As the Garmin Fēnix 3 hits the Ellis Brigham shelves, online content assistant Mike went to check out the latest incarnation of the active watch in Snowdonia, experiencing first-hand (no pun intended) what sets it apart from the rest of Garmin's range.
The world of smart watches, and GPS units has come on a long way in the past few years, but when they become active-specific, Garmin continues to push the boat out. The Fenix 3 is being hailed as Garmin's most versatile piece of wearable fitness tech: it loses the chunky looks of the Fenix 2 and the bright sporty aesthetic of the Forerunner series and instead stands in its own right as a really classy looking watch as well as being a superbly advanced fitness and GPS device for every thinkable outdoor sport.
The most striking feature of the Fenix 3 is the brand new EXO-Antenna™ that encircles the screen. This stainless steel ring not only adds a real touch of style to the watch, but it serves to amplify the satellite signal strength - more on that in a moment. Garmin’s hallmark build quality and durability is immediately evident. Although lightweight, the housing and side buttons feel solid and robust enough to endure the elements, as does the scratch resistant screen. A bright LED backlight makes sure the ultra-clear Chroma display is easily viewable even in strong sunlight, while the soft rubber strap is very comfortable to wear.
The Fenix 3's clockfaces and themes can be easily personalised using Garmin's Connect IQ app, allowing you to choose between a wide range of styles and apps that really make the watch your own.
Syncing your watch to your smartphone is quick and simple using the Garmin Connect app, and once you’re paired up via Bluetooth, your watch will display phone notifications (no more excuses for not having heard your phone ringing in your pack!) The watch itself is wi-fi enabled, so even without a smartphone or laptop, your Fenix 3 will upload activities straight to Garmin Connect once in reach of a recognised internet connection.
The Fenix 3 is both GPS and GLONASS enabled (GLONASS being the Russian answer to GPS, and is considered more accurate in the Northern Hemisphere), and you can choose which you'd prefer to be using. This accuracy is enhanced further thanks to the EXO-Antenna™ - a stroke of design genius. This stainless steel exterior ring amplifies your satellite signa and makes locking on your location almost instant, and gives the watch pin-point location accuracy. This is really noticeable when using a pre-set route: deviate only a couple of metres from your line and the watch will make sure you know about it.
I know I’ve mentioned them before, but the solidity of the function buttons really comes into its own during high output exercise. Testing the Fenix 3 in Snowdonia inevitably meant it was tested in rain...
...Really heavy rain.
...Really sideways rain.
With numb fingers (thanks Raynaud’s) I normally have difficulty pressing through different options on these devices, but the Fenix 3's interface was sensitive and really easy to operate, even through eyes bleary with rainfall and sweat.
Switching to the trail run function gives you the trail specific vitals on your screen, allowing you to flick effortlessly between location/route, VO2 Max, pace/heart rate, and cadence. When you hit a climb, it automatically gives you your VAM, helping you to pace your effort when the gradient increases. Very cool.
The primary hiking function on the Fenix 3 is of course navigation. While we’d never recommend leaving the house without a map and compass, but what if the weather descends and you're left scratching your head as to which is the best way off the hill? The Fenix 3's Backtrack function makes it brilliantly easy to follow your route back to your start point – a simple feature that could quite feasibly save your life, or a least an MRT call out. Another helpful feature is the 'Sight N' Go' function – the 3D compass giving you the ability to lock co-ordinates on a landmark and keep your trajectory on target. This is a really handy tool if the conditions and visibility are hit and miss and disorientation is likely.
The Fenix 3 boasts a very impressive battery life, depending on how you use it. In normal watch mode, without GPS or Bluetooth enabled, the battery can last upwards of 6 weeks. When GPS is turned on, this is reduced to 20 hours, but putting the watch into Ultratrac mode ensures your ultra-distance events can be recorded for up to 50 hours, albeit at a lower quality. (For the most ultra of ultra endurance athletes, the Fenix 3 can be charged on the go!) For most people with easy access to a computer and not requiring GPS and Bluetooth activated all the time, the watch will stay alive for ages.
Garmin have really come up with a game changer in the Fenix 3, combining the best of both worlds from their other GPS and fitness watch lines.
Your watch says a lot about you as a person and lifestyle so your choice is always a big decision and often a compromise. The Fenix 3 blurs the subtle trig point of sports watch, GPS watch and dress watch but not at the expense of each for the other. If you're looking for a versatile, go-anywhere watch that you can rely upon in all environments and during all activities, the Fenix 3 should be your companion.
Shop the Garmin Fēnix 3 here.