The Garmin Forerunner 910XT
The Garmin Forerunner 910XT is the latest in a long and venerable line of watches from Garmin to bear the Forerunner name. I've been looking forward to reviewing this version, which on paper is the most complete expression of a multisport watch that Garmin has ever put together. Essentially, it combines the reliable, robust running and cycling platform that comes from its Forerunner heritage, including the ability to pair with ANT+ devices like power meters, and finishes off the package with an expanded swim mode that essentially crams the functionality of a Finis Swimsense into the device. On top of all of that, the watch has gotten smaller, but retains all the robust specs of its predeccors, including up to 20 hours of battery life and wireless data transfer.
Basically, the feature set of the 910XT reads like a triathlete's wishlist. But as with any device this complex, there's always a question of whether it delivers on the promise. Let's have a look.
The hallmark features of a top-shelf Forerunner model have always been the large, configurable displays, which allow an athlete ready access to a huge variety of data. Being able to change how many fields are visible on a given screen, and what those fields display, is very handy for being able to tailor the watch to the way you work out. Inevitably, athletes will find a couple of screens that work the best for their given preferences and habits. But you get up to four screens per sport, and each screen can contain 1, 2, 3, or 4 data fields. I find this the most useful for running and cycling, where hoards of data seem like something I can more easily digest at a glance. When swimming, I feel like I can barely see straight half the time, and I usually just let the watch record everything for me to look at later. But hey, there are four separate screens available for each sport, if you want them.
In my case, I've found that there are different screens that I like to use for different types of workouts. For long runs, I use a screen with just two fields: total time and current heart rate. I'll click along at my long-distance pace, and make sure the HR is good. For speed work or intervals, I like to take advantage of the GPS in the watch, which freed me from having to run loops around a track. If you need to do quarter-mile repeats, you can just use your watch to chart out the distance. Run back and forth over your favorite patch of trail for consistency, or just run free, and clock out quarter mile intervals as you go. The terrain will vary, but sometimes that's a good thing, even if it compromises the repeatability of your repeats.
But these run-specific examples are old hat to people familiar with the world of Garmin or its competitors. The question is what new features the 910XT brings to the table. The answer is that it's an evolutionary step from its 305 and 310 predecessors. Garmin has listened to its user base adding lots of finishing touches that make this a great little spec bump from the previous 310XT. The change in form factor is a big accomplishment, especially when you consider that battery life hasn't changed. The swim function is really good, as we'll get to in a minute, and Garmin's latest iteration of the Connect software is icing on the cake. But that doesn't mean the 910XT without its drawbacks, and after years of a virtual monopoly on this market segment, Garmin is facing more competition than ever.