It’s no coincidence that in just a few hours one of the toughest trail running races on earth – UTMB – will begin in Chamonix, France. The journey will take competitors on a 171KM loop with literal mountains of elevation climb. Garmin specifically chose today, and in particular – their location of Chamonix to launch the Fenix 6 series. In recent years, trail running has largely been the domain of Suunto devices, primarily due to both longer battery life and frankly, stability. Sponsorships of elite trail runners also helped too.
But that tide is slowly shifting. I spent last week up in Chamonix as athletes from around the world were out doing their final training runs, and these days it’s more of a blend of watches on wrists than the Suunto domination of a few years ago. And there’s no doubt that the specs Garmin has thrown down with the Fenix 6 series will cause many heads there to turn.
The Fenix 6 series is a slate of more than a dozen different watch variants, with battery life extending upwards of 120 days. Yes, days. And GPS-on time for ultra-type scenarios at nearly 150 hours. Or in full expedition mode GPS-on time at 56 days. Yes, again, days. Obviously, there are some caveats to those numbers – but we’ll get to those. Oh, and did I mention there’s now solar charging of the unit? No, it’s not the panacea that your own solar farm might be – but it’s a start and hint at where Garmin is going. And the new PacePro feature will automatically create a course-elevation optimized race plan for your specific goal time.
I’ve been testing the Fenix 6 series in a variety of conditions from the city streets of NYC to the high alpine trails of the French Alps. Plus the beautiful windy flats of the Netherlands. I’ve got a pretty good idea on what works well, and what still needs some love. Don’t worry, I cover it all through the course of more than 11,000 words.
But if words aren’t really your thing, then I’ve got a nice tidy video that runs through the top 16 new features on the Fenix 6 series in one quick go. It’s as good as it gets for efficiency around here:
Oh, and finally, as always I use devices like wilderness trails – leave nothing behind. These are media loaner units that go back to Garmin shortly. In fact, retailers are actually shipping Fenix 6 variants today. You can help support the site here by checking out the links at the end of the post. Doing so makes you awesome.
As you might expect with a product titled its sixth edition (actually, they skipped over a Fenix 4, but then did secondary editions of the Fenix 3 (HR) and 5 (Plus), so we’re roughly in the ballpark), much of the product is about building with new features. Garmin usually follows a bit of a tick-tock pattern with their product releases, specifically when looking at their Fenix and Forerunner lineups at the higher end. One product family will get new features first (in this case the Garmin FR945), and then the next product from the other family will get those features plus some extra (in this case, the Fenix 6 series).
As such I’m going to divide this up into two basic categories. First are the things that are totally new/changed in the Fenix 6 that are otherwise unseen on any other Garmin products to date. And the second is things that have been added since the Fenix 5 Plus or Forerunner 945. There’s slightly more things since the Fenix 5 Plus last summer that came in the FR945 that are joining the Fenix 6.
Here’s what’s totally new/changed in the Fenix 6 series:
– Split product line into two portions: Pro and Base. Pro has WiFi, Maps, Music, Golf Maps
– There are three sizes of watches: 42mm (Fenix 6s), 47mm (Fenix 6), 51mm (Fenix 6X)
– Adds solar charging to Fenix 6 Pro Solar: Termed “Power Glass”, this will increase battery life on sunnier days
– Adds Trendline Popularity Routing Visibility (Pro): This allows you to actually see the ‘heatmaps’ on your device
– Adds map display themes: This includes high contrast, popularity, marine, dark, and outdoor.
– Adds new widget glances concept: Basically shrinks widgets to 1/3rd the screen size, so you can see three at once
– Adds new PacePro feature: This replaces old-school paper race pace bands, creating pace targets for race based on grade/reverse splits/etc…
– Adds new Power Manager feature: Gives detailed information about the impacts/tradeoffs of features on battery life
– Adds new Power Modes feature: Allows you to create custom power/battery modes, with time remaining per activity
– Adds new MARQ Expedition ultra-long mode: For multi-week GPS activities. Basically shuts off everything except reduced rate GPS tracking
– Adds ski resort maps: These started on the MARQ series, with 2,000 ski resorts worldwide
– Adds golf maps pre-loaded: Previously you had to manually load these one by one, also, more detailed golf features
– Adds support for wrist-based swimming HR: This was teased recently on the FR945 beta updates
– Adds new ultra-low battery mode: Gets up to 80 days of battery life, but super basic watch functionality only
– Revamped ClimbPro with new coloring: Now matches the Edge 530/830 styling
– Increased data fields per page: Up to 8 fields on the 6X, and up to 6 fields on the 6S/6
– Increased screen size and reduced bezel (varies by model, but up to 36% bigger screen size on the 6X
– Reduced ‘lug to lug distance’ on Fenix 6S: This should help those with smaller wrists, more on this later
– Reduced thickness of all devices. The 6S shrunk by 10%, the 6 by 7%, and the 6X by 15%.
– Changed from MediaTek GPS chipset to Sony GPS Chipset: Like every other new Garmin 2019 device
– Battery life increased: Up to 80 days in battery saver mode for 6X, and up to 120hrs in max battery mode for 6X, all before solar (see full chart below)
And then here’s the list of items that come from the MARQ & Forerunner 945 series to the Fenix 6. I don’t believe there’s any new software features on the FR945 that aren’t on the Fenix 6 series. It got them all. Here they are:
– Added PulseOx (pulse oximeter data): Within Fenix lineup it was previously only on the Fenix 5X Plus variant
– Added Respiration Rate (post-activity, also as a data field): With chest strap only
– Added new Garmin ELEVATE optical HR sensor: This is the V3, same as MARQ/FR245/945 sensor.
– Added training load focus stats: Shows how workouts benefit a given target/focus area
– Added deeper training effect details/metrics: Further details on the impact of a workout
– Added body battery functionality: Kinda like Street Fighter body energy levels
– Added heat acclimation: For any workouts in temps over 71°F/21.6°C
– Added altitude acclimation: For any time or workouts spent above 850m/2,788ft
– Added Incident Detection: If you crash your bike it notifies someone (this was recently added to the Fenix 5 Plus via firmware update)
– Added Safety/Tracking Assistance: You can press button to send help alert to friends/family (this was recently added to the Fenix 5 Plus via firmware update)
– Revamped race predictor to be a bit more strict on predictions (more than just VO2Max lookup charts now)
– VO2Max now compensates for heat: Previously it didn’t
– Training Status now compensates for heat: Previously it didn’t
– Redesigned a bunch of the user interface, especially for post workout stats
– CIQ data field app limit remains at 2 concurrent per app
Phew. Got all that? Good, I hope so.
If not, fear not. There’s still like 10,000 more words and 120 other photos for these concepts to sink in (or, for you to give up). Either way, I’ve got you covered. First though, let’s get these all unboxed.
Oh wait – for those wondering, the Forerunner 245/245 Music, Forerunner 945, and MARQ series will get PacePro. The FR945 will get the map themes as well as widget galleries. The MARQ series will get everything the Fenix 6 has. No specific timelines for these. For other items I’m awaiting clarification/timing from Garmin.
Back in my Fenix 5 Plus In-Depth Review unboxing section, I had noted that there were about the same number of editions (SKU’s) of the Fenix 5 Plus as there were Brady Bunch cast members. Well, I’m here to tell you that Marcia got pregnant, because now there’s even more SKU’s. Seriously, it’s kinda nuts. Here’s the entire listing of all of the children in this family photo that Garmin had (all prices parity USD/EUR):
The key takeaway from the above is simply that there are basically two lines of Fenix 6 units:
Base: These don’t include maps, WiFi, or music.
Pro: Includes all the maps, music, WiFi, and features that build atop those functions
Essentially it’s as if Garmin is refreshing the base Fenix 5 lineup with the base Fenix 6 lineup, while the Fenix 5 Plus becomes the Fenix 6 Pro series. Roughly.
Now thankfully for you I won’t be doing a full unboxing of all the variants. Instead, I’m consolidating it into a single unboxing of the Fenix 6S Pro. Though frankly – the boxing of all of them is identical in terms of what you get inside, except for the specialty units that come with an extra strap.
And with that, here’s the full unboxing of a single unit:
Up above is your standard issue Garmin wearables box. Or at least, the square variety of the box. On the back you’ve got a bunch of details about exactly which version you bought:
Crack open the top and you’ll find the watch sitting there looking at you:
Meanwhile, unpack the top and here’s all the goodness inside. In this particular case it’s shown with an extra strap that was included in the box sent to me. That is *NOT* the norm. No extra strap for you! I’ll re-shoot this photo sometime after I sleep.
Here’s a closer look at that watch, and the lawless strap:
The charging cable remains the same as the Fenix 5 series:
And the manual will be totally useless after this review:
Now what’s actually notable about the Fenix 6S in particular is that the lug to lug distance has been reduced. You can see it most clearly in the below photo atop the blue Fenix 5S Plus unit. Notice how the white lugs (where the straps connect to), are significantly smaller:
Seen as well from the top-down view too. This helps those with smaller wrists as it makes the watch a bit more compact and not overreaching off the sides of your wrists into thin air. That in turn also gives you better fit on the strap, which finally gives you better optical HR sensor accuracy. See, it’s all about the accuracy.
But sizing tweaks don’t stop there. There’s some big changes in terms of the display and bezels, whereby the bezels have shrunk a bit on the 6/6X units, and the overall thickness has shrunk on all units. This shows you the exact differences in both screen/display sizing and thickness between the Fenix 5 Plus series and the Fenix 6 series. First up, the increased screen size:
And next, the Fenix 6 depth (thickness) sizing:
Got all that? Good, let’s start using the darn thing.
Now that we’ve got ourselves freed of our cardboard bonds, let’s start with some basics. If you’ve been around the Garmin block a few times, then honestly you can skip this section. I’m mostly talking about things like the user interface, daily activity, and sleep tracking, and all those related metrics. We’ll start the sport stuff and things like solar charging and such down a bit later. Though I do discuss the new widget glances feature in this section. First up though, watch faces.
Actually, wait – first up – another video. You can skip this, but if you want the complete tour of the user interface – then this video is for you!
Like all past Garmin Fenix series watches, you can customize the watch face. That includes swapping it out for an entirely different watch face as well as customizing every bit of data you see on it (or, don’t want to see on it):
In addition, you can use Garmin’s Connect IQ app to create your own watch face with a picture of your kids, Ben & Jerry’s container, or whatever else is important to you.
The first chance though that you’ll really notice with the Fenix 6 series is the new glanceable widgets. Widgets are basically full pages that you could scroll through when not in a workout. Mini-apps if you will. Things like weather, steps, training status, music, and so on. But they always took up the full screen, even if they were basically just displaying one line of data. Garmin is now introducing glanceable widgets, which fit three widgets per ‘page’, as you scroll through them:
If you select the highlighted widget, then you’ll get the full widget that you previously knew and loved, such as this:
Frankly, this may be one of my favorite features of the Fenix 6 series. Which sounds silly until you realize I hated scrolling endlessly through widgets trying to find the data I wanted. Now, I can scroll three times less (or faster). It’s brilliant. Here’s a small gallery of widgets currently on my watch. Note the solar widget is only applicable to the Fenix 6X Solar unit. All the other widgets are across all Fenix 6 units.
Like all Garmin wearables these days there’s activity tracking covering your steps, stairs, sleep, and other meanderings. You can see this data under a few different widget glances, but you can also customize your watch face with any of this too. In the case of widgets, you’ll see for example the steps one:
Once I tap into it then I get the last 7 days of steps, or I can also get distance too:
Another metric in that same category is 24×7 heart rate. This is automatically enabled and monitoring every second, all part of recording and ultimately plotting your data. You can have certain watch faces display your HR constantly as well. If you tap into the heart rate widget you’ll get a graph of the last 4 hours – and then again down to the resting HR for the last 7 days.
All of this (steps as well as HR) is accessible on both Garmin Connect (web), and Garmin Connect Mobile (smartphone app). You can graph it and re-graph it a million ways.
Garmin also plots stress levels as well. Both on the device in real-time as well as later in the app. I generally find this metric pretty close to reality, for better or worse.
A new metric introduced over the last year is Garmin’s Body Battery. Think of this like the old Street Fighter arcade game, whereby if you got a good night’s sleep it’d start at 100%, and then throughout the day would degrade. It’d go down faster for more intense things, and re-gain battery status if you’re sitting on a couch watching TV. I find it a good proxy, though occasionally not perfect. Within the watch you can see the last four hours, as well as four hours overlaid against stress. Further, you can see how much has charged or drained since midnight.
And again, all of this is also plotted within the Garmin Connect/Garmin Connect Mobile apps as well.
Related to body battery is sleep metrics. The unit will automatically record your sleep each night, and supposed sleep phases. While I can validate that the sleep times are usually within a couple minutes of my actual fall asleep/wake times, I have no method of validating the sleep phases bits. The sleep metrics are displayed on the app:
New to the remainder of the Fenix 6 series is PulseOx. This initially came to the Fenix 5X Plus last year, but quickly spread like wildfire to the remainder of the Garmin lineup. PulseOx aims to measure your blood oxygen saturation levels. It has two basic purposes in a Garmin wearable, one is around sleep (as potentially an indicator of sleep related issues), and two in high altitude environments as an indicator that something is about to go horribly wrong. Two totally different use cases (note: medical folks and such also monitor blood oxygen levels too for other reasons). For the first one – sleep – you can track your PulseOx readings each night. It’s the red light that’ll light up on the back of the watch.
This is then plotted as part of the greater PulseOx readings widget (below), and on GCM:
Whereas the second one, focused more on the high altitude aspect of things over the course of 7 days, then you can plot PulseOx readings against altitude. You’ll see this in both the widget and online:
Keep in mind that getting a good PulseOx reading requires you be very still. So it won’t typically trigger during a workout. Thus if at high altitudes you’ll need to pause for probably 15-30 seconds to get a clean reading (and doing so manually is your best bet).
Last but not least on our pile of basics is smartphone notifications. The device will display any smartphone notifications from any apps on your device, it’s not limited to just texts or calendars or such. You can configure whether or not to display these, as well as whether or not to display them in a workout. When a notification comes in, you can either cancel/clear it immediately, or you can open it up to get more information:
In the case of iOS users, there’s no further action you can take upon these. For example, you can’t respond to them and text back – that’s a limitation of iOS that Apple only reserves for the Apple Watch. The notifications on the Garmin device support about 120 emoji’s as well these days, which seems to cover most of the things I see come across. Note that images do not render on the screen from a text that may have pictures in it.
Ok, with that we’ve covered all the basics of the watch. Onto using it in sports!
The Fenix 6 series follows in the footsteps of the Forerunner 945 & MARQ series watches from a sports standpoint. That means you’re gaining all the new physio-specific features largely based on FirstBeat work. This includes bits like altitude & temperature acclimation, but also the new training load focus and recovery bits. We’ll dive into more of that later. First, we’ll cover some quick basics for those of you new to Garmin, and then I’ll show you how the new PacePro works on a real course, plus all the training load and recovery fun.
To start a workout though you’re going to simply tap the upper right button. This will give you a list of sports that you can customize and set favorites.
Basically every sport you’d want to measure is in there, including all of the following:
Trail Run, Run, Hike, Bike, Bike Indoor, Open Water Swim, Triathlon, Golf, Navigate, Track Me, Map, Multisport, Treadmill, Indoor Track, Climb, MTB, Pool Swim, Ski, Snowboard, XC Ski, SUP, Row, Row Indoor, TruSwing (Golf related), Project Waypoint, Walk, SwimRun, Kayak, Strength, Cardio, Yoga, Floor Climb, Elliptical, Stair Stepper, Clocks, Boat, Tactical, Jumpmaster, Other [Custom]
Once you’ve selected a sport it’ll show you the status of GPS & heart rate acquisition, as well as any connectivity to sensors. Technically speaking, while you were pondering which sport to choose, it had already started on all those bits. What you’ll notice at the top though is the battery level. By default this will show you how many hours you’ve got left in that mode:
Alternatively you can enable battery percentage as well, which will show that too. And this would be a great time to talk about battery modes and such, but I’ve set aside an entire section for that down below. It’s super cool stuff that builds upon (read: “borrows”) what Suunto did with their Suunto 9 and battery profiles, but really kicks it up a notch. But we don’t have time for that now. Let’s get to the sport first.
Once you’ve found GPS and heart rate it’s a good time to start the workout. It’s here that you’ll see your data pages as you’ve configured them. Like past Garmin watches, you still (for now) have to configure these on the watch itself and not via a smartphone app. I think Garmin gets the desire for folks to configure them on a phone or web app, but they aren’t there yet.
On the bright side, you’ve now got up to 8 data fields per page for the Fenix 6X, and up to 6 fields per page for the Fenix 6S/6 units. Here’s how that looks:
There’s also multiple new layouts, as well as layouts for 5 and 7 data fields too. So you’ve now got more data than you probably know what to do with. As with before you can use stock data pages or create numerous custom data pages. If you run out of data pages somehow, you’ve got a data consumption problem. You should see a specialist.
In any case, once out running/riding/swimming/etc, you’ll see data fields as normal:
This is a good time to mention that the Fenix 6 now supports optical heart rate while swimming. While Garmin has been beta trialing it on the Forerunner 945 this summer, it’s mostly ready for primetime now. They did note that like other companies, people may see variable results with optical HR in the water. But it’s an option for you to use that, or the HRM-TRI/HRM-SWIM straps if you want to record HR. However, only the optical HR option will show your heart rate in real-time. We’ll briefly discuss optical HR accuracy in the heart rate accuracy section below.
Beyond heart rate sensors the unit supports all the same sensor types as the Fenix 5 Plus series did, including both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart standardized sensor types. They are as follows:
Headphones (Bluetooth), External Heart Rate (ANT+/Bluetooth Smart), Speed/Cadence (ANT+/Bluetooth Smart), Cycling Power Meters (ANT+/Bluetooth Smart), Footpods (ANT+/Bluetooth Smart), VIRB Action Camera (ANT+), Tempe temperature sensor (ANT+), Shimano Di2 (private-ANT), Cycling Gear Shifting (ANT+), Cycling Lights (ANT+), Cycling Radar (ANT+), Extended Display (ANT+), RD Pod (ANT+), Muscle O2 (ANT+), Garmin inReach (ANT+).
Once you’ve wrapped up and saved an activity you’ll get the new style end screen that mirrors the MARQ/FR945. This includes a course map profile, along with key stats. As you press the top right button you’ll iterate through some of the overriding training load metrics.
Whereas you can scroll down into the weeds for things like lap splits and other summary metrics:
All of this is of course synced to Garmin Connect via WiFi (on the Pro models) or via Garmin Connect Mobile (via Bluetooth Smart on your phone). Or, you can use USB and Garmin Express. Or, you can just go off the grid and ignore all that stuff. If you’ve set up synchronization to 3rd parties like Strava or TrainingPeaks, it’ll instantly send there as well. Here’s how it looks on Garmin Connect Mobile (aka GCM):
And here’s an activity on Garmin Connect online (you can click it to see more details on the actual Garmin Connect activity page):
But let’s circle back to the training load stats. Each workout is given a specific Training Effect label and details. These are split between Aerobic and Anaerobic benefit, and are associated with a given load value. It also specifies what target area that it’s benefiting:
That data gets fed into the revamped Training Status functionality/widget, which shows the direction your fitness level and load levels are trending.
Below that, you’ll notice the little mountain and sun icons along the bottom. We’ll get to that shortly. First though, hit down twice (once past VO2Max) and you’ll see the 7-day load listed. This is color-coded by the type of load that you’ve gathered, as well as the total load values:
Tap down again and you’ve got your 4-week Load Focus. This basically consolidates all the training you’ve been doing into three specific buckets: Anaerobic, Aerobic High, and Aerobic Low, and then gives you specific target zones to be within (little pill boxes):
As you can see, I’ve blown out my ‘Aerobic High’ target. If I’m short in a given area, then it’ll tell me what to do. Or, in my case, since I’m somehow not short in any areas, it’ll tell me what my training has been doing lately in terms of benefit:
If I go down again, I’ll get Recovery Time until my next hard workout:
After that, we’ve got altitude/heat acclimation. The goal behind both altitude and heat acclimation metrics is to figure out whether or not you’re acclimated to a given temperature or altitude. Obviously, both can significantly impact performance. Starting with heat acclimation, the function leverages nearby weather stations. So your unit has to have connected to Garmin Connect Mobile within 3 hours of starting your ride in order to receive that weather data (it doesn’t use on-device temperature).
If we scroll back to the main Training Status page you’ll remember the small icons on the bottom of the training status page if you’re in the midst of acclimating to anything. In the case of below last week, I managed to score both heat and altitude acclimation icons. I unlocked the altitude badges in the Alps and on transatlantic flights overnight, and then on the heat I got that in both Amsterdam and NYC.
Altitude acclimation/adaption starts with a minimum threshold at altitudes above 850m/2,788ft, and tops out at 4,000m/13,123ft (Garmin doesn’t calculate above that level, sorry folks). Garmin says that they divide up training vs living altitudes, just as typical studies would. The company says that adaptation algorithms within the Fenix 6/MARQ/Forerunner 945/Edge 530/830 assume total adaptation after 21 days, and that adaptation is faster at the beginning of altitude exposure. Additionally, adaptation will decay within 21-28 days depending on acclimation level.
Fun geekery moment for you: On the Fenix 6 Series/Forerunner 945/MARQ, the altitude acclimation is based both on workouts, but also on where you sleep each night. At midnight the unit will quietly take an altitude reading (actually, it’s doing it all the time anyway), and then use that reading to determine acclimation. Where this gets fun is when you take redeye flights (as I did last night from the US to Europe), as it’ll take that reading at between 6,000-8,000ft (pressurized cabin altitude of a commercial airliner). At first you may think this would skew results, but in reality – it’s actually correct. Your body is acclimating to that altitude. Where it’s slightly off is that it assumes you’re spending 24 hours at that altitude, rather than the 5-14 hours you’re likely spending at that elevation.
Meanwhile, the next screen is heat acclimation.
For heat acclimation it applies a heat correction factor for rides above 71°F/22°C, using a percentage based amount from published studies (humidity is also factored into this as well). This is then shown in the training status widget. Garmin says they assume full acclimation takes a minimum of 4 days, and acclimation/adaptation to a given high temperature will automatically decay after 3 days of skipped training within that heat level.
Finally, virtually all of this can be found within the Garmin Connect Mobile and Garmin Connect apps. You can dive into bits like Training Status and Training Effect, where the colors match back up to what you see on the watch:
Same goes for Training Load too:
One of the common complaints that I see about Garmin Connect/Garmin Connect Mobile is that it’s not ‘deep enough’. Honestly, I don’t think that’s valid anymore. Nobody offers as much detail into your metrics as Garmin. Polar and Suunto don’t even come close anymore. However, what Polar tends to do better than Garmin is make these metrics more clear on the main dashboards. Whereas within Garmin you legit need to spend some time figuring out where everything is within Garmin Connect Mobile to make sense of it all. Suunto, of course, is shutting down Movescount next year in favor of their more basic ‘Suunto’ platform, so they need not apply anymore here when it comes to advanced metrics via app/web.
In any case, while I promised PacePro in this section, I’ve decided it deserved its own section. Partially because this section is already too big. And partially because I want to be able to link to the PacePro bits later on more quickly/easily.
PacePro for Running:
No, PacePro is not grade adjusted pace – despite how many times people keep writing it. In fact, it’s both much simpler, and much more powerful than that. It takes the concept of pace bands that any marathoner is undoubtedly familiar with and makes it all electronic. But even more than that, it automatically calculates each split (miles or kilometers) based on the elevation profile of the course you’re doing. In turn, you then get individual split targets for each mile raced.
But wait, we’re not done yet. Atop all that, you’ve got two specific levers to tweak: Intensity of hills (how hard you run them), and then whether you positive or negative split the race/course – and to what extent. Don’t worry, I’ll demo all this.
So to start, this feature is available on both the Pro and non-Pro Fenix 6 models. However, if using it on the non-Pro models, you’ll need to have the course already created (so it has access to the elevation data). Whereas on the Pro models you can actually create a course on the fly on a watch, and then execute a PacePro strategy upon it from the watch. I suspect though that 99.99% of you, no matter which version you have, will be creating courses online and sending them to your device.
Note that when doing it from the watch (versus Garmin Connect Mobile), you can’t adjust the various sliders that you see down below. As such, I’d really just recommend doing it from the app and sending it to your watch to execute.
First, you start off in the area to choose/create a course, and you’ll see the ability to choose PacePro. From there you’re given the option to load a course or not:
Technically speaking you don’t even need to load a course. You can simply use an assumed flat course profile and then do positive/negative splits based on a given time goal or pace goal. Which gets us to the next bit – choosing that goal. You can tweak this later easily if you want, but you need to choose either a time or pace goal. In my case I set up a loop around NYC’s Central Park and went with a sub-7/mile pace goal. Knowing I’d be coming off a transatlantic flight and running this 90 minutes later, I kept things civilized:
Next, you’ll be brought to this screen that shows the course profile with color coding on it. You can expand this and zoom in however you’d like:
But the real magic happens down below. That’s where you can dork with two levers. The first one adjusts whether you want to positive or negative split the course (meaning, get faster over the course, or fade over the course). And the second one adjusts how hard you run the hills. As you adjust those sliders, you’ll see that both the split targets down below change, as well as the split targets over the elevation up above:
It’s frankly kinda fun to play with this. You can do it all day long. Once you’re done, you’ll send this to your watch and it’ll sync via Bluetooth Smart.
Also of note – is that you can create the ‘splits’ based not just on per-mile or per-kilometer, but per elevation changes. So you can divide them up between downhill sections vs uphill sections vs flats, etc… Which frankly, makes a lot of sense.
Next, back on your watch you’ll go to the running activity and load the PacePro strategy up. These actually are files similar to course/workout files that you’ll find on your watch (for those geeks in the house). On the watch it’ll show you some of the stats for that PacePro session:
And then, off you go (once you press start). The watch will then show your target pace (7:00) on the top line, followed by your current pace for that split on the second line (6:35). You can see here I’m overachieving (hey, I’m still getting used to trusting a watch on pacing like this):
Then down below you’ve got distance remaining (0.75) in that lap (either 1 kilometer or 1 mile depending on how you’ve set it up), and then below that you’ve got whether or not you’re ahead or behind for the entire race, and by how much (-0:07).
What’s notable here is is that it locks to your GPS location on the predefined course (think of it like a train track, or roller coaster ride), rather than your watch distance the GPS has measured. This has its pros and cons.
On the plus side, this means that if your GPS accuracy goes to crap (such as with a tunnel, or just life in general), then it doesn’t impact PacePro. That’s really really cool, and is considerably different than something like Virtual Partner or any other pacing functionality. On the downside though, if there’s a difference between the route/course you created in Garmin Connect (or wherever) and the course that you’re running – then you’re up crap-creek. That could happen if either there’s a change on race day due to some road scenario, or if the route you created on GC has unnoticed anomalies in it.
In fact, that’s exactly what happened to me with my NYC Central Park course. I thought I had created a loop around the main road, but upon closer inspection at numerous points along the route the Garmin Connect course creator took short detours. Often only 50-150 meters each, but there was a pile of them, usually just briefly to nearby sidewalks and back. But they added up – and they’re virtually impossible to see unless you zoom way in.
In talking with Garmin, they’re digging into why (on what is arguably the world’s most popular running loop), it repeatedly forces you off the loop onto random detours. In doing some course creation elsewhere this doesn’t appear to be an issue. I suspect the extreme density of heat map (popularity) data Garmin has for Central Park is ironically its downfall here. So just a word of caution – triple-check your course routes/maps.
In any event, that issue aside, the entire functionality of it worked awesomely on the watch itself. It was surprisingly motivating to just focus on a single lap, but more importantly – getting different splits each time. It took my mind off of the larger prize, and had my brain focus on one thing at a time. Well done.
Garmin says they’re bringing this to other devices in the future, but hasn’t specified which existing devices will get it (likely the Forerunner 945, MARQ, and perhaps Forerunner 245).
Maps, Navigation, and ClimbPro:
Garmin’s added some new functionality in the mapping and navigation arena. I’m going to tackle it two ways. First, I’m going to straight-up talk about map themes and popularity data (heatmaps). And then I’m going to show you how the remaining functionality works on a test hike.
Within the Fenix 6 series Garmin has introduced the concept of ‘Map Themes’, which allow you to change the styling of the map in real-time. For example you can go from the default styling to a night styling. Or to a high contrast styling. Or even a marine-focused one. To do so, you’ll go into the sport mode settings (for whichever sport you want) and then under map, go to ‘Map Themes’. To say this feature is buried would be the understatement of the review.
Once in there you can simply toggle between the different maps. This is also where you’ll find the new ski resort map functionality as well as popularity routing overlays.
Here’s an example of high contrast:
The popularity routing is also new here. Previously on the Fenix 5 Plus series Garmin baked in their ‘Trendline Popularity’ data, which is basically the culmination of millions of activities on Garmin Connect. Essentially heatmap data. But you couldn’t actually see the ‘heat’, it was just data under the covers that the unit would route you on. Now however, you can see the purple heat.
It’s organized by sport type. So running vs cycling, etc… But it’s also not quite that simple either. See, it’s also displayed on the nuance of hiking versus running. I see that as a bit of a challenge, and it was super obvious in the area around Chamonix. When I used the ‘hiking’ data sets, almost nothing was visible. Whereas when I used running, there was tons of data. This is likely because most Garmin users would just default to using run no matter what for such activities. The other challenge is that the zoom levels make the feature semi-useless. I can’t zoom more than 0.5mi out (on scale). So basically I can see where people are running down to the end of the street, but not beyond that. I can’t really get the full picture.
Again, these are things Garmin should be able to solve. I’m happy to wait while it loads the tiles for that larger map area. It’s certainly better than trying to zoom around like a drunk idiot.
In any event you can also overlay the ski resorts mode too – which shows you ski lifts and ski runs from some 2,000 resorts around the world, including the ones I was at. Admittedly, it’s a bit hard to see in this photo.
With all that set, let’s go to loading up a course and get hiking. In my case, I just created my course on Garmin Connect. That allowed me to validate against the popularity data more easily. You can do the same these days on Garmin Connect Mobile (smartphone app) as well, though it continues to be a bit clumsy (but is faster than before).
When you load a course you’ll get all the details for it, including most notably ClimbPro.
ClimbPro isn’t new here, that came last year. But what is new is that it’ll start showing you coloring just like the Edge 530/830/1030 do, with the steeper gradient colored more painfully than the lesser gradients. Like this:
Oh, you wanted a picture on the Fenix 6 series? Unfortunately, the feature isn’t done yet, and is expected for release sometime here soonish. Until then, you’ll get the single-tone coloring. Which is still super helpful:
As you start your course you’ll see the map view, and then get little chirps each time you’re coming up on a turn in the trail. It’ll show you exactly what you’re supposed to do and the distance to do it. Even on the steep 20% switchbacks in the Alps it was astoundingly accurate.
The only time I got screwed up was when there was a four-way intersection the middle of nowhere and the posted signs were temporary, and pointed kinda-sorta the wrong way. So I basically ended up trying all paths until the Fenix 6 stopped telling me I had gone the wrong way:
But largely, I lived in ClimbPro. With thousands of feet of elevation gain for each climb, I used that as my metric for how quickly I was ascending and how close I was to the top. It continues to be my favorite feature when hiking.
The remainder of the navigation and related features haven’t changed much with the Fenix 6 (from the Fenix 5). And honestly, within that most of those haven’t changed in a few years either. Keep in mind that features that depend on mapping will depend on having the Pro variant. However, not always.
For example, you can use ClimbPro just fine on the base models. But you need to have the course created first on Garmin Connect so it sends the elevation data to the Fenix 6 base. On the flip-side, it won’t re-route you on trails when you get off-course, because it doesn’t have the trails like the Pro models have. Similarly, you won’t get any of the map themes, because there are no maps.
And finally, like numerous other Garmin devices, it’s still super clunky to buy and install maps on the Fenix 6 series and requires a computer. Though, the pricing is better these days (down to $20/map in some cases). Or, you can just use my guide to download free maps here. However, I’d really like to see Garmin make this totally idiot-proof and just allow you to either buy or download maps from within the Garmin Connect Mobile app, and leverage WiFi to install them. Remember that maps only are included for your region of purchase. So for USA folks that’s North America, for Europe folks that’s all of Europe, and for Australia folks that’s all of AUZ/NZ. Beyond that, you’ll need to triple-check the exact region coverage.
How Solar Works, and Power Modes:
I’ve separated out this entire section from the rest of the review – mainly because it’s such a new and interesting concept that for this review I think it makes sense for it to have a dedicated chunk. The solar feature is only available on the Fenix 6X Solar, and not on any other units. This falls in line with Garmin piloting new technologies on the Fenix ‘X’ series each year. The first year (Fenix 5X) it added maps when the rest of the series didn’t have it. Last year (Fenix 5X Plus) it added PulseOX, a first on Garmin devices. And this year, it’s solar.
However, the new Power Modes and Power Management features are available on all units, yes, all Fenix 6 units.
We’ll start on the Fenix 6X Solar though. So let’s dive into it a bit. On the Fenix 6X Solar you’ll notice a very thin 1mm wide strip just on the inside of the bezel. This is the first of two solar pieces.
This thin strip has 100% photovoltaic levels, meaning, it’s receiving 100% of the sun’s goodness and turning that into solar power. It’s also clearly visible in bright light, though you’d just assume it was a bezel design element. Inside without bright light, this strip almost disappears and blends into the bezel.
However, there’s a second solar panel you can’t see – despite being the entire display face. Under the display is another solar panel that has a 10% photovoltaic level. This panel is of course far larger than that of the thin bezel strip, but is also getting 10% of the sun’s rays, due to the display blocking much of it. Importantly though, both panels are fully under a single sheet of Gorilla Glass (specifically Corning Gorilla Glass 3 with DX Coating). Meaning, you won’t accidentally scratch the bezel solar panel anymore than you’d normally scratch your watch face.
Speaking of that watch face, you’ll notice that there’s a little sun atop the default watch face. That sun is actually showing you the current intensity level. Around the edge of the little sun are 10 pieces, each indicating 10% of full intensity. So if you look at the below picture you’ll see the sun is coming in at 0% intensity as I’m in the shade:
Next, another phone out in some broken clouds conditions and you can see it’s at about 70%
And here’s another at 100% intensity, with all lines lit up as well as the sun itself:
The goal of the solar here isn’t to fully power the watch, under GPS or otherwise. Instead, it’s to provide incremental battery life. Garmin notes this in their super-detailed battery life chart. Note specifically the assumption of 3 hours per day of solar light at a pretty high intensity (full sun basically). That goes both ways though. If you’re mid-summer and spending the day at the beach (or workout side), then you’ll way overachieve here. Versus if it’s mid-winter and you’re indoors…then not so much.
Here’s the basic main takeaways though:
A) If you’re spending 3+ hours outdoors you might be able to pull off something close to battery neutral in a pared down configuration (not much notifications/etc…).
B) While outdoors on longer hikes, solar will definitely extend your battery life, potentially a lot
In fact, I did a bit of battery comparisons between the Fenix 6X Solar and the Fenix 6 side by side on my longer hikes, plotting the battery life. For the most part these watches were configured equal. However, what’s notable is cases where I’m below the tree-line in the trees, you can see battery burn is about equal, but once I clear the tree-line (around 1hr 30 marker), and am back into the sun, battery life burn on the 6X Solar slows. Pretty cool.
By the way, those battery charts are with the DCR Analyzer. We plot battery life for devices that support writing it to the files, including Garmin, Wahoo, and soon Stages. Also note that in the case of the above, I was shooting photos and using maps extensively (though equally) on both devices. Your actual burn rates will likely be better.
Sure, this is only on the Fenix 6X Solar, but make no mistake – this is Garmin’s testbed. And like previous years, I don’t expect it to take long for the feature (hardware addition) to migrate to other units. After all, Garmin announced today the acquisition of technologies from French company SunPartner Technologies. Garmin actually quietly made that acquisition a long while ago, back when the company filed for insolvency, and you can see hints at this in some French news stories (and even see the judgements within the French Société system). Garmin has said that they expect this technology to expand to other devices where it makes sense (meaning, probably not a $75 Vivofit band).
Ok, let’s shift to the next bit of power and battery features, which is the new power modes. These are similar to what Suunto introduced within the Suunto 9 last year, and have pre-defined battery setups that show you how many hours you’ll get in that given configuration:
These can be changed at the outset of an activity, as well as mid-activity.
What’s really cool though is going into Power Manager and creating your own configurations. This allows you to tweak the battery burn profile based on which features you want enabled or disabled. And it’ll actually tell you exactly how many hours it’ll save (or cost you) to make that setting change:
Next, there’s the new low power battery mode, called Battery Saver. This follows in the footsteps of Casio, whereby they basically shut down almost all watch functions in exchange for the watch face remaining with the time – getting you months of battery life. The same is true here:
Once you enable the low power battery mode virtually everything is disabled: Optical heart rate, Bluetooth phone connectivity, external ANT+ sensors, and even the display itself goes into a low-power mode where it uses a custom watch face that doesn’t show seconds. When you ask yourself whether something is disabled in this mode – the answer is ‘yes’. Though, it only takes a single button press and you’re ready to start a run with GPS as normal (or, with your own custom battery mode):
Finally, while not directly a power management feature, Garmin has ported over the ‘Expedition’ sport mode from the MARQ Expedition series. This functionality allows you to get upwards of 56 days of GPS track points on a single battery charge with the 6X Solar. In this mode it’ll go into a lower power state, but then every hour will wake itself up and take a GPS fix before going back into the low-power state.
It’s an interesting concept, but I do wonder how often (if ever) someone would actually use that in 2019. I’d think most people have access to battery packs and such that it’s unlikely that you’d really need 56 days of GPS tracks without some means to charge the unit. In any case – Garmin is clearly investing in longer life options for users within the Fenix 6 series. It’s not just one feature, but a whole pile of prongs in the fire on ways you can get crazy long battery life if you need it.
There’s likely no topic that stirs as much discussion and passion as GPS accuracy. A watch could fall apart and give you dire electrical shocks while doing so, but if it shows you on the wrong side of the road? Oh hell no, bring on the fury of the internet!
GPS accuracy can be looked at in a number of different ways, but I prefer to look at it using a number of devices in real-world scenarios across a vast number of activities. I use 2-6 other devices at once, trying to get a clear picture of how a given set of devices handles conditions on a certain day. Conditions include everything from tree/building cover to weather.
Over the years I’ve continued to tweak my GPS testing methodology. For example, I try to not place two units next to each other on my wrists, as that can impact signal. If I do so, I’ll put a thin fabric spacer of about 1”/3cm between them (I didn’t do that on any of my Fenix 6 series workouts). But often I’ll simply carry other units by the straps, or attach them to the shoulder straps of my hydration backpack (which I did do here in the Alps). Plus, wearing multiple watches on the same wrist is well known to impact optical HR accuracy.
Next, as noted, I use just my daily training routes. Using a single route over and over again isn’t really indicative of real-world conditions, it’s just indicative of one trail. The workouts you see here are just my normal daily workouts. I’ve had quite a bit of variety of terrain within the time period of Fenix 6 testing. This has included runs, hikes, swims, and rides in: Amsterdam (Netherlands), New York City (USA), and around Chamonix in the French Alps (France/Switzerland border). I’ve probably forgotten some other trips too, it’s been kinda crazy lately.
First up we’ll start with a run around NYC’s Central Park, this is the full loop, and one I was using PacePro for. It is compared to the Suunto 9 and the Garmin Forerunner 935. Here’s the full data set:
Obviously, at a high level things look clean – no drunk uncle moments. So let’s dig a wee bit deeper, starting at the beginning. I know it’s a bit tougher to see the lines in satellite mode, but it’s worth it.
I’m on the inside edge of the roadway, on the usual Central Park runners lane. In this case, the Fenix 6X nails it. Note that all units had about 5-7 minutes to acquire GPS as I walked from the hotel to the starting line, including the Suunto 9. Though, the Suunto 9 was quickly off over in the woods. All units were configured the same in terms of GPS recording rates.
Now a bit around the next corner the Fenix 6X Pro Solar was feeling slightly left out of the tree adventures, so it too went tree-surfing. Slightly less than the Suunto 9 did, but still off-path. Perhaps 3-4 meters offset.
In fact, it’s a tit for tat pattern we’d see repeat itself throughout the run. The Suunto 9 or Fenix 6X Solar would undercut or overreach around a turn, and then the next turn the other would do it. Neither would do so drastically, but just enough that you’d notice.
And the above back and forth bits prove why I don’t typically use final distances, you can undercut and then overshoot easily – and still end up with similar distances. If we assume the FR935 was the best track (and it was), you can see that it was only .06KM different on 10KM than the Fenix 6X Solar. The Suunto 9 had overshot considerably, at 10.22KM.
In the event you want to dig into another NYC run, I’ve got this one here on the DCR Analyzer. The Fenix 6 did struggle a bit to stay on the path, but did better than the FR935 once I got into the main building portion of the city.
Next, let’s shift gears up to the French Alps for some high altitude GPS tracking. I did three days of these, and by and large the tracks were fantastic across the Fenix 6 devices. On all days I was wearing both a Fenix 6 Pro and a Fenix 6X Pro (one per wrist). First, let’s look at a track up to a glacier, starting with steep switchback in pretty heavy forest/woods. Here’s that data set:
At a high level, things look pretty good. No massive errant issues. But let’s zoom deep into the woods and switchbacks:
At the beginning here, none of the units are exactly perfect. Though interestingly, when I look at the trail map as I’m going up, they’re very very close on the device itself.
Once I get beyond the first few minutes, things settle out a bit and they track fairly close to each other:
This next set of switchbacks is largely pretty good as well. Differences between the devices of course – but nothing outlandish.
And again higher up. Slight differences – but we’re really only talking a couple of meters between the tracks.
This continues like this for the rest of the track.
Seriously, look at how good/close these tracks are – from all the watches for that matter.
I’ll add in within a few minutes a few more tracks from the Alps for you to poke out – though as a spoiler – they’re all the same – astoundingly good (better than NYC).
Next, let’s go to Amsterdam for some cycling. For this ride, I was out on country and farm roads, with some initial city bits, and then mostly farmland. GPS-wise it’s not a hard route per se, but I do see units occasionally screw it up. I’m comparing it against the Edge 530 and Polar Vantage V. Here’s that data set:
As I go through some initial city sections, the tracks are locked on very tight – no issues here:
And again the same as I’m out passing a small village:
Seriously, it’s boringly perfect:
Hopping back over across the pond for another cycling jaunt, this one will be quick and easy. It’s not a ‘real ride’ per se, but rather just a NYC bike share bike. But I wanted to show it because it’s astounding. This was a simple commute across the heart of NYC, and the GPS track is astoundingly good. Things wobbled for the first block or two, but then it’s locked onto the road. There’s no need for comparison shots here, we can just look at the map and see it’s locked perfect on the road I’m on. I’m impressed:
Finally, we’ll round things out on an openwater swim from yesterday. Now mind you, I’ve been hyper-critical of Garmin’s openwater swim functionality in 2019 (and even back to 2018). It’s just sucked. Almost all of the newer devices would fail at some point in the swim, ceasing to track – sometimes even after just a few dozen yards. Garmin started digging into the issue back in June, formed a bunch of special committees on it, and has thrown countless employees into the water over the summer to try and fix it, alongside their GPS chipset providers Sony and MediaTek. Progress has been made though, both in public betas and private ones.
While Garmin isn’t saying it’s perfect, they did note in a call a week or so ago that on the last beta firmware they were testing they’ve successfully completed over 100 openwater swims without a single drop (mind you, I could barely go 1-2 swims without a failure back earlier this summer).
Still, with that in mind and all my travel – I’ve only gotten in a single openwater swim. Statically speaking that’s not as much as I’d like for this feature. So perhaps I just got lucky. In any case, my swim from yesterday:
The reference track is near-identical. In fact, actually two reference tracks just for the eff of it. If this is the quality of GPS tracks going forward with the latest GPS firmware for openwater swim, I’m pretty damn happy. Of course, this was also a relatively straightforward giant box of a route. But still, gotta start somewhere.
In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a GPS openwater swim track as good at this before from *any* watch, ever. It’s seriously impressive.
There’s an itty tiny bit at the first turn where it cuts by perhaps a couple meters – but that’s it. Note that I did not stop at any point during this swim, I kept moving the entire time.
But again, pretty solid stuff here for swimming. Hopefully my future swims continue that way.
So overall in terms of GPS accuracy, it’s mostly good. I found it excellent up in the high alpine and mountains of the French Alps – frankly, doing incredibly well in some really tough conditions, especially up against sharp cliffs or in the denser woods down lower.
On the flip side, I did see some struggles in NYC’s Central Park – where the older Forerunner 935 has no meaningful issues. Certainly Garmin has made great strides with the Sony chipset they’ve used on all new 2019 devices, but it’s not quite perfect yet. But I think for the vast majority of people it’ll be acceptable (or better).
(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy portions were created using the DCR Analyzer tool. It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)
Heart Rate Accuracy:
Before we move on to the test results, note that optical HR sensor accuracy is rather varied from individual to individual. Aspects such as skin color, hair density, and position can impact accuracy. Position and how the band is worn, are *the most important* pieces. A unit with an optical HR sensor should be snug. It doesn’t need to leave marks, but you shouldn’t be able to slide a finger under the band (at least during workouts). You can wear it a tiny bit looser the rest of the day.
Ok, so in my testing, I simply use the watch throughout my usual workouts. Those workouts include a wide variety of intensities and conditions, making them great for accuracy testing. I’ve got steady runs, interval workouts on both bike and running, as well as tempo runs and rides, and so on.
For each test, I’m wearing additional devices, usually 3-4 in total, which capture data from other sensors. Typically I’d wear a chest strap (usually the Garmin HRM-DUAL or Wahoo TICKR X), as well as another optical HR sensor watch on the other wrist (primarily the Polar OH1+ these days, but also occasionally Wahoo TICKR FIT or Scosche 24 too). Note that the numbers you see in the upper right corner are *not* the averages, but rather just the exact point my mouse is sitting over. Note all this data is analyzed using the DCR Analyzer, details here.
First, let’s start and see how it handles steady-state running. This was a run from two days ago – pretty easy and straightforward around Central Park before rushing to the airport to catch a flight. It’s compared against a Garmin HRM-DUAL and Fitbit Versa 2 optical HR sensor. Here’s that set.
Well, that was boring. Everyone basically agreed. A few minor bobbles at what point around the 32-minute marker for a second here or there with the Fenix 6X Solar being a couple beats higher, but it was pretty transient. Again, kinda a boring set. But hey, sometimes boring is good!
Next, we’ve got a much more intense run, albeit also around Central Park. This was using PacePro as my base, so it was more or less full throttle the entire time. Here’s that set.
You can see right out of the gate the Fenix 6X Solar is having a couple of issues with locking onto the HR. It’s plausible that me taking some early photos didn’t help, though I think that might be generous at best.
However, by the 3-minute marker the units are mostly aligned – and stay that way for the remainder of the run. That said, things are a bit wobbly on this run from all units – perhaps due to the intensity, or perhaps because post-flight I felt like I was dying trying to hit the PacePro targets. Either way, even the OH1 Plus seems a bit more wobbly than I’m used to (though, it’s clearly the best of the bunch):
The above is one of those graphs that looks bad from afar, but we’re only talking about a 1-3bpm difference between the different units. It’s just the zoomed in factor that doesn’t help much.
Next, let’s shift to some cycling and heading outside for a ride, this one on mostly good pavement on a fairly warm night. In general the warmer the weather the better optical HR sensors will do. Here’s that set:
Now I’ve crossed out two chunks in yellow. Those are bits where I was stopped on the side of the road not riding, filming something – thus, who knows what funk I was doing then (setting up tripods and such).
However, the rest of the ride is actually surprisingly good by all players. Honestly, one of the better HR performances I’ve seen recently. For example, this first section:
I see a little bit of lag difference between the Garmin sensors and the Polar sensors here. But it’s not possible to know whether that’s real lag or just bad timing on one GPS time clock or the other. However if you look closely you can see that there are cases where the Garmin Fenix 6X Solar and the HRM-DUAL track very closely during some momentary recovery bits, whereas the Polar sensors somewhat unexpectedly miss them.
Again, outdoor cycling continues to be one of the hardest things for wrist-based optical HR sensors to get right. And in this case, things aren’t horrific. Yet, there are still some bobbles, like later towards the end of the ride when the Fenix 6X Solar does some odd spikes:
Finally, what about swimming HR with the optical HR sensor? Well, I took out the unit yesterday for an openwater swim and a Polar OH-1 sensor. Here’s that overlay:
OK then. So…
Yeah, I’m not really sure who’s correct there. But I can say that they don’t match. Historically speaking I’ve had pretty good luck with the Polar OH1/OH1Plus, so if I had to take a stab here, my guess would be it was correct. Or, it could be wrong.
However, they do roughly trend higher, so there’s that. Ultimately, I’ve never found heart rate while swimming super helpful, in part because of how much it lags compared to running or cycling. Still, at least it’s an option I guess.
For swimming, I’d agree with Garmin/Suunto/Polar that when it comes to optical HR sensor, that it’s going to be a ‘YMMV’ (Your Mileage May Vary) type of situation. All three companies have said as such in my discussions with them, and it can depend on numerous factors from positioning to the exact swim stroke you’re using. So definitely do a bit of your own testing to see how well things hold up in the water over multiple sessions (both pool and openwater) before you decide if it works for you.
Ultimately, the performance I see on both the Fenix 6X Solar and 6 is pretty much the same as what I saw on the MARQ series before it – mostly OK in many scenarios, but still some gaps in certain scenarios. It’s not usually as easy as saying that it’ll fail in intervals or high intensity, as I’ve had plenty of cases where it works just fine there. Sometimes it’s just a case of some unknown quirk that gets things distracted.
Product Comparison Tool:
I’ve added the Garmin Fenix 6 Series into the product comparison tool. While I could have added separate line items for each individual SKU/model, that’d get messy pretty quick. So I just noted where certain specs were different on a given metric. For the below chart I’ve compared it against the Fenix 5 Plus series, as well as the Polar Vantage V, and the Suunto 9. I could have tossed in the Forerunner 945, though frankly the only differences you’ll see between the Fenix 6 and the Forerunner 945 once all the firmware updates are done should be mainly materials (though, exact nuances may differ in some software features – that’s a bit TBD). Of course, you can make your own charts here in the product comparison calculator.
|Function/Feature||Garmin Fenix 6 Series||Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)||Garmin Forerunner 945||Polar Vantage V||Suunto 9 Baro|
|Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated October 25th, 2020 @ 6:09 am New Window|
|Price||$599-$1,149||$699/699EUR||$599/599EUR||$499||$599 (non-baro is $499)|
|Product Announcement Date||Aug 29th, 2019||June 17th, 2018||Apr 30th, 2019||Sept 13th, 2018||June 5th, 2018|
|Actual Availability/Shipping Date||Aug 29th, 2019||June 17th, 2018||Early May 2019||Late October 2018||June 26th, 2018|
|GPS Recording Functionality||Yes (with Galileo too)||Yes (with Galileo too)||Yes (with Galileo too)||Yes||Yes|
|Data Transfer||USB/Bluetooth Smart/WiFi on Pro only||USB/Bluetooth Smart/WiFi||USB/Bluetooth Smart/WiFi||USB, BLUETOOTH SMART||USB & Bluetooth Smart|
|Waterproofing||Yes - 100m||Yes - 100m||Yes - 50m||Yes - 30m||Yes - 100m|
|Battery Life (GPS)||25hrs to 148hrs (depends on model)||Up to 32hrs in GPS-on, up to 85hrs in UltraTrac GPS (varies by model)||36hrs GPS, 60hrs UltraTrac||Up to 40 hours||Up to 120 Hours|
|Recording Interval||1S or Smart||1S or Smart||1S or Smart||1s||Variable|
|Quick Satellite Reception||Great||Great||Great||Great||Great|
|Ability to download custom apps to unit/device||YEs||YEs||YEs||No||No|
|Acts as daily activity monitor (steps, etc...)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Music||Garmin Fenix 6 Series||Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)||Garmin Forerunner 945||Polar Vantage V||Suunto 9 Baro|
|Can control phone music||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Has music storage and playback||Yes (Pro Only)||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Streaming Services||iHeartRadio, Spotify, Deezer, Amazon (Pro Only)||Spotify, Amazon Music, Deezer, iHeartRadio||Spotify, Amazon Music, Deezer, iHeartRadio||No||No||Payments||Garmin Fenix 6 Series||Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)||Garmin Forerunner 945||Polar Vantage V||Suunto 9 Baro|
|Contactless-NFC Payments||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Connectivity||Garmin Fenix 6 Series||Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)||Garmin Forerunner 945||Polar Vantage V||Suunto 9 Baro|
|Bluetooth Smart to Phone Uploading||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Phone Notifications to unit (i.e. texts/calls/etc...)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Feb 2019||Yes|
|Live Tracking (streaming location to website)||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Emergency/SOS Message Notification (from watch to contacts)||Yes (via phone)||No||Yes (via phone)||No||No|
|Built-in cellular chip (no phone required)||No||No||No||No||No||Cycling||Garmin Fenix 6 Series||Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)||Garmin Forerunner 945||Polar Vantage V||Suunto 9 Baro|
|Designed for cycling||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Power Meter Capable||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Power Meter Configuration/Calibration Options||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Power Meter TSS/NP/IF||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Speed/Cadence Sensor Capable||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Strava segments live on device||Yes||Yes||Yes||TBD Future Update||No|
|Crash detection||Yes||No||Yes||No||No||Running||Garmin Fenix 6 Series||Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)||Garmin Forerunner 945||Polar Vantage V||Suunto 9 Baro|
|Designed for running||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Footpod Capable (For treadmills)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Running Dynamics (vertical oscillation, ground contact time, etc...)||WITH RD POD, HRM-TRI OR HRM-RUN (NOT VIA OPTICAL HR)||WITH RD POD, HRM-TRI OR HRM-RUN (NOT VIA OPTICAL HR)||WITH RD POD, HRM-TRI OR HRM-RUN (NOT VIA OPTICAL HR)||No||No|
|Running Power||With extra sensor||With extra sensor||With extra sensor||yes (built-in)||With extra sensor|
|Race Predictor||Yes, plus PacePro||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Track Recognition Mode||No||Swimming||Garmin Fenix 6 Series||Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)||Garmin Forerunner 945||Polar Vantage V||Suunto 9 Baro|
|Designed for swimming||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Openwater swimming mode||YEs||YEs||YEs||Yes||Yes|
|Lap/Indoor Distance Tracking||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Record HR underwater||Yes (with optical HR or HRM-TRI/HRM-SWIM)||WITH HRM-TRI/HRM-SWIM (Not with optical HR)||WITH HRM-TRI/HRM-SWIM (Not with optical HR)||Yes||Yes|
|Openwater Metrics (Stroke/etc.)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Indoor Metrics (Stroke/etc.)||YEs||YEs||YEs||Yes||Yes|
|Indoor Drill Mode||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Indoor auto-pause feature||No (it'll show rest time afterwards though)||No (it'll show rest time afterwards though)||No (it'll show rest time afterwards though)||Yes||No|
|Change pool size||YEs||YEs||YEs||Yes||Yes|
|Indoor Min/Max Pool Lengths||14M/15Y TO 150Y/M||14M/15Y TO 150Y/M||14M/15Y TO 150Y/M||20M/Y to 250 m/y||15m/y to 1,200m/y|
|Ability to customize data fields||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||yes|
|Can change yards to meters||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Captures per length data - indoors||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Indoor Alerts||Yes||Yes||Yes||N/A||No||Triathlon||Garmin Fenix 6 Series||Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)||Garmin Forerunner 945||Polar Vantage V||Suunto 9 Baro|
|Designed for triathlon||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Multisport mode||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Workouts||Garmin Fenix 6 Series||Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)||Garmin Forerunner 945||Polar Vantage V||Suunto 9 Baro|
|Create/Follow custom workouts||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|On-unit interval Feature||YEs||YEs||YEs||No||Yes|
|Training Calendar Functionality||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Functions||Garmin Fenix 6 Series||Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)||Garmin Forerunner 945||Polar Vantage V||Suunto 9 Baro|
|Virtual Partner Feature||YEs||YEs||YEs||No (but can give out of zone alerts)||No|
|Virtual Racer Feature||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Records PR's - Personal Records (diff than history)||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Day to day watch ability||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Tidal Tables (Tide Information)||No||No||No||No||No|
|Jumpmaster mode (Parachuting)||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Geocaching||Via GPS coordinates||Via GPS coordinates||Via GPS coordinates||No||No|
|Weather Display (live data)||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Navigate||Garmin Fenix 6 Series||Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)||Garmin Forerunner 945||Polar Vantage V||Suunto 9 Baro|
|Follow GPS Track (Courses/Waypoints)||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Routable/Visual Maps (like car GPS)||Yes (Pro Only)||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Back to start||Yes||Yes||Yes||Feb 2019||Yes|
|Impromptu Round Trip Route Creation||Yes (Pro Only)||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Download courses/routes from phone to unit||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Sensors||Garmin Fenix 6 Series||Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)||Garmin Forerunner 945||Polar Vantage V||Suunto 9 Baro|
|Optical Heart Rate Sensor internally||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|SpO2 (aka Pulse Oximetry)||Yes||Fenix 5X Plus only||Yes||No||No|
|Heart Rate Strap Compatible||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|ANT+ Heart Rate Strap Capable||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|ANT+ Speed/Cadence Capable||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|ANT+ Footpod Capable||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|ANT+ Power Meter Capable||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|ANT+ Weight Scale Capable||No||No||No||No||No|
|ANT+ Fitness Equipment (Gym)||No||No||No||No||No|
|ANT+ Lighting Control||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|ANT+ Bike Radar Integration||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|ANT+ Trainer Control (FE-C)||No||No||No||No||No|
|ANT+ Remote Control||No (can control VIRB though)||No (can control VIRB though)||No (can control VIRB though)||No||No|
|ANT+ eBike Compatibility||No||No||No||No||No|
|ANT+ Muscle Oxygen (i.e. Moxy/BSX)||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|ANT+ Gear Shifting (i.e. SRAM ETAP)||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Shimano Di2 Shifting||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Bluetooth Smart HR Strap Capable||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Bluetooth Smart Speed/Cadence Capable||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||YEs|
|Bluetooth Smart Footpod Capable||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Bluetooth Smart Power Meter Capable||YEs||YEs||YEs||Yes||Yes|
|Temp Recording (internal sensor)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Temp Recording (external sensor)||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Software||Garmin Fenix 6 Series||Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)||Garmin Forerunner 945||Polar Vantage V||Suunto 9 Baro|
|PC Application||Garmin Express||Garmin Express||Garmin Express||Polar Flowsync - Windows/Mac||PC/Mac|
|Web Application||Garmin Connect||Garmin Connect||Garmin Connect||Polar Flow||Suunto Movescount|
|Phone App||iOS/Android/Windows Phone||iOS/Android/Windows Phone||iOS/Android/Windows Phone||iOS/Android||iOS /Android|
|Ability to Export Settings||No||No||No||No||No||Purchase||Garmin Fenix 6 Series||Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)||Garmin Forerunner 945||Polar Vantage V||Suunto 9 Baro|
|Clever Training - Save with the VIP program||Link|
|Wiggle||Link||Link||Link||Link||Link||DCRainmaker||Garmin Fenix 6 Series||Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (5/5S/5X)||Garmin Forerunner 945||Polar Vantage V||Suunto 9 Baro|
And again, don’t forget you can make your own product comparison charts here with all the products in the database.
The Fenix 6 is more or less the next Fenix version we expected was coming. No, not because of all the leaks – but simply because Garmin declined to add in the new Forerunner 945 features into the Fenix 5 Plus back this past spring. On one hand, none of these features are earth shattering – yet almost all of them gel together really well. Like the Forerunner 945 before it, we’re starting to see Garmin really differentiate itself from the pack in terms of physio focused features, but also even just more practical things like battery life and ease of use (understanding the impacts of battery choices).
The other thing that this release does is close the gap between the release cycles of the high-end Garmin Forerunner series (FR945) and the high-end Fenix series. Previously that timeframe was upwards of a year or more. Now we’re down to about 4-5 months. It behooves Garmin to get these as close as possible so that people are making decisions not so much on features (which would mostly be the same), but on material and styling choices. Rather than have someone buy a FR945 and then realized they could have gotten a swankier Fenix 6 just a few months later.
In any event, the Fenix 6 production units I’ve been testing have been largely good, but not perfect. There are still occasional quirks that either are transient (such as slow syncing on one unit, but not the other), and of course some GPS oddities in New York City specifically. Plus of course the Garmin Connect driven map creations issues I saw that flowed downhill into my PacePro experience. But on the whole, things are pretty good for a product that starts shipping globally today. Undoubtedly, as more people get on it and find more edge cases – there will be bugs. And realistically it’ll probably take a few months for those bugs to sort themselves out. But I’ve been using it as my primary watch the last little while without issue. Almost all of the uploads you see on my Strava are from it.
Finally – I’m super interested to see where Garmin takes their acquired solar technology. Not just in terms of to other devices, but on how to expand the amount of solar energy it can return to the watch. Undoubtedly with the Fenix 6X Solar they started off pretty cautiously on numerous fronts, so I expect as they gain the experiences of thousands of real-life people, they’ll have learnings and tweaks they can apply going forward to newer devices.
With that – thanks for reading!
Found this review useful? Or just want a good deal? Here’s how:
Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.
I’ve partnered with Backcountry & Competitive Cyclist, which help support the site here when you purchase through them.
For European/Australian/New Zealand readers, you can also pickup the unit via Wiggle at the links below, which helps support the site too! With Wiggle new customers get 10GBP (or equivalent in other currencies) off their first order for anything over 50GBP by using code [Currently Disabled] at check-out after clicking the links below.
And finally, here’s a handy list of some of my favorite Garmin-specific accessories for the Garmin watches. Of course, being ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart compatible, you don’t have to limit things to just Garmin.
|Garmin Cadence Sensor V2||Amazon||This is a dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart cycling cadence sensor that you strap to your crank arm, but also does dual Bluetooth Smart, so you can pair it both to Zwift and another Bluetooth Smart app at once if you want.|
|Garmin HRM-DUAL Chest Strap||Amazon||This is one of the top two straps I use daily for accuracy comparisons (the other being the Polar H9/H10). It's dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, and in fact dual-Bluetooth Smart too, in case you need multiple connectons.|
|Garmin HRM-PRO||Amazon||This is the pinnacle of Garmin chest straps, and includes dual ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart, Swimming support, Running Dynamics, as well as back-fill of HR/Steps/Intensity Minutes/Calories if not wearing the watch in certain sports.|
|Garmin HRM-TRI/HRM-SWIM Straps||Amazon||While optical HR works on some newer Garmin watches, if you're looking for higher levels of accuracy, the HRM-TRI or HRM-SWIM are the best Garmin-compatible options out there to fill the gap.|
|Garmin Puck Charger||Amazon||Seriously, this will change your life. $9 for a two-pack of these puck Garmin chargers that stay put and stay connected. One for the office, one for your bedside, another for your bag, and one for your dog's house. Just in case.|
|Garmin Speed Sensor V2||Amazon||This speed sensor is unique in that it can record offline (sans-watch), making it perfect for a commuter bike quietly recording your rides. But it's also a standard ANT+/BLE sensor that pairs to your device. It's become my go-to speed sensor.|
Or, anything else you pick up on Amazon helps support the site as well (socks, laundry detergent, cowbells). If you’re outside the US, I’ve got links to all of the major individual country Amazon stores on the sidebar towards the top.
Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible.