It’s not all just good looks too. The feature packed fenix 3 was a daunting prospect when I first put my hand up to review it. The list of features and natively supported activities is vast.
The obvious successor to the fenix 2 and very much an all round, active outdoors, adventure focussed product, the fenix 3 also steps into the territory of the highly regarded Forerunner multisport watches. It includes all the multi sport capabilities of the Forerunner 920XT, and more, in a business-like package.
As you’ll see from the feature list below the fenix 3 is an incredibly capable unit. For the purposes of this review though, we’re keeping the focus on it’s use for a cyclist or multiports athlete.
- Stainless Steel EXO™ antenna with GPS + GLONASS support for fast fix and accuracy
- 3.1 cm (1.2-inch) sunlight readable colour Chroma™ display
- Altimeter, barometer and 3-axis compass with auto calibration
- Support of a broad selection of sports and activities with dedicated user profiles like trail running, swimming, hiking, skiing and more
- Advanced fitness training features including VO2 Max and Recovery Advisor and classic Garmin navigation features like TracBack
- Smart features like Smart Notification and Connect IQ™ App support for further customisation
When first fitting the fenix 3 my initial impression was that it was quite big, especially on my “aerodynamic” wrists. But within the same day I hardly noticed the size or weight. At just 82g (spot on with the claimed weight) it’s not a particularly hefty unit and incredibly comfortable on your arm.
In terms of general look n’ feel it could pass as an “ordinary” watch, one you might wear to that business meeting or dinner out. While my test unit featured a somewhat louder red rubber strap, you do get a black version and, if you opt for the Sapphire version of the fenix 3, it sports a snazzy looking metal link strap.
The fenix 3 arrives with two default watch faces: analog and digital. Each face has some standard configuration options to set the background colour, hand style and additional information like day / date. But the real fun is in the Garmin Connect IQ store where you can choose from hundreds of different faces.
Screen and battery life
The screen itself is very sharp, clear and easy to read. Although it’s a colour screen, I wouldn’t call it colourful and can be a bit dull in low light. The technology behind the display is similar to that of an e-reader which lends itself to low power consumption and the fenix 3’s impressive battery life. With the backlight illuminated however, the display livens up and is very easy to read in any light conditions.
One of my initial concerns was the battery life considering that devices labelled “smart” these days require a full recharge daily. Thankfully the fenix 3 doesn’t fit into that category. Garmin claim a battery life of up to 6 weeks in watch mode and up to 20 hours in GPS tracking mode. Charging for me wasn’t ever an issue which I think is a good sign. The quicker battery depletion is noticeable when in GPS mode and in the summer months I can see that you’d have to charge the device more frequently with more usage in full GPS mode.
The fenix 3 features Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ANT+ and USB connectivity. The unit can pair to your smartphone via Bluetooth and make use of your phone’s internet connection to upload activities, download software updates and interface with the Garmin Connect mobile app.
The fenix 3 also supports Wi-Fi, but this needs to first be set up via Garmin Express (PC or Mac). Using the charging cradle you’re able to connect the watch via USB and once set up the watch will automatically use the configured Wi-Fi network to upload & download as required.
ANT+ allows the fenix 3 connectivity with a large range of sensors from various manufacturers.
Garmin Connect App
Aside from setting up a WiFi connection I was able to do just about everything I needed via the Garmin Connect Smartphone App or via the watch itself. The app is simple and intuitive and along with the standard activity sync, tracking and review it allows you to add or remove Connect IQ apps, watch faces and data fields all from the app. The ease of interface with no cables needed for most tasks is an absolute pleasure.
Smart Features and Notifications
When connected to your smartphone via Bluetooth the fenix 3 becomes a bit of a smart watch. I say “a bit” as although it does have apps and connectivity, it’s still a sports centric smart watch and for me that’s a good thing.
The fenix 3 can be set up to deliver alerts for for incoming calls, text messages and alerts for configured smartphone apps. You can also view your calendar, the weather, control music, and read text messages and other app alerts via the watch interface.
During active use it’s handy to see incoming calls and messages at a glance without having to fumble in a pocket or backpack, but at the same time I felt I was a little too connected at times. It is an easy enough feature to disable though, should you want an interruption-free ride.
Even in standard watch mode the fenix 3 can track your day-to-day activity reminding you to keep active. I found myself sucked into the Auto Goal feature which sets a daily steps goal based on your previous activity. And when you reach that goal you're treated to a fireworks display, on screen of course.
For those keyboard / desk jockeys like me you might often find yourself seated for long periods of time during the day. When inactive for an hour the “Move bar” on the fenix will remind you to move via a gentle vibration and on screen icon which clears once you’ve moved about.
Although seemingly innocuous features I found these had an unexpected positive impact on my work day.
Out of the box the fenix 3 has various pre-programmed modes or “applications” for different sports and activities. Each one with a tailored display showing standard metrics relevant to that activity, e.g. Run, Swim, Bike and indoor options for each. You can add & remove activity profiles so if XC snow skiing isn’t your cuppa tea it’s easy enough to remove.
Garmin also let you further customise the displays for each, choosing exactly which metrics you want displayed on which screen (page) and in what order.
The Connect IQ Store opens up a whole new world of options with various first and third party applications and data fields to further customise your watch. So if you wanted a Graphical Elevation or Heart Rate view or an idea of how many beers your current workout has earned you can do it. Thanks to the Connect IQ platform the fenix 3 is incredibly customisable and as with time this extensibility should only improve as the user and developer community grows.
Already owning a Garmin Edge 510 I wasn’t quite sure how the fenix 3 would fit into my biking life. The fenix includes all the features of my Edge 510 and even surpasses it to include connectivity features only found on the Edge 810 upwards.
Garmin do offer a bike mount to strap the watch to your handlebar, for easily viewing and allowing one-handed operation. I happened to have a mount for an older watch lying around which worked just fine.
The fenix interfaces with various ANT+ accessories and during testing it happily spoke to my existing Garmin HRM and Cadence/Speed sensors and a MIO wrist based heart rate monitor.
On the bike the display is nice and clear and the numbers big (depending on how you have the screens set up). At times I did find the screen a bit prone to glares due to the shiny glass, but a slight reposition quickly sorted this out.
While the fenix 3 covers all the features I’d use in the 510 and more, given the choice I still prefer interfacing with the Edge while on the bike. The fenix’s smaller screen and more tricky button operation mean it’s a little less user friendly, but perfectly capable as a primary unit if you didn’t have the choice.
The fenix 3 really won me over when it came to indoor riding. Testing through winter in the Cape meant I did fair bit of stationary riding.
In Indoor bike mode the fenix 3 automatically shuts off the GPS, relying on speed and cadence sensors instead. At home on my basic indoor trainer it performed as expected with the same Garmin sensors I’d use outdoors. On the more advanced CycleOps PowerSync indoor trainer I’ve also been testing, it also picked up the power data from the trainer via ANT+.
In the gym the fenix 3 was able to connect to a WattBike via ANT+. Talking to the WattBike the fenix 3 is able to monitor speed, cadence and power data for the session. Although I could do the same with my Edge, the beauty of the fenix 3 is that it’s always on your wrist so there’s no forgetting it on the bike or in a bag.
Other activity modes
Although I was predominantly focussed on the bike related function, the fenix 3 is a real do-it-all device and I’d say proves it’s worth in the crossover capabilities. As mentioned it packs all the features you’ll see in a Forerunner 920XT. So for runners, swimmers and, naturally, triathletes it makes for an even more attractive device.
In running mode the fenix 3 can again track your outdoor and indoor activities. Outside using the GPS and on a treadmill via the device’s accelerometer. Indoors though the tracking can be inaccurate without the use of a foot pod.
Whether doing an open water swim or in a pool, the fenix 3 can track your workout. In open water it uses GPS to track you while in the pool using an accelerometer and the pool length to calculate pace and distance.
Triathlon / Multisport
The fenix 3 arrives with a preset ‘Triathlon’ mode which allows you to track each leg (including transitions) in one workout using the lap button. In each stage it knows what you’re doing (swim / cycle / run / transition) and will display the relevant data for that activity. As with other modes you’re also able to customise the screens for each, add / remove or change order of the activities and enable or disable tracking of transitions.
The fenix 3 is a beautifully designed, solidly built and ultra connective smart sports watch. The impressive list of features deliver seamlessly across the range activity modes. A premium build quality and endless list of features do come with a high end price tag though. For those who take part in a range of sporting activities the fenix 3 is the ultimate cross-over device. And don’t forget it’s a good looking watch too.
- fenix 3 Silver / Gray - Watch only: R 7,599.00
- fenix 3 Silver / Gray - Performer Bundle: R 8,449.00
- fenix 3 Sapphire: R 9,999.00
- Physical dimensions2.0” x 2.0” x 0.6” (51.0 x 51.0 x 16.0 mm)
- Display size, WxH1.2” (30.4 mm)
- Display resolution, WxH218 x 218 pixels; transflective MIP color
- WeightSilver/Dark: 82 g
- BatteryRechargeable 300 mAh lithium-ion
- Battery lifeUp to 50 hours in UltraTrac mode; up to 20 hours in GPS training mode; up to 6 weeks in watch mode
- Water rating10 ATM
- GPS / trackingGPS-enabled, GLONASS
- ABCBarometric altimeter
- Notificaiton & controlSmart notifications
- Watch functionsTime of day (12/24h), calendar (day/date), daily alarm
- Maps & MemoryBuilt-in memory: 32 MB; available 23 MB
- Cycling FeaturesCompatible with Vector™
Multiple bike profiles
Bike speed/cadence sensor
- Running FeaturesVirtual Pacer™ (compares current pace to target)
V02 max estimate
Accelerometer (calculates distance for indoor workouts, without need for a foot pod)
- Swimming FeaturesPool swim metrics (lengths, distance, pace, stroke count/rate, calories)
Stroke type identification (e.g. freestyle)
Open water swim metrics (distance, pace, stroke count/rate, calories)
- Heart rate / preformance FeaturesHeart rate monitor (Some versions)
Virtual Partner® (train against a digital person)
Virtual Racer™ (compete against other activities)
Auto Pause® (pauses and resumes timer based on speed)
Multi-sport (changes sport mode with a press of a button)
Auto multisport (switch sport modes with 1 button press)
Advanced workouts (create custom, goal-oriented workouts)
Pace alert (triggers alarm if you vary from preset pace)
Interval training (set up exercise and rest intervals)
Heart rate-based calorie computation
Calculates calories burned
Training Effect (measures impact of an activity on your aerobic fitness)
- Activity TrackingStep counter
Auto goal (learns your activity level and assigns a daily step goal)
Move bar (displays on device after a period of inactivity; walk for a couple of minutes to reset it)
Sleep monitoring (monitors total sleep and periods of movement or restful sleep)
- Garmin ConnectGarmin Connect™ compatible (online community where you analyze, categorize and share data)
Automatic sync (automatically transfers data to your computer)
- AdditionalConnect IQ™ app support: Yes (watch faces, data fields, widgets and apps)
EXO™ antenna (GPS/GLONASS): Yes
Bluetooth® 4.0 LE: Yes
Weather Alerts: Yes
tempe™ sensor support: Yes
Ski features: Yes