Thoughts On Connected Devices - Garmin Fenix 3

With the recently announced Fenix 5 on the horizon,  I thought I'd briefly discuss my thoughts on the Fenix 3.  At this point I have had the Fenix 3 and worn it almost every day since I purchased it.  I may not be a "power" user, but I can definitely give you one user's perspective on the Fenix 3 as a functional, every day device.

Before I begin with thoughts on the Fenix 3, one of Garmin's flagship devices, let me explain how I ended up with Garmin's, at the time, flagship device. 

Some might…ok, most might argue that the device is overkill for the average person interested in getting back into or staying in shape.  I would agree, for the most part.  However, as an engineer and nerd, I love data, lots of it.  Everyone has their motivators and mine is the data.  I love to see the numbers adding up after doing various forms of exercise or performance numbers trending upwards (hopefully the scale trending downward).  I also love tracking the data over time so I can go back and see where I started, especially when changes don't seem to be happening fast enough.  We are a instant gratification society after all.

I started out with the Garmin Vivosmart, a much more reasonable device for my needs. It was a good device, used mainly for its step tracking abilities and it kept me motivated to up my daily step goal. It did that job well and I only had a few small complaints overall.  Namely, the screen was never quite right (not clear with an imperfection to one side), and I felt a little odd having to tap the device all of the time just to see the time, but these are minor complaints.  The device was reliable and the battery lasted for a very long time before needing a recharge.  It was also waterproof to a decent depth, which many devices were lacking.  However, my comfort with its waterproofness would lead to the devices eventual downfall.  I'll get to that later.

After using the Vivosmart for several months, I started realized another benefit to wearing a connected device.  I was taking my phone out of my pocket a lot less, and this is a good thing. I don't want to be like the current generation of smart phone users, never looking up, always staring at their phablets, tablets, etc., but I also didn't want to miss an important text or notification from my wife or work (yes, I do use my phone for work purposes too, not just candy crush).  I was now able to just glance down at my wrist to see if the notification was something worth acting on without pulling the phone out of my pocket and likely getting distracted by the 300 other things I could be checking.

This was good, especially as a parent.  I'm always chasing one of our kids or making sure no one is eating the dog's food for that matter.  I also don't want my kids to always see me staring at my phone.  I don't want them to think that type of interaction is normal or ok.  They need to learn that life isn't what's happening on that little screen and looking people in the eye is important, ideas that seem to be on the rapid decline.

Everything was going fine with my connected device until one day when I made a grave error.  After washing my hands, I decided to put the Vivosmart on the charger to top it off.  Not thinking anything of the device being covered with water, I clipped it onto the charger and left it for awhile.  This was the last time I would see the Vivosmart with its full mental capacities. When I came back something was wrong.  The screen wasn't responsive to my taps, no matter how hard I tried.  When it did turn on (randomly), the swipe gesture wouldn't work.  I tried everything, warm resets, cold resets, lukewarm resets, firmware, kind words, putting it out in the sun to dry, less kind words, but it was no use.  The Vivosmart was never the same and I knew I had to let it go (yes, I am exaggerating my attachment to the device).

Stay tuned for part 2 where I bring home a new device (spoiler alert, it's the Fenix 3).

It was time for a new device.  As per usual, I researched to the point of paralysis and it led me to the Garmin Fenix 3.  It had everything the other device had, but also GPS and functionality like a regular watch (and 1000 other additional features).  The Fenix 3 is not cheap, but in the 8 months of wearing it every single day (yes, every day), I have no complaints of any real magnitude, only minor gripes and I'll get to them later.

Options

As mentioned, the Garmin Fenix 3 was not cheap.  It is one of Garmin's flagship devices along with the Epix and the Forerunner 920XT.  However, unlike the other two, the Fenix 3 looks like a watch you could wear with a suit (depending on the band you choose) or flip flops.  Since I'm more of the latter, I chose to go with the "lower end" version of the watch which includes a rubber watch band and no other frills.  The high end version gets you a sapphire screen (for scratch resistance), a slight color variant (no red highlights) and a fancy metal band (a rubber band is also included).  Out of the box the high end version would work well for work or formal events as well as a hike in the woods. 

They also have a version of the Fenix 3 with a built in optical HR monitor so you no longer need a chest strap or wrist band to monitor your HR during activity or rest (for most functions, some metrics do require a chest strap).  The built in monitor adds a whole slew of new data you can track. 

Durability

Over the last two years or so, I have worn the watch every single day.  I was initially worried that I didn't go with the sapphire screen due to the possibility of scratching it (the "low end" model has a glass bezel).  I have done yard work, DIY projects, auto maintenance, mountain biking, road biking, fat biking, showered with it, kayaked, let my three year old son play with it, etcetera.  Basically, I've put it through the wringer and have smacked the screen against countless obstacles of varying material compositions.  I have zero scratches on the bezel, and I have never put any type of screen protector on it. 

The other parts of the watch have held up fine as well.  The band is still looks like new, the buttons still function flawlessly and it charges up and retains a charge for about a week each time, depending on how much I turn on the GPS.  I have also been completely careful to make sure the watch is bone dry before clipping it into the charger.  If this one were to meet the same fate, the wife may start to suspect that I was breaking them intentionally to upgrade sooner.

I noticed Garmin did specifically warn against charger the device when wet in the Fenix 3 users manual.  I'm sure they mentioned it in the Vivosmart manual as well, but I didn't read it, oops. 

Everyday Use

As an everyday watch, the Fenix 3 is great.  It has a bright, multicolored and easy to read display.  The backlight works great when the ambient lighting is lacking.  With Garmin's ConnectIQ, you have many options for display faces that can be downloaded via the Garmin Connect app on your smart phone.  The standard Garmin watch faces are crisp and easy to read.  The downloadable faces offer additional features beyond time and date.  One of my favorites is the countdown face and the active face.  They display a lot of useful information you can review with a quick glance such as steps and calories burned. With the countdown timer you can even enter in an event (such as a race) and have a countdown to the day of the even.  I find it to be a good motivator and reminder of why I'm working out instead of watching another rerun of Top Gear. 

Thanks to the easy to read display notifications, such as reminders and incoming texts are easy to read.  They typically can fit on the screen without the need to scroll and then disappear after 30 seconds (the notification display time is adjustable).  You can also see what notifications you have waiting for you on your phone if you happen to miss one from earlier in the day.

The only issues I have with the watch come from the everyday use column.  The first are the "aftermarket" watch faces. They seem to slow down the watch so that when a notification comes in, the vibrating alert happens a couple of seconds before the notification shows up on the screen. I know, first world problems, but if you sense the vibration and look down, you have to wait for the visual notification and it is a bit annoying.  I ended up turning off the vibrations all together and that helped.  The latency issue has also improved with fairly regular firmware updates from Garmin.

The other minor annoyance I've run into is connectivity with Bluetooth.  The range and consistency are great, but if you are at the outer limits of the Bluetooth range, you will get annoying alert each time it connects or disconnects.  Now, if you've run across the house to get more water and plan to come right back, a vibration or two is no big deal, but if your desk is right on the edge and you've left your phone at the opposite edge, every time you move your arm, it will connect or disconnect, repeatedly and sporadically, until you turn off Bluetooth on the device.  To be fair, Garmin has made it easy to do so, and again, this is a quintessential first world problem, but since it has annoyed me, I thought I should mention it.

Activities

One of the main features of the Fenix 3 is the activities menu.  From there you can select a wide range of outdoor and indoor activities to track, and when you do so, it will open the correct screen for said activity with all relevant default data fields or fields you've customized.  It will also connect to appropriate sensors if you've set them up.  For example, if you're going on a bike ride, it can connect to your HR monitor, cadence, and speed sensors as well as GPS.  The whole system is pretty slick and once you've set it up to your liking, starting an activity is just a couple of button pushes away.

I have used the watch for walking, kayaking and biking when I forget my Garmin Edge.  For kayaking it is great since all I'm really concerned with is average speed and distance (and water resistance).  These data points use the GPS and since I have GPS set to on for this activity, all I do is select the activity, push start, wait for the GPS to connect (quickly) and then head out onto the lake to fish or just explore.  When I'm done, I just hit the start/stop button again and my trip is saved and uploaded to Garmin Connect (if in range of my phone, if not, it will sync at the next connection) which includes a plot on a map of where I travelled. 

Since the Connect is waterproof to 10 ATM, I don't need to worry about jumping out of the kayak for a swim or getting water spray or sweat on it.  As mentioned, I have also worn it in the shower many times with no issues to note. 

Another benefit of wearing the watch while in the kayak or during other water based activities is I don't have to take out my non-waterproof phone and risk dropping it in the drink to see if I have any important notifications.  If my wife needs to get a hold of me, I will get the notification on my watch (if in Bluetooth range) and then decide if I should remove the phone from its waterproof container in the hull of the kayak.

Conclusions

Now, I could go on for days going through each feature in painstaking detail, but admittedly, I probably barely use 50% of the capabilities of the watch.  I don't foresee ever outgrowing the capabilities of the Fenix 3.  For your reference, a list of the main functions I am very familiar with are below.  If there are any functions you have a specific question about, please let me know and I'll be happy to explore that feature and do a quick write up on it.

I'd also like to mention a site I frequently visit, dcrainmaker.com.  There you will find very in depth reviews of popular fitness/triathlon related gear.  He happens to have an in-depth review of the Fenix 3 and I am sure there are many other sites that do as well.  With Garmin recently announcing a few new Fenix 5 models and different trim levels for each, I thought I'd give you some thoughts from an average Joe/weekend warrior type.  Almost certainly there will be good deals from various retailers on the Fenix 3 to clear left over inventory.  I hope you find this article useful and it makes your decision a little easier. 

If you're on the fence about which watch to get in this price range and stuck in analysis paralysis like I was, rest assured, I don't think you can go wrong with the Fenix 3 in any of its various configurations.  If your leaning toward the version with the optical HR sensor, my only advice would be to wait a bit and make sure the accuracy is there and Garmin has fixed any teething issues with firmware updates.  They do come fairly frequently with this watch and fix small issues as well as add additional features.  That is another benefit of owning one of their flagship devices, it will be well supported for the foreseeable future.

My Typical Day to Day Uses:

  • Notifications - Voicemails, E-mails, texts, reminders, etc.
  • Incoming calls - From the watch I can answer (using the phone to speak once answered) or decline the call, very handy during meetings or dinner.
  • Step Counter -  The watch includes a good looking screen for the step counter including a meter for a quick check on your daily progress.
  • Activities - Mainly walking and kayaking, I use the Edge device for cycling, but for any activity I can record various metrics with just a couple of button pushes and I always have it with me.
  • Temperature - The internal sensors isn't very accurate since it picks up your body temperature and that sways the ambient temperature.  I either leave the watch close by for awhile to record the ambient temp (for example, in the tent wall pocket when camping) or use the Garmin Tempe temperature sensor which works well with the Fenix 3.  It is tiny and can be places on your bike, backpack, on your desk, etcetera to record ambient temperature without the interference from your own body heat.
  • Barometer - A quick check can let you know if the weather is about to change for the better or worse.  It may not be exact, but it does tend to follow weather patterns quite well.
  • Compass - Comes in handy if I'm out exploring some new trails without a dedicated GPS (the Fenix 3 does not do GPS mapping)
  • Other Connected Features - It will connect and obtain basic weather info beyond the info provided by the barometer.  It will also allow you to perform basic music player functions so that you don't need direct access to your phone to do so.

 

I'm sure this is only the tip of the iceberg and I plan to write about any additional features I find useful and integrate into various adventures.  For everything I use the Fenix 3 for it performs very well, flawless even.  For that reason I can recommend this watch to anyone looking for a fitness oriented connected wearable.

For more info and other available gadgets, check out Garmin's website below.  You can also purchase the Fenix 3 via the link below and help support the website.

 

 

www.garmin.com