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Foretrex 401 review

I’ve owned a Garmin Foretrex 101 for about 6 years or so now. I love it. The form factor makes it a very versatile device. Well designed, rugged, waterproof, simple to use, lots of memory, runs on AAA batteries and gets good battery life. There’s lots to love. The unit is getting long in the tooth though. Technology moves a long way in 6 years. So what didn’t I like? Serial interface, no heart rate/cadence compatibility, older less sensitive GPS receiver.

A while back I tried an Edge 305 and promptly lost it. I liked the unit but it’s form factor meant it was useful only for cycling (not hiking, canoeing etc). I also disliked the VERY limited memory, and built in battery (meant I could not carry a spare). I really liked the heart rate monitor/cadence sensor compatibility. The device worked well with Garmin Fitness center included with the device and the Garmin connect portal.

With the loss of the Edge I took another look at what was out there and discovered the Foretrex 401. Eureka, my wishes were answered (or so I thought). An updated 101! I’ve had this for a couple weeks now. Here’s what I love so far:
– uses AAA batteries and works fine with rechargeables
– has a USB interface using a standard mini USB plug!
– software is similar to the 101 which is a good thing. If it ain’t broke leave it alone!
– can interface with the heart rate monitor and cadence sensor from the Edge (I didn’t loose the sensors 🙂 )
– same 500 waypoint memory as the 101 (Unlike the 50 waypoint memory of the Edge 305 WTF were Garmin thinking)
– lock up is incredibly fast, probably the fastest I have ever seen. GPS sensitivity is way up making it much less likely to drop out from heavy cloud cover or heavy leaf canopy

Here’s what I didn’t like:
– didn’t come with a bike mount and is not compatible with the one from the 101

The screen is the same size as the 101 and is about the same quality. Garmin screens are never earth shattering and are not the reason for buying the device. This one is no exception. It’s absolutely fine, but don’t expect high resolution. The unit itself is about 20% smaller than the 101 but uses the same wrist mount strap. This is VERY useful and makes the device usable hiking, biking (with a mount that is cheap but not included), canoeing (the unit is water proof for 30 feet for 30 minutes) skiing/snowboarding etc.

Linking up with the sensors simply required changing the connect options for both to on inside the menus of the 401. I had to reset both sensors to get them to forget the Edge 305 and link up with this one. Not an issue for me but if you had more than one unit it might be a problem.

The unit includes a digital altimeter as well as a digital compass. The digital compass sounds like a good idea but the unit has to be level for it to work. How exactly do you do that on a bike or canoeing? The digital altimeter quite an improvement in accuracy over getting it from the satellites which always seemed be erratic.
Update: The problem with the digital compass is that when the GPS is not level (inidcated by a hold level indicator) it gives you an incorrect direction to travel to a waypoint. It can be way off. This causes issues when you are moving on a bike such as going up or down a hill. I recalibrated the unit on the same angle as the handlebar mount and this helped but did not remove the problem. Hopefully in the future when you are moving (and direction can be obtained by the GPS itself) and the unit knows it is not level (thus the digial compass is inaccurate) it will resort back to calulating the direction. I spoke to tech support and here is there response:
“Thank you for contacting Garmin International. You can turn the electronic compass off via the MAIN MENU > SETUP > HEADDING > COMPASS: OFF. The electronic compass is functioning as expected. It is a 2 axis compass and cannot compensate when you are not holding it level.”

Interfacing with the device is by way of a standard mini USB (as I mentioned above). I applaud Garmin for not choosing some other proprietary interface or cable. This is used for getting data onto or off the device. In all electronics the devil is in the details, and this device is no exception. With all the good stuff mentioned above you knew there had to be a catch, as did I. Garmin have taken a major deviation from how there devices interface with the outside world and eventually it will be a good thing. In general I use Mapsource to upload/offload data, however it does not support cadence or heart rate.
Update: Tech support says Mapsource will not be updated to support heart rate and cadence data. Too bad.

Mapsource does indeed support the Foretrex 401 and works well. The Edge 305 came with a program called Garmin training center and handles cadence and heart rate. This is not compatible with the Foretrex 401. Garmin are in the process of changing their portal. In the past they had Motionbased. Which worked well. But Garmin are obsoleting Motionbased and have suspended all new uploads. Motion based supports the Foretrex 401. The new portal Garmin connect portal. on the other hand does not support the Foretrex 401. An email to tech support informed me they are working on it but according to some appends I have seen around the web this has been their standard answer for a while. So for now the data from the Cadence/Heart rate are locked inside the Foretrex never to be seen again.
Update: Tech support have confirmed that the 401 is indeed logging the heart rate and cadence data so it’s simply a matter of being patient until the portal is updated to support the 401.

Update 11/03/2009 still no support for the 401 on the portal.

Garmin have made a significant change to the way the data is loaded/pulled off the unit. In the past you had to have Mapsource to interface with the unit. Now when you plug in USB the unit converts the internal memory of the route you took, converts it to a standard Garmin file format and mounts it as a removeable drive to the computer allowing you to copy off the file with no need for Mapsource. Nice idea.

The bike mount from the Garmin Forerunner 50 Mfg. Part No. 010-11029-00 is the one that they recommended for the unit and it is inexpensive so a good deal. The bike mount from my 101 is ok and can be used but it does not fit properly because the unit is 20% smaller.

Owners manual

I bought my unit from GPS city . This is my third purchase from them and they have been flawless in execution. I sent them an email asking some questions and got an answer back that was correct in less than 24 hours. They ship promptly, have reasonable prices and don’t gouge you on shipping charges. You get a simple place to see the status of your order and link into tracking to see where your shipping is. Everything was in stock and shipped right away.

garmin-foretrex-401

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October 6, 2009 - Posted by | GPS Stuff

10 Comments »

  1. […] it with a Garmin Foretrex 401. I have put up a review of the device on my tech blog. Stop on by to read the review. On that same blog is a review of my Garmin Edge 305, as well as some detailed reviews of the […]

    Pingback by Latest review Garmin Foretrex 401 « John Galea's Blog | October 6, 2009 | Reply

  2. One irritation is that Garmin still hasn’t put the full PDF format manual on their website, so for those of us in the pre-sales phase, it’s difficult to get the entire story. Even their tech support apparently hasn’t been able to get this done (I opened a case with them a month ago.)

    Maybe some kind 401 owner will park it on ScribD or a similar site…

    Rich

    Comment by Rich Hintz | October 7, 2009 | Reply

    • I have the manual if anyone wants it. No idea why Garmin have not made it publicly available.

      Comment by johngalea | October 30, 2009 | Reply

  3. Interesting review. I also own an Ft101 and I’m wondering if the 401 would be a good buy for me…

    I’m using a combination of a piece of heating pipe insulation and a self-adhesive velco pad on the handle bar to mount the 101 on my bike.

    You should be able to find out what’s included/logged in the GPX file when you open it with an XML editor
    http://www.mindfusion.eu/product1.html

    If cadence and heart rate is included in the GPX file, you can try to convert the GPX to a TCX file using
    http://www.teambikeolympo.it/TCXConverter/TeamBikeOlympo_-_TCX_Converter/DOWNLOADS.html
    and open the TCX in Training Center.

    Does this work??

    I’m also interested in details reagrding the sensitivity and accuracy of position compared to the 101…

    Comment by blst | December 7, 2009 | Reply

    • The 401 is an excellent upgrade to the 101. Same amount of memory, more sensitive GPS, faster lock, faster transfer of data off the device (no serial port), cadence and heart rate support etc. All in all I would do it again! Worth the cash.

      Comment by johngalea | December 9, 2009 | Reply

  4. […] some cases intentionally disable) other functions to force you to some products. In the case of my Garmin Foretrex 401 they decided that it will display the heart rate, and cadence data but will not let you offload it […]

    Pingback by Forerunner 305 review « John Galea's Blog | May 31, 2010 | Reply

  5. The Foretrex 401 was not logging the heart rate originally, it only displayed it on the screen.
    This feature was added in firmware version 2.30, see http://www8.garmin.com/support/download_details.jsp?id=4759
    It now records the heart rate (and cadence) in the current.gpx file.

    For software, SportTracks is rather good (much better than Garmin Training Center IMO). http://www.zonefivesoftware.com/sporttracks
    You can download from the 401 into SportTracks – just do import from file, and pick the current.gpx file. It can give loads of statistics, including graphs of heart rate etc.

    Comment by Craig | June 14, 2010 | Reply

    • Now they’ve got the HR data it is much more compelling. Does it also generate some approximate calorie count from this?
      Hoping to replace my existing HR watch and my lost 301 with a single unit.

      Comment by run_sk | June 17, 2010 | Reply

      • No calorie count at all …

        Comment by johngalea | June 17, 2010

  6. i love to read tech blogs because i am a technology addict, always looking for new hi tech stuffs ”

    Comment by LASER and Optics Forum · | November 4, 2010 | Reply


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