September 1, 2008

Garmin Forerunner 405 Review. 10 Things to Know Before You Buy

I recently upgraded my Garmin 301 with the Garmin 405. I did this for several reasons. First, my 301 was falling apart, and the only way I could charge it was with the USB cord that plugs into my car. The wall charger it came with stopped working altogether. The heart rate monitor also stopped working. I’d seen photos of the Garmin 405 and it looked like it might even pass for a wrist watch, not the black pill box the 301 so closely resembled. I’ve been using the Garmin 405 for over a week now, and here is what I found:

1. This is no simple stopwatch with a GPS. The Garmin 405 is more akin to a body probe with an attitude. It beeps at you when you touch it in the wrong place. Then it barks at you when you yell at it. You must prepare for this one. A tutorial, a seminar, a degree, anything to get to know the software inside. I don’t recommend trying to learn it while running. I nearly tumbled into a bed of cacti tinkering with this thing on a run.

2. Never, ever lose the charger. Unlike the 301 that would take any old USB cord, the Forerunner 405 can only be charged using a custom "clip" that comes with the device. If you lose the custom charger, well, good luck. You will have to buy another custom charger. Gone are the days when you could charge your Garmin in your car on the way to a run. A fifteen minute drive used get me an hour of battery life. I’ll miss that.

3. Don’t be fooled by Garmin 405’s good looks. I was originally interested in the Garmin 405 because I thought it was slimmer than its bulky GPS brethren. Then I saw it. While smaller and sleeker than both the Garmin 301 and 305, this newer Garmin is far from dainty. I would describe it as a GPS in “thin” disguise. Bulky, but with good lines. Still too big to wear around as a watch in most circumstances.

4. This watch functions using “touch” points, not buttons. To scroll though the menu and settings you must “touch” the bezel of the watch. At first use I was worried about this system. I accidentally rubbed the watch on my shirt, and this mere touch caused the 405 to scroll though several screens and left me in the bowels of the settings menu. Fortunately I found the screen lock function to avoid this from happening again.

5. The satellite search time is much quicker with the 405. One of my biggest gripes of my Garmin 301 was the length of time it took to sync with the satellites. I can’t even recall how many times I stood in the middle of the street interminably like an idiot waiting for the GPS to link up. Of course smarter and more anal runners always place their GPS outside several minutes before a run, thereby avoiding the pre run loiter. The Garmin 405 gets around all this by simply linking to the satellites very quickly. It took the 405 eleven seconds to get a link when I tested it, whereas I’ve waited for minutes at a time for my 301 to link. Thank you Garmin!

6. The heart rate monitor actually works. I have to say that I was very disappointed with my old Garmin, the 301, heart rate monitor. It simply didn’t function with the GPS, and continued to give false heart rate readings, often greater than 200 bpm on long runs. Now I’m a pretty fit runner, but 200 beats per minute? I finally stopped using the 301’s heart rate monitor and bought a Polar heart rate monitor to wear on the other wrist. For the last year I’ve run double fisted, Polar HRM on one wrist and Garmin 301 on the other. The Garmin 405 brings a heart rate monitor and GPS together in one package that works.

7. Data is transferred to your computer, automatically. I’m not a big data transfer guy, but I did experiment with this feature. It doesn’t take an IBM engineer to get this started, but it does take patience, one of those old world virtues never bestowed on me. I made it as far as loading the software and transferring the data. When I attempted to look at the information on the computer, I couldn’t find it, let alone load the program to view it. Do I really plan to use this? Hmmm. Move on.

8. Like its predecessors, the 405 has many features that could be very helpful to the techie runner. Auto pause, auto lap, auto scroll, virtual partner, specific workouts, and courses are all included. Again, like the data transfer feature, these are features I generally don’t use often, if at all. One cool thing I noticed however was the “back to start” function. Here a runner, if lost, can ask the watch to navigate him or her back to where they started. Not a bad feature when you’re lost on a mountain. The only down side is you have to make it back before the battery dies (8 hours) or you’re SOL.

9. Limited use when wet. Even the owners manual states that “if he bezel is wet, wipe the bezel dry before using it”. Hmmm, did anyone tell the designers that runners generally sweat when running? Do I have to carry a hanky now? I haven’t experienced a problem with this yet, but I’m not one to mess around with the watch while I’m running. Scrolling between screens is all I need on the run and the auto scroll feature should take care of this. Auto scroll allows the user to design three customized screens for workouts and the watch will automatically scroll through these screens.

10. Limited Battery Life. The manual says the 405 has a full 8 hours of battery life using the GPS. However, I did a 4 hour run with the 405 and within three hours the watch was signaling a low battery. The fact that I was not wearing the heart rate monitor strap could have contributed to the shortened battery life. I tested the 405 again, this time wearing the heart monitor strap. After my two hour run there was 70% of the battery life remaining. My guess is the battery life is shortened when you don’t wear the heart monitor strap because, like a cell phone, the device is constantly searching for signal that doesn’t exist.

Would I recommend the Garmin Forerunner 405? I’m not sure I can make that decision right now. Until I subject the device to more field testing, including some five-plus hour runs, I have to reserve judgment. I will keep you “posted”.


Ted said...

Thanks for the review, Will. I just got gifted a 305 and had been wondering if I have been missing out on better features and the sleekness of the 405. Sounds from your review that I'm not missing a lot, and that like all technology, especially for the simple sport of running, it has its place.

I like the point about the "thin costume"...

Will Cooper said...

I'm still undecided about recommending the 405. I think the battery thing is ok, as I logged over 6 hours last weekend with no low battery warning. I think by not wearing the heart rate monitor last week I sent it into a tizzy. However, its making some annoying "chirps" during my runs that is getting under my skin, similar to some of the cyber comments I've read about the 405 when wet. Will keep you "posted" on my decision about recommending.

Frayed Laces said...

Look at you with your new running gadget. You think you're soooo special, huh?

(okay, so I am totally jealous)

Peter Lubbers said...

Nice review, will!
I think I'll stick with my Garmin 205 for now. An updated version with lower battery life is just crazy (my 205 gets around 10-11 hours).

Greg said...

What's a Garmin?

Frayed Laces said...

I just got your latest comment---THANKS! Seriously, that made me smile and tear up all at the same time. My post-BQ goal is to break into ultras. I know endurance is my strong suit; speed is not. Maybe I'll see you soon!

Anonymous said...

I have a Garmin 405 and I really enjoy it. However there are somethings to keep in mind; If you are rough on watches then this one will break at the wrist band area. I wear mine as a watch and the watch band keeper is rubber with a small metal piece inserted into it, and if the rubber gets a little frayed then the metal piece comes out and then you have no retainer. I have also misplaced my charger and now have to buy a new one.

Will Cooper said...

Guys/Gals: the 405 remains, to my regret, unrecommended. The [lack of] battery life is primary reason, but it is joined by the fact that the charger is not universal, and the "touch" bezel is, in the end, more of a pain in the arse than a techno advantage. Scrolling from screen to screen, a feat difficult enough during a 50 mile endurance run, is not easy at all using the 405s "touch" bezel. Sorry Garmin.

Anonymous said...

I just got one of these bluddy fings and (1) I can't seem to get the lap button to work in timed mode (I have to press stop, then lap, then start again -- not an option when you are trying to get your split time while running); (2) I did get it to work in some kind of stopwatch mode -- but I don't know how I got into that mode. I'd like to use that mode on a regular basis. It's like using a regular stopwatch -- no distance goal, no time goal. But I don't see any mention of it in the (very lame) owner's manual. Any ideas?

Kangsan said...


You, and the others who can't recommend the Garmin Forerunner 405for the longer ultras, are right.

The new Garmin 310XT is really the watch to get. Battery life of up to 20 hours and it is waterproof (so the triathletes among us can use it in triathons as well).

Wish I would have come across your review before I bought the Garmin 405 a month ago.

On the other hand, I think it is a great watch for 50ks and marathons.

Also, mine has definitely lasted the 8 hours as advertised, so it is fine for any training run up to 8 hours.

It just has to be fully charged on the day of the race, and the person should turn the GPS function off when they are not on a training run or a race.

If one is a fast 50 miler (quite fast) this watch could do.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.


Drs. Cynthia and David said...

We got around the limited battery life by carrying the charger cable and a "USB battery." You simply plug the cable into the battery and clip it onto the Garmin while running. It goes into charging mode and you can't see what's happening on the screen unless you unplug it, but it keeps collecting data without interruption. It's a bit of a nuisance to have to carry the cable, but it's actually very easy and fast to recharge, and the USB batteries hold multiple charges.


Garmin 405 said...

Thanks for the review, Will! Great job.

I am a proud owner of a Garmin 305. When I read about the 405 I really got a strong feeling I have to upgrade...

Unknown said...

Roadrunner Sports is still having trouble stocking the Garmin 310XT, the watch which has 20 hours of charge, vs. the 405's 6-8, and is water proof.

Since my 405 malfunctioned after a few months, and Garmin sent me a new one (now that's customer service!) I'm trading in my 405 for the 310 when it is available. The Roadruner Sports store manager has already agreed to the switch. Lucky me.

Anonymous said...

Love the watch, but dislike the strap. Everthing works great, however my strap broke in 2008, had to pay a whopping $95 to get it fixed. It broke again this week, still waiting to hear if I have to pay another $95. Other than that its a wonderful watch for runners.

Anonymous said...

All sounds can be nullified by going into settings.
When its raining, its a good idea to lock the bezel. My unit completely crashed twice during a wet run and erased the history. has anyone tried using the "running buddy"?

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