If taking out your handheld GPS device or smartphone every now and then isn’t your thing, a GPS wristwatch could be your best friend. Garmin has been making GPS watches for quite some time but they are more focused on tracking speed, time and distance. With rumors of “smartwatches” swirling about, tech enthusiasts have a lot to be excited for. But hikers don’t exactly have to wait because the Garmin Fenix GPS watch is a fantastic new addition to Garmin’s GPS watch portfolio.
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The Garmin Fenix looks considerably different than Garmin’s golfing and running watches but it still has that sporty appearance. It has that rugged build quality with a design that is good enough for this watch to serve as your primary watch even if you are not hiking. The Fenix also has a pretty large display which is necessary as the watch has plenty of functions ranging from routing to showing statistics. As an ordinary watch, the big display allows the digital clock to be shown with pretty a large font. The wristband is made of polyurethane which is pretty robust and the watch itself is fully waterproof up to 50 meters.
Garmin touts the Garmin Fenix GPS watch as the company’s first GPS+ABC wristwatch. ABC refers to the fact that the watch features an altimeter, barometer and compass. Each feature makes good use of the screen’s real estate. Switching to the altimeter, for instance, will show you the elevation on top and the ascent on the bottom. The barometer displays the atmospheric pressure along with a small graph for monitoring purposes. The 3-axis electronic compass works just like a standard Garmin GPS device would which means that your bearings are kept even if you are standing still.
The Garmin Fenix also features some of the basics found in Garmin’s older handheld GPS devices with monochrome screens. It serves as a great tracking watch since the watch can track breadcrumbs for you. The small map screen updates live as you hike around making it easy to retrace your steps with the aid of the TracBack feature. It is also possible to save and name up to 1,000 waypoints and 10,000 track points. It also has the Man Overboard (MOB) in case you are lost and want to get back to a familiar location.
This Garmin watch isn’t exactly a successor to Garmin’s Forerunner watches but it still has some nice fitness features. Cyclists and runners can track the time, distance, ETA and other statistics. With ANT and Bluetooth capabilities, it is also possible to pair the device with other external devices including Garmin’s heart rate monitors. Smartphones can pair with the watch as well if you need more mapping features and route storage.
Other useful features include a temperature sensor which can help you discover drastic changes in temperature so you can determine if you should hike any further. There is also a cool flashlight function that happens to be very bright.
The Garmin Fenix GPS watch is really packed with features to the point that they justify the high $399 price tag. The screen displays the necessary data very well although the menu can be a bit tricky to navigate. Learning exactly what the watch can do takes a bit of experimenting and the full documentation can only be found online. But once you fiddled around with the watch, the Garmin Fenix can be a nice replacement if you really cannot afford to carry a handheld GPS device in your pocket. This wristwatch may not be suitable for geocaching but it is rugged and functional enough for basic expeditions.
Update: There is a newer model > Garmin Fenix 2