Garmin introduced the Forerunner 205 and Forerunner 305 this past January at the CES show, as a big improvement to the category changing Forerunner 101, 201 and 301 personal training aids. With the Forerunner 201 and Forerunner 301 on the market, one has to ask if the new designs are worth the extra money. After using the Forerunner 205 for the past month, I can appreciate the new design features and capabilities, and if it were up to me, I would pay the extra money for the newly upgraded Forerunner 205 and 305 units. If you are value minded, the Forerunner 201 and 301 are not bad units, but I'll walk through a few of the features below that I think make the Forerunner 205 and 305's worthwhile.
The Personal Training aid products are intended to help you train better by giving you the data to make a better training program for yourself. A friend commented that these give you all the information that you get while you are on a treadmill while you are out on the road. On top of that, you get to download your information to a computer and you can then take a look over time to see how things are going. Along with this look at your data, you can also create training routines that will help you achieve better results.
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Better Signal Lock SiRF star III
The Forerunner 205 and Forerunner 305 units work with a SiRF star III chipset mounted to see the sky and thus lock in on weak satellite signals when you are under heavy tree cover or in the concrete jungle of skyscrapers. I have to say that I think you won't have much trouble under tree cover, because I got a clear signal sitting in the second floor of our house. The Forerunner 205 had no trouble picking up a signal through our roof and I was nowhere near a window, I swear. I sat there with a good signal on the Forerunner 205 while the Forerunner 201 was still looking. This was the best illustration of the power of these new SiRF star III chipsets I saw while using the Forerunner 205.
Overall Feel and Design
The Forerunner 205 has a better overall feel and design than the Forerunner 201. So, while the unit itself is watch style that wraps around your wrist, it is by no means the size of a watch. Hey what do you want; there's a lot going on in there? Anyway, I like the placement of the buttons on the sides like a watch and on the face of the unit. They are easy and natural to press and navigate the menus. On the Forerunner 201, the buttons all span the bottom edge of the unit and are harder to use than those on the Forerunner 205. Another related upgrade is the menu design in the Forerunner 205. Deeper in the menus of the Forerunner 205 the unit uses drop down boxes much like you would see in a webpage, which is intuitive and easy. This is a nice upgrade from some of the pop-up boxes that dealt with similar menu items on the Forerunner 201. Finally, the screen on the Forerunner 205 has better resolution. I mean to some extent, I feel like the Forerunner 205 is a bit more refined with the higher resolution screen, while the Forerunner 201 has a few moments when the screen feels like you are playing an Atari system from the early 1980’s.
Forerunner 205 and Forerunner 305 - Training Aids
The “Courses” feature lets you download previous runs to compete against them so you can improve. This is more than just saying that you want to average better than a 7 minute mile pace or something. This takes into account the fact that you run slower up that killer hill and that you make up time on the downhill. So while you run, you can see where you are versus your benchmark run and understand if you are ahead of your normal pace on the course or behind it. So, you are competing against realistic expectations and you don’t have the thing nagging at you because your pace has slipped running up the hill.
The Virtual Partner feature allows you to set up parameters for your workout that allows the Forerunner to set up a virtual running partner for you to run with during quick workouts and courses that you set up for yourself. The Forerunner then displays a runner icon and the distance that you are either ahead or behind your virtual partner.
The AutoLap feature allows you to set up intervals at which time the Forerunner will start a new lap. This can be helpful if you want it to set up a new lap, every mile for example, so that you can compare key data like your pace across each mile.
Workouts are a feature that starts in the Garmin Training Center software (comes with the Forerunner) that allows you to set a workout program, download it to the Forerunner and then go out and do that workout. Garmin has set up 14 running and 8 biking training styles inside the Training Center. So if you wanted to go out and do intervals, these training styles act as templates that allow you to set up intervals of whatever time or distance you want, and viola, instant interval training. With the Forerunner 305, you can also use your heart rate data to help set up training routines. These macros make it very easy to train in a way that you just can’t with a watch.
Forerunner 205 Summary
Overall, I like the Forerunner 205, and if you can afford it over the Forerunner 201, I’d recommend it. The interface is cleaner, the training features are stronger than the Forerunner 201, and with the power of the SiRF star III chipset onboard, the reliability of locking onto that signal in tough locations has gone way up. With the design and interface chanes, the new Forerunner system is a pleasure to use. Now, if you are still interested in using a GPS as a training aid, but the Forerunner 205 is too expensive, the Forerunner 201 is not a bad device. You will sacrifice some satellite signal reliability vs. the 205 model, and the training features are not as complete, but still a decent device.