Garmin Fenix at 10: Happy birthday to the multisport powerhouse

It's the king of the outdoor watch world, and here's how it got to the top
Garmin Fenix at 10
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Happy 10th birthday to the Garmin Fenix, for he's a jolly good fellow – so say all of us.

The outdoor watch has come to represent the best of what the company has to offer in wrist-based tech smarts.

While it might have started out as a watch for people that like to climb up mountains or navigate through challenging terrain, Garmin has made the Fenix more of a smartwatch as the years have passed.

Read this:Best hiking and outdoor watches for adventurers and ultra runners

As the iconic watch hits a decade, we thought we'd take a step back in time to see how far the Fenix has risen.

Garmin Fenix (2012): Starting with ABC

Garmin Fenix at 10: A look back at the evolution of Garmin's outdoor watch beast

July 2012. This is where it all started. The watch Garmin touted was a game changer for mountaineers and outdoor lovers.

The GPS-packing watch with a scratch-resisting display included those ABC sensors, which meant you had an altimeter, barometer and compass to provide outdoor-specific data including elevation and any changes in weather.

It had the capability to let you to plan trips using Garmin's Basecamp desktop app and view waypoints and tracklogs on more detailed mapping support on a smartphone. Both ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity was included to unlock sharing information like routes and tracks to other Garmin devices.

When in tracking mode, you could capture lap, distance, vertical speed and pace data with the ability to pair up an external heart rate monitor and speed and cadence sensors for cycling.

While it wasn't quite a smartwatch just yet, it did offer the ability to set alarms, use a stopwatch and view a multiple time zones at once.

Battery life was up to 6 weeks or 16 hours in GPS modeor 50 hours in the new UltraTrac mode. It wasn't a bad start for watch that would go through a fair few changes over the next 10 years.

Garmin Fenix 2 (2014): Getting sporty

Garmin Fenix at 10: A look back at the evolution of Garmin's outdoor watch beast

It took two years before we saw a successor to the first Fenix and when it did land in February 2014 it promised to do a better job of tracking multiple sports, bringing in more advanced metrics and recovery insights and making tweaks to the watch's user interface.

It packed a display that used a red LED backlight to illuminate it night, and Garmin even bundled it with a strap extender to make it easier to wear over a coat sleeve when you needed to layer up.

You could now track ski boarding, XC skiing, and swimming with activity-specific real time metrics now on offer. It brought over running dynamics powered by its HRM-Run heart rate monitor that debuted on Garmin's Forerunner 620 watch. It could now calculate recovery time and do a recovery check after tough workouts. Along with ABC sensors, an accelerometer meant the ability to track indoor workouts closer without an additional footpod sensor.

From a navigation point of view, this watch let you create routes and plan trips, record waypoints and record GPS-based breadcrumb trails and included the now commonplace TrackBack mode to get you back home.

It had a battery life up to five weeks and up to 50 hours in GPS mode and added smartphone features into the mix, if you owned an iPhone.

Read our Garmin Fenix 2 review to see what we thought back in 2014.

Garmin Fenix 3 (2015) Time to connect

Garmin Fenix at 10: A look back at the evolution of Garmin's outdoor watch beast

Garmin's third generation outdoor watch was unveiled to the world at the start of 2015, as the Fenix sought to improve the accuracy of tracking your outdoor pursuits and make offer a more smartwatch-like experience.

Those accuracy improvements were tied to the introduction of a steel Exo antenna, which was capable of communicating and receive signals from both GPS and Glonass at the same time.

It also provided another layer of protection against the elements all while housing features in a slimmer look than the Fenix 2.

This Fenix had to be paired to an external heart rate monitor to evaluate fitness levels, serve up VO2 Max estimates and use that information to help predict race times.

It brought activity tracking, the ability to track sleep and inactivity alerts to keep you moving during the day.

This was the first version to support Garmin's new Connect IQ platform enabling support for apps. We got smart notifications and the ability to receive calls, texts and email alerts, which are now features that are pretty much a norm on Garmin's entire watch collection.

Check out our Garmin Fenix 3 review.

Garmin Fenix 3 HR (2016): Its own heart

Garmin Fenix at 10: A look back at the evolution of Garmin's outdoor watch beast

A year later, Garmin decided to bolster the powers of the Fenix 3 by introducing its own optical heart rate sensor technology.

For the first time on a Fenix watch you could track heart rate 24/7 and track intensity minutes to make sure you were raising heart rate through exercise on a regular basis.

Along with Sapphire lens models and a lighter (and pricier) titanium Fenix 3 HR, Garmin added new activity profiles for golf, paddleboarding and rowing.

For runners, there was advanced running dynamics to track metrics like stride length and vertical ratio to help examine running form and technique. We also got stress scores and performance condition measurements as Garmin started to delve deeper into recovery and training readiness .

Adding that onboard heart rate monitor though was clearly the highlight here as Garmin sought to use those optical-based measurements to offer more metrics and insights in the Fenix models that followed.

Have a read of our Garmin Fenix 3 HR review

Garmin Fenix Chronos (2016): A luxury move

Garmin Fenix at 10: A look back at the evolution of Garmin's outdoor watch beast

In a move to appeal to the luxury watch crowd, Garmin introduced the Fenix Chronos in 2016. In what was essentially a dressier version of the Fenix 3 HR, the Chronos came in three model options wrapping up a transflective display in a pick of titanium or stainless steel case and bezel looks. It even offered the option of a chunky metal link band to complete that more formal feel.

Luxury materials and price aside, the Chronos essentially matched the software on the Fenix 3 HR. That included an Exo antenna (GPS/Glonass) baked into the bezel to map routes, Garmin's Elevate heart rate monitor and those ABC sensors. It supported tracking for running, cycling, swimming, golf and skiing among other activities supported.

The decision to take the Fenix in that luxury decision seemed to pave the way for Garmin's high-end Marq watch range it unveiled in 2019 to mark the company's 30th anniversary.

Garmin Fenix 5 (2017): It's a family affair

Garmin Fenix at 10: A look back at the evolution of Garmin's outdoor watch beast

Signalling the biggest shift in Garmin's approach to its outdoor watch, the Fenix 5 became the Fenix 5S and 5X as well as new case sizes were introduced in for the first time and with the smaller 5S, it was a clear move to appeal to offer a Fenix option for women.

When we spoke to Jon Hosler, senior product manager for Fenix back in 2019, here's what he told us:

"We were looking at our gender demographic, who was using our watches and it was very obvious that the slant was more towards to our male users. We were appealing more to men than women. But we know that the split for the sports that we cover on our watches is pretty even.

"So we saw that there was clearly an opportunity to appeal to women. We very deliberately made smaller watches to appeal to women"

Design changes aside, the 5 series also Garmin start to reserve some of its more cutting-edge features for its X model before they were rolled out to other sizes in later editions of the Fenix.

So the Fenix 5X got preloaded TOPO mapping, routable cycling maps along with navigation extras like Round Trip Run and Round Trip Ride to let the watch suggest different routes to get you back to your starting point.

Oh, and if you're wondering where the Fenix 4 is, well we know the story behind that too. Apparently it was down to the phonetic pronunciation issues related to the combination of Fenix and 4 in certain dialects of Mandarin. So Garmin forgot the 4 and went straight to the 5 instead.

Read our Garmin Fenix 5 review, Fenix 5X review and Fenix 5S review.

Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (2018): Let the music play

Garmin Fenix at 10: A look back at the evolution of Garmin's outdoor watch beast

Arguably a bit of surprise instalment of the series, over a year from making the Fenix a family affair, Garmin decided to introduce a Plus version of the Fenix 5 and that Plus saw a lot of new features added to the series.

The Fenix 7X saw the debut of a Pulse Ox sensor to monitor blood oxygen saturation levels to help make it better watch to have around when adjusting to higher altitudes on activities like climbs, hikes and trail runs.

All of the models came packed with improved smartwatch skills, which included Garmin Pay to bring contactless payments to the Fenix along with a built-in music player to stream music of your own or streaming services like Spotify for the first time.

After making fully routable TOPO maps a Fenix 5X exclusive, the support was added to all 5 Plus models giving the 5 and 5 Plus access to that more detailed mapping support.

Read our Garmin Fenix 5 Plus review, Fenix 5X Plus review and Fenix 5S Plus review.

Garmin Fenix 6 (2019): Powered by the sun

Garmin Fenix at 10: A look back at the evolution of Garmin's outdoor watch beast

Landing roughly a year after the Plus edition of the Fenix 5, we got the 6 series and it was all about beefing up things on the battery front.

Garmin was achieving that through the power of solar charging, introducing its new Power Glass lens technology to its 6X watch before it was rolled out to other sizes in the next version of the Fenix. That Power Glass technology and the ability to convert sunlight into power used a brought a solar intensity widget to represent the amount of sunlight the watch lens had been exposed to and promised an extra 3 days on top of the already quoted 21 day battery life on Garmin's biggest Fenix option.

Outside of solar charging, Garmin also sought to confuse the process of picking the right Fenix by adding standard and Pro versions. The Pro model included a music player, Wi-Fi and crucially, full mapping support.

We got bigger displays all round, the ability to partner up watch faces with new nylon bands and on the software front, Garmin ushered in its new Pacepro pacing strategies feature to help runners better pace races. It also added the ability to display up to six data fields during workout tracking and Garmin's latest Elevate heart rate sensor promised improved heart rate tracking accuracy. So, there was a lot added to this generation of the Fenix.

Read our Garmin Fenix 6 review, Fenix 6X review and Fenix 6S review.

Garmin Fenix 7 (2022): The one with the torch

Garmin Fenix at 10: A look back at the evolution of Garmin's outdoor watch beast

Bringing us all up to date is the Fenix 7, which was announced in January 2022 alongside the revived Garmin Epix, which feels like a glimpse into the future of the Fenix. The headline new features for Garmin's outdoor watch family included adding a touchscreen display to the range for the first time to offer an alternative way to navigate menu and widget screens and also enhanced the way you could interact with maps on the watch.

New TopoActive maps promised richer full mapping support than the Topo ones included on previous Fenix watches and we also got new navigation features like Up Ahead to point important information coming up in a course. That includes upcoming turns and course points like water and aid stations in races.

Garmin introduced a new Stamina metric promising to give you a better insight whether you have enough fuel in the tank to tackle a tough workout. A new visual race predictor offered an improved way to chart how predicted times change based on training.

A new multi-band tracking mode saw Garmin offer the ability to tap into multiple frequencies from supported satellite systems to improve outdoor tracking accuracy in sketchy signal areas and it really lived up to its accuracy billing.

Last and by no means least, in true fashion, Garmin likes to reserve some extra features for its largest Fenix model so with the 7X, we got an LED flashlight built into the watch casing to offer an extra hit of light for those nighttime adventures.

Read our Garmin Fenix 7 review, Fenix 7X review and Fenix 7S review.