Garmin Forerunner 230 Long Term Review

The Garmin Forerunner 230 has been a very reliable running and fitness watch.  What impresses me the most is how it remains vibrant after extended use.  There are a bunch of glowing reviews on the internet on how the Garmin 230 is a great piece of running tech.  I have to agree with those reviews, this watch is a benchmark product at this price range.  However, it isn’t perfect.  Long term testing proved that this watch has some areas that need improvement.  You can read our full review below.

As we do watch or fitness tracker reviews, you can see how each watch stacks up to it’s competitors at our Compare Equipment Page.  Loved the review and want to buy this watch?  Click Garmin Forerunner 230 to get the best deal we could find. You can also take a look at the Garmin Forerunner 235 Review and see if having a wrist based HR function is worth the extra money.

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Screenshot 2017-03-05 18.27.52Specifications

What you pay for the Garmin 230 will depend on where you purchase this product.  This watch can be purchased on the Garmin website for $249.99 but you can get the Garmin 230 from Amazon right now for $185.  Just click on that link provided.  That is much lower than I paid for my Garmin 230 last August.

Battery life for maximum use, always on, is 16 hours.  I didn’t test that 16 hour limit, but it seemed accurate.  I did one long bike ride with my Heart Rate and Speed sensor connected, and the battery usage lined up with Garmin’s prediction.  Garmin advertises a 5 week battery life for only watch function, Activity Tracking (AT), and notifications.  I found battery life under minimal use at about 3.5 to 4 weeks.  I couldn’t stretch battery usage past 4 weeks when I was using it.  However, any rechargeable device that lasts 7 days or more before being recharged, is really good in my opinion.

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This is what the screen looks like in the daylight with direct sunlight.

The other basic stats are a 215 x 180 pixel display.  I found this to be adequate and worked quite well in daylight and inside.  The tracking function of GPS and GLONASS satellites is superb.  You won’t find anything better than that.  Water rating is sitting at 50 meters which is plenty of depth for me.  I don’t do much swimming, but I like that I can give the kids a bath, do the dishes, or take a shower without worrying about water intrusions.

Market Comparisons

The Market is full of GPS tracking running watches right now.  We will stick to the price range of the 230 and look at some of it’s closest competitors.  The Garmin 235 comes to mind right away, but we will do a separate article comparing the 230 to the 235.  Is the full time wrist based heart rate function worth the extra money?

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AMBIT3

The Suunto AMBIT3 is a close competitor sitting at $179.  It is not as capable on paper as the Garmin 230.  I have no personal experience with the Suunto Ambit3, but it has a lower screen resolution at 128 x 128 pixels.  The battery life only clocks in at 14 days for only watch and AT.  The bigger issue is the sole use of GPS without GLONASS integration.  This means users in high rise cities or very mountainous terrain will have lower accuracy without the Glonass assist.

Screenshot 2017-03-05 18.59.35
BLAZE

Then there is the FitBit Blaze that has integrated wrist based Heart Rate for $199.  However, you are lucky to get 5 days of battery life which is a pain.  Water protection is not even mentioned and you are recommended to not shower with it.  FitBit is only using the single GPS receiver, so we could still have accuracy issues in high density areas.  The Blaze does have the 240 x 180 screen resolution and it is a touchscreen.  So, there are some positives included.  We also can’t deny how great the FitBit App is.  That is probably the best capability of any of their fitness devices; a user friendly and great looking App.

Grading Scale

At this point Athletic Tech Review will start rating the Forerunner 230 on a graded scale from 0 to 5; 0 being nonexistent and 5 being the best you could expect.  The device starts off with a 5 rating in each section and can lose quarter, half, or full points for failed execution.  The point reductions are based on the impact the deficiency has on execution of a function or better execution on other devices.  (Once we review more watches, we may break out categories into Mid-range and high end)

Construction

There is no doubt that Garmin makes great watches that stand up well to the elements.  We have used this watch since August of 2015 and have only seen the slightest of faults.  Most faults are not due to construction but firmware and software integration.  The construction is near perfect.  How do I know?  Take a look at this tear down here: Inside the Forerunner 230.

Style

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The 42mm size fits well on my wrist.

This watch wouldn’t be considered a stylish watch you would wear to a formal dining event.  I would wear it, but it still looks like a fitness watch.  It doesn’t have the finesse and form of the VivoMove or the Withings Steel HR, but those watches aren’t true running watches either.  For its purpose, it does look very good.  The watch face size is 42mm, which means it is great for guys but may be a bit big for some some of our ladies.  (I will admit I don’t have huge forearms either) This may be a technological limitation, but my wife can’t wait for 40mm to come to the market some day.  Rating: 4 out of 5 for Style.

Build

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You can see a little dirt accumulation on the white band, but that can easily be scrubbed off.

The build of this watch is spectacular to say the least.  Below is a high resolution picture of the watch face.  After six months of continuous wear, there are no scratches on the screen.  I love this!  The watch is sturdy, I don’t have to worry about getting it wet when bathing the kids, and the band holds up extremely well.  The only downside to build is the white run button on the right side.  It is easy to depress the activity button.  I have found myself with long sweaters or in bed, activating a run activity because the button is a little too easy to push.  Rating: 4.5 out of 5 for Build. 

Battery Life

Garmin advertises 16 hours of continuous use for activity tracking with GPS.  I found this to be true.  Garmin also advertises 5 weeks for watch, Activity Tracking (AT), and notifications.  I couldn’t stretch the battery out to 5 weeks with basic functions.  I saw 3.5 to 4 weeks of battery life in those low use situations.  Anything at 7 days or higher is great battery life in my opinion.  I can deal with a weekly recharge, it is when we are recharging every 3 days that bothers me.  For a rechargeable battery, this watch does better than expected. Rating: 5 out of 5 for Battery Life. 

Running Performance

Running performance of this watch is exceptional due to the GPS and GLONASS satellite receivers in the watch.  This means you have more satellites to access with your watch.  More satellites means more accurate positioning.  This is extremely helpful for users in built up urban areas or very mountainous regions where the skies horizon is compromised.  I did find the race predictor to be a bit optimistic with my forecasted running times.  There was no way I was running under a 2 hour half marathon at that time.  I will call this page, the “Stroke my Ego Page.”

The Forerunner 230 also has a built in accelerometer to track and analyze your pace.  The watch uses this pace on your outdoor runs to predict your indoor running performance.  Unfortunately for me, the indoor pacing didn’t seem to work well on the “Dreadmill”.  I’ll show this in the Indoors Running Performance section.

Outdoors

The GPS functions exceptionally well.  On Strava, the watch will track which side of the road you are running on.  Not only that, satellites are picked up within 5 seconds after any outdoor workout is started.  If anyone remembers standing around with the older running watches, this is a huge plus.  It is a noticeable difference even when comparing the Garmin 220 to the 230.  Then they added in Garmin Connect IQ which allows the user to add Apps, widgets, watch faces, and data fields.  I love that capability even though it is moving along slowly.

Screenshot 2017-03-09 20.02.15
Outdoor running trying to stay at a 7 minute pace for the 5K.

The only thing that bugs me is we are missing some basic features like the virtual partner and running metrics that could have easily been added.  You can see those features in the Garmin Forerunner 630 and there isn’t any reason to hold them back with the 230.  The 630 has a touch screen and that should be enough to set it apart from the 230/235.

Indoors

The Forerunner 230 gets rid of the need for the footpod for indoor running on the “Dreadmill”.  This is a great capability enhancement with the addition of the accelerometer and cadence.  I found a problem though.  If you look at my run time for my outdoor run, then look at my indoor run, we have a problem.  Now, I will admit that I was running a 8 minute pace indoors below and outside I was targeting a 7 minute pace.  Regardless, you can see that the indoor run tracking using the internal accelerometer needs some work.

Screenshot 2017-03-09 19.59.38
Cadence is the same, but the indoor pace is drastically reduced.

Overall, the running capabilities of this watch are really good.  The Forerunner 230 has great Battery life, so no need to worry about losing your run recording for ultra events.  The GPS plus GLONASS is a fantastic capability, but… This watch is missing things that I really don’t understand.  I see no reason not to have virtual partner on this watch.  I feel like Garmin is needlessly holding out and trying to add needless separation between the 230/235 series and the 630 watch.  Running Rating: 4.25 out of 5 for small issues like, virtual partner missing, poor indoor pacing, and inaccurate race predictor.

Cycling Performance

Why are we even talking about cycling performance for a running watch?  If you put it on the watch, then I’m going to review it.  The Forerunner 230 has the ability to track indoor and outdoor cycling.  I would call this capability “limited”.  We are looking at another “Virtual Partner” scenario similar to my gripe in the running section.  My main problem is the lack of Power Meter Integration.  I see no reason to at least display and record basic power numbers.  Otherwise, why is this even an option on the 230 series.

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The user can select indoor or outdoor riding.

 Outdoors

Screenshot 2017-03-09 20.05.15
Garmin 520 on the same ride.

I used this watch in conjunction with my Garmin 520.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The distance and elevation tracking was pretty good.  Both the Garmin 520 and the Forerunner 230 were pretty close in total numbers.  I have provided the Garmin Connect images for the 520 summer and the 230 summary.

  • Distance: 520(20.42 miles), 230 (20.58 miles).
  • Elevation Gain: 520(1490 ft), 230 (1379 ft).
  • Calorie Prediction: 520(915), 230(981).

I probably need to update my settings on the Garmin 520 to reflect what the 230 has.  That may be the difference for the calorie prediction.

How well does this watch perform on an outdoor bike ride?  It performs well if you are only interested in Heart rate data and tracking.  For users with a power meter, you don’t get anything from it.  I don’t think anything will replace my Garmin 520 yet (when is the Fenix5 coming out?)

Screenshot 2017-03-09 20.04.23

Forerunner 235 on the Bike

Indoors

Indoor performance is where Garmin really misses an opportunity here.  The lack of just reading and recording power makes indoor riding with this watch useless.  I would love to use this watch instead of my 520 when inside.  Why do you ask?  Well, most training apps don’t automatically upload indoor training rides to Garmin.  They upload to Strava, Training Peaks, and some other social areas, but not to Garmin connect.  This means I have manually upload my workout file into Garmin Connect or run my Garmin 520 in the background recording my workout.  Without power meter integration, this watch is useless to me indoors.  I think they made a huge mistake leaving that integration piece out.  I’m not asking for advanced metrics either.  Just a simple Bike Power recording.

Bike recording and support is poor for this watch just by not having the ability to record a power number.  I don’t see myself using this watch for outdoor bike riding or indoor riding.  That isn’t to say this doesn’t work for anyone.  It will work for you if you just need to connect a HR monitor and ride your bike.  This watch will do a good job tracking your workout and uploading your data.  It doesn’t work for the cyclists that runs more advanced equipment indoors and outdoors on their bike.   Cycling Rating: 3 out of 5 for no basic power meter integration.

Additional Tracking Features

I like that that Garmin keeps activity tracking and sleep tracking as its baseline.  That means we still get all the features you would expect with the Garmin Vivofit or Grmain Vivomove.   The Forerunner 230 impressed me in the step tracking department.  I will explain why this is important for a cyclists below.

IMG_0146
Activity tracking worked really well.

Activity Tracking

Activity tracking is mostly a recording of your movements and steps.  It’s a baseline most companies use like FitBit.  I have used many activity trackers since they first came out.  There is always one issue I have with step counters; counting steps while I’m on the bike.  The original FitBit HR would record around 30k in steps for me on a 100 mile bike ride.  The Forerunner 230 barely adds steps to my bike ride.  This is an overlooked, but important thing to consider.

Who cares about accurate step counting if you are riding your bike and exercising anyways?  People who are tracking their calories and macros for peak performance would care.  Here is a quick example below:

  1. Athlete links Garmin Connect and the Fitbit App to MyFitnessPal to track caloric expenditure.
  2. Garmin connect reports the athlete burns 5Kcal during the bike ride.
  3. Fitbit 30K in steps and reports the athlete burns 6Kcal all day.
  4. The athlete gets a sum of 11Kcal burned for the day.  Not accurate.

The only solution is to take off your FitBit before you ride your bike.  I have no idea if the FitBit HR 2 does the same thing, but the Forerunner does a much better job not throwing on extra steps during my bike ride.  Sure, it throws on some steps, but we are not finishing up a bike ride thousands of steps above where we should be.  I don’t know why this is, but I would love to know if anyone has any ideas.

Charts

I provided the images below so you can get an idea of the pages that Garmin offers to view all of your accomplishments.  You can track steps by days, weeks or months.  You can see I first put this watch on in August of 2016 and used it for a solid 6 months.  I’m not a huge fan of the Garmin Connect interface.  It feels like the company is slamming an App that is built for serious athletes into an App that is built for the casual athlete or weight loss enthusiast.  If you are reading this Garmin, “NOW IS THE TIME FOR A GARMIN FIT APP!”  You need to cater specifically to users who are looking for a simpler experience.

 Sleep Tracking

Sleep tracking is average to poor for this watch.  I know every watch struggles with this. The best watch I’ve used so far for sleep tracking was the original Fitbit, that was the only thing it as good at.  I found the Forerunner 230 starts recording me sleeping while I’m sitting on the couch.  Look at the image below.  I wish I could sleep 11 and a half hours.  No way that is every going to happen with kids and work.  I also found that it would record me sleeping even if I woke up in the middle of the night from being sick.  So, sleep accuracy isn’t great.  The Forerunner 230 does a decent job 80 percent of the time, but struggles after that.

I wish I could sleep this much!

 Weight Loss Integration

You can use Garmin Connect for weight loss.  They give you the ability to connect to MyFitnessPal which is one of the easiest apps to use for tracking calories.  This is smart of Garmin to hand this responsibility off to another App.  Logging calories on Garmin connect wouldn’t work well and it is best we leave this to 3rd party apps who primarily focus on it.

Notifications

You do get all the smart notifications you could ever want with the Forerunner 230.  I don’t use them though.  Why don’t I use them?  Because the vibration on the 230 is too strong.  It scares the hell out of me every time I get a text message.  Garmin needs to work on that.  You need a smaller vibration similar to the Garmin Vivoactive tracker.  I can handle that watch and it’s non aggressive vibrating.  The 230 feels like a jackhammer going off on my wrist.  I’ll pass on notifications for now.

Additional Tracking Features: 4.25 out of 5 for sleep tracking being marginal and the violent vibrations for notifications.  

The Supporting App

Garmin has a really in depth support application with Garmin Connect.  I would say it is too much for the casual fitness person who is only tracking sleep, steps and calories.  Just take a look at the FitBit App and how user friendly that is.  I really believe Garmin needs to integrate something like the “Garmin Fit App” into Garmin Connect.  This would allow the user to select the basic functions of Garmin Connect or select full Connect functions if they are a power user.  My initial testing with other users of equipment shows that new users to Garmin Connect have a hard time making the transition.  There are too many pages and too much data for the casual fitness enthusiast.  I guess the easy way to explain this is by allowing basic users to decide that they only want basic data displayed similar to the FitBit App.

Customization

Garmin is really breaking ground with the Connect IQ portion of their App.  You have the ability to download and customize not only your watch face, but the pages that your watch displays.  I cannot wait for this area to be developed even more.  It shows unlimited potential.  For this we give the Supporting App: 4.25 out of 5 rating.  We lose .75 points because the user interface is too complicated for a basic user who might only be using the VivoMove or VivoActive.

Summary

Our total rating for the Garmin Forerunner 230 is 3.4 out of 5 points.  Yes, the score is a bit low and you can see why in my category rankings here:  Compare Equipment.   I will also admit it is probably unfair to compare the 230 vs the 235, 630 or the upcoming Fenix 5.  I’m still trying to figure out what other competitors we can look at.  Maybe the Apple Watch or the Moto 360?  Overall, I don’t think you are going to find a better built and functional watch at $185 on Amazon right now.  I also don’t see any changes or a new 240 series until fall of 2018 most likely.

Would I buy it?

Yes, I think this is  great watch for a great deal.  The battery life is amazing.  I can stand about a 7 day charge.  Anything less than that gets a bit annoying to me.  This watch average about 2 weeks for a charge.  Without the onboard heart rate tracking, the battery lasted very well.  We are testing the Forerunner 235 right now, it sits at 7 days consistently for a charge.

Who Should buy it?

This watch is perfect for not only the recreational runner, but serious marathon runner also.  The added bike function is okay and I wouldn’t even dare say it comes close to replace a cycling computer, but they make an attempt.  The Forerunner 230 is a pure running watch that makes at half hearted attempt at providing some bike functionality.  Stay tuned, as we have more reviews of Athletic Technology coming your way.  Also, don’t forget to go to the top right of the webpage and sign up for emails.  I promise I won’t spam you.  We will only send emails out on new article every Sunday.

Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson

Aaron served in the military for 20 years. Multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He retired from the military after 20 years of service to take care of our three small children in 2013 as a Stay At Home Dad.

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