I was happily using my Suunto Ambit3 Peak and Movescount, but there was always this worry in the back of my mind. The Ambit watches are great pieces of equipment, built tough, solid GPS and stable onboard software. The only thing that worried me about my multi-hundred dollar watch was that it was directly tied to the Movescount website. The watch does not work if the website is not there – there’s no way to configure the activities on the watch itself, but more importantly, there’s no way to get data off the watch without it synchronizing to the website first.

Just shortly before Christmas, I was shown how worthless the watch was without the website. Movescount went down and did not come back for five days. Yes, it wasn’t a life or death situation, I would just wait until the website came back up, but it still shows that the watch – no matter how fantastic – really is not much without the website. It was annoying.

So, out of annoyance, I went to REI to see if I could pick up a Garmin Forerunner 620 to try out for the time-being. I really wanted to get the Garmin Forerunner 920XT, but it wasn’t listed online as in-stock. The FR620 according to DC Rainmaker is a great watch and my friend Steve also says that his performs just fine. I was worried about it behaving like the Fenix 2, where it could not track my runs properly.

I like the Garmin way of doing things with their watches. The watch itself can be used as a stand-alone device. All configuration is done on the watch itself, which can be painful after seeing how Suunto does configuration with Movescount – where all Ambit configuration is done via a point-and-click interface on the website. The best thing about the Garmin watches is that they store the activity files on the device in FIT format and the watches themselves mount as USB mass storage. In this way, I can plug the watch into my computer and pull the files off without having any internet connection.

When I got to REI and walked over to the display where the GPS watches were, an employee had just walked out from the back with some stock and he put a brand new blue/black 920XT into the display case. I asked about it and he said that a customer had ordered it online and had just looked at it but said that it was the wrong one. The 920XT was free for sale, so lucky me, I snapped it up.

I have put a dozen miles on the thing and the 920XT tracks much better than my old Fenix 2. No more running over buildings and no more running like a drunken sailor. I picked up a foot pod also because I still run a lot on the treadmill and I have found wrist-based cadence is horrible.

Some observations:

  • Garmin Connect the website is quite a bit more cluttered than Movescount.
  • The Garmin Connect app for Android sucks. It always loses Bluetooth connectivity. But, on the Suunto side they won’t have an Android app until first quarter of 2015 and when it does arrive, it will only be for Android Lollipop and higher.
  • Wifi sync on the 920XT is fantastic and works great. I love walking into the house and having the watch sync itself over wifi without any action from me.
  • Garmin Connect connections to third party websites work a whole lot better than Sunnto Movescount. Strava connection works the same. MapMyFitness works much better with Garmin Connect because the map and lots more data gets sent over to MapMyFitness. With Movescount, only the time, distance and cadence is sent over – no map. Movescount has no way to link to Smashrun, but Garmin Connect does and it works great.
  • The 920XT looks like a toy in pictures, it looks less like a toy in person, but still is not a great looking watch like the Ambit3 Peak.
  • The build quality of the Ambit3 Peak with its mineral glass crystal, solid hefty feel, metal buttons and aluminum bezel feels great. The 920XT is mostly plastic, including the screen, and feels a bit fragile at times.
  • I liked the way that I could group sensors with activities on the Ambit. With the 920XT it is all sensors, all the time.
  • The way that Garmin handles the foot pod is better than the way that the Suunto does. Garmin uses the food pod for speed if there is no GPS. Garmin uses the food pod for cadence as long as it is there, then falls back to the accelerometer. And Garmin allows for manual calibration of the food pod.
  • On the Suunto, if there is a foot pod, it will be used for speed no matter what. The Suunto calibrates the food pod in the first 800-1000m of a run, then it uses only the food pod for speed. I did not like this because the foot pod ended up being wildly faster than it should have been. There is also no way to manually calibrate the food pod on the Suunto.
  • Vibration on the 920XT works great and I really missed vibrating alerts when using the Ambit3. It is nice to get a buzz when I reach a pre-set lap distance. On the Ambit3, there are only audible alerts that can be missed in louder environments.
  • It is nice to be able to set lap distances in double digits. On the 920XT I can set 0.25mi laps. For some reason with the Movescount website, they only allow for single digit lap distances – ie. 0.5mi. I am not quite sure why they would put in such an arbitrary limit.
  • The daily activity monitoring on the 920XT is more useful than on the Ambit3. The 920XT has actual step counts and those step counts sync over to Garmin Connect. There are also alerts on the watch to prod me to move if I have been inactive for too long. On the Ambit3, there is daily activity tracking, but it is all done on the watch and goes no where after that. The activity tracking is also reduced to different levels and no solid quantifiable numbers (ie. “Vigorous” or “Moderate”).
  • And lastly, I like the open nature of the watch where I can get the data off the device without any special software installed. The watch will work with any OS that supports USB mass storage – so those of you running Linux can use this watch just fine.

I will write more about the 920XT as I continue to use it. So far, I like it.