Garmin 920XT Review

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The Garmin 920XT, showing the display of Cadence, Vertical Oscillation and Ground Contact Time.

The Garmin 920XT is an update to the Garmin 910XT, adding many of the features from the Garmin 620, while shrinking in size to become far less bulky than its predecessor. It's a large watch, but I found it comfortable even on my tiny wrists. Its GPS Accuracy is disappointing, and using the Russian GLONASS satellites makes this worse. However, the 920XT is the first of several watches in the Garmin range to support the revolutionary Connect IQ. This will allow the 920XT to run applications, much like a smartphone. The 920XT has a clear display, real buttons, and rich functionality that make it an attractive option if you can afford it. The Connect IQ extensibility adds some potential future proofing. For a simple evaluation of a GPS watch, I look at how well it can answer some basic questions:

  • How far did I run? This is the most basic question, and sadly, the 920XT has rather middling GPS Accuracy, and while firmware updates might improve this slightly, I doubt it will get close to the accuracy of the Polar V800. The level of error will depend on your route; on straight lines it will be remarkably accurate (as will any other GPS watch), but on a twisty course like the one I run on, it is out by around 0.5 miles on a 20 mile run. That's enough to mess up your marathon training. If this is important to you, look for a more accurate watch.
  • How fast am I running? Knowing how fast you're running can be a nice to know, or it can be vital for your training or race performance. Because of the nature of GPS, watches that rely on GPS signal alone tend to have serious problems with current pace. Thankfully, Garmin has added support for the display of current Pace From A Footpod while getting all other data from GPS.
  • Where am I? The 920XT has some basic navigation functions.
    • Track Outline. There is a display of where you've run, rather like a breadcrumb trail. There are no maps, so this is just the outline on its own without any context. However, you can use it to backtrack along your path.
    • Course Outline. This is an outline of a route that can be downloaded. I've found this useful during ultras or in unfamiliar cities where I've needed to know where to go.
    • Back To Start. This is a simple arrow point to your starting point, so it won't help you backtrack.
    • Back To Waypoint. You can mark a location and use the arrow to point to it later. Again, this is a simple "as the crow flies" pointer.
    • GPS "Compass". There's no magnetic compass so you have to be moving for the GPS to give you a sense of direction.
  • What's my cadence? Cadence is one of the most critical and often overlooked aspects of running. If you get your Cadence right, many other things naturally fall into place. Not only does the 920XT get Cadence from a Footpod, it will also get it from the Garmin Run Heart Rate monitor. There is also support for Cadence from the internal accelerometer, though I find that's not as accurate. The Cadence alerts are especially useful for keeping you on track.

For ultramarathon running the battery life of the 920XT makes it a strong candidate for shorter races (50 miles/100k). But if you hope to be still moving during the Second Dawn, then you should look elsewhere. See Watches for Ultrarunning for more details.

1 Garmin 920XT Pros

  • The 920XT supports Garmin's Connect IQ, which allows for the creation of apps in much the same way you can run apps on Android or iOS. Just like the original iPhone, this has the potential to be revolutionary, making the 920XT an extensible platform for future functionality.
  • Garmin has added support for displaying your current Pace From A Footpod while getting all other data from GPS. For situations where pacing is critical, such as running a marathon, this is a must have feature. You can also configure it to get both pace and distance from the Footpod, while still recording the track of where you've been from GPS.
  • The 920XT is quite a bit bigger than devices like the Garmin 620 that look more like a traditional watch. However, I have tiny wrists (less than 6 inches) and I found 920XT was far more comfortable than watches like the Polar V800.
  • The display on the 920XT is color and a good size that is easier to read than some watches. Unlike the Garmin 620, the color display on 920XT is quite strong. I'm not sure that color adds much functionality, but it does make the 920XT more visually appealing. While the 920XT has a slightly smaller display than its predecessor, the 910XT, it has nearly twice the resolution, creating a far crisper display.
  • Like the Garmin 620 and Garmin Fenix 3, the 920XT supports Running Dynamics which can show and record Cadence, Vertical Oscillation (VO) and Ground Contact Time (GCT). The 920XT has a nice display of Cadence, VO, and GCT that gives a color coded indication of how well you're doing.
  • The 920XT can be configured to alert you when a metric is out of range. The alert for Cadence is particularly useful. The Cadence alert will work when it's using the internal accelerometer for Cadence, as well as the HRM-Run strap or a Footpod.
  • There is a metronome to help you keep your Cadence where it should be, which is a really nice feature. The metronome can be set to make a sound and/or vibrate. The vibration option is nice so you don't annoy people you're running with. You can set the alert to go off every second, fourth, or sixth beat.
  • Like many recent Garmin running watches, the 920XT can display the Firstbeat Training Effect, an indicator of how hard a training session is. While I find this useful, it's important to remember that the Training Effect is strongly biased towards intensity rather than duration.
  • There is also support for the Firstbeat Estimate of Recovery Time before the next workout, which I also like, though you have to take this with a large pinch of salt.
  • The 920XT will cache the GPS satellite locations for the next few days to reduce startup time. This is particularly useful when travelling to a new location as older devices can take minutes to get a fix when travelling. I hate standing around on a street corner in the cold, dark, early hours of the morning waiting for my watch to tell me I can start running. In my testing the satellite acquisition was always very rapid, and the 920XT is sensitive enough to get a fix inside my house.
  • There are six real buttons rather than a touchscreen on the 920XT, which I think is much better when you're running. The buttons are well placed and easy to use.
  • The prediction of your V̇O2max worked well for me, but I would not rely on its accuracy.
  • The 920XT will upload your workouts to Garmin Connect via WiFi without needing a computer. It will also link to a smart phone to upload a workout as it takes place, which is nice for folks tracking you during a race, though it means wearing the watch and the phone together. If you plug the 920XT into a computer it will function as a flash drive, giving you direct access to your workouts as '.FIT' files. This provides compatibility with a wide range of software.
  • The 920XT will not display Heart Rate Variability but it is possible for it to record Heart Rate Variability for later analysis. To enable this recording, you need to download a special FIT file from the firstbeat.com web site. (It's quite probable that Connect IQ will enable apps to provide this functionality in the future.)
  • While Garmin claims a 24 hour battery life, I found that 19 hours is more likely even under optimal conditions (no backlight, no button presses.) That 19 hours is good enough for many shorter ultramarathons, and the extended mode allows for 50 hours with degraded GPS accuracy might be viable for you. In my informal testing of the extended mode, the 920XT did not perform as badly as I expected. Unlike some other Garmin watches, such as the Garmin Fenix 3, you can't charge the 920XT while you're running. I find charging on the run is a pain, but it's nice to have the option.
  • There is a nice display that shows the route you've taken for navigation, but there is no support for displaying a map; you need the Garmin Epix for that.
  • You can use the 920XT as an activity monitor, something that's common to many new sports watches. However, because the 920XT is only using its internal accelerometer the activity estimates are rather poor. If you need an activity monitor, I'd recommend the Basis Activity Tracker which has sensors for heart rate, skin temperature and perspiration.
  • The 920XT will record your personal best performances, such as fasted 5K or longest distance. These are a nice novelty, but for most people you won't be setting PR's on a regular enough basis for it to add much value.

2 Garmin 920XT Cons

  • The 920XT includes an internal accelerometer to give you an idea of pace and distance while running on a treadmill without a footpod, but I found the accuracy was rather poor. I've yet to come across a watch that can reasonably estimate your pace from the movement of your wrist, nor does it seem likely that this functionality is practical.
  • You need to have the new HRM for the new features. It will display Heart Rate and calculate Training Effect with the older Garmin HRM, but not Ground Contact Time or Vertical Oscillation.
  • The 920 XT is not unattractive in a rather plastic way, but it's nowhere near as elegant and stylish as the Polar V800 or the Garmin Fenix 3.

3 Comparisons

Here are some of the watches that are competitors for the 920XT:

  • Garmin 620. The features of the 620 are remarkably similar to the 920XT. The 620 is smaller, but has a shorter battery life. However, the biggest difference between the two is that the 920XT has the Connect IQ extensibility. I think that the extensibility of the 920XT makes it well worth the price premium over the 620, so only get the 620 if its small size is critical to you.
  • Garmin 610. The 610 the predecessor to the Garmin 620 and its price has dropped to make it an attractive option. While the 610 lacks many of the cool new features of the 620/920XT, it performs the core functionality you need is a runner as well as (or better than) the newer devices. I would recommend giving the Garmin 610 serious consideration, even though it's an older device.
  • Garmin 310XT. Like the 610, the 310XT is older and its price has dropped nicely. You could think of the 310XT as a larger 610 with better battery life.
  • Garmin 910XT. The 910XT is a little better than the 310XT, but quite a lot more expensive. Until the price of the 910XT drops to be much closer to the 310XT, I don't think it's worth it; buy the 310XT or the 920XT, not the 910XT.
  • Polar V800. The V800 is a far more elegant watch than the 920XT, and is beautifully made. The V800 also has outstanding GPS accuracy, which makes it a strong contender for your money. However the V800 is quite expensive, and it can only display your Cadence if you're using the enormous Polar Stride Sensor. I believe that Cadence is so critical to efficient running and injury prevention that I find it hard to recommend the V800.

4 What's Missing

While I don't consider these missing features as 'cons', it's worth understanding the features that are missing compared with other watches. You'll notice that the 920XT has a rather short list of missing features ;}

  • Graphs. Instead of simply displaying a numeric value for things like heart rate, some watches will display a graph of the value over time, giving you a sense of how things are progressing. (As mentioned earlier, Connect IQ will add this functionality.))
  • Web Configuration. Some watches allow you to setup the configuration via a web site, and then download your changes. This is vastly easier than fiddling with the watch.

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6 Visual Comparison

Garmin 920XT top
Garmin 920XT side
Garmin Epix top
Garmin Epix side
Suunto Ambit3 top
Suunto Ambit3 side
Suunto Ambit2 top
Suunto Ambit2 side
Polar M400 top
Polar M400 side
Polar V800 top
Polar V800 side
TomTom Cardio Runner top
TomTom Cardio Runner side
Garmin 620 top
Garmin 620 side
Leikr 1 top
Leikr 1 side

7 GPS Accuracy

The Garmin 920XT has middling GPS Accuracy; neither the worst nor the best.

  • The 920XT does well going under the bridge, an indication that it is not having excessive problems with reacquisition.
  • On the out-and-back turnaround the 920XT does poorly, but no worse than I'd expect given its overall accuracy.
  • Running in a straight line is a fairly easy task for most GPS watches, and the 920XT does okay.
  • I've not had any issues with the 920XT acquiring or maintaining the GPS signal, unlike some other devices.
The 920xt does surprisingly well under the bridge and no issues reacquiring the GPS signal. It does poorly around the twisty section, often cutting the corners which results in a short measurement. It does okay with the sharp turn seen on the right side of the diagram. Notice that the tracks are quite spread out, especially if you compare them with the TomTom's tracks. (This diagram has tracks color coded with green indicating good accuracy through to read indicating poor accuracy, and the lap markers as blue dots.)
With GLONAS enabled, the accuracy through the bends is a lot worse, and the section with the sharp turn is also poor.(This diagram has tracks color coded with green indicating good accuracy through to read indicating poor accuracy, and the lap markers as blue dots.)
This close up section of a zigzag shows the 920XT follows the line of the course, but is offset more than other devices. (This diagram has tracks color coded with green indicating good accuracy through to read indicating poor accuracy, and the lap markers as blue dots.)
In the close up with GLONAS, the lap markers are slightly more distributed. If you look at the image below that shows direction of travel as color, you can see that the 920XT with GLONAS is having accuracy problems in the section to the right of the diagram, but only when traveling east-to-west. This is a surprisingly common phenomenon, where a watch has a dramatic difference in accuracy depending on the direction of travel. (This diagram has tracks color coded with green indicating good accuracy through to read indicating poor accuracy, and the lap markers as blue dots.)
Here the 920XT displays the typical GPS behavior with the tracks that have the green lines shifted slightly down and to the left, blue up and to the right. You can see the lap markers similarly shifted. (This image has the tracks color-coded for direction, with green coming from the right, blue from the left.)
Activating GLONAS seems to cause more a random looking distribution, rather than the clear shift of blue and green lines. However, the lap markers remain offset. (This image has the tracks color-coded for direction, with green coming from the right, blue from the left.)

8 Comparison Table

Review

Score How far did

you run?

How fast are

you running?

Where are
you?
What's your
cadence?
Bonus Points Value for money

Price at Amazon.com

Garmin Epix Review 22 5 5 5 5 2 3 Garmin Epix
$449.99 USD at Amazon.com
Garmin 920XT Review 21 6 5 3 5 2 3 Garmin 920XT without HRM
$256.45 USD at Amazon.com
(Referbished $189.95)
Garmin 910XT Review 20 9 5 3 3 0 6 Garmin 910XT without HRM
price not listed at Amazon.com
Leikr Review 20 8 5 5 2 0 3 Leikr ($380)
Garmin Fenix 3 Review 20 5 5 3 5 2 3 Fenix 3
$449.79 USD at Amazon.com
(Referbished $274.95)
Garmin 310XT Review 19 9 5 3 2 0 10 Garmin 310XT without HRM
price not listed at Amazon.com
Suunto Ambit3 Run Review 19 10 2 3 3 1 5 Suunto Ambit3 Run
$219.89 USD at Amazon.com
Suunto Ambit3 Peak Review 19 10 2 3 3 1 3 Suunto Ambit3 Peak
$331.72 USD at Amazon.com
Suunto Ambit2 R Review 18 9 2 3 3 1 7 Suunto Ambit2 R without HRM
$266.06 USD at Amazon.com
Suunto Ambit2 Review 18 9 2 3 3 1 5 Suunto Ambit2
$220.00 USD (new) at Amazon.com
Garmin 610 Review 18 8 5 2 3 0 3 Garmin 610 without HRM
price not listed at Amazon.com
Polar V800 Review 17 10 2 2 3 0 3 Polar V800 without HRM
$449.95 USD (new) at Amazon.com
Garmin 235 Review 16 3 5 2 3 3 3 Garmin 235
$329.99 USD at Amazon.com
(Referbished $229.11)
Garmin 620 Review 15 8 2 0 5 0 5 Garmin 620 without HRM
price not listed at Amazon.com
Garmin Vivoactive Review 14 4 1 2 5 2 6 Garmin Vivoactive
$149.99 USD at Amazon.com
(Referbished $114.69)
Garmin Vivoactive HR Review 14 3 1 2 5 3 4 Garmin Vivoactive HR
$199.99 USD at Amazon.com
(Referbished $214.39)
Garmin Fenix 2 Review 13 4 1 3 5 0 2 Garmin Fenix 2 without HRM
price not listed at Amazon.com
Garmin 225 Review 11 5 1 0 3 2 3 Garmin 225
$179.99 USD at Amazon.com
(Referbished $139.95)
TomTom Cardio Runner Review 10 5 1 0 3 1 3 TomTom Cardio Runner
price not listed at Amazon.com
Epson SF-810 Review 8 4 1 0 1 2 3 Epson SF-810
$199.99 USD at Amazon.com
Polar M400 Review 5 2 0 2 1 0 2 Polar M400 without HRM
$126.59 USD at Amazon.com
Epson SF-510 Review 3 2 0 0 1 0 1 Epson SF-510
$119.99 USD at Amazon.com
Suunto Spartan Ultra Review 2 0 0 1 1 0 0 This is not the watch you're looking for.
Garmin 10 Review 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 Garmin 10
$94.00 USD at Amazon.com
(Referbished $53.07)

The score is the sum of how well each watch can answer the four basic questions (how far, how fast, where are you, what's your cadence), plus some bonus points. I give 1-2 bonus points for application support and 1-2 bonus points for Optical Heart Rate Monitoring. Value for money is the score divided by the price (at the time I last updated the table.) Your needs may be different, so you might weight the different aspects of the watches differently, or be basing your decision on different criteria totally. Hopefully this table will give you a good starting point for your decision. (Older Reviews: Polar RC3 GPS, Soleus 1.0, Motorola Motoactv.)

9 Features

Review

GPS
Accuracy
Weight (oz) Size (CM3) Display (mm) Resolution (Pixels)

Waterproofing

Pace from
FootPod with GPS Enabled

Heart Rate
Monitor

Cadence

Data Upload

Battery
Life (hr)
Tested Battery
Life (hr)
Extended
Battery
Life (hr)

Altimeter

Navigation

Training
Effect

HRV

GPS cache

Sensors

Charge on the run?
Garmin Epix Review 6.2 3.0 48 29 x 21 (609mm2) 205 x 148 (30.3K total) Good (50m) Yes Yes Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert Yes 24 17.6 50 Yes Color Maps, Track Outline, Course Outline, Back To Start, Back To Waypoint, Compass Yes Record Yes Ant+ Yes*
Garmin 920XT Review 6.6 2.2 35 29 x 21 (609mm2) 205 x 148 (30.3K total) Good (50m) Yes Yes Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert Yes 24 19 40 Yes Track Outline, Course Outline, Back To Start, Back To Waypoint, Compass Yes Record Yes Ant+ No (terminates)
Garmin 910XT Review 7.5 2.5 49 33 x 20 (660mm2) 160 x 100 (16K total) Good (50m) Yes Yes Footpod/Alert Yes 20   20 Yes Track Outline, Course Outline, Back To Start, Back To Waypoint Yes Record No Ant+ Yes, but no display
Leikr Review 7.3 2.4 25 41 x 31 (1271mm2) 206 x 148 (76.8K total) Fair (IPX6) Yes Yes Footpod Limited 5 6.5 5 No Color Maps, Track Outline, Course Outline No No Yes (few hours) Ant+ Yes, but tricky
Garmin Fenix 3 Review 6.2 2.9 33 30 (round) (726mm2) 218 diameter (37.3K total) Good (100m) Yes Yes Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert Yes 20 22 50 Yes Track Outline, Course Outline, Back To Start, Back To Waypoint Yes No Yes Ant+ Yes*
Garmin 310XT Review 7.5 2.5 63 33 x 20 (660mm2) 160 x 100 (16K total) Good (50m) Yes Yes Footpod Yes 20   20 No Track Outline, Course Outline, Back To Start, Back To Waypoint No No No Ant+ Yes, but no display
Suunto Ambit3 Run Review 7.9 2.5 30 29 (round) (661mm2) 128 x 128 (16.4K total) Good (50m) No Yes Internal/Footpod Yes 10 10.5 100 No Course Outline, Back To Start, Back To Waypoint, Compass Yes Record Yes Bluetooth Yes
Suunto Ambit3 Peak Review 7.9 2.9 30 29 (round) (661mm2) 128 x 128 (16.4K total) Good (100m) No Yes Internal/Footpod Yes 20   100 Yes Course Outline, Back To Start, Back To Waypoint, Compass Yes Record Yes Bluetooth Yes
Suunto Ambit2 R Review 7.6 2.5 30 29 (round) (661mm2) 128 x 128 (16.4K total) Good (50m) No Yes Internal/Footpod Yes 8 7.3 25 No Course Outline, Back To Start, Back To Waypoint, Compass Yes Record Yes Ant+ Yes
Suunto Ambit2 Review 7.6 3.1 30 29 (round) (661mm2) 128 x 128 (16.4K total) Good (100m) No Yes Internal/Footpod Yes 15   50 Yes Course Outline, Back To Start, Back To Waypoint, Compass Yes Record Yes Ant+ Yes
Garmin 610 Review 7.3 2.5 41 25.4 (round) (507mm2) 128 diameter (12.9K total) Fair (IPX7) Yes Yes Footpod/Alert Yes 8   8 No Back To Start, Back To Waypoint Yes Record No Ant+ Yes, but no display
Polar V800 Review 8.0 2.8 31 23 x 23 (529mm2) 128 x 128 (16.4K total) Good (30m) No Yes Internal/Footpod Limited 13 24 50 Yes Course Outline, Back To Start, Back To Waypoint Yes Display Predictive Bluetooth No (terminates)
Garmin 235 Review 4.9 1.5 19 31 (round) (755mm2) 215 x 180 (38.7K total) Good (50m) Yes Yes (+OHRM) Internal/Footpod Yes 11   11 No Back To Start, Back To Waypoint Yes No Yes Ant+ Yes, but no optical HR
Garmin Vivoactive Review 5.4 1.3 13 29 x 21 (592mm2) 205 x 148 (30.3K total) Good (50m) No Yes Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert Yes 10 10 10 No Back to start No No Yes Ant+ Yes*
Garmin 620 Review 7.1 1.5 20 25.4 (round) (507mm2) 180 diameter (25.4K total) Good (50m) No Yes Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert Yes 10   10 No No Yes Record Yes Ant+ No (resets)
Garmin Vivoactive HR Review 4.9 1.7 19 21 x 29 (609mm2) 148 x 205 (30.3K total) Good (50m) No Yes (+OHRM) Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert Yes 13   13 Yes Back to start No No Yes Ant+ Yes*
Garmin Fenix 2 Review 5.7 3.2 32 31 (round) (755mm2) 70 diameter (3.8K total) Good (50m) No Yes Internal/Footpod/Heart Rate Monitor/Alert Yes 15   50 Yes Track Outline, Course Outline, Back To Start, Back To Waypoint, Compass Yes No Yes Ant+ Yes*
Garmin 225 Review 6.2 1.5 24 25.4 (round) (507mm2) 180 diameter (25.4K total) Good (50m) No Yes (+OHRM) Internal/Footpod Yes 10 11 10 No No No No Yes Ant+ No (resets)
TomTom Cardio Runner Review 6.0 2.2 30 22 x 25 (550mm2) 144 x 168 (24.2K total) Good (50m) No Yes (+OHRM) Internal/Footpod Yes 8 6.3 8 No No No No Yes Bluetooth No (resets)
Epson SF-810 Review 5.5 1.8 28 28 (round) (616mm2) 128 diameter (12.9K total) Good (50m) No OHRM Only) Limited Internal Limited 20 26 20 No No No No Yes (few hours) None No
Polar M400 Review 4.4 2.0 24 23 x 23 (529mm2) 128 x 128 (16.4K total) Good (30m) No Yes Internal/Footpod Limited 8   8 No No No No No Bluetooth Yes, but tricky
Epson SF-510 Review 4.4 1.7 24 28 x 22 (616mm2) 128 x 96 (12.3K total) Good (50m) No Yes Limited Internal Limited 30 30 30 No No No No Yes (few hours) Bluetooth HR No
Suunto Spartan Ultra Review 1.2 2.7 38 32 (round) (804mm2) 56 x 32 (96K total) Good (100m) No Yes Internal (Footpod doesn't work) Yes 18 17 26 Yes Track Outline, Course Outline, Back To Start, Back To Waypoint Yes No Yes Bluetooth No
Garmin 10 Review 3.8 1.3 33 25 x 24 (600mm2) 55 x 32 (1.8K total) Good (50m) No No No Yes 5   5 No No No No No None No

For "navigation":

  • Color Maps gives you full color maps, rather like a smart phone, with roads and paths marked out.
  • Track Outline is a display of where you've run, rather like a breadcrumb trail. If there are maps, the outline is superimposed otherwise this is just the outline on its own without any context.
  • Course Outline is an outline of a route that can be downloaded. I've found this useful during ultras or in unfamiliar cities where I've needed to know where to go.
  • Back To Start is a simple arrow point to your starting point, so it won't help you backtrack.
  • Back To Waypoint returns you to a previously marked location using a simple arrow to point.
  • Compass. A magnetic compass can help you orient yourself or the map. Without a magnetic compass you have to be moving for the GPS to give you a sense of direction.