Garmin Fenix 3 Review (MultiSport Triathlon GPS Watch)

Garmin Fenix 3 Review

Even as 2017 draws to a close we will see from this Garmin Fenix 3 review that the Fenix 5 is NOT that much better than the Fenix 3. Why spend all that extra money? Why indeed…

Back to the start…

I was lucky enough to be one of the first users of the Fenix 3 in the UK almost a year ago now.

At the time I was not convinced that it offered enough to justify either the hype or its claimed feature set.

Suunto Spartan Ultra vs Garmin Fenix 3 Review

Garmin Fenix 3 vs. Suunto Spartan ULTRA

It didn’t all quite stack up as a fully working product on my wrist.

However to Garmin’s credit the watch has been continually and substantially improved so that now it is almost a new watch, in my opinion. There are several product variants (all essentially the same under the hood) as well as an optical HR version using Garmin’s 2015 ELEVATE technology.

The Fenix models are effectively Garmin’s Flagship offering. It delivers significant revenues to the company and most new features before other watches. The exception most usually being the Vivoactive which might get some NON-sporty options first.

One of my Garmin bug-bears is aesthetics. However the Fenix 3 is a great looking watch IMO. The Connect IQ watch faces can look good; the various straps look good. If you buy all the right accessories it will do pretty much everything you want for triathlon – it can do everything the 920XT can do and has numerous additional sports profiles – almost certainly the sports profile you’ll need. It’s undoubtedly great for outdoors use.

Positives:

  • It’s a good looking, well-made sports/outdoors device that oozes quality. It’s great as a day-to-day watch.
  • If Heart Rate is your thing it will do it all. Optical HR, underwater HRV through the HRM-TRI. Well, actually it won’t do optical HRV during exercise – but neither will anyone else (yet)!
  • Most other reviews you may read will bemoan the lack of a quick release kit for the Fenix 3 for triathlon. That’s because those reviews have either copied dcraimaker’s original review or earlier comments, such as some of mine, which were written when a quick release kit didn’t exist. NOW it exists. Sigh. (Part: 010-12168-11)
  • If power is your thing on the bike – it will handle any mainstream ANT+ compatible powermeter and all the display metrics you will probably need (not W’bal 😉 )
  • If weird and wonderful Garmin sensors or accessories are your thing feel free to spend away. The basic ANT+ bike sensors are supported like the GSC-10 and newer speed/cadence sensors – check for even newer ones like Varia and Di2.
  • You get cycling dynamics metrics such as L/R balance, TE and PS with the Garmin Vector power-meter pedals – or with the beter and more cost effective Favero Assioma, others too for that matter.
  • If GPS accuracy for position and speed is your thing then that accuracy is fine (link to tests: the5krunner.com).
  • If running pace accuracy is of paramount interest for you, then you need to buy a footpod which finally sorts out current run pace. Finally you will now know how fast you are running! Ta Da! STRYD is the most accurate.
  • It does all the super new running dynamics from any HRM-RUN strap (including the new HRM-TRI – review here)
  • It has the lactate functionality and recovery/readiness info from the Forerunner 630 (which the 920XT does not yet have, Feb 2016)
  • You can create and follow complex workouts or courses
  • It supports sub20m pool lengths and is pretty good at detecting your stroke type. Swim stroke algorithms have changed a bit recently but generally the better swimmer you are the better the recognition will be.
  • You get swim efficiency metrics such as SWOLF and strokes/length.
  • It’s got a race predictor, VO2max estimator, a recovery advisor and even a run/walk mode. LOTS of stuff.
  • Caller ID, push notifications from smartphone apps and SMS notifications supported.
  • Many IQ apps exist, for example to support tides, save remote geo positions and for weather info
  • The smartphone app and online service (Garmin Connect) is more than good. And getting data to those services through your wifi, iOS/Android Bluetooth or USB cable is now mostly hassle free. You can easily get data elsewhere too – Golden Cheetah, Strava, Training Peaks, SportTracks and TAPIRIIK/fitnesssyncer/syncmytracks to name an awesome few.
  • Battery life supporting 2 days of GPS usage is quoted (UltraTrac mode) – and that seems plausible. You might want to buy some form of backpack charger just in case 🙂 But the Fenix 3 battery should readily get you through an Ironman or Ultra Marathon. Over time, through usage, I noticed battery life degradation but I was not able to quantify it. Maybe use SMART recording for your Ultra Marathon?
  • Of course there’s more – like laps, an altimeter, activity tracking and a compass. Hopefully what you would consider to be a basic feature tallies with my view: the basic features, IMO, are easily all there!

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Negatives:

These need to be included for balance but should not stop you using this device by any means.

  • GPS quality, even with GLONASS enabled, is not always great. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t. Removing Connect IQ ‘APPS’ seems to help; resetting the device seems to help; getting it on a good day seems to help.
  • The Fenix 3 HR (NOTE: I have not used the HR version of the F3) uses Garmin’s ELEVATE optical technology. This same technology on other GARMIN devices is generally OK – or you could say ‘patchy’. There is likely to be a variation in performance of the same HR chip across other Garmin hardware implementation ie the F3 HR could be better/worse. Even *if* it is not so good, Garmin will work HARD to correct any flaws. Optical HR performance varies too according to your physiology and to how you physically use the device – you will hear of bad experiences because of that too. Generally Garmin’s ELEVATE technology is good for steady-state running…less good for everything else unless you are lucky.
  • If you are expecting quality mapping you will be disappointed. The mapping features from the Fenix 2 were removed (buy a Gamin Epix for maps). The Fenix 3 is not a SATNAV. Maybe you really want the Fenix 5X (reviewed here) which has PROPER map onboard.
  • The colour screen’s detail is fine. It’s responsive enough and detailed enough when following courses/routes. This is probably a ‘neutral’ rather than a negative but the screen is still at least as good as much of the competition. The usability limitation of the screen for navigation is really the screen size – but the screen is relatively large anyway.
  • It’s a bit big. I have relatively small wrists and it’s just about OK. Smaller people and smaller women might find it too big. Maybe you really want the Fenix 5S (reviewed here) which is a smaller format.
  • No STRAVA segments on-device.
  • No music storage to playback
  • No ANT+ trainer control through FE-C
  • Varia not yet compatible
  • No swim workout mode (drill is supported)
  • It can’t take you to a destination you input into the watch manually eie it’s NOT a navigation unit like your car’s satnav. Instead it loads a line map of a course and you can follow that line based on your GPS position.

Comments:

I don’t currently own a Garmin Fenix 3. And you might ask why (Fenix 5 😉 ). However I still would not use the Fenix 3 for a triathlon race myself. I prefer the thinner and rectangular-screened 920XT or, more recently, the Forerunner 935. I could probably use either the 920 or the F3 equally for training. If anyone else is likely to see me then I’d use the F3 as it’s prettier 🙂

If you are looking for a 24×7 smartphone enabled, activity tracking, triathlon blasting, hill-walking-route-following watch then the Fenix 5 is the obvious choice. All you have to worry about is the choice of strap. (I’ll leave that to you). If you can’t afford that the Fenix 3 is a cost effective and similar alternative.

Is it perfect? No. There are some things missing. You can look at some of my not-so-veiled criticisms of the overpriced Forerunner 630. Or you can look at my 2015 predictions about what new functionality would be added in for a Fenix 4 and/or a 930XT in 2016 – to be fair to Garmin and to the F3, several of these ‘missing’ features are now included in the F3

Alternatives:

There are alternatives in this space. You might look at My Best Triathlon Watch Recommendations and my Duathlon 2016 Recommendations for some more ideas. Another outdoorsy option would be Garmin’s Epix, which I also like (indeed I prefer the form factor of that nad it can be super-cheap). You might consider Garmin’s Tactix. For a non-Garmin choice you would probably head for a Suunto AMBIT3 variant or a newer SPARTAN ULTRA or SPARTAN SPORT BARO.

Detailed Review:

n/a. I might do one.

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