The world’s best triathlon watch?
As we approach Christmas 2015 the triathlon gadget watch world has moved on. Many of the numerous bugs in the initial 920XT are ironed out. At the same time Polar’s V800 has continued to add new features making many old reviews out-of-date and the V800 is now, sort of, on par with the 920XT (here). It’s very likely that an updated 930XT is planned for 2017 (link) which will include many/all of the features of the new Forerunner 630 (link), Edge 820 (link)and a possible Garmin Swim 2 (link). You may also be considering the benefits of a 2-watch solution with dedicated bike/run watches – which might be cheaper as well as better.
So, here is my *INDEPENDENT-OF-GARMIN* and hopefully *BALANCED* review of the Garmin Forerunner 920XT based on months of usage and years of using the previous incarnations – the 910XT and 310XT. I bought my 920XT; it’s not a freebie from Garmin. I’m not beholden to anyone in my views – I write negative things about Garmin when they need to be said.
A review CAN be a list of features or benefits; a glorified and elongated re-hash of the manual that you could quite easily read for yourself…here’s the Forerunner 920XT User Manual if you want to do that.
My angle will be coming from how I set up the watch for my training and racing. It won’t be exactly the same as for you but probably similar enough.
If you want to read about the intricacies of setting up the activity monitor for walking up steps or an in-depth look at the run-walk feature then…you’ve come to the wrong place. Here be triathlon.
The 920XT is a great Triathlon watch. It’s great for Duathlon and great for all 3 sports individually. For normal, everyday training and racing it has everything that most triathletes need and want. It’s suitable for any multisport distance from a Sprint Duathlon to an Ironman Triathlon, in open water or in a pool, on the flat or up a great big mountain, on the road or on a trail. It’s suitable for a beginner or for a pro. Certainly it’s highly suitable for the many Age Group athletes that will buy one.
It only connects to sports accessories with ANT+.
It probably lacks a bit on the navigation front – buy a Fenix 5 instead for you outdoorsy/adventure folks.
It can be used with all the same planning/analysis/reporting platforms that the previous 910XT worked with – ranging from FIRSTBEAT, to SPORTTRACKS, to TRAINING PEAKS, to GARMIN CONNECT to STRAVA to GOLDEN CHEETAH (recommended for power users) and many more
Out of the box
Out of the box you get the watch and a USB cable/charging cradle that you can use to also upload data to your PC. If you got the HRM version (Heart Rate Monitor) then you will also have the latest incarnation of the Garmin Heart Rate Monitor the “HRM-TRI” (recommended).
You need the cable to charge the watch but there are other ways to upload data that do not require it. You probably need a HRM but you don’t need the HRM-tRI per se. Any old ANT+ strap is fine. The HRM-TRI gives you nice ‘how much you bounce and wiggle about’ metrics. Great for occasional training analysis and technique honing but otherwise it’s ‘just’ a caching Heart Rate Strap/Monitor that can also do R-R/HRV beats. You don’t need the capability to look at HRV/R-R heart beats but if you intend to train more than, say, 6 hours a week you will eventually find that capability useful. Caching is REQUIRED to get HR whilst swimming.
Aesthetics and look-and-feel
Various internet forums will see people slating off the looks of the 920XT. I can see where they are coming from. The 920XT is a ‘bit 1970s’ with quite specific colour stripes which you may or may not like. I really don’t know why it does not come in an all-black version like the 910XT. As at Oct 2015 there is a black/grey model which is only available as an expensive bundle.
I mention this only because one of the previous criticisms of the 910XT was that you couldn’t use it as a day-to-day watch as the battery didn’t last long enough. Well now the battery DOES last long enough but you can’t use it as a day-to-day watch because of what it looks like (for many people).
This is a further problem because the watch also has an inbuilt activity monitor (glorified, but nice, pedometer+) and, again, many people will simply not use that functionality because of the aesthetics of the watch. I’m one of them. IE to use the activity monitor you have to wear it all the time and the aesthetics limit stop that for me. I’d rather buy a different activity monitor.
However I bought my first 920XT in 2014 for triathlon/Duathlon. So, in reality, I’m not bothered too much about the aesthetics when I’m covered in blood sweat and, occasionally, tears. Also, realistically, the likes of you and I probably don’t need an activity monitor to see how many steps we’ve done that day.
However, the feel of it is great. It is slimmer and lighter than the 910XT and the strap seems to fit me more nicely than the 910. The buttons seem more responsive to me compared to the 910 and I also like the square watch face and the amount and size of data that that the shape allows to be shown compared to a round sports watch. It’s all designed very nicely.
I have NO problems reading the screen in varying light conditions, I have had none of the internal misting-up problems of previous incarnations and I wish I had still fully got to grips with the menus !
So it all looks good for training and racing from the aesthetics and look-and-feel perspectives.
It has a gimmicky colour screen (somewhat dull colours and inadequate resolution) and a similar but annoyingly different menu structure to the 910XT, similar too to the 620’s menus.
It’s in the manual. Don’t worry about it. You can get up to 40 hours and go through an entire Ironman or Ultra Marathon but you will need to look carefully at what features need enabling/disabling as, in my experience, normal battery life is somewhere between 9 and 10 hours (HRV, GPS, GLONASS, PER SECOND, POWER, HR). You can use it for WEEKS as a watch without re-charging. But you’re training right?
For reasons that I might go into later I use the USB cable for uploading. It charges up quickly when I stick it on there.
In the battery respect Garmin has now caught up with the rest of the main manufacturers. It’s effectively the same as the alternatives, although the Fenix 5 now seems to offer improvements. They must all use very similar battery technology. There is no new ‘magic’ battery about to be invented.
So here’s what we need to set-up; quite a few things really.
- Personal Information [My Stats>user profile>Heart Rate Zones]
Enter: Age, male/female. Personal Zones: HR, power, pace/speed. VO2max.
You can set your HR Zones based on %Max HR or %HRR. I still find it annoying that you can’t base it on %LTHR, which is what many triathletes use. Me included.
You can set your FTP based on a test. Super. Done that. Training Zones follow.
There is also a setting for VO2max. Well it’s not really a setting because you can’t set it. It gets higher for each sport (running, cycling, not swimming) as you achieve higher levels in your endeavours.
So that expensive LTHR/VO2max test(s) that you did just before you bought the 920XT is (are) useless. Grrrr.
2. Technical Settings
R-R / HRV –I turned it on. Follow these instructions to do the same. If you train more than 6 hours a week you’ll eventually benefit from using this kind of extra data.
GLONASS – GPS are explained <here>. Personally I have found the 920XT to be accurate enough. Period. I have not found any increased GPS accuracy from additionally enabling GLONASS. If you check the various forums you will see others have had issues.
GPS Speed of finding location is instant to about 10 seconds usually for me with ULTRA TRAC enabled. So enable it!
4. Connectivity: There is some nice functionality in this watch for new kinds of connectivity over and above what the 910XT used to offer. You can easily setup your home Wi-Fi or your smartphone to upload data to Garmin Connect. I have had no difficulties using these and both worked pretty well. Sometimes Bluetooth threw a wobbly but it was rare. Others have reported more issues. The key thing to remember with the Bluetooth setup is that you need to do it from your smartphone Garmin app. I now use the USB cable so I don’t use these although they are turned on and pop up messages for me telling me my steps have just been synchronised. Handy.
5. Connectivity – Extras: With your smartphone you can use the LIVE TRACKER. Basically your partner can track you when you do your training to ensure that you are training and not shopping or having an affair. Oh yes, and you can also use it to let others know your progress in your latest Ironman race. I guess this functionality is of some use to letting your support team/friends know where you are so they will know where to be to cheer you along. Enabling LIVE TRACKING will also let others who use GROUPTRACKING see you. Personally I don’t carry a smartphone when I either train or race, so this is of little use to me.
6. Accessories: Settings>Sensors & Activities: This is great. Your 920Xt can store a different footpod that’s on each of your pairs of shoes, it can store lots of HRMs that you’ve kept for some reason. Multiple sensors. Very nice. Works wonderfully. If more than one sensor of the same type is detected you can select which one to ‘pair’ to.
It gets better! You can even give each individual sensor a real name. So I call my MIO LINK and HRM4 those names. When more than one is detected it is simple to connect the right one. GSC-10, Garmin Speed, Garmin Cadence and Garmin Vectors work fine.
You are STRONGLY advised to buy a footpod and to set the footpod to auto-calibrate and as ‘always the main source of pace’. A STRYD Gen 2 footpod also delivers power as well as being the most accurate and responsive footpod for running pace. You can also use this for treadmill running.
Let’s look at wheel size. This is set as a property of the cadence+speed sensor (GSC-10) or as a property of the speed-only sensor. That sensor is really treated therefore as independent from the bike. So if you change wheels with a GSC-10 (you might have several, say, disk vs road vs trainer) then, most likely, your tyre circumference is different each time. That could get annoying to have to change circumference each time if you are interested in speed from the sensor (for example if you use proxy power that would be the case or even if you want accurate speed on the watch).
Similarly if you use the speed-only sensor then if you move the sensor (not the wheel) to, say, your MTB you will have to reset the circumference again. It’s MUCH easier to move the speed-only sensor than the GSC-10 so people are MUCH more likely to do so from time to time.
I would have thought it marginally more logical to have tyre circumference as part of your sport profile – in the above example you may well have a RACE profile an INDOOR profile and a NORMAL profile so in each of those cases you may well have a different wheel/tyre – of course you may well have a disc and non-disc race wheel so my argument falls down there. However this is not a deal breaker and my argument is flawed as some of you will point out!
A power meter is a great investment. Cheapest bet is the POWERPOD and I’d recommend a BEPRO pedal solution or a ROTOR crank solution especially if you go for oval chainrings. Garmin Vector 2 is a good bet if you can afford it.
I have heard reports of the 920 looking for the wrong kind of device (eg a footpod whilst cycling) and I have found that whilst POOL swimming it (initially) reports linking to a HRM. None of this affects the training or results or the data available.
7. Segments: As far as I can work out segments are effectively not supported on the 920XT device (but may appear when the segment is part of a course that you are following). However when your 920XT data is sent to Garmin Connect then any segments you have crossed will appear in Garmin Connect. So segments ARE supported with Garmin Connect – although I find functionality there very, very (very) slow. Garmin have effectively stopped working on their segment functionality and STRAVA is obviously supported off-line through FIT files or connecting to Garmin Connect. The 930XT will likely have better STRAVA live integration.
Strava Segments are NOT supported
8. Autolaps/Laps: You can do autolaps for each sport by distance. But not autolap by time. If you want to do them by time, which I do sometimes, you have to either set a time-based alert or follow an appropriate workout or do it manually. I do it manually.
It often makes sense for you to have autolap turned on for each sport.
A nice feature to bring to your attention here is that when you create or reach a lap a different screen appears for a few seconds – you can choose a few metrics to put on that ‘lap’ screen. So, you might only be interested in current pace as you run your 1km intervals but at the end of each km the 920XT can be configured to show your lap’s performance eg average pace.
There are a LOT of metrics. Almost everything you could possibly need. It easily covers all my wants and needs. All except one…
CONNECT IQ is a new Garmin APP feature that lets bits of functionality be added to their top-end watches including the 920XT.
New metrics are already being added via CONNECT IQ. For example one allows your HR to be shown as a number but then colour codes the entire screen based on your HR zone. Personally I wouldn’t use that, others might of course. However this illustrates that clever new ways of putting more data at your fingertips (wrist) will appear in the coming months with CONNECT IQ…and most are free. Nice.
IQ apps are not necessary on the whole. But as we enter 2017 there are some very interesting ones for bike power with XERT and special sensor data from MOXY and STRYD can be written directly to FIT files with the use of CIQ data fields.
You choose the metrics you want to display for each (multi-) sport. More on that later.
10. Sport and Activity Profiles
An ‘activity profile’ is a really a “sport+specific equipment” profile. The following video gives you a flavour.
So you can have RUNNING and you can also have INDOOR RUNNING where GPS is turned off and a footpod is used (Although the HRM-RUN also gives run cadence).
Similarly you have INDOOR CYCLING and CYCLING. Maybe you can have a different profile for mountain biking where you might not have a power meter.
So this is not ideal. But let’s face it, for those that have lots of bikes they can always create a profile for the bike eg COMMUTE+SPECIALIZED and COMMUTE+TEK. It takes only a few minutes. It’s not too much of a problem for most of us.
When racing this also gives you another option. You can have a RACE PROFILE as opposed to a training profile. For example you might be interested in specific pace measures in training but when running your marathon you might want 1 mile lap pace, current pace and lap cadence and average lap HR as key metrics to run by. So there ARE potentially VERY different metrics you might want and indeed need for use in a race profile – indeed also true for different length races. Great. The 920XT can do it.
As well as single sport profiles there are also multi-sport profiles which allow multiple single sport activities separated by optional transitions. You can use these for training or for racing. So even the most die-hard triathlete might well find a duathlon-brick profile very useful for training.
And of course in winter you may well want to have a brick session comprising indoor-running and indoor-cycling. Yep, you can EASILY do that. Very nice.
The main downside here for me is the multiple run-bike-run-bike-run-bike-run is limited to only about 5 activities. I sometimes use more than that.
In your triathlon race profile you might want to add lots of bike-runs at the end…just in case you press the wrong button. You can then lap through to the next correct sport quickly. Remember that…one RACE day you will thank me for it 🙂
That’s the setup finished. Takes a while I guess to do it all. Now onto the real stuff.
You can create training sessions and schedules using Garmin Connect (GC) AND IN 2016 SWIM SUPPORT WAS ADDED. It is much easier to do it that way than through the watch interface, don’t even bother trying to do it on the watch.
The online interface in GC is good. But functionally it offers pretty much the same that Garmin Training Centre on the PC offered many years ago (in terms of workout creation). Then again, I can’t see what else it would need to offer over and above that.
Starting a Training Session
To start a free-form session you just scroll to the sport/profile and press enter. It displays the default metrics and uses the default sport/profile settings like autolap. If you press ‘BACK’ then a lap is manually added at that point and, if set, autolap is reset to the beginning of a new lap (as it should).
You can also set alerts to tell you to run faster or pedal quicker, the usual. There are also some new, interesting alert-types telling you, for example, to DRINK at a certain time. You can set alerts based on hi/low parameters but not on a zone or combination of zones – that would be nice but not necessary as there is a manual high/low method to achieve the same result.
Specific EXISTING workouts that you have ALREADY CREATED can instead be started this way:
I would suggest prefixing the workout with either a R (running) or C (cycling).
All your old Garmin workouts should work on the 920. That makes life easier.
Personally I would like the ability to create a generic workout eg 2×30 minutes with 5minnutes rest that I can do for each sport. However that’s not possible. I would also like to create a workout for SWIMMING – however that seems to be a glaring omission. There are no SWIM workouts as of Apr 2015. I half-expect this to change as other models apparently support them eg FENIX3/EPIX – I just can’t see how the top of the range triathlon watch can’t have a triathlon-feature that the triathlon-cum-adventure watch (FENIX3) would have. I understand WHY this has happened, it just doesn’t make commercial sense to me!
There are also structured workouts that you can create on the fly eg at run>Training>Intervals(or set a target or race an activity). It would probably have been easier to create one in Garmin Connect but if you are in the middle of a field and have forgotten to do that then creating an interval session on-the-fly is easy enough.
Note that if you are following a structured workout then pressing BACK/LAP ends the current lap and progresses to whatever comes next
NEW Note: In a multisport session AUTOLAPS can be enabled/disabled. I have not tested this but I assume that this will enable the use of the sub-profile/sport’s AUTOLAP setting. So, in theory, if it were enabled in running but not in cycling then you would only get multisport RUN autolaps. WARNING: This will have no impact on what the BACK/LAP button does in MULTISPORT mode ie that will STILL take you to the next transition or sport and NOT to the next lap (indeed, why would it?).
NEW Tip: Some triathlons have non-compete legs for a variety of reasons such as safety. These can mess with your transition if autolaps and suchlike stop you from seeing the time you have spent in the time-limited non-compete leg. In that case add an extra OTHER SPORT into your multisport profile and configure that accordingly, not forgetting to press lap to take you into transition.
Stopping a Training Session
Be patient! Stop a session at the end of the last effort period by pressing enter. Then wait. Don’t save or discard the session yet. After two minutes you will be shown recovery information (HRR – Heart Rate Recovery) as well as the Recovery Advisor telling you how many hours to wait until the next hard session. That info is then stored in the FIT file.
As pointed out earlier you can now create/follow a complex swimming workout.
However there are also two new neat features for POOL swimming.
Firstly when you press BACK/LAP the colour of the screen inverts to white-on-black. It’s conceptually very similar to the special run/bike LAP screen that (temporarily) appears. However in POOL SWIM mode you stay in this state until you again press BACK/LAP to re-enter the ‘normal’ swim mode. You get a REST COUNTER and other stuff. Quite useful to let you know how long you’ve been recovering without having to look at the pool clock. But also quite annoying when you forget to leave that mode as your swimming efforts are not recorded when resting.
Of course really this should be in a SWIM WORKOUT and the WORKOUT should tell you to get cracking once the rest time is up. As it currently stands (Jan 2015) you have to assess your rest period manually.
If you forget to press BACK/LAP then the 920XT still will record swimming activities.
Optionally you can turn on DRILL mode which enables you to record the lengths of drills you have done – as the 920XT will NOT properly detect and record drill. Watch this, it’s short, if you want to know more.
If you inadvertently enter DRILL mode then your activity will not be automatically recorded. For that reason I disable drill mode.
As far as I am concerned the 920XT is more than acceptably accurate for most scenarios.
There is a new algorithm for 5 second smoothing for current/instant pace. I think that’s still relatively rubbish. (Actually it’s NOT relatively rubbish…it’s rubbish).
A footpod is the solution for instant pace. Only in November 2015 was a firmware release made to let instant pace come from a footpod. IMO you MUST buy a footpod. STRYD is the best (links to a review and discount code if you want to buy one).
The 920XT current running pace is better than with the 910XT. Just.
Elevation when cycling still appears to be troublesome with some bug fixes still in the latest firmware release (Jan 2015). In general though I understand that if you leave it turned on for a while (15 minutes) before heading off then it’ll be fine. I’m not too bothered about elevation gained, sorry 🙁
The GPS track is accurate enough. To within 3-5m I would say at any one time/position. GLONASS did not improve that for me. GPS was as accurate as the 910XT but not as accurate as other devices I have tested. When comparing accuracy to what you actually ran be aware that your Google/Bing map could be a bit out and be aware that when you ran that 5k you may not have run in a straight line before blaming the watch.
Overall GPS accuracy by distance is as good as the rest. Not noticeably better or worse than the ‘best of the rest’. So you’ll still get, perhaps, 5050m recorded for a 5k (did you run straight?) or you might get 4980 (was it REALLY measured properly like the organisers suggest when you ask if you just thought you got a PB?)
EDIT: March 2015 – my 920’s GPS threw a wobbly and went badly inaccurate requiring a factory reset – oh dear, lost all my zones/configuration.
Stroke recognition: I would say is as perfect as your stroke. I’m an OK swimmer and I have no problems with front crawl stroke recognition. Many others do report issues on the forums. You can always turn it off if you mostly/only do one stroke.
Open water swimming: Accuracy is at least as good as the 910XT. Obviously you don’t really look at your watch whilst splashing around a lake, so the GPS accuracy (distance, etc) is only visible on maps afterwards. It gives a fair degree of accuracy but it’s not brilliant as there is no GPS signal underwater. I wouldn’t worry about this aspect of accuracy.
Cycling Metrics. Very nice if you have GARMIN VECTOR pedals (L/R Balance, Pedal Smoothness) which are now improved further with Cycling Dynamics. Then again the Vectors are VERY expensive. The Favero bePRO power meter pedals are half the Vector price and do the cycling dynamics metrics.
Recovery Metrics and Guidance. After you enable HRV then the 920XT can work out your breathing rate and, combined with that, other effort/intensity/duration based metrics can give you an estimated VO2max (power meter required for cycling). They can tell you how long to wait until your next hard session and they tell you after you have warmed up how good you are to go on the impending session for today. All good stuff. But know their limitations and be aware that other software and other watches do this better.
Running metronome…nice. (Never used it!). Having it work when swimming would be nice.
HRM-RUN/HRM-TRI straps each give you running cadence…nice! But I only use the cadence which you can get on many running watches.
They also give you Running Efficiency Metrics…nice (but). Read some thoughts on this.
Here are how some of the metrics appear on Garmin Connect. Additional ones are added in this case as STRYD has been used.
Indeed there are now FURTHER advanced running dynamic metrics – largely useless. Get your cadence above 92/184 and then worry about the other stuff.
Well there is LOTS of ‘other stuff’ that I could go into. Small details like how certain parts of the display slide away when you are not using them, for example. They are all quite minor individually. However, should you buy the watch then I hope you would find that they add up to a nice surprise overall.
There are MANY more ‘hidden’ gems on the 920XT than with the 910XT.
Reporting, Analysis and Sharing Data
This is not really part of the watch. You can very easily get it to the free online Garmin Connect. It used to be a bit rubbish. But now it’s quite good. You can do quite nice reporting and get some neat analyses from Garmin Connect. You also plan your workouts there and schedule them – I don’t do that but you can.
If you want a bit ‘more’ analysis then, like me you might use SportTracks or golden Cheetah (free). Or, of course, many of the others out there. There is now a problem for SportTracks and FIRSTBEAT users/ Garmin Connect no longer permanently caches your FIT files on a PC. So you have to import the files directly from the watch while it is plugged into the USB port.
Some of you who use multiple tools might choose to also use TAPIRIIK or FITNESSSYNCER to synchronise your online data FROM Garmin Connect to other online platforms such as Training Peaks (Paid-For Version) or STRAVA.
However my understanding is that if you want any of the special data in the FIT files then the online syncing will only use data supported by TCX (as a rule of thumb, there may be the odd exception).
I do triathlon. All I want to do is properly monitor, record and analyse all the key data for swimming, biking and running. I want to do that in comfort. That’s not much to ask for from a £300 sports watch is it?
What was ORIGINALLY glaringly missing was the ability to analyse swimming load (eg from HR data and HRV data). Polar and Suunto can do that (but fall short in other areas).
Swimming HR is now added with HRM-SWIM and HRM-TRI heart rate straps. Although the caching nature of these straps required a change in the format of the FIT files which in Jan 2017 are only just seeming to work properly with all/most 3rd party sports data platforms ie golden cheetah/training peaks/sporttracks. Sigh!
Garmin (and Polar/Suunto) need a built-in optical HR monitor for the wrist as an option – many thin-wristed people would prefer this, for example. [Otherwise buy a MIO Link/Fuse wrist HR monitor]. This will probably not even come with an updated 930XT but might come in later 2018 as a 935XT.
I’m not too fussed about having segments on my 920XT to follow like with the Edge 1000, however I imagine many others would appreciate that functionality. This is one reason driving people to a 2-watch solution.
Now on to nit-picking of what’s missing…
Garmin need to work with FIRSTBEAT to produce a waking-HRV app facility similar to BIOFORCEHRV and ithlete. This will feed into training readiness information and possibly also update your HRrest for dynamic daily HR Zones. This will be added to the 930XT IMO.
Alternatively someone could produce an app. IE one that is genuinely useful rather than just a watch-prettifier. I set up a profile for taking resting HR readings in the morning but the value-added of this kind of data is very much more than a simple profile – it needs an app. Edit: ee: Sharkbait_Au on Connect IQ. This will be added to the 930XT IMO.
Post-release, Garmin are now more friendly towards LTHR. Incorporating test protocols for that as workouts and the subsequent automatic calculation of HR Zones.
A vibrating pool metronome function may complement nicely the existing running metronome. Swimming Dynamics might also be a nice-to-have.
You will also find <other suggestions> that may one day make it onto the watch through apps.
Here Are Some Resources For you:
The aforesaid manual: <Garmin 920XT Manual>
The other Options
I like the directly competing Polar V800 and the Suunto Ambit 3. However in early 2015 Garmin threw the proverbial spanner-in-the-works with the introduction of a new FENIX 3 and the new Epix. Both feature-full AND, as you can see, Nice-looking. I didn’t really like the look of the previous FENIX2 but I do like the Fenix3.