A Brief Garmin 920xt Transition Guide

IMG_5676 2I own a lot of Garmin devices.  I love their devices and I’m always impressed with what they come up with.  Our team recently got a great deal on the Garmin 920xt and so I updated my multisport watch to Garmin’s latest running/cycling/swimming watch.

This article isn’t meant to be a review of this watch– DC Rainmaker does a fantastic job at reviewing the 920xt that simply can’t be matched.  Instead, this post is a quick transition guide for anyone using the previous generation of triathlon watch (the Garmin 910xt)– it includes the information that I wish Garmin had told me about the 920xt– it would have saved me a bunch of time if I knew up front what I’m about to tell you.

Why Bother Upgrading?

But first, why would you want to upgrade from the perfectly capable 910xt?  Sure, the 920xt is marginally thinner, but I’d say the difference is pretty unnoticeable.  The color screen is nice, but also not that relevant.  While Garmin could have used the flatter, bigger surface of the 920xt for added data, they didn’t (the LCD panel is exactly the same size between the two watches).  The 910xt was a killer watch when it came out and it still is.

The reason to upgrade is the data syncing.  The ANT stick from the 910xt is gone but it’s replaced with a lot more synching options.  Like their running-specific 620 (shown at the left in the photo), the 920xt syncs in three different ways:

  • over the USB cable (very reliable, but a tad inconvenient),
  • using Bluetooth through your smartphone (less reliable but very convenient), and
  • over WiFi (super-reliable and really fast).

For the last year, I have loved how my 620 syncs over WiFi– I walk in the house, hit the lower right button, and within 30 seconds, my workout data is synced to Garmin Connect and TrainingPeaks.  It simply works.  Brilliantly.  When I’m on the road and don’t have my PC, I use my iPhone to sync my data over Bluetooth.  With the 620, this works great, but just a little less smoothly than the truly effortless WiFi option.  With the 920xt, it works better for some reason– it’s as if the 920xt keeps a stronger and more consistent connection over bluetooth with my iPhone.  But the big advantage, of course, is that the 920xt syncs my cycling data too!

Another cool reason to upgrade is that you can change sports quickly and easily in the middle of the workout.  Say, for instance, that you are doing a brick workout of cycling and running.  In the 910xt, you would have to either set up a multisport event ahead of time with separate run and bike sections or you would have to start and stop separate running and cycling workouts.  On the 920xt, you simply switch sports right in the middle of your workout.  It’s intuitive and really easy to do.  You can do it as many times as you want and between as many sports as you want (as long as you have a basic profile for that sport set up ahead of time).

What is the 920xt Like?

In many respects, the 920xt looks like a spiffed-up 910xt– and you would expect that the user interface (UI) would be roughly the same.  Well, guess again.  In fact, I’d say the 920xt is more like a multisport-specific version of the 620 than an update of the 910xt.  Here’s what you have to know.

Defaults to Power-Saving Watch Mode

IMG_5677When you first turn on a Garmin 910xt, you are presented with the data screen from the sport that you were last using.  Holding down the lower-left “mode” button lets you switch between “run”, “bike”, “swim”, and “other”.

The 920xt is entirely different.  Turning on the watch presents you with a regular watch face with the time of day.  This is the power-saving watch mode.  In this respect, it’s very much like the 620, which serves as my day-to-day wristwatch in this mode.  You can also get to this screen by hitting the “back” button (lower left) enough times.  In this mode, the GPS is turned off and the sports functions are locked.  While it’s unlikely that most of you (except the most die hard triathletes with big wrists) will be using the Garmin 920xt as a daily wristwatch, this mode lets you do it.  Because the GPS is off, the watch can stay in this mode for weeks without running out of battery life.  But you can still access the backlight (upper left), sync with WiFi (holding down lower left), or unlock the watch for sports (lower-left and then “enter”).

Activities are Fully Customizable

IMG_5678Pressing the unlock button (lower left button with the three dots) and the “enter” button gets you into the screen where you specify your sport activity.  Here my screen reads “Bike Indoor” and, out of the box, you can choose (via the up and down buttons on the right side) a bunch of different sports like,

  • Run
  • Run Indoor
  • Bike
  • Bike Indoor
  • Swim
  • Swim Indoor
  • Triathlon

What the manual doesn’t really tell you is that you can delete any or all of these defaults (don’t worry– you can get them back) or you can customize them to meet your needs.  For instance, I’m a duathlete and the only time I’d be caught swimming is if someone threw me off the side of a boat.  So I just deleted each of the swimming sports, deleted swimming out of “triathlon” and renamed “triathlon” to a more sensible sport (i.e. “duathlon”).

If you want to add any of these sports back (or create your own), it’s really easy.  You just go to

Settings | Activity Profiles | Add New

From here, Garmin gives you a bunch of “template” sports to choose from.  You may have also noticed the out-of-the-box default sports above each have “indoor” options.  When you create a new activity profile (or edit an existing one), you can turn the GPS function on or off– and this choice “stays” with that activity profile (note that this is one of the few functions that does “stay” with an activity profile).  This is a very handy feature because it makes it really quick and easy to set up for an indoor bike ride versus an outdoor bike ride.  By contrast, with the 910xt, turning off your GPS for an indoor ride is a real pain in the butt– and you have to go through this routine every time you start an indoor ride.

Mode | GPS | GPS Status | Enabled | Off

By contrast, with a 920xt, you simply select “bike indoors” and the GPS is automatically disabled.  Go outside and switch to “bike” and the GPS is automatically enabled.  Two button presses.  Super quick and easy.  This makes it much easier and faster for wimps like me who hate riding outside in the cold rainy Seattle winters.

Pair all Your Sensors at Once– and Rename Them

It’s highly likely that you have a bunch of different ANT+ sensors.  For instance, you probably have a heart rate monitor and a speed and/or cadence sensor on your bike(s).  You may also have different power sensors on different bikes and maybe even a foot pod sensor for running on the treadmill.

On the Garmin 910xt, you manage the different bike sensors by setting up different bike profiles for each set of sensors.  Holding down the mode button and selecting “bike,” for instance, you can add different bikes, each with their own sensors.  For instance, if your road bike has a PowerTap wheel and your race bike has a Quarq crankset, you can specify the different power measuring system on each bike.  Other sensors, like the heart rate monitor and the footpod are set up once for the device.

The Garmin 920xt is entirely different.  Instead, you simply add all your ANT+ sensors all at once

Settings | Sensors & Activities  | Add New

When you start an activity, your Garmin then starts looking for every sensor it was paired with— regardless of what sport you chose.  This can seem a little weird.  For instance, if you paired your Garmin 920xt with a foot pod, it will look for that sensor when you choose “Bike Indoor” even though that sport doesn’t use the foot pod!  Disconcerting or not, it’s fine that it does this because the watch is ultimately “smart” enough to use the right sensor for the right purpose.  This also means that, for instance, that if you have two wheels with different PowerTap hubs, the watch will automatically switch to the right sensor (assuming you paired it previously).

But, you may be asking, what if there is a potential conflict?  Say, for instance, that you paired with two PowerTap hubs– and you’re using one of them and your friend is using the other?  When your 920xt senses a conflict, it simply asks you which of the two PowerTap hubs you would like to use and then it works fine from there.

It’s all brilliantly simple and just works great.  The system makes the right choices and avoids conflicts splendidly.  Most importantly, it greatly simplifies the UI.  Before I had to have separate bike profile for each of the three different PowerTap wheelsets that I own.  Plus I had to do the aforementioned dance with GPS settings.  Now I just have one profile for riding indoors and one for riding outdoors.

If you own a lot of ANT+ sensors like I do, you’ll want to make sure that you rename your sensors.  When you first pair a sensor, you get an abbreviation with the type of sensor and its unique five-digit ANT code.  Unless you’re into memorizing the ANT codes of your different sensors, it’s probably easier to simply rename them immediately after pairing them.  So, for instance, I renamed each of my three PowerTap wheels to

  • Zipp 808
  • Zipp Disk
  • Training Wheels

to make it super-obvious which wheel is which wheel.  Then when the Garmin notices a conflict, it’s simple to choose the right one that I’m using.

A Few Other Less-Obvious Features

There are a few other cool features that might not stand out, but are highly useful to know about.

Turn GLONASS On

If you live in the northern hemisphere and you work out under any kind of coverage, you may do well to turn GLONASS on.

Settings | System | GLONASS | On

For those of you that you may be mystified by this setting, GLONASS is a Russian alternative to the U.S.-created GPS system.  The Russians realized that most of their positioning needs were in the northern hemisphere and so it concentrated its satellites there.  Turning on GLONASS doesn’t turn off GPS– instead, it’s additive and so you will be using both systems.  Of course, your mileage will vary depending on where you are working out, but some folks have found that it provides much better location tracking.  This translates to better speed data, better elevation data, etc.  Unfortunately, there is a slight hit on your battery life so you may want to turn this option off if you are engaged in really long workouts.

Data Recording Every Second

This is more of a reminder that some folks using some online training systems do better with setting data recording every second instead of using the “smart recording” setting that Garmin units default to.  Yes, you can record longer with “smart recording,” but that data isn’t as granular– and it can muck up some systems.  For instance, I’m not sure if TrainingPeaks still prefers data recording every second, but I make sure to set it that way just to be safe.

Settings | System | Data Recording | Every Second

Connect IQ

Garmin Connect IQ brings a whole new level of customization to certain Garmin devices, including the 920xt.  Right now, it’s very much in beta, but it has the potential to open up Garmin devices to being usable by the plethora of new sensor technologies that are becoming available.  For instance, it may be possible to use the BSX Insight sensor (which I blogged about a few months ago) to give you realtime lactic acid readings on your watch.  Or you could potentially get data on your Garmin 920xt from an Echo H2 sensor and know if your blood sugar and hydration levels are taking a hit well before you bonk.  All of this is many months away, but the 920xt is the first Garmin watch that offers this kind of functionality.  Again, the incomparable DC Rainmaker has an in-depth preview of Connect IQ on his site.

Training Intervals and Running Dynamics

One of the features that I’ve grown to like on my Garmin 620 is the interval workout feature.  It’s available on the 910xt, but always seemed a little awkward on that device.  Fortunately, the 920xt looks like a dead ringer for the 620 in this feature.  All you have to do is go to

Training | Intervals

and then create a new interval workout.  You can specify the parameters controlling your interval workout in a number of different ways.  For instance, I’ve found it useful for tracking my recovery runs when I use a run-walk pattern.  Of course, using Garmin Connect, you can create much more detailed and complicated workouts that you can easily download to your watch– but the basic interval function on your watch makes it really easy to create basic ones on the fly.

Speaking about running, I almost forgot to mention that one of the coolest features that I love about my Garmin 620 is the tracking of running dynamics, such as ground contact time, cadence, and vertical oscillation.  Of course, all that comes over to the 920xt as well.  With Garmin Connect, you get to see how all these data points track over the course of your workout.  So, for instance, you can spot where your running form starts to fall apart during a long race.  This data is confined to Garmin Connect (it doesn’t transfer, for instance, to TrainingPeaks) but that’s fine.

Phone Notifications

In case you’re one of those folks who is completely glued to your newsfeeds, social media updates, text messages, and emails, the 920xt provides notifications from your phone.  I’m not one of those people so I really can’t comment on these features.  If you’re like me, however, and you like to ignore the outside world when working out, the 920xt lets you turn off phone notifications easily under the bluetooth section,

Settings | Bluetooth | Smart Notifications | Status | Off

Under “smart notifications,” you can also set a few other useful features.  For instance, if you set it to “on,” you can set it to “show calls only” (either during your workout or in standby).  This is a really handy feature if you want to make sure to catch an important call but don’t want to be bothered each time your friend updates their Instagram account.  This setting can, for instance, vibrate your watch when you get the call, which can be more noticeable yet less obnoxious than ringing the ringer in your jersey pocket.  If this sounds like a good compromise to you, then you’ll have to tweak your settings to:

  • Settings | Bluetooth | Smart Notifications | Status | On
  • Settings | Bluetooth | Smart Notifications | Not During Activity | Off
  • Settings | Bluetooth | Smart Notifications | During Activity | Show Calls Only

Get the Full Manual

Want to know more about all the cool features of your new Garmin 920xt?  The Quick Start guide that comes with your watch will be quite scant.  Thankfully, Garmin has a much more detailed manual available on their site.  Be sure to download it and read it carefully so you don’t miss any of the important features!

Thanks for reading and be sure to like the Athletic Time Machine Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @AthTimeMachine.  If you found this post useful, please reblog it on WordPress, share it on Facebook, or retweet it on Twitter to share it with your friends.

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