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Garmin 405 v 305

by Kent Roeder, SRC
June 2008

Because a number of club members have talked about the new Garmin 405 I offer this mini-review. As with any review it's opinion, although based on fact, and I won't take it personally if you say I'm off base. Please note this does not comment on all capabilities of the 405, mostly because I ran out of patience using it.

The standards I used to evaluate the 405 were aesthetics, neat features, ease of use and computer compatibility. In two of these aspects it fell short of the 305, while in two it was better. So take your pick as to what's important to you.

The review arose in the past couple weeks as I've had the opportunity to use a 405. It was April's unit, which she lent to me because she was having trouble working it. I used it and tried to use it several times. My assessment is the same as hers: Working it can be a bother and in one key respect it represents a step backward from the 305.

AESTHETICS:

The 405 is definitely better looking than the 305 and this is a big plus to some people. A number of club members have commented the 305 looks like a box on the wrist. Garmin had obviously heard this complaint and addressed it with the circular 405. The new unit is more attractive, smaller and should be a better fit, especially for female wrists.

But there's always tradeoffs and this aesthetically pleasing design has an important one. More on that later.

NEAT FEATURES:

One new feature marked a step up from the 305, but again, there was another tradeoff.

When not being used as a timer, the 405 can be used as a watch. This is because the "energy-saving" mode functions as a watch, showing date, day and time. And it's attractive enough to be worn as a watch.

This is handy but it has the downside of using power. The date/time function seemed to deplete stored battery capacity by 7-8 percent per day. This is counterproductive because if worn as a regular watch, the 405 may not have enough stored power to record a run.

To avoid energy depletion one can turn off the watch, but that renders that function superfluous.

For those runners who get into performance data recording, comparisons, etc., the 405 appears to have more capability in this regard than the 305. However, I didn't test the unit enough to really give these aspects a responsible assessment.

EASE OF USE:

When I got a 305 last year it was "plug and play." I just put it on, pushed a button or two and off I went. No problem.

That simple startup experience was not matched with the 405. In fact, I found the 405 darned difficult to operate smoothly.

Bezel:

The most important and striking component of the 405 is the metallic bezel, the metal ring surrounding the unit. From it the unit derives its pleasing look and from it arise the performance complications. For some, including April and me, navigating the bezel was a bitch. Other people may have little trouble.

"Bezel" is a word I don't recall having used in conversation for years prior to running across the 405. But I expect the word will start to be heard in running circles.

The 405 does not have the four protruding buttons as does the 305. Redeeming characteristics of those buttons are you know where to push, you know if you pushed in the right place and the buttons are easy to find if you're hot and tired, or cold and wet when running on a winter night..

The 405, however, is like a touch-screen computer. It is operated by touching the bezel at specific points. In theory this sounds simple. In practice it was another story.

It says to push the bezel at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock, depending upon what function one wishes to activate.

But sometimes nothing happens.

Or sometimes the wrong thing happens; a wrong program comes up, or it shifts to an undesired mode.

You're not sure if you've touched it too hard or too soft, or touched the wrong spot. (One can "freeze" the bezel to guard against accidental touches, but here I'm concerned with intentional touches in trying to navigate.)

And all that can happen at the beginning of a run, when one has fresh fingertips. Freshness is long gone after half-a-dozen miles on a hot day, when difficulty in finding the exact spot to touch quickly becomes aggravating. And imagine how it would be in January, wearing gloves/mittens on a freezing night.

I'm suspect all of this "touch trouble" can be attributed to user error. But in my defense, please note I've never had any trouble navigating the 305.

Display screen:

As with the 305 the 405 screen displays three numbers when timing a run: elapsed time, pace and distance. However there are differences.

On 405, the largest number on screen is "pace" instead of "elapsed time" as on 305. On both pace is measured in whole numbers and also in tenths, such at 6 or 6.5 or 5.9 etc.

I'm undecided whether the "pace" display is more useful than "elapsed time".

I'm used to "elapsed time" on my 305 but in the final analysis we do tend to calculate our paces, so perhaps this saves a step. If there's a way to switch that number being displayed in the largest type I couldn't find it, but I didn't look too hard either.

But there is a more serious issue with the display screen.

Although the primary number on the 405 is as easy to read as on the 305, the same cannot be said for the secondary numbers. This is that earlier-mentioned tradeoff because of the smaller, more aesthetically pleasing design.

I didn't measure the size of the numbers but the secondary numbers on the 405 - those for elapsed time and distance - seemed smaller than the secondary numbers on the 305. For those with perfect vision that isn't an issue, but those members of the population with glasses may find it inconvenient or illegible.

With the 405 I found the "pace" number easy to read but the secondary numbers were too small. I had trouble reading them even when standing still, much less so when glancing at the unit while running.

I've never had trouble in reading secondary numbers on the 305. But the 405 is a smaller unit and Garmin had to save space somehow.

COMPUTER COMPATIBILITY:

Here's a problem for Mac users. The 405 is not compatible with Macs. At this time Apple is working on software that will address that problem but the solution isn't here yet. I suspect it won't be a difficult task.

For those people with Macs that may make a 405 a non-starter, at least for the time being.

CONCLUSION:

To sum up I'd say the 405 is a mixed bag. There are several improvements over the 305. It definitely looks better, fits better, feels better and probably has additional features.

But to some, including me, the "touch" function can prove difficult and frustrating to operate. And the display is less user-friendly because the secondary numbers harder to read.

So it might be prudent to wait and see how Garmin addresses these matters in the next model.

Hope this helps.

KR

 


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