When the Garmin Forerunner 310XT was announced earlier this spring, it represented the next logical evolution from the Garmin 305. It promised many of the features triathletes were looking for, while also promising to still appeal to the single-sport crowds of runners and cyclists.
The big three features that most folks were excited about were:
1) Ability to go 20 hours on battery (compared to 10 previously)
2) New waterproofing (to swim with)
3) Integration with cycling power devices (to gather wattage)
Of course, that was just the tip of the iceberg. How would the 310XT actually stand up to a month of pounding through multi-workout days? And would it do all it’s promised?
Garmin sent me out a a trial unit for 30 days, and I went ahead and put it through it’s paces. I swam, cycled, and even ran an Ironman marathon with it. If you’ve read my review posts before, you know they are anything but short. I try to cover every conceivable function and feature, and then see how well it performs outside the envelope. I take a gazillion pictures along the way, record all the data and then try to offer the most comprehensive reviews possible. That’s just my DC Rainmaker trademark way of doing things.
As always, if you have any questions after reading it – feel free to post questions in the comments below, or e-mail me at the address on the right toolbar. With that…let’s get onto the action:
When the box first arrives, it’ll look a lot like this. Well, actually, it should look exactly like this – unless the UPS man has already played with it.
Once you take all the parts out and spread them across a wide surface, you’ll have the following display of plastic baggies:
From there, you’ll spend a few minutes debagging everything, resulting in this fine collection of parts:
Now you’ll notice a bunch of different plug attachments on the lower right hand corner. This allows you to easily take the wall charger overseas (regardless of which side of the pond you started on).
But, let’s get all of the ancillary ‘stuffs’ out of the way, and focus on the things that really matter:
And there you have it – the pieces that you’ll actually use. You see four major items. Obviously the orange thing is the watch itself. And the strap-looking object is the heart rate strap. Next is the wall charger. Now, you’ll notice the wall charger is actually two pieces – a USB cable and a charger unit. This allows you to simply charge the unit via a USB port on your computer. Lastly, you’ll see the little stick at the bottom. This USB stick is an ANT+ wireless device that you plug into your computer to sync data back and forth. I cover this a bunch in the software section, so I’ll skip the details of it for now.
As I mentioned, to charge the device you’ll simply use the charging cable above, and then clip it onto the back of the 310XT, like below:
Also of note is the new heart rate strap. This new strap splits into two pieces like the old one – except that instead of being rubber like the old one, it’s a much more comfortable fabric design. I cover the new heart rate strap later on in the accessories section.
Finally, here’s a few size comparison shots when the 310XT is put next to the Garmin 405 and 305:
You can really see how much thinner it is than the 305 in this shot below:
Ok, let’s get on with the show. Time to power it up!
When you first power on the Garmin 310XT it starts by asking you a series of questions. The Garmin 305 did the same thing – though it only really asked three questions, Monty Python style. The 310XT however, asks more questions than an inquisitive three-year-old. Ten questions to be exact:
2) Time Format (12/24 hr)
3) Distance format (Miles/KM)
4) HR Monitor (Yes/No)
5) Select gender (M/F/Confused)
6) Enter Age
7) Enter Weight
8) Enter Height
9) Specify Activity Class
10) Specify Lifetime Athlete
It’s those last two that are kinda interesting, specifically the “Are you a lifetime athlete?”. This question is aimed at folks who have resting heart rates of less than 60, or who have trained intensely for many years. Though the manual doesn’t clarify what this setting actually impacts, a bit of poking around reveals it controls some of the calorie calculations.
So, after you’ve given the 310XT your life history, you’re finally ready to use it – and it offers some initial tips along the way:
That’s it! Setup only takes a minute or two. Now that we have it all configured, let’s get on with using it.
The first thing you’ll notice when you go to put it on your wrist is that it’s smaller than previous Forerunners. And lighter. It’s also a bit more streamlined looking – it reduces the ‘running with a computer’ look some…though – let’s face it – you’re still running with a computer.
Once you turn it on you’ll be able to select which sport you’re doing (by holding down the mode button for a few seconds). This is nice in that it reduces the series of menus you used to have to navigate in past models. The device will start in the same mode you shut it off in last time, so if you’re just a runner – it will stay in running mode. This is also a great time to point out that the 310XT picks up satellite reception WAY faster than the 305 does. A much appreciated improvement!
Now that you’ve selected you want to run…it’s time to run. Simply press the start button, and off we go.
As you start running you’ll notice that the displayed pace starts to reduce down to your actual speed. This takes a few seconds, as the GPS calculation needs to essentially ‘catch up’ to the exact speed you’re going. This is important to call out though because many folks when they start using a GPS watch get really hung up on the fact that the speed fluctuates some. That’s alright though, because the averaging works out, plus, once you even out your instantaneous pace won’t fluctuate by a ton.
Now let’s skip forward a bit into the run. Perhaps it’s hot out, and your getting tired. This is where the 310XT can help keep your pace on track. Aside from the visual reminder that you’re slowing ‘off-pace’, you can also set audible and vibrating reminders. Those are controlled via two methods:
– Virtual Partner: This method allows you to configure the Forerunner to display ‘the little man’, which show shows you how far ahead or behind you are compared to a virtual person running the pace you specified. For example – say you set the pace for 8:00/mile – and then you go off and run two miles at an 8:10/mile pace (thus a time of 16:20 instead of 16:00), it will now show you as 20 seconds behind the little man, as well as how far behind you are (by distance). You can change the pace mid-run, though that will reset the counter.
– Pace alerts via workouts: The 310XT offers the ability to set alerts for a variety of categories – such as HR and distance. These alerts serve to remind you (audibly and via vibration, as well as a visual reminder) that you have reached a specific goal (such as 2 miles), or are over/under a given HR specification. However, what’s missing here is the ability to set a pace alert – such as maintaining an 8:00/mile pace (with a slight variance of course). It would be nice to have this feature built into the watch. But, as a substitute, you can actually create such alerts via workouts in Garmin Training Center (software that comes with it). It’s a bit roundabout, but you can do it:
Above, I set my speed zones (I can customize up to 10 of them with unique names/paces). And below, I create a ‘workout’. If I stray out of that specific zone, the 310XT will quite persistently remind me.
So before we got sidetracked into pace alerts, we were running along on a nice straight road. But what happens if we duck into the tress?
Well, generally – nothing much. The Garmin 310XT continues to work – even in the trees. The only issues I’ve ever seen are on super-quick switchbacks such as in certain trail running scenarios, where the unit might not catch the fact that you’ve done a quick out and back segment and instead short you the distance. Now interestingly, the 305 actually had an option to change recording rate but the 310XT does not (which, I’ll talk more about in the cycling section). But in general, running along a trail in the trees is no issue.
Next comes the buildings – how does it handle around those? In most cases it’s fine. The only issues I’ve ever seen were when I was running super-close to the edge of a tall set of buildings and it drops out temporarily. But the cool thing is that the 310XT will basically ‘draw a line’ between the two known points. So it’ll still capture the distance for you.
Same goes for tunnels. Near my home there are tunnels that pass under a set of major freeways, and the trail I often run goes under the tunnels. What happens in those cases is that signal is lost, the watch alerts me to this, and then I keep running. When I get back into the open and the signal is recaptured (usually a few seconds after exiting the tunnel), it does the the same as next to buildings and interpolates the data points. This is only problematic when the tunnels turn underground (as mine does), so I get shorted a tiny bit on distance on those runs. I suppose it’s extra credit in the bank of training…
As you can see above, it’s not quite a perfect match to the tunnel, but it picks up the signal on either side without too much issue and pretty quickly. The above is a screenshot from Sports Tracks (which I’ll talk about later in the software section).
Now that you’re running along, let’s talk about some of the buttons on the display – here’s the quick overview:
The two buttons you’re most likely to press are the Lap/Reset and Stop/Start. The Stop/Start button works to start your timer, as well as pause it (and stop it at the end of the workout). Whereas the lap button allows you to mark specific laps (and reset the workout). Now by default the 310XT will auto lap every mile, which means it automatically records one lap every mile. You can change the distance for auto lap, or just shut it off. I leave it off on mine, as I prefer to view all laps via software and can then view/filter them a million different ways. In addition, I generally set laps (via the lap button) when I change zones or make some pace/HR change per my workout schedule.
This allows me to do things like the above in Sport Tracks – where I manually recorded five different laps as part of my workout, with each lap representing a different heart rate (HR) zone I was targeting to hit. This way I can see my average split pace for each lap (and thus correlated to each zone).
The two up/down buttons on the side allow you to rotate through different screens. You can configure a number of different data fields per each screen, up to four fields (or as few as one). You can set to automatically rotate/scroll through the screens, or you can manually scroll through via the buttons. Also on the right side (lower) is the ‘Enter’ button to confirm setting choices.
Finally, on the left side we have the top left button to turn on/off the backlight, and the lower button to shift into a different mode and the menu system (to edit settings). The light will automatically shut off after 15 seconds, but you can set it to stay on longer, or just stay on permanently. When I do night runs, I just set it to stay on permanently. I have a few pictures at night in the cycling section.
Lastly, let’s talk about treadmills. The 310XT works just fine inside on treadmills – but it does require a small accessory – the foot pod in order to record pace (and thus distance). The food pod allows you to run in situations where GPS doesn’t function, like inside a gym. I have a whole bunch later in the accessories section on just the foot pod – so check out the details there.
Cycling is probably the most common sport outside of running that the 310XT will be used for. And based on all my cycling thus far – it works quite nicely. I’ve taken it on both my tri bike, as well as road bike – and it works equally as well on both bikes. Now, I’ll talk about how to mount it a bit later, so for now let’s focus on some of the core features.
First up – once you choose to select a sport, you’ll be given the option to choose one of three bikes to ‘program’ into the 310XT. This is useful if you have a mountain bike, a tri bike and a road bike. Why would it matter? Well, wheel size for one. If you use it on a trainer, by setting the wheel size with a cadence sensor (accessory below) you can actually get accurate distance indoors. So this allows easy switching between them. Outside…it doesn’t really matter so much.
Like running mode, you can select up to four screens to display at any one point in time, and you can also set to auto-scroll between the different screens. Auto-scroll is actually a pretty nice feature that I only really started using because of writing this review. Despite virtually all Garmin fitness devices having this, I never really found it practical. But after doing a ride with it – it’s actually fairly nice. You can set the scroll speed to display different screens at intervals of slow/medium/fast (2,4 and 5 seconds respectively). It then rotates continually through those screens, with each screen displaying up to the usual four pieces of data. Note this feature is offered in all modes (Running, Cycling, etc..).
One of the most common questions I get about the 305 and 405 is if you can make the text bigger. Like both of those watches, the 310XT allows quite large text by reducing the number of data fields per screen. Above you can see four data fields on a single screen and below is an example of just one data field. Interestingly, using just two data fields really doesn’t increase the size any more than four data fields. As you can see below though – the speed of 17.0mph is easily read from pretty far away in single data field mode.
Next up…Auto Pause:
Another feature that’s not specific to cycling but is probably most useful in cycling is Auto Pause. This tells the 310XT to automatically stop recording when you stop, and then resume when you start going again. This is based on speed, and the speed is configurable if you’d like to increase or decrease the tolerance. Now, a word of caution about this – in certain situations (like trail running or mountain biking), you may have more automatically paused points than you’d like. This is because sometimes in cases such as switchbacks the GPS signal doesn’t catch that you’ve gone ‘out and back’, and instead interprets it as standing still – thus shorting you on the distance. Generally not an issue on roads, but worthwhile pointing out.
Like when running, the Virtual Partner can be enabled while cycling as well. This would help you maintain above a given MPH (or KPH) speed for the ride, and show you how far ahead or behind you are in comparison to your goal pace:
Now, the 310XT records all sorts of interesting data about your ride: Speed, elevation, heart rate and distance to name a few. Further, if you add the cadence sensor – then it would record cadence as well. All of this information is stored on a per ride basis, and then is downloaded into any number of compatible software applications (which I cover later). From there you can slice and dice the data all sorts of interesting ways:
One new class of devices that the 310XT supports that previous Forerunner devices haven’t supported is power meters. Power meters are developed by 3rd party companies that measure how many watts a cyclist is outputting at any given time. This helps to give a truer picture of a cyclist’s given workout as it effectively accounts for speed-impacting variables like wind and terrain. I wrote up a good intro piece to Cycling with Power here.
(In the above photo taken while climbing, I have the data fields set to show power (watts) in the lower left corner, with grade in the upper right)
Since there is a ton of interesting little details about the 310XT and power meters, I ended up creating a full mini-section in this review under the accessories section. For most of you reading out there, power meters aren’t likely in your future (or budgets), but for competitive cyclists and triathletes, power meters are becoming more common – and understanding the pro’s and con’s of using the 310XT with one is important.
One area that’s often asked is how does the device do at night? This is one area that’s much improved since the 305. The screen is far easier to read at a quick glance than the 305 was, as the backlight color was changed and the overall feel of the display is much cleaner. Below are two photos – one from the saddle showing the brightness of the LCD (adjustable), and one closer up so you can actually read it. Now, as a human you can easily see the numbers while seated, but my camera…not so much…at least without making the rest of the picture pitch-black – hence the two separate pictures
An final area I want to briefly point out is a change made between the 305 and the 310XT around recording of data. In the past (i.e. 305), you can change the recording interval to be ‘Smart Recording’ (which saves battery life, but records less data, roughly about once every 4 seconds depending on a variety of factors), or you can set to ‘Every Second’, which…simply records every second. This mattered for folks who were looking for very precise data. One area that’s most common here is folks cycling with power meter devices. In the 310XT this option was removed and only ‘Smart Recording’ is available. This is a bit of an odd change given the longer battery life of the 310XT over the 305. What’s a bit stranger though is that if you connect a power meter, the device will automatically switch over into 1-second recording. Kinda odd to have the feature, but not allow you to manually enable it. So it’s something to consider if extremely precise data is of significant importance to you.
[Updated 8/6/2011: Note that as of late May 2011, Garmin has re-introduced 1-second recording to the FR310XT product for all sports, regardless of power meter. This can be enabled in the settings menu now for any activity. Enjoy!]
So in summary for cycling – the device by itself performs extremely well. There are however a lot of accessories (be it mounts, cadence meters, or power meters) that really help to gel the watch together. I talk through all of these in the accessories section later on.
One of the biggest reasons you’d look to pickup the 310XT over an earlier model (such as the 305) is it’s inherent waterproofing capabilities. While some earlier Garmin models had basic waterproofing, it was only to 3 feet and only for 30 minutes, further, it wasn’t designed to be warn on your wrist in the water – as the pounding action would effectively destroy the device over time. So upon initial announcement that the 310XT was waterproofed to 30m (94.4ft), most triathletes were thrilled. But Garmin soon made it clear that while the device was indeed waterproofed and could also be worn on your wrist while swimming – it wouldn’t accurately measure distance while swimming if worn on your wrist. Further, it wouldn’t record heart rate data due to the ANT+ signal not being strong enough to penetrate water.
Now, this doesn’t mean the new waterproofing is useless. In fact, far from it – it means that I no longer have to worry about my 305 in its Ziploc bag potentially dying an aquatic death because water got in for an extended period of time. To me, not having to worry about it is a huge advantage.
That said – what would happen if you wore it on your wrist? Well, I set out to find out and put together a simple test. I went to a nearby lake on one of my trips and made a simple triangular course between the boat ramp, and two docks at opposite sides of the lake. The loop is approximately a half a mile.
To ensure I had a ‘control’, I took along a Garmin Forerunner 305 in my swim cap – just as I always do. This would remain in the swim cap for the entire swim. Next, I added a Garmin 310XT to the swim cap as well, right next to the Garmin 305. Yes, I looked like a dork…thankfully nobody saw me. For the Garmin 310XT I didn’t have to worry about a Ziploc.
For the first lap, I’d just swim as usual with the two devices recording, here’s what the two tracks looked like:
Garmin 305 Track – Lap 1:
Garmin 310XT Track – Lap 1:
As you can see, they’re basically the same. The 305 (first one) probably made a slightly prettier track because I tend to breathe to my right, and the 305 was on the right portion of my head. For both devices though, I placed them towards the back of my head, to maximize exposure to the sky. And just to show you what would happen if you perfectly placed the 310XT alone – here’s one I did this past weekend with just the 310XT in a race – it’s pretty darn nice:
Next up, on the second lap I went ahead and removed the Garmin 310XT from my swim cap and placed it on my wrist, just as if I was wearing it running.
Now, the second I placed my arm into the water, the 310XT beeped and warned me it had lost satellite reception (below photo shows my arm just below the surface of the water):
Despite that, I pressed lap and went to town – swimming yet another loop of the circuit – with the 305 in the swim cap as a baseline, and the 310XT on my wrist:
Garmin 305 Track in swim cap – Lap 2:
Garmin 310XT Track on wrist – Lap 2:
Yikes! Not only does the 310XT track look like I’m drunk, but it also measures the distance at more than twice the actual length. This is because it’s losing reception each time it goes underwater, and only some of the time it gains the reception back during the stroke recovery. But, the actual GPS acquisition hasn’t completed, so the accuracy is still +/- a few hundred feet – thus incorrect data points.
So, to summarize that – you really don’t want to wear it on your wrist if you’re looking for a smooth data track (or any useful data). That said, it didn’t bother me with respect to my swim stroke at all, but I also wasn’t on an exact course trying to time-trial it either.
Next up – how does the heart rate strap pickup underwater? Well, Garmin says it won’t – and I had no reason to not trust them, but I’m always up for a little test. Now, I actually had the HR strap on the entire time for both laps. So what did it record?
Yes…basically nothing. The only time it appeared to pickup my HR was when I had put my wrist next to the HR emitter – the below picture is actually taken underwater, looking down from my perspective – with the black band you see being the HR strap. You can see the HR displayed in the lower right corner (along with the incorrect distance in the lower left corner).
I had wondered if it might actually pick it up occasionally during the stroke as when your core rotates, the wrist comes pretty close to your chest during the pull. You can see though that if you do place it close enough to the HR strap, it will pickup, but if you move it only about 6-8” further away (like below), nothing (I had HR configured to display in the lower right corner).
So, in summary – while the 310XT doesn’t quite offer the true triathlete/swimmers aquatic device paradise, it’s making steady improvements towards it. At the moment, I know of no device that can be worn on your wrist and track distance in an open-water situation – though the Polar’s can pickup heart rate while underwater because they use a different signal type. That said, for me the biggest advantage of the 310XT over the 305 with respect to swimming is just the simple fact that I don’t have to worry about it. I’ve killed a few Garmin 305’s in water due to prolonged exposure (multi-day sea kayak camping trip), and it appears this device would hold up much better – specifically the screen, which isn’t inset like the 305, so water can’t get in there.
I want to briefly touch on one area that’s unique to the 305 and 310XT – which is multisport mode. This mode allows for semi-automated shifting from one sport to the next, such as during a race. The 405 doesn’t offer this feature. What this allows you to do is to setup the different legs of the race and then by simply pressing the lap button it will automatically shift to the next stage of the race and change the display to that corresponding sport:
As you can see above, you can choose to add in transition time. Unlike the Garmin 305, the 310XT will now record transition times as well. Each portion of the race shows up in Garmin Connect as a separate activity, such as the below from one of my recent races:
As you press lap on each stage of the race the watch will helpfully remind you what event you are supposed to be doing, in the event you get confused after the swim and try to go running instead of cycling.
When combining this functionality with the quick release kit I talk about later, you really have the perfect triathlon watch all in one device.
Other random activities:
As with virtually all the Garmin devices – and pretty much all GPS devices in general, you can do quite a few fun and interesting things with them. For example, here’s a few quick ideas…
Tracking your flight route:
(Note the speed of 524MPH)
Here’s a portion of my flight from Seattle back to DC, the 310XT will easily capture the route, which you can then display in any of the software applications I note later on, or within applications like Google Earth.
Geotagging is when you add GPS information to photos you’ve taken. Typically this is done by simply ensuring your camera’s date/time matches your 310XT. Then you can simply start a track (workout) on the 310XT and then later using Garmin Connect export out the GPX file. GPX files are the internet standard specification for sharing GPS data between applications. So once you have a GPX file you can do an unlimited number of cool things. For example, once you have it you can easily sync it up to photos to automatically geotag photographs exact locations. Applications like Picasa Web will automatically display your photos on a map. Here’s one I did at the Boston Marathon this past spring using the 305 – which works exactly the same as the 310XT in this manner:
Like all of the Garmin fitness devices, the 310XT is compatible with virtually every fitness accessory Garmin’s made thus far – including older model items as well. In addition, the 310XT is compatible with numerous ANT+ devices. ANT+ is the wireless protocol that the 310XT uses to communicate with accessories such as heart rate straps, but it’s also an industry standard, and a ton of sports-related companies are starting to come out with products that can pair up with the Garmin 310XT (as well as other Garmin’s).
Cadence/Indoor Speed Meter:
Perhaps the most well-known accessory for the Garmin fitness line, this small device fits onto your bike to offer cadence which is how often you turnover the pedals, in revolutions per minute (RPM). In addition, a small magnet affixes to a spoke on your bike wheel to give you speed if you’re indoors on a trainer (or if you’ve lost satellite reception in a situation like a tunnel).
You can see the black Garmin cadence/speed sensor, the small silver speed magnet on the wheel, and then out of view is an equally small magnet on my crank (where the pedals are).
The whole thing takes about 2 minutes to install with a few zip ties. There are basically three components – the crank arm magnet, the back wheel spoke magnet, and then the small wireless devices that transmits data to the 310XT.
The good news here is that if you already have one of these from a previous Garmin device – then you’re good to go. The ones that I bought originally for my 305 are compatible, as are virtually all of the ones Garmin has sold for any of its other watches/cycling computers. The cost to purchase the cadence/speed sensor is $60 on Garmin’s site (or $38 on Amazon).
Depending on which version of the 310XT you purchase, the heart rate (HR) strap may or may not be included. In the bundled version, the 310XT comes with a new fabric HR strap. At first I figured this was just another gimmick, but in reality – this strap is WAAAY nicer than the older style ones. So nice in fact that my girlfriend pretty much took mine hostage.
The reason it’s so much nicer is that the fabric portion is now the majority of the strap – as opposed to the earlier models where a large chunk of it was rubber. You can see the two straps below in the picture:
The new model uses little buttons (like on a coat) to snap into place.
The only catch with the new HR strap is it’s pretty darn expensive. A bit overpriced in my opinion, at $70 on Garmin’s site – but it’s only $39 on Amazon. Again, the good news here is that if you have an older Garmin fitness device – the old HR straps work just fine. And the opposite is true as well (new ones work with old units). The new HR straps work just fine with older Garmin’s, like the 305. So that will save you some money.
Foot pod (for running indoors):
While the major draw of a device like a Garmin fitness watch is its GPS capabilities, the watch is still quite functional indoors. The only trick is that by itself, the watch can’t track distance or pace indoors on a treadmill. This requires a small foot pod accessory that you clip/tie to your shoe. There are a bunch of different Garmin versions of this accessory for sale out there…and basically all of them will work with the 310XT.
I originally had this one that I used with my Forerunner 305. Roughly the size of a beach ball, it certainly wasn’t inconspicuous. Given I often wear my running shoes in airports and places like that, I was looking for something smaller than the below (old school style):
Around the same time the 310XT released, Garmin also released a new – and dramatically smaller – foot pod. This foot pod is also backwards compatible with all previous Garmin devices, and the 310XT is compatible with all previous foot pods. That said, check it out – pretty darn small:
Unlike the previous one which requires you to interweave it into your running laces, the new one just snaps in place – taking all of 2 seconds to install. It’s fairly waterproof too, which means you can take it outdoors. Which is good – because that’s the easiest place to calibrate it. When you calibrate the device initially you run 800m (half a mile) so it can figure out your running stride. You can either use a track, or just have the Garmin use GPS technology to know when 800m is over. After which, you can take it indoors and it’ll know how far you’ve gone on the treadmill.
(Note, the little arrow on the top should point forward when ‘installed’)
I’ve found that typically the foot pods are within about 1-2% distance-wise on my treadmill runs. So if the treadmill says 1.00 miles, the foot pod may say .98 to 1.02 miles – well within the margin of error of the treadmill itself (yes, they aren’t perfect). Also, one interesting change is that the new ones don’t require you to remember to turn them on/off to save battery (which is a quick user-replaceable item when the time comes). They just automagically do it – which is nice.
One other item to note is that the foot pod measures running cadence (turnover) as well. This is true of both indoor and outdoor works (even when the GPS is used). Here’s what that looks like on a graph:
Anyway, the foot pods are a bit pricey as well – so if you’re looking for function over form, try to pickup one of the older styles off of eBay. Otherwise, the new versions are available for about $50 on Amazon. They do work with any of the Garmin running watches, so if you have one from those – you’re good to go, and vice-versa.
One of the huge draws to the 310XT for the cycling/triathlete crowd is the ability for the 310XT to accept power meter devices. These are devices that measure a cyclist’s true effort of work as they exert energy to move the bike. I wrote an introductory piece to cycling with power here.
The 310XT is compatible with virtually any ANT+ Power Meter. This includes models such as the Power Tap, SRM, and Quarq Cinqo. And, over the past few weeks at major bike shows, numerous other ANT+ power meters have been announced which will hit the market over the next 6-12 months. So expect this space to grow pretty significantly.
An example of one type of power meter is the Quarq Cinqo that I have, pictured below:
The Cinqo wirelessly transmits data to the 310XT, where it’s both displayed and recorded for later analysis. From there you can view the data on Garmin Connect, as well as any of the other compatible software applications. Here’s an example of the data in Garmin Connect:
Now this is where some of the 310XT’s weaknesses start to become apparent. Garmin Connect isn’t really a very useful tool when it comes to power analysis. Most folks who utilize power are really looking to get extremely detailed information, and Garmin Connect simply doesn’t deliver that.
[Updated 8/6/2011: Note that as of late May 2011, Garmin has re-introduced 1-second recording to the FR310XT product for all sports, regardless of power meter. This can be enabled in the settings menu now for any activity. I’ve kept the next section for historical context, and while it’s still accurate from a power meter standpoint, just be aware you can now enjoy 1-second recording in any mode.]
Further complicating the issue is how the 310XT works with Smart Recording. Here’s a little snippet from a Garmin engineer on how it works:
“During smart recording the power during these intervals is accumulated. When a point is dropped the accumulated power is divided by the time to get an average power over that time interval. The definition of smart recording includes many variables with power being one of the items that can trigger the code to drop a point (after the accumulated power has reached a threshold). Turning and distance are other variables that can affect when a point should be dropped in smart recording.”
Now, what’s interesting here is that the Garmin 310XT actually automatically goes into 1-second recording mode when a power meter is attached (thanks Lisa for pointing this out!), and if you go and check out the TCX files, you can see the 1-second increment in times:
Finally, the last area that the 310XT suffers in from a power perspective is the lack of ability to display what are called ‘Rolling averages’. These are numbers that are displayed on the screen to show you the average of the last few seconds of power data. When cycling with power, the actual power number is constantly jumping around (this is completely normal), one second it’s 258w, and the next it’s 198w. This makes it difficult to train/race based on real time data. So power meter companies instead offer a screen which ‘smooths’ this data into readable chunks – such as 5s and 30s views. And in fact, the Garmin Edge 705 recently had this feature added. But the 310XT did not, it only shows instantaneous power – which is much more difficult to read. This seems to limit some of the on-bike usefulness of the 310XT when it comes to power meters.
[Updated 8/6/2011: Note that as of late Winter 2011, Garmin has added 3-second and 30-second power averaging to the Forerunner 310XT as well as the additional zero-averaging options, thus making it largely even with the Edge series devices from a power meter standpoint…which is pretty awesome! I’ve left the rest of this text as is for historical purposes.]
In summary, while the 310XT is good ‘functional’ as a power meter recording device, it’s really not ideal as of today when compared to the 705/800 or other power meter devices. The good news here is that Garmin has added these features to the 705/800 line, which means that perhaps we’ll see them added to the 310XT line as well in the future (via free software upgrades, like the 705). And again, if you don’t have a power meter, then this whole section is moot for ya.
Quick release kit/Cycling Mount:
The quick release kit is targeted at triathletes that want to be able to quickly remove the 310XT from the bike and take it with them on the run. Now, you could do this all with the default wrist strap – but if you’re in the aero position for 5+ hours on an Ironman, the angle of your wrist makes it difficult to see the display at all times. So for both cyclists and triathletes, the quick release kit offers an easy way to mount it on your bike.
The kit comes with basically three major pieces:
1) A new wrist strap (kinda flimsy)
2) A mounting piece for your bike (not flimsy)
3) A new clip for the back of the Garmin unit
You simply use the little tool (included) to detach the existing orange wrist straps, and reattach a new (thinner) black wrist strap. Then you re-attach just the metal pins to the black mounting bracket (see above, left hand side of photo) to the Garmin itself.
One problem that plagued the 305 quick release kit is its desire to occasionally release the watch while cycling along at 20MPH, thus sending Mr. Garmin flying through the air. However, the 310XT does not have that problem. The new quick release kit requires a 90-degree twist to unlock – and it requires a fair bit of twisting force to do so. There’s no way in heck this thing is ever popping off. And, by using the quick release strap, it’ll fit much more comfortably in your swim cap if you use it during a race or training
The only minor complaint I have about the quick release kit is that I found during transition in a race, it can be a bit hard to quickly pop on/off if you’re a bit rushed. In addition, I think I prefer the orange wrist strap over the thinner but more flimsy feeling black one that’s included in the kit. Here’s it attached to both my triathlon bike, and my road bike (I included tons of mounting pictures in the gallery at the end):
That said, for triathletes, the quick release kit is a must. It’s priced at very reasonably at $25 on Garmin’s site, or $15 on Amazon.
Note: I’ve included a bunch more photos of the mounting bracket and mounting options for both tri and road bikes within the gallery at the end.
The Fabric Strap (well…sorta):
In the past the Forerunner 305 (different) quick release kit actually included a fabric strap (for the 305). This was probably the least known secret of the Forerunner 305 series, as the fabric strap was ten times better than the plastic strap. But, there doesn’t yet appear to be a fabric strap directly available for the 310XT. That said, after some curiosity I tried out the new 405/405CX fabric strap, and it kinda sorta works. By kinda sorta I mean that it’s clearly not designed for it, but could be used in a pinch. That said, I found it pops off quite easily (even if you use the right pins), so I wouldn’t really recommend it. But I wanted to include it here for now, since I know someone would be curious. You can see in the below photos how the strap is about a third of an inch too long, and bunches up below my wrist:
Tanita BC-1000 Scale:
The Tanita BC-1000 scale is a wireless ANT+ scale that synchronizes to both your 310XT as well as your computer – wirelessly sending your weight, body fat, and other health-related details right over just like red rover. I reviewed this scale recently and have now updated this review (the 310XT) to include details about it, since it’s one of the few devices that can interact with the BC-1000.
The Garmin 310XT acts as a data repository for the scale data, which is then transferred to your computer when you sync the 310XT with the little USB stick. Finally, that data is in turn sent to both Garmin Connect, and also the Healthy Edge software that comes with the scale.
You first need to enable pairing between the BC-1000 and the Garmin 310XT via the menu system, but it’s quick and only takes a second:
Once that’s done, your set for any future synchronization with the scale. With the latest 310XT firmware it’s super-easy to get your watch to see and talk to the scale (there were some earlier issues). All you do is just tap the power button once briefly and it goes off trying to find its floor-bound friend – the scale:
Once it’s found the scale, the scale will start blinking. Simply step on the scale and your weight information is automatically transmitted to the 310XT within about 2-3 seconds. Super quick.
From there on your next synchronization it will go ahead and automatically sync that data to your computer and in turn to Garmin Connect:
The Tanita BC-1000 is also compatible in much the same manner with the Garmin FR60 as well. The scale is available from a few places including Amazon and costs about $280. You can check out my full review of it here – complete with all the details you could ever want.
Summary of Accessories:
Here’s a quick table of all the accessories offered (or that work with) the Garmin 310XT:
The first software component that’s required with the 310XT is the wireless synchronization piece. Unlike the 305, this watch doesn’t actually sync with a USB cable (that’s only for charging now). Instead it uses ANT+ wireless technology to synchronize. You plug-in the little USB dongle into your USB port, and you’re good to go.
This in turn connects to the Garmin ANT+ agent software, which controls synchronization between your 310XT and your computer (as well as any other ANT+ devices, like the 405). The software has made some major improvements since I first reviewed it when the 405 came out, with a steady stream of updates over the past 18 months. The wireless experience is now basically seamless without any of the hiccups of the past, even on the newly released Windows 7. Initial setup is easy and only takes a few moments:
In addition, the ANT+ Agent helps to manage firmware updates. Firmware updates a pretty critical to ensuring your device is running the latest software. There’s already been quite a few updates for the 310XT – fixing a bunch of initial bugs – so by using the ANT+ Agent, you’ll ensure your device is up to date. Now, to be fair – you really don’t have a choice when it comes to using the ANT+ Agent software. It’s the only way to get files off your watch. You can decline firmware updates however.
Now, one interesting thing is that many ‘advanced users’ may want to access the TCX files directly. These are the files that can be loaded into applications like WKO+ and Training Peaks. One semi-undocumented feature is that all of these files are actually in a simple folder in your user profile, located here:
(XP/2000 users just replace “Users” with “Documents and Settings”, also note your Device ID will differ from mine)
Oh, and on a Mac, it’s located here:
Macintosh HDUsersusernameLibraryApp SupportGarminDevices
Pretty cool, huh?
That reminds me…Mac software. The Garmin ANT+ Agent works just fine on a Mac, so you’ll be able to upload to Garmin Connect (below), without issue.
Garmin Connect is essentially a web-based application that allows you to view your workouts, share them with others, and store them for late retrieval. Garmin Connect first launched when the Edge 705 and Forerunner 405 came out. And it was pretty rough at that point (and for quite a while afterwards). But Garmin has made a bunch of good strides with it, especially since transitioning everything over from Motionbased.com into Garmin Connect.
When you wirelessly sync your watch, one of the options is to send the data to Garmin Connect automatically. This is the easiest option, and it’s what I do.
From there you’ll login to Garmin Connect, which will display a basic dashboard of your most recent workouts. It’ll also alert you to any software updates for the device as well.
On the left hand side you’ll see your activities, which you can click on to display more information about each activity. You’ll see you can also share any given activity with friends (or the whole world, as I have done below).
From there you’ll notice along the bottom you can change to the different views – showing such detail as Heart Rate, Speed, and depending on the accessories you have – Cadence, Power Data, etc…
You can also click to display splits for each activity:
While showing you tons of cool screenshots is worthwhile, it’d probably be more fun for you to play with it yourself. So here ya go, three activities that I recorded this past weekend that you can interactively poke around at and play with all the features of Garmin Connect: Swim, Bike, Run.
Next up is the ability to see it all in a simple calendar format. This is useful if you’re trying to understand how your training flows from week to week:
Finally, you can generate reports, create goals and even track items like your weight and generate reporting based on that.
One recent addition (in the last few weeks), is the ability to manually add an activity not recorded on the Garmin. For example, if you go for a swim at the pool and just do laps. You can see a list of upcoming features to be implemented, as well as recently implemented features here. It’s pretty unusual for a software company to publish a list of features/fixes they are working on – so huge props to the GC team for doing it.
Now while Garmin Connect has made great strides as an all-purpose workout tool and putting it in the category of ‘good’, I still think it has a ways to go with respect to being a ‘great tool’. For example, when you look at swim workouts, the distance is in miles – not meters or yards. Nobody enters in swim workouts in miles.
Also, I find that the site is fairly slow in general. That said, as an all-around workout planner I think it hits the target for the vast majority of the population.
Garmin Training Center
Garmin Training Center (GTC) is Garmin’s old-school style tool for placing data on the Garmin devices. It also allows you to download data from it. But, the reality is this tool isn’t being updated any more by Garmin aside from critical changes needed to support new devices. And the reasons are plentiful – the tool is fairly antiquated and almost all of the functionality is on Garmin Connect, with the exception of loading workouts into the watch.
As you can see below, the map functionality within the tool is extremely basic when compared with Garmin Connect (above, earlier):
So, while you will probably install GTC, it’s unlikely you’ll use it much. That said, if you’re interested in learning how to download workouts to your watch – read through this post I wrote a bit back. It goes through how to download workouts to all the major watches (and the 310XT works identically to the 305 in this respect).
One of the most common applications used by endurance athletes and coaches is Training Peaks. Training Peaks is in many ways similar to Garmin Connect – with the exception that it’s designed to allow coaches and athletes to interactively review and analyze workouts. I use Training Peaks to upload my workouts daily so that my coach can then review and comment on them. They have both a free version, and paid versions.
Within each activity you can drill down and review detailed information about any section you choose:
From the above you can see the summary of the highlighted section at the bottom of the screen. As you can see, for detailed analysis of data – such as power data, TP is extremely helpful. The above is a screenshot of the same bike race as the earlier screenshot in the Power Meters section from Garmin Connect – you can see the significant differences in detail offered.
Training Peaks also has a pretty useful dashboard that you can customize to display pods of data:
Training Peaks has updated their device agent software to now support the 310XT directly, so you can easily upload right from your desktop to Training Peaks.
Last but not least…SportTracks. SportTracks is another non-Garmin option available to users of the 310XT. It leverages the ANT+ Agent noted above to pull workouts into it. SportTracks is completely free and put together by a huge community of sports enthusiasts, designed to support the maximum number of devices – including the Garmin 310XT. Below is the main page of SportTracks.
Once you’ve selected a given activity, you can drill down into many of the different details of that given workouts, such as for example – power when cycling, like the below:
SportTracks also allows you to generate customized reports 18 different ways to Sunday:
Perhaps one of the coolest features of SportTracks is the ability to install free plug-ins. There are close to a hundred different plug-ins, offering all sorts of interesting features. For example, one that I use automatically corrects the elevation based on NASA data, as GPS-based elevation is often filled with errors. Check out all the plug-ins I use for Sport Tracks here.
Go give it a shot though. If you like the ability to endlessly analyze your data – I’d highly recommend Sport Tracks.
In summary, the Forerunner 310XT is a significant jump forward from the 305. In my opinion it offers compelling new features, while at the same time polishing much of the user interface of the 305. However, let’s go through a quick list of pro’s and con’s, before getting to the all important question of 310XT vs 305:
No review would be complete without this all important section, so let’s get on with it bubbling down many many pages of detailed information into about a dozen lines of text:
First up, the pro’s:
– Ability to last 20 hours
– Ability to stay underwater for extended periods of time
– Ability to connect to ANT+ Power Meters
– Smaller form factor (size)
– Wirelessly sync’s to computer (though, some also see this as a con)
– Cleaned up user interface
– Much faster satellite reception
And then the con’s:
– Waterproofing is more form than function
– HR, pace and distance don’t really work in the water
– More than double the price of the Garmin Forerunner 305
– Common power features missing [Update 8/6/2011: Addresses in Winter 2011 firmware update]
– No more fabric strap (though I see this likely changing)
But now the question everyone’s been waiting for – do you choose the 310XT or 305? The answer is…it depends.
See, it depends on how you’re going to use it. If you’re going to be solely using it for running and going less than 10 hours at a time, then there honestly isn’t a reason aside from cosmetics to purchase the 310XT over the 305 (or for that matter, instead of the 405/405CX – which are geared for runners). That said, check out my almost as long Garmin 305 review (updated just earlier this summer) to help get an idea of the features there.
But if you’re a cyclist, triathlete or multisport person, then you need to dig deeper into the ‘depends’ question. In particular – the following three items:
1) If you’re a cyclist/triathlete who uses power meters, then the 310XT, 500, 705, and 800 are your only choices, as those are the only current Garmin devices that can do ANT+ power meters.
2) If you’re a swimmer then I highly recommend looking at the 310XT merely for the convenience of not having to worry about the waterproofing. While I’m a huge fan of the 305 in your swim cap, it is susceptible to water damage for prolonged periods. The 310XT removes that worry from my life.
3) If you’re a runner who needs 10-20 hours of battery life, then the 310XT gives you that. Same goes for competitors in an Ironman needing more than 10 hours of battery life on one watch. Sure you can use accessories to extend that duration, but honestly, that’s kinda a pain long-term.
So with that, will I buy one? The answer is simple: Yes.
Even with having the Edge 500/705/800 for cycling with power, I like having the ability to switch to the 310XT when it seems appropriate. Further, I’ve found it’s so much easier to take it along on swims now that I don’t have to worry and fret about whether or not it will survive that aquatic adventure. Finally I’ve found the device just far more polished than the 305 – even despite many of the fumbles with initial firmware revisions on the 310XT.
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.
I took a lot of pictures over the course of writing this review – 292 of them to be exact. And I know that a lot of folks (like myself) like to see different angles of the product used in different ways. So instead of just leaving them on my hard drive forever, I’ve taken a fair chunk of them and put them up in this little gallery above for you to be able to browse through.
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.
I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers an exclusive 10% discount across the board on all products (except clearance and deep sale items). You can pick up the FR310XT (without HR strap, or with HR strap). Then receive 10% off of everything in your cart by adding code DCR10BTF at checkout. By doing so, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get a sweet discount. And, since this item is more than $75, you get free US shipping as well. [Update: Currently the FR310XT is on deep sale, and doesn’t qualify for the additional 10% off, however, free shipping is still good!]
Additionally, you can also use Amazon to purchase the unit (all colors shown after clicking through to the left) or accessories (though, no discount). Or, anything else you pickup on Amazon helps support the site as well (socks, laundry detergent, cowbells). If you’re outside the US, I’ve got links to all of the major individual country Amazon stores on the sidebar towards the top. Though, Clever Training also ships there too and you get the 10% discount.
As you’ve seen throughout the review there are numerous compatible accessories for the unit. I’ve consolidated them all into the below chart, with additional information (full posts) available on some of the accessories to the far right. Also, everything here is verified by me – so if it’s on the list, you’ll know it’ll work. And as you can see, I mix and match accessories based on compatibility – so if a compatible accessory is available at a lower price below, you can grab that instead.
Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible. And lastly, if you felt this review was useful – I always appreciate feedback in the comments below. Thanks!
Finally, I’ve written up a ton of helpful guides around using most of the major fitness devices, which you may find useful in getting started with the devices. These guides are all listed on this page here.
You probably stumbled upon here looking for a review of a sports gadget. If you’re trying to decide which unit to buy – check out my in-depth reviews section. Some reviews are over 60 pages long when printed out, with hundreds of photos! I aim to leave no stone unturned.