Garmin (Finally) Releases Vector 3 Bluetooth Smart Firmware

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As of today, Garmin finally has their first sensor that actually broadcasts via Bluetooth Smart (in addition to ANT+).  Vector 3 was of course announced last August at Eurobike, and then started shipping back in October (my in-depth review dropped in November).  That was slightly behind initial plans to ship in late September, but in the tech industry being only a few weeks late isn’t unheard of.  However, at the time the secondary part of the plan was to release the much awaited Bluetooth Smart power meter support, which would allow you to pair Vector 3 to any head unit, app, or thingamajig, as long as it supported ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart.

That secondary timeline was initially early October, just after Vector 3 was slated to ship.  Unfortunately, that timeline slid faster than Janet Jackson’s wardrobe, and soon October became November, then January, and then February.  But today, it’s finally here.

Better later than never, right?

The Quick Details:

Now the main reason most folks care about BLE connectivity on Vector 3 is for pairing to apps, predominantly indoor trainer apps.  This includes apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, Kinomap, Rouvy, and so on.  All of these apps also of course support ANT+ sensors, but that usually requires a dongle/adapter.  For users on iOS, for example, using an iPad with Zwift is easier via Bluetooth Smart sensors than ANT+ sensors.

And Garmin has been clear from the beginning that’s actually a core reason why they added Bluetooth Smart sensor capabilities to Vector 3 (of course the reality is that if they didn’t, they’d no longer be competitive).  It’s also why virtually all Garmin fitness devices announced in 2017/2018 also support Bluetooth Smart sensors too.

In any case, getting your Vector 3 pedals updated is pretty easy.  You’ve got the following options:

A) An Edge 520, Edge 820, or Edge 1030: If you have any of these, and you’ve previously paired Vector 3, it’ll go grab updates for you the next time it chats with Garmin’s servers.

B) Garmin Connect Mobile App: Assuming you have a smartphone, you can pair it via Bluetooth Smart already (even before the update) and then update your pedals that way.

There are a few minor caveats to either method.  The first is that sometimes getting the updates to show up on the Edge devices can require a bit of a tango, especially in the first day or so when the update is being rolled out systematically.  The second caveat is somewhat part of the first: Garmin says that the update might not show for 100% of people until tomorrow sometime, as it tries to stage them a bit more slowly.

In my case, I just used the Edge update method, which you can see here:

The unit will prompt you to upgrade a split second after it connects to your pedals. Obviously, you’d click yes if you wanted to update:

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My general practice with updating Garmin Vector pedals is to place my phone in between my two pedals on my water bottle cage.  I find this gives it the best signal for both pedals.

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It only takes a few minutes, during which the LED’s will blink for a bit.  After it’s done…well, you’re done.

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At this point, you’ll be able to find the Vector 3 pedals via Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ concurrently.  It’ll always broadcast on both, just like most other power meters these days.  And you’ll get power, power balance, and cadence on both.  Here’s TrainerRoad for example:

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Except, you won’t get Garmin Cycling Dynamics data (the advanced stuff like pedaling metrics) on Bluetooth Smart, even if paired to a Garmin head unit.  That’s because there’s no standard for this advanced data on Bluetooth Smart.  Thus, only the baseline pieces are there.  Additionally, there isn’t a method to set crank length via Bluetooth Smart head units today (that I’m aware of anyway).  So you’ll want to set that separately.  Vector 3 will remember that and apply it to any other connections.

However, there is an interesting Bluetooth Smart tidbit here on Vector 3 that’s not on any other pedal based power meters: Vector 3 properly shows as a single power meter in Bluetooth Smart device lists.  This is different than the PowerTap P1 pedals and Favero Assioma pedals, which show up as two devices (one left, one right).  So, for example, in Zwift, if you use the PowerTap P1 or Assioma pedals, you’re actually just connecting to either the left or right pedal and it automatically doubles that…which isn’t super accurate.  Vector 3, however, shows up as a single cohesive device, which is a neat little trick.

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From a compatibility standpoint, I’ve been using the Vector 3 on Bluetooth Smart update since early this fall (in beta).  In doing so I’ve tried a bunch of apps and devices over Bluetooth Smart: Zwift, TrainerRoad, FR935, Edge 1030, Hammerhead Karoo, Suunto Spartan series, and probably more apps and devices I’m forgetting.  I haven’t seen any Bluetooth Smart specific issues with any of those devices.

The only issue I have seen isn’t Vector 3 specific on the Hammerhead, but rather how it handles power meter zero value data points causing some incorrectly high values.  But Hammerhead is digging into that.

FAQ’s:

Here’s what I suspect are probably going to be the most common questions:

Ok, that’s nice and all, but when will Vector start shipping?

It’s actually been shipping since October (Ironman Kona to be very specific, they had units there).  Since then it’s been pretty easily obtainable in the US, sorta easy in Europe, and less easy in Australia/New Zealand.  For North America, they seemed to largely catch-up right before Christmas, and then it slid a bit in availability where I think they’re close to catching back up again. As for Australia…well…at least you’ve got warm weather.

Should I pair my Garmin device to Vector 3 with ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart?

Definitely ANT+. 100% ANT+.  The reason being is that if you pair via Bluetooth Smart you’ll lose out on the additional metrics you get over ANT+.  Not to mention if you pair via Bluetooth Smart, that’ll block you from pairing a second device via Bluetooth Smart (such as Zwift or TrainerRoad).

Can I pair both a Garmin Edge and Zwift at once?

Yes. Pair your Garmin Edge via ANT+, and then Zwift via Bluetooth Smart.  You can change ‘Garmin Edge’ to ‘Any ANT+ bike computer/watch’, and it still applies.  You can connect unlimited devices via ANT+, but only one via Bluetooth Smart.

Can I pair two Bluetooth Smart devices/apps at once?

No, that Bluetooth Smart limitation is still there.  That means only one concurrent Bluetooth Smart connection.  That could be TrainerRoad via BLE, Zwift via BLE, or even a Polar or Suunto watch via BLE.

Why doesn’t the update show up yet?

Because it’s Wednesday, which is in nowhere-land in terms of the middle of the week.  Thus, things never quite work on Wednesday.  Try it tomorrow, it’ll work then (probably).  As noted, in reality it’s just because Garmin is phasing the roll-out over the next 24 hours or so.

I’ve done something wrong, I think I killed it.

Assuming you didn’t put it in the microwave…your best bet if something went horribly wrong is to reach out to Garmin support, specifically, their Vector support team.  Phone works, as does their support forums.  They respond pretty quickly in both those places.  As a side note though, I actually do often put sensors in the microwave, as it’s the perfect faraday cage. Just don’t press ‘Start’!

Why do you have a Zwift water bottle on your bike?

Funny story actually. I forgot to pack cycling water bottles in my bike case for my trip to Australia. When I got to Adelaide, I went to the Rapha pop-up shop and figured I’d buy a water bottle there.  But holy f’in @#$@# balls.  They were like $30 or $40 for a water bottle.  A @#$@#$ water bottle!!!

A few hours later I was loading up bikes and gear with Lama to go for a ride and turns out he had a gigantic garbage bag of like 90 of them. Thus, I stole one. Or three.  Shhh…

Will this show me power balance in Zwift?

No, Zwift doesn’t support power balance. Nor Cycling Dynamics.

Does this work on Vector 3S too?

Yes. Simply yes.

Which power meter should I get?

Read my full power meter buyers guide here!

Should I get Vector 3, the PowerTap P1, or Favero Assioma pedals?

Read my power meter pedal shoot-out post here!

Going forward:

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Now that Garmin has Bluetooth Smart on Vector 3, you may be asking when they’ll release a firmware update for other sensors.  Unfortunately, that won’t really happen.  The remainder of Garmin’s existing sensors (I.e. older cadence, speed, heart rate straps, etc…), don’t have the dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart chipsets required.  They lack that hardware.

So it’s really a going forward type of item.  Going forward, Garmin needs to look to refresh their sensor lineup to be dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, like the rest of the sensor world.  It’s a major reason I recommend Wahoo speed/cadence cycling sensors over Garmin ones, even though I actually prefer Garmin’s cadence sensor design (it doesn’t require zip ties).  Similarly, Garmin’s latest generation HRM-RUN/HRM-TRI heart rate straps are actually pretty comfortable, but I’d be hard-pressed to recommend them unless you really needed the HRM-TRI swim offloading capabilities – because you can’t easily use it with Bluetooth Smart apps.

Hopefully though, Garmin will see this as an opportunity (because it is).  The chipset cost for them is barely pennies on a per unit basis, and I think the pride thing around ANT+ only is largely gone (as seen in the rest of their product lineup).  They can look to the retail success they’ve had with Vector 3 thus far (in terms of sales volume) and see that easily.

As for ANT+, it’s still just as popular as ever before (one only needs to look at the sold-out Symposium last fall to see that). It’s just that the applications shift a bit. Gone are the days where for purely heart rate only you ‘must’ have an ANT+ strap.  Instead, now are the days where for advanced cycling metrics that are cross-manufacturer compatible, you want to use ANT+.  At least, for now anyway.  As with any tech, it’s a see-saw effect with competitors.

All of which is good for consumers.

With that, thanks for reading!

Related posts of interest: Garmin Vector 3 Power Meter In-Depth Review | Power Meter Pedal Shootout: Vector 3 vs PowerTap P1 vs Assioma

Source: dcrainmaker

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