- Super tracking
- Immense stats
- Fearsome battery life
- Rugged build quality
- Chunky design
- No built in heart rate monitor
- Hefty price tag
- Screen can be a tad dim
When it comes to choosing a GPS sports watch there’s no shortage on the market, but the Garmin Fenix 2 is more than your average run tracker. It’s aimed at the serious multi-sports fan, capable of tracking anything from running, to cross country skiing, and even indoor sports.
It’s one of the most feature-complete sports watches on the market, and at £349 ($449) it has a price tag to match. We reviewed the Performer Bundle, which comes with an added heart rate strap. You can shave £30 off the price if you’d rather buy without, but we feel that if you’re spending this much to get a complete picture of your training, the HRM is essential.
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But can the performance match the features, and how does the Fenix 2 perform at supercharging your training? Read on to find out.
Garmin Fenix 2: Features and design
The tally of the sports the Fenix 2 tracks reads more like the schedule of the Olympics than a wearable device feature list, but that’s to its credit. You can strap it on to track running, trail running, hiking, mountaineering, skiing, snowboarding, swimming, and indoor work outs – although that simply harvests heart rate information from the chest strap.
The only thing longer than the list of supported sports is the metrics it captures, as the Fenix 2 keeps an eye on distance, pace and heart rate (with the strap), as well as cadence, vertical oscillation, ground contact time and altitude.
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Few people are likely to test out every single sport, but at Wareable we’re enthusiastic runners who also cycle, indoor cycle, hike and mountaineer to stay in shape – and having support for the breadth of sports we love was a real plus.
The design of the Fenix 2 is hardly discreet, yet what it lacks in finesse it certainly makes up in ruggedness. The metal build is hard as nails and in a game of wearable conkers, we’d back the Fenix to remain standing while its competitors fell to bits. However, the payoff is weight and size, and the Fenix 2 certainly attracts attention, and not always positively. It’s massive – sticking out from your wrist like a prison beacon and those who invest might choose to save it for workouts only.
The screen itself is a monochrome LCD, with a red backlight for dark conditions. It’s easy to eat in direct sunlight, although can be a little tricky at dusk, as the back light doesn’t exactly sing out from the device.
The Fenix 2 ships with a rubber strap, but there’s also a Velcro option in the box, which will be better suited to those who might wear the Fenix 2 over a ski jacket, for example.
Garmin Fenix 2: Activity tracking
When it comes to activity tracking, the bevy of sensors inside the Fenix really come to the fore. Firstly, there’s GPS, an essential ingredient into any decent sports tracker, but it’s the extra sensors that set the Fenix apart from its competition. There’s a barometer to measure altitude and a 3-axis compass, which enables the watch to guide you on runs, if you add a route via Garmin Connect – the partner app.
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We tested the Fenix 2 over the course of Reigate half marathon, and found the distance and speed tracking faultless. The distance tracker reassuringly ticked over as we passed the mile markers and did a far better job than the Runkeeper app (which we simultaneously tested), which consistently fed us incorrect information.
The added chest strap also does more than track your heart rate – which incidentally is displayed on the device, making it easy to train at specific ranges – as the built in accelerometer tracks your body position for insightful stats on body position, cadence, vertical oscillation and more.
It’s not just runners that get advanced stats. Cyclists can get cadence information, swimmers will get strokes and lap info, and if you’re more into the great outdoors, the Fenix 2 will even help you fish using a built-in calendar.
The level of detail you can glean from your training is incredible, yet this is one of the few watches that actually works in reverse. You can add routes and running or cycling workouts, consisting of detailed warm ups, heart rate zones or pace in the app, and then send it to the watch – before hitting the roads. This can also be done with the extremely detailed pre-determined plans in Garmin Connect, which are catered for all levels and events from 10K runs to Olympic triathlons.
Unlike the Garmin Forerunner, however, there’s no general activity tracking, so daily steps and calories aren’t tracked.
The only downside to the Fenix 2’s activity tracking is the need for the chest strap. With new devices coming to the fore with optical heart rate monitoring such as the Basis Peak, the strap’s life is coming to an end. However, the extra sensors placed inside means the extra information is certainly worth strapping up for.
Garmin Fenix 2: App
Garmin Connect puts the rest of the fitness world’s phone apps to shame. While the Mac / PC desktop version isn’t as convenient, its huge feature set and breadth certainly makes up for the lack of instant gratification.
You first have to install Garmin Express, which acts as a bridge between the Fenix 2 and the web app at connect.garmin.com.
The app also does a good job at gamifying your workouts for badges and awards, but in reality, any Fenix 2 user will want stats, graphs and lots of them. Everything’s clearly laid out, and you can compare different workouts, plotting your cadence or heart rates over similar workouts and visualise your improvements quickly and easily.
It’s one of the most complete apps we’ve used, and the features are immense. As we’ve already outlined, the Fenix can capture a huge amount of data and that’s neatly displayed and you can create routes and workouts and send them back to the device.
Garmin Fenix 2: Battery life and charging
With all these sensors you’d expect battery life to take a hit, especially when GPS is recording your runs. However, we rarely got near to testing the limits of the Fenix’s longevity.
Garmin quotes 5 weeks of general use, which seemed likely, but when you’re training three times a week, the act of plugging into your PC to sync the data means that the Fenix never runs out.
What’s more, the quotes time of 50 hours of GPS tracking also seems viable, given that our 3 hour marathon training runs barely troubled the battery meter.
The incredible battery life is no doubt due to the simple screen and the giant build, but it’s seriously impressive stuff, and music to the ears of people who want to spend weekends hiking in the hills, or attacking the winter slopes.
How we test