Monday, August 24, 2015

Garmin Forerunner FR225 Unboxing and Review

Officially launched on April 13, 2015 in Malaysia, the Forerunner 225 or FR225 retail for RM1299 including GST in Malaysia. It is an iteration of the original FR220 running GPS and what separate the FR225 from FR220 - and very much the other Garmin devices is the ability to detect and read heart rate via a light emitting diode (LED) placed under the watch casing. 
HR on the go. Awesome with no-straps needed
While the technology is not new, a few manufacturer such as Samsung and Jabra has them in their products. Closest competitor that has GPS and built-in HR will be Tom Tom Runner. I would not be able to compare Tom Tom Runner but I will be able to provide feedback from a few current users later in this post.
In order not to clutter up the posting, I've created photo-grids out of the original photos to save space and make it easier on the mobile browser. 
Unboxing
The FR225 comes in a simple box that shows the watch face with a sticker notice the heart rate. All basic information of the watch capability can be see on the box outer marketing details. The simplistic and easy to read/understand and is sufficient. 
DO you take your time to read? I did!
Good to know that the FR225 is Bluetooth Smart and pairs with ANT+ devices. This will meant the power saving potential from linking with mobile device (Bluetooth) and pairing of external heart rate monitor and footpod will be possible. Removing the unit from the box (tip - do it from the bottom of the box if you love to keep packaging) reveal only 3-things: the FR225, Charging cradle and Manual.
Hands up, who read manual?
The FR225 had a sponge to hold the strap to prevent it from moving while in shipment. One thing I noticed after a second look was how the strap clasp were designed and built like a two-pronged fork.
Unique
The strap is softer than the usual Garmin I have (910XT, Fenix and 920XT). It already gave an impression it will be comfortable. I noticed that at the bottom of the watch face, there are soft silicon around it. I supposed this is to ensure the LED lights does not escape when worn, and that provide better accuracy and data-transient time.
Soft silicon as demonstrated above
Firing it up the first time indoor doesn't allow me to lock onto GPS signal to correct the time of the day. It was set to GMT based on the time I unbox this and also fired it up. The unit came charged at less than 20% and will be sufficient to tease you with the setup and also basic functions.
On left wrist
Size wise, it is slightly bigger than the 920XT that I use as a daily watch and thicker as well, likely due to the sensor built-in. However, it's super light and some people with no exposure to these watches may think you are wearing a toy-watch. 
My 920XT watchface doesn't help to make people think it's a Toy. Sadly, FR225 can't customise the watchface.


Setting Up First Time Use
Excitement as firing up a new device meant you get to set it the way you want.
Before we go into depth, the FR225 navigational button is laid out on both left and right side of the FR225. On your left is the power and backlight button (i like to set it to manual and not automatic to save battery), scroll up and scroll down button (3 in total). On the right is the multi-function RED button used to unlock (press twice), start Run, Stop run, Save or Discard and basically function as an "Enter" button. The lower right is the "escape" or "back" button. 
Top - right side. Bottom - left side.
Resetting the device will also prompt you to re-configure the unit again especially when you want to clear the unit off any data and setting if you decide to sell it to another future user. 
Simple easy to follow on-screen setup. Make sure you set activity tracking to be ON if you want to count steps, daily distance and estimated calories burned
Once the unit is up and running, you will see the face for "Run". The red bar on top is the GPS signal and this unit capture GPS very fast. Using it for 3-days (to date where I do this write up), it captured the GPS signal in less than 15seconds, and less than 5seconds on a clear sky day. Originally, the watchface time was in blue fonts. Indepth setting and customisation allow you to set up many things to your liking. You can spend a good 10minutes just fiddling and exploring the options, which I did.
Everything is straight forward. If you set something wrongly, just go back and do it again.
The unit came with Firmware 2.3 and GPS 3.3. As of today, there is a new firmware at 2.4 which I will sync via cable later.
Customisation
While the FR225 is not as highly customisable compared to the more feature laden Forerunner, it does provide the usual customisation of a Garmin unit. The unit autolock itself once you exit the "run" sequence. To unlock, just press the Red button twice. Once in, scroll to the bottom automatically brings you to the other features : Training - History - Records - Activity Settings - Heart Rate Monitor.
Scrolling through

I would like to show more on the Activity Settings as that is the core of why you get the FR225. In the Activity Settings, you will be able to further customise the "screen" of data you will see. FR225 limit it to 2-screens with 3-datafield (can't be reduced to 1 or 2 datafield) in each screen. Meaning, you will be able to see up to 6-running metrics. The more feature laden 920XT (as example) has 4 screens, with 4-datafield each (can be reduced to just 1 datafield), not including ability to put in other running dynamics. Yes, if running was not easy to start with, you data junkies will not be dissapointed with the amount of data on your wrist. So...back to FR225...

As mentioned, you can set two screen with 3-datafield. By default, Screen 1 is enabled and locks on your pace-distance and elapsed time. Datascreen 2 is disabled by default and I did not enable it yet. Moving down the screen is the HR-page which is also disabled by default. Enabling it show 2-datafield. Datafield that can be inserted include any "lap" related data (assuming you does lap training), elevation, calories, cadence, HR related (including average, zone and current). Optional page is the Heart rate zone gauge page (the one in the first photo), clock and total stpes taken for the current time.
Alert Setting
Other customisation is the Alert function where you can set it to stop or pause tracking when you are not moving (so your prized average pace doesn't drop when averaged over the time ;-)) and auto-scroll over all the datafield so you do not need to press the button to see. Available as standard is the alert if you start to walk instead of run. Auto-lap functions comes in handy to track your progress every "X" distance you want.
Via ANT+ compatible accessories
The FR225 allow pairing up of two more sensors which is an external chest strap HRM (if you much prefer that option) and a footpod if you want more accurate steps/cadence. As to why the secondary heartrate strap, it meant you can still use the unit away from the unit like on the bike where you mount this on the handlebar. It does speed only and that limits the use as a full cycling GPS watch. However, if you already have a cyclocomputer (non-GPS) and just need a HR monitor without strap, this is a plausible option.
Running Indoor and more
The FR225 itself has a built in accelerometer which allow you to track your pace, cadence and distance when used indoor/treadmill. Bear in mind the accuracy of this will also depends on how fast your hand swings. Expect the reading to be off between real GPS vs treadmill by up to 20%. The idea of this, in my theory, is that the handswing and cadence is related. However, if you are the type that do not swing your arm when running, or swing excessively, you will see differences - and this could be used to help correct your armswing and strides!
Other customisation features include ability to create and upload your own WORKOUT via Garmin Connect app (both PC and Phone). You can shape your interval runs, HR zones training and upload into the FR225 via cable or Bluetooth functions. Because of the ability to connect via Bluetooth, you will be able to use the Garmin Connect App to "share" your workout live. This  of course will require mobile data plan (and charges is applicable based on your service provider).
Battery life
Charging of the battery is via USB and the supplied cradle. You need to align the cradle with word "Garmin" right side up and snap it from left to right to fit. The edge of the cradle will not scartch your FR225 watchface on normal charging, so don't worry. Charging completes in approximate 2hours max on normal USB wall charger.
Take note of the orientation for fit
Based on the experience with the FR620 where the battery life did not exceed 7hours, I was interested to see how the FR225 would hold up in this department. Granted that the FR620 records more metrics and has more features, we learnt that disabling some of the functions greatly enhance the battery life (of the FR620). For this test, I set it to monitor the Genting Sempah  -Frasers ride I did on Sunday. On full GPS, HR and Bluetooth function, my intention was to benchmark it on it's full connectivity for battery life verification.
As it turned out, the FR225 lasted a whole 9hours plus (no pause, elapsed time) with still about 5% battery life to spare. The notification of "low battery" came up at approximately 8:45 hours (8km to Genting Sempah)
Important to capture this as part of the experiment
After the ride, the battery life was more than sufficient to last another day as long no GPS are used, I believe.
FR225 Battery life : >9hours passed!
I have two friends using the Tom Tom Cardio GPS watch and both confirmed that their unit can't last past 6hours on full tracking (cycling mostly). They were surprised when I showed them the FR225 battery life on full tracking. They were both there with me cycling to Frasers and using their unit (of Tom Tom)
Heartrate On Wrist
I saved the best for the last - the star of FR225 was obviously the ability to use optical LED to measure heartrate. It works by detecting the tiny vessels blood movement under the skin. Garmin recommended a snug fit. I found out on me, an usual fit, with ability to slip a finger through the strap when worn were sufficient. So far, I've not had any issue that the unit can't read my HR. 
Sufficiently snug
The HR detection device or optical LED is placed at the bottom of the FR225. When activated, it will emit green light which will reflect on the skin and picked up by the unit as blood vessels expand and contract with blood flow. It then convert to readable heartrate. The soft silicon at the bottom acts to shield the sensor from stray light, which is why the advice for a snug fit (read: not constricting, but comfortable)

Lighted and not lighted
There will not be any uncomfortable or harm of the LED lights if you are wondering.  The science has been adopted including how your handphone can be converted into a HR reader using the phone camera flashlight, next to the camera. Same concept, but way more efficient and without bright lights.
On watchface (not Run mode), HR can be read quick. Above pic shows unit searching for HR (none as it's not in contact with skin surface).
Everday Activity Tracker
The FR225 comes with ability to track lifestyle activities specifically steps, calories and distance (covered by the steps) and sleep (automatically, no additional button to activate unlike 920XT, as an example). In Watch mode, you can scroll through the metric by pressing the lower left button (scroll down button).
Scrolling through. HR info appears after calorie burn
The activity tracking can be sync-ed to your Garmin Connect account. You have the choice of doing it on cable using Garmin Express (need to be installed on PC) or via Bluetooth to mobile Garmin Connect app. Linking the unit to phone (testing iPhone 6) was easy. I have not tried to link it on my Android Kit Kat. The updated Garmin firmware allow linking of 2 Garmin devices to one mobile app, which meant you have the ability to automatically link the devices without having to search and pair again.
Settings can be made via mobile app as well
Comparison of Data against Garmin 920XT
As the 920XT is my main watch, I wore both of them on Saturday and Sunday while training. The details and comparison between the two unit is per the photo below.
Saturday HIIT
HR, Cadence, Distance and pace within 10%
The 920XT were on my right hand and the FR225 on my left. We ran in oval (track) and the differences between the GPS (FR225) vs GPS+GLONASS (FR920xt) over a small footprint/area due to accuracy of capture of the unit. However for recreational and amateur level basis, the information is more than sufficient and doesn't really bother you. If you take notice as well, all the metric falls within the +/-10% variation, which is acceptable for this short distance. 

Sunday Frasers
Better accuracy over longer distance
On bike, the 920XT were on my left wrist and the FR225 on my right. This allow me to monitor if there is huge differences if the FR225 were to be worn on either wrist. Based on the details above, the differences is more acceptable. The time differences and hence, average speed were significantly different because I set the 920XT to be recording only when moving and the FR225 were on full tracking to test the battery. Another data outside the window seems to be different as well (FR920 at 1:13 hour and the FR225 at 5:25 when I was going downhill). So the extreme reading could be wrongly represented. Again, no significant issues where data integrity is concerned.
Bottomline
The FR225 is a very good mid level GPS-enabled device that provide good features at a step or two down from the more advanced model and a few steps up when compared to the basic FR10 or FR15 as an example. I will be testing this unit including drop test (hey, we all drop things right), and immersion in water overnight (if you swim that long). Should you get it? I guess the choice is yours between a Smart Watch and a full featured running watch that provides sufficient data to help your daily training. 
Pros
  • Light at 54grams. Easy to use.
  • No straps needed for HR. Ready on Wrist at scroll of the button.
  • Reliable GPS chipset. Fast satellite detection
  • Capture main running metrics including cadence and stride length
  • Activity (lifestyle) tracking which include automatic sleep tracking
  • Good customisation adequate for the purpose of the watch usage
  • Standalone usage without any need for Phone interaction to use GPS etc
  • Very decent battery life
  • Waterproof down to 5atm or 50m. More than sufficient to stand a storm if you are running in one (which I advise you not to)
Cons
  • Price are more expensive compared to many other activity tracker, some say even iPhone
  • Can't communicate like a Smart Watch as no notification push
  • No WiFi communication ability
  • Limited use as a cycling tracker. Unable to link Cadence and speed sensor for cycling
  • Silicon seal under the watch may require changing. At this point of time, still too early to verify how much abuse it can take or how long before it hardens up and break.
Note:
This unit of FR225 is sponsored to Team 2ndSkin by AECO Technologies, the authorised Distributor of Garmin Malaysia. RRP for FR225 is RM1299 including GST and available at all authorised resellers. Please buy from authorised reseller to ensure peace of mind when it comes to warranty. At time of writing, the FR225 is sold out/out of stock. If you are interest, you may want to speak to the reseller to book an unit when the new stocks arrive.

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