John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Garmin Fenix 6 review

Ok, I admit it, I’m a Garmin fanboy and have been for a LONG time. And, to make matters worse, I also admit, I am a gadgeholic, and no I don’t need help … or maybe I do? 🙂 Ok I’ve owned a number of Fenixs and they are awesome. Best on the market IMHO although, admittedly, I have not tried a Suunto or some of the newer Polars … So what’s my use case? Well my fenix goes where I go. With awesome battery life there’s no need to leave it at home, no need to charge it every night. It does everything, everyday smart watch features, it can do sleep tracking, has a ton of metrics and is incredible for use in just about any recreational sport. I’ve used it to track mountain biking, road riding, snowboarding, kayaking, hiking, you name it. And with the ability to save locations and then navigate back to them, as well as follow courses it’s been indispensable. I really don’t leave home without it. I do admit to finding it a bit too big for sleeping, so I updated my sleep tracker to a Garmin Vivomsart 4. In fact, I have to blame the impetus at looking closer at the Fenix 6 at the new body metrics on the Vivosmart 4. And once I started looking, well I was hooked. Too long a preamble? Ya maybe 😉

Ok let’s start out with the definition of the word rationalize: “attempt to explain or justify (one’s own or another’s behavior or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons even if these are not true”. Ya this review, is going to be a bit like that. On the positive side, I don’t have a financial approval committee (no wife) so when I decide I WANT something, I can indulge, and thus we have this review.

I upgraded from a Fenix 3 (non HR) to a Fenix 5 May 2019. It was a major step forward and I never regretted the purchase. I considered the 5 Plus at the time, but couldn’t justify in my mind the additional price/features, the 6 wasn’t yet out (there was no such thing as a Fenix 4). So let’s compare the Fenix 6 Vs the Fenix 5. I choose the size that’s in the middle, the X is too big and I want the better battery life, not to mention screen size, so the small is out. There are base and Pro models, Pro has: WiFi, Maps, Music, Golf Maps that the base does not. So this was a no brainer, I bought the Pro.

Let’s start with physicals, the overall dimensions have not changed, but the height is 0.8mm thinner, 14.7mm vs 15.5mm. But Garmin have improved the screen by increasing the pixel density and getting rid of the bezel. The overall result is quite a noticeable improvement, even watch faces look more impressive with the bezel gone. In this picture you can see the Fenix 5 on the left and 6 on the right, and you can see the bezel which is now gone. The numbers are 17.36% higher resolution at 260x260px vs 240x240px, the removal of the bezel results in a 1.3″ vs 1.2″ screen or an 8.33% increase. Display is the same always on, reflective display that is perfectly readable in direct sunlight and has a backlight for reading it in the dark. The regular (non Sapphire) is now made with industry proven Gorilla glass Vs Garmin’s own “chemically strengthened glass”. The bezel is much more of a jet black on the 6 and as always the screen is recessed to help protect it (at the cost of the bezel).

Weight wise with the stock band it weighs in at 70g vs 83g, on it’s own the watch weighs in at 57g Vs 62.

Garmin changed the lugs from their hex screws into a more watch standard spring based pin. It would appear to me to be less robust/durable. Fortunately they have not changed the distance between the lugs so the watch bands for the 5 fit the 6. In this image you can see the hex screws of the Fenix 5 on the bottom. The change in sizes, thicknesses etc mean a handlebar mount I had 3D printed for the Fenix 5 does not fit the Fenix 6, even after some handy work with a file.

The Fenix 6 uses the same 4 pin custom cable as the Fenix 5 and beyond. It’s fine, but by no means elegant. And sadly, it’s different than the Vivosmart 4.

Even with default GPS modes battery life is up to 36 hours Vs 24 hours, a HUGE boost, and there are battery saving modes that can take it even higher. It’s unclear to me if the additional GPS power savings are a result of the new Sony GPS chipset or if Garmin have playing with the GPS sampling rate algorithms. Smartwatch mode battery life is the same at 14 days, which is impressive given the added memory etc that’s in a Fenix 6.

Garmin have added a Pulse Oximeter sensor onto the already impressive list of sensors on the Fenix, barometric altimeter, digital compass, heart rate sensor, temperature sensor, and GPS with support for GPS, Gallileo and Glonas, making this a device you can use all over the world. Garmin have also added in support for wrist based heart rate monitoring while swimming, something that was missing for a long time. The pulse Oximeter, that measure the oxygen in your blood, can be used for spot measurements, during sleep or all day, with Garmin warning that having it on all day can affect your battery life.

The Fenix 6 adds an NFC chip, something that the Fenix 5 forgot allowing Garmin Pay, and there are now options (albeit limited) in Canada. At this time the Garmin site says 4 different cards (none of which are mine). To use Garmin pay you have to press and hold the light button and then enter a 4 digit pass code, once every 24 hours.

Garmin have added two new safety features, incident detection, and emergency assistance request. These are a great add to the device. Be sure and set them up in the Garmin connect mobile app on your phone.

And now we come to setup. As brilliant as Garmin are in so many areas, they could really use to hire some Apple engineers when it comes to helping their customers get up and running as painlessly as possible, and transferring from one Garmin device to another, oh I don’t know like going from a Fenix 5 to a 6. It is so poorly done as to have been completely overlooked. Surely anyone buying a new device has never had a Garmin and want to preserve things right? Eyes roll …

Initial Setup:
Initial setup, poorly documented, consists of downloading the current Garmin connect for your phone, and Garmin Express for your PC/Mac from Garmin’s web site. Once paired with your phone, and Garmin assume your going to use a phone, your watch is setup and now starts the upgrade process. By the phone, or by the watch (over WIFI) you can update your watch to the latest firmware, well sorta. There are updates that can ONLY be installed using your PC/Mac, such as maps, and be prepared, they even warn you, it can take hours, and yes, they mean it. What’s the infomercial line, set it and forget it 😉 There’s another app you can load onto your phone called Connect IQ that makes managing and installing Watch faces, device apps, data fields, and widgets onto your watch easier, but has been a stealth app to date, not mentioned anywhere? I don’t get that, at all …

Garmin load up whatever it feels is correct in terms of maps, and there appears to be no way to control or select the maps. In Garmin Express you can update them if need be. Here’s the maps Garmin Express says are loaded:

From there, on the watch, per activity you can Configure Maps to define which maps and what Theme you want to use. Of the 5 maps Garmin Express says it loaded onto the Fenix, for me, it show’s I can choose any of four different maps, layers I’m guessing. The ones it is allowing me to choose are: World Wide DEM Basemap NR, Topo North America, Garmin Ski Map, Topo Americas Central. I’m assuming it’s not allowing me to select maps not in my region, although it loaded them?

From basecamp, which takes FOREVER (like over 2 hours) to load the maps from the Fenix, you can see the various maps on the device. Basecamp is also how you buy and load even more detailed maps from Garmin that are not included. There is no way from Basecamp to select, or delete maps from the Fenix.

During navigation of things like hikes/walks, you can navigate to a particular spot and Garmin will use the maps to create turn by turn directions for you with lots of clear messages on when and where to turn. It works pretty well and includes trail mapping when applicable. It’s a little slow to re-route when you decide on a different path to your destination but all in all quite good.

Garmin have implemented heat maps based on the activity you choose which gives you very good maps. I have no idea how dynamic or frequently these are updated.

From a storage point of view the Fenix has 29G available space, of which 20.7G was left usable after the maps were loaded. This can be used to load music for playback without your phone. Not that I care about that, not a chance I’m leaving my phone behind. The Fenix 5 did not support local storage of music.

Like everything since the Fenix 5, bluetooth and ANT+ sensors are supported. The benefit of ANT+ is that it can talk to more than one device. This includes things like chest straps, Power meters, etc.

Connect IQ
The Connect IQ platform is open to developers to write their own watch faces, widgets and data fields, and your watch can have up to 22 total, or until you run out of memory. But, there is a MAJOR flaw in Connect IQ, at coding time the developer chooses which devices he/she wants to support. If a new device comes out they need to republish their app, something, as one can guess, RARELY happens. Of the 16 watch faces (for example) I used on the Fenix 5, only 4 were supported on the Fenix 6. And from the Connect IQ app on the phone, there is no way to ask it to install a Connect IQ Watch face (for example) that you had on one watch, onto your new watch? Eye roll … So your going to need to find each watchface, data field, and widget on the Connect IQ web site, see if your shiny new watch is supported, and if the moon lines up with venus, you can install it using the Garmin Express app, or through the Garmin Connect mobile app on your phone.

Ok now you have a TON of locations you have saved on your old Fenix … well, again poorly documented, but Garmin have a piece of code called Garmin Base Camp that can allow you to download all of these from your old watch, and the re-upload them to your new one. No idea why this code is not mentioned anywhere on the software list for the Fenix 6.

A number of bike computers from Garmin can be setup from your phone rather than sitting fiddling with small buttons on a small screen, sadly the Fenix is not one of them. And there is no way to transfer them between devices. So your stuck going through each setting, each activity and resetting up all of your desired options yourself. A tedious, onerous process, Damn you Gamin …

New Metrics
Over the Fenix 5 that I am replacing the following are the new metrics:
– body battery, a bizarre attempt to show you how charged, recharged or run down you are. So far I have found this useless
– Pulse Oximeter, including during some activities (but you need to hold still), all day (optional) any time you are not moving much, and during sleep to tell you how well you are sleeping, but I am not sure I understand how to interpret it. The all day and sleep Pulse Ox is visible on the watch, on Garmin connect mobile or on the portal. So far, this is the BEST way I have found to track, and report Pulse Ox, if anything is missing, is the ability to alert on low pulse ox.

VO2 Max
– ” is the maximum volume of oxygen (in milliliters) you can consume per minute per kilogram of body weight at your maximum performance”. I think Garmin attempts to get your VO2 max, even without a power meter.

MTB dynamics
Garmin introduced a new series of mountain bike specific metrics on their latest Edge bike computers they call MTB Dynamics. The Fenix 6 includes two of three of these, flow, and grit, missing out only Jump metrics. I wasn’t expecting this, and there is no mention of it in the manual.

After activity additional metrics
There are a number of new metrics that are added after an activity that did not show up on the Fenix 5. These include: 1) Estimate sweat loss (and you can record the amount of water you drink during an activity on Garmin connect mobile on your phone) 2) Respiration rates 3) exercise load 4) VO2 Max. I had no idea this would be there. Sweet!

The Fenix 6 pro Supports 2.5G Wi-Fi (not 5G) and can be used to update firmware or upload activites. Some updates still need to be done connected to the computer …

Watchband wise Garmin went their own way on the Fenix 5, and the Fenix 6 uses the same band. The good thing is the way Garmin has designed it is robust and durable. The bad thing is it’s unique. In past devices Garmin has used rather large pins that you use a pair of torx drivers to secure the band to the watch, on the Fenix 6 these are now spring loaded pins, more like normal watches, but seem thicker. Garmin designed what they call QuickFit bands that snap over this pin and allow you to quickly change the bands. I use a handlebar mount so I have to be able to switch to a band with a buckle when biking but I like other bands otherwise. I really like the clever way that Apple designed their own lugs to make band switching a 10 second affair. And so many choices out there on the cheap for the Apple watch. This one from Amazon called LDAFS is a pretty good one for an ok price. The leather is well made albeit a bit stiff. Lots of adjustments but a little fidgety to do up.

This one also from Amazon from Tencloud is nice and light, but like most metal bands is a bit fidgety to get adjusted. It lacks the half adjustment at the buckle but for the price is not a bad choice.

Lastly this one again from Amazon is a little heavier but is well made and looks nice. Again QUITE fidgety to get adjusted to the right length, but at least it does have the half adjustments making it easier to find the perfect fit!

I went on a Mountain bike ride with my older Foretrex 401 and the Fenix 6 and found a remarkably large discrepancy in distances, 16.9 km vs 18.9 (on the Fenix 6). Fortunately I normally use a wheel sensor anyway, but is a little troubling, and have not seen it on the Fenix 5. The Fenix 6 does use a new Sony GPS chipset, which is different than the Fenix 5’s media tek. Garmin do say if you want more accuracy change the GPS sampling rate from the default which is smart mode to every second. The older 401 likely did once a second and might account for the differences. The setting is found in Settings, System, Data recording.

For biking, you can use this handlebar mount which will work for any watch and is not specific to Garmin. The biggest challenge with this is you can’t use it with a metal band, and may not want to use it with a leather band. It’s cheap at $25 on Amazon.

Speaking of biking I did a comparison between RunGPS with a Polar chest strap and the Fenix 6 and distance was 11.96 for the Fenix 6 Vs 12.01, and got a average heart rate of 145 on the Fenix 6 Vs 148 for the polar so pretty close on both counts.

Battery life is an interesting discussion, there are a number of things that really change how much power the watch draws. Obviously, the number one is GPS use. Garmin specs say 36 hours of GPS use, or 2.8%/hr. With GPS/Glonas on I can confirm this number is pretty accurate, even with navigation and mapping on. Garmin claim up to 14 days in smartwatch mode, but they give no indication of how much all day pulse ox impacts this. The reason for this, is it can only measure your pulse ox when you are still. The more active you are, the less it will try and measure your pulse ox, and the pulse ox seems to be a pretty good power draw. I was able to measure 0.8%/hr with all day pulse ox which would translate roughly to 5.2 days. So when Garmin say all day Pulse OX impacts battery life, umm, ya a LOT!

On first charge, including all day PulseOX, and 7 hours of GPS and still got 5 days of battery life (minus sleep).

Update: Here are the numbers I’ve been able to confirm on GPS battery life:
36 normal settings
27 per second recording
13 per second and following a course with mapping on screen

One of the design points of adding music onto the watch is to allow you to use the watch without a phone, so what doesn’t work when it’s stand alone? Well … notifications, weather, any widgets that need internet connectivity, live tracking, incident detection, emergency alert all come to mind as things that won’t work.

I’ve seen comments about the accuracy (or lack there of). I went for a 3 hour ride, the Fenix 6, even with 1 second GPS recording, and a wheel sensor clocked in at 34.96KM, Wahoo app with the same wheel sensor clocked in at 30.89, or off by 13%. Strava tracks: Fenix 6, Wahoo. Heart rate data is exactly the same, as it should be.

And using straight GPS (no wheel sensor) RunGPS clocked in 23.37KM vs the Fenix with a wheel sensor at 32.12 or a difference of 37%. The wheel sensor is always more accurate, but this difference is about double what I’m use to. If I had to guess, I’d say half way in between is the real number.

So all in all I have to say I’m impressed and the upgrade from the 5 is noticeable enough I am not even considering returning the 6. The new screen is noticeably better. The SPO2 is THE best way I have seen of tracking your Pulse ox, with the only miss being no alarm. The new metrics are awesome!, Ok, I admit it … I am still a gadgeholic and still a Garmin fan boy. Now if only they could take some time to write a simple app to migrate from one Fenix to another … PLEASE!!!

May 23, 2020 Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews, Fenix, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Camel Camel Camel Amazon price watcher (mini review)

I recently went to find an Amazon price watcher, something that I could tell what to watch and let me know when the price dropped to a price I wanted to pay. Sure enough, I found Camel Camel Camel. It does exactly what I wanted, and I got super lucky and within a week of setting up a watch it triggered, sent me an email and off I went to make my purchase. It really does exactly what I was looking for! Why pay more, why miss an item on sale, it’s free, and it just works!

May 18, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

APC BE850M2 UPS review

I’ve been using an APC ES550 UPS for a while now, and never really thoroughly tested it out, but given the time I have on my hands thought this is a great time to play. I’d added a second server onto the UPS moving power consumption from ~130W to ~180 and noticed the run time according to PowerChute Personal (the app they give you for monitoring the UPS) go down considerably. So I decided I need a larger UPS. I did a bit of digging on the APC web site before selecting this UPS. I would have preferred a bigger one, but frankly was not willing to pay so much more to get one that was big enough for both servers, and heh, two UPS’s ought to do just fine. By the way, I bought a UPS with a USB interface on it, so you can monitor the UPS (for example battery dieing).

APC have a runtime calculator and a very good comparison tool that can help guide you through your purchasing decision, but even with this it is a little complicated. If you look at naming convention you could be excused in thinking (as I did) that going from a model called a 550 to an 850 ought to be 55% more power. Well, as always, devil is in the details. It turns out the 550 (or 850) refers not to do with the battery size, but to the max configurable power, whatever that means to you. In digging you find out that the battery size goes from 82 to 104 VAH which is 27% larger. In a perfect system this would translate directly into longer run times, but APCs calculations show runtimes going from 19 mins to 25 mins at 130W which would be 32% longer, or 11mins to 16 mins at 180W which would be 45% longer. It seems APC has found ways around the rules of the universe, how awesome is that! 😉

Let’s look at some curves, as you know, I love excel and data analysis they provide … Let’s first look at the more confusing graph with the two different UPS’s at two different wattages:

What you can see is the differences in runtimes is significant compared to the differences in wattages. The second thing is that there are absolute cliffs where the percentages drop off … Kinda like the way a gas gauge goes from 1/4 tank to walking in short order 😉
Blown up the cliffs are really clear:

And here is a comparison on the 850 between wattages:

So be sure and test your proper shutdown, and having more than one system on a single UPS is that way one system talks to one UPS and shutdowns can be done separately.

The UPS itself is good with lots of well laid out plugs including ones for battery backup as well as surge suppression. The USB pots are kind of useless to me because this sits down in a server room, but on a desk they could be useful.

The code that goes along with the UPS is called PowerCute personal edition and includes everything from power drawn (on some models including this one), and you can see the stats and history of the device.

May 7, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Garmin Vivosmart 4 review

I’ve been using a Garmin Vivosport as my daily sleep tracker for a while. It allowed me to keep all my data in the Garmin infrastructure. Times change and new features get added and this brings me to this device. The latest new features that are not in either the VivoSport or my Fenix 5 include: Body battery, SPO2, and VO2 Max. We’ll get into those in a bit. Let’s talk about basic specs:
15 x 10.5 mm 17g Vs
21 x 10.9 mm 27g for the vivosport

Battery life is up to 7 days (excluding pulse ox sleep tracking), Vs Smartwatch mode: Up to 7 days for the VivoSport. Garmin do say the sleep Pulse ox affects battery life so I guess we will see what that means.

It’s worth noting that the hard center section of the Vivosmart is larger on the large than the small/med size. I have a small wrist and bought the large due to issues in the past with Garmin’s small being REALLY small and the hard section is ALMOST too big. The size difference between the Vivosport and Vivosmart is quite noticeable.

The Vivosmart 4 reminds me a little of the Xiaomi Band 2 I previously reviewed. The size comes with a number of compromises. First off the Vivosmart does not have a GPS (the Vivosport does have GPS), but Garmin FINALLY stepped up and added what Fitbits had a LONG time ago, which is to use the phones GPS, called connected GPS. This is actually great because the GPS on the VivoSport dramatically impacted it’s battery life. But the bigger compromise is the obviously smaller screen. And this screen is no longer always on (you have to rotate your wrist to get it to turn on). The screen is even NOT on during activities, oh and it’s not the typical Garmin screen, it’s quite difficult to read in direct sunlight. Navigating the menus is clumsy at best, much more challenging than on the VivoSport. It takes a lot of patience. On the positive side the chances of inadvertently swiping on the screen while sleeping is next to impossible, whereas it has happened a couple times on the Vivosport.

The band on this, like many Garmin trackers, is NOT replaceable, so when the band breaks, the tracker is done, and you can’t accessorize either. The sensors are so flush on the bottom of the band that this is quite comfortable to wear. Being so flush also means very little light gets out from under the tracker, even in the dark.

This devices uses a different charge cable than the Fenix 5 or the VivoSport (which use the same cable). This one uses a clip that grabs the device pretty firmly …

I won’t bother talking about the common tracker function, steps, stairs etc, they are all for the most part within reason of each other. So I will spend a bit of time talking about the new features.

A Pule Oximeter gives you SPO2 data, it measures the oxygen saturation of your blood. This is a measure of the efficiency of your lungs. In a time of respiratory disease knowing the condition of your lungs seems like a good idea, and is what caused me to have a look at this device. Garmin has NOT done the regulatory FDA approvals of the SPO2 sensor, and I can’t comment on the accuracy of it’s readings. Additionally, even Garmin admit how it sits on your wrist can dramatically affect accuracy. To make matters worse, Garmin don’t seem to throw out what appear like extraneous data points. And last but not least, to make matters EVEN worse Garmin measure your SPO2 while you sleep. A time when you arm/wrist etc could be in a variety of positions that may help, and may hurt accuracy of the data. Garmin do allow you to take an on demand SPO2 reading but this seems to go nowhere. It’s not saved, tracked, graphed nada. There are no alarms you can set in case your SPO2 drops. The SPO2 sensor uses a red light, and remembering that it does it primarily when you sleep, this is what it looks like in the dark. BTW you can turn this off but then this feature is virtually useless.

I had read stuff about the SPO2 on on DC Rainmakers review but had hoped that they would have improved the handling of this, sadly Garmin have not. Honestly, I’m pretty disappointed in how Garmin have handled this. 😦 As it turns out Apple Health does not have a place to enter SPO2 right now either. Looking at the Fenix 6 it has the option of all day PulseOx readings and they appear (although I am not sure where) to be noted on Garmin connect. Your sleep SPO2 is put in with your sleep data. By the way Fitbit also measures SPO2, during sleep. The Apple Watch on the other hand has not added SPO2 at this time … Here’s Garmin’s official response when I reached out to them “Thank you for contacting us regarding your PulseOx spot measurements. Currently, the feature is broken into two different types of uses. The tracking during sleep will allow you to review in Connect after syncing. The spot check is currently set as a live look at your pulse ox, but does not sync over to Connect. As of now, we haven’t set up any alerts or thresholds to the PulseOx feature. I’m not sure if that is something being considered for an update, though. Here’s a bit more information, and steps for adjusting the settings. A few of our devices also have an all-day pulse ox tracking feature. It currently is not available on the vivosmart 4, but I wanted to make sure to let you know about the feature in case it’s something you’d be interested in down the road”

So all in all, if PulseOx is of interest to you, skip this device, but I really don’t have a better alternative either. A finger PulseOx can be had for around $100 on Amazon, and some of these are even FDA approved, but then what do you do with the data? And how long will you bother putting your finger into the sensor even once a day? So far the best option I’ve found is the Wellue Oxysmart Bluetooth finger sensor.

VO2 Max
VO2 max is a measure of your physical fitness. Normally getting your VO2 max is an involved process. Garmin have wrapped some science into a “guesstimate” of your VO2 max and do it daily on the Vivosmart 4. You can find it in your Performance Stats region of Garmin connect mobile. No idea about accuracy, but you can see your trends in the app.

Heart rate variability is a measure of how stressed you are, physically and mentally. The idea is to be able to use HRV to help you from over training (or what interests me from it). Sadly, Garmin wraps this useful data in an algorithm and call it your stress level, making it of little to no use (to me).

Body battery is a new idea that attempts to determine if your running yourself down. If I read what it’s telling me, I’m near empty most days, which seems unlikely to me.

The vibration motor in the Vivosmart is quite good and makes it easy for you to get all notifications. As with previous Garmins this includes move reminders that work well and even has a nice animation.

Garmin have brought battery level more to the forefront (press and hold time) but it only tells you in increments of 4 dashes. I see no where to get the exact battery level.

As with past Garmins you can broadcast your heart rate out to other Garmins, but it can only do this over ANT+ (so not back to your iPhone) and can not be done during an activity.

Again there is no way to power off the device so if you want to use an alternate device like say your Fenix … No idea why Garmin continue to insist on leaving this super obvious feature off.

The unit does have a count down time, and stop watch, albeit a little clumsy to use.

I got 5.5 days of battery life before the low battery warning came on, and that’s with sleep pulse ox on, and 2 hours of a connected GPS activity! Quite impressive for a unit this small! And it recharged in about an hour.

I headed out for a leisurely walk today and took my Garmin Fenix 5 attached to a Polar H7 chest strap (what I consider the gold standard) and put it up against the Vivosmart 4. Other than calories the numbers compare reasonably favorably.

Next up I went for a road ride with the Fenix connected to a Wahoo TICKR chest strap, and I was SHOCKED how well it compared. Usually wrist based heart rate monitors usually don’t do well with biking, but it did well.

All in all there’s a lot to like in Garmin’s newest tracker, and the occasional thing to loath 😦

The complete manual can be found here.

May 5, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment