By Tom Demerly.
Garmin’s new 910XT joins their multisport GPS wrist-top training computers at the high end of their models. The $399.99 computer ($449.99 with a heart rate strap) goes from swim to bike to run seamlessly and adds a new layer of utility with its indoor pool workout tracking.
The Garmin 910XT may be the all-in-one training computer for the multisport athlete that has been missing from previous product introductions. For athletes (and coaches) who collect training data in three sports it’s been necessary to own a few gadgets: A power meter; something to display, store and interpret the data; a run computer and a separate device to track swim performance in the pool. That is $4000+ worth of electronics. Garmin’s new 910XT system provides ANT+ compatible data gathering with recent Powertap ANT+ rear hubs and is forward compatible with the upcoming Garmin Vector pedal based power measurement. It collects data in the pool and in the open water, on the bike and on the run.
The 910XT is for the athlete who wants one data device for everything: It collects and interprets a wider variety of training data than any current device.
Garmin is, firstly, a Global Positioning System company. Their primary business is GPS in all its applications from maritime to defense to civilian use. They are also a service provider with Garmin Connect, their on-line training log and data interpretation resource. Garmin Connect can be part of the reason to buy into the Garmin family of training tools. Garmin Connect is simple and streamlined with an appealing visual interface. For most users Garmin Connect may provide the type of experience they want in reviewing their data. With Garmin Connect you get splits, averages, a player that animates your workouts with scrolling telemetry and maps, the ability to establish training zones and a vast catalog of user-contributed routes. Garmin Connect’s primary benchmark is Training Peaks, another on-line data storage and interpretation repository popular with many coaching services. If you own a Garmin device you don’t have to decide as Training Peaks is compatible with Garmin devices in addition to Garmin Connect.
The 910XT may bring some new capabilities to Garmin Connect. Garmin is currently tight lipped about any new features on the Connect portal other than to make some interesting, albeit obtuse, references. Garmin has recently provided users with the option to toggle between Bing and Google as a map provider on Garmin Connect. And as a bonus, Garmin connect remains entirely free whereas the higher level Training Peaks capabilities are a pay-to-play thing.
As a rough analogy I equate Garmin devices and Garmin Connect to being somewhat “Apple” like compared to Training Peaks and the many devices it services that have a more “Microsoft Windows” feel to the user experience.
Perhaps the singular new feature that adds value to the Garmin 910XT is the pool workout capability. The 910XT records data from your pool workout including distance, a combined stroke efficiency analysis known as “SWOLF” which is equated to a golf-type score that rate a number of swim metrics in one quotient, a low number denoting better efficiency. Of course time and a boggling array of other swim metrics are also recorded. The only thing it won’t due in the pool is read the heart rate strap ANT+ signal since ANT+ does not transmit effectively when submerged. On race day when you hit the beach the unit will pick up the strap’s ANT+ signal and begin recording your heart rate. You do have to program the pool length into the unit at the start of the workout, and any length pool can be used.
For open water swimming the Garmin 910XT uses an advanced, predictive “smoothing” process with the intermittent GPS signal you experience in the water. GPS does not work when submerged so the unit “fills in the blanks” between surface exposures to the GPS signals using the accelerometer. The combination of accelerometer data and GPS signal produce a useful representation of your course, speed and position in the water while surface swimming. Another useful feature in the open water swim setting is the vibrating alarm that can be set to alert you at given distances or time intervals during your swim. Want to know when you are 1/4th of the way through your Ironman swim? This unit can be programmed to alert you at any preset interval.
Back on dry land the GPS/barometric altimeter derived position from the 910XT provides an interesting new opportunity for adventure racers, climbers, ultra-runners and other “extreme athlete” users. The 910XT uses both barometric altitude and three-satellite fix GPS derived altitude for a very accurate positional fix. As with all barometric/pressure based altitude measurements a calibration is required if you are going to rely on this due to changing pressures with weather. This feature is useful for users with Ultralight aircraft, hang gliders and even defense industry users. For the defense crowd, like the lads next door to us at Davis-Monthan AFB here in Tucson, the audible alarms and night light can be completely disabled for tactical use.
What is the user experience like with the Garmin 910XT? I got to handle a production 910XT provided to us by Garmin’s Karsten Hagen. I collect wrist watches and am a fan of Casio’s bulky G-Shock collection. The 910XT is slimmer and has a more rounded shape than the previous boxy Garmins. Because of the lower profile and improved shape it is more comfortable and attractive to wear than the previous boxy Garmins. The 910XT slips under arm warmers and wetsuit sleeves more easily than the previous boxy units. Garmin’s bracelet is one of the best in any wrist-instrument category and seems infinitely adjustable for comfort. Wearing the 910XT is comfortable and I like the black, “techie” look. Battery life is claimed to be 20 hours so this will get you from swim start to cut-off at most ultra-endurance events.
Frankly, I am flummoxed by overly complex wrist-top supercomputers. The 910XT is not overly complicated given its capabilities. The 910XT has a set of capabilities so vast, from interfacing with power meters to even ANT+ compatible Tanita bathroom scales and beyond, that I was initially pensive about wanting one. Will I use all this telemetry? I don’t have a Tanita scale, I don’t own a power meter. The middle 60% of users for a personal GPS product will not access the highest level features of the Garmin 910XT, but they are still paying for them. However- the 910XT does offer a core set of data collection capabilities that are absolutely relevant to the common user. Additionally, the unit is more future-proof than most personal electronics and may be even more future proof than Garmin is letting us know with rumored updates to Garmin Connect and the pending release of Garmin Vector power measurement pedals. Finally, features like the indoor/outdoor pool workout data collection are unique to the Garmin 910XT among GPS units and important to the entry level triathlete and recreational user.
Garmin packed a ton of features and capabilities into the 910XT but managed to keep the interface from being too complex or unwieldy. It has a vast menu of capabilities- more so than any previous wrist top computer. You use the features on the Garmin 910XT A’ la carte, selecting the ones relevant to you and expanding as your needs expand. With that in mind the 910XT is an elegant integration of a vast amount of data collection capabilities. It is easier to make a massive, complex device that does everything than it is to make one elegant device that has a simple user experience along with deep layers of capabilities. Garmin has done the later with the 910XT making it highly capable but uniquely usable and relevant. Some of the core features like the pool utility are extremely important especially to new athletes.
If Garmin was shooting for a “one device does all” experience from new athlete to expert user they did it with the 910XT. You buy in at a price higher than the entry level units but your long-term cost will be lower since you won’t have to re-buy into the technology stream to get more capability. For that reason the new Garmin 910XT shows strong value.
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