Kit Review Time - 2

24 April 2015

As mentioned in my previous blog a few of the event sponsors have kindly sent me items to test. The second of those was Garmin who sent me their top of the range GPS watch, the fenix3. Sadly this is only a loan (to be expected, it’s not a cheap item) - so after race day I have to send it back…

So, starting at the end (I like to be different occasionally) - do I want to send it back? No! It’s a brilliant piece of equipment. Am I going to buy one? Also no! It’s a brilliant piece of equipment, and that’s exactly why I’m unlikely to buy one (unless Garmin make me an offer for a (now) second hand model…

To explain further - this watch can do so much I’ve only scratched the surface, and that’s why I’m unlikely to purchase it - I wouldn’t use it to anywhere near its capabilities. My own watch is a Garmin 910XT, which is already more advanced than I need (I picked it up cheap from a friend, when my Garmin 310XT died). When running I use a few things - I like to know my distance, my time, and my overall pace on Screen 1, then my total ascent, my heart rate, and the time of day on Screen 2 - that’s it… I spend all day working with numbers, as long as I can track my progress running, how I’m performing compared to other days etc then that’s all I need, I don’t want to spend all evening crunching through data as well. The other section I use is the navigation, which is identical between the two models.

The fenix3 takes all of these things and expands on them to an amazing amount. Want to know your cadence? No problem… Want to know your ground contact time, and your vertical oscillation? Also no problem… The problem I have is that I don’t know what they mean - is a ground contact time of 225ms good or bad? It’s not something I discuss with my coach either (we spend a lot more of our time on the mental aspect of the sport), nor do I feel inclined to research the facts.

Actually, I’m being a little unfair - this really is a brilliant watch. The build quality is superb (although I’d change the strap for a velcro one if I were keeping it), the speed with which it picks up enough satellites to get a GPS fix is phenomenal - way faster than my 910XT. Everything about it is a pleasure to use, the latest incarnation of the soft HRM strap is the most comfortable I’ve tried, with no movement or rubbing at all. The controls are sensibly laid out, and follow an obvious operational logic, although I was probably helped by being an existing Garmin user.​ The fenix3 has both Bluetooth and Wifi connectivity, making setting up and synching an absolute doddle. I downloaded the Garmin Connect app to my phone, meaning I can make a lot of the changes there, rather than on the watch itself (including such things as downloading a different watch face to customise it). As for synching - there’s no more waiting for the watch to find the +ANT stick etc etc… by the time I’ve had a drink and got to my PC the data has downloaded through Wifi. Add to that the simplicity with which you can switch between different sports (you press start, it asks you what you’re about to do, select the correct sport, press start and you’re away), and the amount you can customise (even the list of available sports to choose) and I like it even more! Oh, and the battery life is pretty impressive too (although I’ve not run any definitive tests - life is too short for that kind of thing). Honestly, the more I write, the more I’m thinking I might get one after all…

Until we come onto my one big complaint - and it’s not the fault of the fenix3 (which is brilliant, in case you didn’t know - it even has barometric pressure, compass, altimeter… I could go on…). The biggest problem I have with my current 910XT is the same problem I had with my previous 310XT, and is the same problem I have with the fenix3 - and it’s Garmin’s software, more specifically Garmin Connect. It tries to be fancy, it tries to be clever, it tries to out-Strava Strava (never going to happen, Strava is successful because it works, simple as that) but what it doesn’t do is get a few basic things right that would make a huge difference.

For example - all the Garmins I’ve used have a navigation facility - meaning you can tell the watch to follow a pre-programmed route and it beeps and vibrates when you go off course. Perfect when you’re doing a race in an unfamiliar area, and the course markings aren’t quite as good as they could be. No, it’s not meant to be a substitute for a map, and yes, I can map read rather well, but when I’m racing the last thing I want to be doing is stopping to read a map more often than I have to. The problem isn’t the watch, that function works as well as you can expect (ie, if a path slowly splits off then you’ll probably run 100m before the GPS notices you’re not where you should be, but on obvious turns it’s fine). The problem is how to get the route onto the watch - and that’s where you have to use Garmin Connect. Theoretically it should be possible to import a GPX file into Garmin Connect, and upload it straight to the watch. Leaving aside the convoluted method (manually upload it as an activity, even though it isn’t one, then find that activity and tell Connect to turn it into a course), it just doesn’t work. I even sent a file to Garmin Support in the UK…and they couldn’t get it to work either. I’m a subscriber with Ordnance Survey Getamap - meaning I can plot a route on screen on a 1:25000 map of the area, showing all the footpaths accurately then export it as a GPX…only I can’t get Garmin Connect to upload it! Instead I have to resort to using the Connect version of route planning, which only has satellite photography maps to work from - fine if I was plotting a route on roads, but I’m a trail runner, and trying to distinguish a footpath through trees photographed from a satellite is kinda painful! Until Garmin sort out Connect, make uploading via +ANT sticks smoother (it usually fails at least once a week when using my 910XT) and put in a simple upload method for GPX files then I’ll continue to complain about this poor side to their product.

However, I don’t want to end this review on a negative. I’m hugely grateful to Garmin for having loaned me the fenix3, it’s been great seeing what the top end of technology is like compared to my current watch. In fact I’ve loved it that much I’ve even worn it as a watch, and that is a huge step for someone who hasn’t worn a watch for about 15 years! To sum up, the Garmin fenix3 is an amazing piece of technology, it’s so customisable you can make it fit whatever sport (or combination of sports) you do, it’s really well built, and is so simple to use that it will never confuse even the worst of technophobes.

Such a smart piece of kit

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Simon Edwards

Simon Edwards

I’m a runner, a reader, a writer, a listener, a photographer… all of those are elements of me. I run because I can cover more ground than if I walk, I can see what’s around the next corner – and the one after that. I run for the challenge of going further, going faster, becoming stronger. I run against myself, against the mind and body that want me to quit when it gets hard, when tiredness sets in.

I read, write, listen, make photographs to document what I see, to learn more about my world, to create new thoughts, to challenge myself further, to give my running further meaning.

  • Location: Derbyshire
  • Event entered: Ultra Trail Marathon
  • Favourite outdoor activity: Trail Running
  • Favourite cake: Cheese Scone (Okay, I know it's technically not a cake... Ginger Parkin if it HAS to be a cake)
  • SUPPORTED CHARITY

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