I have been using a Garmin Virb as my action camera and I am probably a fan of Garmin’s products. Having obtained my first Android phone, I decided to purchase a Garmin Fenix 3 (Sapphire version) which retails at $599 on Amazon. Recently, Garmin has launched a newer version of the Fenix 3 dubbed the HR version that comes with an integrated heart rate monitor which costs $599. The older version which I have includes a chest strap to monitor heart rate which can be incorporated into your data collected.
While the old Fenix 3 has a cheaper non-Sapphire glass version, the Sapphire version was worth the extra cost with the addition of an extra metal strap and a scratch-resistant glass. The new Fenix 3 HR comes with the Sapphire glass as the basic set though it just comes with a basic silicone band, and costs the same at $599 like the older Sapphire Fenix 3 that retails with an extra metal band and a separate heart rate monitor. There are no other significant differences in design.
Not an Android Wear
One thing to note is that Garmin Fenix 3 is not an Android Wear, as in it would not function like the Android smartwatches from Huawei, Samsung and Motorola. The Fenix 3 will allow notifications from SMS and e-mails though it does not read images. It will also notify users of calls. However it has limited sync with your smartphone, and to truly sync it well, users need to download the Garmin Connect app to the mobile phone which will keep all your data under one app.
Furthermore, the Fenix 3 has a 218 x 218 pixels backlit screen. Not an advanced LED screen. Thus do not expect rich colours or easily legible screen under direct sunlight. However the upside of all this is that the battery can last several days without the need to recharge. The maximum I have gone without a charge is about 4 days under light usage. Even with multiple sports tracking and frequent use of the backlight on the watch, I manage more than 2 days of use before nearly depleting the battery.
The design of the watch is bulky with a 51 diameter face and a 26mm strap. That means it is amongst the largest size of watches anywhere. And it is thick as well coming in at 16mm in thickness. The watch can feel heavy with the included metal band, though with the rubber band, I got used to the feel of the watch in a week or so.
The sapphire version of my watch has a gunmetal finish on the metal bezel while Garmin also sells versions with rose gold or a silver bezel. And if there is any more downside, the metal bezel is prone to scratches. Especially with a large thickness, I found myself knocking it quite often. Given that this is marketed as a sports watch, I thought it should be more durable and scratch resistant.
Along the sides of the watch, there are 5 knobs where users press to go through the menu. There is no touch-screen here either. Thus the design of the watch should appeal to buyers who like the look of military watches.
Given all the features in many smartwatch that the Garmin Fenix 3 lacks, why did I even bother getting it then?
Because, as a sports watch, this is probably one of the best out there. I am someone who usually wears one watch and rarely switches out of them. And as an avid skier, this watch probably has one of the best features that meet my needs. This is one of the watch that actually can receive 2 GPS signals (GPS and GLONASS), and includes a built-in compass, measures altitude, pressure and temperature. Users could also get a readout of the map from the watch itself. Being a Garmin device meant it is equipped with ANT+, which is Garmin’s proprietary inter-device communication platform, allowing me to control the Garmin VIRB camera from the Fenix 3.
In addition to tracking skiing, snowboarding, the Fenix 3 also monitors activities like swimming, cycling, running, hiking, climbing, rowing and golfing. And there are specific metrics measured like stroke count/rate for swimming and shot distance for golfing. While I have not used the Fenix for these activities yet, the Fenix performs accurately in measuring my skiing data.
What makes it great is the nearly infinite possibilities of measurements that could be recorded by the watch. In the last update, Garmin actually released a ‘Jumpmaster’ feature for the Tactix Bravo watch, which is similar to the Fenix 3 in design. This meant it was possible to add this feature to the Fenix 3 as well since both feature similar software.
The idea of all these measurements is that the smartwatch becomes a fitness tracker in addition to a watch, as it counts the steps taken, the amount of calories burned, and even sleeping patterns. The measured data could even be added to your videos taken using the Virb.
Like Blackberry and Apple, Garmin has their own ‘app store’ of sorts called the Connect IQ store where owners could get apps for the Garmin smartwatch. These apps have third party developers, and some of the apps I have downloaded so far includes an app that shows the constellation in the skies, a phone finder app, a waypoint projector which might come in handy for hiking and an area calculator. And these have not included the numerous watch face designs available through the store which ensures users could change the style of their watch every day.
The apps support and software updates provided by Garmin improves the usability of the Fenix 3 and increases the desirability of this watch. Thus even though it is not an Android wear, I have found it syncs well after I install the Garmin Connect app, available on the iTunes store here or via the Android store here. That meant on top of notifications, I am able to switch my music from my Fenix 3 while driving. After all the law says I cannot use the phone while driving but it does not mention anything about fiddling with my watch!
With the availability of third party app designers, there is a strong mod-ability to the watch and Garmin has even released various accessories to alter the appearance including several leather and fabric straps. In addition, Garmin has some mounts that allows the watch to be mounted on a bicycle for cycling enthusiasts to track your route and stats.
Let us not forget the target market for this watch was initially athletes and sports enthusiasts, which is why a rubber strap is included making it durable and resistant to sweat and water. However the included metal strap for my purchase meant I could make it stylish enough for formal and office wear.
Recently, I have even purchased a Nato strap to give it a ‘military’ look, which certainly fits its bulky shape. My point here then is that owners of the Fenix 3 certainly can do a lot to alter the appearance of the watch and harness the processing power of the watch by fully utilizing its GPS functions.
Final Comments and Takeaway
For a long time, I have not been as excited about any form of gadget until this watch came along. This was the reason I wrote about it. I have a couple of automatic watches that I purchased at a higher price point than this watch, but being a travel and sports enthusiast, I have now adopted the Fenix 3 as my everyday watch. As a timekeeper, the sync with the GPS makes it an accurate device wherever you are. As a sports tracker, I have yet to see a more comprehensive fitness tracker. As a gadget, I have the freedom to customize the look and function to my need along with the ability to control my other devices from my phone to my action camera. Now that is what I call a smartwatch!