Update October 17, 2014: Garmin has released the Forerunner 920xt, the successor to the 910xt. I have it on pre-order. Once I get it, I will post a review of the watch, along with a comparison of the Fenix2.
Update June 24, 2014: Added data from the Summit of Mt. Charleston; Added info about HR data freezing on the Fenix 2.
Recently, I purchased a Garmin Fenix2 as a possible replacement for my trusty Garmin 910xt which I reviewed earlier. As an Ultra-Runner, Trail Runner, hiker, triathlete, aviator, and mariner.. which watch will work best? At the end of the day, which one will I end up using? From now on and including Ironman 70.3 Boise on June 7, 2014, I intend to wear both watches (one on each wrist) paired to a HRM-Run strap. As I test the device I’ll revise this entry, so keep checking back here for new comparisons! (I’ll be adding a run tomorrow, for example!)
Power Watch vs. Smart Watch
Lately, people in the tech world have been all aflutter over the “smart watch” craze, talking about the potential Apple Watch, the Samsung watch, and other watches. Those watches they’ve described as “smart watches”.
However, the Fenix2 is not a smart watch. Instead, I would suggest the term: “Power Watch”. Not only does the Fenix2 do so much more practical things than the “smart watches”, it has three different versions aimed at completely different markets: Marine, Aviation, and Athletes. And buried within, you can get to most functions no matter which version you purchase.
As luck would have it, those are three of my main interests. It seems that the Fenix2 and I would be a perfect match as fashion isn’t my thing: Function is.
DCRainmaker’s Triathlete Review
I’m no Ray Maker and this is in no way meant to supplant or cover the same ground he does. He’s far more “in” on all this stuff than I am, so instead of going through all the same details he does about the Fenix2, I’m just going to suggest you read his review. Once you’ve finished reading that, and going through the thousands of comments… If you’re still not sure which watch to choose, then come back and read here. Before I purchased the Fenix2 I did just that, as Ray really knows his cool fitness stuff. And he’s a helluva lot faster triathlete than I am, too. So, for the most part, anything you read here is stuff I’ve discovered after reading his review.
Unboxing the Fenix2 was a thrill, but the thrill increased when I discovered two things:
- Firmware updates had added auto-scroll! Awesome!
- The watch is lighter the my “work” watch: A citizen Eco-Drive. If my wife would let me, I might replace that with the Fenix2, fashion be damned, because it displays UTC … Zulu time for us pilots – along with local time. Even my Eco-Drive can’t display local time, since it has no idea what time zone I’m currently in. As a pilot, we do everything in “Zulu” time, and it’s always a headache to do the math in my head. No more!
- Rest periods are now displayed on Garmin Connect for the swim!
What the 910xt does the Fenix2 Doesn’t
In a way, I’m comparing apples and oranges with the 910xt and the Fenix2. The Fenix2 does so much more than the 910xt, it would be difficult to list all the additional functions. What I can do, however, is mention what the 910xt DOES have that the Fenix2 does NOT that I’ve discovered while using both watches. This list will expand as I find the differences.
- HR Zones based on activity (on the Fenix2 you can adjust only one set of zones)
- Virtual Racer
- User weight on the 910xt is by pound; On the Fenix every 5 lbs. This probably effects calorie burn calculations.
- A HR graph relative to zones (the Fenix only displays your zone by number and tenths)
Initial Thoughts: So far, I find the Fenix 2 to be easier to read than the 910xt. Others would definitely disagree, however. Also, one thing I like about the Fenix2 is the backlight is red – it has less night-vision destroying effects than the bright white backlight of the 910xt. That said, normally during my late-night runs I’m more about illuminating my path rather than keeping my night vision – but from the aviator/mariner standpoint, this is an excellent choice.
First Bike Test
Below are the results of my first bicycle ride using both devices. The HR data is identical because both were paired to the same HR strap. Also, both were paired to the same Spd/Cadence sensor (GSC10). It was a 45 mile loop around the Red Rock Canyon area. The “Untitled” was the 910xt and is the first column, and the titled ride was the Fenix 2 and the second column. I’ll keep it that way as I do more comparisons. More details can be found on Garmin connect through the links.
Before I started my bike, I turned both units on. The 910xt seemed faster to “lock on” to the accessories (HR strap and GSC10) and find satellites than the Fenix 2, but the 910xt had the advantage of being used near my house before. Overall, the time didn’t seem significant, but might be during a triathlon.
|Distance||45.49 mi||45.63 mi|
|Avg Speed||15.0 mph||15.1 mph|
|Avg Pace||4:00 min/mi||3:59 min/mi|
|Calories||2,070 C||1,525 C|
|Avg Moving Speed||15.1 mph||15.1 mph|
|Avg Moving Pace||3:59 min/mi||3:59 min/mi|
|Max Speed||41.5 mph||38.4 mph|
|Best Pace||1:27 min/mi||1:34 min/mi|
|Elevation Gain||3,066 ft||2,659 ft|
|Elevation Loss||3,062 ft||2,656 ft|
|Min Elevation||2,608 ft||2,579 ft|
|Max Elevation||4,747 ft||4,722 ft|
|Avg HR (bpm)||142 bpm||142 bpm|
|Max HR (bpm)||165 bpm||165 bpm|
|Avg HR (% of Max)||75 % of Max||75 % of Max|
|Max HR (% of Max)||87 % of Max||87 % of Max|
|Avg HR (z)||2.1 z||2.1 z|
|Max HR (z)||4.0 z||4.0 z|
|Avg Bike Cadence||68 rpm||68 rpm|
|Max Bike Cadence||144 rpm||226 rpm|
|Avg Temperature||—||68.8 °F|
|Min Temperature||—||62.6 °F|
I did not notice any HR drops as others have reported; Also, the difference in estimated calorie burn was probably due to the fact I forget to set my weight the same in both devices. I also suspect the difference in altitude has to do with the fact the Fenix 2 does an altimeter correction/calibration, wherein the 910xt is set to standard 1013mb. Interestingly, the start/stop altitudes were nearly the same. The times were off because I paused both watches for a potty break and some “technical difficulties” adjustments and I’m not very fast at hitting both “stop buttons” at the same time.
The only “odd” difference is the max bike cadence… Not sure why they are so far off. During this ride, however, the “Virtual Racer” function of the 910xt worked horribly and was more a nuisance than anything. The more I use the “virtual racer” function on the bike, the more I realize it doesn’t work well and I’d never miss it on the Fenix 2. I can watch the “average speed” instead.
End Battery: Ya, the 910xt wins out by a lot. But on the Fenix 2, I started at about 93%, and ended at 58% after 3 hours.
Today I had the chance to use the Fenix2 and 910xt for a swim and a trail run.
The Fenix2 and the 910xt do a couple of things differently on the swim. For the Fenix2, you hit the lap button to designate the beginning and of rest periods. The 910xt, however, just “figures it out” and has no “Drill Mode” (an option you can turn on or off on the Fenix2). So, during my kickboard sets (in today’s case 200m) it appears as a “rest” on Garmin Connect, and no distance is recorded. You can edit that on the website, though. For the Fenix2, you can tell it when the drills start, and when they stop, and how many meters you covered right on the watch. Apparently, the Finis and Garmin Swim have this function, and it’s really, really awesome.
At the beginning of the swim I had some errors on my “rest” and “drills” as I was learning the function on the watch, and some of my later intervals were off because I stopped in the middle of the lane (any watch would get confused if you did that). However, I have been extremely impressed with both the 910xt and the Fenix2 and their accurate recording of the swim intervals: Particularly the 910xt, which has gotten much better than at its launch.
However, I really liked the way the Fenix 2 handles rests (press lap at the start/end of your rest). Before, I wanted to set an interval every 50m, no matter the length of the set or actual interval, to accurately keep track of my distance. That would be a problem with the Fenix 2 – rather than one button press on the the wall during a quick turn, you’d need to hit it twice. I can never remember how many laps I’ve done, and used to use intervals at 50m (no matter the set) to keep track. However, with my new swim drills being specific, if I follow the plan, I’ll know the distance, and with the current accuracy (barring my stopping in the middle of the lane) I shouldn’t need to do that any more. The Fenix and 910xt seemed to record my intervals, except when I the user messed up, just fine.
I was most impressed with the “drill set on” function. If I was doing a length of kickboard or other non-standard stroke, I can tell the Fenix 2 that with the drill mode, it records the time and I can tell it the distance while in the pool.
At the end of the day, the winner for me: Fenix2 (For pool drills). That said, I didn’t test “sighting” the watch while swimming. My gut is the 910xt would be better, because the face is bigger, but I’m actually not sure.
Thu, May 8, 2014 16:02
Thu, May 8, 2014 16:02
|Distance||1,000 m||1,200 m|
|Calories||220 C||235 C|
The biggest difference was the included distance of the 200m of kickboard on the Fenix2 … The 910xt showed that as “rest”.
Trail Run #1
After the swim I headed out for a trail run. This time around the Fenix2 and the 910xt were in a dead heat on capturing the HRM or GPS… It was very fast for both.
This run has a particularly sharp ascent, and I put the Fenix2 into “3D distance” mode to see if it would record a different distance than the 910xt. It did, but as expected, over such a short run it was so close as to be a minimal difference.
Also, it recorded the calorie burn differently again, and you’ll notice no cadence on the 910xt: That’s because I left the footpod on my regular running shoes. The Fenix2 also records additional information (running Dynamics) although nobody is sure what to do with the data, yet. I’ll be running with my regular shoes later in the week so check back to see how the cadence matches up.
910xt is on the left; Fenix 2 on the right
Thu, May 8, 2014 18:15
Thu, May 8, 2014 18:15
|Distance||4.73 mi||4.77 mi|
|Avg Speed||3.6 mph||3.7 mph|
|Avg Pace||16:29 min/mi||16:21 min/mi|
|Calories||993 C||802 C|
|Avg Moving Speed||4.1 mph||4.0 mph|
|Avg Moving Pace||14:45 min/mi||15:10 min/mi|
|Max Speed||11.3 mph||6.6 mph|
|Best Pace||5:19 min/mi||9:07 min/mi|
|Elevation Gain||865 ft||853 ft|
|Elevation Loss||856 ft||857 ft|
|Min Elevation||2,680 ft||2,659 ft|
|Max Elevation||3,470 ft||3,422 ft|
|Avg HR (bpm)||149 bpm||149 bpm|
|Max HR (bpm)||167 bpm||167 bpm|
|Avg HR (% of Max)||79 % of Max||79 % of Max|
|Max HR (% of Max)||88 % of Max||88 % of Max|
|Avg HR (z)||2.7 z||2.7 z|
|Max HR (z)||4.2 z||4.2 z|
|Avg Run Cadence||—||132 spm|
|Max Run Cadence||—||254 spm|
|Avg Temperature||—||77.4 °F|
|Min Temperature||—||71.6 °F|
|Avg Vertical Oscillation||—||6.6 cm|
|Avg Ground Contact Time||—||433 ms|
|Avg Stride Length||—||0.75 m|
At the end of the day (I left the house with both watches at 100% battery) I returned home after my trail run… including the time in between… and discovered something interesting:
Fenix 2: 85%
How about that?
The Ultimate Trail Test: Summiting Mt. Charleston, 11,640′ Peak in Nevada
On June 24, 2014 I wore both devices on a 17-18 mile hike from Trail Canyon to a high peak in Nevada, Mount Charleston. Here’s the data (both links should work if you want to see the GPS tracks in greater detail):
Tue, Jun 24, 2014 8:00
Tue, Jun 24, 2014 8:00
|Distance||17.17 mi||16.65 mi|
|Avg Speed||2.7 mph||2.6 mph|
|Avg Pace||22:13 min/mi||22:43 min/mi|
|Calories||3,157 C||4,259 C|
|Avg Moving Speed||2.9 mph||2.8 mph|
|Avg Moving Pace||21:01 min/mi||21:16 min/mi|
|Max Speed||6.7 mph||10.2 mph|
|Best Pace||0:09 min/mi||0:06 min/mi|
|Elevation Gain||4,688 ft||4,560 ft|
|Elevation Loss||4,695 ft||4,547 ft|
|Min Elevation||7,461 ft||7,751 ft|
|Max Elevation||11,646 ft||11,634 ft|
|Avg HR||149 bpm||149 bpm|
|Max HR||166 bpm||166 bpm|
|Avg Run Cadence||—||118 spm|
|Max Run Cadence||—||240 spm|
|Avg Stride Length||—||0.60 m|
|Avg Temperature||77.3 °F||—|
|Min Temperature||66.2 °F||—|
|Max Temperature||84.2 °F||—|
|Split||Time||Distance||Avg Pace||Time||Distance||Avg Pace|
I was using the Fenix 2 in “Navigate” function, which is probably why it didn’t give any cadence information. During this run, I discovered a bug: Occasionally on the Fenix 2, the data from the HRM-Run strap will “freeze” at the last data point… And the only way to fix the problem is to completely turn the watch off and then back on again.
As you can see from the charts, the distance is a bit different, although the other numbers are fairly close. Getting a GPS signal in a canyon is hard for any wrist GPS. On the Fenix 2, I had WAAS turned on, but if it couldn’t find that satellite in the canyon, it wouldn’t help anyway. But, overall, I think the distance on the Fenix 2 is actually more accurate, as there are many twists and turns.
Where the 910xt wins the game, though, is on battery life. At the end of this trail run, the Fenix 2 had only 37% battery life left. (WAAS on, Auto-Scroll, Auto-Lap On, GPS (Smart) Mode). The 910xt was still at 50%+.
Urban Street Running
Today I had the chance to run with the Fenix2 and the 910xt in the urban streets of Seattle. For the first half, the watches were left on (even when I stopped). For the second half, I paused them when I went to go get dinner. For this run, I paired my 910xt to a footpod, but left the cadence estimate internal to Fenix2 (I did not pair the footpod to the Fenix2).
Each device recorded what was (to me) a significant difference in distance. Looking closely at the map, you can see that both watches had issues among the tall buildings of downtown Seattle. I should note I waited until both watches (at almost the same time) said they had a strong 3g signal
|Distance||8.01 mi||8.39 mi|
|Avg Speed||6.0 mph||6.3 mph|
|Avg Pace||9:56 min/mi||9:31 min/mi|
|Calories||948 C||826 C|
|Avg Moving Speed||6.1 mph||6.4 mph|
|Avg Moving Pace||9:51 min/mi||9:26 min/mi|
|Max Speed||8.9 mph||16.7 mph|
|Best Pace||6:45 min/mi||3:36 min/mi|
|Elevation Gain||199 ft||291 ft|
|Elevation Loss||190 ft||292 ft|
|Min Elevation||-129 ft||3 ft|
|Max Elevation||51 ft||189 ft|
|Avg HR (bpm)||144 bpm||144 bpm|
|Max HR (bpm)||162 bpm||162 bpm|
|Avg HR (% of Max)||76 % of Max||76 % of Max|
|Max HR (% of Max)||86 % of Max||86 % of Max|
|Avg HR (z)||2.2 z||2.2 z|
|Max HR (z)||3.8 z||3.8 z|
|Avg Run Cadence||174 spm||170 spm|
|Max Run Cadence||210 spm||254 spm|
|Avg Temperature||—||62.0 °F|
|Min Temperature||—||59.0 °F|
|Avg Vertical Oscillation||—||6.9 cm|
|Avg Ground Contact Time||—||289 ms|
|Avg Stride Length||0.93 m||1.00 m|
Once again, the 910xt is estimating a higher calorie burn than the Fenix 2. In this chart, the altitudes were definitely more accurate, as I’m pretty sure I didn’t dive to 159 feet below sea level.
What this does show is that neither watch is perfect, and that these GPS watches, particularly in an urban environment, are going to have the same troubles. Distances aren’t going to be perfect no matter what watch you use.
An Unexpected Function
Just before my run, I got a notification on the Fenix 2: “Warning! HR battery low”. I was surprised, since the strap was brand new. How could this be? Luckily, I had another CR2032 with me from another device, so I took at the battery and replaced it with an already used (but not low) battery. The warning disappeared.
What a great addition to the Fenix2! I can’t tell you the number of times in the middle of a tough run or even a race, where all of a sudden I’ve lost HR because of the battery – or, as is far more common, I start getting erratic readings just before failure. I’m not sure if this would have worked on the 910xt – it was off at the time – and if this is a function of the HRM-Run or just the Fenix2 and HRM-Run together. Either way, it was a great upgrade!
If it’s part of the Fenix 2, it’s another bonus.
Heart Rate Drops and Freezing
The dreaded reports of heart rate drops with the Fenix 2 reared its ugly head today during my indoor workout. Despite noticing the dropped HR, nothing could get the watch to recognize the HR strap until I rebooted the watch. After using the watch through numerous workouts, today was the first time I’ve seen it. Not sure the cause. I know it’s not the strap; My 910xt still read the HR no problem. After a second workout, I noticed the heart rate drops again. So, I deleted all of my activities on the watch, turned it off, let it sit and think about the error of its ways, and then turned it back on. I haven’t had any issues since. It could be coincidental, but it does seem like saving too many activities on the watch could lead to some errors. Since the watch syncs automatically to Garmin, it’s easy to forget to delete off the watch.
Additionally, recently after the firmware 3.30 update, I’ve encountered the Heart Rate “Freezing” bug on the Fenix 2. This occurs when, for whatever reason, the data from the HRM-Run is overwritten in the .fit file with the last data point (in my case, a HR of about 156bpm)… It “flatlines” the HR and the only way to fix the problem is to turn the watch completely off and back on again.
The Fenix2 has a variety of ways of increasing its battery life. The advertised “50 hours” isn’t exactly accurate. From their website:
To maximize battery life and detail on the fenix 2:
- Hold Menu key
- Select Settings
- Select Activity
- Choose Activity
- Select GPS Mode
- If activity is around 8 hours, Select Normal
- If activity is over 8 hours:
- Select UltraTrac
- Select Interval time*
- Select Done
Adjusting the settings on your watch will provide you with a good balance between battery life and track detail.
* Setting the update rate to 15 seconds will provide approximately 20 hours of tracking, while setting it the update rate to 20 seconds should provide greater than 24 hours of tracking time. Results will vary based on tracking conditions (heavy tree cover and other things like terrain and buildings can decrease the battery life faster).
Note: On the Garmin Forums, users have noticed some troubles with the Fenix2 in “UltraTrac” mode losing HR data and other problems. I haven’t tested this yet myself.
Today I’ve been using the Fenix2 and the 910xt for several months, and I’m ready to come to some conclusions about the two devices. Like most others, I find there isn’t a clear winner.
Well, that depends. Neither watch walks away with a solid win. What matters, however, is what you are going to do with the watch. At one point my intent was to sell one of the watches after fully evaluating them. Now, at the long end of it… I’m keeping both.
Winner: Triathlon (Full and Longer)
Garmin 910xt. Why? The answer is simple: Battery life. When you are looking at 10+ hours, although the Fenix2 has ways to extend the battery life, just the risk of the battery dying before the finish puts it out of the running. Also, as you fatigue, and your brain turns to mush, the increased size of the display, and the ability to see more information easily makes the 910xt still the winner in the Full Triathlon + range. There should be no reason I should have to carry additional battery/charger weight with me just to have my watch make it through the race.
Winner: Triathlon (Half and Less)
TIE. Why? Fenix2: The battery life is good enough to last through most half triathlons and certainly for most marathons and it’s blue-tooth sync and everyday wear ability should make it a clear winner. It’s light, it functions well, and with the new Garmin Express and Auto-Sync with Trainingpeaks, this is my day-to-day Go-To Watch. The only reason it doesn’t win: Lack of Sport-Specific HR zones. If you can remember your HR zones on the bike, and adjust them in your head, you’re okay. But having one set of zones for 3 (or more) sports can be a serious drawback if you’re someone (like me) who trains and races with a close eye on the heart rate. If the Fenix2 team addresses this serious flaw, then the Fenix2 is the clear winner. Just make sure to fully charge the watch before the race!
Winner: Ultramarathons (100+Mile)
Fenix2. The 910xt’s ability to keep an accurate track up to 20 hours is important. However, it will still not make the 24+hours of a 100mile race. What to do? Most 100mile races are on trails, and the Fenix2 navigational abilities, plus built in compass, mean that carrying extra power with you (such as a solar charger, or battery pack) will just be part of the equation. I’ll never do a 100 mile race, but honestly if I did… I would carry both. I would use the 910xt for the first part of the race, but keep the Fenix2 handy in case I got into trouble.
Winner: Ultramarathons (50km-50+Mile)
TIE. If it wasn’t for the battery issue, Fenix2 would be the clear winner. Yes, there are things you can do to increase battery life (such as changing the GPS sampling rate), but that leads to inaccuracies in distance for most trail Ultras, which could effect your planning or pacing. Consequently, 910xt holds a strong showing, but if you’re a faster runner, the Fenix2 barometrically adjusting altimeter, vertical distance measuring, built-in compass, and “MOB” functions make it a great choice.
Winner: Trail Running
Fenix2. When I head out into the desert, I love the Fenix2’s ability to use WAAS but more importantly I love the safety features, the easily displayed lat/long, and the other hiking functions built in.
Fenix2. The additional running data, even though nobody knows what to do with it, is just the beginning of some of the cool metrics coming down the line. Plus, the ability of the watch to double as an everyday watch make it a spectacular choice. Although the new Garmin 620 would appeal to those who are strictly runners, if you like to dabble in other sports, then the Fenix2 is the way to go.
Fenix2. The Garmin Fenix team’s demonstrated rapid update schedule, listening to input from users, marine, military, aviation and triathlon application use, new running dynamics, daily usability, and overall pure functionality (minus the Virtual Racer) make it the OverAll winner for me. The only time the 910xt wins is if you are doing races longer than 8+ hours…
For my day to day training I find myself using the Fenix2 almost exclusively. However, when the Full Triathlon in Palm Springs is on the Race Calendar… I’ll be using the 910xt.