The Garmin Fenix 3 is part of a new breed of fitness-focused smartwatches. As big, well-known technology companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft encroach on the fitness tracking market, Garmin (and several others) are battening down the hatches for a war that, in all likelihood, they can’t win. Android Wear watches like the LG Watch R already does basic fitness tracking that will only get more sophisticated. The Microsoft Band got a lot of attention for how it molded the smartwatch notification experience with ten sensors to track your body—with an admittedly bulky result. And Apple is about to release the Apple Watch, already ordering up 5 million units in anticipation of a huge release.
All that said, there’s something really great about a fitness-first, smartwatch-second timepiece like the Garmin Fenix 3. It’s similar to last year’s Fenix 2, another heavy, multi-sport watch with GPS support, but with a new interface and a few added tweaks that make it a very capable and stylish, if bulky and expensive, fitness watch.
Design-wise, the Garmin Fenix 3 is as rugged as they come—heavy, with about three ounces of heft and a 1.2-inch, 218-by-218 ppi (pixels-per-inch) screen, and comes with both a metal bracelet and a rubber band that you can swap out. I have somewhat small wrists, so the metal bracelet was way too large for me, and it doesn’t come with the tools to shorten it, so I had to stick to rubber for most of my time using it.
The 300 mAh lithium-ion battery doesn’t sound impressive on paper, but it should be capable of up to 50 hours in UltraTrac mode (the basic step, fitness-tracking and notification mode), along with up to 20 hours in hardcore GPS training mode and up to 6 weeks in watch mode, where it will, well, tell you the time. I found this to be pretty accurate, and on days I didn’t use the GPS training function, I only used about 30% of the battery. Recharging is easy and secure. A part of the charger pops out when pressed and held, you place the watch in, and then release it. It’ll never fall out.
Here’s the rub: There’s no touch screen functionality. Smartwatch lovers will be a little put-off by this, but this makes sense for fitness watches. You don’t want your settings to change when you’re working out, and you probably want to save as much battery as possible. Instead, there are five buttons on the sides of the Fenix 3: up, down, start/stop, back/lap, and light. Each ones functions a little differently—and changing your settings can be a bit of a pain this way, as well as taking some getting used to—but it’s worth it knowing that you’re secure in the settings you choose and they won’t change when your wrist rubs against something.