Garmin Forerunner 630 Review

***The Forerunner 630 is now on sale!! Check the price on Amazon here!***

Boasting loads of features, the Forerunner 630 is one of Garmin’s most capable running-specific GPS watches. But with only modest improvements over prior models and nearly identical in appearance to the lower-cost Forerunner 230, is the Forerunner 630 the best choice for a running GPS watch? Let’s dive in and find out…

The most impressive thing about the Forerunner 630 is that Garmin has managed to physically shrink the watch while increasing the display screen. The Forerunner 630 is about 1.75 inches in diameter – smaller than earlier versions – BUT it has a thinner bezel making the display screen larger. The screen resolution has improved resulting in an easy to read and crisp screen. And at under a 1/2 inch thick, the 630 is one of Garmin’s thinnest GPS watches.

Garmin estimates battery life at about 16 hours in GPS mode and 4 weeks in everyday/smart notification mode (more on this later). A nice 60% increase from its predecessor, the Forerunner 620.

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Beyond these physical changes, the Forerunner 630 isn’t much different from the Forerunner 620. Both watches cater to stat geeks by tracking tons of running data. Both watches have a touch screen and color display. And both watches are designed primarily for runners.

But what both watches DON’T have is wrist-based heart rate monitoring. To fully utilize the 630 and 620, you need to wear the HRM-Run, Garmin’s uniquely-designed heart rate monitor. HRM-Run is similar to a classic heart rate monitor that’s worn around your chest. If you don’t like wearing a heart rate monitor, consider a different GPS watch like the Forerunner 230 or 235 as you can’t fully utilize everything this watch can do without it.

Running Dynamics

When Garmin first released the Forerunner 620, they introduced what they called a running coach on your wrist. It’s a set of features that work in tandem with the HRM-Run heart rate monitor. This package of features has been carried over to the Forerunner 630 – and it’s the heart of what separates these GPS watches from the lower-priced 220/230 Forerunners.

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The first run coach feature is a VO2 Max estimator. VO2 Max is a measure of your body’s maximum oxygen consumption. Or put more simply, it’s a good indicator of your overall fitness. The Forerunner 630 uses HRM-Run data to provide a VO2 Max estimate (and it is just an estimate – a strenuous treadmill workout lab test is needed to accurately determine VO2 Max). Color coding shows how you compare to other athletes similar in age and gender.

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Using the VO2 Max data, the Forerunner 630 is then able to predict race times for the 5k, 10k, 1/2 marathon, and marathon race distances.

The HRM-Run data also uses an algorithm combining heart rate data with your last workout to suggest how much recovery you need before exercising again. Utilizing the color screen, the 630 visually shows recovery time: green means you’re ready to go while red means take a day or two off.

Finally, the HRM-Run measures three metrics correlated to running form. It’s widely held these days that correct running form means taking quick, light strides with a fast turnover. The Forerunner 630 tracks ground contact time, vertical oscillation, and cadence which can be used to track running form.

Ground contact measures how much contact your feet make with the ground (less is better!). Vertical oscillation tracks how much your torso is moving up and down (less is better!). And cadence tracks strides per minute (more is better! 180 or higher is the goal). Ultimately, these are interrelated, so if you improve one, the others should improve as well. Read this article to learn more about it.

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New Forerunner 630 Features

There are a few smaller updates to the Forerunner 630. These are features also found on some of Garmin’s other, high-end GPS watches.

GLONASS. This is the Russian-designed GPS satellite system. When turned on, it’s used in tandem with the standard US-based GPS to improve overall tracking accuracy.

Smart notifications and music control. The Forerunner 630 can be paired with a smartphone to receive texts, emails and other alerts directly on the watch. And you can control music (pause, skip tracks) on your phone with the 630 as well. It’s a fun feature but requires your phone to be nearby – meaning you have to carry your phone with you if you want it to work.

Activity Tracking. This is becoming common on many new Garmins. It turns the watch into a Fitbit-type device to monitor steps, create daily step goals, and track sleep patterns.

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Virtual Racer. One of my personal favorites, this allows you to race against yourself from a prior activity. If, for example, you run the same route on a regular basis, you can run against (and try to beat) yourself from earlier runs.

Connect IQ. This is Garmin’s new app platform. It allows you to  download different watch faces, show data differently (think graphs), or add widgets to display things like the weather.

Other Features

The Forerunner 630 includes features found on most GPS watches, including Garmin’s other Forerunner watches. Beyond tracking time, speed, and distance, these include:

Virtual Partner, which lets you compare your pace to a digital person view-able on the watch. Virtual Partner runs at a constant, pre-determined pace – the 630 reports how far ahead or behind you are. I find this is great for tempo runs (or any run where you are aiming to run a specific pace). It helps to stay motivated and on track with your goal pace.

Auto Pause, Lap, and Scroll. These features save you from excessive button pushing. Auto-pause stops the timer automatically when you come to a stop. Auto-lap creates a lap at a pre-set distance (1 mile is the default). And auto-scroll flips through data screens automatically instead of manually pushing a button to scroll between them.

Pace, Time and Distance Alerts. The Forerunner 630 vibrates and has audio alerts whenever you exceed above or below a set pace, or when you reach a specified time or distance. Like Virtual Partner, pace alert is a great way to run at a set pace. Time and Distance alerts are nice reminders if you are doing an out-and-back run with a certain time or distance in mind. More commonly, these are used in conjunction with….

Advanced and Interval workouts. You can build complex workouts directly on the 630 by either programming them directly on the watch – (a pain); or via Garmin Connect, then synced to the 630 – (much easier!).

As an example, if you are doing 8 x 800s with a 2 mile warm-up and a 15 minute cool-down, you program each leg of the workout on the watch – and the 630 will provide vibration and audio alerts when you’ve completed each segment of the workout.

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Calorie Burning Estimates. When you wear the HRM-Run, the Forerunner 630 uses your heart rate to provide a (theoretically) more accurate calorie-burning stat. But even without it, the 630 will provide an estimate of calories burned.

Customizable screens. This gives you the option of programming the data fields you see on each screen – options are nearly limitless with the amount of data the 630 provides.

Garmin Connect and Auto-syncing. Garmin Connect is Garmin’s default app for viewing workout data either on a PC or smartphone. The 630 syncs automatically to a smartphone via bluetooth and – new to the 630 – by Wi-Fi on a PC.

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Comparing the Forerunner 630 to Other GPS Watches

The updates to the Forerunner 630, when lined up next to the 620, are fairly modest. Garmin made a huge splash with the running dynamics and coach-on-a-watch features when they released the 620. There are no ground-breaking new features on the 630.

So is it worth buying the 630 or saving even more on a clearance priced 620?

If you’re mainly interested in running dynamics and the other HRM-Run features, it’s worth considering the 620. I don’t feel like the new features of the 630 are so great that they warrant paying full price for the latest in the 630.

However, the battery-life and watch display improvements are a compelling reason for going with the Forerunner 630. Combined with IQ Connect, which has the potential to be great, the Forerunner 630 is a solid choice.

But what if you don’t care about HRM-Run and its dense data metrics? What if you don’t even like wearing a heart rate monitor?

The Forerunner 230 and 235 are much stronger options than the 630. All three watches are nearly identical in size and weight, as well as display size and screen resolution. Both the 230 and 630 have the same battery life (16 hrs). The Forerunner 235’s battery is a bit weaker (11 hrs), but only because extra juice is required to power the wrist-based heart rate monitor.

I consider both the 230 and 235 to be better options than the 630 if you don’t care about or need running dynamics. The 230 is great as a strong, feature-rich GPS watch. And the 235 has the same features PLUS wrist heart rate.

Summary

The Garmin Forerunner 630 has the features, battery-life, and physical characteristics to make it one of the strongest GPS watches on the market. While some people might find the sheer number of features and metrics to be overwhelming – if you love data and analyzing your workouts, there are few comparable watches.

***The Forerunner 630 is now on sale!! Check the price on Amazon here!***


PROS:

  • Thin, lightweight with a long battery-life
  • Tons of features including run dynamics

CONS:

  • Wearing the HRM-Run heart rate monitor is required to take advantage of many of the 630’s features
  • Lacks cycling and hiking features found on other similarly priced Garmin watches

WHO SHOULD BUY THIS WATCH
Runners

Intermediate to advanced runners will benefit the most from the advanced data metrics. The thin design and great battery life is an added bonus. For the beginner, it’s just too much data.

Cyclists

The Forerunner 630 is compatible with a bike cadence sensor and can function as a decent way to track time, speed, and distance. But it lacks certain bike-specific features found on the fenix and Forerunner 920XT that are similarly priced.

Swimmers

It’s waterproof but won’t do more than work as a timer.

FEATURES

Hardware

Battery-life: 16 hours GPS mode // 4 weeks watch mode
Waterproof to 50 meters
Color Display
GLONASS support
Touchscreen

Data Tracking

Time, Distance, Pace and Speed
Calories
Heart rate calculated calories
GPS elevation

Workout History

200 activity hour memory

Alerts & General Features

Auto lap
Auto pause
Customizable screens
Auto-scroll
Time/Distance audible alerts
Vibration alerts
Smart Notification (when paired with smartphone)
Music control (when paired with smartphone)
Live Tracking (when paired with smartphone)

Training Aids

Virtual Partner
Virtual Racer
Interval and advanced workouts
Running dynamics (when wearing HRM-Run)
Activity Tracker

Syncing

Wirelessly downloads activites to a computer
Facebook and Twitter Sharing
Bluetooth (upload directly to a smartphone)

Accessories

Heart rate monitor (including HRM-Run)
Foot pod
Bike speed and cadence sensor

Other Functions

Connect IQ
Personal Records
Time of day
Date
Alarms
Stopwatch