Garmin seems to have a GPS watch for every occasion these days. The company has had an extensive range of running watches for some years, such as the excellent Forerunner 610, and this was recently joined by the Swim, which as its name suggests targets pool-based sporting activities. Latest to arrive is the rather excitingly entitled Fenix, the focus of which isn’t quite so obvious from its name. We’re not sure what the connection might be to fireproof birdlife, and we suspect it has nothing to do with the latest album from Tenacious D either. No, this is a product aimed at rock climbers and hikers who like to stray far from the beaten track – perhaps for days on end.
Garmin already has an extensive range of GPS devices aimed at hiking, including the GPSMAP, eTrex, Dakota, Oregon, and Montana models, with the Oregon 550t being a particular highlight. The fenix sits somewhere in between these and the Forerunner range. The Performer Bundle we were testing comes with a heart-rate monitor in the box, so can be used to track your stamina cross country, although the fenix doesn’t have all the training-focused features of the Forerunner. Conversely, it also only comes with a basic world map on board, showing little more than the outlines of global land masses, and there is no facility to download detailed topographic maps to the device, so it’s not a full replacement for a handheld hiking GPS either.
What the fenix does have is the all-important built-in GPS receiver, plus an altimeter, barometer, digital compass, temperature sensor, as well as both ANT and Bluetooth wireless connectivity. The barometer provides a short historical readout, which you can use to help predict weather changes. You can cycle through displays for all this information, plus your heart rate if you have the monitor for this wirelessly connected.
However, the fun really starts when you press the big orange button on the left-hand side of the watch. This calls up the main menu, with Start GPS at the top. Once satellites have been locked, the fenix immediately begins recording tracking points. It only has 20MB of storage, but this is enough for 10,000 track points or 100 saved tracks, as well as 1000 waypoints, favourites or locations, and 50 routes. You can view the track as it is recorded on the mini map, and track back along it. You can also mark waypoints, in case you need to head back via a more direct route or find those locations again at a later date. As you travel, you can cycle through the readout screens to see details of your journey.
There’s a wealth of extra widgets available in the GPS Tools section, too. Sight ‘N Go lets you line up the orange flashes above and below the watch face with a distant landmark, which you can then set up as a destination. You can enter coordinates, which is a little fiddly with the fenix’s limited buttons. Points of Interest (POIs) can be used as destinations, although the fenix only comes with a small selection of major city centres as standard. But you can upload custom POI sets to the fenix as well, using a Garmin utility, with lots of free and premium third-party POI sets available.
The watch can also navigate to geocache locations, which we will be returning to a bit later in this review. There are almanacs for sun and moon rising and setting times, plus best hunting and fishing times. You can calculate an area by walking around its edges, and when out sailing mark a Man Over Board point and then navigate back to it.