Ray's Weekly Sports Electronics Mailbag

Hello, welcome to the Weekly Mailbag. I'm Ray, from DCRainmaker. com. If you've ever searched for reviews on sports technology - you've probably come across my site. I write about my triathlon/running training in general, along with sports technology and whatever else seems interesting to me. I started the Weekly Mailbag series earlier this spring as an opportunity to share some of the answers of the many e-mailed questions I get each week.

If you enjoy what you find here, then feel free to click the links to find even more in depth information on each topic. And if you have any questions, you can always e-mail me directly. Thanks for reading!

1) The watch vibration feature: Worth it or not?
2) Is the Bontrager Node 1 ANT+ cycling computer good for commuting?
3) How to downgrade your FR310XT firmware (and other Garmin watches)
4) When will the next Garmin Forerunner watch be released?

Question #1: The watch vibration feature: Worth it or not?
From Keith-

"Is the vibration worth it? I usually can't hear the beeps when doing any interval training. If I went w/ the FR310XT it would be for that function alone."

Without question, the vibration feature on the FR310XT and FR610 units are amongst my favorite additions. Since I'm often running in and around the city, I also will occasionally miss the beeping warnings of the watch. However, with the vibrating motor I really don't have to worry about it as I'll pretty much always feel the alert - just like silent mode on a cell phone.

Aside from city or busy roads, one of the more compelling use case scenarios though is actually winter running where you've got your watch bundled in/around heavy gloves or clothing which can mute the sound of the beep but not the vibrations.

Finally, this can also be useful for cycling where the wind can make the beeping harder to hear as well - assuming you're wearing it on your wrist and not the handlebars. I suspect we'll continue to see the vibration feature added to more Garmin Forerunners (higher end only) as we move forward and as other sports watches add the vibrating motor.

Question #2: Is the Bontrager Node 1 ANT+ cycling computer good for commuting?
From Jake-

"I'm looking into buying a cyclometer for commuting so I don't have to bring something super expensive along whenever I commute to work. I want something ANT+ enabled so I don't have to put anything more on my bike. The Node 1 seems to be the best choice, I searched your site for info on it and found your weekly mailbag post from almost a year ago saying you bought one to test it out. I already have a FR310xt, and I was just going to buy a Node 1 for commuting, as I don't want to have to have my $300 forerunner with me when I go around town. I don't care about mapping and stuff when I'm just commuting"

I think in this case the Bontrager Node 1 is the perfect unit. And in the ANT+ world, there's really nothing else on the market like it. There's plenty of other ANT+ head units that record data, providing mapping, etc, but none as simple as the Node 1 (or Node 2). Of course, do remember that the Node 1 doesn't record data that you can download to your computer, but it does keep track of trips and the suck. The best way to think of it is simply an ANT+ version of a basic cycling computer. So if you already have ANT+ accessories such as speed/cadence sensors, power meters, HR straps, etc… they'll all work flawlessly with it.

As a general comment to others though - if you're looking at the Node 1 as your primary computer due to budget reasons, consider that you're spending about 65% of the cost of the Garmin FR305 - which does about ten times as much, but costs only $50 bucks more (about $125). Of course, the appeal to the Node 1 is size and endless battery. But food for thought…

Question #3: How to downgrade your FR310XT firmware (and other Garmin watches)
From Harvey-

"You wouldn't happen to know how to downgrade the firmware in the FR310XT back to 3.2? I made the mistake of upgrading to the latest firmware of 3.7 and now 'Autopause' is broken. Details are in https://forums.garmin.com/showthread.php?t=19829 but I thought I'd ask you since you're very familiar with the product. Eventually Garmin will release an update but I'd rather just downgrade for time being."

Reverting to older firmware editions requires the raw firmware file that you can place in your Garmin files folder on your local computer, which will then revert back the watch. There are a few links to some of these firmware editions from the Garmin Forums you noted above. However, a quick ring up to Garmin Support and they can send it over to you via e-mail. I've found this the easiest and simplest solution to downgrading if they can't fix your particular issue.

[Update 8/16/2011] Note that as of firmware 3.70 Garmin has introduced a change in the file system and a firmware downgrade check that prohibits firmware revisions going backwards prior to 3.70. Thus, it is not currently possible to downgrade any Garmin FR310XT's on 3.70 to earlire firmware versions.

Question #4: When will the next Forerunner watch be released?

Since I get this question via e-mail between 8-10 times a day, I figured I'd just put out a note that I talked with Garmin last week about this during an interview with them and to expect something this fall. I've detailed a bit more of that as well as an update on the Garmin Vector pedals here.

Recent Mailbags:

Weekly Mailbag - July 22nd, 2011
- Cable Charging Mashup
- Power Meter Head Unit Options
- Best Triathlon Watch Bang for Buck

Weekly Mailbag - June 10th, 2011
- How to create mile alerts w/o using auto-lap?
- Wearing heart hate strap during races
- HTC Android Phones that have ANT+ Capabilities?
- Garmin Forerunner 310XT new power meter firmware updates

Weekly Mailbag - June 5th, 2011
- To use or not to use elevation correction
- Heart rate measurements while underwater combined with distance
- How to setup run/walk intervals

You can find all past Slowtwitch Mailbags here, and all prior ones here.

[Editor's note: our capable editor-at-large for electronics Ray Maker is the publisher of the online sports tech blog DC Rainmaker, one of the top-ranked sites by Google for extremely in-depth reviews of advanced GPS and Heart Rate Monitors for triathlon, cycling, and running.]