Tag Archives: tech

Gear Review: Garmin 920xt First Impressions

Garmin 920xt BigTime watch face
Garmin 920xt BigTime watch face

Ever since I heard about the new Garmin 920xt coming out, I have been chomping at the bit to upgrade. I have used the 910xt for several years now(on my second one, since first had to be replaced) and I really liked it. I also use an activity monitor and have gone through 3 Jawbone UP’s and 2 Garmin VivoSmarts. The VivoSmart was ok, but I don’t want to have to wear multiple things on my wrist. When the first VivoSmart died on me after only 3-4 months I also was not as impressed with it.

I had started putting some money aside for the new device as soon as I knew it was being released. I was going to wait and let all the bugs get ironed out of it before I actually bought one.  I am a regular listener of Brett Blankners’ ZenTriathlon podcast, and he had recently purchased one and kept mentioning how great it was. So I could not wait any longer and I “pulled the trigger” on it. Fortunately, I used the PayPal no interest or payments for 6 months option and automaticallly scheduled $100 taken out of my savings account for the next 5 months, so it wasn’t too much of a splurge.

BTW…If you are looking for a very in-depth technical review of the Garmin 920xt, please check out DC Rainmakers’ review on it here…

Here are my favorite features of the Garmin 920xt so far…

Drill Mode for Swimming

The inability to account for kick and drill sets has always been a big pet peave of mine. Sometime in the last year or so, sites like TrainingPeaks.com and Strava started only using actual swim time(when both arms are moving) instead of total elapsed time from swim workouts. Since kick/drills sets are not registered by the accelerometer on the watch you get no credit for this part of the workout, which is total BS. So then I had to edit every swim workout and change the workout time or use the SportTracks Swimming plugin and edit the workout.

Garmin 920xt Swim Drill Mode
Garmin 920xt Swim Drill Mode

But low and behold, Garmin introduced the Drill mode screen on the 920xt so that you can flip up a screen and hit the lap button and the timer starts up. When you are done you can hit lap again and select the distance that you did. It is also nice for when the watch screws up and misses a lap turn(not too often) or you forget to hit the start or lap button(a little more often). This saves me a bunch of time editing my workouts after uploading.

Automatic workout uploads

Another big time saver here. My wife always gives me crap about how when I get home from a workout the first thing I do is run to my computer and download my workouts from my Garmin. Not anymore! Now, with your watch paired to your iPhone the workout automatically uploads to Garmin Connect as soon as you are in earshot of your phone.

This is one of my top features for sure. And if you have Garmin AutoSync hooked up in TrainingPeaks or Strava, your workouts are also synced up there too without doing anything. One example is when I get done my swim workout I go to the locker and get my shower stuff, my workout starts uploading immediately and I start getting Strava kudos from people while I not even done my shower.

Live Tracking

While I haven’t really used this yet other than just testing it out, I think this may be handy for those longer bike rides when my wife tends to worry where I am. It would be really cool to use it in a race, but they typically do not let you have your phone with you. I guess you could just stash it in your bag though. I think it would be nice so your race fans could time being able to come out to see me whiz by at the right moment.

Update 3/17/2015: One issue I have found and also submitted to Garmin Support is when you try to share your LiveTrack via Twitter. If you have more than one Twitter account configured on your phone the Garmin Connect Mobile app will hang the app when you enable Twitter. You will have to kill the app on the phone to get out of it and everytime you go back into LiveTrack it will hang again. You have two options here. Either delete the app from the phone and install it again from the AppStore or remove all but one of your Twitter accounts. I think the latter is BS not a valid workaround.

Update 3/23/2015: One thing I was curious about was how much battery power Garmin Connect Mobile would use while doing a LiveTrack session. In order to do LiveTrack the phone is using Bluetooth LE(Low Energy) and GPS, so I was fearful this would drain my iPhone battery rather quickly. I have a year and 3 month old iPhone 5s whose battery barely lasts a full day with regular usage. Yesterday, I did a 2.5 hour run while using LiveTrack and also listening to an audiobook on Audible app. When I started out the battery was in the high 90’s percentage. I was quite surprised to see that it was only in the 70’s by the end of my 16 mile run. Impressive Garmin. Next text will be a 4 hour bike ride, so stay tuned.

Garmin Connect Mobile LiveTrack Multiple Twitter Account Hang
Garmin Connect Mobile LiveTrack Multiple Twitter Account Hang

Activity/Sleep monitor & Triathlon watch all-in-one

Like I mentioned before, I had been wearing an activity watch for the last year or so and went through multiple Jawbones and a VivoSmart. Wearing multiple things on my wrist is a bit geeky, so only having one thing to deal is pretty nice.

Garmin 920xt Daily Step Activity
Garmin 920xt Daily Step Activity

The activity features on the 920 are pretty much the same as the VivoSmart. The biggest difference is that the 920 is a bit more readable and easier to navigate. The sleep tracking in Garmin Connect is pretty lame compared to most other monitors. You just get a graph of your sleep, but no real statistics of how much deep vs. light sleep or snoring etc. I use a Beddit monitor for that anyway.

Garmin Connect Daily Sleep Graph
Garmin Connect Daily Sleep Graph

iPhone Notifications

This was another feature that I had on the VivoSmart which I grew to like. Again, the notifications are so much easier to read on the 920. The best part of this is that I can easily survey notifications while I am working and determine if I really need to get my phone out and respond or not. My wife can then just send me FYI texts just to let me know something and I don’t have to interrupt my workout or whatever to respond.

Garmin 920xt Notifications
Garmin 920xt Notifications

Longer battery life

I noticed that my battery on my 910 was just about out of juice when I finished my last two Ironmans after 12.5 hours. If I was any slower I may be out of luck. The 920 supposedly lasts about 40 hours in activity mode, which hopefully I never have to test that out. You never know though. The longer battery life also allows you to wear this as a regular watch or activity monitor.

I typically charge it once-a-week, but that has been mostly through the Winter where i haven’t been using as much GPS. Once I get into more outdoor workouts and the longer bike & runs on the weekends that may become more like twice a week. Charging it hasn’t been a big deal though. I usually just keep the charging connected to my laptop and plug it in while surfing the web or watching some TV.

Custom Profiles

The 920 comes with activity profiles for Triathlon/Multisport, running, running indoor, biking, biking indoor, pool swim, and open water swim. This is nice so you can customize each type of workout, whether you want GPS or not and what things you want to see for each. So now I don’t have turn off the GPS everytime I do a trainer or treadmill workout. You can also define your own custom profiles for other things like skiing, strength training, hiking, etc.

Programmability – Custom Watch faces & Data Fields

Garmin just released their ConnectIQ SDK which allows you to develop new custom watch faces, derived data fields, widgets and apps for your device(or anyone elses for that matter). Being a developer I was pretty excited about this one. I started downloading the SDK but haven’t had a chance to start writing anything yet. It requires Java and learning yet another language called “Monkey C”, so it wasn’t as straightforward as I thought it would be.

If you are not a developer, you can take advantage of what others have developed from the ConnectIQ store. You can download new customizations via the Connect phone app or through Garmin Express on your laptop. I have updated my main watch face already to the BigTime watch face which is pretty nice.

BigTime watch face for Garmin 920xt
BigTime watch face for Garmin 920xt

Smaller size

 Bigger isn’t always better. That’s why I am not upgrading to the iPhone 6 anytime soon. The 920xt is a bit smaller with a lower profile on my wrist compared to the 910. It definitely doesn’t look quite as obnoxious as the older version, so wearing it 24×7 is not an issue. Plus, with everyone else sporting their new FitBit’s I think the 920 just looks more like a watch.

So that is basically my highlights for the 920. The navigation and buttons on the 920 are a bit different than the 910, so I did have a little trouble learning that at first but I am starting to get the hang of it now.

Garmin Connect Running Analytics Graphs
Garmin Connect Running Analytics Graphs

I also purchased the HRM Run heart rate monitor strap. This monitor has an accelerometer in it too and it provides some additional metrics like Ground Contact Time and Vertical Oscillation. I thought these would be cool to know from a running efficiency standpoint, but after seeing it the first time the novelty has worn off quickly. My readings are pretty much in the good range, most-likely from all the Chirunning training I had, so I really don’t pay attention to it much anymore. Also the strap had rubbed my skin raw just like the previous strap from the 910, so ended up moving the sensor to my Polar strap that I used before.

Update 2/23/2015: One issue I notice is that the accelerometer in the watch does not do a very accurate job for treadmill running. I tend to have a fairly consistent running cadence regardless of how fast I run, most likely a result from my Chirunning training. What I noticed was that the pace on my watch did not change consistently with the speed on treadmill. My treadmill pace is not accurate either, but I would expect to see them change relative to one another and they did not. My 920 basically stay around the same pace, while my treadmill increased. I have paired my old Garmin footpod up with my watch now and wore it on my long run outside on Sunday in order to calibrate it. I am hoping to see more consistent results on my next treadmill run.

All-in-all, I am glad I upgraded to the 920 and it is a pretty awesome multisport/activity watch.

Gear Review: Stages Power Meter

Stages DuraAce 7900 Power Meter
Stages DuraAce 7900 Power Meter

I figured after an entire season of using the Stages Power Meter I was in a good position to be able to fairly assess the product. This is not a highly technical review, but more of a review of my experience with the product and my dealings with the company support. If you are looking for a more in-depth, technical review of the product and comparisons to other products, check out DC Rainmakers’ reviews here and here. I never buy anything without checking DC Rainmakers’ reviews first.

Stages DuraAce 7900 Power Meter
Stages DuraAce 7900 Power Meter

Being a triathlete and a bit of a techno-geek, I was chomping at the bit to get a real power meter. The prices of them definitely had me putting this off for sometime. I also started coaching myself and felt that this was critical to properly assessing and measuring my bike workouts. I thought the money I saved from a coach would help to cover the cost of the power meter. Many units are well over $1000, but the Stages Power Meter came out which was the first real possibility for under $1000.

Cycling, Stages, bike, component, gear, power meter, thing, watts
Stages Power Meter with black electrical tape

I had a little introduction to using real power/watts with my Kinetic inRide unit on my Kinetic Trainer. The only thing is this only works on my trainer, when I am using TrainerRoad. I really wanted to quantify my road rides now that I had a little taste. I eventually added the the Cycleops/Powertap Powercal power/heart rate monitor which calculates your power based on a heart rate algorithm. While this seemed to do a pretty good job assessing an entire ride based on the averages, the instantaneous measure was all over the place. I also had my doubts about its accuracy given that you provided no individual input other than your heart rate. Despite is magically does a fairly decent job for a $100 power meter.

I broke down at the start of the 2014 training season and purchased the Stages Power Meter and replaced my Shimano Dura Ace 7950 left crank arm with the Stages version. It was around ~$900 and change. I probably could have installed this myself, but they recommend using a torque wrench to do it and I have yet to purchase one. Instead I decided to head out to see John at my favorite bike shop, Sleeping Dog Pro Cycles, and have him do it correctly. He indicated that I probably didn’t need to a torque wrench to do it. Ready to roll.

Pros

  • Cost <$1000
  • Accuracy
  • Great support
  • ANT+ & Bluetooth(BTLE)
  • Firmware updates easy
  • Installation(relatively easy)

Cons

  • Portability
  • Single-Leg Measurability
  • Battery cover sealing issues

The unit worked well from the beginning. Since it was Winter when I put it on, I was mostly using it on the trainer in the basement with TrainerRoad. Since I also had the Kinetic inRide going too, I tended to have conflicts with that over Bluetooth. Usually the inRide would prevail, but I was never really sure which meter was being used. I eventually figured out that I could determine which by doing single leg drills with my right leg, since the Stages would not show power when I did that. TrainerRoad has since done a better job of distinguishing the two and have separate lines for both now.
This was more an issue with what hate about Bluetooth(BTLE). You can only pair one specific type of device to a computer/phone at one time. And this is better why? This is why I still prefer ANT+ over BTLE and I think ANT+ will be around for awhile because of this limitation. The nice thing about the Stages Power Meter is that it has both ANT+/BTLE so you are not pigeon-holed into one communication type.

Cycling, Stages, bike, component, gear, power meter, thing, watts
Battery compartment door of Stages Power Meter

The cost of the Stages Power Meter was surely the most appealing factor to me. Although as I write this, several other companies have announced new power meters in this price point just in the last week or so. One is that Garmins’ new Vector system now has a one-pedal option for about $800 with the ability to upgrade to two pedals in the future. The nice thing about that system is that it is easily tranferrable to another bike.
My biggest issue with the Stages device was after I had broken of a couple of the small tabs on the battery compartment door which allow it to lock in place. After I did that I was not able to lock the door in place. I notified Stages and they quickly mailed me out a couple new doors and gaskets. The Stages support is outstanding and they are very responsive to your issues. The new doors still would not close shut, so as a temporary measure I wrapped the unit in black electrical tape.

Cycling, Stages, bike, component, gear, power meter, thing, watts
Backside of Stages Power Meter with black electrical tape

The tape worked fine until I decided to give my bike a good thorough washing. Then it stopped working. Ahh!! Turned out it just shorted the battery and after replacing it with a new CR2032 I was back again. I decided to take a harded look at this situation using a flashlight and a magnifying glass. Turned out one of the tabs that broke off were lodged inside and was keeping the new door tabs from locking. I extracted the broken tab and the doors immediately locked shut. I could have left the electrical tape off at this point, but with my A race at Ironman Lake Placid coming up, I didn’t want to take any chances.
I am glad I did that I took that precautionary measure because we experienced a deluge of rain at IMLP this year. Despite that my Stages Power Meter continued to output my power readings to my Garmin for the entire 112 miles. Some others were not as fortunate. Like my friend Shanna would also has a Stages meter which failed on her during IMLP this year. I think I will keep wrapping it with tape from here on out.

Stages Power Firmware Update on iOS
Stages Power Firmware Update on iOS

Firmware updates for the unit come out very frequently which is nice to know that that are always looking to fine tune the product. The updates are done via your iOS device or smartphone which is convenient. You have to keep the unit triggered so I usually do it will I am riding with my iPhone in the back of my jersey pocket. I have not had any issues doing this.
The unit is very accurate from what I have seen. More importantly it is consistent though. But the numbers I get with my Garmin showing the 3sec avg make sense to me and are not jumping all over the place like the PowerCal did. I am loving training with this tool now. My Garmin 910xt screen now just displays 3s Power, HR, HR zone and Time. I don’t even look at my speed anymore, which doesn’t tell you much anyway unless every possible variable is the same every time. Which it never is. I can also now plan ride workouts based on power zones which has made a huge difference in my riding.

Cycling, Stages, bike, component, gear, power meter, thing, watts
Side view profile of power sensor. Stages Power Meter left crank-arm

The fact that unit only measures one leg could seem like a big one, but I really don’t think it is. Maybe if you are an elite or professional it may be something you need to look at, but for the typical age grouper, we have so many other things to work on this is minor.
All in all I have been very happy with this product. I would recommend it to anyone looking to take their training and races to the next level without breaking the bank. The company is doing well and they firmly stand behind their product. There should be some major advances in power meters coming down the pike so who knows how this may change by tomorrow.

Hope this provided some help and thanks for reading! 🙂

 

Batten Down the Hatches…

Well, this could be the last post for some time as Hurricane Sandy is looking to make a direct hit on Southeast Pennsylvania very soon. It has been cloudy all day, but hasn’t really rained that much yet. I was able to head out for a short this afternoon which could be it for a few days anyway. I am still having some IT Band discomfort, so any additional rest is a benefit at this point. The D&L Marathon is on deck next Sunday so we shall see how that goes. I have a feeling I will push it through just to complete it, but not looking to break any records.

It appears that Garmin made a few changes to their Garmin Connect site this week. One of which is that you can connect to other users on the site. Looks like everyone is jumping on the Strava social bandwagon. They also tidied up there menus a bit which had been a little tough to navigate. One thing I like is the profile page which gives you a dashboard of your training and info. The Last 12 months graph is cool as you can see the cyclic nature of your training. I wish they would let you choose total duration(volume) or distance for the y-axis though. It also displays your PR’s for some common distances for running and cycling. It would be nice if they let you define those or let you add some custom ones too.

The 2013 Ironman Miami 70.3 was today and looks like they had great conditions. The water temp was even below 76 deg F so it was wetsuit legal. Last year it was so damp and pouring down rain we were freezing our asses off waiting to start the race. The water was piss warm though so no wetsuits. Would have been nice before the race, but could have been rough for swim since the water was like a warm bath. Felt so good jumping off that dock.

Last night we headed over to our favorite vegan buffet, The Honey Underground, for the Halloween Garlic Party. It was so good. Everything was loaded with garlic even the coffee, apple cider and cheesecake(made with tofu). They were also surprisingly good as well. I am paying for it today though. My mouth feels like I have a garlic bulb in it. I am sure I wreak of garlic too. That should ward off any ills that may choose to threaten me. They also had a prize for best costume, so I donned the mullet wig and bubba teeth for our little outing. I was pretty sure I had it wrapped up, since no one else was dressed up.  That was until we were about to leave and this couple came in with some scary looking outfits, which I just assumed they would take the prize. We headed out after that.

I headed over to the Giant grocery store after my run today to stock up before the hurricane hits. What a zoo that was. I loaded up on several cans of brown rice and lentils and some rice & beans for the week. They should provide me some good food on the camp stove if needed. Should be exciting…see you on the flip side!