Garmin Fenix 6 review: long live the sports watch king

Updated: We test the Fenix 6 Pro and Solar versions
Garmin Fenix 6
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The Garmin Fenix 6 is the middle child of the Fenix 6 series family. It's the version of the outdoor watch that we imagine current Fenix owners, or those on the hunt for a new sports watch, will be casting an eye over first.

Sitting in between the Fenix 6S and the hulking Fenix 6X, the 6 gives you pretty much all of the same features in a 47mm frame.

You can track runs, hikes, rounds of golf and even your time on the slopes. In terms of the breadth of activities tracked it's in a league of its own, but nearest natural competitors are the Suunto 9, Polar Grit X and Garmin's own (cheaper) Vivoactive 4, which offers similar sports tracking with far less data and battery life.

Going for the Fenix 6 Pro model gives you mapping and navigation features will keep you on the right track when you're out adventuring, and you've got plenty of battery life to keep you away from that charger for weeks or even months.

There's a whole lot going on with the new Fenix, but is it enough to make it the go-to watch for outdoor lovers?

Update (10 August 2020): Garmin has added a new solar edition of the Fenix 6 and added new software features to all watches including a new sleep tracking widget and new sports profiles, since we first reviewed the Fenix 6 in October 2019. This update reflects our continued testing of those new features.

Garmin Fenix 6 key features

  • From £529
  • Available in 6 and 6 Pro models
  • 47mm case
  • 1.3 inch, 240 x 240 display
  • Available with steel, titanium bezel
  • Interchangeable 22mm bands
  • Up to 36 hours GPS battery
  • Includes Pulse Ox sensor
  • Waterproof up to 100m
  • 24/7 activity tracking
  • Multisport profiles
  • PacePro running feature
  • Battery saver mode

Fenix 6 models explained

Fenix 6 models - 6 Pro, 6S and 6X

Left to right: Fenix 6X Pro Solar, Fenix 6S, Fenix 6 Pro

The Garmin Fenix 6 comes in multiple flavors and price points, so we'll just break them down here first.

  • Garmin Fenix 6/Pro/Pro Solar – The standard 47mm version, adds music, Wi-Fi, maps – £529/£599/£739.99
  • Garmin Fenix 6S/Pro/Pro Solar – A smaller 42mm case with slightly lower battery life, adds music, Wi-Fi, maps – £529/£599/£739.99
  • Garmin Fenix 6X – Bigger screen, slightly better battery, music, Wi-Fi, maps as standard – £649
  • Garmin Fenix 6X Pro Solar – Solar panels for extra battery life, music, Wi-Fi, maps as standard – £849

Garmin Fenix 6: Design and interface

Garmin Fenix 6 design and interface, on-wrist shot

The Fenix 6 isn’t too much of a break from the overall design language of the range – but it has been improved in nearly every way. Whether you go regular, pro or solar, it weighs in 83g for the steel version or 72g with a titanium case to make it lighter than the Fenix 5

The buttons feel subtly more premium too, and at last the Fenix 6 doesn’t feel like a beast on the wrist and will suit a variety of wrist sizes and shapes.

The screen is still the transflective LCD, which helps keep battery life to a maximum, but it’s been given a boost to 260x260 pixels (previously 240x240) and it does show. Visuals are noticeably crisper – aided by a slight boost in screen size too.

the garmin fenix 6 showing daily fitness data

Away from the hardware, Garmin has been making improvements on the operating system front that will change the way you interact with the Fenix 6. In a good way. The menus have been given a lick of paint making them more useful than before.

Scrolling down through your daily data offers more of an overview, so instead of cycling through single screens for every metric (training status, weather, calendar, heart data), they're presented as a list so information is more glanceable.

You can still dive into each segment by hitting the main button, and these menus have also been given an overhaul to show data better. If you want to customize what's displayed here too, you do have that option as well.

Garmin has sought to make the Fenix a nicer, more comfortable watch to wear all day and we think it's certainly achieved that.

Garmin Fenix 6: Mapping and navigation

Garmin Fenix 6 Pro showing TOPO mapping

TOPO mapping is a major feature of the Fenix range, and while it’s been given some new themes on the Fenix 6 (high contrast, popularity, marine, dark, and outdoor), it’s still lacking as a proper mapping experience.

Essential reading: Best Garmin watch faces to download

When out on an activity you can navigate to a map of your surroundings, to add a little context to what’s around you. It’s basic stuff though, which shows major trails and roads, but doesn’t have the full detail of an Ordnance Survey map, and isn’t too helpful when really off the beaten track.

The pictures show us trail running in deepest Devon, with the path missing from the mapping. In fact, according to the Fenix 6 we were lost within a sea of white with no hope of escape.

In addition, zooming in and out is a painful experience on the watch, requiring a combination of button bashing not witnessed since entering Mega Drive cheat codes. There’s no pinch and zoom as the Fenix isn’t touchscreen, so having a quick zoom out requires serious effort.

If you’re mapping yourself via a GPX, it does make the experience a lot better, but it’s one that ironically works better with the sprawl of roads in built up areas, rather than out in the wilderness. Where previously we’ve struggled to navigate through cities using GPS waypoints, that’s improved immeasurably by the mapping.

You can navigate to points of interest, hospitals and other landmarks using the built-in mapping – but we’ve never had cause to do that.

Garmin has now also sped up the process of getting those GPX files onto your watch from third party apps like Strava and Komoot, which is definitely a welcome change.

In short, the mapping is still a feature that sets the Fenix range way above rivals, but it’s far from an experience that we’d rely on without maps.me or an OS map in our pocket.

Garmin Fenix 6: Running

Garmin Fenix 6 Pro showing menu with trail running as an option

The great thing about the Fenix is that it puts everything you get from Garmin's Forerunner watch range into a more durable and robust design. The big difference between something like the Fenix and Garmin's top end Forerunner has been the difference in size. But that difference in stature is not as extreme as it once was.

While the Fenix 6 still looks bigger than wearing a Forerunner 945, it has a far more compact feel than the Fenix 5 Plus or the 3. It's comfortable to run with too and the screen is the ideal size and resolution to review your run data in real-time.

Garmin sample data from the Fenix 6 tracking a full marathon

Sample run data from Garmin Fenix 6

When it comes to tracking a run, it's all going to feel very familiar. Press that top right button, select Run, wait for that GPS signal bar to go green and then get moving. There's plenty going on in the training settings too, letting you select power modes, choose a training session or switch on the navigation to make use of the Fenix 6's mapping features.

Data fields are all customizable and there's now room for more. If you want to fill that screen with running metrics, you have the ability to do that. You still get the option of richer running metrics if you're willing to invest in Garmin's Running Dynamics Pod or a footpod like Stryd.

On the whole it's still a great experience running with this Fenix, indoors or outdoors. There's plenty in terms of the metrics you can pore over and GPS signal pick-up is nice and speedy. If you're buying the Fenix to be your primary running watch, you're not going to be disappointed.

Garmin Fenix 6: PacePro

Garmin Fenix 6 Pro showing PacePro feature

To add to its run tracking prowess, Garmin introduces something it's calling PacePro racing strategies. If you do a lot of racing or you're keen to see if you can get faster, this is a feature for you.

Essential reading: An in-depth guide to using Garmin PacePro

Its a feature that has now rolled out to Garmin watches like the Forerunner 245 and 945 as well as being available on its Marq range of watches.

PacePro involves offering you guidance on your pace on your watch during a run in real-time, based on your elevation data and ideal pace strategy. You also have the ability to customize data fields based on your desired uphill effort and negative split preferences.

Garmin draft

To get it all set up you'll need to head to the Garmin Connect app, then to the Training section where you'll find the appropriate menu screen. From there you can create your PacePro strategy based on an existing course or a race distance.

In our test, we had the opportunity to us it in a race environment and took the option to select an existing course, which are currently user generated course profiles. The immediate problem we found is that many of these user generated courses are not from the most recent versions of races, so may not account for the most recent course profile.

Garmin showing a loaded route

You can select your goal time and goal pace and adjust pacing strategy – whether you want to keep a consistent pace throughout or finish quicker and with negative splits. You can also define how hard you want to be working on the hilly parts of the course.

Read this: Understanding your running watch stats

Once you've created your strategy and synced it to the watch, you'll be able to select the strategy from the settings in the run tracking profile. During a race, turns in the course will be pointed out to you on the watch and a + or - sign against your time will let you know whether you're sticking to your target pace. You can still access the standard running watch data fields by hitting those physical buttons on the side.

On the whole, PacePro worked really well. It takes you away from thinking about your time and more about thinking about your running. But it's not perfect. In our test, the two-year old user generated course didn't match the latest version of the course so pointed out turns that didn't exist. That meant adding a good few minutes onto our strategy, which mentally was hard to digest.

By the time we crossed the finish line, it had managed to level itself out and the strategy pretty much panned out as planned.

As an alternative to racing based on heart rate or even power, Garmin has managed to come up with a pace-based strategy that on the whole works really well, and is one we'll be taking advantage of again.

Garmin Fenix 6: Hiking

Garmin showing option for long battery Expedition Mode

In terms of hiking tracking, there’s not too much new over the Fenix 5. Fire up a hike and you’ll get data tracked: distance, time, elevation, calories. All pretty self explanatory and we found it to be accurate too.

But it’s the additional features that add to the experience.

Hiking is really where you can make use of the UltraTrac hiking features and the TOPO mapping. The Fenix 6 will also warn of incoming storms, using the barometric trend indictor. The watch uses a barometer to gauge your altitude, but a sudden drop in atmospheric pressure can indicate a storm.

ClimbPro kicks in when you start climbing, and that’s been given a mini overhaul on the Fenix 6. When it senses you ascending, a new screen kicks in that shows your vertical speed. If you’re following a pre-loaded GPX route, it will also tell you how much you have remaining and show the profile of the slope.

Garmin Fenix 6: Heart rate accuracy

Garmin from behind showing the heart rate monitor

The Fenix 6 houses Garmin's latest generation Elevate heart rate sensor tech, which is put to work for a whole host of things. It's harnessed for fitness tracking features like its Body Battery energy monitor, advanced sleep monitoring and stress tracking. It'll also dish out heart rate readings during the day to give you a snapshot look at your current state of fitness.

Essential reading: I trusted the training advice on my running watch to get faster

Its primary use though is for training, letting you view heart rate zones in real time, broadcast HR over ANT+ compatible devices and receive HR alerts whether you're out on a run or on your bike. It also feeds into metrics that aim to give you a better overview of your training load and and help to suggest when you're in best shape to tackle another tough session in the gym.

You do also have the ability to pair external chest straps, which can offer additional workout metrics like lactate threshold and perform HRV stress tests.

For the majority of those uses, the Fenix 6 is more than competent. Readings during the day were always in line with other wrist-based heart rate monitors we compared it to. It generally matched up with a chest strap for resting heart rate data as well.

During workouts, for an activity like running, it generally coped well with the intensity of running a hard, even tempo race where the jump up in heart rate is not as frenetic as a HIIT workout for instance.

Garmin heart rate monitor comparison

Sample HR data from a indoor rowing session: Fenix 6 (left) and Forerunner 945 with chest strap (right)

When put to the high intensity test, we found the Fenix 6 offered a very similar experience to what we found with the Fenix 6X. It seemed to be quite slow in falling into place with the chest strap data. The sample above is from an indoor rowing session where we rowed hard for one minute, and then rested for 30 seconds throughout the workout.

While the screenshots of the workout display similar average and max heart rate readings, the story of the actual workout was very different. The Fenix 6 just seemed slower to jump up when the intensity of the workout ramped up.

The Fenix 6 seems fine for general workouts, but for anything that requires tracking heart rate where there are rapid changes in intensity (HIIT, running intervals, a spin class), you will still want to grab that external heart rate chest strap.

Garmin Fenix 6: Fitness tracking and smartwatch features

Fenix 6 sleep tracking analysis shown on the watch

As well as being your go-to watch for the great outdoors, the Fenix 6 also wants to act as your fitness tracker and your smartwatch too. And it's giving you everything Garmin watches can offer on this front.

As a fitness tracker, you're getting basic step counting, sleep monitoring and all-day stress tracking. On top of that, you've got Garmin fitness tracker staples like its Move Bar, Body Battery energy monitor and adaptive auto step goals to offer more motivation to move and bring greater context to your data.

On the watch itself, the UI changes mean you can use the up and down physical buttons to glance at your step data and your progress towards your daily goal. Hit the physical button in the top right and you can see weekly step totals and distance covered. From within the watch settings you have the ability to add additional fitness tracking data including Body Battery, calories, floors climbed and stress.

Out of the box, the Fenix 6's fitness tracking skills are pushed into the background, but if you want them more front and center, you do have the option to do that.

Garmin draft

Sleep tracking compared: Garmin Fenix 6 (left) and Withings Sleep bed monitor (right)

In terms of accuracy, we put it up against the step counting on the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 and the Withings Move and generally found the totals to be in the same ballpark. For sleep, we generally found data like sleep duration was around the same as what the Active 2 and Withings' Sleep bed monitor dished out. Sleep breakdown graphs largely matched up too.

If you switch on the Pulse Ox sensor during sleep, you can generate richer sleep insights, though at the expense of battery life.

Garmin has now added a dedicated sleep tracking widget, which means you can dive into your night's sleep directly on the watch. This gives you a surprising amount of data to view including a graph showing a breakdown of sleep, sleep score and quality data and a note to tell you whether your sleep was good or very bad.

Garmin Fenix 6 on-wrist music Spotify storage

On the smartwatch features front, there's plenty going on here. You have the ability to read notifications and respond to them when the watch is paired to an Android phone.

You've also got Garmin Pay and a built-in music player with the ability to store up to 2,000 songs plus support for downloading offline playlists from the likes of Spotify and Deezer. Those apps can be found and downloaded from Garmin's still quite clunky Connect IQ store, where you can also find additional watch faces, data fields and other apps to bring extra functionality to the Fenix.

Day-to-day, it's the notification support that most came into play for us. They'll pop up as frequently as they do on your phone and you can control whether or not they interrupt your training sessions. Once you've negotiated your way through the setup, music features impress too, though music streaming will impact on watch battery life.

Is it as slick a smartwatch experience as an Apple Watch? We'd say probably not, but it does enough that it should satisfy those who demand proper smartwatch features.

Garmin Fenix 6: Battery life

Garmin Fenix 6 power management options

Garmin's Fenix watches have always been well regarded for going big on battery life, giving you plenty of power for a few days or even weeks away from your charger.

The claimed Fenix 6 battery life is up to 14 days in smartwatch mode and up to 36 hours when using GPS. In maximum GPS battery mode, you can expect 72 hours. When you factor in music playback with GPS tracking, that drops down to 10 hours.

Garmin also offers an expedition GPS mode giving you up to 28 days while a battery saver mode gets you up to 48 days.

If you go for the solar Fenix 6 (see below), you can expect those numbers to be beefed up considerably if you spend enough time out in the sun on a daily basis.

The addition of the new battery saver modes and displaying battery in days as opposed to a percentage is very telling here. As Garmin adds more features, it is going to invariably impact on battery performance. Thankfully, we didn't see any worrying drop offs in our time with the standard Fenix 6 or 6 Pro and it will on the whole live up to those claimed battery life performances.

As we've mentioned in other reviews, the addition of music streaming on Garmin's watches does impact on battery life in quite a noticeable way, so that's something to keep in mind. It certainly pays off to think about what features you'll make use of to prolong that already impressive battery life.


Garmin Fenix 6: Solar edition

Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar edition

After rolling out a solar version of the Fenix 6X, the Fenix 6 and the 6s now get solar editions.

The idea is that solar offers a battery life when you spend more time outdoors.

Garmin has added in the same Power Glass lens material, which is identifiable by a ring that you can see surrounding the display. Design-wise, not a lot has changed, though we have noticed that the Start button is now slightly more raised compared to the standard and Pro 6.

You need 3 hours in really strong sunlight (50,000 lux) to get the full effects, and a solar intensity widget on the watch, will show spikes of exposure during the day and you can view that as a graph in the Garmin Connect app. But proper exposure will give you:

  • Smartwatch mode: 16 days (up from 14 days)
  • Full GPS mode: 40 hours (up from 36 hours)
  • Maximum GPS mode: 93 hours (up from 72 hours)
  • Expedition mode: 36 days (up from 28 days)

In a sample 1 hour run, we pitted it against the Fenix 6 Pro, both set up with the same settings and found battery drop off was 5% on the Fenix 6 Pro and 3% on the Solar. Extrapolate that over a whole say outside and it will make a difference.

But we should also talk about the price here. The standard Fenix 6 Pro costs £599 with the Fenix 6 Pro Solar coming in at £739.99. It's a steep price hike for those extra solar powers.

And we'd argue that the benefits of the Fenix 6 Solar over a standard model aren't as dramatic as the Instinct Solar.

Two more days of smartwatch use, or four more hours of normal GPS won't be worth the price hike for most people. The battery life is already fantastic.

For those looking at Max Battery or going on long multi-day treks then yes, Solar offers tangible benefits. But for the normal user, it's not worth the extra.


Garmin Fenix 6
By Garmin
The Fenix 6 may not instantly feel like a massive leap forward from the Fenix 5, but the more time you spend with it the more you appreciate the subtle changes Garmin has made to the design and the software. It's an all-round nicer sports watch to live with with better battery, more control over battery modes and improved data. While you can save some money going for the standard Fenix 6, the addition of maps alone is reason to go for the Pro. Whichever model you go, you'll get one of the best sports watches you can wrap around your wrist.

Hit
  • Improved all-day wear
  • Incredible battery life
  • World beating choice of sports
  • PacePro a nice addition for runners
Miss
  • Optical HR isn't suited to high intensity
  • Mapping is a bit basic
  • Solar editions don't offer enough for the cost
  • Very pricey

TAGGEDGarmin