Tracks advanced running stats, including VO2Max estimate and race predictor. Great battery life. Waterproof. Vibration alerts. Uses both buttons and touch screen.
No optical heart rate monitoring, step counting, sleep tracking, or notifications.
- Bottom Line
The Forerunner 620 is an excellent fitness trackers for runners, especially when bundled with Garmin's HRM-Run heart rate strap. It doesn't include any special smart features, however, such as push notifications or all-day step counting.
By Jill Duffy
Garmin's Forerunner series of fitness trackers remains one of the top lines for runners, but there are a lot of models to choose from. The Forerunner 620 ($349.99) isn't the newest, yet it remains one of the better options for hard-core runners who are looking for something that will last. It delivers advanced running stats, including a VO2Max estimate, and when paired with Garmin's HRM-Run chest strap, it can report ground contact time, vertical oscillation, and more. Newer models, including the Forerunner 735XT (for triathletes) and the Forerunner 630, function as both all-day fitness trackers and running watches, and they add push notifications from your phone. They also cost more. So if all you want is an advanced running watch without the extra tech, the Forerunner 620 is a good buy.
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Design, Battery, and Stats
The Forerunner 620 comes in two color options: black/blue and white/orange. I've been wearing the black one, and it looks like a typical GPS sports or runner's watch. The face is half an inch thick with a 1.8-inch diameter. The inset screen is smaller, measuring just 1-inch in diameter.
The silicone band has plenty of holes for adjusting the fit, and the design also makes it extremely breathable. The standard watch clasp with single prong closure is very secure. I have no issue wearing the Forerunner 620 to the gym or on a run, but I wouldn't wear it with my everyday clothes. You could, though, as it tells the time and date on the default display screen when not in training mode.
A USB charging cradle (included) snaps into place easily with a magnet, but it's a proprietary charger, which means if you lose it, you can't swap in any other cord to get the job done. Battery life is estimated at up to six weeks in watch mode and up to 10 hours in training mode. With the newer Forerunner 630, you get longer training time (16 hours) but shorter battery life in watch mode (4 weeks). That's because the Forerunner 630 includes push notifications from your phone, which the 620 does not have. The Forerunner 630 is also a hair heavier at 1.6 ounces, whereas the 620 weighs 1.5 ounces.
Around the watch are four buttons, although the screen itself is pressure sensitive. You use a combination of buttons and screen taps to navigate the interface. I found it was responsive whether my fingers were cold or hot and sweaty. For sports watches, I prefer having buttons because they're easier to manage when my heart rate is high or while I'm physically in motion. One smart design feature is that you need to press a physical button first and then the touch screen to activate run tracking. That means it's really hard for the watch to accidentally launch its GPS if the buttons are accidentally tapped while it's in your gym bag.
The Forerunner 620 doesn't have an optical heart rate monitor built in, whereas the 630 and 735XT both do. Many elite runners prefer a chest strap heart rate monitor, however, and the one you can bundle with the Forerunner 620 is rather impressive. The Garmin HRM-Run ($99.99 alone, or bundled with the 620 for $399.99) includes its own accelerometer for tracking a few advanced running stats, namely cadence, ground contact time (the amount of time your feet spend on the ground with each step), and vertical oscillation (i.e., bounce). It's also necessary for computing VO2 max and a few other stats.
If you don't know what these advanced stats are or what you would do with them, then the Forerunner 620 is probably overkill. I'd recommend looking at some running watches that cost about $250 or less and still have GPS. The Fitbit Surge is a good option for non-elite runners, for example. Garmin and Polar both offer a wide selection, too. I like the Polar A360 and the Forerunner 230, for example.
As a quick aside, if $250 is already way outside your budget, you might want to scale back and consider a standard fitness tracker instead. Many of them have some run-focused features, but they aren't typically specialized for running. You can find plenty of options in the $50 to $199 range.
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I strapped the Forerunner 620 around my wrist, added the HRM-Run around my chest, and took them both on a few outdoor runs. The GPS acquired a signal almost instantly after initializing a run. The heart rate sensor also connected almost instantly.
Even as I worked up a good sweat, the Forerunner 620 didn't slide or wiggle an inch. I flipped through some of my screen options, choosing to see my heart rate, as it's the metric I prefer to watch while running. Another option, however, is a screen that shows advanced running stats (cadence, oscillation, and ground contact time; again, the HRM-Run is required for this data). A helpful color bar indicates whether you should adjust your form, for example, to even out your cadence.
At the end of a run, the Forerunner 620 shows a summary of your workout. It's packed with detail: time and date stamp, distance, time (duration), pace, calories burned, average heart rate, maximum heart rate, training effect, cadence, vertical oscillation, and ground contact time. You don't need to carry your phone with you when you run because the watch saves 200 hours of activity data. But when you are with your phone, you can sync the Forerunner 620 wirelessly with the Garmin Connect mobile app for Android and iOS devices. You can also sync the watch using the charging cable and a desktop app for Mac and Windows called Garmin Express, which will upload your data. From the mobile app or the Garmin Connect website, you can then view graphs of your running stats and watch them change over time. The map of my run and distance were accurate, according to estimates made with Google Maps and other tracking I've done using Polar and Garmin devices.
For the real data nerd and serious runner, the Forerunner 620 estimates your VO2 max. I'll rely on Garmin's description here to say that VO2 max is "the maximum volume of oxygen you can consume per minute, per kilogram of body weight at your max performance." A higher number means better performance, although the Forerunner 620 gives a better understanding of the metric by showing your number on a color-coded scale among other runners of the same sex and age range. To compute your VO2 max, the 620 uses running speed, heart rate, and heart rate variability (the amount of variability between heart beats; more is better). So again, you need the heart rate monitor for this information. The VO2 max estimate is useful not only as an indicator of fitness, but also because it helps Garmin calculate your next goal race time. It tells you how fast you should be able to run a 5K, 10K, half marathon, and marathon, based on your physiology.
The Forerunner 620 measures another neat piece of customized information for performance runners: recovery time. Similar to the advanced running metrics, recovery time requires a heart rate monitor to compute.
When you press the bottom left button to start a run, you see a little intro screen, showing whether the watch has acquired a GPS signal, whether the HRM-Run is connected, and a colored gauge on the left. When the gauge is green, it means you have recovered enough and are ready for your next run. If it's red, it means you should wait or do a lighter recovery run. While on the screen to initiate a run, if you tap on the right side of the screen (near a menu icon), you can find submenus and screens with the recovery time reported in hours. It's in this area where you find your VO2 max estimate and race predictor.
Another metric, called Training Effect (it appears as TE on the watch) is a scale of 1 to 5 telling how intense your workout was. Polar devices have something similar called Activity Benefit. Both give you some analytical assessment of your effort, essentially, but Garmin puts it right into the menu screens as a number, while Polar leaves it in the app but gives a fuller description. For example, after I wore the Polar M600 on a low-intensity walk one day, the app reminded me that light exercise allows the body to adapt to training. A more intense session might be marked differently.
If you're in the market for an advanced GPS running watch, and you very specifically don't want any extra tech features, such as push notifications from your phone and sleep tracking, the Garmin Forerunner 620 should be on your list for consideration. Bundle it with the HRM-Run, as it's a great chest strap heart rate monitor, and a huge value-add to the 620. You can also find the two bundled right now for well under list price. The Forerunner 630, which is newer than the 620, is also a great GPS running watch, and quite comparable. While it comes with extra tech features (which some people may not want), it also weighs a tiny bit more and has a shorter battery life when in watch mode.
Jill Duffy is a contributing editor, specializing in productivity apps and software, as well as technologies for health and fitness. She writes the weekly Get Organized column, with tips on how to lead a better digital life. Her first book, Get Organized: How to Clean Up Your Messy Digital Life is available for Kindle, iPad, and other digital formats. She is also the creator and author of ProductivityReport.org. Before joining PCMag.com, she was senior editor at the Association for Computing Machinery, a non-profit membership organization for… More »
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