Thursday, December 10, 2009

Garmin 405 Review

Does anyone recall me saying that I was going to write some gear reviews on this site? Oh yeah...

If you're a nerd like me, perhaps you've happened across the Grammar Girl podcasts at some point. (No? You mean none of you are total nerds?? Dammit, Jim!) She starts out each podcast with some cool, snappy music, and an intro line that goes, "Hi! Grammar Girl here. Today's topic is...(insert awesome topic like 'lie vs. lay' or 'starting a sentence with

When you hear that familiar music and voice announce the topic, it's kind of like when Ron Howard says, "Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything..." You know, you sit back and smile, and you know you're in for something good.

And that's kind of what I think Gear Girl needs to get her reviews going...some cool snappy music! (I've got plenty of awesome topics.) But since this is a blog, not a podcast or TV show, you'll have to invent your own theme song here. I'm thinking a hip, acoustic, Jack Johnson-type intro, but you use whatever works for you.

So without further ado: (Cue cool music.) "Hey, Gear Girl here. Today's topic is the Garmin 405."

Whether you’re a veteran user in the world of the GPS, or, like me, a novice who has been merely drooling over the Garmin line for the past several years, you’ll find the Garmin Forerunner 405 has plenty to offer.

There are many reasons for owning a GPS designed specifically for running. My main interest was to map out the trails I run—see where they go, and just how far they really are. It can also be a great training tool for runners trying to keep a certain pace, or even just learn what a certain pace feels like. When Wilderness Running sent me the Garmin 405 to review, I learned just how much a good GPS can really do.

You might say that I have fairly high expectations for technology. I’d argue that they’re reasonable, though. I just want things to work. I want my gadgets to do everything, and do them instantly. I want them to be so user-friendly that I could lose the manual and still be able to figure out everything. I want them to be attractive and comfortable and I want the batteries to last forever. And did I mention my preferred price tag? Cheap, of course.

So, let’s see how the 405 measured up.

I’ll tackle the biggest question first:

Does it do everything?

This, I would say, is where the 405 shines. You can do so many things with this watch, I started sleeping in later while it brewed the coffee and fed the dog. Let’s talk about some of the data available first.

Users can set up the screen on the 405 to personalized choices. You can view up to three pieces of data at once, and you can scroll between multiple data screens. What you see, and where, is completely up to you. Some options include stopwatch time, current pace, average pace, lap time, lap pace, elevation, grade, calories burned, distance, lap distance, time of day and a dozen or so more. If you have your 405 paired with the heart rate strap, you can of course view all kinds of data about your heart rate. I found that the things I wanted to see the most were stopwatch time, distance, and average pace. I typically had this on my first screen, then on my secondary screen I had current pace, time of day and elevation.

The training options were so numerous that it was somewhat dizzying. Using your Garmin, you can set up workouts based on time, distance, calories or heart rate. You can also set up interval workouts which time your rest and tell you when to start the next interval. Advanced users can set up more complex workouts through the online community, Garmin Connect. Other training options include use of a virtual partner, and creating a specific course on which you can compare your times across workouts. These tools would all be great for someone without a local coach or frequent training partners, but who is looking to follow a specific training plan. They would also be helpful for anyone who likes to see the detailed data from workouts and plan their training accordingly.

The GPS uses satellites to not only track your speed, distance and elevation, but can also be used for navigation. You can set points, and then use the GPS to navigate back to those points. This could be quite useful if you are travelling cross country or navigating by map.

Believe it or not, that is just a quick overview of the data. Another related question is, how easy is it to find and use this data?

The touch bezel is the main feature used to navigate through this little computer. It’s somewhat similar to the click wheel on an ipod, so it feels fairly instinctive to use. It allows the runner to navigate through a ton of data without including a ton of buttons on the watch itself. In fact, aside from the touch bezel, the 405 only has two buttons—your standard start/stop and lap/reset. The bezel is pretty sensitive, which has its pluses and minuses. I found that I could still use it while wearing thin running gloves, which is nice in cold weather. Unfortunately I also found that jacket sleeves, backpack straps, or the occasional errant pigtail that accidentally brushed against the bezel registered as a click. The solution to this problem is to keep it in “lock” mode most of the time. This works well, but it does require an extra step when navigating through the data (in order to "unlock" it). Once I got used to using the bezel, I thought it was a pretty slick feature.

Another important use of the data on the 405 involves the Garmin Connect online community. After logging a run on your watch, you connect wirelessly to your computer and upload your information from that run to Garmin Connect. Here you can see a map of your route, elevation profile, and your speed at any point on the run. You can see an example from my run at this year's HK 50M here. This was one of my favorite features of the 405. After all, the best part about having all that information is the ability to analyze it, manipulate it and share it. From Garmin Connect, you can share with other users, or upload your data to your own website or blog. Pretty slick!

Among the many other features, one thing I personally liked was the auto pause option. With the auto pause on, the timer will stop whenever you do. I am notorious for stopping my watch to run into the bushes and pee, and then forgetting to push “start” again. The auto pause saved me from my own timing woes! (Just remember to turn this feature off on race day.)

That certainly doesn’t cover everything this watch does, but that’s probably already more than you have time to read about.

Does it do everything instantly?

Most things on this watch are pretty instantaneous. The wireless uploading was easy. The only time I became wary of how long things took was when first going into training mode from power save mode. The watch needs to locate the satellites, and depending on your location, this could be instantaneous or, or it could take up to a minute or two. That can be rather embarrassing when you’re about to start an interval workout on trail with a group and you have to make everyone wait until your fancy watch locates satellites. I mean, not that I would know. Imagine how inconvenient that could be when you’re on the starting line and the gun goes off. Just plan in advance.

Is it user-friendly?

In a word: yes. I did need the manual to get started, but I’ll be honest, I’m not much of a read-the-manual type girl. I prefer to just start pushing buttons and figure things out. If you can’t do it that way, then I’d say it was designed poorly. I had more than one day where I arrived at the trailhead and wanted to change a setting or something that I didn’t really know how to do. I could always figure it out eventually just by clicking around through the various screens. I’d give this one a big thumbs-up on user-friendly.

Is it attractive and comfortable?

I guess this one is largely a matter of personal opinion. I will say that it’s far less weird-looking than previous editions of the Forerunner. It can actually pass for a watch, albeit a rather large one if you’re a woman with a small wrist, like me. I can’t say that it ever felt like it fit well, and it quickly created a sore spot against my wrist bone which I couldn’t figure out how to avoid. If I wanted to wear it running 5 days a week, it could potentially be a real annoyance. Since I’m more of an occasional GPS-wearer, I can’t say it was a big issue.

Do the batteries last forever?

The word on this one: no. Obviously I don’t really expect them to last forever. However, the maximum eight-hour battery life in training mode was clearly not designed with the ultrarunner in mind. It’s not that I go for a lot of runs longer than eight hours (although there are a few in a season), but you could translate “maximum” here to “best case scenario.” For some reason, I had a number of days where the battery only lasted 5-6 hours even though I started with it fully charged. On these particular runs, I encountered some areas of weak satellite reception, and wonder if perhaps it uses up more battery power when searching for satellites. I don’t know. But I do know that it is annoying to have your battery die on you in the middle of a long run through the wilderness because then you don’t even have anything to tell you the time of day. And let’s face it, 8 hours isn’t enough to get you through most 50 milers, or even halfway through a hundred. Personally, I’d like about twice as much battery life. On a more realistic front, however, ultrarunners certainly comprise a small portion of the running population, and 8 hours is probably more than enough for most runners.

Is it cheap?

Well, this is another one that is simply a matter of opinion.The $300 price tag may not seem cheap, however, if you want an awesome and reliable GPS, I’d say it’s pretty darn reasonable.

And finally, back to my initial request of all gadgets:

Does it work?

Yup. I rarely lost satellite reception, and I’d say the measurements of pace and distance were quite accurate. I encountered a problem during one of my uploads to Garmin Connect and lost a lot of data, but unfortunately I have only my crappy computer to blame for that one. Most of the time, the process of data transfer was quite smooth. I suggest not setting up your 405 to delete the data from the watch as it’s downloaded. That way, you have a back-up in case there is a problem during the transfer. You can delete the data from your GPS manually once it is safely at Garmin Connect.

The final word.

Overall, I really appreciated the information from the 405, and the ease of use. Being keenly aware of my pace during a recent road marathon definitely helped me stay on track. It’s probably not the ideal watch for those who frequently do training runs longer than 6 hours, but otherwise, it’s an excellent training tool for beginning and advanced runners alike.

*Just so you know: Garmin product supplied by WRC.*


  1. Excellent review, as always, Gretchen. One note - if you don't have the watch set to delete data as it's downloaded, make sure to go back and delete it later. It does hold a LOT of data, but if you're in the middle of a run when it "fills up," it kind of freaks out. Happened to me a couple times...

  2. I prefer the clunky predecessor, the 305. Longer battery life and larger display - which is easy, as it's as big as a 1985 cell phone.

  3. Very well done - great review! I also like how the 405 looks like a normal watch, not nearly as bulky as its predecessors. I wholeheartedly agree on the battery life issue, but Garmin made a big step in the right direction with the new 310XT, which is waterproof as well. They're getting closer to satisfying ultrarunners, for sure. Glad you're enjoying your cool gadget.

  4. I want one! I have only a Forerunner 50 with no GPS, and it's not Mac compatible. Or at least it wasn't- might be now. So it's been quietly sitting in a drawer...

  5. Turi - good point about the data. Also, someone else also mentioned to me the same thing that you did, about the bezel not working if it gets wet. I didn't mention it since I never had that experience (because it never got wet) but it's something to be aware of.

    Steve - Are you sure they had cell phones in 1985?? Maybe car phones... :)

    Donald - Thanks. It definitely looks pretty sleek, but eventually I hope they'll find a way to get it to adjust more comfortably on a smaller wrist.

    Amber - Something to add to your Christmas list! Also, Wilderness Running Company *may* be giving away one of these on their website sometime soon, but that's still a question mark, so don't quote me. Still, couldn't hurt to keep your eye out on their site.

  6. Thanks for the (most kickass) review!

    Not that I'll be getting one any time soon, but it's nice to read about and drool over new products.

    Not literally, on the drooling part, natch. Although I imagine it is water resistant as well.

  7. man, i'd LOVE to do one of the Northstar races with ya, but they fall on the day and/or weekends as the Folsom runs. If by chance there is a zero percent chance of rain (and therefore dbl points) for the 2/28 Folsom race, i might just do the one on the 27th and the Fresh Tracks 5k on the 28th.