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Garmin’s Biggest Competitor Is Their Own Software Instability

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To the casual observer, one might assume Garmin’s biggest competitors are Apple, Fitbit, and in certain cycling circles – Wahoo. But in reality, I’d disagree. Garmin’s biggest competitor is themselves. Or more specifically, their lack of focus on solving bugs that ultimately drive consumers to their competitors. In effect, my bet is the vast majority of time a person chooses a non-Garmin product over a Garmin one is not because Garmin lost the features or price battle. It’s because that person has been bit one too many times by buggy Garmin products.

And sure – that intro paragraph might seem unfair, after all I do record the vast majority of my own workouts on Garmin products without issue. But the reality is that the ‘Garmin bugginess’ is also true, and everyone knows it. The sole reason Wahoo has slowly gained market share in cycling GPS computers isn’t because they have a technologically more feature laden or better priced product (they don’t). It’s because they have a product that seemingly has less bugs (and also as everyone points out, because you can configure your data pages via phone app).

The reason someone chooses a Suunto watch over a Garmin Fenix series watch isn’t because Suunto has more outdoors features or even better accuracy these days (they don’t). It’s because Suunto spends the time to ensure the vast majority of bugs are never seen by customers. Be it hardware or software related issues, the products are just more dependable.

Which isn’t to say these other companies are perfect. Far from it. But this isn’t a post about whataboutism. It’s not about some random bug that Apple, Wahoo, or Polar hasn’t yet fixed. Or Suunto’s site. It’s about the a cultural problem Garmin seems to have around software stability and bugs, that appears to be ‘features first, stability later’.

Understanding the Scale:

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Before we talk bugs though, we do need to talk scale to put things into perspective. Any conversation that skips this isn’t really truthful.  Said differently, when I evaluate the steady stream of issues that land at my virtual doorstep via comments, e-mails, tweets, and carrier pigeons, I try and question a few things (no matter the brand):

A) Was someone just confused?
B) Was this already fixed in a firmware update?
C) If this is a legit issue, then is it widespread, or a very limited edge case?

Whether or not people want to hear it, the vast majority of items do tend to fall into buckets A & B above. That doesn’t mean the company (Garmin or otherwise) is not at fault. Perhaps the product user interface was poorly designed, or perhaps the experience was otherwise ripe for failure. But if ultimately the user (even on a technicality) did something ‘wrong’, then that roughly falls into those first two buckets.

It’s that last bucket (C) I’m more focused on. There, methodology goes like so:

A) When was the last time I saw/heard of this issue?
B) What’s the rough frequency of how often I hear of this issue?
C) Is this a super rare combination of factors/environments, or something that should always just work?
D) What’s the rough ratio of units shipped to problematic units

The first three are pretty easy. I’m trying to figure out if this is a one-off, which may never be seen again, or is this something that’s happening super frequently to a lot of people.

The last question though, the ratio, is trickier. But essentially I’m mentally doing a numbers game. For example, I know that while I might see 5-8 cases of a given problem on a Garmin Edge 520 compared to 1-2 instances of a problem on an Wahoo BOLT, I know that unit sales wise, in that scenario the Garmin actually trends better. That’s because if we look at the numbers, Garmin absolutely dominates the marketplace in wearables for sporting events (obviously, Apple dominates overall sales, but we’re setting that aside from this sport/fitness focused site).

For example, here’s two major running races recently on two different continents showing Garmin wearables market share:

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This is especially true the further up the endurance ladder you get. In a 5KM event you’ll see higher Apple Watch market share than in a 10KM event, and even less Apple Watches from a marathon. Garmin typically has 10:1 adoption rates compared to Apple in 10KM and above events. And compared to Suunto? It ranges between 25:1 upwards to 50:1. Polar often half of that again.

From a competitive side, no matter which continent I look at the numbers from – the other brands aren’t even close. Again, we’re just talking people using these for sport. Obviously, if we look at total Apple Watch global sales numbers, they easily beat Garmin. But the vast majority of those watches are going on people’s wrists who aren’t running a mile.

On the cycling side, things are shifting however. In some cases pretty drastically in the last year. Previously Garmin dominated at about 90% of GPS head units on people’s bikes. But in certain events this past fall and spring, Wahoo is coming in at between 15-30%. Way higher than events a year ago. A bit of that tends to be semi-environmental and race-specific. Meaning, in other regions we see them at about 10%, especially when you move towards non grand fondo events (just picking various smaller races or stretches along the side of the road).

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So what’s the point?

Well, simply put: With more units in the wild you’re going to see more issues. I’m going to see on average 20x more comments about a Garmin issue than a Suunto or Polar issue. And on average about 4x-10x more comments on a Garmin cycling issue than a Wahoo cycling issue.

Same goes for forums. Garmin actually has their own forums (kudos), where people can post troubleshooting issues. And just like Apple’s forums, they’re packed with troubles. But that’s just like going to a hospital, that’s where you go to find sick people (and hopefully ways to get better). I’ve never understood the logic of saying ‘Their Garmin forums are packed with people with problems’.  Of course they are: That’s the point of them. Problems happen, the point is to resolve those problems. Something that Suunto, Polar, and even Wahoo all lack (Wahoo technically does monitor a Google Group you’ll never find though). Yet similarly, nobody says ‘The Apple forums are packed with people with problems.’

So, with that bit of data-backed caveating, let’s get to the meat of the issue.

Perennial Problems:

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Garmin LiveTrack.

See, you just giggled a bit.

Not because LiveTrack is funny, but because you know – just like I and everyone else – that Garmin LiveTrack is horrifically unreliable. It’s actually almost impressive how unreliable it is. I certainly don’t bother to use it. I know better. Almost every time I do use it, my wife gets more upset than if I hadn’t used it. She wants to follow me, not assume I got hit by a car every time the connection drops permanently.

And it’s been this way for years, and yet has somehow gotten worse in recent years. And it’s easy to pick on LiveTrack. But I can do this all day with other bits.

Garmin Edge Bluetooth to phone connectivity.

See, you just giggled again.

Because you know that’s a pain in the butt. You know that getting it paired can often be cumbersome, and when things go wrong, there’s more steps to the dance than the Macarena. And sure, there’s lots of reasons for some. Some technical, some just ‘because it’s the way it’s been’. None matter to most people though – it’s just architecturally broken.

But let’s go back to LiveTrack for a second. One only has to look at my Facebook post or my recent Garmin Live Event Sharing post to see that the vast majority of comments are on people’s semi-unrelated LiveTrack failures.

And I get it, as a technically minded person, I really do: LiveTrack is actually more complex than people realize.

You’ve got basically two levels of things that go can wrong: Edge connectivity to your phone (interference/dropouts such as being in your back pocket), and phone to cellular tower connectivity. At present, if the Edge to phone aspect breaks, the whole thing crumbles, usually permanently. Whereas it really shouldn’t. There’s no reason the phone can’t take over GPS position responsibilities until connectivity can be re-established to the Edge. Companies like Fitbit do a variation of this within their ‘Connected GPS’ functionality for certain devices. I asked Garmin why it doesn’t simply use the phone’s position instead, and here’s what they said:

“The phone does not perform any ‘backup” GPS position transmission if the Edge device connectivity fails.  From our experience, this is typically not the cause of dropped points.  Cellular network availability is believed to be the main cause of dropped LiveTrack points.”

I don’t have the underlying data that can refute that directly. However, I have never-ending data points from people. Even one comment barely 12 hours old posted to the Edge 830 review.

“Hi everyone. I have purchased successive Garmin edges…the latest being the 830. What is going on with the LiveTracking feature? Garmin heavily promotes it but Live Track has not been working for over a year!! I’ve downloaded, deleted the app numerous times, paired, unpaired the phone hundreds of times. NOTHING!!!!! It won’t even send out the Strava Beacon…let alone Auto Start The message I keep getting is “Cannot send invites at this time. Try again later.” This should be the EASIEST function for Garmin to get right being in the GPS business and all. Can someone finally get to the bottom of this. New 830, new IPhone….same old problem. Second, the sync function works only half the time….why does the Edge 830 have two different Bluetooth connections?”

Of course, I have no idea if this comment is fake. Or if the user is somehow at fault. I suspect neither though. Given our (The Royal Our) collective experience with LiveTrack, I suspect it’s an accurate and real issue. As it always has been. And in this case, they wouldn’t show up on Garmin’s ‘cellular connectivity is the issue’ bucket, because frankly they can’t even get to that point.

Now ironically, I’ve actually had pretty good luck lately with it, even while testing the new Live Event Sharing. And in talking with Garmin they aren’t seeing any meaningful numbers of failures – outside of period a few weeks ago where they had backend server issues. The challenge is reconciling that with the torrent of people saying a variant of: ‘It’s hopeless’. Heck, even trying to take the photo above (this morning) would crash my Garmin Connect app each time I opened Live Track. I’m serious.

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But let’s shift to something else near and dear to my heart: Openwater swim tracking.

This past weekend I did a triathlon (race). Nothing complex, just a simple sprint triathlon where it had to track my openwater swim for a mere 750 meters. I was wrapping up my testing of the Garmin MARQ Athlete watch, which is Garmin’s top of the line $1,500 GPS multisport watch.

Yet the watch lasted a mere 34 yards in the water before it forgot how to track my swim. The next time it started tracking GPS was when I exited the water.

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Now in the world of endurance sports, openwater swim tracking is among the hardest things to do. Half of the time your watch is under the water without signal, the other half it has about 1 second to gain signal and determine a location before being plunged back in the water. So yes, it’s hard. But it’s also something Garmin and others have been doing for almost 10 years. Yet somehow in the last year or so, Garmin has gotten really bad at it. An issue their competitors mostly haven’t had. In fact, Apple has laid down some of the most astonishing openwater swim GPS tracks I’ve ever seen (yet, they somehow can’t track a casual neighborhood run properly, sigh).

But my issue here isn’t my lost 750m sprint swim. It’s that I called out this issue a year ago in my Fenix 5 Plus review. Then again in an openwater swim video comparison video in July 2018. Again in the fall of 2018 in another openwater swim compilation piece. And more times privately and publicly since then. Yet it’s still not fixed.  And now it gets worse, this same issue is impacting the Garmin Forerunner 945 too – where some users are reporting 4 out of 5 swims are producing data that stops tracking after a few dozen meters.

Let’s be frank: The entire point of a multisport watch is triathlon (multisport is the politically correct term to not offend duathletes, but really it’s a triathlon). And yet it fails less than 60 seconds into the main event.

In discussing this issue with Garmin this past week they believe they have a fix in that may resolve the issue. Here’s what Joe Schrick, Vice President over Fitness said this Saturday when I asked what that timing looked like for both the new slate of products as well as existing ones suffering under this:

“We are working on releasing a public beta for the GPS software sometime next week for 945 and MARQ.  Pending positive feedback from beta testers and additional internal testing, we are targeting a formal release at the end of June.  We are also targeting a formal release for GPS software for F5+ and 935 at the end of June.”

However, last summer they said they had fixes in for it too. I refuse to believe people actually tested this functionality prior to this past week. If they had tested it, even just swam a handful of times, they’d have seen the issues that so many others see. In noting though, Garmin says they do work with a large number of people to trial units:

“Our test pool is significant in size and consists of internal and external testers all over the world in both hemispheres (to smooth out seasonal variations).  We obviously have more runners and cyclists in the test group compared to swimmers, but we are continuing to add swimmers to help provide better real-world test coverage.  We are continuously refining our testing procedures to provide the most comprehensive test coverage possible before public release.”

And while I don’t doubt any of that (and I know it to be true), it’s clear that population either isn’t large enough, or isn’t given enough direct guidance on what to test specifically. It may be that population is told to just use the device like normal. Whereas when I worked at one of the largest software companies in the world, for test devices or software that I ‘brought home’ to test, we were given weekly focus areas within the device to push hard on. And almost always with incentives for the people that filed the most bugs in that section.

My Proposal:

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My proposal is simple, at least on paper. In fact, it mirrors one of the most famous tech company driven initiatives to date: Bill Gates’ ‘Trustworthy Computing’ letter of 2002, sent to all employees. It was at that point that Microsoft made a significant mindset shift around security bugs/issues. Not everything was a bug per se, but rather, just a lack of focus on security. Whether or not you like Microsoft is besides the point, anyone in the IT industry will tell you the long term impact of this initiative was huge on/for the company. You can read the famed letter here.

But in particular, there are two small paragraphs that I think should resonate the most for Garmin:

“In the past, we’ve made our software and services more compelling for users by adding new features and functionality, and by making our platform richly extensible. We’ve done a terrific job at that, but all those great features won’t matter unless customers trust our software.

 

So now, when we face a choice between adding features and resolving security issues, we need to choose security. Our products should emphasize security right out of the box, and we must constantly refine and improve that security as threats evolve.” – Bill Gates, Jan 15th, 2002

In many ways, Garmin could replace the word ‘security’ with ‘stability’ (or bugs), and then press send.

But it goes beyond sending a pretty letter. I think Garmin needs three things to occur:

1) A CEO driven leadership letter that organizationally prioritizes stability over new features
2) A customer-facing bug reporting site that allows people to quickly and easily send Garmin issues
3) A team within Garmin that’s specifically (and solely) tasked with proactively finding bug/issue trends and getting them resolved

Since I’ve already talked about the letter, let’s talk next about the bug reporting site.

Today when a customer has an issue, they’re required to open a support ticket. In some countries/regions that’s as easy as an online chat session, whereas in others it requires a phone call or e-mail be opened, and in yet further countries the support is mostly just a digital shrug. One reader last Wednesday reported a pile of issues to their local country support desk and wasn’t assisted on any bugs or given a replacement unit due to lack of stock in that country. While other country support desks (such as the US and UK) are really good about handling customers.

Either way, the current support system doesn’t really focus on known bugs. Mostly because the vast majority of customers actually don’t encounter bugs, they encounter general issues. So funneling them through bug triage wouldn’t help if they just had a normal support problem. But ultimately, that current support system doesn’t appear to adequately compile the frequency of bugs seen by customers – often instead just applying a short-term band-aid to get the customer going again. I know from talking with these support groups that they do consolidate the most frequent issues back to engineering teams, but it’s clear that’s hardly global and even in those well-established support centers, many times the goal seems to be to close the customer case, rather than to close the underlying bug.

If Garmin had a simple customer facing webform that allowed people to describe their bug and include relevant files/etc, I suspect that might make it clear to engineering teams where the bugs actually are, versus depending on support desks that people either don’t want to call or get lackluster results from.

Next, and perhaps most importantly is a team that has ship-blocking authority within Garmin. Meaning, right now the decision for whether or not a product (or firmware version) ships is within the product team itself. And in most software development realms, that’s a logical place for it. But Garmin has consistently proven – product after product, year after year – that those software development teams are incapable of judging that bug bar. Now don’t get me wrong: Bug-free software at the complexity level of devices Garmin is making is a virtual impossibility. No different than Apple or Samsung, Microsoft or Facebook. But, the goal threshold needs to be moved up. Right now that acceptance gate is either too low, or too short in duration to be catching the issues people are seeing.

That team needs autonomy from product group organizational charts to act as a bit of a backstop for customers, and also support. They should be leveraging support division expertise, forum posts (in Gamin’s own forums), and the sifting the internet at large to ferret out issues and hold the product development groups accountable to fix those issues in the next firmware version before more features are added or new products are released.

And I know that this sounds easy on paper and is hard to execute in practice. But it’s also not. It simply starts with organizational direction from the top of the company. Once that ball starts rolling, a cultural shift can occur. It won’t be overnight, nor will it be painless. But it can happen. It took Microsoft years for that organization shift to occur around security (albeit in a vastly larger and more complex company), but the fundamental building blocks are not terribly different than what is outlined above.

Going Forward:

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It’d be easy for Garmin to dismiss this post as just a knee jerk reaction to a bad week or two of issues. After all, their Fitness and Outdoor divisions financially speaking are doing better than ever. The company is selling more units than ever before. But it’s also true they’re losing sales of more units than ever before to their competitors. Be it the obvious ones like Apple (which has arguably carved out new market areas), but also to Wahoo in the cycling realm.

It’d also be easy for Garmin executives to dismiss this post as an attempt to get clicks or views. But realistically, the views from a piece like this are inconsequential for this site in the scheme of a month’s worth of posts. Just like they could argue that James’ tweet (a very well respected cycling reviewer and journalist) would naturally become an echo-chamber of 518+ replies. But we’d all know that’s not true. We’d all know that what those 518 replies represent is paying customers’ frustrations with products they’d otherwise love. After all, Garmin’s social media team actually tried to respond to two people in that storm, before they realized they were driving their vehicle the wrong way during a hurricane evacuation.

Just like my tweet a week ago with swimming frustrations would be easy Twitter fodder, but it shows that some 59,000 people saw it, and more importantly: 13,374 people were interested in it enough to actually look at the images.

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Finally, some might ask whether I’d continue to recommend (or use) specific Garmin products. And the reality is that every product is different – and more importantly, so are the alternatives. The reality is that for my specific requirements, Garmin generally ticks all the boxes better than most other products. Further, it can be challenging to fit in a larger organizational/cultural arc (like software instability) into a given product review unless that specific product was impacted by it. Or unless I actually saw that specific issue during my review time-frame (such as the case with the upcoming MARQ review).

What I hope Garmin takes away from this is that consumers want the company to do better. They aren’t asking for them to reduce their ever-growing prices, or give things away for free. They aren’t asking for more features or swankier watchstrap materials. They are just asking for the things they want to buy or have bought to work consistently from Day 1.

It seems like a simple request.

With that, thanks for reading.

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686 Comments

  1. Joe

    Finally the update 7.60 that I was waiting for fixing the WiFi sync issue for my F5x+. The watch doesn’t synk like before the update, ridiculous… 🙁

  2. Glenn

    Owned the 310XT and was impressed with the software over the years. Have owned a 935 for almost 2 years and it worked great until v13.0 of the SW, and hasn’t worked right since. Suddenly it has battery issues. V13.30 fixed some of them but I am stuck in the camp that the watch doesn’t last but about a day.

    Garmin clearly pushed out the v13 of SW without any real testing. Watches crashed connecting to Garmin speed/cadence sensors! The lack of response from Garmin on these fronts is what is truly damaging them in my eyes.

    Without some fixes from Garmin real soon, I will be looking for another vendor to spend my $ on fitness watches. One would think for a $500 watch that we would get some reasonable service…

  3. spidercrab

    I am now on my 3rd Fenix 5 in 4 weeks after send the other 2 back for software issues. All 3 have connection issues where the iPhone sat next to the watch or in my pocket has frequent and inconvenient “no connection”. This issue of course means that I can’t upload activities reliably without using a computer running Garmin Express. However, that then resets my Widgets to the default order – old reported unfixed bug. Luckily that means that I won’t be able to see the Stairs widget and see how many stairs I have apparently climbed. It seems odd that when I tend to climb the stairs about 12 times every day (which I count), that I usually see 2 Garmin stairs climbed and about 37 Garmin stairs descended – Garmin seem to think I am burrowing down through the earth every day.

    My strategy is to keep sending these units back until I find a working as advertised one and thank goodness for understanding vendors with buyer friendly return policies. There is a hell of a good product lurking in the Fenix 5 that meets my requirements, but it is utterly frustrating that I cannot use it to do what it says on the tin.

    It is almost as if each time a decision is made (not often) to release a new FW version, that the job is passed to the a new intern with the message “well you see if you can do any better”. Owning a Garmin product is a litany of unfixed software problems that may or may not get fixed and new bugs being introduced with each update.

  4. R

    Amen! I got so frustrated with Garmin software and customer service I gave up and switched to Wahoo. This after unreliable connectivity and the 3rd Garmin 820 warranty replacement. They just kept shipping me units with the same buggy software.

  5. gosselindustin49

    You can say that Garmin software are prone to errors but it is also quite known that they can be resolved easily. Garmin has a upper hand in smartwatches and GPS devices due to its impeccable customer service which makes sure that all the customer queries gets resolved easily. Even though software issues like Garmin Watch face not working, Garmin device crashing and Garmin Express issues are quite common, you can easily resolve them by following the Garmin Troubleshoot guide or Garmin reset methods.

    • Franz Dengler

      Surely not. The Standard AI Agent says erbot :-).
      Bad OWS with Fenix that worked in a prevous Version is bullshit that cannot be resolved by reboot. Bad ANT connectivity to HRM Tri not, too.

      My swim from yesterday

      link to connect.garmin.com

    • Jens

      Whoa Franz, your lake is warmer than the pool I do pool swim in!! Lucky you!! On Monday I swam in the sea at 14C!! That was cold even with a wetsuit.

      I agree OWS does work. I’ve tested FR935, F5S with 13.30 fw as well as F5X+ with 7.10 and they all worked. I used GPS+Glonass. However, I used a Polar Vantage V on the other wrist and to me the map looks like it has more points saved for Polar, i .e it looks better, more realistic IMO, but I’m not sure. I use 1s recording on the Garmins btw.
      What GPS settings did you use ? I will experiment with GPS only and Galileo this summer to see if it makes a difference. Also try F5X+ with 7.60.

    • Franz Dengler

      Yes my lake is really warm. No wonder we have 36 degressivere centigrade Celsius. I will try out Glonass the next days. A friend recommendd that. I used my 910xt before on the other hand. And that worked perfect.

    • Franz Dengler

      With Glonass enabled. 1 s Tracking enabled.
      Change from really Bad to Bad. An improvement 😭
      link to connect.garmin.com

  6. DT

    I have a Vivoactive 3. Have been happy for a year. Just when the warranty expired, I started to encounter a VERY frustrating backlight problem: the backlight always remain on, but around something like 5% light intensity. So it generates light and annoyance at night. I’ve tried everything (reset, settings such as DND on/off, auto-lock, etc.) but it remains. Anyone with the same pb?

  7. David Coyte

    My 1030 edge has been a pain since the day I purchased it. Sync’d to headlight and rear light/ radar, it works about 30% of the time.
    So annoyed I gave it back to Mt Eden Cycles (NZ) to sort out. They have been in discussion with Garmin for a month and still no success.
    Bloody hopeless support.

  8. john

    Anybody know how to delete old maps from Garmin Edge 1000? Without screwing up the device or bricking it of course.

    I have:

    Garmin DEM Map EU 2017,20
    Garmin Cycle Map EU, North East, 2019.10
    Garmin Geocode Map EU 2019.10
    Garmin Cycle Map EU, South West, 2019.10
    all activated

    plus
    INTL Standard Basemap, NR
    deactivated

    I heard that the more maps there are on the device the slower it will be.

    Sooner or later a new map will come and then slowly even a 32Gb SD-card will be full.

  9. Dan Cremar

    The action is simple … STOP BUYING GARMIN PRODUCTS!!! … until they fix stuff … and they’ll understand the message if NOBODY would purchase a garmin device for few months

  10. Kurt Stammberger

    Hear, hear. It’s 2019. Garmin’s software quality is shameful – and negligent.

    But honestly it is SHOCKING how many bugs they can pack into this tiny Garmin 45 and the Garmin Connect software. So, so so bad. Every day with it reveals another problem, another crash, another really lazy-ass-no-quality-control-at-all bug. Support lines always jammed. Chat drones make you pay with hours of your life to report issues they swear “no one else is reporting”, and then won’t file a bug report for you without demanding dumps. This will be the last Garmin watch I ever buy. I will also make it my mission to make sure no one else buys Garmin either.

  11. spidercrab

    I just had an online chat with Garmin UK support to discuss the over aggressive Elevation Gain (Ascent) calculation in the Fenix 5 Ride activities where the first 3 to 5m of every hill climbed, is discarded. Typically I lose about 150m of Ascent on every ride which is a show stopper for using a Fenix 5 to track my rides. My Edge 500 tracks Total Ascent perfectly and accurately.

    I really don’t feel that my issue was understood and twice during the conversation I was pointed to the same general barometer troubleshooting page, that did not address the issue I was reporting, and I explained that the link was not applicable to the issue, the first time. The online chat was brought to a swift end, when it was pointed out that +/-100ft Altitude accuracy in the Fenix 5, was producing the expected results I was seeing and these were well within Garmin’s “accepted” variation. I was sent a Garmin link to make an improvement suggestion.

    Rule number 1 in any support situation is to show an understanding of an issue being reported. If you don’t understand an issue then how can you hope to provide the right support to address the issue.

    PS I don’t recall the part of the Garmin Fenix 5 web page that stated that the barometer based altitude sensor is accurate (or rather NOT accurate) to +/-100 feet.

    • Paul S

      That sounds like a typical GPS number. Barometric altimeters should have a few feet of precision. Whether they’re accurate or not depends on whether they’re calibrated.

    • spidercrab

      Agreed. The altimeter in this Fenix 5 is every bit as accurate as the one in the Edge 500 when the altitude is manually set at the start of a ride. The Edge 500 does it from pre loaded altitudes and when you ride from home it is a brilliant system, now introduced in the Fenix 5 Plus as an improvement. Garmin asked for a pair activities (Edge 500 and Fenix 5 on the same ride) that showed the issue, and when they compared them, said they were effectively identical. When I pointed out that it was pointless to use GPS data to compare altitudes, I was guided to look at the same barometer troubleshooter link (again).

    • Tod

      Wahoo support is just as bad if not worse for understanding the issue. At least with garmin you get a chance to escalate (you have to do it through email and it takes a while) so you have a chance of your issue getting addressed. Eventually Wahoo will just say that it’s someone elses fault, or no one else is seeing the problem, or that’s the intended behaviour and do nothing.

    • Paul S.

      As it happens, about a month ago I did a ride with both my new Fenix 5+ and my new Edge 830, since the day before the 830 froze and lost the last two miles of a ride. They’re both connected to exactly the same sensors, so the only independence they have is their altimeters and GPS tracks (not speed/distance, since they’re both using the same speed sensor). The 830 gets calibrated from a POI at home, while I was unaware that the 5+ can do the same, although I think I calibrated it manually not long before the ride. Anyway, the elevation looks very close, although 5 meters difference is a little more than I’d like to see. The total elevation gain is within about a meter, so whatever the 5 is doing the 5+ doesn’t seem to be. (The Edge is the dated file.)

      Other than that I’ve used the 5+ only for two hikes, and for both I calibrated from the DEM at the beginning. One of them gained about 50 ft over a 40 minute loop with about 100 ft of actual elevation gain, which I wasn’t too pleased with. The other gained about 500 ft and was within 10 feet at the start/end. Both had auto cal on.

  12. Jelantik

    I really do think in order to make this culture shift, the CEO and CTO of Garmin should all be fired. They only concern about the bottom line. With Garmin dominates the market share, they still think buggy devices still make the sale. They could have been made even more sales if they fix their bug. The changes have to happen from the top management. And I think those C levels guy in Garmin has been living rich for too long

  13. Paul

    Garmin also gimps international versions of it’s own already buggy firmware by further limiting region specific firmware. Eg A US 1030 is on 7.5 while a APAC version is on 7.0. Maybe you should research and add that to your article.

    • I’ve discussed it (and my annoyance with APAC firmware delays) numerous times, but ultimately, like i noted at the start of the article, if I tried to cover every possible thing that annoyed me, then nobody would listen. And if I tried to focus on things that other regions didn’t understand/grasp, then it’d get overlooked. Cheers!

  14. Kai Hinger

    Man, I thought this was overblown, or maybe people were doing things wrong a lot, or maybe that the new 530 would be great.

    Finally left my Powertap LYC behind and moved to the future (present?) with an Edge 530. So far I’ve done three rides, one of them without incident.

    The second two both had my phone disconnect. One of them it reconnected at some point, but the second it didn’t reconnect at all until I got to my office and did it manually.

    Bluetooth really isn’t rocket science, especially with two devices that are large and only a few feet from each other.

    This morning when I tried to commute, I couldn’t get the Strava app to open. First, the Garmin kept saying it wasn’t connected to the phone, even though the phone says it was. So I forced that and it connected, but then I got the Strava database error when I opened the app. Luckily I knew the route, but it still prevented me from getting my ETA listed. This is all with 3.5 firmware. I like all the features and the power, but man, it’s really unstable sometimes, which is super frustrating when you’re riding and don’t have time to screw around with your computer.

  15. Bill Shirer

    I used many Garmin products over the years, Watches, Pedals, Scales, and various Edge/Head Units. The watches have been reasonably reliable, but I didn’t really use them for much. The other products have all been quirky, and some have had some real problems. Because of this, I started using competitor products and won’t buy anything Garmin. I use Stages for a power meter, and it has been flawless for years. I use a Wahoo Element for a bike computer, and it too has been perfect.

    Garmin’s product support has always been easy to reach and has been helpful, but at the end of the day, I just got tired of always having to call them with multiple ssues on every product of theirs that I’ve used.

    I just won’t buy anything Garmin again.

    Bill Shirer

  16. Graham Jones

    Great article.. As a long time Garmin product owner and fan (currently the 935, 1030 and 130, but many before it!) …a masters in systems engineering.. and also work in mission critical applications support – I had almost no problems with any of the current devices – HOWEVER the article resonates massively!

    I think you nailed it with the support portal/ticketing back-end systems which must exist within garmin – it’s a global company but a global support/ticketing system costs millions and can be like oil tankers to change out and can take years.. it wouldn’t surprise me if a project to change some >10years old ticketing system might be underway already (That could certainly be interesting question to ask them if they’re doing something there?!!)

    Garmin Edge Bluetooth to phone connectivity – yes I giggled – and for some of the comments too.
    I’ve tested loads of android mobiles with various bluetooth devices over the years and it’s harsh to say there’s only a problem with Garmin.
    What is quite hard to figure though is that both the edge device software updates and garmin connect app updates (which come actually to Garmins credit quite frequently) as well as general phone (android/ios) OS updates can all potentially trigger Bluetooth connectivity issues for the edge bluetooth sync architecture – which I think means requiring to go through full re-pair process way more often than Garmin makes out.
    I think Garmin falls a bit short here on explaining this all to the layman – it could only take some clever and more diplomatic wording on their numerous pages about troubleshooting bluetooth issues to win over those unaware about the potential technological reasoning behind having to occasionally repair.

    Open water swimming – I don’t do that! Stay well away! Haha BUT a masters dissertation in underwater wireless comms still doesn’t prepare an engineer brain to understand even a small pittance of what goes on underwater with RF- it blows the minds the biggest physics brains still researching the latest developments into it – so it’s honestly small wonder if new watch hardware designs / firmware can ruin the RF performance of predecessors without a good understanding of underwater RF propagation/interference.

    For me you really nailed it but didn’t mention with the ‘UNDERSTANDING THE SCALE’ picture; there are 9, NINE watches in that picture.
    Each quite possibly with different hardware internals with elements designed/built by different teams/manufacturing locations and/or with different hardware components.
    I imagine like you I’d love a Garmin product group owner to explain some reasons why they’re developing for ~NINE different watches in their product range all at the same time.
    Same goes for the edge computers – I lost count how many edge devices they’re supporting and still sending updates for now (?!) – and I get that each serves some slightly different purpose/price point, but why not re-use the same hardware but reduce device cost by limiting the software features in the lower cost point devices.
    For me the old hardware I’ve had (had the edge 8100, 510, 1000) seemed to always die long before Garmin has stopped developing firmware updates for them…
    I stick with Garmin for same reasons as you mentioned.. and because I know full well that consumer grade electronics will degrade and after >4years heavy use it can’t be expected that the manufacturer still supports such old hardware – it will die same as all the other consumer grade device manufacturers hardware will die after that time period too.

    Fully agreed your suggestions – change for a modern global ticketing system (that will be HUGE cost so it could go up possibly to CEO level to sign that off), but reduce the range of devices and support lifecycle for those devices too.

  17. Jeremy Berger

    You’re so accurate on so many points – My Fenix 5 – Works great with Bluetooth 100% of the time… NOT! The Garmin Vector 3’s are the biggest pieces of garbage I have ever owned – And they are the newest version – I’ve had them for 3 months and they have been replaced 3 times – I can’t believe I wasted $1000 on them. Garmin should never have released them. The software updates are horrible. The people I’ve spoken to in support have all been great about replacing products but all I want is something that works. Should have gone with a Wahoo computer and a Stages powermeter..

    • Franz Dengler

      My Fenix 5 has troubles with HRM Tri. Now have two thathave troubles thanks to Garmin support. I would like to have one that works. Problem seems to be watch. For that reason Imdid not buy Vector. I took Favero Assioma instead. Worked with no problems from beginning. Now for almost two years. I have a few metrics less than with Vector. But it is reliable. For running I have Stryd and it works great, too.

  18. Andrew Kennard

    They launch a new super dooper connected GPS 66 for the modern tablet world and the only way to get a GPX onto it is to use Basecamp on a PC or Mac ! Face palm !

  19. Michael Herman

    There are 3 of us in our running group using the 235. All 3 of us have started having charging issues in the last month. Too much of a coincidence. Especially so soon after the introduction of new models. Coincidence or Apple like conspiracy??

  20. Alex

    Yes. I hope Garmin listens too you. Can you please keep reviewing alternatives. Love your work.

  21. MERYN

    brilliant post. spot on. bravo.

  22. PurdueMatt

    I’ve been a loyal Garmin user over the last 7 years in buying 2 forerunner watches for running and 2 Edge computers for cycling. I can feel the pull of the Wahoo cycling computers and it will probably be my next purchase. They seem more clean and intuitive.

  23. BartMan

    The sheer number of comments shows how big issue it is for Garmin customers. I’m one of them, loyal for pretty long time, starting with early eTrex handheld GPS, through newer models, watches, bike computers, not mentioning accessories, sensors, and even Index scale!
    But the issues that are plaguing me as owner of most expensive device I purchase to date – Fenix 5 Plus – and Garmin inability to resolve it – are causing me to truly think to drop this whole Garmin ecosystem lock-in I’m in. Seriously I’m thinking of selling all of it and choose alternatives. Current smartwatches are starting to provide decent level of fitness and sport-tracking (which might be not as good as Garmin is when it is working, but good-enough) and BY FAR better smartwatch experience (when it comes to this part Garmin is far-far behind Apple, WearOS, Samsung watches).

  24. Andrew

    Forerunner 220, edge 520 plus, Vivomove hr, experience no issues, use Vivomove hr with edge 520 plus with ant.

    Is it the more expensive products that have issues?

    Is

    • Jens

      Hi Andrew and BartMan among others,

      I have FR110, FR225, FR735XT, Fenix 5S, FR935, Vivosmart HR+ and now also Fenix 5X Plus. With FR225 I had problems with GPS twice or perhaps a few more times, in my road running the GPS claimed I had taken a detour out in the sea. FR110 is slow at finding satellites but that’s just how it works. Never problems with 735, F5S, FR935 nor Vivosmart HR+. The F5X+ has restarted twice during pool swim so that was actually very bad for such an expensive product, but other than that it’s been fine.
      I have a feeling I have less problems since I never use foot pods, power meters or bike things, only external HR straps of various kinds.
      So yes there are quite some comments here but I wouldn’t agree that Garmin watches are error prone…
      There are multiple issues reported for OWS with almost all of the above models but I’ve swum outdoors with all of them without any kind of problems whatsoever 🙂

      My biggest issue with FR935 and F5S is the fact that Strava claims avg temp for my pool swims are 0C but I’m not sure whose the problem is, Garmin or Strava. In GC it looks right. With F5X+ it’s correctly shown in Strava.

  25. Scott

    My Fenix 5 was swapped out 3 times by Garmin support for several reoccurring bugs before I finally just returned it to REI, where the customer service clerk mentioned I was definately not alone.

    I then bought a Vivo 3, which was swapped out twice by Garmin support for altimeter issues before they recommended me paying to upgrade to FR 645.

    After upgrading to the FR 645, I had to send it back to Garmin for a replacement, which came with the same Bluetooth connectivity issues as the first one had. Garmin finally issued me a refund check.

    I just purchased the Edge 530 hoping that Garmin’s bike computers perform better than their watches. Reading this post and the comments has me thinking that I should return the Garmin for a Wahoo.

  26. TrailzRock

    So, yes Garmin has some big software problems but one of the biggest draws for me is that I don’t have to use my phone to setup the data pages. Unlike Wahoo or Polar or Suunto. I went with Polar and it drove me crazy that I had to get my phone out to set the data pages or change something on the watch. I’m warming up for an interval session and remembered that I need the Last lap data and turn the auto lap functions n off. With Polar I had to go get my phone. With Garmin I just did it while I was still running. It’s the biggest reason why I will not buy a Suunto, Polar or Wahoo. I don’t want that phone tethered to my device at all times. See ya. But yes, Garmin is definitely in need of some serious quality control when it comes to releasing products with buggy software.
    Get with the program Garmin

  27. Dan

    It’s not just their bugginess, it’s also the fact that products launch with features missing from the software.

    Take the new GPSMAP 66i for example. Contacts do not sync to it from your InReach account, and they didn’t even build in a way to manually add contacts to the contact list on the device. Basic feature available in old InReach devices.

    The 66i is also incapable of receiving weather reports via satellite. Again, something which is a feature on all previous InReach devices.

    In terms of InReach features, this supposedly flagship device is a step backwards! How can anyone be sitting on the Garmin product team think this is acceptable?

    My usual experience with a new Garmin device is: unbox, find problem, try user forum, read manuals, call support line. Repeat. It’s the same thing every time. Even putting the previous missing features aside, day 1 with my 66i (an $800+ device in Canada) wasn’t one of joy for my new toy, it was frustration and support calls as it caused Basecamp to crash every time you plugged it in.