2014: || Garmin 920XT Forerunner || – Early thoughts for a review & upgrade from the 910XT

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The 920XT is now more generally available in the UK as the pre-Xmas orders are fulfilled. The promises (hopes) of a wonderful new model by myself and others started to wear a bit thin on some ears in the UK as the product was only on sale in very small volumes, unlike in the US. Well, now I can write this as we are all good to shop.

Review of the Garmin 920XT to follow in the New Year (2015)

To order one: image above – or for a better deal use your British Triathlon Federation discount at the Garmin shop – the 25% saving will cover the membership fee!!

OK, we all know that if you have a 910XT you will, for sure, want the newer 920XT. But is it worth upgrading?

Summary: The Garmin 920XT is for sure the best triathlon watch ever.

But will it make you a better athlete if you ditch the 910XT?

We’ll see if “probably not” really is the answer to that one. So I’m starting off writing something to help you rationalise that upgrade that you are going to make anyway 🙂  Let’s consider that ‘must-have’ feature – that really is only nice-to-have but you, at least, sell the idea to your loved one who is going to buy it for your birthday/Xmas in any case.

If you have the cash to burn and love gadgets you will, of course, have already bought one. You’re probably reading this to rationalise to your fellow tri-club member the reasons for your wise investment.

So I’ve started off a bit tongue-in-cheek, apologies if you don’t like that sort of thing, I will go through the key upgrade features as I see them. You can assume it does what the 910XT does and more. And, yes, I do have one and it’s great.

Must have or Good-to-have

  • Battery life. This really is GOOD (purportedly up to 40 hours in ‘UltraTrac’ mode). In line with the other manufacturer offerings. Even if your battery life degrades a bit over time then you will have enough juice for your Ironman or Ultra as well as turning on all the inbuilt bells and whistles. The battery life is WAY more than adequate enough for my needs; even if I forgot to charge it for a couple of days I would be fine. This feature certainly is perfect for having a gadget ready-to-go when you are…not true of the old 305!
  • Recovery Advisor/Recovery Time: Once your HR zones are entered this will work. It will tell you how long to wait until your next hard session. This really should be what we all look at after a session as we should not interfere too much with the adaptation process in order to improve. However, it does not take into account swimming efforts at all. So: good to have but not fool-proof. IF you do duathlon this is a nifty little useful feature; a little less nifty for triathlon but certainly of some use.
  • Altimeter: I don’t really bother about the number of metres I’ve climbed. Perhaps I should. If I did I would find that, according to several sources, the altimeter has some accuracy issues that are dependent on the time to work out the altitude at the starting position (although Firmware v2.57beta notes improvements). However, my reading of the problem is that if you leave the 920 turned on a lot those issues should lessen.
  • Current pace bug fixed: This seems to be a lot better. It seems usable!!. I’ve yet to really pay attention to current pace over all my training speeds but superficially it looks usable. This is a BIG plus for me as with the 910XT the current pace was unusable.
  • Proper bricks and indoor bricks : Brick workouts with the 920XT are mostly great. Finally I can create a custom run-indoorbike-run-indoorbike-run brick session. And wonderfully the GPS is automatically turned off for indoor bike on the multisport session. You certainly couldn’t do that with the 910XT where it had to be done manually and that manual process was a step backwards from the 310XT IMHO. Anyway It’s perfect now. Or is it? Well. no. There looks to me like a limit of 9 stages to a custom multisport session. Why? I can’t see why it shouldn’t be limitless for two reasons: sometimes I *DO* more than 9 stages (not often admittedly – say in a transition practice brick) and there is also the scenario where you press the wrong button a few times and zoom through the stages incorrectly whilst racing S-B-R-B-R-B-R-B-R-B-R…….. is the best setup to cater for errant fingers.
  • Auto footpod/pod calibration: I’ve not really properly looked at this yet. The 910XT’s 1km GPS calibration only worked for me if I (for instant pace) calibrated it at the speed that I intended next to run at. I didn’t find it as foolproof as others suggest.
  • RR HR when swimming. DCR reports that HR recording occurs in OWS mode but not indoor swimming mode. You must have an optical wrist strap like the MIO Link for this to work, this is good progress Mr Garmin! But we are still not quite there. So, basically, it’s easier but less cool to have a HR caching strap like the  WAHOO TICKR-X – no RR data though with the WAHOO cache 🙁 If you want RR data in a Garmin environment for swimming I suspect you will have to wait until Spring 2015 for the Suunto (!) belt to be supported by your smartphone’s Movescount app (you combine it later with your fit file) and even then I don’t know if you will get RR. You could use the PULSEON wrist device but I don’t think that is sufficiently waterproof.
  • Swimming Drills & rest periods: Super Nice!

Nice to have

  • Colour screen. My workouts are coloured in blood, sweat or tears. A colour screen will not help one iota. It’s OK. I have to confess to initially being confused by whether or not a menu option was highlight when I pressed ‘enter’.
  • Watch Mode: It can work as a watch for months (apparently) without needing to be recharged. Apparently lots of people wanted this. I didn’t but as I am going to use it as an activity tracker I might as well dual-purpose it as a watch and get my money’s worth.
  • Metronome: for technique improvement whilst running. Nice enough. Not a deal breaker.
  • Running Dynamics: This really is only nice to have. Albeit an impressive one. What in reality are you going to do with the number? You can’t really compare to other people and most of us will probably not track their improvement over time. This might be more useful for coaches. To be fair Garmin have researched runners’ stats and now do have guidelines but if your Ground Contact Time is too high then what are you going to do about it? Where is the next actionable step for YOU? OK you makes your GCT less, but how do you exactly intend to do that?
  • Cycling dynamics I imagine is imminent with Vector firmware upgrades. Perhaps this will be more of good-to-have as I personally think it might be more actionable, with the mechanics of cycling being much simpler than those of running.
  • It weighs less and is smaller. And it’s probably more aero. These things will not make any difference. Well being smaller it might be fractionally more easy to get a wetsuit off over it. I never had problems with the 910XT. Indeed in a race I often never bothered wearing a watch in open water.
  • Wifi and Bluetooth. These make things marginally easier for me managing data and bits of kit. I can and have survived without either for a long, long time. No doubt I will use them but they will not make me faster. I appreciate these are different for other people. Wifi improvements are in the pipeline and there are general industry moves to make bluetooth faster. NOTE: Bluetooth is only to connect to a smartphone; the 920XT will absolutely not, for example, connect a Bluetooth HR strap.
  • Ability to create workouts in your calendar online and to a degree manage some settings online. As sports watches get more complex this will become a more important must-have feature. Setting up alerts, plans and workouts on a small device is fiddly. I still find the online process a little more time consuming than I would like and often revert to just doing a session manually.
  • VO2 estimates: These are from Firstbeat so they should be accurate. In cycling mode you will need a power meter. But again what are you going to do with these numbers? Some coaches do set %VO2 efforts in sessions, many do not. VO2 *IS* a fantastic measure of how good you are (well vVO2 is at any rate) and it will/may improve gradually as you train more and then plateau. But it is what-it-is. IMHO it will play little use in my daily training or quarterly planning.
  • Recovery Advisor/Recovery Check: Gives you an indication of your immediate post-workout recovery. Interesting but I don’t think I would monitor that over time.
  • Bluetooth Phone Notifications To your 920XT: Really? I must be getting too old to answer texts when I’m running; come to think of it I don’t take my phone with me. Though on the other hand when on a mind-numbing treadmill session with headphones it might be good to know that someone is calling you to invite you out for a beer.
  • Activity tracker – well I’m going to use this lots. And it’s nice to have. But it won’t make me faster. At all.
  • Personal Bests – Why? Why would you want this on a watch? Why?

So: Really for me it’s only worth getting the current pace working and being able to have a GPS-free component to the indoor parts of some of my brick settings. I will use the drill mode more in swimming. That’s NOT a lot for £300+. But the 920XT is very good, very nice and  I am a happy bunny with it. Just a bit poorer!

Then again sell your 910 for £200 or thereabouts and you’ve paid £100 for an upgrade with a new 12 month warranty…that sounds MUCH better.

FWIW: I was offered a bigger discount from Garmin to buy the 920XT – I ended up buying it from the Garmin Shop myself with the British Triathlon discount – just like you can. I don’t run this site to make money.

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