Garmin loaded the Fenix 3 with tons of great features, which we are pretty pleased with. This watch is a fitness trainer that also functions as an altimeter watch. It collects all sorts of exercise metrics while providing some of the best ascent and descent metrics information of any contender in this review. That said, the altimeter is not as accurate as other watches tested, but its display and interface are tester favorites. The display is big and beautiful. However, because it is so big, it's not as comfortable to wear under clothing as the rest. The fit also isn't very ergonomic or breathable.
Garmin Fenix 3 Review
Cons: Not the most accurate altimeter, poor battery life in comparison to non-GPS, lacks comfort
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Hands-On Review of the Fenix 3
If you're in the market for a fitness tracker and altimeter watch with decent battery life, this is a great option.
*Connect IQ features: change watch faces, data fields, widgets and more.
*Garmin Connect: track, analyze, share, encourage others
It's not as loaded as the higher-end Fenix 5x Plus Sapphire, but if you want something a little more reasonably priced with a lot of good features, this might be the watch for you.
Altimeter and Barometer
Like all watches tested, this watch shows current altitude and barometric pressure. In addition, it produces graphs for both that are clear, easy-to-use, color-coded, and better than the Suunto graphs. The graph times are easy to change, and you can view the altitude and barometric graphs in different hourly increments (for example: 4 hours, 24 hrs, 48 hrs). This watch also features an auto or manual calibration option for altitude.
This uses GPS along with barometric pressure to automatically calibrate the altimeter. We also like the auto-climb function that detects elevation changes automatically. It also features a storm alert and tracks weather patterns to determine if storms are moving in or out of the area. Overall, the altimeter and barometric features collect more data than any other watch. However, we were surprised to learn that when looking over a log, there is no additional graph to show just trip information.
This digital compass has tilt-compensation that allows you to calibrate it manually. In addition to setting a north reference, magnetic declination can also be manually set. We also liked how coordinates were easy to attain and if calibrated correctly, were accurate as well. All GPS watches have these features. In addition to the basic compass, many navigational features can be used in conjunction with the GPS. Some of these features can replace the need for a handheld GPS — which is pretty cool!Timekeeper
Like all watches tested, the Fenix 3 features one alarm, a countdown timer, stopwatch and a sunrise/sunset time. In addition, the time can be GPS enabled to change automatically when entering different time zones.
In addition to the classic altimeter features, the Fenix 3 is stacked with GPS-enabled features. The GPS allows data collection of metrics like distance, time, speed of ascent/descent, and more. You can pair this with a smartphone to get Smart Notifications. In addition, this watch is best known for its fitness tracking. Track your activity to help achieve fitness goals. One of the coolest features that we found on this watch is the virtual partner. You can race an activity uploaded from the Garmin Connect app and check your progress.
That said, the GPS function on this watch was not as accurate or reliable as the Suunto Ambit3 Peak. On most days, the Ambit3 Peak proved to be more accurate, while on some the Fenix 3 proved to be more accurate. However, the true test came when bringing both watches into a canyon with spotty service. We did this multiple times, and in all cases, the Fenix 3 lost signal first and grossly overestimated distances. The other Suunto Watches also eventually lost signal, but the distances were much closer to the actual distance covered. As a result, we conclude that with our tests, the Fenix 3 doesn't have the best accuracy or reliability when it comes to spotty sections of GPS.
- many sports profiles
- user profile, fitness goals, heart rate zones
- activity tracking: goal, total calories burned, move reminders
- sleep tracking
- custom workouts that can be uploaded
- workout calendar
- interval workouts
- many different types of alerts (i.e., custom, distance, elevation, hr, pace, power, ect.)
- race a previous activity
- set new person records
- map running dynamics
- determine recovery time
- metronome (pacing)
- wi-fi connectivity
- swimming stroke detector
In addition to the many features this watch has to offer, additional sensors can be purchased to provide more accurate and precise data. Some of the sensors available include a heart rate monitor, bike speed and cadence pod, foot pod, and a Tempe wireless temperature sensor.
Of all the GPS watches tested, this proved to have the longest battery life. In UltraTrac mode, the watch takes fewer data points and is said to track for up to 50 hours in GPS mode. In our tests, this watch lasted between 30-38 hours (in all tests) which is still significantly longer than the Suunto Ambit3 Peak or the Suunto Traverse. Without GPS on, this watch can last up to six weeks. Even though this is a little more than other GPS watches, the battery life is still sub-par in comparison to other traditional watches or solar powered options. If you're looking for the ultimate in battery power, check out the solar powered Casio PRW-6000Y that has almost limitless battery power with just six minutes of sun exposure per day.
By far, this is the easiest watch to use. Out of the box, setup is simple with a variety of prompts. In addition, the interface is fairly logical. With some time spent with the watch, you can learn quite a bit about its features without consulting the owner's manual.
That said, some of our testers felt a little overwhelmed by the number of features, but once they took the time to look into it, they also said the watch is easy to use. In addition, the buttons are large and spaced far apart to work well with gloves.
The Fenix 3 has a beautiful, large display that is the best of all tested. We truly enjoyed the size and colors of the display that were easier to see than any other watch during times of bright and low light. We also like that you can customize the watch face to have either a digital or analog display. You can also change the backlight settings to satisfy your display needs. Overall, the 218 X 218 pixel transflective MIP color display is the best out there and our favorite — reason it scored a perfect 10 in this metric.
In general, the accuracy of the altimeter is subpar at best. For the most part, the altitude reading was always within 50 - 200 feet of the actual altitude, but it was not nearly as reliable or precise as the other watches tested. In comparison, the Suunto Core Alu consistently produced an accurate reading during our tests, as did the Suunto Ambit3 Peak.
Comfort and Fit
Fitted with a large watch display and a silicon watch strap, many of our testers felt like this watch felt large and bulky on the wrist. Even though the fit could be adjusted and tightened down, it does not have an ergonomic strap. Many of the testers felt like it was floppier, and not nearly as comfortable as other watches in this review. Another downside of the watch is the huge watch face, which made it a little harder to wear underneath layers. That said, it was pretty easy to place this over the top of layers in times of cold weather or when we needed to access the watch easily.
This is one of the more expensive watches tested. That said, we're not surprised given the technology and number of features. Our only concern with this watch is the reviews it's gotten for durability and our personal experience. During our testing period, the first watch we tested completely shut down and would not turn back on. We sent it back for a new watch that still seems to work fine. There are many cases on the internet that have reported to have the same issue. Overall, we'd say the value is decent, but be sure to install all the updates and check to see that your watch functions properly. The nice thing is Garmin does offer a limited time warranty of one year.
If you're in the market for a watch with the best features out there, the stacked Fenix 3 is totally where it's at. It has the most features, the longest GPS battery life, and a beautiful display. The price is high, but if you're a data-geek that likes to track progress, this is one of the best options.
— Amber King