Sunday, December 06, 2020

Garmin Fenix 6X

 I am a sucker for fitness tracking despite the fact that it can feed into my hypochondriac tendencies.

Knowing my heart rate and stress level on a minute by minute basis is both interesting and terrifying. It is even more terrifying when I get a spurious elevated heart rate alarm. Usually, the alert is because I there is water on between the sensor and my arm or I am wearing the watch too loosely. OHR sensors are finicky buggers no matter how good they are reported to be.

Just before COVID closed down the world and stories of sudden pulse OX reading sending people into ERs never to return, Garmin released it new 6 line of the Fenix which included a built in pulse OX sensor as a standard feature. The line also has a bunch of other tweaks like a better screen, longer battery life, the new body battery metric, and a few other things.

If I am being totally honest, none of these were a good reason to upgrade from my trusty Fenix 3X. It still was getting solid battery life, had all the mapping features I needed, and did a great job at all of the basic stuff like step counting and route tracking.

It was a combination of pulse OX and a misguided sense that shopping therapy would ease the malaise of COVID spring that spurred my decision to upgrade. A large REI divided also helped.

The pulse OX feature also gave me pause. Would that information be helpful or just propel me into a spiral of fruitless doom checking and panic?

Since having the watch since April, I can say that the pulse OX feature is an interesting gimmick. I have mine set just to track it during sleep and if I want to do spot checks. It is not a medical grade pulse OX measurement and from many reviews it seems to be about 1-2% lower than a medical grade instrument. Like the OHR, the accuracy depends on a lot of factors including skin color, light conditions, movement, tightness of the watch band, movement, and sleeping positions.

What I have learned from it is that I probably don't have sleep apnea since my pulse OX reading is pretty steady over night with only a few occasional drops to the low 90s. I do occasionally check during the day, and it is reassuring to see that it is always 95% or better. I imagine that if I got reading in the 70-80% range I would worry, but I imagine I would know I was sick well before then.

Aside from the pulse OX feature, I do like the watch better than my old 3X. The UI is better designed and the bigger, brighter screen is nice on my aging eyes. Other nice, but not game changing, features are improved sleep tracking, the body battery, and the fact that I now get a VO2 max reading during walking activities.

I used to have to adjust wake and sleep times constantly with the 3X, but with the 6X I never need to bother. It is also cool to see how sleep stages, respiration rates, and pulse OX vary over the course of sleep. Again, more interesting that useful.

The body battery feature is a new composite metric that I don't fully understand. Basically, it is supposed to be a reflection of how much energy you have. It fluctuates based on stress (measured by HRV), heart rate, activity level, and a bunch of crazy math I will never understand. It seems relatively accurate in reflecting how I feel. Sometimes it seems low compared to how I feel until I try to go do something active. If the watch reading is low, I invariably bonk way sooner than I would have expected based on how I felt. Is this just me being susceptible to suggestion or a true reflection of my bodies energy reserves? I would love to believe that I am smart enough not to listed to a watch....

The VO2 max from walks is, according to Garmin, is not as reliable as the measure you would get from a run or a bike ride with power meters. Since I loathe running and refuse to spend the money on power meters, it is the reading I have. It was nice to watch the metric improve over the COVID summer when my only outlets for stress were long walks, longer bike rides, and the occasional shred through the local trails. Sadly, now that the COVID winter is settling in and opportunities for riding and walking have gone down, the metric is also trending downward.

The one really nice feature is Garmin Pay support. Being able to use the watch as a touch-less payment form has been great. Yes, I can use my phone as well. However, the watch is right on my wrist and doesn't require me to stare at the phone. Also, the watch is easier to wash and has almost no chance of being pressed against my face.

The Fenix is more expensive and way less sexy than an Apple Watch. The Fenix, unlike the Apple Watch, has multi-day battery life. With daily hour long bike rides, I was getting five days between charges. Now that I am not using the GPS as often I go more like 7 or eight days between charges.

The Fenix also connects to all the bike sensors I already own and feed all the data back into the Garmin ecosystem to which I am tied. There is also Apple Health integration, but it is not the best.

The Fenix is also, as far as I can tell, far more durable than an Apple Watch. I am not sure I would wear an Apple Watch sea kayaking or use it on a multi-day hike or expect an Apple Watch to survive a nasty mountain biking crash. The Fenix feels like it can take pretty much anything I can throw it at.

Am I happy with the purchase? I am not unhappy with the purchase. I could have stuck with my old Fenix until the battery gave out and been satisfied with it. The 6X is a nice, but not earth shattering, upgrade.

On the Water - Sea Kayaking Photographs

 A friend of mine, Jon Sharlin, who is a phenomenal photographer has just released a new book of live action photographs.

A number of shots have shown up on the RIC/KA Sea Kayaking site over the past few years.

If you are interested check it out at: