The fenix 3 is Garmin’s latest flagship GPS sports watch, boasting an incredible array of features. It is not only a very capable watch for running, cycling, hiking, etc. but also doubles up as a smart watch, providing the user with notifications directly from their smartphone. I am currently waiting for the Apple Watch, which like many others, I patiently preordered on the 10th of April. Unfortunately, my patience has begun to run thin, and there is no sight of me taking delivery of my Apple Watch. Well, not least until May 27th-June 9th, which is my current ‘shipping window’. But I digress.
I visited the London Marathon Expo at the Excel Centre, London, on Friday 24th of April. Ironically, this was the same day that the Apple Watch was officially released. I came across the Garmin stand, with the intention of checking out the fenix 3 in person. I had already read many favourable reviews about this watch, both in the form of written reviews and Youtube videos. My current Tom Tom multi-sports watch, which I purchased in December 2014, had tested my patience long enough. The biggest problem I faced with it was the incredible inaccuracy of the built in (wrist) heart-rate monitor. As a result, I was back in the market for a decent sports watch.
The staff at the Garmin stand were pretty helpful, answering most of my questions. I immediately knew when looking at the fenix 3 that this was a special watch. It was almost like love at first sight! I asked the staff to try one on, as it looked quite large, and having smaller than average sized wrists, was a little concerned about size/weight issues. These were ill-founded, as the watch (even though big!) felt very comfortable on my wrist. I was then pleasantly surprised to learn that at the Expo, Garmin were offering all watches at a discounted price. The fenix 3 performance bundle, which includes the sapphire version of the watch with a changeable stainless-steel link bracelet, along with a chest-strap heart-rate monitor, retails for £480. A whopping price tag, indeed! I was able to purchase the same bundle here today for £432, which was a decent saving. I also had the pleasure and fortune to meet Garmin ambassador and ultra runner Steve Way, who patiently answered a few questions I had about the watch, as well as giving me some marathon advice!
Holding the watch in my hand for this first time, I knew I had made a great choice. The overall feel and quality is amazing. With the link bracelet, the weight is ~192grams, which is a little heavy on the wrist, but contributes to the overall feel and class of the watch.
The watch features a sapphire screen. This is a actually my first watch with a sapphire screen, and suffice to say, it looks amazing. I take good care of my gadgets regardless, but have unwittingly knocked several watches on walls, radiators, poles, etc, whilst walking around bends (I’d rather not go into the logistics of my clumsy antics, but you get the idea…). To this effect, I will be trying my best to be more cautious about my arm swings in general, but it is reassuring to know that the sapphire screen is there for added protection. On a related note, the Apple watch (sports edition) I have pre-ordered does not feature a sapphire, so it will be interesting to compare the two once I finally receive it.
Before moving onto the features and my experience with the fenix 3, I’ll provide a quick summary of the main physical specs of the watch.
-Physical dimensions: 2.0″ x 2.0″ x 0.6″ (51.0 x 51.0 x 16.0 mm)
-Display size: 1.2″ (30.4 mm)
-Display resolution: 218 x 218 pixels; transflective MIP colour.
-Weight: With link bracelet; 186 g (6.56 oz) / with sports rubber strap; 85g (3.0 oz).
-Battery life: Up to 50 hours in UltraTrac mode; up to 20 hours in GPS training mode; up to 6 weeks in watch mode.
-Water rating: 10 ATM (withstands pressures equivalent to a depth of 100 metres), can be used for swimming, water sports and deep water scuba diving.
The fenix 3 is marketed by Garmin as a “rugged, capable and smart multipart training GPS watch”. It probably has more features than I can ever expect to use, and may be an overkill for what I need it for. To briefly summarise, the main features of the watch are as follows:
-Advanced Fitness Metrics: VO2 max estimator, recovery advisor, race predictor (based on current VO2).
-Running Dynamics Features: Feedback on running form, cadence, vertical oscillation, ground contact time (some features require a heart-rate monitor, which is included with this model).
-Swim Profile and Ski-board mode: Track swim data including distance and stroke count. Track ski-board data including speed, distance and vertical drop.
-Navigation: Altimeter, barometer and compass which can provide information of heading, elevation and weather changes.
-GLONASS: GLObal NAvigation Satellite System; which according to Wikipedia is, “a space-based satellite navigation system operated by the Russian Aerospace Defence Forces…. provides an alternative to Global Positioning System (GPS) and is the second alternative navigational system in operation with global coverage and of comparable precision”. My understanding from this is that, essentially, the accuracy of your GPS will be complimented and enhanced, providing more accurate run data.
I knew that the fenix 3 would boast some impressive training features, but was even more excited when I found out how intuitive the watch was in interacting with my iPhone. The notification alerts from my phone being transmitted directly to my first was immensely helpful (not to mention instant!), and I am now thinking how I ever got by without this! In addition to this, there are also a (limited) number of custom apps and watch faces which can be downloaded from the ‘Connect IQ store’, which can be considered as Garmin’s version of the Apple app store. Featuring the ability to check the weather or my calendar for the day is really helpful. However, it should be stressed that the smart features of this watch are strictly a ‘look but don’t touch’ matter, as you can view and read notifications, but unfortunately, not reply.
There are also a number of fitness tracking features present, including steps taken, sleep time, calories, et al. I found these features to be accurate and most useful. For example, despite the weight of the watch, sleeping in it was not uncomfortable, and accurately recorded the time I went to sleep and woke up. This is based on movement, and was my first venture with this feature, which I am aware is on many fitness bands now. I was pleasantly surprised to see the date recorded with precision over the past 3 nights.Waking up with the fenix 3s vibrate alarm was another welcome addition, and in some ways much more effective than my phones alarm.
Another feature I found worthwhile was the ‘move bar’, which builds up whilst you are not moving around much. If you are stationary for too long, you will get an alert (vibration) and a message on the screen telling you to “move!”. I can see this being a really emotivating feature, encouraging users to be more active. Although I suspect that the target market for most people of the fenix 3 would be fairly active throughout the day, anyhow.
Running is my primary sport, and what I really got the fenix 3 for. I went for my first run with the fenix 3 the day after purchase, covering a quick 2 miles to see how the watch holds it’s ground. Suffice to say, I was impressed. GPS and heart rate monitor signals were picked up quickly, and I could see the screen clearly, even in bright sunlight.
The included heart rate monitor and chest strap took a little getting used to, having never run with one before. The accuracy was a remarkable improvement over the dire Tom Tom multi-sport, which was incredibly inaccurate. I have attached a comparison of a track session, with interval repeats of work and rest, to highlight the difference in their accuracy.
Whilst setting up my watch, I was also prompted to add my wifi password, and link my Garmin and Strava accounts. It was great to see that my run data was automatically uploaded to Strava. No more plugging the watch into my computer via usb (Nike+), no more uploading via bluetooth (Tom Tom multi-sport). This is true wireless technology at its greatest! I have since completed a few other runs, and even over 4G, my runs automatically upload to my Strava account. This process seems to be very quick, taking seconds, as I have checked my Strava immediately after a recent track session, and behold, my run data was already there.
The Garmin fenix 3 is a versatile watch, which would appeal to the fashion aware consumer who wants their fitness device to seamlessly blend into their social life. The overall design is rugged and seems to be built to last. The buttons are solid, although a little difficult to press when on the wrist. For this reason, I would have really appreciated touch screen capability built-in to the watch, as well.
The sapphire edition features a removable link bracelet strap which looks pretty sharp when paired with either smart-casual dress wear or even a suit. There is a mini screwdriver kit included to interchange the link bracelet for a sports band. Unfortunately, I found the process to change between the two a little fiddly and time consuming. Having seen the Apple Watch in person, I know changing straps with it are a lot simpler, with a simple button press and no screws. This really disappointed me, as the fenix 3 has a very versatile look and I would really have liked to wear this watch everyday, both socially and for sports. Unfortunately, it seems that I may have to ‘pick’ a side to use it with, as changing the straps everyday (or even twice a day) is not going to be an option.
Furthermore, it was a little surprising to me that Garmin made the aesthetics very masculine looking. In all honesty, I think the watch would be rather cumbersome on a female athletes wrist and having asked a few friends of the opposite sex their views on the watche’s design, none were particularly favourable.
Despite both positive and negative points about the fenix 3, it all comes down to the final thoughts. Would I recommend the fenix 3? In a word, yes! It is a sports watch that comes with a premium price tag, yet once in your hand, definitely feels like you have paid your monies worth. The premium build, plethora of features and beautiful aesthetics makes this a watch worth having, particularly for keen athletes who engage in a variety of training activities.
Available directly from Amazon: Garmin Fenix 3 GPS Multisport Watch with Outdoor Navigation – Sapphire