Garmin’s Weaknesses

Polar Vantage V Review, Polar Vantage M ReviewGarmin is a dominant player in the sports tech market covering fitness, running and cycling. They are a large, listed company with a clearly superior competitive position to most of its competitors – although not superior to companies who have significant interests in other fields like Apple, Google – WearOS, Samsung etc.. And perhaps not superior in the future to some well-supported challenger brands like Huami. But Garmin reign supreme in the more techy side of sports tech for the masses…no-one can produce a better Garmin Fenix 6 than Garmin. BUT any company with a bit of pedigree, a bit of creativity and financial backing CAN better Garmin in specific areas. At least they CAN if they are SMART and LUCKY.

Putting price competition to one side, it is by choosing areas where companies can realistically BETTER Garmin that they might survive and prosper. At least for a while longer…

But it’s not simply a case of being better than Garmin at ‘something’. That ‘something’ has to be what a significant number of people need or want badly enough to switch to and buy your product AND almost blind them to your product’s shortcomings in other areas.

This post is some brief thoughts on the weaker areas of Garmin’s offerings in running and cycling as I see them

  1. Just-powered devices – Generally Garmin makes the right financial call to just give their devices just enough power. Over time the devices may well slow down with new firmware updates and any new CIQ apps you add to them. It’s not so noticeable until you use competitor products, which I do a fair amount. Having said this, products like the Fenix 5 Plus range, in my experience, seem MUCH more appropriately powered and run smoothly…for now.
  2. Complex products – This is a double-edged sword. Garmin’s large range of features is probably their main reason for success. You just know ‘that Garmin model‘ will do the job when you are not yet sure exactly what ‘the job’ entails. Many of Garmin’s new features are added as an extra menu option ‘somewhere’ in the existing and already complex menu system. If the interface was being redesigned from scratch by a team of Apple designers you can be CERTAIN it would be a VERY, VERY different Garmin to what we see on offer today.
  3. Complex platform – Garmin CONNECT and CONNECT Mobile are comprehensive products covering Garmin’s wide range of products from Triathlon to Golf; and a wide range of functionality from SLEEP to ROUTING. I know the platform, products and their functionalities quite well and can navigate them reasonably well. Newcomers cannot always do the same as the platforms are very complex, intricate and simply contain more irrelevant stuff than relevant stuff to any one user. The same criticism applies to the CONNECT platform as I would level at the devices -ie you just can’t easily find the ‘stuff you want’.
    • Wahoo, Hammerhead and others have minimal platforms. Until you’ve used a Wahoo for a while you don’t really appreciate what you have been putting up with for years.
  4. Accuracy (oHR GPS) – I’ve banged this drum for a long time. The drum is wearing out. Considering that accuracy is stated by MANY Garmin customers to be an IMPORTANT facet of the products AND that Garmin products are priced at a premium then the accuracy of oHR and GNSS/GPS is NOT as good as it should be from just about every higher-end Garmin product. Garmin product accuracy (ohr, GPS) varies from ‘meh’ to good…but, at Garmin prices, it should be excellent
    • Polar and Suunto clearly demonstrated YEARS AGO that it is possible to produce a sports watch with superior GPS.Hammerhead Karoo Review bikenav navigation
  5. Aesthetics? Again, a double-edged sword. Whilst the overall hardware design is generally excellent and usually well thought through, a typical Garmin’s screen quality is very ‘meh’. That compromise has historically been made to ensure there is enough juice in the tank to deliver market-leading battery lives to support the needs of even the most awkward Ultrarunner.
    • But aesthetics is always going to be a personal choice. You ‘just’ have to find lots of people who like your product’s specific aesthetic to do well in the market.
  6. Openness – Garmin is open to STRAVA (workouts to STRAVA and segments from STRAVA) and is open to 3rd parties via CIQ apps. With some limitations, other 3rd parties can pipe workout files to and from Garmin Connect. There may be some costs there that represent barriers to smaller companies but let’s say it’s generally open. But it is not truly open and certain facets of integration are either not allowed or made difficult for a wide variety of reasons.
    • A competitor to Garmin can leverage their open platform as a means to potentially gain access to 3rd parties’ functionality without having to develop it themselves – eg RideWithGPS and Wahoo.
    • But a truly open platform is risky in the long-term. If all you make money from is the sale of your device then another ‘open device’ can ‘easily’ take its place as your customer has not been locked into your sports data platform.
  7. Apps? – Garmin’s CIQ has some absolute gems of awesomeness – ranging from 3rd parties like DWMAP to Garmin’s own running Power app (I’m talking about the app not the data in it 😉 )
    • You would have thought that one of the first things a company with limited resources would do would be to create an app-based infrastructure where others will create (for free) the functionality you don’t have the resources or inclination to do yourself. Amazfit, Apple, Google, Fitbit, Samsung…..etc.
  8. There will always be narrowly focussed features like Polar/Suunto’s ability to produce layers of laps but, in reality, such examples of niche functionality pose little threat in and of themselves to Garmin


Q: What would you do? How would you beat the mighty Garmin with one fell swoop of a smart watch?

And I don’t think “Just make cool stuff” will excite venture capitalists too much and that response still doesn’t really answer the question in any case…although it sounds good as a sound-bite.

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26 thoughts on “Garmin’s Weaknesses

  1. “Until you’ve used a Wahoo for a while you don’t really appreciate what you have been putting up with for years.”
    Amen! My purchase of an Elemnt bolt after years with BUGGY garmin bike products pretty much means I’ll never touch a garmin watch. Now I laugh when I see friends with garmin units trying to figure out where to find a lost workout/file and other nonsense from tech that has no business being that lousy at that price point. Have never experienced that with wahoo. (Now let me bang my drum for the release of the elemnt rival before I get weak and buy a polar vantage)

    1. Another Wahoo Bolt user here and I cant wait to see if Wahoo ever release that watch. I am in desparate need of a running watch so I am also trying to stay strong. What I really really like of the Bolt bike computer is the user interface and how easy it is to use plus set up with the help of the element app. What I miss is to be able to manually load structured workout without having to use trainingpeaks or similar subscription based service.

  2. The challenge is that Garmin have captured the “one watch to rule them all” market; grated that can make them complicated and other manufacturers do some elements better (GNSS accuracy being the one most often cited). But if you want ONE watch that does: running, cycling, swimming, hiking, climbing, MTB, indoor cardio, strength training with rep counting, 24 hour HR and stress tracking, steps tracking, some smart watch notification features, Navigation with maps, ABC features, waterproof to 100m, can be operated when soaked (buttons rather than touch screen), connects to a wide range ANT+ and BLE 3rd party sensors, more than 3 days on a single battery charge, looks good enough for daily use (even evening wear with a quickfit leather or metal band), a mature ecosystem to sync and share data, the list does go on…. then Garmin is where you end currently. You just have to accept that Garmin watches are a ‘jack of all trades and a master of none of them individually’; but the sum of the parts makes the compromise worth while for most punters. For a Garmin to have any serious competition, someone has got to do all that better (would need huge resource) or do it equally well but for less money.

    1. yes.
      or compete in specific market segments with a differentiated product. differentiation will be against a point of weakness of garmin..hence the post !!
      eg suunto are targetting the more seious outdoor athlete and polar the higher end runner triathlete.
      garmin’s latest response: go for the mass outdoor market of Casio with the instinct (ie the sub-Fenix market)…cool move.

      the problem some companies seem to have, and you touch upon this. is price. once they highlight a point of effective competition you can just imagine the conversation in the office, before pricing is determined, and the marketing team over-egg their own product and then end up with a high price because they can see the potential value of their point of difference. they are afraid to price low because they see lost profits (fair enough). they build their annual forecast around unrealistic sales/profits but then they end up selling diddly squat. they get tied into the annual plan and can’t react to discounting elsewhere..I imagine that happened to Xplova outside of Asia with the SIM card and VIDEO that was built in to their original X5 bike computer…great points of originallity…high price…have you seen one on the road? no!! (that product had other issues too)

      doing the same but better needs a huge resource, as you say. it won’t happen right now. but it WILL happen. it will happen as soon as one of the chinese giants or Google or apple move away from the mass market for smart watches . That will probably need to be driven by some tech innovations that are probably not too far away.

      1. Agreed; which is why Garmin need to continue to innovate and and add new USPs. I’m just not sure that things like running power and even more estimation of physiological metrics are the way (it’s all starting to become noise whilst training). Perhaps leveraging better integration with online services or offline capabilities with apps on a tablet/phone (the recently released Explore app shows the way perhaps).

      2. This got me intrigued about Garmin Explore. But looks like the only compatible devices for now are the GPSMAP 66 and Instinct. Oh Well. I was surprised to see the number of Garmin apps in the apple store.

      3. At the beginning of September Garmin ‘teased’ us all for about 24 hours with a couple of videos on their official YouTube channel (I picked them up as I subscribe to their channel) that noteably showed the Fenix 5 Plus series working with the app In a later post in that thread someone has found one of the videos reposted As of now, the only watch that works with the Explore app and website is the Instinct; so we’ll just have to wait and see what Garmin’s longer term plans are to extend compatibility to other watches (hopefully starting with the Fenix 5 Plus series).

      4. i think there was a new gpsmap product today or yesterday.. that’s all i know as i’m not too interested in that area. just mentioning in case it’s relevant and if anyone knows more.

  3. The chinese are after the low hanging fruits, for now I just see them doing copycats. Suunto has great looking sport watches and cater well to trail/outdoors type of buyer, but in general lack a “wow” factor to make you change plataforms (and movescount needs to go away). Polar take ages to move, which usually spells death, but they have a good track record and plataform, that might save them for a while. A lot is hanging around the just released Vantage V (Vantage M will look dated quickly). For once I agree with DCR, just make cool stuff, be it hardware, software, algorithms, etc. Make cool stuff and buyers will follow.

    1. i was with you until the cool stuff!!
      cool stuff is cool for a “reason” not because it is cool (in the tech world). it is that “reason” that tech is built on

      1. Yeah it’s kinda hard to base a brand on doing cool stuff, but I’ve bought lots of things along the years because of the cool factor and then got hooked on it. For example car gps: the first ones weren’t that good, but boy the thrill of a overhead real time map… Was fun just plugging in a random spot in the countryside and see if the suggested route was better than yours. Then always checked POI around, found interesting spots. Do I really needed a gps to move around? No, it just was cool to start with. And now they also save videos of your trip and try to avoid colisions (do I need to update my car gps? Thought would never buy one…). Golf watch: I can’t hit the side of a barn, but still pondered getting one (not sure about cool factor though). Garmin inReach®: 100% global Iridium® coverage AND can trigger an interactive SOS? I need it!! (do I?).
        ISS Detector Satellite Tracker app: how cool is it to just point and show your kid a shooting star? Buy now! (oh it’s free, not cool anymore :P).

      2. When I’m saying ‘just make cool stuff’, I’m talking about solving a problem that makes someone go ‘Holy crap, that’s exactly what I need’ or ‘Holy crap, that’s so much better’. It doesn’t matter if it’s a a flashy watch or a algorithm, both can accomplish the same.

  4. I’d offer reasonably priced accessories. It is outrageous the prices Garmin charges for watch bands. Here in Australia, we got stung $699 for the FR935 WITHOUT a quickfit band. So to you’d need to pick up two quickfit bands to make use of the system (and have a band to change to). So add $69.00 x 2 to the price…

    Or risk going with a shoddily made chinese knock off brand and have your rather expensive watch fall off.

    And what about some sort of future proofing in these devices? They’re bloody expensive but seem to be obsolete within 12 months due to a rather nuts and unpredictable refresh/replacement cycle.

    I’d also employ some kind of software/UI design team to make an app that wasn’t a total hot mess.

    I’d offer all the metrics and Firstbeat analytics…and stay with me here…interpret them for the user in order to give actionable targets. Not just useless “insights” like “you’ve done more steps before lunch today than usual” or “a consistent bedtime is important”. Less data for data’s sake.

    I’d launch a device with a stable and bug free software – one that doesn’t require 34 updates over a 9 month period – with each update fixing two things while breaking a new and interesting third thing.

    Ah, but better the devil you know…I still love you garmin.

    1. data…information…knowledge…insight : yes it’s often hard for tech companies to know where to pitch their feedback on this scale
      with the ‘chinese’ companies the rik in the not too distant future is that we WILL start to see super-competent devices. eg the Amazfit STRATOS is functionally RICH

  5. Agree!
    I stated on the Garmin FR 645 forum that Garmin still can’t get the basics right, with the resultant fall-out 🙂 (Context – me coming from TomTom, Polar & Suunto, and pointing out the horrible GPS running tracks of the 645)

    Glad to see other objective opinions on this assertion.

      1. Should have expand a bit more perhaps – cycling wise (MTB, so watch face up) it is really good, but running specifically not so much – which lead me to a possible antenna issue?

      2. IMO the 645’s GPS is alright to good when running. very many watches have good gps for cycling.
        i think other sites say Garmin are better than they really are when it comes to gps.

        ie you are right!

        Q: is it the antennae? A: don’t know

      3. My issue with the 645, and the reason I returned it, was that it kept missing button pushes. I’d hit a lap, and it would register 10 seconds later. I’d hit stop at a stop light, and it wouldn’t respond, then it would stop when I thought I was starting.

  6. Very interesting and thought provoking article. Maybe I need to experiment outside the Garmin envelope.

  7. I think if Garmin would get the basics right they could have an even more dominant position in the market.


    – Sleep tracking: That’s a mess. Garmin often gets the fall asleep time right, but the wakeup time is almost always wrong. Even when playing around on GCM in bed after an alarm on my Garmin watch this counts as sleep time. Now that could be sorted out really fast, couldn’t it? And then there’s the sleep stages display that does not feel right. I don’t know if my Fitbit is correct either but at least they display stages that seem plausible to me. I.e. I mostly know in which part of the night I dreamed and this correlates with Fitbit REM phases but not with Garmin REM phases.

    – Alarms: After they (finally) sorted out the problem of alarms randomly disappearing after sync, the alarm settings on the watch and on GCM are still not the same. For example, it is not possible to setup an alarm once on GCM, only on the watch. GCM just allows alarms for one or more weekdays. Which repeat themselves if not turned off! I consider that to be basic functionality that should just work.

    – 24/7 HR: oHR tracking is mostly ok when running. What’s really not ok is oHR while resting/doing household chores. When compared to a HR belt on a separate app there is often a deviation of up to 50 bpm. E.g. going to another room often gets my pulse to 110 bpm according to Garmin while it’s really around 60 bpm (my resting HR is around 45 bpm). It seems that accelerometer data is factored in because HR also goes up rapidly when moving the arm with the Garmin watch but not when moving the other arm. I guess that the oHR low power mode leads to these inaccuracies in 24/7 tracking. Interestingly, I’ve not seen any reviewer doing an article on that. Everyone seems to assume that 24/7 is working fine because it’s easier to do. I guess it’s not easier because some of the watches I’ve tried consume more power when recording a cardio session (GPS off). Meaning they do ramp up LED power during exercise and using something more battery saving but also less accurate in 24/7 mode.

    – GPX track sync. One of the first things Garmin users have to learn is that there is no streamlines way to get an external GPX track to the watch. Which is quite underwhelming considering the amount of money one has spent on a watch that explicitely does route navigation.

    – Waypoint/Saved locations management: This is also a bit low level.While it’t possible to save waypoints on the watch, the editing possibilities are limited. But it’s not possible to see waypoints on GC or GCM, let alone edit or export/import them. This is a bit disappointing considering Garmin is quite big into GPS devices.

    I feel that there are too many featured, even basic ones, that are half-baked at best. Since I’ve already spent too much money on Garmin watches I’d wish they would work on these fundamental things instead of introducing new shiny features all the time. For example, can Body Battery really work correctly if 24/7 HR tracking is not accurate?

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