Wednesday 9 November 2011

Garmin Forerunner 405 vs HTC Desire

In this comparison I am not going to go into great detail regarding every single feature of the devices. What I intend to cover here is the practical use of the two different ways to track and log your running activities. For the purpose of this post I will assume you already know what a GPS device does.

HTC Desire and Garmin Forerunner 405
The application I use on my phone is Handy Runner, this links to the RunningAHEAD website. I have tried other applications (CardioTrainer and RunKeeper) but the Handy Runner / RunningAHEAD combo is my favourite.

I will take you through the process of using the devices to track a run from start to finish.

To get started you will need to attach the device to your body in some way:

Garmin - It is a watch so it attaches to your wrist in the normal way. I find the strap quite hard to feed through and fasten. However once you have fed it through and fastened the strap this will be completely secure on your wrist. GPS watches are typically quite bulky on the wrist. However, the 405 is fairly slimline by comparison.

HTC Desire - The phone requires an addition piece of equipment in order for you to attach it to your arm. There are a few options but I have opted for a Tunebelt. It is very easy to insert the phone and it easily secures the device to your upper arm. It has a waterproof screen protector which also allows you to easily operate the touch screen. Of course you could hold it, but with sweaty hands it's probably just a matter of time before it goes flying across the street and leaves you with a hefty repair/replacement bill.

You will need to pick up some satellites:

Both of the devices perform equally here. The satellites can take anything from a few seconds to a few minutes to locate. From my experience this is just the nature of satellites and will probably be the same across most devices.

While talking about satellites it's worth noting that in some unscientific tests on reported distance it seems that the Garmin has around a 1% margin of error. At its worst the phone has been up to 3% out. As I say, all unscientific. But still worth noting.

During the run:

Both devices will track your run from the moment you hit the start button. Once you start running one of the big differences becomes apparent.

Being in the style of a traditional wrist watch, the Garmin is much easier to interact with it while on the move. A quick glance will provide you with information on your timing, pace and distance covered.

The phone, which is strapped onto your upper arm, is a different matter. In order to check your stats while on the go you will need to press the unlock button, then swipe the screen to complete the unlock process. Then you twist your head around to your arm to look at the screen while trying not to accidentally click the stop button. You are now at great risk of tripping over or running into something. You could, of course, undo the strap and slide it off your arm and hold it in your hand. This makes reading the screen easier but then you have to put it back on your arm and fasten the velcro strap again.

At the end of the run:

Garmin - You hit stop, then you hold down the other button to store the data.

Phone - You unlock the phone (as above) and hit stop.

Moving the data to the computer/internet:

Here is the second big difference:

The phone instantly uploads the data to the website (providing you have a data coverage). You may need to edit the entry from your computer to add the name of the route or which shoes you wore, but it is all very easy.

The Garmin comes with a wireless USB adapter which will assist you in transferring the data to your computer. The process is pretty pain free once you have installed the software. But if you want the data online so you can share with your friends or view while at another computer you will need to export the .gpx file from the Garmin Training Centre software and then import that data into the online version.

Cost Comparison:

Garmin Forerunner 405 seems to range from between £120 to £240 online.

Smartphone - If you were to buy one brand new off the shelf you'd be looking at something around £500. In the UK at least, most phones are given away or heavily subsidised though monthly price plans. So if you were to do it that way you could get the handset for free. The applications that I have tried have all been free. The tunebelt armband cost me around £15.

Using the devices in the rain:

In the rain both devices face their own issues.

The Garmin 405 has a touch controlled bezel around the outside of the screen. When it gets wet the watch develops a mind of its own, changing from one screen to the next and occasionally turning on the back light. In the paperwork that comes with the watch I can't find anything that gives a clue as to the status of its waterproof/resistance -ness. However it does state that 'swimming or prolonged water submersion can cause a short in the unit'. From that I read that it is ok to use in the rain. I have also read reports of people being given electric shocks from the charging points on the underside of the watch when it rains, but I have not experienced this myself.

The phone by its very nature is not water resistant so you take it out there at your own risk. The case I use has a slight gap at the bottom which in theory could let water into the charging port. If wearing a long sleeved top I roll the sleeve up so I have some extra material to play with and I double that over the open part of the phone case to try to add some protection. I think once some water may have got into the phone because it acted strange for about two weeks, then it miraculously went back to normal.


Both devices do the intended job well. They track your run using the GPS satellites and provide you with lots of lovely data to analyse. Both sets of software allow for the export and import of the .gpx files, which means that you are not locked into one application/device/website for ever. I like this.

During the run the Garmin is the more convenient option, you can check your stats easily without much faffing around. My current setup with the phone isn't the best choice if you want to constantly be updated with your stats (it is worth noting that other applications have more features in this area - cardiotrainer has a virtual trainer's voice that will tell you your pace and distance through your headphones if you wish).

After the run the phone makes up for its less easy on-the-run access to data by instantly uploading the data to the website. Also, another big advantage with the phone is that you are not tied to any particular tracking software. You can easily download different apps which will give you different options, user interface and features.

Update 18 June 2013: I am still using my phone (upgraded to Samsung Galaxy S4) but have given the app 'Strava' a go and I love it. As well as giving you all the data and exportable .gpx files it also throws an element of competition into the mix. It's well worth checking it out if you haven't done so already. My profile is here. I'm using it for logging running and cycling - Strava have separate apps for the two different sports but all the files upload to the same account. You have to log using the correct app in order for the app to pick up the correct segments - If you don't know what segments are have a look here.




Thanks to Nicki for giving me the opportunity to play with the Garmin. Thanks to Graeme and Chris for the recent GPS discussions.

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