Garmin Fenix 3 Review – Why It Rises Above the Rest
In our Garmin fenix 3 review it doesn’t exactly rise from any ashes, but it does evolve from previous fenix models to being the best so far. Those earlier attempts at this sports watch were good, but the Garmin has really outdone itself with the GPS and GLONASS enabled fenix 3.
Garmin Fenix 3 price when reviewed: $374.99
The Apex of Fitness Tech
This is actually a perfect time for Garmin to release a beast of a fitness wearable like the fenix 3. According to statistics portal Statista, the wearables market is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, the sector is expected to be valued at almost $3 billion USD this year, and as much as $5.8 billion USD by 2018. Furthermore, the dip in GPS-enabled devices that was noted in 2014 as smartwatches were starting to enter the marketplace seems to be less of an issue than initially thought; many smartwatches like the Apple Watch simply don’t have built-in GPS, and more and more athletes are turning to companies like Garmin for GPS fitness wearables. The fenix 3 is part smartwatch, part sports watch, part GPS tracker, and all muscle.
The name is pronounced like Phoenix — “fenix” is actually the Old English spelling of the word — and much like an e.e. cummings poem, it does not contain any capital letters.
It’s an expensive piece of kit, priced from £379.99 to £629.99, depending on configuration and materials. Quirks and price aside, though, this is a true powerhouse of a fitness wearable, with capabilities galore packed under the covers. It’s perfect for triathletes, it’s great for serious hikers, it’ll make swimmers happy, and it’s ideal for anyone who is more than a casual athlete.
What’s all the fuss about? We’re glad you asked.
The Garmin Fenix 3 Review
The Garmin fenix 3 is a tracking monster, able to monitor and record data from practically any athletic endeavour. Yes, the basics are covered: running, cycling (both indoor and outdoor), pool swimming, and open water swimming. But so are many other activities, like hiking, skiing, rowing, mountain climbing, paddle boarding, golf, and more. Plus, you can create your own tracking profile for activities that may not be pre-set on the fenix 3, such as certain weight lifting routines.
It can do all of this thanks to built in GPS and GLONASS, an altimeter, a barometer, and a compass, plus a three-axis accelerometer. More than that, the fenix 3 can function as an all day tracker and everyday watch. It’s rugged and highly durable, so even if you’re into extreme sports, you can still wear the fenix 3 and be assured that it will function just fine.
What sets the Garmin fenix 3 apart from other higher end GPS sports watches, though, is the depth and breadth of information it can collect and analyse. It’s comprehensive, it’s smart, and it’s quite impressive.
Advanced Data for Serious Athletes
While the average weekend warrior can get by with an ordinary fitness tracker, the Garmin fenix 3 is designed for the more hardcore athlete. It’s an especially amazing device for triathlon training. For swimming, it can record all your metrics like distance, pace, and stroke count; it can identify strokes and provide you with a SWOLF score as well. It can also keep tabs on cycling data, like distance, speed, length, and more.
The Garmin fenix 3 is an outstanding watch for runners. Beyond the standard distance, pace, and time information, the fenix 3, when paired with Garmin’s HRM-Run or HRM-Tri chest strap heart rate monitor, can track running dynamics like cadence, ground contact time, stride length, vertical oscillation, and more. It can also provide your VO2 max estimate, there’s a race predictor and a virtual pacer, and it has a recovery advisor as well. Clearly, if you’re training for a race, whether it’s a long distance run or a full triathlon, the fenix 3 can track your progress and give you everything you need to improve.
There are some smart and customisable features on the Garmin fenix 3 that not only make it feel like an advanced training device — they make it feel like your advanced training device. For starters, it can deliver smart notifications from your synced smartphone. There are also music controls, you can use it with a VIRB action camera, it syncs with all of your social media profiles, and you can answer or decline phone calls right from your wrist. (It should be noted, however, that you can’t actually take the call from your wrist; this isn’t a full blown smartwatch.)
Using the Garmin Connect web tool, you can create online courses for running, hiking, cycling, or any outdoor activity. The course can then be transferred to the fenix 3, and as you’re going along, you can check the watch to ensure that you’re following the right path. It’s a great way to plan out your distance ahead of time, and it’s also pretty solid insurance against getting lost.
Finally, Garmin has over 70 compatible apps and widgets on its Connect IQ store. There’s everything from watch faces to mapping tools to third party connectivity facilitators. All of these can be downloaded onto the fenix 3, and while the watch has just 32MB of onboard storage, these aren’t especially large apps.
All Day Tracking
Let’s be honest: you probably wouldn’t drop upwards of £400 or more on the Garmin fenix 3 just to use it as an activity tracker; there are plenty of products on the market that can handle tracking for you at a fraction of the price. However, it is nice to have all day tracking included on the fenix 3 so you don’t have to purchase a separate activity tracker.
Steps taken, distance travelled, calories burned, floors climbed — the fenix 3 can track all of your data. The watch automatically switches to sleep mode to count your Z’s, and it will automatically set goals based on your previous performance so you’ll be challenged. Finally, it has a move bar and can buzz you with move reminders so you’re not sedentary for too long.
Battery and Logistics
The battery life on the Garmin fenix 3 is outstanding for a watch of this calibre, though exactly how long it lasts is totally dependent on what features you have on and off. It should get about 16 hours with the GPS turned on, but up to 40 hours in UltraTrac mode; that latter setting involves the GPS being turned on only periodically, with the watch relying on its accelerometer for the stretches when it’s off. As a regular smartwatch, though, it should last up to two weeks. If you want an average, let’s say about six days, which, again, is excellent.
The bottom line is that if you head out with a fully charged fenix 3, you shouldn’t have to worry about it running out of juice before you do. It can outlast ultra marathons, full triathlons, overnight hiking excursions, and more. Furthermore, the fenix 3 is waterproof to an amazing 100 metres, so you can get it as wet as you want and nothing bad will happen to it.
Screen and Controls
The Garmin fenix 3 doesn’t have a touchscreen, and although that may feel kind of antiquated to some users, the watch’s side navigation buttons are actually quite intuitive and easy to use. There’s responsive, and there’s no fumbling to get to the screen you want. The fenix 3 is a round watch with a transflective 218×218 face, and even though it’s full colour, there’s not really a lot of colour and vibrance built into any of its widgets. It’s definitely not as bright and shiny as the Apple Watch, but what it lacks in screen brilliance it makes up for in extensive sports functionality.
All of your data is displayed in big numbers for maximum readability. And, as mentioned, the watch face can be changed, and all data screens can be customised so that you see exactly the information you’re interested in, in the order you want to see it.
A Sleek, Barely Sporty Aesthetic
Upon first glance, you might not realise that the fenix 3 is an athletic watch. It looks like a high quality timepiece, with its thick bezel and large round face. The silicone band on some models does suggest that it’s a device designed for sports tracking rather than high fashion, but the leather or metal band on the premium models just make it look sleek and fashionable.
Speaking of premium models, if you are after a more elegant look with your fenix 3, there are models made with silver or rose gold bezels, leather bands in a selection of colours, and a metal band like other high quality dress watches. While the materials you choose for your fenix 3 will affect how much you pay for it, it’s good to know that you have some options.
Everything’s on the App
The Garmin Connect app works for both iOS and Android, and while it’s designed to sync with all of Garmin’s fitness wearables, from ordinary trackers to robust sports watches, it’s an especially good companion to the fenix 3. The design is simple and intuitive, with your activities in chronological order and your data neatly plotted out for you, as well as a social component. You don’t have to poke around too much or over think what you’re doing when you use it — it just gets out of your way and allows you to check out your data.
There’s also a Garmin Connect web tool, which is especially great for things like planning out routes. You can also see all of your activity details on the web tool, so even if your phone isn’t on you, you can still check out your stats and progress.
Regular, Sapphire, or HR?
If you’re planning to buy a Garmin fenix 3, your big decision is which model you’ll go with. Here are your choices:
- The standard fenix 3, which has a mineral crystal display and is available in silver with a red band or grey with a black band.
- The fenix 3 Sapphire, which has a Sapphire glass crystal, a crisper and more scratch resistant material. The Sapphire is also available in more premium materials, like leather or metal bands and an upgrade on the bevel metal. Plus, the Sapphire models all come with a second silicone band and a tool to easily swap them out.
- The fenix 3 Sapphire HR, which, as the name implies, has wrist based heart rate monitoring. If you want built-in monitoring, and especially if you don’t like the confining feel of a chest strap, the HR model is one you’ll want to consider. However, athletes who take their training seriously know that a chest strap heart rate monitor is considerably more accurate and consistent than a wrist-based one.
Which one should you pick?
Well, if you’re on a budget, the standard fenix 3 is a good choice at £379.99. If you want the added protection of the Sapphire crystal, and especially if you like being able to change bands, it’s worth it to get the Sapphire, which starts at £469.99. Extra bands range from around £25 to over £100, so buying the Sapphire with the extra band is to your advantage, price-wise.
It’s also worthwhile to note that the fenix 3 Sapphire HR is the same price as the Sapphire. Yes, it has the heart rate monitoring, but it does not come with a second band. Finally, while the HR is priced at £469.99, the Sapphire Performance Bundle is slightly more £499.99 and comes with both the second band and an HRM-Run chest strap monitor.
Just a Few Omissions
While the Garmin fenix 3 is an all-around excellent watch, it is lacking in just a few areas. For example, it does have good mapping features, but they’re not as robust as what you find on the Garmin epix, a hiking and outdoors wearable that has pre-loaded full colour maps. Next, there’s no internal storage for your music; it’s basically just a fancy remote for the music stored on your smartphone. Plus, iOS users can’t use the fenix 3 to control any streaming music — it works for stored music only. (Android users won’t have this problem, though.)
Finally, this is more of a critique than an omission, but the fenix 3 is a huge watch! It’s 16mm thick with a 30.4mm diameter. The watch itself weighs over 80g, and that’s without a strap. Add the metal band, and you’ve got 186g on your wrist. Sure, it’s comfortable enough, and with all it can do, you can’t expect it to be small, but still, this thing is downright brawny. Most men won’t have trouble with its size, but on women and on men with thinner wrists, the fenix 3 looks colossal. However, whether or not it’s too big is personal preference.
Ready to Buy?
There’s no getting around the fact that the Garmin fenix 3 is an expensive device. With the low price point at £379.99 for the basic model and a high price point of £629.99 for the Titanium fenix 3, this simply isn’t a wearable for anyone on a tight budget. However, if you’re intensely focused on your training and you’re in the market for a serious piece of fitness tech, you won’t find anything that outright beats the fenix 3.
Do you have a Garmin fenix 3? What do you like about it? How has it helped you improve your numbers? Or are you seriously considering putting down the cash for one of your own? Leave us a comment and share your thoughts!
Garmin Fenix 3 price when reviewed: $374.99
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