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Garmin Fenix 3 review

7 Aug 2015

Possibly the most advanced piece of wearable sports tech going, the Garmin Fenix 3 isn’t a bad casual timepiece either.

If you’ve ever wanted to get a picture of one of those lucky waving cats popularised in Asia on the dial of your wristwatch, look no further. Or how about the Southampton FC logo? You’ve come to the right place. This latest generation of Garmin’s Fenix watch series can do both, and then some.

Unlike its predecessors, the Fenix 3 has a full colour screen, and thanks to interactivity with Garmin’s in-house, open source app store, Connect IQ, all these watch fascias and more are available, and it’s the more where it gets interesting. Out of the box there’s a plethora of features from the basics through to some seriously clever – if sometimes debatable – stuff. Essentially the Fenix 3 is a GPS unit for your wrist, so that means if you launch one of the pre-installed apps like ‘bike’ it will home in on your whereabouts and start recording your progress, displaying metrics like speed and distance.

Pair the Fenix with external sensors that broadcast in ANT+ or Bluetooth and metrics such as heart rate, cadence and power are all available. All the data gathered can then be uploaded via Garmin Connect, either through the included USB cradle (more on that later) or via the free Gamin Connect smartphone app. The latter method is very neat: download the app to your phone, pair the Fenix 3 to said device, then whenever your smartphone gets in range of a Wifi network, the Fenix 3 will auto-upload from the watch to your phone to the internet. Sync your Garmin Connect account to Strava (this can be done online) and the watch's data will instantaneously appear there too. Magic.

So far, so much like your Garmin Edge bike computer I hear you say. Well yes in part (and thanks to a separate mount from Garmin, you can even neatly mount the Fenix 3 on your handlebars), but not quite so fast. Can you swim with your Edge? Will it identify and count your strokes? Can your Edge track your daily movements, count steps, set calorie goals, monitor your sleep or prompt you to get up from your office desk and walk around because you’ve been stationary for too long? Can your Edge identify constellations?

The entire list of the Fenix 3’s capabilities is too long to list here, not least because it is a list that keeps growing. Added to the GPS tracking and navigational aid (yes, it will give you basic navigation prompts also) is all the functionality of an activity tracker like the Microsoft Band plus the addition of user created apps and widgets, like the waving kitty or Star Watch, an app that when you point your watch hand at the night identifies the planetary bodies you’re looking at (note that this requires the latest firmware – but again the Fenix 3 will prompt you to update if and when necessary, provided you’re on a Wifi network).

Of course for a lot of people such things are overkill – a bit like the notification function: do you really need your watch and your phone buzzing every time you get a call (even if reading a text off a wristwatch does make you feel like you’re in the future)?

It’s not all perfect though. To charge the watch, or transfer data to a computer, you have to fit the watch to a proprietary dock, which is a little frustrating. It would be nice to see a generic micro-USB port like on the current range of Edge computers.

Regardless, it’s impressive just how much Garmin has managed to cram into the Fenix 3 whilst still keeping a usable battery life. Using the GPS for 45 minutes a day gets you about two weeks between charges and in regular watch mode it’ll go for over a month. It’s not what I’d call small by the way, with a face diameter of 50mm.

However it’s not a bad looker; the Sapphire Fenix 3 version complete with metal strap is actually rather classy for a piece of wearable tech. Download the aviator-style fascia and you might even fool a few people into thinking it’s just a humble analogue watch. Until you start identifying stars again.



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