SUP Review: Garmin Forerunner 920XT

As I pointed out in the review of the Polar V800, M400, Suunto Ambit3 Sport and Peak and the Garmin 620 Forerunner which you can read here, here, here and here,  I am always looking for something that will improve my paddling experience. I was lucky enough to receive a Garmin Forerunner 920XT from Garmin Australia to have a play around with. Once I finished with the watch I then sent it back, so don’t think I am getting a free watch just for doing a review, enjoy.

In the box

There are 2 flavours of the 920XT, Red/White and a Black/Blue option. In the box you get the unit itself, Garmin HRM-Run transmitter and V4 strap (if you purchase the option that is packaged together with the watch RRP $599 or $549 without, otherwise the HRM-Run strap is $119), USB Charging/Data cradle and the obligatory instruction manuals.

What does it do?

According to Garmin, here is some of the functionality of the watch:

  • High-resolution colour display 
  • VO2 Max Estimation (with HRM-Run)
  • Recovery Advisor and Recovery Time 
  • Live Tracking 
  • Smart Notifications on the watch (with compatible smartphones
  • Automatic sync via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 
  • Activity Tracker: Measure steps, calories burned, and sleep 
  • GPS (24 satellites) and GLONASS (24 satellites) combined with downloadable satellite data (via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth with 3G/4G/Wi-Fi connection) for ultra fast GPS locks 
  • 24 hour battery life with 1s GPS intervals; 40 hours in UltraTrac mode (15s on/45s off) 
  • Metronome (audible or vibration alert) for running/cycling cadence training 
  • Watch mode (previously not available 910XT) 
  • Personal Records (PR's) 
  • Supports Connect IQ Apps 
  • Virtual Partner: Train against a digital person 
  • Virtual Racer: Compete against other activities 
  • Advanced workouts: Create custom, goal-oriented workouts 
  • Pace alert: Triggers alarm if you vary from preset pace 
  • Time/distance alert: Triggers alarm when you reach goal 
  • Vibration alert 
  • Interval training: Set up exercise and rest intervals 
  • Weight: 61g 
  • Water resistance: 5 ATM (40m) 

To see more head on over to the Garmin 920XT site here.

Comfort & Everyday wearability

Does my arm look fat in this?

Does my arm look fat in this?

If you have read any of the previous reviews you will be well aware that I have average sized wrists and I like wearing my watch a little loose and down around my wrist bone. The 920 is very light, the third lightest watch to be reviewed so far and only shaded slightly by the Polar M400 with the other Garmin, the Forerunner 620 being the lightest and that also contains the vibration module that is missing from the M400. The rear is flat with the straps anchored to the watch face in such a way that they are slightly lower than the back of the watch so that there is a little bit of “wrist hugging” going on. Not to the level of the Ambit 3 or the V800 but some hugging for sure. The straps themselves are nice and pliable with plenty of room for adjustment. I had the red and white model for the duration of the review and the only issue I found was that the band itself got a little grubby. The same issue would occur for any watch that was not black though. Because the 920 is so light it is exceptionally comfortable when being worn all day, every day. This is great due to the 24/7 tracking that will be covered later. The charging/data port is located on the underside of the 920 and is slightly recessed. You are not going to notice any discomfort from the port, well I didn’t, but it will leave a mark if you have your band adjusted to tight. The 920 is very easily connected to the charging/data cradle that the watch snaps into. Like the 620, the colour schemes ensure that the 920 looks like a sports watch. Saying that it is a very good looking watch, especially in the Black/Blue flavour and despite the size of it, won’t look to weird on your wrist for most occasions except maybe business/suit and tie occasions. The best thing about the 920 is that there is not a touch screen to be seen anywhere. All the functions/options are available by pressing one of the six, yes six buttons. In addition there are no long presses required for secondary selections (except the on/off function). This is a nice feature in my opinion as it means that all options are easily accessible with no inadvertent selections being made unless you get confused by the options available. If you struggle with seeing the digits or letters on the screen of a watch then this might be the solution for you. The screen is big, some would say huge, 2.9 x 2.1 cm (1.1” x 0.8”) to be exact. This is highlighted especially when you have four fields showing on the screen at once with no issues with seeing anything.

Despite the light weight and general “plastic” feel to this watch, it is pretty robust proven by the review unit, like all of the watches I have had a chance to review, coming out of a loan pool and having been used by others prior to me. I treat these review units like they were my own but at the same time not with “kid gloves” so the fact that there is no wear and tear visible is a great sign. This was great to see as I was a little put off by the “plastic” feel of the watch when I first saw it at the Sydney Fitness Expo last year and again when this unit arrived but that has well and truly passed.

Ease of use - Watch

As pointed out previously, the 920 has six functions buttons aiding in it’s ease of use. These buttons all have a solid feel to them and are very responsive even when wearing gloves. The fact that there is no touch screen anywhere to be seen is a blessing. The buttons that get used the most, enter/start, back and the up/down buttons are easy to identify. They are big enough that even a person with ham hands and sausage fingers will have no issues. Up/down arrow buttons on the right side of the watch face make page and menu navigation a breeze. They work well when the unit is underwater also. 

Have I mentioned the size of the screen on this unit yet? Well if you have difficulty reading the screen on this then you either need to A. get glasses, B. get new glasses or C. stop trying the read the screen from the other side of the room. It is really easy to read even in the midst of a paddle session or even during a race. I even tested it by mounting it on my board and still found it easy to read.   

Each of the training options or ‘apps’ as they are listed as have there own settings menus where alert parameters, auto lap options and data fields to name a few can be set. If you are a bit slow on the uptake like me, the structure may take a while to get your head around due to this and I put that down to the chopping and changing between the different brands. Tough life this reviewing gig.

What I really like – 

Countdown beeps/vibration. If it is not broken, then why fix it. Like the 620 this is an excellent feature. At the start and end of a programmed interval the watch will do a 5 sec countdown to the start or end of the effort. For me, this is a great feature as I may be explaining something to my group and can break off to count it down for them without having to watch the time like a hawk.

Battery life. Garmin claims 24 hours of GPS tracking at 1 sec intervals which is similar to the Suunto Ambit 3 Sport (25 hours) and  trumps the Polar V800 by 10 hours. The Ambit 3 Peak still holds the battery life mantle at 50 hours though. Garmin also claims up tp 4 months  of life in watch mode. Not sure whether that includes the 24/7 tracking though. All in all this is yet more improvement on battery life for the Garmin range which was a major limitation as recently as the watch this model replaces, the 910XT.

Things I would like changed/fixed – 

Vibration only alerts. If you haven’t seen the BBC TV Show, IT Crowd then the above video and the following gag is no doubt lost on you. The 620’s vibrate alert reminded me of the phone the Moss played around with on the show. It truly did scare the crap out of me on a couple of occasions and resulted in me being banned from using it as an alarm clock by my wife. The 920 isn’t as terrifying as the 620 but because you cannot choose the alarm to “vibrate only” you are still met with the shrill alert tone, Again this is why I will be keeping my Fitbit and it’s “silent alarm.” Again it would also be great if you could disable the tone except for maybe during an activity. 

Ease of use - Software & Apps

The 920 now supports 24/7 activity tracking and so does Garmin Connect. Garmin recently changed there already very good interface for setting up workouts/intervals. The new version is okay with my main gripe (only gripe) being that you can only select an individual heart rate zone as your target heart rate zone for intervals. This is a bit limiting and doesn’t give much scope. Apart from that it is easier to setup repeats than the old version which was a bit of a pain with the drag and drop options. The same options apply with the setup of your intervals/workouts with the customization allowing you to set the intervals by pace, time, distance or triggering with a press of the Lap Button or the aforementioned heart rate zones. Name the workout and send it to your device ready for your next session. The training calendar returns enabling you to plan some periodizations for your training week, month or year. Better yet you can have some sessions ready to go on Garmin Connect and upload them to your watch by using Garmin Connect Mobile.  

I am still trying to get my head around the Modern layout in Garmin Connect, it is growing on me though. As mentioned in the 620 review, you can also easily export your activities for use in 3rd party apps as .TCX and .CSV files as well as .KML files for Google Earth. This makes life easy if you want to export to other sites or apps that aren’t already supported by Garmin like Training Peaks. Sites that have support include Stava, MapMyFitness and Endomondo. You can also export to Facebook to tell the world of your exploits.

The new range of Garmin watches, 920XT, Fenix 3, Epix and Vivoactive also integrate the Garmin Connect IQ interface. What does this mean? Well you can completely personalise your watch with extra apps, widgets, watch faces and data fields. Watch faces are a nice to have but the apps and widgets is awesome. Things like Heart Rate Variability, weather, multiple time zones and even an app that will help you find your car to name a few. There is an app that replicates the Rip Curl Surf Watch capability of counting waves and distance on waves. They are easy to download and install on your watch either via the data cradle or via the Bluetooth interface on your compatible mobile device. Pretty sweet. I will admit that the first thing I did was download a new watch face. 

I tried the Garmin Connect Mobile on Android and iOS with no real issues. 

What I really like-

Garmin Connect IQ. The ability to customise your experience, to me, is a game changing addition. This has opened the door to independent developers to create apps, widgets, data fields and watch faces for anyone to use. Already there are a number of outstanding offerings out there and as more people jump onboard the quantity and quality will also improve. The sky is the limit and only really limited by the coders ability and available sensors.

The Garmin Connect IQ Store

The Garmin Connect IQ Store

Export of your session. You can export your activities in either GPX (Route info) or TCX (all of the info including HR, Speed etc) format for use in other programs like Strava and Training Peaks.

Workout/Intervals creator. As noted above creating workouts (intervals) is easy. Being able to send them from your mobile device is a great feature. If you could create them on there as well………

Things I would like changed/fixed/added – 

Sliders for post activity analysis. Like the 620 review, it would be great to have a little bit more functionality, especially the ability to interrogate your sessions in more detail. This is a feature of Polar Flow and Suunto Movescount. 

SUP sport profile. I have it on good authority that this is coming. Be prepared for a full review of this when it does become available. 

Conclusion

Of the watches that I have had the opportunity to review to this stage this has been the most complete example of function, ease of use and future proofing.  The unit is light yet robust, easy to read but not so large that it looks ridiculous.  It is big though, which may put people off especially those with more efeminate wrists and arms. One of the best improvements seen on the 920 by Garmin is the enhanced battery life  that has enabled the 920 to become your everyday watch  unlike the previous 910XT and watches like the 405. 

 The 920 performed well every time that I used it except for one time. This was for a run that I performed at night up and down a street that had a few trees on it. The distance was correct however when looking at the GPS track it had me running on a different street. I am unsure what caused it as I had run on trails and other similar tree covered routes before and since with no issues. Upon investigating I found that there were a number of threads on the Garmin Forums dedicated to issues with GPS tracks especially when the activity is cross country.

As previously reviewed, the Garmin Connect Mobile app on iPhone and Android devices is slick in it’s integration and uploading of activities to 3rd party apps is a breeze. Setting up intervals/workouts is intuitive and the new interface for creating them is easy enough to use. The countdown, both audible and vibrate, in and out of intervals is excellent and the best of the watches reviewed thus far.

I really love this watch and would highly recommend it to anyone whether it be for SUP, running, cycling (there is a bike quick release mount available) or any other athletic or fitness discipline you may be into, it is that good. The two colour schemes also make it more attractive for females to wear as well, even though I am quite partial to the White and Red flavour myself.

The Garmin Forerunner 920XT price has it right around the Polar V800 and the Suunto Ambit 3 Peak. Of those three I would rate them 920XT, V800 and then the Ambit 3. That is my opinion from having spent a significant amount of time with each watch and lived with them day to day for the length of the review.   When it is all said an done I think that the final decison between the Garmin 920XT and the Polar V800 comes down to the look that you prefer? They are so similar in functionality, except for the Connect IQ options, that the look will weigh heavily on your decision. Both offer great interval functionality, vibration alerts, 24/7 activity tracking and a strong web based offering with Garmin Connect and Polar Flow. Personally I am leaning towards the 920XT especially with the available Surf data field and the possibility of a SUP App/Widget/Data Field in the works.

Caveman Rating:

4.5 out of 5 Smiling Caveman Heads

 

 

 

Other Options and their Reviews (all prices RRP and include HRM Straps)

Garmin Forerunner 620 - $499 - 3.5 out of 5 Smiling Caveman Heads

Garmin Forerunner 920XT - $599 - 4.5 out of 5 Smiling Caveman Heads

Garmin Fenix 3 Grey/Silver - $729 & Sapphire $849 – Review Coming Soon

Garmin Vivoactive  - $379 – Review Coming Soon

Polar V800 - $629 4.5 out of 5 Smiling Caveman Heads

Polar M400 - $349 - 3.5 out of 5 Smiling Caveman Heads

Suunto Ambit 3 Sport - $499 & Peak - $649  - 3 out of 5 Smiling Caveman Heads