DC Rainmaker https://www.dcrainmaker.com Thu, 27 Apr 2017 18:46:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.10 https://media.dcrainmaker.com/images/2017/03/dcrainmaker-dc-logo-square-40x40.png DC Rainmaker https://www.dcrainmaker.com 32 32 Garmin Varia UT800 Smart Bike Light In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/04/garmin-varia-ut800-smart-bike-light-in-depth-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/04/garmin-varia-ut800-smart-bike-light-in-depth-review.html#comments Wed, 26 Apr 2017 11:00:00 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=73801 Read More Here ]]> DSC_1665

Today, Garmin introduced their latest generation front bike light – the UT800.  This light builds upon the connected concepts from their first generation lights, such as integration with their head units.  With the UT800 though, the company has shifted the focus to the trail side of the cycling realm (though, it’s still perfectly fine for commuting).  The unit now increases and decreases brightness with speed, as well as has other modes to save battery.  Not to mention the nifty new mounting system.

I’ve been able to test out the UT800 both on trail and road rides, and thus have a pretty good handle on how it all works.  Aside from the Varia Radar light I reviewed two years back, this is actually the first pure light focused in-depth review I’ve done (though I did do a first look of the See.Sense ICON lights).  I have talked in a few posts about the Bontrager RT lights in the past, though never quite finished my review.  The general concept there is similar though, and I like those lights quite a bit too.

In fact, it’s a point Garmin made pains to emphasize: While they technically compete with Bontrager in this space of ANT+ enabled bike lights, they don’t want to make it some sort of ugly marketing battle.  They just want people to use lights on bikes, regardless of who it is. And it’s something that Bontrager has also echoed to me in the past as well.

In any event, this unit was loaned to me to try out and soon I’ll ship it back just like normal.  If you find this review valuable, you can check out the links at the bottom to pick up your own illuminating goodness and help support the site via Amazon or Clever Training.  With that – let’s dive into it!

(Oh, and like some other product reviews I do where the product is relatively straightforward, I’ve slimmed down the format here to pack as much detail as humanly possible into a more compact version. Hope you like it!)

Video Overview:

Oh, wait. Before we unbox this baby, if you’re the type that just likes videos – then the below is where it’s at.  It’s about as close to a complete video review as you’ll get from me.  But most importantly it includes legit and real light tests while outdoors trail and road riding to show how it all works.

Ok, with that out of the way, let’s talk boxes.  Or rather, getting box naked.



First up we’ve got the box itself.  It more or less looks like most other Garmin boxes these days.  And it packs quite a bit inside that small package.  Do note on the back that compliance warning for StVZO, which governs light usage in Germany.


Also of note is the side of the box, which has a handy little chart showing lumens and how the light responds over time.


After opening it up, we’ve got a pile of plastic bags full of little parts:


Removing those bags you’ll find the core pieces sitting ready:


First up is the paper manuals, where the quick-start guide is actually kinda useful.  It lists all the different modes and more nifty charts for figuring out speed and light intensity:


Next, we’ve got the light itself, but don’t worry, you’ll get plenty more looks at that by the time this post is over.  It comes in at 130g in weight.

Moving along, there’s the micro-USB charging cable. It’s just like every other micro-USB charging cable out there.  It plugs into the back of the unit:


Then there’s the mount.  This is not like every other mount out there.  Sure it’s got the standard Garmin quarter-turn mount up top for your Garmin Edge device, but down below it’s got what is basically an inverted quarter-turn mount.


More interesting though is the small adapter piece that’s included.  This allows you to attach the light to it, and then easily lock it on/off the bike in a single twist.  One side being GoPro compatible, the other being Garmin quarter-turn mount compatible.

DSC_1490 DSC_1492

Here’s how the whole pancake stack looks:


Oh, and in case you missed it up above, they also included two small hex wrenches to adjust both the GoPro-style mount as well as the mount onto your handlebars.

Finally, just to put size into perspective – here’s the older HL500 side by side with the newer (and brighter) UT800:

DSC_1640 DSC_1638

With that all set – onwards into the basics we go.

The Mounting System:


We’ll start first with the mount side of things, and then move into the technical components.  Then I’ll compare light visibility in the next section.

First up we’ve got the Garmin out-front mount that I mentioned earlier.  This is the same core Garmin out-front mount that came with the HL500 light a few years ago.  However, it’s different than the standard Garmin out-front mount packaged within an Edge series bike computer box.  This one has a quarter-turn mount on both upper and lower halves:

DSC_1491 DSC_1492

Up top is where you stick your Garmin Edge (or other bike computers that fit into that slot).  Where things differ from the HL500 is that this now has the secondary adapter.  This adapter has a GoPro/VIRB mount on the bottom, and a Garmin quarter-turn mount up top:


In fact, you can even use this to mount a Garmin or GoPro action camera as well, making them handy to perhaps buy a couple of them so you can quickly pop on and off action cameras or lights without any tools.


Speaking of the sans-tool part, the main goal of this design is that you can just twist the locking ring in a single motion (even with gloves) and it locks on tightly.  And yes, it does do exactly that.  Once locked it doesn’t budge.


Yet you can still adjust the up/down angle of the light using a hex wrench as you see fit.


All of this works pretty well and is probably one of my more favorite parts of the whole kit.  I just wish Garmin would then offer an aluminum version of the same double-sided mount, and I’d be totally happy.

Illuminating Details:

Next, let’s talk the light itself.  On the left side is a single button.  This powers it on and off, and also changes modes.  You can further hold it down to power it off entirely.


Once you power it on it’ll go into a pairing mode, which enables it to be added to a ‘light network’ from your Garmin Edge device.  Technically this is open standard ANT+ (Lighting Profile), so any company (like Wahoo or Lezyne) could implement this in their head units.  You can thus also add in multiple lights, even from different vendors.  For example, you could use Bontrager’s rear tail lights, and combine them with Garmin’s front light.  Whatever floats your boat.


Within the lighting options on your Edge you’ll see each individual light and the battery status of that light.  You can also pull this up from the status menu by swiping down on the Edge 820/1000, or pressing into the status button on the Edge 520.


You can then configure options for the network.  For example, you can set it to not turn on your lights until you actually press start on your Edge device.  As soon as you do that, it’ll turn on the lights automatically.  Thus saving battery while you’re standing around getting ready.


You can also configure whether or not the Edge will automatically control brightness on the lights, or if you want that to be manually controlled.  You can always override this at any time either from the Edge itself (and a new lighting control panel data page to be released soon) or just by tapping the button on the light.

DSC_1590 DSC_1592

Which gets us to the variability aspect.  The light has a number of modes within it, each with different battery levels:

800 lumens: 1.5 hours
400 lumens: 3 hours
200 lumens: 6 hours
100-300 lumens pulsing (night mode): 6 hours
700 lumens flashing (daylight mode): 25 hours

Each of these modes can be manually iterated through by simply pressing the button on the side.  Also, the manual says it’ll hold a charge for an entire year if not in use, which his pretty darn impressive.  Obviously, I can’t validate that at this point.

Next, and more importantly is that the light, when used in conjunction with a Garmin Edge device, will automatically change intensities based on speed.  It does this in the three settings noted above (200/400/800 lumens).  This is done to save battery and to give a non-overkill amount of light to your situation.

The idea here being that as you climb on a trail you’ll need less light because you’re moving slower.  Whereas when you’re riding downhill at full speed, you’ll need more light to ensure you aren’t outrunning your lights.  All of which in my testing actually worked out great while out on the trail.


Speaking of which, I’ve gotta give props to a crew of guys that helped me out in filming and photographing out in the (very dark) woods last week.  Being a moonless night, all of us were at times standing in the pitch black next to a camera waiting for whoever was riding to ride by with the UT800.  We didn’t want any other ambient light or other bike lights messing up the shots.


We’ve got Jonathan Lee on the right (from TrainerRoad), and Ian Meintjes in the middle (also of TrainerRoad, and Pro Enduro Racer for KTM).  All of us spent hours out on the trail in clothing definitely not suitable for the task trying to get the night shots.  As for ‘my bike’ for those days, it was loaned by Steven Lewis of MTBPodcast.com.  It’s an incredibly sweet and totally brand new bike.  I was actually the first to put it through its paces between that and the previous day of riding.


Funny aside…much of the shooting was about a 20-minute ride away from where the trailhead started, but I didn’t bring a secondary bike mount for the older HL500 light.  No worries, Jonathan managed to MacGyver a solution together using a Wahoo TICKR strap on a K-Edge Garmin out-front mount for his bike. Astoundingly it actually held the entire night.


Once again – thanks all!

Back to the tech side, some might be wondering how the light shifting/changing piece is different from before.  With the previous HL500 (which has 500 lumens), that light had two different bulbs in it, which in turn hit two different reflector points.  So instead of changing the light intensity, it changed where the beam was pointed (closer or further).  But that didn’t save any battery, it just shifted things around.  Whereas with the UT800, it’s saving some considerable battery by reducing the brightness.

As for on-road visibility, it was just as good as in the trails.  With on-road on brightly lit streets you can get away with the pulsing light (which isn’t total on/off, but just slowly increasing/decreasing lumens).  Whereas when things get darker, you can go with the full 200/400/800 lumens.

One oddity I did stumble into just two nights ago in Los Angeles was that some well-lit intersections would ‘trick’ the Edge 820’s ambient light sensor.  As such, it thought I was in daylight and would toggle over to the daylight flasher mode.  I brought this up to Garmin and they’re looking at a possible fix in an upcoming firmware update.  Though I could always just override it via either the Edge or unit itself.  I never had this trigger in any darker road or trail situations, but only in a handful of very bright intersections.  It didn’t really impact my visibility for the simple reason that it was already pretty darn bright.  Either way, something I’ll look for in the future.

Comparing Light Visibility:


When it comes to comparing the different lights, the most important aspect to consider isn’t the light at all – but rather, the camera.  In the same way that I stress that configuration of microphones is the most important aspect in trainer noise tests, the same is true for light tests: It’s all about the camera settings.

I can make any light look like any lumen value I wish.  I can make two totally different lights look identical.  I can make one brilliant light look horrible, and another horrible light look great.  The quality of the lens/camera being a major factor, as with the exact settings I use.

The purpose of this isn’t to make you think I’m showing you #FakeLights, but rather to be aware that on any comparison site (including here) that the limitations of photos and video come down to the settings used.  In my case, all of my on-road and on-trail comparisons were done with a GoPro Hero5 Black in 4K/30 mounted on a GoPro Karma Grip Gimbal attached to my chest using the GoPro Seeker backpack.  This gives me a bit better light performance, but it’s nothing compared to my DSLR.

To demonstrate this, look at the below imagery.  These were taken at the same time with one camera atop the other.  One from the $399 GoPro, and the other from the $3,000+ DSLR setup:

Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 1.30.15 AM

With that in mind, let’s look at some comparisons out on the road.  Here are the three light levels while riding in complete darkness:

Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 1.27.28 AM

Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 1.28.59 AM

Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 1.29.29 AM

Next, let’s look at the comparison between the older HL500 (500 lumens) and the new UT800 (800 lumens).  Remember that the HL500 is designed to have a very narrow beam (primarily for road use), whereas the UT800 is designed as a wider beam.  That’s easily seen below comparing these two lights against a wall:

DSC_1667 DSC_1668

(These last two photos were shot with a DSLR on a tripod, which goes to show you just how different cameras evaluate light compared to the moving shots on the bike with the GoPro.)

What I found was that the brightness of the UT800 was more than sufficient for trail riding, even downhill at speed.  And equally, it was just fine at the lower lumens for going uphill on trails.

While out road riding on brightly lit streets I didn’t find the light made all that much of a difference, and I could have primarily used the slow-pulsing mode to save battery.  However, once I went into darker areas, it was nice being able to pump up the brightness and light up my surroundings.



I’ll be honest – when I first heard of another bike light from Garmin, I wasn’t super excited.  It was roughly akin to being told I was being given broccoli with a side of cauliflower.  Yet, once I had my hands on it, I’ve gotta say I’m kinda impressed.

I’m not sure whether to be more impressed with how well the light works itself, or with the nifty mount doohickey.  I’m a sucker for cool mounts.  It’s like my comfort food of technology.  And this one delivers with a truly useful mount innovation that’s actually super functional.  If only they’d make a darn metal/aluminum mount with that same lower attachment point and we’d be in golden-happy land (for better action cam footage).

Of course – this is all about the light – and in that area they really do actually nail it.  I totally see myself using this thing as my primary bike light, for the simple reason it doesn’t look like a brick.  I rarely need to ride more than a couple hours at night at a time, and most of the time it’s in the city.  Yet when I do go outside, it’s nice to have the power behind the light to illuminate the darkest of trails.

While I did see the one quirk noticed on the Edge giving a false-positive for daylight (thus triggering the light into daylight mode), I’m optimistic Garmin can fix that.  Or failing that, I can just use it in manual mode.

Either way – if you’re looking for a great trail light that doubles for commuting, this is definitely one to consider.  It starts shipping today, and is priced at $149USD, which is in the ballpark for other connected lights.

Found this review useful? Wanna support the site? 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 $75, you get free 3-day (or less) US shipping as well.

Garmin Varia UT800 Smart Bike Light

Additionally, you can also use Amazon to purchase the unit (though, no discount). Or, anything else you pickup on Amazon helps support the site as well (socks, laundry detergent, cowbells). If you’re outside the US, I’ve got links to all of the major individual country Amazon stores on the sidebar towards the top.

Thanks for reading!

Quarq DZero Power Meter In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/04/quarq-dzero-power-meter-in-depth-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/04/quarq-dzero-power-meter-in-depth-review.html#comments Wed, 26 Apr 2017 00:34:14 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=73764 Read More Here ]]> DSC_0328

This past summer at Eurobike, Quarq announced their latest generation of power meters, the DZero lineup.  The aim of this line was to refresh the existing offerings, while also somewhat simplifying things.  Most visible to consumers though was the addition of Bluetooth Smart transmission, making for dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart capabilities.  Alongside that was an updated multi-color LED for status clarity.  Behind the scenes, the company tweaked the strain gauge design to increase accuracy levels.  Finally, the company also added support for Boost 148 and BB386 EVO bottom bracket compatibility.  Phew.

I’ve been riding a DZero loaner unit that Quarq sent to try since December.  Plenty of indoor and outdoor rides across all sorts of lovely winter (and now spring) conditions.  In doing so, I’ve been recording boatloads of test data, with usually 2-3 other power meters on the bike at the same time.  Like normal, I’ll be sending the unit back to Quarq once I’ve wrapped up the review.

With that – let’s dig into what’s in the box and then get it setup on the bike.



The exact configuration of your Quarq DZero box will vary based on what exactly you ordered. In my case, the loaner unit I got came with chainrings pre-installed, minimizing the amount of work involved in setup. I like that…because I’m lazy.  Though realistically installing chainrings is just a couple minute task at worst, it takes only a hex wrench.


As noted, my unit came with the chainrings pre-installed, but they also included some extra chainrings for craps and giggles.  Further, they included a bottom bracket adapter, simply because the bike I was installing it on didn’t match the bottom bracket of the unit.

Otherwise, inside the box, you’ll find a small packet of papers that serves as a guide and warranty cards.  And then, of course, you’ll find both the drive-side (with chainrings) and non-drive side crank arms situated.

DSC_6962 DSC_6967

And a closer look at the informational pieces of former trees:


If you take a peek at the piece of paper rubber-banded to your crank arm, it’ll show the test information from the factory calibration test pass.  It’s actually pretty cool how that all works, and I showed it within my behind-the-scenes post at Quarq’s HQ last year or so.


Here’s how the two look when positioned all pretty:



And thus concludes our unboxing section.  I love unboxing sections that have a mere two parts to the device.  Note the coin cell battery is already pre-installed.



Like any power meter, getting the Quarq installed will vary depending on what your current bottom bracket setup is relative to whatever you bought from Quarq.  If you were smart, you bought the same bottom bracket setup, and thus your installation is pretty quick and easy.  If instead you elected to introduce unnecessary pain and confusion, then you bought some other standard and now need to also convert your bottom bracket.  That, in turn, may be easy, or you could spend all day waiting for glue to dry.

In this case, I kept things relatively simple and thus the change was easy enough.  Since I was using GXP previously, I merely needed to remove a few screws and pull out the existing crank set.


Then, I slid in the new crank set.  Don’t forget to put the chain on the correct side of the axle, else, you’ll swear a bunch when you get to the end and realize you have to start over again.  Don’t worry, I forget about 73% of the time.


Once done you’ll go ahead and screw on the non-drive crank arm on the other side and then attach your pedals.  Don’t forget spacers if your pedals require them.

DSC_6992 DSC_6990

Of course, just like bottom bracket changes can vary, so can how you buy the Quarq when it comes to chainrings.  If you bought just the power meter spider, then you’ll need to install the chainrings (those are the spikey things that you can use like a Frisbee if fending off a knife attack).  Whereas if you buy the whole kit with them pre-installed, then you’ll save yourself 5-15 minutes of time.  It’s super easy to install chainrings though.


Once everything is set, toss your bike on a trainer and do a few brief (like 5-20 second) hard efforts to ensure that:

A) The front doesn’t fall off, and…
B) It doesn’t sound like anyone is dying down there.

If both things check out, then we can move onto doing a zero offset.  Which I might as well cover in the ‘general use’ section.  Beyond that, we’re done here.

General Use Overview:


As has been the case for about a decade, using a Quarq power meter is pretty darn simple.  You can more or less set it and forget it.  Yet there remains a fair about of tweaking that can occur behind the scenes with their apps, for advanced users that want it.  In fact, I’d argue no power meter has as much tweakable potential.  On the flip side…it’s generally best not to tweak things unless you really truly know what you’re doing.

First though, let’s start with the basics.  And no better place to begin than the battery compartment. The unit hosts a CR2032 battery, like many ANT+ sensors these days.  Quarq states a battery life of about 200 hours, though I haven’t ridden enough hours yet on it to find the end of that tunnel.  Generally speaking, their battery life estimates are pretty solid.  Not to mention that Quarq says that realistically folks can probably get up to 300 hours in the right conditions, but that they went with a more conservative 200 hours for those that might be riding in battery-challenging conditions like the Arctic Circle in December.

The battery compartment can be found right on the front, easily unscrewed and accessed without any tools.  Long-time Quarq users (and Quarq themselves) know that much older generations of Quarq units (i.e. those before around 2012 or so) had a bunch of challenges with battery caps and water ingest.  But since then things have been pleasantly quiet.

The battery is found under that little ‘Q’ cap-looking thing:


We’ll move onto connectivity, for which the DZero supports both ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart.  This means you can use any head unit that supports ANT+ power meters like a Garmin or Wahoo device, as well as those from Polar and Suunto that support Bluetooth Smart power meters.  I’ve tested it across virtually all Garmin devices made in the last few years (via ANT+), as well as via Bluetooth Smart on the Garmin Fenix 5 and FR935, Polar M460, Wahoo Bolt, and even Zwift iOS.  No issues.


When it comes to the data types the DZero supports, it will depend on which protocol you use:

ANT+ Power (total)
ANT+ Power Balance (estimated)
ANT+ Cadence
Bluetooth Smart Power
Bluetooth Smart Power Balance (estimated)
Bluetooth Smart Cadence

Since the unit isn’t a separated left/right power meter (i.e. like a PowerTap P1 or 4iiii Precision), it tends to handle 3rd party compatibility over Bluetooth Smart better than those that are dual systems on Bluetooth Smart.  On ANT+ there are no issues at all with either type.  Pro Tip: If reading this review some time down the road and you want to validate compatibility with your specific head unit over Bluetooth Smart, double-check the comments section below.  Many folks will chime in to confirm operation. For example, you can see the Polar M460 connecting to the Quarq DZero below:


As for the metrics noted above, you can see this detail on the head unit itself of course, or afterwards on various platforms depending on the capabilities of the platform.  For example using the baseline of Garmin Connect, here’s what you’ve got for a ride.  Whereas if you pair to Suunto’s platform you won’t get some of the additional power meter metrics beyond baseline power, since Suunto doesn’t support those.  Meanwhile, Polar sits somewhere in the middle on support of advanced metrics.


When it comes to pairing your head unit, it’ll show either an ANT+ ID or Bluetooth Smart name.  In the case of ANT+, for example, the ANT+ ID is actually the last five digits as listed on the power meter itself (seen below).  Whereas in Bluetooth Smart it’ll list Quarq DZERO in the results, as well as a unique Bluetooth ID (like seen above in the Polar M460).

Most head units support re-naming the sensor ID to something more friendly so you can remember/find it later.  In the case below I’ve renamed it to simply ‘Quarq’.


One of the most important things to do is regularly check your zero offset, which is a form of calibration.  Technically there are more detailed calibration levels, but for 98% of consumers out there, the zero offset is as close as they’ll get.  This allows you to monitor a given value and see if there are major changes to it.  Generally speaking, that number will shift slightly with temperature, but in rare cases it can also change dramatically if something has gone wrong with the unit.

In the case of Quarq, there is no ‘right’ number, but rather you’re looking to see minor shifts each time (a few digits) at most.  If you see a major shift and you haven’t moved your bike to Antarctica, then I’d ring up Quarq service.


With a Quarq DZero unit the company does their 10K temperature compensation for each unit that leaves the factory, which means they record how the unit responds to a massive temperature range, ensuring higher levels of accuracy at any cycleable temperature level.  I detail how that works in my behind the scenes post at their factory.

Still, I find it a good practice to do a zero offset (which is technically what you’re doing) before I start each ride after taking the bike outdoors.  Or indoors too.  This just lets me mentally validate all is happy.  To do so on the Quarq you’ll simply remove your feet from the pedals and then use your head unit to perform a ‘calibrate’ or ‘zero offset’ (wording will vary based on head unit).

DSC_0343 DSC_0344

It’ll come back with the aforementioned value a few seconds later.

One can also do the same on the mobile app too if you’d like.  Which makes for a perfect time to talk about said app.

With Bluetooth Smart being added to the platform, it means the company has tweaked their Qalvin app to connect over Bluetooth Smart (BLE) for configuration tweaks to the DZero.  This is where you can also update firmware.  The DZero app is free on iOS and Android.


Within the app you can check status of the power meter, as well as tweak some settings and calibration related parameters.  It’s both silly easy to use and fairly powerful.  And of course, you can update the firmware too.


DSC_0363 DSC_0360

With that, we’ve covered pretty much all you need to know about using the unit.  So, let’s shift into whether or not the thing is accurate.  In many ways, that’s more important than above anything in this section.

Power Meter Accuracy Results:

I’ve long said that if your power meter isn’t accurate, then there’s no point in spending money on one.  Strava can give you estimated power that’s ‘close enough’ for free, so if you’re gonna spend money on something it shouldn’t be a random number generator.  Yet there are certain scenarios/products where a power meter may be less accurate than others, or perhaps it’s got known edge cases that don’t work.  Neither product type is bad – but you just need to know what those use/edge cases are and whether it fits your budget or requirements.

As always, I set out to find that out.  In power meters today one of the biggest challenges is outdoor conditions.  Generally speaking, indoor conditions are pretty easy to handle, but I still start there nonetheless.  It allows me to dig into areas like low and high cadence, as well as just how clean numbers are at steady-state power outputs.  Whereas outdoors allows me to look into water ingest concerns, temperature and humidity variations, and the all important road surface aspects (i.e. vibrations).

In my testing, I generally use between 2-4 other power meters on the bike at once.  I find this is the best way to validate power meters in real-world conditions.  In the case of most of these tests I was using the following other units concurrently:

PowerTap G3 hub based power meter
PowerTap P1 pedals based power meter
Stages Gen2 left-only unit
Tacx NEO Trainer
Wahoo KICKR2 Trainer

In general, my use of other products is most often tied to other things I’m testing.  Also, when it comes to data collection I use a blend of the NPE WASP data collection devices, a fleet of Garmin head units (mostly Edge 520/820/1000 units) and some Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT units.

Note, all of the data can be found in the links next to each review.  Also, at the end is a short table with the data used in this review.  I’ll likely add in other data not in this review over time as usual.

With that, let’s get started on an indoor trainer ride, which is always a great place to start.  In this case it was a ride where the Tacx Neo trainer was controlled via FE-C from a head unit.  I was simply setting specific wattage values via the head unit.  This is a great and simple test to ensure that there isn’t any obvious drift between the products over time.  Here’s the Analyzer link that these graphs come from for that ride.


(Above the data is smoothed at 5s, and the purple lines you see earlier on were some sort of ANT+ dropout on the P1 units. I moved the head unit and it resolved it.)

Above you can see that up until the 36-minute marker the three units stay fairly darn close.  Within a few watts in most cases, with the Tacx Neo generally being the lowest (as it should be considering drivetrain loses), and the P1 and DZero units blended together.

One odd area though is between the 35 and 43-minute markers, when I increase the cadence slightly to about 115rpm (which isn’t all that high in the grand scheme of things).  All three units ‘separate’ and report different values.  Unfortunately, this is one of those rare scenarios where I can’t establish a clear ‘winner’ in this case, since none are the same.


After that high cadence section all three units merge back together again, so it definitely is a bit peculiar, and not something I saw in subsequent tests.  It’s plausible given this is older data that it was on the earlier firmware version, but I’m pretty sure I updated firmware back in the early February timeframe.

Let’s shift then to another indoor trainer ride, this time on Zwift. Zwift is interesting for the variability within power, and the fact that it forces numerous units to react more quickly than a simple ERG mode.  Here’s that workout file.


In the above charts, the power data is smoothed at 5s to make it easier to see.  Overall you can see things match quite nicely.  Even those sprints which close in on 700w+ match up very well.  And keep in mind that’s actually higher than that, because of the smoothing factor.

If I zoom in on the lesser sprint at 33 minutes, you can see all three units react rather beautifully:


I would have expected the P1 and DZero to be a bit closer here, though not much. If you use a +/-2% accuracy range, that means you’re looking at each one having a swing of +/- 12w on 600w.  So a total swing potential of 24w on 600w between the two units – and we’re within that envelope (and especially once we include slight differences in measurement locations).

And again the same at the 13-minute marker with all being inside the accuracy envelope.


Even if reduce the smoothing to 2s we can see all three units match quite well on that final sprint.  Keep in mind that, due to slight differences in the way different types of power meters transmits and head units record data, it’s virtually impossible to get the same 1-second value for max power between units (plus, they vary in recording location anyway).


That said, spitting out a mean-max graph for these, you’ll see that even the upper peak 1-second max recorded value is pretty close.  The remainder of the units track evenly across the entire duration, albeit at perhaps a few watts more separation than I’d like.  Nothing out of spec, but ideally they would have been just a couple of watts closer.


Finally, let’s shift gears and head outside.  It’s more fun out there anyway.  This nearly three hour ride covers plenty of terrain, including cobbles and other rough roads.  Plus of course nice smooth roads as well as plenty of stop and go moments.  As you can see, it’s a bit of a mess to look at from the three-hour view:


Though what’s important here is that there’s almost no separation between the three units.

So let’s zoom in on a few sections to dive into in more detail.  First I’m going to pick a section which is largely steady-state at about the 1hr marker:


The data above in this little 7 or so minute section is rather clean.  All three units track quite nicely, and the ‘ordering’ is correct with the PowerTap G3 hub being the lowest, then the Quarq DZero, and finally the PowerTap P1 being highest. Despite some solid 500w surges (the above data is smoothed at 10 seconds), it still looks pretty.  Below, I put the smoothing at 3s and the numbers are still very close:


Picking out another point, here’s a 900w sprint, at 0-seconds of smoothing.  Again remember that you’ll virtually never see a perfect match in these max effort type scenarios.  Interestingly, you can see the slight oddity in the PowerTap G3 hub for about 1-2 seconds at the base where I briefly slowed my cadence.  The G3 misses that (it often does) whereas the Quarq and P1 pick that up.


Speaking of cadence, as many know, Quarq shifted from a magnet-based requirement a few years back and has been since allowing you to run magnet free.  In digging through a fair bit of data I’m not seeing any issues here either with respect to cadence variability.  Here’s a random snippet of cadence out on the road.


Last but not least, to wrap things up we’ve got a mean-max chart for the three hour ride:


The units are pretty much glued together throughout the ride, minus a very slight bit of difference at the peak 1-minute to 2-minute power.  Though, it’s pretty minor differences with mostly the G3 hub that differs there (and is within accuracy range spec).

Overall I don’t see anything of concern here.  While Quarq did have an issue back in early January impacting accuracy for some people in certain high-wattage sprint situations, that isn’t something I saw with the firmware update released in late January intended to address it.  It’s also possible my paltry sub-1000w efforts simply couldn’t trigger said bug (that again, they and other users have said has been resolved).  For everything else, the power numbers and accuracy figures I see are in-line with other units that are generally known to be trusted and respected within the industry.

Finally, here’s a table of all of the comparative data that I’ve used in this review, along with others I didn’t show in this review.  Further, there are additional days where I just didn’t capture 2-3 other power meters concurrently, but may only capture one additional power meter.  So I didn’t include those in here.

Quarq DZero Power Comparison Data

Workout DateDCR Analyzer LinkProducts Used In Test
March 30thAnalyzeQuarq DZero, PowerTap P1 Pedals, Stages Gen2, Tacx Neo, Xert
March 26thAnalyzeQuarq DZero, PowerTap P1 Pedals, PowerTap G3 Hub
March 24thAnalyzeQuarq DZero, PowerTap P1 Pedals, Tacx Neo, Zwift
March 5thAnalyzeQuarq DZero, PowerTap P1 Pedals, Tacx Neo, Xert
Feb 17thAnalyzeQuarq DZero, PowerTap P1 Pedals, Tacx Neo, FE-C Manual Control
Feb 6thAnalyzeQuarq DZero, PowerTap P1 Pedals, Tacx Neo, Zwift
Dec 28thAnalyzeQuarq DZero, PowerTap P1 Pedals, Kinetic SmartControl, Kinetic Fit App

You can click on any of the links above and also select to ‘Download Set’, which lets you download all of the original .FIT files from the various devices used to record the data.  All of the data is shown using the DCR Analyzer.

Power Meter Recommendations:

With so many power meters on the market, your choices have expanded greatly in the last few years.  So great in fact that I’ve written up an entire post dedicated to power meter selection: The Annual Power Meters Buyer’s Guide.

The above-noted guide covers every model of power meter on the market (and upcoming) and gives you recommendations for whether a given unit is appropriate for you.  There is no ‘best’ power meter.  There’s simply the most appropriate power meter for your situation.  If you have only one type of bike I’d recommend one power meter versus another.  Or if you have different needs for swapping bikes I’d recommend one unit versus another.  Or if you have a specific budget or crankset compatibility, it’d influence the answers.

Now since the guide came out this past fall, there really hasn’t been any major entrants in the market that weren’t already covered in that post.  However, there have been two noteworthy reviews since, plus one coming up shortly:

A) 4iiii Precision Dual Review: The post in my annual power meter guide didn’t cover the accuracy aspects of the newer left/right setup, so I didn’t dive into general recommendations.  But as you saw in my Precision in-depth review a month or two ago, that’s solid. No issues recommending it, works well.

B) WatTeam Gen2 Dual: You also saw in that review a month or so ago, and it was mostly pretty good.  The WatTeam re-introduced their $499USD dual left/right power meter this past winter. There were two quirks that I saw though, so you’ll want to check out that review to see if those impact you.

C) ROTOR 2INPower: This is their dual left/right setup that they announced last year and started shipping in the fall-ish.  I’ve completed all data gathering on it, and all photos on it.  Early glance at the data shows it looking very good, but I haven’t dug into all the files yet.  Either way, review up next week!

But again – check out the power meter recommendations guide here. I typically do this in September, and I didn’t see any notable power meter announcements at Sea Otter last week (where we sometimes see power meters announced), thus I’ll likely hold off on doing another annual summary until September as well.  Especially since the word ‘annual’ implies once a year. 😉



It’s probably not much of a surprise that Quarq would deliver a solid unit, that’s generally what they’re known for.  Still, it’s important to validate that assumption and ensure it holds true.  And in the case of the newly added Bluetooth Smart compatibility, it’s important to ensure it works on leading units out there via Bluetooth Smart.  I’ve checked it on the Wahoo BOLT, Polar M460, and Fenix 5 (via Bluetooth Smart).  Plus, of course, boatloads of others via ANT+ without issue.

For those power users (in the data geekiness way), the extra validation and config options that Quarq offers via their smartphone app will likely continue to be appreciated.  After all, they were the first one to introduce those options many years ago.  At the time it enabled bike shops and others to quickly validate configurations and settings.  These days it allows consumers to validate those same settings and check for firmware easily.

I’d have zero issues recommending the DZero to anyone, it just works, and works dependably every time with virtually no fiddling.

Found this review useful?  Or just wanna save 10%?  Read on!

Hopefully you found this review useful.  At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device.  The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love).  As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers an exclusive 10% discount across the board on all products (except clearance items).  You can pick up the Quarq DZero from Clever Training. Then receive 10% off of everything in your cart by adding code DCR10BTF at checkout.  By doing so, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get a sweet discount. And, since this item is more than $49, you get free US shipping as well.

Quarq DZero Power Meter (various models)

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!

Sea Otter 2017 Tech Tidbits: Barfly, K-Edge, Quarq Qollector, Lezyne, Flaér https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/04/sea-otter-2017-tech-tidbits-barfly-k-edge-quarq-qollector-lezyne-flar.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/04/sea-otter-2017-tech-tidbits-barfly-k-edge-quarq-qollector-lezyne-flar.html#comments Tue, 25 Apr 2017 00:30:02 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=73669 Read More Here ]]> DSC_1219

Here’s the second edition of the Sea Otter 2017 Tech Tidbits!  The first one I did a power meter round-up, covering all the power related news coming out of the annual bike show held in Monterey, California.  Whereas this one is focused on non-power items that are mostly gadget related.  Thus news from bike computer and mount companies and the like.

Bar Fly’s New Mounts:


Bar Fly kicks off the new mount party with them shipping a design they previewed back at Interbike, which is a fully CNC machined aluminum mount – the Bar Fly 4 Prime (above).  The out-front mount is configured by default in a Garmin setup, but within the box it includes Wahoo, Polar, Mio, Magellan, Cateye, Bryton, and Joule mount plates too.  So basically…everyone.  Plus, down below it can hold a GoPro/Garmin action camera (also in the box).


And because the list of things in the box keeps going, it includes a Di2/EPS mount as well as a light mount.  Seriously.

What’s unique about this though is you’ll notice it has two little ‘bubbles’ on it out front.  This allows you to use the furthest slot for larger bike computers like the Edge 1000, whereas the closer one can be used for smaller bike computers like an Edge 520.  The mount is covered up by the bike computer itself either way, but just gives you some flexibility.


The Prime is shipping now (at $59USD), and I’ve now got a unit to play with.  Looking forward to seeing how the new (for them) machined aluminum holds up when it comes to action cam footage.

Last but not least, the company is also fully up to speed on shipping out their new CO2 inflator and bike tire lever tools that they announced back in January via Kickstarter.


I actually backed that project as well, which seemed like a good deal for a combo tool that costs $29USD and will likely last me a long time.  Though, I can only hope I rarely have to use it.

K-Edge’s New Mounts:


Like Barfly, K-Edge doesn’t have too many totally new things on display here (unlike last year which saw a boatload).  Still, they’re now shipping their new Race Mount, which comes in at 33% lighter than their regular mount (weighing in at 32g), and that’ll set you back $54.


The above version is the Garmin variant, but the below version is the Wahoo ELEMENT BOLT-specific Race Mount model.  That includes the nifty underside bolt which allows you to lock it onto the bars.  You’ll remember that design feature is something Wahoo added to enable Pro cycling teams to consider the bike computer part of the default weight to meet UCI minimum weight thresholds.  Cool to see it incorporated here.


They’ve also got a new NiteRider mount that’s pretty slick.  This mount attachment goes onto the bottom of many existing K-Edge mounts, but allows you to attach and detach the lights via a GoPro mount.  It’s a nice little touch and will cost between $20-25, though the pricing is still being worked out.

DSC_1187 DSC_1189

One product I did not know existed was Ki2 mountain bike shifters that are machined as well.  This definitely falls into the category of ‘the more you know’.

DSC_1193 DSC_1195

Finally, they’ve got some new chain guides that help prevent drops.  As you may know, K-Edge actually got its start in chain catchers with Olympian Kristen Armstrong during the 2008 Olympics.

DSC_1178 DSC_1191

That product line eventually expanded to bike and action cam mounts as well.  And when it comes to action cam mounts, it’s still the ones I use on all my bikes today (front and rear mounts).

Lezyne Updates:


Lezyne’s home turf is Sea Otter, and they were on the scene with some solid updates to their GPS bike computer lineup, namely via firmware updates.

First up is that all of the units will be receiving a firmware update (like this week) that includes a new option to change to a white background (with black text), versus the previous white text on black background.  You can see that below.


Next, they’ve introduced the ability to configure any setting you’d like via the smartphone app, versus previously only on the unit itself.  This is awesome because it makes them the first (shipping) brand to allow you to configure anything via the unit itself OR on the smartphone app.  Companies like Wahoo have it almost all smartphone-only, whereas Garmin is almost all device-only.  Finally, a company that gives you both options.


The update will allow you to change anything, including data fields, mid-ride or pre-ride/post-ride.

Next, they’ve introduced multiple bike profiles.  Previously you only had a single bike profile, but now you can create numerous bike profiles and associate unique sensors to each bike.


Finally, the company has enabled a bunch more smartphone notification types that you can toggle to display on your unit (versus just the standard call/text ones), especially on the iPhone.  The phone is required to setup these bike profiles initially, but selection can occur after the fact on the unit itself.


This will give you a bit more flexibility when it comes to deciding what things you want to interrupt your workout.  Again, all of this should show up this week sometime.

Oh, finally – I give you this masterpiece of watch holding goodness:


Yup, I’d need about 50 of those to hold all my watches…

Quarq Qollector:


Putting this in the 5-second update category, a few folks have asked where Quarq stands on getting their Qollector training/race tracking device working within the international realm (aka anywhere outside America).  Now technically it mostly works already outside the US, but buying it outside the US has been the tricky part.

Quarq is saying they plan on having it available within 2017 to international buyers, which is what they had promised last year when it first came out.  Still, the company will once again be outfitting all competitors at the Norseman Triathlon this summer with units, as well as a few other events too.  Plus of course if you have a unit you can check out their full listing of events on their site for ones that it’ll automatically trigger the various sports (versus just regular mode). It’s still a unit that I actually use somewhat frequently, primarily on longer rides to allow The Girl to track me.

But I also use it for gathering power meter data since it can pair to multiple units at once and easily put a .FIT file together for each sensor, all sync’d to Dropbox.  Good stuff.

Flaér Revo Via:


Finally, just a quick update on a product a looked at a long-ass time ago, the Flaér Revo Via chain lube system.  This used to be under the name Scottoiler back a while ago when it launched on Kickstarter.  But they’ve since rebranded the company as Flaér, and the product as the Revo Via.

The point of the product is to provide continuous chain lubrication, which in turn reduces wattage loss in drivetrain transfer.  Of course, these watts are pretty small, but if you’re at the pointy end of the pack then it can indeed make a difference.  The company claims up to 12w in power savings, which is probably viable at certain wattages.  The main appeal being longer stages/races – such as those closing in on 5-6 hours (or much longer for off-road endurance racing).


You can see below the small tube which spits out .03ml of lube at various intervals continuously.  For example, during rainy conditions they’d recommend every 30 seconds, whereas in sunny conditions it’d be closer to 150 seconds.


Anyway, the point of this update was that they’ve got some big name teams now actually using the thing.  For example, Orica-Scott has been riding it on pro team bikes this spring in races, as has the Cube Action Team (which is off-road racing).

Of course, this is one of those products that people love to bash, mostly because it’s not understood (as is almost always the case).  On a sunny day with dry conditions and a shorter 2-3 hour race, it’s likely overkill.  But for a long endurance race in craptastic rainy conditions, there’s some very legit wattage savings to a clean drivetrain.  And very few pro riders would dismiss 12w of savings.  But of course, to each their own.

With that – thanks for reading!  That’s all I’ve got for Sea Otter tech updates (plus the previous Sea Otter power meter post!), though stay tuned throughout the rest of the week for a few more product things coming out that I spent time with at Sea Otter. Won’t want to miss those!

Sea Otter Power Meter Roundup: 4iiii Precision, Easton/Race Face CINCH, FSA PowerBox, Team Zwatt, Quarq DZero, Xpedo Thrust-E https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/04/sea-otter-power-meter-roundup-4iiii-precision-eastonrace-face-cinch-fsa-powerbox-team-zwatt-quarq-dzero-xpedo-thrust-e.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/04/sea-otter-power-meter-roundup-4iiii-precision-eastonrace-face-cinch-fsa-powerbox-team-zwatt-quarq-dzero-xpedo-thrust-e.html#comments Sun, 23 Apr 2017 18:18:39 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=73614 Read More Here ]]> If there was a theme for power meters at Sea Otter this week it would be re-branding.  Or rather, OEM’ing. Half of the power meter announcements were essentially just well-known bike companies offering power meters that are basically ‘powered by’ other preexisting power meter companies.  Similar to what we saw Cateye do last year with 4iiii Precision power meters.

Though not all announcements were of the rebranded variety.  For example, 4iiii did announce one new crank type, and…well…actually, ok, that’s it.  The remainder of all power meter updates were related to when companies would ship their previously announced wares.

As I expected, this Sea Otter was much lower on the power meter announcements front.  After a jam-packed 2016 year, companies seem to still be recovering from the hangover going into early 2017.  This is true both in terms of new products but also pricing shifts.  After all, many companies made product announcements in late 2016 that they’re still working to get out the door.  I do not expect any further major power meter announcements (i.e. entirely new products) until the Eurobike/Interbike timeframe at the end of summer.  So – go forth and make those power meter purchasing decisions without fear.

With that, let’s roll through these updates.  Gonna keep it quick!

Oh – and there will be one more Sea Otter tech round-up post. The other will include some new bike computer mounts, some head unit notables, and a few random sports tech things I saw.

4iiii New Precision Models


Starting off the show, 4iiii announced that their Precision power meter is now available on Shimano’s new Dura-Ace FC-R9100 crankset.  Specifically, the left-side variant of that.  This will save you about 7g in weight over the previous FC-9000 version. The company is offering this as part of their ‘Factory Install’ option, which means that you ship your crank arms to them (versus the other where you buy a kit all-inclusive with it built on already).

The unit will set you back $399, and that’ll start shipping next month in May.

Of note is that the dual left/right side R9100 variant isn’t available yet, though not so much for tech reasons.  Rather, they (like everyone else) are simply having challenges getting sufficient quantities of the full crank-sets to be able to start shipping.  For example, 4iiii sponsored pro team Quick-Step has been running the dual R9100 setup on some bikes this spring already in major races like Flanders.

Easton/Race Face CINCH announced:


Next up we’ve got a small gaggle of new units from Easton and Race Face, cohesively branded as their CINCH power meter.  The two brands are both owned by Fox Factory, and were side by side at Sea Otter showing off their new units.

The CINCH unit is designed to be compatible with road, mountain, and cyclocross bikes, making them a bit wider spread on the compatibility front than some other power meter companies that may target just road riders.  The main draw here is enabling both companies to offer consumers units that are compatible with their group lineups with minimal hassle to get a power meter.  And all that’s great for consumers.


But I’m more interested in the tech side than crankset compatibility.  In this case, for reasons that are a bit weird – neither Race Face nor Easton wanted to disclose that the units were actually powered by Sensitivus (more commonly known as the company behind Team Zwatt).  In fact, you may remember this very crank from my Team Zwatt preview test last August.  As other media outlets have noted, the weird caginess about revealing the underlying power meter tech is odd, because all it does is lower expectations about the product.  In the power meter world you either have a trusted brand (or mostly trusted) with a known product, and then you have everyone else.  You don’t want to be put in the ‘everyone else’ pile.  It’s not a good part of town.

As for the tech itself, the unit is left-only as it’s placed within the bottom bracket and won’t capture the power from the right leg.  This makes the left-only nature similar to that of Stages, 4iiii Precision (non-dual), and many others offering single-sided solutions.  Though, priced from $599USD for the unit itself, it’s a bit more than those companies.

DSC_1352 DSC_1341

The power meter accuracy is stated at +/-2% and is dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart capable.  I tested all this within my earlier tests last fall, and it seems to check-out (prelim tests of course).  Further, the battery slots in at 400 hours, but is rechargeable via micro-USB port protected under a cover that seals it all in.  Interestingly, the company is the only one I know of that allows you to use a smartphone app to put the power meter to sleep during travel, to minimize battery burn (since the accelerometer would otherwise wake it up).

Finally, availability will be mid-May 2017 for the Easton branded models, and June for Race Face branded variants.

FSA PowerBox Shipping Update:


Last fall bike component maker FSA announced they were getting into the power meter game with a new unit branded as ‘PowerBox’.  Unlike Easton/Race Face though, they were pretty open about the fact that this was powered by Power2Max’s technology.  In that case, it was Power2Max’s Type-S technology under the covers (not their newer NG platform announced in 2017 as well).

Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – the Type-S is an incredibly stable and great power meter.  However, to say it’s 100% Type-S wouldn’t be entirely true.  For example, the Type-S didn’t have Bluetooth Smart.  Whereas the FSA PowerBox does.  Well…sorta.

See, the PowerBox by default will only transmit on ANT+.  However, the chipset within it is capable of dual ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart.  So they are allowing Power2Max to ‘unlock’ the Bluetooth Smart transmission for a small fee.  This fee hasn’t been announced yet, but the software update will also include additional pedal efficiency metrics.  The unlocking will be solely handled by Power2Max, using an app from them.  So you’ll basically pay Power2Max via the app and then boom – Bluetooth Smart power transmission!

So why purchase a PowerBox over others?  Well aside from stuff like crankset inclusion/compatibility, the main reason is frankly price.  Starting at $648 including the chainrings and crank arms – it’s very competitive.

As for shipping, the company says they’re getting close and hope to be shipping in the next few weeks, aiming for mid-May at the latest.

Team Zwatt Shipping Update:


Next we’ve got a quick update from Team Zwatt, which did a crowd-funding campaign last summer.  Of course, Sensitivus is really the name behind Team Zwatt – also behind Easton/Race Face.  However, Sensitivus and Team Zwatt are one and the same entity, it’s not a separate company. Sorta like how Saris Cycling Group is the umbrella name for PowerTap/CycleOps/etc…

In any case, that de-confusion aside – the company is in the midst of shipping.  You’ll remember they launched two core variants, plus a mountain bike stretch goal (that ended up being the Race Face/Easton unit):

Zimanox: Left-only crank arm solution, doubles left-leg power
Zpider: Crank spider based, captures all power (left/right)
Zpindle MTB: Spindle solution (inside bottom bracket), doubles left-leg power (is basically Race Face/Easton).

They had some sample units with them at Sea Otter to take a look at, though, the real news is that they’re actually shipping to legit Kickstarter backers.

DSC_1365 DSC_1367

On the Zpider (spider-based) units, those are already shipping and they should have all backers cleared out by the end of April.  For the Zimanox (crank arm) units, those are in pilot production right now, and expected to ship shortly (sounded like weeks or so).

DSC_1377 DSC_1373

(Above: I’m holding the small wireless charger, it has a micro-USB port on it, and connects via the contacts you see there.)

Finally, you may also remember that Team Zwatt was a bit different than other companies in that they were also doing a subscription model for power meter ownership as well, so that’s something I’ll be looking to dive back into down the road in a review.  Speaking of which, I’m probably most interested in testing the crank spider variant, since that captures all left/right power (not separated, but total power).  Versus there’s less interest from me in doing a purely left-only unit, since those are becoming more and more commonplace.  In any case – more to come here!

Xpedo Thrust-E:


It’s almost hard to put this section in with a straight face.  But it’s OK, because that lack of straight face would actually match that of the Xpedo reps when I asked timelines for the unit. No really, I’m actually not kidding – one rep started to giggle a bit upon the timeline question.  For realz.

Still, the official answer for availability of this pedal-based power meter is “around Eurobike”.  This continues the multi-year tradition of the answer to availability of their unit always being some variant of ‘just a few months away’.

They noted they were working through some “small items”, primarily “accuracy”.  Things in quotes were actually said.  Again, keep’in it real.

Quarq DZero Shipping Update:


Finally, a super-brief update on Quarq DZero.  You’ll remember the company announced the DZero lineup last year at Eurobike, and started shipping around January.  Since then they’ve continued shipping, but demand has significantly outstripped supply – resulting in some pretty big delays, especially for distributors/retailers and their international crowd.

The company notes that they’ve just brought online a second full product line for DZero (pretty much unprecedented for them) and that supply will likely catch up in the May to early June timeframe.

Speaking of which, I had hoped to publish my in-depth review of DZero last week, but getting my keynote presentation put together delayed my final editing of photos. Text/analysis/photos are all done, so you’ll see that up in the next 48 hours or so.  Good stuff!  And in that related vein, similar story for ROTOR 2INPower, which also has all data/photos/etc complete, and is just awaiting some cohesive text to stick it together.

So there ya have it – power meter goodness from Sea Otter 2017! Stay tuned for another Sea Otter tech-focused round-up, plus what promises to be a busy week of other product announcements and reviews!

Thanks for reading!

Garmin Announces Smart Home Control, Connect IQ Updates https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/04/garmin-announces-smart-home-control-connect-iq-updates.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/04/garmin-announces-smart-home-control-connect-iq-updates.html#comments Wed, 19 Apr 2017 11:00:00 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=73571 Read More Here ]]> DSC_1021

As many of you know, today kicks off Garmin’s first Connect IQ Summit, held in Olathe, Kansas.  The summit is aimed at developers wanting to build apps on Garmin’s wearable and related devices.  A sphere that, as of this morning, now encompasses just shy of 5 million Connect IQ capable devices and over 1,000 developers with 3,000 apps in total.  All of which have been downloaded 29 million times to date.  Given these numbers, it was logical to eventually progress into having a dedicated conference, just as many other software technologies do.

And of course the conference is just as much about the attendees as is the technology that’s being announced.  For example all the big names if the fitness platforms realm are here – from Strava to Under Armour, and Training Peaks to Xert.  But perhaps more importantly are the non-fitness names.  Those being companies like Uber, Nest (of Google), Southwest Airlines, SmartThings (of Samsung), and countless more.  Which isn’t to say that smaller developers aren’t here, there are plenty of those that make just as many cool apps (in fact, far more in terms of sheer numbers).  Apps like like WikiLoc and DWMap are all present.

The point is, in it’s first year it’s a bit of a who’s who.  Nonetheless, this post is about the specific technologies being announced today.  Or rather, development pieces.  Like my past Connect IQ posts, these server as a starting point of sorts where companies can now leverage these new capabilities to do interesting things.  The demos you see here are usually basic and sometimes boring – but they tend to show the potential of a technology.  With that, let’s begin.

But first – if you want this entire post in a condensed and pretty video format, ask and you shall receive!

For those preferring text…onwards!

SmartThings Control:


First up we’ve got a cool look at home automation control via SmartThings and their new Connect IQ app.  This enables any Connect IQ capable device to control routines from within SmartThings from your watch.  So for example you can turn on the lights when you walk in the house, or setup your home theater to a movie mode.  Whatever you an dream up within the home automation realm of SmartThings, this can trigger it.


The app works behind the scenes by having your Garmin watch utilize the Bluetooth Smart connection to the Garmin Connect Mobile app.  From there the SmartThings app leverages your internet connectivity (cellular or WiFi) to access your stored SmartThings “routines”.  From there you can trigger these routines and thus the lights and devices connected to them.

Routines are basically like preconfigured instructions for a pile of devices.  For example to turn off all devices in the house, or just the ones on the first floor.  Note that it’s not going to list every device in your house on your watch.  Quite frankly that’d be a user interface mess.  Instead, by focusing routines it makes it easier to group those into logical buckets that you can turn on and off.

In the below photo you can see the routines that have been configured within SmartThings.  I can select any of these routines, such as ‘Good Morning’, which turns on the lights and the TV.  Or Movie Time, which turns on the TV and dims the lights.  Netflix and Chill time was not an option I could demo, due to the mostly PG-rated content of this blog.


Within about 1-3 seconds of pressing that button on my watch the lights turn on.  It’s pretty nice.  Of course this isn’t terribly unlike other wearable devices that have done semi-similar things.  But like much of this post, it’s about those features coming to Connect IQ.  Inversely there are certainly plenty of things that competitors like Apple and Android Wear have introduced in the last year that Garmin has had for years.  The path forward in progress isn’t always equal.

I demo the entire SmartThings piece from start to finish up above in the video at the start of this post.  The best part here is that unlike the remainder of this post, the SmartThings app is available now…and not limited to one particular app platform.

Connect IQ 2.3 Platform Enhancements:

For many folks, they might not care much what Connect IQ version you’re on or what that means.  But in reality the version of Connect IQ that your watch supports will directly impacts down the road what kind of apps you can get.  For example, we saw this with the TrainingPeaks app a few weeks back being limited to certain Connect IQ versions due to those capabilities only being available on those version.

In this case, 2.3 is an incremental update that will be available on the following devices (more or less anything announced in the last 12-14 months):

Garmin Fenix 5/5S/5X
Garmin Forerunner 935
Garmin Forerunner 735XT
Garmin Fenix Chronos
Garmin Vivoactive HR
Garmin Edge 520/820/1000

Past devices like the Garmin Fenix 3 series won’t get these updates, in large part because those devices are maxed out when it comes to either processing power or in some cases simply firmware space.  In other cases it’s simply because Garmin isn’t updating those older platforms.

There are four specific major changes/enhancements coming to Connect IQ 2.3, which are as follows.

Always Active Watch Faces:


One of the biggest complaints of 3rd party watch faces via Connect IQ in the past was the inability to show the seconds on the watch face, or for that matter any updates more frequent than every minute.  With Always Active Watch faces that changes though.  Now watch faces can display not just the second hand but any data they darn well choose at much higher refresh rates.  Garmin has even tested down to 25ms (1/40th of a second) – without any degradation of battery life.

And that was really the previous concern – was that by allowing watch faces to update more frequently it could impact battery life significantly.  But in talking with Garmin developers yesterday the testing they’ve done shows no impact to battery life at all with the new platform.  Of course, like anything it remains to be seen what ‘creative’ things people manage to come up with – but certainly this is good news for folks who like watch face customization.

Background Services:


Next we’ve got what is clearly the first iteration of multitasking apps on Garmin’s platforms.  Connect IQ 2.3 supports the ability for apps to run in the background and then enumerate updates to the user based on all assortment of triggers.  For example an app can pop-up to remind you of a particular thing to do, like taking nutrition or even medication.  That app can then be acted upon, just like you would interact with any other app.

Triggers can be functions like sensor data, updates from a web platform, or other ANT communications.  One particularly simplistic app you see above automatically reloads your weekly Strava totals every 15 minutes.  While this might be a bit obsessive, it shows the potential of not just a background service/app, but the idea of being able to interrupt or augment what your down on the watch to provide you timely updates that would otherwise have to wait.

You might be asking – how is this different than smart notifications then?  Well, it’s much like on your smartphone – sure, you’ve got notifications, but when you’re in the middle of playing Candy Crush it allows your friend to call you – all without existing Candy Crush.  Of course your wearable lacks Candy Crush, but the basics apply here.

Certainly there will be applications people find in the sports/fitness realm, but as I alluded to at the beginning of the post – much of these changes are about appealing to apps outside that realm.

Trial Apps:


One of the biggest criticisms of the Connect IQ platform has also been it’s biggest asset: Everything is free.  There is no monetization directly within Connect IQ in that you can’t ‘buy’ a Connect IQ app with hard cold cash.  It just doesn’t exist.

Some apps like Xert and others have been able to somewhat work around those limitations by requiring login to a 3rd party platform for the app to work, but there were always limitations in that, and it wasn’t necessarily something that was clear to the end user upon downloading the app.

With trial apps though, Garmin will now allow 3rd parties to authorize users to use an app on their devices.  And thus by extension the ability for a developer to charge for said apps.  Now, the devil is still in the details here because all this really does is offload the payment processing piece more clearly onto said 3rd party developer.  A piece that Garmin (like most companies) wants approximately nothing to do with.  Managing currencies and points and such in an app store model reaches the height of sucky things that app ecosystem have to deal with.

Still, by at least making the process easier here for 3rd party developers it should simplify their ability to manage consumer expectations a bit, as well as offer themselves a more economical model.

Action Intelligence:

vlcsnap-2017-04-18-23h08m47s336 vlcsnap-2017-04-18-23h08m55s410

Next we’ve got probably the feature with the most potential, which is Action Intelligence.  This allows apps to access and record accelerometer data at up to 25hz (aka 25 times a second…aka every 40ms).  The idea behind this is to enable apps to start to do more gesture sensing and control.  As well as recording of those movements.

For example Garmin had a simple pitch counter app, that would allow someone wearing the watch to enable the app to count how many baseballs they threw as a pitcher.  That’s a simplistic example, but it worked reasonably well when demoed to me.

The feature allows companies to gather 3-axis accelerometer data, but also to leverage Finite Impulse Response (FIR) and Infinite Impulse Response (IIR) filters which and then filter out noisy day (or include such data).  The idea being that a developer could target just the exact accelerometer data they wanted for their specific application.  All of which can be recorded and potentially processed elsewhere on a 3rd party platform.

In some ways this is similar to what Suunto is doing with their Movesense pods, except that this is built into the watch itself.  So rather than a secondary pod, the user just wears the watch as normal.  On the flipside, the pod approach of Suunto is better in scenarios where you want to measure things not on the wrist (i.e. on skis or legs/etc…).



Phew, lots of stuff being announced today!  Sure, some of this is kinda dry and boring for non-developers.  For most of us, we’ll have to wait for interesting apps to start taking advantage of this.  In some cases they’ll be a matter of days, whereas for other apps it’ll be months.  For example the changes we saw back in the fall realistically took a few months before major headliner apps started to take advantage of them.

Still, it’s interesting to see wearable app platforms continue to evolve, whether it be Connect IQ, Android Wear, Apple’s WatchOS, or other up and coming or re-invented platforms.  There’s no better time to be a consumer in this space, as the competition is heating up!

Oh…don’t forget! I’m speaking today at 1:00PM US Central Time (2:00PM US Eastern, 8:00PM Central European Time).  That session in front of hundreds of folks here in a rather fancy auditorium with swanky lighting will be broadcast live on Facebook Live on Garmin’s page and then I’ll have someone retweet it to my Twitter.  I’ll be covering all sorts of my thoughts on the app and wearables market.  Should be fun and offer some of my insights into where I think things have gone well, not so well, and what I’m looking for coming down the pipeline.

Update: You can watch the recorded version here or below!

5 Random Things I Did This Weekend https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/04/5-random-things-i-did-this-weekend-45.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/04/5-random-things-i-did-this-weekend-45.html#comments Mon, 17 Apr 2017 16:35:43 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=73547 Read More Here ]]> As those astute DCR Twitter or Instagram followers may know, I’m now in California for a few weeks. A lot of weeks actually.  And actually not just in California.  Later today I’ll take a quick trip up/over to Kansas to give a keynote at the Connect IQ Summit.  And prior to this weekend I was busy at the Specialized Wind Tunnel and recording with Recode for their super-duper tech podcast.  We had a blast!

In the meantime though, here’s what the weekend has been up to ahead of Sea Otter later this week here in Monterey.

1) Running along the ocean

2017-04-14 11.52.00

Saturday afternoon I headed out for a 10K run along the ocean in Pacific Grove.  It’s one of the most amazing sections of roadway on earth, with spectacular scenery.  From birds to sea otters to seals and more.  Sometimes even the random great white shark (yes, I actually took that picture at the start of the triathlon).

Today though, it was just quiet, sunny, and pleasant:

2017-04-15 18.50.20

I did a simple out and back with a small loop at the turn-around point to mix things up and go briefly off-road.

2017-04-15 18.49.29

I’m certainly looking forward to many more runs along the coast and into the mountains of California over the next few weeks.  Hard to beat!

2) Visiting the Fishes

Of course, no visit to Monterey would be complete without stopping by the famed Monterey Bay Aquarium.  I mean, just look at the awesomeness of this place:

2017-04-16 10.12.04



Oh…there was one exhibit I was not going to partake in:


Hell’s no! We all know how that ended last time.

Thankfully The Peanut was free, cause otherwise it’s pretty darn pricey at $49 a person!!!  Still, they do amazing work in both conservation as well as in their exhibits.  Definitely worth the stop when in town.

3) Karma’s a…uhh…back.


Remember the GoPro Karma drone?  It was recalled back in December and then started shipping again in February.  I stopped using it after the recall, but I finally got mine returned shortly after that (I figured if they never ended up releasing another drone it’d be a fun historical piece).

This week I used my Best Buy refund credits to pick up a new one.  I’m hoping that GoPro has something planned as far as new features.  They hinted at new Hero5 features last week in some communications, so I’m optimistic that we’ll see something (anything!) for Karma.  It’s had no software updates since launch last September.  For those keeping track, the DJI Mavic has had 8 updates in that same timeframe (almost all packed with new features).

In any case, the other thing that was actually of more interest to me was the new GoPro Karma Grip extension cable.  This was announced way back in September, and finally started shipping last week.  It allows you to separate the GoPro Karma gimbal (non-flying) while doing sport activities and stash it in your backpack.  It’s a really cool concept to minimize the size of things.

DSC_0994 DSC_0997

Though, at $99USD price it’s officially the world’s most expensive USB-C cable.

I’ve gotta find a cool unboxing setup at our AirBNB spot here in Monterey, since at present almost everything usable is pink.  As for the GoPro Karma Drone, my unboxing video of that is here, so no reason to re-do that.

4) The Peanut’s First Easter

With Sunday being Easter it was The Peanut’s first Easter.  And lucky for her she had one set of grandparents around, as my parents met us down here for the week.


Given she’s still pretty small, it wasn’t so much an Easter egg hunt as it was more of an Easter egg toss…with her tossing the eggs out of the basket and then shaking them.

Whatever floats her boat!

Speaking of food and animals, my Dad got the Weber all riled up for some goodness over the weekend, which included this awesomeness:


Or said differently, I had a pretty Weber photo that I wanted to use, and this seemed like a good place for it. Mmm…so good.

5) The Watches Are Back Outside


Finally, the watches are back up on the roof.  Actually, the deck.  Well, the deck handrail to be precise.  Our AirBNB turns out to be a great place for testing watch battery durations.  You’ll remember last weekend I put three different Fenix 5 units (5/5S/5X) up on my roof to see how long those batteries would last in standard one-second GPS sampling mode (non-GLONASS, with wrist HR enabled, no phone).  Here’s the results of that goodness:

Garmin Fenix 5S: 14:23:29 (claim is 14hours)
Garmin Fenix 5: 23:36:06 (claim is 24 hours)
Garmin Fenix 5X: 24:41:31 (claim is 20 hours)

This time around though, I’m aiming for the UltraTrac version.  I’m curious to see how long they go when I optimize all the settings for an ultra-long battery adventure.  The official (updated/revised) specs for UltraTrac are:

Garmin Fenix 5S UltraTrac: 35 hours claim
Garmin Fenix 5 UltraTrac: 60 hours claim
Garmin Fenix 5X UltraTrac: 35 hours claim

Right now they’ve been up there a bit over 24 hours and here’s where they stand (battery percentage on upper edge in right photo).  Left to right: 5S/5X/5.

DSC_0985 DSC_0986

(The backlights were only on for the 8-seconds required to take the photo in the dark)

Hopefully, they finish though before my flight, since they need to go with me.  I suppose in some ways if I took them with me that might balance out some of the ‘easiness’ of not moving.  On the flip-side, it’d kick up the battery burn rates by having them be inside at the airport/airplanes and so-forth.  We’ll see….

With that – thanks for reading, and have a good week ahead!

First Look: Polar’s new M460 GPS Bike Computer https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/04/first-look-polars-new-m460-gps-bike-computer.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/04/first-look-polars-new-m460-gps-bike-computer.html#comments Wed, 12 Apr 2017 18:31:28 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=73505 Read More Here ]]> DSC_0657

Today is shaping up to be a rather busy day for announcements!  Polar joined the Wednesday new products club with its new M460 bike GPS.  This bike computer builds on the M450 unit they announced almost two years ago. Both units are targeted at the mid-range market in terms of functionality, yet both actually have very reasonable prices ($159/$179).

The M460 aims to incrementally improve upon the M450 with some modest software enhancements, along with a new all-black look.  These updates include Strava Live Segment functionality and increased power meter support/metrics.

Polar dropped me off a loaner unit to toy with earlier in the week, which has enabled me to poke at some functions – but not quite everything.  That’s because pieces like Strava Live Segments won’t be enabled until April 19th. As such, this post is a very preliminary look at things.  While technically hands-on, I’ve only ridden a little with it.  I’ll dive into more detail next week once the Strava Live Segment piece lights up.  This is not an in-depth review, or a review in any way really.

With that, let’s talk about the differences.

What’s new:

As you may remember last week, Polar announced their M430 successor to the M400.  This was a modest hardware tweak to their existing and popular running watch.  It added an optical heart rate sensor to the back and a few new features.  It essentially kept them competitive in that market.  With the M460 bike computer however, they’ve taken a different path despite the similarities in target markets.

Specifically that the M460 contains no major additional/new hardware, but rather just three software enhancements.  Sure, it’s got a new exterior case that’s now black instead of white – but it’s the same guts.  They did make a minor tweak in the buttons however to make them feel a bit better.


Instead, the focus was on delivering the following three and a half features:

– Strava Live Segments: Allows you to compete against segment leaders on the unit itself
– Power Meter Update: Added Training Peaks Normalized Power (NP), Intensity Factor (IF), and Training Stress Score (TSS), improved power meter support
– Smartphone notifications: You can now get smartphone notifications on the unit itself mid-ride
– GPS gradient: You can now see gradient (aka incline) using the unit without a speed sensor

And that’s it.

Now, there are some undercurrents to the power meter support that’s worthwhile digging into.  Specifically that the company is going to more broadly support 3rd party power meters from a left/right standpoint.  Right now they support their advanced metrics (like force direction) on the M450 but only for their power meter.  Going forward they’ll support it for other units such as the PowerTap P1, ROTOR 2INPower, and other power meters that support the data streams.


The challenge Polar has here is that there is no standard for these extended data types. Sure there are basics like left/right power over Bluetooth Smart, but when it comes to directional force and such, each company is doing it entirely differently (like, really differently).  So it’s likely to be a long road.

For example, in trying it out last night (it’s still beta of course) with the ROTOR 2INPower, it kinda worked for the advanced metrics.  It showed one side, but not the other.  But did properly display left/right balance on other screens.  Polar responded this morning that they’re aware of the issue and are working to resolve it.


Still, it’s going to continue to be a long road ahead.  Nearly every firmware release these days (head unit or power meter focused on BLE) still seems to break someone in the equation – with someone being the consumer.  Until we go a period of 12-18 months without a single incident, it’s going to be incredibly hard to recommend consumers put themselves in the position of only being able to use BLE for a power meter.  Even things that would work for months often stop one day, as many Polar power meter users can attest to.

I know both Polar and power meter companies have been working closely together in recent months to try and resolve these issues, but I still want to see long term proof of sustainability.


Along the power meter line, we’ve got the addition of the TSS/NP/IF metrics from TrainingPeaks.  These are pretty common on other competitive units, so it’s good to see them here as well.

Finally, we’ve got the biggie – which is Strava Live Segments.  This falls in line with most other industry players in adding this feature.  We’ve seen Garmin, Wahoo, Lezyne, Mio, and probably a few others I’m forgetting all add this into their bike computers.

Like those others, you’ll need a Strava Premium account in order to get the functionality to work, though Polar/Strava will give you a free 60-day trial to see if you like it.  Once that’s all connected behind the scenes you’ll see your favorite Strava Segments within Polar Flow (the ones that are starred).  Since it’s not live yet on production, they shot me over a few screenshots to explain:


The above will be sync’d to your M460.  You can also click on any given segment to get more information about it, all staying within Polar Flow.  You can see below the overall fastest men/women, as well as your best time.  Plus some general stats about the segment.


That’s kinda cool, given that nobody else does that on their platforms.  Everyone else requires you to be totally on Strava and just works their magic behind the scenes.

While out riding it’ll show you nearby segments, such as these two segments that are .26KM and 1.77KM away.  All of these come from the list of starred segments.


Once you approach a segment you’ll get a countdown distance to where it begins.  For example below you see 127m remaining till the segment starts.  Again, since I couldn’t enable this on my unit yet one of the Polar guys went out and did some segment hunting with a camera:


Then once you are within the Segment you’ll see the status of the segment displayed, including your status against your PR, the KOM, or the QOM.


For the most part, this seems like a pretty simple implementation of Segments, pretty straightforward.  Still, I’ll be interested to give it a whirl myself next week and see if there are any nuances (good or bad) that differentiate it from the competitors.  In general, I think Wahoo’s implementation is the best, with Garmin not too far behind.  Each company makes their own slight tweaks in terms of how they do it.

Beyond these noted features, there isn’t anything else new on the platform.  It’s a pretty cut and dry situation.  The existing M450 will retail at $159USD/EUR, while the new M460 will come in at $179USD/EUR.  I think it’s fair to say that if you care about Strava, you’re likely willing to pay another 20 bucks.

Going forward:


Now it’s pretty obvious this is a fairly minor and incremental update.  Most companies (ok, actually, all companies in the market) have given these same features to existing units without purchase of a new unit.  So it’s a bit surprising Polar isn’t doing the same.

For example, the Wahoo ELEMNT got Strava Live segments after release; so did most of the Garmin Edge series made within 2 years of the initial announcement eons ago.  As did Mio’s units (heck, they were even older than Garmin).

And in many ways the same is true of the power meter side.  All the other bike computers in the market already support these metrics (or similar ones), and all of them have mostly complete compatibility for advanced power data.  There’s some nuances between units, especially when it comes to how you match up certain data fields on the ANT+ side to that of the Bluetooth Smart side. But we’re roughly in the same ballpark.


Which gets us to the same sticking point it was with the M450 two years ago: It lacks ANT+.  While the cycling power meter world is largely now dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, that doesn’t help the hundreds of thousands of ANT+ only power meters out there.  With power meters not being a cheap item, there’s little reason for folks to convert to Polar for these additions.  As I noted in the Polar M450 post at the time, the room of journalists were actually kinda angry at the lack of ANT+ support.  It was moderately surprising.

But they were right.  While the M450 got off to a rocky start with delays, the core reason it simply hasn’t done well in the larger bike computer market is due to lack of ANT+. Period.  If they were to add that in, it’d wipe Garmin and Wahoo on the floor…overnight.  A unit that’s $80-$120 cheaper that does almost everything they do (if not more in some cases)?  Seems like a no-brainer, no matter how proud one might be of protocol party politics.

The overall shift in the entire industry is towards dual protocol head units: Wahoo’s ELEMNT, Stage’s Dash, Lezyne’s units, and heck – even Garmin’s FR935 and Fenix5 as well.  It’s not because anyone sees one protocol as the winner, it’s because they recognize that consumer choice and flexibility is what’s going to win them sales.

In any event – if you’re looking at the Polar lineup and don’t have a power meter, without question it’s an awesome buy.  It always has been.  With the power meter front, it’s going to be much more tricky and I’d recommend waiting to see how things shake out.

With that – thanks for reading!

Update: You can pre-order the Polar M460 from Clever Training today, expected delivery later this month.  Plus, if you use DCR Coupon code DCR10BTF, you’ll save 10% and also get free US shipping.  Plus, it helps support the site.  Enjoy!

Garmin Vivosmart 3 Activity Tracker In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/04/garmin-vivosmart-3-activity-tracker-in-depth-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2017/04/garmin-vivosmart-3-activity-tracker-in-depth-review.html#comments Wed, 12 Apr 2017 11:00:00 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=73289 Read More Here ]]> Garmin-Vivosmart-3-Resting-Stress

Today Garmin introduced an updated version of its Vivosmart lineup, the Vivosmart 3.  This essentially takes the Vivosmart HR that we saw last year (aka Vivosmart Gen2) and shrinks it down.  Then they layered in a bunch of new heart rate variability metrics to measure stress and VO2Max.  At first glance it might be somewhat boring, but as I began using it more and more, I actually came away more impressed than I expected.

To be clear – this unit does not have GPS in it (like the Vivosmart HR+ does), rather, it’s the next in succession of mid-range priced activity trackers, meant to compete with the Fitbit Alta HR and Fitbit Charge 2.  It also likely competes with a handful of other lesser known brands, but with Garmin and Fitbit going head to head in this market segment (sub-$150) for the majority of consumer dollars, these are the two most folks are looking at.

Finally, before we get into the review, this unit (actually, two units) are both media loaners.  As always I’ll send them back to Garmin once I’m done (in fact, they’re already on the plane back to Garmin).  I’ll then go out and get my own through regular retail channels.

So, let’s dig into it!

What’s new:


For those of you that are familiar with Garmin’s lineup of activity trackers, you’ll have a good baseline understanding of the basic functionality.  So for this section I’m going to focus on what’s new/unique compared to the previous Vivosmart HR.  As with almost all Garmin activity trackers, you’ve got the basics like smartphone notifications (of all types, not just text/call), activity/step tracking, music control, and exercise/workout monitoring.  And you’ve got an optical heart rate (HR) sensor in there that works during both workouts and 24×7 monitoring.  So, the normal stuff.

But here’s what’s new:

New 24×7 Stress Tracking Mode: This will score  (1-100) and bucketize (low/med/high) your stress levels constantly (Update: This will come to the Fenix5 and FR935 via firmware update, no specific date is finalized yet)
VO2Max/Fitness Level Scoring: This will give you both a VO2Max value and a general score
New Relax/Breathing timer: This will walk you through breathing exercises to help you relax
Strength training mode: This can now count reps during certain activities
More constant 24×7 HR mode: This is akin to Fenix5/FR935 with far more frequent HR updates
Watch face choices: You can now select some (limited) watch faces
New Stop Watch/Countdown Timer: Pretty self-explanatory
Auto-start for Run/Walk Activity: Allows you to automatically trigger these workout types
Far thinner design: Reduced by 4mm compared to Vivosmart HR

Now, there is one new ‘features’ which can also be seen as downsides:

On-demand only display: This means the display automatically turns on when you raise your wrist, but is otherwise off to save battery time

So as you can see the new changes fit into two categories.  First are some new software features, primarily aimed at 24×7 type functionality (Stress and better HR metrics).  And then secondarily is a significantly reduced size in terms of the unit itself.  It’s far smaller, that’s for sure.  The previous unit was a bit clunky. Not bad compared to some options in the market, but the display ended up being kinda ‘hard’.  Whereas this is a much ‘softer’ unit than previous.

Now I’m going to dive into all the new features in more detail throughout this post, but if you’re short on time (or prefer videos over text), then go forth and watch my overview here:

Okey doke, with the overview out of the way, let’s back up and unbox this puppy before diving into the details.


The box design and contents of the Vivosmart 3 are pretty similar.  The box itself isn’t much different in size than a can of soda (not one of those funky tall Redbull-style types though).


Inside you’ll find the unit, a charger, and some paper goodness, all protected in plastic or foam:


Note that there are two sizes available (small/medium, and large).  And two colors (black and purple), though purple is only available in small/medium.  If you’re a bigger wristed fella…purple is not in your future.

First up you’ve got the charging cable, which somewhat disappointingly isn’t the supposedly “new Garmin wearables standard” found on the Fenix 5 and FR935 series.  That was somewhat the justification for creating the new charging/sync cable.  So, in any event, here’s the other new variant:

Garmin-Vivosmart3-Charge-Cable Garmin-Vivosmart3-Charger

Then we’ve got some paper quick start guide and legal stuff:


And then finally, the unit itself:

Garmin-Vivosmart3-Front Garmin-Vivosmart3-Back

Note that the band is *not* swappable like the Fitbit Alta/Alta HR bands.  Instead, it’s more like the Fitbit Charge/Charge HR band in that it’s as-is.

Finally, to compare it in weight to the Vivosmart HR (29g), versus the 21g of the Vivosmart 3.

Garmin-VivosmartHR-Weight Garmin-Vivosmart3-Weight

Oh and size too! Here it is next to the Vivosmart HR, to give some context on size differences:

Garmin-Vivosmart3-vs-VivosmartHR DSC_0530Garmin-Vivosmart3-vs-VivosmartHRBack

As you can see, it’s a pretty dramatic difference.  In many ways it’s almost back to the size of the very first Vivosmart edition.  You’ll also note just how much smaller/thinner that optical HR sensor is too.

The Basics:


Of course at its core, the Vivosmart 3 is a typical Garmin activity tracker.  By that I mean that it’s going to do all the basics like counting steps, distance, calories burned, and even flights of stairs (using its barometric altimeter).  You can swipe through all of these metrics on the main screen.

(Preemptive important note: In some photos it may appear as though the display is split in half or otherwise funky. In real-life it doesn’t look like that.  It’s merely a factor of the photo shutter speed not quite being perfect enough to capture it.  Sometimes I got it nicely, other times I missed it.  Again, to your eyes it always looks perfectly lit up.)

DSC_0409 DSC_0411DSC_0413 DSC_0407

You can also dive further into any given metric by tapping it.  For example, on the heart rate screen, it’ll show you your HR for the past hour.  And on the distance screen, it’ll show you yesterday’s distance if tapped.

DSC_0415 DSC_0416

You can change the orientation of all these screens via the phone app, allowing you to go with vertical or horizontal.

2017-04-12 08.22.08 2017-04-12 08.22.00

When looking at step-counter accuracy, things are in the ballpark of other devices worn on my wrist at the same time.  For example, I was wearing a Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR, and those steps were pretty close to that of the Vivosmart 3.

Ultimately though – these devices should be used for you to look at trends.  For example, if you’re at 9,900 steps out of 10,000 for a day, then just go walk around the block once.  Meanwhile, if you’re at 2,000 steps for the day – then it was a lazy day.  The unit isn’t likely going to be off by 8,000 steps.  Make sense?

The flights of stairs metric works fairly well overall, though for whatever reason it can’t seem to track the set of stairs from the DCR Cave up to the DCR Studio, perhaps it’s too short or something, though it’s one full flight.  All other stairs (such as within our apartment) track just fine.  All of this is then also displayed within the app itself on both the dashboard page as well as then the details page for floors:

2017-04-12 10.11.23 2017-04-12 10.11.13

Like other trackers, it’ll track sleep as well.  I’m continuing to find Garmin’s tracking of sleep across all its devices to be pretty solid for me (at least in terms of awake/sleep times).  It usually nails those down to the minute.

2017-04-12 08.20.50 2017-04-12 08.21.16

There’s nothing you need to do on the device itself, it’ll just figure it out automatically.  After which you’ll see the above sleep charts for each night.  Those are both on the site or the app.  Your choice.  Note that I can’t really speak to whether or not the different sleep states are accurate.  Though I can generally say that where it identifies me as awake during those times, it’s usually spot-on (and usually because the baby is upset about something).

Where Garmin starts to differentiate itself from others is more of the deeper data beyond just steps/calories/distance.  For example, the unit will monitor what they call ‘Intensity Minutes’, which is basically just times you got your heart rate up.  Be it running for a bus, going out for a workout, or having fun in bed.  Your choice.


This is tracked against a goal for the week, which defaults to 150 minutes.  This is based on the recommended number of ‘moderate exercise’ minutes per week being 5x30minutes, so 150 minutes.

Next, we get into the newest feature – stress tracking.  Within this, the unit will utilize the optical HR sensor and heart rate variability to track your stress while not in a workout.  It does this constantly, like every few seconds constantly.  It’ll then give you a score between 0 and 100, as well as a general bucket (Low/Medium/High):


You can tap on the stress screen again to get trending for the last hour (the below photo has some gaps because I was taking photos during this time period):


Alternatively, you can tap yet again to then do breathing exercises.  But more on that in a second.  In addition to showing stress on the device, you can see it on the mobile app and online.

2017-04-12 08.21.39 2017-04-12 08.21.34

I’m actually more impressed with this than I would have thought.  At first, it seemed gimmicky, but then I broke down one of my days and it pretty much nailed what I was feeling from a stress standpoint throughout the day.  For example, in the below image, you can see my stress level is virtually non-existent during sleep.  Then my workout in green in the morning (bike ride) for a few hours.  Then following that I’m doing some odd errands.

However around 2:12PM things get super stressful.  That’s us spend 45 minutes in traffic (ironically because of the Paris Marathon) trying to get a short 10-15 minutes away.  Every street I went down was closed for non-marathon reasons.  Kinda a mess.  But, it’s interesting to see that.

You then see an automatically triggered walk around 4:30PM, which is us walking back instead of driving.  That takes about 60-75 minutes.  At around 6PM you see another high-stress moment, which was me trying to get some filming done with The Girl, and things not entirely going according to plan.  After that the day is pretty routine.  But what’s interesting is just how easy this is to align to the data.


Now Garmin’s solution to a stressful life is to take some deep breaths.  So you can crack open a new relaxation/breathing exercises feature that walks you through taking in deep breaths, holding them, and then exhaling.  You breathe in for four seconds, hold, and then breathe out for four seconds.


You can configure the duration of this stress relief scheme, though the default is two minutes.

The next new feature on the Vivosmart 3 is the VO2Max estimation.  This falls in line with what Fitbit introduced last year, as well as what Garmin has had on their own wearables for some time.  This is just the first time we’ve seen it on these less expensive non-GPS models.

Garmin-Vivosmart3-VO2Max Garmin-Vivosmart3-VO2Max-Estimate-49

The VO2Max metric is tracked on the unit itself through your normal workouts.  You can also do a 15 minute walking test to get data too.  Like other devices using the VO2Max metrics, it’ll take at least a few workouts of good data to get more accurate.  For example, on each run I do the number continues to climb (just like it did on the Fenix5 and FR935), and will likely continue to do so for a few weeks. The metric tends to stabilize after 2-3 weeks of normal workouts.


(Note: In the above screenshot you won’t get a Cycling VO2Max, since that’s from a different product.  Just a general/running VO2Max value.)

Before we talk workouts, let’s wrap up the basics section with some general stuff.  First, it has smartphone notifications like all other Garmin wearables these days.  It does full notifications, meaning that they aren’t limited to just text/calls like some other bands.  It’s whatever apps you have configured for notifications on your phone (iOS/Android/Windows).


Next is that the display is no longer always-on.  Rather, it’s on-demand.  There are two options here to get the screen to turn on.  First is gesture based, meaning you raise your wrist.  That tends to work fine when you’re walking or some other stance that it’s a large arm-swing.  But it doesn’t work as well while sitting at a table for example, or on a couch.  I’ve raised my wrists plenty of times and nothing has happened.


The second method is to double-tap the screen, which will also turn it on for a few seconds.  After which it’ll go back off.  That’s fine, but also somewhat annoying.  I just wish it would stay on like the Vivosmart HR did.

On the bright side, the display’s backlight is a hell of a lot brighter than the Vivosmart HR was.  Like the difference between stadium lighting and dungeon lighting difference.  I can pretty much illuminate half the bedroom with it at night.  Don’t worry if it’s too bright, you can adjust the brightness levels as you see fit.

Finally on the display front is watch faces.  Garmin now gives you a handful of watch faces to select from.  These aren’t from Connect IQ, but they do allow some basic customization:

2017-04-12 10.19.18 2017-04-12 10.19.21

Now that we’ve covered all the non-workout pieces, let’s talk workouts.

Workout Modes:


One of the biggest strengths of Garmin’s platform has always been the fitness side of things.  The original Vivofit for example aimed to bridge that gap by being one of the first that allowed you to pair to an existing heart rate straps.  Then the original Vivosmart even allowed cycling sensors.

These days the unit has an optical HR sensor within it, and did away with the cycling sensor support.  But it still retains a handful of sport modes, which are:

– Walk
– Run
– Cardio
– Strength Training
– Other

Each sport mode can then subsequently be customized with custom data pages using a handful of data fields:

2017-04-12 10.24.30 2017-04-12 10.24.25 2017-04-12 10.24.21

For example, in ‘Run’ mode, you can choose the following data fields: Timer, Distance, Calories, Heart Rate, Laps, Heart Rate Zones, Steps, or…well…none.  Yes, none is a data field option.  You can customize up to four pages, plus one date/time page.  Some sports like strength training get less pages (two), though do gain the ‘Reps’ data field.


Note that pace is not an option.  Garmin argues that since the device doesn’t have GPS (like the earlier Vivosmart HR), that it doesn’t need it.  Also, it doesn’t connect to a footpod either.

Of course, it can still get distance just fine using the accelerometer internally.  You can either use the defaults to let it determine stride length, or you can set a custom one.

2017-04-12 08.47.37 2017-04-12 08.47.41

I was actually pretty impressed with how close it came on distance on a few activities.  For example here’s a run from a two days ago where I varied the pace quite a bit:

Garmin FR935 GPS: 3.12mi
Garmin Fenix3 GPS: 3.18mi
Vivosmart 3: 3.20mi

I saw the same thing on another run, where I was pushing a stroller at the beginning so the initial distance was a bit wonky since my wrist was static.  But once I went single-handed and let the wrist with the Vivosmart 3 roam free, it tracked really darn well for the remainder of the 10ish mile run.

You can also configure basic alerts as well within some of the different sport modes.  Nothing fancy, but certainly useful for those that are aiming for a specific target.

2017-04-12 08.46.32 2017-04-12 08.46.38

When it comes to the data you’ll get after a run (for example), it’s somewhat limited.  You’ll see your heart rate throughout that activity, as well as pace.  You can see that data below (or here on the actual activity file).


The newest feature though to the Vivosmart 3 is the ability to count reps, for strength training.  This allows you to go into a mode where it’ll count anything your wrist is attached to (meaning, it won’t count leg press type stuff).


As part of that it has both a rest timer and a rep timer.  So after each set you can press to continue into a rest section, where it’ll count upwards in seconds.  Then swap back to reps.  And on and on forever.

Garmin-Vivosmart3-Reps-StrengthCounting Garmin-Vivosmart3-Rest-Strength-Mode

It works better than I expected.  I found if I focused on consistency and form (which, is good guidance to begin with), it correctly counted all my reps.  However, if I fell off the boat a bit there, it might miss one or two.  It never over-counted, but rather if it made an error it would under-count.  In fact, it’ll even categorize these after the fact – such as bench press, or tricep extension.  Both of it which were correct (in spirit anyway, I didn’t have a bench handy – so I replicated said movement).


You can also then specify the weight used for each.


And as seen above, you can also add more exercises that may not have been captured (such as leg-focused items).  And it’ll tally everything up at the end on the page.

It’s actually implemented much better than I would have expected in looking at the specs.  I presumed it’d just give a timer and that’s it, but to see the data is kinda neat.

So overall for most folks it’ll get the basics right.  The running distance accuracy for me (and my stride length) works out pretty well.  The sport modes are kinda limited, so for example when I did a bike trainer ride there isn’t a bucket for spin/bike, so I just had to use the general cardio bucket.  Everything somewhat ends up falling into that.  Which is a bit different than Fitbit which gives you far more customization options than just a single bucket (over 20 sports at last count).  Even if the internal algorithms are identical, the ability to correctly label those sports automatically in the app is preferred over manually changing them.

Heart Rate Accuracy:


Of course, one of the biggest features of the unit is its optical heart rate sensor.  That has two modes – one that’s used for 24×7 monitoring, and the other mode for workout monitoring.  In general, I’ve found the 24×7 mode pretty solid.  It matches what my heart rate is at, and sticks with it all day long.  No real issues there (and no surprise, since that’s pretty easy).

The next piece is of more interest though, which is the workout tracking.  That’s where things get a bit more challenging for optical sensors, especially ones on small bands like the Vivosmart 3.  The smaller the band the more possibility of light getting in.  When more external light gets in that makes it more difficult for optical HR sensors.


Still, despite the inherent limitations of the form factor I was curious how it’d handle in workouts.  The first one we’ll dig into was a 10-mile (~15KM) run. In order to provide comparison data I had other HR sensors on me as well.  First was a traditional chest strap, then the Scosche optical HR sensor armband, and then the Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR.

Now on this run I was pushing a stroller, but I was actually only using my right hand instead of both – thus leaving the left hand with the Vivosmart 3 free to swing as normal.  The only exception was the first and last few minutes because I had to dodge a bunch of sun-soaking people out enjoying the day.  In any case, here’s how that data looked:


So as expected, those first few moments were pretty wonky for the Vivosmart 3.  Though the Suunto Spartan Wrist HR handled pushing the stroller without issue, it turned out to be quite the challenge for the Vivosmart 3’s optical sensor.  But once I went back to normal arm-swing (one-handed push), it snapped right on for the rest of the run. As you can see, the chart looks really darn good.

In areas where I had some small hills, it also tracked pretty well there too – faster than the Spartan did, and nearly spot-on with the rest of the line.  The Vivosmart 3 did seem to diverge a bit though when I briefly pushed with two hands.  So…one-handed it will be from here on out!


Next, we’ve got a shorter run that I did as a bit of a test of responsiveness.  In this case it’s only 5KM (data here), but I varied the intensity a bunch, as well as varied the ramp rates a bunch.  The point being to find lag in the heart rate sensor.  For this test I had a similar setup, though sans the Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR.  So just three HR sensors in total:


Overall it’s pretty good.  There’s a bit of a variance at the beginning where the Vivosmart 3 reads higher than the others.  But I’m not convinced it was incorrect there. It’s really hard to know in that first 60 seconds when it comes to heart rate ramp.  Both are believable tracks.  After that though, all mostly agree.

What you see below is that the optical HR sensor generally lags a tiny bit (barely) in the recovery (as does the Scosche), but does catch up.  And we’re only talking a few BPM and only a few seconds…below would be extreme nitpicking.  This is somewhat common, and not nearly as bad as what I see in Fitbit’s sensors.  So I’d actually give it better marks here.  Better than I expected actually.


Next, let’s look at another area – outdoor cycling.  For this I’ve got a few different rides, but we’ll just stick to this 90 minute or so ride to analyze since it’s easier to show.  Plus, they all look roughly the same anyway.  I had with me a similar setup in terms of extra HR strap and Scosche, as well as the Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR:


In case it’s not overwhelmingly obvious above (the yellow line): It sucked.  Badly.

As it did again on my next outdoor ride.  And, as is somewhat common for Garmin’s optical HR sensors outdoors, let alone the ones on smaller form factors like this.  Don’t worry, Fitbit’s also suck for me while riding too.

For fun though, I took it indoors on a brief bike trainer test, this one with a bunch of power fluctuations.  Thus, rapid changes in intensity in a significant way.  Here’s how that turned out:


Well, that’s definitely a whole lot better.  And it’s of no surprise.  Most optical HR sensors tend to do well on indoor bikes/spin bikes/etc, because there are no vibrations from the roads.  Thus eliminating one of the key challenges for optical HR sensors while outdoor cycling.

So where do we stand?  Well, I’d say that for running it’s generally OK but with a bit of lag.  So be aware of that if you need it to be super-responsive for intervals or such where you’re focused purely on HR intensity, then it may not be the right choice.  Whereas for cycling outdoors it’s totally useless. Whereas cycling indoors is just fine.  The challenge with the outdoor cycling breakdown is that if you wanted to use it to re-broadcast your heart rate to a Garmin Edge device via ANT+, it’s not really all that useful.

(Note: All data charts are made using the DCR Analyzer.  For each of the sets above I linked to the specific set in case you want to dig in deeper.)

Product Comparisons:

I’ve added the Vivosmart 3 into the product comparison tool for activity trackers, which lets you compare against other activity trackers (mostly non-GPS variants).  While you can mix and match your own trackers within the product comparison tool – I’ve compared the Vivosmart 3, Fitbit Charge 2, and Vivosmart HR below.

Function/FeatureGarmin Vivosmart 3Fitbit Charge 2Garmin Vivosmart HR
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated April 12th, 2017 @ 5:35 pmNew Window Expand table for more results
Data Transfer TypeBluetooth Smart, USBBluetooth SmartBluetooth Smart, USB
Has GPS built-inNoNo (can use phone's GPS though)No
Waterproofing50mSplash only50m
Changeable Bands/StrapsNoYesNo
Phone Music ControlYesNoYes
Has time alarmsYEsYesYes
Smartphone NotificationsYesYes (Text/Phone/Calendar only)Yes
Workout guidance/coachingNoInterval workoutsNo
Stairs ClimbedYEsYEsYes

Again, don’t forget you can mix and match your own activity trackers within the product comparison tool here.



It’s interesting seeing Garmin take the Vivosmart series in a slightly different direction.  By shrinking the display down and making it on-demand only, it’s going to appeal to a slightly different market than that of the Vivosmart HR (or even HR+). It’s basically going to appeal to the same market as the Fitbit Charge 2, which, is a pretty darned big market.

But that display cuts both ways.  It is a heck of a lot brighter than before (like a lighthouse at night), which the previous model certainly can’t claim.  And there’s no denying that this is brighter than anything Fitbit has in the smaller form factor level.  Though clarity-wise in bright daylight, I’d say the Fitbit options are a tiny bit easier to read.

On the flipside, the new stress metrics on the Garmin itself, as well as the rep counting are advantages over the Fitbit Charge 2 or Alta HR.  Fitbit has other things that can be seen as competitive (such as Connected GPS…aka…using your phone for GPS during a workout).  I’m really surprised we haven’t seen Garmin offer this on their lower end devices.  Perhaps it’s to protect those devices, but quite frankly it’s just not eating into sales there.  Those folks carrying a phone can already do so for free.  There’s a reason Fitbit offers it: To entice you into their platform and then eventually pitch you something else.  Garmin continues to be horribly shortsighted from a business standpoint when it comes to the value of getting someone on Garmin Connect.

But as I often say – the best activity tracker for you is whichever activity tracker your friends are wearing.  Being able to use social features within the app really only works if your friends are also users of the same platform (i.e. Fitbit or Garmin).  And both Garmin and Fitbit make very solid activity trackers.  You won’t go wrong with the Vivosmart 3, especially if you already have other Garmin devices or have friends who do.

With that – thanks for reading!

Found this review useful? Wanna support the site? 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 $75, you get free 3-day (or less) US shipping as well.

Garmin Vivosmart 3 (select dropdown for size)

Additionally, you can also use Amazon to purchase the unit (though, no discount). Or, anything else you pickup on Amazon helps support the site as well (socks, laundry detergent, cowbells). If you’re outside the US, I’ve got links to all of the major individual country Amazon stores on the sidebar towards the top.

Thanks for reading!