Friday, May 29, 2015

Garmin Forerunner FR 920XT GPS Sportswatch

This is a status review of Marcus's Garmin  Forerunner FR 920XT GPS Sportswatch.

If you are a busy  (time poor person) skip to the section /Quick Start Guide/

Background & Submission

For at least 10 years of quite intensive exercise I have never owned any Sportswatch.  I was the sort of runner or cyclist who just did a race and went at the speed / pace that felt right on the day.

But in 2014  I got a TomTom Multisports watch.  The watch had some teething troubles and was not as fancy as my wife Agata's Garmin counterparts.

After about 12 months of nagging constructive criticism from Agata, Marcus has caved and bought Garmin too!

My Requirements

- I want to use the same watch for Cycling, Running, Hiking, Walking and Swimming
- For some sports (e.g. Swimming) and most races it's not possible or sometimes race legal to carry a phone, so the device must work on it's own without a smartphone tether
- Small and Light
- Needs to communicate with Bicycle sensors
- Would be nice to have fancy Swim statistics
- Heartrate monitoring
- Battery life must last at least 15 hours for ultra events
- Step tracking
- Don't need smartphone notifications

The 920XT does all of the above with heart rate monitoring connected to my wrist mounted Mio Link and additional Cycle stats from Garmin ant+ monitors

Front Screens Widgets

When used as a watch, i.e. outside of any activity there is a basic Clock screen (not shown).   You can replace this with a custom  (user written) Clock app.  I show the one I now use at the top of this post.  There are also:

Steps (Garmin Builtin)   It never says more than 100% which is disappointing

Notifications (Garmin Builtin) from your Smartphone over Bluetooth.

Now I added the following user written Widgets which bring my toplevel screens (visible outside of any Activity) upto the level of Agata who has a Garmin Fenix 3 which has the following apps but written by Garmin (and looking better) as standard.

NB: 920XT is thin and 62 grams light.  Fenix3, better software, but gi-normously big and also heavier.  I wear the 920XT 24x7 and I tried with Agata's Fenix3 and I could not  (too heavy and big) 

Heart Rate Chart

Atmospheric Pressure


Step History

Activity Screens

As standard a number of Activity types are present:

Each activity has a number of pre-defined things you can manipulate e.g Pool Size and Stroke Detection for swimming.

There are a large number of activity types that I deleted on the watch e.g Open Water Swimming that I can add back as needed.  It makes current menu scrolling faster.

Example Hike Activity Screen

Here I am in the middle of a Hike:

I configured 3 custom screens plus a tracklog and Clock screen in my hiking activity.

The ability to precisely customise what metrics you want, their size, and on what screen is a seemingly simple feature.  But it's MISSING on many of the competition!   

The watch has a special strap holder that prevents the strap from coming out during exercise.  Again, this was a defect on some other Sportswatches

Custom Activities
Programmers can write alternate activities and these appear along side the list of Garmin standard Activities like Run, Hike.   

Example: Heart Rate Variability

Custom Data Fields

Programmers can write custom Data Fields and these can be selected as part of any activity to put into a screen or part of a screen. 

Example: Graphical Elevation

So in my Hike activity as shown above I could then select an additional single screen and just populate it with 1 data field of Graphical Elevation, a data field that is only there because I added it via the app store.

Other reviews

A longer and more comprehensive feature review is available (of course) from DC Rainmaker here

Quick Start Guide
Read this to get upto speed asap

- Buy the 920XT.  I recommend Wiggle for International, if you are feeling generous and live in Switzerland

- Get watch and sign up to Garmin connect.  Put in all your data like age, height, interests
- Consider buying an additional charging dock.  Say one fixed at home and one for mobile travelling
- Install Garmin Express on your main PC/MAC.  You will use this to primarily transfer activity data and update watch firmware
- Optionally install Android/iOS app.  Then you can talk to Watch that way and also send millions of annoying notifications from phone to watch face
- Install a custom Watch Face from the App store
- Install Widgets, that are shown at the top level, when not performing any activity

- Install Applications (eg HRV ) these show up like another preprogrammed activity eg Running
- Install Custom Data Fields (e.g. Graphical Elevation) these can be used in any Activity
- Remove all Activities you don't need (e.g. open water swim), you can add them back later as needed
- For each of your chosen Activities e.g. Running setup the exact Data Screens you prefer.  By number of screens, the order of them and what is on each screen



Garmin 920XT full review DCR
Garmin 920 Apps

Oh .. and Apple Watch  (AW)?
This is a tangent I could ramble on about for hours.  Here is the honest summary so far

- I know at least 1 friend with one.  He will soon be sick of my questions
- Apple made great emphasis pre launch on the Sports tracking, healthy lifestyle angle of the watch, a promise not yet fulfilled
- Still the lack of inbuilt GPS meaning Smartphone tether makes it unsuitable for any half serious athlete
- You could therefore use it for Run and Bike training when you could also be carrying a Smartwatch and your /other/ device for the rest, but most athletes would reject this out of hand -> 1 device for all is desired
DC Rainmaker water proofing tests have been very positive.  (Congrats Apple)