Review: Garmin fenix 3

Most sports watches I’ve owned have always shared a few common traits: they’re bulky, plasticy and generally a bit nerdy looking. Garmin’s fenix range of GPS multi-sport watches have changed all that. Their latest edition, the fenix 3, has been strapped to my wrist for the last month and as far as watches go, never mind sports watches, it’s a looker.
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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.

Key Specifications

  • 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
See the full specifications at the bottom of this review.

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Watch mode


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.

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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.

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Connectivity


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.

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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.

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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.

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Activity Tracking


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.

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Applications


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.

Bike Mode


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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.

Indoor Bike


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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.

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Garmin Fenix 3-35.jpgWorkout data including power stats from the CycleOps indoor trainer
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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.

Running


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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.

Swimming


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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


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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.

Conclusion


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.







54 Comments

Hairy, Jul 24 2015 01:26

Really lovely GPS watch, good to see it comes with a replaceable watch strap, so the unit can be a real long term investment/purchase vs the other Garmin watches with the strap integrated with the watch body.

 

Eina price though

nonky, Jul 24 2015 01:34

NICE REVIEW - I want!

hboli4, Jul 24 2015 01:41

Really lovely GPS watch, good to see it comes with a replaceable watch strap, so the unit can be a real long term investment/purchase vs the other Garmin watches with the strap integrated with the watch body.

 

Eina price though

 

I was thinking the same thing...I already started saving for it my head but then scrolled down and saw the price...

shaper, Jul 24 2015 01:41

Would love one, but will stick with my 910XT and Edge 500 for now

Oxter, Jul 24 2015 03:15

Sold all my devices and use the F3 for everything I do at the moment (as a every day watch as well). Absolutely love my F3

V12man, Jul 24 2015 03:45

I see that the Saphire version has saphire crystal glass, but I can't find what the "ordinary" one has - does anybody know if there is a difference?

Admin, Jul 24 2015 03:59

I see that the Saphire version has saphire crystal glass, but I can't find what the "ordinary" one has - does anybody know if there is a difference?

I'm not sure what the other models have, but the key advantage of Sapphire glass is improved scratch resistance.

So far the Silver edition I'm testing still has a pristine screen and from the reports I've read it's pretty resilient when it comes to scratches & scuffs.

 

Edit: The other models use "standard mineral glass". Sapphire glass is a much harder material and more resilient. 

Wayne Potgieter, Jul 24 2015 04:03

I see that the Saphire version has saphire crystal glass, but I can't find what the "ordinary" one has - does anybody know if there is a difference?

The others are not saphire glass.

jules1976, Jul 30 2015 08:54

that price !!!

Flyer007, Jul 30 2015 10:29

I think I need to combine my birthday and Christmas pressies  ;) for this incredible device.

HappyMartin, Jul 30 2015 07:02

Would love one of those. It looks awesome.

Frosty, Jul 30 2015 07:53

I like it, BUT...

I wonder how long the battery lasts, i.e. the number of charge cycles before it's time to replace? My first Forerunner gave me about 6 years of use and charging it every week to 2 weeks depending on the number and duration of rides between charges. And that was only to record the rides and not any of the extras the Fenix can do.

That would be the one reason I'd not want to get one.

HappyMartin, Jul 30 2015 08:22

I think I need to combine my birthday and Christmas pressies  ;) for this incredible device.


My birthday is 25 December so I have been doing that all my life

Slakkepas, Aug 01 2015 03:33

By the end of next month FNB will sponser me this one, thanks ebucks.....

Jakkals77, Aug 01 2015 11:08

.

Jakkals77, Aug 20 2015 09:17

Hmmm......Now I'm confused. Garmin Edge 810 or Fenix 3 for my MTB riding?

I know its a nice problem to have, but what device would you choose?

The 810 has the navigation and probably a better cycling computer but the Fenix can be worn as a everyday watch as well....... :wub:

Musketeer, Aug 20 2015 09:27

Hmmm......Now I'm confused. Garmin Edge 810 or Fenix 3 for my MTB riding?

I know its a nice problem to have, but what device would you choose?

The 810 has the navigation and probably a better cycling computer but the Fenix can be worn as a everyday watch as well....... :wub:

 

My 10 cents... after a lot of research some time back and a good deal via a friend I got the fenix 3 and haven't looked back. Awesome piece of equipment. Will be using it's tracking and navigation functions this weekend on the Transbaviaans.

Jakkals77, Aug 20 2015 09:36

I'm interested to know how the navigation works on the Fenix 3. Let us know how it goes and good luck with the Transbaviaans

Pieter1, Aug 20 2015 09:38

I'm interested to know how the navigation works on the Fenix 3. Let us know how it goes and good luck with the Transbaviaans

Me to, can you plot a route with waypoints or whatever and then load it on the watch and follow it?

canadonis, Aug 20 2015 09:43

Hmmm......Now I'm confused. Garmin Edge 810 or Fenix 3 for my MTB riding?
I know its a nice problem to have, but what device would you choose?
The 810 has the navigation and probably a better cycling computer but the Fenix can be worn as a everyday watch as well....... :wub:


Hmmm choices...

I have the 800 and had garment 610 watch

You can't compare the 2 IMHO would say the 810 way better then as a treat get f3.

V12man, Aug 20 2015 09:47

Hmmm......Now I'm confused. Garmin Edge 810 or Fenix 3 for my MTB riding?

I know its a nice problem to have, but what device would you choose?

The 810 has the navigation and probably a better cycling computer but the Fenix can be worn as a everyday watch as well....... :wub:

I find wearing a watch on MTB rides really begins to hurt after the first 100k.... and gets worse every day thereafter.

nonky, Aug 20 2015 09:56

I find wearing a watch on MTB rides really begins to hurt after the first 100k.... and gets worse every day thereafter.

that's why you strap it to the handlebar?

V12man, Aug 20 2015 10:07

that's why you strap it to the handlebar?

Too much effort.... :) 1/4 turn is much easier. :)

 

Actually I struggle to see smaller text - so the bigger face does work better for me as well.

 

That said - does the Fenix have a handlebar mount available - or do you have to just "make a plan" ? (Guess who has a Fenix coming soon.... :) )

Musketeer, Aug 20 2015 10:22

Me to, can you plot a route with waypoints or whatever and then load it on the watch and follow it?

 

Yes you can load a GPX or FIT file and plot it as a course, transfer it to the watch and load the course and then select activity such as hike, bike, run or whatever.

 

Ill check it and give a report next week.

wonduhboy, Aug 20 2015 10:45

Too much effort.... :) 1/4 turn is much easier. :)

 

Actually I struggle to see smaller text - so the bigger face does work better for me as well.

 

That said - does the Fenix have a handlebar mount available - or do you have to just "make a plan" ? (Guess who has a Fenix coming soon.... :) )

I got this

 

https://buy.garmin.c.../prod11078.html