- Fantastic data analytics for sports and health
- 32GB of storage space
- Integrated maps as part of the Pro/Sapphire upgrade
- Extremely long battery life
- Race training features
I thought I had reached the pinnacle of sports smartwatch tech when I reviewed the Polar Vantage V. It was an amazing watch with many features that do not exist on other general-purpose smartwatches.
Then came the Garmin Fenix 6 which sets a new high bar for sport smartwatches. Not only is it one of the most expensive smartwatches out there, it also has features that are unique to this smartwatch.
Buying a Fenix 6 reminds me of buying an Apple Watch in that there are so many configurations to choose from. You get to choose between three watch case sizes, whether you want music, maps and Wi-Fi functionality, a scratch-resistant sapphire lens, solar power and watch case material.
The cheapest Fenix, the 6S, costs about half the cost of the top-of-the-line Fenix 6X Pro Solar Edition. For this review, I will be writing it based on the Fenix 6 Sapphire edition which comes with a 47mm watch case, has the sapphire lens and music, maps and Wi-Fi functionality. My watch comes with an orange band and a titanium watch case and is known as the “Fenix 6 Sapphire Edition.”
Designed with a goal to be the nexus of your workouts, the Fenix also comes with many accessories that you can buy including heart rate monitor straps, a running sensor that measures your cadence, ground contact time, stride length, among other metrics and bike speed and cadence sensors.
Weight and comfort
The titanium case does weigh about 11 grams less than the steel case, or 49g vs 60g respectively. In reality, our Fenix 6, weighing 72 grams with the strap, is still one of the heavier watches out there and it definitely feels like one of the least comfortable watches.
The silicone strap is good with many notches for wrists of different sizes. It does seem that in order to keep the watch snugly on the wrist, you have to tighten it quite tightly and every time I take the watch off, I will see imprints of the strap on my wrist.
Sports and lifestyle
If you are considering this watch, chances are that you want to know how it can help you improve your lifestyle and whether it can help you in sports.
For starters, this watch is water resistant to 100 metres and has an integrated GPS for cellphone-free activity tracking.
One distinct difference between this watch and most other watches is how you can tap one button three times and start recording a workout. Other watches require more steps and this is one really great feature of the Fenix 6.
The watch comes with many activities you can track from the standard running, cycling and swimming to skiing and strength training. The watch has a good heart rate sensor that gives you reliable readings and also an advanced GPS with GLONASS/Galileo that can provide location tracking.
The Fenix 6 provides many types of data you can display on screen. In broad categories, you can display compass, navigation, vital statistics, timer, distance, speed, power and exercise-specific data on the screen. Some data is not available unless you have the companion accessory which can be connected to the watch with ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart.
After a workout, it will give you an analysis of how your workout has helped you develop your fitness and how it helped your aerobic and anaerobic health.
One of the coolest features of the Fenix 6 is the Body Battery feature.
If you wear the watch the whole day, the Fenix 6 uses your sleep, activities and stress levels to measure how charged you are and how much of that charge you have used as a result of your activities.
Stress is measured based on one’s heart-rate variability whereby the lesser variability means higher stress. On the Connect smartphone app, you can see when you were at rest or low, medium and high stressed.
Sleep tracking is typical. Wear the watch and it will tell you which stages of sleep you’re in.
Unlike most other watches, the Fenix 6 has a Pulse Ox function that measures the saturation of oxygen in the bloodstream. This helps you know if you are acclimatizing well to high altitudes.
On the rear of the Fenix 6 is a red LED that can measure this all day, during sleep, or just when you activate it. When I activated it for the full day, my battery went from seven days to three days.
For folks who like to exercise alone or go to faraway locations, the Fenix 6 has an incident reporting system in case anything happens to you on an outdoor walk, run, hike or bike activity.
You will need to have cellular connectivity, which means bringing your smartphone, and store up to three emergency contacts on your cellphone. Should an incident occur, the Fenix 6 will send a message with your location to these emergency contacts.
In addition, the Garmin Connect app has many features that you can use to help you become more competitive and live healthier. In the Find a Workout feature, the app gives you 57 workout plans, the level of fitness required and the parts of the body that it focuses on. The titles of these workouts seem like they came straight from a clickbait site with titles such as “The Body-Changing Workout” or “The Instant-Results Workout.” Most of these workout require equipment that are as simple as jump ropes all the way to gym equipment.
You can also use Garmin Coach to help you create a running plan for a run of a certain distance. It will ask you a few questions about your fitness level and then give you a choice of three personal coaches with a different methodology in creating a training timetable.
The Fenix 6 also provides special functionality for golfers. It will offer you a map, the par, distance to the green and it will do caddy work such as tracking your shots and keep score.
The Fenix 6 is unfortunately not a productivity-focused smartwatch. The features that it has in this regard pales in comparison to a cheap Google Wear OS smartwatch.
No touchscreen, no microphone, no speaker
This deserved a major section on its own because almost all smartwatches have a touchscreen, even if it were as lacklustre as the Polar Vantage V. The Fenix 6 completely does away with a touch screen.
Generally, you won’t really notice it after you get used to interacting with the watch. However, when you use the maps feature in the Fenix 6, that’s where you will feel the need for one as navigating a map with buttons is extremely inefficient.
The watch also does not come with a microphone nor a speaker. It’s a point that I have noted here because most smartwatches have these features. Not having either also means that this watch will have far fewer smartwatch productivity features.
The watch does have a buzzer which beeps when you activate or deactivate certain features, such as starting a workout or pausing it. It uses your smartphone’s speaker to read out data such as lap timing.
Calls, notifications and email
Not having a speaker or microphone means you can’t take calls. When you get a call on your smartphone, the Fenix 6 will vibrate and you can decide if you want to accept the call or reject it. If you accept, then it will answer the call on your phone, which you will then use to talk with.
Not having a microphone also means that you do not get a task assistant like Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant. It also means that when emails and notifications come in, you will not be able to reply to them using a speech-to-text system.
When emails and messages come in, you will receive a notification and a short preview. You can reply using one of its standard responses, but otherwise, you will have to do anything more complicated on your phone.
The Fenix 6 really isn’t that good as a productivity tool.
This watch lasts and lasts and lasts. I used it for nine days before charging it, and it still had 24% of battery by the ninth day. Over these nine days, I used the Fenix 6’s navigation tools, workout tracking, wearing it overnight as well as the default always-on screen and constant heart rate tracking so I haven’t been slouching on pushing it!
Garmin says you can expect 10 hours with the GPS and music features in use and up to 48 days in the battery saver mode.
The Fenix 6 doesn’t tell you the battery charge in percentage. Rather, it tells it to you in the number of days or hours. Personally, I’d be wary of trusting it because it tends to be optimistic as any intensive usage will see the number of days whittle down very quickly.
Pro/Sapphire Edition Features
Having the upgraded version is great. The features that come with the Pro are worth the extra expense but the Sapphire’s value is harder to determine.
Knowing that I have a hardy Sapphire Crystal lens makes me rest at ease that this watch will survive expeditions. However, it’s hard to say whether it’s significantly better than the default Corning Gorilla Glass DX.
By far, this is the easiest smartwatch to load music on because you just have to connect your watch to your computer by a cable, then load music onto it as if it were a USB stick. Most other watches require you to transfer music through an app which in my opinion is an unnecessary intermediary. You can also load audiobooks and podcasts. The watch comes with 32GB of space and Garmin estimates that you can put 2,000 songs on it.
You will need Bluetooth earphones to pair with the Fenix 6.
You can also add Spotify, Deezer and Runcasts (a podcast app) to your watch for extended functionality.
The maps on the Fenix 6 are amazing. Since they’re preinstalled, you won’t need an internet connection or smartphone as you would if you used the Apple Maps or Google Maps apps on the Apple Watch or Wear OS watches. Besides the street map, there are other maps such as the topographical map and ski map.
What I really enjoyed was using these maps when I was cycle commuting. I used the watch to navigate me to an unfamiliar area of the city. The Fenix 6 made an effort to put me on bike routes and away from main roads.
When you are near a point where you have to turn, the watch vibrates and makes a sound from its buzzer to notify you that you have to turn. It’s mostly problem-free but sometimes you have to rely on interpreting the map manually.
Since the Fenix 6 does not have a touch screen, it requires you to use the buttons to input your destination. On Google Maps on a smartphone, you would use swipe on the map until you found your destination, tap it and then ask it to navigate. On the Fenix 6, you press a button to zoom out, press a button to scroll west or east, then press another button to scroll north or south. You repeat this until you find your destination. It felt frustrating sometimes and took significantly more time to do the same task.
Just like in Google Maps, you can type in your destination, and here you’ll feel the pain again. Want to visit Zeballos, British Columbia, Canada? Prepare to press the buttons 25 times before you go from the letter “A” to “Z,” then back to “e”, then “b”, et cetera. The watch will go through its database and give you some options based on your keyword and the category you chose. It takes a very long time for it to search through its database and sometimes won’t return results.
This watch is amazing and it’s definitely worth its cost for data-hungry people who are interested in quantifying every aspect that a watch can possibly tell you.
Some features that stood out to me were the Body Battery and stress calculator, which was unique to this watch and not available in all the other smartwatches that I have reviewed. Its activity tracking was really good and I really liked the analytics that came post-workout.
The integrated maps are fantastic and reliable which is what I really loved about the upgraded Pro/Sapphire versions.
The watch is bulky, and the problem here is that in order to get the best use out of it, you have to wear it 24/7 so that it can collect data. The eight hours that you’ll be asleep with the watch is probably the time you’ll notice it the most.
For the layperson, you might be better served with a general-purpose smartwatch which is definitely cheaper and has more productivity functions. But for the fitness junkie, this is it. Your next step down is the Polar Vantage V and there is a noticeable chasm of functionality between them.