Garmin Fenix 3 review

The all action sports watch is back, and it's the best you can buy

When it comes to sports tracking, things don't get more action packed than the Garmin Fenix 3. Designed for the person who's not content with a little weekend jogging, it's capable of tracking trail running, skiing, open water swimming and even gym work to name a few. In short, the Fenix 3 is Action Man's wrist-based companion.

You'd expect no less considering the eye-watering price of $599 for the Sapphire version we tested – and the big standard edition still commands $499.


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But can it out-perform the latest wearables from the likes of Fitbit? And with prices plummeting for its predecessor the Garmin Fenix 2, is it worth forking out for? We got it dirty to find out.

Garmin Fenix 3: Features and design

The previous Fenix was one of the chunkiest sports watches we've ever used, and while the Fenix 3 is still fairly enormous, it's been on a substantial diet.

We tested the Sapphire version, which retails for a whopping $599, and benefits from a toughened lens and a metal strap. At 16mm deep and 82 grams (sans strap), it's shed over 1cm from its waistline compared to the Fenix 2, but it's still a hefty piece.

The weight hasn't changed much, and most of the bulk is the battery, and its longevity is one of the Fenix's killer features. The Fenix 3 will last five weeks as a watch, and last 20 hours using GPS (and up to 50 hours in lower power hiking mode). However, when combined with the metal strap, the weight soars to 186g, and it's almost unmanageably heavy. Luckily, there's a rubber strap in the box which we immediately swapped it for.

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It's a shame as the metal band looks great, and offers a much classier appearance. Users with chunkier arms might well keep the metal strap, but the rubber is more practical for sport, and we hazard that most will end up keeping that in situ. That slightly undermines the premise of the Sapphire edition, and makes us feel that saving $100 and getting a standard Fenix 3 is a smarter choice.

The insane battery life means you can track a whole weekend's worth of hiking without taking the charger with you, and ultra-runners won't trouble the limitations of the battery.

Of course, the five weeks of battery is diminished quicker by the smartphone notifications, which is a new addition to the Fenix range. Like the Garmin Vivoactive, push notifications – calls, texts, Uber updates, SkyBet's desperate pleas – are all displayed on the wrist.

Of course, battery life is helped by the 218 x 218 'colour' screen, which is designed to be 'transflective', which means it's still visible in direct sunlight.

Colourful it certainly isn't - occasionally you're treated to a red or green arrow to aide navigation.

The screen itself is incredibly dull, but certainly easy to view when you're outside in the open. At night, you'll need to press the backlight button at the top left to illuminate it, briefly.

Some may choose to wear the Fenix 3 as their main watch – we didn't mostly due to its cumbersome size. Yet, if you do, you'll be able to access daily step information, which is fed into the app. It will also track your sleep if you wear it to bed, although the experience of sleeping with the Fenix attached to your arm made us feel for Terry Waite, who slept chained to a Lebanese radiator for four years.

Sleep tracking is very limited, and you simply get a graph showing the hours you spent in bed, but at least that part was accurate. The graph also shows how much you moved in that time – but frankly, who cares?

Garmin Fenix 3: Activity tracking

With tracking for hiking, climbing, cross country skiing, train running, running, cycling, swimming, open water swimming, skiing, indoor workouts and triathlon, the Fenix 3 is a frankly amazing sports watch.

Disregarding the more niche sports, in many ways the Garmin Fenix 3 isn't too different to the Vivoactive smartwatch. Both have a range of multisport tracking, GPS, and smartwatch features – but it's the breadth of data from the Fenix 3 that stands it apart.

Each sport boasts an awesome range of data, and up there with the best GPS running watches on the market – the list of metrics tracked across the sports is too comprehensive to go through here, but check out the list to the left. Aside from general pace and distance data is information on heart rate, VO2 Max, recovery, as well as cadence and vertical oscillation, and that's just for running.

What's more, there's a built-in compass, and your progress for walking and climbing is plotted on the watch, so you can see your current heading, and the path you've plotted, which is handy when you want to complete a circular hike – or indeed, avoid going around in circles.

The only caveat is that to access heart rate stats, you will need to pair the Fenix 3 with a chest strap, as unlike bands like the Mio Fuse or Fitbit Surge, there's no optical tracking from the wrist.

This is still a problem area for the whole sports tracking industry. The most accurate way to track advanced metrics such as heart rate or body position is still by a chest strap, yet it's uncomfortable and ungainly. However, looking around the market, there's little serous competition to the Fenix 3's versatility and accuracy from any of the new pretenders – even from the likes of Mio.

When you're out on a run or cycle, the information is displayed over three screens, which you use the physical buttons to cycle through. We tended to settle on the distance and pace screen, but if you're training using heart rate zones, there's a screen for that too.

Unlike the Vivoactive, the data is displayed more clearly, with big numbers that are easy to glance at your stats while you're in the zone, and the big hefty buttons on the side are easy to press mid-stride, and we were comfortable making tweaks while out on the trails.

Garmin Fenix 3: The app

Of course, when you get home you'll want to review your stats, which means firing up the smartphone app. Fortunately, the Fenix 3 has been given access to the Garmin Connect mobile app, which s available for iOS and Android.

The app itself is superb and certainly one of the best in the business. What's more, there's a web-based version with a host of options, from plotting running routes to taking on your friends in challenges to earn badges.

The mobile app is extremely well laid out, and for the most part, seamless to use. Everything synced quickly and easily, without the frustrating limbos we've experiences using other fitness trackers.

Garmin Fenix 3
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All workouts are laid out in chronological order, and you can quickly delve into stats, which are tabbed across the top, so it's not too overwhelming. At the moment, there's not a great deal of analysis within the app, and you'll need to rely on your own experience to decipher the data.

With the built in compass, you can set up advanced workouts using the online Garmin Connect before you head up, and have the watch guide you on waypoints, which really helps when out on the trails.

Garmin Fenix 3: Smartwatch notifications

A new addition to the updated Fenix 3 is smartwatch style notifications. When paired with your smartphone – and in range – any notification will flash up on the watch, and prompt you with a buzz.

It's a decent system, and it works well – no matter which applications you use. However, it doesn't work as well as the Gamin Vivoactive, partly because of the decreased screen legibility, and because notifications can be split across multiple screens, requiring you to hit the down button to read the second half of the message.

Again, it comes back to whether you intend to wear the Garmin every day. As a smartwatch it's not terribly effective, but if your phone starts ringing in the middle of a trail run, it's extremely handy to see whether it's worth answering or ignoring.

Garmin Fenix 3
By Garmin
In short, the Fenix 3 is the ultimate fitness watch, and one that comes highly recommended. There’s enough top level data for hardened triathletes and casual fitness fans who enjoy a diverse range of sports will get a kick out of seeing every activity tracked within one superb app. The impressive battery life crowns the Fenix 3 as a top sports watch, and while the smartwatch notifications aren’t the best, they combine with the activity tracking to make a watch you could wear every day.

  • Huge array of sports
  • Tonnes of top level data
  • Looks great
  • Sapphire version is crazy expensive
  • Smartwatch features could be better
  • Big, bulky and masculine

What do you think?

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  • Stevenfit·

    in comparison to polar v800 what is better?

    • THoff·

      are you kidding me?  Fenix3 HR by a mile

  • ldiastx·

    I love my Fenix 3

    • jdayrutherford·

      Does the Fenix 3 support 3rd party bluetooth heart rate monitors?

      • Martin868·

        No Garmin fitness product (that I know of) support Bluetooth sensors. Garmin is THE company that brought ANT+ to market and they stick to that. Bluetooth is only used to communicate with a smartphone.

        • dnvie·

          Can the Fenix paired with the Myzone MZ-3 belt, which is ANT+ compatible?

  • Roy1234·

    my genie 3 is pure rubbish

    S/N 464004768

    Bought it 3 months ago

    Always stuck on vibration and the lab can't fix it...

    No my reliable at all


  • S228·

    rubbish watch 

  • jerimy·

    I can not express how happy I am with my fenix 3... I bought it as an upgrade from my fenix 2, just for runs, bike rides, hikes and the occasional swim, but all the other things it does have been such a nice surprise. I have been able to stop wearing all my other devices and simplify my life down to one wearable for all things. On top of that, I have found the battery life to be quite impressive... Thanks garmin for making what I had hoped the apple watch would be, but failed at.

  • jk28·

    I like big and heavy watches. So that's a plus for me. Can't understand why guys would want a delicate dainty watch..

  • ouch·

    looks great i wanted to have it but lack of golf nave

  • Andreas67·

    Is there any device for placing the watch on a cycle handlebar?

  • Raybrickie·

    I've had mine for around 8 months now and it drives me MAD!!! Although the smart phone connection is great with my 6S with very accurate notifications etc, the battery life is brilliant, it looks great, the HRM is fine and it syncs automatically etc etc and is super tough!...however the one thing I really bought it for (the gps connectivity) is crap! It honestly takes sometimes 15-20 minutes to connect to GPS! so I'm standing outside in the cold trying to keep warm after a 10 minute warm up for what feels like forever! Then if you want to race a previous time or compete against your best time it just will not connect to the gps or will continually disconnect. Plus the writing is too small so you can't read if your ahead or behind with your pace. It's also a good music controller for your smart phone....unless you're using it to track your running then you can't use it to control your music.... The one time you really need i! 

    I really love this watch but it's sooooo infuriating that I will try and sell it on eBay so I can buy a real running watch. 

  • ArjanW·

    I bought this watch after being frustrated by the Apple Watch's sport tracking accuracy without the use of a phone. So I sold the Apple and my Forerunner 610 (which I bought to complement the apple watch, stupid!) and bought this one instead. It is truly great: wearing it all day, go running with it in the pouring rain, and this all week, battery lasts forever. 

    It is not so heavy by the way (the regular version, why would you buy the expensive heavy one anyway?) and works great with my garmin heartrate strap I got with the FR610. 

    The only slight minus for me is the readability of the screen while running: the numbers (fonts) are very thin and not easy to read under streetlights. Maybe I can change this, not sure yet. 

    Another minor thing is I cannot seem to clear the list of notifications, they add up if you do not read them, which I don't in many cases. Curious how to solve this... 

    Besides those to improvement points I am very happy with it, will probably add another watch band to change once in a while. 

  • Nomad5326·

    Stellar everyday gps/fitness tracking watch.  I can't for the life of me, figure out why people think it's big or's lighter than any other watch I've had.  Does need a Oled display to really be competitive with other smart watches (the watch faces are just not impressive).  Bring back the Map from F2 and the Jumpmaster program or the ability to download them.  Will need to figure out a female version (smaller) but if you can fit it into the 620 platform size you've got a winner.  I hike, bike, swim and jump with this thing and it's awesome.  

  • jew29·

    just got the Fenix 3 Sapphire - Great watch!!

  • THoff·

    I bough this watch after owning a Fitbit Surge, Apple Watch and both Microsoft Bands.  This watch is truly amazing. It certainly is an everyday watch and not cumbersome at all.  Probably not great for a woman, but I am a 5'7" and it looks great on my wrist.  I get many compliments.  Its classy with all the smart watch features you need and an INSANE amount of data on your fitness.  Its a true motivator for me (not that I needed it).  Try it (they are returnable at REI).  I guarantee you won't bring it back after a week.

  • Airplanek8·

    Nice article! What's your wrist diameter?

  • perryk4·

    They really need to make a female version of the fenix... in general our wrists are so small that its physically not possible to wear it :( 

  • Sportyfeel·

    I bought the watch over 4 months ago and i couldnt be happier ! I use that watch everyday and its very good design for everyday life. You can wear it at office or home and of course sports. Batery life is insane ! I use everyday gps about 45min and bluetooth and activity tracker all day and the battery is losing about few percentage per day, so you can use like week easily. I have the gray one with black silicone strap and im about to buy my girlfriend the white/gold one.

  • msalem·

     I saw the feonix3 with a friend, she said the HR was built in! Is that right? No strap?   I just noticed comments stating the model with and without HR. 

    How does the feonix3 standard compare to SUUNTO ambit3? 

  • Backpackwesley·

    is it possible to keep it on when you go diving at 40meters?

    • sssSteve·

      yes, but the GPS has trouble locking on ;)

      but why would you? buy a dive computer for diving and a running watch for running.