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Garmin Fenix 6 Review 6s 6x Pro Solar Update

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Garmin Fenix 6 Review, 6x 6s Pro

In this detailed Garmin Fenix 6 Review, I will be looking at 2019-20’s smartest, most functional, outdoors and sports watch that will excite adventurers, ‘proper’ athletes and gadget-lovers alike. In many respects, the Fenix 6 is the flagship sports watch for the entire industry with only the Apple Watch matching or exceeding it for ‘smart’ functionality outside of sport.

In brief...
  • Price - 88%
    88%
  • Apparent Accuracy - 89%
    89%
  • Build Quality & Design - 92%
    92%
  • Features, Including App - 99%
    99%
  • Openness & Compatability - 98%
    98%
93%

Summary

The Garmin Fenix 6 series watches look like the earlier 5-Plus series but in reality represent a revamped piece of hardware that has also taken notable steps forward in the features it offers and the hardware case it comes in. The true ‘outdoors’ and ‘sport’ features have been improved a little but the most noteworthy features include larger screens, solar charging in the 6x and suprisingly better battery life. Everything from the earlier 5-Plus series is now standard on Pro models and above like PulseOx, Garmin PAY, Music and Maps.

For once, it REALLY is a case that THE BEST has got better.

The sports, smarts, activity, physiology and outdoors features are immense in their breadth and depth, with a price that reflects that. Nothing can beat the Fenix 6/945 with the sports features and even the Apple Watch probably won’t have that many more smart features that YOU might want.

The Fenix 6’s screen quality, usability of the watch’s menus and oHR/GPS accuracy are all that lets it down – other than my assumption that the few initial bugs will be quickly ironed out.

Pros

  • I can’t think of any meaningful & appropriate outdoors features that are missing
  • Contains every ‘proper’ triathlon feature and more besides
  • Revamped hardware – faster than the Fenix 5 Plus
  • Peak battery – it’s got better battery than the 5-Plus and is so good that I can’t see how it can materially improve from here in future versions
  • Contains several new, but peripheral, physiology features
  • Music support recently extended beyond Deezer and Spotify to include AmazonMusic
  • Awesome connectivity to external sensors and openness to 3rd party sites
  • The top-end 6x Solar adds at least an extra 10% longevity to all battery modes

Cons

  • Price
  • Whilst ‘OK’, oHR and GPS accuracy need work to satisfy those of you with a taste for ‘great’ or ‘high’ accuracy
  • Uninspiring screen colours and quality
  • The menu interface has improved a little but is labyrinthine in its complexity…ie you can’t find stuff.

 

 

Let’s not get ahead of ourself and dismiss what the Fenix 6 can also deliver with its smart functionalities, as it also supports; onboard payments, apps, solar charging (6x Solar), music, mapping, numerous connected features and the vast array of sporty and outdoors features found in the earlier Fenix 5 models.

BLACK FRIDAY-CYBER MONDAY PRICING – HERE

I’ll start with some general comments to help in your purchasing thought process before returning to go through many of the key aspects of the watch in much more detail. The review is very long so either skip to your favourite section or grab a very large coffee and chill for 30 minutes of tech goodness.

Headline

The key differences of the Fenix 6 Series compared to the earlier Fenix 5 Plus models are that the new Fenix 6 has more smart-features, a few more true sports & physiology features and upgraded internal hardware components. It looks superficially identical to the Fenix 5 Plus but it isn’t.

Why You Would Buy The Fenix 6?

You buy a high-end Garmin watch primarily because it is jam-packed full of SPORTs & OUTDOORs features, many of which you probably won’t even find in the menus – let alone use them. That doesn’t matter that much, as the features that you DO need will almost certainly be included…somewhere. Even if your must-have feature is missing there will be a CIQ app that can be added to the watch for free.

But those statements were also true of the Fenix 5 Plus. So, really, I suspect that, like me, many of you who upgrade to the Fenix 6 will simply do so because ‘they WANT the best‘, whilst kidding themselves that the even more expensive Garmin MARQ EXPEDITION doesn’t exist 😉 There are real reasons to upgrade too, of course, and these are mostly the hardware improvements which are an improved processor, screen size and battery…so the Fenix 6 works ‘better’ and will work for longer. There are also lots of smaller reasons that we will cover in subsequent sections like the improved menu system and new sports features like PacePro.

Why You Would NOT Buy The Fenix 6

Let’s try these…

  1. Cost
  2. You can still get an awesome battery life elsewhere by carrying a battery pack/charger
  3. The screen resolution is still ‘meh’, it doesn’t generally look good with a suit.

For a start, you do NOT NEED a Fenix 6 for a week-long expedition or a triathlon and, let’s face it, there are perfectly capable, good-looking sports and outdoors watches AND APPS at less than half the price of the Fenix 6.

If you want something cheaper then consider a Suunto (9 or the smaller Suunto 5) or Polar Vantage (review) and if you want something smaller but otherwise very similar then go for the Garmin Fenix 5S Plus (review) or indeed any of the Fenix 5 Plus range (make sure it is a PLUS model you get)

Detailed Garmin Fenix 6 Review

OK. Let’s crack on with the review. I’m going to miss a lot out here but I’m also going to cover a lot of ground. I’m certainly NOT going to walk you through the menus nor am I going to show you photos of every component and screen from every angle. Neither am I particularly going to tell you how to do stuff with the Fenix 6…there is a manual or video somewhere for all of that kind of thing.

What I am going to do is look at different aspects of how you will interact with the Fenix 6 and describe my opinions and experience with those. I’m thinking things like RACE USAGE, DESIGN ISSUES, FOLLOWING A PLAN, OUTDOORS USAGE, TRAINING USAGE, GETTING INSIGHTS INTO PERFORMANCE and ASPECTS of SMARTS & CONNECTIVITY but I’ll also do the standard bits like GPS accuracy, oHR accuracy and a short unboxing.

So this is more of a “What to expect” review…which I hope will be more useful (comments below if not…I aim to please)

Detailed Garmin Fenix 6 Review – Unboxing

You get the watch, a manual and a bespoke USB charger. That’s it.

The bespoke connector works fine for general charging and fits either way around. The main issue I have is that when there is sweat or pool water inside the port (hole) on the watch then the Fenix often fails to make a connection to my PC. The solution is to blow into the watch port to get the sweat out or use the Connect Mobile app or WiFi uploads. Apparently, you can also buy a tiny rubber cover for the watch’s port, though some people report this increases corrosion.

Garmin Fenix 6 – Outdoors Usage

Let’s look at maps and some other features used in hiking. Before we start off I’d say that the Fenix 6 must be a near all-encompassing solution that covers just about every feature you would need. HOWEVER, what it lacks is some sub-areas is USABILITY.

Garmin Fenix 6 Review – Hiking

You will probably mostly use the Fenix for

and from time-to-time, you will find the following hiking-specific features useful to better appreciate your environment from every perspective

Garmin Fenix 6 Review – The Compass

Within the NAVIGATE profile, you can choose to ‘Sight and Go’. This effectively turns the FENIX 6 display into a magnetic compass.

Other outdoors and sports watches might have a GPS-based compass, which is OK, but the GPS-based compasses don’t always point in the right direction when stationary unless used in conjunction with an internal accelerometer. That can all get quite complicated and it must just be easier to have a magnetic compass, as with the FENIX.

You can calibrate the compass whenever you like and set NORTH to be true North, map North or magnetic North. If you choose TRUE North then the WMM model is used to set the compass declination. Normally this makes little difference unless at high lat/longs.

Garmin Fenix 6 Review – The Altimeter

The altimeter appears to be a barometric altimeter with DEM- & GNSS-based adjustments. Once it gets a GNSS fix, it performs a look-up – the onboard DEM maps ‘know’ the altitude/elevation of that GNSS point. In extreme situations the elevation for a specific point might not be known such as when you are halfway up a cliff face and so incorrect GNSS positioning readings can lead to incorrect elevations. I would imagine that Garmin temper any errors here with the barometer readings. It’s also possible that old-hat ,GNSS-based, direct elevation calculations could be made as well.

Cutting to the chase, this means elevation should be nearly always accurate!!!

Garmin Fenix 6 Review – Waypoint Navigation

Navigating electronically via waypoints is probably the next step up from using a paper map.

To do this you will normally have determined the points you want to navigate to before you start out and sync’d them to your FENIX. As you navigate, your FENIX points you in the right direction to the next waypoint. That’s kinda OK, but there might be a lake in the way. If used in conjunction with a real map then this can be a fun way of getting from A to B rather than simply following a pre-defined, digital route.

Special Feature – Maps

All of the Fenix 6 PRO models (and above) now have inbuilt global full-colour TopoActive maps. I seem to have free maps for all the regions, this might not be the case if you buy your Fenix 6 elsewhere…check.

It’s mostly the addition of these routable maps that distinguish the changes to outdoors/navigation functionality over what the Fenix 5 (non plus) offered, which had basic navigational abilities such as breadcrumb routing and a compass.

The addition of maps is moving the Fenix 6 forwards in broadly 2 ways: a more complete routing experience; and openness to smarter, location-based CIQ apps.

Superficially you look at the maps on the F6 and go…’meh, it’s a bit small’. And it is. I suppose you have to set your size expectation by the physical limitations of what a watch can be. However, as you delve deeper you soon discover that the Fenix’s maps are considerably more powerful than you will get from competitors. Just starting off by looking at MAP THEMES gives you a flavour, here you can display marine, Popularity, resort ski, dark or high contrast themes. Different colours/layers are displayed on the map which might just change the colour of the map OR that different colour might mean something eg the popularity of the trail/road you are on.

The most interesting new feature here to me was the visibility of the HEATMAP on the map which might give you some comfort in visibly knowing that you are either off or on the beaten track, whereas the HEATMAP was previously used invisibly by the Fenix to intelligently route you somewhere.

Talking of routing, I’m not that impressed by how you can select a point on the map and then be routed to it. Sure the routing is good but the act of creating an endpoint is extremely convoluted. I’m not sure how else I would expect to do it but it’s convoluted nevertheless. Once the points are on your watch then it’s fine…it’s just creating them in the first place and you would be better served by using the Garmin EXPLORE app or BASECAMP. But then I suppose I would complain about having to use an app and then why couldn’t I just use a smartphone for the whole process (there’s no pleasing some people!). The point is…maps and navigation on the Garmin Fenix are not perfect.

Better Maps?: Try TALKYTOASTER – knows his stuff, some free stuff and some reasonably priced stuff USA, Eu and other global maps

A More Complete Routing Experience

The ‘more complete routing experience’ is a kinda obvious statement. Previously there were NON-intelligent breadcrumb trails and now there is all the intelligence of a car’s satnav to re-route you over proper roads & trails when you make a wrong turning. Overlay on top of that all of Garmin’s pre-existing functionality around compasses, round trip routing, barometric+GPS altimeters and you soon start to realise that you have a pretty cool outdoors tool. Overlay specialist navigational CIQ apps like TRAILFORKS then cool becomes super-cool.

POIs of many types are also effectively overlain onto the map. Just like with your car’s satnav, you can navigate to the nearest Bank should you so desire. I would say that the POI-based navigation works well enough and one of the first things you might do is add a custom POI as your ‘home’ or your hotel in a new city. The former helps auto-calibrate your starting elevation and the latter avoids getting lost 😉

945 POIs Shown

The routing capability of the device is GREAT. But it is let down somewhat in practice

  1. A relatively small wristwatch is not the best size for route navigating at speed, especially when it is further away from you – like on a bike’s handlebars. But in the absence of a smartphone or other device, it’s better than nothing.
  2. The button interface works WELL on the REST of the watch’s functions but with navigation, I find the experience a little too contrived. A touch screen that supports pinch and zoom would DEFINITELY be better (providing it worked). However for occasional and more recreational-type navigation then the 5 buttons offer a sufficiently useful interface.
  3. The device is not the fastest at responding to your speed. So if you are walking or jogging then it reacts quickly enough but once you’re going faster, say cycling, then it’s not great. I wouldn’t use it as a BIKENAV over a long and complex route.
  4. Similarly, the speed of zooming in/out and panning on the map is often WAY TOO slow

Garmin Fenix 6 – Sports Usage

945 Shown

On a day-to-day basis you could interact with the Fenix 6 FOR SPORTS in these main areas: Organising training, executing training and analysing training results. And you will be doing that for swimming, biking, running and many more besides.

On the whole, Garmin has all of this SPORTS USAGE nailed and that’s a good job as you are spending quite a lot of money on an adventure sports watch. There are a few chinks in what it does NOT do well and that is the deeper analyses that sporty data nerds like me do to pretend we have found a way to make ourselves a little bit faster, a little bit more quickly than you. But don’t worry, you’ll probably have better genes than me which will more than compensate 🙁  :-). Then there is the structured workout creation piece that Garmin does better than almost anyone else but which still needs to be improved.

Finally underpinning all of Garmin’s awesomeness in day-to-day usage, we have the usability issues (next section) which drag down the whole experience a little more than it should.

OK, let’s put some flesh on that.

Organising Training

ie Scheduling workouts, planning the detail of a workout or getting that from a 3rd party plan.

You might create and schedule your own workouts or follow a plan. The cool thing now is that Garmin has just changed how they mix your workout ‘events’ with life’s other events. So you now magically have what looks like to me to be a unified calendar. So today I have a “W03D6 – Build Run” just allocated seemingly to “anytime today” (which is great) and there’s also ‘Coffee with Jim at 11:00’ and ‘Zumba at 18:30’ which is strange as I don’t do Zumba, so I’m guessing we have a family calendar somewhere on Google that Garmin has magically commandeered.

It gets better.

Training Plan functionality is embedded within your Garmin Connect platform and you can get access to a wide variety of running, cycling and triathlon plans…for free. You pretty much have to follow these multi-ability plans as-is but now Garmin is gradually starting to expand a new tranche of ADAPTIVE PLANS called GARMIN COACH. Again you find this in the Training Plan area of Connect but these adaptive plans change and morph as your week progresses or regresses due to other commitments. “Can’t run today?…the plan automatically takes care of it tomorrow.

There are also external providers of more advanced-level plans and you will find that, as we move into 2020, Garmin’s new training plan infrastructure will make it MUCH easier for the likes of TP and Final Surge and other to start more easily delivering their plans to you.

For those of you who want to create and schedule your own complex, structured workouts then Garmin have one of the best workout creation tools. They have had it for YEARS. So it works. The only UNcool thing about it is that it still cannot support the creation of alerts for running power. Final Surge has figured out how to create running power based workouts for the Garmin environment but because the alerts don’t work all you get are the time chunks with a textual alert on the watch telling you what you have to do.

Will that be sorted out in 2020? Maybe.

You can also set a wide variety of training targets which could be: racing a particular STRAVA segment (via CIQ); racing a virtual pacer; racing a previous effort of your own or from someone else; training to interval targets created on the watch; and more besides

Summary: Generally Awesome.

Training or Racing – Garmin Fenix 6 Review

The Garmin Fenix 6 is awesome for one of it’s primary purposes…training and racing.

There are subtle nuances of how the Fenix 6 works across many fully customisable, sports profiles; essentially what you need are the means to manage and control your effort according to whatever ‘goal’ you might be trying to achieve that day. That sounds simple but Garmin’s solution is a highly involved and comprehensive one. In simple terms, you need to be able to see the appropriate metrics and be alerted when stuff happens…or should happen…or doesn’t happen.

There are some things missing like hydration. That’s because no hydration sensor exists (yet) to measure your hydration state but when it does the Garmin CIQ apps WILL easily be able to incorporate its data. Having said that there ARE ways to measure and estimate your water intake from apps like OZMO and a new hydration/nutrition logging feature on Edge devices may well make its way to the Fenix 6 soon.

Issues do exist with custom data fields (eg running power) which cannot have alerts set on them by the native Garmin environment and so, in the case of running power, a 3rd party has to deliver that functionality via a CIQ app.

There are then some minor issues with integrating apps with how you want to see other screens during your workout and, furthermore, a limit of 2 CIQ data fields per workout.

Much of that will be irrelevant to 90% of you reading this…but that leaves a fairly big 10% who will be impacted. But it’s a relatively minor criticism as competitors generally fall well short of what Garmin can do. Yes even Apple, they’re not so wonderful (yet) when it comes to sports.

A couple of final points here that will be important to some of you. YES, you can create simple intervals on-the-fly rather than needing to follow a workout you have created and sync’d beforehand. and YES you can also set targets for your workout like distance/time and pace – although having said that I am a little surprised that it does not seem to be possible to set a TRAINING EFFECT target on-the-fly based on Firstbeat data, although TRAINING EFFECT can be displayed as a cumulative metric throughout your workout. Yes, you can race a previous activity of yours or someone else.

You can also customise your screen layout. There are ways to get more than 4/6/8 fields (6s/6/6x) per screen using CIQ apps and you can even get colour-coded data fields and unusual data fields like ‘dials’ both from Garmin’s own creations and those of 3rd parties (via CIQ)

Training or Racing – Triathlon Specific

If you are taking tri-tech seriously then you need to think closely about this section.

Garmin is uniquely awesome in properly supporting ‘any triathlon’ or, more correctly ‘any multisport event’. If you only ever plan to do OWS+Bike+Run then other vendors come into the mix. Otherwise, you may well need these IMPORTANT tri features:

Training or Racing – Cycling Specific

The Garmin Fenix 6 reviewed here has most of the features found on the top-end Garmin Edge 530-830/1030. Although the Edge 530/830 have recently had some CP and nutrition functionality added that I’m surprised is not on the Fenix 6. The bottom line is that a wristwatch is far from a perfect format as your main cycling computer, even in a race you should use a head unit IMHO.

The main cycling-specific strength of the Fenix 6 comes from its compatibility with a very wide range of sensors that include: ability to ‘cast’ your workout live to a Garmin Edge head unit; compatibility with Varia radar and lights; spd+cad sensors; FYI: the best power meter solution for entry-level cyclists with a bit of cash is likely to be Favero ASSIOMA pedals; Varia Vision H.U.D.

Don’t forget many of the traditional Garmin bike features that are supported like power/cadence alerts and race planning pacing support through racing previous efforts or modelled efforts through BestBikeSplit #CleverStuff.

Training or Racing – Running Specific

Well, you’ve got a metronome and Garmin Running power or STRYD support (buy one). There’s obviously much more than that and here are some run-specific highlights

Training or Racing – Swim Specific

Usage Tip: Openwater and pool swim profiles are both available with stroke detection. Openwater has GPS enabled and you can set a custom pool length when using a pool. If you use an outdoor pool you use pool mode.

For the first time, the Fenix 6 has oHR on the wrist enabled for swimming activities…yay! It’s not as accurate as an HRM-TRI though.

Rather uniquely Garmin allows you to follow complex structured SWIM workouts, like this…

Old image, same pool.

The swim functionality is pretty awesome and comprehensive enough for me. In my opinion, the stroke detection algorithms are now very good and give a high degree of accuracy and the onboard accelerometer detects when you push-off from the end of the pool. If you are lane swimming with other people and you stop or change your stroke then your Fenix 6 won’t be able to ‘see’ that and your stats will be impaired.

The swim metrics are good and include distance, pace, stroke count/rate, lengths, calories and SWOLF. These metrics are included in many non-Garmin watches these days but Garmin have additional, unique swim functionality with DRILL LOGGING and there are also extra functionalities built into rest periods between sets where, for example, you can have a countdown timer to the next rep. AFAIK these are unique to Garmin

Even, simply, how the end-of-interval works. With Garmin, it correctly takes you to a (configurable) rest period but every other tri-watch takes you to the next ‘active’ lap. It’s simple things like that which grow on you and eventually make you love the Fenix 6.

After you have finished you can send your swim data to swim.com or other sites for more insights.

Summary: Market leading tri greatness from Garmin. Improvements can still be made at the peripheries

Analysing Training – Detailed Garmin Fenix 6 Review

Your analysis could be something as simple as just seeing how far you’ve run or you might want to see if you eeked out every last piece of W’ left in your cycling tank up that last climb. The analysis could also be JUST the workout you’ve done or it could be to look at the cumulative effect of your training on your current readiness to train. You might want to analyse the data or you might want your coach to analyse your data.

With just those 3 sentences you can see there is a lot of complexity for a little watch to handle. And Garmin is torn here between providing a LOT of analysis on the watch when, in reality, the watch is not a great size format on which to do the analysis. Set against that is the fact that you have just finished your workout and you want to look at it NOW…one thing is for sure, your watch is on your wrist so its presence and potential usefulness are timely for analysis.

Well, the Fenix 6 is surprisingly good at addressing many, but not all, analysis needs. And what it can’t address it can certainly let you send your data ‘somewhere else’ so that ‘someone else or you’ can analyse away to your heart’s content.

Analysing Training – Key Post-Workout Stats

Garmin nailed this a few years ago. There are lots of nails in it now. You get ALL the basic info you need like a map of where you’ve been, average cadence, ascent, descent, load, training effect (Ae An), time in heart rate zones, laps, intervals, elevation plots and more. You can look at that info for any historic workout on your watch.,

Note that I highlighted ‘load, training effect (Ae An)‘. If you are new to a high-end Garmin watch then these stats are the start of where it gets interesting for you. Garmin incorporates many of Firstbeat’s physiological stats on the watch and these three are just the start.

Analysing Training – Physiological Markers

The Forerunner also determines your VO2max and LTHR levels for cycling and running as well as trending them over time. they can be used to see how your training is progressing and at what levels you might be able to perform over extended durations. But these ‘absolute’ levels of your physiology are then also used to score activities and model quite complex things like your future readiness to train, recovery levels and race predictions.

So you will see a ‘Recovery Time’ calculation at the end of your workouts and this is the amount of time you should wait until you perform your next HARD workout. Come back in 2 hours and your recovery time should have changed by 2 hours, so you see these types of physiological markers are not linked to the workout and there is a whole section of stuff where you can analyse the ‘state of you’ and this includes things like whether your fitness and load are increasing and if your load is optimal.

Analysing Training – The Garmin Connect Platform (web + online)

Your data is sync’d back to the Connect platform at some point and it’s pretty much the same sort of stuff that’s on your watch but just in a bigger format, perhaps you could argue with clearer charts and the like. There’s some extra analysis stuff…but not much. So if you are coming from a Polar background and you are used to Polar Flow then you might find the online version of Connect a little disappointing compared to FLOW.

Yet Garmin has never really made any pretences to be great at some of the deeper and more unusual analyses. They provide the means to easily send your data elsewhere be it to Training Peak or STRAVA. Maybe 20% of triathletes thinking of buying a Fenix 6 will be the sorts of people that want the deeper analyses either done by themselves or a coach. But the point here is that 80% of you will find the watch+Connect analyses to be enough for your needs. Perhaps, more importantly, some of the analyses produce actionable informationlike ‘don’t train hard for 2 more days’ or ‘your overall load is declining’ or ‘you are spending too much time in zone 3 for your training to be effective’.

Sharing Training

Alternatively, you can automatically link your Garmin Connect account to these 3rd party services or even access the workout files directly from your Fenix 6 or via CIQ apps. The point here, for example, is that you only RARELY have to use the CONNECT platform if all you want to use is STRAVA. You can be blissfully unaware of all the techy glue in CONNECT that links to STRAVA, all you need to know is that your workout is in STRAVA very quickly after you’ve finished it.

These 3rd party services are all supported

You can also share training whilst you are doing it with LIVE TRACK and GROUP TRACK where your location is updated to others via your smartphone. Recently there have been new additions to URGENTLY share your location via INCIDENT DETECTION.

Design & Specifications

This section takes a look at the design of the watch, the good bits, the bad bits and how they affect your sporty experiences with the Fenix 6.

 

 

 

Overall Design – Appearance

The overall design is of a pleasant-enough looking sports adventure watch. It gives a first impression of appearing unremarkable and the screen glares out at being of a lower resolution and intensity than ones you might find on other smart watches.

It’s a standard 5-button, round sports watch, solidly made with no touchscreen. The screen is a welcomingly hard Sapphire Glass (with Gorilla Glass 3 DX and Solar options). The display is officially classed as “sunlight-visible, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP)“. This colour technology means that the screen appears somewhat dull, with the colours washed out. It has a fairly good ADJUSTABLE backlight to aid visibility in almost all light conditions. I know that this description does NOT sound good BUT it is one of the reasons why the Garmin battery lasts a long, long time.

The glass face is very slightly recessed below the stainless steel bezel (DLC coating and titanium options) and the bezel is plain with a few words etched into it to explain the function of the buttons. Looking to the side of the watch, the buttons themselves are on the small side but perfectly fine and they operate with an amount of ‘spring-back’ when pressed. The metal rear case and fibre-reinforced polymer side casing include a raised, protective area around each button. The buttons could be better designed to give more positive feedback and are hard to use with gloves in winter. But it’s fine.

The underside of the Fenix 6 has the port for the USB connector and the latest Garmin ELEVATE optical HR sensor module with 4 slots. The first and third cover the receivers. The second contains a green LED light for HR and the lower one has both a GREEN LED for HR and a RED LED light for SpO2 measurement. This is not the optimal design for an oHR array (Source: Valencell and others). We shall see later whether or not that is materially important in the accuracy received.

The supplied bands QUICKFIT fit wrists with circumferences between 108-225 mm (check the exact band length for your model). But they can be removed and replaced with other QuickFit 20mm, 22mm or 26 mm bands with the width depending on the model.

Overall Design – User Interface

The simplistic menus of early Garmin sports watches were fine as there were few features and few options that needed to be hidden away. Garmin’s features have significantly increased in number over the last 5, or so, years and the menu system just hasn’t kept up with those changes. Menu options have been added and nested and are so numerous now that I bet there are few people who know how to find each and every option. The outcome of this was that Garmin devices were starting to become unchangeable – meaning you set them up to how you wanted them to work and then never dared to go and try to change them for fear of wasting a valuable hour of your life figuring stuff out all over again. This was a chink of fallibility in Garmin’s armour of features and companies like Wahoo capitalised on Garmin’s poor user interface by creating much more usable devices.

However, the current 2019 crop of new Garmin devices have sought to address the accumulation of poor interface design and good, baby steps have been taken to improve and impress us whenever we press a button or two. But, as the kids say “Are we there yet?”…A: nope.

So, we still have a somewhat disjointed and multi-faceted interface, as illustrated by these descriptions of how and what the buttons are used for.

Shortcuts – Press and Hold Top Left Buton

Here you get quick and customisable access to things like Find My Phone, GARMIN PAY, battery mode, music controls, save location, alt. time zones, and screen lock. It works.

Widget Access – Use Left Up/Down Buttons

When using the Fenix 6 as a ‘watch’ the customisable widgets can be scrolled through to work with MANY aspects of  your Garmin experience ranging covering information like weather, sunset, steps, compass, activity minutes, altimetry, temp, 24×7 HR, training plan, stress, training status, health statistics, overall performance stats like VO2max, smart notifications, music, latest activity and MORE. These widgets have now been changed so that you are scrolling through the data for each widget rather than scrolling through a list of widget titles, one of which you have to select to then see the more detailed data.

The ‘last sport’ widget is, sort of, also used at the end of a workout and displays an impressive level of detail of your workout – map, elevation plot, time in zone, training effect and more.

Configuration Menu – Press & hold Middle Left button

This is somewhat of a ‘bin of unplaceable functionality’ where you can configure your sensors, music providers, WiFi, History, Watch Face, Widgets and more. If in doubt it’s in here…somewhere.

But the middle left button also works differently when in a sports profile allowing more granular configuration of that sport.

Music – Press and hold the bottom the left button

Most of the music stuff is here…except the bits that aren’t! They’re in the configuration menu 😉

I could go on. But couple this with screen tips that annoyingly pop up and screen prompts that also pop up to obscure a sport before you have started and I suspect that most people would agree that there is a LOT to get familiar with. But once you are even partly familiar with it you will appreciate what a powerful and smart sports tool you have in the Fenix 6.

OK, I’m familiar with most of it. I suppose I’m just saying that Apple would have done it VERY differently and Garmin DO have to somehow cram in the access to an awful lot of features.

Size Comparison

The sizes and weights of the Fenix 6 are broadly the same as the Fenix 5 Plus despite all the Fenix 6 models being a little thinner. Within the Fenix 6 models, the sizes and weights increase from the 6s to the 6 and then to the 6x. The big difference here is the screen on the F6, F6X and F6X Solar. These Fenix 6 models have a larger screen with a superior resolution to the Fenix 5 Plus. the Solar model has Solar charging cells around the screen edge,

This comparison clearly shows that the 945 is the lightweight and medium-sized Fenix (it’s the sporty Fenix).

Technical Design – Interior Components

These components give the forerunner 945 its abilities to MEANINGFULLY deliver the functionality you see and use – what I mean is that if you have rubbish bits inside the device that incorrectly measure things like altitude then every data item the watch displays to you regarding altitude would also be rubbish. Furthermore ‘old tech’ tends to use more power and shorten your battery life. I’ve softened the wording of the techiness to explain what the various bits do in plain English.

 

We are not sure of exactly which components have changed but there is certainly a new low-powered Sony GNSS chip and a new ELEVATE oHR module. The battery and connectivity modules have likely also been upgraded. Most changes seem to be primarily driven by a need to reduce power consumption and hence lengthen battery life but consideration will be given to accuracy (in detail later).

Technical Design – Connectivity & Smarts, including Sensors

The connectivity of the Garmin Fenix 6 is immense. Basically, just assume you can connect to any sports sensor other than to control an ANT+ FE-C trainer and 99% of you will be good. Yep, you can even connect to BLE sensors but not weird old stuff lurking in the corner of your gym. You all know what ‘weird’ is, if not give me a hard time in the comments section below 😉

There’s probably even more than that, which I can’t think of right now.

If you have a Forerunner 305 you will appreciate that tech has moved on “a bit“. Time to upgrade, 2020 beckons.

Technical Design – Technical Specifications

The exact technical specifications and detailed comparisons to similar models are here:

Garmin Fenix 6 Specifications, Opinion, 5 Plus Comparison

 

Activity Tracking

The market is now moving on from what is offered by simple activity trackers. Nevertheless, like many other manufacturers, Garmin’s activity tracking capabilities remain considerable with many nuances and small improvements that set them apart from most competitors.

 

Smart Connected Features

From “Where’s my phone” to “control my phone” to “what’s the weather?” you can get some clever stuff by linking to your smartphone. Much of this is the same on competing devices from other manufacturers and we will cover some of these in more detail further below..

Special Feature – Garmin CIQ Apps

You can download Garmin’s app store to your smartphone as described in the link. From there you can choose from MANY types of free apps developed by third parties. I’ve also included a second link to the best apps nominated for Garmin’s annual app award.

New Garmin App Store – iOS and Android

 

Best Of CIQ :: 2019 Garmin Connect IQ Developer Award Nominees

Special Feature – Garmin Pay

Garmin Pay turns your watch into a contactless card, or kinda like your smartphone but on your wrist – depends how you see it.

This requires a supported BANK (not a generic VISA card) which absolutely MUST be on this list: link to garmin.com. to be starkly clear…IF IT IS NOT ON THE LIST THERE IS NO WAY IT WILL WORK.

I added my Starling card via the Fenix 6 and Garmin Connect mobile. There were a few foibles with that process but it was generally OK. Once it’s set up, it works perfectly. FYI: Transferred funds from my First Direct account to my Starling account show within 10 seconds, I use Starling+Garmin effectively as ‘cash’.

Of course the biggest downside is that your bank probably isn’t supported yet…

Special Feature – Music

“Without music, life would be a mistake”

Source: F.  Nietzsche (modified)

Philosophy over, you can now get back to listening to some 1980’s trash punk while you run.

Easy bit: You can playback to any supported Bluetooth earbuds or speakers. I use Jabra Elite Active 65t (75t due out soon…CAN’T WAIT) because they stay in my ear and work. There is no inbuilt speaker or MIC in the watch but SOME other watches do have inbuilt speakers.

Hardish bit: Getting the music on your phone. You can do this from…

What Garmin present in their music offering is flawed. But the same is true of nearly all of the other competitive Running-With-Music options. There’s a LONG way to go before the perfect running+music device exists, much of the delays will be caused by the variations in regional music licensing restrictions as well as the willingness of 3rd party services to integrate with Garmin.

Tip: It’s also worth noting that along with many other users, I have found that wearing your Fenix 6 on the same side as the controls from your headphone reduces dropouts when running. Normally for any set of earbuds, this is your right wrist and there are no dropouts when worn for running on the right wrist with the Jabra for me. When you are not running playback might well be OK from your left wrist (it is for me)

The legacy mode of copying files to your watch works well enough. BUT BUT the most practical thing of all is that Garmin’s button-based interface for controlling music is BY FAR THE BEST of any of the running watches that control music. Try skipping a track on Google Play Music on your LG Watch when you’re hot and sweaty and it’s raining. Garmin’s button are, well, buttontastic. Because they work for sporty music…all the time…every time.

Special Feature – Battery & Solar

It’s strange to have ‘battery’ as a feature but it is an impressive feature for the Fenix 6…it even remains impressive on the 6s as the following battery specs show on this table.

fēnix® 6S – Pro and Sapphire fēnix® 6 – Pro and Sapphire fēnix® 6X – Pro (+Solar)
Smartwatch: Up to 9 days Smartwatch: Up to 14 days Smartwatch: Up to 21 days (+3 days)
GPS: Up to 25 hours GPS: Up to 36 hours GPS: Up to 60 hours (+6 hours)
GPS and Music: Up to 6 hours GPS and Music: Up to 10 hours GPS and Music: Up to 15 hours (+1 hour)
Max Battery GPS Mode: 50 hours Max Battery GPS Mode: 72 hours Max Battery GPS Mode: 120 hours (+28 hours)
Expedition GPS Activity: 20 days Expedition GPS Activity: 28 days Expedition GPS Activity: 46 days (+10 days)
Battery Saver Watch Mode: 34 days Battery Saver Watch Mode: 48 days Battery Saver Watch Mode: 80 days (+40 days)

 

Solar

The solar cell is around the edge of the glass face and under the watch face, it will only charge when there is light and will charge much better in direct sunlight. No-one yet knows how this innovation affects the strength or longevity of the glass but, from the specs, I do know that SOLAR seems to broadly add at least 10% onto the battery life of the 6X Pro Solar. The longer the mode, the more extra time that is added.

Apart from a relatively small number of more serious ‘adventurers’, I don’t think this feature offers the rest of us too much as the battery lives of the other models are already market-leading. In any case, many of us have a USB battery pack for overnight charging.

Nevertheless, it’s easy to criticise. Garmin should, instead, be applauded for the innovation.

The Solar feature is now available as an option on all Fenix 6 models both PRO and non-PRO.

The Solar models also add in battery management profiles as well as widgets/widget glances to check the sensor performance.

Battery Modes

The Fenix 6 comes with JACKET mode and MAX BATTERY mode, or you can create your own battery mode choosing the to enable or disable or configure these: GNSS, music, oHR, phone, oximetry, map, display, backlight and accessories. Once created, the battery mode can then be accessed from the shortcuts.

Not using GPS, screen and music should make the biggest differences to battery life.

Other Battery Points

Expedition Mode – Garmin Fenix 6 Review

The new ‘expedition mode’ is a sports mode where GPS is enabled once every 15-90 minutes and which can be automatically disabled after sunset.

GPS is a significant consumer of the battery and, thus with infrequent GPS usage, you can see the impressive durations that can be delivered in the earlier table. On the downside, your GPS track will only record points a mile or two apart, depending on how fast your hike.

Special Feature – ClimbPro

When you are following a route, that route will usually know the upcoming elevations. ClimbPro is useful for hiking and perhaps fell running in order to automatically check progress up the current hill with various colour-codings for various grades. I’ve mostly used it on the latest Garmin Edge devices and that’s quite a nice feature for a handlebar-mounted device with a large screen for when cycling.

Note: The ClimbPro shown above is the old version. Probably when you read this it will be updated (ping me to change)

Special Feature – PacePro for Running/Hiking

Like ClimbPro, PacePro only works when you are following a route and, again, takes advantage of the upcoming hills. With its knowledge of the hills, it can give you a target average pace for a certain race time for each mile/kilometre/hill of the race. It can also factor in a positive or negative split to its calculations.

Functionality seems to have already been improved on this whereby pace changes can be triggered as the terrain changes from uphill to downhill but, on the examples I’ve seen, pace will not change if, for example, a downhill turns into a STEEPER downhill. But I’m sure Garmin will add that. ie Garmin seem to average each climb and descent.

On a flat route, even the negative/positive split functionality by itself could prove VERY useful.

This might also be more useful over much longer durations of hiking to ensure that you are on track to reach certain predefined waypoints.

Images above show PacePro on GCM

Special Feature – Running With Power

This is one area of running that developed a lot in 2018, then somewhat technically stagnated in 2019 but will continue to grow in usage over the next few years as evidenced by STRYD starting to release many new platform features in Q3.2019.

A running power meter is a proxy for effort. Theoretically at least, your best possible effort will come from an evenly paced run with equal efforts uphill and downhill.

It’s cool. I use POWER a LOT. It’s not perfect but has its uses. Many cyclists love running power; as the more techy cyclists amongst them already have a thorough understanding of power from the ‘proper’ power meters on their bikes – albeit the power meters work differently.

But you need more kit to take advantage of this 🙁

The cheapest way is with an HRM-RUN/TRI/PRO chest strap that supports Running Dynamics. The RD-POD will be cool as well. A properly calibrated footpod will further improve accuracy and hence usefulness. If you already have that hardware then go forth and download Garmin’s free Running Power (GRP) app. Be wary of the accuracy of the inputs from your sensors. Rubbish In…Rubbish…well, you know the rest.

Taking running with power more seriously you WILL go for STRYD. More options may emerge in 2020, indeed I HOPE Garmin do a power pod of some sort. There are LOTS of resources on this site about the Running With Power devices and apps. I’ll link to some in a minute but this table is a good place to start.

If you are intrigued to know more, the STRYD Bible should answer a lot of your questions. Yep, it’s VERY long as well. Sorry 😉

 

STRYD Review after 2000 miles | Running Power | Footpod Meter 2020 |

 

Garmin Fenix 6 Review + Garmin Running Power

Garmin’s Running Power ‘algorithm’ is free to use but is dependent on the accuracy of inputs from several sensors. Whichever vendor’s Running Power method you choose, you will NOT be able to move your data to another platform later on as the numbers will NOT match.

Garmin Running Power – Pros & Cons

I encourage you to give running with power a go. Try out the free GRP CIQ app. FWIW I use STRYD every week and consider it ‘accurate’.

Special Features – Firstbeat – Physiology Insights

There are LOTS of Firstbeat metrics in the Fenix 6, we’ve already touched on some earlier. In fact, there are so many that it warrants a separate post partly to reduce the size of this main Garmin Fenix 6 Review but also because the Firstbeat stuff tends to be a polarising feature set – you either love them and buy a watch partly because of them or loathe them.

Garmin Fenix 6 – Firstbeat Insights

Special Feature – PulseOx

If you don’t already know exactly what SpO2 is, then it almost certainly will be of no use to you whatsoever. Jump to the next section.

Hey..I like pretty flowers. Leave me alone 😉

 

PulseOx/SpO2 is totally different to Moxy/Humon Hex and their measurement of MUSCLE oxygen..

OK – it’s blood oxygen monitoring which has medical applications as well as applications for determining the degree of acclimatisation for high-altitude climbers. YOU are fit. It should not be below 95% and probably not below 97%.

Tip: disable the feature, save your battery. It eats a fair amount of battery.

Garmin Connect – App & Platform

Garmin’s app and online platform are one of the better sport and activity offerings. I like Fitbit’s and Polar’s too.

The Garmin Connect app is comprehensive covering; sleep, steps, sports, day views, trends, and physiological stuff. It’s all there and more besides. There is SO MUCH data in the app that sometimes it’s not always so intuitive to know where to look to find the information you need. But it is there. Somewhere.

All your data is sync’d to Garmin Connect online and the same sort of thing is available on that platform. And it’s all free.

Here are several screenshots of the app from a few months back, including one of my GPS accuracy test route. More on that later.

Those of you who have more than one Garmin device will notice that your physiological recordings are starting to be synchronised across the Garmin ecosystem using Physio TrueUp on supported devices – of which the Fenix 6 is one.

Garmin Fenix 6 Accuracy

There are many aspects of the Forerunner Fenix 6 that will be accurate to varying degrees. For example, the steps and stairs climbed will be accurate enough for the purposes that the data is put towards and Garmin’s sleep analyses are well-intentioned but I’m near positive, from other research, that they will not accurately represent true sleep stages. But I have no way to back up my assertion (and neither would Garmin to the contrary – same applies to Polar, Fitbit, etc).

So that leaves us looking at the accuracy of Elevation, GNSS/GPS and heart rate. People tend to ‘Poo Poo’ the accuracy that other people seek from devices when that aspect of accuracy is not important to them. For example, the small minority of cyclists who use power meters (of which I am one) might have a vocal sub-minority that tend to look down on those seeking GPS accuracy or HR accuracy. Runners, in response, might cite the almost certain fact that there are a VASTLY greater number of runners looking for GNSS/GPS accuracy than there are cyclists looking at the differences of between 98-99% accuracy in their power meters.

Similarly, for all its flaws, heart-rate based training is used by a VERY LARGE number of people across many sports. I use heart rate a lot too and I am mostly aware of all its potential inaccuracies. However, one thing I’m mildly concerned about is that many people are probably using optical heart rate and blindly assuming that the readings are always correct. They really are not.

Here’s a link to some detailed insights into various aspects of the Fenix 6’s accuracy and that link will be updated over time. Just skip the link and continue reading where I’ll summarise that post.

 

Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Accuracy – GPS, GLONASS, oHR and Elevation

So with all that in mind. Let’s look a bit more at the accuracy of GNSS/GPS/GALILEO, heart rate and elevation/altitude.

Garmin Fenix 6 Review – GPS Accuracy

Provisionally and in summary: The Fenix 6 is generally fine for most people but runners who seek accuracy will be disappointed although perhaps not surprised. Galileo seems broadly similar to GPS-only in many scenarios and, in any case, is work-in-progress as Garmin endeavour to improve it. Both Galileo and GLONASS do seem sometimes better (eg in urban areas). As of September 2019 the Fenix 6’s overall GPS accuracy is similar to, but not better than, the accuracy of the previous Fenix 5 Plus, which was ‘good’ but not excellent.

Note: I am perfectly happy with the post-workout tracks that Garmin produces FOR ME. I can’t see ME ever relying on GPS-PACE from the current crop of Garmin watches and I will always instead use a calibrated running pod.

Garmin Fenix 6 Review – Heart Rate Accuracy + Functions

So far, I am tentatively happy with the accuracy and functionality of the ELEVATE sensor on the Fenix 6 which seems SOMETIMES NOTABLY BETTER than the Fenix 5 Plus…and sometimes NOTABLY WORSE. Resting HR is good, retrieving cached HR from a swim set is good, pairing to ANT+/BLE chest straps is good, broadcasting the oHR seems good, running and cycling HR performance is mostly good and the new oHR whilst swimming is OK. As always, bumpy cycle rides and high intensity runs present the ELEVATE HR sensor with some challenges that it hasn’t fully risen to yet, IMO.

Caveats: cold weather, bumpy roads, high levels of exertion, how you wear your watch, wrist movement, technical design factors, your blood flow and other physiological factors can all lead to poor oHR results on the wrist. If you don’t want to wear a chest strap for accuracy then wear an optical armband instead like the Polar OH1+ (reviewed here).

Summary: If you want ‘guaranteed’ accuracy, don’t use oHR on the wrist. Or keep your wrist very, very, very still…hmmm.

Note: I am certainly NOT intending to use wrist oHR for my personal HR needs. Take that as a recommendation to avoid ANY oHR reading from the wrist from any device.

Garmin Fenix 6 Review – Elevation & Elevation Accuracy

#Sorted

Garmin’s maps on the Fenix 6 contain a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) which assigns elevation values to GNSS location points (probably ‘lat/long ranges‘ in reality). By default, the DEM is used continuously during the workout and can also be auto-calibrated at the start of the ride or adjusted further with the barometer.

Go to: Settings >Sensors & Accessories>Altimeter>Auto Cal>”Continuous During Activity” or “At Start”

The performances I’ve shown, below, seem as near to perfect as they need to be. Certainly, for my meagre needs, the elevation ‘problem’ is now SOLVED, IMHO.

Caveats: There is always a BUT..and here it is…well, there’s two:

  1. For elevation to be correctly determined by this method then an approximately accurate GPS fix needs to be obtained. I would say that in >99% of use-cases this will happen. However in cities and on steep slopes then there may be issues in the GPS fix and hence elevation errors may ensue.
  2. Similarly, the DEM model itself will sometimes be wrong and, again, that is most likely to be in mountainous regions where the satellites have not properly ascertained the elevations or your precise position.

Google=>  here

Clarity: Garmin’s DEM is NOT like Suunto’s FusedAlti which combines a 3D-GPS fix LIVE FROM SATELLITES and barometric changes (Garmin is better for almost all of us, IMHO).

Note: I have few personal needs for accurate elevation. Garmin’s DEM-based implementation MORE THAN satisfies ALL my ELEVATION needs for ALL my sports.

Garmin Fenix 6 Review Alternatives – The Competition

There really is no viable competition to get anywhere near the same sort of level of sporting and smart functionality that you will find in the Garmin Fenix 6 reviewed here. Certainly NOT in the smaller Fenix 6s size of the product. And the new Fenix 6 range is clearly Garmin’s ‘smartest’ product with the broadest feature set…ever.

Maybe the Apple Watch is smarter? Maybe. But it’s not as good at sports nor battery life.

The nearest competitors are these

Garmin Fenix 6 Review – Bugs & Stuff

I am often highly critical of Garmin for a lot of things and you might think a good place to put the criticisms and bugs would be in a Garmin Fenix 6 Review. But bugs get fixed and reviews tend to stay relatively static so I will refrain from being too critical here of bugs.

I’ve had a few rebooting moments and a few moments of madness with the Elevate HR sensor but it’s generally been a smooth and ACCEPTABLE ride with a brand new product

I have absolutely ZERO relationships with Garmin other than being a consumer, like you, so I can be critical. Yep, no PR samples here, no PR info here at all. Having said that you should know that the Fenix/945 range is Garmin’s Golden Crown. So if there are bugs Garmin ABSOLUTELY WILL MOVE HEAVEN & EARTH to fix them. Garmin has the developer resources to do that.

Price, Availability & Discounts

There is generally good availability globally now. The issue is with the precise availability of the model you want, there are so many variants that nobody will stock them all. You could try Garmin’s sites directly or my partners, the larger of which are WIGGLE in the UK and PowerMeterCity in the USA, both linked to from this image:

 

 

 

 

RRPs vary widely over the full range like this…

Fenix 6X ($749.99$1,149.99),  Fenix 6 (599.99$999.99), Fenix 6s ($599.99$899.99) Eu/£ similar, with higher prices still for Solar models

Direct discounts are generally not allowed by Garmin, although you might get 10% from time-to-time as 2020 progresses.

The bundles can be a cheap way to get a chest strap if you need one.

Garmin Fenix 6 Review – Final Points

If like me, you want the best watch for your sport and activities then you will have already, in your mind, bought one of the Fenix 6 models. It’s a proper hiking watch, a proper triathlon watch and a proper ‘any other sport’ watch.  You kinda knew that anyway, I’m sure. If you have the cash to burn then get the MARQ EXPEDITION or get the MARQ ATHLETE if you are more sportily inclined.

If you have a Forerunner 935 or Fenix 5 (non-Plus) then there is a lot of reasons to upgrade. If you have the Forerunner 945 there is zero point in getting a Fenix 6. But you Fenix 5 Plus owners could justify a new watch if you really needed longer battery lives and slightly larger screens. I don’t think the new Fenix 6 software features will give many of you a real incentive to upgrade but perhaps the improving interface and the newer internal hardware components might tempt you with a pseudo-illusory nature of ‘something better and faster’

You certainly won’t get much better onboard sensor performance from oHR and GNSS but I think we will see both improve over the next year

 

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