Monday, July 20, 2015

Retail therapy

There's nothing quite like buying a new sporting gadget to inject a bit of enthusiasm back into your training. The other day I was hovering on the Amazon website when I spotted an offer for the Fenix 2 GPS watch that was about to expire as soon as they had enough takers. I couldn't see any harm in just putting it in my shopping basket before someone else snatched the offer away from me: I could still decide not to buy it. I now had 15 minutes to decide whether I "needed" it, in which time I broke out into a guilty sweat and rang my wife, hoping she would absolve me by saying something like "you deserve it" or simply just talk me out of it. She just said she didn't know whether I needed it or not - neither did I but I soon came up with a convoluted set of reasons why I couldn't live without one.
Just as well I only had 15 minutes to decide because, after committing to buy (yes, I did buy it in the end, surprise, surprise), I read a whole load of complaints about it crashing, resetting during workouts and suffering from "GPS drift". I hope that these have been ironed out in the year since its launch as there is now a Fenix 3 available.

The reasons I came up with were that my trusty 310 XT was not so trusty any more, it often corrupted the workout data and was very touch and go when it came to downloading courses or uploading workouts; also having Bluetooth connectivity would make all this so much easier. The discount price was 240€ (without Heart Rate Monitor) which put it in close contention with the 910 XT (also recently superseded by a newer model: the 920 XT) but this does not have Bluetooth, nor does it have some of the fancy new analytics that are probably a load of nonsense but are irresistibly attractive to us running geeks. Like VO2Max which tells you how fast it reckons you would run a 5K, 10K, Half Marathon or Marathon: in just three days I have reduced my predicted Marathon time from 3:03 to 2:49! All without having run further than 10K or faster than 13.5 kph! If I later decide to buy a new HRM, then I can have it also calculate vertical oscillation and ground contact time - whoohoo! For those kind of geek-stats, I'm still waiting on the runScribe device I backed on Kickstarter last year. Another thing I like about the new watch is that it has a built in accelerometer which means that (a) it incorporates all the functionality of the Garmin Swim watch and (b) it makes a reasonable attempt to guess how fast I am running on the treadmill based on a surprisingly accurate cadence measurement, which helps me keep track of all the kilometerage I am doing both on and off-road. Lastly, I appreciate the temperature sensor that it has built in which works quite well considering that it is biased by my skin temperature. It seems to start of way too high, come down to a realistic temperature as it is cooled by the wind and then starts to creep back up again as I get hotter and sweatier.

The downside of the Fenix series compared to the triathlon watches is that there is no quick release kit to allow you to transfer it to your bike easily. However, I've come up with a rubber band solution to attach it to my aero water bottle which appears to work well. The upside is that it is not fugly, and can be worn as a normal watch. The inverted screen looks cool but is difficult to read; Garmin appears to have realized that this was too much of a case of form over functionality and has incorporated a colour screen into the Fenix 3. I don't plan to wear it as a daytime watch as I already have my Casio Rangeman G-Shock which makes even the Fenix 2 look diminutive. This is what I call my "Zombie Apocalypse" watch in that it will probably still keep on working long after mankind has destroyed itself (although the automatic timesetting by radio will stop working I guess). I noticed that the large buttons with the little spikes are the same on both watches so I'm guessing that Garmin took some design cues from Casio here.

The only other features a triathlete or serious runner might miss from the 310 XT that I have noticed are that there is no ability to set heart rate zones per sport - the zones are very different between cycling and running, but not everybody cares about that. The other slight niggle is a bit specific and it comes about due to how the menus are organized: if you want to follow a prerecorded track you choose the "navigate" activity which, as it doesn't know whether you are running or cycling, does not record your running cadence if you have previously linked a bike cadence sensor. What I do miss when following a track, is that it doesn't alert you when you go off course; the 310 XT was a bit of a mixed blessing in this regard because the alert used to mean that the map would stop updating just when you needed it most (I think they fixed this in a firmware update eventually). Anyway, so far I'm happy in spite of it already locking up once on me. You kinda get used to the odd glitch with Garmin watches (I think they must have pretty poor programmers working there) but you sort of grow to forgive them as the watches are so cool when they actually work. On the other end of the spectrum, when an Apple product fails you tend to have zero tolerance because you get accustomed to such a high standard. Like when we tried to get an old iPhone working this weekend, we were greeted with this message

iPhone is blocked, try again in 23,758,096 minutes
My guess is that on the 4th of March 2015 at around 4:11 PM, we typed in the wrong PIN too many times and blocked the phone until 5 minutes later at 4:16 PM. We then took so long to get around to buying a new SIM card (the phone was given too us so we had to buy another line) that it ran out of batteries and went into such a profound sleep that it forgot the date and thought it was the 1st of January 1970 again: 23,758,096 minutes before 4:16 PM on the 4th of March 2015...

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