I purchased my first smart watch, a Garmin Forerunner 245, this August. At the time I didn't know anything about the Garmin ecosystem. I chose the Forerunner because I'd used a Forerunner 305 a long time ago, and because the 245 seemed like a good balance of features for the price. (It cost around $250 because the Forerunner 255 had already come out.) My thinking was that the Forerunner would be useful but also help me better understand Garmin's feature set and smart watch features in general.
Here I describe how the Garmin ecosystem and Forerunner 245 work, including how I've set up things, in case they're helpful to other people considering a smart watch or people who have a Garmin device and are looking for ways to use it more effectively.
From here on when I say "watch" I mean the Garmin Forerunner 245. Also, I'm going to be highlighting what I think matters, but there's a lot more than can be setup on the watch than what I describe.
Table of Contents
- Garmin and user interfaces
- Watch equipment and synchronization
- Garmin Connect
- Key watch settings
- Watch interface configuration
- Activity: Row Indoor
- Activity: Running
- Activity: Hike 2+ and maps
- Activity: Strength
- Activity: Treadmill
- Watch faces
Garmin and user interfaces
My experience is that the watch and associated programs are not necessarily intuitive. You have to adapt to Garmin, to a large extent. However, once you start to figure out how Garmin has designed things, the interface starts to make more sense.
For example, this watch does not have a touchscreen. You hit buttons. This can really help when you're running and need to do something and don't want to slow down to touch the screen. However, it does mean you have to learn what the buttons do.
The watch has five buttons:
- Upper-left button
- short-press for backlight; longer-press for controls; really long press for emergency notifications.
- Middle-left button
- short-press for widget scrolling; longer-press for watch configuration.
- Lower-left button
- short-press for widget scrolling; longer-press for music menu.
- Upper-right button
- activities. (If in an activity, this stops the activity.)
- Lower-right button
- go back home. (If in an activity, this becomes the lap button.)
The watch has a couple of "modes," from my perspective:
- this is the "not in an activity" mode, where you see your watch faces.
- if you were home and pressed the upper-right button, you can now select a type of activity (e.g. "run"). Each activity then has its own configuration and watch faces.
- you see this only when long-pressing the upper-left button. This is a wheel of controls, e.g. a stopwatch, that you can access from any mode.
- you get to this from long-pressing the lower-left button. This lets you select music. You can exit with the lower-right button.
- you see this when long-pressing the middle-left button. This lets you control various settings depending on the mode you were in when you pressed it
- this is when you were home and then hit the middle-left button or lower-left button. You're now scrolling through widgets. You can select the widget to see more via the upper-right button.
Watch equipment and synchronization
The watch comes with a USB charger that's 2-3 feet long. For how I use it, the watch needs to be charged once a week. Charging takes me an hour.
The watch is designed to pair with a phone via Bluetooth. The phone needs the "Garmin Connect" app on it. I'll talk more about Garmin Connect in a minute.
The phone can also have the "Connect IQ" app on it. This is totally separate from "Garmin Connect." Connect IQ lets you add third-party tools to your watch, such as additional watch faces.
The watch can also connect to a computer via the USB charger. The computer needs to run the "Garmin Express" program. Garmin Express is a bit of a clunky program; it reminds me of much older synchronization programs (like Palm Pilot level synchronization programs). To the best of my knowledge, everything that the Garmin Express program does can be done via the Garmin website + the phone's "Garmin Connect" app.
If you have a Music version of the device, you can also pair Bluetooth headphones with the watch. Music is stored on the watch.
You can access Garmin Connect via your phone, or via connect.garmin.com. Garmin Connect has a slight logical separation between your information and your device's information. I assume this is because you might have several Garmin devices that you want to have roll up into one interface.
Key watch settings
Here are a few of my key watch settings.
From Garmin Connect > Device settings:
Activity Tracking > Goals > Daily Steps > "Use Auto Goal"
This will calculate how many steps needed to reach my daily goal based on what I've been doing recently.
User Settings > Personal Information
I set my "normal sleep time"
On the watch itself, I set my heart rate zones by going to settings > User Profile > Heart Rate and then
- Setting max heart rate
- Setting resting heart rate (based on "use average")
Zones: setting "Based On %HRR"
This way the zones are set dynamically.
Watch interface configuration
Several types of things can be configured on your watch:
- the types of sporting activities you can select
- Activity-specific configuration
- the watch face(s) and other settings available when you select a certain activity
- what shows up if you long-press the upper left button, e.g. "stopwatch."
- If you have a Music version of the device then there's a set of menus for selecting your music
- Watch face(s)
- what you see when you look at your watch
- what you see when you hit the middle left and lower left buttons
You can control your "favorite" activities plus a list of activities. Activities are either delivered out of the box or can be downloaded/installed via Garmin Connect IQ. Here's what I have:
- Row Indoor
- Calisthenics: I made this by copying the "strength" activity. I use this for tracking when I follow along with YouTube bodyweight strength training videos.
- Hike 2+: I installed this app per recommendations online about good hiking apps. The Forerunner 245 does not have a built-in hiking activity.
Activity data screens
For all my activities, I have reordered the data screens so that the first screen is my heart rate.
Activity: Row Indoor
My row indoor data screens (in order) are
- Heart rate / Strokes / Stroke rate / Timer
- Heart rate
I put everything I want to see on the first screen and I only use that screen, because there's not a good way to change screens when rowing.
My running data screens (in order) are
- Heart rate
- Distance / Timer / Pace
- Lap distance / Lap time / Lap pace
When I use a special feature (e.g. a workout or PacePro), that then adds additional screens.
Running training workouts
I've created one training workout (via Garmin Connect > Training > Workouts), "10x0.25 intervals." It's defined as:
Step type: warm up. Type: Lap Button Press
This means track my pace etc but don't have any goals. When I hit the lap button, this is over.
- 10x repeat:
- Run with a distance target of 0.25 miles and an intensity target of type "pace" of 7:15-8:15.
- Step type: recover. Duration = Lap Button Press
Whenever I change the intensity target (e.g. it used to be 8:30-9:30), I have to manually sync the workout with the phone via Garmin Connect on the phone app.
Running courses and PacePro
I've also created "courses" (via Garmin Connect > Training > Courses) for the races I've done, and then I created "PacePro Pacing Strategies" for them (via Garmin Connect > Training > PacePro Pacing Strategies). The pacing strategies let you set your goal time and how fast you want to run each segment of the race. You can then synchronize these with your phone. At the race, you can select the PacePro strategy; you hit the start button and then the strategy tells you if you're on/off target for your segment pace and total pace.
Race distance information
On a longer race, you probably want to see what the race says your distance is, rather than what GPS says your distance is. There's a 3rd party data field (that I haven't used yet) for this: "Race Screen." To use it, you have to disable auto laps. (By default, the watch laps every 1 mile.) You then the lap button when you see a race distance marker (e.g. when you see a "1 mile" marker on a course). Race Screen will then update the displayed distance/lap information based on the marker.
When I'm done with a run, I complete the run activity. If I'm cooling down, I will then start a separate "walk" activity, i.e. I don't usually include the cool down as part of the same run activity. This means I have a whole bunch of run activities followed by walking activities.
Activity: Hike 2+ and maps
This third-party app works differently than the built-in apps. It is designed for long battery life. When you push the "lap" button, you add a waypoint. The app will show you how far away you are from the waypoints. It will also track your elevation, where you are on a map, your heart rate, and other data.
Please note that on the Forerunner 245 the maps are blank: you can see your path but there's no topographical map or roads or anything. Other activities (not Hike 2+) do have an option to retrace your steps, where the watch will tell you how to follow your path back to the start.
I use the "strength" activity for weightlifting. However, I don't actually put my sets or other data into the watch; I use FitNotes, which is an excellent Android weightlifting app.
The treadmill activity has an option when you save the activity, "Save and calibrate." This lets you key in what the treadmill said your distance was. The watch will then correct its distance according to what the treadmill said.
Here are my controls, in order:
- Do Not Disturb
- Lock/Unlock Keys
- Find My Phone
- Power Off
- Save Location
- Alarm Clock
I like having the stopwatch and timers next to one another.
I removed the controls I that I don't use much.
I generally run without listening to anything. However, for a longer treadmill run, I loaded one episode of The Runcast by KEXP on my watch. It seemed like the watch did remember where I paused so I didn't have to seek when I listened to it again.
That said, I don't have much experience with the music part of my watch. At the time I purchased it, for some reason the music version was slightly cheaper than the non-music version.
The watch face I use is close to the standard one. It displays:
- Icons (e.g. battery level, is phone connected)
- 3 data points:
- # of steps
- Calendar day and day of week
- Heart rate
I display my heart rate mainly to see whether the heart rate sensor is working.
I did download two watch faces:
I use these if I don't want people to see my regular watch face data (e.g. I don't want them to see my current heart rate).
Activities and widgets are the two easiest-to-use watch features, so I've put some time into how I want the widgets configured. I have the below widgets set up, in this order:
- Health Stats
- My Day
- Pulse Ox
- Air Quality
You can access widgets using the left middle button or the right middle button, going in a circle. So, whatever's at the top of the list or the bottom of the list is easiest to access. My thinking is that the top part of the list is "my health stuff" and the bottom part of the list is "my environment stuff."
I use Health Stats often to see my heart rate, body battery, and stress level information.
I use Performance way more than I thought I would. I check on all data here. I also look at this pretty frequently via the Garmin Connect app.
My Day is a shortcut to access your current day's activities as well as to see your goals e.g. number of steps.
I turned off Pulse Ox monitoring (to conserve battery) but I can check it manually with this widget.
History is a way to see previous activities via the watch. (My Day only shows the current day's activities.)
Air Quality was very helpful when Seattle's air quality was really bad.
Weather shows the weather today and for the next few days.
I really don't use Notifications and should probably remove it; if I want to see notifications I use my phone.
I hope this extremely detailed write-up was helpful, either as someone who has a Garmin watch or as someone who's trying to understand how Garmin thinks about smart watches!