I have a feeling this will be a very popular post, because there’s a lot of people wondering. Some people are considering an upgrade from an existing unit, and others are sitting on a Forerunner 620, wondering if it’s worth it. This comparison will hopefully serve to give you more information about which watch you hope to select. I have a feeling most people have already made up their mind and are just looking for one more teensy rationalization to sway them one way or another.
I originally purchased a Garmin Forerunner 610 after my heart attack, in an effort to keep track of my heart rate on my rehabilitation. I then got seduced by the Forerunner 620, with it’s light weight and “color” screen and connectability. But then the Fenix 2 came out and. . .well. I realize that my blog is all about making realistic choices, and me talking about a combination of watches that cost over $1000 is not realistic for most. To be transparent, REI has one of the most wondrous return/exchange policies, so I’ve been stepping through them. The 610 was traded for the 620, and I picked up the Fenix 2 to compare it to the 620 before making a decision. But in any case, on with the review!
Day to Day
This section is going to focus on the day to day of the watch, meaning reading the time, customizing it to your preference, and navigating through the user interface.
It’s a love it or hate it here. The Fenix 2 is tactical and burly, with a matte finish, mineral glass front, and a burly bezel with a Darth Vader accent. Everything about the watch screams durability. Unfortunately, it also screams weight and bulk. The weight, at 83 grams, is on par with any outdoor watch. Casio’s latest ProTrek is listed at 73 grams. The Suunto Ambit 2 is a doughty 93 grams. So it’s right in the pocket.
While you will notice the weight immediately upon putting on the watch, it pretty much disappears as you get used to wearing it. The thing that you don’t get used to is the thickness of the watch. There’s no getting around it; it’s big. The good news is that the glass is well protected via the high and attractive bezel, and the finish is durable for the last month or so I’ve been wearing it. It’s good stuff. But I can’t help but notice how high this thing rises off my wrist whenever I look at it.
Contrast the Forerunner 620, which is diametrically opposed to the styling of the Fenix 2. The styling is much more fitness-oriented, with a lightweight plastic case, and a touchscreen. The band is more lightweight, with colorful accents, and the straps are mounted much more conventionally. It’s almost half the weight of the Fenix 2 at 44 grams, which feels whisper light in comparison. It’s all but invisible during a workout.
But that weight savings comes at a cost. The plastic of the casing feels, for lack of a better word. . .cheap. It’s a combination of the light weight and shiny appearance; it looks like it shares some kinship with cheap toys in Chinatown. Meanwhile, the bezel to protect that fancy touchscreen is nearly non-existent. It looks to be about the thickness of a human hair. Granted, this watch will most likely not see the amount of roughness that the Fenix 2 will, but I’d rather something be overbuilt and well-protected. . .especially if it costs as much as it does (and the same price as the well protected Fenix 2).
In the end, the features will most likely determine which you like better, and not the style. Or not, I don’t know who you are. Me, I wish I had the size and weight factor of the Forerunner 620 with the materials and design of the the Fenix 2. Or a unicorn with saddlebags full of gold…you know, as long as I’m dreaming.
Reading the time
For all the bells and whistles either of these watches has, this is probably the feature you’ll use the most. I’m sure there are those people that only throw on their fitness watch when the exercise, preferring their Tag Heurs for nights out on the town. But I like wearing my techie watches out and about, so I am ever at the ready for exercise. The Garmin Forerunner 620 has the option of either a standard or reverse contrast screen. You’ve also got a “color” screen. That’s the second time I’ve put color in quotations. To call this screen a color screen is a bit of a farce. They even tease you with stickers that are bright and beautiful on the face of the watch as you unbox it. But it’s all a lie. As another reviewer put it, you’ve got in your hands a screen equivalent to a 1990’s Palm Pilot.
With that said, the watch face is easy to read. With the Fenix 2, you’ve got a monochrome screen that is permanently on reverse contrast, which is white numbers on a black face. I’m sure it falls in line with the “tactical” look, as this watch is “murdered out” with only a few sweet red highlights. I haven’t had any difficulty reading the time, although I know some reviewers have. This is the first watch I’ve had with the reverse contrast, and the learning curve wasn’t too difficult for me.
Comparing the two, there’s pluses and minuses to both. The ability to choose between a normal or reverse contrast screen on the 620 negates any positive the Fenix 2 gains. But let’s look at the whole picture. For the purposes of this discussion, I altered the Fenix 2’s time display to mimic the Forerunner 620’s as much as possible. We’ll talk more about the customization options later, but I promise I will. They are pretty sweet.
For those who have never seen either watch, the Fenix 2 is on your left, and the Forerunner 620 is on your right. I apologize for the poor quality of the photo. I guess I could pull out my real camera and my polarizing filter. . .but that wouldn’t be very realistic, would it? You can see from the photo (you can, can’t you?) that the screen on the Fenix 2 is noticeably larger. But you’ll notice the numbers on the 620 are more rounded and nicer. Looking even closer, I noticed that the screen resolution on the 620 appears to better, explaining the ability to make nicer numbers. What does all this mean? It’s all up to you and what you think. The 620 feels more refined, the Fenix 2 feels more tactical and rugged. Who are you?
For comparison’s sake, I’ve included a pic of the Forerunner screen on normal contrast. I don’t have a preference, although you may.
The backlights do an excellent job of overcoming any problems with visibility. You’ll also notice that you can see some color on the 620 for the first time ever. I wish it looked that good for real. I just picked up the box for the Forerunner 620, and noticed they made glossy appliques to the matte finish of the box to highlight how colorful the screen is. The humanity.
And here’s an alternate viewing angle. This photo would suggest that the Forerunner is better, but I think that’s most likely due to the background. But if it’s the justification that drives you in one direction or another. . .
In addition to all the data available during your workouts, you also have access to normal features on a sport watch: Alarm Clock, Timer, Stopwatch, and Alternate Time Zones. Accessing them aren’t the easiest; you have to hold down the Menu button until the menu appears, and then you scroll down to Clock. Selecting that gives you access to the options.
The Alarm Clock is well implemented, with the option to assign either Tone, Vibration or Both as the alert. You also have the option to have the backlight illuminate when the alarm goes off. When you add an alarm, after assigning the time, you then have the option to assign whether the alarm is going to happen Once, Daily, or Weekdays. You can create several alarms; I stopped adding at 6, because I didn’t want to spend my time deleting them.
The timer is equally as well designed, with the standard options in terms of set, start, and reset. In addition to choosing your alert preference, as with the alarm, you can also choose to have the timer restart automatically, which would be nice for interval training and any other repetitive timing scenarios.
The Stopwatch is probably the least well implemented, which is too bad, because that’s the one that folks may use the most. Pressing the red button starts the stopwatch, and you get the standard count up, in a large center display, and smaller display at the top of the watch. It all works you’d expect, except that at a little over 4 seconds into your count, you lose the 10ths and 100ths numbers. The watch is still counting them; you just can’t see them. It’s a minor point, but one that surprises me each time it happens. It baffles me why they would reinvent the wheel.
The Lap feature is another cause for consternation. To record a lap, I intuitively hit the “Lap” button on the lower right. It’s the button that records a lap in every mode except for Swim. But in this feature, the “Lap” button takes you back up a level in the menu. It’s true, that’s the way it works on every other level of the menu. But the fact is, we’re not in the menu; we’re in the stopwatch. To record a lap, you have to scroll down using the lower left button to highlight “Lap”, and then press the upper right button to select the lap. The main display of the counter will continue counting up, while the secondary display above the main will reset to zero and begin counting up, allowing you to track your current lap and the total elapsed time at the same time. You can continue to track laps in this manner by just hitting the upper right button. To stop the watch, you have to scroll back to “Stop” and then use the upper right button to select that option.
If it sounds clunky, that’s because it is. I could see the flow of how the designers thought it would work, but alas, it’s not working for me. I don’t think the stopwatch really would be helpful for anyone wanting to do anything athletic. Which is a shame, because everything else about this watch is for athletics.
In contrast, the Forerunner 620 has…an alarm clock. It’s true, you can put the watch in indoor mode, which allows you to use it as a stopwatch. . .although you then have to discard the activity you just created. You can probably figure out a workaround for the timer feature as well. But the reality is that the Forerunner 620 is sorely lacking in these features found in a $10 sport watch.
This sections refers only to the customizations on the Time portion of the watch itself. We will cover customization in the only activity section that applies: running. In this regard, the Fenix 2 is a wealth of options. I’m actually feeling a bit tired as I contemplate cataloging and representing them all to you. It’s a moot point; just trust me when I say you have multiple choices on how you want your screen to look.
Time Style – 5 choices
Seconds Style – 11 choices
Additional Data – 10 choices
Data Icons – 2 choices (on or off)
My math is a little rusty, but that means you have 1100 different combinations that you can choose in terms of how you want your data represented. You could go ultra minimalist where it only shows the hour. Or you could make it ultra informational, with the entire time showing like a war clock with the battery life, time of sunrise/sunset (whichever one is sooner) and seconds slowly filling the perimeter of the screen.
In comparison, the 620 has next-to-no customizations. You can adjust the contrast between normal and reverse, and you can choose the theme. The theme changes the colors of various icons, like the battery icon. Of course, refer back to what I think of the “color” screen.
I’ve already wrote extensively about my experiences with the Fenix 2 UI in my review on this site. So this section will mostly be a comparison to the Forerunner 620.
The Forerunner’s UI works with the buttons and the touchscreen to provide a good experience. From Watch mode (where the watch displays the time, and is locked to any other function) you use the buttons to either turn on the backlight or activate wifi sync. The touchscreen serves as the unlock button. To get the watch ready for running, you simply click any button besides the Connect button and then tap the screen.
Once you wake up the watch, you now use the touchscreen to navigate through the various menus, using the two buttons alongside the screen, as well as tapping the screen. The touchscreen is responsive, and I was able to easily use my gloves to operate the screen. But do you really need a touchscreen?
In general, the menu system is very similar to the Fenix 2. You have an option on the screen; to select it, you tap the item on the screen. To scroll, you tap the top or the bottom of the screen. When the item you want is on the screen. It’s fairly intuitive, but to me, it’s less intuitive than button presses. The button provides a tactile response and feedback that you don’t get from the screen. Touchscreens are great for things like smartphones, where you have a lot of real estate to make different selections. But here, it feels a bit like overkill. I prefer the buttons on my Fenix.
Connectivity (outside activity)
In this regard, the Forerunner 620 is the clear winner. It’s got all the Bluetooth features that the Fenix 2 has, and adds wifi capabilities for both firmware updates and activity synching. While I find that the most reliable and fastest connection is the USB cable for both watches; the multitude of options available for the Forerunner make it very convenient.
On the Run
The only place we can compare these two watches is in how they handle running, as that’s pretty much the only thing the Forerunner is about; heck, it’s in the name, Fore-RUNNER. As you may expect, the Fenix 2 suffers from being a Jack of All Trades, and the Forerunner excels as an expert.
In terms of setup, both watches are mostly evenly matched. The Garmin has an advantage in that it has access to more sensors: namely, the barometric and temp sensors and the compass. The ForeRunner has none of these. The Fenix 2 also has the ability to add many, many pages of data (I got bored of pushing buttons around 13…hmm, maybe I should have added one more to avoid bad luck). Each one of those pages can have 4 data fields. So if you’re a data head, you could literally see every bit of data this watch has to offer at any point on a workout.
In contrast, you’re limited to 4 pages of customizable data, not including Run Dynamics and Virtual Partner. Given that 4 fields of data are available per customizable page, that’s 16 points of data you can monitor. Some would argue that’s enough. . .
The Forerunner is a clear winner when it comes to customizing each screen. The touchscreen interface shines in this scenario, as you can simply hold your finger on the field that you’d like to modify. After a moment, the menu of available fields comes up, and you can pick which field you’d prefer, and BAM. It’s new! You can’t adjust the number of fields so easily, but the fact that you can adjust the fields on the fly is very handy. It even works mid-workout, so if you have the dexterity and awareness to adjust your watch safely, you’re all set.
Meanwhile, the Fenix 2’s interface is a bit clunkier. From the Settings -> Activity Menu, you select Data Pages. From there, you have to select the page you’d like to change (hopefully, you remember). Once you’ve got the page, you’re treated to a readout of what’s on the page you’ve selected. You must then select Edit, and the pick which field you’d like to edit. It’s eons less intuitive, and it takes much longer to complete. But it is available to adjust mid-workout.
One important feature that’s missing from the Fenix 2 is the ability to import the Training Calendar from Garmin Connect. Initially, I was uploading my workouts to my Forerunner 620, until I discovered that the 620 only allows 10 workouts to be placed in memory. I have a lot of variety, so that limitation seemed annoying and arbitrary. The Training Calendar at Garmin Connect allows you to schedule different workouts on each day. When you sync, it takes care of the tedium of loading and unloading your workouts over time. It’s a feature that I’ve been missing lately on my Fenix 2. I have since moved to my computer calendar to schedule my workouts. It’s a bit tedious to have to place a workout on my calendar, and then set it up on my watch too, although it’s easier to make sure I don’t schedule any workouts over important dates. But I do miss it.
Speaking of workouts, transferring workouts from your phone is always a bit of hit or miss with both devices. Transferring one workout usually goes smoothly, but I often transfer my workouts for the week in one sitting. If you want to send 3 workouts, you need to wait for the sync process to complete for the first workout before you hit sync for the next one. That may seem self-explanatory, but you’d think the operations might queue themselves up. . .but no. In general, I’ve found that both watches are much quicker and more stable when you use the USB cable to move workouts around. With that said, if you’re moving one workout, they both work equally well over Bluetooth.
As a final note, the Fenix 2 does not support the post-activity Training Records that the Forerunner 620 has. It’s a minor point, and honestly, my TR were often a scrambled mass, as I would use my watch to track my hikes, bikes and runs. I’d have to constantly go into the website and reset them. Once again, the Forerunner excels at just being a running watch. But with that said, I’d love to see Garmin incorporate the Training Records for each of the sports in the Fenix 2.
During the activity
During a run, I like to check my pace to make sure I don’t get too excited in the beginning. I like to see my heart rate so I can gauge how I’m feeling, and I like to see the time elapsed. I tend to scroll through my fields, too. Sometimes I want a lot of data, sometimes I just want to see my pace and how much longer I have to try and maintain it.
There’s no arguing here: the higher resolution screen of the Forerunner provides a much better reading experience.
As you can see, the Fenix numbers are a tad bit shorter, and while lot skinnier. While it lends itself a digi-tacti-cool vibe, it makes it harder to read. The wider (dare I say voluptuous?) numbers on the Forerunner are easier to make out.
The titles for the data fields are much easier to read on the Forerunner as well. The Fenix 2 relies heavily on abbreviations due to the limited pixel area; meanwhile, the Forerunner can use whole words, meaning one less thing you have to decipher as you’re bouncing down the trail. I’ve used 4 fields as an example, but the visibility on the Forerunner only increases with fewer fields.
This is a comparison shot of two data fields. You can see that the Fenix 2 does not have enough space to allow the full text of “Cool Down Until Lap Press” to be visible. The Forerunner 620, meanwhile, has room for the whole text, and is also more readable.
The differences are evident when you are sitting in your chair looking at this site. Now imagine you’re running down the trail/road, and need to see how you’re doing. While the Fenix 2 is not unreadable, it is certainly more difficult. It’s true, you’ll know what data is where because you’re the one that picked the fields, so readability isn’t as critical for some as others. But for ardent racers who depend on pace or other data to help them do the strategery to victory, this may be much more critical. For me, I’m barely moving above walking speed so it doesn’t matter as much.
The UI for both watches is fairly simple. On the Fenix 2, the buttons (clockwise, starting at the 12:00 position) allow you to stop/start, lap/advance your workout, scroll up/down through data screens, and use the backlight. Holding the L center button allows you to access the menus. On the Forerunner, the buttons (in the same order) allow you to stop/start, lap/advance, view the time screen, and backlight. Tapping the center of the touch screen allows you to advance the data screens, while tapping the return arrow on the left side of the screen reverses you through the data screens. Tapping the right side of the screen gives you access to the menus. Both ways are intuitive, and neither has an advantage. Maybe a slight edge to the Forerunner, because the touchscreen is a much larger target. But I’m splitting hairs.
Connectivity (during the run)
One of the few drawbacks to the Fenix 2 is its inability to connect via ANT+ and Bluetooth at the same time. It means that you can’t use your HRM and broadcast LiveTrack at the same time, which the Forerunner 620 can do without taking a breath.
My rationalization is LiveTrack depends on your phone having signal. I use LiveTrack to let my loved ones know where I am. When my phone has signal, I can use something like RoadID which provides the tracking for folks you’d like to let know. It’s true, you don’t get to broadcast all your metrics to folks, but honestly, I don’t mind people not seeing how slow I go. For an added measure of safety, RoadID also has a Stationary Alert feature in case you stop without meaning to stop. It’s true, you lose the ability to transmit your metrics, but I don’t really want people to watch how slow I run.
When I go camping, hiking, or for a long trail run, I lose phone signal, thus rendering LiveTrack and RoadID worthless. In these scenarios, only a PLB would help.
Both watches have the same options (tone, vibration, none) so why write a section on this? Because it’s a very noticeable difference. The Forerunner 620 has a tone and vibration that’s impossible to miss. There have been times when I’ve been running in a noisy environment, listening to music, and I’ve still heard the tones that count down approaching a change in my workout. Meanwhile, there have been times during a workout in a quiet environment where I’ve almost missed the vibration alert on the Fenix 2, even when I was expecting it. I use a lot of custom workouts, so I noticed this difference a lot. At least enough that I thought I would mention it.
The Fenix 2 here is the winner. I’ve run the Forerunner to a dead battery before; no it wasn’t me running an ultra; it was a pub crawl with our local BBC (blackout bicycle club) and the watch died at 5:27 minutes. I honestly can’t remember if I had LiveTrack on or not (can you blame me? It was a pub crawl.) But the sub-6 hour battery life is not going to last for some people’s activities (and probably my first marathon).
Meanwhile, the Fenix 2 has a purported battery life of 16 hours. I have yet to do an activity that even approaches that level. DC Rainmaker found a burn time of approximately 15 hours by his testing. For those of you who want even more burn time, you can enter Ultra Mode, and you get up to 55 hours of burn time. Note, when you do this mode, you lose a tremendous amount of accuracy, as the recording mode goes from 1 second (or smart) to 60 second. That’s probably perfect for hiking, but lame for any sort of running or wingsuit action.
And finally, for those of you that can’t stop/won’t stop, you can use a charger to extend the life indefinitely. Unlike the Forerunner, the Fenix 2 will continue to be useable in all functions while it’s charging. Please note, I haven’t personally tested any of these limits, but it’s nice to know that I could. And I plan to, as soon as life lets me disappear into the woods for 55 hours.
Post Run Connectivity
After your run, you want to save it, and then transmit it to the world, right? Both of these watches offer Bluetooth connectivity which will allow you to transmit them. The Forerunner has a clear advantage in terms of speed of saving and transfer.
As you can see from the video, the Forerunner is much, much faster. On an identical workout, the Forerunner saves almost instantly. Meanwhile, the Fenix 2 takes it’s time. I feel like the programmers tried to fake you out by making the perimeter tick marks count up fast at first, but it always hangs at the very end as it sorts out the save.
For uploads, it’s even more of a disparity between the two. The Forerunner 620 automatically connects to your watch and begins uploading. In this video, you can see it takes a manner of seconds. In contrast, the Fenix 2, with the data from the same activity takes 3x-5x longer to complete the procedure. I was unable to capture the total amount of time it took to upload via video. . . because that would be a really lame video.
First, you have to connect to your phone via Bluetooth, because you can’t have both bluetooth and ANT+ going at the same time . You then have to open the app up in your phone; that’s right, no background uploading. Once the app has been launched, your Fenix 2 will start uploading to your phone, which takes orders of magnitude longer than the Forerunner 620. And then you have to wait a bit more as the watch updates GPS data. When all is said and done, the watch remains in Bluetooth mode, so don’t forget to exit the Sync, lest you lose all that precious battery power.
The Forerunner 620 can also upload directly via wi-fi, so if you didn’t bring your phone with you, it won’t slow down your upload. In fact, it might even speed it up.
So, in every way, the Forerunner wins the connectivity section hands down. Between seamless integration with Bluetooth and ANT+ during your activity, to uploading after the run, the Forerunner is much much faster. With that said, we’re not talking about hours; we’re talking about minutes. Hard to believe, because I’m still amazed I’ve got a GPS on my wrist. But that’s me.
Both of these watches are exemplary pieces of GPS technology on your wrist. Both of these watches are marred by software that is often buggy and spotty. I can’t help but feel like we’re on the cusp of awesomeness, where screen technology, battery life, firmware, and UI are all going to reach a nexus. With that said, neither of these watches are that nexus.
The Forerunner 620 is an amazing running watch. Seamless integration of ANT+ and Bluetooth, Training Calendar and all the other features provide an excellent training tool for athletes. If you’re going to run, the Forerunner 620 is the clear choice. If Garmin adds the bike mode that they’ve been alluding to since the start of the year, it’ll add even more awesomness. But for someone who likes to bike, hike, run and more, the Forerunner 620 offers limited ability. You can’t pair it with speed/cadence sensors. The battery life is too short for anything more than a day hike. And the construction, while sleek and unobtrusive for runs, doesn’t give you a reassuring sense of durability for other endeavors.
Meanwhile, the Fenix 2 would be massive overkill for running. The burly design is a lot heavier for higher speed endeavors, and maybe that’s not the look you want for every day. If your sports are just running and biking, you’re better off finding other options. But if you’re an amateur athlete that likes to dabble in lots of sports, this watch is awesome. I used the swim mode to work on my freestyle vs breaststroke times. I used the altimeter, compass and a topo map to navigate through some tricky trails in a state park. In one week, I’ve run, biked, hiked and swam, and I didn’t have to change my watch for any of them. That alone is incredibly awesome.
It true, because it’s the new kid on the block, the Fenix 2 has been buggy, just as the Forerunner 620 was when it was first released. The Fenix 2 group has been very good about addressing bugs as they’ve appeared, so I’m confident that the Fenix 2 will soon be sorted.
So, that’s my final verdict. Fenix 2 for me. Your results may vary. And, as always, feel free to leave a comment, let me know you’re enjoying my work.