Garmin FR620 review

Garmin FR620 Review

The Garmin FR620 is Garmin’s top of the range GPS running watch. The wrist worn device makes use of an internal accelerometer in the watch combined with an all new HRM-Run (heart rate) strap to offer not just GPS tracking but also a full range of clever running metrics to better understand your personal running style and capabilities.

Added to the already tried and tested ANT+ wireless technology, the FR620 becomes Garmin’s first running watch to integrate both WiFi and Bluetooth Smart to communicate with both your smartphone and home WiFi network for seamless wireless data transfer. Garmin have also included the ‘live track’ feature that you may already have seen in the Garmin Edge 810.

As an additional bonus this device is fully waterproof to 50m.

Garmin FR620 Review – Opening the Box

Garmin FR620 review

FR620 Review

 

Like most Garmin devices, the box is compact with a feeling of quality. The watch is well displayed with the accessories tucked away behind. This is the Black/Blue version. There is also an option in White/Orange.

Garmin FR620 Review

 

Not as many accessories as previous running devices. The most noticeable omission is the ANT+ USB stick, which is no longer required due to the introduction of WiFi and Bluetooth.

Garmin FR620 review

The USB charger is also slimmed down connecting neatly with the back of the device with the assistance of a magnetic coupling.

Garmin FR620 review

 

Garmin FR620 review

Although it looks like a standard heart rate strap, this little device sets the FR620 apart from not only its predecessors but also most other running devices currently on sale. As well as keeping track of your beats per minute (BPM) the strap also becomes the foundation of the all new Running Metrics.

Size and Comfort

Garmin FR620 review

I didn’t own the previous FR610 so I can’t compare it to the older model. As you can see though, it retains the profile of a standard watch. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was exactly that. It’s comfortable enough to be worn all day.

Initial Setup

There are a few things you’ll want to get sorted before you go for your first run.

Garmin 620 review

The Garmin Express Fit software can be downloaded direct to your home computer from the Garmin Connect site. Here’s a little walk through of the setup you might expect to see if you are using a Mac.

Garmin FR620 review

The installation will identify both your device and your home network in a few simple steps to get you ready for WiFi transfer. The windows version also includes a setup wizard to guide you through.

Garmin forerunner 620 review

Garmin FR620 review

This process will also help register your device with Garmin and prompt you to set up your Garmin Connect account (should you not already have one). With these steps complete you’re all set up to head out for a run and transfer wirelessly on your return (see below).

Running Features

Once you’ve performed the initial setup on the FR620 you’re ready to start your first run. If you want to benefit from the full suite of Running Dynamics you’ll need to ensure you wear the HRM-Run and then acquire a good satellite fix before you press the start button.

Garmin FR620 review

Once in run mode you should see a small satellite symbol at the top left of the display. This indicates that the satellite is fixed and you are ready to run. To start, just hit the top right ‘start’ button and you’ll hear a brief tone accompanied with a green triangle on the display. By pressing the same button again to pause or finish the workout you will have the option of either saving or discarding the activity. Don’t panic – if you see this screen and want to continue, just a short tap of that same button will allow you to continue and then save again later.

The top right button can be used to turn on the backlight with the bottom left button acting as a lap button during your run.

In addition to the fixed side buttons you can also access additional functionality, by touching the watch’s bezel via the ‘back arrow’ or the ‘menu’ (three horizontal lines) on the opposite side. You should also find that a simple touch of the middle of the display will allow you to scroll between the various data screens.

By running through the screens you’ll have access to a massive array of metrics in real-time. The factory setting will offer pace and timing fields by default, but you can choose to edit up to 4 individual screens to tailor all the data you want during your workouts.

On my front screen I have chosen; Pace, Lap Pace, Heart Rate and Lap Distance.

Garmin FR620 review

You can also set up the screens to show 1, 2, 3 or 4 data fields. Below is my second screen. I have only set up one screen with all 4 data fields as I’ve found that the font size is just on the limit of useable visibility whilst out on a run.

Garmin FR620 review

Creating your screens and selecting your data fields can done by accessing the menu and selecting Settings > Activity Settings > Data Screens.

Garmin FR 620 review

You can also use the Settings to adjust whether you wish to receive alerts based upon either dropping below or exceeding a target setting. As an example, I have set mine to alert me should I drop below a minimum pace per kilometre. Alerts can also be applied to heart rate, time, distance cadence and calories. These are settings you will want to experiment with as I have found that adding too many alerts can lead to your whole run being dominated by alerts rather than actual sight of the data fields you have selected. I have also opted to disable the vibration alerts as for me these proved a distraction.

garmin FR620 review

The auto-lap setting can be applied to give you an alert at your specified interval. When I’m not racing I have set mine to a 1km auto lap to enable me to compare splits as I progress and also to analyse each kilometre afterwards in Garmin Connect.

Garmin FR620 review

This can be disabled or you can log your own laps manually by pressing the bottom right ‘lap’ button at any time during your run.

Turning back to my main screen I have ‘lap pace’ & ‘lap distance’ as a permanent data fields to assist on race day. When racing I’ll disable the auto-lap meaning that ‘lap pace’ will act as an average pace indicator and ‘lap distance’ a total distance (as I am only running one long lap) meaning that, if necessary, I can run the full race distance without having to touch the watch. This also allows me to train and race with the same familiar displays.

There is a wealth of configuration available to personalise the device to your perfect running partner. With a little trial and error I have mine set up to provide the main metrics I need on the first three screens with the fourth showing the ‘virtual partner’

Virtual Partner

You can program the virtual partner to a set pace you want to achieve (or attempt to achieve) throughout the duration of your run, e.g. 00:4:30 per km. The device will then alert you in real-time how well you are keeping to the pace via the graphic of a runner either ahead or behind the mid-point of the display. Above that graphic you also be informed of the ‘time ahead’ or the ‘time behind’ with the average pace displayed further down.

620 virtual partner

The feature is extremely useful if you know the pace you want to maintain to achieve a desired finish time. Provided you can stay ahead, it can be extremely motivating to see that you are on target.

Ending the Run

Once done you can complete your run by pressing the top left button and saving the workout. At this point you will be informed of any new records you have achieved (i.e PBs) including fastest times or furthest distances.

Garmin FR620 review

You will also be given a summary of the workout as follows.

Garmin FR620 review

Garmin forerunner 620 review

A nifty little feature is that with WiFi enabled the device will automatically attempt to transfer the your data to your network very shortly after completing a run. The device will assume that you are finishing at home and two arrows will appear at the top of the screen indicating a transfer attempt. Provided you are close to your network this will be all the effort you need to then go and view your workout in Garmin Connect. Pretty cool when all you probably want to do at this stage is either cool down and/or have a shower! The data will be there ready and waiting once you’re sorted.

Running Dynamics

Whilst I’m sure that Garmin and other companies will integrate running metrics into new devices, the FR620 is currently the only running specific device to feature the new Running Dynamics (although Garmin has just integrated some of the features in the new Finix2 Multi-Sports Watch).

The major advantage with the Garmin FR620 over any other device on the market (including the Finix2) is that is that it can utilise the full range of running metrics whilst also integrating ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart simultaneously. This means that all of the new metrics can be utilised whilst also using the new live track feature (see below).

I’ll run though each of the new Running Dynamics in turn:

Heart Rate

This is pretty straight forward but the new HRM-Run belt is Garmin’s most advanced heart rate accessory. I have used a few different heart rate monitors previously and have noticed that this is easily the most consistent throughout my training. I have experienced very few ‘spikes’ or ‘drop-outs’.

Garmin FR620 review

Within the settings area of the device you have the ability to set your own personal heart rate zones. The data is then displayed visually during your run and also in Garmin Connect in both summary and graph format.

Cadence

Of course, this has always been possible with previous Garmin devices with the assistance of the Garmin ‘Foot Pod’ (see below). The difference with the FR620 is that cadence is now detected directly by the device and the HRM-Run belt.

Garmin fr620 review cadence

The cadence feature gives a very good understanding of your running technique plus the ability to compare your cadence with previous runs and understand how various factors (e.g. fatigue, gradient) may affect your steps per minute. The data takes both feet into account, so you will see a figure of anywhere between 160 to 190 steps per minute. According to Garmin the optimum is 185 spm and above.

Vertical Oscillation

I never even considered this as part of my running until now, but it is interesting from the perspective of how much of your stride is wasted by unnecessary ‘air time’ as opposed to moving forward. According to Garmin the optimum is <208 milliseconds (see table below).

Garmin FR620 review Running Dynamics

Basically the HRM-Run belt will measure the distance traveled vertically at the point of the chest strap. You can see from my graph that the data stays relatively consistent.

Garmin FR620 review vertical oscillation

Where there are spikes these are usually explained by hopping up a kerb on crossing the road.

Ground Contact time

This is a metric I have found very useful and one which could improve your running plus reduce the risk of injury. Essentially you want fast efficient feet moving seamlessly from stride to stride. This metric pinpoints how long each foot strike maintains contact with the ground (measured in milliseconds). This metric goes hand in hand with cadence and you’ll be aiming for the lowest possible ground contact time, which will inevitably increase your cadence.

Garmin FR620 review ground contact time

What’s really interesting here is how different the analysis can be once you try the same metric on a running track. Both runs here were off a similar distance and pace (fast 5km) but with entirely different surfaces. As you can see (for me at least) ground contact time is significantly shorter when I’m running on the track.

garmin fr620 review

Running Dynamics in Real-Time

Whilst the above screen shots show the data in Garmin Connect you can also set your data fields to display any of the new Running Dynamics in real-time whilst out on a run.

Garmin FR620 review

Alternatively, you can view them concurrently in the a single screen which uses the above graphic. I found this pretty useful as ‘at a glance’ tool.

VO2Max/Race Predictor

These features and the recovery advisor are again unique to the Garmin FR620.

VO2Max is defined as follows by Google:

“the maximum or optimum rate at which the heart, lungs, and muscles can effectively use oxygen during exercise, used as a way of measuring a person’s individual aerobic capacity”

Up until now you couldn’t really obtain an assessment of your VO2 Max without getting hooked up to some pretty sophisticated wires and a treadmill in a lab (well… not quite… there are some calculators you can find online). But anyway, in the absence of lab tests, there is no other method of accessing your personal VO2 Max score from a wrist worn device, giving you an update after every workout.

Garmin have introduced an algorithm that uses your run data and heart rate to predict your VO2Max. Here’s mine.

Garmin FR620 review VO2 Max

If a new VO2 Max score is detected it will displayed on the watch at the end of a run. It can also be found by accessing, Menu > VO2 Max >

Garmin FR620 review VO2 Max

It is also displayed in your Garmin Connect account along with the trend of whether the figure has increased or decreased over time. From what I have read, the figure can be improved upon but very large differences are hard achieve. Nevertheless it’s an extremely interesting idea particularly when looking at the insight it can give to both your overall fitness and potential.

That potential is also predicted by the Garmin FR620 by way of the Race Predictor. Again this can be accessed from, Menu > VO2 Max >

Garmin FR620 review Race predictor

Here are the predictions the Garmin FR620 has made for me.

The 5k is within 20 seconds of my PB. The 10k, however, is slightly off as I’ve not yet dipped below 42 mins. I like to think, however, that 40 mins is within my capabilities.

As for the half and marathon distance, I have to come clean and state I have never run that far. If I’m honest though, I think those times are at best optimistic! Please feel free to comment below if you have any similar experiences.

Recovery Advisor

As you save a workout you will see a pop up with a suggested recovery time. This the amount of time that, based upon the exertion of your workout, you are advised to wait before commencing your next run.

Garmin FR620 review Recovery advisor

Displayed in hours the read out will count down and can be accessed via the main menu.

Recovery Check

This feature will display a pop up during the first few minutes of your next run to inform you of your level of recovery since your last workout. So far I have only seen ‘good’ or ‘fair’.

Both the recovery advisor and recovery check are designed to assist you with injury prevention.

Bluetooth

The Garmin FR620 can communicate with your smartphone via Bluetooth Smart. This means that as well as having the ability to automatically sync your workouts via your WiFi Network you can also upload workouts to your phone after completion. You will need to have the Garmin Connect App installed on you phone and be logged in with your user account. You will also need to have Bluetooth switched enabled on your phone.

Next comes pairing. I have an iPhone 5s and found that instead of pairing direct within the iOS settings (where bluetooth pairing normally occurs) the pairing actually happened within the Garmin Connect App.

Garmin FR620 review

You can assess the relevant setting in the Garmin FR620 at Menu > Settings > Wireless > Bluetooth > Pair Mobile Device.

Once set up you are ready to upload direct via Bluetooth and also try out the new Live Track feature.

Live Track

Live track allows you to share your run workout in real-time with either specified contacts (via email invitation) or via Facebook & Twitter.

Garmin FR620 review live track

As you can see from the picture you can prepare both the phone and the device for live track and then get started. You will need to press start on the phone first then start the run on the Garmin FR620 as normal.

When you hit start on the phone an email will be sent to you invited contacts and/or a notification will be posted on your social networks.

Garmin FR620 review

Those viewing you will then be able to view a map that looks a bit like this.

garmin forerunner 620 review

Or on a phone, a bit like this.

Garmin fr620 test

Most of your data will be displayed in real-time and those viewing will be notified when the workout has ended. They will also be able to access the data again by following the same link within 24 hours of your run.

This is a pretty cool feature if you work with a coach or have followers/friends who want to track your progress, particularly on race days. On the downside, however, live track will only work if you have your phone with you through your entire run.

Whilst doing the pictures for this Garmin FR620 review I also discovered that when paired with your phone the watch will even inform you if your phone battery is low.

Garmin Connect

Garmin Connect saw a makeover in March 2014 with the arrival of the Vivofit (reviewed here). The update covered both the desktop site and the mobile app.

I’ll walk you though a few screen shots here.

Garmin FR620 review

Garmin Connect Landing Page

Garmin FR620 review

Workout Summary

Garmin FR620 review

Workout Summary Part 2

The graphs matching the above workout can be seen in greater detail within the section (above) detailing the Running Dynamics. The same workout can also be seen in viewed in the mobile app as follows.

Garmin FR620 review

Garmin FR620 review

Both versions will also give you a summary of your Garmin Devices and their status.

Garmin FR620 review

As shown above, the FR620 can perform a wireless upload to both the desktop and mobile platform of Garmin Connect via either bluetooth or WiFi. If the upload is via WiFi then the data will go straight to the desktop version and then be synced with the app. The process will be reversed with the Bluetooth upload with the information being delivered first to the app. Either way, the data will be accessible in both formats pretty quickly.

If you do have the urge to use wires you can connect the charging cable to your computer at any time where you will be given the opportunity to sync via Garmin Express.

Treadmills

With the in-built accelerometer having the ability to detect cadence the Garmin FR620 offers an entirely new dimension to your indoor training. Effectively, it can now keep up with the treadmill itself in determining your distance travelled and, therefore, your pace. Note, however, that the watch must first be used outdoors for a few initial workouts in order to learn your typical running movements and cadence.

So I gave it a go…

Now, bearing in mind that even a well calibrated treadmill will not necessarily provide an entirely accurate measurement of your pace and distance, it has to be borne in mind that it is impossible to compare like with like. Nevertheless, on the workout summarised here, the final readout I obtained from the treadmill at my local gym was within 800m of the summary given on the Garmin FR620. On the basis that this was a 8km ‘fartlek’ workout it’s a pretty impressive stat that the tracking was within 10%. Actually, it could well have been less than 10% if part of the discrepancy was due to the the treadmill calibration.

This is a perfectly reasonable outcome considering the device is primarily a GPS watch designed for outdoor use which had only a few prior test runs to learn my running style.

Garmin FR620 Review

You will also see from the data that the Garmin FR620 was able to interpret increase and decrease in pace pretty accurately. The session was a series of 4 minute medium pace / 1 minute fast pace intervals.

Garmin FR620 review cadence

N.B – the drop outs here were my fault pressing the treadmill’s pause button accidentally when slowing the pace!

Foot Pod

For total indoor accuracy (and outdoor when GPS signal is weak) it remains possible to pair the Garmin FR620 with an ANT+ enabled foot pod.

Garmin FR620 review Foot pod

This is the standard Garmin version.

Garmin FR620 review

The settings can be found at Menu > Setting > Sensors > Foot Pod.

Paring is straight forward. A good assistant for the calibration can be seen on the Garmin Forum pages here. I used a double loop of my local 400m running track to set my calibration.

If you are a mostly outdoor runner you’ll probably have no need for the foot pod at all. If you do venture indoors and want absolute accuracy then a foot pod may assist you, particularly if you don’t trust the data received from your treadmill. Having said that, the calibration of the foot pod (i.e whether determined indoor or outdoor) may never give you a 100% accurate reading. I generally use my foot pod as a backup when needed.

Training Plans & Workout Creation

Back in Garmin Connect you have the option of utilising some of their predetermined training plans or creating your own tailored workouts based upon your training goals.

Garmin Fr620 review training plans

If you’ve signed up for marathon there’s a specific plan you can download to the watch.

Garmin fr620 review Marathon Plan

If you don’t need a predetermined training plan Garmin Connect also supports the ability to use a workout creation wizard to plan a specific workout tailored to whichever steps, intervals or timings you may choose. I like this feature a lot.

garmin FR620 review

Garmin fr620 review

Once you have selected your plan you can then synchronise with the Garmin FR620 and even specify which day the workout will be utilised. Further still the chosen workout will also prompt you with the steps to take from the watch display e.g. warm up though to cool down.

Garmin FR620 review

This is an extremely useful feature and is very easy to use within Garmin Connect. Add Wireless transfer to the mix and you can have your workout planned and ready without the device even leaving your wrist.

Once transferred to the Garmin FR620 workouts can be accessed by touching the ‘trophy’ symbol in the centre of the display.

Cycling

I’m going to save this section for an update at a later stage.

Back in January of this year Garmin announced that a cycling function would be added to the Garmin FR620 via a firmware update. The only information available is that the update will be released in the spring.

Update July 2014: The firmware for cycling has now been released to enable the FR620 to double up as a cycle computer. After installing the update, you will now see that an additional ‘Ride’ mode is available brining with it the ability to pair further sensors sensors, such as an ANT+ speed/cadence sensor. When switching to Ride mode the watch will automatically default to the tracking of speed (as opposed to pace). When uploaded to Garmin Connect the workout will also be automatically recognised as a cycling activity

Here’s how mine looks on the TT bike bike. You can, of course, just keep it on your wrist.

Garmin Forerunner 620 Review

By following the same steps as running mode (described in detail above) you customise the data screens to display your chosen metrics over 4 separate screens. Here you can see I’ve chosen, ‘speed’, ‘cadence’ & ‘average speed’ for my primary screen.

Garmin FR620 review cycling

I’ve found the basic data capture on par with my Garmin Edge 810. That’s quite an incredible feat given the size of the FR620 and that it is primarily a running device. Changes in speed are delivered as smooth as ever and cadence is recorded with fast data transfer showing real time adjustments. Of course, it’s not a replacement for a dedicated cycle computer, but it does serve a useful purpose for an all in one unit.

Below are the screenshots from Garmin Connect showing the details of a training ride.

Garmin Forerunner 620 review

You’ll see that charts are are also available for elevation, cadence & heart rate etc.

Garmin FR620 review

With cycling now supported and the unit being waterproof to 5om, the FR620 becomes a watch that could be worn through a full triathlon. Whilst it is not a true multisports watch, it certainly becomes a one stop device those who may combine running and cycling. This is a very welcome additional feature.

Software update

There have been a few general software updates since release. As the Garmin FR620 is WiFi enabled the update will be notified to you wirelessly and can also be completed via WiFi. The update process looks a little like this…

Garmin FR620 review

Garmin FR620 review

Summary

The Garmin FR620 builds upon Garmin’s vast experience in GPS technology to produce a feature rich device to take your run analysis beyond tracking distance & heart rate. Quite literally, the FR620 has introduced a third dimension to run tracking with the introduction of the new Running Dynamics. If you want ultimate accuracy via GPS and heart rate with the added features of automatic cadence and stride analysis then this is the watch for you. Added to this, the introduction WiFi and Bluetooth smart means that ultimate convenience is achieved with seamless transfer of data direct to either your phone or home computer.

I have been using Garmin FR620 for all of my training since January of this year. I can confidently state that my running has improved during that period and my times have come down. This is mostly due to the standard features that you will find in other running watches rather than the Running Dynamics, however I would say that those features have given me a better understanding of my style and how to maintain my ‘form’. Where the Garmin FR620 is at its best is the sheer accuracy and usability of the device and the brilliant wireless features. This is Garmin’s first watch to benefit from WiFi and Bluetooth and not only does it work, I have not experienced any bugs in either the hardware or the software (N.B. I have only tested this with an Apple iPhone and not Android).

If you are reading this and are considering a purchase you should bear in mind the price and the functionality that could be achieved from the Garmin FR220. I do not have the FR220 but its specifications are housed in a similar chassis (different colours/buttons) and it benefits from the same standard software (including the WiFi/Bluetooth) minus the Running Dynamics. With that in mind, much of this review should also apply to that device.

Prior to investing in the FR620 I was logging all of my runs with the assistance of my iPhone and the RunKeeper App. I will update this site in the near future with a review to highlight the differences between running with a watch as opposed to a phone. I wanted to move away from running with my phone as I wanted to begin my 2014 training with a device that I could also use on race day. This meant that I needed a watch that would be waterproof.

So far I have not regretted my decision. I now look froward to my run and post-run analysis.

Pros/Cons

Pros

  • Wireless transfer
  • GPS accuracy
  • Consistent Heart Rate Data
  • Infinite customisation
  • Waterproof
  • Running Dynamics
  • Workout Creation

Cons

  • Potential for data overload via too many alerts
  • Indoor accuracy
  • Price tag

Conclusion

At £320.00 with the heart rate monitor (£280.00 without) there’s no question that this is a premium piece of kit. Having said that, what you get is a GPS watch that just works. With every kilometre of every run that the FR620 has accompanied me, it has (quite literally) not missed a beat or lost my position.

If you are a runner, there is no doubt that this watch can assist you with your training and on race days. The question is whether you need this device over some of the other offerings that won’t place such a dent in your wallet. If you love pouring over the data as much as being out on a run there really is no other device for you. With endless graphs and data comparisons to be made you will become a data junkie.

I’ve not yet found fault with the Garmin FR620. This is the one of the best GPS tracking devices for your running needs.

Buying Options

I want my reviews to be as independent as possible. On that basis, I thought a link to Amazon would provide the most impartial method of you looking at other user reviews should you be considering a purchase.

10 Comments

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  6. Hello Tim, Thank you for you very detailed review. I got a TomTom Multisport, and planning to switch to either Polar V800 or Garmin 920XT. Your review helped me understand the 920XT through the 620 as they are similar. One thing dissuading me towards 920XT is the investment to switch from Bluetooth Smart to ANT+ accessories. Do you have any solution around this? Also, do you know a way to feed data real time into iPhone 5 or newer? It doesn’t have a ANT+ converter/dongle.

    • Hi Kein, it’s a really good point. I’m just about to get a 920XT on test so can’t answer the the question about real time to iPhone 5 fully just yet. I suspect that other than the live track feature (as with the FR620) it won’t be possible but you will be able to upload workouts direct to the iPhone (post workout) via bluetooth smart. As for the sensors, you will need ANT+. Wahoo are now doing a duel ANT+/Bluetooth cadence sensor, and, since the the release of the Garmin magnetless sensors, the standard Garmin GSC-10 combo sensor (ANT+) has become much more cost effective.

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