Back when we tested the Garmin 910xt, we called it the gold standard in multisport watches. It was reliable, easy to use, and trouble-free. However, being released in 2012, the 910xt was starting to show its age. Competitors had been working hard to overtake the 910xt by introducing new functionality such as color screens, Bluetooth, activity tracking, and more. So it really came as no surprised when we started hearing that a successor was on its way back in the fall.
And that successor came in the form of the 920xt. First shown to the public at the 2014 Ironman World Championships, our biggest takeaway was just how much we wanted to get our hands on one. And the good news was that by the time we shared our first look, a red and white 920xt was already in the mail, set to land on our desk in the next few days.
We’ve now had the 920xt for the better part of six months and we ready to share our thoughts. Is the 920xt a proper successor to the 910xt? Or is it more of a stepping stone to an even better version? Read on to find out.
(Keep in mind that this review is geared toward your average triathlete, covering the basics of the 920xt. If you want to really get into all the details of the 920xt, head on over to DC Rainmaker for his in-depth review).
Let’s start with the basics. The 920xt is available in two color schemes – red and white or black and blue. Both feature a new high-resolution color display and come in at 15% lighter and 18% thinner than the 910xt. The 920xt’s watchband allows it to sit flat on your wrist, so the overall profile of the watch is much less intrusive than the original. After wearing both watches back to back, the 920xt really comes off as the more unobtrusive watch. It’s not necessarily the fact that it’s lighter, though that helps, but more that its low profile is just that much less noticeable.
One of our biggest complaints about the 910xt was the lack of a watch mode. In fact, we more often than not called the 910xt a triathlon computer as opposed to a watch for that very reason. The 920xt solves that with a complete watch mode, including customizable faces, as well as full daily activity tracking features, including steps, distance, calories, countdown to a personalized daily goal, an audible move alert after one hour of inactivity, and sleep tracking. With all this, the 920xt can easily serve as your daily timepiece (that you just happen to also wear in the pool and out for a run).
With the addition of Bluetooth support, the 920xt now allows you to sync your workouts using your cellphone. And while we loved the ANT+ sync of the 910xt, Bluetooth Smart uploading is just about the simplest way to get your data to the cloud that we have found yet. While the fenix 2 first introduced this functionality for Garmin multisport products, the 920xt simply does it better. The sync tends to be more stable. And while the fenix 2 could only sync if ANT+ was disabled, the 920xt can communicate with both at the same time. The 920xt also added the ability to sync your data via your home Wi-Fi network. Additionally, Garmin has chosen to support both the GPS network and added GLONASS reception for improved accuracy.
When we look back at what made the 910xt the true successor to the 310xt, one of the major upgrades had to be the new swim functionality. While both offered the ability to record open water swims, the 910xt introduced a lap mode that allowed you to track your total distance in the pool. Now the 920xt takes everything we loved about the 910xt’s lap mode and added a few new tricks.
As background, for those unfamiliar with the swim abilities of the 910xt (or the Garmin Swim), it’s important to note that the watch does not track distance via GPS. Instead, you input the lap distance before you start your workout and the watch uses it’s built in accelerometer to determine when and if you change directions.
Getting back to the 920xt, the first change to note is the new swim rest timer that pops up after you finish each interval. You can easily see how long the last set took you and how long have you been hanging on the wall.
The 920xt also introduces the Swim Drill mode, which was first introduced on the Garmin Swim watch. Swim Drill mode allows you to log swim drills (such as kick sets) that the 910xt cannot easily detect with its accelerometer.
Like the 910xt before it, the 920xt supports a complete cycling mode, including full power support. While riding, you can choose to either keep the 920xt on your wrist or on a mount (if you choose install the quick-release kit that turns the back of your watch into a quarter-turn bike mount – more on that in a bit).
One big upgrade to the 920xt is the addition of a Cycling VO2Max value, which computes your VO2Max and displays a comparison of how you rank compared to others in your age group.
One big thing to note in cycling mode is that while the 920xt supports Bluetooth to sync with your phone, it does not support it for sensors (HRM, cadence, power, etc…). So if you are someone that has Bluetooth only sensors you may need to invest in combo sensors if you want to pair them with the 920xt.
The first change anyone stepping up from a 910xt to a 920xt will notice is the introduction of your running cadence (though users of the fenix 2 will already be familiar with it). The cadence is derived from accelerometer data inside the watch itself. The 920xt can also display vertical oscillation and ground contact time when paired with the new HRM-Run strap, which can be purchased bundled with the 920xt.
The 920xt also features a running VO2Max mode, which of course uses its own calculation to determine your VO2 max—different from the Cycling VO2 Max value. One thing to note with both the cycling and running VO2Max is that, the more often it’s used; the number will stabilize. So don’t expect the number to fall in line with what you would expect right off the bat. But it should get there over time.
Finally we have the new metronome feature, which will cause the 920xt to beep or buzz based on the specific cadence you are looking for.
Syncing and Connect IQ
As we mentioned above, the 920xt offers a host of new syncing and connected features. We spent most of our time with the 920xt synched with an Apple iPhone 5S, and used it as both our daily watch and multisport computer. Like the fenix 2, the 920xt offers the ability to display notifications from your smartphone. A major improvement, however, is that when the watch is connected to an ANT+ device during activities, the device can continue to display notifications. This is a huge plus for those among us doing long workouts away from home and family.
The 920xt also supports the new Garmin Connect IQ platform. Connect IQ allows third-party developers to create new data fields, applications, watch faces, and widgets for supported devices. While we have mostly used this to add a whole slew of new watch faces (having way too much fun with this feature), we have also downloaded quite a few apps and widgets. We think this is a huge growth area for Garmin products since the fenix 3, Vivoactive, 920xt, and Epix already support this platform and we expect more to follow.
The last big addition for connectivity with the 920xt is the ability to sync directly over Wi-Fi – simply walk into your house and you should be set. Unfortunately, we never were able to get this working all that well. We walked through the Wi-Fi setup wizard multiple times, but syncing over the network proved to be pretty touch and go. Although honestly we found that the smart phone sync was so easy and intuitive that we never found ourselves missing it.
Quick Release Kit
Garmin offers an optional quick-release kit for all of its multisport devices (the 310xt, 910xt, and 920xt). To use the kit, remove the watchstraps, and then reconnect them to a new quarter-turn mount. The watch itself also gets a new back plate that pairs with the quarter-turn mount.
When we tested the 910xt, one of our few disappointments was the quick-release kit. We found that, because of the rounded backing of the kit, it often had trouble mating with third-party Garmin mounts. Luckily the 920xt does not seem to suffer that problem at all. This was great for us as it allowed us to use the 920xt with the Speedfil Z4+ and Speedfil Garmin Mount, all which previously had not worked for us.
920xt vs 910xt vs fenix 3 vs fenix 2
Now for the answer to the big question… Would we buy a 920xt vs the 910xt, fenix 2 or fenix 3? The is yes, but it depends.
Compared with the 910xt, the 920xt offers a major set of improvements. In our opinion, the fact that it is actually a watch along with the Bluetooth connectivity are almost enough alone to justify the price difference. However, we are simply not so sure we would feel the need to upgrade. One of our editors has a 910xt, and while shehas been debating jumping up to the 920xt, she hasn’t been able to justify it yet (though she does stare quite jealously when we start syncing our data ahead of her at Starbucks).
Regarding the fenix 2 (and fenix 3), Garmin sees the fenix line as products for dedicated outdoor enthusiasts. This is why they are so much more than triathlon computers, as well as why they have a different form factor. Many triathletes have bought the fenix 2 and found it to be a great product for their needs. However, we do find that the (non-special edition) fenix 2’s red-on-black color scheme can be a bit difficult to read. And the fact that the Bluetooth integration does not work when ANT+ devices are connected would put the 920xt on top for us.
The fenix 3 is a bit more difficult of a comparison. It offers three versions that meet the needs of not just the dedicated outdoor enthusiast. The fenix 3 Sapphire offers an option that works in the boardroom as well. The fenix 3 also gets the enhanced connectivity options found on the 920xt. The downside of the fenix 3 (in at least one of our editor’s opinions) is that the display is just not as easy to get information from as the 920xts. However, that opinion is not shared throughout the AG staff since at least one editor much prefers the fenix 3. When comparing the fenix 3 to the 920xt it comes down to a few pieces of criteria. Do you need the extra outdoor features the fenix 3 offers, and does the form factor work for you? If either answer is yes, the fenix 3 may be your best bet. If not, we’d recommend sticking with the 920xt.
Creating a gold standard is tough, but replacing it is even tougher. In our opinion, Garmin has done just that with the 920xt. It is everything that made the 910xt great in a smaller, lighter package featuring more functionality than ever. At $449.99 ($499.99 bundled with the HRM-Run) it is far from cheap, but those looking for a multisport watch aren’t going to find much better (and we think the price falls in line with other similar products in this space). So when it comes to the 910xt, the king is dead. Long live the new king in the 920xt (at least until Garmin finds a new way to reset the standard).
[Updated 5/7/2015 – We incorrectly stated that the fenix 3 only shows 3 data fields at once. It actually can show 4]