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© Garmin
Review: Garmin Forerunner 50
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Thursday 6th March 2008


Tags  Forerunner 50  |  Garmin


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You know how it is. For years and years you've relied on products from a certain provider and, because they have always delivered, you see no reason to change. It doesn't matter if it's energy food, tyres, lubricants, brand of toothpaste, ... you get the picture. Change is difficult. Change can be stressful. Who needs it?

Since time began, triathlon time at least, Polar have been the heart rate monitor supplier of choice. And I ought to know - at the last count Jenny and I have owned at least eight different models and still have three in regular use. Trouble is, in recent years Polar have been badly affected by that dreaded disease known as model proliferation and it has become increasingly difficult to work out what model to recommend to people asking for a simple, straightforward HRM that delivers the essentials without requiring you to carry the manual around with you.

Worry no more, there's an answer and it comes from another source altogether. In fact, as far as we can tell, in today's HRM market there isn't anything to touch it for the price, functionality and ease of use. So, with a little bit of trepidation we parked the Polars and started testing a Garmin Forerunner 50 just before Christmas. Surely something that inexpensive was going to be lacking in some aspect or other?

The not-so basics

Garmin Forerunner 50 accessoriesThe Forerunner 50 comes in three variants but, for triathletes at least, the obvious purchase is the top-of-the-line version with the watch, HRM strap and the foot pod together with the optional GCS-10 speed and cadence sensor for the bike. The watch, strap and foot pod combo currently lists for £107.99 (normally £135) on Wiggle and you can pick up the GCS-10 for £41.99 from the same company. Both items are widely available so you may be able to get a different deal from another supplier. For that money you have a full sports watch with alarm, stopwatch, two time zones, interval timer, HRM, speed and distance for running, speed and cadence for the bike and full PC download capability for storing and reviewing your training. Oh, and they throw in a free internet-based service called Garmin Connect, which is the new and updated replacement for MotionBased. Anything else you might need?

One thing you don't get, and this has confused some people, is GPS. Garmin are best known for their GPS systems like the Forerunner 305 and the Edge 305 that we use to produce our Route of the Month. The Forerunner 50 is NOT a GPS - it's a sports watch with HRM and other features. It's not going to track your route and do all that clever mapping stuff. Which actually isn't that big a deal - you either want one thing or the other. And, these days, you can get really cheap (less than £40) GPS trackers that small enough to hang on a keyring if you just want to know where you went - as opposed to where you are...

But, does it work?

So, does the Forerunner 50 work? The simple answer is yes, it works! It works very, very well. Setup is really pretty straightforward; you need to set the time, pair any additional sensors - the supplied ones are already paired, and then just use it... Really, it's that simple. OK, you should really calibrate the foot pod over a known distance but ours was only showing a tiny deviation over our GPS measured 1k test loop so we actually never bothered! You should also set your gender and weight and you can set up both heart rate zones and run speed or pace zones if you want to get more information out of it while you are running.

By now you'll be realizing that this little watch packs a lot of functionality and you'll quite naturally be thinking that there must be compromises along the way. Accuracy, perhaps? No, it's as solid as any other HRM we've used and, tested side by side with a Polar strap and a treadmill at the gym, we couldn't detect any difference. Interference with other users or equipment? The Forerunner 50 uses ANT+ Sport, a Bluetooth derivative, to handle transmission between all its components and that's a digital system which is pretty much immune to interference from other HRMs, wireless bike computers, gym equipment and the like. During two months of solid use it hasn't missed a beat - literally. In fact, the only limitation that we encountered was that the unit only allows a single heart rate zone to be set with under and over alarms.

Getting at the information

After you've done exercising you'll want to know what you've done and here the Forerunner 50 really gets into territory that previously has required a whole different level of watch. The unit will hold up to seven hours of exercise data which can broken down into up to 100 'laps'. You'll get a warning when the memory is both nearly and completely full. For each recorded exercise you can see the total time, total distance, total steps and calories plus time spent in the zone. For each lap, every exercise will have at least one lap, you'll get the average and maximum heart rate, average time and speed as well. And all that data can be transferred to your PC using the bundled ANT+ Sport stick. Macintosh users will get a software update mid-2008 to enable them to transfer data as well.

Of all the functionality on the watch the one that consistently impressed was the data transfer. This is no sonic link (patchy at best...) or infra red system (get those sensors lined up...) but a completely automatic, hands free system. As long as your PC is powered on you'll find that as soon as you get within about five metres the watch will be detected and the Garmin Training Center software will grab the data out of the watch, store it on the PC and, optionally, upload it to Garmin Connect on the web. No buttons to press, no mice clicks, completely automatic. Brilliant!

In reality it has to be said that the match between the PC-based Training Center software and the Forerunner 50 isn't great - the software is really designed for the GPS versions of the Forerunner and Edge so all the map and location tracking is completely irrelevant - but it's perfectly adequate as a training diary. The real intention is that you use Garmin Connect, their new online service that will replace MotionBased over the coming months. As each new Garmin device is released it will integrate with the new service, the Forerunner 50 was a way of soft-launching it. As a way of recording all your workouts and sharing them with friends or a coach it's very effective. What's lacking, and this is an observation rather than a criticism, is any form of detailed analysis capability. We suspect that this is on their 'to do' list and we'll see something added later in the year as the whole range rolls across to the new platform. In the meantime it's perfectly adequate and, unlike our paper training diary, gets updated with everything we need to know while we're having a cup of coffee in the kitchen!

One other thing...

One of the bugbears about HRMs in general is that the batteries often have to be replaced by the supplier - not so with the Forerunner 50. All three bits use a standard CR2032 lithium battery, the watch will get around 12 months out of one, and both the foot pod and the heart rate strap batteries are very easy to change. The watch instructions suggest that you use a 'professional watch repairer' but that's probably only because instead of a coin-turn hatch you'll need access to teeny tiny screwdrivers to open the back. Just take care of the seal, the watch is rated as water resistant to 30m so you'll need to make sure this is properly seated when you change the battery.


A listed!Tri247 says: For the price it's hard to see how Garmin have managed to build all this functionality into a training watch. It certainly puts all the competition to shame in terms of functionality and capability at this price point and it's pretty hard to see why you would need to justify spending any more on a HRM unless you were a very serious athlete who needed access to analysis software.

In our view this is currently the best value HRM on the market - bar none - and we are giving it the first of our 'A List' awards as a result. It will be very interesting to see what the competition comes up with in response!

 


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Have Your Say
Re: Review: Garmin Forerunner 50 HRM
Posted by Froglegs
Posted at 21:53:16 27th May 2008
Reply to this

Following your good review and similar opinions from other web sites I purchased a Garmin 50 HRM in replacement of the Polar I just lost. Set up is indeed easy (much better than Polar!). Download is nice althought it is frustrating to not be allowed to over right the distance if one doesn't have the foot pod. The biggest disappointment comes when using it in a competition, i.e. with a swim leg. The HRM stops working once immersed (normal) but doesn't start once out of water as all my previous HRM did (Polar and Sigma). One has to stop and restart instead of just pressing the 'lap' button at the end of the swim leg. Not very convenient and I was quite mad at the thing when I had to do my Olympic tri on Sunday without HRM!
Another point to note is that on the contrary to what is said in the review, the Garmin web site says it is not suitable for swimming. Having said that, I swam 1.5 km with it and it still works fine...
Maybe I should have picked the Timex Ironaman HRM which was my second option; download is useless with no data to transfer!
Re: Review: Garmin Forerunner 50
Posted by Pantani
Posted at 21:01:54 28th May 2008
Reply to this

Not so sure about the 'straight from the box ease of use' that I've seen in several excellent reviews recently. I've had loads of trouble getting the unit to work with both the foot pod and the HR belt and it is still not fixed. Mine arrived from Wiggle paired with the HR belt and with a separate unpaired foot pod. The HR functions all operated fine, but when I follow the instructions to manually pair the foot pod, the unit lost the HR pairing. If I then pair the HR belt, the foot pod functionality is lost! So I can have either an HR monitor or a foot pod but not both. To add to the frustration, the Garmin web help is 'temporarily unavailable' today and the phone help is closed. So for now it is back to the ever reliable and seemingly bomb proof Polar 210.
Re: Review: Garmin Forerunner 50
Posted by Brownie
Posted at 10:59:24 28th Dec 2008
Reply to this

I have a similar problem. I bought a forerunner 50 for Christmas and a footpod, HRM, and cadence sensor; and the watch unit will only pair with the footpod. I have tried pairing with all three sensors within a 3 metre range, and also individually with one sensor within range. I have e-mailed Garmin so will post any response I get that may help you. If you figure out how to fix the problem let me know!
Re: Review: Garmin Forerunner 50
Posted by runsam
Posted at 19:25:46 19th Feb 2009
Reply to this

The 2 problems I have are:
It stores the wrong date in the "History file".
It is too easy to accidently change the time on the watch, useless as a everyday watch I have accidently changed the hour units about 30 times!

Pantini and brownie,
Try this first a factory reset (see book)
Then try to pair them again, but make sure when you do this that you have the item to be paired activated. Meaning put the heart monitor on and walk around with the foot pod first.
When it searches the icons will flash, when paired it flashes up "found pod" "found heart" and the icon stops blinking and is solid. (takes maybe 10 seconds to find a unit).

If it still does not work mail me I will try to help if I can
[email protected]
Re: Review: Garmin Forerunner 50
Posted by gusstrang
Posted at 12:51:42 8th Aug 2008
Reply to this

I've been using this unit with the Footpod and the HRM since January this year and have never had any problems with pairing the units. I have also seen reviews which criticise the manual supplied but again, I could find everything that I needed to know in the manual.

I agree with the reviewer who commented on the HRM problems with the swim leg of the Tri... I had the same problem and wasn't able to get the monitor to work for the rest of the tri, however I have never used an HRM in a tri before so it wasn't really a problem.

I've just received the speed and cadence sensor for the bike (GSC 10) through the post this morning so will post a more detailed review of this once I have tried it out.

Being able to upload data to the PC is a great way of keeping a training log and the downloadable software allows you to look at graphs of Actual HR, %HR, running cadence, running speed (min/mile) as well as distance and time... almost everything for the geek? The software also gives logs of data such as calories burnt but I have no idea how accurate these are.

Currently prices for the Forerunner 50 and the GSC 10 seem to be the most competitive on Amazon.
Re: Review: Garmin Forerunner 50
Posted by billcomer
Posted at 13:31:37 7th Jan 2009
Reply to this

Brownie,

I had the same problem with my GSC 10 bike sensor.

I have just looked at http://www.garmin.com/garmin/cms/site/us/lang/en/searchsupport

It suggested riding the bike at the same time.
I just wiggled the magnet infront of the sensor while pairing & hey bingo - I am paired.
Re: Review: Garmin Forerunner 50
Posted by gazzap77
Posted at 19:12:43 5th Apr 2009
Reply to this

I have a problem with this watch and footpod. It does not recored the distance. I've just done a hm and it recorded the time but not the distance. The only reason I bought it was so I could see my minutes per mile. The date gets uploaded to my laptop but shows no distance on the results. Can anyone help?
Re: Review: Garmin Forerunner 50
Posted by Tiret
Posted at 13:36:54 19th Apr 2009
Reply to this

Replace the battery in foot pod - it's easy. I had the same problem and now it works very well.
Re: Review: Garmin Forerunner 50
Posted by runabbyrun
Posted at 12:09:42 17th May 2009
Reply to this

i agree with your review.this watch and its components are simply amazing for its price! however, im a newbie runner and i want to use my watch to its full potential and there are really some settings that confuse me. what does run hi and run low settings actually mean? can you please explain this to me and the proper settings that go with it. sorry if this is such an idiotic question but....! so please help me. thanks and greetings from somewhere far far away in asia!