Garmin Forerunner 920XT – best fitness “smartwatch” on the market?

At first glance you’d be forgiven for classifying the Garmin Forerunner 920XT as “just another smartwatch”, albeit on with more of a sporty twist. This is another category of “wearable” entirely though – best described as a multisport GPS watch it offers a massive range of data for various exercises and delivers far more than your average gadget when it comes to monitoring and managing your fitness.

Running through just some of the features you’ll find running dynamics including cadence, vertical oscillation and ground contact time, swim distance, pace, stroke type identification, stroke count, drill logging and rest timers and a whole bunch of support data such as race predictors, a recovery advisor and smart notifications to let you see alerts from your smartphone via the device. It’s also very much embedded in the Garmin Connect community for planning and sharing workouts, and promises to be a one-stop solution for those more serious about their fitness.

We’ll get straight down to business and take a look at how this high-end device fares.

Wareable gives the 920XT 4.5/5 and lauds its capabilities as an all-rounder, calling it “the most fully-featured multi-sport watch on the market right now”. These features include tracking seven types of activity including biking, running and swimming, both indoor and outdoor, and triathlon along with the ability to track general movements like your less versatile fitness accessories. This does come at a cost though – “The Garmin Forerunner screams function more than beautiful form” and what this means is there are some design compromises to be made to have all this functionality on your wrist. This isn’t a fashion accessory and is described as having a chunky face “that’s about half the size of a standard business card and about 13mm thick, it’s at the larger end of the scale among its rivals and might not sit so well on small wrists.” It’s fairly light, but this doesn’t really work for it as weighty timepieces can add a feel of sophistication, but if you can get over these issues there’s plenty to like.

Techradar describes the Forerunner as a “a powerhouse of a watch that’s like a coaching team that sits on your wrist”, rating it an impressive 4.5/5 and though it has similar issues with the rather large design points out that this does make the buttons very easy to access. The only other problem it has is the phone connection is a little inconsistent, and can take a bit of time to establish if there are a large number of buildings around. Otherwise the range of functionality is impressive and it seems as though there’s enough data provided to keep you motivated in the long-term –  the “VO2 Max lets you know how much fitter you’re getting, and over time the watch becomes more adept at working out your abilities”. The battery was also very impressive at 4-5 days between charges, and that’s even with all-day activity tracking, and it concludes that while better for more serious users, “The Garmin 920XT delivers on nearly all fronts”.

We’ll turn to Bikeradar for a more in-depth look at how it works. It highlights the range of connectivity options (Bluetooth, ANT+, GPS, Glonass, Wi-Fi, USB) and real-time measurements alongside estimates for things like VO2 max (maximum oxygen consumption) and recovery time. Though it is very configurable, you needn’t get bogged down in trawling settings menus.

“The Garmin 920XT delivers brilliantly right out of the box, providing good data on the fly and a plethora more for post-exercise analysis, with automatic wireless uploads to Garmin Connect, Strava and TrainingPeaks via your home Wi-Fi network or your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone.”

It’s also very fast to connect and immediately uploads data to a smartphone without prompting once you’ve finished an exercise. This works in the other direction via Bluetooth, displaying texts and notifications as they arrive, though some may not want to be bothered during a workout and there seems to be limited management of what types of data arrive. Other little tricks like allowing friends and family to see your location and follow your workout in real-time could be handy.

Bikeradar puts the watch through its paces in each of the core exercises. For running it notes a few novel readings such as “cadence, vertical oscillation and ground contact time for running, captured via the HRM-Run monitor that also provides distance and speed estimations when running on a treadmill”. It recorded a 95% accuracy when running on a treadmill and it does a good job of staying involved with a recovery advisor that “pops up a few minutes into a workout, and lets you know how your heart is doing”, also advising you how much time to take off at the end.

Indoor swimming did reveal some issues getting a GPS signal but the accelerometer can kick in here and capture total distance (after setting the pool length) which seemed to work very well. After you swim a neat graphic appears with data such as stroke count and speed, it had a 90 to 95% accuracy detecting stroke type, though as with most other watches it isn’t possible to record heart rate while swimming.

For cycling it points out that this is no substitute for a dedicated handlebar-mount unit, both in terms of accuracy and “If you want to do power or heart rate-based intervals and closely monitor the data, twisting your wrist is definitely a second-rate option to just staring”. Detailed GPS and heart rate information is very good though, and a wide range of cycling metrics include “such power-based fields as current, 3sec average, left/right output, normalise power and Training Stress Score.”

It rates the 920XT at 4.5/5 and concludes by saying that it’s “the best multisport device we have tried”, so it’s another fairly glowing review to round off the impressions so far.

All signs seem to point to the fact that if you’re serious about your fitness, particularly if your favourite exercises include running, cycling or swimming, this is just about the best device on the market right now. It’s not cheap by any stretch though – at £419 it’ll cost around the same as a mid-high end smartphone, so will need a serious fitness and financial investment to justify a purchase.