Garmin Forerunner 15 review: A great watch for the casual runner

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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good The Forerunner 15 has both a GPS and a pedometer. It also includes an always-on display with a backlight, long battery life, a waterproof design, and is compatible with wireless heart-rate monitors.

The Bad The lack of Bluetooth makes syncing to your computer and mobile device a real nightmare. The design isn't all that fashionable and may be a bit bulky for some work environments.

The Bottom Line Its lack of Bluetooth notwithstanding, the affordable Garmin Forerunner 15 is otherwise a great health tracking wristwatch for runners.

7.6 Overall
  • Style 7.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Ease of use 8.0

What would happen if you combined a GPS running watch with an activity tracker? You would get the Forerunner 15, the newest running watch from Garmin. The Forerunner 15 combines the features found in Garmin's budget-friendly Forerunner 10 GPS running watch with its Vivofit activity tracker.

The Forerunner 15 is available in a variety of color combinations and two sizes. Technically the sizes are for a large wrist and a smaller one, but the color scheme alludes to different models for males and females. The large color options are black with blue accent or red with black, while the smaller color options are teal with white accents, violet with white, or black with green.

After choosing the size and color you would like, you must then decide on the packaging. The Forerunner 15 is available either with a heart-rate monitor ($200, £170, AU$250) or without one ($170, £140, AU$189). Both packages include the same watch, meaning you can purchase the heart-rate monitor at a later time or use an existing one (as long as it supports ANT+ technology).

With the Forerunner 15, you don't have to settle for just an activity tracker. The watch tracks your steps taken, distance traveled, and calories burned. Where it exceeds is with Garmin's GPS technology, which allows for accurate tracking of distance and pace when running. In addition to being waterproof up to 50 meters (meaning you can shower with it or go swimming), the Forerunner 15 includes an estimated 5 weeks of battery life in activity tracking mode or 8 hours with active GPS.

Design

While it's prettier than some of Garmin's earlier watches, the Forerunner 15 isn't going to win you any fashion awards. It resembles a traditional sports watch that is somewhat bloated. I will gladly take added thickness, however, for the improved battery life and additional features. The large model weighs 43g, compared to 36g for the smaller one.

Four buttons -- two on the right and two on the left -- let you navigate through the different settings and options. The blue button with a running figurine at the top right-hand side of the watch is used to activate the GPS and begin running mode. The bottom right button lets you scroll through the different menus to see your pace, distance, workout time, running history, and to access the watch settings. The Forerunner will store the past seven activities on your device before deleting the oldest one for a more recent session, but we'll go more into detail about that later.

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The top left button can be pressed once to turn on the backlight and again to disable it, a feature that nighttime runners will love, while a long press on the same button will power the watch down. The bottom left button is used as the back key, and in activity mode can be used to scroll through your steps, goals, distance, and the date.

A small but noteworthy feature of the Forerunner 15 is its strap. Unlike most modern activity trackers, the Forerunner 15 uses a normal watch strap with a secondary clip to stay securely on your wrist. The watch never once fell off, not even when putting on a cuffed shirt or a jacket, which seemed to be daily occurrences with the Fitbit and Jawbones. Despite the big and clunky body, the Forerunner 15 is one of my favorites devices in terms of build and design -- largely because of the traditional watch band.

Features

The Forerunner 15 is one of the most feature-packed activity trackers available today. It does have one major flaw, however. Despite being able to track your runs via GPS and your daily steps, the watch doesn't include Bluetooth. This makes syncing to the Garmin Connect software, which is required to view detailed information about your workouts, a real hassle.

In a world where Bluetooth is found in forks and toothbrushes, it baffles me that Garmin decided not to include it in the Forerunner 15. Instead, the company forces users to connect the watch to their computer each time they want to upload their workouts.

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Four pins on the back of the watch connect to a special dock that in turn connects to your computer. You will be required to download a special program, known as Garmin Express, on your Mac or PC to sync your data to the Garmin Connect website and mobile app (available on iOS and Android), and to also check for any firmware updates.

With a lot of activity trackers lasting only a few days, battery life on the Forerunner 15 is quite good. As mentioned above, the watch will last a whopping five weeks when using it solely as an activity tracker. The Forerunner 15 will last 8 hours with the GPS enabled, which is long enough for most people to finish a marathon. A small battery indicator on the left side of the display lets you know how much juice is left in the watch.

I found with a mix of light running (about 30 minutes a couple of times a week) and normal activity tracking, I was required to charge the Forerunner 15 roughly every two weeks. I occasionally charged it more frequently because the watch was already resting in the charging dock for syncing purposes.

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As a rule of thumb, I tried to sync the watch with my computer at least once a week. Runs and daily step counts are stored on the Forerunner 15 for up to seven days, at which point the oldest workout will be replaced with a newer one. The watch also stores personal records, such as fastest mile, fastest 5K, longest run, etc., and will notify you after you set a new record.

There is a Run/Walk feature that can be used for interval training. You can set how long you would like to run and how long you would like to walk, and, when enabled, the watch will alert you for when it's time to switch between the two. This is useful feature for new runners that can't continuously run for long amounts of time. More experienced runners can also utilize the feature when doing interval workouts.

A Virtual Pacer feature allows you to set a specific pace you would like to keep during a run. When you are faster or slower than the designated pace by 5 or more seconds, the Forerunner 15 will alert you to either slow down or speed up. A similar feature, called HR Alert, will notify you when you are above or below your set heart rate.

Perhaps the most useful feature is the watch's Auto Pause and Auto Lap features. One of the pains of running in a city is having to deal with traffic lights. I find myself constantly having to stop my watch as I wait for the light to change and forgetting to resume it. The Auto Pause feature will automatically pause your workout when you stop running and will resume it when you start back up again. The Auto Lap feature will alert you when you reach a new mile and will include your average pace.

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