A Garmin Fenix to the Apple Watch and Back Again - Part 2

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As promised, here is the second half of the review everyone has been awaiting anxiously for, holding your breath for, and all of that. If you didn't catch the first half of the review with the intro (me rambling) and Garmin pros and cons, check it out at the link below

A Garmin Fenix to the Apple Watch and Back Again - Part 1

For part two, no backstory or explanation (yes, me rambling) is needed.  With that, let's dive right in to the Apple Watch pros and cons and finally, the conclusion to this riveting review!

Apple Watch Pros:

1.     Brilliant Display

I would go so far as to say the display is truly stunning.  This to me is one of the biggest draws of the Apple Watch and through pretty much every WatchOS app and function it doesn’t disappoint.

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2.     A Huge App Library and the Apple Ecosystem

With the support of the Apple App store, the list of WatchOS Apps is seemingly endless in variety and capability.

3.     Touchscreen

The touch screen makes interacting with the phone quite efficient and the two buttons it does have are fairly easy to use as a supplement to the screen. 

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4.     Wide Variety of Digital Watch Faces

Through the iOS Apple Watch App, you can customize your watch face to suit your individual style in both design and function (complications as Apple calls the display data options).

5.     Waterproof (2nd and 3rd Generation)

Nothing more to say here, this feature is what kept me away from the first generation of Apple Watch.

6.     Cellular Capable (3rd Generation Only)

The ability to leave your phone at home seems to be especially attractive for the running set.

7.     A Wide Variety of Apple and 3rd Party Watch Bands

From super cheap plastic bands on Amazon for around $10 all the way up to stainless bands for $449 (yes, that’s just for the band, watch not included) on the Apple Store website.

8.     A Wide Variety of Spec Levels and Colors

Ranging in price (current generation) from $349 all the way up to and over $10,000, there is a color/style combo for just about every person and pocket depth out there.

9.   Optical Heart Rate

Another feature that is relatively new to the fitness world is optical heart rate monitoring.  This method of obtaining heart rate is similar to those clip things they put on your finger at the hospital also to monitor heart rate and I think blood oxygen levels too.  The Apple watch has it's own version of this, and as with any optical heart rate monitor, I would much rather use it than one of those uncomfortable chest straps.  I find that for me, the optical HRM works more consistently as well.  The wrist based HRM aren't always the best for cycling or weight lifting due to the sharp angles wrists are often at in those activities, but for running, walking, etc. they're great.  For cycling, I prefer the bands that go on your upper arm or forearm, such as the Scosche Rhythm+ or the new Wahoo Tickr Fit.

The Apple Watch Series 2 with HRM is on the left, on the right is a Garmin Fenix 3 (non-HRM version). 

The Apple Watch Series 2 with HRM is on the left, on the right is a Garmin Fenix 3 (non-HRM version). 

Apple Watch Cons:

1.     That Battery Life Though!

One of the biggest downsides of this watch is the battery life.  Yes, I know, first world problem, but the first generation of this watch lasts at most one day, seriously.  The second generation is a bit better at 2-3 days depending on usage, but plan on buying a spare charger for work just in case.  I don’t have any experience with the 3rd generation, but I can’t imagine the cellular feature is easy on battery life when in use.  Luckily the wireless charging makes it quick and easy to charge up each night. If you're diligent about charging your devices you'll be fine, especially with the generation 2 model.

2.     Raise and Tilt the Watch to Activate the Display

Oh, how I despise this battery saving feature.  It never works right or instantaneously as expected!  The Apple Watch has an amazing display, yet I find myself always fighting with it to turn on or stay on, similar to the struggles I had with the Garmin Vivosmart which also was a tilt to activate display.  What good is having a second hand if you can’t have the screen on all the time without the battery draining in 30 minutes.  Not to mention, trying to get it to turn on sometimes makes me feel a little ridiculous.  Wiggling my arm all over the place I can only imagine what on lookers think, perhaps ready to give me a lot of aspirin or maybe thinking that my arm has decided to randomly fall asleep.

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3.     Average Looks

This is a personal preference, but I’ve never been a face of smaller/thinner watch faces.  Also, the square face has grown on me, but I still prefer a round watch face.  I guess I’m just old fashioned.

4.     Durability

My Apple Watch is still running and scratch free (I think) after a few good bumps on door jambs and the grabby hands of a two-year-old, but it just doesn’t feel all that robust.  Perhaps the higher end models with sapphire screens improve that notion of ruggedness. This is of course comparing it to the Garmin Fenix, which when picked up feels very heavy, solid and well made.  It feels like to could use it in lieu of a hammer to pound nails into oak (not recommended by the way) where as with the Apple Watch, I don't get the same sense of indestructibleness (is that a word?).

5.     The Touchscreen

Indeed, it was also a pro, but if you have bigger hands like I do, I often find myself opening my task list instead of the intended fitness app.  Not a deal breaker, but something to keep in mind if you often fat finger anything smaller than a tablet sized screen.

6.     Only Two face sizes available

Depending on preference 38mm and 42mm watch faces are available.  I currently own a 42mm while my wife has a 38mm watch face. I’d like to see a larger option, maybe even circular, along with a smaller option for those that may want something even smaller, perhaps with an abbreviated or limited display.

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7.     Uncomfortable Bands

Yes, there are many styles, colors and materials to choose from, but it does not change the width of the band.  I personally favor a wider band, but even the 42mm watch face bands are not wide enough for me.  Also, the standard sport band is a mostly solid piece of plastic/rubber with very little venting.  I’ve found this to be uncomfortable and upgraded to the ‘Nike Run’ style watch band with all of the holes in it.  This did noticeably improve the comfort of the Apple watch when wearing it for long stretches of time.

8.     Price!

While I do find that the sport, or ‘budget’ level apple watch is fairly good value for the money, after that the pricing gets absurd, especially over the 600-dollar mark where all you’re getting is a different case/screen material that may or may not improve durability and a fancier band.  My ‘basic’ sport version in space grey/black has held up fine and with a $30 metal band from Amazon, no one can tell the difference between the sport level and whichever levels are priced at $900 and up (to over $10,000!!!! – for that price I feel wholly justified using 4, yes 4 exclamation points).  I guess someone might notice if you have the fancy gold one, but at that price point I would much rather have a Rolex (not that I would EVER pay that much for a watch, Apple or Rolex), and I definitely wouldn’t get that Rolex dripping in yellow gold.

9.     The Apple Watch Only Works With the iPhone

Although the iPhone is very popular, many people prefer Android phones and the Android ecosystem.  For them, a Apple Watch is a non-starter.  It simply won't work with anything but an iPhone.  

10.   Exporting of Fitness Data

During the period where I used this watch everyday and coming from the Garmin ecosystem, it was hard to come to terms with the fact that the Apple Watch held a lot of my fitness data hostage (if using their fitness app to record activities).  I am not 100% sure, but I believe the Apple Watch is slowly becoming more integrated with 3rd party apps like Strava who now offers a WatchOS app.  Because of this you can now record your rides/runs/walks and upload them to Strava directly.  However,  am unsure of the current depth of integration and data sharing between platforms.  I know everyone has their favorite fitness apps (MapMyFitness, RideWithGPS, Strava, Endomodo, etc.). If anyone is interested or would like further review on this topic, please let me know and I will be happy to look into it further for you.

Conclusion:

Having to choose between the Apple Watch and the Garmin Fenix watch, or frankly any smartwatch, is a good problem to have.  You really can’t go wrong with any choice as long as it meets your use requirements and makes your life a bit easier.  After all, isn't that the point of technology after all? 

I have used Android devices, Apple devices and Garmin devices for some time now, and while I do have brand biases (it's only human right?) in some areas, I like to think I am capable of seeing the pros along with shortfalls devices regardless of brand.  Every device is going to have flaws, and those flaws often vary depending on the user.

For me, the choice came down to a few key criteria:

1.     Battery Life

2.     Functions – notifications, activity tracking, fitness apps, etcetera.

3.     Aesthetics (looks)

4.     Build Quality and Durability 

5.     Ability to monitor and display external sensor data, especially cycling related data.

6.     Ability to export fitness data to 3rd Party Apps

Based on these criteria, the Garmin Fenix 5X is hands down the winner for me, no question.  Is it the right watch for you?  Take a look at the lists above and see what makes the most sense based on your day to day routine and interests.

I do still use the Apple watch, mainly to try out various apps that are always being released, and it still functions very well, but there were a few functionality issues I couldn’t resolve, namely the battery life and the part-time display.  Those are deal breakers for me and yes, I know that is overly picky, but that is also my honest feedback on these two great devices.

As always, please let me know if you have any questions or would like a specific function(s) reviewed/explained.  I’m happy to update this post as necessary.

If you found this review helpful, please consider purchasing either of these devices (or any fitness device for that matter) by clicking one of the links below.  It helps support this website as well as our gear reviews and cycling/adventure habits!  

I have included a few of the more common options along with the current sale price below.

You can also check out REI for Garmin branded products like the Fenix and Edge fitness devices via the link below: