Garmin, the brand known for some of the world’s best fitness trackers for more serious sporting enthusiasts, unveiled the latest edition in its Fenix range late last week, the Fenix 6.
Taking the place of the Fenix 5 Plus, which was launched last summer, the Fenix 6 was announced fittingly on the eve of the UTMB, or Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (a pretty hair-raising event which sees thousands of crazy runners from around the world race 150KM up and down the Alps). It promises some welcome updates, such as a slimmer and lighter casing, optimised battery management and some new and improved onboard features. First things buyers should know?
It comes in three main flavours with an overwhelming number of skews, each of which are aimed at different users. So, let’s explain. There’s the bog standard Fenix 6 model which has a 47mm case and costs from £599. Then under this is the slightly more compact 6S that touts a 42mm case and slightly lower battery life. There’s also a Pro version of these models available, which adds music compatibility, maps and Wi-Fi connectivity.
Finally, there’s the more powerful 6X which has a slightly better battery alongside music, Wi-Fi, maps as standard.
And if you’re super fancy, there’s the 6X Pro Solar version; the model which boasts a super light all-titanium body and brand new Solar panels for an extra boost in battery life. Phew.
We got some hands-on time with the standard Fenix 6, albeit the Pro Sapphire model so we had access to the maps and stuff alongside a much harder-wearing, scratch resistant sapphire crystal screen. Here’s how we got on.
DESIGN: A TEENY BIT LESS BULKY
At first glance, you’ll not really notice anything too dissimilar between the Fenix 6 and its counterpart, the 5 Plus.
It's the same old bulky design we’ve seen since day one from Garmin, carrying those proper outdoorsy vibes - definitely not something you’d want to wear to a fancy dinner. It’s not the prettiest out there by a long shot, but it’s not really the idea here.
The Fenix series wasn’t designed in the same way as an Apple Watch, for instance, it was made to be robust and withstand the harsh elements of the great outdoors. If it’s anything like its predecessors, the Fenix 6 should live up to such expectations.
From our experience during testing, we don’t doubt it will. As ever, the build quality is exceptional; we felt like we could do anything without any concerns it would break. Being only a millimetre or so slimmer, the Fenix 6’s case size isn’t noticeably slimmer on the wrist than the 5 Plus, but thanks to weighing 7g less it does feel lighter - a much welcome improvement for such a heavy and cumbersome smartwatch.
The biggest upgrades, however, can be found on the display, which we will dive into now.
SCREEN: LEVEL UP
The Fenix 6’s display is 17 percent larger (now 1.3in) than that seen on the 5 Plus. Not only does this mean information is slightly easier to see than before, but it can also display more (customisable) data fields than in the previous model.
For example, around the standard watch face you’ll be able to fit eight of your current activity measurements over the previous six meaning you can glance at the data you want to see at a glance without having to scroll through endless menus. As with pretty much every other Garmin we’ve tested recently, on screen operations are super responsive to touch button commands. Again, there’s purposely no touch compatibility, which the Fenix would probably never integrate due to the purpose of this watch being a serious outdoors activity tracker.
If you’re familiar with Garmin devices, you’ll know display brightness can be an issue as there's no backlit AMOLED screen as seen on many other devices. Instead, the firm uses a 260x260 resolution, transflective memory-in-pixel (MIP) offering which relies on external lights to illuminate when in well lit conditionals, and an LED light backlight when not.
As a result, the Fenix 6’s display glowed perfectly in the midday sun during our hands-on, with all the timings, heart rate info and elevations being shown crystal clear.
PERFORMANCE: POWER TWEAKED
The Fenix 6 doesn’t bring any drastically new software features but rather a number of tweaks and adjustments which all go towards a much more intuitive interface.
The first is widgets. The product team have grouped essential into more digestible chunks, which you can access by hitting the Up button on the home screen. It’s not a big change but it just means you’re not overwhelmed by information and you can find things easier. There’s a big focus on power management and battery transparency in the Fenix 6, essentially so that users can better understand how long the watch will last before becoming a worthless lump of metal.
Instead of presenting a remaining battery percent number, the smartwatch now reflects the remaining usage in time. This seemed to work in our hands-on during the hike. For instance, if there is 10 percent of the battery left, it will display this in days or hours). The best bit? This will change in real-time, depending on how you use the watch, reducing the remaining time if you’re demanding more from the battery, say if you’re using GPS. Speaking of which, we found the Fenix 6 found GPS almost instantly after hitting the “track hike” option and - as much as we could tell - recorded data accurately.
One of the most notable updates to multisport tracking is the update to its heart rate sensor. Previously, you had to purchase an additional chest strap to track your heart rate while swimming. However, Garmin have managed to tweak the sensor so it can now measure heart rate underwater. While we didn’t get the chance to test out this feature, we can imagine serious swimmers will rejoice at not having to pay extra alongside their (already hefty) Fenix purchase. On that note, be sure to check back soon for a full review of how the Fenix 6 fares during other exercise tracking. We’ll be keen to see how the heart rate sensor works underwater, too.
GARMIN FENIX 6 INITIAL VERDICT
Our first impressions of the Fenix 6 is that it's quite the beast and like its older siblings, will no doubt handle everything you throw at it - now with better power options and user interface features that make it much easier to use.
Will the additional updates this time around be worth the purchase, though? Probably not, especially those who have a series 5, but anyone who’s getting more serious about fitness and looking to upgrade their smartwatch game can’t go wrong with Garmin’s latest release.
The standard Fenix 6 which we tested in the Alps is available now, with the cheapest offering starting from £599 and going up to £999.