Garmin Fenix 6S Pro Review

12 Oct , 2019 Reviews,Sports,Technology

Garmin Fenix 6S Pro Review

Background

My previous watch was the Garmin 735 XT. It lasted three solid years for me; recording thousands of miles across every type of workout and location. I loved it. And then it died a random death during a swim workout. To be fair, Garmin offered to service or swap out the watch with another refurbished unit for a nominal fee. I elected to wait and see what the Fall 2019 smart watch launches would offer. That patience proved fruitful with the arrival of the new Garmin Fenix 6. Which I will review here.

TLDR:

– Near top of the line for Garmin.
– Fully Featured.
– Incredible Battery Life.
– Highly customizable in sizes and settings.
– Two Thumbs Up

Models

Straight out of the box, you can recognize the quality of the Fenix series. The watch has excellent build quality. From the watch casing to the Gorilla glass and solid metal buttons, you know you are getting what you paid for. And pay you will. The line starts at around $600 and goes up to $1,100 for the top of the line Solar variation. Speaking of variants, the watch comes in three possible sizes.

6S = Small (42 mm) [735 XT is the same size]
6 = Traditional (47 mm)
6X = Large (51 mm)

It also comes in three performance trims; Standard, Pro, and Solar.

Standard = Base Model
Pro = WiFi, Maps, and Music
Solar = Pro + Solar Charging

Differentiators

Two things really set this watch apart from it’s predecessors. First, the BATTERY. You are given a lot of flexibility to customize the battery performance by exercise profile and overall mode. This battery management approach allows you to get more out of the watch based on your needs. There is even an “Expedition” mode that allows you to track something like a multi-day activity through the Appalachian Trail for up to 20 days.

This extensive performance is achieved by having the GPS ping satellites no more than once an hour to extend the battery life. Additionally, it’s even easier to select the “resume later” option during a workout, once you have paused it. Giving you even more ways to extend your battery life. Unfortunately, all of this battery performance translates to slower recharge rates. Taking up to 2.5 hours from empty to get back to 100%. The 735 XT, for contrast, fully recharged in about 1 hour.

The HARDWARE itself is the second key differentiator. On top of all of the size options listed above, the watch comes with a lot of technology that enhances the level of data it collects. I break out that data in a list below. In particular, the barometric altimeter makes tracking flights climbed and course elevation correction seamless. The advanced optical heart rate tech allows for heart rate tracking during swim workouts. All in all, there are enough advanced features to track everything for everyone; from the weekend warrior to the pro triathlete.

These features though are not available in all models. So choose carefully. For instance, the solar recharging option is only available in the 6X and largest watch size. So, smaller athletes may not be interested. If you don’t need to listen to music, upload using WiFi, or see detail map routes on your wrist, then go with the base model. It took me a few weeks of thinking and researching to make my own final choice.

Review

After all the deliberation, I went with the 6S Pro. I didn’t want to spend $1k for the Solar, though the tech interested me. Moreover, I have smaller wrists and the Solar’s larger format was a no go. I wanted the Pro to take advantage of the flexibility of WiFi uploads and updates, music on device, and map views. I will talk about my experience with the Pro here. However, I did some research on those who bought and tested the Solar edition. They noticed only about a 3% battery gain from that edition. Regardless, I am glad Garmin introduced the tech and can’t wait to see how it develops over time.

Out of the box, it comes with typical instruction details, the charge/sync cable, and watch. The charging connector is different from most Garmin watches so you won’t be able to re-use your old ones here. The set up process is even faster and smoother than before. Especially, when running it on your phone. It’s very much a guided flow that has you able to use almost every feature within 10-15 minutes.

Setup

I set up Amazon and Spotify music services on my device, along with loading audio files from music playlist from Apple Music directly on the device. Note: you have to connect to your computer and use the Garmin app to take advantage of your own music library. I paired my AirPods to the watch and the audio comes through great. NO, you cannot answer phone calls on the phone or respond to texts/emails like with the Apple Watch. Some additional configurations that are available to manage are:

– Preferred Battery Mode (Power Manager)
– Workout Profiles
– Watch Face
– Time Zone
– Alarms
– Phone Notifications
– Widgets
– Button Shortcuts
– WiFi Networks
– Navigation (Maps)
– and More

Health Metrics

My real love for the Garmin Fenix has to be rooted in the extensive amount of health data it collects. The watch, through it’s enhanced Optical Heart Rate monitor can track and calculate over a dozen Physiological Parameters. This data is very helpful in tracking and gushing overall health & fitness. Particularly useful if yo like try to train to your body’s readiness and not your ego. Some of the available data includes but is not limited to the list below.


– Pulse Oxidation & Acclimation
– Respiration
– Stress Level
– Resting and Average Heart Rate
* There is a cool feature that will allow the watch to alert you if your resting heart rate spikes above a certain point, I.e. 100 bpm.

– Steps
– Floors
– Stress
– Body Battery
* A really great feature that allows for the estimated gauge of where your energy level is based on output and recovery windows.

– Race Predictor
– Sleep
* Does not track naps as sleep time but does recognize the resting state and adjusts your body battery estimate accordingly.

– Watch Battery Performance
* The more you track the worse the battery performance.
* Better battery equates to slower charging.
* Multiple options for tweaking batter performance.
* Quick setting allows for battery saver mode that shuts down most services and extends the battery up to 80-days.
* Always on screen is great but likely affects battery life. Setting exists to disable.

– Watch Face Style: screens that are highly customizable.

Training

The watch comes with almost two dozen fitness profiles out of the box. I only use it to record pool swims, outdoor running, treadmill runs, walks, cycling, and bike trainer workouts. So unfortunately, I cannot expand on the triathlon, expedition, ski modes or similar at this time. I can say that for the profiles I use, you can expect the same Garmin reliability and performance that they have built their name on.

No matter which mode you use, the upgraded hardware has every feature working well together. I have noticed on previous Garmin watches that the device can time out/freeze when trying to run music, Strava, and more all at the same time. Additionally, the enhanced watch face graphics allow for more data elements to be displayed on each watch Data Screen (UP TO 6). The total number of screens has increased as well.

Also, when starting a workout the watch gives you an estimate on the total length of tracking time available (such as 20+ hours for a run workout). Lastly, when starting a workout, the delay in procuring fresh satellite is about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Not great but not terrible either. Below, I will give some details on my three primary tracking modes to give an idea on training performance.


SWIM

At the time of writing this review I only got in a few pool swims with the watch. Setting up the pool length, time alerts, and distance alerts was easy. The first swim was about 2 laps off from my actual distance. The second and third workouts were about 1 lap off. Stroke detection was very accurate and the drill workouts easy to follow after downloading from Garmin Connect.


RUN

I tested the watch on both outdoor and indoor runs. Interestingly, the watch does a calibration of your pace on the first treadmill run. By that I mean, it estimates your distance than allows you to correct it at the end of your run. So it can adjust for future runs. You can recalibrate at any time.

For outdoor runs, the watch was amazing. The maps feature is better than I expected. You can leverage many different map views. These views include Strava segments, popular routes, and general view among others. The visibility is great. The race predictor mode is by far one of the best features. From your phone, you can dial in the pace, positive/negative split, and elevation adjustments to get right to the time you are shooting for. It is a superior running watch by far.


BIKE

I tested the watch using my Wahoo Bike Trainer for the indoor workouts. Pairing to the trainer is also very fast. Overall, pairing this watch to sensors and devices has been easier than any experience before. I did a few turns on the bike to make sure the recording was pretty accurate. I recorded simultaneously with Swift to gauge the distance and performance differences. The deltas were negligible. I prefer to record with Zwift but am glad to know the watch can do the job also.

I also tested the bike outside for a few quick rides. The sensors were the same from the indoor setup minus the Wahoo Trainer Power Meter (I really need to get a power meter on my bike). The maps came in really handy here also. Though I would recommend getting a handlebar mount for the watch for easier viewing. Strava segments work well in this profile also.


Summary

All in all, the Fenix’s real differentiator is that it can be as much or little smart watch as you need it to be; thanks to its high level of configurability. One odd thing I noticed was that the watch band started to smell after a couple of weeks of heavy use. I wear the watch 24/7, which is probably how the sweat builds up so much. But I did not experience this with other Garmin watches in the past. You may end up replacing the band shortly after buying if you see the same issue. Hopefully, I will get more than THREE years out of this one.

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