(Pocket-lint) - The Garmin Fenix sits at the top of Garmin's extensive line-up of watches. Designed for sports first, this series has been slowly evolving to offer all the features that you'd get from other smartwatches, including absorbing lifestyle features like smartphone notifications, to present a very competitive blend.
Through this expanding line of devices, Garmin has a watch for every type of user, covering a full range of prices. The Fenix 6 is the one that has it all, but is it worth its sizeable price tag as a result?
Serious watch design
- 42mm, 47mm, 51mm sizes
- Choice of materials and finishes
- Easy-to-change strap mechanism
Garmin's devices have been becoming more watch-like over the past few years. From once bulky sports devices, the ranges have now slimmed down, diversified, including offering premium materials and a range of sizes to give wider appeal.
There's no avoiding the fact that the Garmin Fenix is a large device. It's meant to be, but that also appeals to the target market who want a screen that's large enough to be visible at a glance - it's now 1.3-inches, larger than the previous version - and buttons that are easy to hit so it's usable when wearing gloves.
That's also a description that fits diver's watches, with a ruggedised design that's hugely popular in the analogue watch market. Garmin sees the Fenix as its premium device for outdoor adventurers and thus offers a similar diver-style aesthetic. While mountaineers and outdoor types might be the target market, there's no shortage of people wearing the Fenix around cities, to the office and at the gym, because it's supremely versatile.
The Fenix 6 comes in a number of different versions, offering a smaller 6S model (at 42mm), the 'standard' 6 (in Pro or Sapphire editions at 47mm) and the 6X (at 51mm, including the solar version). There are number of different colours and styles, including titanium bezels and sapphire glass. They all have easily changeable straps, so you can quickly move from silicone to leather or metal if and when you wish.
Your choices will have an impact on the price, starting at £529 (in 42 and 47mm), £599 for the Pro (which adds maps, music and Wi-Fi), £699 for the Sapphire (which adds a sapphire glass display, the model in the pictures here), and then upwards as you opt for titanium bezels and metal straps. In terms of features for your money, it's the £599 Fenix 6 Pro which is the most attractive overall.
The Fenix is really comfortable to wear for long periods, easily adjustable thanks to the substantial buckle on the strap, with just about enough flex in the silicone bands to be able to wear it tight for accurate heart-rate readings without adjusting it when your arm swells once your blood starts pumping. However, it's a bit hench to wear for sleep tracking.
The display is an always-on one, with illumination on a battery press, and it presents high contrast visuals so you can always see your stats. There's no support for touch on the screen, but in reality, using touch when you're running can be (literally) a bit hit and miss, so we much prefer the buttons here.
It's all about data interpretation
- Huge range of metrics
- Evolved data explanation
Because this is a Garmin, you know that sports and activity tracking comes from a long line of market-leading devices. Heart rate, GPS, altitude, barometer, accelerometer, compass, gyroscope, thermometer. Yes, many devices lower down the scale offer all or some of these things, but these higher-end devices are no longer solely about the data they gather - it's about what they do with it.
We've found that the heart-rate monitor in the Fenix 6 gives mostly accurate readings, although if the watch is too loose such results can slip off the pace. Equally, we've seen the monitor get confused and run off into 145bpm when we're walking, but a restart of the watch fixed that. Such gremlins are not uncommon from optical sensors, but otherwise we've had solid readings. Of course you can use a chest strap if you wish.
We've also found the GPS to be accurate, returning our routes and distances as we'd expect, covering the important basics. This device has new GPS hardware in it compared to the previous and it's more power efficient - as well as detecting location nice and quickly from a cold start.
That covers the basics for the huge range of sports offered. Like other Garmin devices, you'll often get custom screens for each sport so you can see the information you need. It's all customisable and there are perhaps more options than you'll ever need - but in offering so much, it doesn't matter if you're a novice wanting basic data or an enthusiast wanting something specific, as you'll be able to get it.
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro also comes with full colour maps for Europe (if you're in Europe) and these are all loaded on the device so you can view your pre-loaded activity routes on real maps, or you can use maps to orient yourself. We wouldn't really recommend it for anything other than a quick glance - it can't beat a proper map and navigation is a little slow and small-scale on that screen - but if you're running a route it can basically guide you easily enough.
Like a number of other Garmin devices, you can also use the route tracking to return to where you started (great if you're running away from home and get lost), you can preload GPX routes and so on for longer runs, walks or cycles, or you can repeat routes you've done before. There's a lot we haven't tested on this watch in terms of sports-specific modes and options (it's not ski season, for example), but we will update when we get to use more in the future.
Talking to your body
- Body Battery
- Training Status
- Heat and altitude acclimatisation
Garmin - and many other sports platforms - have been increasing the number of evolved features that come from the data gathered to tell you more about what's happening with your body.
Training Status is a good one for athletes, as it looks at your activity and tells you whether you're doing too much or too little - or just about enough. It relies on a lot of baseline data about your body to start forming a deeper picture of what's going on, although it's not unique to Garmin - Polar has a similar system.
Linked to this is the determination of training effort, with recommendations of how much rest you might need. A threshold session might see a recommendation that you leave it 48 hours before training again - and this is all considered against your baseline activity.
Garmin has expanded this with Body Battery, which looks at your activity and energy expenditure during the day, sets that in the context of your rest and sleep, then produces an assessment of what sort of state you're in - and it's bizarrely accurate.
Sleeping while wearing the Fenix isn't the most natural thing because it's so big, but wearing the watch 24/7 does unlock Body Battery because you then have 24/7 'stress' readings, all your movements, exercise and your rest. Have a good sleep and awake feeling rested; if you've had a busy day then you'll need more rest. We all know this, but the figures you get from Garmin's Body Battery seem to fit the living reality really well.
Here's an example: having been living in the watch 24/7 and impressed with its performance on Body Battery, we went out to an awards ceremony, enjoyed the after party and got home late. The next morning, of course, we felt absolutely drained. And that's what Body Battery showed: the five hours of broken sleep hadn't been restorative because of high stress levels - likely a reflection of the affects of alcohol. Yes, a good day to skip a workout, but also Body Battery didn't return to normal until two days later, a reminder of the impact that such events might have on you.
We've given this example in a normal work and social context, but equally there are measures to take this to the Fenix's core market. PulseOx is a measure that gives a reading for your bloody oxygen saturation. It's designed to help people know how well they are acclimatising to altitude, which has a big impact on performance.
You can measure PulseOx all the time, but in normal conditions it's unlikely to be a reading that you never need - you'll always be in the green, unless there's something wrong, in which case go see a doctor. If you're heading into the mountains and are wondering why you feel drained, it can perhaps be an indicator of what's going on with your body. Yes, this is one metric that's a little niche for most people, but the Fenix 6 Pro is for more than just your average.
There's also an indication of acclimatisation to heat. You'll know that running in high temperatures takes some getting used to, but again, the Fenix can quantify that and show you how you're performing taking into account the heat.
Systems like Training Status, Body Battery and the component elements that leading into them - 24/7 heart-rate tracking, stress, sleep tracking - have appeal at both the consumer and more advanced levels. Whether that's as a glance into your body's state at home or when you're on a multi-day event, it's interesting stuff. Of course, if you're not interested, you can just pick and choose what you look it.
It's great for endurance athletes
- 14 day battery life
- 48 date battery life in saver mode
- Advanced pacing functions
The Fenix 6 will give you 14 days of battery life - and that's not even when in a power saving mode. It's a little better than the Fenix 5 models, but this is familiar territory for Garmin devices (the flagship Forerunner 945 isn't so different). That's not a pie in the sky figure either, it really does last this long, so it's a world away from market-leading smartwatches that need charging every night. Here, it's every other week that'll see you through. 1
One of the things we really like is that you also get a battery level reading once you move into an activity. For example, start a run and it will tell you that there's 48 hours of tracking available - so you know you can head out and run or walk 100km and the Fenix has you covered.
What the Fenix offers above other Garmin devices is advanced battery management. This can cut the watch down in incremental stages to give you, for example, 60 hours of tracking, or even 48 days of battery life.
Beyond that, the Fenix 6 also offers a new PacePro feature, which is an advanced system that will allow you to set your target pace or race time and, importantly, create a pace strategy for an event. It's a dynamic system, taking into account gradient and also reflecting if you're ahead of your target time, allowing you to run faster or slower sections of a race and still keep on target - for up to 15 hours.
PacePro can also be integrated into turn-by-turn navigation and mapping, letting you flip through screens on the watch to see where you are, and what's coming up. In many ways it doesn't matter if you're pushing for a 2:30 marathon or a 55 minute 10k, pacing is still important and it's a useful feature for those who are racing with specific targets in mind.
While you can create target times or pace from the Fenix 6 itself, using the Garmin Connect website is a lot better - because you can create a PacePro strategy from a route, either something you've use before, an imported event, someone else's route, or create a custom route on the map. That's as easy as clicking along the route you want, and the result is a course, with distance and elevation changes, from which PacePro can create a pace strategy for your run based on what you're trying to achieve. It's a powerful tool for those wanting to run by the numbers.
There are also all the normal training options, with the ability to sign up to training programmes and have all that piled into Garmin Connect and appear on your device. Like other Garmin devices, you can use the Fenix with a full range of other external sensors - from InReach (a satellite communications module), through to footpods, cadence sensors, Garmin VIRB and much more. It's very much the real deal.
Being a smartwatch
- Smartphone notifications
- Phone-free music
- Mobile payments
All the data you gather syncs to Garmin Connect (for Android and iOS, or via webpage) and the level of connectivity has really stepped up over recent years. The app is now packed full of data and it's easy to connect more than one device, so if you prefer to use a Garmin Edge device for cycling, for example, that's no problem.
But as a smartwatch, the Fenix also does pretty much everything you need. You'll get the full range of notifications from your phone, with Android users benefitting a little more than iPhone, thanks to Android's quick replies, meaning you can reply to a message with a stock reply with a button press. That accounts for most of what others are using smartwatches for.
There are also apps available through Connect IQ to add specific things to your Garmin, be that an Uber app, another range of sports data you want, or just more watch faces.
The Fenix 6 Pro also offers support for local music, letting you download playlists from Spotify, Deezer or Amazon Music to take on the run. With Bluetooth headphones there's no need for a phone in your pocket - and there's enough space for 2000 songs here. It takes a little time to move things across, but it's easy enough to do.
Then there's Garmin Pay. This isn't as dynamic as Apple Pay or Google Pay, because it's not as widely supported by banks (although support at payment terminals is the same), but if you want those payments then it's not difficult to open an account just to use with it.
So there's really not a lot missing. Yes, the display isn't as colourful and vibrant as you get from the bestselling smartwatches, but the battery life is 700 per cent better, which we think is a fair trade-off.
While the Fenix series is pitched towards those hanging off the side of a mountain, there's a lot else stacked into this smart sports watch. Essentially it does everything that other Garmin devices do, all wrapped into the one device.
Which, in a sense, is one of the only problems the Fenix 6 might have: runners will find there are the Forerunner 45, through the 245 and 645, up to the 945; the lifestylers have the Vivoactive devices; while older versions of the Forerunner and Fenix devices offer a lot of this watch's vast feature set too. So you could save yourself some money by looking elsewhere in Garmin's range.
But the Fenix 6 Pro offers a far longer battery life, better protection and sturdier build for an increasingly all-encompassing experience, drawing on all of Garmin's athletic experience. It's also a very capable smartwatch, able to provide the convenience of music and mobile payments as well as notifications.
While some might see the huge amounts of data and functionality as excessive, there's something about the Fenix that makes it a great life partner. Whether you're training for a 5K, about to finish your third Ironman or are on a multi-day adventure race, the Fenix has something for you in terms of functions.
It's impossible not to applaud a device as comprehensively impressive as the Fenix 6. As multi-functional sports-focused smartwatches go there's no equal.
Garmin Forerunner 935
The Garmin Forerunner 935 offers much of the same core functionality as the Fenix 6 Pro, but as it's a little older, it comes a little cheaper. The battery isn't quite as long and you don't get all the evolved metrics that the Fenix offers, but it's a slightly lighter build and excellent for runners.
Polar Vantage V
Polar's flagship rival multi-sport watch is the Vantage V. It's cheaper than the Garmin, but the performance doesn't quite stack up. While it offers a range of similar metrics for athletes, it's not as accurate or as comprehensive - and there's not mobile payments, no music support and limited smartwatch functionality.