Thursday, October 22, 2015

Fenix 3

Before the whole “smart watch” craze started, Garmin and Suunto were making GPS enabled ABC watches that could hook up to a bunch of Ant+ sensors and talk to a smart phone. I started using the original Garmin fenix in 2013. It was chunky, but was not too much to wear as a daily watch. It served as a bike computer by pairing up with speed and cadence sensors. It tracked my kayaking with the GPS. It tracked family hikes. A software update made it capable of receiving notifications from my phone.

The fenix did not count steps which was a limitation. That meant I was wearing the watch and a Fitbit. The combination worked OK. I occasionally forgot to take the Fitbit off in the pool or put it on in the morning.

The Apple Watch was announced at a fortuitous time. I had just lost my Fitbit for the second time and Garmin had released the vivosmart. It was a $100 wristband that tracked steps, told time, connected to my heart rate monitor and the speed sensor on my bike, and could forward notification to my phone. It became my daily watch.

The vivosmart was cool, but hardly life changing. The longer I wore it the more useful I found it to be. Leaving my phone on silent was a nice perk. The vivosmart had a find my phone function and it could keep track of all of my exercise data. The only thing it was lacking was GPS functionality. I had an old fenix for when I needed GPS on my wrist.I began to wonder what a truly smart watch could do. The possibilities of a bigger, color screen and a full API for developing apps felt huge. It would be nice to get a quick check of the weather or have loyalty cards without pulling out my phone.When the specs for the Apple Watch were released, I was disappointed. It was beautiful, but whimpy. It wouldn’t hold up to a kayaking trip, a weekend in the woods, or a trip in the pool. It was designed for the more urban, hip set.

Then I saw that Garmin was diving into the smartwatch pool. None of them had the fancy touch screen, taptic engine, or the slick apple design. They all, however, were waterproof, GPS enabled, and could last for days on a charge. One of the models, the vivosmart, even has a reasonable price.

The fenix 3 was a no brainer. Round watches look better. It also had the best specs for the price: waterproof to scuba depths, 5 day battery life, bluetooth, wifi, along with Ant+ and GPS. It didn’t have maps, but did have navigation features. All of the new Garmin watches also came with an SDK that allowed developers to create watch faces, widgets, data fields, and apps.

I had a big REI dividend check, so the $500 price was not an issue. The price tag is on the higher end of the fitness/smart watch category. When you look at only GPS enabled fitness/smart watches, it is still on the high end of the range, but not by much. For the premium price, you do get a premium watch. The watch body is metal and it doesn’t shout fitness watch. I wear the fenix 3 everyday and get compliments on how stylish it looks.

The fenix 3 is not as slick looking as the Apple Watch, but it does have a classic men’s watch look. The materials are nice and it comes in two finishes: grey and sliver. I opted for the grey. It is big watch with a two inch diameter, but it does not overwhelm my average sized wrist. The standard band is a rubbery plastic that is comfortable. The band uses standard pins, so it is easy to swap the standard band out for one of your choosing.

The watch face can be customized to your liking as well. The default watch faces are minimalist and classy. You can choose between an analog watch face with date or a digital watch face with a number of complications. If the built in watch faces are not to your liking, there are hundreds of watch faces you can install, for free, from the Connect IQ store. I have had a Homer Simpson watch face, a Smiley watch face, a wind gauge watch face, a watch face that was just two big circles that spun around. I am currently using a simple analog face that includes a step gauge and the date. Some of the watch faces are poor. A number of faces that are just attempts to emulate luxury watches. Regardless of your taste, there is likely a watch face that fits it. If you cannot find one, you can either make one for yourself or wait a little while. New faces appear everyday.

There are three other categories of applications that can be downloaded to the watch:

  • widgets are auxiliary screens that can be scrolled through from the watch face
  • data fields are views into the data collected by the sensors during an activity
  • applications are programs that completely takeover the watches functionality

For me, the widgets are the things I use the most. You scroll to them from the watch face and they show you easy to consume slices of information. The watch has several built in widgets for showing the data collected from the watch sensors like the temperature and the barometric pressure. I turned those off within hours of getting the watch. The ones I kept are the weather widget that pulls information from you phone to give you a quick look at the forecast, the steps widget, the calendar widget which shows the events from your phone calendar, and the notification widget that shows the notifications from the phone. The built in widgets also include one for controlling the music player on your phone and one for controlling a Virb action camera.

There are approximately a hundred custom widgets on the Connect IQ store. The widgets I use the most are the minute cast from weather channel and the sun and moon widget from Garmin.

There is only one application that I use and that is sky watch. It is a cool app that points out objects in the night sky. It uses the GPS and the other sensors to orient you. It is not super useful, but it is a fun way to show off when camping with friends.

There are two applications that I keep thinking about installing. One is a find your app that also keeps track of when your meter needs to be changed. The other lets you store bar code based cards on the watch. I don’t frequently park at meters or use a lot of cards with bar codes. If I did they would be useful.

The Connect IQ store has a ton of watch faces to choose from. I change mine frequently. They range in quality, but most look pretty good. I, personally, like the analog faces with step information on them. I do also have a sweet spot for one that is just a big yellow smily face with the time underneath it and the Homer watch face.

Like the Apple Watch, the Garmin watches can be great if the applications arrive. Sadly, the big names are not developing apps for the platform. It would be great if there was a Nest widget. I am surprised at the lack of applications for services that Garmin partners with. For example, they use My Fitness Pal to track calories, but there is no watch app or widget.

Unlike the Apple Watch, the Fenix 3 is a great watch even without cool apps. It does a great job of telling the time and tracking my activity levels. It is super durable. It has advanced fitness tracking features. It has built in navigation features. It has a battery that last for days. It has preinstalled smart features that get the job done.

Now Garmin just needs to figure out how to get the big name developers to come to their platform.

No comments:

Post a Comment