With the Forerunner 620, the Fenix 2 and a recent overhaul of its Connect smartphone app and web tracking tools, Garmin has been steadily developing a more modern, user friendly edge. The most recent watch to get the upgrade treatment is the flagship multi-sport watch, the Garmin Forerunner 910XT that's been redesigned, reloaded and relaunched as the 920XT. But is the 2014 triathlon timepiece a real step forward? We put it to the test in our Garmin Forerunner 920XT review.
Essential reading: Garmin Forerunner 735XT review
The Forerunner 920XT is the most fully-featured multi-sport watch on the market right now. It not only tracks seven different disciplines including bike, indoor bike, run, indoor run, outdoor swim, indoor swim, triathlon but it does all of this with ease, accuracy and a level of detail that's pretty impossible to beat.
Not only is it packed with enough single discipline smarts to keep any runner, cyclist or swimmer happy, it's also got some killer tech features, like Live Tracking, autosync and smartphone notifications on the watch. Oh, and it'll track your general movement just like a Garmin Vivofit or Vivosmart. All of this puts it up at the front of the pack when it comes sports tracking watches.
Garmin Forerunner 920XT: Design and build
The Garmin Forerunner screams function more than beautiful form. But that's always been the way with Garmin and this is instantly recognisable as a watch from 'those guys' with the now-familiar Blue/Black, and Red/White colour combinations we've seen on the Forerunner 620.
If you're after a smartwatch with Apple Watch or Android Wear shininess, then this isn't for you. It's not going to look great with your Hugo Boss suit, even to a fellow Ironman triathlete. This is a serious looking sports watch.
The first thing you'll notice when you strap the Forerunner on is how chunky it is. With a watch face that's about half the size of a standard business card and about 13mm thick, it's at the larger end of the scale among its rivals and might not sit so well on small wrists. That said it's more compact than it's predecessor, is surprisingly light at just 61g and the robust, rubberised strap makes it comfortable to wear.
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This lightness does come with a drawback. If you're used to a more metallic, weighty timepiece like a Suunto you might find the plastic finish on the Forerunner 920XT lacks a little sophistication but if you're looking for lightweight and function then you'll forgive that pretty fast.
The 1.1-inch by 0.8-inch colour screen is surrounded by six nice big buttons, two of which are clearly Back and Enter buttons. So many sport watches force you to hunt for these vital controls but it speaks to the simplicity that runs right through the Garmin that they're right where you need them.
You can opt to buy the version of the 920XT that comes with the HRM-Run chest strap and we'd recommend you do. Thanks to clever use of fabric rather than the rigid plastics that you get with some straps, it's more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. It's also the brains behind some of the running dynamics we'll talk about later.
As ever we feel obliged to have a whinge about the charging dock. While Garmin has been smart enough to use a USB charger dock that'll slide happily into any USB port or plug out there, you do still need to use the specific cable. They've not gone as far as adding the micro-USB charging that we've seen in the likes of the Polar M400.
We've said it before and we'll say it again. This is a frustration if you travel a lot or you run to/from work because it means you have to carry this cable with you wherever you go. Otherwise, you might get caught short of battery.
Garmin Forerunner 920XT: Features
The Forerunner 920XT wants to be the only sports watch you'll ever need so it's stuffed full of features that we've seen launched elsewhere in Garmin's fitness kit.
It wouldn't be any kind of all-rounder if Garmin had left out the option to track your everyday activity and rather than investing in a second fitness band device, the 920XT will monitor steps, calorie burn and miles covered for a full 24-hour period as you work towards daily goals for general movement.
Just like the Garmin Vivofit and Vivosmart, there's an activity alert bar that runs along the bottom of the clock to show you when you've had periods of inactivity. Sadly though, there's no vibrating or alarm alert to tell you when you've been sat still for too long so it's not a great reminder.
Wareable verdict: Garmin Vivoactive review
The 920XT monitors sleep too, although we found it a bit bulky to wear overnight. You'll have to manually put the Garmin into sleep mode to track your zeds too (easily forgotten) and the stats you get the morning after lack the depth of a Jawbone UP24. You can't see phases of light or deep sleep, for example, only how much you've moved during the night.
The added functions don't stop there though. You can connect the 920XT to your smartphone and have incoming smartphone notifications sent to the screen, choosing whether you want this while you work, or work out or both.
The Live Tracking function we saw in the Garmin Edge series is also included. The watch can piggyback your smartphone's connection to let friends and family follow your progress in real time.
What about the main features? How does the Garmin Forerunner 920XT perform once you hit the road, the saddle or the pool? Here's a run through of the sport specific features.
Garmin Forerunner 920XT: Swimming skills
Swimming is well catered for with tracking modes for open water and pool swimming. The former uses GPS while the latter relies on the internal accelerometer to detect when you've completed a length of your local pool, logged strokes and if you're using different stroke types.
Before you start a swim you'll need to tell the watch the length of your pool by selecting from a bunch of pre-sets or entering your own. Usefully it retains your most recent pool size, so unless you're flitting between your local swimming baths then you won't need to change it up each time.
Quick disclaimer - we have only tested the Forerunner 920XT in an indoor swimming pool. In our tests we found the length accuracy wasn't always as reliable as we'd like. The watch often skipped the odd length but in fairness to Garmin, if at any point you glide, stop or pause it can skew the readings so it's important to learn how the tracking behaves and try to avoid anything that could confuse it. Granted that's easier said than done in a busy pool but it's also true for any swim-tracking watch.
The stroke count fared better, mostly matching our own tally. We also really loved the SWOLF stats. Derived from combining the terms swimming and golf, the SWOLF adds the time and the number of strokes it takes to swim a pool length. For instance, 30 seconds and 10 strokes to swim the length of a pool will equal a SWOLF score of 40. A lower score is better, just as in golf.
It's a great stat for monitoring your swimming efficiency over time.
Garmin Forerunner 920XT: Running smarts
Just like the Garmin Forerunner 620, the 920XT boasts a huge suite of Running Dynamics for real depth to your real-time and post-run analytics. Aimed at helping improve running form and efficiency these include: Vertical Oscillation, Ground Contact Time, and Cadence.
You also get performance data in the form of an estimated VO2 max that's updated at the end of each run. This is combined with age and gender stats to give a handy post-run prediction for how you could perform over a range of distances such as 5km, 10km, Half Marathon and Marathon.
Another welcome innovation is the Metronome feature that lets you set alarms linked to a specific running cadence - the number of times your feet strike the ground in a certain time period. Improving your cadence is one way to fine tune your form and become a more efficient runner. Pros like Mo Farrah will aim for somewhere around 180 strikes per minute as an optimum and having a vibrating or audio alert to help you hit the cadence is a fantastic addition.
For beginner runners or anyone training for an ultra, there's also Run/Walk mode where you can do sessions that combine periods of running with segments of walking. It's a great way to build distance and endurance.
Treadmill fans will also be pleased to know that you can also track indoor running. The 920XT uses data captured from your wrist movement during your outdoor runs to calibrate and determine your pace and distance. While it wasn't 100 per cent accurate when compared to the treadmill's own stats, being able to capture your indoor work and plug it into your training data without manually input, is a big bonus. We told you it's an all-rounder.
Garmin Forerunner 920XT: Cycling functions
When you take to the saddle, the Garmin Forerunner 920XT tracks all the usual speed and distance using the watch's GPS. You can easily increase the variety of stats by adding ANT+ accessories like power meters or speed and cadence sensors.
Sadly those who own Bluetooth Smart power meters or speed/cadence sensors are in for disappointment as these aren't supported.
Another welcome addition is the ability to tack your Cycling VO2Max and as with running, there is also an indoor tracking option where you can have any workouts you do on an ANT+ powered bike in the gym sent to your 920XT and direct into your overall stats on Garmin Connect.
You can also auto-link your stats with Strava and TrainingPeaks, giving you access to their better analysis tools and stronger community than you'll find on even the revamped Garmin Connect.
Garmin Forerunner 920XT: Garmin Connect
Syncing stats from your 920XT to Garmin Connect can be done automatically over Wi-Fi to the web, or via Bluetooth to your smartphone app. It worked for us 99 per cent of the time and as we mentioned above, we really like the fact you can send data direct to third party apps like Strava. We'd like to see even more third party apps added in the future too.
For those who have access to gym or office Wi-Fi, you can add up to seven networks and nominate a preferred connection. You can also opt for a USB-PC upload if that's easier.
The Garmin Connect tool has been updated fairly recently with a new interface for web and smartphones. It offers a huge range of features for planning, tracking and reviewing your workouts with a customisable homepage that lets you add any number of data tiles of your choice.
From preparing for a marathon and setting monthly goals, to joining team step challenges and beating other runners' best times around your local routes, there's plenty to choose from and the new look has certainly made getting to grips with your workout stats far more intuitive.
Read more: How to train better with Garmin Connect
Garmin Forerunner 920XT: Battery life
According to Garmin the 920XT's battery will go for up to 40 hours in UltraTrac mode (a setting optimised to take less frequent readings where it's not as necessary); up to 24 hours in normal training mode and up to 4 months in watch mode, depending on whether you're tracking activity and having notifications sent from your phone.
While we found the battery roughly matched the UltraTrac and training mode times, the normal usage figure of four months is way out. We couldn't get the Forerunner 920XT to go much beyond five days even with the connectivity and tracking completely switched off.
Another missed opportunity, particularly for Ironman cyclists, is that you can't charge on the move. So even if you've got a solar pack or a way of potentially juicing up the watch while you're mid-activity, the watch won't let you.
- Simple to use
- Comprehensive feature set
- Tracks general activity too
- No Micro-USB charging
- Still quite chunky
- Auto-sync can sometimes fail