Until the arrival of the Garmin Forerunner 15, running watches have been the preserve of the serious athlete, looking to shave seconds off their PB by fine-tuning everything from cadence to gait.
That exclusivity has been partly due to the cost of dedicated sports watches, and the wealth of hardcore features found on devices like the Garmin Forerunner 620 and the Suunto Ambit 2, that put off amateur runners.
At just £129, the Garmin Forerunner 15 costs a fraction of the price of its peers, and is firmly aimed at the lower end of the runner's market, which is an extraordinarily huge, untapped area.
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There are millions of amateur racers tackling 10ks and marathons, who don't need an elite runner's watch, yet want to track their distances, split times and heart rate; features which are beyond activity bands such as the Fitbit Flex, Jawbone UP24 and Garmin's own Vivofit.
But is the Garmin Forerunner 15 up to task? Read our review to find out.
Garmin Forerunner 15: Features and design
Aimed at the runner torn between an inexpensive activity tracker and a serious sports watch, the Garmin Forerunner 15 offers the best of both worlds.
The Forerunner 15 packs in all the bare essentials for runners: distance, pace, time, calories, splits and heart rate (with a strap accessory), which is everything you need to get the most from your training.
Most importantly, the run tracking is done via GPS, which distinguishes it from other activity bands that guestimate your distances based on your movement, rather than your global position. This is much more accurate, and the least anyone undertaking serious running training should expect.
Bigger watches like the Garmin Forerunner 620 (£279) will also track cadence, body position and offer suggestions on recovery time, but none of that has been brought across to the Forerunner 15. If you're looking for the most detailed running information, you'll need to spend more money, but we're happy to see than shunned here for a more reasonable price.
There is, however, a dose of activity tracking features thrown in, and when you're not running, the Garmin will act as a pedometer, calorie counter and distance tracker – based on the standard movement sensors rather than GPS, which drains a fraction of the battery life.
Running watches tend to have a uniform look, and the Forerunner 15 is no different. There's the classic sporty chunk, which is slightly masculine – but it certainly wouldn't look out of place on a female runner's wrist. There's a splash of colour – in this case blue, and the obligatory rubber sports strap and thick plastic bezel that repels rainwater and perspiration. It's certainly a sporty look, and we can't see anyone wearing it with their best suit.
Operation is done by four large buttons, and after a couple of uses, the navigation is slick, easy and logical. The size of the buttons make it easy to use when running, so you can cycle between screens to view different stats easily.
Garmin Forerunner 15: Activity tracking
When you head out on your run, it's just a case of hitting the big blue button to get started. The Forerunner will then search for a GPS signal, which usually takes around 30 seconds - which is a pretty quick lock time in our experience.
Once you get started, the Forerunner 15 shows live readings of time and distance on the first screen, and pace and calories on the second, which you can flip between with a press of the option button.
The GPS tracking is extremely accurate, and it's quick to register changes in your pace, which is excellent for runners trying to make gains in their tempo. Fast runs are an essential part of any race preparation, and being able to spend a 40-minute run at a certain pace is extremely helpful.
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In terms of the every day activity tracking, the step counting works well, and you can work towards daily goals. As the Garmin is designed for runners, this seems a little unnecessary, and when you're putting in 10-mile training runs before breakfast, it's hard to care if you walked 10,000 or 20,000 steps that day.
As the Garmin uses GPS information to update your running stats, it's not very adept at indoor running, for those who like to get their training done on the treadmill. It is compatible with a number of accessories: the first being Foot Pod for indoor tracking, and there's also a partner heart rate monitor.
Garmin Forerunner 15: App
The Garmin Forerunner 15 impressed with its strong price, great feature set and top performance, but there's a black mark against its name.
After our first run it came time to see the results, as we were shocked to find out that the Garmin Forerunner 15 doesn't work with the Android or iOS Garmin Connect app; you have to use a Mac / PC desktop version instead.
Bluetooth isn't included on the watch, which means the Forerunner 15 is absent from the long list of supported devices that work with the mobile apps. We've asked Garmin for a reason why this feature has been omitted, and are awaiting a response.
The web app is a little clunky, but the results are excellent. You first have to install Garmin Express, which is a small download which acts as a bridge between the Garmin device plugged into your computer via USB and the web app, which you access via connect.garmin.com.
The app itself is fast and responsive, with a host of features. You can view your runs and activity history, more on that later, but also plot running routes using a neat mapping tool, set yourself goals, sign up to running challenges, manage your weight and health.
In short, it's one of the most complete fitness apps we've ever seen, just with the hurdle of having to turn on your main laptop to look at the results of your run. The upshot is that we didn't look back at our stats as often as with apps like RunKeeper, but the extra features are extremely welcome.
Garmin Forerunner 15: Battery life
Due to the neat segregation of GPS running and general activity tracking, the Forerunner 15 boasts excellent battery life.
There's enough juice to keep you going through your marathon-sized runs, and when you're using the daily activity tracking features, you can expect over five days of use, which puts it up there with the likes of the Jawbone and Fitbit. That's an impressive result when you consider that its always-on screen means it's usable as a normal watch.
The only frustration here is the need for the proprietary Garmin charger, but that stems from the waterproof design and we're happy with the trade off.
- Easy to use
- Great price
- Solid build
- No mobile support
- Chunky design
- No built in heart rate monitor
- Proprietary charger