(Pocket-lint) - The Garmin Fenix range has long been the pinnacle of multi-sport outdoor fitness watches. As the range has expanded - it now encompasses a wide variety of models at different price points, to the point the list of options is almost overwhelming - it's now a multi-faceted and versatile lineup.
For the top-of-the-range model - the Fenix 6 Pro - little could be added to make it truly better than it already is. Or so we thought. But the 6 Pro Solar goes one better by - as you can guess from the name - adding solar-powered glass. This 'Power Glass' - which was previously introduced on the bigger model in the Fenix 6 range - can offer an extension on already-excellent battery life by drawing power from the sun's rays.
We were already impressed by the Fenix 6 Pro. The Solar takes all that goodness and sends it into orbit. It's one of the finest sport-focused smartwatches ever launched.
More of the same, please...
- Dimensions: 47mm diameter, 15.1mm thickness
- Stainless steel bezel/underside
- 22mm quick-release strap
- 10ATM waterproofing
- Five physical buttons
The name says it all really: Fenix 6 Pro Solar looks identical to the model sans solar power. Well, except if you look closely at the perimeter of the display - where you'll notice a slim, dark, reflective ring circling the display, which means the index around it is slimmer, with smaller and finer lines and text, to make room for that solar power ring.
Other than that, it's pretty much as you were. The sturdy steel frame around the outside keeps those iconic exposed screws and engraved labels to denote what each of the five physical buttons is for. It features a similar stainless steel plate on the underside, and sandwiched between those is a sturdy and durable fibre-infused polymer casing.
After wearing it day in and day out, it has to be said that the durability of this watch is brilliant - leaving no marks anywhere on the watch, not even the tiniest scratches on the lens above the display. It's not surprising really given its build and material choices.
With 10 ATM waterproofing - meaning it can be submerged to 100m - the Solar is more than capable of surviving your swimming and diving sessions. It will laugh in the face of any summer rain showers or even your sweatiest hot weather workouts.
Where the Solar is slightly different - from a design perspective - is in the colours and finishes available. Although there's not all that much variety here: two slate grey steel models - one with red accents and the other with blue - and then a white model, and a more expensive titanium model with a metal link bracelet.
As with most previous Fenix watches, the strap features Garmin's own proprietary quick-release mechanism so you can easily buy new Garmin straps to change up your look.
Despite being a relatively chunky watch, it doesn't feel uncomfortable to wear. The physical clicky buttons on the outside are pleasant to press and are all that's required to control the interface on the display. There's no touchscreen here, which we think is a good thing for an outdoorsy watch where you might be up a mountain with cold, gloved hands.
Interface and controls
Over the past year or so we've seen Garmin drastically improve its general interface. Part of that improvement is down to a display which seems smoother and faster than in previous generations. There are some neat, attractive animations, but more vitally the individual metric full-screen widgets you had to scroll through before have been condensed into a much more compact list. And that, in turn, means you can see more than one bit of data at once.
You can add and remove metrics from that list to suit your own preferences, and if you want a deeper look, a press of the select button provides a more thorough look at that particular bit of data. This way, it serves those who want a quick glance and others that want more meat on those bare bones.
And while the smartphone app is great for collating all of this data, you get enough of it in the watch to make grabbing your phone for detail a little less necessary. To the point where you can load up your previous activities and see all the data and information (including maps) on the round display.
- 14 days battery in smartwatch mode (16 with enough solar charging)
- Up to 40 hours continuous GPS tracking
- Garmin proprietary charger
One of the biggest plus points of the original Fenix 6 Pro is its two-week battery life. Garmin says the Solar can last the same - except with enough sunshine, it can extend up to around 16 days. An extra two days, or around a 13 per cent boost, is nothing to shake a stick at.
On our first full charge during testing, we managed about seven workouts of around 30-40 minutes in duration and got to our 15th day, and still had around four or five per cent of the battery left over. Then we thought it was time to charge it using the cable. With no workouts, and with an afternoon spent outside in the sun on a hot day, it wasn't unusual for the battery to only drop a couple of percentage points from where it started the day.
For most average users, getting that extra couple of days of battery might not be a deal-breaker. Where it might make more sense is for those who like to go on epic long hikes or run ultra-marathons. When you're out in daylight for big stretches of time, tracking distance with the GPS sensor, heart rate monitoring and other metrics, it'll make a difference. You'll get 40 hours of tracking using the solar model, versus 36 hours on the non-solar model (that's an 11 per cent boost).
Of course, a lot of this performance is very dependent on the levels of sunlight. If it's a bright summer's day, you'll see on the solar intensity metric display that it's reaching maximum intensity. On cloudier or overcast days, you don't get that same intensity, and so it won't be refilling the battery as efficiently.
What we like most about the battery life, as we found in the regular Fenix 6 Pro, is the way it displays battery by the time left in whatever mode you're currently using. If it's in regular smartwatch mode, it'll show how many days you have remaining. When tracking an activity, it'll show you how many hours you have before the battery is done. It's contextually aware in that sense.
Lifestyle and smartwatch features
- Garmin Pay
- Maps and music onboard
- Sleep tracking and body battery estimation
As has always been the case, the smartwatch functions of the latest Garmin watch are limited when compared to the likes of fully-fledged smart wearables, such as the Apple Watch and Wear OS devices. But, again, that's part of the Garmin charm. It does enough to be useful and keeps its focus on the real reason you'd buy a Garmin: long battery life and reliable activity tracking.
What that means is that you get all the latest Garmin-available lifestyle features like Garmin Pay (for mobile payments), smartwatch notifications mirrored on your wrist, and music for offline listening.
Garmin Pay isn't a perfect feature though. For starters, it's not supported by every bank, and when you launch the feature you need to enter your chosen PIN code to activate it before putting your wrist near the contactless terminal to authenticate the payment. It's a bit of a lumpy system, but when your watch is all you have on you and you need to pick up some essential supplies on your way back from a run/hike/whatever, it could be something of a life-saver.
Music is dependent on you having a subscription to a supported service. If you're an Apple Music or Tidal subscriber there's no support here sadly. But if you use Spotify, Deezer or Amazon Music, you can sync playlists to your wrist and pair some sports earphones to your watch and listen to your favourite tracks when out and about.
Like any decent fitness tracker for everyday usage, the Solar will track your steps and movement throughout the day and keep an eye on your heart rate. You can also set it up to track your sleep, but whether or not you're comfortable wearing a watch like this all night is an entirely personal preference.
With sleep tracking there's one thing we found so important: if you don't go to bed at the time you've told it you usually go to bed, it'll track your late evening Netflix binge sessions as sleeping time. For instance, on a working week, we'd typically go to bed around 11 pm, but at the weekend or while on leave we were a bit lax with that.
Stick to somewhere close to a plan, however, and you'll see a pretty decent break down of your sleep, showing you when you were in deep sleep, light sleep and even times you've woken up in the night to go get a drink. You'll even get scored on how good your sleep was, which then affects the 'Body Battery' data to let you know how much you've got in the tank for the day and help you understand why you might be feeling a little flat that day.
Sports data and smarts
- Skiing, Surfing and MTB tracking updated
- Same running tracking as regular Fenix 6 Pro
One of the great things about the Fenix watches is that they generally suit all manner of sports and fitness enthusiasts. You can track a multitude of activities using the Fenix 6 Pro Solar - from hiking and mountain biking to indoor training and strength sessions.
In fact, over the past 12 months or so, Garmin has added indoor sessions into its app that you can load on to your watch and see animations. These are available whether you have weights and equipment, or just want to do some bodyweight sessions.
New for 2020: Garmin has included a few new updates including specialist backcountry skiing, improved dynamics for MTB (mountain biking) and surfing. The skiing profile can distinguish between skiing and climbing and shows metrics for whichever you're doing, while MTB dynamics lets you measure 'grit and flow' to track how smoothly you're descending.
It's with running that we feel Garmin delivers the best data and information. Get a few running sessions under your belt and you benefit from VO2Max tracking - used to measure your blood exygen maximum - which can help to indicate how fit you are. You also get advice on how long you need to rest before attempting your next run.
Plus, there's the PacePro feature which Garmin introduced in 2019 to help you understand how your pace is improving and - thankfully - takes into account running up hills. After all, being able to do 5-minute kilometres with hills in it is much more impressive than doing 5-minute kilometres on a flat surface. It can even track how well you're acclimating to heat, if you're training in the summer.
Depending on which activity you're doing, the screen on the watch adapts. So if you're running you'll see distance, session time, pace and heart rate. If you go for strength training, it'll show you how many reps you've done and session time. You can also kick it into a map mode, or pre-load routes onto the watch using the app and follow them using the built-in maps on the watch.
We've found the tracking and performance to be really consistent and accurate. It logs onto GPS signal quick enough and even seems to do a decent job of keeping up with heart-rate changes during HIIT sessions. We've not once been left frustrated by intermittent pausing of location tracking or inconsistent results during our testing.
The joy of having all the data you could need is that it suits both the beginner and the experienced sportsperson. If all you want to see is the distance, time and heart-rate improvements, you can see those. If you want to dig deeper, there's lots here to get into.
One feature we always enjoy is the Garmin Coach. You can sign up to a running coaching plan, setting your goal and letting it programme a weekly schedule for you with different running sessions. Some focus on speed and cadence, others get you used to running on hills, while others are all about stamina and being able to run long distances.
Of the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro we said: "It's impossible not to applaud a device as comprehensively impressive. As multi-functional sports-focused smartwatches go there's no equal." Well, now it's gone one better with the Solar version adding battery refilling from it being exposed to the sun.
In the end you'll undoubtedly get joy from the Fenix 6 Pro Solar - just as you would from its non-solar powered sibling. For many, really, the solar-powered aspect - which can't really replace a plug and cable - is a nice-to-have rather than everyday essential.
But the Fenix 6 Pro is ust so robust and accomplished. The plethora of tracking options, it sturdy and durable build, the inclusion of music, maps, and contactless payments, all married with reliable and consistent tracking. It's a virtually unbeatable watch. And it's got even more of a place if you can find some sunshine.
However, it's expensive, and there are other Garmin models that offer a similar feature list if you need to save some cash, but you're unlikely to find any of them do it all in as accomplished a fashion as the Fenix 6 Pro Solar.
Fenix 6 Pro
You can save a little money by opting for the non-solar powered model. It offers an almost identical design and feature set. You just don't get the extra couple of days of use made possible by the sun's rays.