Garmin has released the third generation of its adventure GPS watch, the Fenix 3.
The Garmin Fenix 3 is all about adventurous, off-the-beaten-path sports. But unlike its predecessors this generation is built even better for the day-to-day runner, cyclist or swimmer. It's even an activity tracker and smart notification centre.
At a time when smartwatches are challenging established GPS sports watch brands, Garmin appears has put everything it offers into one super watch that can do it all.
But with a hefty £370 price tag and some very specialist skills is the Garmin Fenix 3, is it the watch you want to buy? We went hands-on in the Welsh mountains to find out.
Build and design
The Garmin Fenix 3, like the previous models before it remains chunky with a large, clear round display, but now it's colour too. While our model was black there is also a red strap and silver face version as well as a sapphire screen model with metal strap.
The design feels more worthy of all-day wear than the Fenix or Fenix 2. It's heavy enough to feel premium and strong, but light enough to not notice it under your sleeve. This model is waterproof to 100 metres where the Fenix 2 could only manage 50 metres.
The display was something that really jumped out at us as this is the first Fenix to feature colour. This added a level of tonal depth which pulled us into the menus and, at a glance, was far easier to read.
Despite running in rain with relatively poor light reading the screen was easy. It was large enough to display a route map that could be read even when bouncing about at full pace. This was important when trail running where every footfall could potentially mean an injury.
We didn't have a chance to really test the battery life of the Fenix 3 but left on overnight, and with a good hour and ten minute run, it didn't lost more than 20 per cent. Charging uses Garmin's easy clip attachment so we wouldn't consider this a big worry. Garmin says it'll last 6 weeks in watch mode, 20-hours with GPS or 50-hours with UltraTrac GPS which pings location every minute rather than on a scale of seconds.
The new EXO antenna is now stored in the screen's metal frame which, Garmin says, makes for faster GPS and GLONASS location. It seemed to do the trick with GPS located within 10-seconds of us turning on the activity.
Software and sensors
When it comes to diversity the Garmin Fenix 3 is something to shout about. Name a sport and it's probably got a pre-programmed setting for it. This includes the likes of cross-country skiing with vertical drops measured - plus it'll even stop measuring during the lift ride and start again when it detects you descending the mountain.
If you want to create more sport-specific modes you can do that easily enough from within the watch menus. These modes are called Apps which can be created by anyone so there are plenty on the Garmin store to choose from.
In our trail running test we found the waypoint arrow very helpful, this alerted us when we were off course and pointed to where we needed to head. It even showed a distance measure so you could tell how far from the exact point you were. This was because we had a pre-programmed route on the watch but if you were out and got lost TracBack takes you back to your start point along the same path you came – a nice security net then.
Auto ascent was a helpful offering that jumps from whatever screen you're on right into the ascent climb data screen so you can see how far you've climbed. When off course the watch vibrates, a similar jump to the navigation screen in this instance might be a nice extra. Since app development is open source anyone who can code can make this possible, potentially.
Garmin has opted to remove the ability to upload maps to the Fenix 3, in spite of it being an option of the Fenix 2. It will allow this on its new Epix watch which has a larger, squarer screen for viewing map data.
When it comes to data the Fenix 3 was overflowing with facts and figures – these are displayed in what Garmin calls Widgets. They work a bit like Cards on Google Now, allowing you to press down from the homescreen to cycle through barometric pressure, compass, step count, weather and more at a glance.
Recovery Advisor is another nice touch that tells the wearer, based on heart rate and VO2 max data, how long they should rest before training again. It then assesses the next training session and alerts the person if they didn't recover properly, perhaps from lack of sleep.
Thanks to Running Dynamics like cadence, contact time and vertical oscillation while running all this data should be super accurate allowing for fast improvements to technique.
Once you're done data upload to Garmin Connect, which is one of the best sports software platforms we've used, is easy. Auto-upload can be turned on so once it finds your Wi-Fi at home everything will be synced without you having to plug anything in.
Tackling the smartwatch onslaught
While smartwatches are still in their relative infancy the likes of Sony's SmartWatch 3 offers Android Wear and GPS. That means it can track your run, store music and play it via Bluetooth headphones so you can leave your phone at home. This sounds like a threat to GPS watches but at this stage pales in comparison. Uploading music is a big factor but this is difficult, changing readings once you're out is hard and, to be honest, you wouldn't want to trust it with your life.
The Garmin Fenix 3 feels like an adventurer's companion that is built, not only to track data, but to help keep you alive when off the beaten path. We never felt like we could get lost wearing the Fenix 3, which gives you confidence to explore and enjoy what you're doing without worrying about the logistics of it.
The Fenix 3, like Garmin's ForeRunner 920XT, now offers smart notifications. This means you can connect to your mobile via Bluetooth and receive texts, WhatApps and emails right on the watch so you can read while running without digging out your device. You can't reply from it, but isn't that the whole point of going off on an adventure? Plus with LiveTrac anyone who wants to see where you are can track you from a browser window.
For anyone that wants to track their sports, be it city running, mountain skiing, open water swimming or hiking, the Fenix 3 can handle the task. For the hardcore outdoorsman a dedicated devise with OS mapping might be more helpful. But for anyone planning a trail run or setting out to track data the Fenix 3 is spot on.
The design is attractive enough to be worn on a daily basis although it may be a little chunky for some. While there is a metal version available we'd imagine that strap for sport isn't great and changing it every time would be too much effort for most.
With a display like no other, amazing battery life, super accurate and fast tracking plus a host of apps the Garmin Fenix 3 offers everything a sports person could ask for. You get what you pay for and if you really want adventure you can't go far wrong with this on your wrist.