Garmin Fenix 6 hands on: This king of sports watches has a killer feature for runners

The Garmin Fenix series has long been the undisputed king of sports and outdoor watches. We once opined that “if the Fenix doesn’t track it, you shouldn’t be doing it” – and from trekking to running and even golf, the Fenix is essentially a best-of every Garmin device out there.

The Garmin Fenix 6 comes in multiple flavours and price points, so we’ll just break them out there first.

  • Garmin Fenix 6/Pro – The standard 47mm version/adds music, Wi-Fi, maps – $599/$699
  • Garmin Fenix 6S/Pro – A smaller 42mm case with slightly lower battery life/adds music, Wi-Fi, maps – $599/$699
  • Garmin Fenix 6X – Bigger screen, slightly better battery, music, Wi-Fi, maps as standard – $749
  • Garmin Fenix 6X Pro Solar – Solar panels for extra battery life, music, Wi-Fi, maps as standard – $1149

Everyone will be talking about the ‘Power Glass’ solar power display tech on the Fenix 6X, but most current Fenix owners or sports watch fans will no doubt be casting a closer eye on the Fenix 6.

While there are some modest changes to the 6’s design, the most interesting changes lie with the enhanced tracking modes, making the Fenix a less daunting place to pore over the masses of data it provides and keeping you using those core features for longer.

Slimmer design, bigger screen

Garmin Fenix 6 hands on: An outdoor watch with a killer feature for runners

We’re focussing here on the standard Fenix 6 – but watch out for all our reviews of the range if you’re looking for the slimmer 6S or beefier 6X.

If you’re a fan of that bold, industrial, robust look of the Fenix 5, you’re getting much of the same on the Fenix 6 albeit in a noticeably less bulky frame. Garmin keeps adding in those features, but does still manage to trim off some of that design fat.

It still has that 47mm watch body, but Garmin has slimmed it down to 14.7mm thick, which is down from the 15.8mm 5 Plus.

It’s even reduced the size of the lugs to make things feel slimmer. Those might seem like quite relatively small reductions, but it does that job of making the undeniably beastly Fenix feel a bit less beastly for skinnier wrists. You do of course have the slimmer 6S if you want to go with a smaller 42mm casing as well.

There’s a very confusing array of options the Fenix 6 is available in, which we challenge you not to feel overwhelmed by. You can opt out of the music, mapping and WiFi support to get the 6 at its very cheapest. Or go for the version with a Sapphire crystal lens for a more durable design or a titanium bezel for a lighter frame.

That’s before we even get into the switchable band options with your pick of silicone, leather, nylon and titanium to choose from. It may well take you some time to decide which combo is the ideal fit for you.

Garmin Fenix 6 hands on: An outdoor watch with a killer feature for runners

The biggest thing you will notice about the design though is the screen. It’s jumped from a 1.2-inch, 240 x 240 transflective display to a larger 1.3-inch 260 x 260 resolution screen.

Again, it doesn’t sound like a lot, but now that’s allows more room for your data to breath (you can now view up to six data fields) and the resolution bump does offer improved visibility.

Around the back is where you’ll see Garmin’s sensor setup. It’s packing Garmin’s latest Elevate heart rate monitor technology, which we praised in the latest Forerunner watches including the Forerunner 945.

It’s also got that SpO2 sensor for deeper insights into your sleep and your training at altitude. How reliable those sensors are is something we’ll have to reserve judgement for once we’ve fully put them to the test.

Smartening up that software look

Garmin Fenix 6 hands on: An outdoor watch with greater running appeal

While the Fenix 6 looks like the same as the Fenix 5 on the outside, the true differences will be felt when you start surveying those watch screens.

At its core though, you’re getting the very same sports tracking, navigation and mapping modes, the same sensor array to record your metrics and the very same smartwatch features we got on the Fenix 5 Plus.

Read this: Best Garmin watch faces to download

Just like the new Forerunners, Garmin has made more noticeable changes to the watch interface on the Fenix. Like any UI changes, it wants to make the masses of data it can throw at you easier to absorb whether that’s during a workout or when you’re just checking in during the day.

The biggest change is the new widget display (image above), which now takes form of a single scrolling screen as opposed to multiple separate data screens. You can press those up/down physical buttons to see information like Training Status, health stats and also edit what is shown in this new-look way to quickly glance at your information.

Elsewhere, it’s much of the same. You’ll get to the settings in the same way and access wallets for Garmin Pay or power off the watch by holding down that button in the top left of the watch. Bottom line, it’s going to still feel like a very familiar watch to use if you’ve used a Fenix 5 or 5 Plus Series watch.

Garmin Fenix 6 hands on: An outdoor watch with greater running appeal

The most noteworthy new feature on the tracking front is for runners and it’s called PacePro. It’s a feature that utilises the mapping features on the Fenix to offer an alternative way to better pace your races. If it works as Garmin promises it could be a huge for runners.

From the Garmin Connect app, you can search for an upcoming race and get it uploaded to your watch. When it comes to race time and you choose that PacePro option, it will offer multiple data fields will break the course up dynamically by elevation changes.

It can adjust your pacing strategy for aspects like uphill effort in real-time to make sure you are running your hardest at the optimal times. It can then display when you need to adjust that pace along with other key pacing metrics.

Garmin has told us that it will roll this feature out to other watches in its range, but for now, it’s going to help give the new Fenix greater appeal for runners right now.

It sounds like it could be great for road runners and while you can also upload maps in alternative ways (like GPX files), we get the sense it could prove a more challenging feature to make use of for trail runners.

Let’s talk about battery

Garmin Fenix 6 hands on: An outdoor watch with greater running appeal

Garmin’s watches like many other high end sports watches are renowned for giving us big battery that will last weeks as opposed to days. But there is always the fear that as you continue to add features like new sensors and music streaming, that great battery life is going to take a hit.

So, here’s the battery life numbers for the Fenix 6. You’re getting up to 14 days in smartwatch mode, up to 36 hours in GPS mode, 72 hours in maximum GPS mode, 28 days in Expedition GPS activity mode and 48 days in the new battery saver mode.

If you’re going for the 6 Pro model, then you can add in up to 10 hours with GPS and Music features in use too. So across the board those are battery improvements when compared to the Fenix 5.

But Garmin has acknowledged that with the wealth of features now on board, it wants to try and help users better understand what kind of battery life they are playing with. It’s doing that in a couple of ways. The first is with a new battery saver mode, which can be quickly accessed by holding down the physical button in the top left hand corner of the watch. From here you can see estimated battery life in days as opposed to a percentage, which does seem more useful. You can then choose to activate the battery saver mode, which disables many of the more draining features to prolong that watch time.

The other way it wants to help Fenix owners get smarter about battery is through the new Power Manager mode. Buried within the settings menu you can select a range of different Power Modes.

These modes include a maximum battery mode, which will turn off heart rate monitoring, phone notifications, music and only use GPS in UltraTrac mode. There’s even what Garmin calls a Jacket Mode that is designed for anyone that wears their watch over their jacket (like skiers for instance) and again will disable heart rate tracking, music and notifications.

Clearly, it’s a challenge to accommodate all of that new hardware Garmin is cramming in here, so anything that can help you become smarter about how you can use features regularly used for longer can only be a good thing.

Initial verdict

The Fenix 6 doesn’t make wholesale changes to a watch that is already a pretty formidable option for outdoor watch fans.

It has made it a more comfortable watch to wear and it’s good to see that screen get bigger too. It’s made improvements in the areas that should continue to make it one of watches to go for if you care about tracking activities like hiking and trail running.

The Fenix can often feel like a watch with an overwhelming array of features and it seems that Garmin has wised up to the fact that it needed to change the way users interacted and discovered those features and that’s where you’re likely to feel the difference with the Fenix 6.

Whether that’s going to be enough for Fenix 5 and 5 Plus owners to want to make the upgrade, we are not so sure. We look forward to spending more time with it to see if we are proved wrong.

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