Product Reviews – DC Rainmaker https://www.dcrainmaker.com Fri, 10 Jul 2020 13:38:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.15 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/images/2017/03/dcrainmaker-dc-logo-square-40x40.png Product Reviews – DC Rainmaker https://www.dcrainmaker.com 32 32 Garmin Fenix 6/6S Pro Solar Review: What’s new & different https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/garmin-fenix-6-6s-pro-solar-review-whats-new-different.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/garmin-fenix-6-6s-pro-solar-review-whats-new-different.html#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2020 11:34:32 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=114844 Read More Here ]]> DSC_6867

Today Garmin has extended the solar option on the Fenix 6 series to include the Fenix 6S Pro and Fenix 6 Pro units, completing the family that started last year with the Fenix 6X Pro Solar. Now all three Pro units offer a solar-equipped option. In addition, Garmin also announced a new Garmin Instinct Solar lineup too. Beyond adding in solar panel tech, the watches also get some new features such as Indoor Climbing and Bouldering, as well as a new surfing integration with Surfline sessions.

Now, for this review, I’m truncating it to focus on the aspects that are new or different. While I’ve been using these units for about a month now, the reality is that almost no aspects of them are different than the existing Fenix 6 Pro series…except the solar panel pieces. In addition to the new software bits that have largely been available in beta on the existing Fenix 6 series watches for the past month (such as the new sleep tracking and heart rate broadcasting bits).

Point being, while I could re-write an entire review talking about basics like step tracking and how to configure sport data pages, or how to sync to Spotify – I’ve already done that. And nothing has changed in those areas. That’s all the same. And in using these watches on my wrist 24×7 since then – I can confirm no differences between a non-Solar Fenix 6 Pro and a Solar Fenix 6 Pro in those areas. In fact, even the GPS & HR accuracy aspects haven’t really changed – but I love some accuracy charts – so you’ll get those down below for fun.

With that, let’s dive into it!

What’s new:

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Now, there’s actually more to the Fenix 6 Pro Solar units than just a touch bit of solar panel. There’s also some new software features. But fear not, these non-solar specific features are also being added to all Fenix 6 series units. But, to recap everything that’s new there’s:

– Added under-glass solar panel to Fenix 6S Pro & Fenix 6 Pro
– Added around the edge solar panel to Fenix 6S Pro & Fenix 6 Pro
– Added Indoor Climb activity profile: Tracks indoor climbing metrics (more on this in a second)
– Added Bouldering activity profile (indoors): Similar to the Indoor climb profile, but for Bouldering.
– Added new Surfing activity profile with Surfline Sessions to create videos with data overlays

Oh –and just in case you missed it above: Yes, all those new software features are coming to the Fenix 6 series in the next firmware update. Speaking of the other Fenix 6 units, here’s a family photo of the Fenix 6S Pro Solar (left), Fenix 6 Pro Solar (middle), and Fenix 6X Pro Solar (right). You’re seeing some slight reflections off the ceiling skylight thingy. There’s no lights turned on in the studio for this photo, and the photo isn’t edited in any way. Straight off the camera card.

Doing a quick lap around through each of the new non-solar aspects (since the entire next section is solar focused), first up is mountain bike Grit and Flow. For those that put on their Garmin Edge cap, you’ll remember they came out last spring with the Edge 530 and Edge 830. The Edge 1030 got them in a firmware update, then the Edge 1030 Plus and even Edge 130 Plus a few weeks back. Also, they’ve been added in to the Fenix 6 betas and firmware in the last version – but I figured I’d cover them here too.

On the watch, you’ll select the mountain bike profile (it’s not enabled by default, so you’ll want to add it from the sports menu). Then, you’ll need to go and add these fields to your data fields. That’s kinda weird, since on a Garmin Edge device it adds these automatically. In any case, you’ll find them under the ‘Other’ bucket:

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There’s Grit, Lap Grit, Flow, and Lap Flow. Here’s what they look like added to a single page:

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Then, go out and ride. I haven’t had any good mountain bike chances as of late. But, here’s what the data will look like after the fact:

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Note however, that there’s a slight difference to the Garmin Edge units – notably that they don’t include jump counting in the Fenix metrics. I suspect that’s because with your hands potentially flapping around that’d dork up the accelerometer/gyro data (whereas an Edge is mounted to your bike – and ideally not flapping its wings mid-flight).

Next, there’s the new Indoor Climbing and Bouldering profiles.

In case you’re wondering what the difference is, essentially Indoor Climbing you use ropes to get to the top, whereas Bouldering typically tops out at lower heights (max 3-4 meters), so you’d do it without ropes. You can read this to understand the nuances.

Indoor Climbing Activity Profile:

When you first begin an Indoor Climb workout, it’ll ask whether you’d like to track the route stats. Again, this is all indoors, so it’s not using GPS. When you choose yes, you’ll then select which grading system to use.

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In total there’s YDS, UIAA, French, British Adj., British Tech, Ewbank, Brazilian, and Saxon. You can change this mid-activity as well within the Climbing Profile settings.

Once you’ve selected a grading system, you’ll then select the difficulty:

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At this point the watch is ready to begin (after you press start). It’ll track time, total ascent, and heart rate on one screen (plus showing you the difficulty at the top).

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There’s also then a page for Last Route:

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As well as a page for Total Routes:

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Once you’ve completed the route you’ll hit the lap key to mark it as complete. After which it’ll ask if you’ve had any falls. From there it’ll go into a rest screen and wait for your next climb to begin (when you hit the lap marker). In that sense, it’s kinda like the indoor pool swimming with sets.

Afterwards on Garmin Connect, it’ll show you a breakdown of the details. And of course it’ll sync that off to 3rd party apps/platforms like Strava/etc…though, those don’t support all these metrics, so ultimately it’ll be pretty limited in what you see on 3rd party sites.

Bouldering Activity Profile:

Next, the Bouldering activity profile is pretty similar to that of the Indoor climbing one.

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First you’ll select the grading system, in this case it supports V-Scale, Font, and Dankyu:

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Next, you’ll select the difficulty of the problem you’re about to climb. The exact min/max levels it supports will vary based on which grading system you’re using:

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Once ready to climb it’ll show you the problem difficulty at the top, the time, and your heart rate:

 

After you’ve finished climbing the route you’ll press the lap key just like with indoor climbing. This will then give you three options: Mark route as completed, mark as attempted, or discard the whole chicken. Like with indoor climbing you can see both the last route and total route data:

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I’m not exactly a climber, however, DesFit did get the chance to try this part out – so if that’s your cup of tea, hit up his video on it.

That said, ironically, by pure coincidence I stumbled upon a brand new facility that just opened up a mere 3-minute pedal from me. So far I’ve just been a stalker and looked through the windows – but maybe I’ll give it a poke.

Surfing profile with Surfline integration:

Finally, there’s the new surfing profile data metrics with Surfline integration. You may have seen the surfing metrics added as part of the more recent Garmin Fenix 6 betas, in fact, they were actually looking for people to beta test it (which, by the looks of it was pretty limited in finding people).

In any case, the way it works is that you’ll first open the surf activity profile, and then it’ll track the waves surfed, maximum speed reached, and distance travelled within the profile.

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What’s really interesting here though is Garmin is integrating with Surfline for data overlays with video integration. Surfline is a surfing site that you can look up tons of data about nearby spots. Wave conditions and such. However, in addition to that, they’ve got some 400 cameras pointed at waves that are recording to the cloud. Currently they have an Apple Watch app that allows you to record your sessions on the watch, and then later on the site will find the exact video clips of you by cross-referencing the timestamps and GPS data.

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So, with the Fenix integration that’s all supposed to work in the same manner. However, there’s no Surfline cameras anywhere near me (or even remotely near me). The nearest appears to be on the other side of the English channel. But…at least it looks pretty there:

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In any case, I’m definitely the wrong person to test this bit out. But it does show Garmin’s ever-expanding sport profiles, and specifically having actual data for those profiles. While some runners or cyclists may be like ‘That’s a useless feature…to me’, the thing Garmin has figured out that most other companies haven’t is that one person’s useless feature is another person’s most important feature.

There’s currently surf watches in the market already, so clearly there’s demand there. From Garmin’s perspective it’s relatively trivial to take an existing piece of hardware and add a few extra metrics. Whereas the lift for a new company to create a new smartwatch in 2020 is almost impossibly hard to get enough demand to make it work.

In any case, if you’ve got a Fenix 6 series watch, you can test this feature out today via the beta. Or, simply wait for it to hit production probably any day now.

Solar & Battery Details:

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When it comes to the Solar aspects added to the Fenix 6 & 6S, they’re basically identical to that of the Fenix 6X Solar that was launched last summer. Whereas if you looked at the new Garmin Instinct Solar units, those have a different panel arrangement than the Fenix series.

Now, as you may remember from my review last year, Garmin often sees the ‘X’ variant of the Fenix as a place to trial out new technologies before introducing them elsewhere. Last year, that was solar with the Fenix 6X Solar, whereas this year that’s being added to multiple units. The solar pieces all come from an acquisition of technologies from French company SunPartner Technologies. Garmin actually quietly made that acquisition back when the company filed for insolvency, a long time before they announced it in the Fenix 6X Solar last year.

On all of the solar-enabled Fenix 6 units you’ll notice a very thin 1mm wide strip just on the inside of the bezel. This is the first of two solar pieces.

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This thin strip has 100% photovoltaic levels, meaning, it’s receiving 100% of the sun’s goodness and turning that into solar power. It’s also clearly visible in bright light, though you’d just assume it was a bezel design element. Inside without bright light, this strip almost disappears and blends into the bezel.

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However, there’s a second solar panel you can’t see – despite being the entire display face. Under the display is another solar panel that has a 10% photovoltaic level. This panel is of course far larger than that of the thin bezel strip, but is also getting 10% of the sun’s rays, due to the display blocking much of it. Importantly though, both panels are fully under a single sheet of Gorilla Glass (specifically Corning Gorilla Glass 3 with DX Coating). Meaning, you won’t accidentally scratch the bezel solar panel anymore than you’d normally scratch your watch face.

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Speaking of that watch face, you’ll notice that there’s a little sun atop the default watch face. That sun is actually showing you the current intensity level. Around the edge of the little sun are 10 pieces, each indicating 10% of full intensity. So if you look at the below picture you’ll see the sun is coming in at 0% intensity as I’m in the shade:

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Next, another photo out in some broken clouds conditions and you can see it’s at about 70%:

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And here’s another at 100% intensity, with all lines lit up as well as the sun itself:

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You can also see this in the Widget Glances too:

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And then a plot over the last 6 hours of activity as well:

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In addition, you can look back at any day of history you want to via Garmin Connect Mobile:

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The goal of the solar here isn’t to fully power the watch, under GPS or otherwise. Instead, it’s to provide incremental battery life (more on my testing on this in a second). Garmin notes this in their super-detailed battery life chart. Note specifically the assumption of 3 hours per day of solar light at a pretty high intensity (full sun basically). That goes both ways though. If you’re mid-summer and spending the day at the beach (or work outside), then you’ll way overachieve here. Versus if it’s mid-winter and you’re indoors…then not so much.

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*Assumes all-day wear with 3 hours per day in 50,000 lux conditions
**Assumes use in 50,000 lux conditions

Wait, so what’s 50,000 lux you ask? It’s a pretty sunny day, though, not living in Arizona in summer kinda sunny. Here’s what Wikipedia says about it:

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Now Garmin doesn’t ever show lux levels in the solar widgets. Instead, they show a relative intensity in terms of solar power. On a pure sunny day here in July in the Netherlands, I easily can get the full sun widget to illuminate. But, I can also do that too even on a high light overcast day (meaning, a super high thin cloud layer). Even with a handful of clouds meandering around.

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Meanwhile, for a portion of my hike when it was raining I was getting anywhere between 20-50% solar intensity levels, depending on the specific cloud passing by. Point is, it’s not as drastic as you’d think.

Here’s the basic main takeaways though:

A) If you’re spending 3+ hours outdoors (non-workout mode) you might be able to pull off something close to battery neutral in a pared down configuration (not much notifications/etc…).
B) While outdoors on longer hikes in significant sun, solar will definitely extend your battery life, potentially a lot. Or potentially not at all.

In order to test this, I went out for a longer hike/walk thing yesterday. For this test I compared a Fenix 6 Pro with a Fenix 6 Pro Solar, identically configured with every possible setting I could find. The theory was to wander for about 3 hours in the sun in reasonably wide open areas (dunes mostly), but of course, the weather dorked with my plans, so it starts off sunny and then eventually got a bit rainy.

Here’s the battery burn charts for the meander:

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As you can see, it’s basically impossible to tell the difference between the two Fenix units, even after 3 hours. I’m sure brighter sun would have helped the Fenix, though in looking at some other 1-2 hour activities it hasn’t varied a ton either. The nuance between the burn rates at that point is really challenging.

In talking with Garmin about battery burn rates recorded to files, in general you’ll get more concrete results with longer activities than shorter ones. Also, because of the frequency in which the battery value is updated, a few seconds one way or the other when we’re talking 0.08% difference can result in a big swing (since it’s only recorded at whole numbers).  That’s fair, and is pretty common for any battery technology that if you really want to get a good idea of the battery burn rates that you need to measure longer periods of time.

And if we look at a longer hike I did last summer with the Fenix 6X Solar and Fenix 6 non-solar side by side, you can see the impact of the battery burn rate once I hit the sun coming out of the tree line. When I’m below the tree-line in the trees (up till about 1hr 30mins), you can see battery burn rate is about equal, but once I clear the tree-line (around 1hr 30 marker), and am back into the sun, battery life burn on the 6X Solar slows. Pretty cool. Note that in that case we want to ignore the slope of the non-Solar unit, since it has a smaller battery, but instead note the significant difference between those once out in the sun.

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By the way, those battery charts are with the DCR Analyzer. We plot battery life for devices that support writing it to the files, including Garmin, Wahoo, and Stages.

Now, it’s important to note that this won’t actually power up the watch any from dead, at least not in any meaningful way. Last summer I tried this when I left a Fenix 6X Solar atop an RV out in a field for 12 hours. It was totally dead when I placed it out there – 0% battery. When I returned after a day of strong bluebird sky sun without a single cloud, it was still powered off. However, upon powering it back on it found itself 4% battery.

It’s also at this juncture that I realized I apparently never edited the video that I shot for it. Huh.

Similarly, today in the morning, while it was nice and sunny without clouds, I stuck a watch on a tree branch with no branches above it. This time it was powered on, with full sun. When I returned about 65 minutes later, the battery hadn’t increased at all – still 16%.

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Of course, that’s likely not long enough – especially when balanced out by notifications coming in (but no GPS on). Certainly you can get a small increase in battery life from a number of hours outside as Garmin indicates. People have seen it. But my point here is expect it to be somewhat minimal.

Compare this with something like the Casio GBD-H1000 GPS, which can easily power up from dead to not dead using just solar panel in a relatively short amount of time (couple hours at most), and actually get sustainable solar power from the panels. Not enough to last forever doing GPS activities, but certainly plenty to meaningfully help when hanging outside on a sunny day not recording.

Of course, that’s a different beast of a watch, and the more I use it, the more I realize there’s really not much real-world overlap with either the Fenix 6 or Instinct. After all, it only has a single sport mode: Outdoor run, and no method to set any other mode. Plus, it’s clear that Casio isn’t trying to hide the solar panels, rather it becomes part of the aesthetic.

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Whereas Garmin seems to aim to make it such that you’d never notice the panels if you didn’t explicitly know they were there, and where they were. Different strokes for different folks. But, at the same time, I’m hoping we’ll see more gains from Garmin in the future.

They did note that the Fenix 6/6S/6X Solar and Instinct Solar would all be considered from the same solar panel technology “generation”.

GPS Accuracy:

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There’s likely no topic that stirs as much discussion and passion as GPS accuracy.  A watch could fall apart and give you dire electrical shocks while doing so, but if it shows you on the wrong side of the road?  Oh hell no, bring on the fury of the internet!

GPS accuracy can be looked at in a number of different ways, but I prefer to look at it using a number of devices in real-world scenarios across a vast number of activities.  I use 2-6 other devices at once, trying to get a clear picture of how a given set of devices handles conditions on a certain day.  Conditions include everything from tree/building cover to weather.

Over the years, I’ve continued to tweak my GPS testing methodology.  For example, I try to not place two units next to each other on my wrists, as that can impact signal. If I do so, I’ll put a thin fabric spacer of about 1”/3cm between them (I didn’t do that on any of my Instinct activities however, all workouts only had a single device per wrist).  But often I’ll simply carry other units by the straps, or attach them to the shoulder straps of my hydration backpack.  Plus, wearing multiple watches on the same wrist is well known to impact optical HR accuracy.

Next, as noted, I use just my daily training routes.  Using a single route over and over again isn’t really indicative of real-world conditions, it’s just indicative of one trail.  The workouts you see here are just my normal daily workouts.

First up we’ll start with something relatively easy, my 10-mile hike yesterday. The goal of this was mostly to stay in open-air areas to get more solar power. Still, there was a wooded section the last mile or so. Here’s that data set. This set included a Polar Grit X, Garmin Instinct, Instinct Solar, Fenix 6 Pro, and Fenix 6 Pro Solar.

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For the first couple kilometers, all the units were basically identical. Again, there’s basically nothing out here to obstruct the GPS view:

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Then, I got to the beach area. Along the waterfront there are actually tall apartment/hotel buildings that I came relatively close too. But there was no meaningful impact to GPS accuracy on any of the units:

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Then it was off into the dunes for a bit. And again, all super boring here:

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As I got into the trees, I started seeing a tiny bit of variation between the units. But we’re basically talking 2-3 meters difference offset from the path. And it varied which units were most accurate. In general the two Instinct units seemed nearest the track most times. All units were configured with the same GPS+GLONASS.

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However, I do want to briefly note that with about 100m to go, the Instinct Solar restarted randomly. It didn’t lose any GPS track data, and allowed me to resume. But it oddly added nearly about a mile (~1.5km) to the summary distance with no reason. It also added 15 minutes. Neither of these make any sense, and Garmin is looking into it. It didn’t impact the GPS track, but just the total value shown on the unit and in Garmin Connect.

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So ultimately, while GPS accuracy was pretty good, the restart gave me extra credit for no reason.

Next, we’ve got a more city-focused run, including going through some buildings. For this one I had with me an Instinct Solar, Casio GBD-1000, Polar Grit X, Fenix 6 Pro Solar, and Forerunner 935. Here’s that data set:

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The Casio oddly had GPS lock, showed GPS, started with GPS lock…but then decided against recording the first mile or so of GPS data to the file. I’m not sure why it was upset. You see it start mid-way through the run, above, in the middle of a pond.

In any event, zooming into the park portion first (which is mostly under tree cover this time of year), you’ll see that the Instinct Solar and Grit X were probably closest to the path on the southern side (but was a bit more wobbly on the northern side straightaway). The Fenix 6 Pro Solar was pretty darn smooth on both sides. The Casio seemed a bit drunk on the turns, but was mostly fine for the straightaways.

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Next, are some buildings. This included running down a street with 5-6 story buildings on both sides (shown at left below). The Garmin/Polar units nailed this, spot on. The Casio…went shopping. Also, for those curious – the Casio was on my right wrist, and the Instinct Solar on my left wrist. The other units were all on the handlebar of the running stroller.

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Also of note above is that I went through the Rijksmuseum, and most of the watches were pretty good at that. It’s probably 100-125m long of no GPS signal under a massive building. The Instinct Solar slightly cut the corner towards the end, but otherwise it was reasonably clean.

This next section I ran twice, so it looks a bit crowded, but it’s good to see how similar each unit was since I ran in the same spot each time. You see the Casio and FR935 are more variable, whereas the Fenix 6 Pro Solar, Polar Grit X, and Instinct Solar tended to be less variable.

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Finally, for summary stats, you can see those below. Note that the Casio doesn’t write the summary data to a file…because it actually doesn’t write any files. Instead, you have to download a file from Strava, and that file doesn’t include the summary data properly written (because Casio doesn’t send it).

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I’ve done piles more workouts with the Fenix 6 Pro Solar since early June. In fact, almost every workout you see on Strava since then has been with the Fenix 6 Pro Solar. Rides, runs, hikes, stand-up paddleboarding both in the forest and city – all that unit. For example, here’s a paddle with it around Amsterdam. You’ll see one spot where the two lines separate on the northwestern edge. In that case, it’s because I had my board atop my wrist as I was portaging across a non-connecting canal. Whereas the Fenix 6 Pro (non-Solar) could see the sky, so the track there is more accurate. But that’s pretty reasonable.

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In any case, I just don’t see any meaningful difference between the Solar variant of the Fenix 6 Pro and the non-Solar variant. Which is to say that, for most people in most situations, GPS accuracy will be just fine. Like with other watches, you’ll still see variations. Given all Garmin/Suunto/Polar/COROS units are using the same GPS chipset series from Sony, the accuracy tends to be pretty similar.

Wrap-Up:

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After releasing the Fenix 6X Solar last summer, demand exceeded supply. And perhaps more challenging for Garmin, supply didn’t meet expectations. The company struggled through a fair chunk of Fall 2019 with yield related to the solar panel technologies. After all, it was their first watch incorporating the tech, and they needed to sort out the manufacturing side of things. But now, nearly a year later they’ve clearly done that. Supply is ample for the Fenix 6X Solar, and since then they’ve rolled out a Quatix edition watch with Solar, and now nearly a dozen Instinct Solar variants and a wide swath of Fenix 6S Pro and 6 Pro solar variants. Clearly, they’ve found their groove on this solar thing.

However, with the Fenix 6/6S/6X Pro Solar editions specifically, it’s hard to really see the benefit of solar in day to day situations. Sure, on bright sunny summer days with 8-10 hours of strong sunlight outdoor time you’ll definitely see a benefit. But, for the rest of the year, you probably won’t benefit much. And that’s somewhat to do with the fact that the Garmin Fenix series mostly tries to hide the solar panel. Compare that to the new Instinct Solar which uses vastly more solar panel within the display to get nearly a 30% bump in GPS on-time, and an ‘Unlimited Power’ type mode in a battery-saving watch mode. I’d really like to see Garmin push the boundaries a bit more with the Fenix series.

Still – if you want the solar tech in a 6 or 6S form factor – it’s here now, and ready to roll. And, for everyone else that already has a Fenix 6 series, then you’ll benefit from all the new surf/sleep/climbing/bouldering features. So, seems to be win-win for now.

With that – thanks for reading!

Found this review useful? Or just want a good deal? Here’s how:

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 exclusive benefits on all products purchased.  By joining the Clever Training VIP Program, you will earn 10% points on this item and 10% off (instantly) on thousands of other fitness products and accessories.  Points can be used on your very next purchase at Clever Training for anything site-wide.  You can read more about the details here.  By joining, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get to enjoy the significant partnership benefits that are just for DC Rainmaker readers.  And, since this item is more than $99, you get free 3-day (or less) US shipping as well.

Fenix 6S Pro Solar (select drop-down for bundles)
Fenix 6 Pro Solar (select drop-down for variants/colors)

For European/Australian/New Zealand readers, you can also pick up the unit via Wiggle at the links below, which helps support the site too!

Fenix 6S Pro Solar (EU/UK/AU/NZ – Wiggle)
Fenix 6 Pro Solar (EU/UK/AU/NZ – Wiggle)

And finally, here’s a handy list of some of my favorite Garmin-specific accessories for the Garmin watches. Of course, being ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart compatible, you don’t have to limit things to just Garmin.

ProductAmazon LinkNote
Garmin Cadence Sensor V2This is a dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart cycling cadence sensor that you strap to your crank arm, but also does dual Bluetooth Smart, so you can pair it both to Zwift and another Bluetooth Smart app at once if you want.
Garmin HRM-DUAL Chest StrapThis is one of the top two straps I use daily for accuracy comparisons (the other being the Polar H9/H10). It's dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, and in fact dual-Bluetooth Smart too, in case you need multiple connectons.
Garmin HRM-TRI/HRM-SWIM StrapsWhile optical HR works on some newer Garmin watches, if you're looking for higher levels of accuracy, the HRM-TRI or HRM-SWIM are the best Garmin-compatible options out there to fill the gap.
Garmin Puck ChargerSeriously, this will change your life. $9 for a two-pack of these puck Garmin chargers that stay put and stay connected. One for the office, one for your bedside, another for your bag, and one for your dogs house. Just in case.
Garmin Speed Sensor V2This speed sensor is unique in that it can record offline (sans-watch), making it perfect for a commuter bike quietly recording your rides. But it's also a standard ANT+/BLE sensor that pairs to your device. It's become my go-to speed sensor.

Or, anything else you pick up 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.

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.

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Garmin Instinct Solar Review: What’s New & Different https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/garmin-instinct-solar-review-whats-new-different.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/garmin-instinct-solar-review-whats-new-different.html#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2020 11:00:00 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=114737 Read More Here ]]> DSC_6857

Today Garmin announced the Instinct Solar lineup. At first glance, this might just look like an existing Instinct with a solar panel slapped atop it. But in reality, this Instinct is totally different on the inside. Also, it’s the first watch Garmin has ever made that offers the theoretical promise of ‘Unlimited’ battery. Albeit, it’s a promise you’ll never leverage unless you’re trapped like Tom Hanks on an island with a volleyball. But hey, it’s there.

The Garmin Instinct series is essentially a Fenix lite. It’s got most of the core sport/navigation/hiking focused features, but at roughly 1/3rd the price tag. It lacks things like color maps, music, or advanced sensor support. But you can do everything from an openwater swim, to pairing speed/cadence cycling sensors, to LiveTracking (with connected phone).

Internally the new Instinct’s got not just solar charging but an entirely different power management architecture that gets vastly more battery life, largely helped by the switch to the Sony GPS chipsets we saw in other Garmin watches in 2019. Additionally, it swaps out for the newer Garmin ELEVATE optical HR sensor, adding in PulseOX. Again, that too helps battery life. And finally, there’s the entire solar panel thing, which comes in two parts and thus provides substantially more power reserves than its Fenix counterpart.

Or, you can just hit play below and get all the details in one tidy video:

Note that like my Fenix 6 Solar Review I posted, I focused explicitly on the changed aspects, which include the solar pieces, power management pieces, and GPS/HR components. Beyond those elements, everything else is identical in the watch to the original Instinct. I don’t have the Surf or Tactical versions, which have a handful of extra aspects, so I can’t review those features.

That said, I probably will append this review with some of the ‘Basics’ sections over the following days, to conform more to my normal reviews. I haven’t seen any issues in those aspects while using the watch, else I’d cover them here.

With that, let’s dive into it!

What’s new:

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As I mostly spoiled in the intro section, the Instinct Solar is substantially changed under the covers, with some of those features being visible. Again, at first glance you’re like ‘Shrug, looks like an Instinct’. And that was my impression initially too. And then the deeper I dug, it’s like ‘Woah, this is entirely different if I care about long battery activities’.

Here, let’s bulletize the main differences:

– Added solar charging tech to watch (more on that later)
– Added newer optical HR sensor suite
– Added PulseOx and Swimming Heart Rate
– Added power management/customization options
– Added Expedition Mode, up to 68 days GPS battery life
– Added Power Saver mode
– Changed GPS chipset to Sony
– Significantly increased GPS battery life from 16 hours to ‘Up to 38 hours’ with solar

Note that I asked about adding any of these features to the existing Instinct, and all depend on the newer hardware bits. For example, the power management components depend on both the Sony GPS chipset and a different underlying power management architecture. Same goes for expedition mode and battery saver mode. And the PulseOx and Swimming HR tracking all depend on the newer Garmin Elevate optical HR sensor (which is why we also only see it on other Garmin watches with that same HR sensors).

In addition to the basics on the baseline Instinct Solar model, there’s two additional models – Surf and Tactical. Technically there’s also ‘Camo’, but that’s just a different color variant of the baseline model and doesn’t have the Tactical features. For the Surf and Tactical features there’s these new features:

Surf Solar Edition: Added Tide Data showing ocean conditions
Surf Solar Edition: Added Surf Activity, which records waves surfed, distance traveled, and maximum speed reached
Surf Solar Edition: Added integration with Surfline, including Surfline Sessions for video overlays
Tactical Solar Edition: Includes Night Vision Compatibility (was in previous Instinct Tactical Edition)
Tactical Solar Edition: Includes ‘Stealth Mode’, which disables wireless connectivity and disables storing/sharing of GPS data
Tactical Solar Edition: Includes Dual-Position Format, which shows both UTM and MGRS on the same screen
Tactical Solar Edition: Includes Jumpmaster mode for jumping out of perfectly good airplanes

In essence, none of the Tactical Solar features are new – but the solar panel is new to Tactical. The Surf edition is fully new.

So, all in the units are priced as such:

Garmin Instinct (non-Solar): $299
Garmin Instinct Solar: $399
Garmin Instinct Solar Tactical: $449
Garmin Instinct Solar Camo: $449
Garmin Instinct Solar Surf: $449

Out of curiosity, I asked why the Camo was $50 more, despite having no additional features. Garmin says the cost is due to the added cost of the hydrographic application. I do think it’s slightly odd that the Instinct Tactical isn’t offered in the Camo colors. But hey, I’m not the one who has to decide which 11 colors make the cut. Speaking of which, here’s a Garmin image showing all the colors:

The top line is the base units, the bottom left two are the Camo units, the bottom middle two are the Tactical ones, and the bottom right two are the Surf ones. Oh, and all these are available immediately, from today.

With that – let’s talk Solar details specifically.

Solar & Battery Details:

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When it comes to the solar aspects added to the Instinct Solar, they’re technologically the same as we see on the Fenix 6 series. However, they’re quite a bit different in terms of the size of the implementation. The Instinct has vastly more solar panel surface (relative to screen size) than the Fenix 6 series, and also vastly more solar panel power as a result. For example, on the Fenix 6 series you get about a 10% bump in total power life in most GPS sport modes (way more in Expedition/Battery Saver Mode). Whereas on the Instinct Solar you more than double (200%) your daily watch life, and increase by 30% your GPS sport modes.

Part of that is because the Instinct simply has a less power-hungry screen that does less. There’s no colors, no animations, or really anything else. It’s also smaller. But the other part is that when it comes to that panel, it simply covers more surface area.

Now, as you may remember the solar pieces all comes from an acquisition of technologies from French company SunPartner Technologies. Garmin actually quietly made that acquisition back when the company filed for insolvency, a long time before they announced it in the Fenix 6X Solar last year.

On all Garmin Solar watches the solar panel is basically divided up into two pieces:

A) Visible solar panels (usually on the edging of the display), this has 100% photovoltaic level
B) Solar panels under the display/screen, these have a 10% photovoltaic level

So, the more visible panel contributes substantially more than the one under the display. However, on watches like the Fenix 6 series, there’s far greater surface area under the display than the thin 1mm strip around the edge.

But, on the Instinct Solar, Garmin has added much more solar panel. You can see the slight difference in reflection, which is around much of the interior edge of the display. Everything in red there:

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This area above has 100% photovoltaic levels, meaning, it’s receiving 100% of the sun’s goodness and turning that into solar power. It’s also clearly visible in bright light, though you’d just assume it was a bezel design element. Inside without bright light (like outside), this strip almost disappears and blends into the bezel.

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However, there’s a second solar panel you can’t see – despite being the entire display face. Under the display is another solar panel that has a 10% photovoltaic level. This panel is of course larger than that of the visible edge pieces, but is also getting 10% of the sun’s rays, due to the display blocking much of it. Importantly though, both panels are below the top glass– so it’s not like you feel the solar areas or can scratch it.

When it comes to seeing solar levels, on the default watch face there’s a sun icon, and next to it the last 6 hours of solar intensity levels.

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If you press down once, you’ll move to the next widget, which shows the same intensity graph, but also shows a sun in the upper right corner. That sun is actually showing you the current intensity level. Around the edge of the little sun etched into the glass are 10 markers (indicating 10 pieces), each indicating 10% of full intensity. So if you look at the below picture you’ll see the sun is coming in at 50% intensity:

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And here’s another at 100% intensity, with all lines lit up as well as the sun itself lit up:

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There isn’t a way to see this directly in a data field mid-activity, however, it’s simply one button away. Just press the lower right button (set), and it’ll take you from sport mode back to the widgets, and you can check the solar levels live.

In addition, you can look back at any day of history you want to via Garmin Connect Mobile:

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The goal of the solar here isn’t to fully power the watch, under GPS or otherwise. Instead, it’s to provide incremental battery life (more on my testing on this in a second). Garmin notes this in their super-detailed battery life chart. Note specifically the assumption of 3 hours per day of solar light at a pretty high intensity (full sun basically). That goes both ways though. If you’re mid-summer and spending the day at the beach (or work outside), then you’ll way overachieve here. Versus if it’s mid-winter and you’re indoors…then not so much.

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*Assumes all-day wear with 3 hours per day in 50,000 lux conditions
**Assumes use in 50,000 lux conditions

Wait, so what’s 50,000 lux you ask? It’s a pretty sunny day, though, not living in Arizona in summer kinda sunny. Here’s what Wikipedia says about it:

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Now Garmin doesn’t ever show lux levels in the solar widgets. Instead, they show a relative intensity in terms of solar power. On a pure sunny day here in July in the Netherlands, I easily can get the full sun widget to illuminate. But, I can also do that too even on a high light overcast day (meaning, a super high thin cloud layer). Even with a handful of clouds meandering around.

But wait a second, let’s go back – there was a line-item for ‘Battery Saver’ mode being ‘Unlimited’. What the heck is that?

Well, that comes from the new Power Manager functionality. This was introduced on the Fenix 6 last year, and allows you to basically customize, à la carte style, the different Instinct features you want to get a desired number of hours of battery life. So if you’re half-way through and a hike and realized you forgot to fully charge your watch, you can tweak the battery profiles to get enough juice to make it back.

To access this go into Settings > Power Manager:

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Within this there’s two options. First is ‘Battery Saver’, the other is ‘Power Modes’. We’ll come back to Battery Saver in a second.

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So we’ll select Power Modes and you’ve got a few different default ones. For example, the ‘Max Battery’ option is basically the older-named UltraTrac which reduces the GPS tracking points to roughly every 1-2 minutes (fine for hiking slowly with few switchbacks, sucky for running in the city). It also turns off the optical HR sensor and phone communications. Up in the corner you’ll see how many hours you’ll get based on your current battery level:

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Then there’s jacket mode. That’s when the watch is outside your jacket (like in the winter). You’ll see that shuts off the optical HR sensor (but you can still pair to a chest sensor). But retains Bluetooth phone connectivity.

And then you can freestyle it with your own battery settings, first by giving it a name:

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Then you’ve got all the settings to change: GPS, Phone, Wrist Heart Rate, Pulse Ox, Breadcrumb Map, Display, Backlight, and Accessories (sensors):

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Each of these that you toggle on/off will result in different total battery life estimates. In the case of GPS that also means changing things like GPS+GLONASS, GPS+Galileo and UltraTrac.

It’s super powerful if you really need the battery juice.

But lastly, we need to go back to the nuclear option: Battery Saver.

This is the one that gets us the supposed “Unlimited” battery life. In this mode the watch will show you time and date, as well as track steps and distance walked. However, it’ll disable phone and sensor connectivity, as well as PulseOx and the optical HR sensor. It does still however track Solar Intensity.

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In this mode, without any solar juice, you’re going to get about 60 days of battery life. But, once you add in the required 3 hours per day of sunlight, then Garmin says you can go forever. Of course, if you get more than 3 hours of sunlight per day, then you get Forever Plus. Which is basically what the year 2020 feels like.

Now, in order to try to demonstrate some of the Instinct Solar aspects compared to the regular Instinct, I went out for a longer meander yesterday.

For this test I compared an Instinct Solar with a regular Instinct, as well as Fenix 6 Pro Solar with non-Solar.  All identically configured with every possible setting I could find. The theory was to wander for about 3 hours in the sun in reasonably wide open areas (dunes mostly), but of course, the weather dorked with my plans, so it starts off sunny and then eventually got a bit rainy.

Here’s the battery burn charts for the meander:

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Now, there’s a dramatic difference between the Instinct and Instinct Solar. However, the vast majority of that has nothing to do with Solar. Rather, it’s simply the reality of the lower battery burn profile of the Instinct Solar’s updated internals. Even without Solar power it’s going to burn 50% as much power. Then we layer the Solar pieces on for what’s effectively a 30% bump in juice. And ironically, those numbers get super close up above – 3.75%/hour for the Instinct Solar, compared to 8.62%/hour for the regular Instinct.

Note that both units had a course loaded and were following said course. Both also had phone connectivity enabled.

In talking with Garmin about battery burn rates recorded to files, that in general you’ll get more concrete results with longer activities than shorter ones. Also, because of the frequency in which the battery value is updated, a few seconds one way or the other when we’re talking 0.08% difference can result in a big swing (since it’s only recorded at whole numbers).  That’s fair, and is pretty common for any battery technology that if you really want to get a good idea of the battery burn rates that you need to measure longer periods of time.

By the way, those battery charts are with the DCR Analyzer. We plot battery life for devices that support writing it to the files, including Garmin, Wahoo, and Stages.

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Finally, note that the Instinct Solar and Fenix 6/6S/6X Solar would all be considered from the same solar panel technology “generation”. Of course, as noted earlier, the Instinct Solar simply has a greater surface area of 100% paneling, plus also having a lower baseline battery requirement for powering its monochrome display.

GPS Accuracy:

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There’s likely no topic that stirs as much discussion and passion as GPS accuracy.  A watch could fall apart and give you dire electrical shocks while doing so, but if it shows you on the wrong side of the road?  Oh hell no, bring on the fury of the internet!

GPS accuracy can be looked at in a number of different ways, but I prefer to look at it using a number of devices in real-world scenarios across a vast number of activities.  I use 2-6 other devices at once, trying to get a clear picture of how a given set of devices handles conditions on a certain day.  Conditions include everything from tree/building cover to weather.

Over the years, I’ve continued to tweak my GPS testing methodology.  For example, I try to not place two units next to each other on my wrists, as that can impact signal. If I do so, I’ll put a thin fabric spacer of about 1”/3cm between them (I didn’t do that on any of my Instinct activities however, all workouts only had a single device per wrist).  But often I’ll simply carry other units by the straps, or attach them to the shoulder straps of my hydration backpack.  Plus, wearing multiple watches on the same wrist is well known to impact optical HR accuracy.

Next, as noted, I use just my daily training routes.  Using a single route over and over again isn’t really indicative of real-world conditions, it’s just indicative of one trail.  The workouts you see here are just my normal daily workouts.

First up we’ll start with something relatively easy, my 10-mile hike yesterday. The goal of this was mostly to stay in open-air areas to get more solar power. Still, there was a wooded section the last mile or so. Here’s that data set. This set included a Polar Grit X, Garmin Instinct, Instinct Solar, Fenix 6 Pro, and Fenix 6 Pro Solar.

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For the first couple of kilometers, all the units were basically identical. Again, there’s basically nothing out here to obstruct the GPS view:

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Then, I got to the beach area. Along the waterfront there are actually tall apartment/hotel buildings that I came relatively close too. But there was no meaningful impact to GPS accuracy on any of the units:

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Then it was off into the dunes for a bit. And again, all super boring here:

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As I got into the trees, I started seeing a tiny bit of variation between the units. But we’re basically talking 2-3 meters difference offset from the path. And it varied which units were most accurate. In general the two Instinct units seemed nearest the track most times. All units were configured with the same GPS+GLONASS.

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However, I do want to briefly note that with about 100m to go, the Instinct Solar restarted randomly. It didn’t lose any GPS track data, and allowed me to resume. But it oddly added nearly about a mile (~1.5km) to the summary distance with no reason. It also added 15 minutes. Neither of these make any sense, and Garmin is looking into it. It didn’t impact the GPS track, but just the total value shown on the unit and  in Garmin Connect.

[Update: Garmin dug into the restart, and found it was caused when the Instinct ran out of space. Which was in turn caused by logging on there in case of a crash. Once I deleted the file the Instinct is now happy.]

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So ultimately, while GPS accuracy was pretty good, the restart gave me extra credit for no reason.

Next, we’ve got a more city-focused run, including going through some buildings. For this one I had with me an Instinct Solar, Casio GBD-H1000, Polar Grit X, Fenix 6 Pro Solar, and Forerunner 935. Here’s that data set:

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The Casio oddly had GPS lock, showed GPS, started with GPS lock…but then decided against recording the first mile or so of GPS data to the file. I’m not sure why it was upset. You see it start mid-way through the run, above, in the middle of a pond.

In any event, zooming into the park portion first (which is mostly under tree cover this time of year), you’ll see that the Instinct Solar and Grit X were probably closest to the path on the southern side (but was a bit more wobbly on the northern side straightaway). The Fenix 6 Pro Solar was pretty darn smooth on both sides. The Casio seemed a bit drunk on the turns, but was mostly fine for the straightaways.

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Next, are some buildings. This included running down a street with 5-6 story buildings on both sides (shown at left below). The Garmin/Polar units nailed this, spot on. The Casio…went shopping. Also, for those curious – the Casio was on my right wrist, and the Instinct Solar on my left wrist. The other units were all on the handlebar of the running stroller.

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Also of note above is that I went through the Rijksmuseum, and most of the watches were pretty good at that. It’s probably 100-125m long of no GPS signal under a massive building. The Instinct Solar slightly cut the corner towards the end, but otherwise it was reasonably clean.

This next section I ran twice, so it looks a bit crowded, but it’s good to see how similar each unit was since I ran in the same spot each time. You see the Casio and FR935 are more variable, whereas the Fenix 6 Pro Solar, Polar Grit X, and Instinct Solar tended to be less variable.

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Finally, for summary stats, you can see those below. Note that the Casio doesn’t write the summary data to a file…because it actually doesn’t write any files. Instead, you have to download a file from Strava, and that file doesn’t include the summary data properly written (because Casio doesn’t send it).

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In addition to specific comparisons against other units, I’ve used the Instinct Solar quite a bit for just random rides sans-comparisons. Still, in this case I can easily see whether or not a track is accurate simply by knowing exactly which path I’m on:

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And even under things like gigantic train station ceiling overhangs – or going below half a dozen rail lines, it has no issues nailing a perfect track:

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In the case of the Instinct Solar, I’ve actually seen a slight increase in accuracy compared to my original Instinct. I was using that quite a bit in April & May for comparisons, and it struggled more than I liked in scenarios where other watches didn’t. It was on an older GPS chipset which while it did well in general, I didn’t see that as much recently. Whereas the Instinct Solar will likely for most people in most situations GPS accuracy will be just fine. Like with other watches, you’ll still see variations. Given all Garmin/Suunto/Polar/COROS units are using the same GPS chipset series from Sony, the accuracy tends to be pretty similar.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Heart Rate Accuracy:

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Next up we’ve got heart rate accuracy, as the Instinct Solar includes the newer optical HR sensor found in Garmin’s Fenix 6 series, Forerunner 245/945, and other watches.

When looking at HR accuracy, this roughly falls into two buckets: 24×7 HR, and workout HR.  As is usually the case with most devices these days, I see no tangible issues with 24×7 HR.  It works well across both normal daily routines as well as things like sleep.  Speaking of which, I talk about RHR values and 24×7 monitoring here and why it’s interesting.

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Before we move on to the test results, note that optical HR sensor accuracy is rather varied from individual to individual.  Aspects such as skin color, hair density, and position can impact accuracy.  Position, and how the band is worn, are *the most important* pieces.  A unit with an optical HR sensor should be snug.  It doesn’t need to leave marks, but you shouldn’t be able to slide a finger under the band (at least during workouts).  You can wear it a tiny bit looser the rest of the day.

Ok, so in my testing, I simply use the watch throughout my normal workouts.  Those workouts include a wide variety of intensities and conditions, making them great for accuracy testing.  I’ve got steady runs, interval workouts on both bike and running, as well as tempo runs and rides – and even running up and down a mountain.

Typically I’d wear a chest strap (usually the Garmin HRM-DUAL or Polar H9 and the Wahoo TICKR X) as well as another optical HR sensor watch on the other wrist or bicep (lately the Whoop band, Polar OH1 Plus, as well as the Mio Pod). Note that the numbers you see in the upper right corner are *not* the averages, but rather just the exact point my mouse is sitting over.  Note all this data is analyzed using the DCR Analyzer, details here.

First up is a run from this past weekend, a relatively tame 10KM loop. Some minor increases in effort here and there, but theoretically a fairly easy workout to deal with heart-rate-wise. Here’s that data set:

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There’s a lot going on there sensor-wise, but basically I’m comparing the Instinct Solar to a Polar OH1 Plus, a Garmin HRM-DUAL chest strap, and to the Casio GBD-H1000. In the case of the Casio, its performance may be *slightly* impacted by having to push the stroller (I used my right wrist for this run, the same as the Casio), though realistically it didn’t massively impact it.

Looking at the start, we see a bit of a delay on the Garmin Instinct Solar in terms of reaching my actual HR level. Not substantial – about 35 seconds during that warm-up phase. This isn’t super unusual, especially since I had been standing in the cold windy rain for 5-7 minutes waiting for the Casio to find GPS signal. Of course, despite starting the Casio after GPS-lock and it saying it was started, it waited another mile before it started recording data. So we don’t have any HR or GPS data the first mile for it.

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You can see above at the 2:35 & 5:00 minute markers the Instinct Solar & Polar OH1 Plus being slightly delayed to catch shifts in HR intensity compared to the HRM-DUAL. In this scenario it’s easy to see that optical HR lag, though that’s not always the case.

Still, don’t let the scale trick your mind too much – for the vast majority of this run the difference was a mere 0-2BPM between the units. Basically nothing.

The most substantial moment came at the 13-minute marker when I stopped to take a photo. You’ll see here that the chest strap and Polar OH1 Plus very quickly saw that stop in effort. But the Instinct and Casio were delayed about 30-40 seconds. Which in the realm of intervals, is a long time however.

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After that moment, they both resumed fairly quickly, matching the chest strap and OH1 Plus.

The remainder of the run is mostly pretty boring, with all units being within 1BPM, except the Casio, which stayed high the entire time. While one might attribute that to pushing the stroller, I kinda doubt it. It’s exceptionally rare for an optical HR sensor to “read high” consistently for an entire run. And by exceptionally rare, I mean – it doesn’t happen. That’s not how optical HR sensors fail. Which makes me believe something else is at work there. More on that in my full in-depth review next week.

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Ok, moving to a different workout, this one far more painful – an indoor FTP RAMP test I did yesterday. For this one, it’s all about intensity, though, measured building intensity. Albeit, all the intensity. Here’s that data set:

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As you can see, the Instinct got off to another wobbly start for the first minute or two. One could argue that it was because I was preparing things on my bike during that minute or two using my wrists, but honestly, that seems like a bit of a push. After all, it didn’t impact the Fenix 6 Pro Solar on the other wrist.

In any case, for the most part things stabilize by all parties around the 5-minute marker, and were pretty stable until the 15-minute marker.

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At that point, the intensity of the FTP test started to settle in, and with it, things got hairy. But not for the Instinct, it tracked no issues here. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the Whoop strap. It totally lost the plot numerous times, as it often does with high-intensity exercise:

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Then for the remainder, the Whoop strap led the way on the cool-down (probably not in the correct way, but hey, I can’t really argue with ending the workout as quickly as possible). There’s was no meaningful difference when it came to the Instinct and all the other sensors:

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Finally, let’s add in another indoor workout – this time a 90-minute long trainer ride. The Instinct Solar started the adventure about 5 minutes late, my fault, not its. Here’s the full data set:

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At a high level above, things look fairly similar, but let’s zoom in on some random chunks:

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What you see is a bit of a ‘blocky’ look to it. That’s what happens when you forget to turn off Smart Recording and it records supposedly ‘Smartly’. In reality, it’s not smart. And even more so indoors, because there’s no other data to use to trigger a new recording point. So as such, you get way more time between recording points. Thankfully the Instinct offers a 1-second recording mode, but it’s not set for default. And in this case I didn’t remember to change it till later.

In any event, most of those blocks appear to be caused by the recording rate and spiking. However, the one at 41 minutes is a bit odd. While the others meant the HR was off by 2-3BPM, this one was off by 10BPM:

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It lasted about 15-20 seconds, for no apparent reason. I’m not sure if perhaps I had changed the video on the TV at that point using the remote, and that action triggered it, or what. It’s not ideal, but over the course of a 90-minute workout, it’s unlikely that one dip for a dozen or so seconds is going to matter to most people.

Ok, so what’s the deal on the optical HR bits? Overall it’s basically the same as the FR945, Fenix 6, and other watches I’ve tested with this same sensor. It’s clearly different than the original Instinct, both in terms of physical hardware and accuracy. I’ve got an interval workout scheduled tomorrow, so I’ll throw that into the mix as well after I suffer through it.

Wrap-Up:

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In some ways Garmin probably could have tried to pass off the Instinct Solar as an Instinct 2. After all, it’s got entirely new internals, 2-3x the battery life, a far more capable heart rate sensor, and even new surf stuffs. But that might have been a tough push, given that it lacks substantial other new unique software features that say explain ‘Second Edition’. Still, it is a big upgrade. And interestingly, it’s probably an upgrade targeted directly at Casio with the GBD-H1000.

At least in some circles. Ultimately, if you’re a Casio person you’re probably still gonna buy a Casio. But, if you’re on the fence for a Casio-ish looking watch, then you’re considering the Instinct. With pricing pretty similar, Garmin basically makes the case that ‘If you care about sports, there’s no competition’. And here’s the thing: It’s kinda true. While the Casio has a bigger display and arguably better solar power capabilities, I’d argue practically those won’t matter for most with the Instinct Solar’s increased battery life. Plus, as I’ll detail in a full Casio GBD-H1000 review next week – the sport aspects of the Casio are incredibly limited. It has massive potential, but as of today it’s simply a very clear ‘Gen 1’ watch with respect to sports/fitness.

Which isn’t to say the Instinct Solar is perfect. After all, mine rebooted on a workout yesterday. It’s plausible that had to do with some debug software on there, but it’s also plausible it wasn’t the cause [Garmin has since confirmed it was debug logging that caused the crash]. No data was lost though. And of course there’s the reality that the look of the Instinct certainly isn’t for everyone. Just like it wasn’t with the original Instinct. Still – tons of people do like it (more than I ever expected).

So, if you were considering an original Instinct, I’d argue this is probably a pretty strong alternative. Though, whether it’s worth some $200 more is a much more challenging question (since the Instinct seems oft on sale for $199). But hey, at least you’ve got options now, right?

With that – thanks for reading!

Found this review useful? Or just want a good deal? Here’s how:

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 exclusive benefits on all products purchased.  By joining the Clever Training VIP Program, you will earn 10% points on this item and 10% off (instantly) on thousands of other fitness products and accessories.  Points can be used on your very next purchase at Clever Training for anything site-wide.  You can read more about the details here.  By joining, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get to enjoy the significant partnership benefits that are just for DC Rainmaker readers.  And, since this item is more than $99, you get free 3-day (or less) US shipping as well.

Garmin Instinct Solar (select drop-down for colors/models)
Garmin Instinct Solar Surf (select drop-down for colors/models)
Garmin Instinct Solar Tactical (select drop-down for colors/models)

For European/Australian/New Zealand readers, you can also pick up the unit via Wiggle at the links below, which helps support the site too!

Garmin Instinct Solar (EU/UK/AU/NZ – Wiggle)

And finally, here’s a handy list of some of my favorite Garmin-specific accessories for the Garmin watches. Of course, being ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart compatible, you don’t have to limit things to just Garmin.

ProductAmazon LinkNote
Garmin Cadence Sensor V2This is a dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart cycling cadence sensor that you strap to your crank arm, but also does dual Bluetooth Smart, so you can pair it both to Zwift and another Bluetooth Smart app at once if you want.
Garmin HRM-DUAL Chest StrapThis is one of the top two straps I use daily for accuracy comparisons (the other being the Polar H9/H10). It's dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, and in fact dual-Bluetooth Smart too, in case you need multiple connectons.
Garmin HRM-TRI/HRM-SWIM StrapsWhile optical HR works on some newer Garmin watches, if you're looking for higher levels of accuracy, the HRM-TRI or HRM-SWIM are the best Garmin-compatible options out there to fill the gap.
Garmin Puck ChargerSeriously, this will change your life. $9 for a two-pack of these puck Garmin chargers that stay put and stay connected. One for the office, one for your bedside, another for your bag, and one for your dogs house. Just in case.
Garmin Speed Sensor V2This speed sensor is unique in that it can record offline (sans-watch), making it perfect for a commuter bike quietly recording your rides. But it's also a standard ANT+/BLE sensor that pairs to your device. It's become my go-to speed sensor.

Or, anything else you pick up 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.

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.

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Stages Bike (SB20) In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/stages-bike-sb20-smart-bike-in-depth-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/07/stages-bike-sb20-smart-bike-in-depth-review.html#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2020 08:18:56 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=114415 Read More Here ]]> DSC_6503

The Stages Bike becomes what I’d argue is the ‘final’ competitor to land in the indoor smart bike space for probably some time. Last summer we saw Wahoo, Tacx, and Stages all launch their first smart bike offerings at Eurobike, albeit on varied timelines. That’s in addition to Wattbike already having theirs in the market at the time and just launching their updated V2 variant last week.

The Stages Bike is in many ways like those others, but also in many ways not. Each company has their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Stages core strength is they’ve built more bikes than any other company in this segment. Sure, you might know them as a power meter company, but the rest of the world knows them as an indoor bike company, both with their own lineup of bikes, but also for numerous high profile brands too.

The Stages Bike’s origins are clearly from their commercial gym lineup – but it also pulls from the company’s power meter heritage too. Each Stages SB20 bike has a dual-sided power meter built into the crank arms. Unlike all the other bikes on the market, Stages is actually measuring power, not just doing the math on it. Though practically speaking, all the other bikes have been pretty darn accurate – so that hasn’t really been a true issue.

In any case, the main difference between the new Stages Bike (SB20) and all of Stage’s other bikes is that this one is a smart controllable bike that works with apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, and The Sufferfest. So when the terrain goes up, the bike, in turn, mimics that.

With that, I’ve had one now in the DCR Cave for almost two months and have been putting it through its paces with workouts 3-5 times a week. I’ve pedaled a lot on this bike. So much so that I even made a full review video on it. You can just tap play below:

Otherwise, you can continue on to piles of text.

Note that Stages sent over this media loaner unit to try out. Once I’m done with it, I’ll figure out how to get it back down the Dutch staircase and back into the semi-truck that dropped it off – so it can find its home back at Stages. Or maybe I’ll just stick it on a passing canal boat and hope for the best. Either way, if you found this review useful you can hit up the links at the bottom.

With that – let’s get digging into it!

Unboxing & Setup:

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For each company’s smart bike that I’ve unboxed, I’ve seen slightly different tacks taken with their box design. For example, with the Tacx NEO Bike Smart, it was all about a super-optimized and small box. For the Wattbike Atom, it was the idea that you could take the lid off the box and the bike was basically ready to go. With Stages? It was clearly: “This bike box is ready for war – we’re gonna pack this thing to fall out the back of an airplane and still survive!”

Which, might not be a bad plan. Until stairs are involved.

The stated shipping weight of the Stages bike and box is a hefty 160 pounds (72.5kg). In a non-COVID19 world, Stages had planned so-called ‘white-glove’ delivery, just like a Peloton bike. These days that’s not currently allowed, so they drop it at your door and you’ve gotta man or woman-up and make it work. Just like I did:

However, if going upstairs/downstairs you’re best to de-box it on the main level, as that’ll dramatically reduce the weight by having individual components to move. Obviously, in my case I didn’t do that and made my life more challenging. It’s how I generally roll.

Flip open the side of the box, and everything is somehow magically packed inside:

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Five minutes later of unboxing, it’ll look like this:

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And here’s a closer up gallery of those parts:

Roughly speaking this boils down to the following:

A) Bike frame
B) Bike feet/stabilizers
C) Handlebars
D) Front tablet holder
E) Nine million pieces of packaging
F) Power cord
G) A bunch of hex wrenches

No part of the installation is difficult, nor even hard to do solo. If you managed to get the box/parts where you wanted to by yourself, then that’s the hardest part. Most of it is simply time-consuming removing enough packaging to supply an Amazon warehouse for a few days. Better safe than sorry?

First up is getting the feet on the bike to get the bike all stabilized before attaching everything else:

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Next, you’ll slide the main front post/assembly onto the bike.

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This includes threading the wiring down the tube, but that’s mostly already done for you. You just attach it at the end.

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Then you’ve got the choice of attaching the tablet holder or not. In my case I added it, but you can skip it (especially if you plan to add triathlon/TT bars later). Or, if you’ve already got a big screen or something.

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Even though I have a big screen, I’ve found it perfect for TrainerRoad workouts. I use the big screen to watch what I’m gonna watch, while using the tablet holder to hold my iPad with TrainerRoad.

Next, we’ll need to install pedals on there. The bear-claw style cranks means you can choose from four crank arm lengths: 165mm, 170mm, 172.5mm, 175mm.

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You can choose whether or not to use a washer with your pedals depending on the pedal. In this case I went with a pedal with them to get just enough clearance for the pods. If using a hex wrench through the back of the pedal, it’s a bit tight – but you can make it work:

Next, you’ll need to remove the small battery tag off the battery compartment:

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The Stages Bike technically has three power meters on it: One per crank arm, and then a secondary reference one at the flywheel. The ones on each crank arm are basically like those from a Stages power meter that you’d install on your bike. Except in this case they control the entire casting/specs of the crank, so it’s even more accurate. But otherwise you can pair to that power meter just like a normal power meter. Kinda neat.

And finally, don’t forget to plug it in:

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You will need to remember to adjust in the Stages app afterwards the crank length to get correct power, don’t worry, it’ll walk you through that.

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And with that, we’ve got the bike ready to set up. Do double-check and ensure you’ve got the latest firmware, but we’ll talk about the app in a minute anyway.

The Basics:

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For this section, I’ll cover some of the basics of the hardware, before we get into setup of rider fit as well as things like gearing and shifting, plus app connectivity. All of which are detailed in separate sections. There’s a tiny bit of overlap from this section to others, but I think this is laying the foundation for later geekery.

Like all these bikes, it’ll require power to fully take advantage of all its features – namely resistance control and broadcasting of data. Though interestingly, the Stages Bike can actually still broadcast your power with just its little battery-powered crank arms, even when not plugged in. It’s a nifty party trick.

Here’s a closer look at the power brick specs:

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Now as I just alluded to, that doesn’t actually power the entire bike. It powers the ‘smart bike’ side of it, but the actual power broadcasting for the non-bike part comes from the crank arms. So those are the battery caps we removed the packing tape from back in the unboxing. Realistically that’ll last you at least a year – unless you’re putting in crazy hours on it weekly. It’s one CR2032 per crank arm.

However, the plug does power other aspects. For example, it’s what allows the bike to be smart controllable, increasing or decreasing resistance. Also, it’s what powers the shifting, as well as the two 2AMP USB ports at the front of the bike:

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I like these ports. Like the Tacx Bike, they’re in a good spot and have reliably powered all my things without issue. No problems keeping my iPad fully charged while also using it for Zwift or YouTube.

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Speaking of which, let’s take a look at this entire front console setup. As you remember from before, I selected to install the included tablet holder. You don’t have to, but it’s super well built and I’ve found good uses for it. With TrainerRoad, I run it on an iPad there, and then use my big screen TV for watching movies or whatever. And then with Zwift, I actually started using it with the same iPad turned vertically to run the companion app. Thus leaving my phone to run the Stages shifting app:

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The tablet holder is spring-loaded and easily fit my iPad both vertically or horizontally. Additionally, it has an inset piece to also hold just a smaller phone:

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The phone meanwhile has its own little throne, below the tablet holder (and still there if you don’t install the tablet holder). This has a rubberized non-slip surface that keeps it in place, and a gap in the bottom so a charging cable can go to your phone.

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You can also stash a remote control there too, but honestly, without any edges you’ll eventually just bonk it off. For those, I ended up using either a trainer desk (like the Wahoo KICKR Desk or this generic one I’ve actually been using lately), or also just the spare water bottle holder for most rides. The bike has two of them:

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Notably absent at this point is any sort of display to see your shifting.  We’ll get into that later – but it’s a bummer.

Next, there’s auxiliary ports on the stem of the bike. These are used for connecting additional shifters you can place wherever you want. For example, you could actually wire up some time trial bars if you wanted to, to make a TT/triathlon bike. Unlike Wahoo/Tacx/others, Stages is already shipping these (and in fact, a set is on the way to me in the next few days – I’ll update the review once installed. There’s three ports on each side, two of which are open on each side.

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Stages says the ports can also be used for any other magical idea down the road too, just like the Aux ports we saw on the KICKR Bike. I can only assume it’ll be for a nacho cheese dispenser.

I’ll dive deeply into shifting later, but essentially on each side of the handlebars there’s buttons on the interior that can be customized. There’s also one brake per side. While these don’t function in apps today, they will stop the bike’s flywheel just like on a real bike:

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Speaking of that flywheel, it’s a beast. The biggest beast in fact – coming in at a whopping 50 pounds (22.7kg) The KICKR bike flywheel is a mere 5.9KG and the WattBike Atom’s is 9.3kg. The Tacx NEO Bike however can ‘simulate’ 125KG, but that’s sorta a different situation.

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However, despite being beastly, it doesn’t make much noise. In fact, I’d argue it’s the quietest smart bike out there. The closest would be the Tacx NEO Bike Smart, which is I think very slightly louder. But we’re talking basically the sound of a microwave. The Wahoo Bike is louder than both, and the Wattbike Atom V1 louder than all those.

*You can listen to the audio within the video at the top of the page at the 13:00 marker*

Now, that said, I did start running into odd sounds about two weeks ago with the Stages Bike, whereby it started creating a slight thunking sound from somewhere inside the flywheel. Stages believes the flywheel bearings might be bad, and has offered to swap out the flywheel. GPLAMA thinks I should just replace it with a big wheel of Gouda cheese from the cheese shop around the corner. However, I checked into that, and that’d actually cost a sizable portion of the Stages Bike cost. Not a cheap option.

In any case, the sound actually went away this past week. So…ok. Either way, Stages customer service is pretty well known as being super responsive, so I’m not super worried about it at this point.

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In terms of road-like feel of that flywheel, it’s pretty good. However, I wouldn’t say that it’s a massive difference to the Wahoo KICKR Bike or Tacx NEO Bike. All of them feel pretty good. And in the case of both of those units, they can forward-drive the flywheel while descending in apps like Zwift. The Stages Bike doesn’t have that, and it’s something I kinda have come to enjoy.

Now, to wrap up this section I’ve got a quick little summary of things I do and don’t like about the bike from a basics standpoint. I hesitate to call this a pros and cons list, though that’s more or less what it is. I’m sticking it here in the middle of the review so people that just skip to the end without reading will miss it (and thus hopefully read the whole review to make an informed decision – nuance matters). I’ll ignore any accuracy likes/dislikes in this section and keep it more on practical things, also ignoring spec-specific things too. Basically, this is more of a practical list of likes/dislikes:

Things I really like:

– The tablet mount is nailed, it might look a bit clunky, but it’s the most stable one out there and easiest to actually use
– Double water bottle cage holder
– Dedicated rubberized spot for placing your phone, with two USB ports below
– No wires sticking out, tons of expansion ports already usable today
– Usability between riders and super quick and clean (not clunky like some bikes)
– No rubbing anywhere, easily fits me and my awesome calves
– The Dream Drive concept is cool for configurable shifting jumps

Things I really dislike:

– I’m not a fan of the Stages Bike shifter hardware, it’s hard to overstate how good the KICKR Bike shifters are in comparison
– Lack of small screen for gear indicator display is a pretty tough pill to swallow
– ERG mode stability is pretty rough (this is slated to be addressed in firmware)
– It’s not exactly the most sleek bike looks-wise, looks more like a gym bike than a home bike
– While minor, I wish the unit didn’t require batteries. I get that realistically you’ll have to change it only once a year, but still.

You’ll see the same list formatting on all my indoor bike reviews. With that, onto the details of rider setup, and then shifting

Bike & Rider Fit Setup:

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Ok, with everything all built, we’ll get the bike fit to you from a sizing standpoint.  Later on in the post, I talk about multi-user considerations and swapping positions. Given Stages experience in selling more indoor bikes for the gym market than probably anyone else, they’ve pretty much nailed the customization aspects of the bike from a sizing standpoint.

With the SB20, you can adjust the bike in these five ways (plus more if you include loosening the handlebars and changing the orientation there):

1) Saddle height (up/down)
2) Saddle position (forward/back/tilt)
3) Handlebar height (up/down)
4) Handlebar position (forward/back)
5) Seat tilt

In the case of the Stages Bike, you can also adjust crank length too of course, within the four parameters noted earlier. Unlike the KICKR Bike, there’s no need to adjust a step/stand-over height, since it’s designed without a top-tube (so as to maximize sizing for shorter riders).

Here’s a quick gallery of all of those measurement bits.  Like Wahoo and Tacx, Stages also only puts ruler measurements on the right side of the bike (plus the top for the saddle fore/aft). Though in Stages case those measurements are laser-etched into the frame, versus just stickers on the other bikes.

To adjust a given component you’ll either use a rotating knob (saddle/seatpost/front post), or a lever (front handlebars fore/aft). All of them work great, and are infinitely adjustable, compared to the KICKR bike which in some cases locks into certain grooves. Or in the case of the Tacx Bike where the handles stick out at odd angles.

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However, what Stages lacks compared to Wahoo is a sizing/fit guide. Unlike Wahoo’s app which will duplicate our road bike setup using your phones camera, or tell you exactly what sizes to put the bike at based on your inseam/height/etc – Stages mostly just says ‘Shrug – you figure it out’ (just as Tacx does).

Technically, Stages does have a small portion of their web user guide that talks in general about how to take measurements from your outdoor bike and convert them to your indoor bike:

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One of the issues I saw on the Wahoo Bike, and to a lesser extent the Tacx bike, was what I dubbed the ‘thigh gap’ problem. Which was that the seat stay of those bikes were abnormally large, and thus would actually rub against certain people’s thighs (mine, and others).

However, I’m happy to say that the Stages Bike mirrors that of the Wattbike Atom and there’s no thigh-gap issue. This is because of the lack of top-tube frame design. So it’s not even an issue.  To be clear, look at the three other bikes and the top-tube:

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And then look at the measurements for those:

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Now the 40.40mm measurement (basically at your ankles) for the Stages Bike – but again, it’s at your ankles, so it’s a non-issue:

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Next, there’s the crank length. The Stages bike supports 165mm, 170mm, 172.5mm, and 175mm crank arm sizing, via the bear-paw design. You simply put your pedals into whatever crank arm hole you want, and magically it’s the right crank arm length:

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Finally, what about triathletes or time-trialist? The Stages Bike doesn’t include any aerobars or specific aerobar kits. But it uses a standard 31.8mm handlebar, which means most aerobar clip-ons will work just fine. However, in order for most aerobars to work you’ll need to remove the tablet holder. Not a big deal, since they include a front cover plate. It’s plausible with shorty aerobars you can make them fit, but I don’t have a pair handy.

Beyond the aerobar attachment, all other TT/triathlon-type aspects would really fall more under the rest of the FIT section above. Given the flexibility here, I imagine most folks will have no issues finding their right fit here. And, Stages also already offers remote shifters that you can integrate into your aerobars – something that nobody else offers. So that’s a huge deal for triathletes. A set of those is on the way to me as we speak

Finally – what about multi-user scenarios in terms of the software settings?

Stages says that the best option there is to use their Stages Link app, installed on each person’s own smartphone, and then to connect to the bike to set the gearing customizations that you want before starting your session (actually, you can technically set them mid-way through the session too). As soon as the other person’s app connects to the bike it’ll update the settings with those from that person’s app.

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I’d love to see apps like Zwift, FulGaz, etc, be able to send your gearing customizations straight to the bike from your account profile. That way it’s just there for whoever jumps on the bike. Still, it’s a general problem that hasn’t really been solved for the industry yet, but with Zwift looking to build their own bike – it’s something that’ll need to get solved sooner or later.

Overall though, the Stages Bike is super flexible in terms of getting everything fit to your specific needs. I had no problems with my fit setup on it.

Shifting, Braking, and Steering:

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When it comes to shifting on the Stages Bike, I’d put it in the ‘mostly good, but still a work in progress’ category. Meaning that it’s more flexible than the Wattbike Atom, but not anywhere near as nailed as the Wahoo KICKR Bike. Some of that will be tweaked via software, but some pieces are shortcomings in the actual shifters themselves. On the flip-side, the KICKR bike cost like $700 more.

But first, let’s step back just a little bit. The purpose of adjustability to shifting in an indoor bike may not seem obvious at first. But this bike is replacing your outdoor bike, and on that bike you’ve got a specific gearing setup you’re used to. Be it the shifters type (such as Di2), or having a different gearing combination (like a compact crankset). If you’re going to do an app or route with lots of climbing, you’ll want to replicate that compact crankset (or, change into such a crankset).

With the Stages Bike, you’re going to configure this shifting using the Stages Link app. It’s effectively your digital bike shop for what you want your stages virtual drivetrain to look like. I say ‘virtual’, because, well…it’s virtual. But also because it’s effectively infinitely customizable. Nothing physical changes on your bike. It’s just simulating different gearing.

So once you’ve got it all paired up you’ll connect to the bike. The first time you do so you’ll get the option to create your virtual bike. You can create numerous virtual bikes. So this is just your first one. Give it a name to begin, and then choose the type of gearing and buttons:

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When it comes to gearing you’ve essentially got three core options:

Dream: With Dream Drive you can customize the number of total gearing steps, and then how many steps you want the left shifter to ‘increment’ each time you press it. The right shifter will always increment one shift up or down. Don’t worry, I’ll explain it in a second.
Road: With the road bike config, you’ve got a standard 1x and 2x configurations.
MTB: While I saw this option initially, I actually can’t get back to it specifically after the fact, I think it’s just rolled under the generic ‘Custom’ setting.

Once you’ve done that, then for the road and MTB button options you can customize the exact front chainring and rear cassette gearing. If you dive into the Road settings you’ll see options for 1x and 2x (meaning one chainring or two chainrings), and then options for 11 or 12 speed:

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In general, I think Dream Drive is probably where the goods are. With Dream Drive, you’re effectively on a 1X type system. You’ve got a single virtual front chainring, and then up to 50 rear cogs. The key though is that your front gear shifter becomes a super-shifter. So instead of shifting just up/down once (as the rear shifter does), this can shift a customizable number of times. For example, tap the front gear shifter and it shifts by default 3 steps. But you can make that 5 steps or even 10 steps. Here, take look at the default at left (3 steps) – and then a tweaked version at right (5 steps):

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It’s a pretty cool concept, though, like most of these bikes – does take a little bit to get used to. And, I’d argue – really re-enforces the need for a gear shifting display. Which, is why you can connect using the Stages Link app to act as that secondary display:

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This way you can see in real-time what you’re currently in, as well as easily switch gear mid-ride. Now note that as of today, the Stages Bike only accepts one concurrent Bluetooth Smart connection. When it first shipped, it was dual Bluetooth Smart (plus unlimited ANT+), but then they rolled back to a single Bluetooth Smart (and still unlimited ANT+) connections to sort out some issues. However, as of yesterday I tried a new beta firmware update that brings back the dual Bluetooth Smart bits. That allowed me to use my iPhone to connect to the Stages Bike while also using Apple TV to connect to it for Zwift:

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However, we should probably talk about the shifters themselves. Which, are basically just small buttons. On the inside of each handlebar where our thumbs go there are three buttons. Two of which are used by default on each side. The left side will increase/decrease your front chainring (virtually), or, increase/decrease big skips with Dream Drive.

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While the right side will increment the rear cassette (again, virtually). This will go up/down a single increment/gear shift.

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But all this is customizable within the app. So you can scroll down in the app and change these buttons, as well as the remote shifters that connect to them.

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You can assign them to do whatever you want shift-wise:

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In addition, down below on the lower portion of the handlebars there’s two more shifter buttons on each side, sorta wedged under the tape. These are also customizable as you see fit up above.

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Also, as noted earlier there’s further yet aux ports for those remote shifter cables. They’ve shipped over to me, so once I have them in-hand I’ll go ahead and update this post to show how they work. There’s three per side, and you can see that one port on each side is already utilized.

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And yes, those are customizable too:

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You’ll also notice there’s brakes on each side of the handlebar. These brakes don’t stop the in-game avatar in Zwift (or any other app), but will stop the flywheel when held. In fact, if you hold those brakes while trying to pedal, it’ll actually cause your Zwift dude or dudette to go faster. That’s because it spikes your power (since it requires more effort to pedal with the brakes on, just like outside).

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Perhaps some day we’ll get braking in Zwift. Until then, they aren’t super useful.

It’s worth noting that none of the indoor bikes today (including Stages) support the ANT+ Shifting Profile at this time. While not a big deal, it’d be cool if that data was transmitted and then recorded by apps or bike computers, just like it is on a real bike. This really shouldn’t be that hard and I’ve yet to think (or hear of) any technical blocker here. After all, most head unit companies already support it today.

And what about steering? Well, physically it’s there – but there’s nothing hooked up yet software-wise. Like other bikes on the market, the Stages Bike has extra buttons, one per side below your normal shifters. These were ostensibly put there for when Zwift wanted to enable steering/veering. To date, that hasn’t happened.

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Finally you may have noticed that the Stages Bike actually has splayed out bars by default. This means that the handlebars taper outwards, akin to gravel bike bars.

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Just a minor thing I figured I’d mention somewhere.

App Compatibility:

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The Stage Bike (SB2) follows all of the industry norms as you’d expect from most trainers/smart bikes these days.  As you probably know, apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, SufferFest, Rouvy, FulGaz, Kinomap, and many more all support most of these industry standards, making it easy to use whatever app you’d like.  If trainers or apps don’t support these standards, then it makes it far more difficult for you as the end user.

The Stages Bike transmits data on both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart as well, allowing interactive resistance control across both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart.  By applying resistance control, apps can simulate climbs as well as set specific wattage targets.

To be specific, the Stages Bike supports the following protocol transmission standards:

ANT+ FE-C (Trainer Control): This is for controlling the trainer via ANT+ from apps and head units. Read tons about it here. Stages also includes cadence and speed data here.
ANT+ Power Meter Profile: This broadcasts as a standard ANT+ power meter, with cadence data as well as left/right power balance data measure independently including also torque efficiency and pedal smoothness. This does not include speed data.
Bluetooth Smart FTMS (Trainer Control): This allows apps to control the Stages Bike over Bluetooth Smart (with cadence/power/speed data)
Bluetooth Smart Power Meter Profile: This broadcasts as a standard BLE power meter with cadence

Between all these standards you can basically connect to anything and everything you’d ever want to. Be it a bike computer or watch, or an app – it’ll be supported. This is actually notable because the Wahoo KICKR Bike & Tacx Bike don’t actually do proper Bluetooth Smart FTMS. Practically speaking, it doesn’t matter a ton since most apps support their proprietary variants. What is notable though is that the Wahoo KICKR Bike *still* doesn’t support broadcasting out power via ANT+ or Bluetooth independently. That’s notable for Garmin & Polar users that want to connect to their bikes to record training load on their watches or bike computers. Whereas the Stages Bike does support that just fine (and how I recorded all of my data here).

The Stages Bike also bakes in the cadence data (like everyone else). This is handy if you’re connecting to Zwift on an Apple TV, due to Apple TV’s two concurrent Bluetooth Smart sensor limitation (plus the Apple TV remote).  While you can use the Zwift mobile companion app for additional sensors, I find that can be sometimes a bit flaky.

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It’s these same standards that also allow you to connect via head units too. For example the Stages Dash L50/M50, Hammerhead Karoo, Wahoo units, as well as Garmin Edge series support ANT+ FE-C for trainer control, so you can re-ride outdoor rides straight from your bike head unit to your trainer. For example, for my accuracy testing section, I recorded the data on a Garmin Edge 830 & 1030 Plus, as well as the trainer apps.  From there I’m able to save the file and upload it to whatever platform I like.

In addition to baseline power and cadence, the Stages Bike also includes both left/right balance as well, which you can see on head units as well as in recorded data files.

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Not only that, but it also transmits torque effectiveness and pedal smoothness…which, you’ll probably never use.

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For me, in my testing, I used Zwift and TrainerRoad as my two main apps (which are the two main apps I use personally). In the case of Zwift, I used it in regular riding mode (non-workout mode, aka SIM mode), whereas in the case of TrainerRoad I used it in a structured workout mode. I dig into the nuances of these both within the power accuracy section.

Here’s an example of Zwift paired on an Apple TV, you can see it shows the sensors as a controllable trainer, a regular power meter, and a cadence sensor:

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I had no issues riding the Stages Bike in Zwift on numerous occasions – everything worked as expected, including gradient responsiveness. More on accuracy in the next section:

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And here paired up in TrainerRoad using Bluetooth Smart on an iPad:

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When it comes to calibration of the Stages Bike, that’s actually calibrating the two crank arm power meter sensors (just like real Stages crank arm power meters…cause they are). To do that you’ll connect to the bike via the app and then go to calibrate the bike, which asks you to place the crank arms vertically (you can use the brakes if you need to stop the crank arms from rotating).

In fact, you’ll actually see the two individual Stages power meters listed here, complete with their own firmware (which means that yes…you have to update the firmware on three different components – something I think Stages should try and sort out in the background when you update the main bike firmware).

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Note that you can’t calibrate the bike from within apps. For example, within TrainerRoad when you go into the settings, there is no option to trigger a calibration for the Bluetooth Smart FTMS connection of the bike. That’s fine – it’s something you won’t likely have to do often in my experience (Stages already does temp compensation in their units – and that’s cross-checked with the secondary flywheel power meter sensor).

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I haven’t seen any difference in calibrating versus not calibrating on a weekly basis. To give a solid spoiler on accuracy, it’s been spot-on no matter whether I calibrate the bike or not. But wait – don’t skip the next section, there’s some important tidbits on ERG mode!

Power Accuracy Analysis:

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As usual, I put the bike up against a number of power meters to see how well it handled everything from resistance control accuracy, to speed of change, to any other weird quirks along the way. In the case of indoor bikes it’s a bit more tricky to have 2-3 other power meters, since you typically can’t swap out the crankset or rear hubs. So you have to rely upon other power meter pedals.

No problem, I’ve got plenty of those. I’ve had the bike set up with two main configs over the past month:

Config 1: With Favero Assioma Duo pedals
Config 2:  With Garmin Vector 3 pedals

Within this timeframe I’ve also seen multiple firmware versions, with most of the data below from either the most recent or version prior to it. Today’s ride was also made with a beta firmware version, though there’s no changes in that related to accuracy (it’s related to re-instating dual Bluetooth Smart connections).

We’re going to start this parade with today’s ride actually, a Zwift ride. This ride is on my favorite trainer and smart bike testing course: Titan’s Grove. This route on Zwift starts off on the flats, which is good for sprint testing and high-flywheel testing, then it loops up into the hills and mountains for some solid rollers. These rollers are tricky for many trainers/bikes with their constantly shifting intensities.

In any case, here’s how it compared against the Favero Assioma pedals:

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As you can see, it’s pretty darn close. The maroon color is the pedals, with the blue as Stages bike. In general, I see slightly more variability with respect to swings of power from the Stages Bike than the Favero Assioma pedals. I’m not sure if that’s simply because Favero smooths slightly more (something I’ve shown in other reviews). In the case of a SIM mode ride in Zwift, it’s largely a non-event (more on ERG mode in a moment).

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Even looking at sprints – for example this almost 1,000w sprint, both units peak within 1w – which is pretty darn crazy alignment at this point. Keep in mind the measurement of the Stages Bike is at the crank arms, not somewhere in the drivetrain like most of the other bikes. Said differently – that’s crazy impressive closeness as there’s virtually no power transfer loss between the pedal and crank arm.

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In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a result so close between two units at such a high power level. Usually by the time you clear 700w or so you’ll see more divergence in the max peak-power simply due to timing and recording rates. So part of this is dumb luck, but part of this is just being damn close (physically and in accuracy).

To illustrate the dumb luck aspect, here’s another half-hearted sprint a short bit later. In this case the timing and responsiveness isn’t quite perfectly aligned. The Stages Bike sees it first, and then the Assioma about a second or so later:

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There’s virtually no practical difference in those though from a riding standpoint.

Next, we’ll shift to another Zwift ride – this one from last week on the current production firmware. This ride was supposed to be a group ride, but apparently I mostly missed the group lead-out. So, I was in some groups and sometimes by myself – just chugging along. Here’s that data:

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Now on the above chart, for fun, I left two different recordings of the Stages Bike. One via the Stages Bluetooth Smart FTMS connection, and one via the Stages power crank-arm connection via ANT+. Point being they mirror each other. But that’s not always the case with trainers/bikes, hence why I sometimes poke at it. For the purposes of simplicity, let’s remove the duplicate one:

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Well, that’s pretty crispy. I mean, how much crispier do you want?

I mean, sure, you see slight divergences of a couple of watts here and there. That’s pretty much expected with any power meter comparison. This is really really really good.

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There are however in this workout a few moments where one of the two units floats a bit. I don’t though have any way of knowing whether this was the Favero Assioma pedals floating down, or the Stages Bike floating up. There’s literally no way to know.

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One could look at the left/right balance and take a guess. For example, on that same section above, if I look at the comparative left/right balance split, the Stages Bike on the left-side appears to rise up slightly. Is that an incorrect reading from Stages, or an incorrect lack of reading from Favero? I simply don’t know. And there’s no other way to install any other power meters on the bike at the same time to find out.

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Whoever’s fault it was, it’s gone a couple of minutes later:

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Oh, and just to mention cadence accuracy somewhere, I think this graph explains it all. They all look just like this:

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Next, let’s change from some SIM mode workouts to some ERG mode workouts. This is where we see a significant change in how the Stages Bike works. And unfortunately, my least favorite part of it. There’s really two parts to this. The first piece is how stable the bike is, and how responsive the bike is. In other words, if TrainerRoad tells it to set the wattage to 300w (after being at 150w), how long does it take to get to 300w? And then, how well does it hold 300?

Well, in my case I’ve been doing a lot of TrainerRoad workouts the last month, and unequivocally the answer is: It’s not a smooth operator.

It’ll change resistance pretty quickly – basically the same as others. That’s fine. But what’s not fine is just how wobbly it is at a given level. Here’s an example of a workout I was super smooth on, and yet look at how wobbly the power output is:

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The output will typically be +/- 20-25w from my set-point. So if I’ve got a target power of 313w, it’ll range anywhere between ~285w and 335w. Sometimes upwards of 350w+. It’s all over the place. Here’s another workout example:

IMG_1695

Now, the total average power for that set is indeed 300w. But it’s less than ideal to be so variable, because my workout called for 300w which is a specific zone. Not spikes to 330w. Now in talking to Stages, they say part of the trouble is the gigantic Gouda cheese flywheel they have up there, which is sorta like wrestling a bull. But part of it is also software smoothing. While I typically argue against software smoothing, I think in this rare case they need to apply a little bit more so that it’s at least usable to figure out what power levels I hit.

So that first piece covers responsiveness and stability – but what about accuracy in ERG mode?

Let’s look at last Thursday’s 90-minute TrainerRoad session first:

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Ok, so at a high level with a 5-second smoothing applied (ya kinda have to with the Stages Bike), it looks pretty similar. Let’s dig into an interval:

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Again, we have to separate target power stability, from actual power accuracy. From an accuracy standpoint, the Stages Bike and Favero pedals are incredibly close at almost all times – usually a couple of watts apart. Every once in a while one of them floats away slightly (upwards of 5-10w on 300w), but then corrects itself. I’ve got no way to know which is the incorrect unit in those situations.

There are two dropouts on the Stages connection, and two dropouts on the Favero connection (to the Edge units). I double-checked the Stages duplicate recording I had on TrainerRoad, and there were no dropouts there. So, looks to be just a random transient connection issue to that specific bike computer.

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Oh, and cadence too – for fun:

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In any event, from a power accuracy standpoint, that 90-minute workout looks solidly similar.

Let’s take a look at another TrainerRoad workout. This one is a much more chillax easy week workout, where the power slowly goes up and slowly goes down. But it shows super-well the problem I have with ERG mode currently You can’t even tell/see the stated power chunks (where the blue section changes) if you look at the yellow pieces. It’s not easy to see that at a glance.

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Here’s the power accuracy data:

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This is one of the ones where the power between the two actually was further apart at first glance. It’s darn-near impossible to tell based on the above chart, which just looks like a giant fuzzy mess of colors.

But, if I graph the mean-max chart, then you see it more clearly:

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However, mind you that where those two dots are is *ONLY A 3-watt difference* – technically in-spec.

So this is an example where the averages work out, even despite the wobble. But of course, averaging is the lowest common denominator in this situation.

So ultimately, this gets us to the wrap-up here. Having done countless other sessions like this over my time period with it, everything can basically be boiled down to:

A) Power accuracy appears to be identical to the well regarded Favero Assioma power meter pedals – spot on there
B) ERG more stability in terms of maintaining the target power, needs a lot of work

At present, the ERG mode target power stability/smoothness is even more volatile than the Tacx Bike was when it launched last year (and I gave them a hard time too). It’s roughly in the same ballpark as the instability of the Wahoo KICKR Bike at launch in terms of stability.

Stages said that they’re working on the stability/smoothing aspects already (which should just be a software fix), and so hopefully we’ll see that simmer down a bit going forward.

Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Indoor Smart Bike Comparisons:

While I’ve previously done an Indoor Smart Bike Shootout with the Wahoo Bike, Tacx Bike, and Wattbike Atom – that did not include the Stages bike, since the Stages Bike was about 8 months late to the party. Now that it’s here I’ll probably revisit that with the Wattbike Atom V2 (which hopefully I’ll have later this week or next). Until then, you can hit up that previous post here – and then simply cross-reference it with this post. Spoiler: Nothing has changed since I published that previous post. Seriously, nothing.

In any case, here’s a blow by blow spec comparison between them – complete with some new data fields I’ve added into the trainer database to account for indoor bikes. I won’t add the new Wattbike Atom V2 to the chart until I get it in-house – though functionally speaking the only aspect that changes there is internals around the drive system/flywheel.

Function/FeatureStages Bike (SB20)Wattbike Atom V1Tacx NEO Bike SmartWahoo KICKR Bike
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated July 3rd, 2020 @ 8:21 amNew Window Expand table for more results
Price for trainer$2899$2,599$3,199$3,499
Availability regionsGlobalUK/South Africa/Australia/Scandinavia/USAGlobalLimited Initially
Power cord requiredYesYesNoYes
Flywheel weight50lbs9.28KG/20.4lbsSimulated/Virtual 125KG13bs/5.9kgs
Includes motor to drive speed (simulate downhill)No (but kinda)NoYesYes
Maximum wattage capability3,000w2,000w2,200w @ 40KPH2,200w @ 40KPH
Maximum simulated hill incline25%25%20% (and -15% downhill)
Measures/Estimates Left/Right PowerYes (actually measured independently)YesYesNo
Can rise/lower bike or portion thereofNoNoNoYes
Can directionally steer trainer (left/right)Yes (with compatible apps)NoYES (WITH COMPATIBLE APPS)Yes (with compatible apps)

Oh, and before you ask why I haven’t included some products into the above – here’s the quick and dirty answers:

Peloton Bike: It’s not a ‘smart’ bike in the sense of the above, it doesn’t allow you to set a specific power level (it does tell you the current power level). But nonetheless, look for my review very shortly! It’s actually written in text, but I’m waiting on a calibration kit from Peloton to see if I can get things just a bit closer accuracy-wise.

SRM Bike: I just don’t see this as a competitor in this space. At $5,000, it’s mostly for various research purposes and is designed in that realm.

True Kinetix Bike: I’ve had this bike for a bit, then returned it while they sorted out technical issues. It’s currently only shipping mostly in the Netherlands, so that’s probably less appealing from a widespread standpoint.

VirtuPro: At present this bike isn’t compatible with any 3rd party apps, and in nearly a year since I last chatted with them, I haven’t seen any concrete evidence that’s changed.

Again, I’m more than happy to add products into the database. In general, my rule of thumb is I want hands-on time (or butts-on in this case), and I want some realistic level of clarity on delivery time frames.

Summary:

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The Stages Bike is a solid entrant into the smart bikes category. No, really, it’s physically very solid. It’s the tank of bikes compared to competitors. You’ll be pedaling this well into the next century. But, it’s also a good bike for working with apps today. It supports all the right protocols to work with every app or device on the market via ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart. And perhaps just as important, given its lineage with Stages existing indoor business – the physical aspects of the bike are unlikely to see as much physical teething pains as both Tacx and Wahoo saw in their bike launches during the early phases.

Almost all of the quirks or competitive shortfalls of the Stages Bike lie in software, mostly in the gear shifting realm. For example, it lacks SRAM shifting configuration, though Stages says that’ll come within the month. It also lacks some of the setup/fit software bits that Wahoo has nailed (though, I’d easily argue it has more physical flexibility in terms of actually getting the right fit for more riders). As for the lack of gear display, I can only hope that Zwift comes through and implements the gear shifting support that’s already available for the Wattbike Atom over Bluetooth Smart. Like with the Wattbike, it’d make a world of difference. Though at least with Stages you can still display it on your phone concurrently.

Ultimately, price is probably the largest factor for most when choosing a smart bike. One can’t pretend to operate in a vacuum when writing a review on that factor. But I think Stages gets pretty close to finding the right balance here for price versus competitive functionality. It’s $600 cheaper than a KICKR Bike, and to me that feels roughly about right in terms of trade-offs. I’d absolutely love to see Stages come out with a different/optional handlebar setup that feels like shifting a real bike from a levers standpoint. But, I’ve said that about all the smart bikes too. It’s a huge differentiator. Until then, their tablet/phone/power situation is easily the best out there. Super functional and stable. Love it.

If you’re looking at a Stages Bike, you won’t go wrong with hardware as it is today. Sure, the software needs to mature a tiny bit more to really sing (let’s be honest, so does everyone’s) – but I don’t think it’s a blocker for day to day usage with any apps or features. And, if there’s one bike out of all of them that I’d trust hardware-wise to be reliable, it’s this one.

With that – thanks for reading!

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Stages Bike (SB20)

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Stages Bike (SB20)

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Thanks for reading!

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Garmin Edge 1030 Plus In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/06/garmin-edge-1030-plus-in-depth-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/06/garmin-edge-1030-plus-in-depth-review.html#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2020 11:00:00 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=113430 Read More Here ]]> Garmin-Edge1030Plus-Review

Like with most Garmin products that tack on a ‘Plus’ designator, the changes from the Edge 1030 to the Edge 1030 Plus aren’t earth-shattering. In fact, the Edge 1030 received overwhelmingly more changes last summer when it got a massive firmware update sweep of features from the then new Edge 530 & Edge 830. Still, this unit does have some minor new features that fill in some of the cracks. And ultimately, if you were looking to get an Edge 1030, then just like with a new model year Apple product, you’ll take the minor changes over not.

Still, the Edge 1030 Plus changes aren’t throwaway either. There’s now a streamlined setup process that’ll migrate your old Edge settings and sensors (even from an Edge 1000), plus you’ve now (finally) got free global detailed maps for anywhere you go (except Asia). And the LiveTrack now will actually show your route to the friends/family you share it with. Plus lots of minor changes like re-routing quick-select options when you go off-course, and increased storage up to 32GB. And finally, new daily suggested structured workouts based on your training load.

All of which you can get the full details on in one super efficient video by hitting play below:

I’ve been using the Edge 1030 Plus for all my rides since last month, and I’ve got a pretty good handle on how exactly it works and whether these changes are worth the extra cash for an upgrade from an older Garmin (the price remains the same as the Edge 1030 at $599USD). As usual, this media loaner Edge 1030 Plus will go back to Garmin once I wrap up here with it, and then I’ll go out and get my own. If you found this review useful, simply hit up the links at the bottom of the page. Or, become a DCR Supporter (also, at the bottom).

With that, let’s dive into it!

What’s new:

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Now, I’m going to actually split this list in two. Mostly because it’s plausible (likely in fact), that someone looking at an older Edge 1030 review (even mine), might assume that a bunch of the features of the Edge 1030 Plus aren’t on the base Edge 1030. In fact, they are. They were just added last summer, nearly two years after the Edge 1030 came out.

So, this first list is the differences compared to a fully updated Edge 1030 unit today. In other words, if you just compared an up to date Edge 1030 to the new Edge 1030 Plus, what’s different:

– Now black instead of white: Just like the Bontrager Edge 1030 was, except this says Garmin instead of Bontrager
– *New setup routine: Sensors from your older Garmin unit are automatically imported for you on first use
– *New setup routine: Ride profiles and data fields from your older Garmin unit are automatically imported for you
– Now includes detailed maps for *ANYWHERE* you travel to (all regions…except Asia), free, inclusive of Topo data.
– Now includes Trailforks app pre-loaded (with full Trailforks data sets included)
– Now includes ForkSight, previous Edge 1030 update didn’t include this specifically
– New daily on-device workout suggestions based on training load
– New pause-route option (when you go freestyle off a course)
– New off-course re-route selection options
– *LiveTrack will now show the course/route that you’re on to your friends/family (whoever you’ve shared the route to)
– Onboard Storage size has been increased from 16GB to 32GB
– MicroSD card expansion slot has been removed (since you’ve got tons of on-board storage space)
– Beeper/Chirper an eff-ton louder (and a bit different)
– Up to 48 hours of GPS-on run time in a basic configuration, 36 in mid, and 24-hours in high navigation/sensor configuration
– New display/touchscreen to match that of the technology used on the Edge 830
– New Sony GPS Chipset (to match most other Garmin devices since 2019)

*These features will come to the existing Edge 1030, Edge 530, and Edge 830 later this year in Q4.

Now everything else you know about the Edge 1030 remains the same. The above are the only differences I’ve been able to find (or were told about).

As for the setup routine transfer bits, that’s actually pretty interesting. I’ll dig into it below, but in short, recent firmware updates for virtually every mid-range or higher Garmin Edge unit made in the last 6 years supports this. Specifically the Edge 1000, 1030, 520, 520 Plus, 530, 820, and 830.

Next though, we’ve got what is roughly the differences since release of the Edge 1030. This is somewhat of a throw-away list for users familiar with these products, but if you’re again coming from older reviews, it’s useful to understand what was added to the Edge 1030 from the Edge 530/830 series last year (via free firmware updates):

– Added ClimbPro: Automatically shows how much distance/elevation remains for each climb on route
– Added Mountain Bike Metrics: Shows Grit, Flow, and Jump details on both unit and Garmin Connect
– Added Heat Acclimation: Will automatically take into account heat/humidity for performance/recovery metrics
– Added Altitude Acclimation: Will automatically take into account (high) elevation for performance/recovery metrics
– Added Training Plan API support: This includes a redesigned structured workout execution page
– Added Courses API Support: This allows course/route downloads automatically from partners like Strava & Komoot
– Added Hydration/Nutrition Smart Alerts: When using a course/route, it’ll automatically figure out how much water/calories you should be taking
– Added Hydration/Nutrition Tracking: It allows you to record this data in ride summary screens and log it on Garmin Connect
– Added Performance Power Curve: This shows you your mean maximal power over different durations/time frames (like many training sites)
– Added Bike Alarm Feature: Used for cafes/bathroom stops, emits loud alarm if bike is moved
– Added ‘Find my Edge’ feature: Automatically record exact GPS location on your phone if Edge is disconnected (in case unit pops off)
– Added Training Plan Weather/Gear Tips: Basically tells you to HTFU when it’s cold out

Again, nothing on that list there is new to the Edge 1030 Plus. It’s simply making it clear that all those features that you might see marketed as Edge 1030 Plus features are also there on the Edge 1030 already today.

Ok, with that sweeping overview done, let’s dive into how to use it.

The Basics:

Edge1030Plus-Basics

In general I tend to skip over some of the setup aspects of devices these days since it’s trivial and repetitive (assuming no issues). But with the Edge 1030 Plus it’s notable because it’s a major shift for Garmin away from the past. It’s also an area that historically Wahoo has done SO MUCH better than Garmin (and a key thing people cite as to why they switched to a Wahoo unit over a Garmin).

So this time around I’m gonna talk about it, again, cause it’s finally different. Which isn’t to say its perfect, but it’s an improvement.  With the Edge 1030 Plus the setup process will do two key things:

A) It’ll import all your old screens/data field configuration from past Garmin Edge devices
B) It’ll import all your paired sensors automatically

How it does this is actually pretty interesting. With the first one, Garmin has released a firmware update for the following devices (Edge 520, Edge 520 Plus, Edge 530, Edge 820 Edge 830, Edge 1000, Edge 1030, Bontrager Edge 1030) quietly over the last month that enables those devices to be compatible with the Edge 1030 Plus setup process. So after you order your Edge 1030 Plus, go and update your older bike computer first and do a ride (even if just a few seconds) so that it’ll sync that data up.

As for sensors, those too are already happening in the background. Garmin will automatically pull in any paired sensors from the last 365 days of uploads to Garmin Connect – up to the maximum number of sensors the Edge 1030 Plus supports (30 total).

Here’s how this all looks in the real-world. First, it’ll pull in all your sensors found on Garmin Connect in the last 365 days.

DSC_6021

In my case with all the device testing I do, that means it punches itself in the #$#@. But after it’s done doing that, it does indeed pull down the most recent 30 sensors paired. For normal humans, that’ll more than cover your situations. Also, it’ll even include whatever you named those sensors too (for example my PowerTap P2 pedals are named ‘P2’, and my second set of PowerTap pedals on the Peloton bike are named ‘54715p3’, because when I named them many months ago one random night – that made sense in my head.

Lucky, you don’t see the Favero Assioma pedals in this list, because those are literally named ‘Ass pedals’, since that’s the shortest thing to type on this display.

DSC_6028

This is a one-time pull, so if you update the sensor’s names on other bike computers it won’t pull them in here the next time. Again, that’s fine for 99.99% of people.

Next, as you go through the setup process it’ll ask you if you want to copy in your activity profiles:

DSC_6024

So you’ll see my main activity profile is named as such immediately after setup:

DSC_6027

Now, with that all set let’s take a step back on the basics. The Edge 1030 Plus is a touch-screen driven unit with three dedicated buttons. One on the side for power, and then two at the bottom for stop/start, and lap.

GarminEdge1030Plus-Buttons

The touchscreen is improved over the existing Edge 1030, and is now using the same touchscreen tech as the Edge 830 (which, some 14 months later people seem pretty darn happy with). However, just to demonstrate this, I took it out in the rain…and you can see the footage of that in the video at the start of this post.

P1011013

On the bottom, you’ll find the same old tired micro-USB port. No USB-C here folks. I’m convinced they must ban shipments of USB-C ports to Kansas or something.

Garmin-Edge-1030Plus-USB-Port-BOO

On the main dashboard of the touchscreen are the main features. To start a ride you’d tap the big bike icon. Right now you see ‘DCR Road’, which indicates that’s the activity profile I’ve named. These profiles let you group settings together (such as data fields or how the map looks, hydration/nutrition settings, and a gazillion other features).

Garmin-Edge-1030Plus-DashBoard

You can create numerous activity profiles called anything you want with color coding:

Garmin-Edge1030-Plus-Activity-Profiles

Inside each activity profile you can make those aforementioned settings. Here’s a small survey of those settings:

Speaking of settings, there’s more general settings as well. These control things like sensors, safety features such as crash detection/notification, battery save modes, and even recording rates or HRV recording. It’s mostly dizzying what’s in here. Again, another gallery of various settings.

Since we’re talking settings and sensors, I’ll briefly dive into that. The Edge 1030 Plus supports pretty much every ANT+ & Bluetooth Sensor type in the fitness world for cycling, specifically the following:

ANT+ Cadence only sensors
ANT+ Edge Remote
ANT+ eBike
ANT+ Heart Rate
ANT Garmin inReach Devices (satellite messenger/communicator)
ANT+ Bike Lighting Control
ANT+ Power Meters
ANT+ Radar
ANT+ Gear Shifting (SRAM RED eTAP, Campagnolo EPS)
ANT Shimano DI2
ANT+ Speed/Cadence combo sensors
ANT+ Speed only sensors
ANT+ Varia Vision (aka remote displays)
ANT VIRB Action Cam
Bluetooth Smart Cadence only sensors
Bluetooth Smart Heart Rate
Bluetooth Smart Power Meters
Bluetooth Smart Speed/Cadence Combo
Bluetooth Smart Speed-only sensors

Oh, and then you’ve got 3rd party pieces like Muscle Oxygen sensor support via Connect IQ apps as well (for Moxy, and now discontinued BSX devices).  Plus other 3rd parties have done other private-ANT implementations via Connect IQ too. Same goes for aerodynamic sensors too.

You can pair and store up to 30 sensors. When you activate the sensor on your bike (usually by just spinning the crank or wheel), it’ll wake up the sensor and automatically connect to it. This sensor pool concept has been around many years and works pretty well, especially when you have multiple bikes.

With Garmin now owning Tacx, it also means they’ve ramped up their trainer control interfaces. Nothing here dramatic, and nothing specific to the Edge 1030 Plus, but we’ve seen Garmin spend much of this winter making minor iterations in each new Edge 530/830/1030 Plus firmware version to better integrate trainers. And in fact, virtually all of these changes are applicable for every model of trainer, not limited to Tacx ones (by doing so via ANT+ FE-C trainer control protocol).

Garmin-Edge1030-Plus-TrainerControl

For example, you can now make indoor profiles not start LiveTrack automatically (or not start the lights automatically), or configure the trainer to ride a specific grade (instead of just a given wattage). And then there’s still the abilities to re-ride any route you’ve already ridden, or any route downloaded to the unit that has elevation data in it.

Garmin-Edge1030Plus-TrainerControl-Incline

I’ll touch more on structured training later in this review though. Most of the time you’re probably gonna be riding outdoors with it. To do that, you’ll tap the bicycle icon, which takes you to the data fields you’ve configured. Before you do that though, up at the top you can see your current GPS status, sensor status, phone status, and whether or not you graduated high school on the honor roll.

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Once in the data screens, you can simply press the start button to begin your ride:

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You’ll swipe left and right to change your data screens. You can also long-hold a given data field to swap it out for something else if you want.

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The lower left button is your lap button, while the lower right will pause your ride:

Garmin-Edge1030Plus-Lap-Button

From a screen visibility standpoint,I’ve had zero issues seeing the screen. Nor have I seen any downstream impacts/issues with using the newer Edge 830 display technology (nor for that matter have I had any issues with my Edge 830’s display in the last 14 months or so).

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Once you’re done with your ride it’ll sync via WiFi or Bluetooth Smart automatically to your phone or home WiFi network. Or, if you plug in your Garmin Edge 1030 Plus it’ll sync via USB with Garmin Express. Or, you can simply grab the completed .FIT file off of it like a USB hard drive. Once that’s done it’ll sync that ride to Garmin Connect and then onwards to platforms like Strava, TrainingPeaks, and more. The world is your oyster there (as long as that oyster isn’t Dropbox, sadly).

On the Garmin Connect Mobile app you can look more deeply at your ride and sensor data:

Same goes for online at Garmin Connect web too:

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None of this has changed from any past Garmin device – it all works the same here.

With that, we’ve covered the basics of the Edge 1030 Plus. I’ve got separate sections for Mapping/Navigation, and another for the structured training aspects. Of course, there are so many features on the Edge 1030 Plus it’s impossible to write about them all without publishing an entire book (unless you consider this 10,000+ word review a book). So invariably there’s some aspect of the unit I didn’t cover here. I try and test and use the devices just like any other person and that includes the features I use personally. And just like you, I probably won’t use every feature combination personally (nobody could, there’s hundreds, if not thousands, of combinations).

But I think the features I do use are most indicative of what most folks use. So, let’s talk mapping.

Mapping & Navigation:

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For the most part, the mapping and navigation on the Edge 1030 Plus hasn’t substantially changed. Instead, the changes are more incremental, though – one is a massive new ‘benefit’ – the inclusion of all maps globally (except Asia). When you buy an Edge 1030 Plus you’ll get on the device itself a ‘pair’, of two regions pre-loaded with detailed TopoActive maps. Here’s the listing of SKU’s and pairings:

North America SKU: Includes North America and European maps

Europe SKU:
Includes North America and European / Africa maps

Australia/New Zealand SKU:
Includes Australia / New Zealand and European / Africa maps

South America SKU:
Includes North America and South American maps.

Asia: Now this is a tough nut. Folks from regions OUTSIDE of Asia will not get Asian maps. My assumption is this is due to the character sets loaded, but I’ve asked Garmin for a technical explanation of why this will. Will update when I hear back.

This by itself is a huge deal in the Garmin world. Up until now you only got maps for the region you bought it in. For anything else you had to use 3rd party maps (and you still can if you want). However, those maps lacked the underlying heatmap (aka Trendline Popularity routing) data that’s so useful when you’re out and about and want a faster/better/different route. So the fact that you now get multiple regions pre-loaded is big.

But what’s even bigger is Garmin is finally joining all of their rivals in allowing you to download maps for any region out there. To do that you’ll use a computer (Mac or PC) and the Garmin Express app, which shows you the regions you want. Remember the Edge 1030 Plus got expanded storage, now 32GB instead of 16GB. In general, regions tends to be about 7-9GB.

Here’s what my North America one shows (in this case, Africa falls under the Europe mapset), when I go to the new ‘Manage Maps’ option in Garmin Express:

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Note that there isn’t a WiFi-driven option (like with Wahoo, Hammerhead, and Sigma). I’d love to see them offer that eventually. There’s pros and cons to both methods. For example, the WiFi one is great when you’re at home on a WiFi network that doesn’t have an ‘I Accept’ type page. However, that approach entirely breaks if you’re at a hotel, Starbucks, etc, where the bike computer can’t press the “I Accept” button. So in this case as long as you had a computer with you that could connect to WiFi, then you’re golden. Or just remember to add the regions ahead of time.

When it comes to the Edge 1030 Plus, you’ve got a few ways you can route:

– Load a course from a platform like Strava Routes, Komoot, RideWithGPS, or others
– Create a course on Garmin Connect (web or smartphone)
– Enter an address/location/point of interest on the Edge 1030 Plus itself
– Re-ride a past activity as a course on the Edge 1030 Plus
– Wave it around in the sky and hope it gets you somewhere
– Have it generate a ‘Round-Trip Course’ on the fly with a given distance/preferred direction
– Route to a saved location (such as your home/work/etc…)
– Browse the map and navigate to that location
– Leverage TrailForks for mountain bike trails (on-device)
– Manually load a GPX/TCX/FIT file course onto the Edge 1030 Plus
– Route ‘Back to start’ mid-ride

Seriously, there’s so many ways to ride a route/course it’s kinda nuts. And frankly, there’s even variants of the above.

Garmin-Edge1030-Plus-Routing-Options

It used to be that the main thing the Edge 10xx series devices had over lesser devices was being able to pick an address/POI/etc and route directly to it on the Edge. However, these days the Edge 830 can do that, and the Edge 530 can do aspects of that too. Instead, for the most part what you’re paying for with the Edge 10xx series is a larger screen.

In my case, I predominantly use Strava Routes for all my routes, though I’ve done a few recent ones with Komoot. One thing to be aware of with Garmin Routes is that *ONLY* Strava routes using the new routing API will include Strava Segments. So, if you use a Komoot route, you won’t get any Strava Live Segments on your Garmin during the ride (they’ll show up afterwards when you upload the ride). This sucks for people that really like other non-Strava mapping platforms but still like Strava Live Segments.

I wrote an entire post just a few weeks ago on how that all works, so I won’t re-hash it. But in short, once you create a route on Strava and then favorite it, it’ll automatically show up on your Edge 1030 Plus as soon as it syncs (via WiFi, Bluetooth, or USB). It won’t pull down previously starred routes though, so you’ll need to unstar and start them to get them to sync to a newly setup Edge 1030 Plus.

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Though, there still isn’t any easy/obvious way to tell an already-on Edge to simply grab the latest routes from those platforms (like there is on the Wahoo units). In any case…from there you’ll tap Navigation > Courses > Saved Courses, and choose the course you want:

Garmin-Edge-1030Plus-Select-Course

At this point you can view summary information about the course, as well as the map, elevation data, and even tweak the color of the line.

Garmin-Edge1030-Plus-Course-Options Garmin-Edge-1030-Plus-MapView

Note that depending on how big the course is, it won’t show the high detail map until you zoom in a bit, which is kinda weird.

Obviously, being in the city below with lots of canals, it’s kinda hard to see the blue line of the route.

Garmin-Edge-1030Plus-MapViewDetailed

You’ll go ahead and tap the ride button, which will start calculating the route. It won’t actually start your timer yet (but will remind you). Now the calculation is something that Garmin says they’ve significantly improved here, via increasing the processor hardware. Specifically they said it should be in line with the Edge 830 now and significantly faster than the original Edge 1030. It does seem that way in some places, but not others – notably, not in calculating routes though for me, which still takes a long-ass time (like, many minutes).

Garmin says a firmware update that the city-aspect with the extreme density of bike routes in Amsterdam is slowing things down. However, most places won’t see that level of density.

Now, it’s worthwhile noting that you don’t have to wait for it to finish ‘calculating’ the route. You can press start almost immediately and it’ll still give you routing details immediately. It’ll just finish the rest of the course in the background. I tried that on a few routes and it did it just fine.

Garmin-Edge-1030Plus-Calculating

While you’re riding you’ll get turn by turn directions as you approach a given turn. So you can stay on your normal data fields/pages, and then when you near a turn, it’ll chirp and show you this page – counting down till the turn. Here’s three different looks at that.

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After the turn, it’ll go back to your regular data fields. You can also simply keep the map page up the entire time if you want as well:

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Now if you go off-course it’ll warn you within usually about 3-5 seconds depending on your speed. However, this is where one of the changes is on the Edge 1030 Plus – the new re-routing and pause navigation options. Once you go off-course, you’ll get three new ‘Re-routing’ options:

A) Re-join where you left the course
B) Skip ahead to the next logical point to re-join course
C) Cut across the course to somewhere way downstream

How each of these reacts will depend entirely on your course and where you are. For example, on my ride this morning (which was a wonky lollipop route), I made a purposeful route diversion in the first 60 seconds. The three options thus were quite drastically different, with the rejoin/skip being spot-on as expected, but the ‘Cut Across’ option basically said ‘Let’s call it a day and go home’. And you can’t really fault Garmin here, it’s doing exactly what it says – cut the course (useful on a much longer course when you just need to get home).

Here’s those three screens from today’s ride:

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In addition, the new pause navigation option is handy when you might specifically go off-route to a coffee shop and don’t want to be constantly beeped about it. Or, recently I used it when I created a course that led me to a track where I was doing loops for a while. I didn’t want to create that as part of my route, so this allowed me to pause navigation while I did my loops, and then resume it when I was done.

You can see this comes up on any screen you’re o, so you don’t have to be in the map screen. That ‘Re-Route’ button takes you to the three options listed above.

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From an overall routing standpoint, I haven’t had any route/re-routing/calculation type failures issues on any of my rides. I’ve purposefully gone off-course numerous times to see how it’d handle (and a few times not on course). In fact, over the last 2-3 weeks I’ve tried planning numerous new routes or portions of routes that I haven’t ever ridden before, just to put it to the test. And I’ve purposefully gone off course so many times I’m sure my LiveTrack following peeps thought I was stupid or drunk (or both).

Zero issues.

But then again, that’s probably not surprising. If we look at the Edge 1030 Garmin Forums, you’ll find over the last 30 days that there are a mere 2 threads related to routing issues (out of hundreds of posts). One thread had no usable detail/information, while the other did, but seemed related to loading additional maps. Point being, routing on these devices is rarely an issue in 2020 – and that’s what I saw.

The main factor that’s probably worth complaining about is more the speed of the display. Compared to the Hammerhead Karoo or Sigma ROX12 units based on Android, it’s substantially slower and less responsive (those act like the phones they are). The challenge is: Is that trade-off worth it?

DSC_6017

From a routing standpoint, Garmin’s map layers have consistently performed better for me (especially in edge cases). But sidestepping that, and talking displays, it’s trickier. The Hammerhead Karoo has a stunning display and as you move around with your fingers to see what’s around you, it’s as fast as a phone. Though, it lacks POI (points of interest database) information. Visibility-wise both seem fine to me, no issues in sun or rain. And touch-screen-wise, all companies there have done things that makes that a non-issue (again, even in rain – as seen above).

Of course, the main reason Garmin uses the display technology they do is battery life. Specifically, conservation of it. Garmin claims upwards of 24hrs of runtime on the Edge 1030 Plus. Whereas the Karoo claims 12-15 hours depending on features. Now, whether or not that matters to an individual rider will vary. While the ‘that’s damn pretty’ aspect of me appreciates the Karoo display’s speed, the practical side of me knows that from a routing/re-routing standpoint it hasn’t really mattered any. As anyone in the industry will tell you, Garmin’s real secret sauce at this point is the heatmap (Trendline Popularity routing) data, which basically means taking all the tens of millions of rides that users upload each year to Garmin Connect automatically, and determining the best bike routes from that. Their other secret sauce is having simply done bicycle routing for more than a decade now. It makes it immensely difficult for their competitors to catch-up on that specific piece. Inversely, having a decades worth of features make it hard for Garmin to make tough decisions on legacy features that weigh it down.

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Switching topics briefly to some of the on-device routing functions, there’s round-trip routing, which gives you three different one-off routes you can follow, based on the distance you selected. You can also specify a direction of travel.

Garmin-Edge-1030Plus-RoundTripRouting

The Edge 1030 series allows you to enter in a specific street address you want to route to:

Garmin-Edge-1030Plus-addressLocation

As well as search for nearby points of interest. such as restaurants or tourist type things. Obviously, I always search for movie theaters with my Edge units.

Garmin-Edge-1030-Plus-POI-Search

I almost never use POI search, it’s not that it doesn’t work (it does). It’s just that my phone and Google Maps is simply so much better at that than Garmin’s unit – especially for handling things like whether or not a café is even open, or if the coffee is actually any good. Nobody wants a bad café mid-ride. And this is where I wish there was better one-off integration between the Garmin Connect Mobile app and the Edge 1030 Plus mid-ride. For example, on a Wahoo ELEMNT/ROAM/BOLT I can quickly do a one-off route to a given spot in a few seconds and off I go with the Wahoo. That’s simply not viable nor quick on the Edge series. In Garmin’s line of thinking, you do that one-off routing on-device. But I’m not sure that’s what people actually want in 2020.

Wahoo-ROAM-One-Off-Routing

Moving along, given this section is about navigating, it seems fitting to end on the new LiveTracking with course display feature. Mind you, LiveTracking is certainly not new to Garmin devices. It’s been around nearly a decade – and ignored nearly as long. But last year they started refocusing on behind the scenes platform aspects around reliability and stability, and this appears to be some of the culmination of some of that. Specifically, with today’s announcement two things happen:

– The LiveTracking platform gets a user interface refresh from 2010 to 2020
– LiveTracking now will display your planned course that you loaded on your Garmin

The first one will start being shown to everyone, given it’s a backend piece. While the second one will be rolled out to certain devices – notably the Edge 530, Edge 830, Edge 130 Plus, and Edge 1030 Plus. I don’t know about plans for any other devices/wearables (though Garmin says they have plans there, but haven’t finalized them yet).

From a user standpoint, you’ll enable LiveTracking as normal in the smartphone app. Remember, LiveTracking uses your phone to transmit your position to friends and family. The Edge doesn’t have any cellular connectivity/SIM card itself, so it needs that phone connection to access the interwebs. You can specify which e-mail addresses (or Twitter accounts) to send tracking details to.

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Also, you can toggle the ability to automatically do this every time, as well as to use Strava Beacon (which can send text messages). Also, you can enable the option to extend how long the link lives, up to 24hrs. This is handy because otherwise once you end your workout, the link dies(which would be confusing to someone). So this way they know you’ve completed the activity.

I’ve got mine configured to simply send a live tracking link every time I ride. As long as Garmin Connect Mobile (the phone app) is running somewhere in the background on your phone it usually works. You’ll get confirmation at the top of the device that LiveTracking is functioning:

Garmin-Edge-1030-Plus-DataFields

Also, on your phone, you’ll get a message that the LiveTrack has successfully initiated.

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Meanwhile, your peeps get the following e-mail:

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They can click on the link and that brings them here. In the below screenshot you can see I went specifically off-course (which is purple), where my blue line was off in the forest.

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This page shows your current position, updated every 30 seconds, and then additional metrics on the side – including Speed, Elevation, Heart Rate, Power, and Cadence (if you have those sensors). They’ll also see splits.

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Now, my experience with the route showing bit has been good – that’s worked. And again, it’s cool to see the off-course pieces show up on the live tracking link:

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However, I’ve had numerous troubles with the actual underlying LiveTracking connection and my phone (it simply transmitting my position, and/or drops the connection to the Edge). Garmin has been extensively troubleshooting them with more logging than an astronaut. For whatever reason, over the years I’ve always had a really rough time with stability and Garmin LiveTrack. And up until today’s ride, that theme had continued.

On today’s ride though, using some updated software and a few other tweaks, I was able to get through the entire ride without a failure. I’ll keep trying over the next month or so and report back on whether that trend continues.

Finally, for lack of anywhere else to stick it – note that the Edge 1030 Plus supports the Garmin external battery pack if you plan to go more than 24-48 hours. Sure, you can simply use a micro-USB cable and a USB battery pack just fine (really, it works just fine) to provide constant power. The only catch with that is if it rains. But if you’re riding in sun – go forth!

Still, if you want a clean/integrated option, there’s the external battery pack that locks into the bottom of the unit with a Garmin mount:

Garmin-Edge-Baterry-Pack

The battery pack itself charges via micro-USB, like most battery packs out there today.  It has a 3,300mAh capacity, so it’s on the lower end of USB battery packs its size.  Though, it’s also designed to be waterproof (IPX7, so up to 1m for up to 30 mins) and snap onto the front of a bike computer at speed.  Obviously, there are tradeoffs here compared to a simple USB lipstick charger.

Garmin-Edge-BatteryPack-Ports

The unit has battery status indicators on the edge of it, allowing you to see current battery status.  Unfortunately there isn’t anything clever like Apple’s own iPhone case where it shows battery status of the battery within the Edge unit, though that’d be cool.

Garmin-Edge-BatteryPack-LED-StautsLights

On the bottom of the unit, near the micro-USB charging port, you’ll also find a regular USB charging port so you can charge your phone or other device.

As a pro tip, I take along this simple and cheap charging cable with me if I’m headed out for a long ride.  It allows me to charge my phone via it (has Micro-USB, USB-C, Apple Lightning, mini-USB connectors), and I can even plug the battery pack into a USB port at a café or such.  It’s like my most favorite $8 cable ever.

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Finally, this whole thing locks in place using a locking system on the out-front mount that you swap out. Hell, they even have a TT-compatible mount these days for it, in case you wanted to do a 48hr time-trial bike ride:

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The thing is pretty stable though, so I don’t expect any issues.  Nor have I had any issues in terms of cobbles or the like. It’s a rock-solid locking system, very similar to that of the Garmin UT-800 lights.

From a battery standpoint, the built-in battery on the Edge 1030 Plus has the following specs:

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Note that Garmin says the number of vehicles that pass you can have an impact if using radar, as can the complexity of the course.

In looking at some of my rides, I’d roughly fall under the ‘High’ configuration (usually 3-4 sensors, with mapping), and taking a look at a random nearly 82-minute long ride (doing a structured workout atop mapping), I burned 6% of battery (from 94% to 87%). Also, in this case, the backlight was on HIGH (not auto), because I was also taking photos/video. As such, that’ll burn more battery than anything. In any case, that gives me a 5.12%/hour battery burn rate, or essentially 19 hours worth. But again, the backlight set for ‘HIGH’ is really what brought it down.

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So, for another ride, I set the backlight on auto (on a sunny day), again, with navigation and four sensors. Here’s what that looked like – 3.16%/hour, or basically 31 hours worth.

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Ultimately, battery fun aside, from a navigational standpoint the minor tweaks to the Edge 1030 Plus are appreciated. And from a functionality standpoint I didn’t have any errors on the navigational front during my rides (LiveTrack is different however, as noted). But more broadly than navigation is the map inclusions/loading piece. That’s huge if you travel a lot (as I do, well, did till this year anyway). That makes your life so much easier than dealing with loading 3rd party maps that don’t have all the heatmap cycling-specific data you want them to.

Structured Training:

Garmin-Edge1030Plus-Training

The Edge 1030 Plus takes a quiet, but important, step forward in terms of Garmin making training recommendations for any given day. In fact, it’s the first Garmin unit to specifically recommend a workout/duration based on your day to day training load. This essentially follows what Polar did with the Polar Ignite a year ago, except, focused on cycling.

Anytime you power on the Edge 1030 Plus it’ll quickly and quietly go and grab your latest training load data from Garmin Connect behind the scenes. It’s doing this to ensure that if you did other workouts (like a run) on a Garmin product such as a Fenix or Forerunner watch, that it’s aware of that training load. It doesn’t want to give you a hard workout if you ran 20 miles yesterday. You’ll see this at the top of the screen, where it says ‘Downloading’. If you’re at home, it’ll do this via WiFi in most cases.

A few seconds later, once it’s done, you’ll get a workout of the day recommendation (officially called the ‘Daily Suggested Workout’), that you see in the photo above. When you tap ‘Review Workout’, you’ll get more details on it:

Garmin-Edge-1030-Plus-SuggestedWorkout

And then more details yet again n the specific steps, in this case a pretty…simplistic…workout:

Garmin-Edge-1030-Plus-DailySuggestedWorkout-Details

Now, if you’re part of a specific training plan, such as one from TrainerRoad, then those will take precedence. However, as of today, it’ll still give me a recommendation ignoring that plan. I’m told that’ll change in the next firmware update very shortly to account for the known training plan. Also, it doesn’t seem to be pulling down anything more than just today’s TrainerRoad workout (it should at least also be pulling down tomorrow’s).

The daily suggested workout engine leverages the Training Status, Training Load Balance, and daily tracked VO2 Max data. However, in order for it to work it needs both heart rate and power meter data. Otherwise it doesn’t really know how much training load you’re actually getting.

You’ll see your training load after every ride, as well as in the dashboard menu under ‘My Stats’. You’ll first see this dashboard on your training status, which at the moment thinks I’m “unproductively” managing my training due to the higher load versus recovery. Normally I’d say ‘FU Garmin’, but honestly in this specific week it’s right.

Garmin-Edge-1030Plus-Unproductive

If you tap on that ‘Unproductive’ banner, you’ll see your VO2Max stats, Training Load, and Load Focus. The Training Load page shows how much load you’ve had over the last 7 days, and the color-coding designates the load focus area. You can see yesterday (Sunday) I basically took the day off, with only a tiny little bit of easy pedaling with my kids. At the time I took this first photo, I hadn’t done my Monday ride yet.

Garmin-Edge-1030-Plus-Unproductive

If I look at the Load Focus, you’ll see it’s overwhelmingly way too much ‘High Aerobic’. Now, I’d generally disagree with Garmin/FirstBeat here on the distribution. I find in general it’s far too conservative for me on high aerobic balance. Yes, this week is definitely out of whack, but it’s almost unheard of for me to see the ‘High Aerobic’ in the right zone (the dotted lines).

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However, about an hour after taking the above photos, I went out for a 90-minute ride. Nothing too hard, just base mileage cruising around. That ride apparently gave me redemption. Somewhat ironic if you ask me.

Garmin-Edge-1030Plus-TrainingStatus Garmin-Edge-1030-Plus-Training-Status-Load

Seems a bit peculiar that it’s complaining about my load being too high one second, and then the next it’s OK with it. Though there also may be an element of timing here in that if my previous Monday ride (a bit harder) was higher and then ‘fell off’ the exact 7-day rolling window, replaced by this less challenging ride.

And then there’s your VO2 Max scores. This too requires a power meter. Keep in mind though that VO2 Max won’t shift much, but it’s also typically dependent on having hard VO2 Max workouts to trigger newer values.

Garmin-Edge-1030-Plus-VO2Max-Score

If I go back to the main ‘Stats’ dashboard after this ride you’ll see my Recovery Hours remaining – 22 hours (about right), and then my current estimated FTP at 285w. Currently, my latest FTP test about three weeks ago with TrainerRoad put me at 299w, but I didn’t use this device for that test. So it’s had to make its calculations on other workouts. I suspect we’d see them very close after my next test.

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You can dive into things like your power curve (Mean-Max power) over different time frames:

Garmin-Edge-1030Plus-MeanMaxLoad

Or double-check your profile like age and weight. If you have a Garmin Index scale it’ll automatically update the weight for you.

It’s worth noting that you can connect your Zwift or TrainerRoad accounts to Garmin Connect and receive workouts into your Garmin account completed on Zwift/TrainerRoad. However, and this is a HUGE however, you WILL NOT get any training load credit on any of the above screens for those workouts. Nor on any other Garmin device. Frankly, this is stupid, frustrating, and infuriating. All it does is make you double-record things and then delete workouts. Why bother making an integration that just fires blanks?

Now, that said, if you do a TrainerRoad workout on your unit, then it’ll compute it. However, you’ll then lose out on all the descriptive text you’d get on the TrainerRoad app for inside workouts. I’ve got a separate post coming on that (probably), but we can touch on it briefly in terms of how structured workouts work on the Edge 1030 Plus. In fact, I’ve done a number of TrainerRoad Outside workouts on the Edge 1030 Plus in recent weeks, and those have worked well. And, since these work identically to other structured workouts you might create yourself or push from apps like TrainingPeaks, FinalSurge, or Today’s Plan, then I can show them all in one boat.

To begin, the Edge will display/suggest a workout pushed to it that’s on your calendar for that day. For example, this one:

Garmin-Edge-1030Plus-TrainerRoad-Workout

Upon selecting it (or any other in your training library), you’ll see the exact steps listed out. Depending on how the workout is created, it’ll either automatically advance through each step, or some steps might wait for you. For example, on most of my TrainerRoad outside workouts it’ll actually wait for you to press the ‘lap’ button before advancing from a rest segment to a work interval – in case you’re contending with traffic lights or such.

Garmin-Edge-1030-Plus-Workout-Details

Once you’ve begun your workout it’ll show you steps as they approach, and then list the current step targets. You can customize these fields however you’d want:

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Rinse and repeat until the end of your workout. The most challenging part of doing a structured workout with specific power zones outside won’t be the technology, it’ll likely be your ability to pace power with rolling terrain to exacting targets. TrainerRoad actually has some good suggestions on how to set up your data fields to best tackle these workouts at the bottom of this page, and their suggestions apply no matter whether you’re using TrainerRoad or some other platform.

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When it comes to structured workout execution, Garmin’s main competitors on the cycling-specific side here are Stages and Wahoo, with Hammerhead also adding in structured workouts recently to their Karoo. Again, I’ll dive into the nuances of those later on. It’s really a game of details and tiny differences between them all.

However, none of them have training load or similar concepts (at all). My (major) annoyances with lack of Zwift or TrainerRoad app load counting in the Garmin realm aside, there’s simply nothing on the market that has the depth and integration that Garmin does when it comes to cycling and training load tracking. Now, that doesn’t mean Garmin’s features (largely driven via Firstbeat’s algorithms) are always right. Nor that you’ll even use them.

But, if you want them – and if you don’t want to pay another company/platform/coach for them, then they’re there for the taking.

GPS Accuracy:

Garmin-Edge-1030Plus-GPS-Accuracy

There’s likely no topic that stirs as much discussion and passion as GPS accuracy.  A watch could fall apart and give you dire electrical shocks while doing so, but if it shows you on the wrong side of the road?  Oh hell no, bring on the fury of the internet!

GPS accuracy can be looked at in a number of different ways, but I prefer to look at it using a number of devices in real-world scenarios across a vast number of activities.  I use 2-6 other devices at once, trying to get a clear picture of how a given set of devices handles conditions on a certain day.  Conditions include everything from tree/building cover to weather.

Over the years I’ve continued to tweak my GPS testing methodology.  For example, I try to not place two units next to each other on my wrists, as that can impact signal. In the case of GPS bike computers, I put multiple units on my handlebars, though quite well separated (such as one on an out-front mount, another on the stem, and others to the side of the handlebars).

Next, as noted, I use just my daily training routes.  Using a single route over and over again isn’t really indicative of real-world conditions, it’s just indicative of one route.  The workouts you see here are just my normal daily rides/workout. At least as much as is possible in this COVID-19 world without being able to travel far, I’ve varied my workouts and terrain (cities/buildings, trees, quiet roads, bridges, etc…). But, given I live in a pretty flat place (Amsterdam), it means there’s very little high-altitude mountain type testing right now. Maybe later this summer. Sorry!

(Now, I’ll give you a spoiler since you made it thus far: By and large it’s pretty rare to see GPS screw-ups on road-cycling routes. And frankly, that continues here. This section is super boring because nothing ‘exciting’ happened.)

First up for a test ride is just from yesterday on a very diverse route where I was basically trying to break navigation. In this case there were some forested sections, lots of tree-lined sections, some farm roads, and some buildings/underpasses here and there. It’s comparing the Edge 1030 Plus, Edge 130 Plus, Wahoo ROAM, and a Fenix 6 Pro on my wrist. Here’s those data files:

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While my path looks drunk, I mostly wasn’t. I was just following canals/rivers and see how many wrong turns I could make before I really upset the navigation of the unit. Turns out, I couldn’t. On the GPS-side though, we’ll start off with the beginning forested area, and you can see all the units are super close:

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It continues this way, so close together that you can barely tell there’s multiple lines there. Even on the swerving sections along the river, no divergence:

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Interestingly however, a bit later I did see some divergence, specifically from the Edge 130 Plus. It went askew for about 300 meters long, slightly offset perhaps 30 meters or so. You can see the Wahoo ROAM barely snuck its head out as well. So whatever was going on with that section of tree-lined roadway, seemed to impact both – though not the others.

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Later on as I pass some tall apartment buildings for a block or two there’s a slight bit more divergence from the different units, but we’re talking a handful of meters. When the tracks look so perfect on the rest of the ride, even the tiniest bit difference is noticed:

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Later on in the ride we see a bit more of that slight divergence from the Edge 130 Plus, but the 1030 Plus and others remain near lock-step. The Wahoo ROAM did cut some corners though as you can see:

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Here’s another example of a ROAM cut corner. Well, I guess this is technically an overshoot followed by an undershoot. It’s Mario Karting.

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OK, let’s move along to another one, this time making it a bit more complex. Sure, the overall geographic spread is smaller here, but it’s because I’m doing repeated laps over and over and over at a local cycling track/loop. As such, that’ll make things much more difficult to see if it can maintain lap after lap on the exact same track. Here’s that data set:

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To begin, I start-out going under a gigantic 6 or 60 lane highway/train tunnel thing. Like, all the lanes. Either way, there’s no issues here from anyone here. There’s technically a gap half-way through those lanes where the units can see the sky. So we see a little blip there, but nothing more than a couple meters worth.

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Next, cruising through/along a forest to get to the track. Everything is spot-on here too:

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So, let’s get right to the good stuff: The Track.

I’m going to split it in two pieces, the upper half and the lower half. Now, looking at the upper half it’s a bit hard to tell what’s going on, because the Casio unit is a bit wobbly.

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So, let’s get rid of that. Here we go:

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Now you can see all the units are very close to each other. What’s interesting though is each unit tends to have a slight preference in certain parts of the track where it might meander in/out towards a given section. For example, on the upper straight-away the Fenix 6 Pro seems to favor the southern side. Whereas the Edge 830 favors the northern side. Meanwhile, on that upper left corner turn, the Edge 130 Plus seems to favor the inside while the Edge 1030 Plus seems to hang out more middle of the road.

Here’s the mid of the track:

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And here’s the lower half of the track:

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Realistically, any of these GPS tracks are fine. I’d say there’s a bit more variability overall from the wrist-based Fenix 6, but for the GPS bike computers they’re all virtually identical, and when the Strava Live Segments were triggering on each loop, they were doing so almost all in concert.

So, overall that ride looks pretty good.

Let’s take a look at one last ride, this time a big ol’ loop starting in the city, and then heading out to the countryside, before looping back to reality again Here’s that data set:

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For this route I decided to make things as difficult as I could, at least initially. So, I went down a street next to plenty of tall buildings. So far, pretty good. Not perfect, but about norm for GPS next to tall buildings:

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And then, by pure dumb luck I made a right turn off-course instead of a left turn. This meant I went through a bicycle underpass that curves (kinda like a ‘J’) rather than just going over the street. Turns out, none of the GPS units were happy with that:

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Everybody crapped the bed here. Now to be fair, there’s four massive tall buildings, including one I then go through after coming out of the tunnel. I could see why all the units were displeased at this juncture.

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That said, within just a few meters of getting out of the buildings, all but the Edge 530 returned to the bike path immediately (a couple of seconds). The Edge 530 took a few hundred more meters before it trusted my navigational skills again. I can understand the hesitancy there.

At this point, things basically get boring again from a GPS standpoint:

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A handful of minor quibbles here and there when passing under bridges, but nothing of significance:

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For the most part, all the units were stuck on each other. Sometimes, like below when I passed under high tension wires, you see slight differences, but nothing much.

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Mostly, it’s just boring and looks like this:

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And that’s the overall gist of things with GPS on both the new Edge 1030 Plus and Edge 130 Plus: Boringly accurate.

For all these tests I used GPS+GLONASS, and all of them were mounted on the handlebars or an out-front mount depending on the day (or sometimes my top-tube near the stem). I didn’t see any difference in GPS accuracy between those different positions.

As I stated earlier, it’s super rare to have meaningful GPS accuracy issues for road cycling. You tend to get a bit more mountain-biking in the actual mountains (which I lack). I took my road bike off-road here on trails, and didn’t see any issues there. In fact, it’s how I did the recent Strava Local Legends post, using the Edge 1030 Plus on my handlebars as I completed 26 laps of that Strava Segment. Zero issues, and super dependable on each lap of it.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy portions were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Summary:

Garmin-Edge-1030-Review-Summary

At the end of the day, the Edge 1030 Plus is essentially the bike computer you buy when someone asks ‘What’s the best GPS bike computer no matter the cost?’. There’s very few people out there that would argue that line of thinking. There’s no bike computer out there that approaches anything near the number of features the Edge 1030 Plus has. Not even close. And more importantly, whether you’re talking the original Edge 1030 or new Edge 1030 Plus – it just works, really well for the most part.

However, the question you probably need to ask yourself is: Do I need all these features? And, are they executed the best out there?

And the answer to that is more complex. A variant of ‘It depends’.

When it comes to things like mapping or navigation, I’m pretty sure most would agree Garmin wins that depth easily. However, when it comes to ease of use or setup, most people would argue Wahoo is simpler. Though Garmin is clearly making strides here, as we see with the new setup process – yet it still lacks phone data field/page configuration. And for Garmin it’s a tough balance of giving people the hundreds of features they’ve had on their past Edge units for the last 13 years (seriously), versus going with a far more reduced feature set that you’d find on competitor units. I can’t tell you (or them) what that balance is, or whether or not you’d even use those added features.

Whether it be a Garmin Edge series or a Wahoo ELEMENT ROAM, both will happily download those Strava or Komoot routes, pair to your sensors, show your standard data, and get you to your destination pretty much the same. It’s the added features which differentiate the Edge 1030 series, such as all the on-device routing features, the heatmap-driven data for when you go freestyling, or the extensive training load/focus type functionality. None of that exists elsewhere.

As for comparing it to the Edge 530 or Edge 830? Frankly, it’s mostly screen-size driven (and the free added maps now). If you boil it all down, for the most part the Edge 1030 Plus is giving you a bigger screen with global maps. And some minor other features. I’ve used the Edge 530 & Edge 830 as my daily-driver bike computers for over a year now. I’m perfectly happy with them. Will I use the Edge 1030 Plus going forward? Maybe? I don’t know. My answer is usually driven by whatever unit is actually charged up and closest to my handlebars when I head out the door.

But if it ends up being the Edge 1030 Plus – I’m pretty happy with what I’ve seen in my testing thus far with it.

Found this review useful? Or just want a good deal? Here’s how:

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 exclusive benefits on all products purchased.  By joining the Clever Training VIP Program, you will earn 10% points on this item and 10% off (instantly) on thousands of other fitness products and accessories.  Points can be used on your very next purchase at Clever Training for anything site-wide.  You can read more about the details here.  By joining, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get to enjoy the significant partnership benefits that are just for DC Rainmaker readers.  And, since this item is more than $99, you get free 3-day (or less) US shipping as well.

Garmin Edge 1030 Plus (select drop-down for bundles)

For European/Australian/New Zealand readers, you can also pick up the unit via Wiggle at the links below, which helps support the site too!

Garmin Edge 1030 Plus (EU/UK/AU/NZ – Wiggle)
Garmin Edge 1030 Plus Bundle (EU/UK/AU/NZ – Wiggle)

And finally, here’s a handy list of some of my favorite Garmin-specific accessories for the Garmin bike computers. Of course, being ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart compatible, you don’t have to limit things to just Garmin.

ProductAmazon LinkNote
Barfly 4 Prime Out-Front Aluminum MountI love out-front mounts. Both Barfly and K-Edge make good ones. I primarily use the aluminum ones though, because this mount comes with a GoPro (and light/Di2) adapter on the bottom. So I can mount a GoPro up front and have the footage be rock solid.
Garmin Cadence Sensor V2This is a dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart cycling cadence sensor that you strap to your crank arm, but also does dual Bluetooth Smart, so you can pair it both to Zwift and another Bluetooth Smart app at once if you want.
Garmin HRM-DUAL Chest StrapThis is one of the top two straps I use daily for accuracy comparisons (the other being the Polar H9/H10). It's dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, and in fact dual-Bluetooth Smart too, in case you need multiple connectons.
Garmin Speed Sensor V2This speed sensor is unique in that it can record offline (sans-watch), making it perfect for a commuter bike quietly recording your rides. But it's also a standard ANT+/BLE sensor that pairs to your device. It's become my go-to speed sensor.
Garmin Varia Radar (RTL515)The Varia radar has become incredibly popular in the last year, with most bike GPS companies supporting it (Wahoo, Stages, Hammerhead, Garmin, and more soon). It notifies you of overtaking traffic. While useless for cities, it's amazing for quieter country roads.

Or, anything else you pick up 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.

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.

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Garmin Shows Off New On-Device Sleep Tracking Widgets https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/06/garmin-shows-off-new-on-device-sleep-tracking-widgets.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/06/garmin-shows-off-new-on-device-sleep-tracking-widgets.html#comments Tue, 09 Jun 2020 15:29:33 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=113098 Read More Here ]]> DSC_5791

On the list of things that I didn’t think would be all that exciting, I’d put forth ‘Widget that shows my sleep from last night’. Turns out, I was wrong.

This past weekend I had put a couple of random Instagram stories up, demonstrating supporting evidence that on a day my sleep was crap my ride was also crap. And then on a day my sleep was good, my ride was also good. However, I used a new Garmin Fenix 6 sleep widget to demonstrate this, since frankly…it was pretty looking.

Turns out an overwhelming number of you were interested in this. As in, flooded my Instagram DM box about it. So naturally, I decided to write a post on it instead. Oh, and a video. All you need to know in about 5 minutes!

But if videos aren’t your thing, just keep scrollin’.

The Details:

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Ok, my goal here isn’t to write too much. Likely, I won’t succeed. Also, since I know you’ll ask – that’s the $14 Garmin watch charger stand. I’ve been using it since last year after the other watch charging puck thing y’all went crazy for.

In any case, Garmin has released a public beta firmware update for the Fenix 6 series (all of them, and the MARQ series), that brings sleep functionality from previously being an app/cloud function/calculation to being an on-watch calculation. As such, you can now also see your sleep metrics on the watch. The update brings some other widget-related tweaks that are largely user interface related. They’re nice too, but I’ll skip them for now.

(I’m not going to do a step-by-step on how to install the beta update, because those steps are already here. As always, if you’re not comfortable with beta software, then I’d wait till this magically shows up on your wrist as part of a normal update. Of course, given nobody is doing any races right now – it’s probably as good a time as any to try new things out. Also, if you do run into bugs, there’s a special e-mail address to report them, or the forum thread.)

Got your firmware all updated? Good.

Now, go to sleep.

Seriously.

You need to get one night’s sleep for the data to show up, it’s not going to pull in last night’s sleep for you.

Ok, with that done, here’s what you’ve got from the mini widget roll:

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You can then press to open it and get a summary of your night’s sleep:

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This includes five things:

– Sleep time (not time in bed, but actually asleep)
– Sleep score (rating your sleep from 0-100)
– Sleep quality level (self-explanatory)
– A timeline of your sleep stages (Awake/Light/REM/Deep)
– A short elevator pitch descriptor of last night’s sleep

Next though, you can press down within this widget to get more details, which includes the timeline for the night in terms of sleep stages:

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Press down again and you get roughly the same set of data, just visualized differently with the exact times in each sleep stage. As always, I have no meaningful way to validate these exact sleep stages, so, like all wearables we’ll basically just have to go along with it for now. About the only one I can validate is ‘awake’ time, and in this night’s sleep – that seems accurate.

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And finally, we get a bit of that elevator pitch again, though with a slightly different twist:

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As usual, all this data ends up on Garmin Connect (web) and Garmin Connect Mobile (smartphone app):

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However, behind the scenes there’s actually a substantial change. See, up until this point all of the sleep calculations occurred on Garmin Connect (the web platform), using Garmin in-house calculations. But with this change, the company has shifted all of this onto Firstbeat for the different components. So, on a watch like the Fenix 6, Garmin leverages (pre-sleep) 18 different components from Firstbeat. For example, VO2Max calculations are one component, Training Load is another, Body Battery another, and so on. The exact names that Garmin uses marketing/branding-wise can vary from how Firstbeat licenses the underlying modules.

For sleep now, they’re specifically leveraging multiple components out of what Firstbeat dubs their ‘Firstbeat Sleep Solution’, which includes three core components:

Sleep Detection Component: This is where Garmin gets the time you fell asleep and woke up, as well as the sleep stage detection (Awake/Light/REM/Deep)

Sleep Analysis Component: This takes the Sleep Detection bits, and then analyzes the components to determine a sleep score and a small text explanation. Additionally, the ‘restorative quality’ (e.g. good/fair/etc), is based upon HRV. HRV is also used to determine/show the Stress & Body Battery bits elsewhere in the watch (also FirstBeat features).

Sleep Coaching feature: This will, in certain cases, give you an additional insight tip following certain sleep events. For example, if there were high levels of stress, the unit might say “High Stress levels from the previous day impacted your sleep”. Note that this isn’t an every day thing at this point, but only triggered in certain events.

Note that there are other standalone features that Garmin isn’t leveraging. For example, there’s the Sleep Quality Assessment module. But Garmin is basically getting that data from the Sleep Analysis feature, whereas the Sleep Quality module is used by Suunto for the Suunto 3/5/9 watches.

All of this is somewhat setting the stage for deeper insights, at least in the eyes of Firstbeat and how they market the sleep suite of products. The idea that you could take all this underlying sleep data and then give *specific* training focused recommendations based on that sleep. In other words, if you got three hours of crappy sleep from a redeye flight or screaming babies, it’d say ‘Skip the run tonight’, or ‘Make the run a bit easier’ or such. You can see a rough demo of that concept on the Firstbeat site. The pieces missing today though are specific training recommendations from that.

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So what’s the ramification of this change? Usually, I’d say that having Firstbeat metrics is typically better than homebrew metrics, since Firstbeat has far more experience in this realm, and often does actual validations of their metrics (and publishes whitepapers). Whereas most times wearable companies spitball the data and hope it works.

However, in the case of Garmin, that’s a bit different. For them, they’ve got almost a decade of sleep data across what is likely now 20+ million sleep-tracking devices out in the wild. As such, only a handful of companies would have larger sleep datasets than Garmin. Namely Fitbit with over 100 million devices shipped and 28 million users, and then more recently Xiaomi/Samsung/Huawei. Apple doesn’t track sleep. And as Garmin’s fitness sales continue to accelerate, that’ll only increase.

In the Garmin forums, they’ve noted that they’re interested in feedback (good or bad) on peoples’ experiences. In my case over the last 4-5 days, it seems mostly a wash. But the challenge Garmin will face is simply a game of numbers at scale. If even just 1% of let’s say 10 million active users have a weird sleep data going forward, it’ll mean 100,000 people have bad experiences. [That 10 million number comes from last April 2019 when Garmin noted 10 million CIQ devices in the market, which means they have even more sleep capable devices that aren’t CIQ capable.]

Of course, Garmin is mitigating that, not just through the beta, but by minimizing the devices supported. Rather than rolling this back across nearly a decade of devices, it’s just focusing on its most recent ones – specifically the Fenix 6 right now.

But, what about others? I asked Garmin just that. Right now the plan is for it to come to all Garmin Fenix 6 & MARQ variants (beta already for that here), and then by the end of the year the Forerunner 945 will also get it. Hopefully we’ll see it expand more broadly than that. Given Polar has it on their $199 Polar Ignite, I’d think this would fit well on anything in the Venu & Vivoactive lineup, plus of course the Forerunner 245 series.

Wrap-Up:

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Now, what Garmin is doing here is hardly new. But is in line with trends. We saw Polar last summer really start to nail the on-screen sleep widget realm with the Polar Ignite (they had it prior, but not with as much detail), which they then carried into other watches like the Polar Grit X more recently. We also saw Fitbit do the same too, bringing sleep metrics to the wrist. And undoubtedly neither of these are the first to do so either of course. They’re just some of the higher profile ones that have refined it.

I don’t think this widget is make or break for anyone in terms of deciding what device to buy. But, like most of the features that Garmin adds – it’s ‘one more thing’. It’s fundamentally why their sales have boomed: It’s hard to compete with death by a thousand cuts.

I’ll probably only glance at it occasionally, though, with the widget glances it’s sorta the perfect scenario for it. And like countless other features on a Garmin, you may never use them. But that’s OK (as long as they don’t break something else). As your most favorite feature is someone else’s ‘Don’t care’, and vice versa. Which again, is why it’s so hard to break into this category with any meaningful sales.

In any event – if you’re the type that wants to live on the edge, go forth and download the beta and give it a whirl. There’s already been one updated firmware version since Thursday, and undoubtedly we’ll see more. There’s no hard and fast rule on how long things stay in public beta for Garmin. By the time it hits pubic beta, it’s already been tested internally at Garmin for usually months. So sometimes public beta lasts a week or so to validate nothing blows up, and sometimes public beta lasts months with numerous iterations.

With that – thanks for reading!

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Timex R300 $129 GPS Smartwatch In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/06/timex-r300-gps-smartwatch-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/06/timex-r300-gps-smartwatch-review.html#comments Thu, 04 Jun 2020 14:38:27 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=112997 Read More Here ]]> P1000789-1

If you had asked me late last year for a list of surprisingly capable devices I expected to find on my wrist in Spring 2020, I certainly wouldn’t have said a $129 GPS watch from Timex. But here we are, and after nearly a boatload of runs, rides, and daily use – I’ve got more than enough information to splay across a full in-depth review.

However, in some ways how Timex got to this position is just as interesting as the device itself. And it’s also semi-critical to understanding how a company with only a handful of dedicated staff for this product line could spit out a watch that easily competes with Garmin or Fitbit’s budget offerings – and in fact, likely eclipses some of them in certain areas. Even if, yes, you think the Timex has a slightly more ‘vintage’ look.

The answer? Huami. Well, actually, Amazfit (which Huami owns). Yes, the same Amazfit that makes budget wearables and swanky smart mirrors. About 18 months ago the two companies released a press release that almost nobody noticed. Turns out, it had a purpose. See, while the watch exterior and design is definitely Timex – much of the software is very much Amazfit. All of the app is Amazfit, and all of the analytics. And these days, those pieces are just as important as the wearable itself.

But, we’re probably getting ahead of ourselves a wee bit. A lot actually. So first off – this GPS enabled, touchscreen equipped activity tracker has a claimed 20-hours of GPS-on line and 28 days of standby life. I’ll tell you straight up those claims are somehow accurate. Despite its size, the battery lasts forever (trust me, I tried to let it die – I gave it nearly a month sitting off to the side on my desk as I misplaced the charger for weeks – it’s virtually impossible to kill. Those last 10% last forever).

However, before we talk about that – let’s get this thing unboxed.

What’s in the box:

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I appreciate simplistic packaging, and the R300 delivers in that sense. It’s got a clean description of what’s in the box on the outside, and everything is accurately portrayed (some companies make their watch face screen imagery appear like it’s an 8K OLED screen on the box, when in reality it’s a dot matrix printer).

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Crack it open, and the watch is chillin’ there looking at you.

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Under it are two things – The charger and a quick-start piece of paper:

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Here’s a closer look at the charger:

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And then the quick-start paper.

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Oh, and the watch itself, of which the front of the watch is actually mineral glass, and not plastic, surprisingly enough.

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As for the weight? It comes in at at cool 43g:

So, with that, let’s start diving into the basics.

The Basics:

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The interface on the R300 is heavily button-based, but it does actually have a touchscreen.  First though, there are four buttons – one on the left, and three on the right, that you use to navigate your way around the fairly simplistic menu.

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But there’s also a touchscreen that works like any other touchscreen on a wearable, complete with swiping gestures. You can toggle it on/off entirely if you want, or, off during workouts.

Meanwhile, on the back of the watch is a dual-LED optical HR sensor. Nothing fancy looking, but as we’ll see later, looks can be deceiving.

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The watch uses a standard 24mm strap with a stainless steel buckle. The strap can be detached to swap out for your own, there a gazillion on Amazon. I had no issues with the stock strap. Also, the entire unit is water-resistant to 50m.

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The default watch face shows you the current time/day/date, as well as your current heart rate and steps for the day. You’ll also see battery status (it lasts forever, seriously), and smartphone connection status.

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But you can also pick from dozens of other watch faces as well:

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When a button is pressed the backlight will illuminate and stay on for 5 seconds after the last button press. Gone is the Indiglo coloring that Timex was famous for. Don’t worry Timex, the world thanks you for moving on to a normal backlight.

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So diving into the user interface a bit, the first thing you’ll realize is that anytime you interact with the watch you need to press one button to wake it up. Sure, it’s always awake, but it’s basically not paying attention to you. So the first button is saying ‘Yo watch, listen to me!’ Kinda like talking to Siri or Alexa. Then any subsequent button press after that it’ll listen to.

When you press the up button, it’ll show you the Airplane Mode & Do Not Disturb mode options. These are simple: On or off (individually):

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If you press the left button (back basically), it’ll do nothing. But, if you double-press it, it’ll give you the weather (assuming it’s connected to the Timex app):

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Meanwhile, pressing the bottom button lets you see any missed smartphone notifications:

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Finally, the vaunted middle button. No relation to the middle finger. This button gets you to the good stuff. It’s here you’ll be able to start a workout, open a structured workout, review past workouts, control music on your phone, look at daily activity stats, set alarms, create timers, and access settings. In other words, it’s where you do just about everything that matters.

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Now – before I forget, this watch has the attention span of a gnat. Seriously. If you don’t press a button within 10 seconds, it’ll reset all the way back to the watch face screen. So, if you’re distracted for a second doing something and don’t press a button on the menu, it’s like being reset in Mario Bros. Obviously, this impacts me trying to take photos for a review more than most people.

In any case, I’ll skip the workout, coaching, and review options as we’ll talk about those later in the sport section. So that leaves us next with the Activity bits, which is where we can see Steps, Distance, Calories, and Heart Rate. First in a summary screen, and then individually.

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When viewed individually, you also get a progress bar around the outside edge, showing each metric against your goal metrics for the day.

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All of this same data can also be viewed in the smartphone app as well. It also even auto-recognizes certain activities and puts them on the data page, you can also sort and view by month or week too:

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Next there’s sleep data. This isn’t viewable on the watch itself, but instead on the app. The metrics here are pretty much the norm for activity trackers, but it does also give some minor suggestions here and there – which is more than many wearable apps actually do. And again, you can look at all sorts of historical stats and averages too.

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The watch is also constantly recording your heart rate, so you can see those stats as well, albeit with slightly less historical type averaging than the other metrics. Though, inversely, it gives you zones, which is kinda interesting when looking at things by day (some other companies also color the chart too, but this breaks out those at the bottom as well):

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When it comes to any of these metrics goals, they can be customized through the app pretty easily, as well as heart rate zones:

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Also, randomly, in theory the watch & app will even figure out if you’re eating, brushing your teeth, or taking a bath – and log that too. Though, it didn’t seem to do so for me. Realistically, if this worked and Whoop got together with Timex, it seems like then they could auto-populate that ‘Did you have sex last night?’ option in Whoop’s journal for you automatically.

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Next, within the app if you’ve got other Timex R300 GPS friends (or, I suppose enemies), you can connect up to them and sync data. Regrettably, I don’t have any friends or enemies with the R300:

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There’s also a ton of configuration options, primarily related to various alerts and smartphone integration. And I think it’s in here that the Timex R300 kinda shows its cards a bit into how much they’re able to leverage the Amazfit platform to get all of these features that simply wouldn’t be there with a company the size of Timex by themselves:

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Finally, from a data portability standpoint, most of your daily metrics can be exported to Apple Health (though, fwiw, GPS activities don’t properly show up there). You can also export workouts to Strava & RunKeeper, but we’ll talk about that in the sports section.

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There is a method to export data entirely out of the platform using the AmazFit platform. This is actually about the only super-obvious place where you see the underbelly of what Timex has done, as the site dumps you out into an Huami site:

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Ultimately, though that AmazFit partnership is what makes the bulk of this app quite a bit more refined than Timex would be able to put forth on their own. This is obviously something developed by a large team of people, rather than just a couple of individuals. Which isn’t to say it’s perfect, but for $129? Having a pretty cohesive app is hard to find at that level in most cases.

Sport Features:

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To begin, yes, it’s ‘Ironman’ branded. Timex has had a licensing agreement with Ironman since…well…forever. And like virtually every past product (except one, a decade ago), you wouldn’t really use this to track an Ironman race by 2020 standards. For example, it doesn’t support openwater swimming…or, any swimming for that matter. Nor does it support connecting to any sensors (be it heart rate or cycling sensors). But for most people at this price point, that’s probably fine.

To start a sport you’ll press that middle button, which then allows you to select ‘Workouts’. This is where you go if you just want to track a given workout (but don’t have a structured workout/plan to follow):

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After that you’ll select which sport you want. Your choices are: Outdoor Run, Treadmill, Cycling, Indoor Bike, Walking, ‘Any Sport’ (and then ‘Race Modes’ and ‘Settings’)

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In my case, we’ll just choose Outdoor Run to keep things simple. Basically, they all work the same way, except the outdoor ones have GPS and the indoor ones don’t. Once you’ve selected the sport, if outdoors, it’ll go off and find GPS:

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It’s pretty quick in most cases, clearly leveraging satellite cache data from the smartphone (like most companies) to speed it up. You can technically skip this, but that’d be a poor life choice, as it’d reduce accuracy of your data.

Once ready you’ll hit start and it’ll start recording. You’ll see the data pages as configured here, and you can iterate through them by pressing the up/down buttons. Here’s some examples from a ride yesterday:

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Now, you can very lightly customize these pages, via the watch itself (oddly, not in the app – where there’s customization of everything else). To do so, you’ll go into ‘Sport Settings’, and then choose the Display options

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There you can change from 3 to 2 to 1 data fields per page, and then specifically customize a single data field in only the three-field mode.

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You can set it to: HR/Distance, Heart Rate, Distance, Pace, Speed, Cadence, Calories, Time of Day, Elevation.

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This setting is global across all sports. You can also enable auto-scrolling of data pages (globally), and then on a per-sport basis you can toggle Auto Lap as on/off (per mile/kilometer only), auto-pause as on/off, and alerts for Distance, Time, Pace/Speed, Heart Rate, Cadence, Eating, Drinking, and Walk/Run.

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For the eating/drinking alerts they can be configured for either time or distance as the trigger.

Anyway, back in the workout, it’ll show your metrics as you run – including your zones. You can hit the up/down buttons to iterate through the data fields. The overall feel is very Fitbit-like in terms of ‘This is not Burger King, you do not get to tweak much of your fields, take it or leave it’.

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And to be honest – this is the piece that surprises me the most here. For a watch that offers so much functionality, it oddly skips what should be the easiest thing to increase appeal to more serious athletes (customization of data pages). I’m not asking for anything crazy here, but something more than just a single line would be in-line with the remainder of the features.

Speaking of serious athletes, there is the ability to add structured workouts to the watch. These fall under the ‘Coached’ labels within the app and watch. First, you’ll go and select a ‘Coached’ workout on the app and sync it to the watch. They’ve got a few categories, namely running, HIIT, and the peculiarly named ‘Triathlon’.

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You can edit the workouts, or even create your own with a handful of metrics.

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Once you’ve tapped them they’ll sync to the watch, where you’ll find them within the ‘Coached’ section of workouts:

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However, this is where things get a bit weird. Next, you’ll open one up, and at first you’ll be like ‘Boom’, this is great! It’ll show each portion of the workout and the specific target (if applicable).

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And, for something like running with set distances (such as ‘Run 1 Mile interval’), it’ll show the interval duration as a progress bar and your progress towards that.

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Except, right around now a little birdie in/near your head might go ‘Wait, when did it get GPS?’. Because, now to think of it – it never asked/told me it was finding GPS. It just started the workout straight up, as if it was an indoor workout.

And sure it enough – it doesn’t actually get GPS. Mostly. Kinda. Sorta. Actually, it does. It just doesn’t tell you (or use it afterwards). So, to test this theory I did a ride down a smooth section of pavement, so that the accelerometer-based sensors that might be used for a running workout wouldn’t catch my running distance. And, in doing so I found that it correctly identified the ground I covered distance-wise at the right speed (despite the watch being kept still).

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So, this tells me GPS is definitely being leveraged behind the scenes for these. Except, one problem: It doesn’t show-up afterwards. When you do any ‘Coached’ workout, there’s no GPS track of it. So you might have gone out and done a rockin’ 90-minute workout using the interval function, doing mile repeats, but there’s no GPS track for that recorded to the app (and thus, not on Strava). Everything appears as an indoor workout.

To which you say: Ok, fine, but you said something about a ‘Triathlon’ mode?

Yes, you mean this:

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So, let’s do that mode! And yes, it’ll iterate through each of the sports: Swim, T1, Bike, T2, Run.

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But the distance? Same as before: It pretends not to use GPS, but does actually turn it on. But, you can’t see that anywhere. In the app, it’ll simply create a variant of an indoor workout, label the sections – but not even tell you the distance for each section. Just a total distance. When it sends the file to Strava, it simply sets the workout type as “Other Workout” and gives it a total indoor distance. Also, it doesn’t track anything in swim – just your heart rate.

So no Timex, I don’t count this as a multisport watch or a triathlon watch. To be fair – I didn’t expect it too either.

But I also don’t really understand why the coached workouts don’t properly enable GPS. This seems like such an easy no-brainer. It’s leveraging that data already, just actually record the track points in the file and show a proper ‘Waiting for GPS’ splash screen before starting?

In any case – again, the watch costs $129 – so I guess it is what it is. And for all of my structured workouts I simply did them manually anyway (and if you turn-off auto-lap, you can manually lap using the upper right button). So it wasn’t a huge deal to me and the way I used it.

Now, there is a race mode. This has two main aspects. The first is to race against past activities (either running or cycling), effectively a virtual pacer.

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And the second is to race against a specific distance duration (e.g. 10KM) – so more of a ‘Are we done yet’ type of thing:

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Finally, after a workout, you’ll get a ton of information in the smartphone app. Here’s a gallery of all those pages:

And afterwards it’ll sync to Strava automatically if configured, as well as RunKeeper. In my case, I just synced it to Strava and that worked without issue.

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In fact, it was actually super important to sync to Strava (or RunKeeper) because it’s the *ONLY* way you can get an activity file out of it if you wanted to download it to some other platform. There’s no ‘Export File’ option, which is sorta bizarre (ok, it’s really bizarre). I can’t remember the last time I tried a device that didn’t have some sort of simple file export/e-mail option for workouts. Timex also says TrainingPeaks integration is coming, but that’s been the case for a few months now.

Still, I get it – the price point is low here and while there are some missteps in the sports side that make you cock your head a bit, overwhelmingly for the majority of people using this to track their runs and daily fitness, this easily fits the bill – and does so surprisingly accurately.

GPS Accuracy:

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There’s likely no topic that stirs as much discussion and passion as GPS accuracy.  A watch could fall apart and give you dire electrical shocks while doing so, but if it shows you on the wrong side of the road?  Oh hell no, bring on the fury of the internet!

GPS accuracy can be looked at in a number of different ways, but I prefer to look at it using a number of devices in real-world scenarios across a vast number of activities.  I use 2-6 other devices at once, trying to get a clear picture of how a given set of devices handles conditions on a certain day.  Conditions include everything from tree/building cover to weather.

Over the years, I’ve continued to tweak my GPS testing methodology.  For example, I don’t place two units next to each other on my wrists, as that can impact signal. If I do so, I’ll put a thin fabric spacer of about 1”/3cm between them (I didn’t do that on any of my Timex R300 GPS activities however, all workouts only had a single device per wrist).  But often I’ll simply carry other units by the straps, or attach them to the shoulder straps of my hydration backpack.  Plus, wearing multiple watches on the same wrist is well known to impact optical HR accuracy.

Next, as noted, I use just my daily training routes.  Using a single route over and over again isn’t really indicative of real-world conditions, it’s just indicative of one trail – that’s why I use routes all over the place.  The workouts you see here are just my normal daily workouts.

First up, we’ll start with something that’s a blend of easy and challenging – a run through the forest. In this case, it’s got some wide open areas around fields, but also some fairly tree-dense locations. It’s compared against a Garmin Instinct, a Polar Grit X, the Polar Vantage V. Here’s that data set:

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At a high level, things look kinda similar between them. Though, at the beginning there’s clearly some misalignment coming from the Garmin Instinct:

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Thankfully that mess doesn’t last very long and the units all form a pretty close pack. There’s a couple of points below where the Vantage V is off in the woods a bit more, but the Timex R300 is surprisingly sharp here on the running path, as ran.

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In fact, there’s probably no better example of how good the GPS is than this section here, where unquestionably the winner was the Timex R300 GPS. A unit that is at minimum 1/2 the price of any other unit on this run (and 1/4th the price in others).

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Which isn’t to say it was absolutely perfect. There’s a few wobbles, but compared to the others? Easy winner.

However, a short bit later things weren’t quite as on-point, from anyone. This taller tree section caused everyone to be off-path. Nobody was horrible, and nobody was perfect. It was all kinda ‘meh’.

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But hey, once we got out to the fields, then it got acceptable by everyone again:

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Distance-wise at the end of the day, they were all fairly similar. The Timex doesn’t write its distance to the file as a summary field, but it’s recorded distance was in the middle at 8.80km – so right in the middle of the pack.

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Now, let’s increase the difficulty by going on tighter trails for hill repeats…eight times in a row. This will look at how well it can maintain the same exact loop over and over again (all, on trails). In this case I swapped out the Polar Vantage V for an Apple Watch Series 5. Just to mix it up. Here’s that data set:

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Ok, again, at a high level it’s fine. And initially, as I was leaving the city, it was mostly fine by everyone, save an itty-bitty-bit of offset coming from the Timex R300, where you can see it just slightly cutting across the docks in that squiggle section (technically, they’re house-boats, but hey…).

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The rest of the trail there was fine. So let’s go straight on down to the hill.

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That’s kinda pleasing in a visual sort of way. The right side of this circle is where I went up each time, and the left side is where I went down each time. Interestingly, there are two observations here:

A) Going up, they’re all very very close. Within a few meters of each other on all the loops
B) Going down, they’re a bit more spread out, but also aligned in groupings unto themselves

In other words, it seems like going downhill causes some ‘drift’ for each given unit, which is why we can see the colors more easily than not.

So who was closest? Well, it’s tough – but I’d say it’s a tie between the Grit X and the Apple Watch, with the Timex close behind. Which isn’t to say the Instinct was far off. We’re really talking just 5-7 meters off to one side at most. Very small differences.

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Now, keep in mind my hills are pretty darn small here. Look, that’s all I’ve got. It’s not the size of your hill, but how you use it. Or, something like that.

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Note that at present we don’t show negative elevation values on the DCR Analyzer graphs, though this would be a case where it would be helpful. The hill starts below sea level. The three non-Timex units are all pretty close when you look at the scale here. The Timex however was slightly above the rest. But the actual data in the watch was very consistent – even if slightly offset by 10m. Again, because of the scale of these graphs, for those of you that don’t live in the Netherlands with pancake-flat elevation, being offset by 10-meters would never have been noticed on your normal routes.

Next, let’s switch over to some cycling. This is a big ol’ loop around the area. None of the terrain is super difficult from a GPS standpoint, though there are plenty of buildings and bridges – especially earlier on. Here’s that data set.

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At a high level, things look basically identical.

And, at a medium level – they’re still identical:

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And a low level, they’re still virtually identical. Even going under this gigantic highway overpass all units are basically the same. No wonky outliers here. In fact, I’d say the Timex R300 was the ‘cleanest’ track here under this overpass.

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Honestly, this entire track is watching four lines all within a meter or two of each other at all times.

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So yeah, kinda boring.

Here’s another boring set. This one was headed to a local cycling track of sorts (a dedicated loop about 2KM long only for cyclists). That’s always fun to do with GPS devices, to see how well it handles the same route over and over again. In other words, can it do it exactly the same numerous times? Here’s that data set:

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Now, as you can see above, it basically looks the same.

But, let’s zoom into that track section. Ok, yeah, still looks the same.

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So…more zoom!

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Ok, now we can see a bit of separation, and a bit of off-roading. But, even in this example both the Edge 530 & Edge 830 are occasionally off-track too. I think it’s fair to say that while all very similar (and totally acceptable for Strava), the tracks of the Edge 530/830 are a bit sharper on the road than the Timex. But again, we’re really nitpicking at this point.

We can see the same at the other end of the track too:

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Ultimately the accuracy from a road cycling GPS standpoint is solid. No complaints.

And from a running standpoint, the same is true as well. And in many cases, it’s beating higher-end units. For example, on this run last week, it *easily* beat the high-end Garmin Fenix 6 Pro GPS accuracy-wise, whereby that watch was off in the river (way in the river). And the same goes for other watches like the Polar Grit X too.

Look, I’m sure there’s cases where the Timex R300 can manage to totally screw up, but I haven’t found it yet in many, many, many workouts. It’s just spot-on.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks, and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Heart Rate Accuracy:

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Next up we’ve got heart rate accuracy.  This roughly falls into two buckets: 24×7 HR, and workout HR.  As is usually the case with most devices these days, I see no tangible issues with 24×7 HR (it’s exceptionally rare that I see issues in this realm, given how easy it is).  It works well across both normal daily routines as well as things like sleep.  Speaking of which, I talk about RHR values and 24×7 monitoring here and why it’s interesting.

Before we move on to the test results, note that optical HR sensor accuracy is rather varied from individual to individual.  Aspects such as skin color, hair density, and position can impact accuracy.  Position, and how the band is worn, are *the most important* pieces.  A unit with an optical HR sensor should be snug.  It doesn’t need to leave marks, but you shouldn’t be able to slide a finger under the band (at least during workouts).  You can wear it a tiny bit looser the rest of the day.

Ok, so in my testing, I simply use the watch throughout my normal workouts.  Those workouts include a wide variety of intensities and conditions, making them great for accuracy testing.  I’ve got steady runs, interval workouts on both bike and running.

For each test, I’m wearing additional devices, usually 3-4 in total, which capture data from other sensors.  Typically I’d wear a chest strap (usually the Garmin HRM-DUAL or Polar H10, but also Polar H9) as well as another optical HR sensor watch on the other wrist (lately the Whoop band, Polar OH1 Plus, as well as the Mio Pod). Note that the numbers you see in the upper right corner are *not* the averages, but rather just the exact point my mouse is sitting over.  Note all this data is analyzed using the DCR Analyzer, details here.

We’re going to start with something simple here first, a relatively stable run without a ton of variance. Here’s that dataset.

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Honestly, that’s boring. It’s perfectly accurate. As one would hope for basically a stable run. In fact, the ramp at the beginning was also the most accurate of the bunch too! Even more so when you consider it did better than the chest strap (which incorrectly spiked).

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For fun, here’s another flat and stable run from last week:

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Again, very good overall, a few minor blips here and there where it’d spike, but it’s spiking way less than I saw the recent Polar Grit X spike. For a $129 heart rate sensor, nothing comes close.

So, given that’s boringly accurate, let’s increase the difficulty. This time a mostly even run, except for hill repeats in the middle. Obviously, that’s challenging because the intensity is similar to intervals, but also going downhill increases cadence which in turn usually gives optical HR sensors more difficulty. Here’s that data set:

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So, as you can see in that first 20 mins or so that while it’s close – it’s got about half a dozen spikes here and there. Nothing major, at worst about 10bpm high (which, is high, though it only happened briefly). And the remainder were 3-5bpm. I would occasionally see this elsewhere over the past two months in testing, but it was rare. It always spiked high, but never low.

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Now, let’s look at the hill repeats. These were non-stop loop efforts, so basically up one part of the hill, then looping down another trail. Rinse, repeat. And by and large, out of the 8 sets, they’re near identical on all but one. Only one set (#4), it goes a bit sideways for some reason. I don’t know why. However, I do know that on one of those sets I was trying to record some video going – so it’s plausible it’s that one set that it caught.

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Next, for the post-hill parts, you can see it follows the similar pattern of pre-intervals, where it’s going a bit wonky spiking. For this portion, I was just running trying to get home, so no filming there.

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Next, it’s full-on interval time! This first bump you see is more of a kick up in pace than a true interval. Basically a build. But after that, those are legit intervals at approximately 6:10-6:20/mile (3:45-4:00/km). Nice cruisin’ pace.

You can see here that the Timex R300 gets off to a rough start oddly, where it drops entirely for no particular reason. And then about two mins later it locks into place and life is grand again. And after that point it’s actually quite stable and very close to the other units (except the Whoop and Charge 4, which got wonky). I can’t reiterate enough how impressive this is. These weren’t easy intervals, and the R300 HR sensor nailed everything here:

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Again, look closely at the core intervals. And look at the Whoop 3.0 strap (I’ve highlighted it in yellow) which starts at $180 (that’s the minimum buy-in price). That is literally just a heart rate strap. Yet here’s a $129 wearable that has GPS, a screen, and a gazillion other features and it nails this. Like, perfectly nails this run.

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What about an outdoor ride. No prob – I’ve got data there too. Except, it doesn’t always end well for the Timex R300 (but sometimes it does). First up, is this ride here where you can clearly see it just lost the plot about 40% into the ride, and then never recovered. It also wasn’t on-point for the first 10 minutes either.

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I mean, I could somehow analyze that further, but life is short: It was a disaster.

However, it’s not always that way.

For example, check out this ride from last week, intervals actually, doing loops around a circuit. Here’s that data set, compared against a Wahoo TICKR X, Mio Pod, Whoop 3.0 strap, and Polar Grit X. As you can see, it was basically the same the entire time – save one couple-minute stretch after the intervals as I easy-pedaled back home.

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Within the times that it’s close, you’ll see that it’s nearly spot on. There’s only a few nuanced times where it seems to blip a bit higher (always higher, almost never lower), and is a bit wobbly when it does so. Mind you, if this was a $699 GPS I’d probably be harsher. But in the case of outdoor cycling, I’ve mostly given up on using optical HR sensors on the wrist. So if I was using this, it’d be totally acceptable in my book.

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So ultimately, I’m very impressed with the Timex R300’s HR sensor. I had joked above that the sensor on this is far better than the Whoop sensor (and hey, with better battery too) at a lower price point. But it’s kinda hard to overstate that.

Not so much with respect to Whoop – but many optical HR sensors I test. This is in the ballpark of any of the better sensors I’ve used on watches from Garmin, Polar, or Apple. No watch is perfect. None. Each optical HR sensor has their quirks and nuances. And I can find complete failures on all of them. Just as the R300 GPS does above.

But when I saw the price, and then saw the sensor on the back of the watch – I assumed I’d be soon doing graphs of dumpster fires. But that’s clearly not the case here. It’s very clearly quite close to these high-end units (and in some cases, surpassing them – if not almost always equaling them). So kudos Timex (and AmazFit) on nailing this one.

Product Comparison Tool:

I’ve added the Timex R300 GPS into the product comparison tool, which allows you to compare it against any watches I’ve reviewed to date.  For the purposes of the below table, I’ve compared it against the existing Fitbit Versa (usually $149), the Apple Watch Series 3 (often on sale for $199), as well as the Garmin Forerunner 45 (on sale for $149 these days).

It’s a tricky unit to compare against because it’s priced so far below the others. So, when the others aren’t on sale – it stands totally alone when looking at sports watches from reputable companies. When the others are on sale, the decision (such as against the FR45) is much more difficult.

But you can easily mix and match against any other products within the database here, by creating your own product comparison tables.  Note that in some cases nuanced features (like the specifics of how different watches track training load or recovery), doesn’t really fit well into product comparison tools designed to host hundreds of watches:

Function/FeatureTimex R300 GPSGarmin Forerunner 45/45SApple Watch Series 3Fitbit Versa
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated June 30th, 2020 @ 2:29 pmNew Window Expand table for more results
Price$129$199$169-$179$149
Product Announcement DateFeb 2019Apr 30th, 2019Sept 12th, 2017March 2018
Actual Availability/Shipping DateApr 2019Early May 2019Sept 22nd, 2017April 2018
GPS Recording FunctionalityYesYesYesvia phone
Data TransferBluetooth SmartUSB, Bluetooth SmartBluetooth SmartBluetooth Smart
Waterproofing50m50 meters50m50m
Battery Life (GPS)20 hours GPS (and 28 days standby)13 Hours5hrs GPS on time (24-48hrs standby)N/A
Recording IntervalVariable (every few seconds)SMART RECORDING (VARIABLE)Varies1-second
Satellite Pre-Loading via ComputerYesYesYes (but seems questionable)N/A
Quick Satellite ReceptionGreatGreatNot generallyN/A

Remember, you can mix and match and create your own product comparison tables here, for watches not seen above.

Wrap-Up:

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Overall, for $129 I came away pretty darn surprised at how good this watch is. It’s got a ton of features packed into it, and probably more importantly – it’s actually accurate. This isn’t just a quick plastic piece of junk knock-off with a Timex logo on it – it’s easily matching the GPS performance and heart rate accuracy of watches that cost $600-$800.

It just doesn’t have all the features of those watches. Nor, would one expect it to. But it does have most of the features of the $200-$250 watches out there today. And in some ways, that’s probably the more important takeaway. And of course, that depends on Huami and their Amazfit platform to pull off. I don’t particularly see that as a huge problem for most consumers, though some might. For me, I think it’s a huge boon for Timex to be able to get a platform of that level without having to build it themselves.

Of course – as noted throughout the review, the unit isn’t perfect. The entirety of the ‘Coached’ workouts pieces is confusing and needs some polish applied, not to mention the lack of basic workout exporting to other platforms beyond Strava and RunKeeper is a problem (especially since the exporting to Apple Health doesn’t include any GPS information).

On the flip side, Timex easily delivers on battery life. Whatever magic they have inside that watch to get them that battery life is clearly working, so I can’t complain there.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for a budget GPS sports watch and the Timex look appeals to you – then this is certainly an option to consider with only a handful of minor downsides.

Found this review useful?  Support the site!  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.

Note that Timex sent over a media loaner for me to try out, like always this review isn’t sponsored in any way. Once I’ve finished my tests here I’ll package it up and go out and buy my own for future usage.

If you’re a fan of Amazon, you can pick up the Timex R300 GPS that way and it helps support the site!  It doesn’t cost you anything extra, yet helps here a bunch.  If you’re outside the US, it should automatically find the right Amazon country for you – but you can always use the big Amazon country links on the right sidebar if so!  Oh, and in the future if you just click that Amazon logo before buying anything else (like laundry detergent or toilet paper), that supports the site too!

Timex R300 GPS (Black)
Timex R300 GPS (Dark Grey)
Timex R300 GPS (Light Grey)

And of course – you can always sign-up to be a DCR Supporter!  That gets you an ad-free DCR, and also makes you awesome.  And being awesome is what it’s all about!

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!

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Garmin Varia RTL515 and RVR315 Cycling Radar In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/05/garmin-rtl515-rvr315-cycling-radar-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/05/garmin-rtl515-rvr315-cycling-radar-review.html#comments Wed, 13 May 2020 11:00:00 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=112273 Read More Here ]]> DSC_4951

Like clock-work, two years after releasing the last version of the Garmin Varia radar, the company has released its now third generation version. While this new version looks identical from the outside, it’s not internally – sporting new features and compatibility. Oh, and actually: There’s two new radars. The second smaller new unit ditches the taillight in favor of a smaller form factor.

Both the new lights now include Bluetooth Smart connectivity, making it possible to not only see radar information on a new smartphone app, but it also enables 3rd party smartphone support too. At launch that includes RideWithGPS’s app, but will likely be expanded over time as other apps pick up support for it.

In addition to the Bluetooth Smart connectivity, battery life on the larger of the two units is slightly increased, while also adding a new ‘peloton mode’ that reduces the brightness of the steady-on light while you’re in a group, reducing the annoyance of those around you. Though, you’re not riding in tight groups right now anyway – right?

I’ve been using both units for a month or so now and have a pretty good grasp on all the nuances to them. Though, the TLDR version here is simply that if you’ve already got a Varia radar, there probably isn’t a major reason to upgrade. Whereas if you’re looking at one, then you’ll want to weigh whether these new features are worth it versus just getting one of the now-older ones on sale. Beyond the battery/Bluetooth/brightness tweaks, the radar works identically to the past.

Now – if you’re looking for all the new goodness in one tidy video, simply hit play below:

Oh – and I was sent these media loaner units to test these out. They’ll go back to Garmin here shortly and I’ll go out and buy my own through normal retail channels. If you found this review useful, hit up the links at the bottom of the post to support the site.

What’s in the box:

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First up we’ve got the RTL515. If you’re a connoisseur of unboxings, you’ll be disappointed to know it’s virtually identical inside to that of the RTL510. And for that matter, aside from a few tiny text tweaks, the boxes are the same too!

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Anyway, inside here’s all the parts in plastic bags…and then not in plastic bags:

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You’ve got the radar to the left, which uses the standard Garmin quarter-turn mount. Then in the middle there’s the mounting bits for your seat post – notably, the Varia RTL515/RVR315 now include a third mounting option, for d-shaped seatposts (as well as an aero v-shaped one and a standard round one).

And at right is the micro-USB charging cable. I keep wondering: Maybe USB-C hasn’t made it to Kansas yet? Perhaps they’re just aficionado’s of the micro-USB cable? Do their MacBook’s have micro-USB ports on them instead? Just asking for a friend.

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Aside from the RTL515 logo on the rear, there’s no visual difference between the RTL510 and RTL, save also the tiny Bluetooth icon etched inside the quarter-turn mount:

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See, the side profiles:

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In fact, the two units even weigh the same:

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As for the RVR315, I’ve only got a white-box variant of it. But here’s the parts. It’s the same slate as up above:

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The pod is obviously smaller than the RTL515, since it lacks a light. It’s about the same thickness/width however.

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As for the weight, it saves there too – down to 49g:

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And thus, your boxing experience has now concluded.

Getting Setup:

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If you’re familiar with the existing RTL510, then everything you know is still true. Instead, all of the changes for the RTL515 are additive in nature. So you’d get the new smartphone app based compatibility via Bluetooth, the new peloton mode, and the slight increase in battery life. Now, I know that Garmin’s radar naming convention can be a bit higgledy piggledy, so, here’s a quick primer on all radar versions:

RTL = Rear Tail Light
RVR = Rear Varia Radar
RDU = Radar Display Unit

RVR315: Smaller Varia radar pod with ANT+ & Bluetooth, no taillight
RTL515:
New 3rd gen Varia radar taillight with ANT+ & Bluetooth
RTL516: New 3rd gen Varia radar taillight with ANT+ & Bluetooth [STVZO compliant for German market]
RTL510: 2nd gen Varia radar taillight with ANT+
RTL511: 2nd gen Varia radar taillight with ANT+ [STVZO compliant for German market]
RTL500: 1st gen Varia radar with ANT+ (looks rectangular)
RTL501: 1st gen Varia radar with ANT+ (looks rectangular) [STVZO compliant for German market]
RSP: Rhubarb Strawberry Pie
RDU: Varia display unit, the small dedicated display for when folks didn’t have a compatible display device

Here, simplified in one picture:

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Anyway, back to the basics first, which is pairing it up to a non-phone display. To do that, you’ll crack open your Garmin Edge or almost any Garmin watch (or Wahoo ELEMNT series, or Hammerhead Karoo, or Stages L50/M50 units). Within that, you’ll search for a new sensor. However, before you do that, be sure you turn it on. We’ll start with the RTL515 first:

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There’s also a pairing mode too – which allows you to pair the light side of things, though realistically the first time you power it on, it’ll be in that mode anyway. Pairing mode is indicated by a blinking purple light on the side. If for some reason you get yourself out of that mode, when turning it on, just hold the button a few more seconds to get in pairing mode.

Meanwhile, back on your Garmin/whatever, search for sensors. Some devices allow searching for a specific sensor type, in which case you can select ‘Radar’:

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It’ll give you a quick warning page that you agree that it’s still not Garmin’s fault if a car hits you – even if the radar fails. Obviously, that’d likely be deleterious to your bike’s paint scheme.

At this point, for the RTL515 it’ll also form a light network. This is because the RTL515 is also an ANT+ enabled light, which follows the ANT+ standard on lights. Not all bike computer companies support ANT+ lights, so keep that in mind. In this case, it won’t adversely impact the radar side of the product if your Wahoo/Stages/Hammerhead doesn’t yet support ANT+ lights. You can still use the button on the side of the RTL515 to change the light modes.

Once everything is done, you’ll see the RTL515 listed in the devices twice. Once as a bike light (shown as ‘Lights’ below), and once as a radar (shown as ‘239111’. If you have other bike lights, you can add them into the network (or you may have added the RTL515 into your existing network):

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Next, if we crack open the paired radar device we can see on the first page the ANT+ ID as the name. We can change this to whatever we want (such as naming it RTL515). Meanwhile, if you hit sensor details you can go into alert settings:

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This allows us to customize which side the vehicle column is displayed on. Some people might prefer it on the left versus right, and it’ll allow you to change to a single tone versus the multi-tone (or off). I personally prefer the multi-tone, since it’s a unique alert indicating a car (versus just a navigational alert). And you can turn the color overlays on or off:

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That’s it for setup!

Meanwhile, back on the RVR315, the steps are nearly identical – except you don’t have the bike light piece. So again, go into the sensor pairing menu and search for a radar sensor. Oh, wait, don’t forget to turn it on! You can tell that by the barely visible light on the side where that black dot is:

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Ok, now search for the sensor:

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Just like before, if we crack open the paired radar device we can see on the first page the ANT+ ID as the name (126486). We can change this to whatever we want (such as naming it RVR315). Meanwhile, if you hit sensor details you can go into alert settings:

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This allows us to customize which side the vehicle column is displayed on. Some people might prefer it on the left versus right, and it’ll allow you to change to a single tone versus the multi-tone (or off). I personally prefer the multi-tone, since it’s a unique alert indicating a car (versus just a navigational alert). And you can turn the color overlays on or off:

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As for mounting it, the box comes with a seat post mount and three different adjustment shims, depending on the type of seat post you have. For example, one of them works with aero seat posts that are more v-like. Whereas the others can be used for different seat post types. I just used the normal one:

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The industrial strength band holds the whole thing on the seat post without issue. You can however get other 3rd party mounts if you lack a good seat post spot (for example if bags or a child seat is blocking it). There’s even metal ones for your saddle you can buy too. And plenty of people have devised nifty 3D printed options up on Shapeways also. Or, you can just get creative with some spare parts and make your own mount out of zip ties. Here’s how I attached it to the back of the cargo bike, well, technically, to the back of the rear kid’s seat:

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And here’s using the v-shaped one on my Cervelo P3C:

Ok, now we’re ready to head outside. I mean, I guess you could use this inside too. In fact, it works just fine in tunnels. Been there, done that.

Out on the Road:

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The singular point of the Varia radar is to tell you cars are approaching from behind. It only points backwards, and will only tell you of cars overtaking you. Except, that’s actually not super accurate. It’s going to tell you about – anything – overtaking you. That’s notable if you’re pedaling next to a high-speed rail line and you get the ‘high speed danger’ Varia alert about 1 second before the cavernous sound of the train flies past. You may or may not crap yourself.

The point being – Varia doesn’t have some magic that only accounts for cars, or trucks. Instead, it’s trying to warn you of anything that’s about to pass you. Here in the Netherlands, it’s actually far more common for a moped (or e-cyclist) to overtake you than a car, because the bike path infrastructure is so good. But both are still valid things to want to know about.

So, the way it works is that once powered on, the radar will start tracking objects approaching you. Each car/bike/train/plane/charging cow (I’m just gonna call them cars for the sake of explanation), will show up as an individual object on your screen:

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As you can see above, the edges of my screen turn a yellow-orange color – indicating a normal overtake speed. Note, this is not the true speed of the car, but rather the difference in speed between you and the car. Each dot indicates a separate car. Though, if traffic is heavy enough, cars can ‘hide’ other cars’. But I think at that point the warning is still valid: A car is behind you.

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Now, if a vehicle is approaching fast enough (relative to your speed), it’ll trigger a red warning as well as a slightly different tone. This is your ‘Danger, Will Robinson’ warning.  Or, it could be a train on the tracks next to you.

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Speaking of which, the official stated range of the radar is 140 meters. Meaning, it’ll pick up moving objects that far behind you. In most cases, I found that to easily be the case on clear roads. If you’ve got structures (due to winding roads), then obviously, that’s going to impact radar. Which is why my train came at the last second – a concrete wall and grove of trees was obstructing things until the last moment.

Now, once a car completes its pass, the screen will turn green – indicating no further traffic is behind you:

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If a car turns off the road, it’ll do the same as well.

In any case, in the other notable item is that in the upper right corner you’ll see the white little wifi-looking icon illuminated. This means that radar is on/activated. If this goes away (or the radar disconnects, such as due to running out of battery), then the Garmin will warn you that the radar is no longer connected. It’ll say radar disconnected and you can see the icon is red in the upper right corner.

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Brief Sidebar: This is a good time to point out that Garmin does make a standalone handlebar display unit. I’m honestly not sure who actually buys that thing in the RTL515/RVR315 world, since you could almost buy an entire cheap Edge 25 bike computer from Garmin for less than it costs.  But, just in case you wanted to see it…here it is:

Note that the latest (2nd) generation handlebar unit now has audible alerts. The first generation didn’t have an audio alert, it was only visual. The second version has audio alerts, that part number is 010-12384-10. Garmin isn’t doing any bundles with the RDU at this point.

So – in general, where do I find the radar capability useful? Well – mostly out of the city. As I’ve said for half a decade now, it’s mostly useless inside a city where cars are passing every three seconds. You just become numb to it. However, outside the city where car passes are more rare, it’s far more useful. I use it on country roads, and also (when travel allows) on mountain roads. I find the mountain roads super useful because during fast descents I can’t hear the cars behind me – but the radar can see them. And since I don’t tend to want to turn my head around for long periods of time during a twisty descent, it’s perfect to help me judge whether I should let a car pass or not.

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In my case, I’m lucky that car traffic simply isn’t an issue for the vast majority of places I ride. As I peregrinate from windmill to windmill on quiet canal-lined bike paths, cars frankly aren’t a major concern here for cyclists. Even this map that shows all my recent radar interactions, is slightly misleading because almost all the vehicle radar location points are actually grade-separated bike paths.  This entire 54KM route only saw 27 cars in total, and yet of those, less than 10 were actually on the same road as me (the rest were next to me which the radar will pick up).

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Still, I do find it useful. It’s helpful when you’re riding for long periods of time without a car to ‘snap’ you out of that tranquility and ensure that you’re where you need to be on the road.

As for false-positives? I’m just not having any. It’s as simple as that. The closest I get to a false-positive is a moped or fast moving e-biker overtaking me. But again, those aren’t really false-positives. You want to know those things are there. I had one normal road cyclist trigger an alert – but again, that’s also logical.  It will not trigger if others in your group are riding with you at the same speed (or roughly the same speed). I haven’t been able to re-test that much lately though given restrictions.

Phone App Compatibility:

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There are few apps in the world that are as simplistic as the Garmin Varia Radar app. Seriously, this section won’t take long. This app is meant to be used instead of a dedicated bike computer. For example, many people might commute or ride without a dedicated bike computer (such as myself). In that case, I do have a simple phone mount on my commuting/city/cargo bikes that I can snap my phone in, which would allow me to use this app instead.

Once the app is installed, it’ll give you two pages of informational stuffs:

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After you’ve confirmed it, it’ll pair it up:

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You can tap the ‘…’in the upper right corner to see which device is paired (you can save multiple devices), as well as enable/disable both sounds or vibrations.

And…you’re done. To use it, back on the main screen you’ll see a long…umm…rectangle…with a slightly tapered tip, that indicates the traffic behind you. At the top it’ll show green when clear, yellow when a car is there, and red when a fast-moving car is there – just like it would on a Garmin device:

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With the red danger warning cars, you also get a squiggly line, which Garmin says is done to help make it super-clear that’s a danger car, which also assists those with color blindness.

And that’s all there is to know about it. It’s just a super simplistic version of the dedicated bike computer app.

Except wait – there’s more! There’s non-Garmin apps too now! With the new Bluetooth connectivity in the Varia RTL515 and RVR315, apps can connect to the radar. It’s not an open standard at this point, but apps can request access from Garmin to get the SDK information to talk to the radar. Hopefully they find a way to either make it a standard, or just publish the specs on a website somewhere and let apps do their magic (which is exactly how it’d work in a standard profile).

The first app to do so is RideWithGPS. To pair up your Varia Radar to it, go into Settings > Bluetooth & Sensors > Set up Varia Radar > Pair:

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Note that you can’t have it concurrently connected to another app at the same time. Paired yes, but actively open/used…no. So if you have the Garmin Varia radar app open, you’ll just need to close that first. You can however have both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart connected concurrently (meaning, you can use one phone app and unlimited ANT+ connections). Once paired, it has both audio alerts and the ability to change which side of the app the vehicle track is on:

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Now when you go out and ride you’ll see the common Varia radar track along the left side. You’ll also notice the little icon indicating an active radar connection, and of course, car details too – even with small markers showing how far back the car is distance-wise (in my case, my app is in US Statute, so it’s showing feet). Below at left you see what it shows when no cars are present (grey along the left). Whereas at right it shows the red for high-speed cars:

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And then below at left we see green, which means there are cars.

Wait, what?

Yes, for real. They used green not to indicate ‘all clear’ (like every other device on the market), but instead to indicate ‘warning, cars abound!’. Umm. Ok.

Meanwhile, at right, they use amber to indicate disconnection of the radar.

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Honestly, I don’t really get it. Everyone should follow the same conventions here. Garmin, Wahoo, Stages, Hammerhead – they all use the same color scheme for good reason: It’s logical. Green is ‘all good now’, red is really bad, and amber is be aware, and grey/empty is no cars nearby. Everyone understands it. Hopefully it’s something RideWithGPS can tweak. I think the metrics on the side is kinda neat – so that’s unique. But again, it’s early days here – so no hard feelings if they change it by tomorrow morning.

Now, extending this, how cool would this concept be in other apps? You know, like perhaps Strava. Oh, that’s right – they killed off sensor support. Never mind, my bad. They’re now nothing but a gongoozler in the app-sensor world.

Bike Computer Compatibility:

Now the Varia Radar is actually built atop an open-standard, technically the ANT+ Cycling Radar device profile. That means that other 3rd party companies can implement it in their bike computers or watches (or whatever) without ever talking to Garmin. And indeed, a few have to date. I’m not going to rehash all of those implementations in this post, since I’ve already written about them. Instead, you can go check them out in the following links.

Note that virtually all of these companies implement it almost identical – which I think is a good thing. The way the information is displayed is simplistic, easy to understand, and doesn’t need to be overengineered. Having consistency in safety UI design is good.

First up, was Wahoo implementing the Varia radar profile last spring. The only difference there is that with some creativity you can change cars to any icon you’d like. Such as trains…or chickens.

Then there was Hammerhead with the Karoo last fall:

And finally, there was Stages with their newer Stages L50 and M50 GPS computers this past December:

Sigma has talked about adding support as well. Note that none of these however support the ANT+ light networks yet. That means that it won’t automatically turn on/off your RTL510/515 when you turn on/off your bike computer. Nor can you control light intensity from your bike computer. But hey, no biggie at this point in my mind.

RTL515 Taillight Functions:

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The RTL515, like the RTL510 before it, functions as an ANT+ connected bike light as well. This means that the light functions (including intensity and blinking) can be automatically controlled from your Garmin. If you didn’t add it as a light device earlier on, then go ahead and do that back in the setup section.

Once that’s done you’ll see the light as part of the light network in your sensor listing:

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The default light mode for the RTL515 is a solid light, but you can change it to either a night flash or day flash mode. By doing so you save yourself considerable battery. Remember that chart on the side of the box.

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The battery is up to 16 hours in day flash mode, whereas only 6 hours in solid mode or night-flash mode. Peloton mode gets you to 8 hours. The claimed distance that the 60 lumen lights are visible is up to a mile away.

You can iterate through the modes by pressing the top button. To summarize, they are as follows:

1) Solid always-on mode – 20 lumens
2) Solid lower-brightness peloton mode – 8 lumens
3) Pulsing higher brightness day flash mode – 65 lumens
4) Night flash mode – 29 lumens

I show all of these modes in the main video, if you want to get a feel for what they look like visually. Once you open the lights sensor in your sensor listings, you’ll see additional options:

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The idea here is that you can control multiple lights, which is what the ‘network’ refers to. So you can pick up an ANT+ front light (from non-Garmin companies too, including Cycliq, Bontrager, and See.Sense), add those in – automatically turning them on all together, or having their settings changed in concert.

For example, under ‘Network Options’, you can tweak which light modes would be used.

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My favorite though is the ‘Light Beam Activated’ option, which basically quietly connects to your light in the background, but lets you not actually turn it on till you start your ride timer:

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You can also test lights in there too. Meanwhile, back on the main light network page you can open individual lights and view settings about them. Mostly though, you can adjust the exact intensity/light pattern.

However, most of the times you won’t live in the settings panel. Instead, mid-ride you can adjust these from the status option. It’s not quite as intuitive as Bontrager’s light control panel Connect IQ app, but it works. It’s easier with touchscreen interfaces like those on the Edge 1030 or Edge 830.

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Again, the main thing here is overall control. And for me, the real benefit is simply that it turns my radar on and off automatically when I start my Garmin. Simplicity is key.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Here ya go, based on half a decade of Varia radar questions, I’ve cultivated the most common things folks tend to ask. Plus a few new ones here for the RTL515 and RVR315.

What’s the difference between the newer RTL515 and the older RTL510 again, they look identical?

While externally identical, the RTL515 has Bluetooth connectivity for apps, and a new lessened steady ‘Peloton’ mode for group riding. Also, it has 1hr extra battery compared to the RTL510.

What’s the difference between the RTL515 and the RVR315?

The RVR315 doesn’t include a light. They removed that and basically just gave you the radar bit. This is useful if you already have a light. For example, my cargo bike already has a light built into it. As does my wife’s e-bike. And my around town city bike. Just give me the radar and call it done. Though, you only get 7 hours of battery with the RVR315.

Wait, how much do they cost again?

The RTL515 is $199, the RVR315 is $149. The RTL510 (the older one) has been on sale most of the last few months for $129USD.

How do I turn peloton mode on?

You’ll simply press the upper button on the top of the RTL515, and it’ll go into the lower-brightness steady option.

Will the Varia prevent a car from hitting me?

Simply put: No.  But, it may prevent a car from hitting you if you’re the one that’s not paying attention.  It won’t prevent a car from hitting you if you’re on the side of the road minding your business and a car crosses the line and hits you.  But if you’re out in the middle of the lane on a quiet road somewhere and don’t realize a fast approaching car is behind you – it may give you just that little bit of warning to get out of the way and onto the shoulder area (or edge of the road).

Why don’t you just use a $15 bike mirror?

Sure, you can. Though, a mirror does require you to be constantly looking at the mirror. Not a big deal with peripheral vision – but still, it does require that versus the audible tones here.  To each their own. The mirror vs Varia radar debate honestly ended five years ago. Just like politics, neither side will agree and no further points can be assigned to either side.

Can Varia be used as a standalone taillight?

Sure.  Both the Varia RTL510 and RTL515 can be used that way, but not the RVR315 (since it doesn’t have a taillight at all).  For the RTL510/515, you can actually pair it as a ANT+ light in addition to an ANT+ radar unit. That has the advantage of then accessing it within the ANT+ lighting control center, which in turn means you can have the unit turn on/off automatically when you power on/off your Garmin.

Can you change from blinking to steady-on mode?

Yes, you can change to and from either mode by using the button on the Varia radar.  If in the default mode of solid-on/red, then pressing it once will go to a very slow/faint pulsing.  Pressing it again will go to a double-blink of sorts. Pressing it one more time will power off the light, but leave on the radar.  And pressing it one last time will bring it back to solid red.

Can Varia be used with more than one display unit at once?

Yes, you can actually pair it to more than one Edge unit (or an Edge + the Varia Display unit).  I did that for most of my rides with the new RTL515 – it was paired concurrently to an Edge 530, 830, Fenix 6, and even an older Edge 520 Plus at one point too.  This could also be interesting for tandem bikes where each rider has their own head unit. I’ve also tried it with both a Wahoo ROAM and a Hammerhead Karoo.

Can you put the radar on the front of the bike?

Sure, but it’s going to basically just show you traffic that you can already see.  And it probably would be rather un-aerodynamic facing forward.  Also, with the red light aspect (albeit not on the RVR315), you’d be confusing cars that believe they’re overtaking you – especially at night when it’s harder to know the direction of travel of a cyclist in the dark. Plus, since your travelling forward it dramatically increases the ‘overtake’ speed, so every car would likely be categorized as a high-speed car (with the higher danger/alert warning). In other words, no, just don’t do it.

Summary:

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The RTL515 is a modest upgrade over the RTL510. If you’re in the market for a Garmin Varia radar, then it’s certainly worth weighing the slight uptick in new features, primarily if you think you might utilize the app-based connectivity (sans-bike computer basically). The added battery is basically a wash, being only one hour more. Whether or not you ride with friends that are annoyed by the rear taillight enough to want the new peloton light mode probably depends on where you live. If your locale is primarily dark/dreary/rainy, then it’ll mean more to you. Whereas if you live in a bright and sunny place, you probably never noticed.

As for the RVR315, from a radar standpoint it’s perfectly functional. It does exactly what the box says and exactly what the RTL515 does…minus the light. I’d have really liked to have seen Garmin price the RVR315 at $99 – which I think would have significantly expanded radar adoption – in the same way the recent RTL510 price drop to $129 did. They sold like hotcakes at that price. Heck, maybe the RVR315 should be $129.

Pricing aside – if you or your bike already has a taillight that you like, then it’s worth considering the RVR315. Though, keep in mind at less than half the battery-life of the RTL515, you’re sacrificing more than just the light.

Ultimately – whether or not this product fits your needs hasn’t changed much from the previous two versions. It’s largely going to depend on where you ride, and whether vehicle traffic is a real concern on those roads or not. As other non-Garmin players have added support for the Varia radar units in the past year, we’ve seen adoption really start to increase. Hopefully that trend can continue, and maybe we’ll even see some interesting ways people can leverage that data for route planning purposes or beyond. More on that soon.

With that – thanks for reading!

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Garmin Varia Radar Taillight RTL515
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Garmin Varia Radar Taillight RTL515 (EU/UK/AU/NZ – Wiggle)
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Wahoo’s New 2020 TICKR & TICKR X: In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/05/wahoos-new-2020-tickr-tickr-x-in-depth-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/05/wahoos-new-2020-tickr-tickr-x-in-depth-review.html#comments Thu, 07 May 2020 12:00:00 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=112093 Read More Here ]]> DSC_4728

Wahoo has just announced a set of new TICKR & TICKR X heart rate straps that include some modest feature updates, most notably running dynamics support in the TICKR-X, as well as multiple concurrent Bluetooth Smart connections so you can pair to apps like Zwift at the same time as other wearables or bike computers. They’ve also increased the battery life, added more storage to the TICKR X, made the pods slightly slimmer, and a handful of other tweaks. Oh, and there’s multiple colors of the base TICKR unit now.

The new straps maintain the same retail pricing as the previous straps ($49 for the TICKR and $79 for the TICKR X), though both of those straps could often be found for less over the past year or two. The older TICKR RUN edition is not being continued, since those features are basically rolled into the new TICKR X.

I’ve been using both straps for the last few months – so plenty of time to dig into them with boatloads of data. Now, if you’d like that delivered in witty video form, then look no further than the red play button below:

Else, continue using that swipe/scroll option to move your way through the rest of the article.

Oh, and as usual, these are just media loaners from Wahoo. I’ll send them back in a disinfected paper bag or something down the line. After which I’ll go out and get my own. If you found this review useful, then feel free to use some of the links at the sidebar, or, sign-up for a DCR Supporter membership, which helps support the site! Thanks!

Unboxing:

Wahoo-TICKR-TICKR-X-Unboxing

There are three different boxed versions of the Wahoo TICKR: The TICKR X, The TICKR (White), and the TICKR (Stealth). The two regular TICKR’s are the same, just different colors. Spoiler: From an unboxing standpoint, all three boxes are identical. Here’s the back of the TICKR vs TICKR X:

Wahoo-TICKR-TICKR-X-Unboxing-BackSide

If we slide open the side of the box, you’ll find the pod sitting atop the strap:

Wahoo-TICKR-X-Box-Opened

Meanwhile, removing all the inside stuff we’ve got the strap, pod, some legal paperwork, and then a quick-start guide:

Wahoo-TICKR-X-Unboxed-Components Wahoo-TICKR-Stealth-Unboxed-Components

Here’s a closer look at the still-plastic-on pod:

Wahoo-TICKR-X-2020-Pod

Then the strap:

Wahoo-TICKR-X-2020-Strap

Then the manual you’ll pretend to read. You needn’t read it after this, it basically says wet your strap and put it around your chest.

Wahoo-TICKR-X-QuickStartGuide

And…that’s it! The CR2032 battery is already inside. As far as thinness goes, Wahoo advertises the 2020 TICKR in their PR materials as 10% thinner than the previous TICKR. Except, in my scientific testing – that’s clearly not the case. It’s actually thicker than their past strap:

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I never really had a thick/thinness issue on the previous one, so I’ll just assume this makes me faster somehow.

Also it’s worth noting that Wahoo claims (in their PR materials) the following:

A new, slimmer shape and integrated strap design make the latest TICKR and TICKR X the lightest heart rate monitors available at only 48g/1.7oz(pod and strap together).”

Except, this isn’t true either. I measured the previous Wahoo TICKR and it came to 44-45g (pod and strap, depending on which TICKR I used). There are boatloads of straps in the 47g ballpark, and the lightest strap I could find was a Timex Bluetooth Smart strap at 39g. Still in production is the Suunto strap at 43g. I demonstrate both of these in the video up above.

The Basics:

Wahoo-TICKR-TICKR-X-Basics

I get it, it’s “just a heart rate strap”. And try as I might to reduce the word count here, I probably won’t succeed. Still, I’ll try. For example, here’s a simple bulleted version of the new features for each unit:

Wahoo TICKR & TICKR X New Features:

– Made pod 10% slimmer
– Allows three concurrent Bluetooth Smart devices, unlimited ANT+ connections
– Shifted LED’s to top of strap
– Increased battery life from 350 hours to 500 hours (still CR2032 coin cell)
– Changed strap design to be flush with pod (which typically reduces chaffing for runners)
– Offered in white or grey

Wahoo TICKR X Only New features:

– Added ANT+ Running Dynamics (cadence, vertical oscillation, and ground contact time via official ANT+ HR-RD standard)
– Increased memory from 16 hours to 50 hours
(This is in addition to other TICKR-X only features like indoor cycling cadence, treadmill pace/distance, etc…)

Realistically, the only new things you probably actually care about here are the multiple concurrent Bluetooth Smart connections and ANT+ Running Dynamics if you’ve got a Garmin watch. The others are all niceties, but hardly game changers if you already own a TICKR (or any other strap for that matter).

For this post, I’ll use the straps mostly interchangeably to show them, largely based on which one looks the prettiest – since the others have two months of usage already and aren’t as crispy anymore. I discuss the TICKR X-only features specifically in the next section. Starting with the strap/pods, you’ll notice that it’s now streamlined.

In the below photo, the upper strap is the older design, the lower strap is the sleeker aero-like flush design. Obviously, it’s not aero. Or, maybe it is.

Wahoo-TICKR-vs-OLD-TICKR

Inside the pod is a single CR2032 coin cell battery. The company says it’ll last 500 hours. Seems reasonable.

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The pod attaches to the strap using dual poles. Once you attach both sides it’ll complete the connection and light up. You can ensure it shuts off by detaching one side of the strap for storage, though you don’t have to do so, it’ll eventually go to sleep either way.

Wahoo-TICKR-X-Flatter-Design

The inside of the strap where the electrode sensors are looks like basically every other strap – nothing special here.

Wahoo-TICKR-Grip-Backstuff

While you don’t need to set up the base TICKR strap using the Wahoo App, you can if you want. And you can use that to update the firmware when that occasionally happens. Setting it up is pretty easy. You just crack open the app and choose to add a Wahoo sensor:

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After it finds it, it’ll give you the 3-second (one-page) tutorial:

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Once connected in the app you can see signal strength, the exact name of the TICKR (this is how it will show in apps too), and firmware version.

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The ‘Workout Profiles’ you see in the app above are purely for the Wahoo app if recording a workout in that app – there’s no standalone functionality for the TICKR X that has different workout profiles or anything like some optical HR straps have. There’s no configuration options for the base TICKR strap or anything else. What you see is what you get (and honestly, that’s simplistically great).

The TICKR & TICKR X have two LED’s at the top of them, one each red and blue:

Wahoo-TICKR-LED-Lights

These lights are as follows:

Slow Blue Flashing: TICKR is on and searching
Fast 4x Blue Flashing: A device/app has been found
Fast Blue Flashing: A device/app is now connected to it
Red: Each time a heart beat is detected (you’re still alive)

The LED will stop flashing though after 30 seconds. So only if you die in the first 30 seconds will the TICKR visually tell you. The more you know!

If you go to pair the strap you’ll see it listed in two different ways, depending on the exact device/app you’re using, and whether it’s ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart. For example, on a Garmin Edge bike computer you’ll see it as via ANT+ first:

Wahoo-TICKR-Edge-Connection

Whereas a Wahoo ELEMNT/ROAM/BOLT bike computer will leverage Bluetooth Smart first:

Wahoo-TICKR-ROAM-Connection

There’s pros and cons to either preference. I typically use ANT+ because that means I can connect unlimited devices. Whereas Bluetooth can sometimes (but definitely not always) be slightly less prone to connectivity interference. Also, for me personally, with ANT+ I can enumerate the ANT+ ID’s in saved fitness files from most devices, acting as a way to double-check which sensor I recorded something with. Again, that’s a me problem – and very unlikely to be a you problem.

If you’re on Zwift with Apple TV, then you’ll see the Bluetooth Smart connection:

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And now, for the real party trick leveraging the new multiple connection option, I’m concurrently on TrainerRoad on an iPad with Bluetooth Smart to the same strap:

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But wait, there’s more! Now I’ll take my phone and connect to it as well using The Sufferfest App:

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I’m not done yet! And here’s the Edge 530 via ANT+. See – mind blown! Or…something:

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Point being, you’ve now got that flexibility for multiple connections. It’s something that Wahoo added to the KICKR/CORE lineup last fall, and prior to that we see Polar add it to their H10 strap, followed by Garmin to their HRM-DUAL strap.

Beyond that, you’ll do your workout as normal, and it’ll transmit your heart rate as normal.

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In addition to baseline heart rate (BPM), it’s also transmitting HRV data. Here’s a chart using the TICKR showing the HRV data (inclusive of RR intervals) with the Elite HRV app, connected via Bluetooth Smart on iOS:

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And here’s the same for the TICKR X:

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And, if you’re using a newer Garmin device, you’ll even get respiration rate as well. For example, here’s my ride the other day with the TICKR X and the Fenix 6 Pro:

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But mostly, you’re likely to just use it connected to any app/device you can think of. Given it follows all the ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart standards, it works with everything released in the last decade or so.

TICKR X Only Features:

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Next, we’ve got the TICKR X. This is Wahoo’s higher-end strap and includes additional features that the baseline TICKR doesn’t. Specially, here’s what’s different:

– [New] Added ANT+ Running Dynamics Support (previously Wahoo did non-standardized running efficiency metrics)
– [New] Expanded storage from 16 hours to 50 hours of memory for workout saving/storage
– Measures indoor cycling cadence
– Measures treadmill pace/distance
– Shows running efficiency metrics in app
– Can set laps via tapping
– Can control the Wahoo app, even your music (when paired with phone and Wahoo app)
– Can upload completed workouts to various 3rd party platforms

To pair up the TICKR X, it’s identical to the TICKR pairing process:

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Once paired though, you’ll see a ton of new menu options:

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On the upper portion of the page you’ll see current heart rate, as well as running speed/cadence/steps per minute. Realistically it’s unlikely you’ll be looking at this page on your phone while using the strap normally, but it’s a good quick check of things.

Then down lower there’s three options. The first is Double Tap. This sets up what happens in a given sport, based on when you double-tap the strap. Each of them basically controls starting/stopping, lap, or music track changes. The music bits is tied to using the app/phone of course.

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After that, there’s device-free workouts. This is where the TICKR X will automatically record a copy of every workout you do. It’s pretty handy, and much better than the Polar H10 implementation (which is a mess to use in reality). The workouts will simply download when you open this page up. The workouts are stored on the strap until it needs space for a new one.

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Then from there, if you back out into the history, you’ll see the downloaded workouts.  Note that it basically records from when you put on the strap until you took it off. So sometimes that captures more than the legit workout itself (such as time afterwards till you get to the shower/etc).

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Note that as you can see above though, it will *not* store any running dynamics, cycling cadence, or anything else in offline mode. It’s purely recording heart rate. You can trim the files if you want to get rid of the non-workout bits. Simply tap the pencil icon, and then use the sliders to trim to the actual start/end points. Super-duper easy.

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From there you can export out the .FIT file, as well as share/upload it to numerous platforms.

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So, let’s look at the next TICKR-X feature: ANT+ Running Dynamics

This feature is only available with devices that support the ANT+ Running Dynamics standard, which only Garmin officially supports. COROS kinda went down that road with their pod, and Stryd kinda went down that road, as did RunScribe. But none really finished their journeys. I suppose in this context, given Garmin owns the vast majority of the higher end/endurance running market, that’s just fine.

So, to see these you’ll need a compatible Garmin watch. There’s a boatload of Garmin watches that have supported Running Dynamics since 2015. So, in theory, any of these watches will support it:

– Garmin Fenix 2/2SE/3/5/6 Series
– Garmin Forerunner 245/245M/620/630/635/645/645M Series
– Garmin Forerunner 920XT/935/945 Series
– Garmin Epix (yup, seriously)
– Plus other watches I’m invariably forgetting

All you’ll need to do is add it as a normal heart rate monitor:

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It’ll automatically detect the running dynamics data as part of the HR-RD profile, and you can validate that by seeing the Running Dynamics data page show up (if it doesn’t automatically show up, you can quickly add it via your activity settings):

DSC_4737 DSC_4738

With that, you go off for a run and you’ll get the following data throughout the run:

– Ground Contact Time (GCT)
– Cadence
– Vertical Ratio
– Stride Length
– Vertical Oscillation

Note: The Wahoo TICKR X does NOT however transmit GCT Balance, whereas Garmin does.

Also as a reminder, the running dynamics profile *DOES NOT* transmit pace or distance (not even on a Garmin device). However, the TICKR-X can be paired as a running footpod instead, since it transmits that running pace data there instead:

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In addition to using a Garmin watch to view the Running Dynamics data, you can also use the Wahoo app. Once the TICKR X is paired up, simply start a run, and it’ll show and record your running efficiency metrics there live:

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Note that the running dynamics metrics are only recorded to the app if you use the app to start and record the entire time, the workout. You can’t use the device-free function to get anything other than heart rate.

The bigger question: How does it compare to Garmin’s data? So, I took out the HRM-TRI and ran side by side with the new TICKR-X. Well, I suppose they were atop/bottom. Either way, they were about 1” apart on my chest, and thus recorded the exact same run. Since these specific metrics are more about up/down/bounce/etc – they should be identical no matter the exact location on my chest. I recorded the TICKR-X data to a Garmin Fenix 6 Pro, and the HRM-TRI data to a Garmin FR945 (the HRM-TRI delivers the exact same Running Dynamics data as the HRM-RUN, it’s just the first strap I found).

I took this photo while running along. The differences in display brightness are purely due to the super-bright sun and me trying to get them on precisely the same angle/plane while not stopping running. They look identical in real-life. Also, the slight differences in transmission/reception rate causes differences in the exact data shown. Still, I think this basically demonstrates things nicely.

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And with that, here’s the data overlaid atop each other via the DCR Analyzer (you didn’t know it does Running Dynamics too?!?):

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You can see the three sets of lines (there’s a third set near the very bottom, the scale of the other two messes with it – more on that in a second. Each of those two sets are basically showing the Garmin metrics next to the Wahoo metrics – and the results are very close. There are some moments where the two diverge, but it’s hard to know which one exactly is right.

I mean, in order to do that I’d need at least a third source. Oh, right, let me enable the Stryd data I recorded too:

image

Umm…Ok, I guess.

Look, I’m still waiting for someone – anyone (but really Garmin) to actually put in writing in more than a single marketing-speak paragraph how to use any of these metrics for training and racing. So, until that happens I’m not going to fuss about minor differences of a few percent between them.

But, if you want to – have at it! The full data set with all of them is here. And, on your Garmin Connect account, you’ll see all those stats too:

image

In addition to Running Dynamics, you can use the TICKR X as a simple ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart footpod, including cadence. This means you’ll get pace shown from it, as well as heart rate and cadence. This is super useful in Zwift running, because it’s an all in one solution. Here you can see the single strap performing triple-duty:

Ok, so what about cycling cadence? How’s that? Ask and you shall receive. In my case, I decided to do a simple cadence step test to see where it might work or not work. In short – it was spot on with a pair of Vector 3 power meter pedals. Here’s that simple data set:

image

The only places it dropped out was below about 47RPM, and above about 142RPM. Between those two points, no issues at all – whether on the handlebars, or seated vigorously scrolling through Instagram. I don’t know why it momentarily dropped out earlier on, but everything else was otherwise fine.

One slight oddity though is that something like this would be *PERFECT* for someone going to a hotel gym, or using an app like the Peloton app, which allows you to connect to both Bluetooth Smart heart rate sensors and cadence sensors. Except, it didn’t work. While I could see the sensor and pair to it, it just showed nothing for cadence despite pedaling away:

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Not sure if that’s a Wahoo problem or a Peloton problem, but I’m confident it’s technically an easy problem to fix. If either side decides to fix it.

And with that, we’ve covered just about everything there is to know about the new TICKR X. Given the similarity in data between the TICKR X and the Garmin HR straps, there’s virtually no reason to go out and buy an HRM-RUN strap these days since it lacks Bluetooth Smart connectivity (somehow, still). The HRM-TRI however is a trickier duck. That’s because that strap has storage for offloading your swim segment to your Garmin watch. Wahoo doesn’t play there with offloading to a watch, so you can’t offload that data from the TICKR-X to a Garmin watch (or a Polar watch, or a Suunto watch, or any watch). You can only download/save data to the Wahoo app and then sync that to various sites.

As such, for triathletes, the HRM-TRI is still grudgingly the only option if you want chest HR data on your Garmin. Maybe Wahoo can have their TICKR-X show-up correctly to a Garmin watch and we’d all be happy. Or Garmin could just update the HRM-TRI/RUN with Bluetooth and join 2016. Either way makes me happy.

Heart Rate Accuracy:

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Next we’ll look at heart rate accuracy. While it’s easy to assume chest straps are always correct, I can easily demonstrate that isn’t the case in any given week. The primary reason a chest strap will have issues is around connectivity, usually when the skin contact area is too dry to get good readings. This typically happens more frequently in fall and spring when the weather is right on the edge and you’re wearing lighter clothes but in cooler conditions (so you end up having less moisture/sweat). Whereas in winter with multiple layers the sweat tends to stick around and form a nice connectivity layer. And of course in summer you’re likely sweating like a water fountain.

Still, it’s easy for me to show places that connectivity is the issue. You can solve that via licking the strap at the beginning of the workout (to add moisture), by wetting the strap before you head outside, or by using heart rate strap gel.

In my testing, I’m comparing it against multiple sensors and straps. In the case of another chest strap, I basically situated one strap a bit higher and one a bit lower. Both snug, and neither touching. In doing this for a decade, I’ve never seen any issues with that (as people often vary the exact placement based on comfort).

For secondary sensors, I’m wearing one optical sensor device per wrist (such as a watch), and then sometimes another one (like a Polar OH1, TICKR FIT, or Whoop strap) up higher on the arm – far enough that it doesn’t impact the first sensor. Got all that? Good! Let’s dive into it.

First up is a run I just completed. Nothing crazy here, a few sprints tossed in. For this run, here was the arrangement:

A) Wahoo TICKR X (lower chest)
B) Garmin HRM-TRI (upper chest)
C) Garmin FR245 (hand-held, paired to Garmin HRM-TRI)
D) Polar Grit X (left wrist)
E) Garmin Fenix 6 (right wrist, paired to Garmin TICKR X)
F) Whoop band (upper right arm – but data not collected here in usable format)

So in other words, nothing was near anything else. Anyway, here’s that data:

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So…yeah. It’s almost identical…except the first 60 seconds. That’s where we see the TICKR X takes a bit longer to lock. Whereas the Garmin HRM-DUAL rises pretty normally over that time period. I wouldn’t expect that 45 seconds into a run I’d only be at 110BPM. So the higher value seems more likely. But at 59 seconds in, everything snaps into place.

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I do know that I had both straps rather wet, because I did so right before pressing start…pulling up my shirt and licking them as a woman and her baby in a stroller with a child on a scooter rolled past. I got less than desirable looks. Hey…I did it for science!

In any case, after that 60-second marker, there’s no difference between them, save the Polar Grit X’s spikes.

Next, we’ll switch to an interval workout indoors on a trainer. This too will be hideously boring from an analysis standpoint, see, here’s the data:

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Well, crap, that’s easy. The only errors here are from the Whoop strap early on, and some bumbles during recovery sections. The Polar Grit X bumps around a bit here and there too (though, fairly minor for it). This is actually a reasonably good showing from the Whoop for a higher intensity workout. It tends to do better with longer periods of time and slower builds. It doesn’t do well with short high-intensity bits.

Ok, so let’s go outside instead. Surely that’ll produce some TICKR failures that we can grind into? Look – it’s even got gravel on the route! Here’s that data. This time a Garmin HRM-DUAL strap, a Wahoo TICKR X strap, and a Polar Grit X watch.

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The Garmin and Wahoo straps are as identical as can possibly be. Even when they differ – it’s just a single beat (BPM) for a second or so, which is completely normal and expected given the transmission/recording rates. The Polar Grit X doesn’t have its best showing here.

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So, I guess we’ve gotta find another workout to break the TICKR.

Fine, how about another ride, with even more off-roading? More length, and more chances for vibrations to hose things up! Here’s the data. This ride technically only has three sets – the Wahoo TICKR, the Polar OH1 Plus, and the Polar Grit X watch:

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As usual, the Polar OH1 is near perfectly aligned to the Wahoo TICKR. That’s expected, because, it’s virtually always that good. Though, it (the Polar OH1 Plus) did struggle slightly in the first minute to gain lock. Kinda odd for it. Beyond that, you’ll see the Polar Grit X GPS watch wobbles a bit in certain sections – missing some power surges. That’s normal for it, but it should be noted that in general for a wrist-based optical HR sensor – the above is actually a really darn good set. Considering it’s two hours in length and the ‘misses’ are mostly confined to the first 10ish minutes and some minor mistakes in the last 5-8 mins. In any case, the TICKR X appears perfect here.

Well crap. It keeps working. I know, I’ll put it on a Peloton bike! Surely some sort of competitive something or other will cause it to break, right? Here’s the data:

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Oh snap! That’s what I’m talking about baby – look at that…failures! Finally. All it took was a bit of Peloton magic and boom, down goes the strap!

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However, one can’t exactly blame Peloton for this one…since…umm…I wasn’t recording it on a Peloton bike. In fact, I was recording it on a Zwift session next to it, as well as on a Garmin Fenix 6. So yeah, definitely was the Wahoo TICKR here. My guess is this looks like prime ‘not-wet-enough’ data. Which, is plausible, though not super common indoors. You can see at the 9-minute marker I noticed and probably gave it another lick or three, and it snapped back into action. The flat-line data is a good indicator of that.

One could blame user error here if they wanted, but at the same time – it also shows the benefit in some cases of optical HR sensors. After that point the sensors are all the same, except Whoop of course. It’s off marching to its own drum.

But put it back on a Zwift ride and it’s like Mac and Cheese – made for each other! This time versus the Whoop strap, and the optical HR sensors of the Polar Grit X and Garmin Fenix 6 Pro. Here’s that data set:

image

The only errors here are those little spikes we see in the Polar Grit X (the norm for it) and a slightly rough start for the Fenix 6 Pro. But hey, in a rare show of correctness – the Whoop strap nailed it. See, sometimes it happens.

I could literally do this all day long. There’s nothing wrong with the strap. The only time you see issues is just like any other heart rate strap – when it’s not quite wet enough at the beginning of a workout. Simple as that.

Product Comparison:

Now, continuing the great Wahoo (and Apple) tradition of making it confusing to figure out which product is which because the name stays the same, I’ve dubbed this the 2020 version. Technically this is Wahoo’s 3rd heart rate strap (the first was the BlueHR, the second the original TICKR series) – plus there’s the TICKR FIT, which is the optical heart rate variant.

Since these are two different straps, I’ve compared them in two different ways via the product comparison database. First, for the base TICKR, I’ve compared it to the Polar H9 strap, the original TICKR, and the Garmin HRM-DUAL:

Function/FeatureWahoo TICKR (2020 Edition)Wahoo TICKR (Original)Garmin HRM-DUALPolar H9
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated June 25th, 2020 @ 9:33 amNew Window Expand table for more results
Price$49$49$69$59
Product Announce DateMay 7th, 2020Jan 6th, 2014Jan 30th, 2019January 29th, 2020
Product Availability DateMay 7th, 2020Apr 2014Jan 2019January 2020
Battery Life500 hours350 hours3.5 years1 year
Battery TypeCoin Cell CR2032Coin Cell CR2032Coin Cell CR2032Coin Cell CR2025
Bluetooth SmartYES (Three BLE CHANNELS)YesYES (DUAL BLE CHANNELS)Yes
Analog for gym equipmentNoNoNoYes
Usable HR data underwaterNoNoNoYes (with certain older 5kHz watches)
Firmware UpdateableYes (iOS/Android)Yes (iOS/Android)YesYes
Amazon LinkLinkLinkLinkLink

Then, for the TICKR X, I’ve compared it to the Polar H10 strap, the original TICKR X, 4iiii Viiiiva, and the Garmin HRM-RUN. In theory, I could add the Garmin HRM-DUAL here, but the simple version is that it doesn’t have storage (but does have Bluetooth Smart connectivity).

Function/FeatureWahoo TICKR X (2020 Edition)Wahoo TICKR X (Original)4iiii ViiiivaGarmin HRM-RUNPolar H10
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated June 5th, 2020 @ 6:40 amNew Window Expand table for more results
Price$79$79$79$99$89
Product Announce DateMay 7th, 2020Jan 6th, 2014Jan 7th, 2013Sept 16th, 2013Jan 5th, 2017
Product Availability DateMay 7th, 2020Sept 1st, 2014July 2013Nov 2013Jan 2017
Battery Life500 hours1-2 Years200 hours1-2 years1-2 years
Battery TypeCoin Cell CR2032Coin Cell CR2032Coin Cell CR2032Coin Cell CR2032Coin Cell CR2025
ANT+YesYesYesYesYes (with firmware update)
Bluetooth SmartYES (Three BLE CHANNELS)YesYesNoYes (dual BLE channels)
Dual concurrent ANT+/BLEYesYesYesNoYes
Analog for gym equipmentNoNoNoNoYes
Usable HR data underwaterNoNoNoNoYES (WITH CERTAIN OLDER 5KHZ WATCHES)

Got all that? Phew! If not, swing over to the product comparison table dedicated to heart rate sensors to make your own chart goodness!

Oh…wait – you wanted some simple advice/comparison? Sure, no prob!

TICKR vs Any Other Strap For Basic HR: If all you need is transmission of ANT+/Bluetooth Smart heart rate data for your app/device, I don’t think there’s any device that beats the base TICKR at this price point – since everyone else is more expensive and has less Bluetooth Smart channels. It’s a no-brainer to me…however, if you don’t care about Bluetooth channels, and instead want storage or ANT+ to Bluetooth Smart conversion, then consider the 4iiii Viiiiva for about $10 more.

TICKR X vs Garmin HRM-RUN: If you don’t need GCT Balance or Garmin Running Power, then easy – get the TICKR X. No, the TICKR X will *NOT* work with Garmin’s Running Power App. This is hard-coded by Garmin to only work with their sensors, since they want to ‘preserve the fidelity of their calculations’ (summary of a very long conversation). If you don’t care about those two things, then easily get the TICKR X.

TICKR X vs Garmin HRM-TRI: This is really the hard one. First off, you’ve got the same lack of GCT Balance & Garmin Running Power compatibility, but you also don’t get any swimming data offloading to the Garmin watch. It’s still a bit fuzzy whether this is a Wahoo or Garmin limitation/gap, but the gap is there today. A Garmin watch cannot download data directly from the TICKR X, so you won’t get your swim data from it. But most newer Garmin watches support optical wrist HR swimming (albeit, it might suck). Again, this is by far the toughest one, because the lack of Bluetooth Smart in the HRM-TRI (or HRM-RUN) is infuriating.

TICKR X vs 4iiii Viiiiva: If you want device-free workouts, both do the trick, but I think Wahoo tends to do it more cleanly. On the flip-side, the 4iiii has ANT+ to Bluetooth Smart rebroadcasting. So if you’ve got older ANT+ only sensors, the Viiiiva is really the one to get. Accuracy-wise/etc they’re a wash. Though the Viiiiiva doesn’t have multi-channel Bluetooth connections, only one connection.

TICKR X vs Polar H10: Both straps are great, I’d probably give a slight edge to Polar on the strap quality aspects. The Polar H10 supports dual Bluetooth Smart and unlimited ANT+, but it also has analog too for gym machines. It has data saving on the strap, but it’s a mess to use (you have to start and stop it with the app, and it’s clunky AF and doesn’t send to all the partners Wahoo has). Also, the Polar strap is more expensive. I think if Polar cleaned up their app/offline piece, it’d be a solid contender again here (even with ‘just’ two Bluetooth channels), but to me it’s just not worth the hassle to use those features on the Polar right now.

Ok – hope this helps!

Summary:

DSC_4745

I know, it’s just another heart rate strap. But I don’t really think that’s the case. I think that with these very minor additions, primarily in the TICKR X range, Wahoo has stepped up the bar – and options – for runners specifically. And even more specifically, for runners with Garmin watches. Realistically, I’d struggle to find a reason you’d get the Garmin HRM-RUN strap these days. In the app-driven world, it’s antiquated without Bluetooth Smart connectivity. Meanwhile, Wahoo lets you connect three Bluetooth Smart apps at once and unlimited ANT+ connections. I mean, I suppose if you *really* wanted Ground Contact Time Balance (that specific metric), then sure. But I suspect there’s no reason why Wahoo can’t add that. And I also suspect you’ve never used that metric anyway.

It’s frankly hard to find much fault in either the TICKR or TICKR X. It’s been six years since the last refresh, and the heart rate strap product line has been around nearly a decade in total. At this point, it’s a well oiled functional beast. These modest upgrades are mostly more mechanical/electronics/protocols in nature rather than pure new features. They took their existing running efficiency metrics that already mirrored what Garmin had (before Garmin had it), and just retransmitted it according to the standard. They then took the updated chipsets used for their other products and put it in here to support multiple concurrent connections. And in the process things thinned out a bit.

One might argue that Wahoo could have added more capabilities akin to the 4iiii Viiiiva, to the $79 TICKR X– such as ANT+ to Bluetooth Smart pass-through/conversion, but I think in 2020 that’s becoming less and less of an issue. Most sensors made in the last 4-6 years are dual anyway. Older non-dual sensor tech is being phased out.

Thus, if you’re looking for a dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart strap, the base $49 TICKR is probably the best all-around option right now. No strap has more connections, and it’s $10-$20 cheaper than the Garmin HRM-DUAL (which has two Bluetooth connections) – and cheaper yet still compared to Polar’s multi-connection straps. Seems a no-brainer to me.

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Wahoo TICKR (2020 Edition)
Wahoo TICKR Stealth (2020 Edition)
Wahoo TICKR X (2020 Edition)

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Wahoo TICKR (2020 Edition) – EU/UK/AU/NZ – Wiggle
Wahoo TICKR Stealth (2020 Edition) – EU/UK/AU/NZ – Wiggle
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