Garmin Forerunner 310XT Review

24 04 2012

Garmin 301XT on our tandem...

This is less of a review and more of a few comments on the Garmin 310XT. I’m not a data whore as evidenced by the lack of bike computers and GPS units festooning my bicycles. I rarely know or care how far I’ve ridden or what my average speed was. Having said that there are times when I do want to know some stats about my rides or adventures, but I am way too lazy to do much to get it. That’s where the Garmin Forerunner 310XT comes in.

Basically this is a small GPS watch unit that can also accept heart rate and bike data. It’s meant for crazy folks who do stuff like triathlons and adventure races. Besides being small its other claim to fame is it’s waterproof. That’s why I bought it so I could wear it while kiteboarding.

Although I didn’t intend to use it on the bike it has become useful for quickly strapping onto a bike I want some ride data from. I just use some foam to pad the bar and then attach the 310XT by its wrist strap. It has enough power for a long day ride, but it needs 1-2hrs from AC power to recharge at night and will eventually need to have its data downloaded or it will over write old data.

310XT porn...

Stuff I like:

  • looks okay for a GPS unit
  • smallish size
  • customizable display
  • easy to read display in sunlight + has a backlight
  • easy to use buttons
  • easy to use menus
  • has no issues getting satellite lock in the forest
  • fast satellite lock after power on as long as you’ve been using GPS recently
  • waterproof
  • easy to attach to bike
  • charges quickly
  • decent all day battery life
  • ANT transmitter works well for downloading data as long as you have a windows machine
  • Garmin Connect website easy to use and useful for reading/sharing data
  • fairly rugged
  • waterproof

Bike accessories and heart rate strap...

Stuff I don’t like:

  • it’s on the expensive side
  • small display can only do so much
  • not useful as a navigation tool
  • battery life limits it to 1 day event durrations
  • doesn’t want to play with my Mac when it comes to downloading data
  • sealed case means you can’t swap in a fresh battery for long events or when your old battery is toast
  • tons of functions I don’t need or use
  • takes a long time to lock onto satellites after a firmware update or when it hasn’t been used in a long time

Sample kiteboard session data...

Would I buy this again?

At full price? – no. I feel like it provides about $100-$150 worth of value to my life. I’ll use it until the internal battery dies or something else stops working. I see the benefit of a small GPS datalogger that can be attached to a bike or to me in a few seconds. If the price comes down I can see myself getting another similar unit, but otherwise I would just invest in a good mapping GPS like a Garmin Etrex 30 and a handful of bike mounts.

Having said that…if you are a data junkie who likes to run, bike and swim this is a pretty cool unit and may be well worth the $$$ to you.


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11 responses

24 04 2012
Ian

That battery may last a fair bit longer than you’re expecting. I have a Garmin 305 for the bike. Five years old and still working great. Seem to remember new it would get ~10-12hrs battery, now its closer to 8-10hrs, but that’s still great. I plug in an auxiliary USB powerpack when I need it for longer events (brevets, centuries).

I’m about the opposite of you for the data though, just picked up a Powertap wheel for the recumbent, and a Garmin 800 to use with it. Sounds like the 800 should do well for navigating brevets and such too.

24 04 2012
thelazyrando

Those types of batteries are good for a certain # of recharge cycles [assuming you store them properly when not used]. I would expect mine to last a few more years since I an infrequent user.

I just don’t see the point of all the data myself. I don’t use it to plan training and I manage my effort levels on a ride successfully based on how I’m feeling.

When I ride brevets I add a GPS to my bike for navigation and I have a bike computer to allow for cue sheet navigation. However I use both throughout the ride so that makes sense to me and knowing my avg speed and ride time on an event is interesting immediately post ride when I do up a blog post.

24 04 2012
champs794

Why wouldn’t an engineer want metrics? With a little imagination and some math, you can do a lot of useful and/or fun things with that information on the road.

24 04 2012
Brian E

Some Engineers, like me, prefer to save there engineering brain energy for the office. I agree, less info is better. Mileage and time of day are all I really want. However, I am really appreciating my ipods map feature when I am totally lost and don’t know where I am on the map.

If you are concerned with battery life on long events then you maight want to look at using a generator wheel to charge your device, via the USB port.

24 04 2012
thelazyrando

As an example I just spent 2 weeks in Sedona MTBing and I have no idea how fast I went nor exactly how far I went or how much I climbed. I really can’t see how any of that info would have increased my enjoyment of the riding.

When I ride around town running errands what does it matter how fast I go or how far I go? If I really care I could work both out with the watch on my iPhone and Google maps, but it really is kind of pointless to me.

I do keep limited ride data on brevets such as on bike time/avg speed/current speed which I find useful for making decisions during the ride and documenting it on my blog.

Currently I have 1 bike with a bike computer – my rando bike. None of my other bikes have any data logging devices. Although I would attach a mapping GPS to a bike if I needed help navigating a route on a specific ride.

24 04 2012
thelazyrando

BTW – I’m not dissing anyone else’s desire to record ride data. Everyone has a different set of interests and needs when it comes to biking. If a GPS/HRM/power meter adds to your enjoyment and provides useful info go for it!

24 04 2012
Ian

Hey, I’m also totally on board with doing what ya like for data. Heck, I’ve gone both ways. Years ago I did a 7 day AIDS ride, San Francisco to Los Angeles. At the start of day 3 my bike computer died (cable broke). Being a numbers guy I was initially quite upset. What happened though is it made the rest of the ride so much more enjoyable without having numbers to stare at.

And heck, I’ve got a computer on my cargo bike, but with a catch. Its mounted back low on the chainstays, where I can’t see it. I don’t care about my individual ride data, certainly don’t even want to SEE my speed when riding that bike, but it is nice to satisfy my curiosity for the overall odometer reading.

24 04 2012
phr3dly

I used to use my 310xt for every ride, all logged to Garmin Connect. I’m an engineer too — I still get a kick out of looking back at my data from when I was more fit. Now I use it only for brevets, mainly as a backup for my bike computer.

On a recent 300K I inadvertently threw my powertap wheel on my rando bike as I was heading out the door, so I got to log power data as well. Useful? No. Interesting? Sure! It gives me some good context for why I’m not riding fast. I also like that it tells me exactly how much time I’ve got off the bike vs. riding.

There is apparently a way to use the 310xt for navigation. I haven’t tried it yet, but you can download courses to the computer, and with the appropriate file format it can allegedly notify you prior to a turn (I think the program that creates the file format has to have routing abilities).

24 04 2012
thelazyrando

I’m aware of the 310XT’s limited nav capabilities, but it’s so limited and cumbersome to use I can’t see the point when I have a mapping GPS available for that role.

25 04 2012
Steve Jones

When i see your 310XT Porn photo of this unit above, it looks great as in all the ads of similar devices. When I see it in the video,well, it looks as bad as I expected. Not beautifully clear with black letters on a white background but black letters on a murky gray LCD display..so 20th century.
When they improve the displays on these things I might pay attention!
Seiko made watches with clear black digits on white years ago..it’s not rocket science anymore to fix this problem. Especially at the price!
Just saying. We all have different priorities but sorry to say the display quality is No.1 as far as I’m concerned.I mean, isn’t that what these kinds of products are all about?
It looks good enough to be usable but not nearly as good as it COULD be.

25 04 2012
thelazyrando

@Steve – the display on the 301XT is clear and easy to read day or night. I’m not up on all the possible options, but I certainly never thought to myself that the display was an issue for text/numbers. The size of the data is also nice and you can control what is large and what is smaller.

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