Design and Tech

Garmin Goes Beyond the Activity Tracker

The navigation king released three new products Monday that set a new standard for wearables.

Garmin Goes Beyond the Activity Tracker

What really sets the Fenix3 apart are its new features designed to make the device an everyday companion. Photo: Ronny Kiaulehn

The tech king moved beyond its fitness-navigation niche and firmly into the wearables genre Monday at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show with the debut of three new products.

The flagship device, Fenix3 ($549), looks a lot like its predecessors in the Fenix series—with a few major upgrades. At its core, it’s still a 100-percent waterproof GPS performance watch that can track your movements, provide cadence, distance, and pace data, and it comes with a built-in altimeter and barometer. Garmin has improved on the Fenix3’s tracking abilities by opening its antenna to GLONASS signals—a satellite system that serves as an alternative to GPS—making the Fenix3 more precise and quicker to hold a position fix than previous iterations.

  Photo: Courtesy of Garmin

But what really sets the Fenix3 apart—and makes it a true wearable—are the new features designed to make the device an everyday companion. We’re talking an amazing six-week battery life (if you ditch the GPS function); steps and activity tracking; compatibility with other ANT+ devices; heart-rate monitoring (via an included chest strap); and ability to display texts and emails, and serve as a camera remote for Gamin’s VIRB. The Fenix3 will even be able to run third-party apps (think Strava), a first for Garmin. The watch has a ski mode, which tracks vert and speed, and bike and swim modes.

Our verdict: This seems like the ultimate merger of smartwatch and fitness device, but we’ll need to actually test one to determine all the pros and cons.

The Epix ($549) looks a lot like the Fenix3, with an emphasis on live mapping. Think of the Epix as Google Maps on your wrist—but with topography and off-the-grid, rather than StreetView, routes. It comes with a year-long subscription to satellite imagery, much like the standalone GPS units of pre-smartphone days.

  Photo: Courtesy of Garmin

It's small with a high level of mapping detail. It has many of the same capabilities as the Fenix3 (camera remote, talk and text features, heart-rate monitor, ANT+ and third-party apps compatibility). Because it doesn’t offer activity tracking, the Epix is the better device for a backpacker or climber who needs serious GPS muscle, and cares less about measuring daily fitness goals. 

Vivoactive ($250, $300 with HRM strap) merges a high-performance fitness wearable with a less athletic, plastic-y look. Out of the three, it’s the wearable we’re most interested in, and the one we’re most likely to buy as it’s less expensive and just as functional for everyday use.

  Photo: Courtesy of Garmin

It has many of the same features as the Fenix3—minus the latter’s exceptional waterproofing and ultra-strong GLONAS satellite capabilities. Like the Fenix3, it forwards text and emails from your phone, tracks activity by sport, and easily pairs with a heart-rate strap. It’s also thin, light, and uses a touchscreen instead of the typical button controls. It lacks the moving color map of the Epix, and it's not as rugged as the Fenix3, but it's thinner and more like a traditional smartwatch than the other two. 

All three products will go on sale in March.

Filed To: Consumer Electronics Show

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