Garmin Fenix 3 Review (2017): A Versatile Multisport Watch

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Garmin Fenix 3 smartwatch

We don’t recommend this watch anymore due to the release of the Garmin Fenix 5.

Nevertheless, here’s our review.

Things To Consider Before Buying A Garmin Fenix 3

If you’re a rugged, outdoor type, you might be attracted by rugged, burly watches. After all, something dainty isn’t going to withstand sweat and the elements. You might have met your match with the Garmin Fenix 3.

It’s really durable and really handsome at the same time. This is that watch that looks equally as comfortable at the office as on a hiking trail.

It boasts a long list of features. With its $500 price tag, this watch is pretty impressive.

Is the Garmin Fenix 3 worth it? If you’re going to use all of the features and don’t want to wear a silicone sports watch that looks like a toy, it might be.

If you don’t need GPS or the various outdoor sports modes, you might be better off with a simpler and cheaper activity tracker. I’ve written reviews of other smartwatches here.

Presenting The Product

Let’s start with our video review:

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The Garmin Fenix 3 is the updated version of the Fenix 2. While the Fenix 2 had spotty GPS, the Fenix 3 uses a combination of GLONASS and GPS for a quick lock-in and accurate reading. GLONASS uses 56 satellites to secure your positioning instead of just the 32 that GPS uses. The5krunner explains more about GLONASS here.

In addition to the GPS, the Fenix 3 has a barometer and a compass. It’s waterproof to 100 meters, which is an upgrade from the 50-meter waterproof capability of the Fenix 2. That means you can wear the Fenix 3 while swimming, which is not always a common feature in a smartwatch.

Compared with the Fenix 2, the Fenix 3 has a larger watch face. It makes up for that with a slimmer, lighter design everywhere else. The color screen has a much better resolution.

Is the Garmin Fenix 3 good? The short answer is yes. My biggest complaint is that you have to navigate through the settings on the watch. With most other fitness watches, you can update the settings through the app on a smartphone or tablet.

Other than that, it’s a good-looking watch that works as anything from a basic timepiece to a training assistant for serious athletes.

Pros:

  • Waterproof to 100 meters
  • Compatible with ANT+ and WiFi
  • Add apps through the IQ Store
  • Gets smart notifications from your phone
  • Don’t need computer to update data to Garmin Connect
  • Multi-sport capability

Cons:

  • Most settings update through watch alone
  • Heavy for smaller wrists
  • No heart rate monitor (although you upgrade to the Fenix 3 HR for another $100)

We also asked our videographer and photographer to weigh in since he used it extensively:

Pros 

  • Does everything;
  • Is tough;
  • Is not loaded with some of the more useless smartwatch features; and
  • Charging cable is easy to carry.

Cons 

  • Too big;
  • Would be great if it came with some sort of native map viewing feature similar to the ancient Garmin E Trex;
  • Proprietary charger that would be a pain if lost while traveling;
  • Buttons are irritating to press- not the easiest to use;
  • Long winded menu layout; and
  • Software does not allow you to remove rogue data that skews some of the statistics that one might want to collect.

Features & Benefits

Style And Design

Garmin Fenix 3 smartwatch in action

It’s hard to find a fitness watch that is also great for everyday use. It seems like you often have to sacrifice style or sportiness. The Garmin Fenix 3 sacrifices nothing, except maybe size. Even though the Fenix 3 is more streamlined than its predecessor, this is definitely the bulkiest sports watch I’ve ever used.

Still, it’s one of the most appealing, in my opinion. It rivals the Fossil Q Wander in stylishness.

The stainless-steel bezel is dotted with visible screws, giving the watch a tough, military feel. The silicone band is slightly stretchy, which makes it comfortable on any wrist.

You can swap it out for a metal band for a more classic look. The general downside to metal bands is that they’re more difficult to adjust for a perfect fit. However, many sports watches don’t even come with the option for such a classy band.

Using the buttons to cycle through the screens is easier than using a touch display when you’re moving and sweating. If, like many people who are intrigued by new technology, you’re unrealistically mesmerized by the idea of a touchscreen, you might be disappointed.

However, it makes sense that a watch designed to get wet doesn’t let you navigate via touch. The functionality is harder to use when your fingers are sweaty, and you’d probably complain about that anyway.

At least your dog won’t change your settings when it licks your wrist. Still, the buttons might take some getting used to.

Display

Garmin refers to the Fenix 3’s screen as a “color” display. It may show different colors, but I wouldn’t call it colorful. Most of the features are in black and white, with the occasional colored arrow.

What it lacks in flamboyant vibrancy it makes up for in function. You can see the screen well in any type of light. In fact, it rivals the Samsung Gear S3 in visibility of the display. The button on the top left illuminates the screen at night.

You have the option to change the resting watch face. You can select a traditional analog clock or a digital clock that shows some of your daily activity stats.

Sports Functions

Water sports buffs will appreciate the fact that this watch can get very, very wet. If you’re wearing the model with the heart rate monitor over a wetsuit, however, it can’t record your pulse.

The Fenix 3 offers plenty of other sports modes, which is a surprise for Garmin. Other than the Vivoactive, the company likes to make sports watches that are limited to one particular activity.

Although the Vivoactive has a comparable selection of sports modes, the Fenix 3 offers a wider range of metrics. While more basic GPS activity trackers tell you the distance and pace while you’re running, the Fenix 3 gives you information about VO2 Max, cadence, vertical oscillation and recovery. Understanding these details can really help boost your training.

Battery

If you wear it as a regular watch, the Fenix 3 will last five weeks on one charge. I want to know who buys a $600 smartwatch to ignore all of its cool features, though. Smart phone notifications make the battery die much more quickly.

With the GPS on consistently, the watch will last for almost a full day. It lives up to its rugged purpose with a low-power hiking mode that makes it last 50 hours.

Other Functions

Calls, texts and app notifications are displayed on the wrist. You can’t really do anything but see them come in, but it’s a good way to filter out what you don’t need to focus on. You’ll need to go back to your phone to call someone back or respond to a text.

If you have a smartphone, you can sync weather data to the watch. If you don’t have a smartphone, you can still download data from the watch to Garmin Connect via WiFi. You can also plug the Fenix 3 into your computer.

Is this the time to talk about whether a smartphone or smartwatch is more useful?

Assuming you do have a smartphone, you’ll be happy to know this watch doesn’t favor the Android OS, like Android Wear smartwatches do. It works equally well with Android as with iOS phones.

If you wear it throughout the day, you might feel like you’re wearing a smartphone on your wrist because of the size. Who knows—that might even help you burn extra calories. If you don’t get the Fenix 3 HR option, however, you may never know. You can use an ANT+ chest-strap heart rate monitor with the regular Fenix 3, though.

When you’re not out in the wilderness or exercising, the Fenix 3 tracks your daily activity. Dr. Mercola explains that an activity tracker can really help you move more.

The accelerometer in the watch tracks your steps. It even has an inactivity bar that grows as you sit around doing nothing. If you haven’t moved for a certain amount of time, the watch will vibrate to encourage you to get going.

That can be really helpful. It can also be really annoying if you’re trying to rest after a long hike.

The Fenix 3 claims to track your sleep. It essentially does this by monitoring your movement throughout the night. Chances are you’ll move a lot less when you have this hefty weight attached to your wrist. I’m not sure this is an incredibly valuable feature.

Social Proof

It seems I’m not the only one with rave reviews of the Garmin Fenix 3. Many customers praise its features and durability.

One user said: “I have had Garmin kit for cycling for years and have always been impressed by their ease of use and functionality. My first wearable by them hasn’t let down. Comfortable, usable and full of functions and sports for me. Switching from cycling to running is easy with the multisport app.”

Another user praised its durability: “I read the reviews for the Fenix and decided to give it a try and I’m glad that I did. 1st … the watch looks like a high end watch, not a fitness tracker. It’s stylish and can be worn with athletic, casual or formal wear. 2nd … the display is far better than the Vivoactive or Fitbit. 3rd … the durability is first class. I have worked in this watch, banged it on 2 x 4s and it doesn’t have one scratch.”

One customer can’t say enough: “If you are looking for the end all be all in fitness watches look no further. This watch can record just about any physical activity.”

Detailed comments from our videographer:

This is a heavy duty watch for trekkers and adventurists but it comes in a variety of finishes if you intend to wear this in a dressier setting.

Fitness

Serious fitness people will appreciate performance features including the V02 max calculator and its compatibility with a chest strap for very accurate heart rate measurement. The wrist heart rate monitor also offers accurate measurements for low intensities.

The Garmin Connect app is reasonably easy to use and collects data for a variety of sports for analysis. Running and biking are the Garmin app’s most developed features and it has so many features and functions for all types of runners that we could not possibly list them all here. If you are buying for this accurate athletic stats, it is pretty helpful to read the specs section of the Garmin’s page for the Fenix 3 to see how it can help you in your specific sport.

For endurance athletes, Strava is pretty well integrated with Garmin connect however the Fenix 3 is not Strava Live Segments compatible but this could change in the future.

It is the same size as most other rugged watches in the same category such as the tougher Casios or Suuntos. It is waterproof to 100 meters and has a sapphire face. That makes it pretty hard to break but don’t take it diving! That means that the watch is a pretty large and it might seem very awkward for people with smaller wrists.

The Garmin app seamlessly handles multiple Garmin watches at the same time.

It connects with other apps like my fitness pal to help you maintain complete control over your exercise regime. The integration is a little bit awkward but certainly works.

General health

The Garmin does monitor the quality of your sleep. It is usually accurate although one might have to adjust your bed time manually if it does guess incorrectly. This does happen occasionally. However, the watch is so large that I find it very hard to sleep with because it gets caught in the sheets or pillows and it is uncomfortable to sleep on or be slept on by others.

The sleep feature does not allow you to take account of naps.

It also includes the time that you were awake in your sleeping time if you wake up and then return to sleep.

Features

The phone does and have notification and you can answer calls or find your phone using it but it does lack the integration that other smart watches have with your telephone. It does not have a touch screen but the numerous buttons make navigation reasonable.

Navigation

For the outdoorsman, the watch has a 3-axis compass, altimeter and barometer, as well as garmin’s TracBack and Sight’n Go features. I cannot help but think that this watch might not be the best for any long treks however due to battery life but who is to say.

The watch can even handle map apps that can be downloaded from the connect iq garmin app store. These apps use the maps feature and data from your telephone. Unlike the handheld gps’s that garmin offers, if you want to see where you are on a map, you will need cell service.

Improvements Needed

The buttons on the watch are a little bit stiff and the watch does not have a touch screen.
Connect Iq is Garmin’s app store is rather barren. Most of the apps are un-interesting or features that you would expect to be on the watch already.

Conclusion

Over all the Fenix 3 is a great watch for serious athletes and outdoor types. It is built like a tank and will take several months to become familiar enough with it to produce meaningful results. These features are powerful however and will certainly be an athletic game changer.

Alternatives

Garmin Forerunner 920 XT

The Garmin Forerunner 920XT has completely different styling than the Garmin Fenix 3 but a wide range of functionality. It has a sporty, digital look. It’s more colorful and much more casual.

The Forerunner 920XT is geared to triathlon athletes. The Fenix 3 is more appropriate for outdoor adventurers and people who perform board sports.

Garmin Forerunner 920XT vs. Garmin Fenix 3:

  • Both are useful for multiple sports.
  • Both have a long battery life.
  • Styling is completely different.
  • Neither has a heart rate monitor.

If you want a watch with fewer activity modes and a completely sporty look, you might want to check out the Garmin Forerunner 920XT.

Suunto Traverse

The Suunto Traverse looks a lot like the Garmin Fenix 3. The bezel is that masculine blend of chunky and sleek. It has buttons around the outside of the case. It features the same 100-meter water resistance as well as GPS and GLONASS. One of the biggest differences is the battery capability. The Suunto Traverse doesn’t last as long as the Garmin Fenix 3 on one charge.

Suunto Traverse vs. Garmin Fenix 3:

  • Similar styling.
  • Suunto Traverse lasts 2 weeks in watch mode; Fenix 3 lasts 5 weeks.
  • Both show weather and feature storm alerts
  • Suunto Traverse has fewer sports modes

If you don’t need all the sports modes but want similar functionality to the Fenix 3, you might want to check out the Suunto Traverse.

Polar V800

The Polar V800 is almost as expensive as the Garmin Fenix 3 without the classy styling. It looks a lot more like an activity tracker than a watch. It’s not going to look as good with your suit.

Polar V800 vs. Garmin Fenix 3:

  • Polar V800 has monochrome display; Fenix 3 has color display.
  • Polar V800 is geared toward runners, not multi-sports.
  • Polar V800 looks more like a fitness tracker; Fenix 3 looks more like a watch.
  • Both have a long battery life.
  • Both have GPS.
  • Neither has an incorporated heart rate sensor.

If you’re a serious runner who likes the look of a fitness band, you might want to check out the Polar V800.

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