As one of the first users of Garmin‘s new 910xt, I’ll be posting some “real world” information on using Garmin‘s newest flagship product. A more in-depth review and more photos can by found at DC Rainmaker’s blog and he is quite thorough. So I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, here, but rather report on my experiences with this latest product. Previous reviews of the watch during training runs, swim (open water, pool), and bike can be found earlier in the blog at the previous links.
On May 5, 2012 I had the opportunity to put a Garmin 910xt through a test during the Napa Valley Vintage Triathlon, which is the same as a 1/2 Ironman – 1.2 mile swim, 56 Mile Bike, and a 13.1 mile run.
The Garmin 910xt makes much prettier pictures than its predecessor the 310xt, as you can see from my race report. However, there are two things I find very annoying:
- You can’t display your swim distance in miles or tenths of miles. Only in yards or meters (so I have to do the math in my head. While swimming. This is a minor annoyance, but I suck at math. Also, it will not display your pace in mi/hr, which I use to judge my triathlon pacing. The 310xt does that.
- The algorithm is not optimized for slow/poor swimmers. As a consequence, the Garmin way underestimates the distance I swim. This could be to my slow stroke count (or as I like to say, my long, smooth strokes). At the end of the swim, the map showed a pretty triangle (much prettier than my actual swim I’m sure), but also underestimated the distance by almost .3 miles, or 528 yards – not a small amount. Knowing this going forward doesn’t make the watch less versatile or useful, but it’s good to know.
- In Open Water, at least with my skill set, I find the 310xt actually performs better, even though the end pictures don’t look as nice. It might be the accelerometer that is throwing of the 910xt since my stroke rate is so slow. I suspect the 910xt would perform or even does perform better with better swim mechanics.
A quick search of the internet shows that the 910xt has a problem with (apparently) vibration. During a steep descent at high speed (approximately 40mph) the unit, which was mounted on a Garmin bike mount (universal), turned itself off after I noticed a few glitches on the speed page (showing 0.0mi/hr). Fortunately, turning it back on and hitting start the unit picked up where it left off and I didn’t lose any data or the overall timing of the event. Other than losing about 2 minutes and a couple of miles, the unit was fine on the bike. For someone considering the 910xt, however, most users have chosen not to buy or use the QR (quick release) kit because of shutdown issues that appear to be related to vibration. Keeping the watch on the wrist seems to minimize the shutdowns. Personally, I’ve noticed the unit randomly shut itself off when just sitting at idle not doing anything, but I thought this was a feature to prevent you from completely draining the battery if accidentally turned on while packed in a suitcase…
Except for that one annoyance, the unit did just fine throughout the bike.
Since I’m training for an Ultramarathon in South Africa, I’ve used the watch mostly for running and in that it did fine. I do really enjoy the fact that even in multi-sport mode, it remembers the settings for each event so you don’t have to reset your data pages or anything else. Many other users have noted an issues with the instant pace on the watch, but I don’t use it so can’t really comment. I can say that using the footpod for instant pace hasn’t been very accurate despite numerous attempts to calibrate the footpod with the watch. I haven’t gone to a track to do the most accurate method, but when I do we’ll see how close it gets.
The biggest problem was the inaccuracy for the distance. During the race, normally it will read a bit longer than the actual course – mostly from me not running straight. However, this time, it was almost .6 miles under the course distance. This isn’t a minor error. The pace was wrong because it was recording the distance. In fact, it’s become such an issue, that I’m considering wearing both my 310xt and my 910xt and comparing them on a few runs in the future, just to see how close they are. My Sweetheart uses the 310xt during our runs together, and they seem close. But after this race, I’m thinking about doing a trail run and comparing the results.
The Garmin 910xt still faces some challenges just like any new piece of hardware might. That said, it’s still one of the best investments in my training and you’d have a hard time getting me to do anything without it. For me, it was more than worth the investment, and I’d still recommend the product with caveats: Know your limitations, know the devices limitations, and look for firmware updates to improve the product moving forward. Decide what’s best for your goals and your training and just how serious you are about those things (if you’re not writing blogs about races and trail reports and only do triathlons occasionally, this might be the product for you – there are cheaper and in some ways even better options for you).