The Isles of Scilly are a magical place. The kind of place with white sands, crashing waves, dramatic rockfaces and charming lighthouses around every turn.
We discovered this at the weekend when Michael Sawh and I took part in Acer's charity adventure challenge on the islands of St. Mary, Bryher, Tresco, St. Martins and St. Agnes, part of the archipelago 28 miles off the Cornish coast. We were ably guided through walking, swimming, coasteering, kayaking (and drinking in the local pubs) by Adventure Scilly's Nick Lishman.
Essential reading: The best outdoor GPS watches
Now, Scilly is not the kind of place you want to miss for staring at gadgets but we obviously decided to take a couple of wearables with us, specifically the Casio Smart Outdoor WSD F10 (worn by me) and the Garmin Fenix 3 HR (worn by Mike).
Why? Both these hybrid watches act as regular smartwatches and adventure wearables with specific features for outdoorsy types. You see, we wanted to keep in touch with our smug, urban London lives but at the same time embrace this chance to move and breathe and climb and jump and swim. Here's how we got on.
Mike - Garmin Fenix 3 HR
When our executive editor James reviewed the Fenix 3 last year he gave it a glowing review and with the heart rate sensor now in the mix, things could only get better. My first biggest obstacle to overcome was the sheer size of this watch. It towers in comparison to a Forerunner or the Vivoactive HR, but despite my relatively slender wrists, its bulky stature is something you get quickly used to with the stainless steel bezel and black strap giving it a surprisingly classy look.
I got to test how well built that big body was when I pulled on a wetsuit and went coasteering. If you don't know what coasteering is, it involves jumping, climbing and swimming along with a rocky coastline. With the Fenix 3 HR left exposed, I'm happy to report that it survived without a scratch despite being flung against rocks for over an hour.
Despite the number of activities the Fenix 3 HR supports, coasteering isn't one of them. So there was no way of reliably recording the session which was disappointing. As an alternative I recorded it as a hike where I had details on the route thanks to the rapid GPS pick up and could see that my heart rate jumped to 168bpm at certain points.
Despite the slightly traumatic experience of coasteering, the following day had some trekking, open water swimming and kayaking to look forward to. Before that I decided to take it out for a morning run in St. Mary's and it's no surprise to find out that it's more than equipped for that particular activity. There's all the usual running metrics, but with the added bonus of heart rate, cadence, elevation and temperature. It's here though where the lack of vibrancy in the display really bothered me. I know Garmin is using a type of display that will help improve battery life, but I just wish it was better.
After a short ferry ride to Tresco, it was time for a couple of miles walk to get to our point where we'd need to swim to the next island. It's here where the watch comes into its own with an easy to decipher compass that also offers altimeter and barometer details. You can also choose to plot the route, making it easier to find your way back. The walk was relatively hilly in parts, which I could review on the Garmin Connect app and when verified with our informative tour guide, the navigational data appeared accurate.
Next up was the open swimming, something that the Fenix 3 HR is well equipped for with a dedicated mode to serve up GPS data and swimming metrics including total number of strokes, average SWOLF and recording temperature. The screen brightness hampers the ability to easily view your progress, especially when the rain is lashing down on you from above. Like most optical heart rate monitors in water, the bpm readings are not all that useful or accurate. When I made it over to the island, I could quickly see that the 500m open water swim was actually significantly shorter, but I had a nice snapshot of my session.
Data from the open water swim in Garmin Connect
The last challenge was kayaking. The Garmin doesn't have dedicated tracking for this exercise. At least I thought it didn't until I ventured into the Garmin IQ store and noticed there was a Dozen Paddle & Kayak that can deliver a host of data. Using the rowing mode as an alternative, I was still able to see things like distance, speed and strokes, although I had question marks over the reliability of the data.
At the end of the three day challenge, I enjoyed my time living with the Fenix 3 HR. Despite my concerns about the size, it doesn't weigh heavy on the wrist and it's comprehensive in terms of covering a whole host of activities. There's a wealth of data here if you want it, and while the screen quality pales in comparison to Casio's and most smartwatches, it's a trade off for a battery life that had been barely dented.
Sophie - Casio Smart Outdoor WSD F10
Yeah, sure I'll wear the Casio for the weekend, it's 'designed for the great outdoors' as our review notes. Me and the Smart Outdoor didn't exactly get on famously on the Isles of Scilly mainly because it was big and heavy and it turns out its features didn't exactly align with the activities I was doing.
So my left wrist (with the Casio on) was much sweatier than my right, but once I remembered to download the extra Casio Moment Setter+ app, there was more to play with than just standard Android Wear features in a huge watch. Though don't get me wrong, it was nice to see WhatsApps from Paul and James mocking me pop up over my activity. And let's not forget that the display was always easy to read too.
I wimped out of the coasteering and took part in the kayaking challenge and the various walking sessions, around stunning islands like Bryher and St Agnes, both with fairly gentle hills. Casio has started off making the most of its sensors with specific features for climbing, trekking, cycling and fishing. Typical.
Dig into the Casio Moment Setter+ app before you set out
But I didn't despair, I had a muck about in the settings and turned on alerts like displaying step count and calories when resting, incoming bad weather (i.e a drop in air pressure) and a low battery alert when my phone was below 20%.
Incidentally the weather was beautiful apart from a rain spell on the last morning but it's so changeable on Scilly that it was cool to know I had an early warning system.
It was probably overkill for our little trek but I switched between some outdoor watch faces (some of which display a barometer, altimeter and compass amongst other things) and accessed the compass via the tool button to see which direction we were heading in. Plus it helped get my bearing compared to the "mainland" as the islanders call it when we'd been zipping between islands in boats.
As it's Android Wear, I could track my activity with Google Fit to add to my existing history which was handy - I logged a respectable 3 hours 48 minutes of active time on the Friday and 4 hours 24 minutes on the Saturday.
The lack of GPS on the device itself wasn't much of an issue as I had my phone with me the whole time (apart from kayaking) though it would be super annoying if I got to spend as much time outdoors, and in and out of the sea, every weekend.
It's also worth noting that the Smart Outdoor is waterproof down to 50m so I didn't need to take it off when kayaking, though with the current activities in Moment Setter, I couldn't track it anyway.
One last point - I did take the proprietary charger for the Casio with me to Scilly but I didn't really need to as the Smart Outdoor auto switched to its low power, monochrome screen to last me the final day of the challenge. It may have its flaws - no GPS, very expensive - but tricks like that are a good indication of where these hybrids are heading.