New Toy

When I started walking for exercise in September 2003, I timed myself with an ordinary wristwatch. In May 2005, attending a Microsoft MVP “Engagement Tour” event in the Atlanta area, I received, courtesy of the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional program, a Suunto n3 SPOT watch (later supplemented by a Suunto n3i, also free).

For those of you unfamiliar with SPOT (Smart Personal Object Technology), the bottom line was that it allowed the watch to receive time signals and other information via radio. Users who subscribed to the MSN Direct service could choose to get weather information, stock market quotes, news, and other information downloaded to their watches; for an additional fee, they could sync their watches with Outlook’s Calendar to store appointments. Most of the features were gimmicks that, when the novelty wore off, were useful only for impressing people to whom you demonstrated your cool (but very clunky) watch.

What the watch did have, though, that I found valuable, was a good stopwatch function, and that’s how I used it for my walks. But when the MSN Direct service was discontinued on December 31, 2011, the watch became considerably less useful. I’d counted on it to always have exactly the right time, frequently updated. Now, even with the radio receiver turned off, the watch still had to be recharged more than once a week (its seven-year-old battery gradually failing), and if it completely lost its charge, it also lost the time and reverted to its creation date. Way more trouble than it was worth. Given that the strap was also about to give up the ghost, I finally threw in the towel and yielded to temptation and ordered a Garmin Forerunner 405cx GPS watch.

I’m still figuring out how to use it (there’s a 56-page manual), but the huge advantage it will have is that I can vary my walking route. Previously I walked some variation of the same route every day because I had clocked the distance (2.1 miles) in the car. Now I can go anywhere, and the watch will keep track of time, speed, and distance. It even has a Virtual Partner I can pace myself against. Partly because of my failure to understand how to set the Virtual Partner, I ended up walking unusually fast today, finishing my route in 35 minutes (usually 38–40 minutes). I also learned that my route is actually 2.08 miles.

And when I finish my walk, I can wirelessly upload the watch data to my computer, which sends it to a Garmin site online that generates and displays worlds of information about speed, distance, pace, elevation, etc. Not to mention the following map:

Because the watch gets GPS data, it also has the correct time (still an important factor), but another great feature is that it can actually be used for navigation. If I want to wander around a strange city, I don’t have to worry about getting lost because I can just ask the watch to direct me back to my starting location.

This watch also has to be charged fairly frequently, but the manual claims that a full charge will last two weeks in Power Save mode and with GPS turned off. With GPS turned on, it is supposed to last eight hours in actual use. I received the watch in the mail Wednesday and immediately charged it. After more than three and a half days mostly in Power Save mode, plus one 35-minute walk with the GPS on, the battery is till at 75%, which I think is a good sign.

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