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by Matt Wikstrom
March 31, 2015
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
Garmin recently added a new model to its Forerunner range, updating and expanding on the capabilities of the 910XT to yield the 920XT. Purpose-built for triathletes, this device may also appeal to cyclists that want a portable GPS device. In this review, Matt Wikstrom and Jonathan Reece take a closer look at all of its functions.
Garmin is well known for its GPS-enabled devices but I’m still surprised at the depth of its catalogue. They have devices designed for flying, boating, driving, fishing, running, hiking, swimming, golfing and cycling. There is more though, like the VIRB sports camera and devices for tracking and training dogs.
Where once GPS devices were large and cumbersome, now the technology fits into a watch or wristband. Garmin has developed a variety of watches with GPS tracking primarily to appeal to runners, swimmers and triathletes. The Forerunner range comprises the majority of these devices however there is also the fenix range and the new vivoactive watch as well as watches dedicated to hiking and golf.
Garmin added the 920XT to its Forerunner range recently. Purpose-built for triathletes, it updates and expands the capabilities of the Forerunner 910XT.
Amongst the many upgrades, the 920XT has a colour display and satellite acquisition times have been improved by adding GLONASS (the Russian equivalent of GPS). In addition, the 920XT is smaller and lighter than the 910XT and boasts improved connectivity thanks to the addition of WiFi and Bluetooth. Users can now pair the device with a smartphone and enjoy automatic uploading of all activity data. And in recognition of the fact that most users will wear the 920XT like a watch, it offers a watch function when in standby mode.
99 Bikes recently supplied a 920XT bundled with a heart-rate monitor to give us a chance to take a closer look at the performance of the new Forerunner watch.
The Forerunner 920XT is available with or without Garmin’s “HRM-Run” heart-rate monitor, retailing $549 for the watch only, and $599 for the watch plus HRM-Run. The 920XT is supplied with a 12-month warranty and buyers have a choice of two colours: black with blue highlights and white with red highlights.
A charging cradle is included with both versions of the 920XT. The watch simply clicks into the cradle with electrodes making contact on the back of the watch. The cradle has a USB lead for attaching to a power source; it also doubles as a data lead.
The HRM-Run monitor is more than just a heart rate monitor. An accelerometer monitors torso movement to provide data on running cadence (steps/min), vertical oscillation (or bounce, measured in centimeters) and ground contact time (measured in milliseconds), essentially supplanting Garmin’s foot pod.
The watch is supplied with a quick start manual in a plethora of languages, while a detailed manual can be viewed and downloaded from Garmin’s website.
For those that have had experience with the 910XT, the 920XT will be immediately familiar. Six buttons are provided for operating the device: the power and mode buttons are located on the left side of the watch; scroll buttons are located on the right; and below the screen, there are “Enter” and “Back” buttons for moving through each menu or function.
Once the device is turned on, it can be used to track swimming (open water versus pool), running (indoors or outdoors), cycling (again, indoors or outdoors), and triathlon/multisport (e.g. duathlon). In addition, the 920XT can monitor daily activity (i.e. steps taken) including sleep. And when the device is not in use, the 920XT displays the time, day and date.
The 920XT is water resistant to 5 atm, which is equivalent to a depth of 50m. The built-in rechargeable lithium ion battery offers around four months of power for the watch alone; activity tracking reduces this period to 30 days; and operating the device with the GPS turned on reduces this period to around 24 hours.
An accelerometer is included in the 920XT for measuring running cadence and swimming strokes. Thus, there is no strict need for the HRM-Run strap or a foot pod when running, however both of these sensors are less susceptible to spurious measurements.
The 920XT provides ANT+ connectivity for multiple sensors (speed/cadence, heart-rate monitor, foot pod, pedal pods, VIRB camera, third-party power meters). As mentioned above, the 920XT is WiFi-enabled and there is also Bluetooth connectivity.
A variety of general data is collected or calculated for each activity (time, distance, average speed) in conjunction with specific data (e.g. running cadence, swimming stroke rate). HRM-Run adds heart rate data that can be used to estimate power output while cycling, VO2max, and recovery time. The user can opt to view up to four data screens with one to four fields per screen during an activity. In addition, the 920XT can be setup to provide alerts for pace setting (based on time, distance, or calories).
There are two choices for recording data: one-second intervals for a detailed (but very large) file or using the so-called “Smart” option that reduces the file size by only recording the data when there is a change (e.g. in pace or direction). Smart data recording also saves a little power. Garmin claims the 920XT has the capacity to record up to 100 hours of activity.
Once the user has created a Garmin Connect account, all data collected by the 920XT will be uploaded automatically via WiFi. Alternatively, the device can be paired with a smartphone using Bluetooth to achieve the same function as well as providing access to Garmin’s “LiveTrack” function. Runners and cyclists that prefer to use Strava can configure their Garmin Connect account to automatically share all uploaded data.
Finally, the 920XT offers navigation without maps. There are three options: following a course created with Garmin Connect or other mapping applications; travelling to a saved location; or returning to your start point. In the first instance, a simple trajectory is provided by the 920XT; in the other two, an arrow appears on the screen to point you in the right direction.
Cycling: the 920XT essentially offers all of the same functions as an Edge 510. Users can mount the watch on the handlebars with an optional bicycle mount or Garmin’s familiar twist-mount can be fitted to the back of the watch so that it can be removed from the band and fitted to a stem or handlebar mount.
Swimming: a variety of features have been designed for training in a pool. For example, there is a rest timer for intervals and a separate timer for drills. The latter ensures that the distance covered whilst performing drills is included in the total swim session. The 920XT is able to count strokes as well as distinguish stroke type and calculate a “swolf” score (strokes/lap).
Running: as mentioned above, the 920XT uses an accelerometer to determine running cadence while the HRM-Run adds data on a runner’s bounce and ground contact time. The device complements this function with a metronome that chimes and/or vibrates to help with pacing.
The 920XT is a large wristwatch that is best suited to a big wrist. My skinny wrist was dwarfed by the size of the device, but I didn’t have any difficulties wearing it. The wristband offers plenty of adjustment with finely spaced holes for the buckle tongue.
For those that are familiar with Garmin’s Edge devices like the 500 or 510, they won’t have any trouble using the 920XT. Similarly, previous owners of the 910XT will be immediately familiar with the modes and menus. There are a lot of functions to navigate, and while the arrangement is largely intuitive, there were times I had trouble re-locating a function and had to resort to the online manual.
As promised, once GLONASS is enabled, the 920XT acquires satellites very quickly, requiring around 20 seconds; however, in my hands and location, turning off GLONASS only extended satellite acquisition by a handful of seconds. It’s important to note that using GLONASS draws a little extra power. Swimmers will find that the 920XT can lose the satellites during an open water swim when it is submerged, however it will re-acquire them automatically, albeit with some interruption to the data.
The display proved reliable and easy to read at a quick glance though some fields were truncated when viewed four to a page (e.g. the timer displayed hours as a superscript for the minutes and seconds). As such, the 920XT will never rival something like an Edge 510 when riding, so it really should be viewed primarily as a recording device that is able to provide a quick view of progress. In this regard, the audible/vibrating alerts for splits and the metronome are a thoughtful inclusion.
The metronome proved invaluable for run sessions. The data on bounce and ground contact time was interesting but ultimately of little value without the input of a coach or trainer. The same applied to the stroke data when swimming.
I found the 920XT was barely satisfactory for navigation purposes because the size of the screen limited the amount of detail that could be provided. Following a course was reasonably easy because there was a trajectory to see. However, when returning to start, the only direction offered by the device was a wandering arrow that was like following a compass. I don’t expect that the kind of buyer that is interested in the 920XT will have high expectations for its navigation function.
I had no trouble with using the HRM-Run strap. A few moments were required at the outset to pair the strap with the 920XT. After that, the device would locate the heart rate monitor in about the same time it took to acquire the satellites. It may be obvious to some, but it is worth pointing out that the strap cannot be used while swimming.
I found myself charging the 920XT more often than I really needed to. In part, this was due to the lengthy run time of its battery—I’m more accustomed to shorter-lived devices—but it is also easier to remember to charge a device that follows you into the house after you’ve finished with an activity. Too often I’ve left GPS-devices attached to the bike and forgotten to fetch them for charging before the next outing.
During the course of the review period, I didn’t experience any glitches or interruptions in operation. Garmin Connect has improved since my first experience, offering users a good range of tools for analysing and sharing their data. Above all, the automation of data uploading via WiFi stands out for me as the most valuable feature.
Finally, the buttons on the 920XT seemed an improvement over those found on the 910XT. The durability of the “Back” and “Enter” buttons has been an issue for some 910XT users, so it’s encouraging that these buttons feel more robust for the new watch.
As a child, calculator watches fascinated me. If I had known I would be living in a future with a device like the Forerunner 920XT, it would have blown my mind. This device has a lot to offer buyers—at face value, there is WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity along with a broad range of data and analytics—but it is the depth of features that goes a long way to ensuring that every user’s needs are met adequately.
Dedicated cyclists will always be better served by devices like the Edge 510, 810 and 1000, but for those riders that enjoy other activities, the 920XT may hold some appeal, allowing them to keep a tally of how much exercise they are getting. Plus, there is the convenience of a wearable device that is literally capable of monitoring your every move.