“Smartwatch” functions like messaging and call notifications
Outstanding array of features/data with excellent on-the-fly customization
Bluetooth (with phone app) and Wi-Fi connectivity
Color readouts very limited, more flash than function
ANT+ only means no underwater heart rate signal (though strap/sensor is waterproof)
Bluetooth doesn’t work (yet) with Motorola phones
The Garmin Forerunner 920xt tops the other watches tested in almost every function, but it really stood out in bike-specific use. The functional improvements over the previous model include a reduced size and weight, and a more comfortable feel on the wrist. The Forerunner 920xt lacks serious backcountry chops (the Suunto Ambit series excels there), but the 920xt is offers great functionality for runners, cyclists, XC skiers, and other high-energy training and competition activities.
The Garmin Forerunner 920xt is a multi-sport GPS watch that tops the other tested watches in almost every function, but it really stood out in bike-specific use.
The Garmin Forerunner 920xt offers an exceptional array of cycling functions, with far more data available than any other watch in the group. It’s more similar to top-end cycling computers, but just happens to be wearable. And despite all the data, it remains surprisingly user-friendly and intuitive to navigate. The screen, though considerably smaller than a head unit, is clear, crisp, and easily discernable, even on the fly. There are even color features—like the clever and informative cadence and VO2 screens that show color-coded data—but other than that, the color is mostly for show with little actual benefit.
Unlike most of its competitors, which offer very basic cycling data (especially power data), the 920xt has way more than most riders could ever comprehend. But pros, serious racers, and even data-savvy enthusiasts will appreciate the wealth of info available at a glance, and the detailed online analysis after the ride. For instance, there are 27 power screens overall, showing everything from basic power and normalized power to pedal smoothness, torque effectiveness, and training stress. Add to that numerous readouts for HR, cadence, elevation (including grade!) and of course speed, distance, etc., and there’s simply everything a rider could want.
One would think that Garmin would be hands-down the best GPS in the group, considering its heritage, and it’s certainly close. The unit was very quick to pick up the GPS signal in most locations—although quite slow on the first reading in a new location. And while not the fastest, it was absolutely acceptable. During my initial testing the signal of the 920xt was prone to brief glitches where it would lose a signal and then find it again quickly. And the zoom function on the guidance was poorly designed—once zoomed, the “tracking arrow” would move out of the frame, so there was no way to know your location on the route. Those issues have been addressed by a firmware update, and my subsequent tests show both problems have been fixed.
Ease of Use and Display
This is perhaps the 920’s best category. This watch was definitely the most user-friendly in the group, with the most ergonomic buttons/layout. This unit was designed with function taking major precedence over style, and that’s clear in these prominent, easy-to-push, intuitive buttons, and navigating the features is even more impressively intuitive. It functions just as your mind would work through setting up a workout, or flipping through/organizing screens. In testing, I was rarely frustrated with operations, unike with some of the other units. And everything is accessible at any time—for instance if you want to change from three windows to four within one of the four screens, a few easy-to-follow clicks gets you there, even on the fly. Same goes if you want to change which power or speed readings appear within a screen, etc.
The display itself is very sharp and clear, with some color to add flare and a little function. Garmin uses the large, square display to great effectiveness, with battery level and time always dislplayed and lots of informative icons. When four windows are displayed, the boxes are a bit small, but the sharpness and effective use of the space makes up for it—in testing I could even read the text labels in each box when the watch was mounted on the bars (although only when in a forward position).
With GPS enabled, Garmin claims up to 40 hours in UltraTrac mode—a battery-saving mode where GPS records only once per minute. In testing, this worked in events over 24 hours, but the accuracy was less precise. For better accuracy, and up to 24 hours of life, I suggest using normal mode, which records every second. In GLONASS mode, accuracy is significantly improved in difficult terrain like canyons and forests. Garmin also claims up to four months in watch mode but if you’re going four months without using any of the functions other than time, you’ve bought the wrong watch! Using only indoor modes—watch and basic activity recordings—our longest period without a charge was a few weeks.
Online Training Support
We found Garmin Connect—the online training support program for all Garmin athletic products—to be among the most advanced and user-friendly of all the sites tested. It is very reliable, almost never times out, and loads quickly, unlike some of the others we used. Garmin Connect is better for the analysis of the actual training data, training and route planning, editability, etc. Individual color graphs display multiple data clearly and are all able to pop-out for better viewing. Accompanying data boxes have all the numbers, and are all editable after the fact. Info can also be added/deleted easily.
I found the route planning on GC to be even better and easier than Ride With GPS or Map My Ride—and far superior to other watch brands’ sites. Routes are simple to plan, quick to load, and highly editable. My main complaint with the site is that training activity is not easily shared with other programs. You can upload some other training data, but only .tcx, .gpx, and .fit files, and we found the upload/download process quite glitchy even with those file types.
At $500 (with waterproof HR strap) this is the best value in the group, especially if bike-specific functionality is your main concern. While it may not function as well with more adventurous activities, if biking, triathlon and indoor workouts are your norm, you won’t find a better watch—or more in-depth data—for the money.