Day One Review: Garmin Forerunner 405 watch, GPS fitness done right

forerunner405-colors-320.jpgThe Garmin Forerunner line of GPS-enabled watches just took a giant leap in techno-goodness. If you're a runner or walker, you're going to like the way this new Forerunner 405 ($300) measures and records your speed, distance, elevation and even heart rate.

It's easy to keep track of all your exercising with this compact device, which can wirelessly transmit your workouts to your PC once you get back home. And it does it all while looking almost like a regular watch you can wear anywhere. After using its predecessors, the Garmin Forerunner 301 and 305, for years, we were eager to see how the 14 months of development since the 305's release would pay off. So we took it for a stroll and so far are tremendously impressed. More details after the Continue jump.

Taking the unit out of the box, our first impression was how different the 405 looks from the 305, and especially the 301 (see a group shot in the gallery below), which was pretty much a handheld GPS device with a watch strap attached. The 405 has been mightily miniaturized, but is still a bit bulky to be worn as an everyday watch. Gone is its onboard mini USB port, replaced by innovative and effortless wireless connectivity and a two-pronged charging gripper that gently bites into metal contact points on the back.

After we loaded the software drivers for the included pinky-sized wireless USB receiver (unfortunately PC-only until this fall), the watch quickly paired with its mate. The heart-rate monitor, which you strap around your chest, also instantly paired with the watch. Hey, this is going to be easy. Even though we'd only charged it up for a couple of hours, the Forerunner 405 was ready to hit the road.

Its ability to acquire GPS satellites is noticeably improved. In fact, it was able to get a fix while we were still indoors, showing us the correct time within minutes of charging. When we went outside, it was ready to start tracking our 1km test walking route. Along the way, it didn't drop the GPS signal once, even though we were walking under numerous trees. And the heart-rate monitor literally didn't miss a beat.

Another innovation is the touch controls. It's not a touchscreen; you control functions by touching and sliding your fingers along the bezel surrounding the watch face. It's highly responsive and takes some getting used to. But it works well — a big improvement over the multiple buttons of its predecessors. With the 405, there are just two; everything else is controlled by bezel touches.

Returning from that test walk, the watch eagerly recognized its PC friend as soon as it was about 9 feet away, uploading its data to the Garmin Connect website before we realized what was happening. It also instantly loaded that data onto the Garmin Training Center software that you can install on your PC.

Summing up, the Garmin Forerunner 405 is simply excellent. It's a significant improvement over the Forerunner 305 and makes it fun and easy to keep track of your fitness activities.

For another take on the Garmin Forerunner 405, check out this review