The first thing to know about the Garmin Fenix 6 range is that it’s very confusing. There are a whole load of watches available –19 in total – split across several models and with different combinations of features.
We’ve been testing the Fenix 6 Pro and Fenix 6X Pro. The pro versions of the Fenix 6 are the most obvious updates to the Fenix 5 Plus series, in that they offer music storage and on-board maps, which were on the 5 Plus watches, as well as the new features of the Fenix 6 range.
The range includes the Fenix 6 and 6S watches (the S denotes a smaller screen), which don’t have music or maps, but do have the other new features. On top of all of those is the Fenix 6X Pro Solar (pictured, above), which has everything above plus the ability to harness the sun’s rays to add 10% more battery.
Those are the key variations in the range, but there are also differences within the same model based on the materials used, such as a hardier sapphire screen or titanium bezel, which can change the price the watch dramatically.
Got all that? Or most of it? Good. Let’s talk about the new stuff on the watches. That starts with the design, with the Fenix 6 range getting bigger screens and batteries. The 6S watches in the range still have the 1.2in (30.5mm) screen used in the Fenix 5 Plus series, but the 6 watches get a 1.3in screen and the 6X watches a 1.4in screen.
That extra real estate is put to good use during your activities, because you can cram more stats on your screen – up to six data fields on the Fenix 6 and eight fields on the 6X. I prefer six fields because you can also squeeze in a handy heart rate gauge at the top of the screen – something which was previously only available on its own screen. Seeing at a glance which heart rate zone you’re in is useful for making sure you’re not overdoing it on an easy run, or that you are working hard enough in an interval session.
The battery life has been improved across the Fenix 6 range and the Power Manager feature added. You can use this to turn off certain features to conserve power and you get an estimate in hours or days of how much battery life the current selection of active features will give you.
You also get an estimated hours of battery life at the start of each activity, so you know that you have three hours of running left in the current power mode, for example. If you start running low during an activity the watch will also alert you so you can turn off features like the heart rate monitor or stop playing music to drain less juice.
It’s a helpful feature but unless you’re an ultramarathon runner or an Ironman triathlete, or just really bad at keeping tabs on your battery life, it’s unlikely the watch will die on you mid-activity.
The smallest Fenix 6S and 6S Pro watches offer 25 hours of GPS, the Fenix 6 and 6 Pro 36 hours, and the 6X Pro has a mighty 60 hours of GPS, with an extra 10% on top of that available in sunny conditions if you get the 6X Pro Solar. Those numbers take a hefty hit if you use music – down to six hours on the 6S, ten hours on the 6, 15 hours on the 6X – but even so, turn off the tunes and you should always be able to make it to a charger in time.
The bigger screens and longer battery life are both welcome improvements on the Fenix, but it’s the new PacePro feature that stands out as the most exciting addition to the range.
PacePro is designed to help you pace your runs to take into account the hills on your course, your overall target pace and whether you want to do the second half of your run faster (known as a negative split). This feature sets individual split targets for each mile or kilometre of your run based on that information. For example, if you want to run a half marathon at an average of five minutes per kilometre, you might be told to run the first kilometre in 4min 50sec knowing that the second one will be 5min 10sec because there’s a hill in it.
I have always paced my races on one kilometre or mile splits anyway – I find working to the next split is the best way to keep focused and upbeat, rather than thinking about the whole amount you have left to run – so the idea of PacePro certainly appealed. Fortunately I had a half marathon on undulating terrain lined up just ten days after I got hold of the Fenix, so I duly mapped out the course in Garmin Connect and set my targets:I planned to run the first 10K at a steady pace and cut loose in the second half, so I set it up for a negative split.
My main fear with PacePro was that it would be useless as soon as GPS tracking went slightly off-track, which happens in pretty much every race. However, having the course loaded seemed to improve things on that front. It’s only one race, but the PacePro splits and distance markers in my race matched up as close to perfectly as I could expect.
I was hugely impressed with PacePro. The variable split targets are a great way to keep your focus and let you know what’s coming up in the next kilometre or mile. You are also told how far ahead of or behind your overall target you are. In my race I ended up going quite a bit faster than my original overall target, but even then I checked each PacePro individual split to see if I was facing some uphill sections, or was expected to pick up some time on downhills.
It’s a feature that essentially creates a smart pacing band and will be at its best on undulating courses, but it will also be brilliant for pacing a negative split – the best way to nail a PB – in flat events.
Garmin has had a virtual race pacer mode on its watches for some time, which used an overall target time and distance to keep you on track, but breaking it down into individual splits with PacePro makes it far more useful. I can foresee potential problems if the route of your run strays from the PacePro plan at all, but even then you can just switch back to your normal run screen.
The PacePro feature is available across the Fenix 6 range, even on the basic 6 and 6S models which don’t have maps. It’s also set to be brought to other models in Garmin’s range like the Forerunner 945, Marq Athlete and Forerunner 245/245 Music.
Another new addition to the Fenix range also focuses on performance. The watches all get the in-depth training analysis previously only available on the Forerunner 945 and Marq Athlete. This will track how well you’re responding to heat or altitude, and break down your previous four weeks of training into three categories – anaerobic, high aerobic and low aerobic. Based on that info you’ll get advice on whether your training is balanced or not, and how you can improve it.
This feature does depend heavily on accurate heart rate tracking, however, and so far I’ve had mixed results on that front with both the Fenix 6 Pro and 6X Pro watches. It’s been spot-on for about half my runs, and recorded far too high a heart rate in the others. This results in the run being recorded as a high aerobic or anaerobic effort, which then throws off the training load analysis for four weeks. I’m probably one more inaccurate run away from linking the Fenix 6 to a chest strap for every activity, which I didn’t have to do with the Forerunner 945, 245 or 45 I tested recently. All those models offered impressively accurate heart rate tracking.
Other than the suspect heart rate tracking the Fenix 6 lives up to all its on-paper promise when it comes to real-world performance. It’s the most advanced sports watch available, though the Forerunner 945 and Marq Athlete will soon also get the PacePro feature, closing the gap between Garmin devices.
I’m not entirely sure why Garmin bothered with the basic Fenix 6 and 6S, which lose the music and maps that were on the Fenix 5 Plus range and still cost £529.99, which is only £70 less than the cheapest Fenix 6 Pro watches. That’s an amount well worth paying to gain colour maps plus music storage including the ability to wirelessly sync a premium Spotify account and store your playlists on the watch offline.
All the Fenix 6 watches are very expensive (of course) but they, like all of Garmin’s premium devices, are miles ahead of everything currently offered by the competition, and the top-notch features and attractive design of the range means you get value for your money even when splashing out £600.
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