Garmin Forerunner 30 review: A bargain at full price, now even cheaper

£130
Price when reviewed

DEAL ALERT: Having filed my review at the tail end of 2017, I still sort of miss the Garmin Forerunner 30. At £130, it was a basic GPS running watch that did pretty much everything the casual runner would want in a decent-looking package. 

Now it’s available for under £100, it’s even better. Right now at Argos, you can get the Forerunner 30 for £99.99 in black, purple or turquoise. For an accurate GPS and heart rate tracking wearable with Garmin’s quality, that’s a steal.

If you prefer Amazon, and like the purple colour, it’s also £99.99 there.

My original review continues below.

Having reviewed wearables for a few years now, it’s easy to forget that this is just a snapshot in time. There was a period not so long ago that GPS sensors were only found in bulky great satnav controllers attached to car dashboards for navigation. Now they’re small enough, low power enough and accurate enough to be strapped to a runner’s wrist.

In the past two years, GPS has gone from being something reserved for trackers costing in excess of £200 to something that, if you shop around, you can get for sub-£140. Often, that involves some kind of compromise – the TomTom Spark 3, for example, can be bought for £100, but you get no heart rate tracking on that model. The Garmin Forerunner 30 comes in at £130 and its compromises are so insignificant for most runners that they’ll likely barely register. It’s my new budget favourite.

Garmin Forerunner 30 review: Design[gallery:1]

If I were to sum this section up in a single word, it would be “nondescript”. That sounds like a drawback, but there are plenty of running watches that loudly broadcast their limited looks like an aggressive, ugly peacock. In comparison, the Garmin Forerunner 30 is a delight.

It’s a black rectangle with rounded corners and a mere four buttons. It has a basic 128 x 128-resolution monochrome screen, which means it comfortably lasts the week on a single charge (unless you hammer the GPS) and although it’s a bit too chunky for regular office or evening wear, it’s far from the worst offender.

The simple design extends to how it functions, too. Two buttons on the left-hand side scroll up and down, while their opposite counterparts could be catchily described as “go” and “back”. There’s no touchscreen, but to me that’s no bad thing: sweat and touch-based interfaces are a recipe for frustration. That means that from stepping outside, ready to run, you hit just two buttons: press Go once to access the running screen then, when the GPS locks after five to 20 seconds, press Go again and you’re off.

Garmin Forerunner 30 review: Performance[gallery:2]

Of course, this assumes the settings are already to your liking, but it’s another major plus of the Forerunner 30 that this is delightfully customisable. The 0.93in display can be customised to show any three metrics that you want: time, distance, pace, average speed, ground left to cover or heart rate to name but a few. If you want more during a run, a second screen can be created that you can navigate to with buttons on the left-hand side. It’s so easy to use, in fact, that when a friend of mine was given another model of Garmin for her birthday, I was able to transfer everything I’d learned from my review sample and help her set it up in the two minutes before the race started.

When the run is over, it’s simply a case of pressing the “go” button again, scrolling to save, and that’s it, you’re done. The watch syncs to your phone almost instantly – assuming you choose to run with your phone – and the results saved were almost always accurate to the distance run within a 0.05km margin of error: the only times it was further off than this was when I hadn’t waited for the GPS to lock.

This may seem like a small thing, but I’ve seen running watches dramatically off in their distance tracking before – indeed, the Samsung Gear Fit2 I was wearing on my other wrist was so consistently 0.2km behind that you could set your watch by it. Heart rate tracking was far less consistent, with averages ranging between 125bpm and 170bpm between runs – though perhaps that was down to how tightly worn the watch was each time.[gallery:3]

So what is it missing compared to the next model up, the Forerunner 35? Well for starters, it doesn’t have ANT+, meaning you can’t connect it to other sensors. But that’s true of lots of fitness trackers.

The main omission is the ability to track anything but running. Yes, the Forerunner 30 has Move IQ built in, so it can theoretically detect other exercises, but there’s no way of putting the device right. Bafflingly, that extends to swimming, despite the fact that the watch is rated 5ATM – or to a depth of 50 metres. Perhaps this is something Garmin intends to add as an update later, but for now it’s an odd omission: runners don’t need a watch to be swim-proof, so why not save a few quid and just make it splashproof?

Now you may read that list of missing features and gasp, wondering how anyone could possibly live without other activity tracking or extra sensors. Personally, that feels like a lot of extras that I personally wouldn’t use. The Garmin Forerunner 30 may be streamlined, but for me, at least, it’s streamlined in all the right places.

[gallery:4]

Garmin Forerunner 30 review: App

I’ve briefly touched upon the app, but to reiterate, it’s genuinely impressive how quickly the phone and watch sync up. This is important, as the data available on the watch itself is purely topline stuff, but it’s so fast that sometimes you’ll find yourself double checking the date, just to be sure you’re looking at the right burst of activity.

And when you dig into the app good Lord there’s a lot of data. Each run has a baffling number of statistics recorded: average pace, average moving pace, best pace, average speed, average moving speed, maximum speed, total time, moving time, elapsed time, average heart rate, max heart rate, average cadence, maximum cadence, average stride length, elevation gain, elevation loss, minimum elevation,maximum elevation, and calories burned.

And breathe.

garmin_forerunner_30_app

All of this is broken down by lap and a record of the weather is recorded alongside a map to show your route. It’s hard to know what more you could want.

Other metrics are recorded too, although it’s a mixture of stuff filled in by you and read automatically by the app: sleep, weight, calories, heart rate and an estimation of your VO2 Max. The app records your personal bests in a special segment, and there’s even room to add running gear from a dropdown list so you can keep an eye on when it’ll likely need replacing as you burn through shoes.garmin_forerunner_30_app_1

All in all, it’s hard to find fault with. But to be super picky, integration with other apps is somewhat limited, including only Strava, MyFitnessPal and Office 365. When your own app is as good as this one, though, it’s fair to ask what more you’d need beyond these essentials.

Garmin Forerunner 30 review: Verdict

The Garmin Forerunner 30 is a solid, dependable running watch. It’s not flashy, but it gets the job done and you miss it when it’s not around. On one run, wearing my charmingly inaccurate Gear Fit2, a pair of running headphones and the Forerunner 30, the latter ran out of battery after a kilometre and I spent the rest of the run seriously missing the straightforward tracking of Garmin’s budget wonder.[gallery:5]

There are two reasons I could see you wanting to give the Forerunner 30 a pass. The first is its looks. Initially, this wasn’t a watch I could bring myself to wear every day, choosing only to put it on when I went for a run. But the Venn diagram of accurate trackers and good-looking watches is vanishingly small, with only pricier Garmins like the Vivoactive 3 at more than twice the price (almost) fitting that particular brief.

The second is the missing features and that’s fair enough. If you value the ability to measure other activities then it’s probably worth spending a bit more and getting yourself a TomTom Spark 3 Cardio, or a Polar M430. But if you’re like me and the only exercise you do is running, then Garmin has listened and made precisely the product for you. For what it does and this price, it’s pretty much faultless.

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