This is Garmin’s best running watch. Well, it’s the most fully-featured one. It’s not cheap.
My first hands-on look at the 630 (here) and the current recommendation is: Great watch but wait until the new year for a likely much lower price and likely bug fixes OR, for Garminphiles, consider the 230/235 which have VERY similar features at a lower price point.
Hardware – The colour touchscreen screen is better than the 620. The battery life, at 17 exercise-hours, is significantly better. The aesthetics are better. It’s now also a plausible day-to-day watch and activity tracker with nice Bluetooth and wifi connectivity. Resolution is marginally improved on the 620 at 215×180 vs 180×180 pixels.
Audio – Music playback and audio training prompts.
GPS – Now supports GLONASS too and energy-saving through ULTRATRAC. Will a Garmin Forerunner finally be able to properly show instant pace?
Over and above the hardware improvements, what’s new?
Lactate Threshold Heart Rate (LTHR/AnT) – The Garmin Forerunner 630 includes a guided test to determine your LTHR and apparently also determines if it can estimate LTHR as you run. There’s more LTHR information here on the sporttracks blog. In a non-lab test, it’s the average HR for the last 20 minutes of a 30 minute flat out run. That LTHR is then used to work out your HR training zones. If you do HR Zone based training then this is a MUCH better way than using guesses of your supposed max and resting heart rates, IMO. Many runners/triathletes have used LTHR for YEARS.
Stress Score – This is more innovative and useful. Using Heart Rate Variability data this measure gives an indication of your readiness to run. I’m not yet sure if this is a waking test or pre-training test. Either way, it could be useful; although to compare like-with-like, a waking HRV test would be best IMO.
Performance Condition – As you run, your instantaneous ‘fitness level’ is compared to that of your average ‘fitness level’. This comparison indicates your performance readiness. “Maybe you’re not quite up to that 9th interval?” – that kind of thing. Looks genuinely interesting.
VO2max – is again touted on the 630, as it is with some other models. It was on the 620. It’s great for comparison to a degree and great to track and predict your progress. But the question I always ask is “what are you going to do with it?”. Is it a trophy to wave in front of your mates? If you are going to use it for VDOT-based training efforts then maybe there’s some use there. You might wonder if vVO2max is a better measure and, like me, if you’ve had lab tests done you might find a notable discrepancy.
ConnectIQ – Is new to the Garmin Forerunner 630. This will give access to custom WATCH FACES and DATA FIELDS. Whilst not new to Garmin, any element of being able to adapt to your precise requirements must be good. We’ve had ConnectIQ on other Garmin watches for over a year now and whilst many are interesting and undoubtedly useful to some, my general opinion is that more needs to come from the developers. My ‘early adopter’ status of ConnectIQ was somewhat tarnished by some ‘apps’ seeming to ‘mess up’ the watch’s performance elsewhere. I don’t use ConnectIQ anymore though no doubt will return to it at some point as it continues to mature.
So are the extra ADVANCED running dynamics useful? They are Ground Contact Time Balance (GCTb), Stride Length (SL) and Vertical Ratio (VR).
GCTb measures asymmetry in your GCT. This has some post-session analysis use. If your technique is asymmetric then generally you would want to address that through balancing the symmetry of your flexibility and strength in your body OR understanding any other causal factors such as a short leg, twisted hip or curved spine – all of which are not as uncommon as you might think.
SL is a basic measure that some other watches have had for years and that can be derived from distance travelled and cadence. It probably has similar usefulness in training to GCT. You can do a few drills and see how they change your SL and you can monitor changes to SL over time. Once you have your GCT as low as possible and your cadence as optimal as possible then the only way to get faster is to increase your stride length! Strength and flexibility is the way to go.
VR IS a measure of the efficiency with a ratio of VO to SL.
So really the new ADVANCED metrics are simply a breakdown of the existing GCT over each foot and two derived ratios – SL & VR.
HR Recording – Presumably the new HRM4-RUN strap caches data like the HRM-SWIM/HRM-TRI? Nope!! But it does do the extra stuff with LTHR and 6x Running Dynamics. On the watch, HR data can now be recorded per second.
Other – As well as a few trivial bits and bobs like metronome functionality, back-to-start, finish-time estimator and yet another activity tracker, those above are the majorly interesting ones. Oh yes and it supports footpods too. Tests over the next few weeks should see how accurate that is with instant pace…or not.
Uninteresting features – VIRB control, find my phone, 200 hours of activity data,