I have been using a Garmin Forerunner 301 for years now, and while I still love it, I've been finding that it's showing its age. Now I can't fault it there; it is, after all, 7 year old technology. In the tech world, that's ancient. Garmin has released 12 newer Forerunner models since the 301 (which was the third one they made)! So, I was thinking it was time for a new training watch. The 301 would still be great for hiking as it has all of the bells and whistles for that (plus a heart monitor). Eventually, I will be looking at another (newer model) Forerunner, but the cost of such units is well beyond my means at this point in time, so I started looking around the techie corners of the 'net for something else. I needed something solely for training walks; something accurate and fairly simple. The Soleus watches had good reviews and were generally less than $100. I was also looking at a Nike version. Then I came across the Schwinn 810 GPS watch.
Now, it really isn't a "Schwinn", so to speak, but rather a generic type watch released by Schwinn (and also by other companies like Mio and Red Clover). The MSRP was listed as $229 (which I'm sure was never charged for this unit), but I could easily get it with heart rate monitor for $69.99, plus free shipping (from Tiger Direct's eBay store). Hmmmm - I was quite skeptical. How could this be any good at all for that price? I read every review I could find on it, and found that the main complaint people had about it was the software that came with it, but that you could use Red Clover's software which they said worked better, or simply save the info as a .tcx file and upload to Map My Run. Also, many had said the included startup sheet was pretty useless and they found it difficult to figure out how to use the watch. I found the full manual online, downloaded it, and found that it wasn't all that difficult if you had the full instructions. I figured I really couldn't go wrong for the price since I just wanted something basic until I could afford a newer Garmin, so I ordered one.
It came very quickly, with HRM, mini-CD, special charging dock (basically a large clip with USB plug) and quick startup page. Not as big and bulky as the "Dick Tracy Two-way Wrist Radio" 301, it still is larger than a conventional sportswatch. I have very skinny wrists, so it is a bit big on me, but nothing that will cause a problem. As I said before, I had downloaded the manual, so I set to work learning a few things about it as it was initally charging up.
The watch found satellites really quickly; IMMENSELY faster than my Garmin, which had been taking longer and longer lately. It was accurate and quite easy to use. Whereas my Garmin had been reporting wildly fluctuating paces (even when I knew I was keeping pretty steady), the Schwinn only fluctuated within what I thought was my actual change in pace. It has a lot of functions I wasn't expecting, such as autolaps, night mode, altimeter, some waterproof capabilitites, orientation, goto, etc. etc. It can also be used as a conventional watch with alarm when in standby mode which the 301 cannot do. You are able to set more than one "time" on it, so you can preset the watch if you are travelling outside your home time zone - that's pretty handy.
When it came time to upload info for analysis, I originally had downloaded the Red Clover software which had been recommended by reviewers. It was okay, but I also downloaded the software from the mini-CD which came with the unit and found it really easy to use, though basic; a plus is Google Earth integration and the ability to print maps (which you can't even do on Garmin Connect). The program also had a "Map My Run" button which saved the info as .tcx to upload to MMR. I found Map My Run (it's an online training aid for those who haven't come across it before) to be quite similar to Garmin Connect, with a few other features (such as 3D flyover of your route, which is fun!). The free version has ads, but they are really not too in-your-face. Personally, I haven't found the software to be an issue at all. I'm thinking they may have issued a newer version of the software after some of the complaints they received, or maybe I just got lucky.
So far I've tried walks and bike rides with the unit, but haven't used the HRM yet. One concern I do have is the battery life per charge, but as I'm not using this for long hikes (the Garmin's 14-hour battery is perfect for that), it shouldn't be an issue. I'm sure it will be fine for everything from 5Ks to half marathons or longer training walks.
So, long story longer still, I'm really pleasantly surprised by this watch and think it is going to be exactly what I need right now if it continues to function this well. Within the limitations I had set myself, I think I did very well, indeed! I will report back as I use this unit more.
***HUMOUR OF THE DAY:
While I was showing Mike the setup on Map My Run, he glanced over at our three rather contented cats and thought we should start up a website just for felines called "Map My Nap".