Table of Contents
- First Thing First
- Your Data (Web/Mobile)
- Biking (TBD)
- Activity Tracking
- Connect IQ/Apps
- Battery Life
Since my current GPS watch is Garmin 310XT, most of the comparison’s will be against that watch. My 310XT has been rock solid for nearly 5 years, so I feel comfortable with that as a baseline. The Garmin 310XT is an awesome watch, and is still one of the best for under $150. I am going to wear both watches for some training and events to judge accuracy and performance. I will also discuss usability, features, battery life, etc.
Why upgrade?: I am upgrading from my 310XT because the time to acquire a satellite signal is almost always more than 2 minutes and sometimes up to 10 or 15 minutes. That is infuriating! My cell phone get GPS lock in 2-3 seconds. The Garmin Fenix 3 has yet to take more than 5~10 seconds to obtain satellite signal – major upgrade! Very impressed. My 310XT also tops out at ~12-15 hours of battery, while the Fenix 3 can go up to 50 hours in Ultratrak mode. I won’t use that feature often, but when I need it, it will be there. Additionally, I have been looking to pick up an activity tracker and/ or swart watch for about 2 years now, but was waiting for “one watch to rule them all”. The Fenix 3 does triple duty. Plus the 310XT is butt-ugly and the Fenix 3 looks so good!
I use/plan on using my Fenix 3 for:
- GORUCK events/rucking
- _Spartan Races and other OCR
- Trail running
- Ultra running
- Mountain biking
- Daily as a timer/stop watch/Crossfit timer
- Daily as activity tracker and smart watch
- My everyday watch, including when I have nice events to attend
- I am sure this list will grow!
Sapphire vs. Standard?:
I like the Sapphire watch! I bought the Sapphire version, and I really like it, but I am not sure it offers 100 additional dollars of value for everyone.
The main draw is the Sapphire screen, but you can get a very good screen protector for ~10 dollars. I highly recommend the Skinomi HD clear screen protector (NOT the Matte version – makes the screen look “foggy”). The Sapphire screen is a magnet for fingerprints and smudges, and looks dirty almost all the time. I was washing my watch face 3-4x a day, it was pretty frustrating. With the screen protector applied, the screen looks great all the time with no maintenance, it keeps the fingerprints and smudges away. So having a Sapphire screen doesn’t mean much if you have to use a screen protector anyways! You will see in some of the pictures here that there is a scratch on my screen – it is actually on my screen protector!! I need to change it.
The steel band is very nice and I use it regularly, for me I think it is worth it. I can swap the bands and wear this watch to any occasion. I love this watch and never ever take it off, so that means a lot to me. But for most, I think it won’t be enough to justify $100, especially since the screen material difference is basically void. Garmin is selling the steel band for $125, so if you are going to get it, might as well get the Sapphire bundle. Otherwise, stick to the regular version.
First thing First
It is large without being overly large, I have small wrists and it still looks good. The metal band from the Sapphire version is very nice, and makes it look like a proper watch. It is heavy however, so if you are going to be wearing this for a run, probably best to swap it out for the rubber watch band. Since I workout ~6 days a week, I usually wear it with the rubber band, but I do swap in the metal band to go to dinner, corporate meetings, weddings, etc.
You can re-size the metal band yourself!! It takes 5 minutes and costs nearly nothing. Buy this tool on Amazon and do it yourself instead of taking to a shop – that’s what I did!
There are 3 accuracy tests I will run – the first normal outdoor conditions, second is a trail (heavy tree cover), the third is on the treadmill, and lastly we will cover UltraTrack Mode!
UPDATE!!!!: This issue has been resolved with firmware 3.8 and GPS 2.9!!! See below. This is a confirmed/known 2 mile out and back. Watch came back with a good reading. The course mapped below is accurate, its a trail with heavy tree cover that has lots of small turns in it.
UPDATE: I have re-run this test 2 more times with less excellent results. It seems to be hit or miss about +/- 10%.
UPDATE #2: I found a use case for this feature! I was stuck in the hospital when my second child was born, and they had a 1/8 mile long hallway – I was able to put on the “indoor run” feature and track a 1 mile walk! I can imagine this being helpful if you have an indoor track as well.
Test: UltraTrack Mode:
Good news!: There is almost no reason to use Ultra track mode – this watch takes a charge while recording! Please jump down to battery life section for the test results (they are very good!).
UPDATE 4.0: Check back for an Ultra track 4.0 mode update. I think this issue may be resolved as the “normal” GPS mode out and back issue has been resolved.
Your Data (Garmin Connect)
Your Data (mobile App)
You can have up to 10 data screens with 4 data fields on each, so you can really bury yourself in data if you would like. I try to look at my watch as little as possible when I am running/biking/hiking/whatever, so I just have 1 data screen with 4 piece of info on it:
- Average Pace
Metronome: Want get your cadence up or down, but can’t seem to do it? Putting on the metronome feature at whatever beat (say 180 beats per minute) you want will allow you to train your cadence!
Ground Contact time: The more time you are in contact with the ground, the slower you are going. This shows how much time you spend on the ground, so you can pick it up and move faster!
Stride Length: Having too long or short of a stride isn’t good. You can use this feature to find your sweet spot. When you PR’ed what was your stride length? What was it on this run?
Vertical Oscillation: You want to get off the ground, but you don’t want to waste energy getting vertical instead of moving forward. You can analyze your vertical to make sure you are running efficiently.
Recovery Estimator: HRM needed
At the end of your run, your watch will tell you how long until another intense workout. Naturally, I laugh at the numbers and ignore them.
Recovery Check: HRM needed
When you are working out it will check your recovery since your last work out and alert you. I think it is comparing your heart rate to your last work out of similar intensity. If your heart rate is higher, you have not recovered properly between workouts (I think).
VO2 Max Calculator: HRM needed
This is good training tool benchmark. As you train more, your VO2 max should increase. Learn more here.
Race time estimator:
This basically takes your average time for a mile and extrapolates it out to longer distances. Cool little tool, but I definitely slow down a lot more when I run farther!
Garmin connect has a bunch of training plans and workouts for you to download to the watch. Once downloaded, not connection is needed. You can also create your own workouts and training plans! Having your watch know you your training schedule and notifying you is a great way to stay accountable!
Locking the buttons: Hold down the “light button to bring up a menu to lock the buttons on the watch. This way you can’t accidentally press a button and stop a recording midway and lose you data! This is great for obstacle course racing and metabolic conditioning workouts.
Did you break a PR? Damn right you did! You are awesome! The watch keeps track of all your PR’s for each distance and will celebrate when you hit it! Check it out:
I can’t imagine this being much different than the running mode though, other than showing you different data screens while you are riding.
The strange thing was that the “Custom pool length” only went down to 17 meters. So I put in 17 and swam anyways to complete this test. I tried a number of different strokes to see if it messed with the length calculation, but it seemed to pick up my wall turn and use that to count the distance regardless of the stroke I used. You can click below and see all the stats it picked up for my swim. I would love to get this in a regulation pool and see how my stats come out! This would be a hugely helpful training tool . Very impressed.
Map: There is not a base map/topographical map feature (see the Garmin Epix for that feature), but the watch will show you a map. This can be helpful if you are comparing your route to a trail map!
Sight ‘N Go: Want to walk in a straight line, directly North? Anyone who has gone off trail knows that it is far easier said than done! Sight’N go keeps you headed on a good trajectory.
Coordinates: Manually enter coordinates and the watch will point your toward the destination with an estimated distance.
Tracback – During an activity, you can hit “tracback” and the watch will “do a course” back to your start point.
I like having a step counter on my wrist. I have been using my cell phone to track my steps for the last few months, but I often leave my cell phone on my desk or couch (or on the charger) and walk around without it. Having it on my wrist is much better. Having the ability to actually see and my data on my wrist is even better! Most step counters will collect the data, then you have to sync it to your phone, and then you can see the info. This is a significant improvement over that system, since all the data is reachable right on your wrist. One cool feature is that when you exceed or miss your daily step goal, the watch automatically adjusts your goals up or down the next day!
NOTE #1: When you are driving, your watch will track the vibration of the car as steps. On my 25 minute commute it was about 200 steps, but on my road trip this weekend it was more like 2500. I don’t particularly care since I am running or rucking everyday, but if you are just tracking your steps – make sure to turn of activity tracking for road trips! I have made regular practice of this.
This might seem inconvenient, but when comparing this to other trackers (Xiaomi Mi band), I realized how great of a feature it is. The Xiaomi Mi band recorded 500~600 steps during my road trip, which was much better than the Garmin. But I can turn the tracking on the Garmin off (0 steps) – making the Xiaomi Mi band recording of 500~600 steps absolutely terrible in comparison. With normal step trackers, you have to take what it gives you, but with Garmin, you have a little extra control over your data integrity. That being said, it would be nice if the device could filter out the car vibrations entirely so you don’t have to think about it!
NOTE #2: The step count doesn’t seem to get affected by plane travel, but if you put it in sleep mode to track your sleep while you are flying, it will probably come back with a crazy movement profile.
Garmin Connect is great for tracking your day to day steps, estimated mileage, and trending. The Garmin Connect site/app is really well put together and lets you cut your data anyway you like it, as well as allowing exporting in multiple formats if you want to manipulate data in another program. Here are the step tracking screens:
When you are sitting on your butt all day, like most of us do, its great to get a reminder to move said butt. After 1 hour of sedentary behavior, your watch will buzz to remind you to take a break and a short walk. Every 15 minutes after that for an hour it will remind you again! I haven’t been able to catch a picture of the actual notification unfortunately. I really like this feature, as I sometimes get wrapped up in my work and lose track of time. Some watch faces will show the “move bar” (Red bar across the bottom of the screen) filling up over time as well, so you can preemptively move and not get buzzed.
UPDATE 4.0: I had written whole thing here about how bad the sleep tracking was on the watch, but then firmware 4.0 came out and the website/app was update. The sleep tracking is great now! Originally, you had to manually enter/exit sleep mode, which sucked. Now it automatically enters and exits sleep mode (and does a pretty good job of it as well). Additionally, the graph used to be a crappy movement plot, but now it breaks the sleep down into data you can digest. This has lead me to using the feature daily, and I have actually been getting more sleep! Massive upgrade in this area, very pleased with Garmin for recognizing and addressing the issue.
Here are some examples:
I used to check my phone every 5 minutes all day (it was really bad) to make sure I didn’t miss anything. After about 2 days of wearing this, my phone doesn’t leave my pocket unless there is actually something happening. Bad habit broken – thanks Garmin!
The watch can receive multiple notifications, and you can scroll through them. You can also read full text messages, emails, etc. but you cannot respond (not sure you would want to anyways). This really makes the watch feel super powerful, and once you get used to it, checking your notifications by taking your phone our seems ancient.
UPDATE 4.0: Dismissing a notification on the watch now eliminates it from your phone as well. Previously, it would dismiss it from the watch but the notification would remain on the phone.
Here are some examples (there are many more available):
When paired with your phone over BT, your watch will also have additional widgets. I think its really slick that these only show up when connected so you don’t have to scroll through widgets that do nothing when you are not connected. Here are the smartwatch specific widgets:
Music controls: This widget is a bit clunky, but its easy enough to use and works well.
Calendar appointments: This is an “agenda” view of your phone calendar – easy to look at what is next without taking out your phone.
Weather: Simple, attractive weather app – I like this one the the best of the three smartphone specific apps.
Notifications: Just a list of all unread notifications.
I use my phone for work, so I have extra layer of security settings, and I have to type my pin in every time I use my phone. By setting the Fenix 3 up as a BT trusted device, whenever it’s connected to my phone, it allows me to bypass the pin input. This is GREAT! Small thing that makes me love the watch even more. Please note that this is not unique to the watch, any BT device can be set up as a trusted device.
Connect IQ Store/Apps
- Ben Greenfield – Everything you need to know about HRV
- Ben Greenfield – HRV and how to use it Podcast and Video
- Dave Asprey – Biohack instructions and Podcast
Other watch faces I like:
- Thursday: Receive watch in the PM. Charge to 100%, sleep track.
- Friday: Track steps, mess around with watch ALOT (first day using device). Friday night – track my GORUCK Challenge – 10 straight hours of GPS. 10 hours of GPS w/ GLONASS off = 48% battery used.
- Saturday: Battery at 52%. Use Wifi to upload activity, track steps, naps, and sleep.
- Sunday: Use Wifi to upload sleep, mess around with watch some more. Plug in for 5 minutes to upgrade firmware – gain 3% battery. Pair with phone and install widgets, watch faces, and apps. Use Wifi to upload steps for day, track sleep.
- Monday: Use Wifi to upload sleep, mess around with watch some more. Tested out all the new apps I installed on Sunday. Paired HRM and messed around with that. Tracked my steps, and used watch to track a treadmill run (15 minutes) and stopwatch function for PT. Use Wifi to upload activity. Tracked sleep.
- Tuesday: Use Wifi to upload sleep in the AM. Tracked steps, synced with Bluetooth a few times throughout the day. Used stopwatch function to time workout. Use Wifi to upload activity. Tracked sleep.
- Wednesday: Same as Tuesday, except I also tracked a treadmill workout as well. (30 minutes)
- Thursday: Same as Wednesday, stopwatch for PT, tracked a treadmill workout. (50 minutes)
- Friday: Use Wifi to upload sleep in the AM. Pair Bluetooth with phone to receive notifications. Receive hundreds of notifications throughout the day. Sync steps through BT many times as well. Friday night phone is at 16% battery. Could probably last another day of “normal” activity, but I have 10~12 hours of workouts this weekend so I have to charge it tonight.
The battery easily lasted a week under heavy everyday use, and that is the first week I have the device. I estimate a significant drop in “messing around” with the watch in the coming weeks. This week had some seriously hefty usage. I workout 15~20 hours a week, and use the watch for almost every work out plus all day/night activity tracking and have observed 1 week battery as the norm.
My “normal” usage: I keep the BT on all day and track my steps. I get a whoooole bunch of notifications on the watch during the day, its buzzing constantly. After work I run for ~20 minutes and use the stopwatch. When I go to bed I track my sleep and turn off the BT. This cycle burns ~10% per day. I typically charge it every 7-10 days.
Recharge time: from 0% to 100% takes approximately 2 hours.
Features impact on battery life:
GPS run time: (Referencing DC Rainmaker review): ~18 hours
GLONASS off/no trees:
- 12.6 minutes/ 1% battery
GLONASS on/no trees:
- X.X minutes/1% battery (test to come)
GLONASS on/tree cover:
- X.X minutes/1% battery (test to come)
GLONASS on/HRM/no trees:
- X.X minutes/1% battery (test to come)
- X.X minutes/1% battery (test to come)
GLONASS on/HRM/no trees/BT on:
- X.XX minutes/1% battery (test to come)
GLONASS on/HRM/no trees/BT on/Live track:
- X.X minutes/1% battery (test to come)
Ultra Track Mode
- 26.5 minutes/1% battery
Charging the watch while recording:
This is important! The watch takes a charge while recording, so technically you don’t ever need Ultra-trak mode, and you have infinite time which you can record. If you are just doing normal running or biking, you can get a portable power pack and the charging cable and leave the watch on your wrist. If you are doing kayaking, Spartan racing, a GORUCK, etc. the watch is waterproof, but the remaining assembly is not, and it will be required to go in a dry bag or dry box (recommend dry box).
Here is the test I ran: I put the watch in normal GPS mode, GLONASS off, and plugged in to a cheap, no-name 2600 mAh portable battery, in a dry box. The battery pack and watch battery were at 100%. Then I did a 48 hour endurance event, GPS tracking the whole time.
BATTERY LASTED 53.5 HOURS!!!
UPDATE 4.0: New charging screen when connected as USB! I like it!
Nice day-to-day watch: $300+
Activity tracker: $115-$200
Legit/multisport GPS watch: $200+
Total: 3 devices, $615+
Smartwatch that isn’t ugly: $250+
Legit/multisport GPS watch: $200+
Total: 2 device $450+
They easily paid as much for the items they put on their wrist as I did, except their wrist looks worse than mine and require more maintenance (changing/charging watches daily). The package deal is more than the sum of its parts. The convenience of having a single device that does everything is worth the value of the price tag (for me at least). Spontaneous run at lunch? Already wearing my GPS watch! Go for a run in the morning? No need to change watches to start your day. Don’t feel like having your data in 3 different systems? No worries, it’s all in the same system, easily accessible and shareable. Don’t feel like having to look at your phone to check your steps or your run from yesterday? Perfect! The watch stores all your info, no need to look at your phone unless you want excruciating levels of detail. The list of times when having a single do-it-all device is amazing is very long, and hopefully I have captured some of it here.
There isn’t really any competition for this watch. There are no other fitness focused watches that are capable of so much.
The Apple watch is not comparable, as they have completely different purposes. If you want to pay your bills on your watch, go right ahead and get an Apple watch, but if you are fitness focused, its a glorified fitbit that costs 3x as much. The Apple watch battery last 1 day. If that sounds like a deal breaker, that’s because it is. ANOTHER thing to charge every single day? No thanks. Also, there are a number of articles about how poor of a fitness device the Apple watch is.
Also, I see a lot of people compare this to the Suunto devices. Please don’t! Those devices are singularly focused on being a GPS watch. They are good at that and nothing else. The devices are not comparable, because the Garmin does SO much more. Also, Suunto traps your data, while Garmin lets you do whatever you want with it. Additionally, they do not have a color screen, vibration, etc. etc.
Cheaper Garmin devices are alternatives as well, but once again, nothing can match this device!
This is something special.
It is all the things. I absolutely love the Gamin Fenix 3. Highly recommended.
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