(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.
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.
Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar
- Epic battery life - aided by the sun
- Solid and watertight build
- Plethora of tracking options
- Mapping and PacePro are great features
- Interface is easy to digest
- Music services still limited
- Garmin Pay is fiddly to use compared to other contactless systems
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 mi