Over the last few days there have been endless discussions about deciding between a Fenix 7 Series and Epix Series unit, so I figured a more detailed comparison was in order. In my case, I’ve been using the units for almost two months, and often side by side. An Epix on one wrist, and a Fenix 7 on the other. So I’ve got direct comparison data, including battery burn charts for long 7-hour activities, on how they actually handle the real world with all the features enabled.
Now at a high level, undoubtedly, the display is the main difference. But that display actually drives quite a few other factors that are less obvious. Things like map clarity, graphing detail, how the unit reacts when on your wrist, and even general day-to-day visibility. And it’s probably important to set aside any perceived notions around ‘pretty display’ units from a few years ago. Or even from Garmin’s own line-up. The just-released Venu 2 Plus shares the same screen, but doesn’t feel anything like Epix. That’s because Garmin appears to have done everything possible to make Epix mirror the Fenix, rather than approach it as a broad mid-tier consumer device like the Venu series.
So, with that, this post is divided up into two basic parts:
A) A quick overview of the Fenix/EPIX models
B) A deep-dive into all those nuanced differences between the Fenix & Epix
Now, you can hit Play on the video above, which in this case is probably the best thing to do, because many of these are display-based, and it’s easier to see those in the real-world with real video footage of how the units react and display.
The Model Options:
For the moment, I’m not going to belabor all of the Fenix 7 Series models in this post. There are 22 of them in total, plus other country-specific SKUs. For example, the UK has a different shade of grey than the rest of the world on certain models. I’m not kidding. It’s a different SKU there. Here’s the official chart of listings from Garmin, for at least the US market.
The most important thing to know is that all these units share the same software features across the board. They all have music, the same optical heart rate sensor, the same GPS chipset manufacturer, the same contactless payment support, the same WiFi/Bluetooth/ANT+, and all the same sport profiles and related features. Same. Same. Same.
Instead, deciding on a model is all about three sorta simple things:
C) Sapphire edition or not
To recap, at the high level you’ve got basically three Fenix 7 Series sizes to choose from, and a single Epix Series size:
Fenix 7S – The Smallest: This is a 42mm case with a 1.2” screen
Fenix 7 – The Middle Bear: This is a 47mm case with a 1.3” screen
Epix – The Only Bear: This is identical to the middle Fenix 7 in size, at 47mm and 1.3”
Fenix 7X – The Biggest: This is a 51mm case with a 1.4” screen.
Then, if choosing Fenix 7, you need to decide whether or not you want solar or not. In general, think of solar as incremental power. If you go out for a 45-minute walk in the winter in the sun, it’ll add a relatively trivial amount of power (and zero power under a coat). Whereas, if you spend an entire day in the summer in the sun, it’ll add a very substantial amount of power. I have battery charts later on showing exactly how much. But there is no solar on Epix.
Fenix 7 Series: Solar offered
Epix Series: No solar offered
Ok, so then we get to the question of ‘Sapphire’ edition or not. In the case of the Fenix 7 Series, the ‘Sapphire’ tag kinda replaces the ‘Pro’ tag in the Fenix 6 series. There are no Fenix 7 Pro units. Sapphire is the new Pro.
Sapphire on both Epix and Fenix 7 does four very specific things:
A) Gets you Sapphire glass: This is more durable against scratches, but also has slightly dimmer visibility. In 2022, I wouldn’t overthink the scratch element, the glass they use on the regular non-sapphire units is very strong and I rarely scratch watches with it, despite treating them like crap.
B) Gets you titanium bezel/case: The Sapphire units have a Titanium bezel and case, so they’re officially swankier looking. Some also have DLC coating too.
C) Gets you Multi-band GPS: This is the new dual-frequency GPS, which theoretically is the holy grail of GPS accuracy. In practice, it’s slightly better, but really only in very specific challenging situations (like up against massive cliffs, and sometimes against exceptionally tall buildings). It’s not perfect, and it’s not yet the holy grail. Maybe with updates in a year it will be. COROS added this to their Vertix 2 last summer, and I have seen slight/incremental improvement since then. They share the same chipset as Garmin.
D) Gets you 32GB of storage instead of 16GB: This is primarily for map usage (or music), but it also gets you pre-loaded maps for your region. In the case of non-Sapphire units, you simply tap the ‘Map Manager’ within the watch and choose your region (continent). You’ll wait a few hours for that to sync over WiFi and then you’re done. I detail the sizes of the maps in my in-depth review, but the short version is that North America and Europe are about 8-10GB each, so you can’t fit both together on a 16GB unit. You’d have to swap back and forth.
Here’s a chart that Garmin has that actually explains it way better than I could possibly do with MSPAINT:
At this point, I wouldn’t let either the Multi-band or map storage bits be a decision driver individually, however, they could be together. For example, I often travel back and forth – so having the maps for both continents is handy for me. And, since I’m a geekier person, I’m interested to see how multi-band GPS will play out over the next year or two. Thus I’m more likely to go for a Sapphire edition. I find zero value though in the sapphire glass or titanium bezel case.
Of course, you do you; I’m just giving you my thinking.
The Key Epix vs Fenix Differences:
Now, I’ve broken up these into a list of bulleted sections. Because I like compartmentalized sections…and lists. This list also mirrors the order of the video above (which also has chapters). I even went as far as asking Garmin’s product team last week for any other trivial differences between them. Also note that while the basis for my real-world comparison is Epix Sapphire vs Fenix 7 Solar Sapphire, that none of the items below change when going non-Sapphire, except that the non-Sapphire visibility is generally a little bit better (less dim). But I don’t have any non-Sapphire units to compare.
1) The Price: Fenix 7 starts at $699 and goes over $1,000, whereas Epix starts at $899 and goes to $999. So if you compare like models – Fenix 7 Solar Sapphire to Epix Sapphire, it’s a span of a $100 difference ($899 for Fenix 7 Solar Sapphire to $999 for Epix Sapphire). If you compare non-Sapphire to non-Sapphire, it’s a $200 difference between base models ($699 for Fenix vs $899 for Epix).
2) The Display Mode Variants: Let’s start with the easy one. The Fenix 7 screen is legit always-on all the time. Twenty-four hours a day, no matter what you or the watch are doing, it’s on. Though, it does have a sleep-mode if you want it. It also has a backlight, which is configurable in steps of 5% increments from 0 to 100%, depending on whether you’re in sleep or regular mode.
Then there’s the Epix. At its base/default configuration it has two core modes:
A) Always-on EPIX: In this config, as long as there’s some (even tiny, like typing) movement, the screen remains on. If you turn your wrist towards you, it brightens the display, but it’s usually perfectly readable without the added brightness. If you leave it on a table for 60-seconds unattended, it’ll turn off the display. Similarly, if you’re sitting perfectly still reading a book, the display may turn off depending on how still you are. I’m apparently not a very still person, as this virtually never goes off for me – instead it just goes back and forth between dim-but-easilyviewable mode, and bright mode. In any case, in this always-on mode, the watch lasts 6 days in smartwatch mode. I can confirm that over the past month+, this number is very valid and matches my real-world usage with ~1hr of workouts each day on average (GPS or indoors) using a default watch face.
B) Gesture-based EPIX: In this mode, the display turns off when you’re not actively looking at it. As you raise your wrist, it turns on. It’s worthwhile noting though you can set this differently for workout vs general usage. So in workout mode you can say always-on, but the rest of the day gesture-based. In the overall gesture-based mode, it gets 16 days of smartwatch battery life.
Note that in the case of Epix, it presumes the display goes to sleep each night. The default is 10PM to 6AM, but you can change the timing and behavior within the Sleep Mode settings though. I explain this more in the ‘dimming’ section below.
3) Display Technology: Next, the biggie, the display itself. You’ve got that AMOLED display which is 65,000 colors, instead of the Fenix 7 series 64-colors and transflective MIPS screen. The AMOLED display is the same as the Venu 2 series, which has been received well. The size of both screens are identical, listed as 1.3”, and the internal viewable size of both screens is also identical (the solar ring is ‘outside’ of that viewable area).
Probably the easiest way of illustrating this vast color difference is a simple watch face I created using the Connect IQ app. These are with the backlights enabled at default settings upon wrist raise. Of course, it’s also hard to make out the clarity in a photo of a photo.
Now as an interesting aside, if you do create a custom watch-face, it will likely go into gesture-mode (as was the case above). Garmin does have specifications for created AMOLED-series always-on watch faces, but the stock ‘Face It’ feature to make your own faces doesn’t make always-on faces – so those force me into gesture mode on the Epix, whereas on the Fenix it’s there the entire time. We’ll talk about burn-in in a moment.
4) Resolution: Next, we’ve got the resolution of the display, which is how many pixels it has. Essentially, the more the better. With more pixels you can show more detail. The Epix screen is 416x416px, while the Fenix 7 screen is 260x260px (Fenix 7s is 240x240px, and 7X is 280x280px). However, since the physical size of the screen is the same, this results in more pixels per inch (PPI – remember that from printing days?). In the case of the Fenix series, it’s 200ppi, whereas the Epix series is 326ppi – so dramatically higher. Now, by itself, this isn’t super obvious in basic running fields. Where it’s more important is charts, data graphs, maps, and anything where detail is needed So, let’s look at that.
5) Map Detail & Visibility: One of the easiest examples of this is simply in mapping. While both units use the *EXACT SAME MAPS*, the Epix displays details better, at a higher zoom level. This is shown in countless scenarios, but in my video above I walk through a very specific one that I’ve screen captured below. Both of these units are showing the exact same spot at the exact same zoom level (300m), and both of them are set to defaults for screen brightness with a popularity routing map shown. Notice how the Fenix 7 (left) is missing numerous trails that the Epix (right) shows. For example, that trail that cuts along the top of the screen. Or the added mountain symbols. Or the entire selection of trails cutting across the middle-bottom of the screen. Or the names of the mountains. None of that detail can be shown (yet) on the Fenix because it doesn’t have the resolution to pull it off. Instead, you don’t see that detail till you zoom further down. In which case again, the Epix shows other details that Fenix lacks until you zoom down yet again. It’s a never-ending cycle.
This is more than just maps though. You see it in golf courses for example, as well as even ski resort/ski trail maps. Plus of course just clarity in things like the charts too.
6) Brightness: Next, is brightness, the AMOLED is by far brighter in my experience in every scenario – including in direct sun. At least with the two Sapphire editions I have. In bright sunny sun on top of a volcano amidst desert-like lava fields, the AMOLED display is super bright and easy to read. And the same is true in a jungle under dense tree cover. While the Fenix 7 series is certainly easy to read in direct sun, it’s the less bright scenarios that the Epix really shines – without having to utilize the backlight – or change the backlight settings. By default the Fenix 7 series uses a 20% backlight option, which of course you can increase to get it brighter. But as you can see here, it’s not really even close (Epix left, Fenix 7 right):
Looking at some direct sun scenarios, here’s my wrist in direct sun on an island in summer-like weather, and the Epix is easily read:
Point being, I wouldn’t be concerned about brightness with Epix. Whereas, at least with the slightly dimmer Sapphire edition of the Fenix 7, there are cases where it’s not as visible, especially in early evening or darker conditions, where the Epix really shines.
7) Dimming: Now let’s go the opposite direction – how visible is it when you want it to be dark? In that case, both units actually have sleep mode options. For Epix it’ll be enabled by default, and you’ll configure your sleep time, and then it goes into a do-not-disturb sleep mode with a simplified watch face. In this mode the watch display is off, and to see the display, you’ll just press a button. Simply touching/taping it won’t change anything.
The Epix actually has a lower dimness setting for sleep mode than regular mode. Thus it won’t blind you at night. I’ve had no issues with the Epix display dimness levels at night (a concern from some other AMOLED units in the past). Here’s the Epix in sleep mode, once a button is pressed (I show the Fenix in sleep mode in the video too, as well as how to configure it).
Whereas for the Fenix 7 series, at night the display is still ‘on’, though no backlight unless you specify it. One thing to keep in mind is that in a dark room at night (like a bedroom), you won’t be able to see the time either unless you press a button. So basically for the middle-of-the-night scenario, a button press is required no matter the watch. And you can use gesture backlight for both watches too (which is by default off in sleep mode).
Oh, and quirky geek aside. The Epix and Fenix actually have two different control levels for brightness. During normal daytime usage, the Epix display brightness has three options. But at night in sleep mode it becomes four options. Similarly, the Fenix 7 normally adjusts backlight brightness in 10% blocks, with 20% being the default. Whereas in sleep mode it’s 5% blocks with 5% being the default.
8) Battery Considerations: So within the battery camp we’ve basically got two core scenarios to consider: Day to day smartwatch wear, and workout GPS times. Let’s start with a simple chart from Garmin, which outlines the claimed battery levels for each model:
Now, in my testing I primarily focused on the Epix Sapphire & Fenix 7 Solar Sapphire, and in an always-on configuration. Without question, I’ve been hitting that 6-day always-on claim near perfectly, using the default settings and inclusive of ~1hr of workout time per day (blend of GPS and indoor workouts). Some days more workout time, some days less. But a safe average of an hour a day here in December. In terms of the Fenix 7, that too seems to trend towards its battery claims for watch mode, but honestly given they’re so high, it’s hard to judge precisely.
So what about workout modes? Well, let’s go big! Here are two workouts, using the watches effectively side by side with ‘all the things’ enabled. I’ve got the Epix Sapphire on my left wrist, and the Fenix 7 Solar Sapphire on my right wrist. For this first one, a 7hr 15min ride, I’ve got always-on display enabled, multi-band satellites enabled, optical heart rate enabled, course/route following/navigation loaded and enabled, ClimbPro enabled, an ANT+ power meter connected, Bluetooth connectivity to my phone enabled with LiveTrack enabled. In other words, literally everything is turned on at the highest possible settings to burn as much battery as possible. Here’s the Epix at the start (sorry, the photo isn’t super crispy as it’s a screenshot from a video I took).
The ride started in the sun, then went into the forests for a few hours of climbing, and then above the tree-line for a few hours of lava fields, before descending back down into the forests and out of the sun. For the Epix, it started at 92% and ended at 59% (a 32% decrease), the projected battery capacity then based on this ride was 21.72hrs. Whereas the Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar went from 98% to 77% (a 21% decrease), with a projected battery duration of 34.12hrs.
You’ll notice that in both cases, these estimated battery calculations are actually *ABOVE* the Garmin claims for multi-band GPS. And Garmin’s battery claims don’t even assume the battery-draining course navigation either. Meaning, I could easily significantly increase my estimated capacity further by not turning on all the features.
If we switch to a 5-hour long jungle hike with the exact same setup, except minus the sun (overcast conditions and under dense tree cover for quite a bit of it). You’ll see again very strong numbers – estimated 18.91 hours capacity for Epix versus 20.83hrs for the Fenix 7 Solar Sapphire. The denser trees would have likely caused the unit to increase power to the GPS to try and increase signal reception, and the Fenix 7 Solar would have had less solar power here due to lack of sun from clouds and trees. But again, remember – EVERYTHING was turned on here in a worst-case scenario.
Now, why might my battery times be better in the long ride than Garmin’s official estimates? Well, likely because those estimates were done months ago. They haven’t changed since, despite Garmin’s firmware and efficiency getting better and better. And in fact, if I look at long rides in the sun on similar islands from early December, the battery capacity was more akin to Garmin’s official claims (lower). In other words, I think they’re actually pretty conservative at this point, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see those battery claims eventually adjusted upwards.
(Pro Tip: You can create your own battery charts using the DCR Analyzer. This will properly display battery durations for devices from Garmin, Wahoo, Stages, and Hammerhead. COROS is aiming to add support this spring. Inversely, note that Garmin’s Vivoactive & Venu series units do not write this information to the .FIT files.)
9) Flashlight: The Fenix 7X has a flashlight on it (the other Fenix 7 units do not), this flashlight can be used in a variety of scenarios including simply finding your way around your home in the dark at night, to illuminating a trail ahead of you while you run, to an impromptu bike light. The 7X flashlight is comprised of two white LEDs, and one red LED. The brightness level is roughly in the ballpark of my iPhone 13 Pro, maybe a smidge less. It’s more than enough to blind anyone in the same dark room though. Finally, it also has a running-cadence driven flashlight that will match your running cadence and flash white and red lights either forwards or backwards based on your arm swing. In practice, I didn’t find this works super precisely, but it still manages to let people know that you’re there/visible – so I’m not sure it’s a huge deal that it’s not perfectly timed. Overall though, the Fenix 7X flashlight is awesome and super useful, let’s be clear about that.
The Epix series does not (very sadly) have a dedicated flashlight, but does have a flashlight mode. Just like with the Fenix 7X you can simply double-tap the upper left button, which goes to a flashlight user interface with multiple levels of white light as well as red light. It’s not ideal for lighting up a trail, but is plenty bright to light up a bedroom at night, or blind your significant other lying in bed. Like with the 7X, the red-light option is less harsh and honestly a better late-night option. I show how this works in the video up above.
Note that the other Fenix 7 units do have this same feature as well, though, it’s not nearly as bright as the Epix screen – simply because the backlight of the AMOLED is essentially a lighthouse compared to the Fenix 7’s backlight being a small candle. Still, I’ve also used the Fenix 7 flashlight nonetheless to find things in the dark. So it does work in a pinch too.
10) Accuracy (GPS & HR): This one is easy – they’re virtually identical. Now, I’ve done far more detail on this in my in-depth reviews on both, but in almost every scenario, they acted virtually identical (both good and bad). And that makes sense, they’ve got the exact same optical HR sensor, the exact same GPS chipset, and the exact same size and case materials. Now, you may (and probably will) see optical heart rate differences between the different sized Fenix 7 models as, typically speaking, heavier models can introduce more bounce, which degrades accuracy. Though ironically, in my testing, the Fenix 7X actually handled perfectly in even hard and cold-weather interval runs. But I have less 7X HR data than I do 7/Epix direct comparison data. This is also true for barometric altimeter accuracy, where they were in absolute lockstep on all my test activities.
The point being that the two units appear identical in this area (both good and bad).
11) Pixel Burn-In Potential: Pixel display burn-in can occur in AMOLED/OLED (and other types of) screens when bright images are left on for an extended period of time without change. For example, a very bright-white watch face with sharp lines. Companies (both watchmakers and phone/tablet/TV/etc makers) mitigate this through a variety of methods. For example in Garmin’s Venu & Epix series, they do what’s called pixel-shifting, which slightly moves an image a pixel or two in a different direction occasionally to turn off/on pixels. Generally speaking, this isn’t obvious/viewable to your eye. Whereas the Fenix series has no issues with burn-in.
In terms of potential for pixel burn-in on the Epix watch, I suspect we’re in a far better place than Garmin was with the original Venu (which uses a different display and a handful of people have seen burn-in issues). I don’t believe I’ve seen any reports on the Venu 2 series for burn-in, which is the same screen as Epix. Though, it’s also only about 8-9 months old. We’ve seen Garmin since introduce specific guidelines around Connect IQ watch faces to be enabled in always-on mode, plus there are aspects like the sleep mode, dimming, and powering off after 60-seconds of non-movement. All of which are designed to substantially reduce the chances of burn-in. I’m personally not worried about it in normal usage in 2022 given the measures that have been taken and the lessons learned Garmin has with other units, but ultimately only time will tell.
12) Weight: This obviously varies considerably by which model you choose (size-wise, materials, etc…). However, if comparing the two Sapphire units to each other, there is only 3g in difference between them. I measured the Fenix 7 Solar Sapphire and it was 74g, whereas the Epix Sapphire was 71g. I suspect most of us would consider that basically a wash for practical purposes.
13) Connect IQ Support Levels: Both Epix & Fenix 7 support the same Connect IQ System Level (System 5), however, Epix supports a greater subset of features within it, due to its higher resolution display. Meaning that 3rd party apps can develop more vibrant/detailed/rich apps on Epix that might not be available down the road on non-AMOLED screens. While I’m sure there are some examples today (folks are welcome to drop them below in the comments), I’m not aware of any big-ticket ones. In terms of performance, I measured both watches using the Connect IQ Benchmarking tool, and the scores were very similar. The Fenix 7 Solar Sapphire: CPU 9.4 / 58.8 Pips, and Epix Sapphire: CPU 9.4 / 62.5 Pips – both on Connect IQ 4.0.6 (software 7.20). This matches my real-world experience which shows that both units act virtually identical side by side in terms of changing pages, display data, map movements, etc…
14) The Random Extra List: This is a list of extra things that didn’t make the main list above. I’ll also add things to this over time:
A) White on black text: For Epix, you have white lettering on black text for sport profiles. Whereas for Fenix it’s black lettering on white text. Normally, I dislike white on black – partially because it’s a pain in the butt to take photos of, and partially because I usually find black on white easier to see. However, in this case (as well as the Apple Watch, Venu series, Samsung Galaxy series, and a few others), the white lettering is easy and crisp enough to see that I’ve got no complaints at all here.
B) The Epix can display more data fields per page: On the Fenix 7 (middle unit), you can display 6 data fields per page, but the Epix can display 8 data fields per page.
C) You see, I don’t yet have a C: But eventually I will.
Ok, that’s all I’ve got for now!
Ok, hopefully this answers some questions when trying to choose. Obviously, there are a lot of options, but I think probably the biggest factor you’ll want to simply consider is battery life scenarios and how you use your units.
For me, I’ve got virtually no reason to do a 30hrs+ long GPS adventure. It’s just not my cup of tea. And in the unlikely event I did find myself in such a situation (like wanting to track a really long journey), I could use a charging puck with a battery pack to keep it topped up (you can charge while using). Further, I don’t mind dealing with charging roughly once a week for my typical workout usage. Probably a bit more often when I do longer workouts during a week (spring/summer).
So for my use cases, I’m in the Epix camp. I think the display is awesome, and gives just so much better visibility and clarity than Fenix 7 does. However, the downside for me is that I typically prefer a smaller/lighter watch, such as something in the Forerunner 745 range (my normal go-to). While I quickly get used to wearing the larger watches, it’s not my comfort food. Similarly, many of you like larger watches like the 7X series ones, and so there’s no option there either.
I think it’ll be really fascinating to see what Garmin does with the Fenix & Epix brands over the next 2-5 years. Certainly, if we look to a Fenix 8 or Fenix 9 series with continued battery optimization, there probably won’t be a MIPS display option anymore – it’ll be all AMOLED (or similar). My bet is that Enduro becomes that brand/platform for MIPS, for the dwindling segment of the population that wants or needs that kind of screen. The question is, with Fenix being the most valuable brand – where does the Epix brand go. Things I’ve pondered…
With that – I’ll let you get back to pondering your choices. Feel free to drop any questions below, and I’ll try and help out – or, countless others in the community can too! More opinions is always good here.
Thanks for reading!
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