Garmin Forerunner 210 Review: Great Toy After Replacing Lemon

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Great Training Tool Once I Replaced the Dud That Had All The Problems

The original version of this review was damning. The watch just flat out did not work. It didn’t find satellites even after sitting on a table in an open field for 30 minutes. The batteries didn’t last. The heart rate monitor failed and would not come back to life even after trying two new batteries. In short, my Garmin 210 (links to REI) was nothing but problems. Finally, I went to return it to REI and was going to ask for a refund, but a friend who had one said he had never had a problem. So I decided to exchange it for a different unit. HUGE DIFFERENCE. The new unit has been terrific. After almost a year it still finds satellites quickly, the heart monitor still functions even when I don’t expect it because it feels too loose. The battery life is essentially what it was at purchase.

In the end, I’ve been so happy with it, that I bought one for my wife. We did the shopping all over again and looked at a lot of different watches and still believed that the Forerunner 210 is the best combination of features and price.

So after writing a nasty review (which can still be found on REI.com), I have a completely different view of the Garmin. In short:

  • If it’s not working, bring it back. Hopefully you bought it at REI or somewhere like that with a good return policy. Do not buy at just the cheapest place that has a 90-day return policy.
  • Once you get a decent unit, the thing is awesome and really helps you pace yourself and just train better.

One quick note on pricing comparisons: Garmin seems to control pricing very carefully and prices are the same everyone. You will see that some places appear to be $50 cheaper than others. This because the cheaper prices does not include the heart rate monitor. So make sure you compare apples to apples. So at REI you can get Garmin 210 with a heartrate monitor ($250 at this writing) or without the heartrate monitor ($200 at this writing). You can also get a women’s version which, as near as I can tell, is identical except for being gray/teal instead of black.

Since a few people have told me that the original review was helpful for them in realizing they had a bad unit and needed to return it, the original review is still included below, but with annotations based on my experiences with the new unit.

The Garmin Sales Pitch
The Garmin Forerunner 210 GPS heart rate monitor maintains the user-friendly features of the popular Forerunner 110 and gives you more ways to track performance to help you reach your fitness goals.

Initial Disappointment!

UPDATE: Most of the issues I had with the original watch are much better. I have taken each section of the review and created an update where appropriate, but I’ve left the original comments so people know what they’re in for if they get a bad unit. At this point, I’m actually really pleased with my 210. If my first unit had performed like my second unit, I would have given it a much better review.

Okay, I’ve wanted one of these toys for years and finally settled on this one. It was on sale at REI, but was available cheaper elsewhere. However, after twenty years as a member and knowing how strong the customer service is at REI, I decided to buy there to support my coop and in case something went wrong. Good decision!

I had read reviews complaining about slow signal acquisition and about the heartrate monitor going bad very quickly. I was not prepared for anything like this piece of junk though.

1. Signal acquisition is ABYSMAL. (Update: Excellent)

There have been times when I’ve gone for a run and gotten decent tracking, then gone out and done the same run under clear skies and gone for 30 minutes without getting a signal. This has been true in dense forest in Yosemite where I live,  but also in more open areas in Yosemite, as well as running along the open road by fields and meadows in Vermont, and along a hilltop road in Minnesota. Once, I ran to the top of a hill in Yosemite and stood in an open area for 3 minutes with the thing above my head and got no signal. Then, a few minutes later, while bushwhacking in dense underbrush, I suddenly saw it was tracking!

One thing that’s frustrating is how it says “Acquiring satelites” and shows a progress bar, which progresses across the screen, getting tantalizingly close, making you think it almost has the satelites. Then, with one pixel left to go on the bar, it resets back to the middle. So it’s not actually a measure of the number of satelites it has, just a measure of the amount of time it has spent trying to acquire a signal.

It is incredible how bad this is. I have noticed that with a 100% full charge, I can often pick up satelites quickly, but anything less and it won’t get them at all. Example. Yesterday I ran from my house for 3.5 miles. It took about three minutes to get a signal (good for the Garmin) and tracked me perfectly through the forest. The watch was on for about 30 minutes, so drained a little, but not a lot. Three hours later, I decided to run to my lunch appointment. The first half mile was along the same route, then I veered into open meadows (where signals should be better) and still, after over a mile of running, I had no signal. Strangely, after lunch, I stood stock still in an open area and it eventually picked up a signal and tracked me home.

Update: The new unit is so much better. Lesson: if you have truly terrible signal acquisition, bring the thing back. Not all Garmin 210s have this problem, but my first one did. It still does not acquire a signal well if it’s on your wrist. It really needs to be stationary. So I put it on the dash of the car, on the ground, on a fence, wherever and leave it until it gets a signal, which is usually less than one minute with the new one. With the old one, one day I literally left out in the yard with full view of the sky for 30 minutes and it never got a signal. It was THAT bad. Also, it takes much longer to find satellites if you travel. If I turn it on in the same spot where I turned it off, it may find its location in 15 seconds. When I recently travelled to Miami, it took about 3-4 minutes (while running, which as I say also slows it down) to figure out it was thousands of miles from its last location.

2. Heartrate Monitor Really Is That Bad

I had read complaints where people said the heartrate monitor twinked out after a month. I think mine literally lasted three uses. I thought the battery had gone bad, but today I tried not one, but two new batteries and could not get the watch to recognize the heartrate monitor.

Update: Again, the new one has been trouble free. It is reliable and has had no problem over many uses now. Even when it feels loose like it might fall down, it keeps monitoring.

3. No coordinates display.

Friend are often surprised to find out my GPS doesn’t give you your location, only your speed and distance, so I figured I should mention it. Very few GPS watches actually show you where you are with coordinates (or a map). The ones that do are mostly either extremely expensive or extremely large or both (or they don’t actually function as a watch). One exception is the Garmin Fenix ($400). It’s still a lot more expensive than the 210. When shopping for our second 210, we decided that the money is better spent just getting a true navigation GPS. For just a little more than the price of the Fenix, you can buy a 210 and an eTrex 20 with full color maps, a decent sized display, changeable batteries and everything.

4. Average pace readings.

These are pretty weird and all over the place. They use some averaging algorithm that seems to average over about a minute (but it’s more complex than that; hard to get a bead on really), so you don’t have an instantaneous display and, play with the averaging settings as you will, I couldn’t get anything that seemed to respond quickly enough to make sense for doing quarter mile intervals. If you want to do intervals where you, for example, stay above a certain pace, you can’t really do that because of the substantial lag time in the display (even when you say not to average things).

Update: I have since gone to using quarter-mile averaging. It gives a more meaningful and stable number. Of course, it has its drawbacks, but it works pretty well for quarter and mile repeats.

5. Battery life.

10 hours and you’re done. You lose your GPS. You lose your watch. If you’re doing something longer and want to know what time it is, you need a backup watch. This is just the nature of GPS devices because of the power draw, so nothing against Garmin on that point. With my old Garmin eTrex Legend, I could bring extra batteries, but of course that’s not practical with a watch. The battery is built in so you can’t do a field battery replacement. In fact, I don’t think you can replace the battery at all. So it is what it is. GPS units just eat batteries by their very nature.

Bottom line:

When it works, it’s a pretty cool toy, but it doesn’t work so often, you just have to take it as a bonus if you actually can use it. Given how unreliable it is and the fact that the HR monitor appears to be broken, I’ll be returning this. Update: Which I did and have had much better luck with the replacement.

If you’ve gotten this far and you’re still thinking of buying this, good luck! Let me say one more thing. I read the reviews like you’re doing now and knew that people had problems with the signal acquisition. I said “Well, what’s the big deal if I wait a minute or two for a signal or miss the first two minutes of my run?” I read the reports where people said the HR monitor broke almost immediately. I said “Well, any piece of equipment can fail, it’s a small percentage though, right?”

In short, I thought it would be a ton of fun to have device that does what the Garmin does (and when it works, it is), so I allowed myself to discount all the negative reviews and charge on with the purchase in the face of the evidence. Sure, REI has a great return policy and I’ll get my money back. No problem there. But it is a pain in the butt for me (and REI), and it’s just been a frustrating experience.

I must say, ten years ago I had a Garmin eTrex Legend and it, also, was an utter piece of junk, with terrible signal acquisition. And again, I had a friend who owned an identical unit and we would go out hiking and his worked like a charm. Mine wouldn’t pick up a satellite to save itself. So my experience with Garmin is that they have essentially good products, but terrible quality control (if you’re counting, two out of the four Garmin units with which I have personal experience did not work).

Update: As I say, I am not more of a fan than a critic, though a bit soured by my initial experience. I would not say “Don’t Buy! as I did initially. In fact, I actually love the Garmin and since I don’t live in convenient distance from a track, it’s great to be able to do mile repeats and quarters. It’s fun to hook up to Garmin Connect and have it map the run. I’ve even taken it out downhill skiing. I would no longer say it’s just a toy. I would say it’s a useful tool. I think it’s in part due to the Garmin that the slow slide into laggardly middle age has reversed. I’m not as fast as I was 20 years ago, but doing workouts with fast intervals and measured speeds like the Garmin allows has improved my running fitness substantially. So rather than saying “Don’t Buy”, I would now say that “Bring it back as soon as it underperforms”. The Garmin 210 is a good product, but Garmin turns out some duds.

Garmin 210 at REI

6 Responses to “Garmin Forerunner 210 Review: Great Toy After Replacing Lemon”

  1. We, get it. You have money and thus base model items are just not good enough for you. Drive your Subaru over to REI and buy something better. It is a good GPS. The pace gives an average as opposed to up-to-the-second readings. Ten hours is about standard for a GPS.

  2. No John, you don’t get it. It’s not missing features or battery life that bothered me. Read the start. Within a short time of owning it, I could not get a signal – so effectively there was no GPS at all. And after three uses, the heartrate monitor failed. So what I ended up with after about a month was a *watch* – it kept time and had a stopwatch. That was IT!

    I eventually returned it to REI and the replacement has held up better, but if you cruise the net you’ll find a lot of people complaining about similar issues to what I had with the Garmin.

  3. This was a really helpful review. You covered the downside, the upside, and the risk of getting a dud, for the 210. I especially appreciate the follow-up after you gave Garmin a chance to make everything right.
    Thanks for the write-up. It helped in my decision to buy a 210.

  4. Just wanted to say I appreciate this review. Got a Garmin 210 for Christmas. Worked fine the first two uses but for the third the signal was lost 2km into the run. I know I run a little slow but 18min/km is a bit ridiculous. Oddly, I feel better knowing there are ‘duds’ floating around and that I might have one, as opposed to being the only one with this problem.

  5. Well Natasha, I hope you bought your gift giver bought the Garmin somewhere with a good return policy, though I can imagine it might be a delicate conversation. And Jason, I hope yours is as good as my second unit. I have used it for quite a while now and it has been flawless. If I do a run that starts from the spot where I last turned it off, it pulls in satellites almost instantly.

    It still isn’t great for ultra-enduro events – 8 or so hours and you’re done. But for most normal training days it’s plenty unless you’re Dean Karnazes or something.

  6. My site got hacked, so I lost this comment from Roy, which is perhaps of interest
    on Feb 5

    I am now on my 3rd Garmin running watch (latest being Forerunner 210), all 3 have lasted about 2 years and then stopped working, Garmin then ‘kindly’ offers to fix the watch for $100 or so. If you decide to purchase a Garmin expect to have to pay them to fix it for you in a couple of years. I won’t be wasting any more money on these due to the poor quality.

    And my response

    Wow Roy, that sucks. My second one had been going strong since I hit it and my wife and two friends also have 210s and they’ve chugged along for years. I think you can get a lot more features for your money these days though.

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