Garmin Forerunner 630 review: The fitness watch for serious runners

Price when reviewed

Garmin Forerunner 630 review: The fitness watch for serious runners

Garmin Forerunner 630: Run, Forrest, run (or go for a ride)

The big, big news here, however, is the breadth of running statistics the Forerunner 630 is able to analyse on the fly. Go for a run, and the sheer wealth of data pulled out by Garmin’s Running Dynamics feature is wildly impressive, perhaps even a touch daunting for the uninitiated. Bear in mind, though, that these features are only available with Garmin’s own HRM-Run chest straps – third-party straps are not supported.

Thanks to sensors within the HRM-Run chest strap, the Forerunner 630 detects – deep breath – running cadence, ground contact time, vertical oscillation (how much you bounce with each step), left-right balance (how long each foot touches the ground for), stride length, and vertical ratio (the ratio of vertical bounce to stride length, lower being better).

What this means, in layman’s terms, is that the Forerunner 630 is able to learn more about your running style, and any potential issues with your technique, than most other fitness trackers could ever hope to.  

All this comes in addition to a variety of other running-focussed features. Like the Microsoft Band 2, the Forerunner 630 estimates VO2 Max, although as this figure is the amount of oxygen you can consume, per kilogram of body weight, it is only an estimate. It uses your heart rate and performance to give you an estimated recovery time after each workout; and if you follow a guided test, it even claims it can calculate your lactate threshold to give an idea of how hard you can go before risking blowing up completely.

The reality is impressive. Taking a run around the block on a cold day with a dodgy knee resulted in the Garmin telling me that I was very slightly favouring my good leg. You can monitor your form in real-time by scrolling to the Running Dynamics screens: here, colour-coded graphs indicate when your form or balance is shifting, so even if you do have to read the manual before you understand it all, you don’t have to interpret pages of numbers to get a feeling for when your technique is going awry.

Factor in its running-specific abilities that let you race against virtual training partners, against your previous workouts, set pace targets or create your own bespoke interval training sessions, and it’s clear that this isn’t a device for the average runner.

With its running focus, the Forerunner 630 doesn’t provide a huge variety of extra activity modes and, unlike the Vivoactive, there’s no option for golf or swimming.

However, where the 630’s predecessor originally shipped with no other sport tracking modes at all, now there is a little more flexibility: a Bike mode lets you pair ANT+ sensors for speed and cadence, and swaps running pace for average speed and so forth; a Run Indoor mode uses the accelerometer, rather than GPS, to measure pace and distance; and there’s a Race profile, which you can customise to prioritise different data screens.

It’s also possible to create custom profiles if you want to customise the data screens and device settings for a specific activity.

Garmin Forerunner 630: Connectivity, Notifications and Connect IQ

Getting data off the Forerunner and up into the cloud is easy. Fire up the Garmin Connect app on your iOS or Android device and, once you’ve paired the Forerunner, all your data syncs automatically via Bluetooth. If that sounds like too much hassle, you can hook it up to your PC or laptop and, using the Garmin Express application, have it synchronise over Wi-Fi every time you’re in range of your home network.

It’s not all about exercise, either. Once connected to your phone, the Forerunner 630 doesn’t just do a good impression of a bog-standard watch – it also pings notifications to your wrist, letting you know when one arrives with a helpful buzz. There isn’t a great deal of granularity to the process.

You either get all the notifications appearing on your phone or none at all, but you can, at least, decide to block notifications during a workout.  Here you can choose to have only phone calls ping you, or absolutely nothing at all.

The notifications themselves are basic, too, but while you don’t get to scroll through the full messages, it’s normally enough to save you from having to pick up your phone and check.

Elsewhere, the Forerunner 630 also carries over all the Connect IQ features from Garmin’s other recent watches. This makes it possible to install all manner of watch faces and basic apps from the Connect IQ store, where third-party developers are allowed to add all the features that you could ask for.

For example, install the third-party ActiFace watch face, and the Forerunner 630’s basic, rather uninformative default screen is replaced with one that details your daily and weekly distance covered, the time, date, number of new notifications, steps taken and even the local sunset time. As developers get to grips with Connect IQ, you can expect a whole host of new apps to appear.

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