Garmin or Suunto?

Mar 21, 2009

I'd like to upgrade to something that feels less like a dead end than a Polar heart rate monitor. First, let me explain why I think Polar is a dead end:

I'm a triathlete, and a huge nerd, so I like to record all data. Including power on the bike as soon as I can afford a good powermeter. I also use Mac OS X, and I'm constantly annoyed that I have to run Windows in a VMWare Fusion virtual machine to use my data from Polar. Polar doesn't interface with bike powermeters, except for their own, which, apart from being terribly ugly, isn't terribly precise either. I had the first version of the Polar Power Sensor (I think I still have it somewhere), and I never got it to work well. I basically hate it.

So I'm looking for a system that will work as a running computer and with the latest generation of ANT+ compatible powermeters, Saris PowerTap, SRM and the Quarq CinQo.

The contenders:

Garmin Edge 705 + ForeRunner 405

The Edge 705 is a cycling computer/heart rate monitor/powermeter computer/GPS map device, and the ForeRunner 405 is a more traditional running watch with GPS, heartrate and a footpod (ooh, and a new model is underway it seems) as extra equipment.

Both of the Garmins are Mac OS X compatible now. It took a while the get the software for the 405 ported to Mac, but they came through eventually. The 405 use a special wireless dongle to transmit the data, while the 705 use a USB cable and works as a mass storage device.

Both devices, being Garmins, have GPS built in, which is really neat.

Pros:

  • Mac compatible.
  • Simple and easy to understand XML file format (.tcx files).
  • Uncoded ANT+ data channels, no proprietary bullshit.
  • Documented communication protocols, so lots of compatible third party software.
  • GPS built in.
  • The 705 works with all powermeters worth having.

Cons:

  • Old school plastic heart rate chest strap.
  • Bulky, especially the 705.
  • Can't record a full triathlon, the 405 isn't swim proof (IPX7).

Suunto Triathlon Pack

The Suunto Triathlon Pack consists of a Suunto T6c, a Foot POD, a Road Bike POD + Cadence POD and a Memory Belt. The Road Bike POD is a great idea, it looks very clean, but it doesn't work on a turbotrainer where only the rear wheel rotates, so I'd have to get an additional Bike POD (which I'm not 100% sure will work from the left chainstay).

The Suunto coded ANT+ channels is what the SRM PowerControl VI use, so in a race you can use the same heart rate chest strap for both the T6c and SRM computer. Unfortunately Suunto gear can't use power input, only the chest strap can communicate with the powermeter computer, and only the latest iteration of SRMs are compatible.

The Memory Belt works as a standard heart rate chest belt, but can also record all heartbeats in its internal memory, which is essential for swimming, as the 2.4 GHz frequency of the ANT+ protocol doesn't go through water. It is made of solid plastic though, not textile as the Suunto Comfort Belt is. It could prove very interesting to get heartrate data for daily swim training in addition to bike and run training, who knows what could turn up. For daily training the more flexible standard Suunto Comfort Belt would be a better choice.

Pros:

  • Calculates EPOC, a measure of the training stress of the session, somewhat like TSS/rTSS.
  • Can record heart rate during swimming, provided the Memory Belt stays put.
  • Can record a full triathlon without having to tell it to change sensors.
  • Only slightly larger than normal wristwatch size.

Cons:

  • Only works with SRM Powermeters.
  • Windows only software, and WKO+ is file import only, not direct download.
  • No third party software as alternative to what Suunto provides, no documentation.

Conclusion

Going into this I actually wanted the Suunto solution, but seeing how Garmin is much better aligned with my general values of having my data in open formats and devices with documented interfaces, I think I'll end up with the Garmin solution.

Recording all of a triathlon with the Suunto is a nice thing for sure, but it is not really that important for me.

Another thing is the fact that I currently use WKO+ for downloading and analysis, writing logs etc., then uploading the .wko file to TrainingPeaks. And .wko files are binary junk data. I've looked hard, and I can't decipher them. I know that WKO+ can export to a saner format, but the export function is a little dodgy at times, and some data is lost in the conversion, so I'd like to have my raw data in an open format. And that I can have with the Garmins.

So a Garmin based workflow will be:

  1. Get the data off the Garmin.
  2. Upload .tcx file to TrainingPeaks via web interface.
  3. Write log messages etc.

That's it. Easy. And I'll have all my .tcx files both locally and on TrainingPeaks (I don't think they save as .wko files). And I can write my own software to get useful data out of the files, or use something like RaceDay to do fun stuff with the data.

The workflow with Suunto would be the same, except that I'd have to boot Windows somehow before I could start, and that's just annoying and time consuming. And being a Windows based solution it is so much harder to script parts of the workflow for automation.

So, if you're stuck down in Windows, and don't see that changing anytime soon, Suunto is nice. And so is Garmin. But If you use Mac OS X, there's much more in favor of Garmin.


Last edited: May 1, 2016


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