I have been playing with a Garmin fenix 6 Pro for the past week and by pure accident my view of Garmin has completely changed since my previous experience with the fenix 5.
There was never any intention to use it seriously or to keep it for any period of time, but the good bits are very good and just about overcome the bad bits.
I love watches, as you may well know, and for me the notion of simply wearing a product that fulfills a task without noticing it often is what makes them so special. The design and work that has gone into creating a beautiful watch is great to have, but that is most often experienced by someone else if they happen to glance at it, which almost no one does.
The problem with smartwatches, and in particular the Apple Watch, is the amount of interaction that is needed to keep it running, and also the amount of attention it demands. That sense of a ‘watch’ is lost under all of the alerts, visual enticements, pleas to exercise a bit harder and the need to charge it every day.
It can be annoying and of course you can adjust how often you are alerted, but the fact remains that it feels like an object that is consistently needing your engagement to work properly.
The fenix 6 Pro doesn’t feel like that at all and seems to sit in that sweet space where information and tracking is working all of the time, but where it can also be forgotten and worn as a normal watch.
The display is much improved over the fenix 5, it is still way below Apple Watch quality, and this also seems to fulfill a very specific requirement of a watch; to be legible without needlessly dragging the attention of the wearer to it. This is hard to explain, but it is akin to a Kindle and an iPad. One is just there and built for a task whereas the other is in your face and tempting you to play around a bit and burn your eyes just a little at the same time.
From a tracking perspective the fenix is impressive because it is supposed to be a more serious fitness tracker than a consumer wearable, and I have found myself gradually getting used to the menus, the lack of a touchscreen and the multiple button presses that are often needed to do simple things.
It does not aim to be an assistant or to replace a phone, no mobile connectivity confirms this, and the emphasis is purely on fitness and tracking your daily performance, and most importantly how you are improving. It is a fitness watch that can so smart things such as playing music, podcasts and utilise third party apps and watch faces.
The flexibility is just enough and I suspect that most people will look no further, but there is still a sense that the technology is not exactly cutting edge. If you compare the apps and software functionality to the Apple Watch and later Android Wear products the gap is huge, but I am aware that the hardware and sensors are potentially better on the Garmin.
Where Garmin falls down somewhat is the slowness of ecosystem development. If you do not want to subscribe to Spotify or Amazon Music you can use ‘iTunes’ to manually move music to the fenix from a Mac. Yes, the iTunes that no longer exists. I managed to move 1 song through Amazon Music and then gave up as the process stalled.
If you want to move any content to the fenix it is all a bit manual and really does feel like a trip back a decade or so. Just like Fitbit, Garmin is way behind in this area and the likes of Apple are way ahead.
The thing is that not having so much useable functionality has made me adjust to the fenix 6 Pro as a fitness watch that can tell me the time and offer all of the data I need, and this is the crucial bit-
I have been wearing it since last Saturday and my battery life is currently 61%. Two workouts a day, multiple notifications appearing and some timers run and I should still have another 4-5 days of power before I need to charge.
It is a bit of a beast in terms of dimensions at 47mm and with a near 15mm depth, but it is very well balanced and feels invisible on the wrist. This is in contrast to the Apple Watch which despite being lighter is more noticeable and somewhat top heavy. I suspect that this is because of the heart rate sensor on the back and the way it is shaped, but I only noticed the obviousness of wearing it after using the fenix for a few days.
It is not better than the Apple Watch, no smartwatch is in my opinion, but it is a better fitness tracker and it is a better ‘watch’, and that means something to people like me.