Yesterday I was put through my paces by world champion triathlete Lauren Steadman and Team GB triathlon coach Johnny Riall! In all honestly, I’m pretty sure they went easy on me, and the rest of the assorted media types that Garmin had rounded up.
The point of the exercise – other than making my hamstring ache – was to get my paws on the brand new Garmin Forerunner 935, which will sit above the Forerunner 735 and replace the ageing Forerunner 920XT as Garmin’s flagship multisport watch.
Unsurprisingly, the Forerunner 935 looks very similar to the 735, which is no bad thing. It’s not a small watch by any stretch, but it doesn’t feel particularly bulky even on my small wrists, which can’t be said of Garmin’s Fenix range.
The flagship Forerunner watches have long been objects of desire for serious triathletes who want to be able to capture copious amounts of performance data from all three of their disciplines. Make no mistake, the 935 continues this tradition and offers functionality in spades.
However, Garmin did make a point of telling us today that it’s not just targeting triathletes with this watch, since it’s also the most advanced running watch the company has ever produced. Oh, and it’s also designed to be your all day fitness tracker and heart rate monitor – did I mention that it has a lot of features?
In all honesty, our training session today barely scratched the surface of what this watch can do, and it’s probably going to take a lot of testing before I’m ready to write a full review, but what I’ve seen so far is very impressive.
The screen is large and easy to read both in bright sunlight or dim conditions – a backlight is easily toggled via the button at the top left. Navigation through the plethora of options and menus is incredibly quick – given the penchant towards using Android Wear devices as sports watches, I am very glad that Garmin has chosen to keep its own svelte and consequently responsive platform.
Pairing with the Garmin Connect app on my iPhone was painless and relatively quick, and runs were automatically synced once I’d saved them on the watch. And because my Garmin Connect account is linked with Strava, those runs were also instantly exported to the latter, too.
Talking of Strava, the Forerunner 935 supports Strava Live Segments, which is hugely motivating feature. I’ve been using Strava Live Segments on my Garmin Edge 1000 cycle computer for a good while, and I absolutely love it. Being told when you’re approaching a segment, and then getting real time feedback about how your current performance is comparing to your previous efforts – or the efforts of your Strava buddies – really does spur you on.
The default list of activity types is extensive – Run, Treadmill, Indoor Track, Bike, Indoor Bike, Pool Swim, Open Water Swim and Triathlon – but it doesn’t end there. At the bottom of that list is a big + button that allows you to add all manner of other activities like Trail Run, Hike, Climb, MTB, Snowboard, Ski, Row, Indoor Rower, and loads more. I’ll be trying out the Indoor Rower activity with my Concept 2 Model D – hopefully it will automatically export my rows to Strava, which I’m currently having to do manually through a third party bridging app.
Garmin has also improved its Running Dynamics feature in the 935. This was one of the things I was most impressed with when I reviewed the Forerunner 620 a while back, and it really helped me improve my running cadence.
The latest incarnation of Garmin Running Dynamics will measure ground contact time, ground contact balance, cadence, stride length, vertical oscillation and vertical ratio – I’ll explain what each of those does in the full review, once I’ve pulled in a decent amount of running dynamics data.
Just like with previous Forerunner devices, the chest strap heart rate monitor is equipped with sensors that track the movement of your body as you run, and analysing that data and acting on it should, in theory at least, help you improve your form.
But hang on, the Forerunner 935 has an optical heart rate monitor built into it, so why would I want to use a chest strap? Well one reason is that chest strap HRMs tend to be more accurate, especially if you’re looking for real time heart rate data while running high intensity intervals – optical heart rate monitors will struggle to keep up in those circumstances. And if you’re swimming, you’ll need to be using a chest strap for accurate HRM data – simple as that.
Of course if I just happen to be running at a steady pace, then the optical heart rate monitor is more than capable enough and I can avoid the hassle of wrapping a chest strap HRM around me. But that means I can’t take advantage of the running dynamics feature, right? Wrong!
Garmin has thought of that, and if you’re happy to use the optical HRM for your running, but still want the – arguably invaluable – running dynamics data, you really can have your cake and eat it. Garmin has created the Running Dynamics Pod to cater to that very type of user. The pod clips to the waistband of your shorts and is equipped with the same sensors as the chest strap HRMs, thus giving you all that insight into your form, without the need to run with a chest strap.
The GPS lock was strong even in central London, and the Forerunner also supports GLONASS for added satellite lock-on speed and improved accuracy. But given that Garmin wants you to use this watch as your all-day fitness tracker, it’s also logging every step you take and every flight of stairs you climb. And talking of climbing, there’s a barometric altimeter built-in, too, which should result in extremely accurate elevation tracking along with true 3D distance measurement.
That all-day angle is pushed home even further with the tight integration of phone notifications. This is something that Garmin has done really well since the launch of the excellent Vivosmart HR – it’s not just text messages and calendar entries that appear on the watch, you’ll get notifications from all manner of third party apps, too, from weather updates to PlayStation friend requests.
In the very short time I’ve spent with the Garmin Forerunner 935 it looks like this could well be a device that raises the bar on wearable sport technology. I’ll be using it extensively over the coming weeks and try to explore that dizzying array of features as extensively as I can. So check back in a little while for the full review.