May 2018

< Musings

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UX Review of Garmin Fenix Watch

Reviewed 05/14/18
These reviews are timestamped, so as technology changes, so do the features and functions of these devices, which may have changed since reviewed.

Garmin's Fenix3 Watch is currently available from Amazon for $548. Garmin has been a leader in GPS technology for a while, and has recently stepped up their smartwatch game quite a bit.

I was not able to experience the packaging or out-of-box features.

Fit and Style
The watch has a durable look and rugged form factor (round display and metal chain strap), and is quite heavy. The display is always on which is nice, but is dim (to save battery). In my opinion, there are too many buttons (5 in total), in a large case, but I got used to the weight quickly. We had another Fenix3 with a soft strap that I would have preferred if I were to own this watch.

The interface is confusing, but once you “get it”, things seems to work nicely. The user interface is built around a carousel of widgets that is customizable using either the app or the watch. A long press (not intuitive) on the middle button (9 o’’clock) brings up a Main Menu. For the most part, I only used the Widgets, using quick glances, which is more than enough. Notifications and calendar events are nicely done, and the vibrations/feedback are subtle and effective. The display is dim however and I ran into situations where I wanted to read a notification (in a dark car) and had to pop on the backlight, which does not stay on long enough it seems. Everything can be customized on the watch including what they call Apps, Watchfaces, Widgets, and even additional Bluetooth Sensors.

Apps, Watchfaces, Widgets
A multitude of watch faces, apps and widgets are available to quickly add ones you like, to your watch via the app. Part of the setup is swapping out different features until settling on the ones you like to make it your own.

Additional Software
To customize the watch you need to download a few things; Garmin Connect which is their Mobile app, and Garmin Express. Garmin Express is a small PC application (both Mac and PC) that updates the watch firmware, and in reality is annoying because it always asks me to download a new version. I am thinking it wants to update the watch's GPS data (called ephemeris data), so it is always pestering me to download new software. Once I installed these 2 applications, created an account online (and the stars were aligned), I was able to change watch faces, add apps, and customize my watch. I also tested the online/web version of my “Dashboard" which had a consistent design/theme. Garmin gave some serious thought to the eco-system by also providing an ecommerce platform inside these apps for purchasing custom watch faces or additional third-party “apps” such as golf GPS etc.

I was able to pair the watch with my mobile phone quickly and easily.

Connected Apps
The watch leverages Bluetooth Low Energy technology (BLE) and a dedicated connection to my mobile phone. Certain apps like Weather, or Calendar require the Garmin Connect mobile app to be running, and the weather app looks nice when it works. Like many iOS users, I close apps regularly to save battery, so I tend to get "fetch failed” errors, “Waiting for data" or "Connect to Garmin Connect" quite a bit.

I tested it against my phone's compass and it was close.

I tried sleeping with the watch for a night but it was too big and bulky to sleep with, so I removed it during the night. The sleep data graphs in the mobile app seem nice however. Accelerometer data / Activity tracking/Goals/Notifications Various reminders inform me if I have been sitting long, or if it is time to move periodically which is nice. The notifications (from the mobile phone) are rather clunky, but I can manage notifications from the watch.

Workout Data
Garmin has a clever list of activities to start a workout, such as Walk, Climb, Hike, Run, Trail Run, Run Indoor, Bike, Bike Indoor Etc. The list is comprehensive. In the winter I tried the Ski/Board activity at Mohawk Mtn. and found it easy to use. It even tracked my chairlift ride up which was odd, but I did not know to pause the activity once I got to the bottom of the run. The GPS acquired my downhill speed and distance, which was cool to see later. The only thing with the GPS is that it drains the battery quite a bit. I only got 3 or 4 runs in before the battery died (I started at 40%). Each activity has contextual “Training pages” which is cool. This watch does not have a HR monitor, but gets a GPS fix quickly when starting an activity outside. I like that I can start a workout and the watch locks in GPS positioning behind the scenes (and via a subtle UI indication). The workout training pages are nice, and a little map image of the activity is provided as a training page. John (a previous employee) really liked the Recovery advisor which uses HR to wind down from a workout. Other Training features I have not used include Lactate Threshold, Race Predictor, and VO2 Max which sound like really cool features if you are a serious athlete.

App Features
The mobile app has a cool black and bright color design, and is extensive in features. The dashboard is today’s activity, displaying the user's steps, etc. Concepts such as active calories, intensity minutes, and floors climbed are reflected nicely with visuals and detail views. Very slick graphics and charts. They try to incorporate social media, sharing workouts and have a “Leaderboard” for more of a community aspect. Have not used.

GPS features
There are quite a few GPS navigation features built in such as MOB (Man over Board), Coordinates, Sight n’Go, Saved Locations, and the ability to download Courses. Have not used any of these yet. All in all, this is a serious watch for someone who wants more than a timekeeping device, but a GPS data collection device, and is willing to pay for it. The eco-system is far-reaching and the number of features makes it seem worth the high price tag.