Garmin Fenix 3 – First Impressions

James Young · March 6, 2015

Since I’m doing a lot more running and cycling now than ever before, and I’m a bit sick of killing my phone’s battery running Strava, I decided I wanted to get an all-in-one device that can do running, cycling, and swimming metrics.  If I could wear it as a day-to-day watch with activity tracking, all the better.

Enter the Garmin Fenix 3.  You can find DCRainmaker’s excellent in-depth review here.  I won’t re-iterate what he’s saying there, he gets it on the mark pretty well.

I got the Gray Performer Bundle, which has the regular Gray (pretty close to black to be honest) Fenix 3 along with the HRM-RUN heart rate strap.  I also grabbed a set of the new 2015 Garmin speed/cadence sensors for the bike.  I don’t need a footpod since I don’t do running inside - and even if I did, the default WDR (watch dead-reckoning) mode that the Fenix supports would be good enough for me.

Initial Unboxing

Inside the box was the Fenix 3 (with a fair amount of charge), along with the HRM-Run strap (already paired), USB adapter cable, and USB charger (with US and UK adapters).  The charger was useless (no AU adapter), unfortunately.

Pairing up with all the devices was trivially easy.  Pairing up with the desktop to use Garmin Express wasn’t.  I had to faff around with the cable in various USB ports to find one that it liked.  One gotcha is that you have to (counter-intuitively) use the watch in ‘Mass Storage’ mode to make it work with Garmin Express.

That said, having the computer connection isn’t critical - you need it to be able to do things like set up wireless connectivity, but once all that’s done you can do all your syncing through either Bluetooth Smart or WiFi.  WiFi support does not work with WPA-Enterprise, regretfully, but I was able to get it working with my home WiFi and also the free council WiFi near work.

The Fenix 3 also supports Bluetooth for smartwatch type functionality.  While I’ve paired it with the phone, I’ve left BT off because I’ve heard reports about battery life being drastically reduced if you have BT on but the phone out of range.  This should get fixed in a future update.

The watch itself is big, both in diameter and height.  The gray color is also quite imposing.  Fortunately, my wrists and hands are large enough that it doesn’t look ludicrous.  Make no mistake though, this is a big watch.

The watch, while big, isn’t hugely heavy.  I put this down to being used to a Citizen Nighthawk with a stainless steel strap.  The rubber strap on the Fenix 3 is pretty light, so it feels OK on the wrist to me.

Activity Tracking

The Fenix 3 is primarily a sport training watch, but it does have some activity tracking abilities - such as steps, calorie burn, and an activity monitor.  Many of the features are fairly rudimentary, but like I said, activity tracking is not this devices’ forte.

The Move Bar is pretty useful for reminding you to move around periodically.  It appears to work by gradually filling a bar when you’re still, and gradually clearing it when you move.  When it fills to a limit, you’re notified to move about.  If you ignore it, it keeps filling up, so you’ll need to move more to clear it the next time.  If you move straight away when it tells you, you only have to walk for 20-30 seconds to clear it.  Good for stretching the legs.

The distance meter on the activity tracker shows the sum of all activities you’ve done today - steps + other exercises.  This is a little annoying when you ride into work because it shows you things like > 20km moved but only a small number of steps.  Would be better if non-foot exercises didn’t count on the distance there.  Oh well.

The calorie burn is inclusive of calculated base metabolic burn + estimated burn from steps / other exercises up to the current time.

Running / Cycling

Data collection seems pretty good.  Besides a few wonky bits where I came out under a bridge doing a turn, it was very accurate - right on the path.  Note though that when you’re using speed sensors as well as GPS that the watch will use the GPS in preference to the speed sensor (it’s unknown to me whether it uses the speed sensor for smoothing or not).

You get a lot of data.  From running, I got pace, elevation (barometric!), route, heart rate, VO2max estimation, cadence, vertical oscillation, ground contact time, temperature.  From running, I got speed, elevation, route, heart rate, cadence, temperature.  You can view all this data while in the activity, and also review afterwards - and of course view online after syncing.

The temperature reads high initially because of the proximity to your body, but once you start moving it settles down from simple airflow.

Battery use is pretty low.  Leaving the watch in the default Smart GPS mode, with GLONASS enabled, a 1hr ride into work cost me only about ~6% battery.  Not shabby at all.


All in all, I’m pretty happy with it.  It does what I wanted - replaced my phone as a fitness recording device, and also has enough functionality for me to stand in as a regular wristwatch & basic step tracker.  I haven’t done much with the navigation and route features, but with what I typically do I don’t need that (if I’m desperate for a map, I have a phone).  It also replaces my old cycling computer entirely, with more features and better sensors.

Plus, it looks pretty good.

Twitter, Facebook