I’ve been posting some “real world” information on using Garmin‘s 910xt flagship product. A more in-depth technical 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 from a back-of-the-pack triathlete. Previous reviews of the watch during training runs, swim (open water, pool), 1/2 Ironman, and bike can be found earlier in the blog at the previous links. A comprehensive review, based on all my previous Garmin 910xt reviews, will be coming soon.
Recently I’ve begun using the “courses” function of the Garmin 910xt more extensively. Although an interesting gadget, the “courses function” has issues that sometime reduce its effectiveness. However, it’s still fun to use, and you can ‘race’ yourself, or a buddy, on your courses that you’ve either created or actually attempted. There are some things to think about when using the courses functions, however.
- You have to turn on “Virtual Partner” in order to use the “Virtual Racer” graphic page (the one showing how far behind/in front of the “other guy/gal” you are). The “Virtual Partner” function turns into “Virtual Racer” when you add a course. For some people, that might seem obvious, but because the Garmin 910xt adds additional screens automatically when doing a course, I thought it would also automatically add the “Virtual Racer” page showing how far in front/behind I was from my previous attempt. It doesn’t until you turn on Virtual Pacer, which then works like you’d expect. Ya, probably a “Duh” moment, but I like to think I’m not the only Homer Simpson on the planet…
- The watch seems somewhat intolerant of being “close” to GPS waypoints. Whether I’ve done the course before, or mapped it out on Garmin Connect, I get “Off Course” warnings fairly consistently. This gets annoying during a four hour bike ride. That said, it does amazingly manage to figure out where you should be in your virtual race once it “re-acquires” the course.
- I do like the little “YOU WIN!” window that pops up if you finish ahead of your “opponent” in the virtual race. I haven’t “lost” yet but I suspect the “YOU LOSE!” window will not be as well received when I get one.
- Mapping out a course for the Garmin is not as easy as you might think. The Garmin Connect website does a good job, but other third-party sources seem to be stuck in a time-warp from 3-5 years ago. Googles recent advances with bike routes and bike maps certainly helps, and hopefully more maps that can export .tcx files easily will come available in the future. For now, the Garmin Connect website is by far the best and easiest one to use for me so far.
- If you take a shortcut, the watch does warn you once that you are off course. If you later rejoin the route, it will pickup where you rejoin and tell you where you are in relation to your “opponent”. Nifty!
- I’m still not convinced just how “useful” this function really is in the real world. The course has to be exact, and the weather should be exactly the same to get any real benefit. It does, however, keep you handily distracted, and I probably pushed myself harder (while maintaining the appropriate heart rate zone!), so there may indeed be benefits. If you’re wearing a Garmin 91oxt, most likely you’re a competitive person, and racing yourself can be excellent motivation. It also gives you lots of data to help compare your progress, but outside factors can effect that greatly (weather, for example).
- It takes a long time to “load” longer courses (my longest was 65 miles) and then to figure out where you are in relation to the start point. So, if you’re impatient like me, make sure to select “Do Course” before you pump up your tires, take the bike off the car, put your helmet on, etc. Don’t wait until you’re on the bike ready to ride. You’ll find yourself waiting several minutes tapping the ground annoyed if you don’t. Once the watch does all it’s figuring, though, it keeps up fairly well
- The “elevation” profile map is useless in the “Fast Scroll” mode. I wish there was a way to turn it off – it take the watch too long to “think” before it can draw the map. If you manually change pages, or perhaps on “slow scroll” it might work better. As it is, the elevation function map just is too complicated for the computer.
Overall, it’s a nifty feature for the watch, but I would have preferred more work go into the swim and GPS accuracy issues. Not sure if that would have been possible and since this sort of thing merely requires a smart computer doing what computers do well (math), I am glad they included the function. Besides, I’m still playing with it – so that has to count for something!