Not all running tech costs the earth! Nowhere is that more evident than with Garmin’s Forerunner 35, which I’ve been putting through its paces over the last couple of months. So the question has to be if Garmin does a budget price, does that mean you only get budget performance? Let’s see!
Garmin Forerunner 35 Review – A Cost-Conscious Runners Watch
Garmin covers the entire wearables spectrum, both in price and function. The Forerunner 35 has just been undercut in the budget classification, by the ForeRunner 30, which loses GPS, connected features, and vibration alerts.
Or to put it another way, the Forerunner 35 is the cheapest multisport watch in the Garmin Forerunner range, compared with the newly released ForeRunner 30, which is locked to running and running alone. So while the Forerunner 35 has been out a little while, I think there is still some benefit to doing the review in the light of the newly released ForeRunner 30.
Garmin Forerunner 35 Device Design
The Garmin Forerunner 35 is available with four different coloured straps. I actually think for this until that the contrasting straps look better than the all-black unit I have been testing
The unit proportions of the unit, make the ForeRunner 35 look smaller than it is in reality, something that is aided further by the very slim rubber band. Although it is still noticeably smaller than the Polar M200 competitor
So with that in mind, let’s take a look around the Garmin ForeRunner 35. Garmin has shown here that you don’t need a fancy full-colour display to make a good watch screen. I’m actually coming to the opinion that when it comes to watch screens, if you must have a colour display, then use OLED. Otherwise, you are better off with monochrome as we see here
There are four buttons on the sides of the Garmin ForeRunner 35. On the left aspect of the unit is the Power/Light button, and the Menu/Back button
On the opposite side is the Select/Go button, and then the Down/Music button
On the back of the unit is Garmin’s Elevate sensor, which uses three LED’s, two green and one yellow to increase accuracy. In the Garmin Fenix 3 HRM review, we saw that the accuracy had increased with the second gen unit, however with this third-gen sensor, that shipped initially on the Fenix 5… the accuracy was seen to be less on the Fenix 5,! So it will be interesting to see if Garmin have tweaked things here for the Garmin ForeRunner 35
Finally, there are four contact patches which are used for Garmin’s charge cable
The unit is rated as up to 9 days in watch mode, and I certainly found that to be very accurate. I usually keep whichever chargers I need with me, but merely the fact that I was easily able to get over a weeks use out of the Garmin Forerunner 35 even with a few light activities certainly was a big positive.
Garmin ForeRunner 35 Specifications
- Weight: 37 grams
- Screen Resolution: 128 x 128 pixels
- Communication: BlueTooth, ANT+, Wifi
- Smart notifications: yes
- Optical Heart rate
- Nine days watch mode
- 13 hours when GPS active
- Waterproofing: 50 m
- Sleep plus tracking
- Steps and distance
- Inactivity alert
- 24×7 HRM
Running with Garmin Forerunner 35
For some reason, When it comes to using the Garmin ForeRunner 35, it feels as though Garmin raided their parts bin and threw in an aged GPS chipset, as it does sometimes take the full minute to find and lock onto the satellites.
You can choose a series of training alerts of out on the run, regarding, time, distance, calories, HR. You can also choose the data fields layouts
It is the data fields, where one of the biggest weaknesses of the Garmin ForeRunner 35 becomes apparent. There are three fields you can select on each of the two data screens.
When you actually start a run, the unit gives you a brief flash of what is being displayed, but then you are left with blank numbers
If might seem a little daft, but when you just quickly glance down at the watch, it puzzling to remember which string of figures is which… leading to the thoughts “Did I set distance or HR zones as the top figure?”
Now in fairness, that is probably a reflection of the fact I’m using several units most of the time, but still, would a small indication have killed Garmin?
When you press the top RIGHT button, it pauses any workout, giving a scrolling breakdown of your totals on the pause screen
When you do hit save, you then get alerts about any new records you have set etc
Then the obligatory post activity summary
Garmin ForeRunner 35 Activity Monitor
As mentioned in the specs, there are three facets to the activity monitor on the Garmin ForeRunner 35 – 24×7 HRM
Step monitor, using Garmin’s “nudge” approach to goals, which changes every day depending your previous day
Finally sleep tracking, which can only really be viewed from the Garmin Connect app
Garmin Forerunner 35 On the Bike
Realistically the bit that allows the Forerunner 35 to have a cycle mode is that you connect cycling sensors to the unit. Although only speed and cadence sensors can be paired with the unit. If you want to pair a power meter, you are going to have to go further up the Garmin price range.
The slow GPS in the Garmin ForeRunner 35 becomes a little bit more pressing when it comes to getting on the bike, as the minute of sitting there, is just somehow more frustrating. At least on a run, while waiting for the GPS lock, you can start walking without too much of an issue. Whereas trying that on the bike, the delay increased to nearly 10 minutes before the lock was acquired. So make sure you start the unit looking for satellites ASAP!
The sometimes slow nature of the Garmin Forerunner 35 to detect HR or GPS satellite can be more of an issue when it comes to going out on the bike, as I have found you can frequently have been riding 5-10 mins before the GPS lock finally clicks in. If the unit hasn’t got a lock, you a much better staying put!
Garmin Forerunner 35 Optical Heart Rate
Garmin was one of the companies to really bring optical HRM tech to the masses and then bringing the technology in-house, by building their own Elevate Sensor. Now with the usual caveats about optical heart rate sensors, they are still far from the levels of accuracy we see on classical chest straps, I’m just not that impressed with the second generation Elevate sensor:
On the Fenix 3, the Garmin sensor tracked reasonably, but the new Elevate seems to have the same issue on the ForeRunner 35 as I saw on the Fenix 5. If we compare it to something like the Polar M430, or A370, the signal is simply more noise filled, and just less responsive.
In the above graph, it takes about 5-6mins before I have warmed up, and the watches have detected my capillary pulse. But even after that the ForeRunner 35 just doesn’t keep pace. The two spring sections at 15 and 20 mins are a good example of that.
A quick spin on the bike shows a very similar picture, with the Forerunner 35 having an odd spike in the middle. However, it should be noted that bike rides are always harder from optical HRM’s due to vibrations. The Polar M430 also falls off the tracking after the 10-minute marker
The Garmin ForeRunner 35 is also able to rebroadcast the optical HR data to another device… if you considered it accurate enough to actually do anything with
Garmin Forerunner 35 Conclusion
The Garmin ForeRunner 35 is very much a reasonable entry into the world of running watches, at a surprisingly low price point.
Personally, I do think that the optical sensor on the back of the Polar M430 is a better unit, but then you are also paying an additional ~£50, and loosing the ability to broadcast Bluetooth music from the Garmin ForeRunner 35
If you are set on a budget ForeRunner, and have been looking at the recently announced Garmin Forerunner 30 which is listed at £129 from Garmin’s own site, you’d probably be better seeing if you can find that extra £10 to upgrade to the Garmin ForeRunner 35, as that is going to be a very good use of your £10. HOWEVER as is the case with all of these things, the longer than the Garmin ForeRunner 30 is on sale, the lower the price is going to drop. The question is, what features do you WANT, and when do you NEED them?
Yes the optical HRM is little more than a random number generator in the case of the Garmin ForeRunner 35, but the rest of the watch is a solid performer, so get’s a solid 3*