Product Review: Garmin Forerunner 201

Garmin Forerunner: Made for Runners But Great for Skaters

GPS Device Is a Handy Tool for Tracking Speed, Distance and More

By Travis Brown

One huge aspect of being a speed skater is ... well, knowing how fast you can go.

All of us at some point wonder how fast we bomb down our favorite hill or how far we actually skated that time we told all our friends, “Yep, I just skated 20 miles.”

But until recently, the best way to keep track of speed and distance was to skate along with a friendly cyclist -- one equipped with a bike computer.

No Cyclist Needed

These days, however, anyone can keep track of their stats using a miniature GPS (Global Positioning System) device. No friendly cyclist needed.

The Garmin Forerunner 201 ($115-150) is one of the most popular of these new GPS devices. It can tell you your speed, distance, length of workout, and a lot of useful -- and not so useful -- stuff.

The Forerunner was designed for running (hence the name), but it also works for any sport that involves moving from Point A to Point B and back to Point A again -- skating, for instance.

Earth to Skater

Basically, here's how it works:

A network of satellites orbiting Mothership Earth emit radio signals. The Forerunner, which you wear like a wristwatch, picks up the signals and uses them to compute your exact location to within 15 meters.

To pick up the signal, you must be skating outdoors in areas with clear views of the sky. (Not under trees or next to tall buildings.)

The Forerunner has a few features that don't translate to skating, such as its calorie counter. But most of its functions work just as well rolling as running.

It can tell you how long you've been skating, how far, how fast, your average speed and more.

Will It Write My Thesis?

In fact, this gizmo will tell you just about everything you want to know, except your heart rate (you'll have to buy the pricey Forerunner 301 for that) and why you still can't keep up with Eddy Matzger!

To get a feel for the Forerunner, let's take it for a little skate:

For starters, turn on the unit and give it a chance to acquire a signal. (I usually do this while I am putting on my skates.) Getting a signal could take one minute. It could take five. It all depends on the satellites.

If you start skating before you get a signal, you will have to wait even longer before getting one. So be patient.

While you are waiting, press and hold the reset button for three seconds. This will start a new data "run."

Don't worry about losing your old data. It is automatically saved to the unit's memory. (Very cool!) This data can then be loaded into your PC -- but not your Apple Macintosh. (Very uncool!)

(At this point there is no Apple version of the software. Fortunately, the Forerunner holds two-years of data, which you can scan at will.)

(continued ... )

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Copyright © 2005 by Robert Burnson

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