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Hands-on Gear Review

Garmin Fenix 3 Review

Fenix 3
Price:   $450 List | $449.99 at Backcountry
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Pros:  Proven and established data software
Cons:  Slow GPS signal acquisition
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   Garmin

Our Verdict

On our test roster, the Fenix 3 is most comparable to the Editors' Choice Suunto Ambit 3 Sport. The Fenix 3 and Ambit 3 Peak, not reviewed here, are direct competitors. The Ambit 3 Sport is simply a smaller and slightly less functional version of the top-of-the-Suunto-line Ambit 3 Peak. Between all these full-function devices, the Suuntos are slightly more polished in design and function. However, the difference is pretty minor. It is so minor that if you find a deal on a Garmin Fenix, or are already a Garmin user, you will hardly notice the difference. If you don't need the bulk or functionality of one of these high-end devices you'll do well with our Best Buy winning Garmin Forerunner 230. The 230 is much smaller, more affordable, and with a bare-bones suite of features.

The Fenix has been updated! In its place is the Garmin Fenix 3, which won our Top Pick for Features award in our most recent Altimeter Watch Review. Continue scrolling to check out our side-by-side comparison below!


RELATED REVIEW: Best GPS Watches of 2017 for Running & Training

select up to 5 products
Score Product Price Main body size Weight Battery Type
86
$469
Editors' Choice Award
45mm diameter, 12mm thickness 73g lithium ion
80
$450
50mm diameter, 17mm thickness 82g lithium ion
79
$250
Best Buy Award
43mm diameter, 11mm thickness 52g lithium ion
77
$149
Top Pick Award
52x32mm rectangular, 14mm thickness 66g not specified
67
$150
44mm diameter, 15mm thickness 60g not specified

Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Jediah Porter
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Monday
January 9, 2017

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The Garmin Fenix 3 vs. the Garmin Fenix


The Garmin Fenix has been replaced by the Garmin Fenix 3, which was awarded the Top Pick for Features in our Altimeter Watch Review. Check out the Fenix 3 on the left next to the Fenix on the right below, as well as a summary of the key differences between these two watches!

Garmin fenix 3
Garmin Fenix
 

In addition to GPS, altimeter, barometer, and compass capabilities, some key features specific to the Garmin Fenix 3 are:
  • Price — The Fenix 3 rings in at $450-$500, compared to the $400 Fenix.
  • Fitness Metrics — The Fenix 3 sports a wide variety of fitness features that include a VO2 estimator (to estimate maximum oxygen absorption), a recovery advisor, timer, and check, and a race predictor that estimates your ideal finish time based on your maximum VO2.
  • Running Dymamics — The Fenix 3 gives feedback on your running form with data on your cadence, vertical oscillation, and ground contact time.
  • Swim & Ski/Board Modes — The Fenix 3 tracks sport-specific data for swimming and skiing/snowboarding, including strokes, laps, and vertical descent measurements.
  • Smartphone Compatible — The Fenix 3 is compatible with both iPhone and Android smartphones, and can display emails, text messages, and alerts.

Hands-on Review


The Garmin Fenix is the top-of-the-line training and navigation device from the company that has long led these fields.

Performance Comparison


The Garmin Fenix  full-featured  large  and in charge.
The Garmin Fenix, full-featured, large, and in charge.

Ease of Use


The closest comparison on the market is the Suunto Ambit 3 Peak. Both are full-featured, high-end training devices. The biggest difference, as deduced from extensive experience with all Garmin and Suunto products, is in their respective ease of use. Three primary, yet relatively minor, differences distinguish them from one another. In the Garmin's favor is the company's long tenure in the field. Many consumers, and you may be one of them, are already using Garmin's data management software. Whether you use the pc-based Garmin Training Center, or the online Garmin Connect, either from a different running watch or from a bicycle computer like our Editors' Choice in that category, the Garmin Edge 820, picking up the Fenix will allow you to plug and play. In our survey of the market for a GPS training watch, this compatibility was a significant advantage of the Fenix. If you don't already have a brand loyalty, however, the Suunto Ambit models will be slightly easier to use. Specifically, the Suunto picks up GPS signal considerably faster at the beginning of your training and the Suunto online interface uses Google maps for route planning. The non-branded maps used by Garmin Connect are slightly less detailed.

Garmin Connect is their proprietary social network.
Garmin Connect is their proprietary social network.

Features


The Fenix is Garmin's full featured device. With GPS, Barometric pressure, temperature, and time sensors built in, this watch on its own is better than most. To top it off, the Fenix is equipped to sync with many of Garmin's external sensors. This suite of features and accessories will monitor basically anything you wish to track. Additionally, and unlike most other devices in our test, the Fenix can communicate with your phone. Only the Ambit 3 Sport is compatible with your smartphone. Additionally, the Fenix can communicate with other Garmin devices. It works this way: you are headed out on a run or climb and run into someone returning from the same objective. If that person tracked his or her action with a higher end Garmin device, he or she can share the track directly to your Fenix. You can then proceed, exactly following a proven gps track. If you wish to share and upload data and make basic configuration changes from a smartphone and directly from the device, the Fenix could be great for you.

Test Editor Jediah Porter doing the hard work. The feature set of the Fenix lends itself to backcountry and wilderness mountain travel.
Test Editor Jediah Porter doing the hard work. The feature set of the Fenix lends itself to backcountry and wilderness mountain travel.

Accuracy


Like all the devices we tested, overall accuracy was pretty good. In all these compact GPS receivers, the quality of the signal is far more important for accuracy than the device itself. Open, mellow terrain delivers remarkable accurate position, and therefore speed and distance, data.

Ease of Set-up


Garmin's top of the line device is intuitive and easy to get rigged. Again, the Suunto devices we tested are just a little easier to get set up.

Durability


Just like all the other watches we tested, we had no problems with the Fenix's construction quality. In other devices, the only problems we had were with those that had no way to lock the buttons. The Fenix has an effective button lock.

Portability


The Fenix is about the same size and weight as the similarly featured Suunto Ambit 3 Peak. The fully hinged wrist band makes it fit more compactly in a pocket, but it sticks off the wrist a little more. In the end, these otherwise comparable devices rank together near the bottom of our scoring in this category. The Suunto Ambit 3 Sport is slightly smaller and seems to duck below a critical threshold. The 3 Sport seems way more usable and comfortable than the Fenix.

Best Applications


This is an excellent, full-function training and navigation device for trail and mountain travelers that are already using Garmin training software and want to stick with it.

The Fenix syncs with virtually every foot-travel sensor you may be interested in. It doesn't work with bicycle power meters  but otherwise the accessory compatibility is fairly comprehensive.
The Fenix syncs with virtually every foot-travel sensor you may be interested in. It doesn't work with bicycle power meters, but otherwise the accessory compatibility is fairly comprehensive.

Value


This is not an inexpensive piece of equipment. However, with Garmin's long pedigree of customer service and warranty, and a price that is at least a little bit lower than the closest competing Suunto, value hunters may find the Fenix appealing.

Conclusion


Overall, the Suunto watches we have tested perform a little better. The difference in performance is minimal, but noticeable. If you are already a Garmin fan, or find a good deal on the Fenix, you'll notice little compromise in your choice.

At the top of its category the Fenix is only narrowly edged out by the Suunto Ambit family. The margin is so close that if you are already a Garmin fan  the Fenix is easily recommended.
At the top of its category the Fenix is only narrowly edged out by the Suunto Ambit family. The margin is so close that if you are already a Garmin fan, the Fenix is easily recommended.

Other Versions and Accessories


Fenix 2 GPS Watch
Garmin Fenix 2 GPS
  • Cost - $400
  • Battery life - Up to 20 hours in GPS training mode and up to 5 weeks in watch mode
  • Features more advanced fitness features and metrics than the Fenix

Fenix 3
Garmin Fenix 3
  • Cost - $500
  • Latest model in the Fenix line
  • Features more advanced fitness features and metrics than the Fenix
  • Highly stylish as well as functional

The Fenix can be used with a whole range of external sensors. Notably, Garmin makes a heart-rate band, a foot cadence pod called the Garmin Foot Pod, external temperature sensor, and a whole host of bicycle sensors.

Garmin Foot Pod next to the compatible Garmin Fenix training/GPS watch.
Garmin Foot Pod next to the compatible Garmin Fenix training/GPS watch.
Jediah Porter

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: January 9, 2017
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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  • 5
 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:   
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 (3.0)

50% of 2 reviewers recommend it
Rating Distribution
3 Total Ratings
5 star: 33%  (1)
4 star: 33%  (1)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 33%  (1)
Sort 2 member reviews by: Most Recent | Most Helpful
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   Sep 6, 2015 - 12:15am
I have owned this watch now a few months. Since it released essentially. I can honestly say the user experiences with this tend to be hit or miss. In my experience it has thankfully been a hit. I haven't had any major issues as far as bugs causing the watch to crash. The blutooth features aren't the most reliable but those are also the ones you'll probably not care as much about. From the gym to swimming indoors, running, hiking, cycling and everything else I do, this watch has been nothing but fun for me.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Aug 30, 2015 - 07:57pm
johngenx · Climber
Does all as promised in the review, but the Garmin forums are filled with customers like me that have had their Fenix suddenly go dead, and never work again.

The watch is awesome to use, but a total POS that will stop working at some point and then you're SOL.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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