Garmin Fit: Has The GPS Watch Become Obsolete?

A real quick post here on a pretty cool phone app: Garmin Fit. I’ve been a big Garmin fan and use my 310 XT watch constantly, if nothing more than a way to automatically log miles. When it comes to pacing, the Garmin GPS is as close to perfect to helping me stay within a pacing range. Sure there are occasions when the GPS will report a mile a little long or a little short, but overall the newer GPS watches are pretty spot-on. Garmin has to see the writing on the wall and either needs to reinvent their business model or face becoming obsolete. Maybe they should try porting the phone to the watch or have their watches run Android? But they seemed to have found a niche in sport watches. I noticed during my last few marathons, many of the runners were using a Garmin watch. But these days, most phones come with GPS built-in and many of us carry our phones. But can’t our smart phone replace our watch? Isn’t this a natural convergence? Last year, I stopped by the Garmin booth at the NY Marathon and asked if they were coming out with a phone app and they said they were working on it. Well, Garmin has finally released the Fit app. I downloaded it this past weekend and tested the Garmin Fit app on my Android phone.

How many of us would love to replace our GPS watch or cycling computer by just installing an app on our phone? There are already quite a few apps out there that do a similar job (RunKeeper, Adidas miCoach, My Tracks), but I like having access to the data through Garmin Connect, which is what Fit provides. I downloaded it and used it for a Sunday afternoon run. To perform some tests, I wore my Garmin 310 XT watch and used the app at the same time to compare the results. I was surprised to see the results were fairly close.

Garmin Fit Data Uploaded To Garmin Connect

Garmin Fit Data Uploaded To Garmin Connect

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the results (310 XT on the left and Fit on the right). Fit shows .02 more miles, that’s only a 0.28% variation.

Comparing the Results Between the Garmin 310 XT and Garmin Fit App

Comparing the Results Between the Garmin 310 XT and Garmin Fit App

Now what this app doesn’t provide on Android is heart rate data. I believe it is supported or will be supported on the iPhone. I’m sure it is just a matter of time as I’ve seen a few bluetooth heart rate monitors lately so that piece of the puzzle is coming. Also on the Android app, there is no virtual partner feature so if you like to train using the virtual partner you’re out of luck.

The main issue with the phone solution is how much easier glancing at a watch is compared to pulling out a phone looking at an app. Getting data mid run from a watch is a simple twist of the wrist but using a phone is a whole other matter. Usually the phone is strapped to an arm and the phone needs to be unlocked. So checking time/speed/distance while running using a phone is not an easy proposition. Some programs provide audible prompts and they work fairly well. I’ve experimented with the miCoach and hearing those splits called out from the phone can be a little discouraging on those easy runs.

So is it just a matter of time before the watch is obsolete? The smart phone seems to be replacing so many of our devices: point and shoot cameras, video cameras, GPS navigation devices, mp3 players and radios. Overall, the Fit app is an easy way to record runs/rides and keep your Garmin Connect data log current. I’ll continue using my watch for now, but when travelling or when the watch battery is drained, it’s good to have other options.


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