The launch of Garmin's Fenix 6 range has been one of the most anticipated of the series to date, with people debating what new features might be added to the latest iteration of the successful adventure watch.
The full range launched at the end of August with what is possibly one of the largest range of products to sit under the umbrella of one single watch model. 19 different options to be exact, each of those varying in technical specs, functionality and materials used.
- Essential reading: The best outdoor fitness watches
The price variation of the Fenix 6 range mirrors the wide selection of products available, with the base Fenix 6 model coming in at $599.99 and the top end option, the Fenix 6X Pro, costing $759.99.
But was the Fenix 6 range worth the wait? And more importantly, does it justify the hefty price tag attached to it?
We've been testing the Fenix 6 Pro and the Fenix 6x Pro editions over the past few weeks to see just how good they are.
Note: The version of the Fenix 6X Pro we tested was the Sapphire edition model ‚Äď differentiated by a sapphire crystal lens that adds an extra layer of screen protection.
The Garmin Fenix 6 range specs
The full Fenix 6 range boils down to seven key models in terms of the technical specs, features and size of each unit. On top of that, the remaining models are differentiated based on aesthetic features like watch strap, casing and face material used ‚Äď with added features like a titanium band or varying design features.
If you're looking to fork out a bit more on one of the higher-end models you'll still get the same functionality. Here's the full range of options:
- Fenix 6 ‚Äď The base-level model (47mm)
- Fenix 6S ‚Äď A smaller version of the Fenix 6 (42mm)
- Fenix 6X ‚Äď A larger version of the Fenix 6 with increased screen size and battery life (51mm)
- Fenix 6 Pro ‚Äď The second tier Fenix 6, adding maps, Wi-Fi, golf maps and music downloads
- Fenix 6S Pro ‚Äď The second tier Fenix 6S, adding maps,Wi-Fi, golf maps and music downloads
- Fenix 6X Pro ‚Äď The second tier Fenix 6X, adding maps, Wi-Fi, golf maps and music downloads
- Fenix 6X Pro Solar ‚Äď The Fenix 6X Pro but with solar charging capabilities
The bulk of the features in the range span every watch ‚Äď it's only maps, Wi-Fi, golf maps and music downloads that are added on top of that to form the Pro level of products.
The Fenix 6X Pro solar is the only exception, adding a very nice solar powered functionality that helps to prolong and increase battery life without the need for charging.
How does it look?
One of the main design updates to the Fenix 6 range is a slimming down of the various options from the previous Fenix 5 models. However, although Garmin has managed to lower the size and weight of the units, there's an increase in screen size across each of the devices.
The size and weight of the Fenix 6 model is still a bit on the chunky side at first glance, especially for those looking for a much lighter watch. However, once you actually stick it on it's fairly unnoticeable for the average wearer. Compared to the Fenix 5 it's a vast improvement, coming in at 72g rather than 85g.
The Garmin 6X is noticeably larger at 51mm and the added thickness and weight would likely be an issue if you're not a fan of a big watch. There are major positives to that larger build, specifically screen size and battery life, but in comparison to the other two models, it's a big jump in size.
The buttons across both options also feel slightly more premium and the transflective LCD screen has been upgraded to 260x260 pixels (previously 240x240). The result is a noticeably improvement from the Fenix 5. In the 6X model you'll get a screen size of 280x280 pixels.
If we were to pick one thing out about the latest Fenix range (apart from PacePro ‚Äď more about that later), it would be the simple and easy to master menu system that underpins the whole user experience.
Not a great deal has changed in the newest iteration in terms of how it works, but the sheer mass of features included could have made a massive impact on how easy it was to use. It's not perfect and some of the more advanced features can be tricky to locate if you haven't used a Garmin device before, but the learning curve is fairly quick and operating the modes is extremely intuitive.
The 6 range has no touchscreen, which is a big positive when it comes to using a multi-sport watch. Each model is operated through five buttons around the watch, which will get you in and out of activity tracking, control the screen lighting and take you into the very smooth dashboard mode. Long presses on buttons will take you to additional functions like music and settings.
Within the dashboard, the primary navigational interface, you'll see a list of topline data relating to the various information stored within the watch. It's clean and has an impressive level of customisation, allowing you to add and remove widgets that you actually want to use.
The more complex tools are a bit more hidden, with things like PacePro and navigation (on the Pro models) requiring you to delve further into the sub menus.
Of the many upgrades made to the Fenix 6 range, for us by far the most notable is the smorgasbord of advanced tracking and analytics features incorporated as standard across the whole range. So whether you choose the Fenix 6 or fork out for the top-end 6X Pro Solar, you'll still have exactly the same functionality when it comes to sports and fitness tracking.
Those new features have originated primarily from the most recent update to the Fenix 5X Plus, the MARQ and Forerunner 945, covering PulseOx, Race Time Prediction, Performance Condition, Training Effect, Aerobic Training Effect, Anaerobic Training Effect, Body Battery, heat acclimation and altitude acclimation, as well as upgrades to things like the race predictor and VO2 Max.
The range of insightful tracking data across the range is by far the best we've seen from Garmin, with the most useful data coming from the analysis of ongoing activity fed through your heart rate to produce the bulk of the training effect info.
Essentially the watch will take in all of your training, heart rate and sleep data to provide feedback on how you should be training. After a heavy session, it'll tell you how much rest you need, suggest the level of activity you should be doing next and give you an ongoing reading for your Body Battery ‚Äď an update of your energy levels based on all the tracked features.
Race Predictor is a nice feature for runners and uses your running activity to suggest how well you should be performing across multiple distances, from 5k to marathon. It is, however, not the most accurate and tends to take a while to update. We found that for a while the predictor would suggest a time that was lower than our current PB, tracked using the watch.
What is PacePro?
The feature that had us bowled over when we started using the Fenix 6 Pro and 6X Pro was PacePro. This is an incredibly useful running tool which allows you to upload or build a running route using the Garmin Connect app. That route data utilises Garmin's enormous database of map trend data, along with your own training data, to suggest a pace profile for a run.
Based on your goal time for the run, the watch will display lap times (in km or miles) as you run the course, telling you how fast you should be moving to hit that goal. Unlike the pacing bands people wear for marathons, the data is live, so it will adjust the pacing based on your performance. What's more, that data incorporates the elevation across the course, modifying the lap pace to account for the hills.
You can go into the Garmin Connect app and modify how PacePro adjusts to hills and if you're aiming for a positive or negative split. The data will be shown in a nice readout on the screen as you run, showing you how many seconds you are above or below the target time.
It's a very nice feature which we've found to be useful whether you're a beginner or a more advanced level athlete, but it does take a bit of time to get used to the finer details.
As you'd expect from a lead outdoor watch, navigational tools sit quite firmly at the heart of the range. Although you won't get visual TOPO maps with the base level products ‚Äď those only appear in the Pro options ‚Äď you will find a host of features that utilise the vast Garmin mapping database.
Those tools, as well as underpinning features like PacePro, will offer you the ability to follow a waypoint, set GPS markers, set a start point for a route or download files to allow route-finding.
On the Pro level, the maps will overlay that information with visual data to make life a bit easier when out hiking, cycling or trail running. It also will incorporate that Garmin user trend data to show routes around you that are well-trodden ‚Äď which is handy if you're trying to find a main path or trails that are better to take.
The map interface is an impressive addition to the Pro range, and although map navigation via a watch screen is never going to be the ideal way to traverse the wilderness, Garmin has managed to make it a relatively pain-free experience. Don't expect beautiful, easy to read Ordnance Survey maps though.
Navigation is where the Fenix 6X Pro model really comes into its own, as having a noticeably larger screen is a big plus point when using the maps to navigate.
There have been improvements made to battery life across the full range, specifically surrounding multiple battery profiles that you can set to prolong the charge based on your personal preferences.
On the Fenix 6X, you can expect 21 days in smartwatch mode, 60 hours when using GPS, 120 hours in maximum GPS mode, 46 days in Expedition mode and 80 days in battery saver mode ‚Äď so that's some pretty big upgrades with the larger model. With music you'll see that drop to 15 hours.
In testing we've found the battery life on both models to be be pretty accurate and we're finding general use of both the Fenix 6 and Fenix 6X ‚Äď training once a day and using the bulk of the features across the week ‚Äď requires charging less than once a week for the Fenix 6 Pro and just under two weeks for the Fenix 6X Pro.
Another nice battery tool you'll find is the ability to build customised profiles. This means you can effectively modify the functions based on what you want to use, turning sensors and features on and off to see the effect they'll have on the overall battery life.
The interface will also rather neatly show you the battery level during individual activities and watch modes. So if you're running, it'll adjust the battery available based on that activity so you can see how long you have left to keep the watch in that mode.
We've found that the GPS tracking from both the Fenix 6 Pro and the Fenix 6X Pro has been extremely good in all of the test scenarios we've placed both watches in. Whilst using the watches for tracking during hikes and running the GPS rarely falls more than a few metres out. Here's an overview of a four-lap race following the same path.
Heart rate tracking from our testing has shown that during consistent training like running or rowing both the Fenix 6 Pro and Fenix 6X Pro are fine when compared against a heart rate chest strap. However when used for interval training, where the heart rate rapidly fluctuates, both models struggle to keep up with the quick changes.
Here we used the Fenix 6X Pro on a treadmill session with each spike showing an increase in speed. With each peak we increased the pace of the treadmill at a quicker rate, with the final three spikes going from 0 to high km/h pace instantly. In the earlier peaks there was a gradual increase in speed, but as those peaks increase in with a significantly raising heart rate, the Fenix 6X pro appeared to struggle.
As well as being a formidable outdoor watch, Garmin has ensured the Fenix still acts well as a smartwatch. Notifications pop up on the screen in a readable format and you can set quick responses to messages in the Garmin Connect app.
Modifying the watch face design is also fairly user friendly and open to a heap of available designs that you can download via the Garmin Connect app. You probably won't find anything as nice as you'd get from the Apple Watch due to the screen limitations, but there are plenty of options. Garmin even have a feature where you can upload your own image into the secondary Garmin IQ app ‚Äď although at the point of writing this the feature doesn't seem to work with the two models we were using. We're hoping an update will rectify that.
On the Pro versions of the Fenix 6 range, you'll also find the ability to download music to the watch via a selection of streaming services (IHEARTRADIO, Spotify, Deezer, Amazon). What that means is that you can link up your music account and specify playlists that you want to download to the device. We've predominantly been testing this with Spotify and found the interface to be extremely easy to use.
Who is it for?
With the lowest price option coming in at ¬£529 for the base level model, you can imagine the Fenix 6 range isn't targeted towards the occasional fitness and outdoor fan. Garmin has always been one of the main leaders of the pack when it comes to detailed and insightful data for athletes and the Fenix range is largely aimed towards that group.
That said, Garmin has put a lot of effort into offering an enormous range of design options, as well as the three different-sized units to ensure the range is as aesthetically pleasing as it is chock-full of active features. The Fenix 6X model may firmly sit in the function category, but the design options available across the range, including the slighter Fenix 6S, do mean that the Fenix is comfortably straddling fitness and style.
We hope that a lot of the sports features will start to trickle down into the cheaper and older Garmin models in the future, because some of the functions, especifically PacePro, would have a massive impact on training for everyone.
Garmin's much anticipated Fenix 6 range delivers in an impressive way, throwing in a heap of upgrades to the previous 5X as well as a new and improved slimline design.
The wealth of sports tracking and analysis tools are by far some of the best we've seen and the inclusion of PacePro has raised the bar in terms of what we should expect from an outdoor watch.
The only downsides for us are the obvious pricing barriers for most users and some iffy heart rate data when using the watch for shorter interval-style training.