Review (ette) – Garmin Forerunner 630 – First Look

Garmin Forerunner 630 Review

Garmin Forerunner 630

A year is a clichéd long time in politics and two years is a long time in the realm of sports gadgetry. Since 2013’s Forerunner 620, Garmin have made much progress with new features and functions across their range which have now made their way into the Forerunner 630 (FR630). Some totally new stuff has also sneaked its way into the 630.

Quite simply, the FR630 is a top-end, connected running watch.

It has the potential to be either the best running watch…or not far off the best. Being overly critical – it still lacks in some areas.

This is a first look after some initial thoughts a few weeks ago. A detailed review will follow.

Positives.

Whilst similar in appearance to the FR620, the FR630 is modernised and improved under the new, colourful hood and touchscreen.

A new battery increases the life from 10 hours to 17 hours. That might enable a select few runners to complete their Ultra marathons; the reality is that the battery powers some new features like: Connect IQ (effectively Garmin’s free ‘app’ store); WIFI upload; and live tracking.

You can connect to ANT+ cadence (run/bike) and bike-speed devices as well as connecting to your Bluetooth smartphone for uploads and Bluetooth headphones for audible training prompts & music control. Of course with that smartphone link comes smart notifications too.

We still have a gamut of useful training features ranging from advanced workouts to; autolap, recovery advisor, VO2max, calories, race prediction, PBs/PRs, training effect, intervals, alerts, auto-scroll, auto-pause and virtual partner.

And before you ask, YES it is an activity tracker too. The FR630’s battery can last up to 3 weeks as a 24×7 activity tracker and watch.

Apart from the audio prompts, none of that is new to Garmin devices in general. We ALL expected these functions to be in the 630.

The new goodies include extended running dynamics that can now measure your Ground Contact Time balance, Stride Length and Vertical Ratio which will be discussed separately from here.

We also have some new physiological metrics based around HR & HRV interpretations and these are: lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR) estimation; stress condition; and performance condition. LTHR should (IMO) be used to set your HR training zones and is also a measure of improved fitness (akin to VO2max). Whereas stress condition and performance condition build on the 620’s features of recovery advisor, training effect and recovery check – essentially these new ‘biometrics’ fill in some of the gaps in your awareness of your readiness-to-train state at any given time.

Negatives.

For an eye-watering £400/$600 with a HRM4-RUN I would expect this device to do EVEN MORE than it does. I would have expected Garmin to have made a good effort at beating EVERY competitive feature that’s out there. Sure they have many features. But by no means all

  • Backlight and some sounds are not great
  • Navigation by following a route back (breadcrumbs?) as well as the existing simple ‘back to start’ via compass direction.
  • Introduction of Strava run segments.
  • Running by power is not inherently supported.
  • Like Suunto I would expect more customisation possibilities around GPS accuracy and data recording intervals.
  • Some more intelligence behind autolap, manual laps and intervals, like Polar. For example currently a manual lap resets the autolap to zero/advances to the next autolap. Other manufacturers effectively overlay another layer of lap types.
  • I would have liked to have seen autolaps by time, like some TomTom & Polar models.
  • User-definable time periods for moving average pace
  • More metrics based on laps vs autolaps vs segment vs intervals vs moving averages.
  • Pace/HR Zone/(power) lock – like Polar. You get in a zone and then lock your performance to that zone through alerts.
  • Wider range of pre-loaded ‘other’ sports profiles like Polar/Suunto/Others.
  • Fixed fields on screens. Rather than having to define several similar screens I would like one screen where I can toggle through one of the fields as, to a degree, with Suunto and cycling watches such as Lezyne.
  • Acceleration metrics – Suunto apps support the ability to track/specify levels of acceleration. This could be used in Fartlek workouts for example to introduce controlled or random acceleration periods.
  • I would expect more options around gesture controls and tap configurations eg tapping your HRM with your watch causes some other action (like Polar).
  • Live HRV measures of stress as you run – like Polar.
  • Customisable moving averages eg I define 12 seconds as the moving/rolling average period. And that can be applied to one metrics such as HR, pace or power. Polar already do this.

Other reviews seem to focus on comparing non-Garmin watches just to the features of Garmin watches; whilst failing to compare features that are lacking in Garmin watches. This makes Garmins seem more feature-full than they really are. Admittedly the 630 does have MANY features. In reality most running watches above £100/$150 will have the RUNNING features you NEED, IMO.

Comments

There are new colours but, apart from that, the format has the same shape, size and resolution as the good-old colour-touchscreened FR620. The standard HRM-RUN pod is the same but the strap was updated earlier in 2015 both versions of HRM-RUN (ie HRM3-RUN and HRM4-RUN) provide all the running dynamics to the 630.

I’m still not sure of any of Garmin’s GPS-based instant pace accuracy although, the footpod (not included) still seems the only way to obtain instant pace. So we have the bizarre situation of a £400 watch not being able to tell you how fast you are running right now without having to buy an additional, antiquated footpod. Bizarre! and not just confined to Garmin watches, to be fair.

Whilst there is a LOT of good/better competition out there against Garmin’s mid-market and low-end products there’s not much to compete with the 630’s feature set at the top-end.

In the future I speculate that we might see a Forerunner 635 with a Optical Heart Rate Monitor (oHRM) – the hardware/firmware in the 235 is VERY similar.

Alternatives.

You might still consider the soon-to-be-discounted FR610 or other mid-market Garmins like the superseded Forerunner 225 (by 230 & 235). But if you are looking for a top-end running watch you might at least look at the Epson’s SF-810 which has an oHRM. You could also consider a Suunto Ambit 3Run or a multi-sport watch like a Polar V800 or Garmin (Fenix3/920XT).

If money is at all a consideration then save £100/$150 and intead go for the 230/235 which are near-identically featured and near-identical looking; the latter having an inbuilt optical HRM.

Price.

If you fancy a treat, or if your partner is a running nut, then the Forerunner 630 will be a delightful surprise for them on December 25th. IMO the price will fairly soon after fall to around US$400/GBP270 in 2016…if you can wait that long.

Garmin Forerunner 230 £197.00 Link £294.99 Link
Garmin Forerunner 235 £264.95 Link £329.99 Link
Garmin Forerunner 620 £214.00 Link $249.99 Link
Garmin Forerunner 630 £310.36 Link $449.00 Link
Garmin Forerunner 635 TBC TBC

Recommendation

Garmin watches tend to hit the market at a high price before quickly falling. They also tend to hit the market with several annoying bugs which take at least a couple of months to sort out.

Personally I’d wait to buy one until March/April 2016, especially if you plan this to be your main workhorse watch.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a great-featured watch (subject to bug fixing), it should and could be greater-featured for the high-end, launch price. Let’s face it, it won’t make you any faster than your current watch.

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2 thoughts on “Review (ette) – Garmin Forerunner 630 – First Look

  1. Nice write-up. Agree completely that Garmin should have given this very expensive watch more features. For example, Garmin’s fenix 3 allows you to adjust the brightness of the backlight, but they intentionally omitted that feature from their top of the line running watch, the 630. Still, can’t wait to see if the new LT metrics are accurate.

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