When it comes to the connected watches, we often see that they bundle in some sort of step tracking, as quantifying our lives has become all the rage (myself included). The Wellograph I looked at did get more into the realm of monitoring more things relevant for fitness (including a heart rate monitor), but it was not something that would feel particularly right on the wrist at the gym or out on the trails. For myself, I have found myself spending more time in the gym, and my Fitbit – while a tidy little tracker for daily use – was not giving me the full picture I wanted. That then brings us to my new workout companion, the Garmin Forerunner 920XT.
The biggest thing that the Garmin Forerunner 920XT brought to the table, for me, was the heart rate strap. Now, I had looked into some stand-alone heart rate monitors that could use bluetooth low energy (aka BLE) to connect to my phone, that would then also sync into the Fitbit dashboard. While I cannot speak as to how well that would work (As I’ve not tried it out), I wanted to throw that out there as an option for readers who may just want to add HR monitoring to their existing gadgets. For me, right now, the Garmin works for what I need. Not, it is not the most economical solution (again, for my particular fitness routine), but it handles things with aplomb.
For starters, the Garmin Forerunner 920XT is extremely light – only 62g, which means you do not even notice it on your wrist (except when it vibrates to let you know your pacing or some other information). I thought the heart rate strap might feel a bit cumbersome (hence, when I was looking at BLE monitors, I was considering a wrist-mounted one), but it’s something that I got used to pretty quickly. You get it tight enough to have it able to record your heart rate, but it did not feel overly constrictive. By means of comparison, I did check it against the heart rate monitoring built into the elliptical machines at the gym, and found the two measurements to be within a few beats of each other, so I felt the Garmin was accurate.
I do want to take an aside here to talk about accuracy, as I have been evaluating various different watches, and comparing the step counts (and sleep tracking, if it’s offered) against my trusty Fitbit. In general, I will say that trying to chase these down to compare ends up with the realization that it is not truly an apples-to-apples comparison. Rather, there are definitely differences in sensors, and even where the device is mounted, that lead to differences. In the end, I think that you do not need to worry so much about discrepancies, as much as getting a feel for what the numbers mean on your chosen device, and work on that as a baseline. For me, I feel that the Garmin Forerunner 920XT does a better job of tracking my runs on the elliptical than the Fitbit does, so that’s what I’ve settled on there. When it comes to sleep tracking, they were pretty closely matched, but the Fitbit gets the nod there as it includes a vibrating silent alarm to get me up in the morning (to go to the gym, of course).
When you get into the other modes that the Garmin Forerunner 920XT, then you realize that you are past your standard fitness tracker. Along with the Indoor Run mode that I rely on, it offers an Outdoor Run mode, a cycling mode (both indoor and outdoor), swimming (pool or open water), and a triathlon mode. I’ve used the biking mode a few times, but not enough to really get a good feel for it, or make any adjustments for more accurate recording. Based on my experience with the indoor run mode, however, I can only assume that the others will just as well. For me, at least at this point in time, the various other modes are a bit of overkill – but they are there should I (or anyone else) want to expand their workout routine.
I did want to touch a moment on the swimming modes of the Garmin Forerunner 920XT. Not because I have used them, but to point out another bit of technology in the watch. Like any other connected watch these days, the Garmin Forerunner 920XT connects to your phone via bluetooth. Well, you are certainly not going to have your phone on you while you swim, and perhaps not even poolside. While you could certainly just catch things up after the workout, there is another function you can utilize – wifi. This means that your watch can sync its data directly to Garmin Connect. I’ve not played around with this much, but it is definitely an interesting value add, especially if you do not want to carry your phone with you.
If your phone is nearby, however, the Garmin Forerunner 920XT can act in some ways like a smart watch, giving you some basic notifications from your phone (texts, alerts, etc). This could be handy at the gym (or on the trail) if you are waiting to hear from someone. In terms of using the Garmin Forerunner 920XT as an all-day wear smartwatch, though, I would be less inclined to do so. While the watch is fairly light, it is a big watch. The sizing, which makes for a larger (and easier to read) screen and easily accessible buttons, works against it outside of an exercise scenario. Combined with the styling it has, even in a rather casual office environment, it would be a bit incongruous.
Speaking of the phone portion of this, there is indeed a companion smartphone app, Garmin Connect. This is one way the data is transferred from the Garmin Forerunner 920XT up to the Garmin Connect website (along with pushing notifications to the watch). You can customize the tiles you see in the app as well. For instance, since I am not a swimmer, there is no sense me having that tile appearing. On the web, the main spot you hit is the dashboard, which gives an overview of what you’ve done and tracked, similar to what you see on the phone. The big win in all of this is that there is an API that allows data to move from Garmin’s servers to Fitbit’s (I rely on FitDataSync). Since most of my regular tracking is done with a Fitbit, getting this exercise activity moved over is a big plus, as I have a single spot to see all of the information. This is something that I have not really seen with other fitness or smart watches, the ability to push data to another platform, and gives the Garmin devices a big edge in my book. As things go along, many folks will likely have a handful of trackers that are targeted for specific activities, along with a daily, general-purpose one. Why not facilitate that and share the data around, allowing watches like the Garmin Forerunner 920XT to fill its own specific niche, and not try to be everything to everyone?
In the end, that’s what things came down for me with the Garmin Forerunner 920XT – it is a purpose-built watch, and when it is used for that purpose, it performs admirably. While we often times will focus on a watch being multi-purpose tool, fit for a variety of situations, I feel that something purpose-built, as the Garmin Forerunner 920XT is, works just fine. Ultimately, it is another watch in the proverbial watch box (albeit one that charges via USB and has wifi and GPS connections) that will be selected out when it makes sense, just like any other watch (say, a dress watch). So, for me, the $450 Garmin Forerunner 920XT is an able workout companion – and the addition of data sharing to other platforms is a big, big plus. Sure, the functionality the watch offers is overkill for my own personal needs – but then again, I can think of any number of watch complications that are rarely used and many of us tend to live with. On the other hand, should you be a serious triathlon participant, this, I believe, would be an invaluable companion. For the rest of us amateur fitness folks, the Garmin Forerunner 920XT can still help us with measuring our progress and achieving fitness goals. garmin.com
- Brand & Model: Garmin Forerunner 920XT
- Price: $450 (and up, depending on the monitor bundled in)
- Who’s it for?: Though best suited for the triathlon athlete, this could very easily be put to use by anyone who runs, bikes, or swims
- Would I wear it?: Yes, I certainly would, and I do regularly – at the gym
- What I’d change: Given how accurate wrist-mounted heart rate measurement is these days, I would not mind seeing that built into the watch as well
- The best thing about it: How flexible the watch is – between the built-in functionality and the additional widgets and displays you can load, you really can make the watch work well for your needs