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Garmin Forerunner 610 (FR610) GPS Watch Review

Garmin Forerunner 610My first GPS watch was the Garmin Forerunner 205, and I used it for several years without a hitch (still works well to this day!). It displayed tons of data, tracked speed and distance nearly flawlessly (except when surrounded by tall trees or buildings), and had great battery life. However, my one big problem with the FR205 was its size – it was like strapping a brick on my wrist, and though I didn’t mind having it on during runs, it was not a watch that I would wear around all day.

I got tired of having to cart around two watches, one for all day wear and another for workouts, so I decided late last year to upgrade to the Garmin 610. I asked Santa to bring one to me for Christmas (meaning my wife, meaning me ordering it and giving it to her to wrap up…). Sure enough, the 610 was under the tree on Xmas morning, and I’ve been using it almost non-stop over the past 10 months.

I have mixed feelings about this watch. I mostly love it, but there are a few things that I find rather frustrating, which I’ll get to below.

Rather than going into exceptional detail about what the watch can do (which would simply involve me regurgitating the feature list on the FR610 info page on the Garmin website), I’ll simply say that as one of Garmin’s top tier watches it does almost everything a runner would need. Lots of data screens, lots of customization possibilities for data fields, easily readable screen, HR monitor and foot pod integration, and so on. I have not found the watch features lacking in any way when it comes to my needs as a runner. (For a crazy detailed review of watch features, you can also check out DC Rainmaker’s FR610 review)

The approach I’ll take to this review is to keep things simple and discuss what I really like about the watch, and what I don’t like. Here goes:

Likes

1. Small Size. The Forerunner 610 is much, much smaller than my old FR205. It’s small enough that I can actually use it comfortably as an all day watch without looking like a total running geek with a giant GPS device on my wrist. The 610 was on my wrist 24/7 until recently, when the wristband suddenly broke (more on this below).

IMG_2697[1]

Garmin FR610 (left) and FR205 (right) – note the missing wristband on the bottom of the 610, waiting on a replacement!

2. Fast Satellite Acquisition. The FR610 acquires satellites very quickly, particularly if you tend to start each run from the same location. It’s faster than my 205, and this means less time standing in the road with my dog barking at me because he’s ready to run and I’m staring at the sky searching for satellites (I don’t know why I do this, it’s not like I can actually see them).

3. Solid Tracking. I have found both real-time pace and distance tracking to be rock-solid. This is criterion number one for me in a GPS watch, and I trust that data coming from the 610 without hesitation (recognizing the inherent limitations of GPS data).

4. Wireless Upload. I love the fact that the watch shoots data to Garmin Connect wirelessly via a USB ANT+ sensor. Since I’m not always great about downloading workouts, this makes my life just tiny bit easier.

5. SportTracks Sync. Garmin watches play nicely with SportTracks, which is the software I use to log all of my runs. I don’t like having to take extra steps as required with Timex watches and some other brands, and this is one of those other small things that makes me happy and saves a few seconds of my time.

6. Screen Customization Options. You can customize up to 4 data screens, each of which can hold up to 4 data fields. Data field options include everything I could want, and this watch gives me the ability to replicate the screens I used for years on the 205. The screen is smaller than that of the 205, so when you use 4 fields the text is a bit small, but I have not had issues reading the data on the run.

All of the above make for a nearly ideal GPS watch that does everything I need it to do and a whole lot more that I didn’t cover here, since I mostly don’t use the other stuff (things like back-to-start navigation, virtual pacer, etc.). However, there are two biggish issues that make the watch fall short of perfection. Neither is a deal-breaker in my opinion, but they are things that should be mentioned.

Dislikes

Garmin FR6101. The Touch Screen. I’ll take a good set of navigation buttons (like those on the Timex Run Trainer 2.0) over the touch screen of the FR610 any day. The main problem with the touch screen on the 610 is that it is not particularly responsive. I typically have to drag my finger across the screen with a dramatic flourish to get it to do what I want. And, most of the time, this results in me pressing the wrong menu item unless I get the pressure just right. This is probably one of the reasons why I’ve resisted really getting into some of the more advanced features of the watch. I have it set to do what I need, and I avoid navigating the menus as much as possible.

On the plus side, the low sensitivity of the touch screen means that it does not often switch screens accidentally (once in awhile it’ll switch data screens if I brush it against a sweaty shirt, but that’s pretty rare). It also does not experience issues when wet – I ran the Vermont City Marathon in May with the 610 in a pretty steady rain and had no issues. Also no issue showering with the watch on (though I generally don’t use the GPS functions in the shower…). The sequel to the 610 (the soon-to-arrive Garmin Forerunner 620) supposedly has an improved touch screen so hopefully that will remedy the issue.

2. The Wristband. I was standing in the lobby of my office the other day chatting with our office manager and heard a thud. I looked at the ground, and there was my 610 sitting on the floor with the wristband broken off from the body of the watch on one side. I picked it up and it was clear that there was no way it was going to be re-attached – the connecting piece is made of softish plastic and had loosened to the point where the pins no longer secured it. I posted a photo on FB and Twitter and got many, many responses from other 610 owners who had experienced the exact same issue. It appears to be a design flaw with the watch. I proceeded to contact Garmin customer service, and they responded promptly that they would send out a replacement band (still waiting to receive it).

Garmin Forerunner 610 broken wristband

My Sad, Broken FR610 Awaiting a New Wristband

I have heard from several people that they have gone through multiple bands on their 610, so I’m not confident the replacement will be a long-term fix. I was given another tip that Garmin has an optional velcro wristband for the 610 that works much better, but that to get it to work you need to buy a set of 19mm spring pins since the ones that come with the velcro band don’t work too well. What a mess! Anyway, I just ordered the velcro band from Amazon for $18.75, and a set of 19mm spring pins for $4.50. Sucks that I have to pay extra to make the watch work, but better than giving up on a $300+ piece of technology. I will report back on how the new band works (Update 10/16/2013 – I now have the velcro strap and have installed it, you can read about it here).

Velcro Strap

Velcro Band for the Garmin FR610

Conclusion

So there you have it. The FR610 is a mostly great GPS watch that can be worn all day, but has a few flaws that hold it back from perfection. I can mostly live with the touch screen, but the watch band is an issue that just should not happen for an item at this price point. Should the velcro band solve the problem, I’ll be content, and with the 620 coming I’m guessing we will soon see a price drop on the 610 so buying the watch plus the velcro band will likely cost less than the original MSRP (the price has dropped to $309.99 at Clever Training.


Garmin Forerunner 610 Purchasing Options

The Garmin Forerunner 610 is currently on sale for $219.99 at my affiliate partner Clever Training.

Clever Training specializes in fitness electronics, and has agreed to provide a 10% off discount to Runblogger readers on most products that they carry – just enter the code RunBlogXJT at checkout.

The Garmin FR610 is also available at Amazon.com.

Purchases support this site and help me to write reviews like this one. Your support is very much appreciated!


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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. wasn’t too excited about the 610 personally. 620 looks to be an amazing update. very excited for it.

  2. Steve Fines says:

    I had the pin fall out on my 610 a week before my June 2013 marathon. Fixed it with a thick piece of straightened paper clip and two drops of superglue.

    I think everyone with a 610 at a minimum should at least put a little finger nail polish or something on the end of each pin.

    But can you imagine if it had dropped off at the beginning of a race? Imagine trying to go back against the tide of thousands of runners to get a watch. It would just get crushed of course – not to mention losing one’s pacing device.

  3. Garmin 610 has an obvious problem with band. Which is disappointing, because it’s a completely crazy way to ruin your experience with a (imo) superb watch. Sometimes it’s everything about small details.

    http://www.reloj-gps.com

  4. Brian Hazard says:

    My 620 is supposed to ship from Road Runner on the 15th! I’d be more excited if I weren’t red-lighted from running for the next few weeks. Still getting over peroneal tendinitis. I sold my 610 last week on Amazon, before the flood of used units hits eBay.

    I wish I’d known about the Velcro band. My band didn’t fall apart, but it was never comfortable.

    One gripe I had was that with very short intervals (like 10 seconds), the lap button wouldn’t always work. This made for awkward and unfulfilling hill sprints! I’d expect that vibration to signal the end of the interval, but it would never come, because the lap button didn’t work to start the interval. It always worked fine with other workouts, so I guess it’s a software issue.

    • I’m out with Peroneal Tendonitis as well. It sucks.
      Thought Id comment on the 610 to see if anybody else had these issues. I Never had any band problems and I actually tend to like the band.
      Two major problems I have with the 610 that really anger me: the first Is more minor, but the backlight is super short, barely enough time to look and see the split and doesn’t seem to be able to come on when it laps, which means I have to reach over and hit the button to see my lap time. This is a minor issue but annoying when running hard tempos in the dark. My Second is the real issue. It has a terrible software problem with the battery saver. It picks up satellites super fast but then in just a couple minutes it warns that it will go into battery save mode with a 30 second countdown. If you touch the screen it won’t, but the issue is that if you do that 1-2 times it then just automatically goes into battery save mode WITHPUT ANY WARNING. Then when the gun goes off I look down to start it and it has no satellites and I’m F$&@’D

  5. Aaron Grenz says:

    Add me to the list of people who have had problems with my 610 band. It’s broken/fallen off 3 times for me while running in the last ~24 months I’ve owned it. One breakage was about a week before a 2+ week vacation where I had several runs planned. Garmin customer support was fine, but couldn’t ship the new band to me in time – so I paid out of pocket for a new one that could be overnighted to my home before leaving. I was told they improved the design, but I haven’t noticed anything different – and still have problems.

    Also, the metal back of the watch has some light rust/corrosion. I rarely wear my 610 in the shower or swimming, so this is a notable concern for a watch that is supposed to be waterproof (at least for how I am using it). I had a friend return his 610 because the corrosion caused his arm to develop a rash. If this worsens, then I have yet another reason to return it in addition to the faulty wrist band.

    What’s more frustrating is that I had the same watch band problems with my Garmin 405 as well. The second time the 405 broke the bracket on the bezel broke so no new band would work. I was able to return it at REI. Garmin makes really good products, but it’s disappointing/frustrating that one of the most basic/simple components can render an expensive watch unusable.

    All said, I’ve stuck with Garmin since overall their watches seem to be more accurate and have better designs than competitors. I’m optimistic about the 620 – but waiting for more reviews on that first. If not, I’m looking at models from Suunto instead of the traditional running GPS brands.

  6. I’m liking my 610 after a few months with it now. At first i wasn’t crazy about the glare of the touch screen, but have gotten used to it. And initially I also hated how difficult it was to get the band to lock into the black strap holder thingy. However, I’ve grown to love that because the strap stays put, whereas with my 305 it was common for it to pop out during runs.

  7. Jan MacGregor says:

    I’m very happy to read the advice to add a drop of glue or clear nail polish at the end of each pin! My pin has come out twice in the past month or two, once at the beginning of the run portion of a triathlon.

    I’ve used the velcro strap from the beginning (almost 2 yrs) as my girly wrists (I AM a girl) were too small for the stiffer band to fit well. The velcro strap fits well but the pins (original that came with it) but but were not 100%. My previous Garmin was an FR60 & the whole watch became useless when the integrated strap broke after 2 yrs. Annoying. I agree that at these prices, the strap/pins should be more dependable.

    Thanks for the good info.

  8. Adventure Strong says:

    The watch band issue is lame as is the touch screen. But it would be nice to have a GPS watch that’s functional for full-time wear. I’ll wait for the next gen to come out and then revisit it. Great review.

  9. Mike Slaughter says:

    A drop of superglue on the pin on each side of the band will keep the pin from coming out. A cheep fix for a flawed design.

  10. Judith Radloff says:

    I actually just returned my garmin because of the broken wristband. Didnt know it was a common problem. Lets hopethe 2nd one works better

  11. I trashed my Garmin Forerunner 610 to the bin. It was too frustrating trying to get it to work reliably. It sometimes just wouldn’t keep records, kept on proposing to reset user data, etc. A waste of time. I will never purchase any Garmin watch again and I am now looking for a new (reliable) GPS watch

  12. This one looks pretty cool, but I´m stillnot sure wether purchase one or not, beacuse I´m using my iPhone navigation app and it works quite well for me. Did you heard about sygic? (I mean this one: link to sygic.com )

  13. The Band has a hard plastic attachment that holds the pin bar – and is plugged into a receptacle on the end of the soft-rubber wrist strap. This plug has glue inside it – and thats what gave way after months (or weeks) of getting wet/salted etc.
    I initially thought that the band broke off but when the replacement arrived i discovered that I had to remove the hard plastic part. An alternative fix would have been to put some bonding superglue into the soft rubber and see if the plug would hold.

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