Today Garmin has announced not one, not two, but like 287 watches. Technically speaking they’ve announced two core product series – the Fenix 7 Series, and the Epix series. I mean, ignoring the fact that Garmin previously announced an Epix unit 7 years ago. For the new Epix Gen 2 though, check out my full in-depth review over here. Essentially, the Epix Gen 2 is an AMOLED display version of the Fenix 7, but with still very respectable battery life.
This review is instead focused almost entirely on the Fenix 7 series, which includes the Fenix 7S, 7, and 7X models. These units get a slate of new features (depending on which exact model you choose), including everything from workout stamina tracking to free downloadable TopoActive maps. And the 7X even gets a flashlight, which might sound gimmicky at first, but seriously – it’s mind-bogglingly useful and way more advanced than ‘just a flashlight’. It can flash white and red as you run, matched to your cadence – specific to showing white lights while forward-facing, and red lights rearward facing. Yes, actually switching and matched to each footstep. Or, you can signal for SOS with it when you’re out of ice cream.
But we’ll get into all those details and plenty more throughout this review. I’ve been testing the Fenix 7 for quite some time, and have put in countless hours to figure out what works well…and what still might need some love. This includes all three core models, as well as its Epix sibling. And this includes a wide variety of conditions from riding and running up volcanos, runs in freezing temps, openwater swims, cities to mountain passes, and everything in between. Oceans, forests, deserts, and more.
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.
Now, there’s a lot to take in, both in features, but also in decoding Garmin’s wide array of SKUs here. Basically, before even considering color/material combinations there are 8 different Fenix 7 units, plus two Epix units. Including color/material combinations, there are 22 Fenix 7 SKUs. But in short, everything gets boiled down to this:
– Fenix 7 Base (7S/7): Music, Garmin Pay, WiFi, downloadable maps, 16GB storage, touchscreen, plus all software features
– Fenix 7 Solar (7S/7/7X): Base + Solar panels built-in, and the 7X has the flashlight
– Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar (7S/7/7X): Solar units + multi-band GPS, 32GB storage, Sapphire glass, titanium bezel (7X has flashlight too)
Pricing-wise, here’s where things stand (USD, EUR pricing is parity – e.g. $ 699USD is 699EUR):
– Fenix 7 Base (7S/7): $ 699
– Fenix 7 Solar (7S/7/7X): $ 799 for 7S/7, and $ 899 for 7X
– Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar (7S/7/7X): $ 899 for 7S/7, and $ 999 for 7X
In addition, there are some crazy-pants Titanium SKUs for the Sapphire Solar that reach up to $ 1,199 – more on those prices somewhere in a chart down below.
All units get all software features, and all units get mapping. The difference is that only the Sapphire 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 (though, that does take a while). That’s because pre-loading all the maps per region would add too many SKUs for Garmin to deal with (since they’d need 4-5 different region models for each model they have, quickly escalating to something like 20-30 additional SKUs to stock).
Anyway, here’s what’s new:
– All Fenix 7 units now get free worldwide downloadable TopoActive maps using WiFi (Sapphire units have pre-loaded maps)
– All Fenix 7 units now have pre-loaded Skiing & Golf Maps
– All Fenix 7 units now have music, WiFi, and Garmin Pay support (previously base Fenix 6 Series did not have this or maps)
– Added touchscreen display (and can still use buttons for every function)
– Added multi-band (aka dual-frequency) GPS to Fenix 7 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 flashlight to Fenix 7X model, which includes SOS mode, strobe mode, and running white/red mode
– 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)
– There’s now always solar in the Sapphire editions (previously there was not)
– Increased solar surface area by 54% (specifically comparing 6X to 7X)
– Increased solar efficiency of the panel itself
– Increased power efficiency of the base unit compared to Fenix 6 Series, which in turn increases battery life
– Increased overall Fenix 7 Solar battery life by 33% (7S vs 6S) to upwards of 68% (7X vs 6X) – full chart below
– 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.
– Slightly thinner and lighter (see exact charts in unboxing section)
Got all that? Good. Here’s some charts to help you make sense of it. First up is the battery comparison chart:
Next, we’ve got the crazy pricing chart. You’ll probably need to use a magnifying glass. Or, a tissue to wipe those wallet tears away.
And finally, a simple chart that relatively easily shows which features which watches get:
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 Fenix 7 either – a seemingly bizarre and odd gap. Nor is there an LTE version of the Epix Gen 2 either.
In the case of the microphone/speaker, Garmin says that the higher waterproofing standard of the Fenix 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.
Finally, those of you with Fenix 6 series watches are getting many, but not all, of the new software features in “an upcoming update”. Many of these were actually released over the weekend, but some are still outstanding. The specific list of features coming to the Fenix 6 series devices is:
– SkiView Ski maps (with the new resort/runs/XC ski trails features)
– Health Snapshot (including HRV data)
– Run/Walk/Stand Detection (in a workout)
– HIIT 2.0 Activity profiles and Workouts
– Better PulseOx error handling and spot checks
– New Activity Profiles: Adventure Race, Wind Surfing, Kite Surfing, Tennis, Pickleball, Padel, Snowshoe
– New Bike Profiles: eBike, eMTB, Road, Mountain, Indoor, Gravel, Cyclocross, Commute, Tour
Notably missing from that list is the new Stamina and Up Ahead features. Both of which I’d imagine could easily run just fine on Fenix 6 hardware, so it’s a shame to see those not being added. I suppose on the bright side, Garmin does seem to slowly be getting better about adding features to older watches. Baby steps…I guess.
In the Box:
The box for the Fenix 7 series mirrors that of not just the Fenix 6 series, but basically every other Garmin watch in the last half a decade or so. It’s grey and simplistic. 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:
Inside you’ve got the watch, a standard Garmin watch charging cable, and a safety manual + quick start guide:
The charging cable is identical to virtually every other Garmin Fenix, Forerunner, and Vivo/Venu series device made in the last number of years:
And the manuals are equally as unexciting:
However, here’s a pretty shot of this watch before I slaughter them for 6-7 weeks. After this point, any scratches on them are probably well earned in my testing.
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 quick release system, and there are three sizes depending on whether it’s the Fenix 7S/7/7X:
You’ll notice the new protected lug design on the Fenix 7 series, where those top parts are covered up better now. Here it side by side with a Fenix 6 series watch (blue button):
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. Here’s again, a comparison to the Fenix 6 (blue button).
With that out of the way, the Fenix 7 series retains the same case sizes as the Fenix 6 does, which are:
Fenix 7S: 42mm case
Fenix 7: 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)
Fenix 7: 14.5mm thick (was 14.7mm)
Fenix 7X: 14.9mm thick (was 14.9mm)
Here’s a shot of all of them together:
Wait, you wanted weights? Here’s the official unit weight listings:
Fenix 7S/7S Solar: 63g (case only: 47g)
Fenix 7S Sapphire Solar: 58g (case only: 42g)
Fenix 7/7S Solar: 79g (case only: 56g)
Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar: 73g (case only: 50g)
Fenix 7X Solar: 96g (case only: 68g)
Fenix 7X Sapphire Solar: 89g (case only: 61g)
Ok, with that, let’s get into the basics.
This section is all about the non-sport features of the watch. Thus I’ll cover basic usability, as well as daily fitness features like sleep, health, and activity tracking. However, if you want an even more in-depth walk-through of these features, check out the video above, which is a long-form tutorial/guide/user interface deep-dive of the entire watch. Step by step, feature by feature. Go ahead, press play.
Starting with the hardware, the Garmin Fenix series watches have five buttons, three on the left and two on the right. In general, the upper right button is your confirmation button, and lower right is your back/escape button. The left buttons are for navigating in the menu. And you can long-hold any of the buttons to either access different menu items, or assign quick-access buttons.
Meanwhile, the touchscreen allows you to swipe through and tap menu items just like you would any other touch device. It works reasonably enough while sweaty or in the rain, though precision tends to be slightly less. In general though, as you can see in the video, it’s pretty responsive. Note that no function requires touch, so you can go pure button if you want to. Or inversely, you can get away with mostly touch if you want to (save starting/stopping an activity, and pressing the lap button).
By default, virtually all sport profiles have touch disabled, and then you enable it on a per-profile basis. You can also tweak whether or not touch is enabled/disabled during your sleeping time periods, through a new Sleep Mode manager interface:
Stepping back though, we’ve got the watch face. You can customize this to your liking, either using the built-in watch faces, or, downloading one of thousands from the Connect IQ app store. Each of the data bits on a watch face can be tweaked or customized to show the exact bit of data that you want, and where you want it.
Within the Connect IQ app store app, in addition to the 3rd party free watch faces, you can also create your own watch face, such as with photos or the like:
The Fenix 7 Series follows that of the Venu 2 Plus two weeks ago, which allows you to long-press on any data in the watch-face, and be brought straight to that widget for deeper data. For example, if you long-press on the steps, it’ll bring you to the steps widget. I demonstrate this within the user interface video above.
Speaking of widgets, these show all manner of data from your watch, such as steps, the weather, your sleep, training status, and so forth. You can also install 3rd party ones too. You’ll simply swipe or press down from the watch face to access the widget glances:
And then from there, you can tap into any given widget to see more details on it. For example, here’s the steps widget, which in turn has three more data pages on it with more data.
And all of this data is ultimately synced to Garmin Connect where you can dive into days/weeks/months/years worth of data. For example, here’s my steps data on Garmin Connect Mobile (the smartphone app):
Here’s a small gallery of a pile of widgets and my data from them:
In addition to the step tracking, stair tracking, and every other metric is heart rate tracking. This leverages the optical heart rate sensor on the back of the watch. The Fenix 7 uses Garmin’s Elevate V4 sensor that was introduced on the Venu 2 last spring, and now also on a variety of other watches including the Forerunner 945 LTE.
That sensor does 24×7 monitoring of your heart rate, as well as workout heart rate, and even pulse oximetry (blood oxygen levels). The green light is for regular heart rate readings, whereas the red light is used for Pulse Ox.
It uses this sensor to drive a slew of data points, for example stress and breathing rate. In general, I actually find the stress estimates reasonably accurate. And it’s an easy way to glance at how the day might have gone, or how it might contribute to my Body Battery. Body Battery is basically your energy level. You recharge it every night, and then decrease it during the day, or during periods of relaxation (like sitting on the couch watching TV).
While not perfect, Garmin has continued to make strides here, and I find generally good correlation in most cases between my perceived energy levels and what it estimates. Just because I went to sleep, doesn’t mean I’ll automatically wake up with 100% Body Battery. In fact, that’s exceptionally rare. Sleep quality will drive how much body battery you wake up with. 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.
Ok, speaking of sleep, it’ll automatically track that too, and give you detailed information about your exact sleep quality. I’ve been impressed with Garmin’s continued improvements in the written explanations of how your sleep was:
Take this one from a few nights ago, this is about as succinct explanation of my sleep as I could write. And it’s literally spot-on perfect. Yes, it was long-ish sleep, but it was crap sleep.
I 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, and in general Garmin almost always nailed the time you went to bed and when you woke up. However, it does not track naps in any way, which is unfortunate. Further, I find it can occasionally have trouble with cases where I fall back asleep after being briefly awake between 6-9AM. It’ll often just end my sleep at say 7:10AM if I was awake/up for a couple minutes, rather than realizing I’ve gone back to bed for 2-3 hours. Note that I have no accuracy opinion on sleep phases, as in general even medical-grade devices aren’t crazy accuracy there. Further, there’s often little real-world actionable things you can do based on that.
Now, to briefly touch on Pulse Ox, which is Garmin’s blood oxygen readings. You can configure this to be off, during sleep only, or 24×7. It has two basic purposes in a Garmin wearable, one is around sleep (as potentially an indicator of sleep related issues), and two in high altitude environments as an indicator 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 light that’ll light up on the back of the watch.
This will consume additional battery, lowering your overall battery a fair bit. Though, not as much as the 24×7 mode, which consumes 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. It’s as simple as that (below is a certified device):
And that’s the exact same way the FDA certifies blood oxygen medical-grade devices: Sitting still. If you swagger around, you’ll either not get good devices, 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.
Now as I mentioned, there’s the new Health Snapshot feature. Well, new to the Fenix 7 series 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.
During the 2-minute period it’ll measure your heart rate, blood oxygen level, respiration rate, stress, and HRV (heart rate variability). The idea being you can consistently do this, ideally at the same time each day, and 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 this aims to put it on a single plate (so to speak). You can then export it into a single PDF if you’d like as well.
Once the two-minute test period is over, it’ll give you a summary of that info:
And then you can also see this in Garmin Connect Mobile afterwards, which is where you can spit out a PDF copy if you like:
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, it’s worthwhile nothing that the Fenix 7 and Epix series watches are the first to have the new on-watch app store. This means that you can install Connect IQ apps directly from the wrist, versus having 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 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):
I can tap on one of the recommend apps, and then install it. At which point it’ll at least be honest that it’s gonna take forever. And it’s not that the entire process takes more than 1 minute, it’s just that it feels…painfully clunky. Why not pre-cache the download files for these whopping 6 recommended apps? I mean, that’s gonna take all of a few megabytes, and would make everything super clean and snappy feeling.
Again, this is super basic at this point. But as Garmin outlined previously, it’s merely the starting point here.
Finally, while it probably won’t matter to many people, do note that in general, virtually all of the functions that involve a smartphone require internet to function. Meaning that while the watch will happily collect data without internet, and do so for a very long time, that 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 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 only if you were spending extended periods of time without internet, analyzing your stats on the smartphone Garmin Connect app would not be possible. You can however still plug in your watch to a computer, and download the workout file and analyze that.
This next section is specific to only the Solar editions of the Fenix 7, as only those editions have solar panels in them. Solar capabilities was first introduced on the Fenix 6 series, and then later added to the Garmin Instinct and Enduro series. In the case of the Fenix 6, it added almost negligible battery life for most users. Whereas in the Instinct series in particular, the impact could be quite significant. Keep in mind that while many watches, like Casio, have had solar for years, those watches tend to be super basic in their functionality, and thus in turn, require less power to operate.
The Fenix 7 series significantly increases the solar capabilities over the Fenix 6. It accomplishes this in three basic ways:
1) Increased the overall surface area of the solar panels on the watch by up to 54% (e.g. Fenix 7X vs Fenix 6X)
2) Increased the efficiency of the solar panels themselves
3) Decreased the power draw of the watch as a whole (through both different chipsets, and firmware)
To talk through this, the Fenix 7 series (like the Fenix 6) has two basic solar panels:
A) A thin rim surrounding the inside edge of the display, which is easily seen
B) A layer below the glass but above the display, that is essentially invisible to you
While the thin rim around the Fenix 6 wasn’t as obvious, the much wider rim on the Fenix 7 is clearly visible. Though, I guess I’ve just gotten so used to the look that it doesn’t bother me any. Here’s that identified:
The thin stripe around the edge of the display can collect 100% of the suns ray’s. Well, technically it’s of course less than that, but in terms of simple relativity here, we’ll go with that being 100% from a Garmin spec standpoint. Meanwhile, the portion under the glass can only receives 7% – but the surface area of course is massive. Note that the 7% figure is down from a 10% claim on the Fenix 6, which Garmin explains is because Sapphire is normally less clear than regular glass, so by reducing the solar layer, it increases overall clarity (compared to keeping it at 10%). And of course, the under the glass portion (officially called Power Sapphire, now) is the entire display surface.
On a solar series watch, you can check the current solar ‘income’ either through various watch faces or widgets. You’ll see for example this little sun icon, which is broken out into 10 pieces, each indicating 10% of full intensity. Technically speaking, full intensity is considered 50,000 lux conditions. Once you get to 100%, then the full sun icon lights up.
However, 50K lux actually isn’t super bright. For context, on a mildly sunny day in January in the Netherlands, it’s 10-40K. Similarly, a summer day in the Mediterranean and I’m easily clocking in 100k+ lux. Last week in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, I ranged from 60K to 150K in the sun (mostly in the 60-100K range). All of Garmin’s figures for battery assume 3 hours a day at 50K. So in the winter that might be tough for folks, whereas in the summer on vacation, that’s probably trivial. Garmin notes that if you go beyond the 50K conditions, it’ll leverage that power – even though the icon itself won’t show more than the full sun indicator.
Here’s the official solar-related battery chart of the Fenix 7 series, and how it compares to each iteration from the Fenix 6 series:
As you can see, it’s quite significant – again, assuming you have the solar power. But this is only showing that 3 hours. So imagine you’re hiking in the summer across a mountain range. In that case, you’ll likely have both far more than 3 hours a day in the sun, and depending on the weather, you’ll also have way more than 50K lux conditions. Garmin says that in none of these scenarios are they claiming ‘forever power’, but the reality is, if you turn off certain features, then you can basically get there with even just a few more hours of summer sun conditions. Inversely, if you’re hammering offline music + multiband GPS in a winter snowstorm with the optical HR sensor enabled doing PulseOx 24×7, then solar isn’t gonna net you much.
The Flashlight (7X Only):
Before we dive into sport usage, we’re going to briefly cover the flashlight. This is one of those features that’ll probably seem Inspector Gadget-ish at first, but in practice is actually surprisingly useful. I just wish it wasn’t limited to the Fenix 7X.
The Fenix 7X contains a three-LED flashlight at the top of the unit. Two of those LED’s are white, and the third is red. There are basically four core scenarios for the flashlight here:
A) Day to day usage where you just want a flashlight: For example, getting around in darkness, illuminating a small space, surprising someone in the middle of the night with a bright light to their eyes, etc…Basically, the same scenarios you’d use your phone’s flashlight for, except you don’t have to hold your phone
B) Sport visibility scenarios: This is any scenario you want to leave the light on in a simple on/blinking/pulsing case (there’s different modes) to be seen. For example, I used this at the end of a ride one night two weeks ago when I came back a bit later than I had planned. I didn’t need it for my own visibility, but just so others could see me.
C) Running-specific cadence visibility light: In this scenario, when enabled in running you can actually have it flash such that when your wrist goes forward, it’ll show a white light, and when it goes backwards, it’ll show a red light.
D) SOS Beacon: This will flash the actual S.O.S. signal, and concurrently display emergency contact information on the watch face itself (in case someone then finds you unconscious)
First though, to turn it on, you’ll just double-tap the upper left button, which will turn it on to the last intensity level that you left it on. Quick and simple:
However, you can adjust that intensity level by going into the flashlight menu. By default you do that by long-holding the controls button (upper left), and selecting the flashlight. But you can also assign a direct shortcut to another button to take you straight to the flashlight controls. Once there, you’ve got the ability to select from four different levels of white brightness, plus one level of red brightness:
Here’s how the brightest setting compares to the brightest setting on my iPhone 13 Pro:
And here’s the red light, which is obviously less bright than white, but also useful when you don’t want the full intensity of white. I’ve actually found the red light more useful at night around the house, than the white light. Merely because it’s much more subdued. Note that even on the lowest white-light settings, it’s still fairly bright, and uses both white LEDs.
Now that’s the basic flashlight mode. However, in all sport profiles you can then assign a specific always-on or blinking pattern instead, which can be configured to be either always-on in the sport mode, or only after sunset:
These modes include blink, pulse, beacon, blitz, and cadence (which is for walking/running). Further, there’s options for speed including slow, medium, and fast. And finally, you can choose the color (white or red) for each one.
Next there’s the running mode. In this mode, it’ll automatically flash the white light for when your arm is forward, and the red light for when you’re arm is backwards. Here’s the visual theory, from Garmin:
In practice, it’s a bit more imprecise. First, you’ll need to be certain that the wrist setting (which wrist you’re on) is set to match your actual wrist. This isn’t a big deal for most, but just something to be aware of. Once that’s done, you’ll see it’ll flash twice white, for each one red. At least in my experience. I’m not super sure it’s really flashing each color at the right position precisely, but honestly, I don’t think it needs to be super precise – the point is the same, it makes you visible, and indeed, it does. You can see that it does – there’s a video of it on a trail within my main video at the top of the page.
In terms of using it to see where you’re going while running, it’s perfectly fine for that at night, depending on your eyes. In my case, I’ve got reasonably good eyes, so just a bit more visibility to pick out harder to define tree roots on a dirt path is really all I need. But if you were running deep woods trails, you’d undoubtedly want to have something a bit brighter.
Hopefully, we’ll see this feature expand to the rest of the Fenix series in the Fenix 8. Or, to other Garmin watches. As with every Fenix series, the ‘X’ variant (e.g. Fenix 7X) always gets some new experimental feature first, and in the case of the Fenix 7 series, that’s the flashlight.
There’s literally no watch on this planet that has as many sports features built-in as the Garmin Fenix 7 series does. I don’t think that even if you downloaded every app on the Apple Watch store that you could cobble together every last nuanced sport and fitness feature. Of course, as always, that’s largely been Garmin’s thing in life: A gazillion features, of which you might only use 2-5% of them.
But, inversely, everyone’s 2-5% features are different. I use sports features every day that others never use, and vice versa. It’s fundamentally why they lead this category. And perhaps more importantly, over the last few years the software quality has increased substantially, largely through open firmware beta programs that go on for months.
In any case, the Fenix 7 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 shows the sport listing:
The sports available on the Fenix 7 series are (some are technically not sports, but fall under the apps list, like Map Manager):
Run, Hike, HRV Stress, Health Snapshot, Bike Indoor, Treadmill, Bike, Open Water, Navigate, Expedition, Track Me, Map, Map Manager, Connect IQ Store, 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. This is the first time we’ve seen Garmin introduce this level of customization from the phone. You can tweak almost every setting on the Fenix 7 from the phone. Be it sport/activity profiles, data fields/pages, or things like widgets or deeper system settings. There’s only a handful of things that must be done from the watch – for example downloading maps, or adding new sensors. As with before, you can always change all the settings on the watch itself if you want – handy when you’re out on the trails without a phone.
On your phone you’ll go to the device settings, and you’ll see a slew of settings like 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:
A good example of where Garmin seems half-way 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 gotta go to the watch. I’d imagine over time these will converge.
I actually don’t mind that this is clearly a V1 of 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! Forget the past, pick a newly launching watch and add phone-based configuration. Start small and build up. For example, you can’t import/migrate settings from other devices (like you can on a Garmin Edge device). And similarly, for the most part, the settings here just feel like Garmin built all the plumbing, 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.
Once you’ve got your settings sorted, head back to the watch and pick said sport. In my case I’ll pick a run. Of course, 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 sport-specific calorie burn, or the sensor types which they connect to. On this page here you’ll see the upper portion of the page showing the current sensor status, as well as GPS status. Your data pages are displayed behind it.
If you tap the 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, you can see how many hours of GPS life you’ll get with your current settings, and then there’s some pre-canned options which show higher GPS levels if you realize you’ll need them. Or, you can go rogue and create your own battery profile:
(Note: The above photo is showing the real-time estimated hours remaining based on the current battery, which at the moment this photo was shot was 46% on a Fenix 7.)
We’re gonna accept all that though and do an interval workout. That’s because that’ll be an easy way to show the new Stamina features. By default, Stamina will be shown for running and cycling activities. It doesn’t display in all activities, for example you won’t find it in hiking, but will find it in trail running. In any event, once we press start, the watch will start gathering data from our workout, showing pace, distance, time, and any other data fields you’ve added, depending on the sport.
Notably absent though is there’s no 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, which shows 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. This is the most notable one for intervals, because it’s going to go up and down. As you finish an interval and start recovering, it’ll go back up. So here’s just before I pressed start on this run. It happens to be at 100%, but you won’t always start at 100%.
Whereas the middle-left one is your Potential, which is your long-term potential. How long can you maintain this interval workout for, or, in an endurance event – how much gas is in the tank for the entire day. This will steadily decrease over the course of the workout.
However, you’ve also got two additional data fields you can add: Distance and Time till empty. These two fields look at your current intensity and then figure out when you’re going to collapse. You’ll see a few minutes into my casual warm-up, it projects that at that pace, I can do 22KM or 1hr 45 mins. Both short and long term are currently equal, cause things haven’t got crazy yet.
Later in the workout, you can see that my short-term Stamina as I end a brief interval is now down to 47%, whereas my long-term potential is 56%. The red arrow indicates it’s trending downwards.
Here’s a chart (it shows this later in Garmin Connect, both mobile and desktop), showing this workout of 800’s and how it played out. In some cases, the interval wasn’t as impactful – such as those last two longer ones, largely because I was struggling to hold the same intensity levels (HR’s).
All of this is based off of a blend of your estimated VO2Max in conjunction with aspects of Body Battery and recovery from the previous night. As such, it’s moderately important to get at least a few good hard workouts in on the watch, so that it can approximate your VO2Max. Else, the data will mostly fall apart.
Now, as fun as it is to do this for 800’s, the real intent here is longer term endurance workouts or races. The idea being to help you figure out if the pace/intensity you’re at is sustainable for the required duration. For example, check out this 7-hour ride I did last week (well, it was a 7-hour workout, there was some momentary food/photo stops along the way):
Yes, I seriously managed to turn down the road to my hotel with 0% remaining, and 1% potential. Here’s what the watch said:
So how close was that to reality? Well, reasonably close. In my case the ride finished on a 1.5KM 12% climb, which I dutifully hammered. So by the time I got to the finish point, I was baked. But was I absolutely 0%-1%? Probably not. 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 have done another 5-10KM (after doing 118KM with 10,000ft of climbing). Probably not at any meaningful intensity though. Still, I was beyond-done mentally, and certainly in most other respects too. So to that end, it got things more than close enough.
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:
This actually does then auto-categorize the interval run times and paces – if you check out the gallery of screenshots from Garmin Connect, it has a line item called “interval run pace”, so that’s kinda neat.
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.
Here’s a simple gallery of them:
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:
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 worked into whether or not your training is productive, and if not, what you’re doing wrong. You can see this from the widgets menu quickly:
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.
You can then look at the 4-week load focus is to see how those numbers trend, where it also shows your breakout of the core workout type areas (anaerobic, high aerobic, and low aerobic), with optimal target ranges for each:
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. 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 suggestions:
I’ve long found that Garmin tends to overshoot here. Nonetheless, there’s also some misunderstanding on this from many users. This item isn’t actually saying not to train, it’s 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.
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:
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 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, Strava Live Segments, Lactate Threshold tests, racing past activities, and training calendars. All of which 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:
Mapping and navigation related tasks are a big part of the Fenix series, which contains far more mapping/navigation features than you’d likely ever use. For example, there’s common ones like following route, then semi-common ones like creating one-off spontaneous routes, and then lesser used features like calculating the area of a plot of land. For this review, I’m going to focus on the core route following components including features like the new Up Ahead function, map manager, ClimbPro and map/route-following practical stuff.
First up is the new map manager feature. Up until now, when you bought a Fenix series device, it included the maps for your region (e.g. North America or Europe), but not other regions. For that you either had to pay $ 20-$ 30 to download maps from Garmin (which was cumbersome, at best, using a desktop computer), or, you had to download similar free maps – which was also cumbersome. But the new map manager makes it all free, and directly on the watch.
In the case of the Fenix 7, the non-Sapphire editions include 16GB of storage, and the Sapphire include 32GB of storage. For Sapphire units, they’re preloaded with global maps. However, for the base units they aren’t pre-loaded, and you’ll need to download the maps using the watch. To do so, on the watch you’ll go to Settings > Map > Map Manager:
This is where you’ll see two sections. The first is the TopoActive Maps, which are the main maps that you want for sports/adventure navigation. However, there’s also entries below it for SkiView and CourseView (golf), plus a vert basic worldwide base map (it’s useless). The SkiView and CourseView maps are preloaded on all units, because they’re relatively small (23MB for SkiView, and roughly 200-500MB for each continent’s golf courses).
However, it’s the TopoActive maps that are 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.
For context, here’s 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’. It won’t download though until your device is plugged in, but basically puts it in a queue. Also, note that plugging in means to regular USB port, not to a computer.
Downloading takes a long-ass time. To download the TopoActive Europe map (11.6GB), I timed it at somewhere between 4 and 4.5 hours (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 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.
Ok, with the maps downloaded, let’s set out on an adventure. In today’s case, I’m using a route created on Komoot. But you can also create routes in Garmin Connect directly, or other 3rd party apps or files. For example, if you have a GPX/TCX/FIT file of a route, you an import them in. The easiest thing to do is import them into Garmin Connect, which then allows you to sync them to the watch. But, 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:
Now, I’m going to add a few waypoints here. Waypoints in files of course aren’t new. They’ve been around for a decade or two. In this case, Garmin calls them Course Points, but it’s effectively the same. You can tap on your route and add these points from a list of about 50 different standardized icons.
You can give them any names you want:
Continue doing that till you’re done. 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 set, we’ll get 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. This allows me to 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 enable that within the sport settings (I do – it’s one of my favorite features).
The ClimbPro pages will automatically figure out each climb (both ascending and descending, though descending also isn’t on by default), and the distances/altitudes for each. Then as you climb, you’ll see your position and related data till the end of the climb.
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 immediately next waypoint listed (distance), with its name and icon. After that are the next three waypoints.
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.
For lack of anywhere else to mention it, the Fenix 7 series has new graphical data fields, that allow you to stick little charts in there, but just like assigning regular data fields. This one I created has my heart rate up top, and my altitude down below.
Also, for fun, here’s a side by side example of the visibility differences between equally configured Epix & Fenix 7 units, the AMOLED Epix is at left, with the Fenix 7 Sapphire at right.
Now as you route you’ll get both turn notifications as well as any off-course notifications. I turn off turn-notifications though, because otherwise every switchback my watch is beeping. Whereas off-course navigation is pretty straight forward.
One thing that’s grown on me as more annoying is the lack of arrows or chevrons on the Fenix series routes. Garmin added arrows for the route direction on the Edge series this past year, like many other vendors have had for years. While this doesn’t matter for many course 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 an off-course warning. As such, 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, there’s 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.
You can also the buttons next to the + & – on the left side to zoom in, in conjunction with that. 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 change 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.
In terms of details offered, the maps between the Fenix 7 and Epix are technically identical. What’s not the same though is that 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 because there’s more pixels. Here’s a simple comparison of what you see over the same spot and exact same zoom level (200m), between a Fenix 7 and an Epix series watch:
And in the above case, the Epix backlight is automatically on, however, in the below photo, here you can see that even with the backlight off (dim), the Epix display is far easier to read than the Fenix 7 Sapphire.
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. Nonetheless, I used both just fine and didn’t get lost in the jungles, mountains, or volcano lava rock.
Music & Contactless Payments:
The Fenix 7 contains virtually identical features to the Fenix 6 series in terms of both music and contactless payments. Meaning that these features are basically the same across all Garmin watches. In order to play music, you’ll need to pair up some sort of Bluetooth headphones or Bluetooth speaker. Then, you can download music and play offline Spotify, Deezer, Amazon Music, as well as any of your own MP3’s. Meanwhile, on the contactless payments side, that continues with Garmin Pay, where you can load your bank cards – assuming they’re supported. These days, the biggest banks in the US and many other countries are supported though.
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. A Spotify Premium account is required though for doing offline music to your watch (thus, no phone required). Once connected though, you can choose which playlists you want to sync.
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. With all music streaming services it’ll leverage WiFi for the music sync. In general, the simple math is 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. You’ll just choose which playlists you want, and then it’ll go off and download them. As long as the Spotify app checks in once per 30 days, your music stays valid.
Behind the scenes, the Spotify app will also update the music list over WiFi when you connect your Fenix 7 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 Fenix 7 models have 16GB of space and the Sapphire units have 32GB of space, but you lose of course plenty of space to maps, depending on what you’ve downloaded.
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).
Once you’re ready to play music, you can go to the music controls from numerous 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 and 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).
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. I’m not a huge listening to music while working out person though, but I find in general these days Garmin and others seem to have compatibility with headphones pretty well sorted out (compared to devices from a few years ago being some of the first generations to have wearable music support, and often had connectivity issues).
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. 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.
You can access the wallet either from the controls menu, or by assigning a shortcut key to it.
After which you’ve got 60 seconds to complete your transaction by tapping the NFC reader:
After which it’ll give a successful green ring of win, indicating the payment completed.
While you won’t get any payment receipt 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:
I had considered placing this section within the GPS accuracy section, or perhaps within the sport section. But both were already pretty long. So consider this a shorter primer to a slate of changes Garmin has made. 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.
First up though, let’s explain what multi-band GPS is. 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 just an umbrella of GNSS’s (Global Navigation Satellite System). But we’ll set aside the Kleenex argument for the moment. The theory behind dual-frequency GPS is that you can connect across two different frequencies to the satellites, thus if one frequency is having connection or visibility troubles this would mitigate that by providing not just a secondary frequency to validate against (L5), but a frequency that’s 10X greater. Thus, instead of perhaps 20-25 satellites, there’s now upwards of 60+ satellites 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 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 the first wearables to have it (despite rumors to the contrary, Garmin says the Tactix Delta nor any other wearable from them had multiband prior to this). In any case, the first endurance sports watch to add it 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 didn’t see holy-grail like results. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the promised land either. Of course, the tech is new, and thus we’re likely to see (and have seen) firmware updates rapidly that’ll improve that. 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’s 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 being 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’s 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 dealers 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 satellites 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, you’re 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.
Here’s the battery chart for what each of these options do, depending on which model you have.
Keep in mind that this chart is really a starting point. 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. Or, inversely, 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 that COROS does and at a higher rate too, 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 is 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 that stirs as much discussion and passion as GPS or heart rate 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. Instead, I’ll often 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:
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:
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
Here’s the high-level GPS data and track, which from this perspective looks near identical:
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.
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).
In a lot of places though, it’s just virtually identical:
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.
Meanwhile, if we look at the elevation profile of all those units, they’re scary similar.
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:
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:
Or up against large rock cliffs:
Or fast descending switchbacks in the forest:
Or down through small towns with plenty of turns and power lines at reasonably high speed:
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:
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.
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):
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!
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.
Next, note that because the Fenix 7 is three different sizes, they *WILL UNQUESTIONABLY* result in different levels of accuracy. As a general rule of thumb, the lighter/smaller a watch is, the more accurate it’s optical HR sensor will be. Of course, that doesn’t mean a small watch is automatically accurate – but rather the same sensor placed in three different sized watches will almost always result in the smallest unit being the most accurate. Which in turn means that the added weight/size of the Fenix 5X/6X/7X/etc… will usually result in it being the least accurate due to bounce on your wrist.
As such, I’ve tested all three Fenix 7 series sizes in my workouts. These workouts include a wide variety of intensities and conditions, making them great for accuracy testing. 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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
Finally, here’s a long hike/trail run, which had some larger sustained efforts that more easily show up on the charts:
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.
Next, we’ve got a set from Sunday, which was an interval workout on a chilly afternoon. In this case, I didn’t wear long-sleeves, and instead just took one for the team. Generally speaking, cold conditions reduce blood flow in the wrist area until warmed up, which in turn tend to reduce optical HR sensor accuracy. So, I wanted to see if that held any implications if I compared the Fenix 7S on my left wrist to a Fenix 7X on my right wrist. Plus then a Polar H10 chest strap, Polar Verity Sense on the bicep, and Whoop 4.0 on the other bicep. Here’s that data:
Now, it doesn’t take much of an expert to see that the Fenix 7S struggled immensely here. Surprisingly, the Fenix 7X largely nailed it. That entirely backwards of my expectations. But, during the run I watched it happen in real-time, and most notably, watched the impact it had on Stamina data during the intervals. There was no logical reason for the Fenix 7S to have such trouble. It was nice and snug, away from the wrist bone, and it should have been happy. There’s really no reason to analyze that data set in more detail – the previous four sentences tell you all you need to know.
So, then out of curiosity, I equipped my (much smaller wristed) wife with the same setup again just a few hours later for a workout she was doing later that night. This included the Fenix 7S on her left wrist, a Polar H10 chest strap, and then the Fenix 7X on the her right wrist. Keeping in mind, the Fenix 7X is hilariously too big for her tiny wrists. She normally wears a blend of a Fenix 5S (yes, 5S, non-Plus) and a FR945. Here’s that data set:
As you can see, it was very solid, and virtually spot on. As was, also surprisingly to me, the 7X given her tiny wrists.
In fact, even during the strength training (lifting) – it was largely better than I expected. Where you see it differ from the Polar H10 chest strap she was wearing was in the recovery from each set, in which case the chest strap recovered far faster than the optical HR sensors did. That’s not surprising, though, it was a bit laggier than I usually see. However, I also suspect those drops in the middle may not be accurate for the Polar H10 – they’re just too fast up and down for most humans (even her) to do.
Then next night, I threw the same pairing on again. This time for her indoor bike workout, also then followed by another lift. Here’s the indoor bike:
Again, zero issues. I don’t quite know why the 7S struggled for me on the interval workout while the 7X did perfectly fine. I’m reasonably certain there was no light leakage coming in, as it was plenty snug. As with any testing, with so many models and so many potential workout scenarios (indoors, outdoors, differing sports, night vs daylight, etc…), you can go in circles trying to figure out which scenarios might be gaps.
Then followed again by the lift – and this time we’ve got ourself a proper mess. Though, if you kinda squint it makes sense. What you’re seeing is depending on which arm she’s using, that particular unit struggles more than the other side, which is why there’s a bit of a see-saw effect, and also something we almost always see in lifting with wrist-based optical HR sensors.
So if we look at the sensor, what we see is pretty much what we expect. Overall I had good luck with it when there was intensity, even high intensity – with the exception of a single workout where the Fenix 7S totally lost the plot. However, areas like descending on a bike caused inconsistencies, as did some lifting (but not all).
Looking at things at a high level, the Fenix 7 Series & Epix workouts have shown pretty solid heart rate alignment that covers the vast majority of scenarios, and seems to be at the higher end of wrist-based optical HR sensors these days. I think in general, the Apple Watch Series 7 is probably the best workout optical HR sensor, but even with that, I’ve had a bad workout or two. Ya win some, ya lose some.
Like any product series, the longer the product is in the market, the less revolutionary the changes to each iteration become. As the product, or even product category, matures – the step-up in changes tends to decrease. While the Fenix 7 is theoretically the 7th generation, in reality, it’s closer to the 8th or 9th generation. There was no Fenix 4, but there was both a Fenix 3HR and Fenix 5 Plus, which were both substantially new generations of devices under the previous generations name.
Virtually every aspect of the Fenix 7 is better than the Fenix 6 in my testing. Both the tangible things like GPS, barometric altimeter, and heart rate accuracy – but also much of the day-to-day bits around user interface design is more polished. Or even seemingly minor things like the button guards (though, those do take a day or two to get used to). Tasks that used to be a headache, like loading maps ahead of a trip, are now trivial. And for those 7X owners, the ability to light your way through an unknown hotel room in the middle of the night is handy. Plus the myriad of other sport-focused uses for the flashlight.
In terms of stability and reliability, it’s been very solid for me overall. As noted, almost all of my workouts had very strong heart rate accuracy, with only a singular hard interval set going askew in colder weather. On GPS, I had no major failures, or really even minor failures – as seen in all the sets above. It was as expected/good, and in some cases really good. Software-wise I’ve had no problems on this final firmware version that the unit is now shipping with (any previous bugs were on beta firmware).
But as good as the Fenix 7 may be, it’s not what I’d buy for myself. I’d buy Epix: Any day, every day.
As I sit here typing this on my laptop, I’ve got Epix on my left wrist and the Fenix 7 Sapphire Solar on my right wrist. And there’s simply no comparison in the display. Even with the Epix display automatically dimmed because my wrist isn’t facing me, it’s still easier to see than the Fenix 7 on my other wrist. Of course, this Epix lacks ultra-long battery life, either in standby watch mode or GPS mode. But frankly, I just don’t need that. Sure – I’d *like that* if it could be with an Epix display, but I’m very consistently getting 6 days of Epix battery life over the last 5-6 weeks. That’s in always-on display mode with roughly an hour of workouts per day (and usually longer on weekends). A blend of GPS and non-GPS.
This ultimately means it comes down to what you prefer: Significant battery, or better display. And ironically enough, that’s pretty much been the same choice consumers have been trying to decide for the last few years, the only difference is this time the battery trade-offs are far less drastic (or far more acceptable) for most athletes.
With that – thanks for reading!