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Attackpoint - performance and training tools for orienteering athletes

Discussion: Cheap GPS watches

in: Orienteering; Gear & Toys

Nov 10, 2017 9:28 PM # 
I am sorry to start yet another thread on GPS watches, but it seems that existing threads mostly deal with more advanced (and therefore expensive) models. All I need from a watch is for it to show time and record a GPS track during a race so I can see afterwards where I have been, using Quickroute or Routegadget. I don't need a heart rate monitor or any other features. So it seems strange to spend a lot of money on something with lots of features I don't need and I wonder if a cheaper watch will be adequate for my purpose. Unfortunately, it seems very difficult to find information on GPS accuracy, especially when running in a forest. Has anyone here had experience with cheaper watches (say, around U.S. $100-150 or even less)? Do they produce usable tracks in orienteering races (forest and urban)? Are there any significant problems you have encountered? One watch in particular I am considering is Garmin Forerunner 25, which I can buy for around £90, but I would appreciate any other suggestions.
Nov 10, 2017 10:36 PM # 
I doubt the GPS antennae and processing capabilities are different in any of Garmin's current GPS watches. So I suspect the accuracy of the Forerunner 25 is just as good as the 235 and the 920 and other, fancier models. I own and use a wide range of Garmin models for my mapping software business, but use a Forerunner 235 almost exclusively now for tracking my performance in orienteering and in the woods. I don't see any accuracy issues versus larger handheld units.

I'd get the Forerunner 25. If you're still not sure, this guy reviews lots of running watches:
Nov 10, 2017 10:39 PM # 
I have the previous low-end Garmin model (Forerunner 10) and it has been fine for orienteering. It also has a replaceable watch band, which has been an issue with other Garmin models in the past.

As @danfoster says - check out the DC Rainmaker review - it looks like this will run for much longer on GPS than the FR10, which would be nice.
Nov 11, 2017 8:18 PM # 
TomTom Runner. Currently less than $100 and better GPS accuracy than Garmin (tested against FR305, FR610 and FR235). Probably due to the larger antenna?
Nov 11, 2017 9:55 PM # 
I also use a Forerunner 10, and prefer it to my fancier Garmin because the buttons work better. Works perfectly well for orienteering. No HR, which I don't care about. Look for one on ebay.
Nov 11, 2017 10:20 PM # 
Is it easy to get tracks from Tom Tom Runner GPS to AttackPoint, or CalTopo?
Nov 12, 2017 5:52 AM # 
I was in the same boat. Based on my searching (including dcrainmaker of course) I formed the view that there might be an inverse relationship between price and location accuracy. This is because the primary market for a watch is not people who want to know where they went; but people (mainly runners) who want to know how far. I think the raw satellite data is processed on board these devices before producing a "trace", and the parameters in this processing are optimised for distance. Fancier product, better distance, worse trace.

I settled for something in the middle - Garmin 235. Its a good wristwatch too without being too bulky. In comparison with my handheld 64S with external aerial it stacks up OK-ish though I prefer to trust the handheld. I don't believe the elevations in either device.

PS Think you might be able to get a non-HR equivalent of mine. IMNSHO the HR picked up thru the wrist is garbage. Under many conditions it picks up your cadence instead.
Nov 12, 2017 1:55 PM # 
Mr Wonderful:
I concur, 235 heart rate is garbage.
Nov 12, 2017 5:28 PM # 
I have a FR 10, and it works well, however the battery life is pretty limited (less than 5 hours I've found). That should certainly be enough for regular O events, but it wasn't quite enough for a 5 hour "urban rogaine" type event I did.
Nov 12, 2017 9:25 PM # 
O-ing: - this is a bit dated, but there are significant differences.
Nov 12, 2017 11:16 PM # 
Thanks to everybody who responded. It's very helpful to know that people have used these cheaper watches for orienteering and they perform well enough. I was specifically concerned because of the data, but it is hard to know from that just how bad the worst watches are and also, as mentioned, it's a bit dated, so I was not sure if newer watches were better or worse. DC Rainmaker reviews are certainly very useful, but the accuracy tests are done in urban conditions and even those are for normal running, not, say, sprint orienteering with frequent direction changes.

Thanks in particular to WR for drawing my attention to TomTom Runner - I have seen it mentioned but somehow ignored it, I guess because the price is roughly the same and the Garmin brand is more familiar to me :) I really like the fact that TomTom Runner has a 1-sec recording interval, rather than FR25's "smart recording" - not sure how "smart" it is and I once ran a sprint with a logger set to a 5-sec interval and the track was almost useless. I like Garmin's design better though :)

@gruver, why did you choose a more expensive 235 in the end? Was it because of the more accurate distance, or additional features, or something else? I don't care about most features related to training, as I don't train seriously, just run and orienteer for fun when I feel like it, I just wonder if there is anything else I would be missing that I have not thought about.
Nov 13, 2017 6:46 AM # 
Flimsy reasons really. I was struggling with opinion overload, and there was a deal going at a local store.
Nov 13, 2017 7:01 AM # 
I have had a Garmin Forerunner 15 for about 4 years and it has been fine for Orienteering, Biking Running etc I have one without a HR monitor and from memory I paid around US$70 at REI

Has a really easy upload via a USB Cable

Looking online they seem to have gone up a bit
Nov 13, 2017 7:58 PM # 
I got a 235 after the power button on my 310 failed. Have found the accuracy to be good on roads and in woods, as is the HR reading though like a strap hasn’t been good in cold weather. A feature not mentioned is the Bluetooth download which I normally use to my iPad. Makes travel much less burdensome not having to bring a laptop along just to see routes. Also no cable except to charge. The charge lasts a good part of a week.
Nov 14, 2017 1:34 AM # 
For fun and information, my 235 is great in the woods but I recently learned that it is terrible in the city. Specifically Chicago amongst the central business district towers.

One gripe is that there is no useful backlight, so the one mentioned here with the automatic light up when you turn your wrist caught my attention.

Only other complaint would be Bluetooth pairing and uploads are spotty and near impossible to cause to work by your own volition. And then, just as you’re ready to smash it to bits it pairs, and downloads and it’s good for a bit.

Optical hr I understand is off at high intensity but not a big deal for me. I prefer inaccurate hr to wearing a strap. Never going back to that and I assume the tech will improve substantially by the time I buy another of these.
Nov 14, 2017 1:50 AM # 
Garmin just provided an update, or at least I just installed it, that changes the iPad interface a lot and does provide a method to force a synch. Some of the update is cumbersome but at least that is welcome.
Nov 14, 2017 1:51 AM # 
Mr Wonderful:
Connecting a 235 with a curmudgeonly iPhone 5 (if already paired at some point):

Red button
Red button
Down arrow to Settings
Down arrow to Bluetooth

hang out a minute

It seems to sort of get the idea then. YMM definitely V.
Nov 14, 2017 8:00 AM # 
I concur, 235 heart rate is garbage.
Nov 14, 2017 12:00 PM # 
Hi Mykyta...
We have three of the cheaper forerunner models in our home...Colleen still has the FR 10 which we've passed down to her after the kids used it...Surprisingly watch died on our October Rogaine and we had to rely on hers for route gadget...very little variation from our path and the map...Andrew has the FR 25 and it too has been good (although I'm not too sure with the accuracy of distance)
I have the FR 15 it because it was supposed to have a longer range before charging (up to 8 hrs? way)...It also is "waterproof" so I could use it during swimming, its got a nice size screen and it hooks to my 305 hr monitor (though not very well sometimes)...I find the GPS track not always reliable and have had to do manual tweaks to Route gadget...I tried to use it to make a map of the corn maze this year and success was so-so...the distance function sucks...probably a function of the garmin smart sampling: when I run on the track I get 20 m - 60 m difference running in the other direction....stopped and did some exercises mid run and registered 30 m of
The one plus it was cheap fact they all were ...but they seem to only be available on line now
I really miss my FR 305 :(
Nov 14, 2017 1:18 PM # 
The Garmin Vivoactive is very accurate and easy to use.. I have the older model and I bought it for $140 (about a year ago). Garmin has an updated model and I have seen the older model for as cheap as $60. The battery will last about 4 hours while in GPS mode so you will not be using it in any long events but most races I enter are under 2 hours so it works fine.
Nov 16, 2017 2:40 AM # 
I have an FR10 which seems to work quite well for orienteering, 2nd hand ones are very cheap now. It does have limited battery though, enough for orienteering events, but you need to charge after each one. I also have a 2nd gen vivoactive (just superseded so should be cheaper now) which is very good.

It has heaps of features you don't want, like heart rate and downloadable navigation apps, but is about half the size of the FR10, making it a viable everyday watch, has much better battery life, I suspect it might manage a 12 hour rogaine, but haven't tested it. The tracks appear magically online and can be downloaded in a variety of formats. It has a barometric sensor so should give better elevation, but seems to have some sort of offset in the download, relative heights look good, but shows me flying underground occasionally on google earth when used for paragliding. Has a touchscreen as well as buttons which is slightly annoying if using in heavy rain or swimming.
Nov 16, 2017 8:35 AM # 
@Super, what do you mean about the backlight on the 235? Unlike the bluetooth transfer and the HR values (which are indeed spotty) the backlight is something that seems to work just fine, unless I'm missing something.
Nov 16, 2017 9:19 AM # 
Isn’t it just dim? I think designed that way to save batteries maybe.

This discussion thread is closed.