DC Rainmaker https://www.dcrainmaker.com Wed, 23 Sep 2020 15:34:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.15 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/images/2017/03/dcrainmaker-dc-logo-square-40x40.png DC Rainmaker https://www.dcrainmaker.com 32 32 Garmin Venu SQ In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/09/garmin-venu-sq-in-depth-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/09/garmin-venu-sq-in-depth-review.html#comments Wed, 23 Sep 2020 11:22:36 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=117990 Read More Here ]]> Garmin-Venu-SQ-In-Depth-Review

Roughly a year after Garmin introduced their first AMOLED display unit, the Garmin Venu, the company is back at it with a stripped-down rectangular version – the Venu SQ. This less expensive variant still packs the vast majority of the features of the higher-end Venu, while finding itself back nearer the original roots of the Garmin Vivo-series lineup in terms of its rectangular design. And yes, it looks a little bit like an Apple Watch.

But first, the most important piece: How to pronounce it.

I asked. And the answer is officially by pronouncing both SQ letters individually – S….Q. Not square, nor squared, nor squiggle face, or anything else. Which, means I’ll definitely call it something else.

Unlike virtually every other watch Garmin has released lately, this one actually doesn’t pack any new or unique features that aren’t already in the Garmin stable. Instead, it’s simply taking the vast majority of the Venu features and putting them into a lower price point watch, $199 for the Venu SQ, and $249 for the music-enabled edition. Super simple.

Now, if you want a side by side comparison of the Venu & Venu SQ, then look no further than the following video:

With that, I’ve been quietly using this watch alongside many other new wearables lately – including the Apple Watch SE, Fitbit Sense, Apple Watch Series 6, and others. Once I’m done with this media loaner I’ll send it back to Garmin and go pick up my own unit via normal retail channels. If you found this review useful, simply hit up the links at the end of the post. Or, consider joining to become a DCR Supporter, which makes you extra awesome.

With that, let’s get into it.

What’s Different:


So rather than a ‘What’s new’ section, let’s talk about how it differs from the original Venu. Keeping in mind that the original Venu and Vivoactive 4 are incredibly similar, with the main difference being the display (Venu has AMOLED, Vivoactive doesn’t), so when mentally considering those watches, you’ll want to determine what type of display/battery life you want first.

In any case, let’s dive into the differences (and similarities) between the bigger Venu and the smaller Venu SQ.

– Changed from circle-design to rectangular watch
– AMOLED Screen size was 1.2” diameter on Venu, now it’s 1.3” Color LCD screen on Venu SQ (diagonal)
– Both are Corning Gorilla Glass touchscreen displays
– Venu SQ GPS battery life is 14 hours, versus 20 hours for the full Venu
– Standby battery life is 6 days for both
– Both have ~3.4GB of usable music storage (Venu SQ Music Edition only)
– Both have two physical buttons on the right side
– Removed barometric altimeter in Venu SQ (GPS altimeter used instead)
– Removed floor/stairs tracking (depends on altimeter), and ascent/descent tracking in workouts
– Removed gyro sensors in Venu SQ
– Removed workout animations (namely for Yoga/Strength/Cardio/Pilates)
– Removed Live Watch faces (those were the fancy ones, regular watch faces and Connect IQ watch faces still there)

As far as all the major features that are still there (which is literally everything else):

– Optical HR sensor with PulseOx (SpO2 tracking)
– GPS with GLONASS & Galileo options for workout tracking
– Downloadable structured workout support
– Music storage and streaming with Spotify/Deezer (music edition only)
– Contactless Payments with Garmin Pay
– Respiration rate, 24×7 HR, stress tracking, body battery
– Sleep tracking, step/activity tracking, nacho cheese usage tracking
– Female menstrual cycle tracking
– Connecting to ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart sensors
– LiveTrack for workouts & safety alerts for day to day usage

And of course, a gazillion other features I’m not thinking of. But I figured I’d mention those core ones above, since that establishes a bit of a baseline for those that might be new to the Garmin ecosystem.

Also, it’s worth noting that we have routinely seen the full-sized Venu at $299 (and occasionally below) over the last 6-9 months. As such, the jump up to $299 from $249 isn’t massive if you’re looking for those extra items.

Now, let’s get it unboxed.



The Venu SQ comes in the same looking box as basically every other Garmin device made in the last…many years. Except the MARQ series of course, because that costs $2,000. Gotta have standards I guess.


There’s not much inside, just the USB charging cable with the standard Garmin wearable connector used on most things the last few years, as well as the watch itself. And a small pile of paper you’ll never read.


See, a closer look at that pile of paper:


And the charging cable:


And finally the watch, complete with sticker still on it:


The back of the watch includes the charging port and the same Garmin Elevate optical sensor with PulseOx found on most Garmin devices in the last 18 months or so.


And with that, you’ll simply do a quick setup with your phone. Unfortunately, there’s still no configuration/setup of data fields from your phone. But as you’ll see later it’s not that hard to do on the device itself given there are far less configuration options than something like a Fenix series watch.


And finally, for a quick size comparison to the original Garmin Venu, here’s the two side by side:


And thickness-wise, basically they’re identical:


Since we’re on a roll, the backs of both:


And finally, weight of the Venu SQ, which comes in at 38g, versus 47g for the round Venu:

Garmin-Venu-SQ-Weight Garmin-Venu-Weight

Got all that? Let’s start using it.

The Basics:


To begin, the Garmin Venu SQ is a touch-screen display, just like the Venu before it. And like that watch as well, it’s got two buttons on the right side. These buttons are most helpful while working out, but they’re also just as useful for quickly navigating menus, performing as Yes/Confirm and Escape/Back type options.


The Venu SQ by default will come in ‘raise to wake’ mode, which means the display turns off when not looking at it. However, you can toggle always-on mode, which means the display stays on, which is how I’ve been using it. Btw, speaking of battery life – the official claim is 6 days in not-always-on mode, 14 hours of GPS-on time, and 6 hours of GPS+Music time.


When you use the ‘Always on’ option (by also changing the timeout setting above from ‘Long’ to ‘Always on’), it’ll essentially remove the background of your watch face to save battery when your wrist is down, so you see the time/date, but not other metrics.

The watch face is customizable, both on the unit itself, as well as via 3rd party Connect IQ watch faces downloadable via the app. At the start of this section is a two-second variation I whipped up using a default background, and then choosing the clock style and each of the four metrics.


Or again, you can just go to the Garmin Connect IQ app store and download one of a gazillion watch faces. Well, eventually. Right now the Venu SQ is actually one of the fairly rare Garmin watches that’s got a rectangular watch face, versus the round faces that have proliferated Garmin devices over the last few years since the Garmin FR920XT days. So, I was only able to choose from a handful. I’m sure in due time it’ll bloom again. Speaking of which, here’s one of the handful of available watch faces:


The Venu SQ can accept widgets, data fields, watch faces, and full-blown apps. Also, the music version can install music apps. Though I suspect there will be some teething initially on the sizing/layout. Keep in mind the 7MB shown below is for Connect IQ apps (which are tiny), not things like music/etc.

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Anyway, moving along to activity tracking, the unit will monitor your steps/sleep/distance using the accelerometer inside it. You can add that to various watch faces (as shown above), or, simply swipe down into the widgets to see the first ‘My Day’ widget, which includes stats for the day:


Note however that since the Venu SQ doesn’t have a barometric altimeter you won’t get flights/stairs climbed.  All these steps/distance/etc type stats are also shown/recorded in Garmin Connect Mobile on your smartphone, as well as Garmin Connect Web online:

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If we swipe down again you’ll find the ‘Health Stats’ for the day, which are basically all the stats driven by the 24×7 optical HR sensor. These include heart rate, stress level, body battery, and respiration (breathing) rate. Also, if you enable PulseOx it’ll include that SpO2 information as well.

Garmin-Venu-SQ-MyHealthStats Garmin-Venu-SQ-HealthMetrics

You can tap on this to get more detailed information on each of these stats, with what is generally the last 4 hours of data shown for each stat, in the case below, Body Battery.


If we keep swiping down we’ll find a dedicated page to heart rate, which includes the last 4 hours of heart rate data, but when we tap it we get the resting HR values for the last 7 days. Note, on the RHR chart to the left, the higher value for today (Wednesday), is cause I took this photo around 2-3AM, and haven’t quite stopped moving yet. Thus, the only values it has are of higher levels.

Garmin-Venu-SQ-HR-Chart Garmin-Venu-SQ-RHR-Chart

In this bundle of things is PulseOx, or SpO2 tracking. Garmin offers two ways to do this (three if you include just turning it off, which is the default to save battery). The first is behind the scenes at night while you sleep. This puts it in line with what Fitbit does, except Garmin gives you far more granularity of data control/access. The second is both at sleep and the rest of the day. And then with either of those, you can take manual readings whenever you want (similar to Apple’s new Series 6 watch).


In general, I don’t put a ton of faith in the values produced here, mostly due to the variability. For example, I just got off the Peloton bike and watched as the red light lit up taking my PulseOx reading mid-workout. That’s going to result in an accurate reading (as it did, about 92%), and adversely impact the real benefit of this stat if trended over time. Though even that benefit is questionable at best right now. Still, the data is there for the taking.

2020-09-23 03.19.50 2020-09-23 03.19.54

Sliding down we can see the Body Battery and Stress widgets, which can also be overlaid together. Body battery is as the name implies and attempts to offer a look at how much energy you have, sorta like the old Street Fighter gauge. In general, I actually find it reasonably close to how I feel. Though I find it tends to struggle a bit at the extremes (for example a 20 hour day or something), where I got beyond what it typically charts me against. This same information is shown on Garmin Connect Mobile as well, both with and without stress:

2020-09-23 09.59.42 2020-09-23 09.59.44

There are also widgets for calendar information, weather, and smartphone notifications. Further, you can setup/configure/add widgets for other things like music, menstrual tracking, Garmin Coach, Garmin Varia cycling lights, last workout details, and more. Plus whatever you download from Garmin Connect IQ.

Garmin-Venu-SQ-Weather Garmin-Venu-SQ-Smartphone-Notifications

When it comes to smartphone notifications, it’s simply reading them and dismissing them. You can’t (on iOS anyway) respond to them, due to a limitation imposed by Apple on all companies.


Finally, a quick look at sleep tracking. The unit uses Garmin’s ‘older’ style sleep tracking where it quietly does its thing in the background and sends it off to Garmin Connect for processing. Then you’ll see your sleep stats on the Garmin Connect mobile app, but not on the watch itself. This includes sleep stages, respiration rate, and then if enabled, Pulse Ox (see above a few paragraphs for that screenshot while sleeping).

2020-09-23 03.19.29 2020-09-23 03.19.31 2020-09-23 03.19.35

I get that the ‘new style’ is still only a couple of months old for Garmin, but it would have seemed like this would have been a good time to launch it on Venu/Venu SQ as part of the product launch. After all, all their competitor devices now have on-device sleep display (Apple Watch SE, Fitbit Versa 3, Polar Ignite/Unite, and so on). It’s time for that to be a baseline for all Garmin devices.

Oh – and in terms of sleep accuracy, I’ve found the Garmin Venu SQ to be pretty much spot on for going to sleep/wake times, as well as when I was up in the middle of the night. Note that it won’t track/record naps. And also, I’ve got no viable way to test the sleep phases/stages that it records.

Finally, on charging and stuffs, it uses the same charging port as virtually every other recent Garmin device:


That cable works for both charging and data sync to our computer. You can use that, or pick up 3rd party chargers like this awesome puck one I reviewed last year. It’s how I just charged the unit a few hours ago actually.  Battery life seems pretty consistent with what they’ve said of approximately 6 days for raise to wake. I’ve been using a mix, mostly being in always-on mode the last few days – all with about 1-1.5hrs a day of GPS workout activity.

Sport Mode:


One would presume that the reason you picked up a Garmin watch is that you’re of the sporty type. Or perhaps the ambitiously sporty type. It’s not that Garmin does the other stuff poorly per se, but just that they specialize in the sports side of the house.

The Venu SQ, as part of the greater Vivo family, attempts to straddle that divide between Garmin’s higher-end Forerunner and Fenix lineups, with features that have more widespread usage. To be clear – you can absolutely use the Venu family to run a marathon or train for any sort of other event. It’s got scheduled workouts and far more sport features than any stock Apple Watch or Fitbit. Where you see the gaps to the higher end Forerunner/Fenix lineups are for things like advanced training load/recovery metrics, PacePro/ClimbPro, and more advanced cycling sensor support (among numerous other things). But, most people wouldn’t know (or perhaps even care) about those things unless you’re into endurance sports.

To start a workout on the Venu SQ you’ll tap the upper right button, which opens the sport menu. Here’s where you’ll choose the sport you want to start, and then down below there are plenty more sports to choose from:

Garmin-Venu-Sport-Mode-Listing Garmin-Venu-SQ-Sport-mode-Full-list

In total there’s: Run, Bike, Bike Indoor, Treadmill, Indoor Track, Walk, Walk Indoor, Pool Swim, Golf, Ski, Snowboard, XC Classic Ski, SUP, Strength, Cardio, Yoga, Pilates, Breathwork, Elliptical, Stair Stepper, Row, Row Indoor, Navigate, other.

And before you get too far into sport mode, you can hold down menu and pair up ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart sensors (this is also where you can pair up headphones too).


The supported sensor types are: Headphones, Heart Rate, Cycling Speed/Cadence, Running Footpods, Tempe (Temperature), ANT+ Cycling Lights, ANT+ Cycling Radar, Golf Club sensors. Note; Running dynamics are not support on the Venu/Vivoactive series.

Anyway, back to the sport mode. In our case, we’ll go with a standard outdoor run. Once you’ve done that it’ll go off and find GPS satellites, as well as confirm your heart rate lock via the optical HR sensor (or an ANT+/Bluetooth HR sensor if you prefer instead).


However, you can swipe up and access structured workouts. There’s a handful of run workouts Garmin has pre-loaded on the watch (as well as ones for other sports):


Or, you can download a boatload more from Garmin Connect that you make, or from any training plan site that syncs to it, or from Garmin Coach. Or…or….or, seriously, there’s so many options here, it’s nuts.

In fact, in my case, TrainerRoad had pushed a workout to the watch ready to go, and scheduled for today. As such, it’ll be offered when I start an indoor bike for example (since it’s a bike workout):


Training Calendar and Garmin Coach workouts automatically appear on the days they’re scheduled, and you can also pull them up easily if you miss them a day too.

When it comes to customization of data screens mid-workout, there are three customizable data screens, each with up to three data fields. In addition there’s a HR zone gauge.

Garmin-Venu-SQ-DataField-Pages-Configuration Garmin-Venu-SQ-Data-Field-Three-Panel

You can also configure alerts for heart rate, run/walk, pace, time, distance, cadence, and calories. Which is different than auto-pause, which can be configured for a distance of your choosing, all the way down to 0.10 miles to 99.99 miles. Most of us probably just leave it on 1mi/1km. Or, simply turn it off altogether and manual lap instead (or, do both). There’s also auto-pause and auto-scroll (which automatically iterates through your data pages).

Also, you can enable LiveTrack to automatically notify a predefined list of recipients every time you start a workout, which sends them an e-mailed link with your exact position and historical data for that workout (including heart rate/pace/speed/etc…). Note that the Venu doesn’t support courses, so it doesn’t send them that.

In any case, let’s start this workout to get cookin’. Once we’ve started we’ll see our data live on the display, which is also recorded as expected.


I haven’t had any issues with pace stability on the Venu SQ in my workouts, nor with pace responsiveness. I’ve been able to pace short 200m sprints without issues for example, using only GPS/accelerometer pacing.

If you’ve loaded a structured workout, it’ll step through each portion of the workout, including listing the targets for that workout. You can pause the workout at any time by pressing the upper right button, and in the case of structured workouts you can skip ahead a segment by pressing the lap button.

Once you’re done with your workout you’ll stop the workout, which then gives you the option to save or discard it:


After that, you’ll get a summary screen which includes a GPS track, as well as your VO2Max value at the top. Keep in mind the VO2Max value tends to take a few runs to settle in.

Garmin-Venu-SQ-Running-Vo2Max Garmin-Venu_SQ-Map

Also, you’ll get this screen (seen on a different run). And it’s this screen below that makes me cringe, especially compared to the Fitbit Versa series/Fitbit Sense, as well as the Apple Watch Series 3. While I appreciate the data they’re trying to convey, it’s just such a terribly ugly screen that feels like it was served up on an eHarmony date between CompuServe and AOL. I’m far from a user interface designer, but so many elements are clunky. Why display this gigantic grey area below a resting HR value for a workout? Why display thin grey sidebars at all? Why doesn’t it take advantage of the entire width of the screen? Why do we care about the lowest HR value for a workout? When has that *EVER* been valuable?

2020-09-17 14.24.43

And I know some will think I’m nitpicking. And some in Kansas will roll their eyes (probably because they’ve gotten used to it by now) – but here’s the deal: A constant criticism lobbed at Garmin is that it feels ‘aged’, compared to a Fitbit or Apple or Samsung or pick your flavor ‘modern’ watch. And this single screen above demonstrates that exceptionally well. It’s not super functional compared to what it could be, nor does it feel in any way like the rest of the Garmin user interface on the watch.

In any case, you can scroll down to see other summary stats, as well as dive into the lap details and zone details:

Gamin-venu-SQ-final-Summary-Run-Data Garmin-Venu-SQ-Lap-Summary-Data Garmin-Venu-SQ-Zone-Data

All of this information is uploaded to Garmin Connect via Garmin Connect Mobile (smartphone app via Bluetooth Smart), via WiFi, or via USB cable. Whatever you want. Once there, you can pull it up on the smartphone app. Here’s an example of all the data from a recent run with the Venu SQ:

It’s also accessible via Garmin Connect web online too:


And of course, all this will sync off to 3rd parties like Strava, TrainingPeaks, and plenty more automatically. That usually happens a few seconds after the workout uploads, which usually happens a few seconds after I press save.

Finally, a brief note that while the Venu SQ does include Yoga and Pilates (as well as strength training), and also structured workouts for both of those activities, they do *NOT* include the animations found on the Venu and Vivoactive 4. Meaning, you’ll see the steps listed, below, but you won’t see any actual animations.


This is a bit quirky since I wouldn’t have expected that there would be any display issues with showing those. It also means I’m more unlikely to do these workout types on the Garmin, since I’ve got no idea what the movements are without them.

In any case, just a quick reminder on that. But otherwise the workout features have worked well for me, both indoors and out.

Music & Payments:


The Venu SQ supports both music and contactless payments. In the case of music, that includes both loading music onto it (à la MP3-style), as well as streaming services including Spotify, Amazon Music, and Deezer. In my case, I used it with Spotify (+ Beats PowerBeats Pro).

The setup process for the Venu SQ and music via a streaming service is pretty straightforward. You’ll crack open the music control panel on the watch, and then it’ll go off and authenticate you with that service via your smartphone. This is a one-time process. Once that’s done, you’ll go into the music service (Spotify in my case), and choose the playlists you want. It’ll sync those playlists to your watch.

Garmin-Venu-SQ-Loading-Music-Options Garmin-Venu-SQ-Loading-Spotify-Music

It recommends you plug your watch into power while it does this, also, it’ll do this over WiFi. This will take a bit of time, it’s not super fast. Simple math is 5-10 seconds per minute depending on your connection, tidal conditions, and moon phases. Syncing a 60 track playlist took about 10 minutes this morning, I’ve had others take less time on other days.


Once that’s done, you can playback the music both in a workout or outside a workout using the music widget. You can change playlists, skip songs, change volume, pause/play. All the usual music stuffs.

Note that you’ll need to ‘check-in’ at least once per month by opening the app when your phone is nearby, for the streaming services to keep your music as valid (meaning, it checks to see if you’re still paying your music provider). But that’s not a big deal, and it’ll also update any dynamic playlists if you have any. The Venu SQ has ~3.4GB of usable storage, which is the same as the Venu.

Meanwhile, switching to another unchanged technology here, is the Garmin Pay contactless payments. For this, you’ll need your bank to be supported by Garmin. That’s many of the big banks in the US, but beyond that it varies quite a bit. It’s hit or miss. A full list is here.

Adding your credit card to the Garmin watch takes about 2-3 minutes to complete, and usually includes an authentication/validation message from your bank via text.

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As part of that, you’ll set up a pin code, for when you access the Garmin Pay section. The pin code isn’t needed otherwise. Also, as long as you haven’t removed the watch from your wrist, it won’t ask you the pin code more than once per 24 hours. To access the Garmin Pay wallet, simply long-hold the upper right button.

Garmin-Venu-SQ-PaymentGarminPay Garmin-Venu-SQ-Payment-Pin-Code

Once that’s entered, you’ll then have a reasonable window of time to tap your watch near-enough the payment scanner to pay for whatever it is you’re paying for. In this case, a DCR Water Bottle. Why yes, I finally got a NFC card reader at the DCR Studio (though, I also paid for milk this morning at the mini-mart).


Afterwards you’ll get a confirmation on your device, though you won’t get a mini-receipt confirmation like you do on Apple Watch. It just goes back to doing whatever you were doing.


As always with contactless payments, you’ll want to know for sure the store/merchant you’re going to supports contactless payments and the card you plan to use, before relying on it 100%. Meaning, if you’re travelling (2020?) to a new city, and go out for a run and expect to pay for a coffee at a random café afterwards, you might find they don’t accept contactless payments (becoming more rare, but hey, depends on your area). Whereas if you’re nearby home and know which coffee shops accept contactless payments then you’re good to depend on that. No different than phone payments.

Again, nothing in this section has changed from the Venu in the past, or any other Garmin wearables that support payments or music.

GPS & HR Accuracy:


We’ll start off with some heart rate charts. Here’s a run I did on Sunday, compared with the Garmin HRM-PRO chest strap, Fitbit Sense on the other wrist, and a Whoop strap on the upper arm. As you can see it was largely pretty darn close to the chest strap. Oh, and you can dive more deeply into the data here at this link as well:


However, it did struggle the first minute or two and was slightly low:


And later in the run it easily nailed the short sprints I did without problem:image

Next, let’s take a look at an easier lower-intensity run I did. In this case, we see that it’s pretty similar for most of it, however, we’ll want to dig slightly deeper:


In particular, for this little section. It’s here that the Venu SQ went off the rails for about 10-15 seconds. So did the Fitbit Sense, but honestly, it was mostly off the rails since the beginning of this run, and continued being lost for quite a bit longer. I looked back at cadence, pace, position, and where I was, and I don’t see anything odd/unique about this spot. So not sure what happened there to both units.


Towards the end of the run my wife decided to sprint it out. She always does this, mostly cause she knows she can usually out-sprint me. But, that gave way to a nice interval HR increase. You see the optical HR sensor of the Venu SQ lagged very slightly – about 2-3 seconds, behind the chest strap HRM-PRO. However, the Fitbit Sense lagged considerably more, and then wobbled at the top-end. A 2-3 second lag for optical HR sensors is completely normal, and frankly, you’d never notice it.


Next, let’s take a look at an indoor cycling workout, this one on Peloton. This was a high intensity interval workout, which was essentially 30×30 repeats. It’s a good test for any optical sensor (or…cycling power meter), and shows how well things respond. And, as you can see at a high level, things are pretty darn close across this set. This is compared to the Apple Watch Series 6 on the other wrist, a Polar OH1 Plus, Garmin HRM-PRO chest strap, and Whoop arm band.


However, it’s not perfect. There are two mostly minor errors here. The first is during one of the recoveries, the Venu SQ was a bit latent, and seemed to miss the message that it was recovery time:


And then later on, towards the end, it spiked the HR briefly for a couple of seconds, up about 9bpm over all the other sensors.


But otherwise, this set was pretty solid, especially notable since I did the recovery of each one of these standing, holding onto the bars, and thus exerting pressure onto the wrists, which typically can cause optical HR issues. Also of note – the Apple Watch Series 6 was basically flawless again.

Switching over to GPS, here’s a run against the Forerunner 745, Fitbit Sense, and yes, the FR735XT. Look, it was charged, sitting on my desk, and I was curious. At a high level, they look pretty similar.


Zooming in it seems to vary. In the forest, it’s mostly close, but there are some cases where either the Venu SQ or the Fitbit Sense flip-flop on being most or least correct. For example here the Venu SQ takes the lead:


And here the Fitbit Sense is more correct:


Neither are quite as good as the Garmin FR745 across the entirety of the forest, but they aren’t horrible either.

Here’s a different run in a different direction – this time initially on a tree-lined path with a tunnel/bridge, and then off to cow fields.


On the tunnel section, both the Fitbit Sense and Venu SQ slightly offset the exit from under the bridge, where it doesn’t plot that exit point. Though, they only messed up on one direction, not both. This is a trickier bridge in that you actually turn coming in/out of it, so it’s confusing.


Meanwhile, out on the cow fields, it was just fine as expected:


And here’s another attempt at that bridge on a different run, with again the Venu SQ and Fitbit Sense struggling in one direction.


But otherwise plotting perfectly fine GPS data for the rest of the run.


So the general gist of things is that the Venu SQ plots largely acceptable/fine GPS tracks, though does seem to be perplexed easily coming out of tunnels (as does the Fitbit Sense). But it doesn’t Mario Kart around many corners like the Apple Watch SE does. It’s not quite as accurate as the FR745 GPS-wise, which may be a form-factor thing.

On optical HR, it’s mostly pretty good there too, save what seems to be the first couple of minutes where it’s more susceptible to issues. But always corrects itself quickly. That’s not terribly uncommon for optical HR sensors, though as you warm-up in those first few minutes more accurate readings become easier.

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



In an interesting contrast to yesterday’s Fitbit Sense review, the Garmin Venu SQ has actually grown on me slightly since I started using it (whereas I got more confused the more I used the Fitbit Sense). I think perhaps because it’s a good example of Garmin pricing things correctly, and perhaps because for the most part, this is a pretty well-oiled machine/watch by now. After all, it’s basically just a square Venu, with a few more things removed. It’s largely a known good, versus a complete revamp.

But with that, it starts to show its age. While the Fitbit Sense may have fallen flat functionally speaking, the user interface on that and the Versa 3 series is far ahead of Garmin in the AMOLED/LCD display realm (which they both use). Same goes for the Apple Watch SE, a mere $29 more than the music-SQ. The display, and more importantly, how Apple (or Fitbit) utilizes that display, aren’t close to comparable. Nowhere was this more apparent to me than when I finished my first workout and saw the HR summary graph at the top, I could only cringe at the lack of UI cleanliness on those pages. While on my other wrist the Fitbit looked stunning. Both have similar battery life.

And look – I get why Garmin has opted for a simplistic user interface. It’s not trying to be an Apple Watch, and I think that’s a good thing. But there’s also no reason for basic graphical cringe either. And as I think Garmin looks towards 2021, it’s probably time to re-think elements of their AMOLED/LCD-screen units from a user interface standpoint.

Still, for what the Venu SQ is today, and where it’s targeted today – it largely nails it. It accurately tracks my workouts in an easy to use way that doesn’t require waiting on a slow interface, or daily charging. The ‘just work’s factor is super high right now, and if you’re looking for a lightweight low maintenance sports watch that also does music and 24×7 activity tracking, it’s certainly a contender to consider.

With that – thanks for reading!

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

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

I’ve partnered with Amazon & REI, who stocks the Venu SQ, which helps support the site here when you purchase through them.

Garmin Venu SQ (Amazon)
Garmin Venu SQ (REI)
Garmin Venu SQ with Music (Amazon)

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

ProductAmazon LinkNote
Garmin Cadence Sensor V2This is a dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart cycling cadence sensor that you strap to your crank arm, but also does dual Bluetooth Smart, so you can pair it both to Zwift and another Bluetooth Smart app at once if you want.
Garmin HRM-DUAL Chest StrapThis is one of the top two straps I use daily for accuracy comparisons (the other being the Polar H9/H10). It's dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, and in fact dual-Bluetooth Smart too, in case you need multiple connectons.
Garmin HRM-PROThis is the pinnacle of Garmin chest straps, and includes dual ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart, Swimming support, Running Dynamics, as well as back-fill of HR/Steps/Intensity Minutes/Calories if not wearing the watch in certain sports.
Garmin HRM-TRI/HRM-SWIM StrapsWhile optical HR works on some newer Garmin watches, if you're looking for higher levels of accuracy, the HRM-TRI or HRM-SWIM are the best Garmin-compatible options out there to fill the gap.
Garmin Puck ChargerSeriously, this will change your life. $9 for a two-pack of these puck Garmin chargers that stay put and stay connected. One for the office, one for your bedside, another for your bag, and one for your dogs house. Just in case.
Garmin Speed Sensor V2This speed sensor is unique in that it can record offline (sans-watch), making it perfect for a commuter bike quietly recording your rides. But it's also a standard ANT+/BLE sensor that pairs to your device. It's become my go-to speed sensor.

Or, anything else you pick up on Amazon helps support the site as well (socks, laundry detergent, cowbells). If you’re outside the US, I’ve got links to all of the major individual country Amazon stores on the sidebar towards the top.

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible.

Fitbit Sense In-Depth Review: All the Data Without the Clarity https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/09/fitbit-sense-in-depth-review-all-the-data-without-the-clarity.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/09/fitbit-sense-in-depth-review-all-the-data-without-the-clarity.html#comments Tue, 22 Sep 2020 20:09:26 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=117803 Read More Here ]]> Fitbit-Sense-In-Depth-Review-Data

The Fitbit Sense is both a departure from the norm and not, for Fitbit. On one hand, it’s vastly more expensive than any recent Fitbit smartwatch with vastly more sensors. Yet on the other end, the interface and day to day aspects basically feel like any other Fitbit. If you’ve used a Versa or Ionic unit in the past few years, this isn’t much different usage-wise.

But Fitbit is betting that all of the underlying sensor tech is what will draw you to the Sense. Whether or not they can pull that off will directly dictate the near-term future of the company. As you remember, Google’s acquisition of Fitbit hasn’t been approved by regulators, and as such, they’re still largely operating in their own little bubble.

The challenge is – with a name that could be derived from Sensing or Sensor, two core questions arise, first: Is it accurate?

And second: Does it give you actionable guidance from that data?

And as the title you’ve by now read implies, the answer to both is a resounding no.

So, come along for the ride on the review of this watch. Or, simply hit the Play button below.

Finally, note that Fitbit sent out a media loaner Fitbit Sense unit for me to poke at. Once I’m done I’ll package it up and get it back to them. Just the way I roll. If you find this review useful, simply hit up some of the link at the end of the post. Or, consider becoming a DCR Supporter. With that – let’s cover all the newness.

What’s new:


The Fitbit Sense is literally the most correctly named wearable ever. Almost every new feature the company added this year is about sensing data or some metric, and ideally making sense of that data (which, in some cases will require a Fitbit Premium subscription). Here’s the quick run-down of what’s new compared to previous Fitbit smartwatches (this technically would be above the Ionic, but it’s probably more akin to a super-high-end Versa series):

– Added ECG Functionality
– Added Skin Temperature Sensors (on wrist)
– Added High/Low Heart Rate Notifications
– Added Breathing Rate (per minute), while you sleep
– Added New Stress Management Tracking
– Added EDA Scan app for tracking electrodermal activity
– Added Heart Rate Variability (HRV) Tracking
– Added new PurePulse 2.0 optical HR sensor (new sensor)
– Adding Google Assistant later this year (previously had Amazon Alexa, still does have that)
– Added ability to take calls from wrist using mic/speaker (planned Winter 2020-21)
– New AMOLED display with integrated ambient light sensor
– Display is Corning Gorilla Glass 3, and bezel is polished stainless steel
– Changed accessory bands to have better quick release system
– Includes 6-month free trial of Fitbit Premium

Plus, things that were on recent Fitbit units are also here as well:

– Includes GPS built-in (12 hours active GPS time)
– Music storage built-in (Pandora & Deezer offline, Spotify is still phone control only)
– 24×7 HR Tracking, Steps, Sleep, Sleep Stages, and usual activity tracking
– Always-on Display Capable (but cuts into battery life claims)
– Supports Fitbit OS App Store
– Includes Active Zone Minutes (was rolled out last year in some devices)
– Water-resistant to 50 meters
– NFC Contactless Payments via Fitbit Pay

As for battery life, the company claims 6 days of battery life with the non-always on screen setting selected. And, before we dive too far, here’s the full pricing list for the Fitbit lineup this year:


Now that the overview of new is done, we’ll start with the usual review bits and then dig deeper and deeper in each section.

The Fitbit Basics:


If you’ve been around the Fitbit block before, then virtually everything in this section is old hat to you, especially if you’ve had a Fitbit Versa or Ionic series watch, in which case almost everything here is the same.

Starting with some of the mechanical pieces, the watch maintains the semi-iconic Fitbit squircle shape (a square + circle). Sure, some people might think of it as Apple Watch-esque in terms of bezels and such, but I think for the most part it’s unique.


The Sense is a touch screen device, but also has a single button on the left edge, where there’s a small divot you see above. I’ve mostly found this button in a super awkward place, because it’s on the lower portion of the watch.


So basically you have to twist your finger under the bezel of the watch against your arm to activate it. I don’t understand why someone thought this would be a good place for a button


The unit ships with the band you see throughout this review. It’s sort of a blend of an older Fitbit watch band with an Apple Watch band. I’m definitely not a fan. I was all good with the Apple Watch copy-elements, but the material drags on the hairs of your skin when you try and stick it back in the hole.

Fitbit-Sense-Band-Design Fitbit-Sense-Band-Clasp-Closed

Of course, Fitbit sells you premium straps too in all assortment of pretty materials. So I’ll give one of those a whirl and report back.

On the back is a new optical heart rate sensor, called PurePulse 2.0. I’m gonna dive deep on that in the relevant heart rate sections.


The Fitbit Sense is built atop FitbitOS, though is slightly updated from the Versa/Ionic in terms of user interface and looks. On the whole, I like the slight updates to the user interface, such as the swipe-down notifications and control center, which are clearer.

FitbitSense-Notifications FitbitSense-ControlPanel

For smartphone notifications you can’t respond on iOS due to Apple limitations (my understanding is you can on Android), but you can dismiss them away. Also, while not implemented until sometime this winter, you’ll be able to answer calls on your Fitbit Sense using the microphone if your phone is within range (there’s no cellular connectivity inside the Sense).

Watch faces can be customized from the Fitbit app, and there’s a pile to choose from, including from 3rd parties via the Fitbit app store.

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The watch faces will differ significantly of course, all showing different elements. I actually liked the default Fitbit Sense watch face, as I felt it conveyed things pretty well. Though, I had to switch to the SpO2 watch face in order to get SpO2 data (more on that later).


You’ll swipe to the right to access your apps. Everything is basically an app on the Fitbit Sense. So even exercise is considered an app. There are Fitbit apps (like exercise or settings), while also 3rd party apps you can install too. Like most wearable apps, the bulk of these are pretty simplistic.


Of course, being a Fitbit, you’re likely wearing it to track activity. You can access the core stats by swiping upwards, which shows you steps, calories, floors, distance, and active zone minutes. All of these can be shown against your daily goal.


Alternatively, there’s also the ‘Today’ screen that mostly shows you the same stats, but adds in sleep, heart rate, hourly activity, food & water tracking, weight tracking, and core temp tracking. All the things essentially.


You can also see all of this within the Fitbit app too of course:

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And it’s there that you can do longer-term trending of it over days/weeks/months:

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This includes everything from steps to distance, as well as 24×7 heart rate. You can see here this double-workout day showing up within the overall view of the day:

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Similarly, sleep tracking shows up on both the watch (for last night), as well as longer-term. You can see a break-down of the sleep score pieces and how they all contribute. This is well executed, and should serve as a guiding light for how many of the newer health features on the Sense should be implemented (as we’ll talk about in the next section)

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And, I like that I can see both high level and detailed information about sleep on the watch:

Fitbit-Sense-Sleep-Details Fitbit-Sense-Sleep-Stages

Interestingly, on Sunday night it incorrectly listed the time I fell asleep by about two hours (showing 2:56AM instead of ~12:56AM). Not sure why, but I figured I’d just adjust it (which, you can do easily). However, upon doing that it lost my sleep score for the night. What’s quirky about this is that it actually shows I was asleep when I did that (and shows properly that I actually was awake a few mins at the beginning).

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Ok, with that all set, let’s go even deeper on the new health features.

Advanced Health Features:


Now I’m going to try and do a Tour de Sense here with all these new features, covering the good, the bad, and the ugly. The biggest challenge though is decoding which features are premium and which ones aren’t. For the most part, all features are available for all users. However, where it gets tricky is the length of data that’s shown. Meaning, you can see skin temperature data, but if you want to see that longer-term with trends – it requires Fitbit Premium. And there are dozens of these situations.

Adding to the complexity is that just this morning Fitbit announced that all users will get the new “Health Metrics Dashboard…for free in the coming months”, this was previously a Premium feature. Of course, that still doesn’t clarify what features are Premium and what aren’t. I asked Fitbit for a clear-cut table/spreadsheet/something. While the didn’t have that, they did have a best-effort text variant, which I’ve included at the end of this section.

Also, some things aren’t enabled yet. For example, ECG functionality isn’t enabled yet. The company just received approval last week, and is slating to enable it in watches in October for select countries (USA/A number of European countries/Hong Kong/India).

In any case, let’s dive into the first big-ticket item touted quite a bit, which is the EDA Scan, which will measure electrodermal activity (roughly another word for galvanic skin response). That then feeds into the stress management dashboard pieces. Essentially they’re measuring the micro changes in electrical resistance of the skin based on things like sweat. This data is then combined with other factors like heart rate or blood pressure.There are different modes you can run it in, but the two-minute quick scan is what I used daily:

FitbitSense-EDA-Scan Fitbit-Sense-Quick-EDA-Scan

To to do, you’ll start the app on the watch, and then rest your palm on the face of the watch (the top of it). At the end of two minutes, it’ll vibrate a bunch letting you know it’s excited. I mean, done.

vlcsnap-2020-09-22-21h05m46s633 vlcsnap-2020-09-22-21h05m41s937

That’s sorta the first piece of the puzzle. By itself it actually doesn’t tell you anything per se. Mostly, it just thanks you. However, it’ll ask you to log your stress level, using a smiley face system:


However, in the watch it does show this ‘EDA Responses’ bit, but you can’t tap on it to understand what it means – nor get any other data.


Also, it does show you the starting/ending heart rate:


Mostly though it tells you to go to the Fitbit app on your phone. So, I do that and go into the app and then the Stress Management section, and despite letting it sync for a while now – it still doesn’t show my score there. So, we’ll have to look at a previous day’s score. You can see my score of 86, as well as the ‘Neutral’ feeling I gave it (technically called a ‘Reflection’).

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The score (1-100) has three components:

Responsiveness (up to 25 points): This comes from all the sensor data, including heart rate variability (HRV) data, resting HR data (and two metrics based on that), and then the skin EDA data from the EDA skin.

Exertion (up to 20 points): This looks at daily steps, weekly activity norms, and fitness fatigue score

Sleep Patterns (up to 55 points): This looks at REM & Deep Sleep from the night before, sleep debt over time, and restlessness during the night.

Also to add to the confusion, you get a different score for sleeping within the general sleep area that’s 1-100 by itself. So that score isn’t the same as this score. It’s a double-scoring system.

2020-09-22 11.20.01 2020-09-22 11.20.05 2020-09-22 11.20.08

If it’s not clear by now, this is confusing AF. There are so many elements of this that I literally don’t understand what it’s trying to tell me, and we’re half-way through this section. You can’t actually dig into any of the scores and understand which piece is impacting which. And is it saying this is all just about stress, or are these about other elements? Literally, every day I wear this watch I become more confused. I was less confused when I started wearing it. But wait, there’s more.

Then we’ve got skin temperature. This feature occurs behind the scenes while you sleep. Note that skin temperature is different than core temperature.  Core temperature is what you’d normally measure with a thermometer of sorts, whereas skin temperature is simply measuring the surface of the skin. In the case of Fitbit, they only measure skin temperature at night. And more so, they don’t actually give you the exact skin temp. Instead, it first generates a baseline for three nights, and then it tells you your skin temperature relative to the baseline. The baseline will extend though to include the trailing 30 nights worth of data over time.

2020-09-22 11.32.09

I’m honestly not entirely sure what to do with this yet (and in the app, Fitbit doesn’t offer any insights). Interestingly though, the last two nights I slept with the window open, which made it a wee bit chillier by the time I woke up in the room. Versus Sunday when I woke up, and previous days the window was closed and it showed closer to baseline.

As for core temperature, Fitbit can’t measure that. Though interestingly, they offer both an on-watch and on-app option for doing so, if you have a thermometer and are ready to wield it:


By logging it in either location, you can then plot those trends over time. The idea here likely being that if you’re sick you can see how this trends compared to other metrics.

Next, there’s the resting heart rate and HRV data. Both of these are only measured at night with the Fitbit Sense, and you can see the nightly average value (for sleeps longer than 3 hours). This is part of the so-called ‘Health Metrics’ dashboard that was premium only but is slated to be free. In that same dashboard is the resting heart rate data too:

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Also in there are summary views of breathing rate and nightly SpO2 values, also only measured at night.

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Speaking of SpO2 – arguably the most baffling implementation I’ve seen to date. Despite years of hype here by Fitbit around SpO2, they make it surprisingly difficult to gather. First off, by default, your watch won’t be tracking SpO2. Instead, it’ll be set to use a default Fitbit Sense watch face, which I actually liked. Why am I talking about watch faces you ask? Because the Sense requires that you install and then change your watch face using the smartphone app to a specific SpO2 watch face in order to gather data. Here’s that watch face:


Once that’s done, then you can wait till the next night to gather the data. For real, the watch doesn’t just gather it at night like Apple, Garmin, and others. It’s literally only available with that watch face. Adding injury to insult, that watch-face constantly hangs and freezes the Fitbit Sense. Watch the video to see what I mean, you have to wait 3-5 seconds anytime you want to interact with it.

In any case, the next morning you wake-up and you get the watch face showing your SpO2 values as seen above.

There isn’t any method to spot-check the SpO2 values during the day. Fitbit says that’s because they get higher quality data at night, which is averaged over a 5-minute period for each reading. Note that you can’t see or dive into those readings or how they might shift throughout the night. It simply shows the range above.

Finally, I’ll mention the ECG function, but can’t test it at this time. Once Fitbit enables it in October, I’ll circle back to it. But essentially it’ll work like Apple’s implementation in that you use your other hand to touch the watch (the bezel in this case), which completes the circuit. It’ll then give you a count-down timer to wait while it measures and records the data. Afterwards you’ll get a quick diagnosis with recommended next steps. The plot is also available to export for your doctor.

Like the Apple Watch, this specific feature has been certified by the FDA (and other global governing bodies) as a medical device, hence why it’s only available in specific countries. But, Fitbit’s stance (like Apple’s) is that you should take these results to a doctor for further confirmation/testing/next steps.

Again, we’ll come back to that once it’s lit up in the watch and I can give it a whirl.

Sport Usage:


The Fitbit Sense has two ways to track a workout. The first is where you just let the watch automatically figure out you’re doing an activity based on crossing a set threshold, such as 15 minutes of cycling. That’s what I use each morning for dropping off the kids by bike. I don’t bother to start a GPS activity, but it tracks it as a cycling activity behind the scenes (sans-GPS track).

The second option, and the one you’re gonna wanna use if you want to review all the details, is by going in and starting an actual workout under ‘Exercise’, within the Fitbit apps:


From here you’ll get to choose a given sport mode, for example running or cycling. Some modes have GPS enabled, while others are effectively indoor only. Some utilize sensors for more detailed metrics (like pool swimming), whereas others are basically just using the heart rate sensor. In my case, I largely did run and ride workouts.


After you’ve selected a sport, you can customize various aspects of it. This includes things like the exact metrics you want displayed (on a three-panel data field, which you can tap to iterate the middle metric). None of these are super-advanced metrics, but they are the core metrics you’ll likely want (Elapsed Time, Distance, Pace, Pace Average, Heart Rate, Calories, Steps, Time of Day, Lap Time, Lap Distance, Active Zone Minutes).

Fitbit-Sense-Data-Fields DSC_9494

It also includes settings such as auto pause, GPS enablement, and auto lap (which can further be customized too, even basing laps on calories).

Fitbit-Settings-Sports-1 Fitbit-Sense-Sport-Settings-2

To give Fitbit credit here, while this isn’t as much customization as a Garmin/Suunto/Polar/COROS sport-specific watch, it’s generally more customization than the default apps that Apple provides for the Apple Watch.

Once you’ve got GPS signal it’ll show you a confirmation that you’re ‘Connected’ to satellites, and you’re ready to run (or ride…or hike, or whatever):


Remember that the display being on/off is configurable within the settings, as is brightness too. I used both the dim and normal modes for all my runs and even on bright sunny days I didn’t have any issues seeing the screen. Taking photographs was tougher, but that’s often the case with AMOLED displays while running. So, here’s a static shot instead, showing the three metrics. Again, you can iterate the middle metric by simply tapping on the screen, which mostly worked. Mostly.


Once you’re done it’ll give you a summary of your workout metrics. It doesn’t show any little GPS map or such

2020-09-17 14.23.40

Back in the Fitbit Charge 4 era they introduced the concept of Active Zone minutes and Intensity Zones. Essentially this is partially a rebranding the American Heart Association and World Health Organization’s goal of 150 minutes of exercise per week. Other wearables have long done this based on the same 150-minute goal. These Active Zone minutes are based on a combination of age and heart rate, whereby in higher (more painful) zones you get more minute credits than in lower zones. It’s like earning frequent flyer miles, whereby more expensive tickets get more miles. Here’s an example chart from that support page explaining how it works:


I don’t think it’s a bad concept, and that segues right into the next bit which is the Heart Rate Zone definitions. You’ll see these zones in numerous places throughout the device, usually next to that triple-up-arrow icon you see in the chart above (which means Active Zones). For example, while in a workout you’ll get notifications each time you change zones. You can lightly customize the upper and lower bounds of the more intense zones within settings on the app (tap your profile pic in the app, and scroll way down for like 5 years). Also, for fun, this is where you set high/low abnormal heart rate notifications (non-workout).

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So if you were doing an interval workout, you’ll get notifications as you go in/out of the peak/cardio zones and potentially down into the Fat Burn zone. Then, afterwards on the device, you’ll see your workout totals, including your active zone minutes (but not zone-specified):

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You can also see the zones within the Fitbit app afterwards looking at your workout summary information. This includes pace or heart rate zones, which is pretty cool, and was introduced last spring. So cool in fact that in recent weeks we saw Garmin mirror this functionality in their smartphone app.

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In the app you can also look at pace splits for laps (even on the map), as well as other metrics from your workout:

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This workout will also be synced to apps like Strava if you’ve got it connected.

Now as you’ve seen elsewhere in the review, aside from the new health features, there hasn’t been much changed for other aspects (including sports). So if you’re looking for changes like adding support for heart rate straps or cycling sensors, those don’t exist. Which is unfortunate, because Apple supports heart rate sensors – which, spoiler, given the accuracy of the Fitbit Sense optical HR sensor – they should seriously consider implementing as well.

Nonetheless, for most sport usage in terms of getting basic information about your current distance, pace/speed, or similar metrics, the Fitbit Sense does so in a fairly easy to understand manner. If you’re looking for features like complex structured intervals or navigation/routing, this isn’t really the watch for you sport-wise.

GPS & HR Accuracy:


There are days where I’d rather just skip spending 45 minutes to write this section and say the following:

Fitbit Sense Heart Rate Accuracy: Dumpster fire
Fitbit Sense GPS Accuracy: Mostly just fine.

And then you’d know what you needed to know, and I’d get back 45 minutes of my life to eat ice cream (or donuts), or go for a run, or go enjoy a nice swim on this first warm day of fall.

Unfortunately, I get the impression you still want all the data and details. So, I’m going to split the difference and very briefly illustrate the situation at hand. If you do want to dig beyond that, there are links to each set that allow you to do so. But really, there’s no reason to.

First example, this relatively easy paced run, compared to the Garmin HRM-PRO chest strap and Apple Watch SE, both of which were fairly similar, except the Fitbit Sense was often 20+ bpm high.


Here, let me zoom in a bit:


Or another relatively easy paced run, in this data set compared against the Garmin HRM-PRO chest strap. You can see how for the first 10-12 minutes it’s all over the map – in some cases by 20BPM. It’s nuts.


And zoomed in. And having a third device to compare against (more soon), I can say without question the Fitbit is wrong here.


Or we can go with one of my other faster paced workouts, with a few intervals tossed in. And the Fitbit Sense was wrong almost the entire time, by at a minimum 10bpm (which, is a lot). And sometimes 15-20bpm. It’s the yellow line at the bottom.


In fact, the only thing that performed worse than it was the Whoop 3.0 strap, because…well, Whoop. In fact, during a few runs, I started wondering if Fitbit had licensed the tech from Whoop, since it was often equally as bad and often failed in semi-similar ways. The yellow line of the Fitbit Sense, and the blue line below are similar during these intervals. Low, slow, and inaccurate.


Heck, even the Apple Watch Series 6 *Not even on my wrist* actually can beat the Fitbit Sense on my wrist. Check out this plot below, with the Fitbit Sense spiking above everyone else all the time. For this set, I had placed the Apple Watch Series 6 atop my hand for extra GPS data (so, that unit’s HR data was throwaway), and it *still* managed to nail the HR data correctly. Someone give Apple an award there.


Look, it’s bad. And even when it somewhat appears close above – that’s only because you’re skewing your expectations by the parts it’s 10-20bpm off. Being 3-5BPM off looks ‘normal’ by comparison, but that’s still wrong. And bad.

Now, GPS accuracy? That actually isn’t so bad. For the most part, as long as you’re not coming out of a tunnel or from under a bridge, the GPS is mostly acceptable. A few semi-rare cut corners here and there, but overall it’s likely fine for most people buying this device.


You can see the tracks above are nice and crispy. Same below for the most part:


However, the one area it really struggles is coming out of a bridge or tunnel. In that case, it produces wonky tracks every time for a short distance. Here in green:


And here in yellow from under the underpasses:


And again the first bridge on a different day, this time in red:


So, in quick summary here – the GPS is fine for most purposes with the exceptions noted above, while the heart rate isn’t fit for any purpose I’d use it for.

What I don’t know is if (or when) Fitbit will be able to fix the heart rate issues. The general theme of the Fitbit Sense is that everything is a bit half-baked. So with an entirely new optical HR sensor, that was one more piece of the puzzle they’ve undoubtedly been battling, and whether this is an easy short to medium term fix, or a more substantial hardware or longer software algorithm fix is required.

Fitbit has started to dig into my data sets, though, in looking at some of the other reviews posted today, the theme seems to be somewhat common.

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



There’s no question Fitbit has packed in ‘all the sensors’ to the Fitbit Sense. The challenge is whether or not all that data is usable and actionable. And at this point I’m just not seeing that occurring yet. With the exception of the ECG (which isn’t implemented yet), almost everything lacks any actual guidance on how to use it to improve one’s life. How should I use the high/low skin temperature data? Should I exercise more or less to influence my exertion score within Stress Management? Why did my responsiveness score do what it did last night, was it because I slept too little or something else? And what’s happening when I select one smiley face over another in the stress tracking? Does it actually impact anything at all?

I wasn’t kidding when I said I started off with this watch less confused than I am now. Each day I use it I become more and more perplexed as to what it’s trying to tell me. It’s as if nobody stopped to ask the obvious question: How do I actually improve my wellbeing with all this information?

And that all ignores the least accurate optical HR sensor I’ve seen in a Fitbit product to date. We’re not talking a little bit inaccurate, but rather, a lot inaccurate. Or that the screen is laggy compared to past Fitbit products, frustrating so at times.

Now – here’s the question: Can Fitbit find a way to make all this make sense? Maybe.

But as is often the case each year around this time, Fitbit promises features that’ll be rolled out “later this year”, or “early next year”, “in the coming months”, and it’s rarely the case those hit those timetables. Fitbit has made a huge slate of those promises with the Fitbit Sense. ECG is “coming in October”, the Health Metrics dashboard for free users is “in the coming months”, the Google Assistant functionality is “coming later this year”, and answering phone calls “Winter 2020-2021”. And undoubtedly there are others.

As a data-driven kinda guy, I wanted to like this watch when I first saw the feature set. But from either a deep data standpoint or a simplistic ‘just tell me what to do’ standpoint, it simply fails to live up to the promise, in name or otherwise.

With that – thanks for reading!

Found this review useful? Or just wanna save a bundle?

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.

You can help support the site by picking up the unit from any of the retailers at left, which at the moment is basically just Amazon.

Fitbit Sense GPS Watch

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

Thanks for reading!

Apple Watch Series SE: A Fitness First Impressions Untangled https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/09/apple-watch-se-fitness-impressions-untangled.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/09/apple-watch-se-fitness-impressions-untangled.html#comments Tue, 22 Sep 2020 08:35:58 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=117635 Read More Here ]]> DSC_9440

At first glance, the Apple Watch SE seems like a straightforward Apple Release with SE branding: Take a roughly year-old model, cheapen out some materials, and call it the SE. But in reality, it’s far more complex than that, and puts together what Engadget accurately called the Frankenwatch. And unfortunately, as I discovered, that’s most visible in the sports and fitness realm.

Now, I’ve been using this device for a few days worth of workouts and I figured I’d dive into some of that initial workout data, primarily from an accuracy standpoint. This isn’t a full review, but rather a look at what’s different about the SE and where it slots in to the Apple lineup, all from a fitness standpoint. I’m not going to go into the nuances of the processor (because frankly, you’ll never notice), nor Apple watchOS7 (since I did that here). From a software standpoint, all three watches are identical, and all features unless hardware-dependent are identical.

Now if you want to jump right into it, here’s a video I put together diving through all these tweaks. Plus, a bit of a tour of my running route in Amsterdam.

And again, I’ll likely dive into a full review down the road. But for now, my initial thoughts.

What’s Different:


Thus, to begin, let’s set the stage for what Apple has slated as their lineup for the next year:

Budget: Apple Watch Series 3 – from $169 (officially from $199, but it’s already been at $169 for months)
Mid-range: This new Apple Watch SE – from $279
High-end: The new Apple Watch Series 6 – from $399

And then there’s the cellular variants of all these as well. But that doesn’t really change the fitness paradigm, so we’ll ignore that. All of these have GPS, all of them have two size options, and all of them support the latest watchOS7 operating system that just released last week. But that’s kinda where it seems to end from a fitness standpoint. The Series 3, SE, and Series 6 all use different optical HR sensor designs, and all have differences when it comes to battery life for GPS workouts. The functional level of their heart rate sensors is notably different too, as you’ll see in my tests.

From the front, the three units look near identical. Of course, the Series 3 has a smaller display within that shell, but beyond that, between the SE and Series 6 they’re basically indistinguishable from a glance.


But when we flip it over to the back of the three watches side by side, you can see the optical sensor layouts are all different. At left, Series 3, then SE, then Series 6.


What’s funny here, is that Apple’s own page on this is incorrect, where it states the SE has a second 2nd gen optical HR sensors:


Except, that’s quite clearly incorrect. This claim is repeated numerous places on the site in numerous articles. Here’s the full sensor arrangements of all Apple Watches. Also, I know it’s tough to see with reflections. There’s no ‘good’ angle to take a picture of multiple Apple Watch sensors due to the highly reflective nature of them and that they have a slight crown to them.


(Left to right: Original/Series 2/Series 3/Series 4/Series 5/SE/Series 6)

They’ve actually had three optical HR sensor generations:

Apple Watch 1/2/3: This is a 2xLED, and 2xPhotodiode arrangement
Apple Watch 4/5/SE: This is a center LED (which technically has 4xLED’s in it), 8xPhotodiode arrangement
Apple Watch 6: This is a 4x LED (with each LED also having two colors in it, green for HR, red for SpO2), 4xPhotodiode

Anyone can simply look at the back of an Apple Watch and see these are different. This isn’t some secret here. And in fact, in the keynote for the Series 4 they touted the new optical HR sensor, just like they touched on its increased capabilities in the Series 6 keynote.

I asked Apple why they claim otherwise on their site. I’ll circle back when I hear why.

In any case, that of course has impacts on accuracy. In most cases it’ll be negligible, but if there wasn’t changes to accuracy (or power draw), then Apple wouldn’t have made changes. Companies generally change these things to eke out that last 1-2% in accuracy increases. It’s a slow and iterative process.

Practically speaking though, this manifests itself more simply in terms of features as:

Apple Watch 1/2/3/SE: Heart rate measurement
Apple Watch 4/5: Heart rate measurement + ECG
Apple Watch 6: Heart rate measurement + ECG + SpO2

And then more fully if we look at the core features people care about related to fitness, the following:

Apple Watch Fitness Comparison

FeatureApple Watch Series 3Apple Watch Series 4Apple Watch Series 5Apple Watch SEApple Watch Series 6
DisplayRaise to wakeRaise to wakeAlways onRaise to wakeAlways on
Battery Standby18 hours18 hours18 hours18 hours18 hours
Battery GPS Workout5 Hours GPS6 Hours GPS6 Hours GPS6 Hours GPS7 Hours GPS
Fast charging1.5hr to 80%1.5hr to 80%1.5hr to 80%1.5hr to 80%1hr to 80%
Optical HR SensorGen 1 (AWS1-3)Gen 2 (AW4/5/SE)Gen 2 (AW4/5/SE)Gen 2 (AW4/5/SE)Gen 3 (AW6)
Heart Rate NotificationsYesYesYesYesYes
Display Brightness1000 nits1000 nits1000 nits1000 nits1000 nits
Water Resistance50m50m50m50m50m
AltimeterYesYesYesYes PlusYes Plus
ProcessorS3 SiP ChipsetS4 SiP ChipsetS5 SiP ChipsetS5 SiP ChipsetS6 Chipset
Storage (music/apps)8GB16GB32GB32GB32GB

There’s also some other nuanced things like the Series 6 includes 5Ghz WiFi support, the U1 broadband chip, and both the SE/6 include the W3 Apple Wireless chip versus the W2 on the Series 3.

In terms of sleep data, the SE acts just like all the other watches. You’ll set up sleep tracking through the 98-step sleep tracking wizard, at the end of which the watch will track sleep as long as a sleep schedule is enabled. You can then see the sleep data the following morning on your watch or on the app. Here’s the data from last night, tracked on the SE:


The start/end times are mostly correct, as are the brief moments awake. Here’s the slightly more detailed data from the Apple Health app:

AWSE-Sleep1 AWSE-Sleep2

Ok, with that – let’s get on with the run.

Test Run Data:

I detail much of the accuracy bits in the video, but I figured I’d quickly go through the main aspects. I had multiple devices with me, including the Apple Watch SE, the Fitbit Sense, the Garmin FR745, a chest strap (Garmin HRM-PRO), the Polar OH1 Plus, and the Whoop strap, all properly spaced and not-conflicting with each other. Albeit, it didn’t help that I apparently forgot to start the Polar OH1. And then the Whoop strap didn’t properly sync to Strava (the easiest way to export the data). Still, I could look at the core elements on Whoop’s site and manually compare where required.

Starting with the heart rate. This run was mostly evenly paced, but I threw in some solid sprints to check out responsiveness, and unfortunately, the SE failed on one of them – spiking the heart rate considerably higher than my viable max HR (and certainly higher than my effort) – nearly 190BPM:


Even the Whoop strap got this sprint correct – topping out at 177 like the chest strap:


I mean, c’mon, when’s the last time from an accuracy standpoint the Whoop strap beat anyone? You know you’re up crap-creek when that happens.

In any case, the rest of the workout was actually fine heart-rate wise.

It’s GPS that’s where the problems are. And in some ways, it’s easiest to just show Apple’s own app here, because it so easily makes things clear. With the Apple Watch Series 6, gone was what I’d dubbed ‘Mario Karting’ (or ‘Whooshing’) around the corners, where basically it ignores the laws of physics for GPS track beauty. It’d cut many corners, even when water/bridges/buildings/trees/rocks/statutes/angry geese, and others were involved. It’s been a stable of Apple Watch GPS tracks since the beginning, but the Series 6 unquestionably got rid of it. The SE though? Oh, it’s still here in force. For example, these on this run and my run from Sunday too:


But, to show how other watches handled these points, we go to the data. For example, look below at how it both ignored the bridge on the left, and then ignored the turn of the tip of the island.


Or the loop around the stadium, where it was mostly in the bleachers, and the Garmin was correctly on the road where I ran:


On the running track, the Apple Watch undercut each loop, being inside on the field. The Garmin wasn’t in the new Track Mode, but still got on the track properly. Also, when exiting the track, the Apple Watch cut everything (I actually show a live side by side of this in my video with footage of it ignoring it).


In the woods it was mostly OK, though it did still short almost every corner. The one exception being one corner in the lower left, in which case the Garmin very slightly undercut that one:


The challenge here (which it was before), isn’t that it’s always short or always long. It’s that it’s inconsistent with what it does. Sometimes it overshoots when it smooths because it goes wide coming out of a corner (like Mario Kart), and sometimes it undershoots because it cuts corners. Thus the distance in the end might be similar, but it also very much might not be.

I guess after testing the Series 6, I had hoped 2020 would have been a turning point for Apple and GPS accuracy. Either via hardware updates in the Series 6 & SE, or via software updates in watchOS7. Unfortunately, whatever magic is in the Series 6 simply isn’t in the SE.

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



So, I guess I’m ultimately left a little bit confused at this point. Undoubtedly the Apple Watch SE will sell well, because…Apple. But I’m here at this point thinking that the real purpose of the SE is to actually drive Series 6 sales. Or, perhaps solidify Series 3 sales from people on the fence of Apple at all. Sure, there will be a handful of people that get the SE over a Series 3 because it has more storage (or a larger screen), or is marketed as faster. But in general, it feels a bit like a watch designed to underperform. And I very rarely say such a thing.

Whatever choice they made in software or hardware around GPS is very clearly a sub-par experience compared to the Series 6. On the same route in multiple places is performed like the older Apple Watches, cutting corners Mario-Kart style as it bumbled along. Same goes for a second run as well.

And on the optical heart rate, the Series 4/5 sensor wasn’t bad per se (after initial bugs were sorted out), but the SE using the same sensor showed issues that definitely weren’t seen on the Series 6 in my tests. Obviously, Apple changed the Series 6 sensor for a reason, and undoubtedly accuracy was a piece of that puzzle.

But the lack of always-on screen is sorta the biggest puzzler for me. After all, always-on screens became the defacto norm for high-end AMOLED watches in 2019 (even sooner for some companies). So to revert back on this watch to raise to wake isn’t super ideal.

Anyway, I’m sure there will be folks the SE works for. For example, if you don’t care about sport/fitness, then getting more storage for music, a faster processor, and of course the bigger screen are all worthy additions. But if those features don’t matter to you and fitness does? The initial data isn’t looking super compelling.

With that – thanks for reading!

Apple Watch Series 6: First Run Accuracy & SpO2 Sensor Data https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/09/apple-watch-series-6-first-run-accuracy-spo2-sensor-data.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/09/apple-watch-series-6-first-run-accuracy-spo2-sensor-data.html#comments Sat, 19 Sep 2020 09:48:39 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=117589 Read More Here ]]> DSC_9314

While I already posted earlier this week on the new features of the Apple Watch Series 6, I figured I’d share some quick first run Friday data for ya. As well as some initial thoughts on the handful of other new features that the Series 6 has. This includes VO2Max, SpO2, the altimeter, and screen brightness. Plus of course that new optical HR sensor.

First up, as a quick reminder, here’s the main fitness-focused skinny on what’s new on the Apple Watch Series 6:

– Added SpO2 Blood Oxygen Sensor/Measurements
– Changed optical sensor package entirely
– Added faster responding barometric altimeter for watch faces
– Increased screen brightness in standby 2.5x
– VO2Max Alerts Coming later 2020 via WatchOS7 (all Apple Watches from Series 3 up get this)
– Reduced detection floor of VO2Max for lower VO2Max levels
– Added Sleep Tracking via WatchOS7 (all Apple Watches from Series 3 up get this)
– Added Additional Sports via WatchOS7 (all Apple Watches from Series 3 up get this)
– Increased processor speed by 20%

In the grand scheme of things this basically all boils down to an SpO2 sensor and new optical HR sensor package. While the barometric altimeter improvements might be useful for some, Apple has long had a barometric altimeter in the Apple Watch. This just makes it faster to respond on the watch-face.

So I wanted to dive into all these changes – and for a Friday afternoon, a video seemed like the best bet (in hindsight, it wasn’t – as our internet service provider in the area was having issues impacting both home and office, and I’d spend countless hours trying to get it published). Still, since it’s there now and I was up to 2:30AM fighting the good internet fight, you should press the play button and enjoy a fun run around Amsterdam. Oh, and some technical bits.

Still, for this weekend post I’ll quickly consolidate some thoughts. First up, there’s the new optical heart rate sensor. This splits out what was a single green LED light (or, perhaps technically a cluster of lights) on the Series 5, into a dual-light arrangement on the Series 6 (though, I think there’s actually four green LED’s – hang tight a sec). It also adds the red-light pieces that we’ll talk about later.


For the SpO2 piece, that’s triggered one of two ways. Either manually with a 15-second test that you simply start and wait:


Or automatically behind the scenes every once in a while. That’ll turn on the red lights for the SpO2 sensor. What’s interesting in this that I didn’t notice immediately in the video, is that when it turns on those red lights, there appears to be a secondary set of green lights that come with it (totally four green LED’s).


Seeing the red sensor is incredibly challenging because Apple has put in piles of error-avoidance detection things. Unlike everyone else including Garmin, Apple doesn’t allow these readings to be taken just any old time. Instead, they’ve really focused heavily on only letting you get readings when it’s in the optimal position:


Why is this? Well, they’re trying to avoid inaccurate readings from people just doing this whenever they want (as Garmin and others allow). So by sandboxing it a bit, they can increase the perceived accuracy of it, by throwing out plenty of potentially inaccurate results due to poor ‘user test procedure’.  For example, while none of these are classified as medical devices, they’ll undoubtedly be compared to one. And if you look at how those devices are tested/validated, it’s sitting at a desk with your arm on a table. Which…is basically exactly what Apple is telling you to do above.

And in fact, once you turn the watch more than about 90° on angle, it’ll instantly switch off the sensor and fail the test. It’s super sensitive. Which isn’t to say Garmin isn’t sensitive – they might be behind the scenes, they just don’t expose it – so you sit there trying annoyingly and it just looks at you like a confused dog. It’s a prime example of Apple not being first with the technology, but ultimately implementing it in a more widely accessible way.


In any case, this was supposed to be a quick post. On the run, I had a pile of devices with me to compare, especially for heart rate. Looking at that first, you can see the Apple Watch did exceedingly well. Only one minor blip for a couple of seconds. The HRM-PRO had dried up while I was filming some intro stuff, and I forgot to re-lick it until about 2-3 mins in, and then you can see it instantly locked off. After that, my sweat kicked in and I was good. Standard chest strap things on a cooler dry day.


All in, for HR accuracy while running a single run – it’s WAY better than the Series 5 was at launch, and now more in line with the very impressive accuracy of the Series 4.

For GPS data, I created one heck of a messy route. I included the running track, two sets of extremely long tunnels/bridges, running a loop next to a stadium, running on a small island, going through the forest, and just meandering. I had with me a FR745, Fitbit Sense, and of course the Apple Watch Series 6. Due to various embargos, I can’t quite share the Fitbit data until next week. So here’s the GPS data versus the FR745:


And a bit closer:


I went into this in detail in the video, or you can zoom in on the set here. But the main takeaways are:

– Holy crap, Apple finally got rid of the Mario Kart/Swooshing/Sashaying corner effect
– The Apple Watch and FR745 were very close
– The FR745 actually nailed the track, despite not being in track mode (hmm…interesting thoughts on that later)
– The Apple Watch struggled a little bit around the stadium, but we’re talking mostly just a few meters
– There were a few sections it wobbled slightly on some straightaways
– Both were great in the tunnels
– Both were great in the forest

So, the biggest takeaway is that Apple has clearly traded some of the over-smoothing they’ve done since the very beginning of Apple Watch, with a bit more ‘trueness’ for where the watch actually goes (or, where it thinks it goes). This means that you get a bit more wobble in some cases compared to the past, but it also means it doesn’t cut or sweep around corners like it used to. As a reminder from the Series 5, this is that sweeping I was talking about there (these are from the Series 5 review). You can see how it heavily smooths my twists and turns on the path.

2019-11-25 21.02.18 2019-11-25 21.01.21

Now, Apple has continued to make progress on this since last year. Every once in a while I’ll do tests with it, and I’ve seen them slowly find that balance better and better. But I think at this point they’re acting much closer to a normal GPS watch than the heavily smoothed Apple Watch.

I’ll work towards an in-depth review over the next few weeks. But until then, I’m kinda impressed with the accuracy bits, as well as the gates they’ve put in place to try and raise the floor on SpO2 data. I might be interested in picking a legit medical certified SPO2 device to compare against. Not just a little finger one for $10, but something that would be a better reference device. Since so many wearables are out there these days using that tech, it’d be interesting to do occasional spot checks.

Until then – feel free to drop any questions below. I’m sure you’ll also see Apple Watch Series 6 data in various reviews coming up over the next week or two.

With that – thanks for reading and have a good weekend!

Garmin HRM-PRO In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/09/garmin-hrm-pro-chest-strap-depth-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/09/garmin-hrm-pro-chest-strap-depth-review.html#comments Thu, 17 Sep 2020 19:21:20 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=117562 Read More Here ]]> Garmin-HRM-PRO-Review

Garmin has (finally) announced and started shipping the HRM-PRO chest strap, bringing Bluetooth to their higher-end heart rate strap that also transmits advanced running metrics and has memory onboard for watch-less activities. This, of course, follows the HRM-DUAL strap that was announced last January, which brought dual ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart compatibility. However, that strap lacked the features of the HRM-TRI/HRM-RUN series, which included Garmin’s Running Dynamics data as well as the ability to capture workouts when you didn’t wear a watch. Now, all that stuff is together in one, albeit expensive, strap.

I’ve been using the new $129 strap for a bit now, across numerous sports, including swimming, to see how it handles. I’ve also tested it out sans-watch to understand how it differs from seemingly similar options offered by Polar and Wahoo. And as you’ll see, the differences are important, depending on how you plan to use it. This is essentially the pinnacle of straps for Garmin users but has far less applicability for users outside the Garmin ecosystem.

Finally, because this is ultimately just a strap – Ill try and keep this review a bit more straightforward and condensed. I’ll probably fail at that, but hey…I’ll try. Oh, and as usual I’ll send this media loaner back in a pile of gear to them shortly, and if you found this review useful you can hit up the links at the end of the post which help support the site. With that, onto the review!

What’s new:

This section is comparably easy in light of doing watch reviews, but essentially the HRM-PRO is a blend of the HRM-TRI and the HRM-DUAL into one, with one bit of data offloading spiciness on the side. It’s really as simple as that. Here are all the things it has in a simple bulleted list:

– Concurrent Bluetooth & ANT+ Connectivity (with two Bluetooth connections, and unlimited ANT+ connections)
– Running Dynamics transmission
– Offline workout support for swimming (or really any other sport) for a Garmin watch
– Capturing of Intensity, Steps, Calories, and Heart rate sans-watch

And that’s it. But, let’s dive slightly into those last two bullets, because those are actually what makes this strap appealing for Garmin users (and inversely, useless features for non-Garmin users).

Offline workout data support for Garmin watches: This first piece is the same as with the original HRM-TRI or HRM-SWIM straps, whereby if you go into the water, it’ll capture your heart rate data to offload back to the watch once you exit the water. That was back in the day when watches either didn’t have optical HR sensors, or they didn’t work while swimming. These days watches do have them (though, accuracy in the water varies a lot), but the strap gets you more accurate data. Unfortunately, digital transmission from HR strap to watch underwater doesn’t work, so this is all about store and forward, saving the true data for later on, rather than mid-workout. Of course, the strap is always broadcasting, it’s just that your watch can’t hear it. This is also useful for non-swimming activities where you can’t wear a watch but want a workout file; such as soccer, martial arts, etc… Note that technically speaking this feature uses the ANT+ standards and theoretically could work with any watch/device that supports it. But practically speaking nobody has ever done so. Thus no, it won’t work with your Suunto/Polar/Apple/etc watch to download data.

Offline daily activity data support without watch: This piece is new here, and is mainly for people that can’t wear a watch during the workout (martial arts, some cross-fit, other sports, etc…). What this does is essentially account for your daily activity metrics. So this includes steps, intensity minutes, calories, and heart rate. This makes it seamless between the other 23 hours of the day you wear the watch, with the 1 hour you can’t. So on your Garmin ‘My Day’ dashboard, it looks like one seamless day, even though you didn’t wear the watch for a chunk of it. Also, it’s crazy fast on how it catches-up/displays. Faster than the time it took me to come out of the water and grab a screenshot from my phone on the dock. More on that in a minute. Note this feature does *NOT* create workout files that sync to Strava or such (as some other straps do). More on that too in a minute.

So ultimately, the HRM-PRO is really as its name suggests – it’s Garmin’s top-end strap for Garmin users. There’s ZERO reason to buy this strap over Garmin’s HRM-DUAL strap if you don’t have a Garmin watch. Inversely, if you do have a Garmin watch, I’d have a pretty tough time recommending the older HRM-TRI strap these days, even though that is reasonably priced whereas this is crazy priced. But hey, I guess that’s the price of admission to data.

Ok, with that quick overview out of the way, let’s get into the box and the usage details.

What’s in the box:


Uhh…look, I get it, we’re just talking a strap in a box. But also, look, if I didn’t write about the strap in a box, then someone would be upset about it. So, here’s the strap in a box:


Actually, the strap in a box also comes with a little paper cartoon book that illustrates how to use it.


And most interesting of all, was this little tidbit I caught – which is that the strap is partially licensed from Suunto. Or more specifically, the patent around sensor arrangement. The strap isn’t made by Suunto, just one particular aspect of the sensor arrangement is something that Suunto has a patent on from 2006, and Garmin has to license it from them.


Turns out though, they also licensed this way back on the HRM-TRI as well:


Then I thought to myself: I wonder if they licensed this on the HRM-DUAL too? Turns out..nope. However, they instead licensed something else from Suunto for that strap, the connector pod piece:


That patent is from the same general timeframe.

See, this strap in a box section was interesting and useful after all. In fact, there’s other nuggets in the manual too. I mean, nobody reads it, but in this rare scenario I actually opened it up and learned something from it. But that’d ruin the surprise for the next section. So…let’s move on.

The Basics:


The strap is made of the same fabric that the HRM-TRI is made of, which I’ve found pretty comfortable (and I don’t think I’ve seen any complaints on that strap). You can change the size of the strap by tweaking the little clasp thingy.  Garmin states the minimum chest size for this strap is 23.5” (60cm), and the maximum is 42” (106cm). However, you can also buy an extender which takes it to 56” (142cm).


Here’s what the inside sensor portion looks like, which you can see is identical to that of the HRM-TRI (blue pod):


Some portion of that arrangement is the piece that’s licensed from Suunto, to completely spoil a full chunk of this review – realistically I haven’t seen any change (negative or positive) in accuracy from the HRM-DUAL there. It works just fine. It’s still a little bit warm this time of year to get those nice crispy cool late fall days though where the air is drier, which can lead to standard chest strap accuracy issues in the first few minutes of a workout before you get enough sweat going. But there are plenty of solutions for that anyway (wetting the strap, licking it, applying contact gel, etc…).

The battery for the HRM-PRO is claimed at 1 year (with 1hr/day usage). It uses a standard issue CR2032 coin cell battery. You’ll access that by pulling the yellow part off, which gets you here:


And then using a small screwdriver to remove the four screws. Inside there’s an o-ring you’ll want to take care not to damage, and then the coin cell battery:


The unit claims water resistance of 5ATM, and an operating temp range of 14°F-122°F (-10°C to 50°C), which begs the question: Who is running around outside without a shirt (but with a chest strap) at 14°F/-10°C. And then I remembered the team working on this is largely in Alberta…which is Canada. And now it all makes sense.

Next, within the comic book cartoon manual they included there’s a picture of a triathlon and a pool. I asked my toddler daughter to explain it to me, and it appears they’re telling you that after each pool swim you should wash it in soapy water, and after seven loops of the lake. Whereas after any normal swim you should rinse it off in regular water. After she explained the cartoon to me, she asked me to read one of her favorite books on a similar topic.


For the most part, you likely won’t use the HRM-PRO in the pool much. While it’ll work just fine for the ladies under a one-piece suit, historically the HRM-TRI style straps don’t work as well in the pool because they won’t stay on your chest. That’s what the much wider/stickier HRM-SWIM strap is for (pool usage). The main issue is specifically when you push off the way (turns or flips), the water pressure is significantly greater, and I’ve never been able to keep any strap there for more than a few laps (except the HRM-SWIM). Again, if you’ve got some sort of top on covering it, there’s no pressure and it’s not an issue.

Whereas for openwater swimming it’s no problem at all – and in fact I’ve used it on a number of openwater swims, as we’ll talk about.

But first, let’s pair it up to your phone. This part is new in the Garmin world, and it’s the first Garmin strap to actually pair to Garmin Connect Mobile (their smartphone app). Sure, the HRM-DUAL could pair to apps for displaying HR, but not actually Garmin’s own app.

2020-08-28 15.14.06

Once paired, there really isn’t much to tweak in the settings (devices area) aside from your bio information, as basically everything it does is in the background.

2020-09-17 17.45.02 2020-09-17 17.45.25

You can however update the firmware here:

2020-09-17 17.45.28 2020-09-17 17.46.03

It’ll also do this via your Garmin devices too (it quietly downloads updates on behalf of Garmin sensors, including the HRM-PRO):


Now, at this juncture I’m going to assume you know how to put a chest strap on. So we’ll skip to the usage bits related to the non-watch portions. In other words, tracking the intensity minutes, activity status, etc… For this, the idea being you’ve taken off your Garmin watch to do some sport you can’t wear a watch in. Then, you do said sport. Behind the scenes once you put on the Garmin strap it’s frequently offloading that data to Garmin Connect, so it’s available almost instantly – including your steps.

Check out the below screenshot. What’s impossible to tell here without me telling you, is that this spike in heart rate was while I was doing a workout (obviously), but most notably is data from a strap – not a Garmin watch. The watch was disconnected to my phone at this point. It did all this from just the strap, notably filling in the HR data for that workout, as well as updating my steps too:


clip_image001[6] clip_image001[8] clip_image001

With that, it updated the following things above:

– Intensity minutes
– Steps
– Heart Rate
– Calories

But the same works in other non-workout ways too. For example, as I’m writing this I’ve got my Garmin watch on the charger. But I’m being a dork and wearing the HRM-PRO so that I don’t miss out on any steps to and from the coffee machine or those extra calories burned.

All that goes to your Garmin Connect account automatically.

But here’s the one downside: Let’s say you’re playing basketball or some other sport sans-watch.  You do the workout and you want to save that file somehow. Perhaps upload it as an indoor activity with a photo to Strava. You can’t do that here (unless you’ve got a Garmin watch and started the activity on that watch). Meaning, unlike the Wahoo TICKR X, or the Polar H10, there’s no bookended workout files created here. Technically speaking there is under the covers, but functionally speaking Garmin isn’t exposing that unless there’s a Garmin watch paired with it.

Adding one more ‘speaking’ type here, practically speaking that probably doesn’t matter to 99% of the people out there. After all, if you’re buying this strap it’s because you’re in the Garmin ecosystem and likely with a Garmin watch (versus a bike computer). So in that scenario, you could have easily just started an indoor cardio workout on your watch and left it on the sidelines in your bag. After saving the workout, it’d then sync the HR/steps/etc data to the watch/phone, and the world would be right again. You’d have an upload in Strava from the watch, and all your daily metrics accounted for in Garmin Connect.

Still, that doesn’t mean I can’t dream. For me and my testing, I love the ability to have the TICKR X simply track my workouts and then splice out a .FIT file using the nifty app time splicer they have. But that’s more of a DCR problem/issue than a common one.

Lastly on the basics side, the strap is dual ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart compatible, so that means that you can pair it to an unlimited number of ANT+ devices, and then two concurrent Bluetooth Smart devices. So let’s say you’re inside on Zwift or TrainerRoad (running on an iPad), then that’ll pair via Bluetooth Smart, while you can still also then pair it up to your watch via ANT+. Here it is on Zwift:


And now a non-Garmin watch, the Polar Grit X using Bluetooth Smart:


And here’s it connected to a Wahoo ROAM using ANT+:


Oh, and as for activity storage, the HRM-PRO can store 18 hours of activity before needing to offload. So, with all that set, let’s dig into the watch connectivity pieces.

Garmin Watch Connectivity:


The part that most people here reading about are probably interested in though is Garmin watch integration. There’s essentially three levels/components of direct watch integration:

1) Simple heart rate connectivity
2) Data offloading integration (e.g. for swimming/etc…)
3) Running Dynamics support

Technically speaking, any manufacturer could integrate these, but only Garmin has selected to do so. For example, Running Dynamics has their own ANT+ standard (and has for years), but only Garmin watches support it. Wahoo does broadcast Running Dynamics though on their latest TICKR X straps, so those are compatible with Garmin watches however.

In any event, all three of these require you pair the chest strap to your Garmin watch, so we’ll do that here. For the purpose of this post’s photos I’m using the FR945 because it’s sitting next to my laptop. But I’ve actually mostly been using it watch-wise with the Fenix 6 series. But any ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart unit can pair up for the basic heart-rate pieces. On a Garmin device, you’ll want to pair it as an ANT+ sensor (which, it’ll do automatically for you):

Garmin-HRM-PRO-Sensor-Pairing Garmin-HRM-PRO-ANTPlus

Once that’s done, everything else actually kinda happens magically for you. For example, most Garmin watches will automatically show the Running Dynamics pages when a capable Running Dynamics sensor is paired. These are what those pages look like:

Garmin-HRM-PRO-Running-Dynamics Garmin-HRM-PRO-Running-Dynamics-2

Those metrics will update constantly throughout the run, just like any other metric. In addition, this strap works with Garmin’s Running Power Data Fields, assuming your watch is compatible.

Afterwards, you’ll find all these metrics displayed on Garmin Connect (and Garmin Connect Mobile). Here’s a quick glance at them from one of my track runs (paired to Fenix 6). Respiration rate comes from the chest strap too:


And then here’s another set from my run a few minutes ago (paired to FR745), note here that respiration rate isn’t on the FR745 (an interesting tidbit I didn’t notice till now):


Whether or not you find value in the Running Dynamics metrics is up to you. Personally, I don’t find much value there at this point. Years later, and I’m still not super clear what to do with the data. My coach finds some value in a handful of the metrics in terms of seeing some impacts of fatigue in a longer run.

Note that the definition of Running Dynamics metrics in this case is specifically Stride Length, Vertical Ratio, Ground Contact Time, Ground Contact Time Balance, and Vertical Oscillation. Note that the Vertical Oscillation/Ratio chart has a toggle, as does the Ground Contact Time/Balance chart.


While the strap also includes the cadence data, that actually comes from your watch anyway (or a footpod, if you have one of those). So while Garmin sometimes groups that under the Running Dynamics banner in marketing blurbs over the years, that’s not actually the case and is recorded already on every Garmin wearable.

Next, switching gears away from running, over to swimming, which is the secondary main reason someone might pick up the HRM-PRO. Previously, for triathletes, you probably picked up the HRM-TRI, which covered you for swim/bike/run. The HRM-PRO effectively replaces that, but now gives you Bluetooth support for using it with apps like Zwift or TrainerRoad.

With swimming, the HRM-PRO is ideal for openwater swimming, but less optimal for pool swims for most males. That’s because in the pool the chest strap will often get pushed down when doing a flip/open turn off the wall (especially a flip turn), eventually ending up on your waist. For ladies, wearing a one-piece suit, it’s not an issue, as the suit blocks the water pressure from pushing the strap down.

Thus, all my testing was in openwater, where there’s no flip turns:


In this case, you’ll put on the strap just like normal and crack open the swimming sport. You’ll want to ensure that the watch sees the strap before you go in the water, so it knows its friend is out there somewhere. I think technically it’ll still find it afterwards even if it doesn’t connect before you get into the water, but I’m always paranoid about it.


Once in, simply swim as normal. While the strap is constantly broadcasting, your watch isn’t hearing it. Digital signals only go about an inch (a few centimeters) underwater, so from your chest to your wrist is way to far. That’s different than the older analog straps that Polar used to make that can transmit analog signals. But Polar stopped making any modern watches that support that.

So during the swim your watch will show the heart rate from the optical sensor (assuming you have a more recent watch, else, it’ll just show nothing if on an older watch since that doesn’t have an optical HR sensor that works in the water). However, once you stop the watch and start to save the activity it’ll go off and find its friend, HRM-PRO:


Then it’ll start downloading the heart rate file from the strap:


This usually takes 5-10 seconds. Note that if it doesn’t see the strap, it’ll actually re-confirm with you, which is useful if you’re still in the water since the watch can’t find the strap if your strap is underwater.

Once that’s done, the watch effectively replaces (technically it appends) the heart rate data in the swim file with the HR data from the HRM-PRO. To you though, it’s all totally seamless and just looks like normal HR data on Garmin Connect:


Now, while I talked about swimming here, this same thing applies to really any sport. You can start an activity with the HRM-PRO in range, and then head out to do your thing (for example, soccer/football), and then come back to the sidelines and it’ll download it all again. It knows to do that.

Ultimately, all of this offloading and running dynamics functionality is exactly the same as it was on the HRM-TRI, the only difference here is that this strap also has Bluetooth as well as the daily metric offloading too for non-watch workouts.

Accuracy Comparison Data:


For the most part, chest straps are a pretty well defined thing these days, where failures are rarely in the actual capturing of data, and usually more tied to transmission or connectivity pieces. Meaning, when I see failures with chest straps, it’s not often accuracy per se, but the layer of software that gets that data to your watch.

There are exceptions to that, notably in cooler weather when the skin is drier and contact is trickier. That’s why most companies (including Garmin), recommend you wet your strap prior to starting. Usually once you get into the workout then sweat takes over. Of course, on really hot days you can actually go the opposite direction, and have sweat pooling, where basically there’s so much sweat straps have issues there too. For better or worse, I don’t often have those sorts of weather days in the Netherlands.

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

For each test, I’m wearing additional devices, usually 3-4 in total, which capture data from other sensors.  This sometimes included a second strap, usually the Wahoo TICKR X 2020), as well as usually two optical sensor watches on the wrists. Note that the numbers you see in the upper right corner are *not* the averages, but rather just the exact point my mouse is sitting over.  Note all this data is analyzed using the DCR Analyzer, details here.

First, let’s start and see how it handles steady-state running. This is a 9-mile long run from a few weeks ago, just cruising along at a relatively easy pace. In this case we’ve got the HRM-PRO as my chest strap, the COROS Pace 2 on one wrist with optical, the FR745 on the other wrist as optical HR, and then a Whoop strap on my bicep connected to the Polar Grit X. Here’s that data set:


As you can see – or rather, perhaps don’t see, the HRM-PRO ramps up nicely as one would expect, and actually the FR745 does a really good job of tracking that too. After the initial slow-ramp offset of the COROS Pace 2 optical HR, it’s pretty much the same. The Whoop strap is…well…the Whoop strap, bouncing all over the place. There was frankly zero issues in that run that were out of range or norm for the HRM-PRO…so, we’ll move onto the next workout.

We find ourselves now on the track. This is a track workout focused mostly on 800’s, but with some sprint 200’s in at the end. Here’s that workout with the Garmin HRM-PRO chest strap, the FR745, and then the COROS Pace 2 on the other wrist:


In this case, again, we see it pretty much perfect (even from the optical HR sensor of the FR745). It’s also a good example though to see the slight nuanced differences between a chest strap and an optical HR sensor.  As is often the case with intervals and optical HR sensors, you see a very tiny bit of lag on recovery compared to chest straps. You see, the HRM-PRO is just a couple seconds ahead of the optical HR sensors. Again, a super-tiny amount here that you’d never notice in-person if you didn’t have a secondary reference source.


Whereas if we look at these 30-second/200m intervals, you’ll see there’s more lag from the optical side of the house compared to the chest strap, albeit not always. The first one shows lag of maybe 10-15 seconds on the FR745 compared to the HRM-PRO. However the 2nd/3rd/4th intervals are very close on the uptake to the HRM-PRO, but a bit more laggy on the recovery.


Next, let’s switch gears and look at an indoor workout on Zwift. In this set we’ve got the FR745 optical sensor, the HRM-PRO chest strap, and the Wahoo TICKR X 2020 chest strap. Here’ that data set:


In the first couple of seconds you see the TICKR-X spike briefly. I suspect that might actually just be something with adjusting it more than anything else, given it happened in the first few seconds and went away. Otherwise, the HRM-PRO and Wahoo TICKR X are basically identical.

After that point it’s pretty darn boring – all the units are identical across the board until the very end. It’s here I do a bit of a 900w+ sprint and my HR spikes accordingly. We see the lag from the FR745 optical sensor, whereas the other units are all pretty much in agreement, with the HRM-PRO being slightly faster than the TICKR X by a second or two.


Finally, here’s an outdoor ride with the FR745, Garmin HRM-DUAL, TICKR X, and COROS Pace 2, this is a mostly steady-state ride, save a few stops for canal bridges or stop-lights. It’s also in the rain at times, as well as on bumpy roads at times. Here’s that data:


So…yeah. Ok, the brown bits are the COROS Pace 2. Let’s remove those below so that it’s a bit easier to see what’s going on. The HRM-PRO & TICKR-X basically mirror each other the entire time. A few tiny differences when I come to a stop where the two slightly differed on the bottom-end, but it’s super-duper close.


Another zoomed in view shows how nearly indistinguishable the TICKR X and HRM-PRO are. Note, the last few seconds where those are straight lines of the TICKR X, is simply because the TICKR X got paused there.


Every workout in the last 3 or so weeks I’ve done has been with the HRM-PRO, and all of them are all the same here. No unexpected spikes or dropouts or anything else funky. Pretty much what I’ve come to expect from either the HRM-DUAL or HRM-TRI, just carried over into a yellow pod instead.  Of course, going into later fall and winter, I’d probably expect some minor errors like all chest straps in drier conditions, but that’s always been the case and usually solvable by applying more moisture in any of the previously mentioned ways.

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

Market Comparisons:


I’m sure I’ll see a lot of questions here between these three models:

– Garmin HRM-PRO
– Polar H10
– Wahoo TICKR X 2020

Now, let’s briefly look at the differences, but first, I’ll just give you the TLDR: If you’re a triathlete, the only real option here is the Garmin HRM-PRO. Garmin has you in a pickle, because while the TICKR-X supports offline workouts, Wahoo hasn’t implemented the data offloading via ANT+ (they use their own internal app offloading process via Bluetooth Smart).

If you aren’t in the Garmin ecosystem but still want data offloading, then frankly I’d strongly recommend either the Polar H10 or Wahoo TICKR X, with an edge to the TICKR X simply because their offloading, splicing, and sync to partners option is so much better than Polar’s. Polar’s strap is probably a bit more comfortable though for some people. But again, that just depends on what you want.

If you need Running Dynamics for Garmin products, then the Wahoo TICKR X 2020 will work here. However, be warned that Garmin has *NOT* allowed that to be a source for their Garmin Running Power data field. So it won’t work there for that one piece. If you don’t care about running power (or Garmin’s running power more specifically), then that’s not really a deterrent.

And again, for swimmers, the only option you have with a Garmin watch is the HRM-PRO (or the older HRM-TRI/HRM-SWIM). It simply won’t download from the Wahoo or Polar straps post-swim. Inversely, if you’ve got a Suunto or Polar, they can’t download from this watch either.

Finally, if you don’t care about all the data offloading at all and just need basic ANT+/Bluetooth smart connectivity, then save your bananas and go for a less expensive strap such as the HRM-DUAL, Wahoo TICKR, or Polar H9. I’ve used all of them consistently and all are solid (similar) and great options.



The HRM-PRO is effectively the new HRM-TRI, and actually at the same price as that strap – just now with more features and functions that appeal to a slightly wider audience than just triathletes. It’s designed to fill the gap for people that can’t wear a watch during their sport, or where the accuracy of wrist-based optical HR sensor data is more challenging. Getting the Running Dynamics bits comes with the territory, but of course Garmin has other offerings if you want just that piece (the RD-POD).  Of course, that does beg the question of where the slightly less expensive HRM-RUN goes from here, since that’s still not Bluetooth enabled.

That said, this is really just a strap for Garmin users. There’s absolutely zero reason to buy this strap if you’re on Suunto, Polar, or an Apple Watch. Seriously, there’s zero reason whatsoever. Save $50 and get any of the basic heart rate strap options – since that’s the only capability those watches can leverage from this strap. I talked about those in the previous section.

But if you’re a Garmin user and looking for those added features, Garmin delivers that in one package now. It’s totally seamless – and the ‘just works’ factor is super high. They’ve taken the pieces from their various products (HRM-TRI & HRM-DUAL) and simply squished them together, along with the newness of being able to contribute to your daily metrics. And that’s something nobody else has.

With that – thanks for reading!

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

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

At the moment, you can pick it up on Amazon:

Garmin HRM-PRO

For European/Australian/New Zealand readers, you can also pick up the unit via Wiggle at the links below, which helps support the site too! With Wiggle new customers get 10GBP (or equivalent in other currencies) off their first order for anything over 50GBP by using code [Currently Disabled] at check-out after clicking the links below.

Garmin HRM-PRO Chest Strap  (EU/UK/AU/NZ – Wiggle) [Link live shortly]

Or, anything else you pick up on Amazon helps support the site as well (socks, laundry detergent, cowbells). If you’re outside the US, I’ve got links to all of the major individual country Amazon stores on the sidebar towards the top.

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible.

GoPro Hero 9 Black: Every New Feature Detailed & Tested Video https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/09/gopro-hero-9-black-every-new-feature-detailed-tested-video.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/09/gopro-hero-9-black-every-new-feature-detailed-tested-video.html#comments Wed, 16 Sep 2020 20:23:26 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=117428 Read More Here ]]> DSC_9157

Today GoPro announced the new GoPro Hero 9, which adds a front-facing screen and 5K resolution, though also slightly increases the price. Sorta, kinda, not really…it depends. It’s complicated.

While I’m still a few days away from a final written review of the GoPro Hero 9, I’ve dropped my complete video review over on YouTube already, and it’s absolutely packed with details, video, comparisons, and data. Aside from all the usual swim/bike/run/hike/etc testing locales, the cameras even spent the night in my deep freeze. They’ve been busy.

So, till that final text review hits – here’s everything you need to know about the GoPro Hero 9 in one sub-15 minute watch session:

But, if you’re still looking for a bit more text, then keep reading.

What’s new:

I’d argue that in terms of pure features, the Hero 9 is by far the biggest upgrade to the GoPro Hero series. Though, that doesn’t quite mean it’ll have the biggest upgrade impact for everyone. For example, I’d also argue that if you had a GoPro Hero 6, the shift to Hero 7 or Hero 8 was by far the most substantial in terms of image quality or stability. It was at that juncture GoPro left the competition in those regards.

Still, the list for today is huge. In case for some odd reason you didn’t hit the ‘Play’ button above (seriously, you should), here’s all the newness:

– Added front-facing live preview screen
– Added 5K/30 Video Resolution
– Added 23.6MP Photos
– Increased to 30% longer battery life (on average, some actually far more)
– Improved cold weather battery performance
– Re-introduced removable lens
– Increased rear screen size slightly by 16%
– Introduced HyperSmooth 3.0
– Added Horizon Leveling for Linear mode (was in app last year, now in-camera)
– Added TimeWarp 3.0 with new RealTime option
– Added new livestream outlets including Twitch
– Added Webcam support for both PC & Mac (was previously beta)
– Added Hindsight, which is kinda like TiVo for your GoPro
– Added Scheduled Capture to have camera wake-up and capture a sunrise
– Added Duration Capture to have camera record for specified period of time
– Added new water drain for side microphone to drain water faster
– Changed battery designing to much larger battery, but not backwards compatible
– Increased camera weight from 125g to 159g
– Launching new GoPro Max SuperView Lens Mod with Horizon Lock (lets you rotate camera 360° and lock horizon)
– Hero 9 box is actually a travel case for the camera
– Increased price from $399 to $449 if you don’t have a GoPro Subscription (formerly GoPro Plus)
– Decreased price from $399 to $349 if you have a GoPro Subscription (formerly GoPro Plus)

Oh, and yes, the camera is still black in color. Also, the mount stays the same.

Phew. Lots and lots of stuff. Ultimately, while the camera is heavier, I honestly never noticed except when holding them side by side. It’s just not a factor in any meaningful way except perhaps if you were head-mounting it, and even then that’d be pretty questionable in terms of noticing after more than a few minutes.

As for the batteries, while it is annoying that the Hero 9 has new batteries, I will say that the claims do hold true. In my hours and hours and hours of testing the Hero 8 and Hero 9 side by side, every time the Hero 8 battery ran out well before the Hero 9 did (both when on identical modes and otherwise). Which ultimately comes down to the battery just being a chunker in comparison to the older ones. Thus at least the battery change was functional in that I got something out of that situation, rather than just change for the sake of change.

But I cover that in the video too.

Until then – enjoy all the footage above, as well as the huge compilation video below, which is honestly more an insight into what I’ve been up to the last few weeks, with 2-4 action cameras concurrently mounted at all times. It’s fine.

Thanks for reading (and watching)!

Garmin Forerunner 745 In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/09/garmin-forerunner-745-depth-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/09/garmin-forerunner-745-depth-review.html#comments Wed, 16 Sep 2020 11:00:00 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=117409 Read More Here ]]> DSC_9097

Garmin has announced the new Forerunner 745, a successor to the now four-year-old FR735XT. This multisport watch essentially takes just about everything from the FR945, except leaves the maps by the side of the road, saving you $100. Also, it’s a bit smaller/lighter, and thus has less battery life.

However, there are a handful of new features here, including a new track recognition mode that nails your track workout’s GPS map to the correct lane on the track, as well as ensuring the distance is virtually identical to what you run. Second, there’s a new Daily Suggested Workouts for running and cycling, which gives you specific daily workouts to do that keep you within the bounds of ideal training load and recovery. Oh, and fear not, track mode is coming to FR245/945/MARQ/Fenix6 units next week in public beta (and daily suggested workouts to all but the FR245), and then to final/production firmware in a few weeks.

Now I’ve been using the FR745 as my daily watch since August, and I’ve got a pretty good grasp on all the features and nuances, and how it performs across a wide range of conditions. From running to cycling to swimming, flatlands to mountains and more. The unit I’m using is a media loaner, and once I’m done with it here I’ll package it back up in the box it came in and ship it back to Garmin. Just the way I roll. If you found this review useful, using the links at the end of the post help support the site.

With that, let’s dive into it!

What’s New:


There’s no better place to start than with a complete list of what’s new/changed from the previous edition (FR735XT) via the video above.

But, if you want a consolidated text-driven list, then below will suit your fancy. I’ve put together this list using the Forerunner 735XT as my baseline for whether something has changed. Of course, there’s been a number of other watches in the Garmin fitness/outdoor realm in the four years since that unit came out, so most of the features below (except Track mode & Daily Suggested Workouts) have debuted on the Fenix 5, Fenix 6, MARQ, or Forerunner 245/945 series units. Still, if you’re rockin’ a FR735XT, then here’s roughly what’s changed:

– Added new track recognition running mode
– Added new Daily Workout suggestion (first watch to see this feature)
– Added PacePro
– Added ClimbPro for automated climb notifications on running/cycling/hiking/XC skiing activities
– Added music storage/playback via Bluetooth headphones, including Spotify
– Added contactless/NFC payments
– Added Pulse Ox (pulse oximeter data)
– Added new Garmin ELEVATE optical HR sensor (V3, same as MARQ/FR245/FR945)
– Added training load focus stats
– Added deeper training effect details/metrics
– Added stress tracking
– Changed recovery time advisor to account for Stress/Sleep/Daily Activity
– Added body battery functionality
– Added heat acclimation (for any workouts in temps over 71°F/21.6°C)
– Added altitude acclimation (for any time or workouts spent above 850m/2,788ft)
– Added Incident Detection (if you crash your bike it notifies someone)
– Added new LiveTrack Course Support (shows planned course on LiveTrack)
– Added support for Garmin Running Power (with accessory sensor)
– Added Safety/Tracking Assistance (you can press button to send help alert to friends/family)
– Increases battery life slightly from 14 to 16 hours in GPS mode (and 6 hours in GPS+Music mode). One week smartwatch mode battery life.
– Changed GNSS to Sony GPS chipset, includes support for GLONASS & Galileo
– Added Barometric Altimeter
– Redesigned a bunch of the user interface, especially for post-workout stats

Now, at this point you’re probably trying to figure out what the heck the difference is between the FR745 and the FR945, and mainly it comes down to the following:

– FR945 has offline mapping, the FR745 doesn’t
– FR945 has longer battery life, the FR745 doesn’t
– FR945 has 14GB of storage (~8GB usable after maps), the FR745 has 4GB (~3GB usable)
– FR945 is slightly heavier/bigger (50g) than FR745 (47g)
– FR945 has golf, the FR745 doesn’t
– FR945 has Firstbeat Respiration Rate during a workout, the FR745 doesn’t
– FR945 has the Temperature, Compass, Dog Track, Alternate Time Zones, and XERO Bowsight Widgets, the FR745 doesn’t (note: The FR745 does have a compass, just not a dedicated compass widget outside of an activity)

Here’s a double-stack comparison between the FR745 and 735XT in terms of size:


And then from the front:


And, as was true to form four years ago, I validated that the size of the FR745 retains the Oreo sizing, so if you’re unsure of how it’ll look on your wrist, then the easiest way is an Oreo – it’s virtually identical in size.

DSC_9110 DSC_9112

See, just add tape:


Below, you can see the two units side by side and the slight differences in the button color (FR945 is in black):

DSC_9103 DSC_9104

Ok, with that, let’s finish up with a quick weigh-in versus the 945:

DSC_9106 DSC_9107

And, off we go

The Basics:


From a basics standpoint, Forerunner 745 is basically identical to other Garmin Forerunner watches made in the last year or two. Thus if you’re familiar with something like a Forerunner 945 or 245, you’ll find most of the same stuff in this section and can probably skip right to the sports tech where I dive into the new track mode and suggested workouts bit. But, if you’re new to the Garmin ecosystem, then this will get you up to speed.

The first thing you’ve got is the watch face, for which Garmin has broken out a new default design that puts the training status front and center, showing you whether your current training load is productive or not. I actually really like it. It’s basically Garmin seemingly saying ‘Hey, remember that company we acquired? Now it’s on a watch face’. And I agree – if the point of all these training metrics is to have you make day to day decisions upon then, then put them front and center.


And, surprisingly, it actually worked. For about the first time in…umm…ever…I actually used said guidance to determine whether or not to do some workouts, or whether to specifically do harder workouts (and in my case, specifically ended up curtailing a few weeks here and there).

Still, if you don’t like that watch-face, or if you want to customize it you can easily do so. You can either choose a different one already on the watch, or download other custom/3rd party ones from the Connect IQ App Store. There’s probably thousands of watch faces there. You can even put the picture of your dog or rabbit on there if you want to.

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The FR745 captures all the normal daily activity tracking stuffs you’d expect. That includes steps, stairs, sleep, heart rate, as well as Pulse Ox. Though, enabling PulseOx will burn through battery far quicker than having it disabled. All of these are accessible via the newer Widget Glances concept that was introduced last year on the Fenix 6. It basically takes the widgets and condenses them into three per page:


And then you can open any given one to get more data on it. For example, steps, or smartphone notifications, or heart rate, or whatever you want. Here’s a pile of them in a gallery:

Everything that occurs from a daily standpoint is not only recorded in the watch, but then synchronized behind the scenes automatically with Garmin Connect via the Garmin Connect Mobile app (or, WiFi in cases of uploading a workout). When syncing via smartphone (iOS/Android) that goes via Bluetooth. Whereas if you plug it into your computer via USB, it’ll sync with the Garmin Express desktop app on Mac/PC. It’s here you can view daily summary information as well as steps and a million other metrics hidden down in the various data pages.

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In general, people tend to either love or hate Garmin’s smartphone app. I find that it has by FAR more information than any other app out there, so I kinda like it. But, you have to figure out where that information is. There’s a lot of cubby holes to dig through. Garmin has more recently tried to surface that to the front ‘Today’ dashboard, which shows you today as well as this week. And that does help a fair bit.

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Next, there’s sleep tracking. The FR745 had planned to launch with an on-wrist sleep widget display (just like was recently added to the Fenix 6 and soon the FR945), and in fact that’s what I’ve been using/testing. However, a last second change two days ago will temporarily pull that feature to track down some newly introduced bugs. So you’ll get the previous/existing sleep tracking for the next week or so, which simply means you’ll see it on the Garmin Connect App, rather than on your wrist. Garmin says that feature will likely resume next week in an update. In any case, here’s how it looks on your FR745. Or, my FR745:

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Yes, I know, that’s a non-normal and less than ideal night.

And then here’s the data on Garmin Connect mobile. There’s no need to press any buttons or anything for sleep tracking – it just figures it out automatically. Like other Garmin devices though, it doesn’t support naps. You’ll get PulseOx information, which in this case below was when I was up on the mountains at altitude, as well as breathing rate.

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On the back of the FR745 you’ll find the same optical HR sensor as introduced on other Garmin wearables in the last year or so (thus, the FR945 for example), which includes a PulseOX sensor. This sensor measures SPo2 using a red light that you’ll see occasionally turn on. Whereas the constantly-on green light is measuring your heart rate:


The 24×7 heart rate can be seen on the widget (see earlier widget gallery), as well as on Garmin Connect Mobile or Garmin Connect online. I use resting HR as a great indicator of when you’re over-trained, fatigued, or when sickness is on the way. I’ve discussed how many people are tracking resting HR and 24×7 HR data to figure out all sorts of things here.

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I haven’t seen any outliers in the 24×7 heart rate data (I address workout HR data later in the review). Generally speaking, accuracy of 24×7 heart rate tracking these days/years is pretty trivial for companies, and Garmin’s sampling at 1-second interval helps that cause as well in terms of getting the true highs and lows for resting HR and such.

In addition, there’s the PulseOx data. This is a bit harder to quantify accuracy on. First though, the practical side. While there has been some interesting discussion around PulseOx and COVID-19, most of the interesting research/early indicators is actually breathing rate and changes there more so than SPo2 data. Historically the idea behind pulse oximetry tracking is mostly around high altitude tracking. Though it’s often used in hospitals on most patients as well. Still, the focus here is high altitude tracking for mountain climbing and such. Practically speaking for those of us at sea level, it’s mostly a useless stat. Again, remember Pulse OX is the red light that comes on next to the green lights on the back of the unit, and typically tracks in 15-minute increments if enabled, and is overlaid against your altitude. In my case, that includes 3-4 days in Switzerland last week where you see the data plotted against my altitude:


The challenge here with Pulse Ox is really around accuracy. In the case of a typical medical-grade pulse oximetry device, that medical certification is done with the person sitting in a chair very still. The FDA acceptable tolerances are actually surprisingly low (as in, easy), at least compared to what I’d consider acceptable even for sport tracking of heart rate accuracy for example. So you take technology that’s really designed to be done when very still and try to apply it to everyday life and you get oddities. That manifests itself in the readings you get. You’ll see below that my readings are a bit all over the place. For someone like me at exactly sea level, I should be in the 98%+ range almost the entire time.


The challenge is that this is taking readings all day long (not by default, but because I enabled it that way), and some of those are inaccurate. Ideally this technology would be leveraged on the side of a mountain and manually triggered to determine your current state. I find when I actually sit down and do it per a proper SPo2 test, that you’ll find the results are pretty much what I’d expect for a healthy person, in the upper 90’s. Whether or not all the other stats are accurate or not is challenging to validate while I’m sleeping. Thus, aside from this review, I’ll turn the feature off – mostly just cause it burns too much battery.

Last but not least, there’s smartphone notifications. These will show any apps you’ve configured on your phone to send smartphone notifications to your watch You can tap on them to expand and get more details.

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There isn’t any way on the FR745 to respond to texts on iOS, nor to answer calls on the watch itself (you can accept/decline a call, but that’s just connecting the call on your phone). It’s mostly a one-way thing here. Still, I find the smartphone notifications useful for a quick glance.

At this point we’ve gone through all the basics, but if you’re looking for a bit of a user interface tour, I’ve put together this simple video that just walks through the menus. It’s long, and probably boring. But if you’re into kinky user interface menus…this video is where you want to be:

With all the basics covered (except music and payments, which I’ll circle back to later), let’s shift gears to sports.

Sports Usage:

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From a sports standpoint the FR745 is essentially just a very lightly slimmed down version of the FR945, and in fact, it has all the same sports features the FR945 does. There’s only a handful of tiny widget differences compared to the Fenix 6 series such as golf or the dog track widget or the Xero Bowsight widget. Things you’ll probably never use (and in some cases, probably never knew existed). The only feature in the sports realm from the FR945 that aren’t yet on the FR745 are respiration rate during an activity (that’s breathing rate).

Here’s a listing of all the sport types that are on the FR745:

Run, Trail Run, Track Run, Treadmill, Indoor Track, Bike, Bike Indoors, Smart Trainer, Pool Swim, Openwater Swim, Triathlon, Multisport, Triathlon, Virtual Run, MTB, SwimRun, HRV Stress, Hike, Ski, Snowboard, Backcountry Ski, XC Classic Ski, XC Skate Ski, SUP, Kayak, Row, Row Indoor, Navigate, Walk, Strength, Cardio, Yoga, Pilates, Breathwork, Floor Climb, Elliptical, Stair Stepper, Clocks, Other

To access these sport modes, simply tap the upper right button. This is where you’ll see your favorites grouped first, and then you can scroll down to access other sports that you use less frequently:


Some sports will leverage GPS (like running outdoors), while other sports won’t use GPS (such as running on a treadmill). In the case of indoor sports they’ll use sensors in the watch, including the accelerometer and gyro, as well as connectivity to external sensors.  The FR745 supports all the same sensors as the FR945 does, which includes Bluetooth Smart sensors as well.  There’s no additional/new sensor types support here. Here’s the full listing of sensor types it supports:

Headphones (Bluetooth), External Heart Rate (ANT+/Bluetooth Smart), Speed/Cadence (ANT+/Bluetooth Smart), Cycling Power Meters (ANT+/Bluetooth Smart), Footpods (ANT+/Bluetooth Smart), VIRB Action Camera (ANT+), Tempe temperature sensor (ANT+), Shimano Di2 (private-ANT), Cycling Gear Shifting (ANT+), Cycling Lights (ANT+), Cycling Radar (ANT+), Extended Display (ANT+), RD Pod (ANT+), Muscle O2 (ANT+), Garmin inReach (ANT+), ANT+ FE-C trainers (Smart Trainer)

Notable is the ANT+ FE-C trainers as part of the recently rolled out smart trainer integration on the Fenix 6 & FR945 series.

As with other Garmin devices, you can save multiple sensors of the same type, such as if you had multiple bikes with power meters or cadence sensors on them. Or if you simply have multiple heart rate straps. When those sensors turn on, the watch will automatically connect to them and update the data fields accordingly.


Note that sensors are saved in one sport for all sport profiles. So you define sensors globally, and then all activity profiles/sports can use them. Speaking of those sports above, each one is customizable with unique data pages/metrics, and settings.  All of these screens are customizable, and you can create/add new pages/screens as you see fit (a crapton of them, more than I could create). There are also stock screens with certain data types, including Virtual Partner, Compass, Elevation, Map (just breadcrumb trail), ClimbPro, and Music controls.

While I’m still waiting for Garmin to do a proper wearable lap summary data field like their own Edge devices – or like Suunto’s watches (which has a grid listing of all your recent laps, so it’s easy to compare), everything else here is pretty darn customizable. You still can’t create/customize data pages on your phone, instead, it’s all on the watch (which, I prefer). However, of note is that the recent Garmin Edge migration option from older Edge devices still hasn’t hit Garmin’s wearables either yet. So if you have an older Garmin, you’ll need to manually reset everything up.

In any case, let’s get back and start this darn workout. And it’s at this juncture that you see one of the new Forerunner 745 features – Daily Suggested Workouts. This first rolled out to the Edge 1030 Plus this past June, and now we see it on Garmin’s first wearable. It’ll produce a workout recommendation based on either a previously planned structured workout calendar, or, if lacking that, it’ll come up with something magical by itself. These automatically generated workouts look at your training load and then determine what will keep you in a productive training zone.  For example, today after a busy day yesterday it’s telling me to rest:


These will vary by sport. Here’s one from yesterday later in the day on cycling. In this case this was a bit low for what I’d do as base work, but my cycling input data to this has been pretty wonky lately. Whereas when I tested the cycling side of this back in June on the Edge series it got surprisingly good at figuring me out.

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Note that there’s no structured workouts offered for swimming best I can tell, so this is more skewed towards runners/cyclists than pure triathletes at this point.

In any case, ignoring this advice for the sake of getting a photo, we’ll go ahead and choose a run, so we’ve selected that sport, and got satellite as well as heart rate lock. Then press start:


You’ll now see the data fields as you’ve configured, updating and recording just like normal.

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If you loaded a course from Garmin Connect (or from Strava or wherever else), you can follow that course. It’s just a breadcrumb trail course, but it’s a course nonetheless.


More importantly though is that course gets your ClimbPro on the FR745. That’s super useful for routes with lots of major climbs/hills, and will automatically divide up each climb and show you distance/ascent/grade remaining for that climb. I used it last week in the Alps and just like with cycling, it’s one of my favorite Garmin features.

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In addition, the FR745 also includes PacePro. That lets you load up a course and then insert your desired finish time. On the app it’ll let you tweak whether you positive or negative split (run the first half faster than the second or vice versa), as well as aggressiveness on hills. You can also create a more basic version of this entirely on the watch if you’ve got the course loaded, by inputting a specific time or pace goal.


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You can then load that up on the watch as well. I tried this out back with the Fenix 6 series when they introduced it there and it’s another super compelling feature for races. Though, there aren’t many of those these days. Still, you can race your own pretend race I suppose.

In any case, to create laps or splits you can use auto-lap, or manual laps (my preference). You can also customize the lap banners after you press the lap button, to show different information.

Once you’ve wrapped up your workout you’ll get stats about it. These stats are basically divided into two camps. The first are stats related to the run itself – such as distance, pace, calories, etc… Whereas the second half are around the training impact of the run to your overall training load and recovery.

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For example, a mountain bike workout from last week shows the training effect area (threshold), as well as the training effect breakdown of 3.6 for aerobic and 2.4 for anaerobic. Note the coloring, which carries through as a label in the different training load screens.

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In order to simplify this, Garmin added the new Fitness/Load arrows back with the FR945, which makes it super easy to figure out what’s going on with fitness load and whether the training you’re doing is productive, unproductive (usually overkill), or simply maintaining.

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You’ll also see the little mountain and sun icons at the bottom, more on that in a moment. If I enter the widget I’ll get my current VO2Max, but the next page after that is more important – it’s my 7-day load. It’s here that I can see breakouts by load type and the load per day. It also shows the optimal load range.

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Go down once and I’ve got a page that is sorta the pinnacle of this entire journey: 4 Week Load Focus. The idea here is that you’re trying to get the different types of training load properly aligned to the little ‘pills’ you see on the screen.

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And if I press the start button, it’ll give me some general guidance on what I could do to even things out a bit. The next section then shows me my current recovery time and cycling-specific VO2Max:

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If this were a running workout, it’d show running-specific VO2Max:

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All of this is available within Garmin Connect Mobile as well, and you can dig into the nuances of all these categories and the load of each:

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Next, you’ll see small icons on the bottom of the training status page if you’re in the midst of acclimating to anything. In the case of below last week, I managed to score both a heat acclimation icon:

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Altitude acclimation/adaption starts with a minimum threshold at altitudes above 850m/2,788ft, and tops out at 4,000m/13,123ft (Garmin doesn’t calculate above that level, sorry folks). Garmin says that they divide up training vs living altitudes, just as typical studies would. The company says that adaptation algorithms within the MARQ/Forerunner 945/745/Edge 530/830 assume total adaptation after 21 days, and that adaptation is faster at the beginning of altitude exposure. Additionally, adaptation will decay within 21-28 days depending on acclimation level.

For heat acclimation it applies a heat correction factor for rides above 71°F/22°C, using a percentage based amount from published studies (humidity is also factored into this as well). This is then shown in the training status widget. Garmin says they assume full acclimation takes a minimum of 4 days, and acclimation/adaptation to a given high temperature will automatically decay after 3 days of skipped training within that heat level.

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In any case – circling way back to the end of our workout, you can see them on the watch itself as noted, but you can also check out all the stats on Garmin Connect Mobile too:

In addition, at the same moment these activities are sent to any 3rd parties that you’ve connected to your account, like Strava or TrainingPeaks, among many others. At which point, we’ve covered how everything works from a sport specific standpoint.

Finally, a word about swims. The FR745 will utilize the optical sensor during swims, both pool and openwater. In my case I’ve done a number of openwater swims with it – more on the accuracy later. But in short, for ALL watches on the market today, measuring your heart rate optically with water between the sensor and your wrist is incredibly difficult. All companies basically say a variant of ‘Good luck, it might work’. And that’s roughly what I see as well.

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However, in addition to the optical sensor you can use Garmin’s new HRM-PRO (seen below) or their older HRM-TRI & HRM-SWIM straps to automatically download your heart rate data after the swim and transmit it to your watch. This won’t transmit the data during the swim to the watch (I mean, technically it does, but since the digital signals only got about 3cm underwater, it doesn’t do much good). As long as you’ve paired the watch to the strap pre-swim, it’ll automatically download afterwards.

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Also, the FR745 is compatible with the FORM Swimming Goggles in openwater swim mode. In fact, as soon as I finish writing this section I’m headed out for a nice late afternoon swim with that setup exact.

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All of that worked exactly as it did on the Fenix 6/FR945, except, just on the FR745 instead.

Ok, with all that wrapped up, the general gist here is that the FR745 is that from a sports standpoint the only meaningful difference between the FR745 and the FR945 is really the battery life, which is slated at 16 hours for GPS mode on the FR745 compared to 36 hours for the FR945.  In my testing, those battery life times seemed about right. I turned on PulseOx over the last week, and that mostly slayed the battery as expected, but for the weeks prior to that I’d had it disabled and battery life was perfectly fine and in-line with claims.

Track Mode:

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I’ve separated out Track Mode since it’s one of the only two new features on the FR745 that hasn’t yet been introduced to other Garmin devices. And by ‘yet’, I mean…sorta.

Fear not Fenix 6, FR945, MARQ, and FR245 owners – as of today (Update: Now next week) you can get the new Track Mode in a public beta, which will then be added for all owners likely in about 2-3 weeks via a normal production update. The Daily Suggested Workouts feature will come to all those as well, except the FR245. As with other updates, FR645 people need not apply. You apparently did something wrong to your Garmin parents at birth and are forever neglected to the no-update-love pile.

In any case – track mode is pretty darn cool, and is somewhat similar to what COROS introduced last year. In some areas Garmin does it better, and in some areas COROS does it better. But I’ve gotten a smattering of track workouts under my belt so I’ve got a pretty good idea on all the interesting nuances.

First up, go to your sports menu and choose ‘Track Run’:

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Now, go find your track. But, don’t start the GPS activity until you get to the track. Like COROS, Garmin tries to learn the track as you start the activity, so if you’re off meandering through neighborhoods, it won’t do that correctly.

Once on the track, start the watch and begin running. By default it assumes you’re in ‘Lane 1’, but you can change that if you’re one of those folks that runs in other lanes. Simply hold down the middle left button and then choose ‘Track Run Settings’ followed by ‘Lane Number’.

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Now, this time for real, start running. Garmin says that it takes approximately two laps for them to work out the details of your track. They also say their algorithm can correctly detect any track as long as it has two parallel straightaways, and either a single or double-radius curve at two ends. This covers the vast overwhelming majority of tracks, though, there are some super quirky ones that aren’t normal out there.

During those first two laps the accuracy may not be as spot-on perfect as once it finishes indexing the track. In fact, Garmin says that if you really want to have the most accuracy, go run 2-4 laps and then save the workout. The act of saving the workout is what commits that track to memory on the watch (in fact, there’s even a folder where it stores these track files). Once you’ve done that track once, it’s locked and remembered forever. If you don’t care that the first two laps or so might not be perfect, then no worries, continue on with your track workout and next time it’ll be nailed. Here’s an example of those first 2-4 laps finalizing itself (this was 1,600m, four laps, in my case):


You’ll notice how yes, it’s good by normal standards, but it’s not crazy perfect.

Now, let’s pretend it’s got the track memorized – at this point it’ll accrue distance in an astoundingly accurate way. You don’t need to tell it the length of the track or anything else, it just knows that by the algorithm. So as you pass the same point each time, it should be within a couple meters. In my experience, if I’m doing 800’s for example, when I hit the same line each time it’ll usually be between 798m and 802m, with the rare outlier at 205m on some 200 sprints.


And here’s the first (current) difference between Garmin and COROS. In the case of COROS, they ‘round’ those sets in. So 95% of the time, COROS will see the 398’s and 402’s and simply call it 400. It knows that’s what you actually did when you pressed lap as you crossed the line. And, even if you were half a meter late – it knows the whole purpose of this feature is basically having pretty data (pretty maps, pretty set distances). Compare these two:

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Now, in talking to Garmin, they seem to roughly agree here on the rounding intervals idea. So expect some tweaks to this over the coming little while – no guarantees, but it sounds like that’s the direction. So at the moment, the implementation is data-split-wise prettier on the COROS side

However, it flips when we look at the map. There, Garmin wins. If you look closely, their algorithm correctly nails the track and the lane. It’s spot-on perfect like someone traced a line on the inside lane:


Whereas COROS’s algorithm didn’t quite correctly detect the track shape, and makes it a bit skinnier, which means each lap I’m off in the bushes at the curves, and on the infield on the straightaways. Your friends on Strava probably won’t notice unless they zoom in a bunch. But it’s something COROS can work on nonetheless.

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Finally, note that Garmin says that the algorithm that detects tracks is like anything else, a work in progress. They believe it’s in a pretty solid state, though they have a moderate update coming next week to the algorithm to optimize it more (it didn’t make the cut for the launch firmware). And of course, note that this depends on GPS, so if your track is indoors or has heavily obstructed stadium overhangs, that might impact things too.

Still, I love track mode. Mostly cause I love good clean data. Sure, the benefits here are that everything (map and splits) look pretty to our eye, but the secondary benefit is data accuracy. Your runs will show exactly what you actually ran. Not an extra 283 meters of wobble, or undercut or whatever else. It also makes coaches’ lives way easier as well, since they can look at the splits and data like a normal human with correct average paces, as opposed to trying to decode average paces against inaccurate distances.

GPS Accuracy:


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

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

Over the years, I’ve continued to tweak my GPS testing methodology.  For example, I try not to place two units next to each other on my wrists, as that can impact signal. If I do so, I’ll put a thin fabric spacer of about 1”/3cm between them (I didn’t do that on any of my Forerunner 745 workouts).  But often I’ll simply carry other units by the straps, or attach them to the shoulder straps of my hydration backpack.  Plus, wearing multiple watches on the same wrist is well known to impact optical HR accuracy. One technique I’ve been using a bit starting this review that’s worked exceedingly well is below. How on earth I never thought to place the secondary watches on the outside of my hands (loosely strapped) is beyond me. Note, for those units on my hands, they *are not* using optical HR. Instead, they’re connected to chest straps and other HR sensors.

Next, as noted, I use just my daily training routes.  Using a single route over and over again isn’t really indicative of real-world conditions, it’s just indicative of one trail.  The workouts you see here are just my normal daily workouts. All of the workouts you see here I did with GPS+GLONASS enabled, as that’s the default one and it sounds like the mode Garmin expects the best results in these days.

With that, let’s jump in on a mostly trail run in the forest, comparing the FR745, Polar GRIT X, COROS Pace 2, and Fenix 6. As you can see at a high level, it’s looking positive. Here’s that data set:


But of course, we’re gonna zoom in. A lot. Here’s in the trees on the trails, and you can see that the Polar Grit X and FR745 are clearly on the path during the turns the most correct. And by ‘clearly’, I mean, I get it’s hard to see the colors from the trees, but if you cock your head and squint, you can see (or you can use the link above to zoom around yourself).


I wouldn’t say it’s absolutely crazy perfect, but for trees and trail running, it’s pretty darn good. In fact, as I zoom around the map here, it’s consistently the most correct, with the Grit X usually right behind it (or…next to it):


About the singular exception to that was this section where the FR745 appears to be about 2-3 meters offset for a short distance. But we’re talking a super small amount:


Now, I’ve already shown the track run bits up above, but I just want to illustrate the differences here somewhat. Below is a Fenix 6 Pro in non-track mode on the track, compared to the FR745 in track mode and the COROS Pace 2 in track mode. You can’t even see the other watches tracks because of the variability of the non-track mode lines:


Whereas when I remove the Fenix 6 from the picture and leave the two track-mode watches, you can see the aqua colored line of the FR745 perfectly on the inside lane. The COROS Pace 2 is close, but you see how it cuts into the infield and then goes off into the bushes. It just didn’t quite nail the track recognition in terms of specs.


What about an openwater swim? Ask and you shall receive. Here it is compared to the COROS Pace 2 on the other wrist, and a Fenix 6 on the swim buoy as a reference track:


If we look at the swim track more closely, you can see it correctly nailed exactly where I went around the buoys.


If we compare it more closely to the COROS Pace 2, you’ll see that while that unit was very good, the Pace 2 is slightly more wobbly on the track, whereas the FR745 is just a bit more refined and near locked to the reference GPS track.


However, the FR745 did make one mistake, which was that at one point when I stopped next to a buoy for a few seconds to take a photo, it created a little ‘heart’ in the water, as seen below. This added distance inaccurately.


Albeit, despite that the distance was still exactly the same as the reference track. With the COROS Pace 2 being very slightly longer. Again though, this shows that you can be over/under and still get the average or total distance right. So that’s somewhat of a non-ideal way to compare things:


Lastly, we’ll finish with the boring – a road bike ride. I say boring, cause these are almost always flawless. It’s super rare for GPS units to screw-up on road cycling routes. Here’s the FR745 compared to the Karoo 2 (beta unit) and Edge 530:


If we zoom into some sections with more buildings around it, you’ll see the Edge 530/745 are identical to where I went. The beta firmware on the Karoo 2 is still being optimized GPS-wise:


Same goes for crossing a bridge with plenty of wires and overhead struts around – virtually identical here:


And again, here too:


It’s all honestly the same across the entire ride – boringly identical.

As we’ve seen with each successive review of both Garmin and non-Garmin watches on the Sony chipset, the accuracy continues to improve. The variances become more and more rare, and the accuracy gets better and better. I think we’ve even reached the point now where we’re pretty easily better than the previous MediaTek GPS chipset in almost every condition. I’m sure there’s edge cases, but I’m simply not seeing them at this point in my day to day testing.

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

Heart Rate Accuracy:


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

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

For each test, I’m wearing additional devices, usually 3-4 in total, which capture data from other sensors.  Typically I’d wear a chest strap (usually the Garmin HRM-DUAL or Wahoo TICKR X 2020) – though in this review timespan also the HRM-PRO too, as well as another optical HR sensor watch on the other wrist. Note that the numbers you see in the upper right corner are *not* the averages, but rather just the exact point my mouse is sitting over.  Note all this data is analyzed using the DCR Analyzer, details here.

First, let’s start and see how it handles steady-state running. This is a 9-mile long run from a few weeks ago, just cruising along at a relatively easy pace. In this case we’ve got the HRM-PRO as a chest strap reference, the COROS Pace 2 on one wrist with optical, the FR745 on the other wrist as optical HR, and then a Whoop strap on my bicep connected to the Polar Grit X. Here’s that data set:


As you can see – or rather, perhaps don’t see, the FR745 blends in virtually identically to the HRM-PRO chest strap. After the initial slow-ramp offset of the COROS Pace 2 optical HR, it’s pretty much the same. The Whoop strap is…well…the Whoop strap.

However, there was one minor moment of divergence in this run for the FR745, seen here around the 36 minute marker:


This lasted about a minute, and seemed to be a bit more elevated than reality, roughly 8-10bpm higher before it locked back on. This was at the conclusion of one of my short intervals I was doing throughout the run, so that makes it great to dig into a bit further looking at the heart rate data during intervals.

Thus, we find ourselves now on the track. This is a track workout focused mostly on 800’s, but with some sprint 200’s in at the end. Here’s that workout with the FR745’s optical sensor compared to the Garmin HRM-PRO chest strap and then the COROS Pace 2 on the other wrist:


What we see is basically that the FR745 nails pretty much everything, though it has some very nitpicky differences on the 200m sprints towards the end. The COROS Pace 2 meanwhile struggles in the first few minutes, as well as in the sprints. Of note here is that both these watches actually first did a 1,600m warm-up (track calibration), and then I started this set fresh. So my body was warmed up, thus in theory the COROS should have more easily been able to lock HR on this new main section.

In any case, looking at the 800’s, these are all spot-on identical between the FR745 and Garmin HRM-DUAL:


As if often the case with intervals and optical HR sensors, you see a very tiny bit of lag on recovery (but virtually no lag on the initial interval pick-up). You see how it’s just a couple seconds behind the HRM-PRO chest strap. Again, a super-tiny amount here that you’d never notice in-person if you didn’t have a secondary reference source.

Whereas if we look at these 30-second/200m intervals, you’ll see there’s more lag from the optical side of the house compared to the chest strap, albeit not always. The first one shows lag of maybe 10-15 seconds on the FR745 compared to the HRM-PRO. However the 2nd/3rd/4th intervals are very close on the uptake, but a bit more laggy on the recovery.


Next, let’s switch gears and look at an indoor workout on Zwift. In this set we’ve got the FR745 optical sensor, the HRM-PRO chest strap, and the Wahoo TICKR X 2020 chest strap. Here’ that data set:


In the first couple of seconds you see the TICKR-X spike briefly. I suspect that might actually just be something with adjusting it more than anything else, given it happened in the first few seconds and went away.

After that point it’s pretty darn boring – all the units are identical across the board until the very end. It’s here I do a bit of a 900w+ sprint and my HR spikes accordingly. We see the lag from the FR745 optical sensor, whereas the other units are all pretty much in agreement, with the HRM-PRO being slightly faster than the TICKR X by a second or two.


Finally, here’s an outdoor ride with the FR745, Garmin HRM-DUAL, TICKR X, and COROS Pace 2, this is a mostly steady-state ride, save a few stops for canal bridges or stop-lights. It’s also in the rain at times, as well as on bumpy roads at times. Here’s that data:


So…yeah. Ok, the brown bits are the COROS Pace 2. So what we’re looking for here is the purple bits – places where that doesn’t match the chest straps. So let’s remove the PACE 2 for a second:


Now that’s a bit easier to see what’s going on. The HRM-PRO & TICKR-X basically mirror each other the entire time. A few tiny differences when I come to a stop where the two slightly differed on the bottom-end, but it’s super-duper close.

However, the purple is a bit more variable. Yes, it follows the general trend of things (this isn’t smoothed at all), but is often a bit laggy after hard intervals, or during the ramp back up again.


It wouldn’t be my first choice to use if HR was important while riding this ride, but it’s a heck of a lot better than the COROS Pace 2 did. And it’s also honestly a fair bit better than most optical HR sensors on road riding, which continues to be one of the more challenging things for optical sensors to do.

Ultimately, the optical HR sensor performance here seems largely in line with the FR945 and Fenix 6 series, with perhaps a slight bit of edge compared to when I last tested those. I’d have no issues using it for pretty much anything running, including intervals, as well as most indoor cycling. For outdoor cycling I’d probably defer to a chest strap for anything that’s not steady-state.



It’s been said that the FR945 is simply a plastic Fenix 6, which, is mostly true. And in the case of the FR745, it’s basically just a map-less FR945. And, that’s mostly true. Sure, there’s minor nuances to each of those statements – namely being the FR745 has slightly less battery (and heft) than the FR945 – but in general the sentiment rings true.

In this case – I don’t think that’s a bad thing. The FR745 is a very capable watch. While I often toggle between the Fenix 6 Pro and FR945 as my daily watch, I’d have no problems wearing the FR745 as my daily watch. Heck, I have been wearing it as my daily watch since back in August. And it’s been solid. As long-time readers know, I tend to prefer wearing smaller/lighter watches – and this fits that bill. While the maps would have been helpful occasionally last week in the Alps, I was able to make do with the breadcrumb trail in the vast majority of the case – only a few times either double-checking my phone purely for sanity reasons.

The challenge I see for the FR745 is price. Which, I know I say a lot – but in looking at comments on rumors over the last few weeks, everyone is expecting this to drop at $399…but that’s not the case. It’s $499. And combine that with the COROS Pace 2 at $199 – and that’s a huge $300 gap. The FR735/745 series has historically been Garmin’s ‘entry-level’ multisport watch. But at $500, that’s a tough pill for someone to recommend when the COROS Pace 2 does all the core multisport/triathlon features the FR745 does. Sure, the FR745 has a million training benefit/recover, pacing, etc… type features – and some of them are useful. Same goes for things like offline music and countless other integrations and apps. But still, $300 more? That’s tough.

Of course, as I’ve learned over the years – people will buy it. And whether or not it’s over-priced, Garmin will account for in due course (as will your wallet). But setting price aside, it’s a solid watch that does exactly what the FR945 has done over the last 18 months…just for $100 less and without maps. And people seem pretty darn happy in general with the FR945.

With that – thanks for reading!

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

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

I’ve partnered with Backcountry & Competitive Cyclist, which help support the site here when you purchase through them. Those will be live shortly, but here’s the Amazon links for now:

Garmin Forerunner 745
Garmin HRM-PRO Chest Strap

For European/Australian/New Zealand readers, you can also pick up the unit via Wiggle at the links below, which helps support the site too! With Wiggle new customers get 10GBP (or equivalent in other currencies) off their first order for anything over 50GBP by using code [Currently Disabled] at check-out after clicking the links below.

Garmin Forerunner 745 (EU/UK/AU/NZ – Wiggle)
Garmin HRM-PRO Chest Strap  (EU/UK/AU/NZ – Wiggle)

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

ProductAmazon LinkNote
Garmin Cadence Sensor V2This is a dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart cycling cadence sensor that you strap to your crank arm, but also does dual Bluetooth Smart, so you can pair it both to Zwift and another Bluetooth Smart app at once if you want.
Garmin HRM-DUAL Chest StrapThis is one of the top two straps I use daily for accuracy comparisons (the other being the Polar H9/H10). It's dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, and in fact dual-Bluetooth Smart too, in case you need multiple connectons.
Garmin HRM-PROThis is the pinnacle of Garmin chest straps, and includes dual ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart, Swimming support, Running Dynamics, as well as back-fill of HR/Steps/Intensity Minutes/Calories if not wearing the watch in certain sports.
Garmin HRM-TRI/HRM-SWIM StrapsWhile optical HR works on some newer Garmin watches, if you're looking for higher levels of accuracy, the HRM-TRI or HRM-SWIM are the best Garmin-compatible options out there to fill the gap.
Garmin Puck ChargerSeriously, this will change your life. $9 for a two-pack of these puck Garmin chargers that stay put and stay connected. One for the office, one for your bedside, another for your bag, and one for your dogs house. Just in case.
Garmin Speed Sensor V2This speed sensor is unique in that it can record offline (sans-watch), making it perfect for a commuter bike quietly recording your rides. But it's also a standard ANT+/BLE sensor that pairs to your device. It's become my go-to speed sensor.

Or, anything else you pick up on Amazon helps support the site as well (socks, laundry detergent, cowbells). If you’re outside the US, I’ve got links to all of the major individual country Amazon stores on the sidebar towards the top.

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible.

Apple Watch Series 6/SE, and Apple Fitness+ Service Launched: Complete Details https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/09/apple-watch-series-6-se-and-apple-fitness-service-launched-complete-details.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/09/apple-watch-series-6-se-and-apple-fitness-service-launched-complete-details.html#comments Tue, 15 Sep 2020 20:10:42 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=117183 Read More Here ]]> 2020-09-15 (30)

Today Apple has launched the new Apple Watch Series 6 with some modest fitness/health focused upgrades, while also launching a new fitness subscription service, Apple Fitness+. In addition to the Apple Watch 6, Apple also launched a new variant, the Apple Watch SE.

Atop all that, the Apple Watch continues its slow migration away from iPhone dependency, with a new ability to have phone-less Apple Watches targeted at kids and elderly who might not have their own phones. Though, these do require a family member on an iPhone to set them up. More on that in a moment.

Ultimately, as you’ll see that while the hardware updates are mostly minor, the bigger changes here are the software and platform changes. So let’s dive into everything.

Apple Watch Series 6 & SE:

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For this year’s launch, Apple has settled on having three core models in the lineup, which are:

Apple Watch Series 6 – from $399: In both GPS-only & GPS+Cellular
Apple Watch SE – from $279: In both GPS-only & GPS+Cellular
Apple Watch Series 3 – from $199 (though, really $169 lately): GPS only now

Now that we got that quickie out of the way, what’s new in Apple Watch Series 6? Well, most of it comes from WatchOS7, which was announced back in June. You’ll remember my post on it here. But the biggie from a health/fitness standpoint was Sleep Tracking, which I also detailed here hands-on (I’ll be looping back to see what’s changed with the final release slated for tomorrow). In addition, there was VO2Max tracking added too, including notifications when your VO2Max drops. Those features arrive on all Apple Watch’s that are compatible with WatchOS7 (so Apple Watch Series 3 and higher).

But, there’s new hardware in Apple Watch 6, starting first with a new optical sensor package that includes SPO2 monitoring.

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(Note: All imagery in this post is from the Apple launch presentation, or Apple’s website)

The new sensor allows you to take a reading on-demand, which Apple says takes 15 seconds, and the user gets a count-down timer while the reading is being taken. This a perfect example of Apple elevating something someone already did. Garmin for example has had SpO2 sensors on their watches for a few years now. Except there isn’t clear-cut guidance to the user when taking a reading that they should stop moving around, or that they need to wait for X time period. In the case of a Garmin watch, you just sorta wait and hope. Whereas this simple user interface increases the chances of success in the reading:

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Once completed, you’ll get the reading directly on your wrist:

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In addition, like others, there’s also periodic background readings, notably when you sleep. These are then available through Apple Health.

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Notably, Apple has not pursued a medical certification for their sensor, which is different than the ECG functionality they rolled out two years ago


While there are lots of potential uses for SPO2 in a wearable for regular consumers, most of it is frankly a bit fuzzy. Most of the current real-world uses for SPO2 come from either the medical realm, or from high altitude scenarios. Neither has translated super well to clear-cut guidance/benefits/usefulness to consumers sitting at home watching Netflix (or chilling). Which isn’t to say they aren’t there, I’m just saying right now none of the manufacturers have really connected the dots on how to leverage it for the average consumer.

Speaking of high altitude and dots, the Series 6 unit gets a new altimeter that’s apparently more real-time than the past barometric altimeters Apple Watch enabled units. This sensor can now feed real-time altitude data (second by second) to the watch face.

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And, if used in conjunction with the SPO2 sensor at high altitude, it denotes that in the recording of that particular measurement:

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The final two hardware changes are first the chipset, which is the Apple S6 silicon chipset, which they say is based on the A13 Bionic within the iPhone 11, but has been “optimized” for the Apple Watch. Apple says this chipset is 20% faster than the Series 5.

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And then the always-on display when not active (so if your wrist is down), Apple says is 2.5x brighter, which would be a pretty substantial jump. It’s unclear what that impact is on battery life. Apple maintains the same claim as the previous Series 5 of “18 hours”.

Next, there’s some new bands, most notably a “solo loop”, which is a band that has no buckle, clasp, or overlapping parts. It’s simply a continuous piece of silicone. Think a fancy wider version of those old Livestrong bracelets from yesteryear. You’ll buy the specific band for your wrist size:

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So what about the Apple Watch SE? Well, it’s roughly a blend between an Apple Watch Series 5 and Apple Watch Series 3.

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It’s got the newer altimeter and related sensors of the Series 6, but doesn’t have the SPO2 or ECG features (which the Series 5 did have). It retains the Apple Watch Series 5 chipset, which Apple says is twice as fast as Series 3. But it doesn’t have an Always-on display. Those reductions save you $120.


And again, more slight differences when it comes to chipsets too:


Finally, one of the more interesting areas they announced was their new ‘Family Setup for Apple Watch’. The idea here is to have a child or elderly person that might not have their own phone, have an Apple Watch with cellular service instead. That watch gets its own phone number (so the requirement is a cellular Apple Watch), but is initially set up within another family member’s iPhone.

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In the case of children, the parent can specify what contacts the child can communicate with, as well as a new ‘School Time’ mode that includes do-not-disturb and a specific mode icon that teachers can recognize the child is in the ‘School Time’ mode, which has restricted functionality.  The kids get their own Apple activity/fitness related details, such as closing their rings.

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In addition, one can create automatic notifications based on location with geo-fencing, so to alert that someone has arrived at an area (or presumably left an area). The idea being that a parent automatically gets notified when a child arrives into a given pre-defined location. Or, perhaps when an elderly parent leaves a location.

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The Family Setup for Apple Watch will work on any Apple Watch Series 4 or higher watch, as long as it’s the cellular edition. This in turn does limit things market-wise, because many markets don’t have cellular editions in them (they aren’t even offered to buy). Also, the Family Setup feature won’t roll out until later this year, and only within the following markets:

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The limited nature of the markets appears largely tied to the telecom providers. So for example, we notice Canada is missing above (which is virtually always included in initial launches of Apple products/services). However, there are undoubtedly some requirements on carriers to provision watches sans-iPhone.

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Still, I think it’s pretty cool. It’s a much better solution than some of the weird and wild kid/elderly tracking watches that I’ve seen that look more like prisoner bracelets than something that someone actually wants to wear.

Oh…and one last thing: Apple is removing the USB wall outlet/adapter from the Apple Watch. They say those are just piling up in landfills and as a result it’ll have the same effect as removing 50,000 cars worth of emissions annually. Though, it doesn’t appear we get back a few dollars off the price of our next Apple Watch.

Apple Fitness+:

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While hardware will get all the attention, the bigger news of the day is the launch of Apple Fitness+. This $9.99/month (or $79/year) service seems to be roughly like Peloton’s digital app service/platform (sans-bike variant), which includes structured instructor-led workouts for 10 different sports. The platform ties together all your Apple devices, so that it’s pulling from Watch to screens, and then integrating back into the watch again. Note – the service *DOES* require an Apple Watch, so keep that in mind.

To begin, you’ll choose a class from within the Apple Fitness app (that’s the app that replaced ‘Activity’ on your phone). There are 10 types of workouts to choose from: Yoga, Cycling, Dance, Treadmill Walk, Treadmill Run, Strength, CORE, HIIT, Rowing, and ‘Mindful cooldowns’.

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The content is developed in-house within Apple’s Fitness studio, and they say that each week new content will roll-out. The workouts are integrated with music from Apple Music, though an Apple Music subscription is not required. However, it will offer the playlists for each workout that can then be transferred into your Apple Music library.


The workouts can then be shown on Apple TV, an iPad, or an iPhone. The metrics are kept in sync between the devices, and will even increase/decrease font sizes, if for example the instructor calls out to watch your HR for a specific section.

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Afterwards you’ll get a summary of your workout data. Apple says that the recommendation algorithm for new classes is run entirely on your watch/phone, and not on Apple’s platform. They also said that your calories and instructors selected aren’t tied to your Apple ID at the Apple platform level. This was an attempt at privacy, but ultimately Apple still needs to know how many people are taking certain classes, engagement time within the classes, etc… else they won’t be able to accurately generate content for what people want.

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Apple’s big push here is that it’s entirely brand/location/equipment agnostic. Obviously, if you’re doing a treadmill workout you need a treadmill – but there’s isn’t any specific requirement for Brand X or Model Y. Similarly, they noted that there are workouts specific to places like a hotel room or without any equipment at all, such as outside on the grass in a park.

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Notably, the subscription price covers the entire family, so you don’t need a separate subscription for each person. And then beyond that there’s Apple One, which is Apple’s ‘everything’ service, bundling together at various levels all their different services. Here, this explains it better:

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The Apple Fitness+ service won’t launch till later this year, so everything remains a bit fuzzy until then. Apple Watch purchasers get 3 months free. And even when it does launch, it’s doing so only in English speaking countries, listed below. Though, it’s sometimes debatable if Australia counts as an English speaking country – how the eff did ‘afternoon’ become ‘arvo’, for example?

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How and where Apple can evolve this is the big question. Unlike virtually all their other paid subscription services which scale easily across languages/countries with simply adding more translations or developers, this one doesn’t. This basically requires a full fitness studio staff for each language. We’ve seen how challenging that’s been for Peloton as they’ve slowly pried open the German market through dedicated German instructors working out of the London studios. But even that’s still pretty limited compared to the scales of what Apple would be looking at doing here. Even expanding to just 3-4 languages would be a massive undertaking of resources.

Still, if there’s anything Apple has its resources and energy. And money. Money helps.

Wrap Up:

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So there ya go, a quick look at what’s new on the Apple Watch. Most of this was largely expected, and most of the new hardware features are largely catch-up from what we’ve seen Fitbit and Garmin roll-out in recent years, namely the SPo2 bits. But if there’s one thing we know about Apple is that while they often lag initial implementation on cutting edge technologies, they tend to make up for it with their more polished implementations. In this case, everything we’ve seen on the screen shows relative similarity to what’s offered already in the marketplace, so it’s really going to come down more to accuracy and guidance on how to use that data.

Ultimately, I think the far bigger takeaway from today isn’t the Apple Watch related announcements, but the Apple Fitness+ announcement. This too was well rumored, but I think it’s the biggest threat wearables-wise is to the Garmin/Fitbit’s of the world. Albeit, not at its current pricing. $9.99/month to me seems a bit too high for what Apple is putting out there, especially since I’m skeptical on how much content and variety will really be there at launch (given it won’t show up till later this year – and given the complexities of creating fitness content in studios during COVID-19). I would have thought $4.99/month would be a very Apple-like price to just dominate the sector with an easy ‘Sure, I’ll sign-up’ type scheme.

Still, it’s going to have an impact. Even if just a single-digit % portion of Apple Watch users sign-up, that’s a massive number of people, and would easily begin to dwarf other subscription services out there. It also poses a challenge to Peloton. Less so for owners of the bike, but more for Peloton’s app users, which are paying $12.99/month for the platform. For those users, something like the Apple One bundles could be a tipping point in Apple’s favor. Additionally, so good more diversity or simply better content. Peloton’s content is pretty darn good (it’s largely considered the main draw to the Peloton platform). And so in order for Apple to pull users over from Peloton, they’re going to have to throw down some pretty solid content.

In any event, I’m interested to dive into how this all looks in person, starting with the watches first, and then Apple Fitness+ a bit later this year.

With that – thanks for reading!