Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Review: Garmin Connect

Site: Garmin Connect

Score: 82/100

 Summary: A solid web platform, but missing the coach implementation that many athletes look for in a solution. Connect offers a lot more to users than most will ever use it for, and while for solo endurance athletes it's a robust tracker that's the industry leader in data collection and presentation, it lacks some of the analysis tools you'd want to find.

Layout (25)
  • Logical Flow: Most navigation is achieved from a fixed menu on the left side, with the selected option in a giant pane. There are also customizable tab views at the top right, allowing you to collect your favorite widgets in a dashboard view. 
  • Feature Location: One of the more common features - importing a workout - requires three clicks to reach and you have to know where you're going to find it. I feel like a single 'file utilities' widget for importing and exporting files could accomplish a lot of good for a little cost, but other than that the 'Modern', or new version of Connect is slick and logical. I felt the classic view allowed for very simple feature location, but looked cluttered at the same time. Connect offers a LOT of widgets (too many?) so the balance of clutter vs. streamline is not an enviable task. There are some ways it could be made better, but for a 'fits most sizes' approach, I have to say it's pretty darn good. 
  • Feel: Garmin is trying awfully hard to make their new version of Connect better than the classic version, and it's almost there, really. There was a time when certain functions were not available in the new version, but that seems to have been corrected, so the pending deprecation of the classic version should really no longer cause quite the alarm it used to. The new version feels modern, and I have to give serious credit to the effort put into the execution - the entire code base appears to be proprietary, which take mucho grande cojones these days given how many web frameworks are out there that offer stable and extensible functionality out of the box. As a developer, I have a hard time rationalizing why it would be worthwhile to roll your own, but it looks like that's what Garmin have done. It behaves like any single page application would, where the back\forward buttons on your browser take you to the proper navigation, but I feel like if it got a real workthrough there would be a few things it doesn't account for. However, I didn't find any, so it's nothing more than suspicion!
  • Performance\responsiveness: Every widget takes a second or two to load. I'd presume there's a sizable amount of data in Garmin's database, but for an enterprise-level application such as this, one should reasonably expect the database to be designed and tuned for this amount of data. 
  • Mobile conversion: Simply put, it's OK. Not the worst I've seen, but certainly not the best. Menus collapse, headers on tables are fixed, font sizes change, and all of these are good things, but the glaring issue is that the tab control for creating custom dashboards hangs out obtrusively in the middle of the screen at all times and can't be viewed or operated due to truncation. Garmin's official solution for this is to use their app instead, but I'll say it again - creating a web application that renders properly on a mobile device is a simple process, and there's no excuse for not doing it properly. Presto, you have a great application across all the platforms and you only have to maintain and extend a single code base.
  • Creating a plan: Not really. You can choose from one of several canned plans which schedule properly when selected, but I couldn't see a way to create your own. You can - and I'll get into this next - create workouts and place them on your calendar, but there's a difference between that and a plan, which has a longer scope. 
  • Creating a workout: This feature is, in my opinion, Garmin's 'killer app'. Not only can you create  workout with interval details, you can actually send it to your (albeit Garmin) device and have that device tell you what to do and when. It's simple to use, and opens up the scheduling process tremendously if you're technically inclined; you'll need to figure out how to connect to the web services (some day I'll post how that's done without paying $5K, but I've done it, so have others, and I'll leave it at that for now), but once you do, you can schedule workouts from a spreadsheet and have them show up on your watch. Awesome.
Score:18 - The points off for 1) not being able to create a plan and 2) the mobile conversion come back with the super tight ability to create a planned workout and sync it to your device. Additional points off for database performance, for which there's no good excuse.

Analysis Tools (20)
  • Charts are time variable: Yep
  • Heart Rate: yes
  • Fatigue vs. Freshness: Nope
  • Duration: Yep
  • Distance: Yep
  • Zones: Not for analysis, no
  • Personal best calculation:Yes and no. For some reason it doesn't seem to care about swimming. Two points off.
  • Zone calculation: Nope.
Score: 12 - what is there is well done and responsive. It's not all of what endurance athletes are looking for, however. A tough hit to take in points.

Activity Detail display (10)
  • Time analysis –  yes 
  • Maps - yes, of course. Garmin is GPS company at their core.
  • Overlays – yes
Score: 10: Everything is there.

Coaching features: (15)
  • Follow athletes – Yes
  • Provide feedback– I could leave notes on workouts, but there's no messaging component
  • Scheduling tie in: Nope, not at all. I can't control or view another athlete's schedule.
Score: 10: Connect really isn't designed as a coaching platform, and without the ability to create a schedule for an athlete, it can't really be used that way. However, if you don't need that for some reason (maybe your coach found a way to publish their workout plan into Garmin and you used that?) then it's passable with the ability to have friends and watch their workouts.

Device Store Connectivity (15)
  • Garmin - of course.
  • Suunto - nope
  • Strava –indirectly, yes, since Strava interfaces with Garmin nicely.

Score: 10 Do you get extra points for being your own data source?

Import (10)
  •  Manual entry - yes, but again with no intervals.
  • .fit –yep
  •  tcx –yep
Score: 9 - I hate always removing the point for no intervals, but I fail to understand why it can't be done!

Help (5):
  • Well written: Very, and I have to say I really appreciate the popup tour offer on logon. That's how you do it! However, inexplicably the help features are not *within* connect, so other than using your back button, you lose the navigation from your main screen. This could easily be changed, but it's a ding.
  • Clear term definition:  Yes, but it's not in the help menu, it's right where you want to find it, like information on heart rate zones is on the Settings>Zone definition page, right where it should be.
Score: 4 – The navigation issue from the help menu is annoying.

Extra features (bonus, 2 points each)
  • Email reminders – workouts: nope
  • Email reminders – equipment : yes
  • Workout text messages – eh, technically no, not traditional text messages, but Garmin are moving towards having your watch be your text message receiver, so kinda yes? 1 point.
  • Sync with online calendars : well this is no good. There's a method for publishing your calendar, which gives you a link to nothing - not a valid calendar file. I found a thread about this on Garmin's bulletin board, apparently it's a known issue that hasn't been fixed for years!
  • Allow messages with other athletes: yes
  • Allow tracking of consumables – chains, shoes, etc :yes, and it's done really well.
  • Metric\imperial conversions\Time zone\Clock\Calendar: yes
Score: 9 bonus points

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