Garmin Epix In-Depth Review

No, this isn’t your grandfather’s Epix from 2015, but rather, this is Garmin’s new 2nd gen Epix that effectively takes an Epix and elevates it with a full AMOLED color touchscreen display. Now, Garmin officially calls it just ‘Epix’, though you’ll see the 2nd gen bits here and there. In order to save digital typing waste, I’m just going to call it the shortened Epix as well.

If you haven’t seen my also-just-released Fenix 7 In-Depth Review, the key thing to know here is that Epix contains every software feature of the Fenix 7, but differs at the hardware level. For example, the Epix includes the aforementioned higher resolution and more vivid AMOLED display, but it lacks solar panels or the Fenix 7X flashlight. That’s mainly because solar frankly wouldn’t do much here for this display, and the flashlight isn’t quite in the Epix cards for the time being. There are, of course, differences in battery life too, which we’ll get into. But the key thing to know is that even though it has an AMOLED display, it still manages 6 days in always-on display mode – which reaches upwards of 16 days in gesture mode.

In other words, for most people, you’re not sacrificing much for a dramatically better display. Now I’ve been using the Epix now for quite some time, putting it through both daily 24×7 usage as well as workouts and other athletic adventures. Everything from high mountain hiking to ocean swimming, snow-covered escapes, and city testing. All of it in an effort to find out where this watch works well, and where its caveats are.

As usual, this watch is a media loaner, and it’ll go back to Garmin shortly. This review is not sponsored (nor does any company get to preview anything I review), and I don’t take any advertiser money from any companies I review. And as regular readers know, if something is crap, I’m gonna tell it brutally like it is – no matter the brand. Once this unit goes back, I’ll go out and get my own for any future testing needs. If you found this review useful, you can use the links at the bottom, or consider becoming a DCR Supporter which makes the site ad-free, while also getting access to a mostly weekly video series behind the scenes of the DCR Cave. And of course, it makes you awesome.

What’s new:

Garmin-Epix-WhatsNew

Creating a ‘What’s New’ category for the Epix Gen 2 is arguably kinda tricky. After all, am I comparing it to the Gen1 brick from 7 years ago? Or am I comparing it to its realistic older sibling, the Fenix 6 series? In this case, since none of you want to see a list 918 features long of all the things Garmin has added in 7 years to all their watches (such as an optical HR sensor), I’m going with a comparison to the Fenix 6 series. As such, this portion of the review will be almost identical to that of the Fenix 7 series in terms of new features, since the two watches have almost identical software features. The only differences in software are those related specifically to power savings for the AMOLED display.

Starting with the number of models here, there are two different ones: Non-Sapphire and Sapphire. Just like the Fenix 7, they denote whether or not a watch gets not only the sapphire display, but also the expanded storage and multi-band GPS. Here are the differences:

– Garmin Epix base ($ 899): Music, Garmin Pay, WiFi, downloadable maps, 16GB storage, AMOLED touchscreen, plus all software features
– Garmin Epix Sapphire in White or Black Titanium ($ 999): Base + multi-band GPS, 32GB storage with pre-loaded maps, Sapphire glass, titanium bezel

There is no solar or flashlight edition/options in the Epix series. While Garmin is free to go with the $ 899 pricing (it’s equivalent to the Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar), however, I think it’s a bit cheap of them not to include at least multi-band GPS at that price point, if not also the full 32GB of storage. Given the Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar has it at the same price.

In any case, all units get all software features, and all units get mapping. The difference is that only the Sapphire/Titanium units have the maps pre-downloaded for your region (e.g. North America, Europe, etc…) – whereas the base & base solar units do not. Instead, you simply connect to WiFi and download what you need for your region. That’s because pre-loading all the maps per region would add too many SKUs for Garmin to deal with, primarily on the Fenix side, but they’re carrying it over here too.

Anyway, here’s what’s new in Epix. Note that size/case-wise, Epix is identical in size to the middle Fenix 7 unit (Fenix 7, not Fenix 7S or 7X):

– All Epix units now get free worldwide downloadable TopoActive maps using WiFi (Sapphire units have pre-loaded maps)
– All Epix units now have pre-loaded Skiing & Golf Maps
– All Epix units now have music, WiFi, and Garmin Pay support (previously base Fenix 6 Series did not have this or maps)
– Added full-color AMOLED Display
– Added touchscreen (and can still use buttons for every function)
– Added multi-band (aka dual-frequency) GPS to Epix Sapphire units
– Revamped ‘GPS only’ mode for far more battery life savings
– Added Garmin ELEVATE GEN 4 optical HR sensor
– Switched to glass-covered optical HR sensor (versus plastic with a coating), which increases durability
– Added Garmin SkiView, now includes resort names & slope names
– Added Cross Country Ski Trails to maps
– Added new “Map Manager” feature for managing/downloading maps from your wrist
– Added ‘Up Ahead’ feature for distances to predefined markers like aide stations, climbs, etc…
– Added Realtime Stamina feature, which is used during runs & rides to try and leave nothing in the tank (or, properly manage a workout)
– Added Race Predictor historical trendlines (to see if you’re getting faster or slower)
– Added new Kiteboard Sport Type
– Added new Windsurf Sport Type
– Added new SpeedPro function for Windsurfing (primarily for speedsurfers)
– Added new graphical charts as data fields
– Added scrolling charts in a variety of places, including widgets
– Added finally, for the love of all things holy, the ability to configure activity profiles and data fields from your phone
– Added Garmin Connect IQ store on wrist (well, a limited version of it anyway)
– Added Health Snapshot feature (includes HRV data)
– Added New Sleep Manager Settings for customizing what the device does while you sleep
– Added HIIT workouts (meaning, they’re giving you structured workouts, not just a sport mode)
– Added Automatic Run/Walk/Stand graphing within a workout (see sports section for details)
– Revamped the user interface a fair bit (not a major overhaul, but definitely far cleaner)
– Added ‘button guards’ around all buttons, which reduce accidental presses with things like jackets
– Added metal/titanium (depending on model) lugs covers – see unboxing section for details.

Got all that? Good. Here are two charts to help you make sense of it. First up is the battery comparison chart:

Battery-Fenix7SeriesWithEpix

And then a relatively simple chart that easily shows which features which watches get:

Fenix7-Series-VS-Epix-Comparison

Now, there are some notable omissions here, especially coming hot on the heels of the Venu 2 Plus release two weeks ago. There is no voice assistance, or speaker/microphone for making/receiving calls. Even more, despite Garmin releasing the FR945 LTE last spring, there’s no LTE edition of the Epix either – a seemingly odd omission. In the case of the microphone/speaker, Garmin says that the higher waterproofing standard of the Epix series (100 meters) versus the Venu 2 series (50 meters), makes this challenging at this time. On the LTE front, I asked Garmin why there was no LTE option given it’s been a while since they launched the theoretically inferior FR945. It was the singular item they provided a ‘no comment’ on, out of the arguably 50-70 questions/details I’ve asked over the past two months.

Undoubtedly, Garmin will eventually come out with an LTE Fenix/Epix series. Where that’s just an Epix LTE, an Epix Plus LTE, or down the road in a Fenix 8 or Epix V3 (or whatever they call it). I don’t know, but as you’ll see – what’s here today is undeniably cool. But it’s also hard to reconcile this missing bit with one’s purchasing considerations.

In the Box:

Garmin-Epix-Box

The box for the Epix series mirrors basically every other Garmin watch in the last half a decade or so. It’s grey and simplistic, and lacking…err…epicness. While all the box contents for all four units I tested were identical (Fenix 7S/7/7X/Epix), keep in mind that some higher-end fancy-strap editions do have secondary straps in them. I didn’t have any fancy-strap editions. Thus, rather than repeat a series of unboxings, here’s just one sampling.

First up, once you remove the lid, the watch is hanging out looking at you, complete with a sticker of what it imagines it’ll look like:

Garmin-Epix-Box-Opened

Inside you’ve got the watch, a standard Garmin watch charging cable, and a safety manual + quick start guide:

Garmin-Epix-Box-Parts

The charging cable is identical to virtually every other Garmin Fenix, Forerunner, and Vivo/Venu series device made in the last number of years:

Garmin-Epix-Charting-Port

And the manuals are equally as unexciting. However, here’s a pretty shot of the watch before I slaughter them for 6-7 weeks. After this point, any scratches on them are probably well earned in my testing.

Garmin-Epix-Last-Pretty-Shot

The band itself can unsnap easily to be swapped out, if you perhaps want a fancier band for non-sport usage, and then quickly swap to the silicone one for sports. They feature the standard Garmin QuickFit system, and matches the middle band size which is a 22mm band. But you can use any 22mm band you find.

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You’ll notice the new protected lug design on the Epix series, where those top parts are covered up better now. Here it is side by side with a Fenix 6 series watch:

Garmin-Epix-ButtonGuard

There’s also the new button guard on the start/stop button, which Garmin says will reduce accidental starts/stops by jackets or such. It’ll probably take you a day or two to get used to this (at least it did for me), but now I don’t even think about it.

Garmin-Epix-ButtonGuard

With that covered, the Epix series retains the same case sizes as the Fenix 7 does, which are:

Fenix 7S: 42mm case
Fenix 7: 47mm case
Epix: 47mm case
Fenix 7X: 52mm case

However, they are now slightly thinner in most cases, being:

Fenix 7S: 14.1mm thick (was 13.8mm for Fenix 6S, and 14.7mm for Fenix 6S Solar)
Epix: 14.5mm thick
Fenix 7: 14.5mm thick (was 14.7mm)
Fenix 7X: 14.9mm thick (was 14.9mm)

I spot-checked the Epix Sapphire I had, and it weighed in at 71g:

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Ok, with that, let’s get into the AMOLED display bits briefly, before going through the fundamentals

AMOLED Display:

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The singular reason you’d get the EPIX over the Fenix 7 is the new AMOLED display. The display is actually the same 1.3” display as found on the Venu 2 & Venu 2 Plus, which boasts 65,000 colors…versus a whopping 64 colors on the Fenix 7.

Up until this point, we’ve never seen an AMOLED display on an endurance sports focused watch. Be it from Garmin or otherwise. The closest we’ve gotten is the Suunto 7 watch, based on Wear OS, but given the significant GPS battery constraints there, you’re only looking at half a 6-7 hours of GPS battery life. Other offerings from Garmin, Apple, and Samsung (and others) have all played around with battery life, but either it’s mediocre GPS on-times, or at most 2-days of always-on smartwatch times.

But with Epix, that changes significantly. Due to the larger size compared to most mid-range watches, they’ve simply got more battery capacity. The size of Epix is identical to that of the mid-sized Fenix 7 (not the S or X). In doing so, Epix, based on my testing, can get about 6 days of smartwatch life in always-on display mode, and with about 1hr or so of workouts per day (GPS or inside). Further, the company claims up to 30 hours of GPS on-time in always-on mode, and even more in gesture mode. Gesture mode is when the screen turns off when you’re not looking at it.

In my case, I’ve almost exclusively used always-on mode for the past 6-7 weeks. That means that the watch display is always on, but slightly dimmed when not looking at it. When I raise my wrist, the watch face goes full brightness. It’s identical to what Apple does on their more recent watches, and for the first time ever, I’m not complaining about Garmin’s wrist-raise detection. Partially because it actually works now, and partially because even in dim-mode, the screen is easily readable (both in darkness and direct bright sunlight).

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Now in this scenario, ‘always-on’ does have a very slight caveat to the 6-day claim, in that Garmin by default puts the screen into a battery saving mode while you sleep. So in that case it turns off the screen unless a button is pressed, and then once pressed it’s a low-brightness time screen that’s easily read in the dark (versus staring into a super-bright AMOLED screen at 2AM). This can be easily configured/changed in the new Sleep Mode settings (I discuss that in the next section).

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Again, I’ve had zero issues with this arrangement, and this also mirrors what other companies do at night with an AMOLED display. And if you don’t like it, you can certainly change it too – obviously, there’s an impact of battery life there. But frankly, the visibility is arguably better than a Fenix 7 at night. With a Fenix 7 (or any other Garmin watch that’s not AMOLED), if you’re sitting in bed/darkness, the screen isn’t visible unless you tap the light button. So, it’s identical here.

Now as noted, the display is easily visible in both darkness, half-dark (aka winter in Amsterdam), and bright sunny days atop a tropical island volcano. It blows away the Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar display (any variant, 7S/7/7X) in every scenario I can think of. It’s more readable from a brightness standpoint, and it’s more readable from a clarity standpoint. Here, some complete unedited out of camera comparisons.

First, a pro tip – the Epix has a red button. I tried to keep Epix always on left in comparison photos, but sometimes I’m inconsistent. First, Epix left and Fenix 7X Sapphire at right. Very thin clouds, but moderately sunny:

Epix-vs-Fenix7-Display

This one, direct sun on screens. Epix at *RIGHT* here, note the color depth. Both backlights on in default configuration.

Epix-vs-Fenix-7-Sapphire-Maps-Direct-Sun

Here mid-day, light cloud cover, Epix left, Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar right. Note in this case, the popularity maps were enabled on the Epix, hence the purple lines.

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Here in the late afternoon. Epix at left, Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar at right, both with default backlights enabled:

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Here’s just a solo Epix shot, this one as harsh sun conditions as you can get, mid-day sun in the desert:

Garmin-Epix-Direct-Sun

In all these cases, the settings are configured identical (default), and I even matched whether the backlight was enabled on both units at the same time. Beyond that, throughout the interface, there are subtle tweaks to take advantage of the display. Whether it’s the background behind the sport menu, or the increased clarity within the maps, it’s often not immediately noticed until you switch over to a Fenix 7 on the other wrist.

After wearing Epix, it’s incredibly difficult to go back to the Fenix 7 screen. At this point, you’re probably saying: Ok, this sounds great, but what are the downsides?

Well, really just one: It has less overall battery than a Fenix 7, both GPS and smartwatch modes. It’s as simple as that. That’s the single downside I can come up with in 6-7 weeks of usage. Plus of course it lacks the nifty flashlight of the Fenix 7X, as well as solar magic.

The Basics:

In this section we’ll detail all of the non-sport features of the watch. I’ll touch on basic usability, with a look at all the daily fitness features such as sleep, health, and activity tracking. If you are the more visually-inclined type or you just want a more in-depth walk-through of these features, take a few minutes to watch the video linked above. Though this blog post touches on all the features of the Epix, the video goes beyond that and presents more of a long-form tutorial/guide/user interface deep-dive of the entire watch. Step by step, feature by feature. Go ahead, press play.

We’ll start with the hardware features here first.  As with all of the Garmin Fenix series watches, we have five buttons on the Epix, that’s three on the left side and two on the right. For most purposes, the button on the upper right side can be considered a confirmation button, whereas the one on the lower right is more of a back/escape button. And the left-side buttons are for navigating within the various menus. And you can generally long-hold any of the buttons to either access different menu items, or assign quick-access buttons.

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Aside from the physical buttons, you can swipe on the touchscreen to view and tap menu items just like you would on any other touch device. I’ve found that the touchscreen performs reasonably enough while sweaty or in the rain, though with some impact on precision. But, as you can see in the video, it is fairly responsive for the most part.

Keep in mind that none of the functions absolutely require you to use the touchscreen, so you can always accomplish the same tasks purely with the physical buttons.  This is a nice option for those rainy, sweaty, or winter-gloved times. On the other hand (no pun intended), you can get away with mostly touch if you prefer (except when starting or stopping an activity, and when you want to end/start a new lap).

Garmin-Epix-Touchscreen

When you first start using the Epix you’ll find that almost all of the sport profiles have touch disabled.  But, you have the option to re-enable the touchscreen functions within each profile if you prefer.  And one thing I’ve found particularly useful is the new Sleep Mode settings options, which gives you the ability to disable the touchscreen when you would normally be asleep, as well as a slew of other customizations – even down to the day of the week:

Epix-Sleep-Mode-Weekday-Customizations Garmin-Epix-Sleep-ModeSchedule

Speaking of which, at night, within sleep mode, this is what the Epix shows as a reduced screen interface. You can of course change this, but this is the default, and then the screen goes entirely off unless you tap/touch it. Which I’ve found works perfectly fine.

Garmin-Epix-Sleep-Mode-Watchface

So, now let’s take a look at the watch face features. The Epix comes to you with bunches of built-in watch faces but you also have access to literally thousands of additional watch faces from the Connect IQ app store. Generally you can tweak and customize the data fields and complications on a watch face to personalize the data you want to see and where you want to see it. In the world of watch faces, this is your oyster.

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You can even create a custom watch face using your mobile device camera or photos from your library.  You’ll use the Connect IQ app for this, and then the Face It tab.

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As we saw a couple of weeks ago as a new feature on the Venu 2 Plus, you’ll also now have the ability to long-press any data item on your watch face and delve deeper into that specific widget for more detailed data.  So, for instance, pressing on Steps takes you straight to the Steps widget and all that it has to offer. This new feature can now be found on all Fenix 7 series watches.

Widgets are awesome because they expose all kinds of data from your watch, such as steps, the weather, your sleep, training status, etc. You can also install 3rd party widgets too. You’ll simply swipe or press down from the watch face to access the widget glances:

Garmin-Epix-Widgets2

And then from there, you can tap into any given widget to see more detailed information. For example, here’s the steps widget, which in turn has 2-3 more data pages on it with more data.

Gamin-Epix-StepDetails Garmin-Epix-Step-Details2 Garmin-Epix-Step-Details3

And, as usual, all of this data is ultimately synced to Garmin Connect (desktop and mobile) where you can research and compare your data going back days, weeks, months, and years. It’s all there, for your ADHD viewing pleasure. For example, here’s my steps data on Garmin Connect Mobile (the smartphone app):

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Here’s a wide-ranging gallery of widgets and my data from them:

xxxWidgetGallery

If you’re like me, you find it mildly interesting to see your step tracking, stair tracking, and all the other metrics that these smartwatches measure and track for you, but heart rate tracking is really where these devices shine. The Epix uses Garmin’s Elevate V4 sensor that was introduced on the Venu 2 last spring, and is now found on a variety of other watches including the Fenix 7 and the Forerunner 945 LTE.

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This sensor accomplishes a huge assortment of tasks, everything from round-the-clock 24×7 HR monitoring, to workout-only monitoring, to blood oxygen monitoring.  A close look reveals a couple of LED sources, green for regular heart rate detection, and red for pulse oximetry (blood oxygen levels).

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All of this constant data gathering drives a slew of data points, for example stress and breathing rate. In general, I actually find the stress estimates reasonably accurate. That stress level is based on heart rate variability, where minuscule fluctuations between heartbeats are algorithmically crunched to give you a trending level.  For me, it’s an easy way to glance at how the day might have gone thus far, or how it might contribute to my Body Battery. Body Battery is basically your energy level. It’s based on a combination of HRV, stress, and activity. You recharge it every night, and then decrease it during the day, or during periods of relaxation (like sitting on the couch watching TV).

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While not perfect, Garmin in this area, and I find generally good correlation in most cases between my perceived energy levels and what it estimates. Over time, I’ve found that several hours of sleep does not necessarily equate to getting a full or even substantial Body Battery recharge.  In fact, that’s exceptionally rare. Sleep quality is a major component of recharging. The scenarios I find it tends to have trouble with are exceptionally hard/long days, or days with exceptionally poor sleep. It’ll usually estimate correctly on the poor sleep, but then has challenges figuring out how to give you a crap score, and then still give you an even crappier score by the end of the day. You can’t go below zero. Still, I think at that point both you and the device are both aware of the situation: You feel like crap.

The good news is that it also tracks the quality of your sleep, and does it fairly well, giving you detailed information about how restful your sleep really was.

Garmin-Epix-Sleep-Overview

I’ve been impressed with Garmin’s continued improvements in the written explanations of how your night went:

Garmin-Epix-Sleep-Explainer

Take this one from a few nights ago, this is about as succinct an explanation of my sleep as I could write myself. It’s literally spot-on perfect. Yes, it was long-ish sleep, but it was crap sleep.

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While I’m not an expert on sleep research, I do have a lot of experience in comparing the accuracy and idiosyncrasies of some of the major players in the market. For example, I’ve spent considerable time the last few months comparing side by side a slew of sleep trackers for my Whoop 4.0 and Oura 3.0 reviews, not to mention the latest Garmin devices.  So I can say that, in general, for me, Garmin almost always nails the time I go to bed and when I wake up. However, the downside is that it does not track naps in any way, which is very unfortunate for me, since naps are good!

But beyond that, I’ve found that it can occasionally have trouble with cases where I fall back asleep after being briefly awake, like between 6-9AM. It’ll often just end my sleep at say 7:10AM if I was awake/up for a couple of minutes, rather than realizing I’ve gone back to sleep for 2-3 hours. In terms of the sleep phases, I’m less convinced there. In general, even medical-grade devices aren’t crazy accurate/consistent in those areas. And in many cases, there’s no real-world actionable things you can do based on the tracking of such phases, other than being aware that the lack of restful and deep sleep can affect your overall sleep quality. So improving both your sleeping habits and environment are key here.

Garmin-Epix-Sleep-Phases

Now, to briefly touch on Pulse Ox, which is Garmin’s term for blood oxygen readings. There are a couple of settings here that you can individualize. You can configure this to be off at all times, measuring during sleep only, or measuring 24×7. Pulse Ox readings have two basic purposes in a Garmin wearable, one is around sleep (as potentially an indicator of sleep related issues), and the second is in high altitude environments as an indicator of acclimation (or, in extreme cases, an indication that something is about to go horribly wrong). Two totally different use cases (note: medical folks and such also monitor blood oxygen levels too for other reasons). For the first one – sleep – you can track your Pulse Ox readings each night. It’s the red LED that’ll light up on the back of the watch.

Garmin-Epix-PulseOx-Sensor

Be aware that using Pulse Ox while sleeping will consume additional battery resources, lowering your overall battery reserves a bit. But that is almost inconsequential compared to the 24×7 mode, which consumers a crapton of battery. I don’t use either due to battery draw, but only utilize it in spot-checks with respect to Health Snapshot (more on that in a second). However, in terms of accuracy, I find that if you treat it the same way you’d do an actual blood oxygen test with an approved/medical-grade device, you’ll get good results. Which is to say, sit still while taking a reading. It’s as simple as that (below is a certified device):

Garmin-PulseOx-Comparison

And that’s the exact same way the FDA certifies blood oxygen medical-grade devices: Sitting still. If you swagger around, fidget, or generally don’t follow the recommendations, you’ll either not get accurate readings, or Garmin these days won’t even give a reading. They (and others) have gotten smarter with just giving you a warning that there’s too much movement for a valid result.

Garmin-PulseOx-Sensitivity

Now as I mentioned earlier, there’s the new Health Snapshot feature. Well, new to the Fenix 7 series and Epix that is. This was introduced on the Venu 2 last year, and it takes five core metrics and distills them down into a single 2-minute measurement period. All you need to do is sit down and relax.

Garmin-Epix-Health-Snapshot

During the 2-minute period it’ll measure your heart rate, blood oxygen level, respiration rate, stress, and HRV (heart rate variability). The overall idea is that if you can consistently do this, ideally at approximately the same time each day, you’ll start to get a bit of a snapshot of how things are trending. All of these metrics are already tracked by Garmin more deeply in the app/platform, but the Health Snapshot feature is a way of serving it on a single plate (so to speak).

Garmin-Health-Snapshot-Photo

Once the two-minute test period is over, it’ll give you a summary of that info:

Garmin-Health-Snapshot-Results

And then you can also see this in Garmin Connect Mobile afterward, which is where you can spit out a PDF copy if you like:

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The one downside here is that ostensibly the main reason you’d do a Health Snapshot on a regular basis is consistency in timing of the readings. Meaning, everything except for HRV is automatically captured 24×7 anyway, and plotted 24×7 up to monthly and more if you like (assuming you’ve enabled SpO2). However, HRV is not. And arguably the ability to trend just these Health Snapshot readings by themselves would be pretty useful. Unfortunately, there’s no way to do that currently. You can only look at a single reading at a time.

As we round home here in The Basics section of this review, it’s worth noting that the Fenix 7 and Epix series watches are the first to have the new on-watch app store. This is a huge advantage in that you can now install Connect IQ apps directly from the watch on your wrist, as opposed to having to wait until you can find time to grab your phone. Garmin outlined this feature last fall as part of the Connect IQ Developer summit. And, as outlined then, it’s pretty darn basic.

To access it, you’ll simply go into the sports menu (I know, it’s technically the apps menu, but honesty, this doesn’t make much sense for it – it should probably be in the widgets area). Once opened it will load up some recommended apps. Five at the moment, plus showing the two music apps I already have installed (allowing me to uninstall those):

Garmin-CIQ-Store-OnWatchEpix

I can tap on one of the 4-6 total recommend apps, and then install it. Again, this is super basic at this point. But as Garmin outlined previously, it is merely the starting point here, with room for future growth.

Finally, while it probably won’t matter to many people, be aware that in general, virtually all of the functions that involve a smartphone, also require having an internet connection to function. Meaning that while the watch will happily collect data without internet, and do so for a very long time, it won’t sync to the phone without internet. That’s because the Garmin Connect smartphone app itself is merely showing data from the Garmin Connect online platform. The exception to this would be if you use the Garmin Explore app (also free), which then does allow syncing of some data (namely tracks/routes) back and forth to a phone that doesn’t have internet. And again, this has no impact on viewing any of these stats on your watch itself. But, if you were spending extended periods of time without internet, analyzing your stats on the smartphone Garmin Connect app would not be possible. You could however still plug in your watch to a computer, and download the workout file and analyze that.

Sports Usage:

Garmin-Epix-Sport-Modes

Much like the Fenix 7, there’s literally no watch on this planet that has as many sports features built-in as the Garmin Epix series does. Perhaps if one were to download every app on the Apple Watch store you might come close, but you still wouldn’t match every last nuanced sport and fitness feature that you’ll find on the Epix. But, of course, that’s one of Garmin’s trademark features in a smartwatch: having a gazillion features, of which realistically you might only use 2-5% of them.

But, that’s all good, because everyone’s 2-5% features are different. I use sports features every day that others would never use, and I’m sure others swear by features that I would find “Meh”. This vast catalog of features is fundamentally why Garmin leads the sports watch field. And perhaps more importantly, over the last few years, the software quality has increased substantially, largely through the use of open firmware beta programs that go on for months and months.  They know that feedback and bug resolution lead to improved software.

In any case, the Epix introduced a handful of new sport modes as noted earlier on, but no matter which sport you choose, it’ll all start by pressing the upper right button, which brings you to the sport listing:

Garmin-Epix-Sport-Selection

Lookin at the sport modes available, here’s your full listing. Note that some of these aren’t technically sports, but that’s how Garmin categorizes them everything under an apps bucket:

Run, Hike, Bike, Bike Indoor, Treadmill, Open Water, Navigate, Expedition, Track Me, Map, Map Manager, Connect IQ Store, HRV Stress, Health Snapshot, Multisport, Trail Run, Ultra Run, Virtual Run, Track Run, Indoor Track, Climb, MTB, eBike, eMTB, CycloCross, Gravel Bike, Bike Commute, Bike Tour, Road Bike, Pool Swim, Triathlon, Swimrun, Adventure Race, Strength, Climb Indoor, Bouldering, Ski, Snowboard, Backcountry Ski, XC Classic Ski, XC Skate Ski, Snowshoe, SUP, Surf, Kiteboard, Windsurf, Row, Row Indoor, Kayak, Golf, Tempo Training (Golf), Tennis, Pickleball, Padel, Project Waypoint, Walk, Cardio, HIIT, Yoga, Breathwork, Pilates, Floor Climb, Elliptical, Stair Stepper, Jumpmaster, Tactical, Boat, Clocks, Other

You can customize this sport listing on the watch, or from the smartphone. In fact, now’s a good time to talk about that new phone-based configuration. Historically, this is the first time we’ve seen Garmin introduce this level of customization that can be done from the phone instead of the watch. You’ll find that you can tweak almost every setting on the Epix from the phone. This applies to sport/activity profiles, data fields/pages, as well as things like widgets or deeper system settings. All told, there’s only a handful of things remaining that must be done specifically on the watch – for example, actions like downloading maps, or adding new sensors. As with before, you can always change all the settings on the watch itself if need be – a useful fallback when you find yourself out on the trails without a phone.

For example, on your phone, when you go to the device settings, you’ll be able to uncover a slew of settings, much deeper than before. Some of the new settings features are shoved into the existing categories (for example, Connectivity now includes details on smartphone notification settings), whereas there are totally new areas like the ‘Activities & Apps’ section, where you can choose which sport profiles are listed, and then tweak them:

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A good example of where Garmin seems halfway on this is the Sensors & Accessories section. You can see here that you can tweak all the onboard sensors (like whether or not your heart rate broadcasts), but you can’t pair any external sensors from the phone, you’ve still gotta go to the watch to do that. But, based on past experience, I’d imagine over time these will converge.

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Overall, acknowledging that this is a good first stab at this change in direction, I think it is a good move toward implementing phone-based settings. I’ve argued for years that Garmin needed to stop trying to boil the ocean on this, and instead, just start somewhere. Anywhere! Sometimes it’s good to forget the past and just move forward as they’ve done here.  Just pick a newly launching watch and add phone-based configuration. Start small and build up. For example, you still can’t import/migrate settings from other devices (like you can on a Garmin Edge device), but that’s ok for the here and now. And similarly, for the most part, the settings here just feel like Garmin built all the plumbing behind the scenes, but it’s sorta a maze of depths to find them all. But again, for now, I’m good with that. Boiling the ocean never works, perfection is the enemy of progress. I’d rather progress.

So, moving right along, after you’ve got your settings all sorted, head back to the watch and pick said sport. In this case I’ll go out for a nice run. But backing up a minute, and looking at this from a higher level, keep in mind that various sports have different profiles for a slew of reasons. Those can be specific data fields for a sport (like strokes for paddling, or cadence for cycling), as well as such nuanced metrics as sport-specific calorie burn, or the sensor types that you’d consider connecting to for a specific sport.

On this screen here you’ll see the upper portion of the screen showing the current sensor status, as well as GPS status. Your data pages are displayed behind it. Also note that by default, all sport modes have touch disabled, and then you can individually re-enable it, or, do it across the system.

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If you tap the left-side up button you can add a course (or other routing, more on that later), structured training, or change the power profiles. I mean, frankly, you can change anything from this point. For example, here you can see how many hours of GPS life you’ll get with your current settings, and then there are some pre-canned options that show higher GPS levels if you realize you’ll need them. Or, you can go rogue and create your own battery profile:

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(Note: At the moment I took this photo, this unit had 38% battery remaining, as such, the estimated hours are obviously lower than a full tank.)

But, for now, we’re gonna accept all that the way it is and do an interval workout. This will be a straightforward way to show the new Stamina features. By default, Stamina will be shown for running and cycling activities.  Conversely, it won’t routinely be found in all activities; for example, you won’t find it in hiking, but will find it in trail running. But, on with the run.  Once we press the start button, the watch will start gathering data from our workout, showing pace, distance, time, and any other data fields we’ve added:

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As an aside, but a notable absence,  on this watch you won’t find wrist-based running power, like COROS and Polar have. If you want running power, you’ll need some sort of external sensor – either from a 3rd party (Stryd), or paired with Garmin’s HRM-RUN, HRM-TRI, HRM-PRO, or RD-Pod units – for Garmin’s own running power data field. Nothing has changed there.

As we begin our workout, we can switch to the Stamina page to see how much energy potential we have for this workout. The top portion of the page, titled Stamina, is your short-term potential. In other words, how much can you give right now at this second. Whereas the middle-left one is your Potential stamina, I.e., your long-term potential. In other words, how long can you maintain this interval workout, or in an endurance event – how much gas is in the tank for the entire day ahead of you. In either case, this will steadily decrease over the course of the workout.

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So at this point, all of these are 100% – albeit, they won’t always be 100%. It’s tied to your recovery time, which is in turn tied to a thousand other things (sleep, activity, workouts, etc…). All of this is based on a blend of your estimated VO2Max, thus it’s kinda important to get at least a few good hard workouts in on the watch beforehand as a base so that it can approximate your VO2Max. Else, the data will mostly fall apart those first few times.

However, you’ve also got two additional data fields you can add: Distance and Time till empty. This is good if you have trouble doing simple math when you are exhausted, as these two fields look at your current intensity and then figure out when you’re going to collapse. So here we are a few minutes into the warm-up, and you can see it’s projecting I can go 1hr 45 mins at the current intensity or 22KM.

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Fast forward a ways into the intervals, and my long-term potential has dropped to 62%, and my immediate potential mid-interval is 52% and declining.

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And a few more intervals later, and it’s projecting I can pull off 8.5KM more, and 45 minutes more. My short-term stamina is at 46%, however, my longer-term stamina is actually still at 46%. You can see that white-line in between the red and black sections on the chart, that represents the gap there. At this point, I had just finished an interval to start walking.

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And you can see a few mins later as I go into my cool-down, my short-term stamina is back up to 52%, and it’s projecting at this light jogging pace I can do 1hr 5 mins or 12.5KM.

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If we see how this played out afterwards in Garmin Connect, we can see that for each interval, I dropped – some more than others, depending on my bodies ability to hold the interval (which in this case was semi-poor, given I just had a monster week of rides, runs, hikes, swims).

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Now, as much fun as it is to do this for short-term high-intensity workouts such as 8×800’s, the real intent here is longer-term endurance workouts or races. The idea is to help you figure out if the pace/intensity you’re currently exerting is sustainable for the required duration. For example, check out this 7-hour ride I did last week (well, it was a 7-hour total timer time, there was some momentary food/photo stops along the way):

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Yes, I seriously managed to turn down the road to my hotel with 1% Stamina remaining, and 1% potential. Here’s what the watch said:

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So how close was that to reality? Well, in this case, reasonably close, for a couple of valid reasons. Here the ride finished on a 1.5KM 12% climb, which I dutifully hammered with what I had left in me. So by the time I got to the finish point, I was baked. But was I absolutely literally at 0%-1% remaining? Probably not. But, as any endurance athlete will tell you, much of sport is mental as much as physical. In my case, I was shot, but I suspect if push came to shove I could physically have done another 5-10KM (after doing 118KM with 10,000ft of climbing). Granted, that probably would not be done at any meaningful intensity. Still, overall, I was beyond-done mentally, and certainly in most other respects too. So to that end, it got things more than close enough.  Overall a useful metric to have on those longer endurance workouts and races.

Next, going back to that interval workout, there’s a new feature that shows up on Garmin Connect afterwards, which is walk/run/stand detection. This will automatically detect, during a workout, what you were doing. You can see how that looks here:

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This is one of those things that at first glance didn’t make a ton of sense to me. I mean, yes, it was spot-on accurate, but why bother to spend the time on this was quirky to me. In asking Garmin, they said the intention was that for certain racing/training, such as steeper incline training, it allowed folks to start to analyze whether or not the pace/HR tradeoffs were worth it on walking versus running. Since you can overlay all those stats atop it, I can see the logic there.

Ok, so wrapping up the workout, you’ll get a new set of summary pages. They aren’t drastically different than in the past, but they do add some polish and make things like the display of heart rate zones more clear.

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Here’s a simple gallery of them:

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As usual, all your workout stats can then be displayed on Garmin Connect or the smartphone app (Garmin Connect Mobile). Here’s a slate of those screenshots as a sampler:

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All of these workouts are also then transmitted to any 3rd party apps you’ve configured/authorized, including Strava, TrainingPeaks, and other platforms.

From a sports standpoint, every workout you do is being tracked from a training load standpoint. You’ll have seen how that given workout contributes to your load in the workout summary screens above. There’s both a specific training load value (e.g 110), but also a given training effect focus, such as base or VO2Max. These all get algorithmically worked into whether or not your training is actually productive, and if not, what you’re doing wrong. You can see this from the widgets menu quickly:

Garmin-Epix-Productive-Training-Status

Then you can look at your VO2max value (for running and cycling), as well as your 7-day load. I find the 7-day load one of the best ways to quantify how much I’ve been working on over the past week (trailing 7 days). Especially where I might not have a set schedule I’m following.

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You can then look at the 4-week load focus to see how those numbers trend, where it also shows your a break out of the core workout type areas (anaerobic, high aerobic, and low aerobic), with optimal target ranges for each:

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I think in general, as much as it pains most of us endurance athletes to admit this, Garmin is usually right here. When it says I’m short in a given category, the reality is that if a coach had laid out the plan, it’d have been more balanced than my ad hoc workouts. The scenarios where I find it gets things wrong is when I’ve had a quiet week of training, and then quickly ramp up. In these scenarios, it will often say I’m ramping up too fast.

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Part of me knows that’s true, but part of me also knows that my body can usually take it. Most of the time anyway. Similarly, there’s the recovery hours:

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I’ve long found that Garmin tends to overshoot here. Though, there’s also some misunderstanding on this from many users. This item isn’t actually saying not to train, it’s just saying not to go out and do a hard workout. Thus, within the context it’s usually not too bad, though I think it still tends to err on the side of keeping you healthier rather than pushing your body closer to the breaking point.  Not a bad philosophy, but you do you.

Ultimately though, that’s no different than any other coaching relationship. Some coaches push athletes closer to that edge, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. The results range from winning a race to getting injured. Everyone has different things that do or don’t work for them.

Speaking of structured workouts, each day the watch will offer up structured running or cycling workouts, as a suggested workout, based on your current training and recovery. It looks at your recent load and training focus areas, and figures out what the next logical workout should be to slightly increase your fitness. Then, it suggests that daily workout…which, seems appropriate for today:

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These workouts can be downright beastly when Garmin chooses to get spicy. Seriously, I’ve seen multi-hour interval workouts show up. Inversely, if you’ve had a hard few days of training, or, really poor sleep, it’ll simply tell you to rest. In fact, if you really get it upset, it’ll actually flash a warning to you mid-morning that your day isn’t going well and that it’s going to basically cancel your planned workout. In general, I’ve found that when the watch gets this upset, it’s almost always legit. Usually something like back-to-back poor sleep nights combined with a hard workout tossed in the day prior, and maybe showing high stress.

In any event, if you do go ahead and choose a workout, it’ll iterate through each step with the exact targets displayed on the screen in real-time. None of this has changed from how it works on past Garmin watches over the last decade or so.

With that, we’ve covered the majority of the core sport-specific features. It’d be impossible for me to outline every single nuanced sport feature. For example, I could dive into things like the metronome, or PacePro, or pre-canned interval workouts, or Strava Live Segments, or Lactate Threshold tests, or racing past activities, or training calendars – the list is endless. And all of these features have even more features within them. But none of which are new to the Fenix 7, so for now we’re going to keep cookin’.

Mapping & Navigation:

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Mapping and navigation-related tasks are a big part of the Epix series, which contains an unbelievably rich set of mapping/navigation features, definitely more than you’d likely ever use. For example, there are common ones like following route, less common ones like creating one-off spontaneous routes, and then lesser-used features like calculating the area of a plot of land. Like I said, unbelievably rich mapping features here. But in the interest of time and brevity (I.e., keeping this post under 20,000 words) I’m going to focus on the core route-following components of the new Epix, including features like the new Up Ahead function, Map Manager, ClimbPro, and other map/route-following practical features.

One of the most notable of these is the new Map Manager feature. This feature allows you to download Garmin’s TopoActive maps onto the Epix watch for your specific region. Previously you had to pay $ 20-30 for these maps, and downloading them from Garmin was cumbersome at best and required a desktop computer. Alternatively, you could download free maps from 3rd party services, but that was also cumbersome. The new Map Manager features puts this all directly on the watch, and makes it as easy as connecting to WiFi. Oh, and all the maps are free.

In the case of the Epix, the non-Sapphire editions include 16GB of storage, and the Sapphire includes 32GB of storage. For Sapphire units, they’re already conveniently preloaded with global maps. However, they aren’t pre-loaded on the base units so you’ll need to download the maps directly on the watch by going to Settings > Map > Map Manager:

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Here you’ll see two sections: TopoActive Maps and SkiView and CourseView. TopoActive Maps has the main maps that you want for sports/adventure navigation. The SkiView and CourseView (golf) maps are preloaded on all units, because they’re relatively small (23MB for SkiView, and roughly 200-500MB for each continent’s golf courses).  You’ll also see a vert basic worldwide basemap, but it’s pretty much useless.

So definitely TopoActive Maps is where the goods are. When you open that, it’ll show you which maps you’ve installed as well as the size. Or, you can choose ‘Add Map’, and it’ll connect via WiFi and show you additional map regions to download.

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For context, here are the current sizes of these maps. These will undoubtedly change slightly over time, but shouldn’t change too dramatically over the years:

TopoActive North America: 8.9GB
TopoActive Europe: 11.6GB
TopoActive THID: 2.5GB
TopoActive MENA: 1.4GB
TopoActive Australia & New Zealand: 1.8GB
TopoActive Africa: 4.4GB
TopoActive Japan: 3.8GB
TopoActive Hong Kong & Macau: 17MB (yes, megabytes)
TopoActive South America: 6.0GB
TopoActive Taiwan: 96MB
TopoActive Korea: 213MB
TopoActive SGMYVNPH: 1.3GB
TopoActive China Mainland: 663MB

Remember that the size of the TopoActive map is less about the size of the region, and more about the density of things in the region (roads/trails/cities/POI’s, etc…). You can also update a TopoActive Map from there as well. Now, once you choose to download a map, you’ll select it, and then select ‘Download’. But it won’t download until your device is plugged in, so your selection is basically put in a queue until then. Also, note that plugging in means to regular USB port, not to a computer.

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Be prepared to wait – downloading takes a long-ass time. For instance, to download the 11.6GB TopoActive Europe map takes somewhere between 4 and 4-1/2 hours, trust me, I timed it (I went to bed at 4hrs with it at 90%). Seriously. You can alternatively use Garmin Express on a computer, which tends to be a crapton faster since it’s transferring via USB. Remember that, in general, the watch uses a lower-power consuming WiFi chipset, so it’s not downloading things as fast as a phone or computer. In other words, do this the night before you leave for a trip, and let it sync overnight. Or, let it sync while you make a 12-course dinner or something.

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Ok, with the maps downloaded, let’s set out on an adventure! In today’s case, I’m using a route I created on Komoot. But, likewise, you can also create routes in Garmin Connect directly, or many other 3rd party apps, or even from files. For example, if you have a GPX/TCX/FIT file of a route, you can import that directly in. But, the easiest thing to do is import them into Garmin Connect, which then allows you to sync them to the watch. But, in this case, to show you the new Up Ahead feature, I need to use Garmin Connect to tag the waypoints with standardized icons. So I’ve imported this Komoot route to Garmin Connect:

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Now, I’m going to add a few waypoints here for on-course navigating. Waypoints in files, of course, aren’t new. They’ve been around for a decade or two at least. But as you’ll see here, Garmin calls them Course Points, just because…Garmin, but it’s effectively the same thing. You can tap at the appropriate point on your route and add these points from a list of about 50 different standardized icons.

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And you can conveniently give them any names you want, to make life easier once underway:

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You’ll continue adding your waypoints, er…Course Points, until you feel good about it. Garmin says that they’ll soon support enumeration within Up Ahead (explainer in a second) from 3rd party files. But in the meantime, you need to use either Garmin Connect or Garmin Connect Mobile to tag these locations.

With that all set, we’ll head out to the trail and load up the course. You can choose any GPS sport mode you want (hiking in my case), and then from there choose Navigation and Courses. It’s here that I can load up my course. When I do so I’ll see map options, elevation, as well as ClimbPro. Note that ClimbPro isn’t enabled by default on all sport profiles, so you may want to check that and enable it if necessary within the sport settings (I do almost always because it’s one of my favorite, and most useful, features).

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The ClimbPro pages will automatically figure out each climb (both ascending and descending, though descending also isn’t enabled by default), and you’ll get the distances/altitudes for each. Then, as you climb, you’ll see your position and related data till the end of the climb.

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Meanwhile, Up Ahead is the new Fenix 7/Epix feature that shows your upcoming waypoints (aka course points) in a glanceable page. You’ll see the next closest waypoint listed (distance), with its name and icon. After that are the next three waypoints.

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It’s simple. This isn’t some crazy complex feature. And in fact, it’s roughly like what COROS added for navigation. The difference is a bit more polish. Garmin added standardized icons, and the fact that you can easily glance at it on a single page, versus having to scroll through a list.  No matter who does it, I found this incredibly helpful on my recent hikes. Mainly just for quick context. The distance is, as expected, using the course route.

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Now as you move along the route you’ll get turn notifications as well as any off-course notifications. On a hike like this I turn off turn-notifications though, because otherwise every switchback my watch is beeping, and that gets old fast. Whereas off-course navigation is pretty straightforward, and a feature you will appreciate.

One thing that I’m finding annoying is the lack of arrows or chevrons on the Fenix/Epix series routes. If you have an Edge bike computer you’ve hopefully noticed that in the past year Garmin added arrows for the route direction, similar to what other vendors have had for years.

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While this doesn’t matter for many courses that are clear-cut, it does matter for courses that may intersect, like a figure-8 course I did on Thursday. In that case, when I got to the crossing point, I tried to decipher which way to go, but Garmin wasn’t clear. In fact, it seemed to tell me to go one way, but as I’d learn some time later – that was the wrong way. Unfortunately, because I was technically on the course, I never received any off-course warnings. And because of that, ClimbPro was also broken because it kept thinking I’d be turning around going the other way. Now again, I’ve also gone years without this functionality, but it seems time to at least have the option for arrows. After all, Garmin has approximately 9,238 other routing-related options. In any event, that largely self-owned failure aside, I’ve had no issues with navigation across a wide variety of hikes, runs, and bikes over the last 6-7 weeks.

Next, speaking of that map, we have the new touch capabilities. By default, all sport profiles have touch disabled. And unfortunately, there’s no separation between touch in the rest of the sport profile, and touch in just the map. So you’ll need to enable that for map touching. Once enabled on that sport profile, within a map you can touch to move around the map, or double-tap quickly to zoom in.

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Alternatively, you can also use the buttons next to the + & – on the left side to zoom in and out. Responsiveness is very solid here. It’s not quite instant Google Maps on a phone, but it’s pretty close – far faster than either the Fenix 6 was, or the COROS Vertix 2 is. I show this in my user interface video.

Remember also that you can personalize the map sets shown. Within the TopoActive map, there are different map layers, including high contrast ones, night ones, even popularity routing (heatmap) ones. I find I tend to prefer the popularity one the most, but the one titled ‘System’ is the default. Below is showing the purple popularity routes:

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In terms of details offered, the maps between the Fenix 7 and Epix are technically identical. What’s not the same though is the visibility of features at different levels. Meaning, due to the better display of the Epix series, you’ll see more details at a higher zoom level. You can see this in my earlier AMOLED display section with some comparisons.

Plus of course, the Epix display itself is far brighter and more clear (even in direct sun) than the Fenix 7 display. That’s even more true at night/dusk, when the backlight is more crispy on Epix.  Still, I used both just fine and didn’t get lost in the jungles, mountains, or volcano lava rock.

Music & Contactless Payments:

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The Epix contains virtually identical features to prior watches in terms of both music and contactless payments. In order to play music, you’ll need to pair up some sort of Bluetooth sound device, either headphones or a Bluetooth speaker. Then, you can download music and play offline Spotify, Deezer, Amazon Music, as well as any of your own MP3s. Meanwhile, on the contactless payments side, that continues with Garmin Pay, where you can load your bank cards – assuming they’re supported. Fortunately, unlike the early days, more and more of the biggest banks in the US and many other countries are coming online with Garmin Pay, though in my case it’s a bit of a mixed bag as you’ll see below.

Starting on the music front, you’ve got a couple of different ways you can access music. In my case, I primarily use Spotify, so it only took a few seconds to link up my Spotify account. Note that a Spotify Premium account is required to play offline music on your watch (thus, no phone required). Once connected though, you can choose which playlists you want to sync.

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You can pair/save multiple headphones/Bluetooth audio devices if you want, such as a pair of sporty headphones and then non-sporty ones. The music menu will automatically prompt you to do this, or you can always manage headphones in the sensors menu (the same place you’d manage heart rate straps).

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You can also use Spotify to download podcasts, which is a handy way of doing it versus the regular Garmin podcast feature that requires a computer to sync the podcasts. Regardless of the particular streaming service you use, it’ll use WiFi for this synching. You’ll just choose which playlists you want and then wait a brief bit. You can estimate it taking about 5-10 seconds per song to download, so about 10 songs per minute (speed varies based on the length of the song and other factors).  And looking ahead, as long as the Spotify app checks in once per 30 days, your music stays valid.

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Behind the scenes, the Spotify app will also update the music list over WiFi when you connect your Epix to a charging cable, so that it’s always in sync for dynamic playlists that get regularly updated.  You can download multiple playlists from multiple services (plus manually load music on the watch using a USB cable, such as MP3 files. The base model of the Epix has 16GB of space, and the Sapphire has 32GB. However, keep in mind that you’ll lose space for mapping, plus some internal Garmin stuff (like your workout storage).

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Once you’re ready to play music, you can access the music controls a few different ways, such as a shortcut button, the controls menu, or the music widget. Once inside of that, you can choose the playlist you want, and skip songs. You can also play/pause a track, change volume, and change the play order (e.g. shuffle, repeat, etc…). This is accessible both within a workout and outside of it in regular smartwatch mode (such as just sitting at your desk or just goofing off in general).

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I haven’t had any skips or dropouts in either casual listening to music at my desk, or in workouts using the Beats Studio Buds.  While I’m not a huge listening-to-music-while-working-out person, I find in general these days Garmin and others seem to have resolved the connectivity issues from the early days of wearable music support.

Now, switching gears a bit you’ve got contactless payments. These use NFC, and in Garmin’s case their payment platform is called Garmin Pay. It’s essentially no different than Apple Pay or other payment platforms, and is generally supported anywhere you go as long as the card itself is supported by that merchant. And in fact, that’ll likely be your main limiter in terms of usage: Whether or not your credit card is supported.

For this, you’ll need your bank to be supported by Garmin. That’s many of the big banks in the US, but beyond that it varies quite a bit. It’s hit or miss. A full list is here.

In my case, my Netherlands bank (ING) isn’t supported (still). However, my US Visa credit cards (Chase) are supported. My French Bank account (HSBC) isn’t supported, nor are some of my US local banks. Ultimately, this requires Garmin going to every single bank worldwide and get them onboarded. It’s not just a blank Visa/AMEX/Mastercard type thing. Hence why it’s hit or miss.

In any case, adding a bank takes about 2-3 minutes, so I added my US Chase card instead. As part of the setup process you’ll create a pin code to use when making a payment. You can access the wallet either from the controls menu, or by assigning a shortcut key to it.

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This pin is only used when you actually go to tap and make a payment, so it’s not something used throughout the rest of the day. And as long as the watch stays on your wrist, it won’t ask you for the pin for another 24 hours.

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After which you’ve got 60 seconds to complete your transaction by tapping the NFC reader:

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After which it’ll give a successful green ring of win, indicating the payment completed.

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While you won’t get any payment receipts on the watch, you can see it later in the Garmin Connect app under ‘Recent transactions’ within the Garmin Pay details.

For most people, they tend to use this type of functionality on their watches for well-known establishments that support contactless payments. For example, at a certain café or coffee shop they might stop at after a run (skipping bringing a wallet or smartphone). As always with contactless payments, I wouldn’t depend on an unknown shop/merchant supporting NFC payments – since ya never know what will actually be available. Inversely, this is also handy simply as a backup in case your phone dies and you don’t have a credit card on you.

Multi-Band Satellites Overview:

Garmin-Epix-Satellites

I had considered placing this section within the GPS & Altimeter Accuracy section, or perhaps even within the Sports Usage section. But both of those sections were already pretty long. So with so much to cover, this now becomes its own standalone section. You can consider this a shorter primer to the slate of changes Garmin has made around their GPS technology in wearables. There’s actually more than just the addition of dual-frequency (multi-band) GPS here. Garmin has also revamped pretty significantly both its base GPS mode for big battery life savings, as well as gotten rid of the GLONASS/GALILEO options. Sorta.

We’ll start out by taking a high-level look at what multi-band GPS actually involves. At a non-technical level, it’s been touted as the holy grail of GPS accuracy. But technically, GPS is the wrong word. That’s because GPS is actually a ‘brand’, whereas this is officially GNSS’s (Global Navigation Satellite System). But we’ll set aside the Kleenex argument for the moment. The operational theory behind dual-frequency GPS is that you can leverage two different frequencies to communicate with the satellites.  This is desirable because if one frequency is having connection or visibility troubles you have the option now to mitigate that by providing not just a secondary frequency to validate against (L5), but a frequency that’s 10X greater. So where you would normally have a reachable constellation of perhaps 20-25 satellites, you would now have well over 60 satellites that your watch can see. And by seeing more satellites, in addition to increasing the signal and varying the frequency, it allows your watch to better mitigate signal obstructions and ultimately increase accuracy.

Garmin is hardly the first company here in this space. While Garmin did roll out multi-band GPS to some of their hand-held devices a year ago, the Fenix 7 & Epix are their first wearables from Garmin with the technology. Prior to Garmin’s Fenix 7 & Epix, the first endurance sports watch to add multi-band GPS was the COROS Vertix 2 this past summer, and then more recently Huawei has touted it in their GT 3. In my testing of the COROS Vertix 2, I unfortunately did not see holy-grail-like results. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the promised land either at the time of launch. Of course, the tech is new, and thus we’re likely to see (and have seen) firmware updates quickly released that’ll improve the accuracy issues over time. More on that in a minute. In the case of COROS, they’re using the MediaTek/Airoha chipset (AG3335M), and Garmin confirmed they are also using Airoha as their supplier. Prior to confirmation from Garmin, this made sense in my testing, as in almost every scenario over the last 6-7 weeks, the Vertix 2 and Epix/Fenix 7 units made the exact same errors in virtually identical ways (and inversely, did things correctly in near-identical ways).

First though, on the Fenix 7 and Epix series, Garmin has revamped the GPS selection process. There are two places you can change satellite things:

Entire watch (System): This is a system-wide setting across all sport profiles, and is considered the default for any sport profiles unless otherwise specified
Per-Sport/Activity Profile: This allows you to increase (or decrease) GPS accuracy on a given sport, likely in exchange for battery life.

So the idea here is that you can perhaps use higher-level dual-band accuracy on an openwater swim or a mountain-bike ride through difficult terrain, but then go with less-battery-draining options for a road bike ride, which is typically one of the easier things to track GPS-wise.

Next, there are now four GPS settings you can choose from (only Sapphire/Titanium editions have Multiband):

GPS Only: This is the base GPS-only option, however, Garmin says they’ve drastically increased the battery life here compared to the past GPS-only option, and indeed, you can see that in the battery chart.
All Systems: This confusingly named option is dealer’s choice between GLONASS and GALILEO, and Garmin is the dealer. As a user you can’t choose which one to use, but instead, Garmin is now switching between GPS< GLONASS, GALILEO, BeiDou, and QZSS based on the quality of the satellite signals from each, determining “which to prioritize”
All Systems + Multiband: This is the new dual-frequency option that everyone has been waiting for, which combines the All Systems option, and then makes it multi-band across both L1 and L5 satellites. As a result, this burns a boatload more battery, and in theory is the most accurate.
UltraTrac: This setting is for crazy-long adventures, whereby it reduces the GPS update rate significantly. Do not ever use this setting unless you absolutely need it, your GPS tracks won’t be pretty. Think of this as the emergency option.

Note that the usual smart-recording or 1-second recording option is still in the settings (and still annoying defaulted to ‘Smart Recording’), but that has no bearing on the GPS reception timing/display, it’s purely what it writes to the recorded file. Also, technically there’s expedition mode, but that’s only recording a GPS point once every hour by default.

Here’s the battery chart for what each of these options do, depending on which model you have.

Battery-Fenix7SeriesBaseline_thumb[5]

Keep in mind that this chart is really just a starting point for battery optimization. Using the Power Manager feature, you can get crazy-detailed on which features you care about (for example, toggling off optical HR sensor and connecting to a chest strap saves a boatload of battery), and thus can easily extend these battery times. Or, inversely, doing crazy things like turning on the flashlight while playing music will decrease them. Use your powers wisely.

For super simple context compared to the other top-dog in the battery space, the COROS Vertix 2, their key claims are:

GPS-only: 140 hours
All Systems – GLONASS/GALILEO/BeiDou/QZSS: 90 hours
All Systems GPS + Music: 30 hours
All Systems + Multiband: 50 hours
Ultra mode: 240 hours
Day to day smartwatch: Up to 60 days

One thing to keep in mind is that Garmin does track vastly more health stats behind the scenes than COROS does and does so at a higher rate, which certainly has a big battery drain component. You can turn off some of these though, which would increase the battery life further on the Garmin.

Though, the GPS battery life one-upmanship is quirky. From a sport standpoint it largely only impacts the upper tier of Ultra competitors. However, from a practical day-to-day standpoint, it simply means you charge your watch less frequently.

GPS & Altimeter Accuracy:

There’s likely no topic among ardent sports-wearable users that stirs as much discussion and passion as GPS accuracy.  A watch could fall apart and give you dire electrical shocks while doing so, but if it shows you on the wrong side of the road?  Oh hell no, bring on the fury of the internet!

GPS accuracy can be looked at in a number of different ways, but I prefer to look at it using a number of devices in real-world scenarios across a vast number of activities.  I use 2-6 other devices at once, trying to get a clear picture of how a given set of devices handles conditions on a certain day.  Conditions include everything from tree/building cover to weather.

Over the years, I’ve continued to tweak my GPS testing methodology.  For example, I don’t place two units next to each other on my wrists, as that can impact signal. If I do so, I’ll put a thin fabric spacer of about 1”/3cm between them (I didn’t do that on any of my Epix activities however, all workouts only had a single device per wrist).  But often I’ll simply carry other units by the straps, or attach them to the shoulder straps of my hydration pack or backpack.  Plus, wearing multiple watches on the same wrist is well known to impact optical HR accuracy.

So, we’re going to start with a feast of watches on a route that’s both easy and extremely challenging. I start off along some canals and farms, and then eventually wind my way down through a long skinny street of 12-18 story buildings on both sides. For this test I had the Fenix 7S on my left wrist, and the Fenix 7X on my right wrist. Then, in each hand I was carrying a COROS Vertix 2 (right hand), and an Epix (left hand), plus also a FR745 in the right hand. All these were separated and stable, as to not impact each other. I carry them the exact same way companies themselves do GPS testing:

IMG_8111

So, here’s that data set, and at a high level, things look pretty similar. All Fenix 7/Epix/Vertix 2 units were set for multiband GPS, and the FR745 was set for GPS+GLONASS. All the units had no problems in the openness sections:

Epix-Fenix7-GPS-ZuidRunOverview

However, as we approached the first set of light buildings and bridges, the impact of multiband GPS became apparent, with those units plotting slightly clearer tracks. For example, the FR745 in pink turns way too early under the bridges, whereas the rest got it right.

Zuid-Run-Bridges

I’d also see some minor differences between the COROS Vertix 2 and Garmin units. For example, here the COROS Vertix 2 incorrectly gets frisky while going under a tunnel, sharply meandering off to the side. However, a short bit later, the Fenix 7X then did some less sharp but longer bushwhacking away from the path. Which is interesting because in general I saw that most of the time if the Vertix 2 made an error, then the Fenix 7 and Epix repeated it.

ZuidRun-Tunnel

Fast forwarding into the downtown sections with tall buildings on both sides, we can very clearly see the FR745 struggles slightly more here, it’s the unit without multiband. Which however, isn’t to say it was horrific, nor to say that the others were perfect. The multi-band ones were simply a *TINY* bit better. But all the units traded having GPS tracks that blasted through the sides of buildings. Let’s be clear about that, this isn’t some holy grail we hoped for (just as it wasn’t and still isn’t on the Vertix 2).

Zuid-Run-BuildingSet

The rest of the run was largely boring and consistent. In one other scenario where I passed under a giant chunk of the Hospital, the FR745 zigged, while all the other units zagged. Practically speaking, neither was perfectly correct, they were just wrong in opposite directions and the multi-band units were clearly just very slightly less wrong. Barely.

ZuidRun-Hospital

That said, do understand I’m nitpicking here. I’m finding some of the most challenging scenarios I can, and then criticizing their performances. There’s also some interesting nuanced patterns with slight differences depending on which side of my body the units were on, relative to buildings I passed. In every scenario, the units on the more ‘open’ side of my body did better than the units facing the building side, regardless of brand.

Next, let’s head into the jungle for a hike/trail run. This one had it all! From deep woods and, dense trees, and towering cliffs. Here I was comparing the Garmin Epix on my left wrist, the Fenix 7 on my right wrist, plus both a COROS Vertix 2 (right hand) and a Forerunner 745 (hydration pack).

IMG_7346 IMG_7311

Here’s the high-level GPS data and track, which from this perspective looks near identical:

Jungle-High-Level

And as you get into the weeds, literally, of the jungle, it’s hard to see much difference. Meaning that the three units are nearly identical in every scenario (within 1-2 meters of each other, wobbling along), except that the COROS seems very slightly more smoothed. That has pros and cons. The benefit is that it tends to clean-up the GPS tracks a little bit bit in tougher areas, but the downside is that it also incorrectly cuts some corners and such that you actually hiked – as it doesn’t seem to be 100% certain between a short switchback for a couple meters, and a GPS error.

JungleTracks

I’m not saying Garmin is right here, but I am saying that based on all my test data both over the last 6-7 weeks, but also from this past summer/fall with the COROS Vertix 2 and multiband, that it tends to over smooth in areas where the going gets tough. That in turn tends to result in lower overall distances. On a tree-dense route like this, or frankly, any ultra route, it’d be nearly impossible to know the exact actual distance you went. Even a measured trail course isn’t going to know whether you took each corner a foot or two wider (which would add up considerably over a longer route).

Jungle-Smoothing

In a lot of places though, it’s just virtually identical:

Jungle-Coastal

It is also true that both the COROS Vertix 2 and Garmin Epix/Fenix 7 units in multiband, outperformed the FR745 (using just GLONASS). One can see that in numerous occasions. However, keep in mind that extra unit was largely on my backpack shoulder strap, which has body-blockage effects.

Jungle-RockFace

Meanwhile, if we look at the elevation profile of all those units, they’re scary similar.

Jungle-Elevation

The total spread in ascent between all those units is 27m (out of 1,341m), which is a max spread of 2%. The COROS Vertix 2 seems to start off however about 20-25m higher than the other units, but over the course of five hours, drifts closer to the other units. Given there was no absolute known good reference point along the trail to compare against, it’s hard to say exactly who was perfect. But I think it’s fair to say that any unit would have been more than sufficient in this scenario.

Anyways, enough of that, let’s look at a long ride with extended very tall pine tree sections, plus some cliffs and such. This ride was 118KM long:

LongRide

The best way to look at this one is random spot-checks along the course. For example this particularly dense section of tree and switchbacks:

VolcanoRideSpotCheck

Or up against large rock cliffs:

CliffEdges

Or fast descending switchbacks in the forest:

LowerForests

Or down through small towns with plenty of turns and power lines at reasonably high speed:

LowerTowns

All of this is spot on. However, it’s not as if they’re on the correct side of the road (or consistently on any given side of the road). So that’s where we need to park the Holy Grail GPS Bus, and remember that hasn’t arrived yet:

Close-uproad

Then we’ve got an openwater swim. This is pretty impressive for both Epix & Fenix 7, though we see slight differences. For example, the Fenix 7 seems very slightly more smoothed than the Epix, though, it’s not clear why as both were on identical settings. My guess here would be this is actually a stroke difference in how high up my right hand/wrist goes compared to my left wrist, which could definitely have a slight impact. But still, there are astoundingly close GPS tracks here to the reference units on the swim buoy.

OpenwaterSwim

Here’s another openwater swim, this time directly comparing the Epix to the COROS Vertix 2 on opposite wrists. Sure, no Fenix 7 here, as I only want one unit per wrist. You can see the Vertix 2 is slightly more wobbly, and the Epix also overshot very slightly on the corner. Though, this was also a month ago, so things have undoubtedly changed in GPS performance (as we see above):

OWS-December

No matter which sets I pull up on the Epix or Fenix 7/7S/7Xfrom the last 6-7 weeks, the overall GPS tracks look very good. Are they absolutely perfect? No, but they’re on par or better than anything else I’ve seen lately. And as I alluded to elsewhere, I thought it was interesting that if I compare the most recent Vertix 2 tracks to the most recent Epix/Fenix 7 tracks, they’re nearly identical in many cases. Both making the same errors and non-errors at the same time when worn together on workouts. The only difference being that it appears COROS applies slightly more smoothing in a variety of situations, which has the previously outlined pros and cons.

Altitude-wise, everything is virtually identical between units, and seems to correctly lock onto the right altitude (when known – such as at the beach). All of the linked sets can be opened up and you can peak at this altitude graphs further. Also, I’m going to add more sets today and over the following days. Some comparison sets are not included here for devices not yet released, whereby the secondary device was still unreleased. Hang tight!

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks, and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Heart Rate Accuracy:

Garmin-Heart-Rate-Accuracy

Before we move on to the test results, note that optical HR sensor accuracy is rather varied from individual to individual.  Aspects such as skin color, hair density, and position can impact accuracy.  Position, and how the band is worn, are *the most important* pieces.  A unit with an optical HR sensor should be snug.  It doesn’t need to leave marks, but you shouldn’t be able to slide a finger under the band (at least during workouts).  You can wear it a tiny bit looser the rest of the day.

My test workouts include a wide variety of intensities and conditions, making them great for accuracy testing. Basically, they’re my day-to-day activities for the past 6-7 weeks.  Swims, bikes, runs, hikes, indoor workouts, and more.

Meanwhile, for HR accuracy testing I’m typically wearing a chest strap (either the Polar H10 or the Garmin HRM-PRO), as well as another optical HR sensor watch on the bicep (mostly the Polar Verity Sense, as well as the Whoop 4.0 band). Note that the numbers you see in the upper right corner are *not* the averages, but rather just the exact point my mouse is sitting over.  Note all this data is analyzed using the DCR Analyzer, details here.

We’ll start off with something relatively basic to get warmed up, in this case an indoor 45 minute treadmill workout, compared to a Polar H10 and the Fenix 7. As you can see, it’s virtually identical. The only bobble actually comes from the Polar H10 in the first 30-40 seconds, with what appears to be an incorrect half-hearted spike ahead of the warm-up, and then it corrects. Here’s that data:

Epix-HR-Treadmill-Jan5t

Looking momentarily at a relatively steady-state 5K outside, the Epix has no issues, and actually slightly outperforms the Polar H10 – which is interesting where you see that dip in HR in blue, for which there was no valid reason since pace stayed the same, and towards the end, a sprint up a hill, the Epix and Venu 2 correctly did that, whereas the H10 seemed lost. Unusual, both notable. Here’s the data.

Canary5K

So, with that being easy, we’ll step it up a slight bit, with a bit more intense trainer ride, on RGT, to see how it handles with flex on the wrists:

Epix-HR-RGT

Again, as we can see, no problems at all. So, let’s  add some hard intervals, this time on the Peloton Bike, versus the Polar H10 chest strap:

Epix-HR-Peloton-Intervals

Or this TrainerRoad workout, again, virtually spotless:

Epix-TrainerRoad-Dec18th

Now as we see, this time there’s the tiniest bit of lag, about 2-4 seconds in general, but hardly worrisome. Most use cases would never notice that, and it’s really only on the recovery of each interval versus the increase in HR.

So, let’s break things a bit and head outside. Here we’ve got a 75-minute ride, starting off relatively easy, then a bunch of climbing, before looping back around again. You can see that anytime I had intensity, things were great with Epix, but when I stopped or was descending – in particular the descending, it got messy. This is pretty common for optical HR sensors – but was worthwhile nothing here. Here’s that data:

Epix-HR-Short-Climb

Thus, increasing complications again – a 7-hour ride up and down a volcano. This is notable because it shows how things handle in particular ascending versus descending, but also some longer sustained periods. At a high level, things look a bit fuzzy, but clearly we’re seeing some trending alignment between the chest strap and the Fenix 7 & Epix units on opposite wrists. Here’s the data:

VolcanoRide-HR-Wide

I want to zoom in though on one of the longer sustained climbs of about an hour or so. Here you can see the Epix has a bit more wobbliness that I’d ideally like to see. Notice how that green line spikes and drops a bit here and there, whereas the yellow line of the Fenix 7 is far more tame.

VolcanoRide-HR-Interval

Now there isn’t in theory a good reason for this, given that these are identical sensors in virtually identical casings. But, can just go to show some of the challenges of measuring optical HR even on different wrists of the same person.

Meanwhile, while descending, things separate pretty considerably, which is pretty much my experience across most wrist-based optical heart rate sensors. Especially given this was an hour-long descent in relatively cold conditions up top.

Volcano-Fenix7-EpixDescent

Finally, here’s a long hike/trail run, which had some larger sustained efforts that more easily show up on the charts:

Epix-Fenix7-Trailrun-HIke

You’ll notice that for the first 2hrs and 42 minutes, things are generally very close, with only relatively minor disagreement when walking downhill (moderate in that we’re at 100-110BPM, so it frankly isn’t going to matter much if one is 103BPM and the other 107BPM). For virtually all uphill/moderate/intense segments, it’s identical. That straight-line section is when I was filming, so things are a bit wonkier there – don’t worry about that. Then after that, things snap right back to it. The drop-out line around the 4:30 marker is simply me taking off the watches to take a few photos of the displays.

Oh, and lastly note that while the cases are different, this is the same sensor as the Fenix 7 with the same firmware, so you can also check out that in-depth review to see how things handled there, since in all likelihood it’ll mirror it here.

Thus, ultimately if I look at all these sets, plus a boatload more indoor trainer/treadmill sets, they’re all very consistent across the board. As usual, and as expected, the main quirks were around descending. But as long as there was some intensity applied, the responsiveness and accuracy seemed quite good for my skin tone/wrist placement.

Summary:

Garmin-Epix-Review-Wrap-Up

For years, folks have wondered when we’d see a “pretty screen” Fenix series device. And finally, today, it’s here. While it’s called Epix, it’s ultimately a Fenix 7 with an AMOLED display. The two units siblings share the same core software versions, and carry all the same functions and features. Except, Epix simply looks prettier in virtually every light. Though inversely, it can’t quite go the same distance as the Fenix 7 units can.

Of course, that presumes you need to go that kind of duration. While the ultra-long battery life of those units isn’t purely the ability to run for 100 hours non-stop, it’s a big part of it. It’s fundamentally how these companies like to market these watches, even though 99% of us won’t use it that way. However, the ancillary benefit for the rest of us is we simply charge our watches less for more regular workouts. But I think most of us are able to “get buy” with 20-30 hours of GPS runtimes and 6 days of real-world battery life for an always-on display that looks like it’s from this decade.

In my testing across a wide range of environmental conditions, I’m seeing virtually no usage downside to Epix compared to the Fenix 7 (setting aside battery). The singular scenario I had some troubles was back in early December in desert-sun bright conditions with shallower ClimbPro ascent gradient coloring specifically, where certain shades of dark-blue on a black background was near-impossible to see. However, that’s since been changed to easily seen lighter blues. Undoubtedly, there will be other edge-case quirks that I didn’t see, though, I feel like I’ve seen the vast majority of data pages/fields in the watch. Similarly, on the final production firmware, I’ve had no outstanding bugs. There are some fit and polish things I see (for example map certain regions have graphical cons and others don’t, depending on which part of the interface you’re in), but my guess is those will quietly be resolved and nobody will have noticed except me. As for the hardware, it’s been in production for months.

Looking at components like the multiband GPS (in Sapphire editions), it’s clear that GPS chipset maker Airoha is making progress over the past 6+ months, and I see that comparing my COROS Vertix 2 tracks from this past summer to what I see now (they use the same supplier). It’s improving for not just Garmin, but COROS too. While it’s not the holy grail yet, it’s definitely equal and in some limited cases better than non-multiband. However, I still think we’re probably talking 6-12 months+ before we really see these gains. Just as we saw with when Garmin switched to Sony years ago, it was that mass-unit impetus (or massive corporate whip) that took rough performance from when only Polar & Suunto were using it, to when Garmin jumped onboard. Which isn’t a slight against either of those, but the simply reality that when a company as big as Garmin comes along with millions of units per year, they can tell other companies to jump higher and faster. And hey, all vendors ultimately ended up benefiting.

Ultimately, as I said in my my Fenix 7 review, if I’m going to decide between purchase either the Fenix 7 or Epix, it’s going to be the Epix. Any day, all day. It looks sharp, actually works well, and fits my battery usage needs.

With that – thanks for reading!

Product Reviews – DC Rainmaker

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