I’ve been an avid smartwatch and fitness watch user for years. Previously I had the Garmin Fenix 3 HR (Sapphire Edition) for three years, in non-stop use. Before this, I had numerous devices in use including a Fitbit device and an Android Wear watch.
Out of these, the Garmin Fenix 3 was spectacular. It’s a real fitness watch to track sports, and very robust. I bought the HRM-Run belt, which is an HR belt with running dynamics.
In addition to the usual statistics, the HRM-Run belt produces data on vertical oscillation, ground contact time and balance:
I also got the HRM-Swim belt, for tracking my swims.
I’m not the greatest swimmer, but at least I’m not actively drowning, so there’s that. I also bought the Garmin Tempe temperature sensor.
It’s a nice little gadget to tie on your shoe or hang on your trekking backpack to record temperature changes. The battery lasts for about a year.
I love the Garmin ecosystem, as it just works. Everything connects wirelessly, and in three years of active use, I had zero issues. Admittedly, after two years the watch started showing signs of age with recent firmware updates. A bit like when you update your old iPad to a new OS, and it feels just a tad bit slower than previously. I wore the watch everywhere, even to the sauna at times. The replaceable bands allowed me to change them before every swim to keep one pair looking nice, and another looking like it took a beating. They are quick release, so you can switch to a new pair in a matter of seconds. You can view the collection of available bands here.
I mostly use the Garmin mobile app, called Connect. It’s available on the web, also.
And then the Fenix 6 was announced
I had been thinking of upgrading my Fenix 3 to a newer model. Many of my friends have purchased an Apple Watch, but as I’m not invested in the Apple ecosystem, I felt it’s not an option for me. Also, I dislike having yet another gadget I have to charge daily.
The Suunto and Polar brands also have interesting fitness watches, but as I was somewhat committed to the Garmin platform, I wanted to see what models are being announced during 2019. After I bought my Garmin Fenix 3, the Fenix 5 was announced in early 2017, and a refresh model called the Fenix 5 Plus was released in mid-2018.
Fenix 6 was made available in late August 2019. There are numerous models available at different price points. I chose the Garmin Fenix 6X Pro Sapphire model – it doesn’t have the solar-charging capability, yet it’s the larger model with sapphire glass and all other features.
Looking at the specs, it looked like a great device – all the best features from earlier models were there, and a few very interesting new additions had been added, including:
- Better Wifi support to sync maps and music, and perform updates wirelessly. In fact, my watch regularly updates itself during the night and gives me a slight (silent) notification when I wake up and check my notifications.
- Better battery management – and it’s insane! With ‘everything enabled‘ I get 10 days of consistent use without charging. This is with GPS always-on, Wifi enabled (but not always connected), HR measurement and sleep tracking constantly on, and with about 5-7 hours of activities tracked per week. The built-in Power Manager also allows me to extend this to as much as 80 days – obviously disabling a lot of things but still keeping my watch functional and useful.
- PulseOx (pulse oximeter data, ie. noninvasively measuring oxygen saturation) support. I’m not fully sure I need this reading, but right now while typing this, my PulseOx reading is 92 %. This is the percentage of blood that is loaded with oxygen, and acceptable normal ranges (according to Wikipedia) are from 95 to 99 %.
- Contactless payment using Garmin Pay – so I don’t need to bring my wallet when I go running or walking. I’ve stored my credit card details via Garmin Connect, and I can conveniently pay using the watch. To activate payment, I need to open the virtual wallet and type in my pin number. It only supports specific banks and cards, so be sure to check them out here first. For Finland where I live, it supports MasterCard and VISA via the largest banks.
- Wireless music support from Spotify. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I love that I can sync my Spotify playlists to the watch, thus not needing to rely on my phone when I do activities. On another hand, I barely use this feature so it’s more of a novelty to me. The sync works great over Wifi, and I was surprised how fast it was.
- Body Battery energy measurement. This was one of the main features I chose the Garmin 6 to upgrade to. With Body Battery, the watch measures your energy levels based on sleep, rest and heart rate. It’s based on the algorithm by a Finnish company called Firstbeat. It also accounts for stress in the equation.
I bought the Garmin Fenix 6X Pro Sapphire in September for 854 euros. It certainly isn’t cheap, but considering a device that I use for up to 26,000 hours (~3 years), I guess it’s affordable. And there is a sort of resale value for older Garmin devices, so perhaps I can gain a little bit of money back if I eventually need to upgrade to a future model.
So, how is it?
It’s great. It’s much faster than the Fenix 3 in use, yet it’s as robust and well-rounded as the previous model. I keep the watch always on, and I charge it once a week on Sundays. This is when I have 30 % battery left. As I mentioned earlier, the battery lasts 10 days of regular use for me. If I disable GPS, Wifi or other major features it will last longer – easily up to 15 days between charges.
Charging is done using a cable, that looks like USB-C, but it’s slightly modified by Garmin. I hate this but I can live with it. I have one cable only, sitting on my bookshelf where I charge all my portable devices. It takes about an hour to charge from 30 % to 100 %.
The apps I use most on the watch are notifications, body battery, intensity minutes, strength training, walk tracking and climbing. I use Garmin Pay almost daily now, as it works (in Finland, at least) for all payments under 50 euro.
There are dozens of features I’ve yet to use from the watch. I like to think that they are waiting there for me to need them. One of those is the popularity heatmap, which gives me access to heatmaps for finding new running routes.
Below is a snapshot of my neighborhoods in Helsinki. Lots of people enjoy running by the sea, including me.
Another interesting new capability is the training plans, that include the Garmin Coach. It’s a ‘cloud-powered’ program for tailoring the training plans just for you.
I tried the Garmin Coach 10K, which allows me to get to a target time in 10-21 weeks of practice. I was feeling ambitious and set my target time to 45 minutes. As I’m not built for running, this turned out to be a bit too tough – even for me!
You set up the plan with a few choices, and then a training plan is created and synchronized to your watch.
Whenever I go running, I can activate the next training exercise from the plan, and my watch then guides me through the exercise what I need to do, and what happens next. It was fabulous.
The first running training from the plan was interval training. I went out running one evening and was surprised how taxing the exercise was. I had 28 ‘laps’, or steps in the plan:
I spent 1 hour and 5 minutes warming up, running, and recovering. In total, I ran for 8.35 km and burned through 775 calories. The coach was super useful as I had my wireless earbuds on and it kept telling me how I was doing, if I needed to push up the pace, or take it easy.
The lesson for me was to perhaps lower my goals. A little bit.
Body battery and does it work?
I was initially hesitant whether the body battery concept would work. To put it shortly, it works, but it also tends to be slightly off at times. The most significant measurement is the amount (and quality) of sleep.
I’ve focused on sleeping better, and sleeping more for most of 2019. I realized I need to be in bed by 9.30 pm if I fancy getting up early. I often turn off any screens after 8.30 in the evening and start preparing for bed. The Garmin Fenix 6 provides me with quite accurate sleep tracking data – here’s a snapshot from the past 7 days for me:
On average, I slept for 9 hours and 54 minutes each night. This is due to the holiday season, and on normal weeks my average is probably closer to 9 hours and 10 minutes.
6-month average also shows a slight trend of sleeping towards the end of the year:
In return, my body battery recharges quite well during sleep:
As can be seen from the chart above, body battery levels go up quickly, but they also come down very quickly if you have a busy day. For me, a busy day includes stress – the kind of stress that makes your day busier than it should be. If I exercise it also eats into body battery levels but seems to make recovery easier also.
Here’s a week from early December, when I attended an almost week-long conference in Prague and did not get much sleep, or enough exercise:
I arrived on Monday, with body battery fully recharged. Monday evening was long and fun. It reflected during Mon-Tue sleep, as I didn’t sleep too well, and thus my body battery levels didn’t go higher than 15. It was a tough week.
A week later I stayed home, and focused on getting proper sleep, nutrition, and exercise:
Friday I had a nice dinner and some very nice wines.
I hit the gym a few days ago, so it’s interesting to see how that affects the body battery. Here’s the whole day:
I started the day by waking up at 7.31. A bit later than usual, as we had guests over and I went to bed a bit later also. My body battery levels were super low, at 44 when I woke up. During noon, I met with my PT, and my gym exercise took 1 hour and 15 minutes including warm-up. My body battery fell from 28 to 19 during my gym visit. I went to bed already at 8:01 pm and recovered well for the next day.
On most days, if my body battery is over 80, I feel great and re-energized. If my body battery is low, I really feel it in my body as well. I feel I want to take a nap, or I have less mental and cognitive energy throughout the day.
In a way, this small feature in the watch as made me more aware of how I rest, relax and rejuvenate.
I love the watch, and it’s an essential part of my life. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a smartwatch, as much of the smartness it provides is automatic. I do use it for checking notifications and occasionally I might even reply to a WhatsApp message via the watch with a simple ‘OK.’
The watch is also big, the display is 1.4″ in diameter. It doesn’t feel big though, as it only weighs 93 grams.
I’ve customized the information shown on the screens lightly to show the most relevant data to me at a glance.
I feel using the Garmin Fenix 6X Pro a bit like using Microsoft Word or Excel. I use, perhaps, 2 to 5 % of the capabilities and features, but even then I feel I’m living a better life and becoming healthier. My plan for 2020 is to take benefit of more features of the watch, and the Connect app and its statistics.
- DC Rainmaker’s extensive review of the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro watches
- Tech specs for the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro
I work with Azure and frequently write about my experiences. Former Microsoft Most Valuable Professional & Microsoft Regional Director, ex-MSFT. Based in Helsinki, Finland.