Deep Dive – Data Vs Information 2

three watches on a log
Please note that I didn’t put any effort into getting the screens represented as lifelike in this post so colour saturation is mainly down to the camera not the screens. All three look a little washed out in real life, even in the bright evening sunshine shown here. That said, the Vantage seems a bit brighter if only due to the colours Polar chose. The screens seem identical.

Introduction

This is part two, for part one please go here. In part one I looked at platforms on the web, and here I’ve concentrated on the device itself. I’ve not done much messing around with settings and screens here so most things are out of box. I added a graph on Garmin because ConnectIQ would be the excuse there for why it’s so dull as default. Some of the screens are quite good while others are…not. I guess as long as what matters is there we’re good.

For me, what matters most is:

  • Clear HR
  • Clear Power (Where available)
  • Lap times/distances
  • Overall time/distance

Recovery

The question of whether you should train today, and how hard to train for maximum impact is an important one. It’s also a question which different devices approach differently. It’s worth a mention that Garmin change this a lot, so if your firmware is older or you have an older device you’ll see different things here.
With this in mind, let’s see what each solution offers. Anything has to be better than flipping a shiny penny, right?

Suunto don’t even provide you with the penny, although you may get a dollar back from your 600 in the shops. Maybe it’s me, but I couldn’t find anything on the Spartan to tell me whether to train or not.

Garmin do better though. Here we have a bunch of things to help. I say a bunch of things because some of them are relevant and some are probably not. Take VO2 Max for instance. Useful to know your current level of capability and it’s easy to see that I’m very nearly great and this stuff. I used to be well within the purple when training regularly and this made me feel awesome. I like these screens because I don’t need to know what good looks like, I just know purple is best.
Then we have the infamous recovery hours. I like this display, it’s simple and obvious from a quick look. That said, after several years I’ve come to realise this screen displays pure nonsense. It bears no relation to recovery whatever, doubly so if you do multiple workouts in a day. It’s a nice example of data becoming information though, if only it worked. The training load screen is kind of nice too. It turns a pointless looking number (Firstbeat provides the raw data numbers here) that I don’t understand into a reasonable graph that I sort of do. I say sort of because I’m guessing I need to be in the green but have no way to verify this on the watch. Maybe it’s in a manual somewhere that nobody ever reads. Maybe a little extra effort on the interface would have negated the need for a manual. And that is the purpose of this post.FTP is displayed nicely with some colours. I’ve no clue what the scale is here though. Perhaps the top of purple is superman, perhaps it’s the best FTP of any human being, perhaps it’s a cheetah, perhaps it’s the highest FTP recorded on Connect. Is bottom of red zero? If I get to zero am I dead, or just really, really lazy? This is not information, it’s graphical jibber jabber. And that’s the worst kind of jibber jabber. This is an example of where raw data might have actually been preferable.Ah the race predictor. Some people get numbers from this which match their ability/capability. I don’t. I just get random numbers which seem feasible for a human to achieve. Aside from that though, I can’t tell whether these are improving or getting worse. I can’t see what the goal is for this screen, but it’s at least well laid out and succinct. And last but not least, the main status screen. My fitness is staying the same but my training load has dropped.  And we’re back to that shiny penny to determine whether I should train today, right now, in my present condition. Garmin are definitely getting there though, and the body battery on my VivoSmart 4 is a great way to show the info. Or will be if the data behind it ever becomes helpful.
Polar. Oh Polar. Such promise. It’s no secret that I’ve had a few…teething troubles…with my Vantage. I think these are mostly fixed/resolved now but they have left me with a very deep hatred for the Polar support desk. Maybe they will be trained on Vantage V at some point and things will improve. Yes, let’s be positive for a few minutes.

Recovery Pro is a work of art. For two and a half weeks all I got was this:

Overreaching. Don’t train or your legs will fall off. I did, and they didn’t. Support said to reset the watch and resync. I ignored them because the sync would download this status again from Flow. You see, there wasn’t a problem with the watch. As luck would have it I’m a techy so I knew resetting would not work.

So I waited. And kept training. And you know what happened? One morning the watch literally gave me a thumbs up and told me “today is a good day to do cardio training”. This is because when I bought the watch, Flow had only seen a couple of activities weeks in the past. From its perspective I went from zero to heavy training instantly. Which would be bad. If Polar had been able to tell me that I’d have had more faith in them than I do now, having reverse engineered their algorithms. In case you’re wondering, I havn’t worked out why the M doesn’t have this, given it’s actually a Flow feature doing the processing.
Above is my watch screen, showing recovery status. I can literally see whether to train every time I check the time. I can also choose to see other stuff there, but this is really good. As with Garmin above though, it’s not obvious what green means. Until…

As soon as you push the red button, the watch explains everything. With words and pictures. I am currently productive, not overreaching, not just maintaining fitness but productive. I am doing well and I know I am because my watch tells me I am. But there’s more. I can scroll down and actually read about my status. Usually it also tells me to train or not to train but today I skipped my HR test (update below). This is a training tool done well. Right now the result seems OK so I’m giving the benefit of the doubt to Polar. It could turn out to be gibberish like the body battery was on Garmin.

*Update*

Because you’re my favourite people I took some extra pics this morning after my orthostatic test. This involves wearing the HR strap and lying down for 2 minutes, then standing up for 2 minutes. It’s boring but the result is nice. Below you can see the very clear thumbs up on the watch face saying “go for it”.

And if you click through, it literally says you’re good to go. This is SO good, and now that my data has settled down it seems to match my fatigue well. For reference, Polar claim to track both cardio and muscle load so in theory this is a better representation than HR only systems.

Garmin

On to the training screens now. These images are from a run activity. No, I wasn’t running. Yes, the UK is lovely this time of year 🙂
These are good clear numbers and easy to read. Some data fields are always the main focus for me.
The HR screen is great, showing me which zone I’m in as well as my current reading. It does require that I not see any other info though, which is a shame. I’d like to see this zoning around the other screens too.
A time screen is always nice
And I even added a graph because I knew you’d all cry “ConnectIQ” when I slated Garmin for poor information display. This is the Garmin HR graph. It’s utterly useless. It doesn’t give a good graph, and it doesn’t start graphing until you switch screens to look at it. Pointless. Other ConnectIQ fields are available. I chose to spend my time training rather than trawling through a hundred graphs to find a good one. And I have yet to see one I consider to look good. Yes, I’ve looked a few times.
The Garmin platform appears to hold the most potential due to this flexibility. Quite the reverse is true. Garmin have abdicated responsibility by making the Fenix extensible. This is corporate speak for “not our problem”. So you get a half finished watch and a promise, rather than a finished and polished watch. I feel like Garmin need to revisit this and add a bit more thought to the display and information on the device. ConnectIQ is a great feature to have, but realistically hasn’t added any value for me to date. I’ve tried a few out but always been disappointed.

Suunto

Suunto have done a really REALLY nice job on the interface of Spartan. Although the screen here is just data fields, I also get a graphical HR too around the edge.
I get a map by default, which is nice. Garmin can also optionally enable a map and both are equally good. Polar has no maps right now. Polar has promises, lots of promises. I honestly never use a map on a watch though, but back to start I use all of the time. Just an arrow and a distance is really comforting when you’re somewhere new.
HR graph. I want to kiss Suunto for this. It’s such a nice easy view of how quickly my heart recovers after an interval. I can use this to determine rest phase timing or during Fartlek to decide whether to stop, go, speed or slow. Did I mention how really awesome this screen is? People should copy this. Line graphs are not patented or new. It’s a no brainer.
more clear info
And a lap summary screen. This too is really nice. I can compare laps while I’m running. Crazy.
If Suunto ever add in core training features like workouts and settle on one web platform which works I’d buy a Suunto 9 immediately. The data and information displayed is just so polished compared to a Garmin.

Polar

Polar is a mixed bag at this point, but there is huge potential. Here we have a nice graphical HR band which resizes to make your current zone obvious. This is really clear and usable. The white on black is a bit dark at this point and the backlight doesn’t always help much. This is fixable but right now it’s a bit of an issue. They clearly put some design into this though, it looks beautiful.
This is power. We’re seeing numbers for average, max and current, as well as a graphical display showing the same. The graphic is a little small for me but I like the concept. If we lost the icons above and below there would be more space.
Those icons though, they kind of polish things a little and make it…nicer. Can’t explain why, won’t explain why. I just think they add something Garmin are lacking. They also help for people with disabilities such as colour blindness, dyslexia, and others and that’s got to be a good thing.
We get the same cool graphics for HR too. I think if we get more customisation in future a full screen version of this would be awesome. Polar are definitely on the right tracks.
And a time screen, but with timer too.
Polar have a great start here. They’ve put thought into the display of information and hopefully will improve this over time.

Conclusion

three watches on a log

And the award for information display goes to <drumroll> Suunto. They are just better at it right now. Polar may catch up with some updates, it’s early days right now for the Vantage and Polar have good history here. Garmin is functional as ever but lacks any design, pizazz, finish, polish, thought etc. On the watch Garmin show pure data in most instances and don’t make too much effort to help you out.

From a recovery perspective Polar have the win. Recovery Pro is a really clever interface to a data point. It actually gives more information than you’d expect too and offers a real insight into your training status.

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