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 …

Maps:
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).

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

Garmin Fenix 5 review

My Fenix 3 has been my trusty companion for quite a while now, but it is getting long in the tooth, is too big for my wrist for daily use and lacks a heart rate monitor. Add to this that Garmin has stopped adding functions to it and you have device who’s days are numbered. BUT, the cost of a Fenix 5 is a big barrier. Add to that the Fenix 3 isn’t worth much in the resale market and you have a financial challenge. Luckily I don’t have a financial approval committee (read wife :)) so it’s just about rationalizing it in my own mind. For a giggle rationalize is defined as an “attempt to explain or justify (one’s own or another’s behavior or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate.” Hehe.

One of the major impetus (or is it rationalization) for the Fenix is to get all my data in once place, Garmin, instead of all being on the Apple health, and only on the phone (ie no portal)..

Having a look at size:
Fenix 5: 47.0×47.0x15.5mm 87g
Fenix 3: 51.0×51.0x16.0mm 85g

Apple 42.5 x 36.4 x 10.5mm 30g
Vivoact 43.4 x 43.4 x 11.7mm 43g
Fenix 3 51.0 x 51.0 x 16.0mm 85g

For reference:
Fenix 5X:  51.0×51.0x17.5mm 98g
Fenix 5S:  42.0×42.0x14.5mm 67g
Apple Watch 42.5×36.4×10.5mm 30g
So the Fenix 5 is a little bit smaller (10% or so) and a little heavier when compared to the Fenix 3. It’s worth noting that although the case size is smaller the display size between the Fenix 3/5 are identical at 1.2″.

Watchband wise Garmin went their own way. 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. Garmin designed what they call QuickFit bands that snap over this same 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. Hardly anyone is offering quickfit bands, and there are three different sizes the one for the Fenix 5 being a Quickfit 22mm. You can use standard 22mm bands but be aware the pins are larger in radius than normal and your back to tolerating a pair of torx drivers which is clumsy to say the least. 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.

The screen on the Fenix is different than most. It is designed to be direct sunlight visible, but is no where near as bright and vivid as others. It is however always on. Key to the screen being ALWAYS readable is the back lighting. There is a gesture control that your going to want to make sure is on for everyday use so that when you twist your wrist the backlighting comes on so it can be read in the dark without manually pushing a button. By the way, the backlighting comes on anytime a button is set which is perfect, except it does so even when the buttons are locked.

The Fenix is controlled 100% by buttons, this is NOT a touchscreen. In some ways, such as in activities, this is way better in that it can be used with gloves. In everyday use however, the touchscreens are easier to use and more what we have become accustomed to, however on a trail I’d much rather have the buttons!

There are a number of facets to the Fenix. It’s an everyday tracker, and and exercise tracker. Let’s visit those … As an everyday tracker the Fenix has a robust and comprehensive set of metrics. Garmin have been continuing to add new data onto the list since it’s release. The usual suspects, steps, sleep (with some tricks, see below) are there but Garmin have added some new features. These include all day stress which is heart rate variability hidden behind a Garmin algorithm. You also get data on your heart rate including resting heart rate. The heart rate is sampled once per second so you get a comprehensive picture of your heart rate. Past Garmin devices used an algorithm to determine when to sample your heart rate (to save power). This left you with gaps in time of your heart rate and less accurate resting heart rate. The Fenix 3 HR, as well as my older Vivosmart HR are like that. Garmin have recently added abnormal heart detection however it is disabled by default. Heart rate can also be rebroadcasted over Ant+ to other devices (like a cycling computer). I do not see any fall alerts (also on the current Apple watch). You can do heart rate alarms inside an activity, an activity I use extensively mountain biking.

In the sleep category the Fenix has a new trick up it’s sleeve. It’s called advanced sleep monitoring which allows Garmin to guestimate your REM sleep. But for this to work be sure and set the Fenix as your Default tracker or it does not work. Garmin seem to make no attempt to detect sleep outside your usual sleep times. So if you decide to go back to bed or have a power snooze Garmin will miss it 😦 Fitbits do this amazingly well.

Sleep tracking works well, but there are a few less than obvious series of steps to make sure it never wakes you. You need to use do not disturb, and set a time for DND. BTW there is only one setting for DND, you can’t have one for weekends and one for week days. This will keep the back lighting from coming on in the night.

The list of stuff you get about your day is quite impressive. As with most cases though, there lots of data, not a lot of information. Your left to do comparisons yourself and draw your own conclusions. Some guidance would be useful. But by comparison the amount of metrics are way above the Apple Watch.

The Fenix 5 does complete notifications, much better than Fitbit, however there is no ability to respond in anyway (which you can do on the Apple watch) There is no NFC chip in the 5, you’d have to go up to the 5 Plus for that so no ability to make payments with the watch (which you can on the Apple watch). Of note, even if you got the 5 Plus which has Garmin pay it ain’t in Canada anyway. On the Apple pay side I noticed two things of note. First your probably dragging your phone/wallet out for loyalty cards anyway … and every so many tap transactions they want to see the card so you can’t leave the card home anyway. I don’t know if this is unique to my credit card or a generic experience.

Garmin have not coded a widget for the iPhone that would display the battery status of the phone. A shame really. Finding out the battery status of your watch is harder than it ought to be. On the positive side the outstanding battery life of the watch means this is WAY less of an issue, but still …

Garmin unlike others embrace third party developers (unlike Apple who lock down their watch faces and constrict apps), this allows developers to offer their own watch faces, widgets (things you can scroll through from the watch face) and data fields (that can be used in activity screens). It’s called ConnectIQ This really enhances the platform. ConnectIQ has been frozen on the Fenix 3 (connect IQ 2.0 and going forward the Fenix 3/HR are not supported) so going forward some ConnectIQ apps may not work on the Fenix 3. Each developer has to decide which devices they want to support. Sadly a few of my favorites for the Fenix 3 are not allowed/compatible with the Fenix 5. Here are a few of the ones I love for the Fenix 5:
Battery Meter Widget

Watch faces:
DigitStorm NoFrills Time Flies Big LCD

One of the more common things people like on a watch face is weather. Sadly Garmin does not provide one of their own and do not provide the location and weather data as an API (or so it seems) making it challenging for other people. The net result is their are few watch faces with weather and they are complicated to setup and get working. For example take WeatherFace which does exactly what one would like, have weather on your watch face. To get this working (and this is no fault of the author) you have to get your own API key, then you have to get the watch to find the current location and voila it’s working. But if you change your location you need to manually again manually get your watch to know your location (save location of track an outdoor activity).

Garmin have added MoveIQ which attempts to detect activities automatically, but MoveIQ events can not be converted to activities and don’t show in your news feed. In fact you have to go looking for them. I’m really not sure I get the point of MoveIQ. Frankly the Apple watch does a better job of auto starting an activity.

From an everyday point of view, as I am writing this I am noticing how many times I’ve said you can do that on an Apple watch … A testimonial to how well Apple did with the Apple watch.

Exercise/activity tracking is the HUGE plus with this device. It is one of the few that you can create/save/import way points as well as courses. This gets you where you wanna go. Now the navigation to waypoints is done as the crow flies, and without topographic maps (you’d have to bump up the 5X or the 5 Plus to get maps) you could have things like ravines in your path. The screens for the activities are some of the most comprehensive and flexible out there. You can decide how many screens you want, what you want on each screen, really flexible. If there is any gripe I wish I could configure this on the phone instead of the watch.

One of the advancements on the Fenix 5 is that it supports both Bluetooth and Ant+ sensors. If you already had bluetooth ones then great. Personally I prefer Ant+ because they can transmit to more than one device at a time, and who can live with only one Garmin on your handlebars? I ask you? A chest strap is still my preferred heart rate monitor for mountain biking when I use zone alarms to help me train in a zone.

As with all current Garmins activities, it includes the amount of calories burned and can be displayed live. This is a great feature in that I can insure as I am trying to build up cardio that I am increasing the calorie count each time out!

Navigation can be done to saved waypoints during and activity or outside one as well. You get the usual metrics, distance and direction to the waypoint, a guess at ETA etc. On any data screen a little red arrow points the way, cleverly done (this was on the Fenix 3 as well).

The user interface has changed between the Fenix 3 and 5. I can’t say it’s hands down better but I’ve yet to find a feature that has been removed. So good on Garmin to learn from past devices and carry that learning forward. Lots of subtle improvements.

I did three walks in downtown Toronto where high rises can image GPS accuracy. The following three maps show a comparison of a Vivoactive 3, a Fenix 3, and a Fenix 5. I was walking on the street and not intoxicated, so anytime the path deviates from the road, it missed out. The Fenix came the closest. I did see the Fenix 5 occasionally loose signal, but it seems to have done better at keeping the location in line. This might imply the Fenix 5 has a more sensitive GPS receiver.

I took a look at “similar” rides to see what calorie count was like compared to the Fenix 3 I am replacing. Now the actual number of calories is not that important, it’s more comparing Vs your previous workout to insure you are increasing or maintaining … The count is similar but not identical. As you can see in spite of a higher average heart rate and slightly longer ride the calorie count is lower. But not by a huge amount, so good enough.

The new music controls widget from Garmin even includes what’s playing! Nice!

I was a little concerned that Garmin might have changed the font on the workout data … happily the Fenix 5’s fonts are as easy, or easier to read the Fenix 3. Nice and crisp, and dark.

Battery life:
Fenix 3 Smartwatch mode: Up to 2 weeks, GPS mode: Up to 20 hours, UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 50 hours
Fenix 5 Smartwatch mode: Up to 2 weeks, GPS/HR mode: Up to 24 hours, UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 60 hours without wrist heart rate Vs

So in the end I love the new Fenix 5. The slightly smaller size, added metrics and heart rate monitor mean I can wear it everyday without thinking I’m loosing data. It does everything the Fenix 3 did and more so this is a hands down win. I managed to find my Fenix 5 on ebay as a refurb which saved me a few bucks, so I could invest in some watch bands!

For even more in depth info on the Fenix 5 checkout DC Rainmaker.

So compared to the Fenix 3 here’s a recap on what’s new:
– Advanced sleep metrics, approximated REM sleep
– Automatic VO2Max approximated
– All day stress
– All day, once a second heart rate
– Future continues for ConnectIQ on the Fenix 5 (dead on the Fenix 3)
– More sensitive GPS receiver?
– Quickfit bands standard (can be used on Fenix 3 as well)
– slightly smaller watch making it easier (for me) to enjoy it everyday.
– better battery life
– recently added support for Galileo satelites in Europe
– abnormal heart rate detection
– heart rate rebroadcast
– Garmin elevate heart rate sensor which is more accurate
– display resolution bumped from 218×218 to 240×240
– memory has been bossted from 32M to 64MB allowing you to have more ConnectIQ watch faces, widgets, data fields
– includes Garmin TrueUp which allows you to record activities on another Garmin device
– Support for Strava Segments live (with Paid Strava)
– added an additional cycling mode specifically for mountain biking

Update:
I noticed the Fenix 5 added an activity for Kayaking … well it turns out in the Garmin world that means white water kayaking/rafting. In this activity you get no metrics from your paddling. The fix is to use row instead of kayak. Here are two and you can compare the difference in stats Rowing Vs Kayaking.

March 4, 2019 Posted by | Activity Trackers, Electronic gadget reviews, Fenix, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Canon T6i DSLR camera review

I’ve owned a Canon Rebel XS for a very long time now, (10 years) but it is really starting to show it’s age. Honestly though, it really has performed and continues to perform exceptionally well. Recently I figured out how to get my DSLR into my kayak to allow me to take some amazing pictures of nature. Surrounded by such incredible beauty, so close to home, I have been inspired to get even better shots. So I started going on a quest. The main things I want to improve are native WIFI (more on this later), higher resolution, hopefully faster auto focus, and ability to use it every now and then for movies. Movies for me is more of an after thought, but nice to have.

In the digital camera world your either a Canon person, or a Nikon person. The Nikon menus are just not intuitive for me coming from a Canon. And I suspect vice versa would be also true. So narrowing to Canon I zoomed in (pun intended) on the T6/T6i. The T6i won the battle. The T6 does not have a mic port (for movies), is 18mp Vs 24, 100-6400 ISO Vs 100-12800, and 9 point of focus Vs 19. So given all this, the T6i it is. The T7i was ruled out simply because of price. We all have budgets to live within, and honestly I’m breaking the budget buying any of these, as this is TRULY a discretionary expense. I don’t need it … I WANT it 🙂

If you do decide to buy the T6i, be sure to focus on (yes again, pun intended) the lens they include. In the Canon world, the lens does the Image stabilization (look for IS in the name) and be sure and get the newer STM lens. The S in STM stands for silent and is important when shooting movies so the sound of the lens focusing doesn’t ruin your video. The one I bought came with the EF-S 18-55 IS STM and it is the lens you should get. Personally I found the body only models, more expensive? Shrug.

So let’s look at the overall comparison of specs to see what 10 years of patience have bought me 🙂
T6i on the left, Rebel XS on the right:
Sensor Type/Size: 22.3 x 14.9mm CMOS Vs 22.2×14.8 for all purposes a wash
24mp Vs 10 2.4x better resolution, comes in handy when you need to crop due to insufficient zoom
ISO: 100-12800 Vs 100-1600 way better
Continuous Shooting: Up to 5 fps Vs 3 not a big deal for me
Start-Up Time: 0.18 sec. Vs 0.3 slightly faster but I don’t really turn it off once started
Autofocus Points: 19 Vs 6
440 shots battery life Vs 500 (pretty much the only place the t6i is worse)

Additional features on the T6i not on the XS:
Connectivity: USB, HDMI Video Out, 3.5mm Stereo Mini-Jack WiFi
Video File Size: 1920 x 1080 30 fps; 1280 x 720; 640 x 480 More on movies later.
Faster autofocus Phase detection vs Contrast detection (not sure what this exactly means, and we will see if it’s noticeable.
The T6i has a touchscreen that can be used to control the camera, as well as used as a viewfinder for the camera. I really like the way the screen can be folded in for protection when not in use, and it can be swiveled down for taking overhead shots in crowds.

I got under 400 pics and the battery was stone cold dead. One of the things I learned was the ONLY place the battery status is displayed is on the screen (not the view finder), no warning lights nada. So if you have the screen closed for protection, as I did you will be oblivious until the very moment you discover a dead battery in the middle of your day. This is noticeably worse battery life than the Rebel XS.

The screen on the camera is articulating (as I mentioned above) allowing you to put it at whatever angle you want. I found this more helpful than I had thought. I used it for selfie shots to get it framed just so. The screen however, looks like a scratch magnet, so I bought a tempered glass screen protector just like I have for my phone as paranoia. The screen is reasonably viewable in direct sunlight.

One of the reasons why WIFI became important, EYE-FI unceremoniously bricked their card which I’ve been using in the Rebel XS for years. And spending 50 or $60 on a replacement card seemed silly when I was looking for rationalization for buying a new camera anyway 🙂

The t6i definitely focuses quicker, and the body is noticeably quieter than the Rebel xs. I went back to the Rebel XS and quickly noticed the difference. The images on the T6i are also noticeably crisper.

The Canon connect app includes the ability to sync the date and time on the camera with your phone. A nice touch. The ability to add location to images for some reason does not appear to be supported on the t6i, which is quite a disappointment given this camera does not have a GPS. So images can’t be location tagged. To date I haven’t found a way to even manually add the location to the images. Connecting to the camera over wifi is quite a clumsy affair, and always has been with Canon. You go the menu on the camera and turn on WIFI, then wait for the phone to connect to it, then start the Connect app and then your on your way. With the Eye-FI card anytime the camera was on the WIFI was on which much more convenient. I wish Canon would allow this as an option. And there’s no dedicated WIFI button on the camera … Adding a password to the WIFI at least let the iPhone auto connect to it, unless of course the iPhone was already connected to a different WIFI. All of which leads to the wifi being clumsy … But, at least this restores a functionality I love on the go.

I decided to keep my existing zoom lens from the Rebel XS, a Canon 55-250 IS. It isn’t a silent lens, but I don’t think I will be doing movies with the zoom lens, so it should be fine.

When deciding what to buy I looked into the mirrorless cameras, as well as the mega zoom camera’s like the Canon SX60HS or the Nikon P1000. The biggest limitation to the mega zoom cameras is the trade off for the mega zoom, which is a super small sensor. 16-megapixel 1/2.3-inch sensor, compared to a DLR, so 22.3 x 14.9mm vs 6.17 x 4.55mm. I found this generally article informative article on the trade offs … And the higher zoom is going to be very hard to manage while bobbing in a boat and not getting motion blur. The mirrorless cameras have their benefits, smaller size, lighter weight, better battery life, but I moved past them just because I don’t have enough experience with them, or have friends with them that would have swayed me that way.

I will leave the nauseating detailed analysis of the camera and it’s images to site that are far better equipped to do that … Just not my specialty.

So all in all I like the T6i. And in rationalizing it, I gave my old Rebel XS to my daughter to pass along the love of photography. It just creates memories that last a lifetime!

And for a bit of fun … the term rationalize means “attempt to explain or justify (one’s own or another’s behavior or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate” 🙂

August 14, 2018 Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews | Leave a comment

Wireless charging

With the iPhone 8 and X now supporting wireless, charging (welcome to the game Apple) more people are looking into their options. I fell in love with wireless charging a while back. I’m still on an iPhone 6 so a long time ago I bought a Qi-infinity Wireless Charging case that allowed me to retrofit wireless charging onto the iPhone 6. They have a clever design that the bottom connector slides down to allow access to the lightning port. It works, although not perfect. The case itself is super rigid and has saved my phone on countless occasions.

Back to the wireless charging … So with this case I decided to compare a couple wireless charges. It’s worth noting, that be careful, a number of the super cheap charge pads are single coil devices. This means it has a very narrow magnetic field. So you
have to be super careful with where you put the phone down. I had an early one of these that I paid $3 for and eventually through it out after more than once thinking it was charging and it wasn’t. Most of the charge pads have a light to show you the power is to the charge pad, and a light to indicate it’s charging the phone wirelessly.

It’s worth noting that wireless charge pads are in general slower to charge your phone that by a wired charger, to do with the inefficiencies of wireless charging. The losses involved. They are ideal for overnight charging where the speed of the charge is of little importance.

The first one I tried was a Docooler G300. This turned out to be the slowest of the charge pads I had to try. It charged the iPhone 6 with this case at a rate of 0.375%/hr or a projected full charge of 4.4 hours. Now the speed and amount of time is of less interest than the relative numbers. Your numbers will vary depending on your phone and charge pad.

The second one to try was an Itian Qi. I really like physical layout of this charge pad because it makes it simple to get the phone on the right spot. This charged at a rate of 0.48%/hr or a projected full charge of 3.5 hours. This would make this one 27% faster than the Docooler.

Last up I tried a Seneo Fast Wireless Charger. This one is also a good design for making it easy to get the phone on the right spot on the charge pad. This one charged the fastest at a rate of 0.54%/hr or a projected full charge of 3.1 hours. This one would then be 44% faster than the Docooler.

By comparison a wired charger for an iPhone 6 can deliver about 1%/hr or a projected charge of about 1.5 hours. So you can see what I mean by wireless chargers being slower. You can even see it in the current drawn. The charge case that I bought says right on it that it delivers a max current into the iPhone of .6A, while the power drawn from the USB to give that 0.6A is about 1.2A. In other words you loose about 50% due to the inefficiency of wireless charging. You can see the current and voltage of a USB port by using a USB amp meter like this:

November 2, 2017 Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews, iPhone Stuff | Leave a comment

Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire review

Hot no the heals of the Fenix 2 I decided to return it and try the Fenix 3, I was that impressed with it.

The Fenix 3 comes in a host of different models to suit your tastes, and budget. Everything from the bottom end Fenix 3 to the Sapphire all the way up to the Sapphire HR (heart rate). I really had to push my mental limits on price for a watch to reach for this model. I bought it from GPSCity refurb for $529. The difference in price between the Fenix 3 and Sapphire was only $50 and changes to a metal band (although a rubber is included to swap out) and the crystal is a more durable sapphire. So I splurged.
pd-03-lg

A number of folks may only read this post so I will do it as a stand alone post. For those of you that read the Fenix 2 there will be some overlap, sorry about that.

My use case for this device is potentially an everyday watch, activity tracker, as well as use in sports such as hiking, biking and kayaking.

On with the write up. This is definitely a big watch. I have a small wrist and it’s noticeable. It looks a whole lot more elegant than the Fenix 2 but still noticeable as a sports watch. The metal band that is on the Sapphire is really quite heavy. Top that off with the fact that it is not possible to use the metal band with a handlebar mount and you have an issue. Fortunately they did include a normal rubber band and the screw drivers to change the band. Changing the band is a quick and easy task. I would have preferred that they included a spare set of pins but they did not.

The Fenix 3 includes a dizzying array of sensors (same ones as on the Fenix 2), a digital compass, a barometric altimeter, temperature sensor, gps and accelerometers. All packed in a watch. Without the metal band the weight is not that bad, 85g, the metal band weighs in at over 90g on it’s own. And it is actually possible to wear it sleeping. Even on my small wrist. As with any metal band you will need tools to get it sized right for you. Or take it to a jewler. Be sure and watch the direction you need to push the pins out to remove them, it is marked on the under side of the band.

On initial setup on the watch you have to enter your age/weight/sex etc. I guess this is in case you are going to use the watch face without a phone/computer but this just seems like a silly step.

The Fenix 3 uses a very different kind of screen which they refer to as “1.2-inch sunlight readable Garmin Chroma Display”. It’s focus is two fold, make it readable always (sometimes requiring a backlight), and consume as little power as possible. This is a color screen, but just barely. Don’t go looking for a bright vibrant Apple watch or Samsung Gear like screen. Colors are dull and washed out. That is not the focus point of this watch. It is generally a good display, although I am not sure I like it more than the Fenix 2’s …

The backlight on the Fenix 3 now has a setting that anytime you push a button it comes on. Brilliant (and obvious at the same time). Timeout can be set to anything you want, including always on which I am sure will have dramatic effects on the battery and be a good size distraction while your trying to sleep. I wish they had a setting for on during workouts. This would be handy for when in the forest mountain biking or anywhere there is low light.

The watch is controlled by a series of large buttons around the edge of the watch. This is not a touch screen. This is in keeping with the primary purpose of the watch which is a GPS watch. The buttons have a much nicer feel than the Fenix 2 and can be managed with some light gloves.

One of the major improvements for the Fenix 3 is the addition of support for Connect IQ. This is Garmin’s extensible architecture that allows third parties to release there own apps, widgets (data fields for the watch faces), watch faces and data fields (for use in activity screens). Connect IQ is managed from the Garmin connect app on your phone that then sends them over to the watch. Connect IQ support is a HUGE move for Garmin. I love the idea of it but Garmin seems to have SEVERELY limited Connect IQ. You can only have a set number of “open slots” that you can install these into and only so much space for them. Garmin gave you an area to manage the storage which shows you within the phone app how much storage and slots are available but you can not uninstall from this same screen. Clumsy. And the built in Garmin apps/widgets etc can be disabled but do not free up space. I had some challenges trying to figure out how to add back an app I had removed/hidden. Turns out its done on the watch not the phone. And try and uninstall from the phone your current watch face and you get a nasty failed message with no hints as to why. And once you’ve downloaded to your phone a particular app/widget etc they remain on your phone cluttering your lists indefinitely. As a neat freak this is troubling. I know get over it, but really Garmin could have done a much better job of this. I have to say the way it’s done takes a lot of the excitement of having this wonderful and extensible feature. Dear Mr Garmin … please please pretty please work on Connect IQ. Signed your loyal customer 🙂 I do digress .. Oh and be aware that installing these apps/widgets etc while your fussing with a bunch of them really can smoke your battery fast … I had an issue that deleting watch faces was not freeing up slots to install another one, this was only resolved by a reboot of the watch. Oddly also missing is the ability to change the watch face from the phone, it can only be done on the watch. And on the watch there’s no preview so your stuck finding the name of the watch face on the watch and then finding it on the watch. Again, clumsy …

I love the ability to get different watch faces. I found the device and it’s screen lend itself far better to digital rather than analog ones. There are about 900 different watch faces out at time of writing. Here are some of my favorites:
Steam Guage 38aa7012-001d-4c6c-b0b4-fbfd0d5f2772 X-WF f5571054-aba2-4eb0-ad68-268b9dd395d5 GNX Digits 752bc414-1554-4fd4-a8d3-fb0c5e8205deAb Initio c6dd14bc-2e3d-4a9d-8f3d-f6dfb34a55b2LCD Digits ec0f0f6a-6dba-4823-9b9a-b80db8c91f78

There are watch faces that display your heart rate, but these seem to only work with the Fenix’s with heart rate monitor built in. It will not try and connect to an ANT+ heart rate monitor. Similarly there do not seem to be built in apps that will just display the ant+ heart rate data outside of an activity. I did find a third party app that will give you current, min and max heart rate as an activity of it’s own Cardiometer

The Fenix 3 can do complete activity tracking including steps (that gets translated into kms and calories), floors climbed and descended (first time I’ve seen the ability to differentiate between ascend/descend, likely because of the barometric altimeter) and sleep. Steps and kms compared well with my Fitbit however calories are obviously calculated differently between the companies as they varied by over 20% with Fitbit being higher. Sleep stats are very basic but they are there. The watch can easily be worn while sleeping. Garmin even included move reminders, something Fitbit are still struggling to get on more than there newest devices. Like most of these devices they have forgot to pause step counts while in a workout, so I did a ride and it detected a thousands of steps 😦 Just difficult can it be to get this right?
img_1467img_1466
I did notice one really stupid thing. I took the watch off, went to bed and picked up the next morning. As far as it was concerned I had slept 100% the entire time. Doh. Dumb. Oh and Garmin automatically mutes notifications when it detects sleep, brilliant, however they seem to have thought of the possibility of taking it off to sleep and notifications just kept coming, waking me up. Doh, again dumb. The easiest solution to this is to turn on do not disturb mode on the watch and set your sleep time in the phone app (settings, user settings normal bed times). This does cause another issue, if you dont wear the watch while sleeping but it’s on and you have set the normal sleep time connect logs your normal sleep time in Apple health. And I woke up, took the watch off to shower and it thought I had been asleep the time I was in the shower. All in all the sleep area of the watch could use some attention.

Using Garmin Basecamp I was able to transfer waypoint between my other Garmin devices over USB. In fact from what I can see USB is the ONLY way to get waypoints/courses etc to the Fenix 3, you can’t do it over bluetooth or wifi (Fenix 2 was the same by the way). Unlike the Fenix 2 which slowed down when the waypoints got loaded up the Fenix 3 is fine. Waypoints are again sorted by proximity (to your last known location) and there’s no option for alphabetic. Waypoints are now called saved locations rather than user data as they were on the Fenix 2. Makes more sense.

When the watch is being used every day you have access to the altimeter, barometer and compass using the up and down arrow from the time. Garmin created a one screen app that is too confusing for me called ABC. Fortunately you can disable it and have access to each on their own screen. The compass doesn’t include an arrow to north, instead gives you the degrees. Not my preference but heh …

I couldn’t for the life of me get the Garmin weather app to work and lots of people complain about it so …

Watch wise Garmin have hit all the marks with multiple alarms, a stopwatch, and count down timer. You can also create a hotkey shortcut to the count down timer which shortens the number of clicks to get to it. Very convenient. Setting the countdown timer is a little clumsy but not unmanageable.

Garmin oddly refer to activities as apps. You can control which activities the watch displays and can add new ones. For each activity you define the set of screens that will be displayed during that activity. If you don’t add that screen to the activity’s definition you can’t get to it. To get back to the time/apps off the main screen press and hold the down button, then press back to go back to your app. Oddly a visual compass does not seem to be available within a workout but there are ones in the Connect IQ store.
My fav is Compass data fieldb20c6bcc-e3bc-4706-b8dc-732603eab951

Map is there by default now, as is HR Guage. I particularly like the heart rate guage. At a quick glance you can see where you are as well as the zone.
f3hrgauge_19dec15_zpsbumvokzp

Heart rate alerts have been improved. Setting them is a bit bizarre they give you two thumbwheels to set your min/max (for custom). One has two digits and one has one. So to set 180 you set 18 on the one and 0 on the other. It confused me at first. Once set it works absolutely perfectly. It beeps, flashes the screen and pops the heart rate screen on for you to see. Very well done.

While in an activity (or not) you can start navigation to a pre-saved point or back to start or track back. Saved locations as mentioned above are sorted based on closest to your current location. Once you sort through your waypoints, and this watch can store 1000 (wow) you are ready to navigate to it. Garmin have dramatically improved the navigation screen. Navigation now becomes an added screen on your existing activity (rather than a separate activity as it was on the Fenix 2). On this screen you get an arrow to your destination and the distance to it (albeit in a super small font) on one screen. There’s a fair bit of wasted white space on the screen not sure Garmin didn’t make more efficient use of the space with bigger font/arrow.

When on other screens you get a little arrow showing you constantly the direction to your waypoint. Wow. I am thoroughly impressed by how well they have done this. Thanks Garmin you have restored my faith in you! The map of your current activity is also super easy to read with a nice wide track of where you have been and is easy to see. A really huge improvement

While in an activity you can press and hold the down button and get taken back to the time of day, and can then call up things like the music app, ABC etc. The music app by the way is super basic and even a little clumsy. You can use it to start stop etc the music. It works fine but don’t go looking for song playing etc it’s just not there.

Activities saved can be uploaded through the phone (through bluetooth, so be patient this can take minutes to complete) or you can set them to auto upload using WIFI in which case magic happens and it just works. Next thing you know the activity is on Garmin connect. It seemed to get the password for the WIFI from the phone. This is SUPER convenient.

From a biking point of view you the Fenix 3 supports speed/cadence sensors. There’s no explicit mention of a speed only or cadence only sensor but I believe it supports it. Standing still and spinning the wheel shows a speed so I am pretty sure it uses the wheel sensor to determine speed/distance when available (yay).

Sensor wise you can have multiple sensors in each category. You can manually rename them to something that is more meaningful rather than some silly number of digits. Sensors can easily be added/deleted, something that was an issue on previous Garmin devices. All in all the management of the sensor pool is well done. One odd thing though is there is no way to tell it for an activity to ignore sensors. As soon as you start an activity it attempts to connect to various sensors. The only exception to this is you can decide to turn off the GPS for a particular activity such as an indoor one. Garmin as always support only ANT+ sensors (not bluetooth), but you can always buy dual mode sensors (bluetooth and ANT+) such as the Wahoo Blue SC, Speed or Tickr heart rate monitor.

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. Garmin claim up to 50 hours in UltraTrac mode; up to 20 hours in GPS training mode; up to 6 weeks in watch mode. I can’t think of too many devices with that can compete with this. Using this device all day while snowboarding/skiing is very possible. Recharge time from dead is a little over 2 hours so not horrible, and is about half of what the Fenix 2 took. In about 2.5 hours the watch dropped a whopping 22% so that would translate out to about 11.3 hours. Way below the 20 hours they quote and well above the Fenix 2.

Garmin include Livetracking which allow you to share your current location, speed distance etc from your current activity. This can be shared over email facebook etc.

Garmin have included functions to find your phone from your watch and your watch from your phone. Assuming it is within Bluetooth range. They do not appear to have included a last seen location for your watch should you loose it. Something Motorola does.

Garmin have included a search utility to find friends, but it found only one. I know others using Garmin connect so I have no idea why …

Notifications are pretty well done on the Fenix 3. You get a nice little buzz on your wrist then the message pops up on the screen (in albeit small font size, unchangeable). This is comprehensive and covers all notifications on iOS including phone calls. You can even decline this phone call from the wathc. This works well and is super convenient while in the middle of a ride. They also notify you when it’s time to get off your butt 🙂 The notifications come up nicely within a ride but the font is so small as to be unreadable. But they go away quickly.

Garmin wisely included the ability to power off the watch. This allows you to power it off and come back to it the next time you want it and it’s all powered up ready to go. A number of others forget this super obvious function. Some people do have more than one watch you know. No really they do!

There are a dizzying array of things to setup on the Fenix 3. And pretty much every one of them have to be setup on the watch itself (can’t be setup on the phone) and none of them can be backed up. Seems like an odd oversight.

There are definitely things that annoy me with the Fenix 3. The menu system and change of buttons from past devices being just a few. But even with that I have to admit this is an amazing watch. If you have a loved one that is into gadgets and like physical activity this may be the perfect decadent toy for them. Will it change your life, well no, but it real is a wonderful piece of technology!

For another even more in depth review checkout DC Rainmer’s review. Always one of the first places I go to for fitness based tech!

I wrote up another post on how to make courses and navigate on the Fenix 3. Check it out.

Update 4/3/2017
I’ve now owned the Fenix 3 for about 5 months now. I have to say, I love this device. It really is a super watch. It performs smartphone notifications, talks to all my cycling sensors, can be mounted on a handlebar (with the rubber band and the optional handlebar mount), can be used for navigation, does activity tracking, the app is pretty good, and battery life is also good. If there is anything missing it is a heart rate sensor. I made a choice to not buy the Fenix 3 HR, given the additional price. This would give you two options. An always with you heart rate monitor for use on activities, and 24×7 heart rate monitoring. As it happens Garmin only periodically check the heart rate (According to DC Rainmaker) so this is not all that useful. And if I am going for ride, I need more accuracy than the wrist mounted would give me anyway. Now at this point the Fenix 5 is out (there is no such thing as the Fenix 4). So what would the Fenix 5 give you that the 3 doesn’t? Garmin now properly do 24×7 heart rate monitoring giving you more accurate resting heart rate numbers. Also, recently Garmin updated Connect IQ and sadly the Fenix 3 was left off the list. A rather troubling move. This means, going forward not all widgets/watch faces will work on the Fenix 3. The Fenix 5 also moved to a more convenient quick connect watch band, a welcome improvement. Fortunately these same bands work on the Fenix 3. Is it worth the additional cash to go for the 5? That’s up to you …

Update 6/16/2017
Backing up your Garmin settings.

Update 9/14/2017
Back in June I bought SENTER Soft Luxury Leather Strap off Amazon for $24.98, about half the price of the official Garmin. I had tried a different one off ebay and it was crap. This one how ever is super soft, looks great and has done well over the last three months. It’s comfortable enough to sleep well and has even tolerated getting wet.
51yCaWMttdL._SX425_

I did a little experiment today and turned the backlight on and kept it on at 100%. In 1.5 hours it sucked up 16% of the battery, for a projected life of a mere 9.4 hours. The point … keep your backlight timeout to a minimum to help your battery life!

October 4, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers, Electronic gadget reviews, Fenix, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

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.
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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.

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September 9, 2016 Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews, Fenix, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Windows Mobile 10 review (and a Lumia 625 review)

I’ve been making the rounds on mobile operating systems and this one was on the list to checkout. I last played with Mobile 7.5. I use to be a HUGE Windows mobile fan. Back in the days (I loath that phrase, what/when does it exactly mean? And why has it all of a sudden become ubiquitous in our culture?) before Android, Windows mobile rocked my digital world. At last a reason had come for carrying around a PDA. Integrating the PDA and a phone and the smart phone revolution was born. Fast forward to today and wow have the tables have turned. To say Microsoft has fallen behind is an understatement of epic proportions and would actually imply they were even trying. I have no idea given the lack of commitment to this space MS have shown why they even bother. One must only look to the current sales numbers to see the state of the current market place. At 2.6% of sales their numbers are low. Amusingly, somehow, selling more than Blackberry.

So on with the post. Windows 10 mobile’s idea is to create a common fabric across your digital devices. Why should you have to learn a different interface moving from your desktop, to your tablet to your phone. Microsoft even took the ludicrous step to continue this common interface into the server market with server 2012. That said, it is an interesting idea. As usual the devil will be in the details.

I snagged a Lumina 625 to write this post. This phone is a cheap, plastic, heavy, low end, old phone. I won’t waste a lot time in this post talking about this device. Suffice it to say, you get what you paid for which in my case was very little. If you are really interested here’s a complete list of specs. The diminutive processing power of this phone unfortunately is likely going to color my opinion of Windows phone 10.

Windows 10 phone technical preview is very much in beta mode. If you sign up for it you can enter two rings, a slow and a fast ring. The fast ring gives you access to the latest and greatest current versions of everything. The cost is frequent updates and less stable code. And to say this is unstable (on this phone anyway) is putting it mildly. I’ve had more lock ups in the last 24 hours with this device than in the 2 years. Battery life is equally bad. So be careful before you put this on your main phone. A point they warn you about repeatedly, and they really do mean it.

To upgrade this device (or any others) you strangely first need to upgrade the phone to the latest Windows 8 mobile operating system. This took forever on this device. Numerous upgrades, numerous reboots and a ton of time. It seems that the upgrades were not roll ups or comprehensive upgrades. It really took a HUGE amount of patience. Something I am not known for. Once the phone was finally current I could find Windows Insider in the Windows store. This app then easily and quickly allowed me to upgrade to Windows 10 mobile. Here’s an article on the upgrade/downgrade process.

With Windows 10 on the phone I can finally start playing. Windows 10 mobile definitely has a similar feel to Windows 10 on a laptop/tablet but the similarities come quickly to an end. Gestures like swiping to the side to see running apps, swiping down to close an app and the like all do not work on the phone. There is a look and feel, but it’s more like a skin than anything else.

Each of the builtin apps in Windows mobile are separate from the operating system and can be upgraded at any time. Microsoft have really taken this to a whole new level. What this means is once the operating system is updated then there are a ton of little app upgrades to further test your patience.

The phone only supports one userid at a time, even on Windows 10.

The built in apps for messaging, and calendar both work perfectly with google apps. A great thing given there are no google apps on the platform.

The music app (Groove Music) took a VERY long time to scan through my music collection. Reminded me of the early days on Android. Once scanned the app worked just fine.

I found most of the metro apps I like on my tablet installed and worked on the phone. A point that shocked me. Oddly Navmi (a GPS in car navigation app) would not. And some of the apps on the phone for some reason do not auto rotate even ones that do on my tablet.

Windows 10 phone brings in the new web browser Edge which means history and passwords saved on your desktop follow you onto your phone. But don’t look for too many more levels of cross device integration. Rumors are that Microsoft is working on the ability to send texts from your desktop, something Apple already does. No sign of that yet. Microsoft really need to come up with a sales proposition to tell someone why if they have Windows at home on there desktop/laptop why they want it on the phone. Being device agnostic is really becoming expected and it largely is not here (yet) on Windows 10 mobile.

There is a wallet app but there are so few plugins that support it as to be useless (well for now anyway).

Endomondo is surprisingly there, and it supported my Scosche bluetooth heart rate monitor. Yay! There is even a Fitbit app but I couldn’t get it to connect to my Charge in spite of everything I did. I was even was on a 1 hour tech support call with Fitbit to no avail.

Windows is all about live tiles. Live tiles put active data inside a square shape. There are three sizes of Live tiles. Wide which leave takes up a double width and on this phone leaves room for 3 tiles on the screen. So pretty uselessly large. Square which leaves room for 6 on the screen. And small which is so little room for anything active except maybe notification counts. As on the tablet Microsoft did not include a live tile for things like clock, current battery state etc. Fortunately there are apps for that, one of the few times you will here that on Windows mobile. Microsoft really need to add another in between tile size.

As instantaneous as everything is on iPhones, Windows is anything but, especially on Windows 10 mobile. Now there maybe a ton of debug code still around on Windows 10 mobile but for now I would not recommend Windows 10 mobile on the Lumina 625.

Microsoft maps app includes live turn by turn direction and worked fine as did it’s built in search.

In the end, too quickly really, I had to give up on Windows 10 on this phone. It constantly locked up, would have required me to carry around a lead acid battery to keep it charged and would have required more patience than I have to live on given the lags in the system.

So on with the downgrade process as documented above. All in all this process is pretty simple. Download the app, download the ROM for your phone (1.5G by the way) and away you go. The phone is wiped in the process. And for me, in the process the downgrade died. I was starting to worry I had bricked it. Smartly there is a built in emergency mode that resurrected the phone, and put Windows 8 back on the phone. And then, to my chagrin, I discovered the image from Microsoft was as old as the way the phone started with and I was back to doing the HUGELY burdensome, multi upgrade process. And for many hours of this process my phone was unusable. Being unplugged causes me twitches 🙂 I am a gadgeholic after all. Come on Microsoft, upgrade your base image … PLEASE. Many many hours later I finally had the phone back and could restart all my configs and install. To say this process is time consuming is like saying a Sumo wrestler is heavy … 🙂

So I had fun, burned a ton of time, consumed a bunch of patience … And onward we go in life.

February 8, 2016 Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews | Leave a comment

Garmin Vivoactive review

I last reviewed the Fitbit Surge and while there is lots to like, it just wasn’t good enough for me to keep and wasn’t comfortable enough as an everyday wearable. So this one caught my eye. GPS City had refurbs on for a reasonable price so I decided to take the plunge. I first have to sit back and scratch things about what is it I am looking for in a wearable? Activity tracking (steps, sleep etc), secondary notifications, great battery life (5-7 days), and if it has some fitness elements all the better. A heart rate monitor on the device is a nice to have as long as it can connect to heart rate monitor somehow.

Let’s get the worst of this device up front. The screen on this device is bad. If you read any reviews on the device it gets maligned constantly for the screen and it has been well earned. It is dull at the best of times. Readable only in reasonable lighting/sun otherwise you have to use the back lighting. And the device could be hugely improved if Garmin focussed on the back lighting. The controls of the back lighting are awful. It makes no attempt to detect your hand moving to automatically turn on the back light. And the default timeout on the back light (which mercifully can be changed) is a ridiculous 8 seconds. What all this means is in anything but the best of lighting conditions it takes two free hands to check the time. You have to push a button toturn on the back lighting. Thankfully notifications do wake it up and turn back lighting on. The screen is a color screen but just barely. Don’t be looking for a bright vivid display and in fact don’t even bother with watch faces or apps that use color because it is almost indiscernible.

Ok now thats out of the way lets get on with the rest of my thoughts (assuming you are still reading). Physically the device is uber thin. Shockingly so. It has a nice rubber band that can be relatively easily swapped out and one size truely does fit all. The overall unit is light, comfortable and does not catch on shirt sleeves unlike so many other wearable. Physically speaking garmin did a great job. The device sadly is square. The reality is I prefer round (and I think many others do too). The device is charged with a proprietary dock that includes a magnet that pulls the watch onto the dock (and helps it make firm contact) and keeps it firmly in place. It works well enough. No complaints.

It does steps, and sleep tracking and has a pretty good Android app as well as a very comprehensive portal. I have numerous other Garmin devices so am well versed in the portal. All activities are sync’d wirelessly with your phone. It can also exchange data with both MyFitnessPal as well as Endomondo. Garmin have this pretty well done.
Screenshot_2015-10-30-09-45-06

The device will even remind you when you have been too inactive.

Step wise compared with Google fit on day one:
13710 steps (11.1 km 2048 cals) Vs 11343 steps (5.26km 1898 cals)
on day two
16511 (13.37km 1815 cals) Vs 14310 (5.86km 1544 cals)

Sleep tracking is good enough for me and automatically detects sleep. You can manually edit the times it detects to insure your data is accurate. You get a picture of how sound you slept. All in all it is what I am looking for.
Screenshot_2015-10-30-09-47-33

The device does notifications under Android very well and is completely flexible and tailorable in terms of what interrupts your day.
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The watch itself does not have a heart rate monitor but in true Garmin style can connect to an ANT+ heart rate monitor as well as an ANT+ cadence/wheel sensor. Very nice!

Garmin a while back introduced a concept called ConnectIQ. It allows third parties the ability to develop for their watches. For this device this falls into four categories. 1) Watch faces (over 250 available) 2) Widgets (more than 50 available) 3) Applications (about 90 available) and 4) Data fields (more than 140 available). Widgets are little apps that open up when you swipe the display from the clock and display some content. There is some slight noticeable lag between opening the widget. If there is a lot of data to get like weather for example the delay can be seconds. Not exactly instantaneous. Applications appear in a tiled menuing system allowing extra content. Lastly data fields add additional content you can add to configurable apps like swim/bike etc. The built in apps are somewhat configurable in that you can select the number of data fields and what is in those fields. Unfortunately the smallest number of items you can have on a screen are rows of three making a data fields small and hard to read. Especially if your biking or running while trying to avoid things like, oh I don’t know trees 🙂 Why Garmin did not allow you to have one large item on the screen is beyond me and seems a huge omission.

Text size throughout the watch is quite small which given the grainyness of the screen is an odd choice. And there is no where to change the default text size.

Garmin do include a widget for weather but I couldn’t for the life of me change it to Celsius in spite of following every instruction on how to do it. There’s also a music control widget that works fine but does not display the song being played (Android wear does for example).

There is a neat app that allows you to remember where your car is and then track back to it by pointing in the direction (and telling the distance) to your car. This could also be used for something like hiking. But frankly is pretty much the only way to navigate on the device. Unfortunate. There is no ability to save a waypoint and navigate back to it. Like you can on the Foretrex 401 I use all the time.

I quickly came to the realization that this device would not replace my Foretrex 401 while cycling/hiking. And would not replace my FR70 which I use as a bike computer. It would somewhat replace my Android wear watch. So in the end, I elected to return it while I could. A nice idea, poorly executed.

January 7, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers, Android, Electronic gadget reviews, GPS Stuff | 1 Comment

Fitbit Aria scale review

This review will be short and sweet. Mostly because there isn’t a lot to this product, it just works. The Fitbit Aria scale is a WIFI enabled, battery powered digital scale. Setup is relatively simple with one major catch, the setup would not work on Windows 10. There is a web based setup but I couldn’t get that to work. So I dug out an antique of mine that just happens to still have Windows 7 on it and in no time flat the scale was setup. You start the app on your PC, put that batteries in the scale (which puts it into setup mode), and away it goes. There is a button on the bottom of the scale you can push with a pin to also reset the scale (this doesn’t seem to be documented anywhere). You will need to know your WIFI password, and you need a Fitbit account. There is no interaction with the Fitbit mobile app (on Android). And the mobile app does not even show your weight results.

Once setup it is ready for the first user and can be used by guests anytime. Guests results show up on your web portal under the measurements recorded for the device. For registered users the scale is able to use the info you have entered on the portal for your height etc and it also comes up with a number for your body fat% as well as your body mass index (BMI). For guests, since it does not have any info on them, all you get is the weight. You can see the exact date and time a measurement was done. It is always recommended you weigh yourself at the same time each day. Your weight can vary 5 pounds or more throughout the day. On the portal you can delete errant measurement easily, and even move guests entries into registered users.

From the web portal you can also invite others to use the scale. They will need a Fitbit web account. The web portal also displays the firmware of the scale, current battery state etc. You can set the scale for pounds/kg also from the portal.

As time goes on you will get a graph of your weight along with a statement of whether you are up or down from last month and by how much.

You do not need a phone to use this device (and in fact as stated earlier, for now anyway, the mobile app seems to for the most part ignore the scale other than list it in your devices). You do not need a Fitbit activity tracker either …

That’s about it. It just works. If your going to buy a digital scale anyway, might as well get one of these! They look stylish, and are easy to read.

As always Fitbit support is second to none. I had issues with my first scale and Fitbit replaced it quickly and efficiently. I had similar experiences with Fitbit support.

Update 9/25/2017
21 months later the batteries finally need replacing. Quite impressive. I got a nice email from Fitbit telling to how to change the batteries and even what batteries it took. Very well done.

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December 27, 2015 Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews | Leave a comment

Data interoperability

If your like me you use a number of different gadgets and apps meaning your exercise data is spread out across a number of different platforms. Fortunately a number of companies have started to work on creating data bridges rescuing your all important data from being stranded on a island or stuck in the hotel California. Figuring all these inter connectives can be neither obvious nor simple. And if your not careful, you create a situation where exercise data gets counted once, or twice in the same portal. Manually exporting and importing exercise entries is sometimes possible (and sometimes not) but is inconvenient at best.

Getting all your data in one place allows weekly/monthly summaries to give you a clearer picture of how active you’ve been. But this is a lot harder than it ought to be. And thus this post.

I mountain bike, cycle, walk a fair bit, and do some hiking. Being the gadgeholic I am (and no I don’t need help :)) here is my basket of tools. From an app point of view I use:
Endomondo as my primary exercise tracking tool.
MyFitnessPal for tracking food data.
RunGPS is the best app for hiking in that it includes the ability to navigate back to way points and do point to point routing. (My Review)
Google Fit is a necessary evil of Android wear and includes a pedometer that can be used with or without a watch. (My review)

From a Gadget point of view I use:
Garmin Foretrex 401 whenever I cycle as well as canoeing etc. It supports full navigation back to waypoints as well as supports ANT+ cadence and heart rate sensors.
Garmin FR70 with an ANT+ wheel sensor to give me a more accurate display of distance which cycling. I have handlebar mounts for both the Garmin devices. Garmin devices upload only to their portal called Garmin Connect.
Scosche Rythm+ heart rate monitor
I have a Garmin wheel and pedal Cadence sensor that works with both of these devices as well as talks to my phone. Samsung a while back added Ant+ to their devices and I love it. Ant+ supports talking to numerous devices at the same time with one sensor. Sweet!
Samsung S5 is the center of my mobile universe (well it is for now).
Fitbit Surge as an activity and sleep tracker
Moto 360 (first gen) Android wear smartwatch

Below you will see a diagram showing the inter connectivity for these apps/gadgets. I’ve left off Facebook because at this point pretty everyone does Facebook so it just over complicates the diagram. Hope you find this helpful.

data-interoperability

November 4, 2015 Posted by | Android, Electronic gadget reviews, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment