I’ve been in the market for a new GPS watch since destroying my Garmin Forerunner 310XT in the failed “Watch vs. Accidentally-slam-it-in-the-trunk” durability test. After the introduction of the Garmin Fenix, I knew I’d found my new toy/fitness watch/tech gadget to lord over a few jealous friends.
And they should be jealous, because it’s great.
Here are the highlights:
Great design. Garmin did well on the look and feel of the watch. I find myself wearing it as a day-to-day watch and fits right in with my style. While I know I have a GPS and adventure super computer on my wrist; it doesn’t look or feel as if I do. The design is rugged and durable: I’ve worn it daily and during training runs, snowshoeing and four days of snowboarding.
Hardware upgrades. The updated charging connector is better than the previous clips. Instead of the standard alligator clip of other Garmin models, you get a clamp that securely connects to the watch. This is great for users who charge on the go during multiday hikes, 100-mile races or those who are afraid of rogue pets or roommates disrupting the connection, leaving you literally drained for the following day.
GPS cycle rate: This is the Fenix’s main selling point.The Fenix is Garmin’s first GPS watch with options for different cycle rates, meaning you can change how frequently your watch communicates with satellites. The more frequently your watch pings the satellites (a high cycle rate) the more quickly you’ll drain your battery. Sunto’s Ambit does this as well, but unlike the Ambit the Fenix will let you change your cycle rate on the fly — right on the watch.
Garmin gives you two jumping-off points for the cycle rate: Normal and UltraTrac.
In normal mode, the Fenix will hit the satellites once per second. This is the standard for fitness watches. A rate of once-per-second will drain your battery the fastest, but it will also give you the most accurate speed and distance data. It’s a tradeoff: Do you want more battery life or more accurate data?
Garmin recommends leaving the Fenix in normal mode if your activity is shorter than 8 hours.
For activities lasting more than 8 hours — or if you get lost — you can switch to UltraTrac.
“UltraTrac is a GPS mode that decreases the update rate of GPS data to provide increased battery life,” the folks at Garmin say. “This setting, which by default decreases the update rate to once a minute, is perfect for an ultramarathon (ultra distance) or for a long hike as the battery life of the device can last up to 50 hours in ideal conditions.” (Get the full details here.)
The default rate is once per minute, but a recent firmware update will allow you to set the UltraTrac cycle rates at one every 15 seconds (estimated 20 hours of battery) or once every 20 seconds (estimated 24 hours of battery). And if you find that you’re still in danger of running out of battery — if you’re in the middle of a 100-miler and not feeling so awesome — you can change the rate to once a minute while you stumble down the trail.
Battery life: Using it as a day-to-day watch (with the GPS off) and for short periods with the GPS on (with the GPS cycle rate at once-per-minute or higher) you’ll definitely only need to charge once every two weeks. Now, when I’m out on a long run, ultraendurance event or day hike, I want all the data I can get! So of course I set the cycle rate to once-per-second — the best way to get the most accurate data — and find the battery lasts 14-18 hours. That’s plenty long enough for a 100K race, long hike or full two days of skiing and snowboarding. If you need to charge mid-activity, the new charging clip design works great with solar or USB chargers.
This watch has it all — it is hands down the best backcountry navigation and fitness watch I’ve found on the market. It has all the major features I used on the 310XT (pace, distance, elevation, splits, moving time, overall time, heart rate, calories burned, etc.), plus more I didn’t know I needed … until now.
Some of the great new features:
* Compass: Tilt compensated, 3-axis electronic compass will keep your bearing whether you are moving or not.
* Barometric Altimeter: Gives you spot-on readings of elevation.
* Barometer: Shows you changes in the barometric air pressure.
* Temperature gauge: Reads the temperature of where you are — although my body temperature does influence the readings. I am going to get the Temperature ANT sensor that clips to your shoe, backpack or tent — anywhere away from your body — to get a more accurate reading.
* Geocaching: For those who enjoy a whole new level of scavenger hunt.
* Hunting/Fishing Calendar: Get recommendations of best times of day to hunt or fish.
* Sun and Moon Information: Keeps track of rise and set times.
* TracBack: If you are in a pickle or want to find your way back to the vehicle, the watch will take you back via the same route.
* Sight ‘N Go: Lock onto an object that is within sight and you will be able to continuously know that you’re headed toward it.
The Fenix also has the standard options for foot pod and speed/cadence bike sensors.
Using Bluetooth, the watch will sync your tracks and waypoints via the Garmin BaseCamp app directly to your phone. You can then upload your data to Garmin Connect to view and edit on your computer. Plus you can share tracks, waypoints, routes, etc. with other compatible devices or your friends.
I will say that making your way through the menus and figuring the watch out takes a bit of getting used to. And the instruction booklet isn’t of much help on the fitness end or uploading to Connect.
My small requests to Garmin would be:
1. Enable the Fenix to communicate via Bluetooth with the Garmin Connect app on the phone, like their biking computers do already.
2. Give a better how-to or instruction booklet on everything the watch can do, including more on the fitness aspects of the watch. (Which I found lacking.)
Otherwise I am overjoyed with my purchase; I set out to buy a new fitness watch and came away with SO much more! When asked by a friend, “Do you love, love it?” my immediate answer was, “Yes! I love it, I love it!” And until my friends purchase a Fenix, I’m happy to let them all drool on mine.
Note: There is an issue related to water resistance. The improved water resistant Fenix watch will be out March 7th, but if you do have water resistance issues with your current Fenix, Garmin will quickly replace yours with the updated model.