- Impressive battery life
- Slimmer design
- Iffy heart rate accuracy at times
- Still a very man-friendly design
The Fenix 6X is the biggest and most feature-packed option from Garmin's new family of outdoor watches.
If you want the best of what the new Fenix has to offer, this is the one to go for. It has everything you get on the Fenix 6 and the Fenix 6S, packaged up in a bigger case with a larger screen to view your maps, metrics, phone notifications and more.
If you're willing to spend big, there's even a Fenix 6X model with a solar-charged display to give you a battery boost when you're running low on your next big hike.
We put the 6X Pro Sapphire edition to the test to find out if Garmin has come up with the goods once again. Here's our comprehensive verdict.
Garmin Fenix 6X Pro key features
- Works with iPhones and Android phones
- 51mm case
- Interchangeable bands
- 10ATM waterproof rating
- Topographical maps
- PacePro pacing feature
- Built-in music player
- Garmin Pay
- Heart rate monitor
- Up to 60 hours of GPS battery life
Design and interface
Before we get into the talking about the 6X model we had to test, let's break down the options on offer for the biggest new Fenix. It starts with the Fenix 6X Pro followed by the 6X Pro Sapphire edition, which is only differentiated by a sapphire crystal lens on the Sapphire edition that adds an extra layer of screen protection.
Then you've got the 6X Pro Solar edition with those added solar power features that jumps the price up even more.
Essential reading: Ultimate guide to Garmin Connect IQ
The Sapphire edition measures in with a 51mm case, which is noticeably bigger than the one on the 6 (47mm) and the 6S (42mm). It also weighs in at 93g versus 83g for the 6 and 61g for the 6S. That larger frame does give you more room for a higher-resolution display and a bigger battery. The downside of that is that it's still a chunky bit of wristwear.
That overall size and weight is a big improvement on the Fenix 5X Plus model though, which came in at 96g and offered a slightly lower resolution screen. The extra screen estate improves the experience of reading maps and increases the amount of data you can glance during an activity.
While the case has jumped up in size, the thickness hasn't. It's dropped to 14.9mm (from 17.5mm on the 5X Plus) and while that still might make it a hulking watch for some still, Fenix 5X Plus owners will notice the difference.
From a purely aesthetic perspective, the 6X Pro comes in the standard black design option featuring a black strap and dark metallic bezel. If you’re looking for something more eye-catching you've got the options of Sapphire editions that come with a carbon gray DLC or a chestnut leather band. You can also pick from one of the many different, but fairly pricey bands available through Garmin.
The underside of the Fenix 6X Pro is where you’ll find Garmin's optical sensors (HR and SpO2) along with the USB charging connector – the same you’ll find in the previous Fenix 5 range.
In terms of interacting with the 6X, there are five buttons positioned around the outside of that big watch face. These control the backlight, activities, navigation of the full-screen dashboard, and a back button. The bulk of the features within the watch is accessible through the dashboard which acts as an overview of everything that the watch does.
The dashboard as standard covers the bulk of the data stored by the watch – although you can customize it based on your own preferences. Standard features here include weather, sunset info, training status, a compass, VO2 Max, last activity, steps, heart rate, Pulse Ox, calendar info, notifications from your phone, music, altimeter, and stress. It’s extremely user-friendly and easy to modify.
Activities sit in a separate menu where you can quickly scroll through the various options and start tracking. Not every activity is displayed in the quick menu, so you’ll need to modify it to incorporate more specialist activities or even customizable multisport activities.
Those harder-to-reach features like PacePro sit slightly hidden within the individual activities' options menus.
At its heart, the Fenix range is an immensely powerful sports watch that offers some of the most specialized and in-depth fitness and sport tracking options you’ll find in a smartwatch. With each iteration of the range those features are enhanced – and with the Fenix 6 series Garmin has managed to take those capabilities up a significant notch.
Read this: Best Garmin watch faces to download
The bulk of those features are focused largely on the powerful range of tracking capabilities that are available to users. As we mentioned previously, a lot of those features were only present in the Fenix 5X Plus. Now they span the entire Fenix 6 range.
Comparing the Fenix 6 options against the 6 Pro versions doesn’t add a great deal in terms of sports capabilities. The only major difference is the inclusion of maps – a feature that automatically makes the 6X watches an essential investment for those users looking for navigational functionality. With that comes a host of additional map features that cover downloadable ski maps, heat maps and golf maps.
The full Fenix 6 range incorporates a hefty selection of sport and fitness tracking features that have been migrated from both the Fenix 5X Plus as well as some from the later-released MARQ and Forerunner 945.
Those top line additions cover PulseOx, Race Time Prediction, Performance Condition, Training Effect, Aerobic Training Effect, Anaerobic Training Effect, Body Battery, heat acclimation, and altitude acclimation. There are also several upgrades to things like the race predictor and VO2 Max.
If you’re intending to invest heavily in a sports watch then these are exactly the sorts of advanced features you’re going to be expecting. Luckily it doesn’t disappoint, not only offering reliable GPS tracking and an enormous chunk of data to trawl through after a workout but supplying it in such a way that the insights are easily actionable.
The data stored is, as you’d expect, impressively granular, however, the smooth interface to access the relevant information via the dashboard makes pinpointing the information you actually want a very simple process.
At one end of the scale, you have information like steps and sleep, on the other end you have those features based on blood oxygen and aerobic/anaerobic training effect.
Depending on the type of athlete you are, you can very easily modify the dashboard to focus on the key variables.
By far the most exciting upgrade to the full Fenix 6 range for us is the addition of a feature called PacePro. This is also available on Garmin's Marq watch range, but you'll have to pay a lot more for one of those to access it.
Essential reading: An in-depth guide to using Garmin PacePro
PacePro is a training tool that combines several features within the watch to act as a sort of coach when you’re out running.
Essentially what that means is that you can create a running route via the Garmin Connect app (or via the watch itself on the Pro versions), then specify a distance along with a time in which to complete the route and the watch will calculate your splits for running it. In addition, it will also incorporate data from all of the user-generated routes logged by Garmin’s users to include elevation across the course.
If you think that sounds clever, it gets even better than that. As you run that course the watch will display your target pace at any given point, changing as you run to incorporate elevation and how fast you’ve been running already. You’ll get a handy timing figure that tells you how many seconds below or above you are from hitting your target time and a graphic to show how much of the split you’ve got left.
Assuming you’ve put in a time that’s feasible for your fitness level it’s an incredibly powerful function. Put in something that’s ten minutes too optimistic and it’s just a constant reminder of how far behind you are.
It doesn’t stop there though. You can head into the Garmin Connect app and toggle two user preferences: how good you are at hills and what level of positive and negative split you’re aiming for.
It’s by far our favorite new addition to the lineup, whether you’re using it as a fun training aid or you’re utilizing the function to target your next PB.
The maps and navigational features of the Fenix range have always been one of the key tools that make the Fenix stand out for adventure-types. On one level they're a massively powerful source of data that underpin some of the more impressive features like PacePro. On the other hand, they’re a fundamental safety aspect of the watch used when traveling in the wilderness.
Essential reading: I trusted the training advice on my running watch
In the 6 Pro series, those maps have seen some additional upgrades, specifically surrounding Garmin’s user trend data and applying that as heat map information when using the maps. That means that Garmin uses data from the millions of people that have planned and tracked their movements to supply guidance based on the most popular routes.
In the most recent upgrades, you can actually see those well-trodden routes on the map, which is not only a very easy way to see where the best route is, but also has enormous safety implications if you’re lost in the middle of nowhere.
If maps are one of your primary reasons for looking into the Fenix series, this is where the 6X Pro model, with its larger screen, comes into its own. To be honest, viewing maps on a watch screen is never going to be perfect, but the TOPO maps used across the pro devices are by far the best we’ve used, acting as a smart balance between navigational data and visual aesthetics. There are obvious issues with the system, mainly around zooming in and out, but we’ve yet to see anyone handle those effectively.
Although not specifically a navigational tool, there is also a very useful feature called ClimbPro, which incorporates elevation data into the watch output. This basically gives you elevation information on your chosen route. Very useful if you’re heading to a very long, steep climb and you need to prepare.
Heart rate accuracy
The 6X features Garmin's latest Elevate optical heart rate sensor tech. That tech is used for offering continuous heart rate monitoring, richer sleep data, and a way to measure your workout intensity.
Read this: Best heart rate monitors to buy
In our time we put that heart rate tracking to use across a range of activities. First off we looked at how the Fenix 6X Pro handles steady heart rate tracking across a consistent activity – in this case, running.
We’ve used the Fenix 6 across a range of distances and found that, generally, the accuracy is fairly consistent with the data recorded by Polar's H10 heart rate chest strap. Below is data from a 10k race using the chest strap, a Fenix 6X Pro, and the Polar Ignite. Apart from a slight jump at the start of the race, the readings remain consistent across the duration.
Heart rate accuracy for running: Fenix 6X (left), Polar Ignite (center) and chest strap (right)
With interval training on a treadmill, we found the Fenix 6 Pro appeared to lose a significant amount of accuracy against both the chest strap and the Polar Ignite. In the session below it seemed to keep up with the first three spiked intervals, which were at a more gradual intensity, however, as we increased the pace from walking to very fast there appeared to be an issue with tracking the high increase in heart rate. We tested this multiple times and found similar readouts on each attempt.
Heart rate accuracy for interval training: Fenix 6X (left), Polar Ignite (center) and chest strap (right)
Ultimately, it seems this optical sensor, like many others, is cut out for most activities but can falter when you put it to the high-intensity test. It's definitely improved on previous Fenix models, but we still think grabbing a chest strap and pairing it up with your Fenix 6X is the way to go if you want that accurate hit of data.
Garmin will always be known as a sports watch first, but it continues to improve its abilities as a smartwatch.
Features incorporate the bulk of what existed in the previous 5 ranges, covering notifications, and customizable screens via the Garmin Connect app and Garmin Pay. So no big surprises there. Notification support on the Garmin Fenix 6X Pro works very well, especially with the bigger screen making it slightly easier to read the first line of an email or a WhatsApp message.
There are also a high level of customizable one-click response options that you can choose within the Garmin Connect app. Speaking of apps, there is a hefty selection of downloadable third party options available in the Connect IQ store, many of which utilize the meaty Fenix data pool to delve into that information further. As well as more niche uses of the watch, like Dog Tracker or Beer Counter.
One major product feature of the Fenix 6 Pro range (which you don’t get on the base models) is the addition of downloadable playlists from apps like Spotify, Deezer, and iHeartRadio. For anyone who runs or goes to the gym, the need to carry a phone around when you want to listen to music is an annoying prospect, especially when you have to lug around one of the larger models.
The music player on the Fenix 6X Pro works incredibly well, taking only a few clicks to choose a playlist from your account and download it via your phone’s data or Wi-Fi connection. Flicking between these playlists through the Fenix dashboard is an extremely easy experience and we’ve found no issues in connecting to Bluetooth headphones.
One major upshot of the Fenix 6X pro addition is the prolonged battery life in the unit. Garmin claims that it will give 21 days' use as a smartwatch, up to 60 hours of GPS, up to 15 hours of GPS and music, 120 hours in max battery mode, 46 hours in expedition mode and 80 days in battery saver mode.
Yes, that’s a lot of different battery levels, which makes covering off the battery life of the watch somewhat tricky. The key takeaways are that: the 6X Pro has a significantly higher battery life than the 6 Pro version – adding over 30% more power in most battery scenarios. There’s now a large onus on custom battery profiles within the system.
What that means is that you can custom-build the features you want to use and turn off anything you don’t need. The result means that your overall battery life is largely dependent upon your preferences. The watch will update you on the effect your preferences will have on the overall battery life as you switch things on and off in the settings.
Another nice feature is a battery readout that sits within the activity or watch setting you’re currently in. If you’re running, the battery will be displayed at the top telling you how long (here in days) you have to continue in that given scenario. If you’re out on a trail run and you have an hour left but you plan to be out longer, you can modify the setting to beef up the power a bit more.
In testing, we’ve found that the Fenix 6X Pro does last incredibly well. Noticeably longer than the previous 5X Plus model and even when doing long hikes or multi-sport races of up to eight hours the battery seemed to only take a minimal hit. In regular use, incorporating full functionality and daily hour-long fitness sessions, the battery still had some juice left towards the end of the week.
How we test