When it comes to flagship running watches, all eyes typically go to Garmin with everyone being curious about what’s next. So rest assured when the Fenix 6 line-up was announced, people were excited. We had a chance to look at their most feature-packed edition, the Fenix 6X Pro. We will hit on the other versions of the 6, but this review focuses primarily on the biggest and gnarliest version which will give you a ton of features for the money. The other question we will try to answer is how much has changed since the Fenix 5 because that’s inevitably what people want to know when it comes to upgrading, so let’s get into it.
Here are the Key Features
- Features an astounding 60 hours of battery life while on GPS (plus some).
- The 51mm case is waterproof rated to 100M and features interchangeable bands.
- Heart rate monitor, blood oxygen, music player, Bluetooth, Garmin Pay, and more.
- It works equally well with both iPhone and Android phones.
- Syncs data primarily to Garmin Connect but can easily be pushed to a multitude of other training systems including Strava, Training Peaks, and more.
- Carries a fairly decent price tag of $899 USD.
Now as we mentioned there are a number of versions of the Fenix 6 this time and here is how they’re broken down.
- Garmin Fenix 6/Pro – This is the standard version with the primary difference being a 47mm case and slightly less battery life. Retail is $599 and $699 USD.
- Garmin Fenix 6S/Pro – This is a slimmed-down version using a 42mm case with even less battery (but still solid) Retail is $599 and $699 USD.
- Garmin Fenix 6X – This is the 51 mm case with improved battery life. Retail is $749 USD.
- Garmin Fenix 6X Pro – Similar to the 6X but with extra features standard. Retail is $899 USD.
- Garmin Fenix 6X Pro Solar – The Pro Solar adds solar panels which should extend battery life even longer. Retail is $1149 USD.
- There is also a Sapphire edition that uses a different lens for better screen protection for an additional premium.
All of the Fenix 6 models are actually very similar. What you are really looking at is giving up battery life and watch face sizes against the cost. The majority of other features still exist in some way or another.
Garmin Fenix 6X: Design and the Specs
First off, let’s be real about the size of this thing. The Fenix 6X is big in every way. In fact, when you wear it, it’s like a badge of honor you’ve added to your arm and when you see others wearing it you exchange a knowing glance. However, it is definitely reduced in size from its 5X predecessor. It is slimmer overall and weighs less. Putting them side-by-side it isn’t necessarily noticeable, but on the wrist is apparent. What is more apparent is that the screen size has actually been increased so you can see more data on the face.
It obviously comes in its Garmin typical black design with a black strap and the slightly just off black face but you can easily switch up the bands as needed to give yourself a pop of color. Bands direct from Garmin can be fairly pricey, the good news is there are lots of options out there.
The sensors have switched up a little bit on the bottom, these are the heart rate and oxygen sensors which will be denoted by varying color lights when in use. You also find the charging cable insert which has been kept pretty much the same, but not identical to the 5.
It uses the exact same button design as the 5 and while the buttons are labeled, you pretty quickly get into a routine in terms of moving through the menus. There is quite a lot of functionality buried in the menus, so getting quick on them is a necessity. This all culminates in their traditional on-screen digital dashboard which is essentially a customizable watch face, but we typically throw out the stock dashboard quickly because there are lots of developer built options on their Connect IQ Store that improve on it quite a bit.
Garmin Fenix 6X Pro – Run Tracking, PacePro, and Heart-Rate
Clearly where the Fenix 6X starts to shine his in the area of activity-tracking and while it can handle your normal day-to-day things those areas are best left for other types of reviews because we want to focus specifically on the running aspects. Now, we did have a chance to test out everything from stand-up paddle-boarding to cycling to swimming, indoor and outdoor, you name it and all functionality works pretty well and each can be customized to your own needs.
This means for every activity you get custom screen layouts, varying data elements, just a wealth of possibilities. Additionally, in every case the data you get back and very finite, I mean you can really slice and dice it to learn more about how well you are doing in a given activity. Customization is key. All of this is of course is built on top of a really solid heart rate and blood oxygen sensor which is used throughout most of these activity tracking features.
The entire Fenix 6 line now has Garmin’s PacePro training tool. this allows you to set route or distances and based on your performance and prior pacing offers you splits that you should be following in order to improve in the most optimal way. That carries through both on the app and on the watch during the run giving you a real-time look at how you’re doing. If you go too hard oh, then that becomes clear you can move your threshold up. If you’ve overexerted then that becomes clear that you put yourself behind where you should be. It just gives you a really simple benchmark to work with.
This feature itself is actually really smart and fun and interesting to play with. Many runners will like of course want a more finite level of control and of course this is offered in general Garmin Connect where you can create workouts of your own to your heart’s content. PacePro just simplifies all of that and tries to use some level of machine learning to give you the best possible result. It is a very nifty feature that the majority of runners will find appealing and will definitely want to try.
The Fenix 6X uses Garmin’s Elevate Optical heart-rate sensor technology. The purpose behind the tech is to give you a more continuous look at your heart rate instead of doing it at varying intervals. This should give you a pretty solid picture into both your strain level during a workout a well as your body’s rhythms during sleep, and more. It allows Garmin to build a bigger profile around your performance and inevitably come up with a number like in heartrate variability (HRV).
In terms of quality, we would say heart rate monitoring is good. It is really hard to beat a true trust strap for any watch at this point. Many of them are still getting close, but inevitably the chest strap always seems to be more reliable overall. But for 98% of runners out there, what is in this watch is way more than enough. If you’re hardcore on the performance side, then you probably want to pair your Garmin with a heart rate monitor on your chest.
As we look at general run tracking, there is no question that Garmin is one of the best in the business. Between a solid heart rate monitor, oxygen, and of course world-class GPS you get a very clear in-the moment-look at where you are at in your activity. Many other watches out their will ping GPS or take hear rate at varying intervals in order to conserve battery life which leads to a little more jumpiness in actual distance or actual heart rate at the moment. The Garmin Fenix 6X is taking a much smaller look at your performance which means more real-time data.
Again, even if you are not using the PacePro feature, there are a significant number of settings within the Garmin Connect application that allow you to create your own workout, look at your past progression, and even tries to give you an idea of when you are under-performing or over-performing based on a combination of pace, heart rate, etc.
The bottom line, it is hard to beat a Garmin when it comes to the accuracy of data for a run. They have been doing this for a very long time and everything feels really dialed-in. The amount of customization is very high and with new features like PacePro or the ability to build your own workout. There is just a lot of packed in here for a runner.
Garmin Fenix 6X Pro – Battery Life
Battery life on any Garmin is definitely one of the saving graces and we would recommend moving up to the larger Pro Edition for anyone who’s concerned with having enough juice for their endeavors. Obviously, the lower-end 6 models have plenty of battery life for most people, but the 6X gives you 30% more juice. They claim 21 days of use straight as just a smartwatch, then we go to 60 hours if you are using GPS for tracking. That drops dramatically to 15 hours if you use GPS and music together. From another angle, 84 days if you are in battery saver mode. are a lot of other numbers in here as well, but it comes down to the fact that you can tailor it to your liking, battery profiling has become a huge part of the watch.
In all our testing, we found the battery lasted remarkably well. Definitely better than the 5 and if you are going on anything over 8 hours or more it keeps up really nicely. With fairly regular daily activity use plus Smart Watch functionality, you should expect to charge around once a week. this is one of the biggest positives of this watch because compared to many others, there just aren’t that many that can stand up to this.
One thing that hasn’t changed which we tend to dislike is the charging port location. It hasn’t changed at all from the 5X, it is still located on the underside of the watch and the actual plug, while it has a new design, still functions identically. The hard part with all these watches is the ability to charge while in use. No vendors have truly tackled this, but brands like Polar with their side clip mechanism are providing ways to potentially handle this. not a big deal for the Garmin because it holds a charge quite well but would be great to have as an option.
Garmin Fenix 6X Pro – Also a Smartwatch and Music Player
Garmin has been improving their smartwatch functionality to keep up with what the challengers have been doing, most directly Apple and Suunto. This functionality has gotten even more robust, but honestly, this isn’t a selling feature and we care all that much about in a performance activity watch. We do love the ability to get notifications as needed, but obviously, you can’t respond and it’s typically one line of information, it’s enough to make you stop and check your phone. You can answer a call which is nice and general notifications function appropriately as well. There are third-party apps in the store but almost feels a bit gimmicky if you’re truly putting it up against an Apple Watch or Android Wear.
They have also included their music player functionality in the 6 series and it honestly works really well, but again just not a huge value to us. Most people still carry their phones with them for any number of reasons and if you are on a really long excursion, you don’t want to worry about wearing your battery down on your watch because the music player is running. It is kind of a bonus nice to have and it does sync playlists from apps like Spotify or iHeartRadio and it is easy to use. The watch also integrates with Bluetooth headphones and we had no problem pairing and the sound was solid.
Garmin Fenix 6X Pro – Garmin Connect
Touching a bit more on Garmin Connect outside of it’s running usage and the app overall. It works pretty well and it does sync significantly faster than it used to primarily because Garmin has done a good job improving their back-end infrastructure outside of the app. We do think this is one area where Garmin continues to struggle because the UI of this thing feels significantly dated. They have simply tried to pack too much into an app over time and it’s kind of bursting at the seams. Many options are hidden deep down in a menu and takes a little work to find it. Trying to mix Golf with PacePro and Garmin Pay in addition to enhanced workout metrics just needs a little more finesse.
If you look at really strong fitness apps that lean into social like Strava, there simply is no comparing the two from functionality or look and feel perspective. Garmin Connect is just falling behind and we look forward to seeing them make some Investments to improve that interface.
Overall, the Garmin Fenix 6X Pro and the entire 6 lineup for that matter are of course just as solid as you’d expect them to be. The 6X Pro is a beefy watch with a lot of technology, a lot of battery, and it won’t be for everyone given its size. If you have the need to go the distance when it comes to battery life and workout strenuousness and you don’t mind the extra weight, then the 6X will be great for you. However, most runners could stick with a 6 Pro and be just as happy with the quality they are going to get. Our nitpicks are minor and stem mostly from the Garmin Connect experience. if you are an owner of a 5X, then there is probably not enough here for you to make the jump unless you like having the latest and greatest or really need more battery, but any version before the 5 is a no-brainer. We can’t wait to see what next year looks like for the Fenix line.