Garmin Forerunner 910XT GPS Watch Review

The Forerunner 910XT is the most technically advanced and feature rich GPS multi-sport watch available. Building on the Forerunner 305 and the Forerunner 310, the FR910XT is the takes all of the best running and cycling features of the forerunner line, whilst adding a new swimming mode that lets you track your pool and open water based distances as well as offering a slimmer profile and stronger watch strap to ensure that your watch stays fixed to your wrist when you are fighting it out during those open water mass start events. New features also include an update to the Garmin Connect portal and new power meter compatibility.

Garmin Forerunner 910XT Review

Garmin were kind enough to send me a fully functioning unit so that I could put the watch through its paces and see if the new watch is deserving of the buzz that it is creating in the triathlon community. In a few weeks time I will have to sent the unit back to Garmin and buy my own but I will still be able to answer any questions that you may have but either using my own watch or emailing the guys at Garmin.

If you find this Forerunner 910XT review useful and decide that you would like to purchase the FR910XT then I ask that you consider buying the device through one of the Amazon links on this site as your contribution will help fund future GPS watch reviews and testing. Much appreciated.

These reviews take a few days to pull together and are a labour of love more than anything. I try to examine every feature that I can, but if you think that I have missed something then please feel free to either comment below or drop me an email. I am always interested in your experiences with the watches that I review and welcome any feedback or suggestions for article improvements.

Unboxing, Size and Setup

Anyone who has used a Garmin forerunner GPS previously will be familiar with the various bits and pieces that are supplied in the box.

 Once you have unboxed the unit and removed all of the packaging you will be presented with the following bits and pieces

Garmin supply three separate power charger adapters (for the global multi-sporter) that can be used with the mains charger but you can also charge the battery from a spare USE port on your computer, laptop or tablet. The FR910XT is also supplied with a Wireless Ant+ usb stick that you use to transfer over your training data to the powerful Garmin Connect online portal.

A new addition to the box is an extender strap (for when you are wearing bulky winter kit) and a new style flexible heart rate strap (the same as the strap that is provided with the newer forerunners – 610 etc)

 You also get the usual array of quick start guides in a variety of different languages. I guess the same packaging is used for all of the counties that Garmin supply to as i don’t think that multi-sporter means multi-lingual!

Size

Before we go onto examining the watch’s features in more details is it worth looking at hoe the watch squares up in terms of size to some of the other GPS multi-sport watches on the market.

The Polar RCX5 is probably the closest competitor to the FR910XT in terms of functionality as it is geared up for swimming, cycling and running in much the same way as the FR910XT (although it does lack a number of the more advanced features). The Polar RCX5 is a smaller and more compact unit but it is worth remembering that it does not have inbuilt GPS and you have to use it with a separate GPS pod.

 The Forerunner 405 is mainly geared up towards running but it does have a few limited cycle connectivity features (speed and cadence sensor) that mean that many triathletes bought it before the advance of the multi-sport watch.

Lastly, the Motorola Motoactv is Motorola’s first attempt at breaking into the GPS watch market with their advanced fitness tracker that combines an Mp3 player with a GPS and foot-pod fitness tracking. Size wise, the Motorola is a much slimmer and lighter watch that can be worn either on the wrist, belt or in your pocked but does lack lack one very important feature that makes it very multi-sport unfriendly – waterproofing!

Running Mode

There are quite  a few features of the Forerunner 910XT that are shared across the three modes (running, swimming and cycling) so I am going to give a brief overview of the features that you can use for each before going on to explain them in more detail later on in this review.

You can chose to display up to four screens of training data for running mode depending on your preferences. Each screen of data can display up to four different training fields from the list below (click for a larger image):

910 Running Data Fields

You can customise the watch so that different live training data is shown in each of the three modes (running, cycling swimming).

Virtual Trainer/Partner

A fifth screen shows the Garmin Virtual Trainer feature. Essentially it is a way that you can set a virtual partner to run at a certain pace and the watch will then display both you and your virtual trainer on the watch face as two small running man icons. These icons move depending on whether you are in front or behind your virtual partner and you can see exactly what the difference is in terms of distance and time at your current pace.

If you are aiming to finish a race in a certain time or would like to train at a specific pace then the Virtual Trainer feature is a bit more interesting than just checking your average time stats.

Walk/Run Alerts

This is something that makes its debut on the FR 910XT and has been developed with endurance athletes in mind. As well as all of the usual pace, and distance alerts that can sound or vibrate to let you know when you have reached a pre determined level, you can set the watch up so that it sounds after a period of rest/walking. The idea behind this is that in longer endurance events, if you incorporate some walking as well as running int your race then you will be able to finish faster than if you just ran all the way.

I tend to use this feature for nutrition alerts during longer distance races such as the IronMan as this is one of the easiest ways to remember to eat and drink at the correct times without having to rely on your own memory!

Cycling Mode

There are a number of new features which make the Forerunner 910 a great addition for any cyclist. You an now store up to five different bike profiles with the associated wheel side and wireless ant+ pairings so that you can easily switch between bikes without having to change all of your settings.

The 910 supports all of the important Wireless Ant+ sensors such as power meter, speed sensor, cadence sensor and heart rate monitor. It does not pair with Bluetooth Low Energy sensors (as the Motorola Motoactv does) but there are still a wide range of Wireless products available for pairing and more importantly most of your old Garmin, Polar or Suunto sensors will pair with the device.

You can either wear the FR910XT on your wrist or on a quick release bike kit that can be purchased separately. personally I prefer to keep the watch on my wrist as it is one less thing to worry about in transition and I don’t like to see my stats too often when I am racing longer distance races (it depresses me seeing how far left I have to ride). If you are riding on your aero bars and need to see your stats quickly and easily then a quick release kit may be the way for you to go as then the watch sits nicely in-betwee your aero bars.

The watch has the complete functionality of the Garmin Edge 500 (if you are familiar with it) and the only difference is that the Edge 500 displays 8 data fields whereas the watch displays 4 at any one time. If someone asks you what you opinion is between the Garmin Edge 500 vs Forerunner 910Xt then you can now tell them!

New – Barometric Altimeter

Cyclist have been used to Barometric Altimeters being included on their cycling computers for years, whereas runners have had to make do with GPS bases altimeters. These GPS systems are fine but they do lack accuracy for more compel routes and ultimately ca give you wrong data.

When you review your data using Garmin Connect you should see that is is much more accurate. Even if it isn’t you can turn on Altitude Data Correction in Garmin connect which uses Nasa mapping data to correct your altitude to the nearest metre and will overwrite your existing data.

it is worth mentioning that this Barometer is available for use when running as well as cycling and so this watch really enters into the realms of an adventure racing watch or ultra runners watch (good battery life, accurate stats and barometric altimeter)

Improved – Power Meter Support

Power meters are great bits of kit that can really focus your training and give you a distinct level that you can train at if you are serios about making speed and endurance improvements to the cycling part of your training.

It was recently announced at the Interbike convention that a number of Garmin cycling and running computers would be updated with the TrainingPeaks metrics including Normalised Power, Intensity Factor and Training Peaks Stress Score (one of the most widely utilised stats). Since this announcement it has arisen that only the advanced out of the Edge computers (Edge500 and Edge800) will be updated with the new Training Peaks integration as well as the FR910XT – the FR310XT will not be receiving the update so anyone who was looking forward to this will have to upgrade to a new unit.

The good news is that Garmin will finally be delivering on what they promised back before the launch data that they will be integrating the 910 with their new Velocity Pedal Based Power Meter as well as other pedal based power meters that are hitting the market this year including the Brim Brothers and the O Sycne’s PM. Garmin will also be upgrading their online connect portal to include the new training metrics as at the moment there is no reporting available. This valuable partnership with Training Peaks has been necessary to ensure that the correct data is recorded and passed between sensors no matter which product or service you are using to record or display your training metrics.

Swimming

Previous to the release of the FR910Xt there was not a watch that could accurately track both your open water and pool swimming accurately or reliably. This has all changed with the advent of Garmins latest Triathlon watch (and it now truly can be called a triathlon watch) as there are some marked improvements in the swimming capabilities of this new bit of kit.

The main change is that the watch now supports lap swimming and records all of the important swimming stats such as distance, laps and speed. No other Garmin product supports this kind of data so I was very excited to test the watch out at my local pool.

Unfortunately my local pool does now allow photography for obvious reasons and so I am unable to provide you with images of this cool set of features!

Lap/Pool Swimming

The watch uses something called an accelerometer to determine your acceleration and change of direction when you are swimming. This is similar to the PoolMate watches that have become so popular recently but I will talk more around what this means for your training in a few moments.

First thing is first, below is a list of all of the data fields that you can chose from to display on the watch when you are training (click for larger image)

910 Pool Swim Data Fields

First of all you need to set the watch up so that it knows what kind environment you are going to be swimming in. You need to select lap swimming from the menu and then select the size of pool that you are going to be swimming in (25, 50, 100m). You can also customise your own pool size as long as it is in-between 22 and 100m which is great for all of those odd shaped pools that you may encounter during your travels.

All that is left to do is to get into the pool and start swimming. You set the watch off in much the same way as you would if you were running or cycling and the watch face displays up to four swimming specific training metrics for you to view on up to four separate pages. I tend to focus on only three metrics at one time (total time, total distance and current page) but it is also nice to include average page as well as stroke rate.

This kind of choice of data is great as it gives you direct visibility over your pool training and lets you gauge exactly how you are improving over the course of a season.

If there was one down side to the 910 that would be that you cannot pre set workouts as you would with running or cycling. This should be an important improvement that Garmin should consider as then you have the ability to undertake a fully coached session with rest periods and stroke count/time/distance specific targets – something that I could really see catching on.

After a workout you can review your stats at the length level and not just the per lap level as you can with the PoolMate Pro (the nearest competitor).

One of the cool things about the 910 is that it automatically detect the kind of swim stoke that you are doing and calibrates accordingly. It can tell the difference between

  • Front Crawl (FreeStyle)
  • Back Stroke
  • Breast Stroke
  • Butterfly
  • Combination of different styles
  • Unknown/Fail!
Each of your laps is tagged with the stroke data so that you can directly compare your performance over time for each specific stroke using the Garmin Connect online portal.

Water Resistance/Water Proof to 50 m

One of the main failings of other Forerunner running watches is that they lack any kind of serious waterproofing. Some watches have the ability to be submerged up to 1m for a brief period of time but there is no way that I would ever take those watches into an open water swimming environment. The 910Xt is equipped with a water resistance level of up to 50m.
A point that is worth mentioning is that the Wireless Ant+ technology is restricted to 1-2 inch transmission and therefore no Wireless Ant+ watch on the market at the moment is able to record heart rate data. The HR monitor is water proof though so like many triathletes I tend to keep the strap on during the swim section of my races so that there is one less thing to worry about during T1.

Lake/Open Water Swimming

This is where the watch really comes into its own as Garmin have spent a significant amount of time making sure that the watch is able to accurately record training metrics using the inbuilt GPS.

Here is a list of all of the metrics that you can chose from that can be displayed on the watche’s four pages of training fields (click for larger image)

910 Open Water Swimming Data FIelds

Just as a bit of background, the main challenge of open water swimming with a GPS is that every time the watch dips below the surface of the water the GPS signal is lost momentarily. The nature of GPS means that it cannot penetrate water based on the strength of the receiver that watches like the Forerunner 910, Forerunner 310 and Timex IronMan Global Trainer and Polar RCX5 feature. Ways around this have included swimming with the watch strapped on your shoulder (not great) or on the back of you head under your swim cap. I am sure that you will agree that none of these are practical solutions and so the challenge facing Gamin has been to figure out a way of compensating for that lost signal when you hand dives below the surface of the water. What Garmin have come up with is a clever formula that takes a guess at where you are in terms of position and distance and then when it does pick up a signal is calibrates accordingly.

So what is the result of this new bit of clever software. Well the result is a cleaner and smoother GPS tract that doesn’t over estimate how far you are swimming.

With the open water swimming mode you are given information such as average cadence and are not given some of the additional information that is available in pool mode such as a lap by lap stroke count. You are however able to gain the use of the In-built player feature of Garmin Connect which allows you to replay your entire swim from beginning to end.

Wetsuit Removal

As any triathlete will know, T1 is a critical stage in any race as you can lose valuable minutes and put all of that hard training to waste if you cannot remove your wetsuit in time. If you have worked to your max in the swimming section of the race then T1 can be a very disorientating stage of the race and so the last thing that you want is problems removing your wetsuit.

The Forerunner 910Xt has been designed with the triathlete and multi-sporter in mind and therefore features cured edges and a smooth profile to aid wetsuit removal and aerodynamics when swimming. You shouldn’t have a problem removing your wetsuit over the watch in T1.

Additional Features

Along with all of the new and improved features listed above, there a a few old favourites that are making a return. As most of you will be familiar with them already from running with previous forerunner models, I am just going to explain them in brief.

Training Metrics

As already mentioned, the FR910XT records the widest amount of training metrics out of any GPS watch or cycling computer on the market.

You can chose to have up to four screens of training data (in addition to bread crumb maps for courses and the virtual trainer/racer), each which can be set to display up to four different metrics:

A list of the metrics that you can chose from for each of the four sports modes can be seen below (click for larger image)

Training Fields:

Running:910 Running Data Fields

Cycling:

910 Cycling Data FIeldsSwimming (Pool):

910 Pool Swim Data Fields

Swimming (Open Water):

910 Open Water Swimming Data FIelds

Auto Lap 

This is one of the features that I used time and time again and just would not be without. The Auto-lap feature allows you to set the watch to automatically split at a pre determined interval. Common choices include 1km or 1mile for running but this can be changed depending on what kind of race you are racing. For IronMan races I set this to 5miles so that the watch isn’t alerting me every few minutes!

Forerunnner910XT-auto-lap

You can set the alerts up so that you receive either a chime or a vibration, or both. Previously people have emailed me saying that they run in cites of near busy roads and therefore cannot hear the chimes that the unit gives out. Vibration alerts are unmissable but if you have very small intervals (down to 0.1 mile/km) then this puts an additional strain on battery life.

Auto Pause

This is another widely used feature that automatically pauses the watch when you either come to a complete stop or run/cycle below a certain pace.

If find this most useful if you are going to use the watch for running or cycling where there are lots of roads and crossings where you might be waiting for longer then a few seconds. There is single road in Windsor that cuts through one of my favourite running routes and sometimes during my weekend runs I can be waiting to cross this road upwards of 30 seconds. Having auto-pause enabled means that I don’t have to worry about restarting the watch after i have crossed (I always forget!)

One important point to note is that if you are using a power meter when cycling then you really should be making use of this feature. The reason being that you watch will pause but your results recording wont and this will give you inaccurate data.

Other Alerts

In addition to the Auto Pause and Auto Lap alerts there are a number of other alerts that you can set the watch up to feature:

  • Run/Walk (see the section near the beginning of the article)
  • Key tones (silent or on)
  • Time alerts
  • Distance Alert
  • Power Alert
  • Calorie Alert
  • Speed Alert
  • Heart Rate Alert
The watch lets you customise the alert level (upper and/or lower bound) so that you can taylor the alert to your alerts to your specific needs. For example, you may want the watch to alert you when you are dropping above a certain heart rate zone as you might want to restrict your running to a recovery session.

Virtual Racer

Virtual Racer is similar to the Virtual Trainer feature that I have explained near the top of this article, but it has a few extra features that give it the power of a cycle computer.

Unlike the virtual partner, the virtual racer allows you to race specific courses or routes on a real time basis. The virtual partner is at a set pace/speed whereas the virtual races takes into account the actual speed that was previously recorded on the route the last time that you raced it and therefore you are provided with an accurate measure of how far behind or in front of your target you are. This feature takes into account all of those nasty hills that you may have previously trained over as whereas the virtual partner would have assumed a constants speed (therefore you would have been killing yourself to try and keep up) the virtual racer works on actuals.

The best thing about the Virtual Racer is that you can download routes and courses from the Garmin Connect portal and they will be available for racing the next time that you sync your watch. You can download anyones routes not just your own and so you can train at your competitors level.

Intervals

Again this is a widely used feature and appears on most of the new Forerunner watches.

The intervals feature allows you to set up a specific amount of intervals and rest periods either by time or distance. You can also specify the warm up and cool down time as well so literally all you have to do is select your parameters and hit the start button.

You can save different interval workouts and so only have to set them up once, but of course you will want to make them harder over time. As I have already said, the intervals feature can only be used for running and cycling – unfortunately at this time it is not available in swimming mode (neither open water or lap swimming)

Custom Workouts

Custom workouts are a great way of creating structured workouts for your running or cycling.

Pervious forerunner models allowed you to set such sessions up on the unit itself, but last August Garmin added a quick ad easy way of creating and uploading such workouts to your device using the online Connect Portal

In the below image you can see how I have created a structured workout that includes a warmup and cool down as well as a 3 mile section followed by a 0.5 mile interval that is repeated three times.

Custom Workouts

Courses

Courses is a very powerful feature of the Forerunner 910 (as well as other forerunner models to varying degreed) that allows you to create or download a unique course onto your watch. You can then see a breadcrumb map of your route on the watch face as well as a compass heading and distance until your next turn off. This is a pretty useful feature if you are out on long rides as you can see when you next need to take that vital turn off that saves you having to back track a few miles to get back on course!

Courses are easily created using the Garmin Connect portal. You can chose wether or not you want the route that you are drawing to snap to the roads/paths that are visible on the map, which makes for an incredibly fast and accurate way for you to create courses.

Garmin Course Creation

Unlike the Edge 800 the 910 only displays breadcrumb navigation and so if you require turn by turn directions for more complex routes as you would with a tom tom or other sat nav then you will have to upgrade to the Edge 800.

A Note On GPS and Battery Life

Garmin claim that the battery life of the 910 is upwards of 20 hours in training mode. In the four weeks that I have been running and cycling with the watch I can say that this is more or less true and I have been consistently been able to use the watch for a total of about 17 hours on average (not including data transfer and messing around on the watch itself).

The way that Garmin have been able to extend the battery life of the 910 to such an extent is using something called the Smart Recording mode. This means that instead of recording all data every one seconds, it only records data when that data changes. This massively extends the battery life of the watch and also saves on data space.

I have sen tests elsewhere on the internet that detail how the battery life of the unit will last up to 56 hours in indoor training mode when the GPS function is turned off. Although this isnt as good as watches like the Polar RCX5 which run on normal watch batteries and dont have a mains charger, because the Forerunner 910 records so much data 56 hours is more than anyone would need in my view!

Just on a side note, the watch takes about 2 hours to charge fully from the supplied mains adapter.

Forerunner 910XT Review Summary

The Forerunner 910 XT is the latest in the popular multi-sport watches from Garmin (FR305, FR310XT) and adds an incredible amount of new features as well as an update to the old ones that makes this watch not only the most feature rich GPS multi-sport watch on the market but also fills in any gaps that the previous versions were missing in order to make them truly versatile GPS multi sport watches.

The fact remains that although this is the most powerful GPS multi spot watch to date, not all athletes will need a watch this versatile and so before you go rushing out to buy the hottest G expecially PS gadget around at the moment you should really consider your needs:

The Runner: Garmin’s Forerunner 610 model has all of the running features of the 910 as well as some limited cycling features. Read the full Forerunner 610 Running Watch Review to find out more. If you aren’t so hung up and stats and would like something that combines GPS tracking with MP3 playing capabilities then the Sports tracker from Motorola is one of my favourites.

The Cyclist: If you spend most of your days glued to your saddle then something like the basic Garmin Cycling Ege 200 (all essential speed and distance stats) or the advanced Edge 800 (Sat-Nav like navigation) may be better suited to your needs

The Casual Athlete – If you are new to running or cycling and need something that is waterproof and measures all of the essential speed, distance and calorie stats without spending a fortune then the Forerunner 305 Running Watch or 310 is still a great watch.

The Dedicated Multi Sporter: Without doubt the Forerunner 910 XT is the most advanced GPS watch/cycle computer/Pool mate and is in a league of its own. New features such as pool and open water swimming mode and power meter compatibility as well as updates to existing much loves features such as alerts and courses make this a watch that is fast becoming the watch of choice amongst endurance multi sport athletes, when we consider the new and improved 20 hour battery life.

 

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