Wednesday, March 01, 2006

First Run: Comparison of Garmin Forerunner 205 and 201

Yesterday I posted my initial thoughts about my new Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS running watch compared to my former favorite, the Garmin Forerunner 201. I didn't get to take it out for a run until this morning so the following post will try to compare the 205 with the 201 both pre, during and post activity.

Before I jump into it, yesterday I left out one photo showing the 205 with other devices to get a better idea of the size. In the photo above are from left to right, the Forerunner 201, Forerunner 205, Audiovox SMT-5600 Windows Mobile smartphone and a new Timex mid-size running watch for those days I don't need a GPS (i.e. speedwork on the track). I hope this helps.

Both the Forerunner 201 and 205 were set to the most smoothing for pace. The 205 also has a data recording option of either smart recording or every second, which is most accurate but only allows you to store 3.5 hours of activities. I kept it on smart recording, but will play around with this feature on future runs.

The weather this morning when I left was about 38 degrees and clear skies with some fog in some areas. As usual, I put the 201 in my backyard to give it time to acquire a satellite and then I put on my shoes in my garage. I tried to start up the 205 while in my garage but it took a while to acquire the satellites. It seems a little faster booting up than the 201 but I wasn't timing it.

The Run
I got started at around 6 am and ran a relatively relaxed 9.7 mile run. I picked a route where I sometimes had a weak signal on my 201. Above is a photo of the overall route. The yellow line is the path generated by the 205 and the red line is from the 201. These maps were generated by first uploading the runs to MotionBased, which I believe then uses a complex algorithm to map the GPS waypoint data from the device. I then exported KML files to my desktop and then played with them in Google Earth.

I wore the 205 over my glove on my left wrist and the 201 on my right wrist. I never wear a watch on my right so it was an awkward feeling made even more so due to the shape of the 201. For more detailed info on the run from both devices, I posted them both at MotionBased. The data from the 201 can be found here, while the data from the 205 is here.

The 201 used the Auto Pause function so there is a discrepancy in overall time. Plus, I started the 205 first and wasn't able to figure out how to hit the lap buttons on each device simultaneously so there will be a lag in split times for the 201. Here are some observations from the run:

  • While the 205 is still a big watch, it feels more comfortable than the 201. It fits more like a watch, while the width of the 201 makes it feel more unnatural on the wrist. Plus, I like the plastic strap a lot more than the 201's velco strap.
  • The side buttons are stiff and not easy to push, but the lap and start/stop button are better placed than on the 201 and also not stiff.
  • I originally had the tones turned off, so couldn't tell if I was pressing the buttons on the 205. After turning it back on during the run it was much better.
  • In theory I like the fact of having upto 4 data fields on one screen on the 205. In practice, it's sometimes hard to see and know what you are looking at, especially in lowlight conditions. Even with the backlight it's not easy. With 4 fields the fonts sizes are smaller and harder to read, but then again I'm 40+ so maybe it's just age
  • I don't use the "real-time" pacing feature of the 201. I much prefer knowing the average pace for the entire run and the current lap pace. I'm not that interested in knowing how fast I'm going at a specific moment in time. I did set one of the data fields to display "real-time" pace on the 205. The 205 seemed to be more consistent and showed a tighter range of paces. It also seemed closer to how fast I felt I was going relevant to the current conditions (i.e. uphill, downhill, flat) than the 201, which showed a lot of variation and lag. My guess is that if you need this feature then the 205 is more accurate. How accurate? I don't know. It's not a big deal for me cause I won't use it moving forward.
Post Run
After finishing my run, the 205 showed I ran 9.63 miles and the 201 had me at 9.58 (less due to starting 5-10 second later). I estimated the course at 9.7 - 9.75 based on past runs using the 201. Not really a big deal. Uploading the data from the 205 to my PC and to MotionBased was much faster via the USB port as opposed to the 201 serial port.

So while there was a miniscule difference in distances from each device, the differences became more pronounced after MotionBased's algorithms churned through the GPS waypoint data and mapped the runs. MotionBased calculated the distance at 9.67 for the 205 and 9.89 for the 201. At the bottom of the post are 4 photos from different points along the run. The yellow line represents the 205 and the red line the 201. It might be hard to see but the 205 for the most part follows the path I took more closely, and has less zigging and zagging than the 201.

One thing I don't like about the 205 as compared to the 201 is when looking up the history of past activities. When you highlight an activity in the By Day list, a summary of it is in a shaded section at the bottom of the screen, which is hard to read because the font is really small. There is also an extra step when you select the activity. You are first taken to a summary screen and asked if you want to view laps. When you click yes then you can only see 2 laps at a time (the 201 allows 3), and again if you highlight the lap you get summary info for the lap in a shaded section at the bottom.

Overall I like the 205 a lot. It's more comfortable on the wrist, has better placed buttons (lap and start/stop), more features I'll use, and hopefully will be more accurate too. I plan to do another write up or two after taking it on some trails with heavy tree cover and/or canyons, where I have always lost GPS signals in the past.

If you have any comments or questions then please feel free to let me know....

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