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Garmin Fenix 2

Garmin make some of my favorite devices but I have had to keep a number of devices around to do all I like to do. I admit to being a bit neurotic when it comes to having the perfect device. It’s probably worth setting the stage of the devices in my bag of goodies and when I use each to frame this review.

For mountain biking I love my Foretrex 401s big memory for waypoints (500), fantastic navigation, easy to read screen, and it’s use of AAA batteries making it possible to carry a spare set. The 401 however is getting long in the tooth and is having issues with it’s battery connector. It also requires a physical USB connection and a legacy upload to get data off it. And there are no heart rate alarms a feature I now consider a MUST have. Wheel sensors are sadly ignored from a data point of view … I also use it for hiking and kayaking, physically though it’s big on the wrist to wear for both.

My Garmin Fr70 is a great standalone watch, extremely readable in all light, year long battery life and a fabulous Ant+ data capture device for wheel and heart rate sensors and includes heart rate alarms (something I only recently discovered in training, alerts, heart rate, on and then set your custom hi and low levels). Garmin connect support is through an Ant+ USB adapter, but there is no GPS so no ability to use it to navigate. It also lacks chronometer functions. So this is largely a supplemental toy … It can’t replace any other device. Just another data screen while I am riding. Which, is not a bad thing.

My Edge 305 is a great cycling computer and includes heart rate alarms but is SERIOUSLY limited in it’s way point memory at 50. The larger screen makes it easily read when mountain biking but useless for almost anything else like hiking or canoeing. Syncing is done using a USB connection there is no support for Bluetooth or Ant+ sync. This has become my primary riding Garmin.

And thus we have the stage for the Garmin Fenix. Spec wise the device seems to be a little piece of heaven. It has a host of sensors that deny it’s size, ANT+ and Bluetooth support. I’ve looked at the Fenix a number of times but have been scared off by the price.

Ok let’s start by talking about what’s missing … There’s no daily activity or sleep tracking (that would be in the Fenix 3), there’s some notification support but it’s so bad as to be unusable (super small text, over laid notification support.

So that aside let’s look at the Fenix 2. Bargain wise it’s available on refurb for $199, compared to $499 (at GPS city) for the Fenix 3.

Let’s start out with the physics. This is a pretty large watch for everyday use. It’s quite thick and moderately heavy. Given everything in this package the size is understandable. It has a lot of sensors inside a digital compass, a barometric altimeter, temperature sensor, gps and accelerometers. There really is noting missing. If I had a wish on any previous device it’s in the Fenix.

The screen itself is a 70 x 70 pixels; transflective, monochrome LCD (negativemode-black). The displays is backlit in a florescent orange color. It is very readable in almost any light (with the backlight). The backlighting can be controlled as to always on, on after dusk, or programmable timeout, if they missed anything, on during an activity would have been handy. Other companies could learn from Garmin in something as simple as giving the user control of the backlighting. The displays low power contribute to it’s good battery life. The backlighting can suck juice so watch your setting. In always on in 10 hours it sucked up 23% of the battery so about 2.3% per hour. Ouch.

Battery life on this watch is dependent on what your doing with it. GPS mode draws the most. Watch mode the least. Measuring actual battery life is very difficult unless you dedicate time to doing just measuring the battery life ie not using the watch. So I don’t have actual numbers for you. Bluetooth can be used to sync the watch’s activities, but be patient it can take 5-10 minutes. Always connected is documented in a number of review sites as severely draining battery life. I didn’t find that but also noticed watch only battery life does not seem to be anywhere near what Garmin quotes: “Up to 50 hours in UltraTrac mode; up to 20 hours in GPS training mode; up to 5 weeks in watch mode”. On a 2.5 hour mountain bike ride using ant sensors and GPS in normal mode it consumed 10% of the battery so the 20 hour number they quote seems accurate. Battery status can be seen in menu anytime and gives an actual battery percentage I wish Mr F’nBit would learn this one.

As important as battery drain is battery recharge is too. This is by no means zippy. In just under 4 hours the watch charged 90% so roughly 0.4% per minute on a 500 mAH batter. The watch can be used while charging and there are ways to wear it and use an external charge pack for extreme battery life.

If your not going to use the watch for a while you can completely power it off by pressing and holding the light button. A welcome feature some watches forget. Yay!

The watch is controlled by a series of 5 buttons around the dial of the watch. They really don’t have a great feel when you press them. The default is no sound for buttons but fortunately can be changed. The buttons can be pushed with light gloves on but likely not with winter gloves.

Each and every time Garmin release a new product line they design a new user interface. It’s maddening and bizarre. Common interfaces make users learning curve to new devices small, and encourage upgrading. And if you have numerous Garmin devices as I do it leads to constant mispresses and quests to find a menu item. All of which distract from whatever it is your trying to do. Take the FR70 which predates the Fenix 2, as an example. The up down buttons are on the right along with the lap reset button. On the Fenix they are on the left. The only button location they didn’t change from the Fenix is the light button. Sheesh.

Garmin have included a small selection of clock faces to choose from and additional data that can be added to the clock faces. All in all it is not a bad set of choices. It’s no infinitely customizable smart watch, that would be, you guessed it, the Fenix 3.

There are a dizzying array of options that can be set on the Fenix 2 and they all have to be done on the watch (not on the phone). And there is no way to backup those options 😦

There’s a stopwatch, timer, and alarm all on the watch. They are all a little clumsy to use but work fine if you have the patience.

Outside of an activity the watch allows you to call up the compass, altimeter, barometer, and temperature.

Once you start an activity only those screens you have explicitly setup for that activity can be called up. Bizzare (so if you don’t have a compass data screen for example in your activity, no compass for you).

Waypoints can easily be transferred from other Garmin devices using Garmin basemap over USB. Waypoints can be added on the watch but it’s a little hard to find (press and hold the down button, or menu, tools mark point) and naming them is a little bit of a patience test. The font for the name of the waypoint is super small and hard to see in the best light let alone in the middle of a forest).

Navigating to a waypoint is equally clumsy. To start a navigate menu, user data, waypoints, or start, navigate, waypoints and then the waypoints are listed by proximity to you. You can do a search for a waypoint but there is no simple alphabetic listing of waypoints. Once you start a navigate only those screen explicitly defined for navigate (even when your in the middle of an activity) are visible. It’s a bizarre way to arrange things. And on screen you can see the direction to the waypoint and distance to the waypoint on another screen. The Foretrex gives you both on one screen so your not fussing while dodging trees.

I did notice once I loaded 500 waypoints into memory the watch became noticeably more sluggish.

The Fenix is a super flexible bike computer in that it supports power meters, speed only sensors, cadence only sensors and speed and cadence sensors. But be careful to select the right one when you set it up. I had made a mistake and setup my wheel/cadence sensor as a cadence only sensor and then wondered why it was ignoring the speed part of the sensor. DOH 🙂

GPS can be manually turned off for indoor cycling with a speed sensor.

The sensors seem to have one memory for each category, one heart rate, one speed/cadence etc so if you use multiple sensors off and on it’s a bit clumsy and you will have to repair them each time your switch it up.

The heart rate alarms are also a little clumsily done. When an alarm is triggered a teeny tiny font comes up to say heart rate below (or above) and the value. It beeps only once, and the message stays on the screen for a period of time blocking your precious data display pages until you manually tell it to go away.

Battery nags started at 20$ but the watch continued to function including GPS until the bitter end 🙂

So in the end, I am impressed with the Fenix 2. Outside of clumsy benus and poor buttons it’s an amazing device. Take everything in it and put it into a cycling size and I’d buy it in a heart beat. The nagging question is, given the cost delta of $300 is the Fenix 3 better enough to justify? Hmmmm

In terms of what could it potentially replace? It’s a great backup to the Foretrex 401, a replacement for the FR70 and a supplement to the Edge 305.



September 9, 2016 - Posted by | GPS Stuff

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