Garmin Fenix 3 Review
MSRP: $499, $549 with heart rate monitor band
Battery: 20 hrs GPS, 50 hrs GPS Ultratrac Mode, 6 weeks no GPS
Weight: 2.9 oz
Dimensions: 2.0” x 2.0” x 0.6” (51.0 x 51.0 x 16.0 mm)
Are you one of those people where your friends call you superman, super athlete, or flat out crazy, because you’re always out doing some sort of sport or activity? Does the idea of sitting on the couch and watching TV without getting at least a few hour of exercise in beforehand create a small twitch in your head because your so wound up? Well, we just might have the watch for you. The Garmin Fenix 3 is the watch for the athlete that loves to track not only their runs, but also their bike rides, hikes, ski trips, laps swam in the pool, and more. This watch is truly designed for the athlete that loves to geek out on data in all facets of life.
The Fenix 3 has some incredible functionality that really sets itself apart from other watches on the market with how many activities it can help you track. The tracking activities include the following:
- XC Ski
- Trail Run
- Run Indoor
- Bike Indoor
- Pool Swim
- Open Water Swim
Garmin Fenix 3 Durability
When looking for a watch that you can take on any and all activities, it’s important to find a watch that can hang. After testing the Garmin Fenix 3 for a few months now, I can attest up to this point that this watch is meant for some of the harshest conditions. I am typically very hard on watches and within a week of owning a watch, I usually have a huge scratch across the watch face. Scratches on a watch face typically come from sliding through tight spaces such as a large rock and a tree, an open car door in a small garage, a fall on a mountain bike, and everyday use. Looking at the watch face of my Garmin Fenix 3, the face looks pristine. If you’re extremely hard on your watch face, you can also upgrade to the Sapphire glass version which retails for $599. To give you an idea of the toughness, Sapphire is only 2nd to diamond as far as durability goes.
Screen and Watch Face Options
As technology continues to evolve in the watch market, consumers such as yourself are offered a lot more than your standard digital and analog watch faces. One of the features that I like about the watch face is that it’s easy to read at almost any angle in pretty much any lighting scenario. Through the app market on Garmin Connect , there are dozens of watch face options to choose from, and this will most likely be hundreds in the near future. The good thing about this all is that it’s free.
Do you go with the Performance Bundle? (Heart Rate Band)
If you’re spending $499 on a sport focused watch, I say spend the extra $50 to get the additional information that is associated with heart rate. If you noticed the running dynamics features of the Garmin Fenix 3, it is important to know that you need to use the heart rate monitor to get this info. There is a small sensor in the heart rate monitor that tracks the up and down motion of your body, which helps you better understand running metrics such as vertical oscillation, stride length, run cadence, and ground contact time.
Testing the Garmin Fenix 3
For testing purposes, I primarily tested out the Garmin Fenix 3 for road and trail running. This is what I do on a daily basis, so it’s no surprise that is the activity I used the GPS watch for most often. Living in Steamboat Springs, CO, I get my fair share of skiing in, which includes resort skiing, xc skiing, and backcountry skiing. On a smaller scale, I also tested out the Garmin Fenix 3 activity features for hiking and biking as well. Now that bike season is upon is and trails are drying out more, I’ll be getting out on the bike more and will be adding more info on the bike functions as I use the watch for this activity. A few of the activities that I didn’t get a chance to test out were triathlon, anything swim related, and climbing. If these are your sports, I recommend taking a look at some of the other review websites to get more info on the performance.
Road and Trail Running
For road running, the Garmin Fenix 3 is an amazing watch with lots of great pieces of data such as your distance, pace, avg. pace, mile pace and split, and heart rate & heart rate zone (if you have heart rate strap). You may say, I can get all this with a regular GPS run watch and not pay $500 bucks, and you would be correct. The Garmin Fenix 3 has similar functionality as other Garmin GPS Run watches with the exception to the 3rd party apps. If running is your only activity and you don’t need the GPS for durations over 5 hours, this watch might be a little overkill and the ForeRunner 220 might be all that you need.
For the trail runner, I really like the feature of the altimeter which provides current elevation. In the trail running function, you get all the run information, but you also get information such as how much you’ve climbed as well as descended. You can also get your uphill speed if you’re one of the hardcore athletes looking to track your speeds on the ascent. The nice thing is that the Garmin Fenix 3 switches to the elevation screen automatically when you’re running uphill which is good most of the time. However, there were times where I wanted to see my standard distance, pace, time, etc and I had to manually switch out of the elevation mode.
For the Ultra Runners, one of the nice things about this watch is that you get up to 20 hours of GPS tracking, and 50 hours in UltraTrack Mode which measures distance and altitude every minute instead of every second. One upgrade from the Garmin Fenix 2 to the Garmin Fenix 3 is that you can use a heart rate monitor in the UltraTrack Mode which you couldn’t do in the Fenix 2.
The Garmin Fenix 3 uses Garmin GLONASS which uses a Russian satellite system which incorporates an additional 24 satellites and provides more accurate information.
The hiking mode of the Garmin Fenix 3 provides all the necessary information that you would want while hiking. It’s default is set to have 2 pieces of information on the screen at a time. It provides the basics such as timer, distance traveled, your ascent, speed, breadcrumb trail, and you can also set waypoints if you are looking to get that detailed.
From the main screen, you can also get important information such as a compass, altimeter, barometer, and temperature. If you have your settings set to where the watch is synched up with your phone, you can also get weather reports which might come in handy. Keep in mind your phone must be getting signal for this to work.
Note: If you think you’re going to be out for a multi-day hiking trip, be sure to set the UltraTrack Mode on to conserve battery life.
The bike mode is similar to the run mode with a couple default pieces of information displayed. For default, Distance, Timer, and Speed are set to show on the first screen as these are the most important pieces of information.
For swimming in the pool, you get the option to choose your pool length so the watch can calibrate your swim tracking to the size of the pool. As someone who doesn’t do a lot of swimming, I think this is a great idea. The Fenix 3 also has an open watch swim mode which is helpful for tracking tri-training and other open water swim events.
The Climb mode is setup for what’s important while climbing. Ascent, Elevation, and Decent on the first screen, distance and vertical speed on the second screen, location coordinates on the 3rd screen, and a breadcrumb profile on the 4 screen in this mode.
Ski and Snowboard Mode
The ski mode like all the other activity modes are spot on for information you want. Screen 1 – speed, mileage, and total descent. Screen 2 – Total runs with speed, mileage, and descent. Screen 3 – SPEED! Screen 4 – Temp and elevation. Screen 5 – Heart rate if you have the hr band.
Note: Temperature is often very skewed if you have the watch on your wrist. It can read 60F when it’s actually -10F outside since your since is warming it up and your gloves and jacket are insulating it.
This operates similar to any run feature watch giving you distance, speed/pace, lap time and speed, elevation, and ascent.
Modes with Thought
If you’ve read through all the watch modes, you can tell that the designers of the Garmin Fenix 3 did their due diligence when designing the modes. Oftentimes with a GPS watch, you get running features with the occasional sport specific feature here and there. Garmin actually talked to the athletes in each category asking them what they wanted and they implemented this into each mode. Kudos to you Garmin! To see all features display modes, take a look at the following link on Garmin.com Website
Given that I pick products apart when I test them, I am always trying to find the good and bad in everything. There are three downsides to the Garmin Fenix 3 that come to mind. First, the temperature will almost always be off unless you have the watch off your wrist. This is ok if you put your watch on a pack loop or on your bike handlebars, but I like to put the watch on my wrist and forget about it. Many moons ago, I actually lost 2 GPS units when I attached them to the outside of a pack, so if you do this, make sure you put the watch in a zippered pocket.
Second, I wish wish wish there would be some sort of universal charger for more devices. I now have 158 charge cords laying around my house.
Last, while this is not a complete downside, I would like to see this watch to include a heart rate monitor sensor in the watch band or the watch itself. This is a trend that is getting popular in the wearable and sports fitness watch market and it would be nice to have this at the Garmin Fenix 3’s price point.
Fenix 3 Updates and Garmin Connect
I find that the Garmin Fenix 3 is updated every 2-4 weeks at this point. Generally things go pretty smooth in the updates, but from time to time things get a little glitchy. Generally you can run the updates through bluetooth over wifi, but sometimes it works better if you hook your watch up to your computer and download Garmin Express which helps you with downloads.
Garmin Connect is a good fitness app and is constantly evolving. This is usually good, but from time to time they sometimes miss things or forget to keep some of the important old features. This I have come to except with all apps and it doesn’t bother me too much. Typically, after a few days of things not going right, users act like the world is going to end, and then there is another update released a few days later.
Charging the Watch
Charging the Garmin Fenix 3 is fairly easy to do. You just connect the watch to the charging adapter and in about 60-90 minutes, your watch is fully charged.
The Garmin Fenix 3 is meant for a few specific categories of people out there. First, people that love to get after it in more than one sport. This GPS watch truly shines when it comes to being able to track multiple activities. If you only run, only bike, etc. I recommend getting another watch or device specific to that activity and save a little money. The second category of people this watch is for, people who care about social status. Generally a $500-$600 watch won’t really impress many people outside of the athletic category, but it will turn some heads.
As as overall recommendation, I have been really happy with the Garmin Fenix 3 from the perspective of someone who loves the outdoors and enjoys a number of activities.