The GPS watch market is growing, the multitude of useful features manufactures are packing into these units is seriously impressive. From navigation, to multi-sports activities and training; the Garmin Fenix is aimed at outdoor enthusiasts in ‘demanding mountain environments’. Over the last 2 months we’ve been testing the Fenix up-against it’s competitors in a variety of situations, here’s how it faired.
The Garmin Fenix has a range of navigation features including: GPS location, Route Planning, Route Tracking, an Electronic Compass, an Altimeter & a Barometer. Garmin Connect (more on this later) allows routes and data to be exchanged between your PC or Mac which creates a well rounded and comprehensive navigation package.
Aside from the navigation features, the Garmin Fenix has an array of standard functions such as: The Time (yes it really does), Date, Timer, Stopwatch and Alarm (which has a handy vibration function), all of which are straightforward to access and use.
When in the GPS mode, the Fenix gives you access to data such as: Distance, Time, Pace, Heart Rate & Cadence (with a sensor), we found these features the most useful when training, especially with distance cardio exercises such as cycling or running. The battery is able to last up to 50 hours in UltraTrac mode, which decreases the intervals in which data is received from the satellites in order to conserve power, handy for endurance events and longer expeditions.
One feature we really missed (which the Suunto Ambit 2 has) is the ability to record swimming data, either from open water swimming or in a pool (essential for anyone looking to use the watch for triathlons, or swimmers…) however, the recent release of the Fenix 2 looks to have this covered.
Ease of Use
The Fenix is easy to use right out the box, with no need to reference the manual. The menu navigation and buttons are all fairly intuitive and from memory we only struggled briefly to start an activity – but after some sporadic button pressing we discovered holding the 2 o’clock button activated this. I think the only Googling (word?) we had to do was locking the watch, which (if you’re wondering) is achieved by holding the 8 o’clock and 2 o’clock button simultaneously.
Compared to a normal watch, these GPS units are chunky, and certainly take getting used to. To be fair though, there is a whole heap of tech crammed into these watches so the size can be forgiven. The rubber strap and simple flat brushed base does make this watch quite comfortable (we think more comfortable then the Suunto Ambit 2).
In normal use we did find the Satellite acquisition time quite slow, the wait could be anywhere between 20 seconds to 5 minutes. On average we found the Suunto Ambit 2 did locate satellites quicker then the Fenix (although this may be an area that Garmin have since improved on both in the software update and the newer ‘Fenix 2’ model).
Once operating though, the general performance of the Fenix is good with constant stream of data at your fingertips. On occasion, we did experience freezing, crashing and unreliability that needed a reboot, according to Garmin, many of these issues have since been ironed out in the latest firmware update, so if you do buy the Fenix, make sure you update it right away!
When we first tested the watch, Garmin were seriously behind the game on connectivity with Mac and Andriod (we found various complaints on forums), we couldn’t find a way to load maps onto the device or use Garmin connect, but a few months later OSX (Mac) versions of the software appeared and we were able to access all the features. However, at the time of writing, apps are still lacking for Android users.
The Garmin Connect interface (accessible via Garmin Express) is a fantastic interface, you simply connect the Fenix via the USB cable (bluetooth connectivity is available) and Garmin Express will sync all your activities and routes with the online interface. It’s worth having a look through this interface before buying, as there are so many features available – as we have referenced Suunto in this review, it would be fair to note their interface, Movescount as a comparison.
A nice little feature of the recent firmware update (nicely explained on www.dcrainmaker.com) is the new integration with iOS, effectively turning the Fenix into a ‘Smartwatch’ bringing you updates and notifications from your mobile via Bluetooth.
Value For Money
This review is unusual, it is posthumous in that the Fenix 2 has very recently been released. This does mean, the ‘old’ Fenix is now on sale all over the place and can easily be found for around £250. With the recent firmware update, and expansion to OSX, we think the watch is now fantastic value for money at this lower price.
So, what does all this mean? If you’re looking for a budget GPS watch that is feature packed, this is a serious contender; with the freezing and crashing ironed out with the latest firmware, the main downsides you’ll need to consider are the slow load times, lack of swimming features and slightly bulky appearance… But if you can look past these fairly minor points, a GPS watch with this level of sophistication and connectivity for £250 (best price) is a bargain in our eyes.
But if budget is less of a concern, it’s certainly worth checking out the Suunto Ambit 2 (which we found to be faster, more reliable and featured swimming functions – all be it at a higher price) and the Garmin Fenix 2, which fights back against the Ambit 2 in an attempt to reclaim the GPS watch throne!