device itself. The more complicated watches we tested, like the Fenix, really require using a computer for the initial interfacing.

Screenshot of more data generated by the Forerunner 210.
Screenshot of more data generated by the Forerunner 210.

Durability


We had no problems whatsoever with the construction quality or design of the Forerunner 210. The only potential problem is that the device doesn't have a button lock. We note this in the durability section because inadvertent button pushes can compromise the integrity of your data. Unplanned starts and stops or resets are essentially a failure of the device. Interestingly, even without a button lock, we had no problems with losing or resetting information on the Forerunner. This must be due to the device's low-profile. Any of the larger devices with their buttons unlocked, or the New Balance which cannot be locked at all, experienced significant changes in activities as innocuous as running with a long-sleeved shirt on. Not to mention, of course, the interference and disruption experienced in more vigorous activity. In the end, this Garmin kept our data safe and accurate, even without any button lock.

Because of its small size, the Forerunner has nowhere near the battery life of the larger devices. It compares similarly to the New Balance and Nike, but has far less battery time than either Ambit device or the Garmin Fenix.

Testing GPS watches and negotiating a mid-summer snow squall in Grand Teton National Park
Testing GPS watches and negotiating a mid-summer snow squall in Grand Teton National Park

It is important to note that this is not a waterproof watch. Garmin notes that it will withstand splashing and brief submersion, but not extended wetness. We kept our tested devices within these parameters and had no issues, but found documentation online of devices failing after only 20 minutes of swimming. Again, this sort of use is not backed by the manufacturer.

Portability


The Forerunner 210's most significant attribute is its compact stature. This is a svelte, readily wearable device. As compared to the rest of it's bulky brethren in our test, it virtually disappears on your wrist.

Best Applications


This is an excellent tool for the entry-level, numbers-driven athlete. In its most basic form, it is the best value device we tested, and will collect data that will be useful for years to come. Additionally, it is the device we can recommend most highly to anyone with especially small wrists.

Value


This is the best value in our test. For a relatively low price you get a device that is compact, reliable, and interfaces smoothly with some of the best data-management technology in the business. This latter attribute, the options you have for data management, is the greatest advantage. Whether you use the pc-based Garmin Training Center, or cloud-based Garmin Connect, you can count on a good product and ongoing customer service. Garmin has been at this a long time, and we have no reason to believe the company will not continue to support their products, athletes, and community. This longevity adds a great deal of value to an already valuable product.

The deep and comprehensive history that Garmin brings to the table only increases the value of the Forerunner. Notably  the data management options like Garmin Training Center  is above par.
The deep and comprehensive history that Garmin brings to the table only increases the value of the Forerunner. Notably, the data management options like Garmin Training Center, is above par.

Conclusion


Our testing team uniformly appreciated the small form-factor, the easy set-up, and reliable data collection. Our testing team and the entire fitness community has shown support and approval of Garmin's data management support.

Other Versions and Accessories


Forerunner 210 with Heart Rate Monitor
  • The watch and a separate, compatible heart rate band
  • $60 more than the watch by itself
  • $250

Forerunner 310XT
Garmin Forerunner 310XT Waterproof Running GPS with USB ANT Stick
  • A touchscreen version
  • Waterproof to a depth of 50 meters
  • $250
Jediah Porter

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Most recent review: August 29, 2015
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