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Garmin FR70

I’ve been eyeing one of these for a while now. If your going to monitor only one thing during exercise, monitoring the heart rate gives you a clear and concise picture of how much you pushed yourself. Average and even max heart rates are key. Seeing your heart rate while you work out can also be helpful. I’ve played with a number of methods on my Samsung Gear live and they have all been clumsy, and have huge effects on battery life. Couple that with the screen on my Samsung Gear Live being hard to read in bright sunlight. Thus my curiosity with this device.

I’ve owned a number of Garmin GPS devices and love them. They work well, are simple, priced reasonably and just work. My device of choice for mountain biking is a Garmin Foretrex 401 which I have had for years and would buy again if it broke tomorrow (let’s hope it doesn’t).

Garmin were pioneers in accepting a wireless tech called Ant+ to connect sensors like cadence, heart rate, foot pods and more. Happily my Samsung Note 3 also has Ant+ support, meaning my phone apps can benefit from these sensors too. And there is an interesting design point that Ant+ can connect to more than one device at a time. So an Ant+ heart rate monitor can connect to my Phone and GPS device at the same time!

To say that this device is ugly is a cruel reality. It is definitely a purpose built design. The Polar ones are no better. The screen is a simple LCD display making it very easy to read and Garmin included back lighting for reading it in the dark. It is crisp and easy to read. This screen is one of the reasons it gets such good battery life. Garmin claim a year on a replaceable battery. Nice. Buttons are stiff and not the easiest to push. Impossible with any kind of glove. But the unit is waterproof so that’s the price you pay. Garmin chose to use a simple rubber watch band with a large clip as well as a locking mechanism on the loop that catches the end of the band. Why reinvent something that works. And like the rest of the watch, it’s purposeful. I don’t think the watch band is replaceable, or at least not easily.

The edges of the FR70 are all nice and round so that they don’t catch on shirt sleeves. Well done Garmin, learn from others mistakes (like fitbit).

The FR70 like other Garmins uses Ant+ to interface with sensors. It supports not just Garmin but other companies devices too. I was able to get my favorite Scosche Rhythm+ heart rate monitor connected. It also supports foot pods (for running), and cadence sensors for (cycling). Pairing new devices was relatively simple. The menus are not the easiest thing to figure out and are deep, but the manual does help you through it.

Like my Foretrex the screens are completely configurable as to what shows on them and how many fields are on the screen. The device can be set to auto scroll through the pages of displays and you can configure how many screens each sport you set up can have. It’s a little clumsy to setup but once done is informative, simple and well done. Perfect so that when your exercising your not spending time and focus playing with your gadget. A tree will not move just because you took your eyes off the trail to see your heart rate! Go figure.

The FR70 saves all the data and then can use Ant+ to upload to Garmin connect. The Garmin connect portal is simple and easy to use with some ability to export the data as well as some ability to interconnect with other sites like Endomondo. At the end of an activity one of the things missing is a summary. So you will have to upload the data to get that. Unfortunate. Also unfortunate to be tied to computer (using a USB Ant stick) to do that. Ah but wait, your not. If your blessed with a phone with Ant+ built in (and I am, my Samsung Note 3 has it) you can use a paid app Ant Uploader that will interface with the FR70, take the data off and then upload it to Garmin connect, Strava, RunKeeper or SportTracks. Once the data is uploaded you get some nice graphs and stats. Min/Max/Avg etc. Unfortunately none of the official Garmin apps support the FR70 because they all connect over bluetooth not Ant +

Don’t go looking for GPS on this watch, there isn’t one. This is all about being a watch face and logger for Ant+ sensors (like heart rate/foot pod/cadence).

I don’t see a way to turn the display off, or turn the watch itself off for prolonged periods of lack of use (like seasonal use) that might preserve the battery. I also don’t see a way to find out the status of the battery. The manual does say that it warns you when it is low. The unit takes an inexpensive coin CR2032 battery. Replacing the battery seems to be reasonably easy, remove the four screws on the back and your done.

Add an ANT+ cadence and wheel sensor (which I just happen to have) and you can use this device as a cycling computer. It will track your speed, and distance based on the wheel. Which believe it or not is more accurate than a GPS anyway. Very cool.

You can also buy an inexpensive handle bar mount to keep this device in view!

The watch does have an alarm you can set but no chronometer functions (stopwatch or count down timer).

Oh and in case you didn’t know, cadence (in this context) is the rate of rotation of your bike crank.

That’s about it. The FR70 just works, is well designed, easy to use (once setup) and has some nice connectivity options.

Update: Bike season is now here and I have been using the FR70 on my mountain bike along with a Garmin Cadence and wheel sensor. The watch is a bit finicky in how it connects to the cadence and wheel sensor. I find it best to have the bike moving before I start the watch into bike mode. When I do this it connects well and stays connected. The watch on the handle bar provides a simple accurate speed and distance display while my Foretrex provides me navigation. It really does work well and is easily viewable in all circumstances. And being waterproof I don’t need to be concerned about rain. The calorie count in bike mode is flat our bizarre. On a ride where Endomondo shows 2493, the FR70 shows 228? WTF. I guess I have to spend some time to figure out what I have set wrong. I’ve always known the GPS based distances were inaccurate on windy rides like I do in the forest. It’s one of the reasons I wanted this device. So I did three different rides. I tracked the ride on Endomondo on my Samsung Note 3, as well as on my Foretrex 401 (both GPS enabled) and then compared them to the FR70 with a wheel sensor. Now you have to get the circumference right for the FR70 to be accurate. Comparing distance on Endomondo to the Foretrex (again both GPS enabled) showed a minor variance ~5%. Comparing distance on the FR70 to Endomondo showed an average variance of -20%. Lastly comparing distance on the FR70 to the Foretrex showed an average variance of 17%. I had always found it off by 10-15% compared to colleagues using a wheel sensor so this is pretty much in keeping with what I expected.

Update: I ran into the situation where the memory of the watch was full. Oddly what it did was beep every couple of minutes and give you no hints on how to make space. It actually turned out easy, history, delete old or delete all. I also ran into the situation where the battery was dieing. It stopped being able to transfer off data, and eventually gave me a low battery alert. Changing the battery required removing 4 screws. It needed a watch battery repair size screw driver. The battery inside is a CR2032. The watch has a rubber seal to make it water proof. The seal is loose and very difficult to get it back where it belongs. It should have had some kind of glue to keep it in place. Once the battery was changed the watch remembered everything previously set on it. Which is awesome.


April 2, 2015 - Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews

1 Comment »

  1. Re the bizarre calorie count in bike mode – the FR70 manual states that when you use the speed/ cadence sensor calories are calculated according to your speed, not your heart rate. Therefore if you are going 10 kph up a hill your calorie count will be lower than if you were freewheeling at 60 kph down a hill. Bizarre indeed.

    Comment by miket | September 7, 2015 | Reply

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