When I started looking for a triathlon specific watch I did about a year’s worth of research. I tried on many different watches from the Suunto Ambit, to the Timex models and one or two others. I analyzed all the features, reviews and talked with owners of the various types of triathlon watches. Time and time again, I just kept coming back to the Garmin 910 XT. To be fair, when I was searching, there were not many players in the multi-sport watch game, and since then a few others have joined the party. Regardless, I decided to go with the 910 XT and below is my review of it. An expensive decision but as timing would have it, Garmin was offering a $100 off sale on the 910 XT right when I was ready to buy it. So, I was able to get the Heart Rate monitor edition that normally sells for $400 at a significant savings.
I bought a couple of other accessories to go with it including the Speed & Cadence Sensor and running Foot Pod. I’ve had over three months with the watch and I’ve put 1,500 or so miles of collective running, swimming, biking, hiking, kayaking and more on the watch. At a high-level, I can say I’m not going to be returning the watch and can’t remember what tracking sports was like before it. This is a really great device for monitoring almost all of your fitness activities. The price to get into the device is a little steep but I assure you won’t regret spending any amount of cash on the Watch.
The best feature of the watch is its multi-sport abilities. The 910 XT ability to track any multi-sport race set up, from duathlons to triathlons to aquathlons, is just unrivaled. There simply is not a better product for this feature on the market. I have used the watch in a number of multi-sport modes myself including IronMan 70.3 and Olympic distance triathlons and was not let down on either. The amount of data that you get back from the watch is just insane. I love that you have the ability to set up four screens of information specifically for each sport as. You can track everything from your last lap distance time, speed, strides, heart rate, power, stroke count, elevation, course effect etc. That information paired with powerful sports website like Garmin Connect, Strava, and Training Peaks can really make the difference in identifying areas of improvement in your training.
However, at times, it is this same information gathering ability that is also it’s Achilles’ heel. I say that, because it takes a loooong time to go from out-of-the-box to completely set up the way you want it. Most of the delay is due to the lack of any web or computer-based interface for configuring device. You have to go through many screens using only the buttons on the watch to configure how you want each sport to appear on the watch (see below). If Garmin could develop a web interface or desktop interface for managing your 910 or even a companion smart phone app that would let you quickly configure the watch and preview all of your settings and then push it to the device via the Garmin ANT Agent app, that would be one step closer to perfection. But for now you just have to manually manage the device through its buttons.
Using the ANT+ protocol for uploading your workouts is another pro and con feature of the device. After a workout, you simply plug-in the USB stick into your computer and can import your workouts and then upload them to Garmin Connect, Strava, Training Peaks, Athlete, MapMyRun, Nike+, RunKeeper or any number of workout sites that you use. The Downside is that you have to use the USB adapter to upload your data. However, if what Garmin has done with the Garmin 220 and 620 watches is any sign of future road map, you can expect to see Wi-Fi and Bluetooth data connections appear in the 920 XT in a year.
Until then, another option for uploading data is to purchase the Wahoo iPhone Ant + adapter like I did. DO NOT, purchase the Garmin branded adapter, as it fails miserably. The Wahoo adapter, on the other hand, works nicely with the WahooFitness app, which in turn allows me to upload directly to any of the named accounts above. I have included an example activity so you can see how much detail the watch gathers. If you follow the link, you will be able to see the totals form an Olympic triathlon where I used the watch to capture data from all three legs. Also, to the right here, you can see a sample Garmin Connect workout, that you can create on your own or sign up for on Garmin Connect. Specifically, you can send the workouts or training plans to your device for later use. .
The battery life of the device is pretty great; I found that you can get a weeks worth of workouts in on one single charge. Also it charges pretty fast going from empty to a full charge in roughly under four hours. One thing about the battery, is that the more accessories you have connected while recording your workouts the faster it drains. I generally have my heart rate monitor on both runs and bike rides connected. I have My speed and cadence sensor connected on bike rides and foot pod on running workouts. So, I probably don’t get as much battery life out of it as you may get, if you were to use the watch by itself. Another thing to be mindful of is that it is best to charge the watch when it is completely powered off. On occasions that I tried charging it while it was still on, the charge never fully took. The device was either constantly looking for GPS signal or connecting to other ANT + devices instead of just charging.
The GPS in this watch is insanely strong. At the same time, that results in a larger profile which makes the watch somewhat bulky in comparison to other GPS watches, except the Suunto brand. If you have a small wrist, it will take some time getting used to. There is also a velcro wrist strap available to swap in for people with smaller wrists. My wife is pretty petite and got used to her’s after about a month of wearing it. The other downside of the GPS is that it can take a while for it to find all the satellite signals in your area. In fact, when you turn it on the very first time, it can take more than 10 minutes to get satellite signal. Every time you go to a new area also, it takes a while for the watch to get satellite signal, so allow time before a race or a workout to let your watch get in sync with the GPS systems.
However, You can speed up satellite acquisition by turning on the watch as soon as you’re about to go for a workout and standing in a an area with an unobstructed view of the sky. Once your watch has a lock on some satellites, it can track distance and elevation better than any smart phone or most of the other watches in its class. It does a really great job of tracking you in open water swimming, while cycling and when running. The barometric altimeter means you get very accurate elevation data as well. You can further confirm the GPS accuracy when you pair the watch with sensors like the foot pod, power or speed and cadence. Additionally, you can use the other sensors to track indoor or pool workouts where GPS is not available or limited.
All in all, I love my 910 XT. I really hesitated for a while due to the price but I am glad I took the risk. I can definitely, recommend the 910 XT and am looking forward to what the 920 XT has in store. There are areas where the watch can get better but I don’t expect a new model till late 2014, early 2015. Until then, Garmin has many accessories that make getting the watch now worth it. Like the Quick Release system, that makes it easy to go from sport to sport. If you’re using the watch with your wetsuit, be mindful to put it on over your wetsuit because it is a bit bulky if you try to put it under the wetsuit. If I could get three things in the next version of the 910 XT, I really hope Garmin adds an interface for configuring the device on something other than the watch or at least add the same touch screen as in the ForeRunner 620. I also hope they add either Bluetooth Smart, Cell or a Wi-Fi chip in there for faster and easier workout and uploads. Lastly I hope that the device is a bit slimmer going forward. Otherwise, I highly recommend that you give the Garmin 910 XT a spin.