Garmin Forerunner 910XT In Depth Review

(Updated: May 1st, 2013)
The Garmin Forerunner 910XT represents the next generation triathlon/multisport watch from Garmin.  The watch builds on many areas that the FR305 and then FR310XT had – including a slimmer profile then either of those watches, and a new pool swimming mode to track your distance while swimming laps.  But are these changes and others enough to get you running to pickup the latest model? Well, stick around and I’ll explain.
Like all my reviews, they tend to be pretty in depth (perhaps overly so) – but that’s just my trademark DC Rainmaker way of doing things.  Think of them more like reference guides than quick and easy summaries.  I try and cover every conceivable thing you might do with the device and then poke at it a bit more.  My goal is to leave no stone unturned – both the good and the bad.
Because I want to be transparent about my reviews – Garmin sent me a development unit to try out.  It’s almost identical to that of the final production unit that’ll be on store shelves in a bit (may have slight color differences).  Once units are available in retail shops I’ll send this back to Garmin and then go out and buy my own (to be able to support y’all in the comments section down the road).  Simple as that.  Sorta like hiking in wilderness trails – leave only footprints.  If you find my review useful, you can use any of the Amazon links from this page to help support future reviews.
Lastly, at the end of the day keep in mind I’m just like any other regular athlete out there.  I write these reviews because I’m inherently a curious person with a technology background, and thus I try and be as complete as I can.  But, if I’ve missed something or if you spot something that doesn’t quite jive – just let me know and I’ll be happy to get it all sorted out.  Also, because the technology world constantly changes, I try and go back and update these reviews as new features and functionality are added – or if bugs are fixed.
So – with that intro, let’s get into things.
Unboxing and Size Comparisons:
First, let’s start with some unboxing.  When you first (finally) get your FR910XT, it’ll look pretty much like this:
Garmin FR910XT BoxGarmin FR910XT Back of Box
A few short seconds later you’ll likely be tearing through the box, in which case, it’ll probably look something like the below (though, admittedly, a lot less pretty).  This is where you’ll find more plastic baggies than a Costco bulk container of them would contain.
Garmin FR910XT Unboxed
Once you remove all that plastic, you’ll have the below setup.  On the left side is all your power goodness (which I’ll detail in a second).  In the middle you’ve got the watch and manual.  And on the right side from top to bottom, you’ve got your USB charging clip, USB ANT+ stick, and heart rate strap (in two parts).  The little white piece of paper was bonus from having an early beta kit, as I had to add my own sticker – officially FR910XT #17!
Garmin FR910XT Unboxed and Unwrapped
Here’s the power plugs.  The unit comes with three different types: US, Euro, and UK.  Of course, some of those adapters are used in a slew of other countries.
Garmin FR910XT Power Adapters
Then we’ve got the heart rate strap.  This will include the strap and the transmitter pod.  Note that this is a different strap design than the previous premium strap.  Check out the heart rate accessory section later for the exact details of what’s changed (and it’s good news there!).
Garmin FR910XT HR StrapGarmin FR910XT HR Strap Transmitter PodGarmin FR910XT HR Strap Transmitter Pod and Strap
Next we’ve got the ever exciting manual.  You can also download it from Garmin’s site.  Just wander over here.  Though, there’s pretty much nothing in the manual that I haven’t detailed beyond normalcy here.
Garmin FR910XT Manual
Then we’ve got the USB charging clip.  This plugs into either your computer, or the provided AC power block.  It does NOT transfer data.
Garmin FR910XT Charging Clip
The below USB stick is what does the data transfer.  It does this via ANT+, which is a low-energy transmission method used to communicate with Garmin devices wirelessly.  More on this later.
Garmin FR910XT ANT+ USB Stick
And finally…the watch itself!  Here’s a few quick shots before I powered it on.  Of course, by the end of this post, you’ll likely be tired of seeing FR910XT shots.
Garmin FR910XT Side Profile ShotGarmin FR910XT Front Profile ShotGarmin FR910XT Wrist Band
And once we’ve got it all turned on, here’s the unit in shining glory!
Garmin FR910XT
For those familiar with the FR310XT/FR405/FR410 charging clips, the FR910XT uses the same two pronged system.
For comparisons sake – I went ahead and pulled out the trusty kitchen rolling pin and compared it to a number of other common triathlon focused watches.  Starting first, I went with just the Garmin lineup (left is FR305, middle FR310XT, right FR910XT):
Garmin FR305, 310XT and FR910XT Size ComparisonGarmin FR305, 310XT and FR910XT Size Comparison - sideGarmin FR305, 310XT and FR910XT Size Comparison - Face Height
Then I broke out both the Timex Global Trainer and the Polar RCX5 Triathlon watch.
Garmin FR305, FR310XT, FR910XT, Timex Global Trainer and Polar RCX5 size comparisonGarmin FR305, FR310XT, FR910XT, Timex Global Trainer and Polar RCX5 size comparison
When upside-down you can really see more clearly the thinner profile of the FR910XT compared to the FR310XT – given there’s a slight air-gap below it.
Garmin FR305, FR310XT, FR910XT, Timex Global Trainer and Polar RCX5 size comparison
As you can see, the FR910XT is the smallest multisport watch that Garmin has made to date, being both slimmer than the FR310XT and FR305.  Though while it’s still bigger than the Polar RCX5, keep in mind the RCX5 does nothave GPS integrated into it, and instead requires a separate pod.
I figured I’d compare it to my other two favorite Garmin running watches – the FR210 (left) and the FR610 (center).
Garmin FR210, FR610 and FR910XT Size Comparison (Forerunner)Garmin FR210, FR610 and FR910XT Size Comparison (Forerunner)
And finally, two more comparing the size of the watch on a human wrist (mine), with the FR310XT.
Garmin FR310XT and FR910XT on wrist size comparisonGarmin FR310XT vs FR910XT size comparison
With the comparisons all set – let’s dig into the details!
Garmin FR910XT Changing Sport Mode
I’ve changed up the review format a bit this time, to give a brief overview in running and cycling separately and then dive deep into the features that are available across both sports. So after the Running/Cycling/Swimming overview, head down into the detailed feature by feature sections.
The FR910XT is like most other GPS watches in that it’ll record the details of where you went, how fast you were going, and how long it took to get there.  Once it’s done, it’ll save this information and then upload it to Garmin Connect, allowing you to slice and dice the data till your heart’s content.  I talk about much of this slicing and dicing later on in the Garmin Connect software section.
Garmin FR910XT and running around track on Garmin Connect
Of course, first we’ll want to start with what you see while you’re running.  This is completely customizable, but to give you a feel for things, here’s a sample data page that I often use when running:
Garmin FR910XT four data fields
In this instance, I can see my lap pace, my lap distance, my heart rate – and my footpod cadence.  But you can customize this any number of different ways however you see fit.  Later on I’ll talk about the data fields and customization.
One of the other features I dive into later on is the ability to create a Virtual Partner, which allows you to pace against a little computerized person for a set pace.
Garmin FR910XT three data fields
Of course, these are just two of many different running features that are shared across both run and bike.
Run/Walk Function (new):
A new feature specific to the FR910XT and running is the watches Run/Walk functionality.  This has become popular in recent years as a way to try and keep a consistent overall pace in an endurance event, such as a marathon or longer.  Essentially the idea being that if you manage the walking aspect of it, it’ll keep it from snowballing into just non-stop walking.
Typically this is setup based on a specific time, such as 10 minutes of running and then 1-2 minutes of walking.  The FR910XT now supports the ability to create these alerts, along with all the normal alerts you can still setup (time/distance/calorie).
Garmin FR910XT Run/Walk Alert Setup
I’ve actually found a more interesting use for the Run/Walk alert though – which I’ve mentally relabeled ‘Nutrition alert’.  See, a typical time based repeating alert (say every 10 minutes) is normally a good way to remind you to take in nutrition during training or a race.  But I’ve often found that I sometimes mentally find an excuse where I say “Oh, let me just get over this hill and then I’ll take some gel”, only to realize 10 or 20 minutes later I haven’t taken anything.
With setting up a 10 minute and 2 minute alert combo – I’m basically giving myself a 2 minute window to take in my nutrition, at the end of which it reminds me again.  It’s been working pretty well for me this season – and I’ve really reduced the amount of missed nutrition opportunities.  You can of course customize the run and walk alert portions for as short or long as you wish.
Garmin FR910XT Multiple Bike Setup
The FR910XT has made a number of small updates from the FR310XT that will definitely appeal to cyclists.  Starting off is the ability to now customize up to five different bikes.  Each bike can then store a slew of different saved parameters, such as ANT+ sensor details (power/speed/cadence) and wheel size/bike weight.
Speaking of which, the FR910XT supports the major cycling ANT+ sensor types including Power Meters, Speed-Only sensors, Cadence-Only sensors and combination Speed/Cadence sensors.  It also supports ANT+ heart rate monitors as well.  And in the event of a power meter that sends cadence information (pretty much all of them), it’ll happily pick that up too.
Garmin FR910XT Bike Speed Cadence Sensor Setup
The FR910XT is designed to be worn either on your wrist, or on the bike mount quick-release system.  Which is just like the cycling focused Edge 500/800 from a quarter turn mount standpoint.
Garmin FR910XT Multiple Bike Selection
Unfortunately, with my development unit I didn’t have a quick release kit available yet – so I instead used the old school rubber Garmin bike mount.
Garmin FR910XT Bike Mount (standard Forerunner rubber mount)
Not exactly aerodynamic – but for the purposes of this week’s posting, it’ll do.  On the bright side, it’s easily out of the way and also a bit easier to take photos of.  Once my quick release kit arrives I’ll update this section with new goodness.
Garmin FR910XT on Garmin Forerunner Rubber Bike Mount
While cycling the FR910XT can do essentially everything your normal bike computer can do – except now it’s powered with GPS and ANT+ sensor data.  If you’re familiar with the cycling only Edge 500, it does everything that unit does.  The only difference is the FR910XT displays 4 data fields at a time versus the Edge 500’s 8 data fields.  Obviously the FR910XT does tons more in other areas though (swim and run namely).
Garmin FR910XT on Garmin Forerunner Rubber Bike Mount in Aerobars
As noted previously the FR910XT shares almost all of the features between the run and cycle portions, which means that I’ve consolidated them down below for easier reference.
The only areas that are a bit unique to the bike are the data fields.  For example, 3s power (and all power meter metrics) are displayed while cycling, but not running.  I’ve made it easy for you though and consolidated all the data fields the watch contains within the Data Field section below.
Garmin FR910XT on bike aerobars with bike mount
So let’s talk about a few new and unique things that will appeal to cyclists.
Barometric Altimeter (new!):
For years cyclists have managed to get barometric altimeters within their bike computers, while runners have had to put up with GPS based altimeters.  Now in general, GPS based altimeters work just fine – but they aren’t as accurate for more complex elevation situations (mountains), or for determining things like grade – which requires a better understanding of the elevation changes.
That’s why I was excited to see that they’ve integrated a barometric altimeter into the FR910XT, over the GPS altimeter that was previously used with the FR310XT and FR305.
This means that when you look at altimeter data, it should map to reality better than GPS data.  But remember, even if it doesn’t, you can always use altitude data correction on Garmin Connect to turn on/off elevation correction.  This correction uses NASA imagery that’s accurate to about a meter, and can overwrite your existing elevation data.  Simply turn it on/off on the left hand side of each activity:
Garmin FR910XT Elevation Correction
Note that because the FR910XT uses a barometric altimeter, by default this will be off.  And in general, I find that the altimeter data produced by the FR910XT is pretty accurate (like that of the Edge series devices for cycling).  Much smoother and cleaner than GPS based elevation data.
Also note that the barometric altimeter is of course accessible while running too – so it’s not just a cyclist feature.  I know this is of special interest to ultra marathoners.
Power Meter Support (major changes):
As previously announced at Interbike, the Edge 500/800, FR310XT and now the FR910XT will all get the TrainingPeaks metrics of TSS (Training Stress Score), IF (Intensity Factor), and NP (Normalized Power). [Update note, it has since been announced that the FR310XT will NOT get the power update]
The FR910XT will also be getting Left/Right power to be able to support not only the Garmin Vector pedal based power meter, but also other pedal/cleat based power meters such as the Brim Brothers Zone and O-Sycne’s power meter.
These metrics will also start appearing shortly on Garmin Connect as they rollout new feature updates.  As of this initial post, the FR910XT I have doesn’t have the updated metrics in this beta firmware version, but I’m told it should very shortly.  One of the key partnerships with TrainingPeaks was to ensure that the metric seen on TrainingPeaks is the exact same metric displayed on the Edge/Forerunner units, which is also the exact same metric shown on Garmin Connect.
Back at Interbike it was noted that Garmin as a company recognizes that Garmin Connect isn’t for everyone and that the more advanced/elite athletes will naturally gravitate to TrainingPeaks as a platform and that they want to ensure there aren’t discrepancies across the two from a data standpoint.
The biggest change in the FR910XT is the ability to support lap-swimming and record distance, speed, strokes and more.  For years no Garmin product has supported the ability to gather lap data while inside a pool.  But now the FR910XT does exactly that.  Additionally, it also supports the same data while openwater swimming.  But first, let’s start with the pool, then move to openwater.
Lap Swimming:
As noted above, the biggest benefit of the FR910XT over the FR310XT is likely the ability to record pool distance and lap information.  The unit does this using an internal accelerometer, which measures change in direction and acceleration to determine what you’re doing.  This is important because when you’re doing your workout in the pool, you need to be cognizant of this with respect to extra movements.  But I’ll talk more about this in a minute.
To use it in the pool, you’ll switch into Swimming Mode, and then from there into pool mode.
Garmin FR910XT Pool Lap Settings
After you’ve changed modes and selected Swimming > Lap Swimming, you’ll then be confronted with this option on pool length:
As you can see, you can select the common 25M, 50M, and 25Y lengths, or simply customize your own…perfect for all those whacky hotel pool lengths.  Except, as of present, the only pools supported are those between 22m/y and 100y/m.  This is somewhat problematic for those that swim in shorter pools.  I’ve talked with Garmin about this (as recently as February 2012), and am hoping to see a change to allow shorter pool lengths.
With that set, it’s time to hop in the pool and get swimming.  Using it in the pool is much the same as you would use while running or biking.  The start/stop buttons control whether or not the timer is recording, and the lap button records laps (or sets/intervals).
While you’re swimming you’ve got realtime access to four data pages, each with up to four pieces of information on them.  For me, I’ve found that I’m really looking for three key metrics during a set: Time, Distance, and Pace.
I’ve then setup two data pages that I use frequently – one showing me that information for the current lap (i.e. Lap Distance, Lap Time, Lap Avg Pace, Lap Stroke Rate), and then the whole set again for ‘Last lap’.  This is useful in that when I finish a set and press lap, I can easily see what the last set was.
Today the watch does NOT support the ability to pre-create workouts on it for swimming mode, like you can for running or cycling.  I asked Garmin about this, and it’s on their radar, but no time commitment yet.  What you can do however is setup both time and distance alerts.  These alerts can be configured for preset times, such as every 500y.  Once it hits the alert, it’ll beep, buzz and display a warning.  You may not hear the beep, but you’ll feel the vibration, so it actually works pretty well.
Once you’re done, you can see the total information for each and every set via the history menu.  This shows total (workout), sets/laps/intervals, as well as even lengths.
In fact, that’s an important distinction between the FR910XT and something like the Pool-Mate Pro, which doesn’t show per-length data afterwards, just per-set data.  The Swimsense does however show per length data.
After our swim is complete, we’ll want to upload it all to Garmin Connect to check out the data.  While I talk about Garmin Connect a fair bit later, I’m going to tackle the swim portion of GC now.
Once you get the workout uploaded using the ANT Agent, it’ll be visible on Garmin Connect (speaking of which, if you already have a Garmin device, be sure that you do indeed update the ANT Agent to at least the Nov 28th, 2011 build – the reason is builds prior to that don’t know how to deal with the swim files, and will fail).  This is how a workout looks in the overview page.  We’ll walk through the key segments in a second.
First up is the Summary and Swim Graph, towards the top.  The Summary is simply your total distance, pool length setting used for that session, total time (including stoppage), and average pace for the workout (not inclusive of stoppage):
Meanwhile, the Swim Graph is an interactive guide that shows you each length as part of a set (interval), which is in turn part of the overall workout.  You can slide left/right to see other sets and the distances/times.
Above you can see the total Interval time, and the individual lengths, along with the total distance.
The next section includes a listing of all your intervals along the left side.  Also, you’ve got more timing information including Avg and Best paces per 100y.  On the right side you’ll see segments for timing (basically, pace), then strokes (per length per arm).
Finally, continuing down further, you’ll see the remainder of your intervals, and then on the right side you’ll see your SWOLF and efficiency scores.  These are essentially metrics that look at stroke length by taking stroke rate and the length of the pool.  It’s like a golf score.
In addition to the overview page, you can also crack open a separate detailed page to check out all of the above information on a per-interval basis…without the fancy graphs.  At the end of which, you can export to CSV.
The swimming mode supports a number of different metrics, starting with the following stroke types being recognized, along with the terms the watch uses to identify/display those swim strokes:
- Freestyle (FREE)
- Back Stroke (BACK)
- Breast Stroke (BREAST)
- Butterfly (FLY)
- Combination of strokes (MIXED)
- Unidentified Stoke (RAY mode…oh, wait…UNKNOWN)
Here you can see some of the stroke information being displayed:
Garmin FR910XT Swim Stroke Recongnition
Since I predominantly just swim freestyle, my experience is focused on that.  Even if I did swim backstroke, it’d likely be so horrendous that it would probably just simply display “FAIL, TRY AGAIN”.  So, I don’t try.
In addition, the watch also displays the SWOLF score, which is your efficiency score.  Lower is better.  All of these metrics can be displayed as data fields.  I talk about the swimming data fields later in that data field section – but here’s what’s available to choose from for swimming:
Garmin FR910XT Swim Data Fields
Note that the FR910XT is like the FR310XT and is waterproofed to 50 meters deep.  This is different from a watch like the FR305, which is only waterproofed to 1 meter deep at 30 minutes.  Also note however that no Garmin watches will record HR data while underwater, due to the ANT+ protocol being unable to transmit through water (has a transmission distance of about 1-2” underwater).  However, the HR strap is waterproof and most folks just leave it on under their triathlon suit/top.  Once you depart the water the FR910XT will automatically pick it up in a few seconds and start recording data.
Note: For a super-detailed look at the swimming metrics side of the FR910XT – check out the post I did on a detailed comparison between the Swimsense and FR910XT.
Troubleshooting Pool Swim Data
I wanted to briefly talk to this, since I’ve seen a number of folks ask about accuracy in the pool.  Some have had the distance issues where the unit reports longer than normal.  And a few people have issues where it reports shorter.  With that, I wanted to provide some tips based on my using it for the past 5+ months.  During which time, I’ve had it measure distance in a pool wrong only once – due to having to stop mid-way down the lane and converse with my lovely wife.  Yup, just once.  So I figured I’d share my tricks to accuracy.
The first thing to keep in mind is that the unit measures distance purely on accelerometer data.  That means that it’s measuring what your wrist is doing, and in particular, changes to direction and acceleration.  Thus, you have to keep in mind that any movement you make while the timer is running is being analyzed.  The watch is constantly thinking “Is this a stroke?”, “Was that just a new lap?”.  Keeping that in mind is critical to accurate data.
1) When you’re not actively swimming back and forth, pause the timer.  I know that there’s some guidance that says you can just keep it going, but honestly, that’s wrong.  If you’re standing at the wall waiting for your next set – just pause the timer.  That tells the watch to stop looking at whether or not you should be swimming.  And thus, it won’t increment the distance until you press start.
2) Separate out your laps/sets using the lap button.  If my workout calls for 1000y warm-up, then a 500y build, then a slew of 100’s, I’m going to press lap between each section.  Thus, at the 1000y marker I press lap to create that set.  At the 500y marker, I press lap.  And then after each 100y I press lap.  In the case of the 100’s, I’ve got a short rest at the wall, so I FIRST press stop, then I press lap.  If I pressed lap then stop, it would incorrectly start a new lap that I haven’t started swimming yet.
3) Be strong on your wall push-offs.  Because the 910XT is looking for changes in acceleration, you want to ensure that you push off the wall strongly.  Fast being the key.  It doesn’t matter if you do a flip turn or an open turn (I vary sometimes for fun), it just matters that you do it with conviction.  If you ever-so-slowly do a turn at the wall and make it more graceful than Ms. Daisy, the unit might never actually detect an acceleration change, and thus, no new lap.
4) Be aware that passing someone mid-line is an acceleration change: Folks have reported issues with sudden surges to pass another swimmer mid-way down a lane being counted as a new lap.  This is an area where Garmin could improve the logic a bit, but my advice here is to try and ‘soften’ the acceleration/deceleration just a touch to not trigger it.  I realize of course that when it comes time to pass someone mid-lane, the most important thing is doing it quickly – but just offering some options.  Or, do it at the end of the lane (again, not always possible).
5) Pause when in drills: Because the unit is looking for one of the recognized stroke types, it will only be accurate when you’re doing one of those stroke types.  So if you’re doing a bunch of drills with three pieces of swim equipment and look like a fish out of water, it’s best to pause the timer.
6) It won’t work if your arms aren’t moving: This goes hand in hand with the above, but if you’re doing kick-only drills, the unit simply won’t measure that distance.  For these, I just pause the unit.  The time is counted in total activity time, but it doesn’t try and incorrectly record laps (which it will, trust me).
7) Don’t leave the unit running when you go to the bathroom: I only mention this, because I got an upset e-mail from someone that indicated that the unit incorrectly added a lap when they went to the bathroom while leaving the timer running.  I really wanted to note that technically they probably did go 50y round-trip, but decided against it.  Again, remember, as your arm swings, it thinks your swimming.  So as you get out of the pool, walk to the bathroom door, open the door, go to the bathroom, and do it all again in reverse, it’s prime time for the unit to think you’re swimming.  Just pause, you’ll be happier later. :)
So, you did all that and you still got a bad nugget in there?  Well, unfortunately on Garmin Connect there isn’t a way to adjust lap/length distance (someday I hope).  But, there is one application that can: SportTracks.  If you use SportTracks and download the Swimming Plug-in, then you’re able to edit swims.  Note that SportTracks doesn’t cost money if you use less than two plug-ins, though the Swimming Plug-in costs $10.
Here’s what the main overview looks like (of the plug-in for a given swim session).  Essentially, you can see the sets are expandable, along with each length within it.  Along the top you have all your sets and lengths as well.
But let’s dive into the primary item of interest: Changing incorrect swim items.
First, is the ability to change the stroke type.  You simply click on either a length or set, and then choose the correct stroke:
Next, we have the ability to ‘split’ or ‘join’ lengths that are incorrect.  This is useful if the unit didn’t catch a turn at the wall and you need to make it show that you did 100y instead of 50y.
You can adjust the time for each length as well during this.  And finally, you can adjust the number of strokes for a given length, as well as just straight up delete the length.
Make sense?  Cool stuff.  Also of note is that if you happen to have a Swimsense watch, this plug-in works with that as well.
Now, there’s no doubt that all of us wish this were simply in Garmin Connect, but since it’s not, there’s at least an alternative.
Openwater Swimming:
In addition to lap swimming, the FR910 has an improved openwater swim mode that was introduced on theFR310XT a year after its release.  You may have seen my previous in depth openwater swim mode post with the Garmin product team on that and how it works.  In many ways, the FR910XT follows much the same trend.  The key difference though is that with the FR910XT you also now get stroke metrics.  Further, the accuracy is a bit improved – now pretty repeatedly within about 10-15% of actual distance.
For those not familiar, the goal of openwater swimming mode is to allow you to wear the watch on your wrist and get a rough distance measurement.  I say ‘rough’ because it’s not quite perfect.  See, the way GPS works every time your arm drops below the surface of the water GPS signal is lost.  That’s to a large degree just the nature of GPS signal strength.  So each time during your stroke recovery (the part above the water) it has to reacquire GPS signal and then plot a data point.  The challenge is that sometimes it doesn’t quite get an accurate GPS point during that split second recovery.  That’s where the ‘openwater swimming mode’ comes in.  It uses an algorithm to make a guess at where you actually swam, and determines a distance.
Looking at the FR910XT, you’ll see two improvements over the FR310XT in openwater swimming.  The first is a cleaner GPS map track.  In the past, the track would be all over creation – quite literally.  Now, smoothing has been introduced to make the map look a bit more accurate.  Take for example a swim I did on a recent vacation with the FR910XT.  You can see my swim around the island pretty clearly – no immediate or obvious problems with the route (this was on my wrist):
Of note is the very slight differences with the FR310XT (older) where you can see a bit more detail in the route, as it’s not smoothed as much:
Oh, and here’s my swimming with the unit on my wrist (going through the channel above):
For those that are curious, here’s the two distances as reported by the units:
Now, it wasn’t quite perfect on other days either, especially in shorter loops.  For example, I would daily do this about 400m loop around the resort.  In doing it daily for a week, it was interesting to see the slight variations each day, especially compared to where I actually swam.  Now, what may have impacted things slightly is that it was dumping out most of the days I did these short swims (something about swimming in openwater that has low visibility isn’t really my cup of tea).  It’s possible the rain storms were impacting satellite reception.
What I found was that one of the most important items was getting a good initial fix above-water before you started swimming.  Meaning, instead of pressing ‘start’ when you initiate your first stroke, just give it about 5-7 seconds to get one good satellite point dropped before you start.  That made all the difference between a good clean line and one missing chunks/distance.  For example, see below when I didn’t get the fix initially (I started/stopped in the same place):
So what about distance measurement?  Well, most days I swam with three GPS units.  A FR910XT on one wrist, a FR310XT in my swim cap, and the new FINIS Hydrotracker on my swim goggles.  And almost every day, they were within 10%-15% of each other.  It’s hard in these situations to say exactly which one is correct, since I didn’t have a specific measured course to work from.  But I think that the stroke information benefits of the FR910XT on your wrist outweigh the distance accuracy benefits of putting it under your swim cap.
I have found that historically the most accurate method for capturing distance is to place it on my head under my swim cap.  I talk about that in more depth here.  This way I still get an incredibly accurate GPS track – as well as a pretty picture.  The challenge with that method is it completely negates the benefits of the FR910XT when it comes to capturing stroke information.  Which, we’ll talk about now.

With the FR910XT you get stroke information due to the internal accelerometer.  This requires you to have the unit on your wrist (indoor and outdoor).  But assuming it’s there, you’ll get this information during the full duration of the swim.  As you can see below mid-way through my openwater swim, I’m getting this information (along with distance) in real-time:
And below you can see the total time (upper), total distance (lower right) and then 100/yd pace (lower left).  The pace fields are new to the FR910XT.
Once home and with the data uploaded to Garmin Connect you’ll get slightly different data than indoors.  Primarily, aside from distance, map and pace data, you’ll only be getting basic stroke data.
So while you don’t get some of the additional efficiency information like you do in a pool, you do gain the ‘Player’, which allows you to replay the whole swim – pace information and all.  Stroke is converted to ‘cadence’ here, which essentially means they saved development time by re-using the bike/run metrics.
Finally – there’s been some questions on wetsuit removal with the FR910XT on your wrist, primarily because trying to remove a wetsuit with the FR310XT on your wrist was a bit of a pain.  Well, the FR910XT was specifically designed to enable quick wetsuit removal.  And I thought there’d be no better way to do that than demonstrate exactly how quickly you can remove a wetsuit with the FR910XT on your wrist…thus, time to turn to the video:
As you can see, it pretty much slips right off!
And finally, again note that I have a fair bit more on swimming with the FR910XT in my detailed FR910XT vs Swimsense post.
Calorie Calculation and Heart Rate Display/Recording:
Like most fitness devices, the FR910XT does calorie estimation based on your activities.  The FR910XT does this in a few different ways, depending on exactly how much information you give it.  This section will be pretty high level, but if you’re looking for more detail on all the different calorie methods, check out my Garmin Calorie Measurement In Depth post I put together last year with the help of the Garmin engineers.
Option #1 – New Leaf Profile (most accurate): The FR910XT supports the ability to have a VO2MAX taken at a New Leaf testing facility, and then have that data used to generate calorie burn metrics across your heart rate ranges.  This is the most accurate consumer-grade method available today for calorie calculations.  The test takes about 10-15 minutes…and is rather painful since you’re pushed to your absolute max.  But once complete the computer will generate a small file that you can import via Garmin Training Center to your FR910XT which will then subsequently updated on any and all Garmin devices you own.  For a detailed look at how this all works, check out this post here on my experience getting New Leaf Testing.
VO2Max Test downloading data to New Leaf for GarminVO2Max Test Mask
After the Garmin ANT Agent has transferred the profile to the watch, you’ll see the below message:Metabolic Profile Downloaded for calorie consumption - Garmin Forerunner 910XT
Option #2: FirstBeat Algorithm (2nd generation): The Firstbeat algorithm is the most accurate Garmin device calorie measurement that can be done without external testing.  But it’s actually not developed natively by Garmin.  It’s developed by a Finnish company (Firstbeat Technologies) that has its roots in calculations around Olympic athletes, specifically Nordic skiing.  Their calculation uses  user inputted variables including gender, height, weight and fitness class.  It then combines this data with heart rate information from the ANT+ heart rate strap.  Specifically, it evaluates the time between heart beats (beat to beat) to determine estimated MET (Metabolic Equivalent), which in turn is used determine actual work expenditure.  This makes the system one of the more accurate non-invasive options (read: doesn’t require a laboratory), within about 10% accuracy.  Firstbeat has published a fascinating white paper detailing the technology and accuracy rates.  And just to be clear here – youhave to wear the HR strap for this to work.
Heart Rate Data from Garmin FR910XT
Option #3: Speed/Distance/Weight Calculation (least accurate): This is the least accurate and most basic method of determining calories, as it is only used when a heart rate strap is not enabled/used (default). Given the lack of heart rate data, the unit will simply use speed/distance, as well as the weight you entered in the device setup.  The reason this is less accurate (65-80% accurate) is that it can’t differentiate how much effort you’re expending to travel a given distance – which while less important for running, is quite important for cycling.  For example, if you’re coasting down a 7 mile descent, you’ll burn virtually no calories compared to ascending the same mountain.  This speed/distance algorithm does not consider or evaluate the impact of elevation change.
Garmin Connect Summary Page
Outside of calorie calculations, it should be noted that the FR910XT can easily record heart rate (HR) data in either a given sport, as well as just sitting around.  For example, I often use my Garmin watch to record my resting HR by simply putting on the strap and then starting the unit (you don’t even have to record to display HR).
Within a gym environment, if using a heart rate strap you’ll get calorie burn metrics appropriate to your heart rate.  That may not be fully representative though of your actual calorie burn since most of the HR burn metrics used are primarily aimed at aerobic activities such as running and cycling.
Sport Features (across multiple sports):
In the past, I’ve placed all of the below features into either the bike or run sections to demonstrate them.  But since they are common to both sports (and in some cases, to swimming as well), I’ve decided this time to mix it up and make a ‘Sport Features’ section that shows off these major areas across all sport types, to help reduce confusion.
Auto Lap:
Out of all of the Forerunner features, Auto Lap is probably the most commonly used.  Auto Lap enables you to automatically create splits/laps based on predetermined distance intervals of your choosing.  For example, you can specify to automatically create a lap every 1 mile (default), or every 1 kilometer.  You can also configure Auto Lap for as little as every .01 miles/kilometers, a nice change from the past.
Garmin FR910XT Auto Lap TriggerGarmin FR910XT Auto Lap Customization
Many runners will use Auto Lap on longer runs so that later on they can easily see the mile by mile splits in applications like Garmin Connect.  For example, if you look at the below data from a long run I did Sunday, you can quickly and easily look at the mile by mile splits without having to splice the data manually:
Garmin FR910XT Auto Lap Display
On the bike, Auto Lap works exactly the same way.  However, because of the speeds being discussed in bike versus run, most folks tend to change Auto Lap here to a higher value – like 5 miles.
Auto Pause:
While Auto Lap (previous section) is heavily favored by runners, Auto Pause is heavily favored by cyclists.  See, Auto Pause enables the watch to automatically pause recording when you reach a certain speed threshold – which is configurable.  Take for example the scenario of a cross-town jaunt on a bike where may hit numerous stop signs or stoplights.  With Auto Pause you can remain hands free and the watch will automatically pause recording at each red light you hit.  And then resume it when the light hits green.
Garmin FR910XT Auto Pause Resume Settings
You can either use the default speed settings (configurable for both bike and run differently), or customize them yourself.
For me, I only use Auto Pause when I’m in a city environment, as I prefer to manually control it otherwise.  And in running, I tend to also just manually press pause/resume myself.  But I also completely understand those that use it.
Also note that for cycling with a power meter, it’s generally recommended not to use Auto Pause, as it’ll skew your Normalized Power metrics afterwards since it’ll make it appear as though you’ve had no rests (depending on the software used).
Alerts (Vibration/Audio):
The FR910XT contains a few different alerting mechanisms, but my favorite by far is the vibrating alerts.  These are most useful because if you’re running along in a loud environment (or just with a big fluffy winter hat), it can be hard to hear.  Or, if your gasping for breath on the track…the same thing.
You can enable either beeping alerts, vibrating alerts, or both within the settings page.  I prefer just to leave it on the default of both.
Garmin FR910XT Vibration Tone Alert Settings
You’ll configure the alerts separately for each sport (Swim/Bike/Run/Other), with the run page offering the most alerting options (since it includes the Run/Walk alert section I talked about earlier).

Garmin FR910XT Time, Distance, Calorie, Run/Walk AlertsGarmin FR910XT Heart Rate (HR), Cadence, Power Alerts
Within a given alert type, you can then set more detailed configuration options – generally based on either a trigger (distance) a high/low watermark setup (HR/Power/Cadence).
Garmin FR910XT HR Alert Customization
The nice part is that unlike previous watches, this allows you to customize as high or low as you’d like.  No worries about having too small or two large of a number.
Garmin FR910XT Distance Alert CustomizationGarmin FR910XT Time Alert Customization
Note that you can’t configure whether or not it vibrates or beeps on a per alert basis – that’s a setting across all alerts (vibrating, beeping, or both).
Virtual Partner:
Virtual Partner allows you to pace against a set speed or pace. This is useful if you want to run a 5K at or better than a certain pace, such as 8:00/mile.  Or any other distance/pace.  I’ve used this in the past when trying to pace longer distance races – such as a marathon in an Ironman, and wanted to be able to keep just slightly ahead of my goal pace.
Garmin FR910XT Cycling Virtual Partner
It also allowed me to instantly see the impact of slowing down (or walking), as the ‘little man’ then gains on you.  The inverse is true if you speed up though.
Garmin FR910XT Running Virtual Partner
As is always the case though with any GPS based pacing in a race – be aware that more than likely you’ll be running longer than the actual race distance due to corners and crowds.  Thus, you’ll want to take that into account during your pacing strategy (read: set the pace slightly faster).  For more on that, check out this in depth post on how to pace with a GPS watch.
Virtual Racer:
Virtual Racers is new to the FR910XT, and allows you to race against existing courses and workouts.  Because it measures your race progress based on a given point in the course, this enables you to pace more appropriately to a course that may have difficult terrain (such as a large hill).  This is different than a Virtual Partner because in the VP scenario the little pacer would keep a constant speed over the hill, whereas in the Virtual Racer scenario it would adjust to a much slower speed for the hill.
Garmin FR910XT Virtual Racer
What’s cool here is that you can go onto Garmin Connect and download any workout you can find (yours or someone else’s).  For example, you can find a workout for the Boston Marathon at a given pace, and then race against it.  Or for cycling, you could go grab one of those Team Garmin-Cervelo files from the Tour de France and attempt to hold on. Or not.
Simply select to download the course from Garmin Connect, and it’ll end up on your Garmin FR910XT.
Interval mode enables you to setup a simple interval workout and then have the watch guide you (thus in effect yell at you) through the workout.  When you setup intervals you’ll be specifying how long the warm-up is, the number and distance/time of work intervals, the rest interval, and then the cool down.  Once you’ve got all that specified, you click start and hold on for dear life.
Garmin FR910XT Interval CreationGarmin FR910XT Interval Configuration
This mode is great if you’re new to intervals and don’t have a lot of complex pre or post-main set work and just want to focus on reaping the rewards of speed work.  The warm-up and cool down portions can also be specified using either time or distance.  And of course for either running or cycling (not swimming).
Garmin FR910XT Interval Workout
If however, you have a more complex workout regime, you’ll want to use Workout mode (below) instead of Interval mode.
Workout Mode:
Workouts differ from intervals in that they are infinitely customizable – for any sport.  In the past I’ve used workouts for actually creating a race plan to then execute on either during the bike or the run.  You can do an endless array of ‘if/then’ type statements, allowing you to dial-in your exact workout or race plan and then let the watch own you for that session.
You can configure these on either Garmin Training Center, or Garmin Connect (new).  Since the feature was just added to Garmin Connect, I’ll create an example there – using a workout from a few weeks ago.  This is a running workout, but I’ll also create a quick cycling one:
Garmin Connect Workout Creator - Running Workout
In my cycling example, you can see how I’ve gotten more complex with it, enabling me to specify any number of parameters for either training or racing.
Garmin Connect Workout Creator - Cycling Workout
To get it to your watch, you’ll simply click “Send to watch”, which brings up this screen:
Garmin Connect Workout transfer to FR910XT
Once on the watch, you’ll go into the menu system and select workouts:
Garmin FR910XT Workout Selection
From there, you’ll see the available workouts that you’ve synchronized to the watch.  To start a workout, merely select it…and then prepare to follow the directions, one step at a time during the workout:
Garmin FR910XT Workout Selection on watch
Note that you can actually create workouts manually on the watch itself (in a pinch).  But I find this to be fairly slow going, sorta like painting a room with a toothbrush.
Garmin FR910XT Workout Creator on Watch
Workouts can be configured for cycling or running.  I suspect we’ll eventually see a ‘Swim workout’ option arrive though.
Courses allow you to specify a route online, and then get a breadcrumb trail of the route while on the watch.  This is somewhat different than what you might be familiar with on a car GPS where you see road names (as well as on the Edge 800 cycling GPS).  In the case of the FR910XT (and all other Forerunners), you get a bit of a breadcrumb trail to follow.
First though, we’ll go onto Garmin Connect to create the route.  Note that you can also use MapMyRide/MapMyRun to create and download courses too.  And in general, those programs give you more options (and information).  The online course creator was actually just added to Garmin Connect back in mid-September, so I’m optimistic we’ll see more features over time (such as elevation graphs, ability to add water stops, etc…).  In the meantime, it works as a good basic option.
Below I roughly sketched out my Sunday long run.  Because the map doesn’t quite have all the trails I use, it’s not a perfect representation of the route.  You’ll note I can change the speed/pace in the lower box and it’ll give me an estimated time of arrival (AKA: When I find my couch and TV).
Garmin Connect Course Creator
Once you’ve created the course, you’ll go ahead and select to send it to your device:
Garmin Connect Course Creator transfer to FR910XT
After that’s done, it’ll be queued up for the next time you plug the USB stick in and synchronize.  Now we’ll go to the watch.
On the watch, you’ll go into the courses menu and find the course we want.  Once you select it you’ll see a breadcrumb trail of the whole route. This is just an overview of sorts.
Garmin FR910XT Course Display
After you press start, you’ll see it’ll start giving distance information until the next point, as well as all your regular data fields.  I find that despite not having the actual road names on them, they are still pretty valuable if you’re out for a long ride/run and need a rough map.  In this age of cell phone mapping though, I suspect most of us would just grab the phone in our back jersey pocket (if riding) if we needed more detailed information.
Data Fields:
Like it’s predecessors the Forerunner 910XT offers the ability for you to customize your data fields.  In fact, when you look at the major differences between Garmin’s lower end watches (FR110) and their higher end watches (like the FR910XT), the biggest differentiator is data field customization.  So I went ahead and created the following chart of all of the data fields currently offered on the FR910XT.  Note that like almost.every.single.other.Garmin.device in history, this tends to change over time – with new data fields usually added in firmware updates.  I’ll update this list from time to time as new fields are added.  Here’s the fields sorted by sport as of October 4th, 2011:
Swimming – Lap Swimming:
Garmin FR910XT Data Fields - Lap Swimming
Swimming – Openwater Swimming:
Garmin FR910XT Data Fields - Openwater Swimming
Garmin FR910XT Data Fields - Cycling
Garmin FR910XT Data Fields - Running
You can configure up to four data fields per data page, and you have up to four data pages to use per sport (Swim/Bike/Run/Other).  In other words, you have lots of customization options.
Garmin FR910XT Run Data Field Customization
Here’s a three view with four data fields, three data fields and one data field.  You can also do two data fields, which simply splits it upper half/lower half:
Garmin FR910XT Run Data Field Customization - Four fieldsGarmin FR910XT Run Data Field Customization - Three fieldsGarmin FR910XT Run Data Field Customization - One field
Note that you can select to either manually iterate through the data pages, or you can choose to automatically have it scroll through the data pages – at a setting of slow/medium/fast:
Garmin FR910XT Auto Scroll Settings
Note if you want to see data fields offered on other watches, as well as how I configure my data pages, check out this post here.
Finally, also of note is that the FR910XT supports both smart recording and 1-second recording rates.  Smart recording means it records data points based on changes to data, while 1-second recording just records at a simple 1-second interval.
Garmin FR910XT Smart Recording and 1 second recording
In general, I always recommend 1-second recording – especially for cyclists with power meters, or those users using the device without any ANT+ accessories.
Multisport Mode (Triathlon Mode):
Multisport mode within the Garmin family is unique to the three multisport mode watches: the FR305, the FR310XT and now the FR910XT.
Multisport mode enables you to setup a recording session that’ll take you from the start of the swim, to the end of the run – all while recording swim/bike/run and the transitions separately.  More importantly, it’ll automatically change the settings and data pages/configurations you’ve set for each sport, as you transition between them.
To setup multi-sport mode head into the Settings page and select Auto Multisport.  From there, you’ll be presented with this menu screen to select which sports you want to add.
Garmin FR910XT Multisport Mode
Once in that you’ll see you can add or enable the different legs that you plan to participate in.  You can include transitions if you want.  This is where if you’re doing a duathlon you can set that up as well.  Or, you can just add as many sports as you like.  You can’t edit the names however – it’s either Swim/Bike/Run/Other.  Adding a ‘Beer Garden’ step doesn’t appear to be an option.
Garmin FR910XT Multisport Mode - Edit LegsGarmin FR910XT Multisport Mode - Select Sport
During the event you’ll advance to the next sport by pressing the lap button, which will automatically transition you from sport to sport.  As you’re doing this, the FR910XT will let you know which sport you’re in (serving mostly as a reminder to get rid of the wetsuit prior to the bike):
Garmin FR910XT Multisport Mode - Begin SwimmingGarmin FR910XT Multisport Mode - Begin Running
Once you’re done with the event (training brick or race), you’ll have a small pile of files – one for each leg.  This is actually more useful than a single giant file because this way you can analyze the legs independently as you would expect: Swim, Bike, Run (and transitions).  Note that the watch will also record everything with one big time as well, so you can track total time and see that too.
Indoor Use:
I just wanted to briefly touch on this, simply as a means to answer any questions.  Since most of this section is alluded to in other sections, I’ll keep this short.
Treadmill Running:
When running inside with the FR910XT, your best bet is to pickup an ANT+ footpod.  Garmin makes one for less than $50, as does a number of other ANT+ companies.  The footpod attaches to your shoe and the wirelessly sends both speed as well as cadence to the FR910XT.  Here’s what one of the units looks like on a running shoe:
Garmin FR910XT ANT+ FootpodGarmin FR910XT ANT+ Footpod Detected
When indoors, it’ll send both speed and distance, as well as cadence. And when outdoors it’ll send cadence (turnover), to match up with the GPS signal.  Additionally, if you end up in an area with bad GPS signal (GPS speed = zero), the unit will switch to the footpod for speed/distance.  You can also set the watch to switch over to using footpod for speed, to help even out some of the speed jumpiness sometimes associated with GPS speed.  This is called changing the speed source:
Garmin FR910XT ANT+ Footpod Speed Source
I talk tons more about the ANT+ footpod here in this post on ‘Everything you ever wanted to know about the ANT+ Foot Pod’, as well as a bit at the end of the accessories section.
Indoor Trainer (Cycling):
While indoors on a trainer you can use the Garmin GSC-10 ANT+ speed/cadence sensor (or any other ANT+ speed or speed/cadence combo sensor), to record distance and speed.  Of course, keep in mind that speeds and distance indoors on a trainer are fairly meaningless because they can be easily changed by adjusting gearing and resistance without changing effort.  Meaning that I can change my indoor speed from 15MPH to 30MPH with no additional effort, merely by modifying gearing and resistance.
That said, there is some value in this data depending on the type of trainer (as well as just our human nature curiosity, enabling us to record it in our training logs).  So, if you pickup the $30 sensor (see accessories section), you’ll be able to do just that!
Garmin FR910XT with indoor cycling trainer
Of course, the sensor works indoors just as well as outdoors, so it’s always useful in the event you go through a long tunnel as well.  The sensor will automatically be used in any scenario where the GPS speed drops to zero MPH, but the sensor speed is providing more accurate data (i.e. 20MPH).
To learn more about the speed/cadence sensor, see my post on ‘Everything you ever wanted to know about the speed/cadence sensor’.  Or also see the brief mention later on in the accessories section.
Dryland swim trainer:
While I’m reasonably certain the folks in Olathe, KS had no intention that the FR910XT would be used on a swim trainer bench – it actually works just fine.  I got on the VASA Swim Trainer and got to work.  Well, actually, both The Girl and I used the trainer.
Garmin FR910XT Indoor Swim Trainer
The only obvious caveat being that since you don’t do flip/open turns on the bench (well, unless you fail in a big way), it won’t know when the end of the lap is.  I resolve this by simply knowing that roughly every 18-19 strokes I’m going to be at 25y, and thus I can simply pause for about 1 second, flick my wrist, and then it’ll record it as a flip turn.  Just like magic.  The LCD screen on the Vasa Swim trainer also tells me distance – so I can monitor that for when to ‘pretend flip’ as well.
Garmin FR910XT with indoor swimming trainer
See…it’s all about thinking outside the box…
Garmin FR910XT in Skiing Mode
In addition to being an avid triathlete, I’m also a longtime skier.  In fact, far before I ever did my first triathlon, I ski raced while growing up as a kid.  So any chance I get at skiing (a bit harder now in DC compared to Seattle where I grew up), I take out a Garmin and see just how much I’ve skied.
So on a recent trip to Seattle I grabbed the FR910XT and took it out for the day.  Because the unit has a barometric altimeter, it’s a bit better suited for the constant up and downs of skiing, over that of a GPS based altimeter.  Though, that does assume/require that it gets its initial GPS-assisted altimeter fix correct.
Once that’s complete, it’ll easily track your total distance, elevation gain, and descent information.  For skiers, it’s all about total vertical skied.
When using the unit skiing you’ve got two options for attachment.  The first is just using the normal strap, likely in between your coat and your gloves.  The normal strap isn’t quite large enough to go over your ski jacket.
Garmin FR910XT in Skiing Mode on wrist
The second option is to pickup the extender strap – which I talk about later in the accessories section.  This solves the problem by significantly increasing the length of the strap to be able to get over/around winter jackets.
When you’re skiing with the FR910XT (usually in the ‘Other’ mode), you can setup any data fields you’d like.  For me, that’s primarily just distance, max speed, and total descent.  But, you’ve got all the normal pages and data fields accessible to you.  Here for example, is my max speed that day:
Garmin FR910XT in Skiing Mode Max Speed
Afterwards, you’ll be able to pull up the full GPS track and total elevation ascent/descent from Garmin Connect – or any other site you upload the file to.
Garmin FR910XT Skiing Altitude AfterwardsGarmin FR910XT Skiing Map...a rainy day.
I’ve skied with Garmin units for years, and never had any issues.  Though, a couple things to keep in mind.  While I definitely trust the FR910XT’s new strap system (far more secure than the FR310XT or FR305), keep in mind that I’d still generally recommend you start the unit and leave it inside a secured pocket or backpack.  The reality is that if you’re flying down a run and crash, you could easily manage to have the unit go flying…and depending on conditions, you may never find it.  Just food for thought…
Many have asked as to whether or not the FR910XT is capable of recording stroke data while paddleboarding.  So on a recent vacation I gave it a shot.  Well, actually, The Girl and I both gave it a shot.  And since she looks better than I, we’ll go with the photo of her:
What we found was that while the unit easily recorded speed, distance and time – it did not accurately record stroke information.
As you can see above, it believed I was only stroking at 7 strokes per minute.  In my case, that was significantly under, as that would have been only one stroke per 9 seconds – a pretty slow stroke rate.
I suspect the issue comes from the fact that the FR910XT simply isn’t designed at this point from a software standpoint to understand the paddleboarder stroke.  Now, given that Garmin has added a professional paddleboarder to their sponsored athletes lineup for 2012, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see them add this sport profile in the future.  Since the accelerometer that’s in the FR910XT is 3D, it could recognize this stroke – it just comes down to the unit’s firmware being updated to do so.
Ultra-Long Use (56hrs+ on single charge):
Upon your request, I decided to find out exactly how long the battery would last if you turned OFF the GPS, and just let it use ANT+ for speed/distance (via footpod or bike sensors).  I ended up writing a pretty detailed post on how I did the test, and the full set of results.
In short though, the answer is on a single charge the device will last approximately 55 hours with multiple ANT+ streams (heart rate, power, speed/cadence) feeding data to it.  Data storage/retention was never an issue.
To see the full story behind the tests, and some of the other offerings that can go even longer, check out my post on it.
The FR910XT offers a backlight that clearly illuminates the entire screen.  By default, the backlight will stay turned on for 15 seconds before turning off.  But I prefer mine to stay on permanently – that way when I’m doing night runs or rides I don’t have to keep pressing the light button.  To change this, within the backlight settings, simply adjust the length of time to remain on:
Garmin FR910XT Backlight Timeout Settings
Once in a dark place, you can very easily see the display.  You can also adjust contrast as you see fit as well in the same menu as above.
Garmin FR910XT Backlight in dark room
Note that obviously, backlight length will affect battery.  The brighter and longer, the less battery.
Band and Screen Improvements
One of the biggest concerns in the past with the FR310XT has been the band not being strong enough to withstand the usually rough conditions of an openwater swim start – with people whacking away at your wrists.  Many a Forerunners have been lost to ocean and lake due to this and the quick release kit.
However, it’s clear some thought went into the FR910XT’s band design, because it appears as though this thing is built like a tank.  When I pull on it, the band doesn’t budge or bend.  You’ll notice the band is now more streamlined to the watch – which should reduce the number of places it can have forces pull on it:
Garmin FR910XT new strap pins
In addition to the default band that comes on the watch, they are also offering three additional replacement bands: A quick release kit, an extender band (useful for big winter parkas), and a soft fabric strap (more comfortable).
I’ve detailed these more later on in the accessories section down below, but here’s a quick peek:
(Above: Extender strap.  Below: Fabric strap)
The most significant thing you’ll note though with the band improvements is the use of a pretty substantial pin system – a monster of a pin really, which should reduce/eliminate some of the band breakage/loss issues that the FR310XT had.
Also of note is that the display on the FR910XT is slightly set into the watch – as opposed to being a single sheet of glass on top like the FR310XT.  This should hopefully reduce breakage issues.  Of course, if you run over the watch with your car, or smash a rock against it…it’s probably going to act like most electronic devices and break.
The FR910XT uses the Garmin ANT Agent software to download workouts from the watch to the desktop client.  It does this across the ANT+ protocol, which is a wireless protocol similar to Bluetooth…except low energy like Bluetooth Low Energy (BTLE).  With your computer, you’ll plug-in the ANT+ USB stick, which allows your computer to connect wirelessly to the watch.  The wireless distance it can cover can be pretty impressive – such as across a few rooms in a house.
Garmin FR910XT Sync to Computer
But you don’t have to worry about cross-talk with ANT+, each device is uniquely paired.  In fact, that’s one of the first things you’ll do with the ANT+ Agent:
Garmin FR910XT ANT+ PairingGarmin FR910XT ANT+ Pairing Confirmation
Once you’ve paired the watch to the computer (and you can pair it to multiple computers should you wish to do so), it’ll automatically download the workouts and place them locally on your computer (Mac or PC).  From there, it can also automatically upload them to Garmin Connect.  I always check the box to upload to Garmin Connect, even if I don’t use Garmin Connect for day to day workouts – because it ensures I have a backup copy of my workouts no matter what happens to my PC.
Garmin FR910XT ANT Agent Configuration
Once you’ve uploaded your workouts, they’ll show up online in Garmin Connect, which I’ll talk about below.
Garmin FR910XT ANT Agent Data Sync
If you’re using a 3rd party application, then the files are available to those applications on your local computer.  You can actually browse to them yourself, should you want to.  The locations vary depending on your operating system version and platform (details on all OS’s here).  But on a Windows 7 PC, they’ll be at the below location:
Garmin FR910XT Data File location
Now that you’ve got the files uploaded or entered into an application, let’s go through some of the more common ones.
Garmin Connect (included, free):
Garmin Connect is Garmin’s online fitness site that allows you to store, manage, and analyze your workouts.  Think of it as a giant training log, but one that allows you to also share your files with others.  In September Garmin Connect got a pretty significant number of new features added to it, and this seems like a great time to talk about those features as well as some of the more common ones.
When you upload workouts, you’ll be able to see them in either calendar view or activity list view, such as the below:
Garmin Connect Uploaded Workouts
Once you’ve selected a given workout, you can go ahead and dive into more detail on that specific workout, like the below map.  You’ll see everything from workout totals, to small charts depicting the different recorded ANT+ metrics (i.e. heart rate, speed, cadence, power, etc…).
Garmin Connect Sunday Long Run
Garmin Connect Charts and detail with FR910XT
In addition, you can select to replay activities matched to charts and maps.  It’s a bit gimmicky, but it can be fun to replay longer runs/rides/events and watch the numbers change as the map and/or terrain shifts.
Garmin Connect Charts and detail with FR910XT
Some of the newer features are the most interesting.  For example, probably the feature that excites me the most is the workout creator.  In the past, you had to use the downloadable Garmin Training Center application (which btw, works just fine with the FR910XT) to create workouts.  While this software was functional, it is/was also lookin’ pretty old.  So the online version is much appreciated.
It’s online here that you can create complex workouts like the below.  This is my mile-repeat workout I have later this week, but by creating it here I can also add the slightly more complex warm-up & cool-down pieces I have – whereas the standard interval function couldn’t quite do these:
Garmin Connect Workout Creator
Outside of creating workouts, you can also do searches across Garmin Connect for a given location and find workouts to download.  This is sorta like MapMyRun/MapMyRide – and is great for finding valid courses/routes.  This is one area where Garmin Connect has a slight advantage over those other services in that it’s automatically placing all run/ride/activity data up on Garmin Connect, so if someone’s done something somewhere – you’ll likely see it.  I used this during a trip to Jordan (country) to try and find a route in the middle of nowhere…and it assisted perfectly in my initial route planning.
In addition to route finding, you can also keep some basic health information up there as well.  For example, if you have a weight scale such as one of the wireless ANT+ scales, you can keep track of weight-related metrics.  I cover that down below in the Weight Scales section. And finally, you can do quite a bit of reporting on the site as well,  such as total activities and analysis by type and goal setting too.
Let’s move onto a few other non-Garmin options.
TrainingPeaks (3rd party):
TrainingPeaks is one of the largest 3rd party software options.  They have two versions, one is free and one is subscription based.  Regardless of whether you pay, the entirety of TrainingPeaks is a website (except the device agent software you can install to upload files).  I use TrainingPeaks as my primary method of tracking my training efforts.  The major reason for TP over Garmin Connect is the advanced analytics.  Additionally, it provides a completely seamless conduit between myself and my coach – something that my other software favorite (SportTracks) can’t do.
While at the time of this writing TrainingPeaks doesn’t officially support the FR910XT yet, it still works just fine.  I was able to simply select the watch from the right-side dropdown and it automatically grabbed the .TCX file to upload to Training Peaks (the Garmin ANT Agent software creates both a .TCX and .FIT files from the FR910XT, for backwards compatibility with older applications).
Garmin FR910XT with Training Peaks
From there I was able to log-in and see my run without any issues at all.  If you’re looking for very advanced analytics in a web based form, there’s really no other option out there today that has as many features as TP and is completely web based.
SportTracks (3rd Party):
Another non-Garmin option is SportTracks.  SportTracks is a Windows only client application that allows you incredibly in depth analysis of your workouts.  Perhaps one of the biggest strengths though of SportTracks is the ability to allow community developers to extend the application with plug-ins.  As a result, there’s a ton of totally cool functionality that’s been added over the years (some for a fee).  SportTracks as an application has a free-mode with some limitations, and a paid mode for $35.
Because the ANT Agent software exports out both .TCX and .FIT files (the Garmin FR910XT initially records it in .FIT file, and then the ANT Agent makes another copy of the file in .TCX), SportTracks has no problem consuming these files today:
Garmin FR910XT with SportTracks
Once imported, the files act just like any other activity within SportTracks – allowing you to slice and dice the data as you see fit.
If you’ve got a Windows based PC, I definitely encourage you to check it out (free or otherwise).
The FR910XT has a number of accessories that are compatible with it.  The vast majority of these are built on ANT+, which means that if you have an existing ANT+ accessory from an older device (or a different companies device), it’ll work just fine.  For example, if you have a Heart Rate (HR) strap from a FR305, that’ll happily work with the FR910XT.  Note however that no Polar straps or equipment is compatible with the Garmin units.
Heart Rate Strap(s):
Depending on which version you pickup, the unit will either come with the Premium ANT+ Heart Rate Soft Strap, or it’ll require you to pick one up.  You can utilize any existing ANT+ strap (such as one from an older Garmin unit), but it does have to be ANT+.  Meaning, a strap from a Polar or similar unit won’t work.
Garmin today itself offers two straps – one is the classic strap, and the other is the newer ‘Premium Soft Strap’.  However, an even newer premium strap was tossed into the mix last summer.  This new one solves almost all the issues of drops/spikes of previous soft and classic straps.
Garmin Heart Rate Strap Options
Note that the FR910XT bundle includes the newer premium soft strap HR monitor, which is different than the older soft strap one.  This new strap resolves virtually all of the issues of the existing soft strap, based on my day to day use of it over the past year.  Of course, if you’ve got an older strap and have some HR related issues, start here.
Speed/Cadence Sensors:
This sensor allows you to use the FR910XT indoors on a trainer, as well as record cadence information outdoors.  Additionally, you can sometimes increase your speed accuracy a hair if you use the speed sensor outdoors (automatically occurs actually).
Garmin Bike Sensor Scan on FR910XT
Power Meters:
The FR910XT supports ANT+ enabled power meters, such as those made by CycleOps (the PowerTap), SRAM/Quarq (the Cinqo), SRM, Power2Max and more.  I own a Quarq Cinqo and the unit is easily paired to the power meter by going into the bike profile page and pairing the power meter.
Garmin FR910XT Power Meter Detection
As noted earlier, there have been significant changes in power meter data files – most notably the addition of the TrainingPeaks metrics of TSS (Training Stress Score), NP (Normalized Power), and IF (Intensity Factor).  Also, the FR910XT supports Left/Right power for the upcoming Garmin Vector pedal based power meter, and the Brim Brothers Zone cleat based power meter (as well as the O-Sycne pedal power meter down the road).
Garmin FR910XT Power Meter Configuration
It should be noted that the FR910XT is NOT compatible with any of the Polar power meters, including the newLook/Keo Power System pedal based power meter.  This is because that system is reliant on Polar’s W.I.N.D. protocol, and not ANT+.
ANT+ capable power meters start at $700 from CycleOps (PowerTap), go through $1,500 (Quarq Cinqo and Garmin Vector) and top out at over $2,000 (SRM).
Running Footpod
The footpod allows you to gather pace, distance and cadence data while both indoors or outdoors.  For example, if you’re running on a treadmill this would be required as GPS won’t show you moving.  Outdoors it’s useful if your route takes you through a tunnel where you’d lose GPS reception.
Garmin ANT+ Footpod
The foot pod easily snaps right onto your shoelaces in a matter of a few seconds.  After which you’ll want to calibrate it on a track to ensure the highest level of accuracy.  I’ve found that after correctly calibrating the footpod, I can actually get both GPS and footpod data to align exactly.  Pretty impressive.
You can pickup the footpod for about $50.  If you’re interested in learning more about the footpod, check out my ‘More than you ever wanted to know about the footpod post’.
Quick Release Kit:
There is a new quick release kit available for the FR910XT.  The new kit aims to reduce some of the issues that the previous FR310XT quick release kit had around pins breaking – usually during a rough swim start – and causing the watch to be lost to the fish.  Overall however, the goal of the quick release kit is to allow you to quickly remove the watch when you exit the swim and then lock it onto your bike, then remove it again for the run.  Thus it comes with both a wrist strap, and a pile of bike mounts.
The FR910XT quick release kit uses a two-piece screw design that pulls the two screws tight into each other.
This requires you to actually use two screwdrivers at once – which can be a bit of a challenge.  But you only have to install it once.
Once installed, the back of the unit is more flush than previous versions – again aiming to reduce the ability for the unit to catch its edge on something.
When you look at the bike portion, it uses the industrial strength rubber bands to allow you to quickly move it wherever you’d like (the mounts).  And since an extra box of a few mounts only costs about $9, it’s easy to get more mounts for more bikes in the future.
Here’s a quick video showing me clipping in the watch into the quick release strap – just to give you an idea of how the quarter turn mount system works:
The kit includes the usual wrist strap, two bike mounts, a slew of rubber bands and two screwdrivers.  And it costs $22.
Fabric Strap:
The fabric strap is a nice throwback to the Garmin FR305 quick release days when there used to be a fabric strap instead of the rubber one.  I always preferred this and found it more comfortable.  This time though it isn’t a quick release strap – but is nice and comfortable.
Like the quick release strap, there’s some dualing screwdrivers required because the pin system is still just as strong.  But once you get past that, you’ll be good to go:
Note that the strap offers a bit less ‘extension’ than the regular strap – so be mindful that if your wrists are a bit larger, or if you’re trying to put it around a heavier coat – it may not reach.
The strap costs $25.
Expander Strap:
This is a new entrant to the Garmin fitness accessory lineup – but is much welcomed.  This allows you to finally use your Garmin Forerunner on a big winter parka – perfect for skiing!
Unlike the previous two straps – this one requires no tools, and only takes a split second to install.  You just simply attach it in the same manner you would normally secure your strap band.
Once it’s done, you’ll have significantly increased the band length.  Here’s a before and after:
The expandomatic costs $10 on Garmin’s site.
Weight Scales (ANT+ Wireless):
The FR910XT is wirelessly compatible with any of the ANT+ enabled scales on the market.  As of today, that’s essentially just three scales, though Tanita is aiming to bring ANT+ to nearly a dozen more scales here shortly.
ANT+ scales work by sending your weight data (and in the case of the Tanita BC-1000 also your body fat and hydration data) to the watch wirelessly.  This is then uploaded to Garmin Connect via your watch.  Thus every time you synchronize your watch (such as when you upload your workouts), it’ll also upload any weight scale data points as well.
In the case of the FR910XT, the scale is typically triggered by the watch (only the Lifesource scale is the other way around).  You press the light button on the FR910XT, which triggers the ANT+ Weight Scale search protocol. Once that’s done, your scale will start blinking and beeping.  This is your queue to step on the scale (unless you think the scale is a ticking bomb, in which case it’s your cue to run like heck).
Garmin FR910XT with Tanita BC-100
After the scale has completed it’s weigh-in, the number will display on the FR910XT:
Garmin FR910XT with Tanita BC-100 Weight Scale
Which is then automagically transmitted to Garmin Connect and visible there:
Garmin Connect Tanita Weight Scale detail via FR910XT
As of today, there are three scales that offer ANT+ compatibility.  They are as follows:
Tanita BC-1000 – Weight/Body Fat/Hydration– $280 (My review here)
Tanita HD-351– Weight – $150 (A little snippet of thought here)
Lifesource UC-324 – Weight – $110 (A little snippet of thought here)
To make this slightly easier to understand, here’s a picture of them all with the key things you need to know:
Tanita BC-1000, Lifesource Scale, Tanita HD-351 ANT+ Scales with FR910XT
Good? Good. Onwards!
Battery and battery extension options:
The FR910XT is designed to last about 20 hours – or essentially enough for a 17hr Ironman finisher (the time limit for the Ironman event).
However, it’s quite understandable that you may want to go for an activity longer than that.  In fact, two years ago I did just that with a FR310XT, where I had it recording for over a day, during a long journey on a boat to a remote island where Great White Sharks were (trip report here).  At the time, I used a simple AC adapter with the FR310XT, which worked well.  As long as you started the activity, it would keep it recording in the background.
Well, the same is true of the FR910XT.  Except now I’ve anteed up the stakes and used Garmin’s solar power charger and extra battery (single bundle).  Technically, Garmin actually uses a system from PowerMonkey, and rebrands it.  Either way, it works well.  Now, in order for it to work with the FR910XT (or FR310XT), you need one minor sub-$5 item – a USB mini to regular adapter.  This is the one you want.
Once you’ve got that and the external battery/solar power system, here’s what you’ll have:
Garmin FR910XT Power Extender Battery Solar Pack
(Above: FR910XT, Solar Panel, Battery Pack, FR910XT Charger, USB adapter)
Now that you have it all out, you’ll connect the pieces.  They really only fit one way, so it’s pretty self-explanatory:
Garmin FR910XT getting charged via battery pack
Note that the solar panel charges the external battery pack.  The external battery pack in turn provides power to the FR910XT.  You can either charge the battery pack, or charge something from it.  You can’t do two at the same time.  Though, since the FR910XT’s battery lasts 20 hours, that’s plenty of time to refill your solar charger.
Garmin FR910XT getting charged via solar pack
With that, you’ll be set to go for just about…forever.  Once you clip the charging clip on the unit will show the normal charging screen.  But if you simply press the mode button you’ll be back to the regular display fields.  It’s not super easy to manipulate the unit since the buttons are covered, but you can attach/detach the charger as often as need be.
Garmin FR910XT Charging Clip
Also note that again, you don’t need the solar piece there.  That’s like the cherry on top.  You can simply have the battery pack hanging out in your bag (or elsewhere), charging the FR910XT.  I don’t see this as particularly useful for runners, but I’ve long since learned that people use the Forerunner devices for numerous other activities – hence why this will definitely appeal to someone.
Downloading FR910XT to iPhone/iPod/iPad without computer:
Finally, last but not least I’ll show off how to use the Wahoo Fitness iPhone dongle to download your FR910XT workouts directly from your watch to any number of online services (or just e-mail the results to yourself).
First you’ll need the Wahoo Fitness dongle, which works with just about all the iDevices.  That’s the little white thing hanging off the bottom of my phone.  It simply plugs into the dock connector like a power cord.
Garmin FR910XT Downloading via Wahoo Fitness iPhone Dongle
Then you’ll go into the pairing menu (seen above) to get the watch paired.  This only takes a second and doesn’t affect your computer’s pre-established paired relationship with your FR910XT.
Once that’s done, it’ll list out the available workouts for you to download from the watch.  You need only tap to select which workout(s) you want and then click download.
Garmin FR910XT Downloading Workouts via Wahoo Fitness iPhone Dongle
It’ll download the workout to the phone, by grabbing the .FIT files.  Once it’s done that, it’ll allow you to upload to pretty much all of the major services from Garmin Connect to Training Peaks to Nike+ to MapMyFitness and more.
Garmin FR910XT Downloading Workouts via Wahoo Fitness iPhone Dongle
Or you can just e-mail the files to yourself (including CSV versions).  Pretty cool.
Today you can do this on a handful of Garmin watches, including the FR60, FR310XT and FR610.  You can read more about this in my past post on it here.
Summary & Overview:
The FR910XT represents an update to the previous generation triathlon focused FR305 and FR310XT.  The goal of all of the multisport watches that Garmin makes has been to offer a watch that ‘does it all’ – and in the case of the FR910XT – it really does seem to deliver here, covering the major asks/gaps of past watches.
Without question, the biggest changes in the FR910XT boil down to the addition of an indoor swim mode – effectively making the watch a complete swim/bike/run watch as opposed to just a bike/run watch.  For the cyclists and ultra runners, they’ve added in a barometric altimeter.  And for the runners, they’ve added in walk/run mode – becoming more and more common for longer distance endurance pacing.
Of course, the FR910XT isn’t necessarily for everyone, as I believe it’s important to identify your rough category of watch needs and find a product that fits.  So looking at watch recommendations, you’ve got a few different basic categories:
1) The Triathlete: No question, if you’re a triathlete – this is the watch if you want a single device that does it all.  There’s simply no other product on the market today that can do recording in all three sports with respect to distance and recorded data, especially in the pool.  The only advantage the Polar RCX5 has is that it can record heart rate in the pool (the FR910XT can’t).  But the RCX5 can’t do distance in the pool, nor does it have an integrated GPS, ANT+, or power meter support.
2) The Casual Runner: The casual runner should probably look at the cheaper FR210.  In general the FR210 is probably a better entry level watch in that it’s simplified enough where you can just go out and run.  By the same token, I still believe that for 95% of runners, the FR210 is a perfect fit.  As for the FR910XT and casual runners, bringing the FR910XT to the table for a casual runner is like bringing a gun to a knife fight.
3) The Advanced Runner: The FR610 is really aimed at this market.  But if you want the additional barometric altimeter (such as an ultra running in the mountains) – then clearly the FR910XT is your best (and only) bet.
4) The Pure Cyclist: You probably want the Edge series of devices, so check out the Edge 500 – it’s the best bet here.  If you need mapping, then check out the Edge 800.  Of course, if you dabble between running and cycling, then that’s where the FR910XT really shines.  The only thing you really lose coming from the Edge 500 to the FR910XT is 8 concurrent data fields down to 4 concurrent fields.
The FR910XT will be available later this year for $399US without a heart rate strap, and $449US with a heart rate strap.
Comparison Chart:
Over time this comparison chart has slowly grown.  You’re best to simply click it and view it in all its full screen glory.  The goal here being to compare the most popular GPS based multisport watches that I’ve reviewed thus far.  You can click on it to expand it and make it readable.
Pro’s and Con’s:
Finally, no review would be complete without the infamous pro’s and con’s section.  The reality here is that the previous generation FR310XT was and is fairly well liked, and the FR910XT simply built on that and tried to rectify the most common requests.  Thus, there are very few big ticket ‘Cons’ left for the FR910XT without getting to personal preference items:
- Added indoor lap swimming mode, recording distance/speed/strokes
- Added barometric altimeter
- Added Run/Walk reminder feature (which can be used for all sorts of other things, like nutrition)
- Added Virtual Racer feature, ability to race past performances/others
- Now supports TrainingPeaks Metrics (TSS/IF/NP), also pedal based power meters
- Accurately tracks distance, heart rate, pace and a ton of other metrics
- Connects to ANT+ foot pods, power meters, speed/cadence sensors
- Connects to ANT+ weight scales and gym equipment
- Wirelessly downloads workouts via ANT+ to computer
- Doesn’t record/display heart rate while underwater
- Doesn’t really work as a normal day to day non-sports watch (battery only 20hrs)
- Openwater mode is good, but still not fully solving openwater distance to high degree of accuracy
- Only supports one person at a time on watch, can’t split between husband/wife
- [Update]: Current bug in firmware version 2.70 makes multisport mode less useful – recommend staying off that firmware version
As always, thanks for reading, I appreciate it.  If you have any questions – feel free to post them below, I try to answer as often as possible.  Thanks!
Found this review useful?  Here’s how you can help support future reviews with just a single click!  Read on…
Hopefully you found this review useful.  At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device.  The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love).  As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.


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