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.