The market for health and fitness is certainly at its highest it has ever been. The more recent focus has been upon activity trackers and health apps to monitor you everyday fitness and movement, but also there have been large movements forward in the fitness and GPS watch area too. Almost all the major sports brands are having their turn in competing in the sports technology market, some as specific brands, such as Fitbit and others such as TomTom and Adidas also entering their own versions to compete. Despite the extremely aggressive market, in my eyes there is an undisputed market leader in Garmin.
Garmin are a Swiss based company founded a while back join 1989, making GPS tracking items such as Sat Navs more readily in their earlier years. However, with this GPS base gave Garmin the opportunity to forge ahead in the fitness category after strong investment. They would become the go to name for fitness and GPS watches with their famous Forerunner range starting in 2003. Since then a wide range of sport watches have been released by Garmin which incorporate not just running, but now all physical activities such as hiking, gym work and swimming.
With the new found ability to record all of this data through these high powered watches, it would call for an interactive experience to view, manage and analyse the data first hand. This would be answered by Garmin through the introduction of their online service of Garmin Connect. This webpage has grown significantly over the recent years alongside the watches, incorporating more and more features for fitness fanatics.
Here, I will give a brief overview of the ins and outs of how Garmin Connect operates and interacts with the devices, focusing more specifically upon the general sports section. Within this, I will go into some greater detail of specific sections such as ‘Activities’ the ‘Calendar.’ In the future I will also try and go into much greater detail on specific sections such as the activities, analysing the actual data itself from the watch itself along with the newly added Health and Fitness section which is incorporated into the activity tracker side.
Most of the regular and more experienced Garmin Connect users will remember there used to be an older, less advanced Connect site which offered a far worse user experience with clunky, confusing steps to find and organise what you want. However, over the last year, Garmin have improved and almost perfected the user experience by introducing a new ‘Modern’ version which vastly changes the way in which you can now interact with your activities. The main difference is the use of a dashboard comprised of multiple different widest, each offering a different area of information, rather than the previously complicated layout. The nice thing about this dashboard system is the way in which you can completely customise what data you have available to you and what you hide. this means that you can make your experience specific to the information which is most useful and most used by you, creating a slight varied use for each person.
Even if you decide to not place everything you want on your dashboard, Garmin has also set up a easy side bar which allows you to access all possibilities of information which you can go directly to or add to your dashboard. When you add a widget such as ‘Activities’ to your dashboard it will be interactive, allowing you to edit basic information, along with view a basic overview of the most recent and previous actives uploaded. This is one of my favourite feature of the new modern version as beforehand, you had to go to the full overview of each specific activity to edit and see clearly everything you wanted for that specific activity. However, despite some manoeuvrability and ability to edit the layout of your dashboard, you are restricted to the set size of each widget meaning that some widgets which you still want on your dashboard take up vast amounts of space, although not giving you much information – the prime example of this being the overview of your personal devices.
The nice thing about the widgets which you see on your dashboard is the fact that they are only a tiny part of the total section. If you click onto one of these, such as ‘Activities’ for example, you will be taken to another page completely which gives you all the information.
When you enter the activities section, you are presented with every activity which you have uploaded in chronological order, irrespective of type of activity. from here, you can easily select different activities which you want to delete or a nice feature is the ability to compare separate sessions or runs to compare your splits. From here you can enter into specific sessions (you can do the same from the widget on the dashboard) to gain a comprehensive view of your workout.
Once you are in an activity you are displayed with all the recorded information for that specific run/ cycle/ swim. The first thing which you are treated with if the title of the session which will have already automatically be named by Garmin via assigning any segment – will talk more about segments later – which you crossed during your run. You can then go into this are remake it to whatever you want by clicking on the little pen to the side. The later section displays the main body of the workout, giving you an interactive map of where you travelled according to the GPS in the watch, here you can view in relative motion the path you took whilst running say, showing you where you went. Addict to this comes the quick overview of the stats from the session, displaying your: Time, Distance, Pace, Elevation and Calories. However, this overview is just the start of the comprehensive levels of detail given further below.
The final two sections to the activity page gives you interactive graphs and further statistics of everything you wanted to know from your fastest pace to your greatest elevation gain.
The interactive graphs are without doubt my favourite part of the entirety of Garmin’s Connect service. There are a variety of different graphs which are or are not made available depending upon the watch you have. For example, all the GPS watches will incorporate the (Time, Pace) graph, whereas only the higher end watches such as the Forerunner 620 will offer the (Time, Vertical Oscillation) graph. For me and my watch, the Garmin Forerunner 405 (with heart rate strap) gives me: (Time, Elevation), (Time, Pace) and (Time, Heart Rate). All of these rats are fully interactive and allow you to scroll over each point to view areas where you were faster or slower. Along with this, another favourite feature for me is the ability to view two graphs in comparison to one another, detailing why heart rate for example may have fallen when going downhill.
The final section of the activities page offers three main sections, each giving different data. The first is a greater, more comprehensive offering of the overall stats of your run. Here you will once more see what was given in the overview , but also a greater deal of other less directly important stats such as heart rate zones, maximum elevation and overall moving time. Next, comes ‘Splits,’ one of the more important sections for analysis for those runners who love to inspect all details, especially when doing track interval sessions. Here, you gain the specific stats for each split which has been created on the watch such as the pace for the lap or the heart rate, giving much more precise information for exact parts of each session. The final part is ‘Segments.’ This will be familiar to those of you whom are aware of and usr the rival application, Strava. By using the built in GPS, the watch tracks and notices when you are on a specific well known route or section such as a cycle path. When this happens, it effectively records a lap for that segment which can then be compared to other people who have also run on the same path, creating another competitive aspect to the Connect service. However, in my opinion, this feature has been more effectively carried out by Strava which gives you much more information for a segment.
This is a much smaller and basic section, yet still offers a vast array of information which allows you to evaluate your long term progress rather than activity specific. In a sense, this is tied in with the ability to create exact goals which you look to meet over a period of time such as a level of ‘Monthly Milage.’ Although, this isn’t displayed here but rather under the ‘Goals’ widget, you are able to analyse things such as number of activities and total distances in a great bar or line graph representation. What is also really good about this, is the ability to compare a range of different activities such as running and cycling, once more giving you the ability to see and plan for the future, looking at what did and did not work.
One of my favourite parts of the Garmin Connect is the ‘Calendar.’ Here you can brilliantly see all of you activities for that even month week or year on an actual calendar, allowing you to add and see what you have or are doing. This is great in the way in which you can see your upcoming goals and when they are, whether it is a race or just a set weight to hit.
What is another intuitive feature of the service offered by Garmin as part of the calendar is the ability to add training plans. These plans are offered specifically by Garmin for a range of different events from 5km up to marathons. They are also offered for all types of different abilities and over various time periods, allowing you to plan and aim for your target race.
The final thing which I am going to talk about in what is really just an overview of the array of features offered by Garmin connect is the ‘Connections’ sections. This too is offered by other competitors, namely Strava and the Nike+ equivalent. What this allows you to do is to use these fitness websites as social media for your activities. By adding people you know to your connections who also have a fitness device set up with Garmin, you can view their activities. You can only see the extent to which they make their information available, but this gives a great platform for competition between your friends. There is the option to view leaderboards for weekly distances done running and also view your friends’ graphs and maps to also see where they have been running. Although it may seem quite weird on the face of it to be able to view where your friends have been running or cycling and at specific times – even now with the more advanced watches, the ability to track them during a session – it creates a great way to stay competitive and also view what others are doing which may be perfect for a coach.
I have been using the services offered by Garmin for a couple of years now, firstly experiencing the original Garmin Connect and now the ‘Modern’ version. From this I can certainly say that what is offered here by Garmin should certainly be one of your highest considerations when contemplating how to track your fitness. I have used various other platforms such as Nike+ and Strava, but both do still lack the way in which you can interact with others and your own activities, analysing to death every possible detail that you wish here on Garmin Connect, making it the market leader without doubt for me.