Annual product refreshes of smartphones such as Apple’s iPhone or Samsung’s Galaxy S series have become so mildly iterative that it’s hard to get excited about the release of a new model. It’s not like the early days of the smartphone industry — oh, five years ago — when upgrading from one model to the next was a major technological leap forward.
Smartwatches and GPS sports watches are at the same point in their evolutionary development that smartphones were around 2009 or 2010. The pace of change from one model to the next is breathtaking to behold.
That these devices are making giant leaps forward with each generation is starkly apparent in the new model of Garmin’s top-end sports watch designed specifically for runners.
The Forerunner 630, the follow-up to the popular Forerunner 620 model, is such a radical improvement and overhaul that it’s hard to believe the two models followed each other in immediate succession.
Where the Forerunner 620 is a sports watch designed to track your running, the 630 does that (extremely well) while also incorporating an activity tracker (steps, sleep and other metrics) and smartwatch functionality.
Whereas the 620 was a device one would wear just to run and perhaps keep track of the time, the 630 is a fashion accessory (its design is radically improved) that also provides tons of useful data about your daily health and links to your smartphone to provide notifications and other alerts.
What’s more, the 630 connects to Garmin’s IQ Connect store, where you can download new, user-generated watch faces, widgets, runners’ data fields and apps. (If you buy a 630, or Connect IQ-compatible Garmin watch), check out the the SC8 and DigicWatch watch faces — they’re our favourites of what’s been created so far.)
The 44g Forerunner 630, as its name implies, is first and foremost a runner’s watch, providing information that matters to runners, be they on the road or out on the trails. Though it can also be used by cyclists to track their rides — useful for those who enjoy both sports — we didn’t test the cycling functionality as it is not the 630’s main function.
For runners, especially pros who value tons of metrics that will help them get the most out of their training and their races, the 630 is a goldmine of information.
Useful for trail runners, particularly over long distances in the mountains or other remote areas, is the ability to navigate to a waypoint or back to where you started. It could also prove useful when running in a foreign city.
When engaged in an activity, the screen is entirely customisable to show you any metric the watch is capable of tracking, from your heart rate to your speed, to your average pace.
Want to create custom, goal-orientated workouts? The 630 will do it.
The watch can even trigger an alarm if you vary from a pre-set pace –useful if you’re targeting that silver medal at the Comrades or just trying to improve your average speed. The list of options — from interval training to measuring your training effect (the impact of your running on your aerobic fitness) — is almost endless..
Though you can take the watch out of its box and use it right away to track a run — and who won’t be tempted to do that? — we strongly recommend you spend time going through the (online) manual to understand in detail what the watch can really do, especially when it’s connected to the smart HRM-RUN heart-rate monitor (2015 model included in the box).
The watch provides useful information such as a recovery adviser — telling you, for example, when you should or shouldn’t run again — a race predictor, running dynamics (such as cadence) and VO2 max estimate (maximal oxygen uptake — a measure of one’s capacity for aerobic exercise). The watch can measure lactate threshold, the running intensity at which lactic acid build-up in the blood begins to increase exponentially. There’s even a built-in accelerometer to calculate distances for treadmill sessions, so no foot pod is needed.
Once you’ve finished a run, your data will be uploaded automatically via your phone, or Wi-Fi, to Garmin Connect, where you can analyse it. Using either the iPhone/Android app or the Web interface at connect.garmin.com, you can view detailed data in graphical form about your run, from your cadence to your heart rate to your ground contact time and just about any other metric you can think of.
Garmin Connect has improved dramatically over the past 12-18 months and now really provides a detailed, chart-intensive overview of your health, from your weight to your running and activity (provided you own the necessary Garmin products, such as the Index Smart Scale for tracking your weight).
You can also pair Garmin Connect to popular exercise-tracking apps such as Strava, so your runs are automatically shared with your friends.
The 630 has a 31,1mm touch-screen colour display with a resolution of 215×180 pixels. Battery life is noticeably better compared to the 620’s. Garmin says the watch will last for 16 hours of training or four weeks in normal watch mode with activity tracking and notifications — impressive!
The watch is also waterproof — we used our review unit in the shower daily. The only issue was when warm water droplets fell directly onto the touch screen, it tended to cycle through the menus and once even triggered the “find my phone” functionality built into the watch — which, by the way, is very useful for those, like your reviewer, who tend to misplace their phone all the time!
The Forerunner 630 supports both GPS and Glonass (the Russian equivalent of GPS) with a high-sensitivity receiver that, in our testing, locked onto a GPS signal within seconds without fail every time, which the 620 didn’t always do in our experience.
It’s a smartwatch, too
Arguably the biggest improvement in the 630 over its predecessor, however, is the inclusion of smartwatch functionality.
Smart notifications display incoming e-mails, WhatsApps, texts and other alerts when paired with a smartphone. You can also control music playback remotely (useful if the phone is not next to you or when you’re running).
It’s easy to mute notifications, and you can tell the phone when your usual sleeping hours are so it doesn’t disturb you.
The activity tracker has a step counter with an automatic goal that learns your activity level and assigns a daily step goal. It also alerts you when it’s time to stand up and stretch your legs after you’ve been inactive for a while.
The watch monitors sleep quality, though this is probably the least useful of the activities the watch tracks as you tend to know if you’ve had a good sleep or not. Still, it is cool to have an indication of how many hours of shuteye you actually got and how much of that was deep sleep.
All in all, the Garmin Forerunner 630 is a runner’s dream watch aimed at semi-professional and professional runners who want to get the most out of their training. When paired with the bundled HRM-RUN heart-rate monitor, the level of detail you can draw on and analyse is simply astounding.
If all you want to do is track basic running metrics, there are much cheaper options on the market. Garmin’s own excellent and more affordable Forerunner 235 includes a heart-rate monitor in the watch itself, but doesn’t provide all of the 630’s advanced functionality.
If you want an advanced running watch, or are considering upgrading from the Forerunner 610 or 620, you cannot go wrong with the 630. The only problem is, if the 630 was such an improvement over the 620, what might the 640 look like? As with smartphones, perhaps it’s best to just keep on upgrading…
- The Garmin Forerunner 630 with HRM-RUN heart-rate monitor is available from NavWorld for R7 299