Since the beginning of 2020, the gadget freak in me is constantly monitoring the market for new tools that may support my training goals – being them new devices, updates of software or platforms.
Even though 2020 was and still is a special year due to the Covid-19 pandemics, that doesn’t mean that the companies didn’t release their products – they moved more to online than having them released in large shows, but the flow of updates didn’t stop. I’d say that, with the pandemics and work from home, some people actually were more interested than usually about their well being and start looking for options to get support in their plans to keep them healthy.
I’ll try to break this article in sections dedicated to various products/companies and I’ll only include those updates that were on my radar, I don’t plan to have a complete list of all products released this year
- Fenix 6 solar – was launched by Garmin to bring the solar charging to the full Fenix series (including 6s and the regular 6) and not only 6X. Smart move from Garmin targeting those who were interested in the technology, but didn’t want to pay the premium for 6X or carry the extra weight of the 6X. From the practical stand point, I don’t think it makes any difference in real use, and you give up on the possibility to have Sapphire protection for your screen. More details available here.
- Sleep analysis update – available on Fenix 6 line (the recent 745 as well). Starting with FW 10.10 (actually with 9.92 beta) the Fenix 6 line (and Marq/Tactix) got the on watch sleep analysis with support from FirstBeat – the new sleep analysis is a step forward from the previous server side analysis available from Garmin on all the other watches. More details can be found here and here. Garmin did some adjustments and improvements since the first beta, but basically the screens/widget data is the same since the first release. This sleep analysis in not perfect, still doesn’t get the naps, but closes the gap with Polar sleep analysis and Fitbit. Some may say that Oura is the best, others that Fitbit is or Polar, but I feel that with this version Garmin is not that far away.
- Adaptive training – on Fenix 6 you can enjoy with the recent firmware beta (11.75b and later) the FirstBeat training recommendations for running and cycling that take into consideration your fitness level, recovery (based on sleep quality as well) and training load. Basically, that shows the start of incorporating more of FirstBeat capability in Garmin’s watch lines, after the FirstBeat acquisition. I feel that Garmin will test some capabilities on the Fenix 6 line for a while before incorporating more of the FirstBeat goodies in the next generation of Fenix (or even the 955). For me, the recommendations that I got and followed were nice and ok – it could be compared with FitSpark from Polar but not quite, since is covering cycling as well, but not other core/mobility yet …We will see how that evolves.
- Forerunner 745 – it’s not of particular interest for me, since I own a 945 and Fenix 6, but for those people who want more than 245 can offer, but don’t need the maps, I think this is a very good choice. The closest competitor (in my mind) would be Vantage V 2 or Vantage M (with Stryd eventually). Nice touch with the new Track running mode, which from different tests (from others) seems to be as good if not better than what Coros offers on it’s watches.
- Pace 2 release – the release of Pace 2 (details available here) was a nice surprise on the market with the full integration of Stryd running power support – it is the first watch that offers this level of integration, capturing all the data and stats from Stryd. Even though Coros also has support for running power on watch (without Stryd or simialar pod), the biggest impact was generated by the full structured power based workouts, also a first. Polar missed big on this opportunity (they kind of promised they will deliver this eventually on Vantage V2 by the end of the year), after releasing the first watch with running power capability without external sensors. But also shows that Coros focus on execution pays off, since I’ve seen very good reception of the watch (and the Stryd integration is also available as firmware update for the existing Coros watches – see Polar, that this can be done?!) and some people that are training using Stryd might choose Coros watches instead of Garmin for example, because of the integration level and cost. Recently, Stryd also announced some integration changes with Training Peaks/Final Surge that allow people who use those platforms to execute structured running power workouts with Stryd CIQ app – so there are options now, but still the integration is not at the same level.
- GritX release – the outdoor device surprised (but not that much with the various leaks before announcement) the market during the pandemics and brought some interesting features and an updated hardware (particularly the oHR sensor, GNSS antenna, screen) that made the reviews being more positive than usual with the recent Polar watches. People were positive about the GNSS accuracy (better than Vantage line), better screen (although not best) and mixed reviews about the new Prime Precision oHR sensor, which had some spikes during measurements for many testers. The rest of the features, were nice additions but not groundbreaking – for example HillSplitter, FuelWise, energy sources, weather. The navigation TBT (using Komoot) is nice but still has limitations since it only allows you to use the start or mid route point as entry points, being less flexible than required especially for longer sessions. When compared with Garmin’s capabilities, it’s hard to say that the navigation from Grit X makes the device a real competition for the Fenix line (add to that the lack of outdoor features that Suunto and Garmin have – POI, see/save your location, back to start). In my view, it’s a “outdoorish” Vantage V, a test of some components before the release of the VV2, but that’s not going to move people from the other brands into Polar’s camp. For example, the lack of sapphire glass and some explorer features might not help outdoor explorers jump into Polar’s bandwagon.
- Vantage V 2 – the second version of the Vantage V was expected to bring some changes to the hardware of the original Vantage V. It only partially delivered that, using Grit X tested components (oHR, screen) in a new aluminium case which I must admit looks sleek and attractive (even more than the original Vantage V). Most of the changes were software updates, incorporating what Grit X had brought to the market and adding an array of tests that will be added to the Orthostatic/Fitness tests – those are nice and may provide value for a specific niche. The GNSS performance should be improved but the recent tests don’t show dramatic differences from Grit X and I didn’t have issues with my tracks even with the original V. Being a Vantage V owner, even though I like very much the looks and functions of the Vantage V2, it’s difficult to spend 500EUR only to have a small look update and some software features that in an ideal world could be released to Grit X and VV as well. I don’t know if the ambient sensor will make that much of a difference over the Grit X screen visibility – based on the reviews so far, the screen is better obviously than VV’s but not that different than what Grit X offers. I need to admit that I’m an admirer of Polar’s devices and platform – I really like their approach on training and recovery, but I still miss some key (for me) elements to use their devices permanently:
- running power structured workouts (I know that they promised that they will have this by the end of the year available for VV2 – don’t understand if that’s going to be available for the VV and Grit X)
- Flow with gear tracking and better filtering/search (I can’t imagine how would I find my marathon races run over the last 5 years if I don’t remember the date exactly, or find some routes I used in Finland sometime ago, if I can’t remember the period …)
- sapphire glass option – I don’t like to
- (Nice to have) ANT+ support for watches (they have support for their heart sensors – H10, H9, OH1)
- (Nice to have) Multiple alarms (is that so complicated?)
- (Nice to have) Better notifications & character set support (Romanian chars for example and notification management)
I understand that different people have different priorities, but I feel like Polar is moving too slow with things that are closer to their control (the software updates for Flow and the devices should be easy to be done and doesn’t require expensive hardware research) and their go to market strategy may upset existing users (original VV and Grit X) and not convert enough new users from other brands.
Stryd made consistent improvements of their platform and mobile solution, transforming that into a more “independent” platform, that’s not a complementary platform for the watch producer platform but the primary platform for analysis and planning. With the addition of gear tracking, the recent introduction of training plans available on Garmin watches through their CIQ app, the recent sync with the other platforms supporting running power based workouts (Training Peaks, Final Surge for example), Stryd is moving into a different position in the market players. I’ve seen comments that more Stryd users are now using Power Center as their primary tool for analysis. I’ve had a look in May over the options to use running power decently, but things did change in the recent weeks with the release of Pace 2 from Coros and also with the long expected integration of the Stryd Workout App (available here) with the Power Center plans, Final Surge (source of very good plans from Steve Palladino) and Training Peaks (source of other very good power based plans). For people trying to train using running power, there are good options available. Since I’m not a professional runner, I won’t use Stryd’s platform as the primary tool, but a complementary one because I want to track the other activities I have – cycling, hiking, strength workouts and the stress management is not complete just looking at the Power Center.
Suunto is working constantly on improving the mobile platform, their investment being visible in the quality updates they bring in the mobile app – it looks nice and supports a lot of options. On the device side, they offered updates for the S5, S9 and S7 using the new SuuntoPlus features – they are nice and keep their users warm, until new devices will be released on the market. On the release side, the new Suunto 7 is a very nice looking device, but more on the smart watch side than on the adventure watch line – being limited by the battery life associated with Google Wear OS devices. The navigation and the smart watch capabilities may make it interesting for some active people, but this is a niche segment in my mind – competing maybe more with the Apple Watch than with the multi-day capable sports watch.
Some more releases are expected this year from Garmin (maybe 955, maybe the Index 2 scale), but I don’t think that the landscape will change dramatically, Garmin maintaining it’s comfortable lead – with the others “attacking” niches, more or less successfully.
Stay safe, be healthy and train efficiently!