Tuesday, November 22, 2005

My Favorite Mobile Gadget - the Garmin Forerunner 201

This post is a bit off tangent since it contains no analyst reference. However, I wanted to ruminate about my favorite mobile device. No, it's not my Audiovox SMT-5600 Windows smartphone nor is it my son's Sony PSP. My favorite mobile device is a Garmin Forerunner 201 GPS distance and speed monitor (aka my running watch).

I've been running since high school and I'm data obsessive to boot. I want to know as much information about my runs as possible (i.e. time, distance, pace, heart rate, etc). Up until the last couple of years, trying to find out how far I ran involved a stopwatch and either a lot of guess work (i.e. loosely guesstimate pace and then calcultate the distance by dividing it into the total time - 48 minutes @ roughly 8 minute pace = 6 miles) or driving the course with my car and/or bicycle.

Luckily for the gadget geek in me, the last few years have seen several devices come to market that help measure distance as well as provide other related data. I've tried most of them including a foot pod accelerometer from Nike (too flaky) that attached to your shoe and measured speed and distance based on your stride, and a distance watch from Timex, which included a separate bulky GPS transceiver that you had to strap to your upper arm.

When Garmin introduced the first all-in-one GPS running watch (Forerunner 201) a couple of years ago things changed for the better. It's far from perfect since it's a bit bulky, it loses GPS signals on occasion,especially under heavy tree coverage or in cities, and accuracy can range anywhere from 95-99 percent. However I can live with these faults...for now.

Where it works best is when I'm travelling. I can just go out and run and get a fairly accurate idea how far I went. For instance, I'm currently down in Southern California visiting family and was able to get in my usual early morning run today. Better yet, I was then able to upload data from the Forerunner via USB/Serial cable to my laptop for analysis and send it to a website called MotionBased (recently acquired by Garmin), which packages all the data in charts and graphs, and maps the route as well (click on below and then "dashboard" to see more data on the run).

Map of SoCal II

It's all very cool. Garmin has already added the Forerunner 301, which incorporates a heart rate monitor. Now if they can make the GPS reception stronger and software more accurate, shrink the design to everyday watch size, and maybe incorporate some type of wireless capabilities then that would be killer. Or add the distance and speed monitoring capabilities to a GPS-enabled handset so folks can carry a phone for safety purposes, while measuring their ride or run at the same time. A lot of possibilities, but not for the paranoid at heart. You never know who might be tracking you....