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Live From CES: Garmin Forerunner 205 and 305

This image was lost some time after publication, but you can still view it here.
This image was lost some time after publication, but you can still view it here.

The Forerunner is just about the perfect real-time distance calculator for long-distance runners. But the previous model had one major drawback: The signal got lost in trees or even when jogging in big cities where tall buildings might block the GPS signal. Garmin claims to have fixed that problem with its 205 and 305 models by deploying a SiRFstar III chip architecture with higher gain sensitivity. The Forerunners have also been redesigned so that the antenna wraps around the wrist, which also gives it a better shot at finding a signal. The display is customizable, and an AutoLap function records lap data based on a specific time, distance or position. There is also a Virtual Partner that will pace you based on time, duration or distance. And there is a course memory feature that lets you download or swap routes with other runners.


The 205 will sell for $249. The 305, which includes a heart monitor, will go for $349. Both are available starting in February.

This image was lost some time after publication.
This image was lost some time after publication.

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I purchased a Garmin Forerunner 305 about two months ago, and while I really liked the idea of having the GPS and HRM and tracking data, my experience with Garmin and this particular product has not been good.

When I first got it, I followed the instructions, got it plugged in and went out for my first ride with it. When I got home and plugged it in to my computer USB bus, the computer froze and required a reset to reboot. Once the computer came up again, the USB bus didn't work. I realized that the likely problem was too much current draw on the USB bus, and was going to need to get a new motherboard :( Darned disappointing, but being a computer and electronics person, I went and purchased the new motherboard and a powered external USB hub and about 12 hours later I was up and running again.

So, this time I plugged the Garmin Forerunner 305 into the powered USB hub instead of the computer. As soon as I did this, my computer blue screened (crashed) and it did so nearly every time I plugged the Garmin in. At this point I decided it must have been a problem with the Garmin Forerunner and got on their support system. Here is where the real problems happened.

Their support person told me:

1. Check for chipset names that are INTEL, NEC, etc. These are compatible chipsets with our devices.

2. If you have a chipset name that contains SiS, Via, OpenHCD, Ali, or Alr,

these chipsets are not compatible with our devices and may not allow the USB Card Programmer to function.

That wasn't on the package, or in the instructions, but regardless I learned that I had a compatible chipset from the manufacturer. So after letting them know that and that I now expected some compensation for my loss and that something definitely caused my motherboard's USB bus to go bad they asked that I send the unit, cable, charger, etc back to them so they could determine what might have caused the problem, which I did. After a week or so I asked if anything had been determined about what had happened but they didn't have any answers. I told them at this point that I expected some compensation for my damaged motherboard - another unit maybe? Something. They offered to send me a new unit and a cadence unit (for my bike) but I indicated that I already purchased the $60.00 cadence unit and that it didn't work on my bicycle due to the frame/pedal design and that a new unit would help since I really wanted to start using the new toy I bought.

After getting the replacement unit which didn't cause any blue screens (after about a week) and seems to be functioning as well as the rest of them, Garmin refused to compensate me for my motherboard - I offered to accept the unit that I sent in back as payment - Garmin's response:

"Unfortunately, it appears as if we are unable to determine why the failure occurred given the information you provided. Thus we question whether the Forerunner 305 had anything to do with the failure on your PC. The device you provided does meet all specification standards. I apologize we could not provide a more conclusive answer.".

Unfortunately, I had already sent the bad Forerunner 305 back to Garmin along with the crash dump files from my PC and offered to send them the motherboard several times as well - they were never interested in what brand/make/model of motherboard I had - so I was no longer able to determine if a component had failed in the charging circuit of the Garmin and was out of luck.

And that has been my experience with Garmin. Great idea, but a bad company. There are a lot of problems with Garmin's products, unlike many better manufacturers like Canon and Apple computer, they don't deal with the problems in an equitable manner.