June 29, 2008

Q: Garmin Forerunner 405 or Suunto T6c?

Earlier last week friend of mine asked me the question in the title. I composed pretty lengthy response to his question to help him decide. It summarizes my experience with both HRMs. After reading it again I realized that there may be other people with similar question. Perhaps this one user summary will help you decide what to do. Please consider that I'm a triathlete and may have a different requirements from my HRM than pure runners (main being water resistance and second the support for multiple speed/distance sensors for tri racing). So here you go:

So you are on a quest as well? I just went through a number of HRMs and plan to sell some on eBay in the next few weeks. As for the 405 vs. T6c I think I can give you my take as I own and use both at the moment. It really depends on what you intend to do with the HRMs so I'll look at them from few angles.


Training planning


Garmin Forerunner 405 - Garmin has some planning functions (limited compared to RS800 from Polar), but you can structure the workout as you need which is quite nice especially for complex intervals training if you need to do it on treadmill. The result of planning is a guided workout in the watch that you can assign to particular day and the watch will let you follow it when you are ready to train.


Suunto T6c - has some planning capability in the software, but the guided workouts are to be defined directly in the watch. You can define warm-up duration, countdown duration (in case you want to do warmup, but not include it in the total exercise time), then there are two time intervals or you can use distance intervals (again only two). I find this fairly good for training and less robot like training - at times with the RS800 I felt like a robot executing a workout. The T6c gives you little more flexibility to adjust the workout as you feel just before you start. Very similar to S625X from Polar in terms of interval workouts.


Training


Garmin Forerunner 405 - the Garmin watch is great for running, OK for cycling and totally unusable for swimming. During running it connects to GPS very quickly and keep the connection just fine (despite the smaller size compared to 305). You can also use the foot pod (additional 99 USD) to keep track of your cadence during the runs. If the watch loses GPS connection it switches to the foot pod. You will need the foot pod on the treadmill if you use it. For biking you can get the bike pod, but I do not know much about it as I do not use it. The HR belt is fairly comfy, but it is a big rubber band like the very old Polar watches, but it is more comfortable. If you do not use HR belt Garmin approximates the calories expenditure, but the algorithm is weird - it told me my 56 miles bike ride burned 4500 calories. Yeah right. One nice thing is the GPS navigation - you can actually build track in the Google Earth or on the web like mapmyrun.com and transfer it to the watch as a course and then execute it. You can also take advantage of navigation if you do out and back run. The watch will guide you back to your starting position (through all the places you ran before) - basically backtracking home.


Suunto T6c - works like a charm for any sport and automatically switches between sensors (pods) if you use multiple - bike pod, foot pod, GPS pod. I use the watch with Memory Belt during swim and with comfort belt for running and biking. The comfort HR belt is very nice - even better than the Polar WearLink (the new one) and works very well once you figure out which part to moisten. The watch has configurable screens - 2 screens 3 lines each and the last line can show multiple items that you can switch between. I like it more than the Polar approach or Garmin approach (very similar - 3 items on each display and you switch between displays). What is really cool the watch switches between the sensors automatically. I did a brick today and it recorded my bike speed / distance (as 18mph), then I did a lap for transition and headed out of the house for a short run. Before I hit the street it was already switched to my foot pod and was showing my pace 18:30/mi and soon 7:45/mi. It is pretty cool to see this working after struggling with this with Polar, previous Suunto and Garmin. This may not be as important for one sport athletes, but quite nice for tri-geeks...


Evaluation of training


Well compared to Polar software both Garmin and Suunto have a long way to go.


Garmin Forerunner 405 - The evaluation software is pretty basic, but it has a nice feature of loading the GPS data and showing you the map of your run. It is nice, but to some degree it is a gimmick. It wears out pretty quickly. I mean how much do you need to know about where you ran around your house. It is nice though for all the business trips. Other than that the data is fairly basic and the data has the usual issues of the GPS sensor - the pacing data are fairly useless (quite an oscillation due to fluctuating GPS signal and the fact that the resolution is about 3-5 meters which does not really work well with immediate pace), I have very little confidence in calories burned. The HR data is very basic - no beat-to-beat info like in Polar RS800 or T6/T6c. Nice thing is that you can set your pace zones and HR zones and see how you did during the exercise. Overall I use the Training Center very little - mostly to load the courses or review the high level data.


Suunto T6c - the biggest difference between T6/T6c and other HRMs is the EPOC and TE. The standard STrM software does the basic analysis and shows you the
data recorded by the watch - R-R data, HR, speed / distance and all the parameters the software calculates based on the R-R. I use also the FirstBeat Athlete software mostly to help me look at my EPOC load during the week and month. I do get variety of the TE and EPOC based on how hard my training was, but it took me a while to fine tune the parameters. There are very good guides in the Wriststop Trainers group on Yahoo!. I fine tuned my parameters after few runs and Cooper running test. Since then my EPOC and TE makes a lot of sense and reflects how I felt during the training. I do review the detail mostly HR, R-R, EPOC and TE in both STrM and FirstBeat. FirstBeat seems to be more precise than the STrM especially for training of TE 1-2. For TE 3-4 the results are very similar. The T6c now shows the EPOC and TE during the workout and that is good, but not ultimately how I regulate my workout. I have my own training plan that I follow and use the EPOC / TE for overall evaluation at the end of the week to make sure my easy week is easy and build week is at least rated as moderate in the FirstBeat.


Daily use as a watch


Garmin Forerunner 405 - the watch can be used as every day watch, but it may be too large for people with small hands and people that need to wear shirts. It does not fit easily under the sleeve as it is quite bulky (the GPS needs to go somewhere). You will need to charge the watch every 3-4 days to keep it going. It has about 2 weeks of life with no GPS use and about 8 hours of continuous use of GPS. It is quite nice and the design gets you some attention. I heard people commenting on the watch and expressing interest to get one as well (mostly people doing some exercise).


Suunto T6c - It is a watch that you can use daily. It fits under the shirt and goes with any outfit. Since I got this watch it is my only watch that I use every day. I take it off only when I shower.


Cost


Note that this section reflects the situation as of June 2008. The prices are likely to change over time so do your research, check sites that sell Suunto watches and are certified by Suunto (you may not want to take chances with buying new watch from eBay and losing the warranty - I believe Suunto does not honor the eBay purchases. I actually called their support line before I purchased from Amazon to make sure they will honor the warranty).

Garmin Forerunner 405 - the watch is now about 350 USD + tax, foot pod about 99 USD and the bike pod 60 bucks


Suunto T6c - I got the watch for 320 USD (I guess I was lucky as the prices are back up to 429 USD on Amazon), foot pod for 90 USD and bike pod for 50 USD


So what it means for me - well I will continue to use both. I like the Garmin even with its shortcomings for recording speed/distance and position during running and biking. And the T6c is my primary HRM. Sometimes I run and bike with both, but most of the time you will find me with the T6c.


I do not have a simple answer T6c or 405, but you may be able to decide by reviewing my perceptions above and evaluatin what is important for you. I feel like I could live without the 405, but like to keep it as a second HRM.


If you want to research this topic even more there is a discussion thread on Suunto Discussions where I shared some more thoughts about the Garmin 405 vs. Suunto T6c more from a runner's point of view.

42 comments:

George M said...

Nice review on the units. Do you know if the Garmin can use HR for calorie expenditure. I have a Suunto t3 and Polar s625x. Can I use the 405 in the gym for weight training with the HR and still get calories. Do you get more accurate calories with the HRM connected. My T3 does a great job with non running workouts. I'd like to eliminate some watches with a 405.

Thanks
George

TriExpert said...

Jan, very nice comparison, as always. I'll link to this post when I'm asked for a recommendation. (Still using the Forerunner 301 myself.)

I'm *really* looking forward to your forays into the world of power training devices! ;)

kxux said...

George: To my knowledge the Garmin 405 uses the HR data to calculate the calories, but if you do not have it connected it defaults to algorithm that is not very precise. Especially for biking - see my other post about 4000+ calories burned on the 3 hours bike ride...

You can use the Garmin 405 for weight training, but if you already have S625x and T3 you may be better off with one of them as Garmin is not very flexible when you put it on your arm - the whole upper part of the watch is fixed and may prevent you from doing some weight training exercises when you need flexibility in your wrist. Well you can always take it off and stick in your pocket.

triexpert: Yeah I wish I could do that, but my budget is certainly not that high. I can review the Polar S625X with power, but that is about it. All the other units are 1000+ (some even ++).

George M said...

So when you got that crazy calorie reading from the garmin, were you using the HRM or just the watch with it's wacky algorithm?

kxux said...

I did not have the Garmin belt during that ride. You can actually look at the details on Garmin Connect (link is in the post) - click on the '18.5 mile loop' link. It shows no HR data. Then expand the laps and you will see the estimated calories. They are just way off.

The algorithm works quite OK for running though. Even without HR belt.

Ben said...

Great comparison, thanks for the review!

n830247 said...

Hello, I found your review very helpful, and I just received my t6c. The only thing that annoys me a little is that the light flickers while using the heart rate belt. So it seems pretty useless during night runs, which I plan on doing often. Do you think there will be a fix for this covered under warranty?

kxux said...

n830247: I have the same issue with the T6c. I'll be posting a question to Suunto today. I tried changing battery in the watch, but that did not help. Flicker is still there although less frequent than with the more worn down battery.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I had the 405, but unfortunately I couldn't get the HR monitor to work consistently for me. It would become irregular as soon as my HR got to 160. I tired it with two units and 3 straps. No luck. The pace worked great for me, but the HR was a deal breaker. I spent quite a bit of time with Garmin Tech Support, but had very little luck. There end response was that it was likely due to the static build up with the shirt (didn't seem like a very good answer given the amount of testing I did to try to get it to work). I never had the problem with my Polar. I'm thinking of the T6 at this point. Thanks again for the post!

npow said...

Great post. I was thinking of getting a t4c, but now I'm wondering if it's worth spending the extra money to get the t6c? From what I could tell on the Suunto website, the difference between the two is that the t6c has altimeter, barometer, and temperature readings.

kxux said...

npow - you may want to give it another 2-3 weeks before making decision. Polar should be releasing new products soon - RS800cx just look through the blog. They should be out on Sept 15th. I like the T6c, but I miss the running cadence and guided workouts quite a bit.

I agree with the HR function of Garmin it never really convinced me that it works as well as Polar or Suunto. One reason 405 ended-up on eBay few weeks ago.

kxux said...

npow - the main difference between T4c and T6c is that only T6c will show you detailed record of your exercise. T4c will have summary and splits, but will not show you the R-R, HR, speed/distance (if you have foot pod or GPS pod) over the duration of the exercise. Just check-out the difference between STrM and STrM Lite output.

npow said...

kxux- Thanks for the clarifications. I'll wait on the Polar :)

endurefun said...

Does anyone know if there is a website that enables you to upload workouts from a Suunto t6 into a training log? I've tried SuuntoSports.com and it is extremely clunkly, and does not aggregate the data by week and month. The Suunto Training Manager software is okay, but I want an online solution so that I can share long-term data with training buddies. Thanks!

kxux said...

Take a look at the trainingpeaks.com - very good in my opinion although not free.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a triathlete, but run in NYC's Central Park (generally, the outer loop). I was wondering if anybody could comment on the reliability of GPS tracking there. I'm asking in order to evaluate whether to get i) Polar's soon-to-be-released RS800cx with a G3 GPS pod / Suunto's T6c or ii) stick with a Polar with S3 pod.

Thank you

kxux said...

Since you are running why don't you just get the G3 sensor from Polar to complement the S3. You do not need to caught up 500 bucks for a new watch. The RS800cx will be almost the same as RS800 only it will allow integration with bike sensors speed/cadence (not sure if you need that). G3 is about 140 bucks and if you don't like it most retailers will let you return it with no or minimal charge.

Can not comment on the G3 reliability in NYC, but check this blog for posting comparing S3 and G3 sensor. I did that with RS800 on the same route in rural PA under some tree cover.

You can also search Garmin Connect for any recorded runs in NYC in your area of interest. The Garmin 405 and the Polar G3 use the same GPS chip and the pace/speed results will be similar.

Anonymous said...

very thorought study, congratulations.
I have a question : how accurate is the suunto footpod compared to polar s1 and s3 ?

kxux said...

The Suunto foot pod seems to be as accurate as the S3 from Polar and although some people complain about the S1 I actually had it calibrated very well. The foot pods are generally quite accurate if you calibrate them well for the surface / shoes and pace combination. I find the S3 and Suunto foot pod very accurate and almost comparable. The only difference (and quite significant) is that Suunto foot pod does not provide the watch with cadence which I think is a real drawback - one reason I recently upgraded to Polar RS800CX.

Marc R said...

I would highly recommend staying away from the Garmin 405 - it is a headache to run with because of the touch sensitive bezel.
The watch becomes unresponsive when the slightest bit damp - sweat and condensation. Try running without sweating.
when the bezel is damp, you switch the modes, check your results, switch displays etc. I've even had dampness/humidity compromise the function of the 2 buttons (can't stop the timer at the end of a run). The watch will start to beep and just go nuts and be a useless piece of junk on your wrist.
Battery life is poor with the GPS function active.
NO Mac compatibility available until at least Jan 09 - and this already was delayed from Fall 08
This watch is a dud and Garmin blew it big time. I wish I never bought it.
The idea is great, if it worked it would be awesome, but the implementation of this watch has been a dud

kxux said...

I must agree with what you say Marc. When I used 405 I had to lock the bezel for the duration of the run to keep it from interacting with my sleeve after it gets sweaty. In the meantime I sold my 405 on eBay as it is not really watch for triathletes. Perhaps runners can use it, but it has its own disadvantages. I own Polar RS800CX and I'm very happy with it. It does all I need and does the mapping if people are interested in it. As for the T6c that one also ended-up on eBay as soon as the new Polar arrived at my door. Although the T6c is a great watch I just hate the Suunto software. It sucks in major way and it is just sad that Suunto can not get their act together on the software front.

Anonymous said...

Nice review, by the sound of it you prefer the polar RS800cx. Have you seen or used the Polar FT80?

kxux said...

Anonymous, yes you are right I prefer the RS800cx. I also like the T6c from Suunto. I have not used the FT80 during exercise. I played with it for about 5 minutes at the marathon expo. I like the FT80 look and feel, but can not comment much on its performance during the workout.

I suggest you to check-out the Polar discussion boards for feedback from FT80 users. It seems that quite a few people have issues with the display in low lighting area so I would suggest to buy only from dealer that would accept exchange for another model or return if you don't like the watch.

Remberto said...

Nice review! I am a Triathlete, and my weekest is the swimming part. I have the Polar RS800 with GPS and footpod, but I cannot read my HR while swiming... I'm wondering if there is a HRM out there that can give me real time readings while swimming? I know that the Suunto T6c provides a memory belt, but does the watch give me real time info on my HR or that info can only be read once you download your data from the belt to your computer??? If real time info is not possible, then I'll just stick with my Polar. Thank you

kxux said...

Remberto,

I use Polar S625x for my swim workouts. You can find few posts on this blog about swimming. In reality I do not look at my HR during the swim except when I have a breather by the wall. The S625X, S725x or any other Polar monitor with the 5kHz transmission should do just fine.

Anonymous said...

Hi, thanks for the great info. I currently have and enjoy the Polar 625x with power sensor. The trouble is that I train on both a road bike and a tri-bike and the wired power sensor is both ugly and a pain to remove and set up.

I would like to have a solution that is easily switched from one bike to the other.

I considered the iBike Aero, but the feedback I have is that it can be finnicky to set up and calibrate before each ride. Also, there are problems with tri bars disturbing the air before it gets to the sensors.

I have decided that the only option is the Suunto T6c or the Garmin Forerunner 310 XT with a Saris Cycleops PowerTap wheel. I know that the Forerunner and PowerTap work together due to the compatible ANT+ transmission system, but I can't find any information about whether the Suunto T6C will also work with the PowerTap wheel.

Can you tell me if the T6C works with PowerTap?

kxux said...

Anonymous: I understand the frustration with the Polar power sensor. These things are not designed for easy transfer between bikes. They work well when you put them on the bike and leave them there.

As for the Powertap and Suunto watch compatibility - I would say no it will not work as Suunto uses ANT protocol and Powertap uses ANT+ (same as Garmin). Since Garmin foot pods, HR belts and cadence sensors do not work with Suunto watches I would not expect the power sensor with ANT+ to be recognized by the T6c.

But if you have spare cash the SRM supposedly works with T6c. Unfortunately do not have spare 5 grand to test it out :-).

silygily said...

Very informative.. thanks!

With your feedback too the plunge for the T6C (w warranty)

Cheers

kxux said...

silygily: Good luck with your new gadget. They are all good watches and the T6c works real well. I have been using it in the past few weeks almost exclusively and like it a lot. Well as you can see from the comparison :-).

Anonymous said...

Hi again - I posted on 20 June about the T6C and Power Tap. Here is what I found out:

- Powertap works with iBike and Garmin (Edge/Forerunner - not sure about 310 XT)

- Suunto T6C is a stand-alone HRM/exercise computer (i.e. does not read Power output from SRM)

- SRM uses the Suunto Bike Pod/Road Bike Skewer & Cadence Sensor, therefore you only need one set of sensors with the SRM & T6C.

I bought the T6c triathlon pack from Amazon (USD 589) and it arrived on Monday. I have run and cycled with it, and can say it worked great right out of the box (very accurate without even being calibrated - although I will do this for my own peace of mind.

I love the ease of set-up on the bike and shoe, and that I don't have to decide whether I'm running or cycling - the watch just senses the correct pod.

I did a brick session yesterday and loved that I didn't even think about the watch when switching from bike to run - it just sensed the foot pod and carried on tracking my exercise.

I find the concept of EPOC and Training Effect fascinating and based on my exercise this week, I think I will be able to make good use of these functions in my training.

The one thing I don't like is that the software is not as intuitive as Polar's and I miss being able to view the calendar with all of your previous week's or month's workouts.

To Summarise, I love that I have ONE watch to wear for triathlon training and racing. (Too bad that if I get a power meter I have to have 2 head units and can't just read the power output on my T6C.) With the Memory Belt I can get the HR data for the whole race (incl swim) to analyse on the PC. The software issue is annoying but not a huge deal.

Thanks again for your blog - very informative.

kxux said...

Thanks for the follow-up note on the SRM, PowerTap and T6c. Very useful info. I must admit that I did not bother to research the SRM details as that is out of my price range :-).

Anonymous said...

Sadly, mine too at the moment :-(

On a brighter note the T6C is great, and I'm getting more and better feedback on my workouts than ever before.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I am totally new with GPS watch and I need some advice. I will run my first 10k race next month and I need some guidance which GPS watch to buy. I need something easily to operate (i am not a gadget person), user friendly,practical, good device to calculate heart rate, speed and pace. Should I go for Polar RS800CX, or Garmin T310x or Garmin 305? Please advice.

Thanks a lot.

Jenny

kxux said...

Jenny,

you can go with either one. They are all user friendly - no need to dig into the detailed functions of any of them in the beginning. They will all provide reliable distance, mapping, HR. The main differences are following:

RS800cx - its GPS unit is separate from the watch so you can actually wear the watch during the day if you want to and it is not as bulky as units with GPS built-in.

Garmin 405 and 310xt have built in GPS sensor which makes them both quite a bit thicker. 405 can be worn as a watch during the day. 310xt will not work as a watch even if you are recognized as fitness geek. As friend of mine said - his 310xt has perfect face for radio.

So first decision is - do you want all-in-one or modular system? - modular Polar, all-in-one Garmin

Do you want to wear the watch during the day? - that leaves 405 or RS800cx

Battery life should not be big concern, though if you go with 405 you will need to re-charge it once or few times a week depending on how much you run and use the back light. Polar needs battery change every 8-12 months in the watch and GPS unit lasts 8-10 hours with AA battery - I use re-chargeable and they work great.

Anonymous said...

if you go to the garmin site you will find that garmin does not use hr in determing calorie expediture

kxux said...

Yes that is the case with FR405 and previous models. The 405cx and 310xt are the first ones where Garmin uses HR based calculations when you exercise with HR belt. Otherwise it defaults to old method used in 405, 305 and older models.

jblandrum said...

Does the t6d w/ GPS or Foot pod not do run cadence either? I was under the impression that those would add a few functionallities

Rodrigo said...

Great review... I have the same feelings about both, although I'm planning to dump the T6d in favor of the RS800CX.

I noticed it was said that 'sometimes i wear both'... how do you do this? do you wear two HR belts? I often thought about doing that, but wearing two HR belts is very unappealing to me. Do you have a trick?

Ed said...

That was thorough. I've only been running for a year & have never tracked anything except time & distance w/a stopwatch & gmaps pedometer. On any run over 6 miles, I'm stuck at 9:30-10:00 minute mile. I don't know anything about TE, EPOC, VO2max or R-R. When did things get so scientific? Don't the winning African runners just run w/o these fancy gadgets? ;-) I just ordered Forerunner 305. Would I do better w/ EPOC and VO2max info or can I still track these somehow?

kxux said...

Ed, no worries it does not have to be complicated. I made the post a while ago and actually I do not see a lot of value in EPOC/TE values. I have built my training around TSS/IF values that can be extracted from any HRM with pace recording either in WKO+, TrainingPeaks or in Sportstracks. I use the WKO+/TP combo in my training. But few people prefer the ST package. Your 305 will help you achieve your goals no worries ;-). I recommend DC Rainmaker's website for any Garmin related reviews and guides. He has bunch of very detailed posts that will get you started. http://www.dcrainmaker.com/

kxux said...

Rodrigo,

wearing both was only a brief phase in my training ;-). I do use one at a time and mostly rely on Polar in training especially for bricks or structured runs.

Garmin Forerunner said...

Garmin Forerunner 405 - Garmin has some planning functions (limited compared to RS800 from Polar), but you can structure the workout as ... igarminforerunner.blogspot.de