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Garmin 920XT Review – Smart Watch – TitaniumGeek

I had held off purchasing the old Garmin 910XT in July, in the belief that there would have the be a replacement watch in the not too distant future.

Now this wasn’t just a desire for new things, but a want for features that were available in other products, Bluetooth LE as a minimum. Since the original 910XT’s release in 2012, and its development over the preceding years prior, I thought it quite likely that given the sea change in the world of GPS watches, even in Garmin’s own line up with the 620 Forerunner, an update had to be imminent. Plus, with the advent of the mainstream smart watch, aggressively promoted and produced by the likes of Samsung and now Apple, Garmin couldn’t really just produce another GPS triathlon watch. They had to push the envelope.

So is the 920XT a hit, or the beginning of the end for Garmin, as the new guard come out guns blazing?

Garmin 920XT Review – Smart Watch

The Garmin 920XT is not a simple device. In order to do the watch justice, and to explain the myriad of features, this review has been split into several different posts:

I purchased by 920XT, about 10 days prior to my cycling accident, which was rather annoying in terms of being able to test it out properly.

But from a personal standpoint, I have actually found some of the watch features, particularly the adaptive pedometer, to be very useful for my rehabilitation.

Given that, let’s look at the 920xt as a smart watch, as the specific sports functions will be address in other posts

Pedometer

One of the basic functions of an smart watch, even a phone today, is the inclusion of an activity tracker, or pedometer. The 920XT records the number of steps across the day, and crucially can advise you to get out of your chair and move if you’ve been sedentary for a long period.

The pedometer is actually displayed, unobtrusively, on the home screen on the watch along with and activity bar underneath

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Steps and activity bar

 

The activity bar gives a visual representation of your movement over the past hour – the longer you sit around, the more the bar fills, and becomes red, until it gives you a beep to advise you to move – indicating an hours inactivity. Although the red is not astonishingly RED – the colours are still better than on the Garmin 620.

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Little Red Bar of inactivity

 

Playing the game

Being active over the next 5 minutes will remove one of the red blocks, until eventually you have been active enough to empty the activity bar again

DATA!

A watch like this, is a wealth of training and fittness data, even when it comes to general activities. Garmin has made some of the that visible on the watch screen itself.

Pressing the down arrow from the Watch Standby will bring up the Activity Monitoring screen. Detailing how many calories you’ve burnt and the distance you have walked along the bottom. The rest of the screen is filled with your step count data. Your total steps in the large type at the centre of the screen, underneath, the percentage completion of your goal for that day. That is also displayed on the graphic arc above the data.

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Activity Monitoring screen

Nudges get you further

Many step counters allow you to set a goal yourself. The 920xt also has this function, but you can also opt instead to have the goal adjusted dynamically.

This I find is a great little feature, providing little nudges for want of a better word, based on your previous overall history, rather than just the previous day.

What this means is, if you are aiming for 10,000 steps a day, yet end up smashing out 21,000 due to being very busy with…. I don’t know, life stuff, getting your cat flossed etc. the 920xt will nudge your next days target up by a small amount, calculated from your previous days averages (i don’t know over what period), to prevent this nudge being skewed by one particular activity spike.

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Activity trends

Your daily goal is clearly displayed on the Activity Monitoring screen, and your overall performance can be monitoring on The Garmin Connect website, both in terms of Step Trends over time, but also your particular activity over a day – clearly indicating where you were inactive for more than that dreaded hour!

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Activity across the day

If you do opt for the dynamic goal, the 920Xt defaults initially to a goal of 5,000 steps. Which is a little annoying as I would have personally liked to put in 10,000 straight off. If you DO set a personal goal you loose that dynamic adjustment which is a pain in the neck.

However leaving the 920xt on dynamic takes about a week to reach an appoximate 10,000 step goal, as the target increases by about 200-500 step, depending on your previous steps. When you finally get to a level that you are wanting, this is where the power of the dynamic goal kicks in. Crucially, if you miss a days goal, it also takes that into account, nudging you back DOWN, so you are more likely to be able to hit the goal the next day. This variable goal I feel works much more effectively, preventing that feeling of demoralisation, if you are busy with work, and can’t manage to be as active as you’ve like, there is an adjusted goal, hopefully within reach of a little extra effort. All coming back to that help nudge, rather than an failure suggesting nag.

Smart Notifications

Great, Smart watches exist, Apple has a smart watch, everyone can get their messages on the wrist, as taking a phone out of your pocket is sooo hard. Well that was my initial thought. Nice gimmick, clearly a “me too!” feature, and then I left it at that. WOW was I wrong. Having Smart Notifications is one of the reasons I can’t take this watch off!

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Smart Notification screen

Your phone has to be paired with your smart phone in order to receive notifications. A simple drop down message appears on the Watch face with notification. To view the message you can press the up arrow which will take you to the Smart Notification screen. This tells you the sources of the information.

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Smart Notification Preview

Hitting the Enter key take you to the Smart Notification Preview page, so you can scroll through the massages you have received. Hitting Enter again with the message highlighted will allow you to view the entire message. Although I have occasionally noticed the 920XT has problems with WhatsApp messages.

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Smart Notification Message View

This can be very useful for quickly checking a message or reading a text. However its a one way only stream, your phone cannot tell the message has been reviewed. On the iPhone, the messages remain on the 920XT whilst it is present in iPhones notification screen. The point of this is, if the message is not configured on your PHONE to appear on the Notification Page on IOS, it WONT appear on the 920XT either, as this is where the data is sourced from.

As well as receiving emails and texts to the phone, it will also vibrate, and inform you of caller ID. I’ve found this very useful when my phone has been on silent in a different room, allowing me to go hunting to try and find my phone.

Notifications can be configured to be ignored whilst on a work out – I actually like seeing if a message or call is coming it, as it stops me having to dig my phone out to see if I need to take it/reply – which if I’m on a run is unlikely! So its nice to be able to filter calls/messages without breaking pace!

Finally, notifications on the 920XT can be configured with a Beep, vibration, or both. Personally I’ve it set to just vibrate, as I feel I can HEAR the vibration, as well as feel it!

As great as this feature is, smart notifications is a jealous feature. I can’t have Smart Notifications coming to the 920XT AND the Garmin 1000 head unit when out on a ride. Now this could be merely due to The Garmin 1000 firmware – as broadly the smart notifications have been NAFF with that, but I’ll discuss that in its respective review when I get round to it!

Live Tracking

After having had my accident, I’m still very wary about going out on the bike. Garmin has included the Live tracking feature, from their cycling Edge units. Initially I thought this was a nice feature, and ignored it, but now I find it a greatly reassuring feature – even for regular biking issues.

This week on a short ride, after switching off my training wheels to summer rims, my chain came off. Now I dont just mean slipped off, oh dear, and put it back on. I mean, catastrophically came off the higher end of the cassette and jammed hard against the wheel.

This nearly had my off, and even at 12 weeks post op was terrifying. Neither myself nor my riding companion could pull it free. Using Garmin Live track, my girlfriend was able to collect from a country road with relative ease.

Your phone needs to be paired to the 920XT, and with you, and have signal on the activity in order to have Live Tracking working. As the GPS work is handled by the watch, phone battery life is not normally an issue with this either. I’m finding its also a very useful feature for communicating with a household, and planning our lives.

If my girlfriend or myself manage to get out on a run/ride before the other gets back from work etc, using Live Tracking, we can take a guess about how long before they get back, and plan our own activities taking this into account.

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Garmin Live Track Setup

This is a free service from Garmin. To use it, you send an invite from the Garmin Connect phone app, either by email to a particular contact, or you can broadcast on Facebook/Twiiter. In all cases a link to the Garmin Connect site is generated, allowing viewers to track the owners progress on Google/Bing maps.

One very nice feature is the broadcast of data from ANT+ sensors connected to the Garmin device. Allowing you to see the owners speed, cadence, distance etc, this can be looked at from the overall activity or from distance split markers.

I’ve not had the chance to try it yet, although I imagine this will be a very interesting feature for tracking performance during an event, as much as general training. Although again this will require having your phone with you – which might put off triathletes – although the broadcast feature does still work through water!

Garmin 920XT Review Conclusion – Too good to take off!

My previous experience with personal activity trackers was the Nike Fuel band. A device I found I got on with so well, I upgraded to the Fuel Band SE. Then again that upgrade may have been more to do with Nike changing to using stainless steel screws on the SE, which stopped the rusting and skin allergy the original fuel band screws caused me.

Regardless of screws though, I actually liked my Fuel band. One big advantage, was, because of the band nature, I could wear it, along with another watch. Which is actually a problem for me with the 920XT, its just too good. I don’t want to take it off, but that means I’m always wearing a sports watch, and occasionally there are times when it might be better to have something else.

However I wear it not so much in preference to my other watches, but because I have become so accused to its features. The Bluetooth notifications, the adaptive step counter, the ability to shoot out for a run and not have to go looking for my watch – my office space at home can get messy. Finding where my trusty 310xt had crawled off to, could often be a mammoth task .

Overall I’ve found the 920XT an amazing piece of kit. Even using Smart Notifications constantly, and doing about 3-4 activities a week with the watch, I’m only re-charging it once every 10-14 days, which as far as I’m concerned is fantastic. Merely for the Smart Notifications and the Activity Tracker I VERY happy with this watch…Would I have preferred a Fenix 3, that looked a little more like a “normal” watch. Certainly 🙁

But I do feel that the 920XT has a better screen in terms of real-estate – having owned a Garmin 620. The circular screen doesn’t work quite as well for activities. However from a purely Smart Watch perspective its GREAT. I don’t think the 920XT and my iPhone together mean I miss anything compared to the all powerful Apple Watch, which is in a similar price field.

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James Gill

<p>Author of TitaniumGeek, which started after smashing off my RIGHT elbow. Feel free to drop me a line about sports tech, medicine, or frankly anything that you want to chat about!!</p><br />