John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Fenix 6 Pro maps

When I bought the Fenix 6 Pro one of the features I was interested in was the maps. In fact, the list of included maps listed a North America Topo map, so I thought great, it comes with what I need … Well, as always, the devil is in the details. The maps included are pretty basic, and that’s being generous. There are options available to consumers, the Fenix is capable it just needs better data. So I started doing research, which is not easy there are limited guides. First off it depends what your looking for. Street level, routable maps are possible and DCRAINMAKER has you covered with a detailed how to … But what I have always wanted was a real topo map that included contour lines. Imagine your on a hike and have to get back, there turns out to be a ravine between you and your destination that would be clearly visible with contour lines, lines that show changes in elevation … With this I started looking. I was shocked to see how poorly this is documented. If you want to skip a bunch of this you can go to the bottom of the post and read about Talky toaster below.

Garmin offer their own topo maps, but for me the price is way more than I’m willing to pay. Garmin have made this super easy using Garmin Basecamp:
I did find a Cycling map from Garmin that is reasonably priced that seems to include contour lines, more on these maps a little further down the article.

I found one source that listed a number of different map options/source GPS File Depot

My prime interest in the maps is mountain biking and hiking, so Open Mountain Biking looked promising. They offer a one time purchase as well a subscription model that gives you map updates. They take Paypal, always a comforting thing for me, so seemed like a VERY viable option and maybe one I come back to.

And then I found IBYCUS that offer free TOPO maps for Canada. So I went on a quest. They currently only offer by DVD or torrent. The torrent was hard to find, and took a long time to come down but once it did I discovered the maps were about 10 years old.

So given it’s free I decided to explore what maps can do with IBYCUS. Once your download the ISO you install the map to your computer, the installer is for Windows. Once installed the maps show up in Basecamp, which from there can be installed onto your Fenix.

Installing of the maps was not a short process. It took about 15 mins to load them over USB and then once unplugged took about another 20 mins first time booting the fenix once unplugged to process the new map.

Once installed, inside Basecamp you can zoom in and shazam, sure enough, there are contour lines! These two images show the difference between the default Garmin maps and Ibycus.

The maps don’t have anything but major trails on them, but this maybe about their age. The package is BIG, occupying 3.9G on the watch, and menus involving maps, and even drawing maps are all slower as they process the detailed data. With nothing but major paths on them their less useful for me on my mountain bike. You can not split the maps up and keep only a province for example …
The installer tells you straight off that they have not done an uninstaller so your own. The installer does a good job of adding it to the Fenix as well as inside basecamp. Removing IBYCUS has to be done manually by deleting the map from your Fenix by finding the file \garmin\Ibycus Topo 3.2.img. Removing it from Basecamp is a little more tricky in that you will need to use a tool called mapsettoolkit. 3.8G is also loaded onto your windows machine you will need to also clean up.

BBBike is a free site that allows you to create your own maps, your own regions, but is a little complicated. First off you need to select the region you want to make the maps of, enter your email address and the type of map you want.

This submits a request to generate, and it emails you when it’s generated. You download it, uncompress it and copy the IMG file manually into the Garmin directory of your watch from your computer. I did a UTF first off and got an error message on boot of the Fenix that said it can’t authenticate, changing it to Latin solved the issue. When the watch is plugged into your computer and Basecamp has processed the map (first time is sees a new map takes a while) you can then see the map within basemap with all it’s contents.

Sadly these maps don’t seem to have contour lines.

Next up I decided to have a look at the Garmin cycling maps I mentioned above. A one time charge, (no subsrciption) of $26 seemed reasonable. Their description say:
“Includes cycling, tour cycling and mountain biking options to select the appropriate route for the type of cycling you do, taking you on paved roads, unpaved roads, or on paths and trails”
Sounds perfect. I bought them, paid using paypal, and they are downloaded and installed using Garmin Express, where you activate them. The files do not appear to be stored on your PC and are downloaded directly to the watch. If the download is interrupted, you have to start all over again, and the download is BIG like 7.5G. Seems the coder hasn’t heard of resume? Anyway once downloaded your good to go. Unplug the watch, let them initially get loaded, then plug the watch back into the computer and after quite a bit of time, like 15 mins or so, the maps are now visible in Garmin basecamp. They are NOT loaded into basecamp without the Fenix Given they are not loaded on your computer, I’m not sure what happens if you were to delete them from your Fenix. They seem to be locked to the Fenix.

I saw no noticeable slowdown on the watch once the maps were loaded.

Sadly, once loaded, and selected on the Fenix the map was blank. I raised a ticket with Garmin, who after weeks acknowledged the issue, offered a refund, but no fix 😦

I found Talky Toaster that seemed to have exactly what I was looking for, but sadly he doesn’t take Paypal and I didn’t feel comfortable with buying from him, in spite of his reassurances that his site is even more secure than Paypal. So I decided to buy a prepaid Mastercard which added a $5 fee to the cost of the purchase, just the cost of me being comfortable. Once paid a download link is sent. In my case, $25 got me only the province of Ontario, just how they have segmented the maps. If you need other provinces keep shelling … On the positive side it’s smaller since it’s only one province, so like everything, it’s a trade off. The map for Ontario is very detailed, 985M for 1 province Vs 3.9G for IBYCUS for the entire country. Instructions were clear on how to install them onto the Fenix, and bascecamp loads the map from the Fenix, but be super patient, first load took almost 1/2 an hour. Talky toaster told me you can put the maps in a folder called GARMIN, in the root of a SD, or USB drive and Basecamp can use them without the Fenix, and this does indeed work, and is a LOT faster and more convenient. Contour lines are there, details are there, and the maps are routable. The DEM map’s altitude data is seen by the Fenix and shows on the map at some intervals. The date on the maps is less than a month old, and Talky toaster confirmed “I release new versions of all my maps at least once a month, you get the latest version at the time of purchase.” The Talky Toaster maps are good!

September 7, 2020 Posted by | Fenix | Leave a comment

Fenix 6 Pro distance and wheel sensor

I’ve seen some posts that made me wonder if my Fenix 6 pro distance measurements were accurate and it sent me down a rabbit hole. So first of all I went on a road ride, somewhat flat somewhat straight and took along an Edge 305 as well as Strava running on my iPhone XS. I put both Garmins in per second GPS mode. The Fenix 6 uses a different, Sony GPS chipset and battery estimates indicate Garmin have played around with normal GPS settings to improve battery life. The results were spot on identical. 15.16KM for the Edge 305 Vs 15.17KM for Fenix 6 pro but Strava running on the phone clocked in at 16.35KM or about 7% on the high side. Other phone apps might be even worse.

I contacted Garmin about issues I was having with wheel sensor accuracy and they told me what the process is for a wheel sensor. I have a Wahoo Speed sensor. Unlike past sensors that require a magnet on the spokes this simply straps to the wheel hub and broadcasts over bluetooth and Ant+. It uses the standard CR 2032 battery has over a year of battery life.

So why should you care? Well if your on twisty trails like mountain biking, even per second GPS can be inaccurate. How inaccurate? 10-15% is what I’ve seen in the past. So according to Garmin the process is to add the sensor to the Fenix, add it in auto mode (which is the default) and go for 3 rides of approx 1 mile in as straight and as level as possible. At the end of each ride note the size of the wheel that the Fenix calculated. First time up it will announce when it’s found the wheel size. You can see what size it has calculated by going into settings, sensors, find your sensor and slide on down to wheel size and note it. Rinse and repeat three times in all, then average the numbers. Then change the wheel size from auto to manual and enter the average size. If you have previously used the device, delete it from the fenix and add it back and start again. You will now have the most accurate size you can hope for that will account for inflation, your weight etc. So what kind of difference does this make. I headed out and did a mountain bike ride and compared with the Edge again. The Edge got 28.45 KM Vs the wheel sensor with the Fenix that got 31.67 Km or a difference of 11% pretty much spot on what I would expect.

July 16, 2020 Posted by | Fenix | Leave a comment

Garmin Fenix 6 watch bands

Garmin moved to what it calls a Quickfit watch band, a unique to Garmin design. Sadly, the number of bands available are limited, and expensive. So I wondered if it might be possible to use a 22mm watch band from something like a Samsung S3. These bands use a quick release mechanism. Physically speaking the width is right and it does indeed fit in the Fenix 6. It won’t work with the Fenix 5 or 5 Plus because they use a hex bolt/nut based pin. Ah but as always the devil is in the details, the spring pin Garmin use is MUCH beefier than a standard watch pin, and the lugs have been made specifically to mate with. Here’s an image of the end of the two pins:

Here’s just the pins:

In fact, once installed the pin wiggles around significantly. It really does not in the least feel secure. I highly don’t recommend this option.

Another option would be to buy a converter that accepts standard 20mm watch bands, it’s a quick fit adapter.

The you could use a Gear S2 band, but be careful, you loose the distance of the converter so make sure it can still go small enough to fit your wrist.

June 12, 2020 Posted by | Fenix | Leave a comment

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).

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

Garmin Fenix 5 handlebar mount

There are a couple of ways to get your Fenix 5 onto your handle bars. The first is to use the bike 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.

Then I saw a post on the Fenix 5 group on facebook about a source file that could be 3D printed to make your own. It’s always seemed odd to me that Garmin don’t offer a mount that would utilize the quick connect of the Fenix 5. So I set about learning about 3D printing. I contacted a couple of 3D printing services and got quotes. I hadn’t even thought about companies offering 3D printing as a service, makes sense though. And then I had a colleague tell me he has a friend that does it as a business. So I thought what the heck, let’s try it. Well 3 months later this fellow tells me this is a “difficult part” to print. He gave me back a part and while it was quite coarse it was “good enough” The mount goes around the neck of the handlebars, and is one of the limitations of the mount. It means the Fenix is mounted quite low, taking your eyes away from the road/trail.

The part consists of a couple of parts you assemble with an added screw and a spring from a pen. It’s lacking a nib that would make it easier to remove the Fenix when your done. That said, it’s quite well designed. The Fenix is held quite securely, I was skeptical, but it really works well.

I found a couple other options including one from Raceware that seems quite reasonably priced, but it’s unclear how the fenix is held in place.

Another one looks perfect, but is outrageously expensive from Bikespot.

September 17, 2019 Posted by | Fenix, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Garmin Fenix 5 upgrade/data transfer

One of the things Apple does really well is to make the process of upgrading from a previous Apple device trivial … Garmin not so much 😦 I’m coming from a Fenix 3 so I would like to able to make the setup of a new device as quick as possible. Ok forget that thought cause it ain’t happening.

On first power up Garmin ask you a series of stupid questions, age, height weight … all of this data is already in Garmin connect so why am I being asked it yet again? Moving on.

When you get your new device the first thing you need to do is to get it up to date. This can be done using the Garmin Connect app on the phone or it can be done with Garmin Express. The Fenix 5 does not have WIFI so this can’t be done that way (the Fenix 3 I had did have WIFI). This may take a couple iterations, and a couple watch reboots to complete.

Once up to date you are ready to get your new device setup. There are a number of parts to the Fenix that need to be setup. First and foremost for me is the waypoints. I have A LOT. TO do this start up Garmin Basecamp with your old and new devices plugged in. Go to your old one on Basecamp and do whatever cleanup you need to do. The temptation is to do a copy and paste … don’t. It crashed my Fenix 5 and I found myself needing to do a hard reset of the Fenix to get it back. The right answer is to right click on your old Garmin and clip send to your new Fenix. And just like that the waypoints are copied. Be patient depending on how many you have this can take a bit. Believe it or not this is the least painful part of the process.

Next up comes ConnectIQ Watch faces, widgets and data field. There is absolutely no easy way to do this. You are going to need to one by one go through the connectIQ on the old device, then find it on the web and install it to your new device. Garmin could really improve this A LOT. Wait, your not done. First up comes the complexity that the ConnectIQ apps you loved on your old device MAY not be compatible with your new device. And if it is, you will need to go through the settings for each of the Connectiq apps. Sheesh.

Next up comes the individual activities you use. Sadly these can only be setup on the watch. So your going to need to review the settings for each activity on the old watch, note them, and manually setup them up again on the new watch. Tedious …

And with that you finally have your new toy ready to use.

March 6, 2019 Posted by | Fenix | 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

Fenix 3 and waypoints

One of my readers contacted me with questions about how Garmin handled waypoints and it got me thinking, ya I struggled with that too … maybe others are … Thus this post. Waypoints are a remembered location. A waypoint can be obtained from other people, or can be created on the Fenix. If created on the Fenix the naming process on the device is a tad clumsy. I created a naming convention where the first three letters are used for the location. So if I’m out at Palgrave mountain biking for example all of the waypoints for their start with PAL. This can be helpful in grouping them. Although, Garmin on the Fenix, do not allow you to sort your waypoints alphabetically they are ONLY sorted by closeness to your current location. This is a real problem if your trying to work with your waypoints on the Fenix not at the location. Other Garmins did have sort alphabetically, no idea why Garmin didn’t include this on the Fenix.

Ok so you now have waypoints on your Fenix now what … Well shockingly the waypoints are not handled on Garmin connect web site or the connect app. Managing (delete, add, rename etc) and backing up waypoints is done on Garmin Basecamp on your PC/Mac or on the Fenix.

Waypoints can be used to navigate distance/direction from your current location (as the crow flies). This to me is a SUPER hugely important feature. How to get back to that sweet single track you found, or more importantly how to get back to your car. The fenix 3 doesn’t have maps on it, so of course there could very well be a deep ravine between you and where you wanna go … so you have to keep that in mind. The other thing you can do is make a “course” on your Fenix or on basecamp that takes you from waypoint to waypoint. You will not get a map of how to get there, but you will know the distance/direction to the next waypoint. And it will complete and move onto the next waypoint automatically. This can be problematic if the waypoints are tightly packed together (close to each other).

Basecamp, is also how I took my existing waypoints from my previous Garmin onto the Fenix. It worked pretty well. Basecamp can be downloaded from the Garmin website and is free. Editing, renaming, deleting etc is all best done on Basecamp.

This current situation (Garmin Connect ignoring waypoints), has been this way a LONG time. I’m not sure it will change, so the best we can do for now is understand it …

I also have another post on Navigating with the Fenix 3.

May 8, 2018 Posted by | Fenix, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Tracking ski/board on the Fenix 3

I took a little hiatus from snow boarding but went to get back into it. Fortunately I checked ahead and found the ski/board app was missing from my Fenix. I searched and searched and could not find how to add it back. It turns out you can not do it from the phone, from what I can see. On the watch select settings, app, scroll down and select add. Then select Alpine ski. This adds the ski/board app onto the Fenix. Once there this app works very well. It can easily tell going down hill Vs being on the lift. It tacks the number of runs you got in and then the stats for each and every run. You do get a map of the run as well. The runs are visible in the Splits on Garmin connect. And at the end of your day you get moving time, elevation, and speed. The stats that come out of it are very good. If there is anything missing it’s that you don’t get the run names, or at least I didn’t but I was at a small private hill. Here’s some examples of the data you get. The whole data set is here for you. Of course temperature being on your wrist and under a jacket at bogus.

I did find it super easy to interrupt your recording, jacket cuffs, glove cuffs can all push on the buttons. I found it necessary to lock the Garmin which you can do by pressing and holding the power button and then selecting lock. Unlocking is done by pushing and holding the power button.

All in all it works well, and I was impressed.

February 6, 2018 Posted by | Fenix, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Should I upgrade my Fenix 3 or should I buy a Fenix 3

This is a topic I see discussed frequently so I thought I would summarize everything I could think of on the subject, sort of a what’s new in the Fenix 5 (as well as other options) compare with the Fenix 3. I am the proud and happy owner of Fenix 3 (non-HR) and find myself pondering just this question. The Fenix 3 is an awesome watch. I use to completely love it’s smart watch function, well until I bought an Apple watch. But when it comes to activity tracking, back end website, navigation etc nothing beats Garmin. As a weekend warrior, weekends were made for my Garmin.

The Fenix 5 has now been on the market for a little while now so it’s been a real temptation for me, knowing there is something better out there … Like an itch you just wanna scratch :). Given my Fenix 3 does not have a heart rate monitor it means I have to either wear a chest strap or a wrist based HR in addition to the Fenix like my Scosche Rhythm+ or my Garmin Vivosmart HR (which can broadcast heart rate over to the fenix). So this added convenience would be a plus for me. And because it has no HR sensor it means I don’t get any all day heart rate data from the Fenix 3. Of course if you have a Fenix 3 HR then this particular point does not apply, but everything else will. I will also toss into the mix the Forerunner 645 and 935 into the thoughts as well …

Longevity
At this point Garmin are only releasing minor bug fixes for the Fenix 3/HR. No end of life date has been set (that I know of) for the Fenix 3, but one can see the writing on the wall, no future enhancements are likely in the cards for the Fenix 3. The Fenix 5 by comparison has seen additional functionality (HRV/VO2 etc) added since it’s announcement.

Additionally the building blocks of all apps, widgets and watch faces is called Connect IQ. From connect IQ 2.0 and going forward the Fenix 3/HR are not supported. So this means that certain apps/widgets/watch faces will not work. This is unlikely to change and is likely a permanent limitation going forward. DCR article on ConnectiQ.

Additional metrics
There are a number of additional metrics that the Fenix 5 offers that the Fenix 3/HR are likely to never offer. These include VO2Max, and HRV, and of course by wearing a heart rate monitor all day you also get your resting heart rate. The Fenix 3 HR does resting too just to be clear. Unfortunately the Fenix 5 hides the HRV behind an algorithm and calls it an all day stress score making this particular stat USELESS IMHO.

The Fenix 5 has an improved heart rate sensor over the Fenix 3 HR in that it gives more frequent checking of the heart rate. “A notable change to the Fenix 5 series is the updated optical HR sensor in relation to 24×7 monitoring. While the Fenix 3 HR had an optical sensor, and it also monitored your HR 24×7, it didn’t quite update as frequently as it could have. Sometimes it’d be every few seconds, and yet other times it’d be hours in between updates (during workouts, it was always every second). With the Fenix 5 however, the optical sensor has been reengineered to sample every 1-2 seconds.” from DC Rainmaker’s Fenix 5 review.

There are multiple sizes of Fenix 5 so if you don’t like the size of the Fenix 3 you can choose a smaller one. Here are the dimensions (shamelessly pilfered from DCRainmaker):
Fenix 5S 42.0 x 42.0 x 14.5 mm – 67g
Fenix 5  47.0 x 47.0 x 15.5 mm – 87g
Fenix 5X   51.0 x 51.0 x 17.5 mm – 98g
Fenix 3 HR  51.5 x 51.5 x 16.0 mm – 86g
Fenix 3 51.0 x 51.0 x 15.5 mm – 85g Sapphire with rubber strap instead of metal
FR935 47.0 x 47.0 x 13.9 mm – 49g
FR645 42.5 x 42.5 x 13.5 mm – 42g

The Forerunner 935 is for all purposes a Fenix 5 plastic.

The Fenix 5X also supports full topographic maps, a brand new feature and only available on this model.

All Fenix 5’s support bluetooth sensors (heart rate, wheel and cadence), something the Fenix 3 (and all previous Garmins) did not. Of course if you already have ANT+ sensors this is a yawner … The FR935/645 also support BT sensors.

Sapphire glass is available on the Fenix 3 and mine is a Sapphire. Sapphire makes the glass a LOT more resistant to scratches and breaking, IE more durable.
Fenix 5S: – offered in regular glass and Sapphire glass
Fenix 5: – offered in regular glass and Sapphire glass
Fenix 5X: – all are Sapphire glass
Neither the FR 935/FR645 are available with Sapphire

WIFI is a feature that the Fenix 3 has and it allows you to sync, and keep your Fenix up to date over WIFI. It’s convenient but not a big deal IMHO. All Sapphire models of the Fenix 5 have WIFI, non Sapphire do not. The FR 935 and FR645 also have WIFI .

None of the Fenix support the new wireless payment system Garmin Pay, the FR645 does.

None of the Fenix support storing and listening to music without a phone, only the FR645 does (if you get the music model). Be aware though, listening to music has a DRAMATIC effect on battery life. By Garmin’s specs battery life in GPS mode drops from 12 hours down to a mere 5 when playing music (and GPS). Honestly this shocks me, but it is what they say.

All of the devices support Garmins new quick release bands, even the older Fenix 3.

Here’s a detailed comparison of all of the devices on DCRainmaker.

What’s next?
Now we move into my opinion and is entirely speculative. To state the obvious, I do not work for Garmin, however it seems to me, having a flagship product (the Fenix) that does not support a Flagship feature (Garmin Pay) is something Garmin will address. All reports indicate the Fenix does NOT have the hardware to support NFC. So it needs a new rev of the hardware.

It is worth noting, that the battery life on the FR645 is 14 hours, Vs 20 hours for the Fenix 3, and 24 hours for the Forerunner 935. And one can only imagine this will decrease over time, and will be less in the cold. So sadly the FR645 would be marginal for my use during a day of snowboarding.

Price:
I live in Canada so these prices represent that. And doing an exhausting search for the lowest price is not all that useful. Not to mention prices change all the time. So to that end this point is almost useless. But here it is none the less. I am going to use GPS City for pricing. I’ve dealt with them a couple of times and have been happy with them. Good price, reasonable business practices, reasonable priced shipping, and reasonable shipping time.
Fenix 3 $460 (with rubber band)
Fenix 3 HR $419 (with stainless steel band)
Fenix 5 $719 (non Sapphire)
Fenix 5 $849 Sapphire
Fenix 5X $849 Sapphire
Fenix 5S $719
Forerunner 645 Music $559
Forerunner 645 No Music $498.51
Forerunner 935 $679

Given this pricing here are my thoughts … if you were buying today there is no point to a Fenix 3, might as well get the Fenix 3 HR (less money for more features, the wrist HR monitor).

Price delta to the Forerunner 645 Vs Fenix 3 HR = $79.51
If you can live with the decreased battery life the 645 would seem an obvious choice.

Price delta for Forerunner Music Vs non $60.49
Price delta to Fenix 5 Vs Fenix 3 HR $300
Price delta between the Fenix 5 and the FR 935 $40

Give the pricing if you were to buy the Fenix 5 Sapphire you might as well get the Fenix 5X, same price (assuming you can live with the size boost).

Given the price difference between the FR935 and the Fenix 5, you might as well get the Fenix 5 for better durability (plastic vs metal case).

January 25, 2018 Posted by | Activity Trackers, Fenix, GPS Stuff | 1 Comment