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The new Garmin Forerunner 35 is the entry-level model in the Forerunner range, which this time comes bundled with the Garmin Elevate optical pulse sensor. Forerunner 25 that Garmin introduced last year, but the sensor isn't the only new thing it has.
The FR35 is still a simple to use watch, but it is now complemented by functions that were not previously present in Garmin's most basic range. Would you like to know what these new features are?
The watch for this test has been temporarily loaned by Garmin. Once completed I will send it back to you. It is important that you understand this, because the tests I perform and my opinions of the products are totally independent, as there is no remuneration of any kind from the brands.
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Now that that's all clear, let's get on with the test. Everything you'll find in the Garmin Forerunner 35, detailed with hairs and signs.
You can find the Garmin Forerunner 35 in different strap colours, but the size (and contents) of the case will always be the same. As the watch has an optical pulse sensor, there are no versions with or without a sensor as there might be with earlier versions.
When you open the box and throw away the leftovers, what you see is the only thing you're going to keep. Clock, instruction manual and sync and charge cable; which is the same one used by their Forerunner range brothers (230, 235, 630 and 735XT). I save having one more cable running around the desk.
Since the clock is most likely to be paired with your smartphone, you will end up using the cable exclusively to charge the clock.
The watch follows the same design pattern of previous models. It maintains the four buttons (with only one scroll button) for easy operation. The display, in black and white, has a high level of contrast, although a little more resolution would not be out of place, because with 128×128 pixels the aesthetics are somewhat "old".
At the rear you will find the main new feature of this model, which is none other than the Garmin Elevate optical pulse sensor, in this case it is the renewed version that has already been seen in other Garmin models, such as the 735XT or the Fenix 3 Chronos.
And once it's unpacked, let's talk about the different sports modes.
Configuration of the different modes
The Garmin Forerunner 35 remains the most basic model in the Forerunner range, and its main feature is simplicity. Everything has been designed to be easy to use, and the absence of features is not because it is a low-end watch, but because we want to make it as simple as possible.
So don't expect complicated menus and lots of on-screen data - in fact, you can only set up two data screens. Here are the first changes from Forerunner 25, where last year's model allowed two data screens, now it allows three.
So, six in total. The size of the information is good. Maybe not as good as in the previous version because the numbers are bigger, but the readability is still very good.
The way to configure it varies slightly from the previous model, as we now have more modes of use than before. There is no configuration menu, but you must press the activity button (top right) and choose one of these modes. The screen for pulse and satellite signal search will appear (provided you have not chosen indoor racing), where if you press the scroll button you can access the different configuration menus.
There is also more data that can be added to these screens, increasing the possibilities of configuration of the model that precedes it:
Heart Rate Zone
Rhythm of return
Therefore, it is now possible to put the keystrokes on any data screen, instead of having one reserved exclusively for this purpose.
There are other settings you can make in each sports profile, such as alerts, which you can set for time, distance, calories or heart rate, and receive a warning when you exceed 30 minutes of running time or when you leave a certain heart rate zone.
Along with these alerts are the classic laps manually - when pressing the button - or automatically - every kilometer, it is not possible to define another distance -, and the possibility of stopping the activity automatically when stopping.
There is another option that allows you to choose between pace or speed. It allows you to see your speed in km/h (e.g. 12 km/h) or in minutes per kilometer (e.g. 5 min/km).
But perhaps the most important option it offers is the ability to choose different modes of use, with even a basic interval mode not present on Forerunner 25:
- Free: Running without any objective, recording the activity in a normal way.
- Running/walking: Allows to program a running time and a walking time, warning in each one of the intervals. Specially indicated for the beginners who are starting to run.
- Virtual Pacer: You enter a target pace against which to compete, and you can see on screen whether you are above or below that pace.
- Intervals: A new mode in Forerunner's basic range, similar to what big brothers offer (in terms of clock settings, not workouts that can be set up from Garmin Connect).
You can set the work and rest time, the number of repetitions you will do and the warm-up and cool-down times. The targets are open; that is, you cannot define that the interval has to be done at a certain pace or in a specific heart rate zone.
For cycling or cardio, you can only select the interval mode.
As you can see, the configuration is extremely simple. In a matter of two minutes you will have the clock ready to run. To do this, you simply have to wait on the screen before the configuration for the clock to obtain a GPS and pulse signal. You must wait for the bars to complete and the pulse icon to stop blinking before pressing the start button.
Running with the Forerunner 35
Because Forerunner 35 supports satellite caching, the initial signal search is very fast. With each watch synchronization (either via cable or Bluetooth) the satellite location database will be updated, finding a signal within seconds. This cache is valid for seven days.
When you start the activity you will have access to the different data screens that you have configured, simply by pressing the scroll button. If you have selected to show instantaneous pace, you should know that you will see it in multiples of five seconds, although if you select the average pace or the lap pace you will have the data to the second.
The watch is also capable of displaying (and recording) cadence data. Although it does not have a metronome for the exercises, it is quite useful when training a certain running cadence. In addition, in competition, it will also serve to see if your technique is getting worse due to accumulated fatigue. And once the activity is synchronized you will be able to see the cadence graph.
The recording of GPS data is of variable interval, storing a GPS point in a period of time that the clock estimates as correct. This is called "smart recording".
A few years ago it made more sense because of the limited memory that the devices had, but that limit is not found today. Despite that, it is still used in the most basic watches, partly to differentiate performance from the higher models, but also to display a more stable instantaneous rhythm on the screen.
Is it better recording per second? At the level of accuracy in the tracks (the map of the route that you can consult after synchronizing the activity) undoubtedly, since recording points every second instead of every 3-5 seconds is more accurate.
For a user who is just starting out I think the variable mode is more reasonable as he will have a greater continuity of pace, especially in places with more complicated coverage. And the pace graphs will be more stable, helping to understand the data more easily. Look for example at the difference in pace recorded on the FR35 and a Fenix 3 in the same activity.
The downside is that those who do short series and want to do them at a certain pace by looking at the clock screen will have a slower pace variation.
In any case, for normal use either of the two recording formats is perfectly valid, always taking into account the points indicated above.
Therefore you should note that FR35 does not support per second recording, and only records data in the smart mode. And this is only for GPS location data; both cadence and pulse data will be recorded every second during the activity.
Other sports modes
Another major new feature is that Forerunner 35 now has more sport modes, such as cycling.
Previously, the watches in the basic range only contemplated running outdoors or indoors. You could use it for any other activity, but if you used it with your bike, for example, you had to change the type of activity after synchronizing your training.
In addition to the outdoor running profile, you also have a profile for indoor running, cycling and cardio.
Each one can have its own configuration of screens, alerts and the other options we have seen before.
You no longer have to switch between pace and speed depending on whether you're running or cycling, and another big advantage is that you won't break your racing record every time you take a bike out.
In both Forerunner 35 and the Garmin Connect web application, you can keep track of your personal records - the best records for specific distances, or the longest distances - and this is nothing new, as you've already found it in FR25.
What is new is that, as we now have several usage profiles, the watch will also store personal cycling records (in addition to the running records).
Here you can have your best times recorded for different distances (1 km, 1 mile, 5 km, 10 km, half marathon and marathon) as well as longer distance traveled.
But since we also have a cycling mode, we also have the fastest 40 kilometres or the longest distance cycled.
And of course, those records can also be viewed directly in Garmin Connect on their corresponding tab. And if you come from another Garmin device, you can synchronize the previous records with your new clock and keep them up to date.
The activity monitor has the same features that you can find in the rest of the range today, so you can count steps, estimate calories and distance or track the quality of your sleep, and thanks to the optical pulse sensor you also have pulse data throughout the day.
What has changed is that FR35 adopts the "widgets" system of the big brothers. They are not widgets as such (since this model does not support Connect IQ), but they are presented in the same way.
All these screens can be accessed by pressing the scroll button from the main screen. Below is a gallery of all these screens, because a picture is worth a thousand words.
When you scroll, the first thing that appears is the heart rate screen. When you open it, you will know your pulse at that precise moment (it takes a few seconds to register it, you must wait until the icon stops blinking), along with the average of your resting pulse. This resting pulse, instead of being the lowest register during the day, is the average of your pulse at the times when you are not moving.
If you press the radio button you will access a graph of the last 4 hours, along with the lowest and highest record for that time period.
This data will be recorded throughout the day, and since your clock is connected to the mobile application, it will be synchronized throughout the day and can be found both in the app and on the web.
The logging rate is variable to help save battery power. When there is movement, the clock will log data every few minutes. If there is no movement (e.g. at night), it can take more than an hour between logs. But on a day-to-day basis the logging is much more constant.
But perhaps the most important part is the ability to keep track of your daily averages. By monitoring this data you can tell if you are overtraining or about to get sick, in which case the trend will increase.
The step and activity data will also be synchronised to Garmin Connect and accessible on the web, not just from the clock, and can be viewed as a daily activity or a report.
As for the sleep analysis, it is quite basic: simply a summary of periods of light and deep sleep, which you identify depending on your movements while you are asleep.
In short, all the features you'll find on any activity monitor in the Garmin range, with the exception of the raised floors (as it doesn't have a barometric altimeter), which is an important addition to a watch in this range.
Notifications and connectivity options
The Garmin Forerunner 35 displays notifications on your mobile phone, like the vast majority of watches today, provided the manufacturer is up to the task (Fitbit) or they manage to solve all the problems present with some operating systems (Suunto with Android).
FR35 continues the same path as Forerunner 25, displaying the phone's notifications on the clock screen as soon as it is received.
But as with the above, the new Forerunner inherits the menu structure from its big brothers. So now you no longer have to go to a notifications sub-menu to access the previous notifications, but there's a dedicated widget for that purpose. Simply press the scroll button twice and you'll be able to see all the pending notifications.
The notifications you want to see on the clock can be configured from the phone's application. In Garmin Connect, you can select which ones will be shown on the clock screen. So if there are applications you don't want to receive notifications from (WhatsApp or Twitter, for example), simply unchecking it in the menu will be enough.
And it all works because the watch is permanently connected via Bluetooth Smart to your mobile phone (compatible with Android, iOS and even Windows Mobile). This connection not only displays notifications, but also allows you to automatically synchronize all your activities, both workouts and activity monitor.
It even allows LiveTrack, allowing you to send your training data to family or friends.
Optical heart rate sensor
The main new feature of the Forerunner 35 is the inclusion of the Garmin Elevate optical pulse sensor - the same sensor that Garmin has been adding to its devices since it was first introduced on the wrist a year ago. Vivosmart HRIt is a less voluminous version, which was first seen in the 735XT.
You have already seen in the activity monitor section that this sensor will provide you with heart rate data throughout the day. In addition, you can also use Forerunner 35 as an external pulse sensor for another device, via ANT+. For example, it will allow you to send heart rate data to a cycling unit (such as a Edge 520This option is activated from the pulse data widget, and when it is running you will not be able to access the clock menu or record an activity.
The display will only show the pulses together with the time of day and the indication that it is transmitting the pulse data.
But the important thing is the behaviour of the sensor. During these weeks of testing I have been able to confirm that there are not many differences from the last time I tested the sensor on the 735XT, and that it has certainly improved over time since it was first introduced. But it is still not perfect,
Here are a few examples comparing their performance with other sensors, both optical and traditional chest sensors.
I'll start with a short activity, but with three strong intervals. As you can see the start is always complicated, for all the sensors. Even for the sensor in the chest.
But once the body has warmed up and I'm in a cruising rhythm, all three sensors line up perfectly. Here Forerunner 35 works perfectly throughout the entire activity, including the interval work periods, which is where the Garmin Elevate sensor has always performed the worst.
In this case it is the Scosche sensor (traditionally one of the best on the market) that suffers in the first interval, nailing the rest of the training along with the other two.
But it's easy to lose the recording when you do short intervals of high intensity. In this case you can see how both the HRM-Run and the Scosche record all eight intervals perfectly, but the FR35 only manages to measure two at the end of the training.
However, periods of running at a constant pace are not a problem.
Let's go to another example of continuous running at a constant pace. The chest sensor starts off badly because of the colder temperatures and the dry environment (until sweat starts to wet the band). From there, three perfectly aligned graphs during the whole training.
One last example combining both aspects. Again I repeat with the same three sensors, with the difference that the Garmin HRM-Run decided to go out at 7:30 in the morning was too early, and it didn't start recording until the final intervals (sprints at full 150m with walking lap) when I manually paired it from the menu.
But anyway, it was not necessary, as you can see we repeated the same tone as before. Both graphs are perfectly aligned throughout the progressive training. The two straight lines correspond to the stop of the watches between the progressive training and the interval section, it is not an error.
As for the final intervals, in the first one it behaves well, but in the two following ones neither the Forerunner 35 nor the M600 are able to keep up and record the interval with a delay, without reaching the reading of the sensor pulse in the chest. In the fourth one the rise is correct, but it gets lost in the recovery.
All this in terms of racing activities. What about cycling? Well, it's always more complicated to register.
I start with an indoor activity done on a roller, so it's a little easier than outdoors, as there is less hand movement, no bumps and no sunlight to make the sensor difficult to read.
There are four tabata intervals, with 4 soft and 4 interval minutes (20s work, 10s rest) and stretching in the central part.
The results are moderately good, except in the part of the stretching, which has some punctual absent-mindedness. During the rest of the activity, almost everything has a good result.
But let's go out there. The start is good and promising, but later it gets lost slightly. Although it is able to recover and, in fact, the final work part (10 minutes at over 300W) it does it correctly. Overall much better performance than the Polar M600, which after getting lost in the middle of the activity starts to wander around and does not get back on track.
If there's another critical point for this type of sensor, it's in lower intensity gym activities. And not just for the Garmin Elevate, but for any other sensor. If we take the data from Suunto's chest sensor as valid (which also doesn't have to be correct), it's possible to see that neither the Scosche nor the Forerunner 35 match it. Yes, the trend is similar in some cases, but there's no accuracy of any kind.
But I repeat, the values of the pulse sensor in the chest do not have to be correct either, because this type of activity is always more difficult to register due to its particularity in terms of movements.
Regardless of the quality of the sensor, it is always important to wear it properly. The watch should be worn firmly on the wrist and always above the wrist bone, so that the sensor is placed in contact with the skin in a "fleshy" area and cannot be moved.
This point is not nonsense. An incorrectly worn pulse sensor means incorrect readings. If you have trouble getting a good pulse log, check how you wear your watch on your wrist.
But you don't have to cut off your circulation either, if you see your hand getting purple you should loosen the strap a couple of stitches. Or opt for amputation, whichever you prefer.
The Forerunner 35 retains the same calling card as the rest of the basic Garmin range - simplicity of use over anything else. But in its annual update it improves on other features - most notably the new sport modes, which make the FR35 more versatile.
The Garmin Elevate is gradually invading the entire Garmin range, and it's already rare to see a model that doesn't include it. In fact, all of the watches that Garmin has introduced this year, 2016, feature this sensor, which is already reaching an acceptable level of maturity, providing accurate pulse data in almost any situation (at least on the run, the main function for this Forerunner).
But there is always a "but", in this case the price. Not because its competition is much cheaper, because within the models with optical sensor only the Polar M200 is slightly cheaper. The main problem is at home, and that is for a little while longer you can buy a Garmin Vivoactive HR that surpasses it in many ways: barometric altimeter, swimming profile, colour touch screen, ConnectIQ... And the truth is that it's not much more complicated to use.
That's the problem Garmin is having lately, too many models on the market that end up stepping on each other. But the tactic seems to be working for them, so the general trend of presentations will continue.
Maybe they are waiting for the effective arrival of the Polar M200 to the market to lower its price slightly. Anyway, ignoring the price, it is a good device that offers the necessary features that the most novice users need.
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