The Garmin epix (gen 2) is the fenix from the flames

The new Garmin epix is effectively a Garmin fenix 7, but with an AMOLED display. There are subtle differences between the two (flashlight, size and power options, price etc) and for most people it will be hard to decide which is the right model to purchase.

Those who really do need a Garmin fitness watch will, however, know what they need and their decision will be based on the sports they enjoy, the battery life they need and the amount they are willing to spend. The epix I am reviewing here is £799 which is a lot of money and only the sapphire titanium editions (£899) and Sapphire – Black Titanium with Chestnut Leather Band (£999) top it in the range. Please do not consider the £999 option as you are paying for a leather band which is not overly impressive and especially so at £100.

On the fenix 7 side you can pay between £599 and £1,049 from a huge range, but comparatively the epix is approx £150 to £200 more expensive. I am not going to go into all of the differences because I would be here for some time (you would get bored) and most of the changed features are not too important, but the display on the epix is, to me, the reason why the epix shines above the fenix.

Smartwatches and fitness watches are rarely devices that can be worn daily without the sense that they are not real watches. Garmin has tried to address this with the crazily expensive MARQ range, up to £2,249, and so has TAG, but neither offers the sense that the pricing is worth the relatively limited time they are useful for. £2,249 for a very well made watch that will last two decades is justifiable, a fitness watch that will last five years is not.

So, the pricing is high for the epix and then I think about the Apple Watch, and the fact that there is a premium for ‘stainless steel’, a type of metal that is standard for all watches from £50 upwards. The Apple Watch can easily reach £600 and up in stainless steel with 4G etc, but I am not prepared to say it is expensive because it is so amazingly useful and offers so much utility, especially 4G which you don’t get with Garmin.

I have been using the epix for three days and I must say that I have been impressed in almost every area. It has a premium feel, the battery life is superb (six days always on AMOLED display- hello Apple?) and the fitness tracking is so far ahead of most of the competition that it is almost painful.

The display, however, is to me everything that puts it streets ahead of the fenix line. All of a sudden I can view the metrics comfortably on the watch itself, I can take full advantage of the myriad of third party watch faces and I can genuinely enjoy all of the features it offers. I love the fenix line, but there was always a sense to me that the display was holding what was underneath back all of the time. It was a bit like viewing a work of art through a steamy window. It’s still great but a struggle to enjoy.

Think of the epix as the fenix with a better screen and that is about all you need to know. This does not mean that it is for everyone and the battery life is shorter than the fenix by a margin, but at six days it is still easily enough for me. The fixed strap pins are a pain, but I managed to remove mine thanks to the various watch tools I own, and now I can add any strap I like which helps with wearability. This is a big watch and should not be suitable for daily wear, but I have had no problems so far.

For now, this is staying on my wrist and I am already exercising a lot more. It is staying on my wrist for now. For now…

Unnecessary Smartwatch Alerts

Getting an alert about a heart rhythm, then, doesn’t help the typical Apple Watch user’s overall health, says study author Josh Pevnick, co-director in the division of informatics at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “It can cause anxiety for people who it identifies, and if there’s no treatment, then you’re maybe not bringing much benefit,” he says… More here.

There is no way to tailor alerts in an exacting way and it is likely that for the majority they will not help them. Getting the balance right between scaring people and helping them is almost impossible.

Detection of Covid 19 using a wearable device

We developed an algorithm to identify COVID-19 onset using data collected by a commercially available wearable device. The resultant algorithm had high sensitivity (82%), with moderate specificity (63%). In developing this algorithm, we placed greater emphasis on sensitivity than on specificity, as our goal was to develop an algorithm that could effectively identify individuals who should obtain laboratory-based diagnostic testing. In this context, lower sensitivity would result in fewer people with potential COVID-19 receiving diagnostic testing, which poses a more serious problem in most screening settings than lower specificity, which would result in more people without COVID-19 receiving diagnostic testing.

You need to be very interested in the subject to read all of this, but it is fascinating how various metrics can be used in place of a focussed test to ascertain likely infection.

The WHOOP 4.0 is reaching too far

Designed to meld the worlds of fashion and fitness, the WHOOP 4.0 band sports a minimalist, sans-screen design that echoes the fashion sensibilities of the Livestrong band. With a design that highlights the fitness tracker’s woven fabric band, the WHOOP 4.0 does two jobs remarkably well – it expertly tracks your fitness stats, and looks good while doing it… More here.

I like the design and feature-set of the WHOOP, but £24/month is a reach in my view when you consider the competition out there and how quickly every brand in this market is moving forward.

Smartwatch Wars Part One: Garmin Instinct Solar vs Apple Watch series 6

The Garmin Instinct Solar is everything the Apple Watch series 6 is not and vice versa. I can think of no two products so different that technically do the same core thing, but the gap between the two is gigantic.

Some quick specs-

As you can see they really do differ in terms of their physical forms, their designs and technical specs including screen technology, storage and battery performance.

One is designed for sports alone and to be as tough as you could possibly need it to be and the other is designed to do as much as possible and to be as near to a smartphone on your wrist as you can get (if you ignore the full Android smartwatches already on the market- they are reaching too far at the moment so please ignore them).

After a week with the Garmin I find myself very much in two minds as to its value. For the price you are getting a tough watch that includes many sensors, access to an ecosystem for all of your fitness metrics and huge battery life. You are also getting a look that many men in particular like to carry off, but if you are not fit it can look a bit ‘wannabe’.

For £85 more you get the Apple Watch series 6 with as many sensors, almost every app you could need, music, podcasts, messaging (and message replies), a full colour screen, cellular (for £509) and sh*t battery performance. On the face of it one appears to be much better value than the other, but we are all different and for many people there is a reason to opt for functionality over features.

The Garmin will survive anything and you can kind of forget about it. If it gets some sun there is the potential to rarely need to charge it, although I am far from convinced of that even if we are talking more than a week between charges, and you can just wear it and not have to concern yourself with doing anything apart from pressing a button to start a workout. It feels like its own thing and there is a sense that it is a genuine watch with fitness capabilities rather than a smartwatch.

It almost feels to me as if the Garmin has been pulled back from being more complex and flexible. The Garmin fēnix is a more complex offering which will bring the ability to listen to music and podcasts with it, provided you download them to the device before you leave home, but even that does not offer anywhere near the number of functions the Apple Watch can. And even if you go all the way up to the Garmin MARQ collection which cost up to £2,249 you still do not get close to the Apple Watch in terms of connectivity etc. You can use apps and pay for things, but it is as if Garmin is scared of pushing the needle too far towards consumer smartwatches and away from pure fitness for athletes.

Garmin makes a huge range of specialised devices for all sorts of sportspeople such as golf, driving, aviators, boat captains, adventurers, runners etc etc and there must be a big market for each. Yes, many of these sports are niche, but sometimes it may be better business to dominate a niche than to be a smaller player in a mass market.

So, if we consider that fitness is the focus for the Garmin Instinct and that being an all purpose smartwatch with fitness capabilities is the focus for the Apple Watch we would logically expect to see different results when tracking workouts.

If I take some of the main stats from a quick treadmill workout with the Apple Watch on my left wrist I note the following-

59kcal expended | 18’27” / Mile pace | Average heart rate 105BPM | Distance 0.38 Mile

If I take some of the main stats from the Garmin which was on my right wrist I note the following-

63kcal expended | 16’58” / Mile pace | Average heart rate 104BPM | Distance 0.43 Mile

I chose this kind of workout because when GPS is used for outdoor workouts my wife (Garmin Venu) and I (Apple Watch) end up with exactly the same distances so I was more concerned with the actual monitoring of my activity on a physical level.

As you can see the heart rates are near identical and the calories expended are also very close so that just leaves the distance as somewhat different.

The problem is, however, that they are very close in the important metrics and I have seen this multiple times between the two. This is a problem for Garmin. If I take you back a few paragraphs where I wrote ‘fitness is the focus for the Garmin Instinct and that being an all purpose smartwatch with fitness capabilities is the focus for the Apple Watch’ you can start to see the problem. The reality is that the Apple Watch tracks workouts and fitness in a near identical way to the Garmin which leaves the latter scrambling for a unique selling point.

It leaves me with the sense that Garmin is either unwilling or unable to go further with their smartwatches. They make a variety of consumer trackers and watches, none with 4G, and all follow the same software path and work with the same iOS and Android apps. It does not matter which one you buy, you will be using similar software and merely losing elements with a watch like the Instinct.

The Instinct offers a monochrome screen which is very small (partly due to the solar panel surrounding it) and which is only able to display a certain amount of information. This, in a way, is appealing because it adds to feeling of robustness and dare I say it, G-Shockery. The familiarity of the interface hides much of the data the watch collects which may be a problem for some, but the fact is that you can jump to the app and see everything you need. However, this off-device data display is not as impressive as what you can see at any time on the Apple Watch.

The fēnix gets around this somewhat, but you are still left with a product that feels held back and almost as if it came from a different time. It is apparent that the Apple Watch feels MUCH more modern than any Garmin sports watch (not the consumer models such as the Venu 2), but there is still huge appeal for athletes, adventurers and those who need excellent battery life above all else. There is also an image that these big rugged sports watches portray and many prefer this to the bandwagon, and almost feminine to some, look of the Apple Watch.

Conclusion

I am naturally drawn to the Garmin Instinct because of the battery life, the design and the simplistic nature of the interface. I also feel very confident about the fitness tracking and the science behind how it works.

The problem is that the Apple Watch exists and feels as if it was created 10 years after the Garmin Instinct. The fact that the fitness tracking is easily comparable to the Garmin means that the Apple Watch series 6 wins part one of the Smartphone Wars.

Buy the product, not the idea

“Ad Maiora is an automatic watch integrated with a number of superb smart functions suitable for day-to-day life.”

If you pre-order the Ad Maiora you will pay €539 with the future retail price quoted as €1100.

It is an intriguing idea and one that makes sense for people like me who like traditional watches, but who also want smart features and fitness tracking. It is, however, not an original idea because the likes of Fossil have already tried it.

The concerns I have about a product like this are more than enough for me to never go anywhere near it-

1/ The pre-order price being half of the retail price is indicative of a product that is vastly overpriced. And I would say that the pre-order price is way too high.

2/ The watch movement is an Automatic Miyota 9039. I would expect to be able to buy this on its own for under £50 and likely closer to £30. It is not a special movement and is definitely at the lower end of the movement scale, and presumably the price goes down when bought in bulk. Oh, and “Accuracy: -10~+30 sec per day.” Ouch…

3/ I like the idea of E-paper and the use of the bezel to scroll through the digital features, but the lack of general information does not help add any context to a purchase decision. What is the app like? How accurate is the tracking etc etc.

4/ And a big hidden charge appears in the purchase page- “Shipping is included in price but VAT (depends on your country, est. 19%) is not included.” That is more than €100 extra and you have to pay the full price now for a product that will be delivered in November 2021 along with the claim from the manufacturer that this may slip due to demand.

5/ Designed in the Czech Republic. Really? Not sure that is a positive and some of the nonsense on the brand page is so typically upstart watch brand it is painful. The fact we know nothing about the brand is another worry- this is not an Apple Watch or even a well known Wear OS brand. That is risky at best.

I like the idea, I really do, but everything else that I have read about this watch unnerves me.

A different kind of fitness tracker

We all know the Apple Watch, Fitbit and other fitness trackers that sit on the wrist, but there are alternatives that help you get fit in a less obvious way.

Most are not well known and I am not recommending any as I know little about them, but it is interesting what brands are doing to tackle this need in a different way.

WHOOP

I like the design, potentially timeless, and it includes heart rate monitoring and sleep tracking as standard, but it does look big on the wrist. What makes it different is the fact that accessories are promoted to allow you to wear it on your upper arm and to clip it to clothing which adds useful flexibility. The other difference is that the device is free with a $30/month membership which may deter some.

Trivoly

The tracking disc underneath a traditional watch idea has been tried before by Chronos https://wearchronos.com and by all accounts the Chronos product was an unmitigated disaster. It was unreliable, customers complained and the support was non-existent. Trivoly is (I presume?) A different company and it offers notifications, music playback and heart rate sensing. My first concern is the depth of the disc under a watch and of course how well it will work. The Chronos vibes sadly live on. It is €149.

Sony Wena Pro

Expensive at £249 and with no heart rate monitoring (there is the £199 Wena Active version with heart rate) the Wena Pro is effectively a watch strap that offers smart fitness functionality within a large than average buckle. The idea is theoretically brilliant, but reviews suggest that it is not as practical in the real world as it may appear.

Oura Ring

Now this is very different. A ring which includes sleep tracking, various fitness scores, trends, body temperature sensing, activity goals and 1 week of battery life sounds crazy, but by all accounts it works. The lack of heart rate monitoring is always a problem in my eyes because accurate activity tracking is so difficult without it, but I applaud the idea and the implementation. $299 is not to be sniffed at though.

I would also suggest taking a look at the following-

Moov

Bellabeat

Withings

Milestone Pod

The main worry I have with the above trackers is not so much the reliability or the overall performance, but for how long the manufacturers will be in business for. This segment of the fitness industry is littered with companies who gave up in relatively short order which is worrying for products that you ideally want to use for many years.

Ultimately it is all too easy to stick with the big players because at least you know that they should stick around and that the software will continue to be developed, but trying something different can be a good thing. The choice is yours.

The Facebook Watch

According to the report, the watch would work over a cellular connection, without the need for a companion smartphone. Facebook apparently plans to add connections to hardware like Peleton for health and fitness. The device would reportedly run on Android. This device could be released as soon as next year, with a second-generation to follow up the following year… More here.

Shudder.

Amazon Halo review

Throughout the day, the Halo automatically tracks the intensity and duration of your movement, as well as your sedentary time. Taking these factors into account, it gives you an Activity Score. Informed by recommendations from the American Heart Association, the app encourages you to reach an Activity Score of at least 150 points each week. At night, it tracks your shut eye, then gives you a sleep score from zero to 100 based on the duration and quality of your rest… More here.

This actually looks quite good, but the privacy aspects concern me. For example-

The Halo offers a unique feature that analyzes your tone of voice to help you understand how you sound to other people, which isn’t a feature you’ll find natively on other wearables. It’s optional, and if you decide to set it up, it will analyze your tone throughout the day. For privacy reasons, the Halo only analyzes and reports on your tone, not anyone else’s.

CZ SMART

The new CZ Smart smartwatch is designed for every moment. Inspired by the rich design of Citizen’s iconic sport technical timepieces, CZ Smart marries modern technologies with the style and quality you expect from Citizen. The sport edition features a color touchscreen dial and black anodized aluminum top ring, framed and finished with a silver-tone stainless steel case and comfortable black silicone strap. CZ Smart also features a 46mm three-piece case construction and a rugged red bezel design. Powered with Wear OS by Google™, CZ Smart is compatible with both iPhone® and Android™ phones to fit your lifestyle. Plus, the versatile menu of dials, designed exclusively for CZ Smart, gives you all the information you need at your fingertips… More here.

I like Citizen as a watch brand and it is probably the most consistent of all, but two words put me off here. ‘Wear OS’.