Garmin Fenix Review

On the Road, On the Trail, and Into Sports are all ways in which Garmin has positioned their GPS devices. Each descriptor gives you some insight to where to best use their products to track where you are going, where you’ve been, how long it took, along with a vast array or other features.

Traditionally when looking for a Garmin running watch, we turned to the “into sports” section to determine what battery life, form factor, and running features we want. The Garmin Fenix ($400) is looking to change that. The Fenix is listed as an On the Trail model that blurs the lines between a handheld GPS focused at trail navigation and geocaching and a full blown wearable fitness device.

With long battery life, altimeter, barometer, compass, and GPS, the Fenix looks like it can fit well into our backcountry adventures. Below we take a look at the device as a running companion and where it could fit in as your go-to training watch.

Garmin Fenix Review Transcript

Hey, and welcome to Trail Trials—the video review section of iRunFar.com. My name is Travis Liles, and in this video we’re going to take a look at the Garmin Fenix.

The Fenix from Garmin is considered an ABC watch which means Altitude, Barometric pressure, and Compass. It also includes GPS. When you look at the Garmin Fenix on the product webpage, it’s considered an ‘on the trail’ device which means it’s very much similar in the way that it behaves to the Garmin handheld—so being able to do geocaching, waypoints, hiking, trackbacks. Those are kind of the main focus of it, but it also has the ability to have sports profiles. That’s what intrigued me to decide to try to check this device out.

Sports profiles allow you to do things like running, speed and distance, time climbing, and those are the things that matter when it comes to trail and ultrarunning. That combined with a rated 16 to 50 hour battery life made me decide I’m going to give this thing a shot and see what I think. With those things in mind, what we’re going to do is take a look at this watch, but we’re going to look at it strictly from the running side of things—so the fitness watch side of the world. We will get up close and personal and check those things out right now.

The first thing we’ll do here is take a look at the physical attributes of this watch or wrist-top GPS. We can see that it’s somewhat thick in its size and that is because there is a lot of stuff in there. There’s a large battery, you have the GPS radio of course, and then the altimeter, barometric pressure, and compass feature. It’s not a small watch, but the thing that I do like about it is when you look at it from the face, there’s not an antenna hanging off of it anywhere like some of the other Garmin models. It’s just an overall round watch. To me it has a pleasing, outdoorsy-type look with the metal buttons here on the sides and the body. So I think it goes well. The model that I have, you get the ability to have the heart-rate model with it and also two different straps. It comes with an orange strap as well as a black strap and the accommodating hardware to make that switch which I’ve already done because I just like the way that the orange band looks on here.

So let’s move over into the face side of this device. Let’s start off by talking about some of the buttons here. Because this is not a running-specific watch, the buttons themselves are not called out for things like ‘start’ and ‘stop’ and ‘lap’ and those types of things. It’s more of a general navigation that’s on here. That does take a little bit to get used to, but in the overall it’s something that’s easily figured out. The main thing is this orange button up top. This is going to get you into pretty much all your features.

When I hit that top orange button, that’s going to take me into my main screen here. Once I’m in that main screen I can start GPS, and then I can start to work my way down the different features that are on here. I can change my sports profiles to determine what it is that I want to do. Do I want to do trail running? Do I want to do normal running? Which of those things am I after? I can go into ‘Set-up.’ But the big thing I want to do here is just go ahead—you can see me go through my history, my waypoints, my tracks, my routes, GPS tools, profiles (which we’ll talk about here in a little bit). But I’m just going to start GPS. We can see that it’s already acquired. I just ran not that long ago and we already have a signal acquired. I am in my house somewhat near a window but it does acquire GPS relatively quickly. Once I’m in here, I’m on a running route. I can see I have ‘Distance’ up top, ‘Pace,’ and an ‘Overall.’ That’s a very standard type of running watch. This was a road run. As I walk through my ‘Up’ and ‘Down’ buttons in here, I’m going to see different things. Here is ‘Heart Rate Monitor.’ Here’s some more ‘Heart Rate.’ I can go through and I can get calories; I can get lap time; I can see how much climb I’ve got; I can see which direction I’m going. This is going to build out a map for me on the go. That’s one that I’ve just built over time.

The other thing I can do is go back out and, say I’m on my watch mode here, I can go back out and go into a different profile which is one of the things I liked about this. I didn’t have to stop and start anything. I can really quickly go in and go out, start trail running, move that to road running if I want some different features. So I can have a lot of screens available to me really at any time. Once we’re in those profiles, as we see here, we can go to trail running, we can hit that, and all this is going to do is take a couple seconds and it’s going to load up that profile. This one is going to be less about pace and more about climbing, more about distance, more about descent. It’s going to load those things up for me. We can see at the top that we have the descent, we have pace, and we have time—so maybe something a little more intriguing. All these are done through a very easy set-up menu.

From a button standpoint, like I said, they’re not called out. You have ‘Start’ and ‘Stop’ up here at the top. You have a ‘Lap’ button down here at the bottom. You have a light which actually is called out by the little picture of a light bulb. Then you have your back button. Again, you always have your main button here to get back out which is ‘Stop.’ So it’s relatively intuitive once you sort of get the hang of how this works. It’s all generally up and down menus and then your big orange button and then a back button to get back to where you started. So overall, I’ve really enjoyed this watch and the features that it brings to it. I got the one with the heart-rate monitor. The monitor fit well and had a good feel to it.

The last thing that I’ll call out here is the connection. On the back we can see we have four little prongs here and that is going to match up with a simple USB cable. That’s going to allow us to sync and to get the data off the watch. What I really like about this watch, because it’s from Garmin, lots of websites online have the ability to have plug-ins to your favorite web browser. So whether you’re talking about Strava, Training Peaks, Daily Mile, Treadhub—lots of these various services tie in with Garmin and allow us to get in there. The other thing is, these devices show up—if they don’t show up directly in the web browser as a direct sync, you can just grab the file off these devices because they show up as a mass-storage device. So from a standpoint of ubiquity in terms of being able to get the data off the watch, that to me is one place Garmin really shines.

Some of the other things that are interesting about this is this watch has Bluetooth on it. So there are i-devices currently—I believe the newest iPhone and the past iPhone as well as the newest iPad—they can actually, if they have an Internet connection, you can sync this watch directly with it to some of the Garmin utilities which is a really cool feature. Hopefully that’s coming to Android and Windows phones soon.

It also has ANT. So there are some external things like the heart-rate monitor which are ANT. You can get an external temperature monitor for camping and some of those other types of things. But this thing just has an entire bag of tricks and a ton of technology in it and Garmin’s done a really awesome job with updating this, continually updating the firmware, and making it better and better over the time it’s been released which I think is probably close to a year now. So let’s head back out and think about final thoughts.

In conclusion, the Garmin Fenix has become my go-to running watch and really training watch in general. I like the way it looks. The amount of features is really awesome because of speed and distance and the GPS paired with altimeter, barometric pressure, the compass. I really have a lot of tools at my disposal to be able to train and see the types of data that I want to. I also have the ability to get back to where I started and use this watch for other things. If I did things like geocaching or hiking and waypoints, I can add all those things into it. So it really starts to grow and become a much more useful product that I can wear when I’m trail running specifically when I’m somewhere new and I need to get back to the car because maybe I took a wrong turn. Then you pair that with the ANT features—the ability to have a heart rate monitor, external temperature sensors, depending on what sport you’re doing, this really is an outdoor enthusiast’s device.

Then lastly, having variables on battery life, that 16 hours roughly of battery life you get in normal GPS mode, and then the extended track mode where you can get up to 50 hours. So you can take this anywhere from your run around the block all the way out to 100 miler assuming you want to use the extended sampling. You’ll get less accurate data, but you will be able to see the majority of that and have that device with you the entire time.

So any questions or comments, place those below this video. Thanks for watching. We’ll catch you next time.

Travis Liles

resides in Portland, Oregon where he is a husband, father, and a technical specialist for a software company. In his spare time, he is exploring his new home in the Pacific Northwest, getting more vertical but still not living in the thin air, while producing "Trail Trials with Travis Liles" video gear reviews for iRunFar.

There are 22 comments

  1. Rob Youngren

    Hey Travis. Nice review of the Garmin Fenix. I've had mine since March and really like it; far more than any other GPS watch I've used in past ten years or so. It took some getting used to, some reconfiguring of the "Hot Keys" which allowed me to change what each button does, to make it function more like a typical sport watch.

    However, there are some downsides of this watch. Just wanted to mention that the UltraTrac feature is a total joke. Does not work very well at all (at least for me). If you're running anywhere where acquiring and re-acquiring a signal can be difficult the GPS will forever NOT link up and so you get no measurement… FAIL. Perhaps might work if you're on a long, flat and straight road ultra where re-acquiring signal is easy and gap in measurements won't effect accuracy too much. Haven't tested that.

    I should also point out that there have been A LOT of reported issues with this watch, just surf over to the Garmin Forums to see that or on DC Rainmaker's blog. However, I've been one of the lucky individuals who has had very few issues with my Fenix. I love it!

  2. John

    Travis, thanks for the review!

    I have a few questions:

    What was your impression on battery life?

    Does the current update have lap recording and other features of the forerunner series?

    Does the unit work with the foot pad unit and/or bike kit for cadence?

    One problem I have with the Garmin interface is the complexity and endless menus to get to commonly used settings. What did you think of the user interface with the Fenix?

  3. Brad

    Great in-depth review. I've had my eye on this watch as a potential upgrade. Question for you: do you know if the Fenix does intervals (ie run/walk intervals) like you'd find on one of the running specific watches?

    1. dogrunner

      And almost as valuable – the extensive and relatively current user comments.

      Although it is nice to get an ultrarunner's perspective on gear, nobody does tech reviews like dcrainmaker. Read all the reviews you want or can take, but dcrainmaker's are a must read.

  4. Brian Williams

    Bought a Fenix in January, just traded it in for a 910. Mine was very buggy, pace update was a bit questionable, and would lose GPS lock in the mountains. I ultimately returned it because when I pushed one of the buttons it would start cycling through all the screens. It would keep cycling until the battery died, no way to turn it off. The 910 has been flawless so far. I too bought the Fenix for the UltraTrac option, but that's of no help is the basic functions dont work.

  5. Joey W

    Fenix user here getting at most 5hrs of Normal GPS recorded run time on a full battery…Haven't watched the video just yet review (work has blocked it) but wanted to share this comment.

    1. Travis

      I'm for sure getting way more than 5 hours out of a charge. I routinely use the device all week in training without charging it and I run a fair amount more than 5 hours a week. I also used it pacing out at Leadville and had over 10 hours or recording on it. There were some bugs in some earlier editions of the watch and Garmin went back and changed some things in their manufacturing as well have issued a fair amount of firmware updates to address problem. 5 hours would be a show stopper for me.

      1. Jeff

        I also get far more than 5 hours out of a charge. The watch works well for running and cycling. I used it recently when my Garmin 500 went dead and I wanted to record an epic day in the Basque country. It matched very well with Strava, which i find is an issue with running.

        Also, I used UltraTrac for a 100-miler and did drop for a few miles, but still eked out 97 miles of it on Strava, so it's not so bad. I would use the 910 but I then need to run 100-milers in under 18 hours

    2. H Meinert

      Get consistent well above 10 hrs out of the watch in GPS mode. Either your battery is bad or you deploy additional features that drain battery – check for ANT sensors beeing on.

  6. David P.

    I've had the watch for about 10 months and had very little trouble with it. It has gotten me through a 50 mile race on normal recording, not much longer than that on the least often interval during a hundred, didn't bother trying ultratrac. The main thing I love about it is the unsupported method of loading maps, I loaded maps for most of Colorado that have major trails on them, really helpful in the winter or when wanting to bushwack back to a trail easily. I use the watch for all my runs, and they keep updating the firmware, they just recently added a virtual pacer feature.

    1. Bryon Powell

      It's been a couple years, but I've had a maybe four opportunities to deal with Garmin customers services (all leading to getting batteries replaced after much use) and have never had an issue with them.

  7. Steve

    Any thoughts on the ultra capability of this device when you turn it onto the stop-gap GPS tracking? Thought this watch was the one for me until I read other reviews that were highly critical of this particular facet…

  8. Jason

    The first fenix I bought didn't even tell the correct time (unless you are on GMT). The second one lost signal during the four races I used it for. Took it back and got a 910. Garmin customer service is not helpful at all. They assume you are an idiot and then they have no idea how to solve your problem.

  9. Clint

    I had the Fenix for 6 moths. Neat looking watch with some cool features. The battery life was awful when hooked to HR monitor and foot pod. 6 hours at best. If you turn all external sensors off, about 10+ hours battery life. No interval ability and other functions needed for real running forced me to sell it and get the 910XT, which I LOVE. For every day wearing and basic runs, the Fenix is cool. Would be great for hiking with the Ultra Trac mode.

  10. Justus

    I owned the 910xt for almost a year. This watch is a good choice if you are a triathlete or an ultrarunner. It works pretty flawlessly most of time. My biggest issues were the form factor and the altimeter. After a year it started to get flakey on me so I returned it and got the Fenix. So far the Fenix has not been without issue. My first one would not hold satellite signal after 5 or 6 hours of use. I returned it to REI and they gave me another. The second one has been flawless so far. The Fenix is better or equal to the 910 for mountains for the following reasons.
    1) Altimeter is able to be calibrated and works flawlessly
    2) Battery life is similar (I have gotten 17 from the 910 and 12 from the fenix, with the fenix reading 35% left) Both of these were with full GPS 1 second tracking and hr monitor
    3) Fenix uses traditional GPS interface – it allows you to manage tracks and waypoints in an external software, like basecamp. The 910xt does not do this, you must type in manually way points. very annoying
    4) Tracks – fenix displays previously defined tracks
    5) Form factor – I wear mine as an every day watch

    Now that Garmin is pushing out firmware updates (3.9 just came out) my Fenix is very stable and I have not found any bugs. I highly recommend this for runners or backpackers in the mountains. I have not owned an ambit or ambit 2. I suspect it is similar, but it does not vibrate.

  11. Justus

    30 Weeks ago I posted about my Fenix thoughts -> See above comment. After a ton of experience including an 18 hour run last weekend I want to share some more about the watch pertaining to the 18 hour run.
    * I am currently on the most recent firmware.
    * I played around with ultra track some, but decided to go with normal tracking mode.
    * I left the watch set to record most often in auto mode (it recorded every second).
    * I had it set to only write .fit files. The fenix will only write 10,000 waypoints to a gpx file before it overwrites. This would not be enough for my run. .fit files are only limited by the watches overall memory availability.
    * I turned off all external ant sensors
    Observations:
    * Battery lasted for ~10.25 hours.
    * Battery meter stated ~20 percent remaining when the watch just shut off (luckily I saw it shut off, so I did not lose much time)
    * Upon shutdown I plugged the watch into a portable charger in my vest and it turned back on. It picked up at the same spot it left off, so no real data loss (was very unsure what it would do in this case and happy it saved the data)
    * Watch very quickly went from 20 to 95% charged. After 30 minutes I pulled it off the charger. Battery life dropped to 60% very quickly. I plugged it back in for a while and it was back to almost full charge and this time it only dropped to 85%. At home I fully charged it and everything appears normal. Sitting at 98% after a few days in watch (no gps) mode. My theory is that the battery meter on the watch does not work properly and it prematurely says it has more charge than it really does. I believe that once it hits 99 or 100 it is good to go, but at 95 it is not really charged.
    * At one point I lost sat reception for around 30 minutes. I was in pretty heavy tree canopy.

    Overall I am very happy with the fenix. Outside of the battery meter I feel it is just as stable as the 910xt (previous watch). The three big advantage over the 910xt are 1) ABC functionality 2) Ability to put custom maps in addition to the very blank base map it comes with (this is not an official Garmin capability, but it can be done – if interested shoot me a comment on here and I will let you know how) 3) Superior charger dock. I had issues with the 910 clip staying in place, Fenix locks on to its base, you know it is charging.

    One of the areas the 910 is better is battery life (it has a bigger battery). Ultra-track may be the solution to this. I will be testing this out more on an upcoming backpacking trip.

    I have done a lot of tinkering around with this watch, if you have any questions about it feel free to ask.

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